Nine Postcards. The Miguel Echevarria Story
“Intelligent. Quiet. Friendly. Never caused any trouble.”
(Miranda Robertson, English teacher at Hailey High School)
“Who? In this school? Sorry, I have no idea. We have more than 600 students each year, you know.”
(Arthur Bell, principle at Hailey High School)
“He had this sheep wool sweater that his mom had made him. It was a cool sweater. He wore it all the time.”
(Carole Joyce, high school classmate)
“He didn’t talk much about his travels. Or his background. He didn’t talk much at all, actually. If anything, he talked about books.”
(Jan Schildt, travel acquaintance)
Nairobi, Kenya – The Kenyan Constable Police Force declared at a brief press conference at the US Embassy in Nairobi yesterday that the search for Miguel Echevarria would officially end on March 15th. Chief Inspector Paul Asene said there was “no realistic hope left” to find clues to the whereabouts of the 21-year old Echevarria from Ketchum, Idaho.
Echevarria disappeared in May last year in the inhospitable region of Marsabit in northern Kenya. He was last seen disembarking alone from a truck about 30 miles north of the town of Marsabit before heading into the savannah on foot.
The Kenyan authorities believe it unlikely that Echevarria is still alive. The savannah is deemed a harsh environment to survive in for a lone traveler, and a search for Echevarria amongst the local herders remained without result. Furthermore, banditry is rife in the Marsabit region.
Echevarria’s family, however, has not given up hope. The US Ambassador to Kenya, Herbert Baker, promised his ongoing support to the Echevarrias who migrated to the United States from the Spanish Basque Country in 1974.
“We believe that the Kenyan authorities have been committed in their search, and we have to respect their decision that they’ve done what they could and don’t see any further possibilities to help. I will nonetheless leave the case open and we will continue with our own investigation in the matter,” Baker was quoted as saying.
The Echevarria family stated that they appreciated the ambassador’s support.
(The Boise Gazette, 2002/03/12)
Barcelona, October 5th
Two anarchists walk home to their Andalusian village after attending a wedding in a neighboring village eight kilometers down the plains. The moonlight is shining brightly as they stagger home on the scorched earth.
After a while, one of them speaks. “Why are we still attending weddings? I mean, we’re supposed to be against all bourgeois institutions, right?”
His friend gazes at the moon and takes a swig from the bottle dangling from his hand. “Didn’t you like the wine?”
“Of course I did.”
“So, what are you talking about?”
“Very talented! I’m tempted to say a touch of brilliance. But no commitment. Just wasn’t interested. Too bad, he could have gone pretty far. What is he doing now?”
(Robert Kreike, captain of the Hailey High School chess team)
“We told him that what he wanted to do was dangerous. There is nothing out there. Even we don’t go. But he just smiled and said he’d be alright. So we let him go.”
(Moses Moe, truck driver)
“He never liked to talk about family stuff. Or anything personal, for that matter. I don’t know. Just wasn’t him, I guess.”
(Juan Echevarria, cousin)
“We met him on a bus to Cairo. He laughed when we told him about how we had gotten into an argument with Israeli soldiers in Tel Aviv over the quality of matzoth. And that was that.”
(Stew Brown and Toby McAllister, travel acquaintances)
Miguel Echevarria was born on June 17th, 1980, in Boise, Idaho. He was the son of Basque migrants who had arrived in the United States in the 1970s, long after the main wave of Basque immigration into Idaho in the beginning of the century. Miguel’s father, Felipe, had a well established cousin in Gooding, and, together with his wife Dolores, he stayed there for six months before buying his own piece of land near Ketchum, and, over the years, becoming a fairly successful farmer.
Felipe and Dolores had four children, three boys and a girl. Miguel was the second born. Carlos was born in 1978, Fermin in 1981, and Carmen in 1984.
It seems like there was nothing extraordinary in Miguel’s upbringing. He got taught the odd mix of social conservativism and anti-colonial radicalism that separatist rural Basques had developed over the decades of their bloody struggle for independence. There was a healthy despise for the Spanish in Miguel’s family, and his parents made a point of speaking only Euskadi and English to their children.
