Sunday June 9, 2013

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. “We finally arrived in Gallup, New Mexico to the smiling face of Brother Charles Schilling and an iPad with “Shepherd Alliance” written on it. Br. Charles is a quirky and hilarious man. He often laughs at his own jokes before he even finishes them, and pretty much knows everything about everything. In fact, his laugh is sometimes funnier than his jokes. After getting off the train, we went to a local hotel called El Rancho, which is actually a hotel noted for famous guests like John Wayne and Ronald Regan. It was here I had my first look at the beautiful craftsmanship of the Navajo people. In this old Western style lobby, there were these two notably large rugs made by the Navajo—they had wonderful designs in them. Br. Shilling told us that they were valued over $10,000. I was shocked! After some delicious enchiladas, we quickly stopped at Wal-Mart and then began the last leg of the trip with an hour drive to Klagetoh, Arizona home to St. Anne’s Mission.”

Monday June 10, 2013

Off to the right start. ”I rushed to the hogan to get some breakfast, which was pancakes and sausage. Now I have yet to learn what constitutes a hogan, but from what I gathered it is a building in the shape of a circle with a rounded roof. The walls are made out of logs with cement to fill the gaps. The worst part of the building—most of the buildings here in fact—is the doorways are not made for someone of my stature. I have to duck every time I go in and out of the building. Hopefully this is something I will get used to because I have hit my head at least three times today… 

“This week began the annual summer Bible school for the children in the Klagetoh and surrounding cities. The group this week is made up of an all boys’ school, Catholic High School, and it’s sister school, St. Joseph’s Academy, both of which are located in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Being the first week, I felt rather out of place. I did not know any of the high school kids nor any of the nearly fifty children who came for Bible school. Theresa and I both hung in the background, doing simple tasks Sister Monica gave us throughout the day. We did not want to impede on the high school kids. This was their vacation Bible school, which made for a rather boring day and somewhat disappointing day. It was difficult to connect with the children at first too.

“After the children left around 2:00 pm, we cleaned up the mess left behind by the children and then piled into the truck to head to the Petrified National Forest. On the way Br. Charles explained a lot about the area and the Navajo people. According to Br. Schilling, the Navajo people are family-oriented. In fact, many of the children refer to their cousins as brother/sisters and aunts/uncles as mother/father. Also, many families have their own compounds where the entire family lives in several dwellings. Often the children have to clarify, ‘she is my real mother’ and things like that. Back to the Petrified Forest: it was beautiful. Within the national park is what is known as the painted dessert. These are large mountains with the many horizontal lines of different reds, whites, tans, etc. It was here I witnessed my first badlands, which means that the area is uninhabitable and livestock cannot graze there. As we traveled through the park, the terrain would suddenly change from low grassland to these beautiful deep gorges and high mountain ranges. It is very different out here! We ended our visit to the national park at the Crystal Forest, where the ground was covered by these large pieces of petrified wood. Now petrified wood are ‘rocks’ that were once trees back when this area was swamp lands—like the swamps found in Louisiana according to Br. Schilling. As the continents shifted the climate shifted with them, which caused the trees to be buried where minerals such as magnesium, iron, and carbon transformed the hard wood into solid ‘rock.’ The petrified wood looked just like a log from the outside—remnants of the bark, or bark like form is the give-a-way—yet when you look at the inside, it was of many colors—mostly reds and browns. Overall, this was a very cool experience.”

Tuesday June 11, 2013

A Warm Welcome. ”This morning I witnessed the poverty of the reservation first hand. Each morning I drive with Br. Schilling to pick up the children for Bible school. It was at a particular house we went inside to talk to one the grandmothers named Mary. Inside she was making a beautiful traditional Navajo rug. It was a large one of a white color. In the center was a large green tree, which they call the tree of life. Surrounding it were little birds and a traditional intricate Navajo design. Other than the beauty of the rug on the large loom, I was standing in a two-bedroom house. The room I was standing in had several beds and a bunk bed. The entire family slept in the room. The floor was dirty and the house did not smell too homey. I peeked in the other room and it was their kitchen. That was it! I could not believe it… Br. Schilling was telling me that these children often lead a chaotic life at home, which is why we volunteers help to create some sort of structure in their lives.

