| Jun 26, 2013
Day Thirteen — Vancouver, WA to Portland, OR
20 miles walked today
9 miles to go (but who’s counting?)
I’ve driven over the Columbia River Bridge between Washington and Oregon hundreds of times.
Today, for the very first time, I walked over the bridge. It's more than a mile long and takes about 15 minutes to cross on foot.Jan Kennedy of the Murdock Trust and Matt Stiller of our staff joined me.
There’s a complex web of steel trusses that tower over the bridge with a very small set of steps going to the top. Matt told me he had climbed these steps several years ago when his father was asked to do some electrical work on the bridge.
It’s amazingly noisy on the bridge. Three lanes of traffic whiz by at 60 miles an hour. The nearest lane is about 3 feet away from the pedestrian walkway. You can almost reach out and touch the passing cars. When large trucks come by, the bridge actually shakes and vibrates. Under the bridge, the relentless currents of the Columbia River push their way to the Pacific.
The last thing that many refugees must do before finding safety in another country is to cross a river. Sometimes, the river is filled with crocodiles or treacherous rapids. Sometimes, there are thieves and bandits waiting to prey on refugee families.
At the Nakivale refugee camp in Uganda, Lynn and I met Justine, a refugee from Rwanda. In 1994, when the genocide occurred in Rwanda, Justine fled to Tanzania. In 1996, she returned home because Tanzania decided to expel all Rwandan refugees. She could not find safety in Rwanda and fled again to Uganda in 2005 where she has lived ever since.
When I crossed the Columbia River Bridge today, I was very happy to see the “Entering Oregon” sign halfway across the bridge because it meant that I was getting close to the end of my walk and almost home.
For refugees like Justine, crossing a river or a national border does mean that they no longer have to fear for their lives. But, it also means the start of years of drifting, waiting and hoping for a return home that may never happen.
I thought of Justine and many other refugees today when I crossed the Columbia River. I’m glad to be getting closer to home. And, I’m praying that one day, very soon, refugees like Justine may be able to return in peace to their homes as well.