Miguel did his primary school years in Ketchum, then went to Hailey High School where most Basque kids of the area went. He was a good – if not outstanding – and quiet student. He picked mostly science, but his main interest lay in his English classes. (Not a very common combination as many high school principles like to point out.) He wasn’t very good in sports and didn’t play on any of the school’s teams. He was in the chess team for a year in 9th grade and won all his games except one, but then lost interest. He didn’t go out much, and even though he was widely liked, never really had any close friends. Apart from helping on his parents’ farm, he would spend his time after school playing the flute and writing stories no one ever got to read. (Except for, later, his younger sister. But we will get there.)
Miguel was not only quiet in school, but also within the family. Carlos was very much a first-born son. He wasn’t necessarily dominating his younger siblings, but very assertive in his responsibility as the eldest and in his role as the proud heir to the family farm. (This couldn’t be taken for granted anymore at the time. The lure of the big cities on the coast didn’t pass by Idaho’s Basque community either.) Fermin was outgoing and gregarious, not a very good student, but a great athlete. He eventually got a football scholarship for the University of Wyoming and became one of the best college wide receivers in the Northwest.
Miguel’s relationship with his brothers was okay. He didn’t necessarily share much with them and was generally perceived as the odd one out, but he never openly questioned family loyalties and quietly played his part to everyone’s satisfaction. Felipe, his father, sometimes thought he was too soft and dreamy, but he never made a big deal out of it, since, all in all, Miguel was a good kid. As far as Miguel was concerned, the relationship with his father was one of respect. But that was about it.
The relationship with his mother was more ambiguous. Dolores was a hard woman who had lost two brothers to the independence struggle (one of the main reasons she decided to go to the US with Felipe). She took issue with Miguel’s alleged softness and made this much more explicit than her husband. At the same time, she had always had particularly warm feelings for her reclusive son, and at times would open up to him emotionally more than she would to anyone else. Yet, Miguel didn’t respond much to that. What defined the relationship to his mother for him was fear.
The only real bond Miguel had with anyone within the family (or generally, for that matter) was with little Carmen. Miguel adored his younger sister. She was very much a spoiled youngest child, pampered by her older brothers (much more so than by her parents, especially her mother), but she was sweet and gentle. Like Miguel, she played the flute, and she could spend hours making fine drawings or little figures out of colored cardboard. She spent lots of time with Miguel who gave her much more actual attention than both of her older brothers combined.
When Miguel enrolled at the University of Montana after high school, his sister was who he missed most, and she was the sole reason for his regular visits back to the farm. During one of these visits, Miguel read her some of his stories. It was the first time he ever read any of his stories to anyone. They were short and didn’t make much sense to Carmen, but she loved them. Miguel started to write some stories especially for her. He would read them during his visits to the farm, or, on occasion, send them in the mail.
Then, in the summer of 2000, Miguel read a book on Everett Ruess, decided to drop out of college, got work in Boise for three months, then bought a plane ticket to Madrid. His parents and brothers were flabbergasted. His sister sad. And he, maybe for the first time in his life, really excited.
(Josh Carter, winner of the first prize of the Twin Falls, Idaho, high school journalist competition 2002, with this essay on Miguel Echevarria)
Nice, October 12th
I didn’t like Nice very much. Fortunately enough, I was just passing through. Upmarket commercialism ruled supreme. And everything that came with it: overpriced bars, judgmental locals, annoying tourists.
“Why is this place so fucked up?” I asked the homeless guy who lived down in some tunnel by the oceanfront.
“’Cause you can’t be skipping stones in the sea,” he said.
“You hardly noticed he was there. Great guy, though.”
(Erwin Koma, travel acquaintance)
“One of the best workers I ever had. Reliable, hard-working, even skilled. I wanted him to stay, but he said he had to move on.”
(Guiseppe Ratoni, Italian farmer)
“He was always calm. So calm. I mean, they had big fights in the house more than just once. But Miguel, he was always calm. I’ll always remember him for that. And I admired it too.”
(Dan Echevarria, cousin)
“I think he hated it here.”