“Today I finally felt at home here in Klagetoh. Unlike the day before where I felt like an outsider in a different world among people I did not know, today I felt as though I was among friends. At Bible school, the children were pulling me every direction. ‘Markus, can I go get a drink of water and a piggy back ride?’ This was consistent throughout the entire time we were at Bible school. In particular, one little boy, Devon, begged to get on my back even though I already had a young boy on my shoulders. He said that I can fit both of them, but by the size of him, there was no way. So he resorted to Theresa’s back, complaining how he wants to be on my shoulders. There was this young child named Reilly… The first day when Sr. Monica was giving the children instructions, Reilly would repeat everything she said. Sr. Monica said, ‘Now the pre-teens will be going to instruction’ (this is where they are told stories from the Bible, like the Good Samaritan). Reilly said, ‘That’s where you get instruction!’ He would repeat things throughout the entire day—it was so precious. But then today when he was in arts and crafts he demanded a paper airplane. Being out of practice, I struggled to make him one. After I made one, he attempted to throw it and it took a dive bomb to the ground. Instantly, he began to weep. He claimed he wanted a better airplane and that he would not leave until he got one. We soothed him as best as we could and then sent him to music. There one of the high school boys made him a high-flying and sleek paper airplane. Reilly was content for the rest of the day.

“Later that night I went for a run, which was my first run out here. It was beautiful. I went after dinner just when the sun was setting. The skies were blue, grey, red, pink, orange, and every color in between. It was one of the most beautiful skies I have ever seen in my life. As I was running I looked at the ground and it was littered with trash, shards of broken glass, and remnants of liquor bottles/beer cans. Alcoholism is major issue on the reserve. It is actually outlawed here on the reservation, yet people set up liquor stores right at the edge of the reservation where many Navajo frequently visit. Sr. Monica told me an interesting yet very sad story about two brothers who were drunk and one killed the other. He was in jail for a while, and to this day regrets it because he killed his best friend. I hope to learn more about issues like these that face these people every day.”

Wednesday June 12, 2013

The Cultural Experience. ”Today Bible school was just like the day before. Children demanding piggy back rides and wanting to sit on my shoulders. In fact, when we played tag, or “it” as the children like to call it, during our recess time the children wanted piggy back rides as we played. And of course being the big kid, they always went for me. It was difficult to balance a child on my back while chasing after another. I spent most of my time during Bible school in the music room (the church). This is the most difficult station of Bible school. You try to get the kids do something, but they just stare at you blankly. We even went so far as to make a fool of ourselves by doing the Harlem shake for them. Still nowhere. The easiest group is the babies (3-5 year olds).

“Later on we went into town with the high school students. There we did some shopping in historic downtown. The pottery, jewelry, and woodcarvings were all so beautiful. In fact, craftsmanship is how many Navajo people make their living—that also explains why everything was pretty expensive. There I bought a fine-looking piece of pottery. I also bought a kachina, which is a Navajo wood doll. Soon after, we went to the county court house where every day during the summer they do traditional Native American dancing. It was a blessing to see this spectacle. The dancers were a husband and wife, the wife was Navajo and the husband was Sioux (North Dakota). They each demonstrated traditional dance, music, and songs. One particular song was known as Flute Song #1, which was rather hilarious. Family, Mother Nature, and livestock inspired many of these songs and dances. There was a song the wife sang about herding sheep. The purpose of the song was to help the children forget about their boredom while they were herding because they would be tending the sheep all day. Another song was about grandmothers—the Navajo Nation in particular is a matriarchal influenced society—and their importance. Lastly, the husband performed grass dancing where the point of the dance was to push down the grass in order to bless it. One notable dance was the hoop dancing, where the husband had at least ten hoops with which he formed different animals, shapes, and pictures throughout the entire dance. We finished off the night with a round friendship dance, where we started in a circle and they weaved around each other to reform the large circle again.”

