Friday, June 30, 2017

Crossing a Border

The scenery changed as I drove north. As I left the well-tended places on the coast, I noticed how the paint on the houses peeled and cracked as the shrubbery, vines and surrounding grasslands crept up around. The human developments: housing, barns, and silos, were wearisome and abandoned. I suspected there were folks hanging on, trapped by poverty and circumstance into a life with a predictable outcome or perhaps they'd left entirely. Then, I crossed the border to Canada into their Eastern Townships of southern Quebec.
Hemmingford in Quebec
Bucolic farms and vineyards dotted the well-maintained, curvy roads of the touristic region. Hand-carved signs stated the enterprises along the road: Bed and Breakfasts, Inns, farms advertising meats and cheeses for sale. As I drove west to my friend's house, the region expanded into working farms.

My friend R lives with her 85-year-old mother just north of the northern edge of New York State, a bit west of Vermont. R and I first met in the Pacific Northwest in 2000, where we'd both participated in a multi-week program for trainers and consultants sponsored by an environmental foundation. We'd reconnected six years ago (thanks Facebook!). Recently, in an unfortunate twist of events, she was preparing to depart for a gig as a vegetarian chef for a meditation center in France when she was diagnosed with uterine cancer and underwent surgery. After a few radiotherapy treatments, she'll be under follow-up; it wasn't aggressive cancer.

Here she was, in Quebec for the summer for the first time since she was a child, recovering. Their small house was the original border crossing station, with an impressive, ancient barn in the back. The next day, on a rainy morning, we took a walk down Roxham Road. "It's famous.", R said.  In the first months after Trump's inauguration, hundreds of people crossed the ditch into Canada less than a kilometer from her house.
Where the border is a ditch. Photo:

It was WorldRefugee Day on the day that I drove the long road back to Maine. The radio stated facts and statistics of transitions. The U.N. Refugee Commission states that there were 65 million people forcibly displaced in 2016, setting a world record. Most of them were from Syria.  This fantastic and colorful interactive map shows the flow of asylum seekers but does not include illegal migrants.

As I again traveled through the back roads of northern New England's beleaguered rural communities, I considered the forces of war, famine, and fear that would propel a migration. War, famine, and poverty that would propel,, a family of four to abandon their homes and stay in a refugee camp. The largest cluster of which, in Dadaab, Kenya, supports over 500,000 people largely from Somalia. Another camp in Uganda, Bidi Bidi, now has 274,000 residents from South Sudan. Approximately 2,800 people a day arrived in the month of March alone.

Photo Credit: Wall Street Journal
On the television, a presence that figures prominently in my parent's house, the sounds of verbal conflicts, clashes of violence, the blather of a blundering fiqurehead and the occasional NRA advertisement drift up into my second-floor living space.  By no means comparative to the forces that propel refugees, there are moments when I have visions of fleeing. I think of others trapped by their far more difficult circumstances and wonder how they manage. How they live until they reach their own border, and make the decision to cross to another side.

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