you cant build walls high enough

If you spend four days in close quarters with any group of people you certainly will come up with a story or two. My annual bus trek to Montreal, this year via Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago yielded a few tales for sure.

If you spend four days in close quarters with any group of people you certainly will come up with a story or two.

My annual bus trek to Montreal, this year via Kansas City, St. Louis and Chicago yielded a few tales for sure. The most poignant in my 2009 odyssey so far revealed itself over the space of a couple of hours at the border crossing between Emerson, Manitoba, and Pembina, North Dakota.

All bus passengers had handed over their passports to the ticket agent prior to boarding the southbound bus in Winnipeg. With the passport numbers duly recorded a sheet with the passenger manifest and travel document numbers was faxed to the US Customs post at Pembina. This, hopefully, would ease our crossing into the United States.

Signs of the flooding earlier this season and a still-full Red River appeared and disappeared from view along Highway 75 as we sped south. Levee-protected towns like Morris and St. Jean Baptiste seemed to rise above the surrounding fertile plain of glacial lacustrine silts left from the ancient Lake Agassiz. The border came on us quickly as an imaginary legal line across a vast landscape indifferent to geo-political realities.

The horizon stretched fields green with beans and beets caught the morning sun to the west of the two border crossings posts separated by only a couple of hundred metres and prominent flag-draped poles. To the east a tree line marked out the northward meander of the Red River. To both the north and south swaths of crop land had been taken over for duty-free shops.

Passengers exited the bus and filed one by one up to the counter for a few mandatory questions from the border guards. As always a couple of people seemed to warrant closer scrutiny. Officials took a teenager into a back room. His interview took the better part of an hour. Finally all of us reboarded the bus which then to our chagrin, turned around and headed back north to the Canadian border. The teenager had not been allowed across.

Slowly we pieced his story together. It seems that this 16-year-old’s mother had died three years before. For whatever reason no family members had stepped forward to care for him. Couch surfing and the rootless life of a street kid took over. He finally found an uncle in Texas who offered him a home. Scrapping together enough money for a bus ticket he set out. His hope for a new life got him only a little over a hundred kilometres from Winnipeg. We waited two more hours for the RCMP to come fetch him back to an uncertain future.

It seems that borders these days are frustrating many hopes and dreams. From increased threats of global economic protectionism to the recent attempt to close the door on refugees from Mexico and the Czech Republic through the imposition of a visa requirements here in Canada, it seems as though we are losing our global perspective at precisely the time it is most needed. Building higher walls of any kind will not solve the dramatic problems confronting us as individuals, nations or as a planetary community.

Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact pazypan@yukon.net.

Namaste notes

Sunday, July 19 – Lailat al-Miraj marks the Islamic observance of the Prophet Mohammed’s night journey from Mecca to Jerusalem and his ascension to heaven.

Sunday, July 19 – 16nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. Suggested reading Mark 6:30-34.

Thursday, July 23 – Haile Selassi I’s birthday is celebrated by Rastafarians who honour the last emperor of Ethiopia as the incarnation of God, the Jah Rastafari.

Friday, July 24 – Pioneer Day commemorates the arrival of first Mormon settlers in 1847 at the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

Friday, July 24 – 80th anniversary of the signing of the Kellogg-Briand Pact in 1929 renouncing war as an instrument of foreign policy.