Thursday June 13, 2013

Sweat, Sweat, and More Sweat.  “This morning began as the other days, breakfast at 8:00 am, pickup at 9:30 am, and Bible school from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. Despite the regularity, it was a very special day. Part of each mission’s experience is the sweat lodge—I mistakenly referred to it as the sweatshop, whoops! A sweat lodge is a spiritual experience many Navajos perform. It takes place in a small hut, the skeleton of which is made from some type of wood and then covered with several blankets and tarps. Inside the participants sit in a circle, often huddled very close to each other. In the middle are volcanic rocks, which have been smoldering in a fire all day. Usually the sweat loge consists of four prayer sessions, although there are many ways to perform it. About 14 of us gathered in the tiny hut. Each session focuses on a different aspect. The first was introductions, the second was prayer for the community, the third was for the world, and the fourth was closing. With each session the temperature was increased by adding water in order to create steam and then more volcanic rocks. The fourth was the hottest and the shortest. Overall this was very unifying and relaxing experience. My skin felt so clean afterward. Also, I felt closer to each of the 14 people who I shared in this experience with. Hank, the Navajo who led each session told me I should do this every week with him so I can build up a tolerance to the heat. He said the fourth session is what he usually starts off with and only increases the heat.”

 Friday June 14, 2013

The End. “This was a sad day because it was the last day of Bible school and the last full day my first mission group spent here at St. Anne’s. At school we stress the relationships service can create. I created a relationship with each child and high school student in some way or another. By the end of the week I had gone from the “outcast” of the group to a trusted friend of the group. I had a lot of fun this week and I am looking forward to what the rest of my time here in Klagetoh will bring!”

 Sunday June 16, 2013

Mother Earth, How Beautiful! “The Navajo are noted for their close connection with Mother Earth—as are other Native American Tribes. Mother Earth provided for their people since their beginning: rain, sunshine, warmth, etc. I experienced Mother Earth and her beauty first hand at Canyon de Chelly (Shay). This is a national park and has been home to several tribes throughout history, but to this day the Navajo still inhabit the vast depths of the canyon. This is one of the most magnificent areas I have seen thus far. The red, orange, and brown rock of the canyon formed sheer drop offs to the canyon floor. The only thing you could do is marvel at the beauty. A part of the trip was spent hiking to the canyon floor—about a 2 mile hike down to see the white house ruins of the Anasazi. These ruins were built in to the canyon walls. I was amazed at the craftsmanship of the primitive canyon dwellers. Canyon de Chelly was beautiful, but according to Br. Charles it does not compare to the Grand Canyon—which we will be visiting soon.”

 Monday June 17, 2013

One step for a man, one giant leap into poverty. ”Today was my first true experience with the community outside the mission. I saw first-hand their way of life. Many of the houses are dilapidated hogans. Tires hold roofs down, flooring is often dirt, trash litters their front yards, and running water/electricity are luxuries, not necessities. Many of the people spend most of their day hauling water from the local chapter houses for a price. There are 111 chapters throughout the Navajo Reservation. The chapter houses are the local branch of government, like our cities. The mission is within the Klagetoh chapter.

“On this day we helped Ms. Ella, a 70-year-old woman who is a parishioner of the mission. She has recently—really two days ago—received electricity for the first time in her life. She joked when she first got electricity how she was about to walk out of her house to charge her phone when she realized she no longer had to. At Ella’s house we helped her remove some grasses that were a nuisance, especially when she was preparing her sheep’s wool in order to make her rugs. Also we put in a clothesline for her. She originally lived in the hogan next to her house, but when she moved into the newer house the clothesline was removed from the ground and left sitting in the yard for seven years. It took seven years and a group like ours to finally put the clothesline back into the ground for her. I personally think this is very sad, mainly because Ella has family who live not even a mile away who could have helped her. The Navajo are very family oriented, but Ella—who lives by herself and has no children—is excluded, it seems. When we finally put the clothesline in, Ella walked out and had a look of pure joy on her face. This was very humbling to me, we put in an old rusty clothesline, which we back home would have thrown away—that is if we ever would go back to using clotheslines—but to her this was a burden lifted from her shoulder. Laundry has become less laborious.”

