November Newsletter: 89 Places

Good News! It turns out that taking the train across the country gives an extraordinary amount of time for writing, AND I have plans to prolifically share updates along these upcoming adventures, without concern for writing vastly. To start, here’s an update on recent movements:

It’s cloudy this morning in New Orleans and I’m on the second floor of the Sunset Limited train, getting ready to leave the station. The Crescent train arrived here last night at 1:15am, and I slept a few hours in a spunky hostel. I got on the crescent in Charlottesville the night before last, after a frenzy of preparation for this upcoming Borderlands trip with Andy, who awaits me in Tucson.

The Borderlands project is an idea for an expedition-based semester program traversing US-Mexico borders. It asks how we can teach social justice through the moving body, transforming our understandings of belonging, citizenship, boundaries, and home through the routes we choose to travel– crossing or following current geopolitical borders, historical borders, cultural and ecological borders. How we are oriented in relation to each other (politically, religiously, by gender and sexuality, by citizenship status, and more) is mapped by the directions that our bodies travel in and the directions where we place our attention.

I began thinking about borderlands education through conversation with my students on the Ecuador Semester Program one year ago at this time. Last January, I wrote up a set of curriculum outlines for four experiential classes– Water (natural science), Movement (adventure education and political science), Family (social studies), and Dreams (literature). In February, I traveled to El Paso and Big Bend National Park for an Outward Bound staff invitational– an amazing week-long backpacking trip with Outward Bound instructors from around the country, where we hiked and climbed right along the Texan border. In El Paso, I met a borderlands history professor, the El Paso public schools bilingual education coordinator, and visited El Paso’s neighbor city Juarez. In the spring, I taught a section of the Kroka Winter Semester Program on Lake Champlain, and focused on borderlands as a curriculum lens– between Iroquois and Abenaki, Granite, and Slate, French and English, New York and Vermont. Lake Champlain’s Abenaki name is ‘Bitawbagok’, The Waters In Between. What is borderlands education? I asked. What does it look like to educate ‘in between’ (languages, places of access, cultural and political and ecological differences)? Over the summer, I communicated more widely with academics, activists, and outdoor educators interested in the potential of a Borderlands semester. I was moved by how many of these folks identified as women, and how powerful the borderlands of gender are within this project.

This fall season, I have been diving into the first stages of borderlands investigation, beginning with what’s closest– the experience in my own body of encountering and traversing borderlands, accompanied by the companionship of friends.

I recently returned from five weeks in Israel-Palestine, where I went to reunite with Alma, my life’s first friend, who is Israeli and lives in Tel Aviv. My travels were humbling, tender, provoking, eye-opening, isolating, enraging, expanding, loving. My time included many visits to Jerusalem, political tours with Ir Amim in East Jerusalem and Breaking the Silence in the South Hebron Hills, several days in Ramallah in the West Bank visiting the Quaker school, and a few days in Bethlehem, also in the West Bank. I hiked in the Ramon Crater and considered the relationships of political and geologic borders, at the Syrian-African fault, and at the point of division between water flowing to the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea. I am working on a longer piece of poetry and nonfiction tentatively titled after Yehuda Amichai’s lines… ‘We were together in my time, in your place/ You gave the place and I the time.’

I say ‘first stages’ of borderlands investigations, because I increasingly recognize the ways this project calls towards a creative writing project, a course of graduate study, a series of expeditions, or/AND an educational program. It’s my intention to place value on HOW the project comes about, through meaningful connections and experiences.

In Tucson, our intention is to connect with individuals and organizations already doing amazing work in borderlands education. Andy and I come from a background of transforming content areas into an experiential course of study, and we’re curious about how the intersection of methods of expedition-based education can enrich education work happening on the border. It’s an open question!

Andy and I will share Thanksgiving at the NOLS (National Outdoor Leadership School) branch, stay in a strawbale guesthouse offered to us by members of the Cascabel Conservation Association, volunteer with the Casa Maria Soup Kitchen, Tucson Samaritans, and Humane Borders, and meet individuals involved with education, watershed management, permaculture living, simple homesteading, and radical biking! Our route-finding (by bike!) will include portions which run both perpendicular and parallel to the contemporary geopolitical border, as well as parallel to the pre-1848 border (the rio Grande running through what’s now New Mexico).

So far this year, I’ve slept in 89 unique places (now you know the title, if you’ve read this far!). The past several years have been about coming to a place of choosing what I had taken for granted, and feeling that I am living a life that I chose to live. What I begin to yearn for now are things that I had the privilege of not being able to see as subjects of yearning– to have a durable dwelling with walls, for people in my life to know where I am, to have one address and state of residence, to build routine, to say ‘was that this Tuesday or last Tuesday? it all blends together.’ At one point when I was leaving Alma’s apartment for Jerusalem, I tore at my chest and told her ‘I just have this thing of feeling such tension between being on the adventure, being out on the road, and being at home.’ She said ‘that’s not just you, that’s people.’ I’m learning how understanding borderlands is some about movement and transience, but is truly also about being rooted in place, the embodied feeling, experienced or longed for, of being settled.