Blood, Sweat and Knobby Knees by Peg Bowden

Peg Bowden is a retired nurse living in southern Arizona on a ranch near the border. She volunteers each week with the Green Valley Samaritans at an aid station known as  El  Comedor in Nogales, Sonora. The aid station/soup kitchen is a project of the Kino Border Initiative, directed by a binational Jesuit ministry.

*******************************************************************************************************It It is 11 a.m. and 103 degrees outside in Nogales, Sonora. An ancient fan wobbles and clickety-clacks from the ceiling of el comedor, the aid station where I volunteer each week. The fan tries to make a dent in the intense heat and humidity of this monsoon morning. The legendary dry heat of southern Arizona is gone; the air feels like steam.

I am on my bony knees on a concrete floor gently placing the blistered, bleeding feet of my migrant friend into a plastic basin of cool water. He rolls up his jeans and gingerly submerges his feet. Caked dirt and blood cloud the water. Sweat drips from my nose. My back is killing me. Wobbling back and forth on the unforgiving floor, I wonder what in the hell I am doing here. My friend winces as I gently take some forceps and remove the dead skin and small pebbles embedded in his feet.

He is heading to Bakersfield and a job he has held for ten years in a restaurant where he claims to make the best chile rellenos in California. I believe him. Speaking perfect English, he tells me that he has lived in Bakersfield for 20 years. He decided to return to Guadalajara to see his grandmother. He ended up burying her, and is grateful for the time he had with her. With no memory of his grandmother as a young boy, he wanted to meet her before she died. Attempting to cross the border and head back to Bakersfield, he was picked up in the desert two days ago. Deported to Nogales, he ended up at here at el comedor.

I am a retired nurse, a grandmother, and a volunteer at this aid station. Never in my nursing days have I had this sort of experience. It is an act of pain. It is an act of love. I feel like I am a character in the Bible washing the feet of a weary pilgrim. The intimacy is profound and unsettling. There are no charts and paperwork and the slick high-tech machinery of the American health care system. Just a wounded man, a basin of water, and a retired nurse diving into the drama of connecting as best we can. It is all hands-on.

We are both self-conscious and bumble through this together. He wipes his eyes as I pick away at his chewed-up feet. I examine his toes and decide how to best treat the open sores and broken blisters. I am all business and try to put on my nurse face.

We talk about his children. I talk about my grandchildren. He pulls a crumpled zip-lock bag out of his jeans pocket and spreads the wrinkled photos on the table. Two adorable little munchkins in school uniforms are smiling in front of a bus stop. He tells me he must get home to them soon. They need their dad. His wife needs the money from his job at the restaurant.

I tell him he cannot walk for several days. If your feet are abscessed and infected, you don’t migrate. He is staring at the photos; he doesn’t hear a word I say. I find him some over-sized slippers to wear over his bandaged feet. He tells me to look him up if I ever come through Bakersfield. He crosses himself and hobbles out the door.

I never saw him again.

 

 

 

About virginiaisaad

Virginia is a journalist based in Los Angeles who's written for publications including Los Angeles magazine, Upworthy, and Elite Daily. She was born in Argentina and raised in the San Fernando Valley along with her three siblings. Fun fact: She took a Chicanas and Feminism course with Eva Longoria while studying for her master's in mass communication at California State University, Northridge. Follow her on Twitter @virginiaisaad

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