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by Anne Berleant
Levi Bridges hails from Sedgwick but currently lives in Mexico City gathering material for a nonfiction book and volunteering in a shelter for migrants from Central America who are trying to cross the U.S. border.
“They probably have the saddest stories I’ve ever heard,” said Bridges in a recent telephone interview.
Bridges received a Fulbright award in creative writing this September to spend a year in Mexico City, and he posts a weekly story at his website bridgesandborders.com. He said that some of his writing on the site is definitely geared toward adults because of the subject matter.
“Many [of the migrants] have violent stories, especially from Honduras,” Bridges said. “Others have tried to reach the U.S. and been turned back.”
Travel and writing are not new to Bridges. In 2009 he traveled by bicycle through Russia and Europe, and he has traveled “extensively” throughout Latin America, he said. “I was interested in checking out a different culture.”
During the 10-month bicycle trip, he sent 36 stories in to the Bangor Daily News. “They were kind of personal travelogues,” he said.
The responses to those published stories helped focus Bridges’ direction. “That was when I decided I wanted to do creative nonfiction.”
“I got interested in human migration, the idea of people moving from rural areas to large cities and then to large countries to seek work” through his travels, Bridges said. “I think it’s going to be the story of mankind of the 21st century…It’s a narrative I want to tell.”
His volunteering at the Mexico City shelter is “a very informal thing,” Bridges said. “They just want to have an outside person there.”
The shelter is located “in the middle of nowhere” in a lower-class neighborhood, Bridges said.
“I’m trying to give something back, to offer myself in some way to the same group of people I’m writing about,” Bridges said. When Bridges is not at the shelter, where he is one of several volunteers “who circulate in and out,” he takes classes at the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico City.
Before traveling to Mexico, Bridges was in Indonesia, about to begin a month-long internship with National Public Radio’s Southeast Asia Bureau in Jakarta. Thanks to the Fulbright award, those plans have been put on hold. Prior to his trip to Indonesia, he worked with adults and teens at a homeless shelter in Portland as a social worker.
The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government, and is designed to increase mutual understanding between the people of the United States and the people of other countries, according to a press release announcing Bridge’s award. Its primary source of funding is an annual appropriation made by Congress to the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs.
Bridges is one of over 1,700 U.S. citizens who will travel this academic year through the Fulbright U.S. Student Program.
The application process is “really rigorous, it’s kind of awful,” Bridges said of the program. “You start investing too much into it. Then, once you get it, you [only] have to write a two-page report at the end.”
“I’m having the time of my life,” Bridges said, “working on the project I’ve always wanted to do…It’s a pretty great opportunity.”