(Tomas Koslowski, fellow student at the University of Montana)
Miguel arrived in Madrid on an Iberian Airlines flight in the afternoon of August 19th.
Not much is known about his travels in the following months, for he did not correspond with anyone, and it wasn’t easy to find people he had met along the way. If he kept a journal at all, it vanished with him. In the end, we were just about able to reconstruct Miguel’s travel route. It remains incomplete, yet we managed to establish at least some chronological order.
Miguel stayed in Madrid for about two weeks, then he visited the Basque country for about a month (without seeing any of his relatives). He passed through Barcelona in order to quickly travel along the southern coast of France towards Italy where he worked on a farm near Napoli for a month before boarding a ferry from Bari to Patras, Greece. He didn’t spend much time in Greece, heading to Istanbul instead, where he stayed for six weeks, apparently enjoying the bustle of the occidental-oriental crossroads around the Bosphorus. Just after New Year’s, he quickly went through Syria and Jordan to Egypt, where he seemed to have first disappeared into the desert. It proved impossible to find any indications of Miguel’s whereabouts or activities between him asking a minibus-driver to drop him off in the plain desert between Mt Sinai and Dahab, and resurfacing in Cairo two months later. In Cairo he arranged his papers to take a boat journey from Suez to Massawa, Eritrea, via Saudi-Arabia. This was an achievement, since getting the documents necessary for Saudi-Arabia and Eritrea wasn’t easy at the time. Miguel stayed in Eritrea for a month, made his way to Djibouti, and entered Ethiopia from there, forced to the detour by the closure of the Eritrean-Ethiopian border due to the countries’ military conflict. In mid-May Miguel was in Addis Abeba, on May 23rd he crossed the border into Kenya at Moyale.
On the morning of the 24th he climbed on a truck loaded with rice-bags bound for a two-day journey to Isiolo, in central Kenya. About 50km before the scheduled overnight stop in Marsabit, Miguel got off the truck and wandered into the wide savannah. Despite strong efforts by the Kenyan truck driver and his fellow passengers, he could not be persuaded to stay on the truck, at least till Marsabit. The truck finally left at around 4pm. The passengers watched Miguel walk off into the empty, wide-open grasslands. Neither he nor his equipment have ever been seen again.
(Inspector Robert Haley, assigned to the Echevarria case for a period of two months by the Idaho State Police Force, in an informal press release upon finishing his investigation)
Napoli, November 2nd
The guy was running and running and running through the alleys of Napoli’s oldest neighborhoods. He knocked over a couple of fruit stalls, bumped into like a million people, and tore the sheets of the laundry-lines he ducked under. Every now and again he turned around, his breath heavy and his face in agony.
I’m sure he hadn’t even seen the scooter. I always thought the scooters could kill people. Then again, “why did he have to run so fast?”, as the kid with the scooter asked.
Yes, why did he?
“I don’t know if he was very much into being Basque. I mean, we all are sort of, but if it was in his heart, I can’t tell. Why do you ask anyway?”
(Steven Achabal, cousin)
“He could sit out there and watch the birds. Forever. I don’t know how he did it.”
(Sebastian Ibaibarriaga, childhood friend)
“Humor? Maybe. But dark. Very dark.”
(Felipe Echevarria, father)
“Why did Carmen get all the letters? He loved her. I mean, I guess, in a way, he loved us all. But Carmen, he really loved.”
(Fermin Echevarria, brother)
Since Miguel hadn’t really kept in touch with anyone, it took months until we even noticed him missing. Only when the postcards to Carmen didn’t arrive anymore, we really became worried.
On October 21st, 2001, my parents informed the US Bureau of Foreign Affairs that they had lost all contact with Miguel. They told the Bureau that his last mail had been sent from Ethiopia on May 15th.
On October 25th, the Bureau told them that Miguel had crossed into Kenya at Moyale on May 23rd, but that there was no official record of where he had been since.
We waited for over two more months before dad decided to take me to Kenya to search for Miguel. This was after the Bureau had once again confirmed that there was still no record of Miguel leaving the country, and that the efforts initiated by the US embassy to locate him within Kenya had brought no results.
