U-C: What I See

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Water from "Arizona"


We walked a twelve-mile day today. Light cloud cover. Temperatures around 104 or 105 degrees. Humidity much higher than normal for the normally dry month of June. This is the kind of day that I’ve learned over the years is cause for concern for the groups I’ve shepherded through the desert. The less direct sun seems somehow less threatening, but it is no less deadly and heat stroke is a constant worry.

As we were walking through the little crossroads community called Three Points, we hit highway 86 and turned east for the last twenty miles that would take us into Tucson. Babaquivori – the distinctive mountain that had been our companion to the east throughout our journey, now lay well behind us. It seemed strange to me – a little disorienting – not to be able to look at the mountain as we walked.

As we walked past the few stores on the highway that passes through Three Points, I noticed a white pick-up truck with a man and woman seated in the cab, parked on the opposite side of the road. I confess that I wondered about them. Though most folks honk and wave as they drive by, not everyone is friendly towards the walkers. After the entire group had walked by, the truck swung a U-turn and drove slowly past us again. As the truck disappeared, I still couldn’t tell if its occupants were friendly or not, but I put them out of my mind and concentrated on the last mile of the journey for the day.

Twenty minutes later, we entered the beautiful, brick floored adobe sanctuary of Serenity Baptist Church in Three Points, a community deeply divided over the issues around undocumented folks. This courageous pastor and congregation, while recognizing the ambivalence about migrants that exists in their community, have graciously received the walkers for each of the last three years. You have no idea how it felt to be welcomed with air conditioning by the fifth night of our journey.

As Kat Rodriguez, the lead organizer of the walk, finished orienting us to the building and reading a welcoming letter from the pastor, she acknowledged, in Spanish, the man standing next to me, and then explained in English that he and his girlfriend had seen us on the highway. They were so moved as they watched the group pass by single file, each of us carrying a cross as we walked in the mid-day heat, that they had driven to a nearby convenience store and purchased two cases of bottled water. The cases were stacked at his feet, and he seemed shy and a little non-plussed as Kat introduced him by the name “Arizona.” When we invited him to stay and join us for lunch, he declined, saying that he had to go because his girlfriend was waiting in the truck.

Two days later, as we finished our walk now more than one hundred and fifty walkers strong, “Arizona” reappeared and passed out dozens and dozens of the water bottles as the walkers marched past.

A simple gift – maybe the most elegant gift possible – water in the desert.