We crossed the border south of Tucson, Arizona at the wind swept town of Nogales, Mexico. The desert landscape stark under the glaring mid day sun undulated, slipped into ravines then resurfaced behind a valley of mud homes. Intimidating border officials, weather worn and dark, waved cars toward the next check point. In between checks points, kids sold candy and an older man hawked canaries in tiny metal cages. Mexican music drifted into the car slipping through the crack of the window and mixing with the heat and our curiosity. There was an endless stream of people and cars weaving in and out of the border in a chaotic carnival like atmosphere and in an instant it seemed like everything had shifted.
After crossing the border we headed south toward Obregón to find Don Juan and the rest of the Always Becoming construction crew.
Guaymas is five hours into Mexico. The city of Guaymas sits on the Sea of Cortez and is one of many inlets on the Pacific Coast line. We stayed in an old hacienda near the bay where the following morning we interviewed Bill Steen in the courtyard of the hacienda. Bill was a member of the Always Becoming construction crew in Washington D.C., Bill connected us with other earth builders in the D.C. area and was instrumental obtaining red clay and other organic supplies for the sculptures. In our interview Bill discussed the area of Mexico we were traveling in and gave us a sketch of Yaqui history. He also talked about meeting Don Juan - another Always Becoming crew member - and the events that lead the crew to Washington D.C. to work on the sculptures at the NMAI Museum. After the interview we made our way through Yaqui land toward Obregón.
We drove through to Obregón looking for the meeting place where Don Juan and his family would be waiting for us. On the outskirts of Obregón there are massive factories that line the road one right after the other. Across the narrow highway from the factories there are clusters of unfinished houses that seemed to go on forever. Tiny houses positioned close together, designed and made specifically for the factory workers, inexpensive shelter for workers who will spend their entire lives paying off the mortgage.
We continued toward a more remote area near a bosque where the houses differed from the factory built and owned modules. Make shift dwellings of cardboard tin and plastic spotted the area. A herd of goats casually grazed along the river. A few unattended children played in the river. This was not the Mexico boasted on travel brochure, this was the Mexico of the poor who scratched out a living picking through trash heaps looking for something to salvage and possibly resell. We passed a family of four on a bicycle coming home from work, their faces covered with layers of dirt and sweat, I was struck by the fact that this family waved and smiled at us as we passed by in an air conditioned rental car.
Down a dusty dirt road we arrived to the place where we met Don Juan and his family. They were gathered under a large tree singing and playing their guitars.
The next day we drove to the Save the Children office building outside of Obregón.
The building was constructed by the Steen and Morales families several years ago. The families met and began a relationship while working on this straw bale and mud plastered building. It seemed appropriate to conduct the interviews here in the garden that Don Juan once tended, where he, his family and new friends, the Steens met. Wildly colorful Bougainvilleas framed walls and arches that were plastered in the brightest blue and yellow clay mixes. All of these wondrous colors popping out of corners and gardens only added to the charm and beauty of this simple yet elegant compound. Athena - a crucial Always Becoming crew member - spoke about traveling to this place in Obregón where she felt anchored and enlightened not only by the land, but by the people. Don Juan sang a song for us which we'll use in the film and Juanita - who is a shy woman - quietly spoke of her experience working on the Always Becoming project in Washington. After the interview we drove to a park and ate fresh coconut with peanuts peppered with chili powder.
Rio Sonora, Mexico
Returning North - away from the city - back toward the border through the Rio Sonora valley
through an area of subsistence living.
Above the valley
Under the intensity
Of a hot
Leading to courtyards
Where minimal water and flowers make visual magic.
Taco stands everywhere
Outside of people's homes
Selling the hottest chili ever
Outside tamales boiled in huge metal pots
Grandmothers held grandchildren lovingly
As young mothers sold roasted green chili.
An old man sold us Bacanora
Moving through calm
with the people and land
Ending our last day together under the stars
We passed the coke bottle of Bacanora around and around.
We celebrated our journey
Toasting the boundaries we'd crossed together and separately.
That night we slept soundly in Banámichi, Mexico
Near a plaza
Above farm land
Under a bright
* Bacanora: Alcohol made from the Agave plant, distilled and bottled. Usually purchased in a coke bottle from a farmer/distiller.
Naco, Mexico/U.S. Border
We crossed into the United States through a dust storm, re-entering at the border town called Naco. We exchanged the last of our pesos for dollars and passed through a fenced off check point. Armed security guards looked over our passports and waved us through the fence. We were back in the United States and suddenly everything shifted. Once on U.S. soil we stopped for one last photo-op with the crew and before everyone went their separate ways, we shared one last shot of Bacanora and thanked each other for a good trip.
For five days we moved together, navigating through a foreign land, reuniting to tell a story about a project that made us all cross over in our thinking. And in doing so, we migrated closer to ourselves.
I've been inviting people to share their comments and suggestion on this blog, so please anyone out there interested in sharing their thoughts, you are most welcome.
next month: Washington D.C.