Still Wandering

Vagabond. My new favorite word. 

I never knew at this, last third of my life, I would be a vagabond. Not only that, but I that I would personify all three phases of the word: noun, adjective AND verb. 

I am The Vagabond – a person who wanders from place to place without a home or a job. I am a vagabond wanderer, having no settled home. And I am vagabonding – wandering about. 

My husband and I left our Cuenca home in mid-February for a month-long trip through Argentina and Chile. We packed for an experience comprised mostly of hiking, took minimal toiletries, and two books. We left things normally packed for trips to the United States, like U.S. driver’s licenses, U.S. medical insurance cards and computer drives. 

Who knew our idyllic vacation would be cut short by a worldwide virus?  

With less than 48 hours’ notice, we were told to return to Ecuador, or the borders would be closed. With flights strained and then cancelled, we struggled to make our way home from Chile. I was down with a sinus infection, so not much help to my husband and my daughter, both frantically working phones and schedules. 

Caught between being ill at an airport already on high alert for Covid-19, hoping our flight would make it to Quito, and taking a direct flight to Texas, we opted for the latter. 

On March 15, we landed in Houston, and instantly became vagabonds. 

My daughter and son-in-law graciously housed us in quarantine for the first 10 weeks.  

Then, my husband got the news that a nationally recognized orthopedic surgeon would evaluate him for an ankle replacement if we could get to Denver. After several cancelled flights due to the spreading virus, we elected to drive. That led to our first night in a hotel in the coronavirus era. Armed with Clorox wipes and gloves, I cleansed everything in the room before allowing my husband in. 

The next day, we checked into a Denver hotel. Same routine. Then to the doctor, where full precautions were in place. After the appointment, we drove to our rustic cabin (read no phone, no TV or internet) in New Mexico, and the next day landed at our son’s home in El Paso, Texas. There, we quarantined nearly two weeks before returning to Dallas. 

Mike was accepted for surgery and scheduled for June 26. We collected most of our belongings (still traveling with the same three suitcases we left home with) and left behind two bags packed for our optimistic return to Ecuador. 

After his successful ankle implant, Mike and I spent two weeks in an Airbnb in the Denver area to recuperate. It was someone else’s home, so it got the Paternoster cleansing treatment. But we were happy to have two weeks in one place. 

The expense and separation from family prompted a move back to El Paso, this time to our son’s vacant rental home.  Simple, clean and bright, it was furnished only with a double bed, a single bed, a table for four, one leather recliner and one outdoor patio recliner. Sparse, for sure, but all we needed.  

We settled in. I even started a 1,000-piece puzzle. 

Then came the news that my son’s live-in girlfriend might have been exposed to Covid-19. She is a speech pathologist employed in a nursing facility. Twenty-five patients and one co-worker had tested positive. My son, planning to drive to Denver with us for the last medical appointment, needed a place to quarantine. So once again, we moved on. 

One more Airbnb, with the Paternoster cleansing routine, in the El Paso countryside. 

One more trip to Denver and one more Airbnb in the mountains. 

One more trip to our rustic cabin, void of Wi-Fi, radio, television and telephone, for final recuperation and physical therapy. 

From March through August: eight homes, five hotel rooms. 

On August 14, Ecuador’s current state of emergency proclamation will be extended or lifted. Under current conditions, it is difficult, though not impossible, to get to Cuenca. But lifting the order would be helpful. Of course, the pendulum could swing in the opposite direction, with the President electing to close the borders again. 

At least until September, we remain, vagabonds. 

Then. Maybe. Home. 

My El Paso


Downtown El Paso looking toward the mountains in Juarez, Mexico

You tell yourself it can happen anywhere. But when it does happen, you can’t contain your shock.

My hometown just became the site of one of the 10 worst mass shootings in U.S. history.

El Paso, Texas was a sleepy, international community for most of my life. As a child, we freely walked or drove across the bridges from El Paso into Juarez, Mexico for shopping, visiting friends and eating great food. That changed, in later years, as the increase in drug traffic made crossing dangerous. Drug wars prevented many of us from enjoying the multi-cultural village that had become a cross-border international community. And now, of course, it is all about controlling immigration.

On Saturday, Aug. 3, a hate-filled young man from North Texas walked into El Paso’s mid-city Walmart and shot to kill. According to a published manifesto the FBI has attributed to the shooter, he was fueled by a hatred for Hispanics. We may never know if he researched the most likely spots to find a high percentage of Hispanics, but that mall is an El Paso favorite among Mexican shoppers. He succeeded in gunning down 22 individuals. Another two dozen were hospitalized or treated for injuries, while authorities have confessed some victims illegally in the U.S. may have left the scene, fearful of being deported.