 Tuesday June 18, 2013

My New Calling, Farm Boy. ”On this day we began one of our larger projects, which was putting in a new fence for a woman who is named Patricia. Patricia was recently widowed, just a short nine months ago and she is still grieving. She is currently taking care of her daughter and grandson. This makes it difficult for her to do work around the house because she is busy tending to her sheep. She is a rug maker, which is her main source of income. For this reason she relies on her sheep to provide her with wool in order to make her beautiful rugs. These sheep may be her saviors, but lately they have been her enemy.

“The sheep have been jumping the fence to her garden and eating the squash, corn, and other vegetables she grows in there. There was part of the fence that was pretty low. This is where we came in. We stripped off the old metal fence, replaced one of the posts (many of the posts used out here are made from tree limbs), and then placed barbwire across the top. When we were done Pat came out and only had a look of relief on her face. She thanked us for our hard work because now she can re-plant her garden in the next year. She went on to explain the difficulty of retrieving water everyday. She has a pump system in her house, which feeds from a tank she has to fill. It is particular difficult to get water now because many of the wells have dried up. Br. Charles joked that this has been a 10-year drought.”

Thursday June 20, 2013

Fun for the Whole Family. ”Today was particularly special because it was family fun night at the mission. Several families from around the Klagetoh area came in order to enjoy a night of Bingo, games, and food. Theresa and I were assigned the duty of face painting, which by far was the best part of the night. Every child wanted to get his/her face painted. I had to paint a panda bear, Spider-man, a rainbow, etc. They really seemed to enjoy this part, although they liked the beanbag toss even more—mainly because they got prizes for winning. It is these types of events that bring the community together. Many of these families are left to austere lives at home, tending to sheep or craftsmanship. It is nights like these where they can relax and enjoy themselves, knowing everything they need is provided for them for a short three hours.”

Friday June 21, 2013

Tradition Never Dies. “A tradition at St. Anne’s is to make Navajo tacos when we have groups. These are pretty much like our version of tacos, but instead of tortillas they put all of the fixings on fried bread. Fried bread here is what we use to make our elephant ears, so of course they are delicious. This is my seconding time making them, so I have gotten pretty good at forming the bread. You pretty much roll it out like a pizza. But the best part of making fried bread is working with MaryAnne. She is a Navajo woman and I pretty much want her to be my fourth grandmother (Betty White is my third). She is one of the nicest ladies I have ever met. Her face shows the wear of living on the reservation, but her demeanor demonstrates a youthful love of life. Many of the Navajo are like this. There outer appearance expresses the hardship many people face, yet their demeanor only shows genuine happiness. Michele, an administrator who was working with us for the week said it best when she talked about Alex (the maintenance guy). This was a man who came to this country as an illegal with nothing, who has dealt with alcoholism and the hardships of poverty. To this day, he is one of the happiest people she knows, with eight kids. He works hard and does not take anything for granted. This is how we should all live!”

Wednesday June 26, 2013

A Day of Firsts. ”Not only was this the first day I was in charge of thirty children, but also this was the first day I killed a rattlesnake. As to the first, Theresa and I wanted to do something for the kids so we thought it would be a good idea to have some kids over for dinner and a movie. Well we began with four families, which was about 18 kids in total. Much like high school, the word about our little event spread to pretty much all of the kids in Klagetoh. Of course when kids saw Theresa at a work project, they all asked her if they could come and she couldn’t say no. Well, long story short, we had almost 30 kids here, which made me feel like the woman who lived in a shoe. I realized one thing, I could never have 30 kids nor be a grade school teacher. In the end though I had a lot of fun; especially with the younger ones, two boys Jacob and Uthan where playing hide-and-go-seek with me in the blankets we used to watch the movie. It was very cute.

“As if handling thirty kids was not enough, just as I was about to sit down a little boy came running up. Out of breath he told me I must come quick because his grandma has a snake in her front yard and she needs someone to take care of it. I am afraid of snakes and had no idea how I could help, but I grabbed a shovel and went over to check it out. Lo and behold, Alberta, a woman whose house we have done a lot of work on, is standing in the brush with a shovel, a rattlesnake on the other side of it. She was petrified! By now it was dark and she was holding a flashlight on the snake. The light was shaking – she was terrified. I tried to tell her to just go inside and leave it alone, but she retorted that it could get into her house. She continued, ‘It could come through the door, one of the pipes, or even through my window!’ I tried to assure her that a snake could not get into the window, but she would not have it. She told me, ‘You never know! I am going to stay here all night until someone either moves it away from my house or kills it!’