We arrived in Nairobi on January 10th. After a week of talks to officials and random investigations in the capital had led to nothing, we decided to do the rough overland journey to Moyale where Miguel had entered the country.
We got to the town of Marsabit – about half-way to Moyale - on January 21st and checked into the Marsabit Lodge. For the first time, the photos we showed of Miguel, and the story we told, caused a reaction. Joseph Swaleh, who was working the bar at the Lodge, remembered a story about a young American who, months ago, had got off a truck somewhere north of town. Joseph had never seen the man, but given the stories Joseph had heard, he might have as well looked like the man on our photos. In any case, he said that, if he remembered correctly, the truck the American had been on had been driven by one Moses Moe, who still came through Marsabit with his truck every couple of days.
We then checked every truck coming through for Moses Moe. Two days later, Moses arrived in Marsabit coming from Moyale. His truck was loaded with rice bags. When we told him who we were looking for and showed the photos, Moses instantly identified the man as the American who had walked into the savannah. Once understanding that we were Miguel’s father and brother and that Miguel had been missing ever since he had got off that truck, Moses appeared very upset and assured us several times that he had tried to deter Miguel from wandering off alone, but that it had all been to no avail. The longer he talked about that day and about the kid he had left by the side of the road in the middle of nowhere, we became convinced that it really was Miguel. At one point, he went to get two men from Marsabit he remembered to have been passengers on his truck that day. They also identified Miguel and told their stories, further convincing us that we had finally found something.
Unfortunately, we never got any further. Even though many locals and the few police officers present helped us with genuine concern and serious effort, no one, including many contacted tribal leaders, could tell us anything about what might have happened to Miguel since that day.
Frustrated and exhausted, yet with remaining hope, we went back to Nairobi on February 1st to catch our flight back to the States two days later. We provided the US embassy with the information we had gathered and left the search for Miguel in the embassy’s hands. The ambassador himself gave us his word that he would do his best possible to locate Miguel. If he did his best possible will probably always remain open to question, but he did get two officers of the Constable Kenyan Police Force exclusively assigned to the case for a month and had US Army helicopters stationed in Djibouti fly extensive expeditions over the Marsabit area.
However, as you know, this was all to no avail. On March 15th, the search for Miguel was officially declared unsuccessful and got called off. The Kenyan authorities filed the case as unresolved. The US ambassador assured us that he would continue with his efforts, but that without the cooperation of the Kenyan authorities his means were limited.
Whatever means were still employed, no one has ever come up with any useful information on Miguel’s possible whereabouts, or his fate, until today.
(Carlos Echevarria, Miguel’s older brother, reading from a manuscript prepared for a Northwest Public Radio report on Miguel’s disappearance after he and his father had come back from Kenya)
Istanbul, November 24th
I don’t know if it’s a Turkish tale or not, but let’s say it is:
A swan once swam down the Bosphorus and met a duck. The duck said: “Do you know that this side is Asia, and this side Europe? You are between two continents!”
The swan first looked left, then right, and finally asked: “And where will the river lead me to?”
“He should have joined the military.”
(Anastacio Echevarria, uncle)
“He should have gone back to the Basque Country.”
(Toni Echevarria, uncle)
“Yes. And join ETA instead of the military.”
(Raul Indurain, uncle)
“Don’t listen to any of them!”
(Nancy Guericabeitia, aunt)
When I first talked to Miguel’s family about researching their son’s disappearance, I felt confident that my journalistic background, combined with my real interest in the story, would allow me to come up with much more information than what Felipe and Carlos Echevarria had been able to gather on their trip to Kenya in January 2002.
Three months later I knew I was wrong. Miguel Echevarria had hardly left any traces anywhere. His travel route, for example, had to be almost exclusively reconstructed by the postage stamps of the nine postcards sent to his sister, by the visa collections and border crossings, and by the bookings for the ferry trips from Bari to Patras, Aqaba to Nuweiba, and Suez to Massawa via Jeddah. It wasn’t possible to find his name in even one hotel, hostel, or campground along the way. Either Miguel just always slept rough, or he signed in under different names. Also – and this is not surprising, given the way Miguel Echevarria was characterized by most people who knew him – he must have whizzed his way through the countries he visited so quietly and unnoticeably that hardly anyone seems to remember a shy, handsome, lean, 5ft11-tall Basque boy with American English. And the people who do remember him don’t remember much. Or don’t have much to say, other than that he was polite, soft-spoken and very reserved. I didn’t meet a single person who had been able to recall a conversation with Miguel of any personal depth or significance. I found this highly frustrating at first. After all, I had been after a story. And now, I had none.