Not my town. Not El Paso, Texas, ranked the safest city in the country the past three years. I can’t begin to tell you the gamut of emotions I have felt. And the pride I have felt as the residents of my former town rally together.

We don’t know all the victims’ names yet. By the grace of God, my family members are not among them. My best friend’s daughter was barricaded inside the restaurant she worked in – safe – until the all clear was given. My daughter’s best friend’s husband was a first responder. Former journalism colleagues sweated out the hot sun until the story was told, and one was forced to seek medical treatment for the heat.

A number of friends shop in that Walmart, some of whom noted they had been in just a day earlier or neglected to go on Saturday as planned.

Other friends stood in hours’ long lines to give blood, lines that stretched around the building until organizers had to appeal to potential givers to stay home. Local funeral homes – Martin, San Jose and Perches – are absorbing all costs associated with burying victims in support of their families.

67582172_10217527713298935_7581264975688105984_nThose are the things I do know. What I don’t know is how to deal with the aftermath. El Paso has joined a new fraternity, ranked on a national list we never aspired to.

I don’t have the answers, but there has to be a conversation about the sanctity of life. This conversation – between lawmakers who CAN do something – must lead to action. I don’t agree with those advocating for action as a replacement for prayers. I do believe continued prayer is crucial WHILE legislators take action.

kate gannon

photo by Kate Gannon

I do not understand racism. I cannot fathom xenophobia – the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners. Our country has strayed far from the innocence of my youth, when I played happily in the modest home of a cotton picker’s daughter and later developed a relationship with a black journalist who could not be closer to me than by own sisters. I fear for my grandchildren, who are inheriting a world of fear and hate.

So I continue to pray, because it is all I can do at the moment. Meanwhile, we try to find ways to channel our anger and helplessness into a positive outcome. There are many already stepping out to lead the charge.

My friend and former pastor Ellen Fenter posted this in the aftermath of the shooting:

Step into the light.
Embrace reality.
Live lives of courage and commitment and clarity.
Stand against the darkness and call it what it is.
Free your hearts from a political and economic agenda that imitates safety but welcomes demagoguery and hate.
Fuel yourself on love and understanding and goodness by entering the fray and serving in the trenches of otherness.

Manuel Oliver, father of Joaquin, one of the 17 high school students massacred last year in Parkland, had his own words of advice. He just happened to be in El Paso on the day of the mass shooting.

“In the next 10 days you will find teddy bears, crosses and balloons, then people forget. Don’t let this happen,” Oliver said. “This will never be the same city again, I can tell you that.”

Richard Wiles, sheriff of El Paso County, agreed.

“This Anglo man came here to kill Hispanics. I’m outraged and you should be too. This entire nation should be outraged,” Wiles said.

“In this day and age, with all the serious issues we face, we are still confronted with people who will kill another for the sole reason of the color of their skin.

57e94faf3e904.image“It’s time to rise up and hold our representatives accountable at all levels. I want representatives who will stand up against racism. Who will stand up and support the diversity of our nation and our state. Who will stand up for a strong criminal justice system that holds criminals responsible and keeps violent individuals locked up and off our streets. Who support robust community mental health services. Who support keeping guns out of the hands of people who are just waiting for an opportunity to kill others,’ Wiles said.

My extended family is split on this issue. Many protect the second amendment as a sacred right, refusing to consider any change that might weaken it, in their eyes. Others, including me, believe changes are imperative.

It took a year and a half to enact a federal ban on bump stocks after the mass killings in Las Vegas. With pressure on legislators, we could begin with a ban on high-capacity magazines and assault weapons. Background checks should be required for all gun purchases. If the voting public would push back against the powerful gun lobby, we could develop stricter government tracking of weapons used in crimes and improvements to the collection and sharing of data between law enforcement agencies.

According to the FBI, the racist El Paso shooter left a manifesto claiming his massacre was a “response to the Hispanic invasion.” It accuses the Democratic Party of “pandering to the Hispanic voting bloc,” and expresses his contempt for “race mixing” and supports “sending them back.”

That last comment reminded me of a conversation I had with a privileged family member after I moved my two small children to El Paso in the mid-90s. She asked me about my adolescent daughter’s choice to go to a public, rather than private, school. “Aren’t you afraid she will date a Mexican?” the family member asked. I was floored at her blatant xenophobia, but all I could say is that there was a good chance she would, and that I would look forward to meeting him.

Education has to begin now, at home, with our children. We can’t afford to raise another generation that includes fear-mongering, racist citizens. And while I am fully in favor of increasing funding and access to mental health nationwide, we need to separate the issues. As a recent Internet meme said, “Racism is NOT a mental disorder; it is a conscious decision to hate.”

We have an opportunity to put aside hate. We have a responsibility to do it now. Start by speaking up and voting. And yes, don’t forget to pray.