“That is when she told me how Navajo cannot kill snakes for if they do they will be cursed. Her mother once accidentally burned a snake in a burn pile and thirty years later sores and blisters began to break out all over her body. She went to the doctor and got both a shot and antibiotics, but this only kept her affliction at bay for three days. Eventually she went to a medicine man where he told her what she had done and they performed a ceremony over her. I was not going to attempt to take on the snake by myself. So I went back to the mission to find some help. Just as I got there the whole group returned from seeing the sunset on one of the mesas. Br. Charles and one of the missionaries came with me. Br. Charles surveyed where the snake was and, without us knowing, struck the snake with a shovel. He had it pinned and then he called on me to cut the head off. This was a rather exhilarating experience but sad at the same time. As a Biology major, I know that Dr. Sheil would not be proud of me for killing a magnificent creature like a rattlesnake but desperate times call for desperate measures. This was one of the most eventful nights thus far. Later on we were all laughing because Alberta was so willing to let us kill the rattlesnake and be cursed even though it was against her tradition.”

Thursday June 27, 2013

What’s Wrong With Basketball Shorts!? ”Today was our second day with an event for the kids. We took six kids to the Gallup Aquatic Center, which is a beautiful place. They have a large lap pool for the serious swimmers, a shallow place with waterfalls and a kiddie slide, a lazy river, and then a deeper pool to play basketball or volleyball. Of course there were five boys and only one girl, so getting five boys to change into their swimsuits and shower before getting into the pool was an challenge. For the most part they minded well. Many of these kids could not swim nor have they ever been to a real pool, so this was a real treat! As the kids were diving under the cool water and running through the waterfalls, one of the lifeguards walked over and informed me that basketball shorts were not allowed in the pool and that those who were wearing them had to get out. I could not believe it, here the boys were having so much fun and I had to tell them that they could not be in the pool because they were wearing basketball shorts. Gallup is the nearest pool and most of them could not even afford to buy a swimsuit even if they needed one.This rule has the possibility to exclude people, particularly children, from having fun, especially those that are poor.

“After we left the pool, we had time to kill before we went to dinner so we went to a playground called ‘Playground of Dreams.’ This was probably one of the coolest playgrounds I have ever seen. We played tag for a little while, but it was just so hot. So we headed to dinner early. The kids all wanted Golden Corral; the all-you-can-eat heaven of American cuisine. I have never been too fond of these places and this experience reaffirmed my displeasure, but I went there because the kids wanted to. You should have seen these kids eat; they were like kids in a candy store. Each of them went for several plates of food—mostly pizza, meat loaf, popcorn shrimp, and other things they would not normally get at home. This made me happy that I could provide them with this experience. But then they got to the desserts. There was a chocolate fountain, an ice cream machine, and all the cakes you can eat. I think each kid had at least two ice cream cones, one stick of cotton candy, and then several chocolate dipped strawberries. I was sitting there thinking, I am not excited for this ride home! During dinner there was a Navajo family sitting at the table next to us with six kids and two parents. The father kept turning around and looking at us. Granted, the kids may have been a little loud and rambunctious, but nothing too bothersome. They were just being kids. In fact two of them were placing the cotton candy sticks on their fingers and pretending to be Freddy Krueger—it was rather funny. Then I thought maybe it was because here are two white people with six Navajo children. That is one thing I have noticed during my time here, very often I feel like a minority. Never unwelcome for the most part, but definitely like I don’t fit in sometimes. For example, at Golden Corral, I think Theresa and I were the only white people there.

“Overall, this was a very special day for me. Although we were unfairly pushed out of the pool, the kids still had a lot of fun! That was my reward of the day.”

It is amazing how hidden poverty can be. At first glance, they are just children with a smile, but a second look exposes the yesterday’s dirty clothes and the slight smell. It is apparent home is not so homey. Despite these outward signs the dysfunctionality of poverty is masked by genuine happiness. This is a medicine we should all take a healthy dose of, then maybe we will realize our own dysfunctionality and the troubles our world faces today.