Over the next two months I not only went to Ethiopia and Kenya, but also followed parts of Miguel’s travel-route in Europe. As interesting and fascinating as my research was at times, its actual outcome was both embarrassing to my journalistic pride and highly disappointing to my and, especially, the Echevarria family’s hopes.
I remember my last phone call to Felipe Echevarria well. I felt ashamed that all the hope the family had put into me remained entirely unfulfilled. Basically, I hadn’t found out anything. I had collected very little information on Miguel’s travels, even less impressions by people who had met him during this time, and finally some speculations on his fate in Kenya. And that was that. None of it was really helpful in any way. As far as I’m concerned, this story really is as open to speculation as the Ruess story, and this, I’m afraid, is all I gotta say.
(Mark Handle, freelance journalist who gave up researching a story on Echevarria after two months, in a letter to Tom Sherman, a fellow journalist)
Istanbul, December 16th
“So, if the Hagia Sophia once was a church, which God resides there now?”
“But there is only one God,” the Imam said.
“So it’s just the facade of his house that changed?”
“If you will, yes.”
“So, why did you bother changing it then?”
“To allow us to worship the way the Prophet taught us to.”
“I see,” I said, and threw some coins into the beggar’s hand.
(James Mulee, Police Commander, Marsabit, Kenya)
“Everything’s possible. Are you sure Jim Morrison is dead?”
(Robert Ansotegui, high school classmate)
“We still do what we can.”
(Herbert Baker, US ambassador in Nairobi)
“That’s what they always say.”
(Franklin Dolson, Peace Corps volunteer, Mombasa, Kenya)
Everett Ruess was born in March 1914 in Oakland, California. His father, Christopher, worked as a probation officer in Alameda County, later as the director of education and research in the Los Angeles County Probation Department. He also served as a minister in the Unitarian Church and wrote poetry.
More influential on Everett was his mother Stella who, very early on, shared her artistic skill and passion with Everett. Very much thanks to her guidance and encouragement, Everett became prolific in writing, sketching, and blockprinting at an early age. Everett also had an older brother, Waldo, who first pursued a career as a governmental diplomatic aide, and later became an international businessman.
Everett left the family home early to explore both artistic communities along the West Coast and the natural wonders of the Southwest. He only ever dedicated half a year to an academic education at UCLA. Although his father always regretted that Everett did not continue his university studies, his explorations were always supported by his family, in particular his mother. In regard to his artistic development, the few months he spent amongst the artist community of San Francisco in late 1933 and early ’34 were probably the most influential. Generally, wandering the wilderness areas of the Southwest became more and more his focus. Everett traveled unconventionally for his time. His means were low, and he would mostly get around on foot, mule, or by hitching rides. He was described as fearless and self-confident, sometimes to foolish degrees. His travels are documented in diaries, poems and essays, letters, and snapshots. These documents tell of a young man haunting the ideals of the pure beauty he meant to find in the deserts and canyonlands of Utah and Arizona (“such utter and overpowering beauty as nearly kills a sensitive person by its piercing glory” as he would once write), all the while driven by an extreme sense of independence, sometimes transgressing into an apparent longing for loneliness and escape from all social restrictions.
Everett Ruess was last seen alive on November 21st, 1934, when he left the camp of two sheepherders about 50 miles out of Escalante, the town he had departed from on a solitary journey with two burros into the canyonlands of southern Utah. Everett was only 20 years old.
Since Everett was known to go on long solitary journeys, his family only inquired in Escalante per mail about their son after they hadn’t heard from him in over two months. Only around March 1st, 1935, a search party got finally organized.
