This is a creative non-fiction essay, discussing the last five days before my friend Maryclaire passed. I was in Yuma, AZ and learning a lot about the place and myself.
Residents of Yuma call themselves Yumans, a playful claim to embody a universal set of common traits. And yet, like the Saguaro cacti that populate their native Arizona, they are unique to this area. Yuma and its people should not exist, let alone thrive. The town is in the Salton Basin of the Sonoran Desert, a sandy region that averages only 3.5 inches of rain a year. Most Arizonans, however, do not see the romantic nature of a town--a genuine Brigadoon--emerging where it should not be and dismiss Yuma as a backwater. "Why are you going there?" I was asked more than once, when I told residents of Phoenix or Tuscon that I was to visit this southern place. For residents of Phoenix and its elite suburb Scottsdale, home to some of the wealthiest people in the US, Yuma is no more than a pit stop on Route 8 as they make the six-hour trek to San Diego.
Yuma is an idiosyncratic city unlike any I had yet experienced, and it brought out the best in me. I have lived in many different places, from cosmopolitan Paris to its African foil Bamako, where, though capital of Mali, most buildings are one floor and all roads but one are unpaved. Yuma has a singular identity premised in part on its complex past, one that fights Starbuckization tooth and nail. There, I found beauty in a regional center that others cast aside as remote and boring. I also took the first steps in a personal journey that would bring me a deeper understanding of my own past as well as a new understanding of the need to be more fully present in the here and now.