Monday July 1, 2013

The Curse of the Rattlesnake. “Today we made the long three-hour drive to Monument Valley, which is the only park owned by the Navajo people—or the Din as they like to refer to themselves, in fact Navajo is a derogatory name given to the people by the Spaniards which translates to horse thieves. The trip up there was long, mainly because I forgot the credit card to pay for gas so we had to turn around, which added an extra 20 minutes. Once we got to Monument Valley we paid five dollars to get in and then went up to the visitor’s center. We looked around the gift shop and then headed to the guided tours hut to find out the price. It was $75 dollars a person. We thought that was ridiculous for two poor college students, so we walked away. Then a man said he would do it for $50 a person—that was still too high. Then as we walked away from the guy the original lady came out of the hut and promised to go lower, but we pretty much told her she would not like our price range. At that point she just gave up.

“So we went back to the car to see how much gas we had and if it was enough to get down into the valley. Of course we were at a quarter of a tank and the more we thought about it we realized that our old 10 passenger van would most likely not survive the rough terrain of the dirt road that went into the valley. So in the end we only saw part of the park, which was the entrance. Despite that, we still got to see some of the large mesas that many equate as an image of the southwest. Just as we are about to head back home we begin to smell gasoline in the cab of the van. We figured we would check things out when we stopped for gas in a couple of miles. When we did, we found the gas cap to be missing and guess whose fault that was—mine! I left it at the gas station when we filled up the tank after getting groceries for the week.  So we took a plastic bag and a hair tie to seal the gas tank.

“So we continued on the long drive home when we stopped at an A&W for a quick snack. I ordered a root beer float and a small fry and Theresa ordered a small milkshake. But just as we ordered the ice cream machine gave out and he had to get refunds. At this point Theresa decided to blame all of our misfortunes on the fact that I killed that rattlesnake. Me personally, I am not too worried about it. This stuff seems to happen to me on a regular basis!”

Sunday July 7, 2013

Who said you need a priest to celebrate Mass? ”One of my favorite parts of my experience here is Mass every Sunday. At home Mass is Mass, but here it feels more than that—it is special. For example, during the sign of the peace everyone gets up and shakes literally everyone’s hand. Not only does this create a sense of welcoming into the community, but also there is a sense of connectivity, like there is an invisible string connecting every person in the room to each other. I never really feel this when I am at home. Unlike at home, there are no strangers, only friends. This is something I feel most of the world outside of the reservation struggles with. We are often too afraid of what others think or prejudge a person based on their appearances, which builds these walls between us. Here, there are no walls.

“Another thing about Mass that I think is awesome here is how relaxed it is. When at home it is often very serious, but here it is almost interactive. For example, Father Patrick was giving a homily about sin and he asked who were sinners in the room. Amelia, a woman who is a very good friend of the mission, blurted out, ‘You are, Father!’ I feel if this were to occur at home, the reaction would have been much different; but here everyone just laughed, and Father Patrick said with a smile, ‘You are right!’

“Also on this particular Sunday, Father Pio, the other Franciscan priest, had fallen ill and was unable to say Mass. Upon hearing this, my first thought was that Mass would have to be cancelled. People may be disappointed, but we cannot celebrate Mass without a priest. Well, I was totally wrong. The entire Mass was led by Br. Charles and Sr. Monica. For the homily it was just a time for anyone to share his or her thoughts, which was totally different. All in all, it was different, but the more amazing part was how everyone just went with the flow. For the most part, everyone on the reservation is like that. In fact we have a special name for time here and that is Navajo time. Whether you are two minutes late or even 30 minutes late, you are still on time here—except when you are late to picking up anxious children. I have come to realize, simplicity is a major part of the Navajo way.”