The party soon found Everett’s two burros and some of his equipment in a brush fence not too far from the sheepherders’ camp he had last been seen at. After this, the party came across carvings and tracks that were probably Everett’s. But neither Everett nor most of his personal belongings (his bedroll, cook kit, food, paint kit, journals, money) would ever be found.
The disappearance of Everett Ruess remains a mystery to this day. Theories range from a premeditated change of identity (for example, by joining the Navajo south of the Colorado River) to death by accident (most likely by a fall into one of the canyons) to murder (committed by cattle rustlers or outlaw Navajos). The different theories are probably still best laid out in the book Everett Ruess. A Vagabond for Beauty by W.L. Rusho, published in 1983.
It was Rusho’s book that Miguel Echevarria would read in July 2000, and that would leave such a big impression on him. The most highlighted passages in Miguel’s copy were two quotes from Everett Ruess’ diary: “God, how the wild calls me. There can be no other life for me but that of the lone wilderness wanderer. It has an irresistible fascination. The lone trail is the best for me.” (July 12th, 1932) And: “I thought that there were two rules in life – never count the cost, and never do anything unless you can do it wholeheartedly. Now is the time to live.” (June 11th, 1934)
(Clemens Childers, University of Utah, Department of State History, in a contribution to a Time Magazine article on the Miguel Echevarria disappearance)
Amman, January 18th
I met this Palestinian guy in front of the big mosque, and he said how one day he saw this Israeli-looking guy eat falafel during Ramadan and he wanted to tell him off, but then it turned out that the guy was actually Turkish, and that pissed the Palestinian guy off even more, because as a Muslim the Turkish guy should have known better, but then the Turkish guy said that his parents were Armenian, so he was Christian, and then the Palestinian guy got all confused and went back into the mosque to pray some more, and he told me how that had sorted him out again.
“Irresponsible. In fact, fucking stupid, if I may say so.”
(Karl Kent, US-American tour operator in Nairobi)
“It’s kinda hard to blame people for their own death, don’t you think?”
(Josh Roth, another US-American tour operator in Nairobi)
“The media doesn’t really give a shit about Miguel, you know? I mean, these journalists and these reporters come here and ask all these questions, and then they sensationalize everything and spread all sorts of rumors in the papers and on TV, and it’s all disrespectful to Miguel and his family, and I wanna say even us as a community. And all just for the sales and the ratings and shit. I mean, fuck, that ABC report last week was the worst, man!”
(Robert Schreck, student at Hailey High School)
“If he’s still out there, he’s bad-ass!”
(Jay Salmo, traveler in East Africa)
They say that Miguel Echevarria left his former life behind after he read about Everett Ruess. Did he set out to recreate the Ruess mystery? If he did, he succeeded. The theories on what might have happened to him are reminiscent of those on the young artist who vanished in the canyons of the Southwest:
1. Miguel Echevarria was after a deliberate change of identity. He wanted to erase his old life, and reinvent himself. He might be living with Masai or Samburu tribes in northern Kenya, or, with the help of Somali bandits, might have made his way back to Djibouti or on to Nairobi where it would have been easy to obtain first-class fake papers. This theory seems particularly popular in Idaho communities, especially amongst the youth. Part of this might be wishful thinking, or even just the hunger for a sensationalist story. But as long as there is no contradicting evidence, the theory remains a possibility that has to be considered. Besides, it’s the only theory that can account for the fact that no body and no gear have ever been found. However, none of the police or government authorities who have worked on the case give the idea of Miguel Echevarria being alive a realistic chance.
2. Miguel Echevarria wandered off into the savannah and died of exhaustion, fatigue, hunger, thirst, or a possible infection or sickness. Most officials see this as the most probable scenario. What this theory is not able to explain, however, is why, despite of the thorough area searches, both Miguel and his equipment are still missing. And, unlike in Ruess’ case, who could have theoretically disappeared with all his personal belongings in one of the thousands of hidden slots and shoots of the Southwestern canyons, the grasslands of northern Kenya are open and flat. Still, the theory of Miguel hiking into his death remains the theory considered the most likely, especially the Kenyan authorities.
3. Miguel Echevarria died of exhaustion, etc., but it was deliberate. A slow form of suicide. Technically, this theory is only a twist on theory number two, but of course with high psychological significance, especially for Miguel’s family. In Ruess’ case this scenario was never seriously considered, but in regard to Miguel Echevarria it is a theory that some people who knew him believe most probable.
4. Miguel Echevarria fell into the hands of bandits (prevalent in northern Kenya), and was murdered before his gear was taken and the body disposed of. Possible (and actually believed most likely by some individuals in the Kenyan police force), it would still be improbable that whoever might have murdered Miguel would have bothered to get rid of the body, since this is far from common practice amongst the bandits of Kenya’s north.
(Craig Olsen, writing a Ph.D. thesis on Everett Ruess at the University of Arizona, Tucson, in a contribution to a University of Arizona sociology seminar discussing the Miguel Echevarria case)
Cairo, March 30th
“The pharaoh rose from the ashes to knock the nose off the sphinx and make millions of slaves build more pyramids…”
I swear, I found this novel for 10c on a flea-market around Midan Ramses and it started with exactly these lines. I finished it, of course. The pharaoh died in the end. But I assume there’s a sequel and he might rise from the ashes again.
“We pray for him.”
(Jacob Oyuga, Marsabit resident)
“He showed a lot of interest in African culture – for sure.”
(Jürgen Werner, travel acquaintance)
“Yes, I guess you’ve always had white people who didn’t want to be white. But that’s their problem.”
(Jacob Tergat, anthropology student, Kenya National Unversity)
“Being Masai is a matter of being Masai. Not a matter of being black or white.”
(Robert Odour, Masai chief)
Jesus himself was a wanderer. He too wandered the desert. He too wandered in regions unknown to him. He too took risks. As we all know, one of our sons decided to wander. Like Jesus he could not be deterred by a hostile environment, or a foreign country, or the warnings of danger. Like Jesus he followed his call. Why our Heavenly Father made this his calling, we will never know. But it must have been for a reason. The Lord did not guide one of our sons into the wilderness without a reason. The Lord does not call anyone without a reason. he calls us for a purpose. And he guides us as we follow this purpose. And, without doubt, he guides Miguel Echevarria on his way, wherever this way may be.
Today, we don not know where Miguel Echevarria is. We do not even know if Miguel is still with us amongst the living. His family experiences tremendous suffering. The test they have to endure is one of the hardest that could befall a family. We can all hear Job shouting: “My soul is weary of my life; … I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” How could we not be reminded of Job expressing his suffering? Is it not understandable when people express to our Lord how much He makes them suffer? Is it not understandable when Miguel’s family does this? Yes, it is understandable. Just as it was when Job spoke of the weariness of his life, of the bitterness of his soul. But just as Job later harvested the fruits of his unwavering faith, so will the Echevarria family harvest theirs. Why our Lord has chosen the Echevarria family for this test, most of us might never learn. But, one day, the Echevarrias will.
What we need to do as a community is to support and encourage our brothers and sisters now in enduring their pain, and in understanding that the acts of an all-loving God can only be acts of love, even when it might not seem like it. I have to call upon us as a community to stand by Miguel’s parents, Felipe and Dolores, his brothers, Carlos and Fermin, his sister, Carmen, in these hours of despair. As God’s children we are one of his main vessels to express and share his love with others. Especially with those who suffer. They need it the most.
We need to pray for Miguel. Whether his soul is still with us, or whether it is on its journey to our Lord himself, we need to express our love for him in our prayers. Be it for him to return to us and his family; be it for his soul to join Jesus, the Savior, in heaven. Wherever he may be, we will be with him.
There has been much speculation about Miguel’s actions. Why has he left his family, his community, his country? What led him to a foreign and dangerous place? Why did he go on a journey so daring? But how can we ever know? Can’t we be satisfied that our Lord knows, because our Lord knows all? Can’t this be our comfort? Especially when we know that our Lord’s plans are always good, and always come from the abundant love he has for us? If we ourselves ask too much, it will only end in self-torture. We are fallible human beings, born of sin. There are many things we will never understand, because our knowledge has its limitations. This must be for a reason, since it is part of the Lord’s plan. Some things will always remain a mystery to us. All we can do is love and pray and put our trust in Jesus Christ, our Savior, and in the Lord, our Heavenly Father. This is how God works. Amen!