Thursday July 11, 2013

Cops and Robbers. “At this point in time we are half way through our second Bible Camp, which is held at All Saints Mission in Ganado, AZ. Every morning we shuttle roughly 16 children from Klagetoh to Ganado in a 12 passenger van. Is this the safest way of transportation? Probably not, but it allowed for some great bonding time with the kids. [As a side note, it almost seems like rules/laws do not apply while on the reservation. Many of the children ride in the bed of a truck and almost none of them sit in a car seat like most children their age.] One of my favorite parts was when these two boys, Nick—better known as Nick the Gangster—and LaDamian—commonly called Chunk—would ask to sit on my lap every time we made the trip home. While sitting on my lap they would do all kinds of stuff: like fly a bandana out the window, wipe the window when it would rain, stick their face out the window only to be hit by a bug, and they would never fail to try to give me a heart attack by pretending to jump out the window. With each of their antics, they would turn to me with a smile and then proceeded to tell me how much they got me. These two boys are now two of my favorites.

“In these past five weeks I have grown very attached to many of these children; you just cannot help but love them. They are each unique in their own way. Not only do I feel like a friend to them, but I feel I am much more than that. Parenting on the reservation is rather lacking to be honest. Many of these parents are alcoholics who can barely take care of themselves let alone five children. More specifically, many of these children do not have strong father figures. The Navajo are a matriarchal society, therefore the women are often dominant in relationships and social gatherings. It is for this reason the male plays a pivotal role in providing for his family, yet there is almost no work on the reservation. Sr. Monica explained it as so: ‘The men want to be the bread winner for their family, yet the only way to get work is to leave the reservation. Because of this, many of the men sit at home aimlessly and often turn to alcohol to fill the void in their life.’ This came to explain why many of the mothers have commented to me that they are so happy I am here because their sons need a strong male figure in their life. Never have I considered myself a strong male figure. Since these remarks I have felt like some sort of father figure to many of the boys.

“One particular event where I felt like a father is when Chunk, one of my favorites, stole a sucker from the local convenience store while I was with him. We had stopped because many of the children needed to use the restroom. When they had returned, Nick and Chunk had climbed back up on my lap as they were before. I noticed Chuck lean over to Nick and whisper in his ear I stole a sucker and did not get caught. Upon hearing this I was immediately disappointed, but had no idea how to deal with it. At first I figured I would tell him that what he did was wrong and that I would have a talk to his parents. But then I got to thinking, their father is only home on the weekends because he works during the week in a different city off the reservation and their mother is pretty oblivious. So I decided to take away the sucker and have a conversation with him about stealing. I felt obligated to do something because he most likely would not have gotten any punishment at home. I did not want him growing up thinking that what he did was okay; he is an awesome kid and will have a bright future if just keeps being the good kid he is. I never realized having a conversation like that would be so difficult, but I am happy I at least said something.”   

Friday July 12, 2013

Bonds to Last a Lifetime. “Something that has been drilled into my head since coming to John Carroll is the deep connection between relationships and service. Service is not a duty or work, rather it is building relationships. Yes you may be doing something physical like mending a roof or fixing a fence to protect a garden from sheep, but its not done for money or because it is required; you do it for the love of humanity. Service knows no color, language, religion, race, or sexuality; it only knows the sacredness of human life and its dignity. With that said, one of my favorite quotes comes to mind in talking about this connection. Father Pedro Arrupe once said, ‘Fall in love, stay in love, and it will decide everything.’ When it comes to falling in love with service, like many of us Arrupe scholars have, we fall for the people not the act. It is the joy in someone’s eyes and face after installing a clothesline that will lessen their burden we fall in love with. It is the feeling of coming together to accomplish a certain goal we fall in love. And it is the simple thank you for all that you have done we fall in love with. I have never felt so much love than I have this summer. This place, although arid and forsaken, is overflowing with love.

“Not only is it the love for the people that you are helping, it is also the love you have for those who work at your side with the same mission. Working at a mission I have met several people; from high school students to high school teachers and administrators to people my own age who are in youth ministry. With each passing group friendships are made and so are bonds. One very special group to me was the one from the greater New York City area. Tony Bellizzi, who is a very enthusiastic youth minister who serves many churches in New York City, led the group. The group consisted of several people who were either in high school or college. The great thing about this group was that I could relate to them very well. Our project for this particular group was a Bible school in Ganado, AZ. Although we dealt with well over 70 loud children we had a very amazing week. One think I will take away from it is the friends and relationships I built with my fellow Bible school teachers.”