(Domingo Aguirre, Catholic priest, Hailey, Idaho, in a sermon a few months into Miguel’s disappearance)
Massawa, April 16th
When Rimbaud was in Aden, he contemplated swimming to the African coast once, but then he heard that if he was in saltwater for too long it might make him less potent, and so he decided against it, since he liked to screw Abyssinian girls.
A Yemenite in Jeddah told me this story.
“But I thought Rimbaud was gay,” I objected.
“Well, what the fuck do you know,” the Yemenite said and took off.
“Very cool guy. Really nice and helpful. He just seemed quiet a lot. Thoughtful, you know. Sometimes he seemed unhappy. But, I guess, sometimes thoughtful just seems unhappy. And maybe that’s not true. In any case, he ate a lot of figs.”
(Maria de Beer, travel acquaintance)
“He once said that Tracy Chapman songs make him cry. I remember that. I thought it was very cute.”
(Chloe Ressner, fellow student at the University of Montana)
“I remember one time this Dutch guy told Miguel how irritated he got by him being so quiet. Miguel seemed really upset – and talked even less.”
(Julie Min, travel acquaintance)
“You can write a book about that shit!”
(Ron Kelly, traveler, Ethiopia)
I don’t really know, and I don’t even really want to talk. People have made a big deal about me having been the only one receiving mail from Miguel, but I don’t think it’s such a big deal. It has a lot to do with our family. But I don’t want to talk about this with you. So, basically, I have nothing to say. And as far as his disappearance is concerned, I don’t have much to say about this either. I assume he is dead, though. Maybe also ‘cause this makes it easier. But I don’t believe in the theories that he just disappeared deliberately. Some people say his last postcard hinted at this, and also his fascination with Everett Ruess, but these people didn’t know my brother. I knew him, and I know he wouldn’t have done this. So I must assume he died due to some accident or whatever. Of course this makes me sad, but it also seems healthier than hoping everyday that he might still be alive and wondering where and how he might be. This hope and all the speculation that comes with it can occupy you entirely, and in the end it steals your life. I can see it with some people in the family, even though, like I said, I don’t really want to talk about this. At least, when you think he’s dead, there is some kind of closure. Sad closure, but closure. And you can get on with your life. And I’m sure this is what Miguel would want for us. Him not being around anymore is bad enough, we don’t have to give up our lives because of it. He was with us, and he gave us a lot, and we have to be grateful for that. He left way too early, that’s true, but he was still with us for all those years, and, like I said, we just gotta be grateful for that. And in a sense he remains with us through the memories, the stories, the spirit, if you will. And maybe he is doing better than he ever did. Who knows? In any case, I pray for him. I like that. I don’t like the church much, but I like to pray. Especially for my brother. It’s like talking to him. That’s it. I gotta go now.”
(Carmen Echevarria to ABC reporter Daisy Sherwood in private after she had declined an interview with the network)
Addis Abeba, May 15th
They tell the story of an Israeli who went to look for Jewish communities in Ethiopia that hadn’t been found by the Israeli government yet. He wanted to get them to Israel since all Jewish people had the right to come to the Holy Land. The kid disappeared, never to be seen again.
Sometimes you search, and you don’t find. But sometimes you search, and you find more than you ever expected.
The body of Miguel Echevarria was found by Samburu herders in mid-July 2002, about 120 miles northeast of where the young man had last been seen alive. It was covered by brush and high grass, and was almost entirely decomposed. It needed forensic hair and teeth analyses to confirm the body’s identity. Practically all of Echevarria’s belongings were missing or burnt. Due to the decomposed state of the body, no autopsy could be conducted.
The Kenyan Constable Police Force reinvestigated the matter for about a month, mainly conducting interviews with the area’s herders. With the investigation bringing no results, the Miguel Echevarria file had made it from unresolved disappearances to unresolved deaths by July 30th.