Hopi Prayer.

You have been telling people that this is the Eleventh Hour.
Now you must go back and tell the people that this is The Hour.

Here are the things that must be considered:

Where are you living?
What are you doing?
What are your relationships?
Are you in right relation?
Where is your water?
Know your garden.
It is time to speak your Truth.
Create your community.
Be good to each other.
And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.
It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.
They will try to hold on to the shore.
They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.
The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of the river,
keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves!
For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lonely wolf is over.
Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

With It New Life Springs Forth. ”You often hear we take things for granted, but after being out here for two months I have realized time after time we truly do take a lot of things for granted. The thing we take for granted the most is the earth. Out here it is referred to as Mother Earth and each one of the people out here have a special connection to her. In Mass during the prayers of the faithful, a prayer for the gift of rain never failed. Well during the month of July our prayers had been answered.

“After what seemed like a decade of dry, hot, 90-degree weather for the entire month of June July brought us what is known as the monsoon season. Just about every day it rained. Some times it would last 5 minutes and other times it would last for hours. What was beautiful about the rain out here was that you could see it from miles away. The dark swirling clouds would form in the distance with different shades of grey and black falling below them. Most times large strikes of lightning would come from the clouds to Mother Earth. It was quite a site. When the rain finally came, it would pour so hard that it was hard to see 500 feet in front of you. Suddenly the smell of the sagebrush would fill the air. This became a comfort to me. In fact during the sweat loge we cut fresh sagebrush to place on the stone, and I loved that. Finally, in the past two weeks the land has gone from brownish green and dry sand to a lush green and grass. The playground was nothing but sand and dry but now there is grass growing. This has made me realize what a gift rain is. It can take something that looks dead and worthless to lavish and inviting field. I wish people out east could one day have an appreciation for something as simple and common as the rain like I have now.

Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded. It’s a relationship between equals. Only when we know our own darkness well can we be present with the darkness of others. Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.

 Monday July 22, 2013 – Wednesday July 24, 2013

10 Children and only 1 of Me! “For three days and two nights I was in charge of ten children, and boy were they a handful. We started the trip on Monday morning and the children could not have been more excited. The moment they got to the mission they were in the van and they stayed there for over an hour because we were not ready to leave. We were heading to a place called McHood Park, which was about 5 miles south of Winslow, AZ. Yes, this the city mentioned in the song ‘Take it Easy’ by the Eagles. The trip took just about two and half-hours, which with ten children in the car makes for a seemingly endless trip. Between the bathroom trips and the loud voices, I got out of the car at the park with a pounding headache.

“Despite the headache, I walked out to one of the most beautiful sites I have seen in Arizona. On the way to the park the terrain seemed to be endless dessert and rock, but once in the park the terrain became an oasis. In front of me was a creek that became a reservoir with water so clear you can begin to make out the bottom. Along side the creek were large light colored rocks that were emerging from the depths of the creek. At the mission I was so use to the dry, arid, and sagebrush covered land, but this was a huge change of pace for me. I loved this place already and by the look of the children’s face, so did they.

“The first thing we did was swim, which most of this children did not even know how to do. On the reservation there are no public pools, swim teams, nor pools at home; it is just not an option for these kids. This made for a difficult couple of hours on the creek. Many of the children were so anxious to get in the water, but when it came time to get in they were frightened. Luckily there was a large rock beneath the surface of the water that created a shallow area for them to get comfortable with the water. Soon enough they began to get adventurous and used the inflatable rafts we brought for them to go out into the actual water. Being who I am this worried me, because the last thing we need is to have one of these kids drown. Along with the inflatables, we had two life jackets, which were pivotal in teaching several of these children how to swim.

“Over the course of the three days, I was the lifeguard and the swim instructor. I have grown up around water my entire life, so swimming has always come easy to me. Because of this Theresa, Jayce, and Caroline (she visited the mission back in March and decided to come back for two weeks) were hands off when it came to teaching them how to swim.

“Each one of the children were enthusiastic to put the life jacket on, but when it came to leaving the safety of their little rock they were hesitant. Each one would not let go of me as they entered the deep end to the point where they were forcing me under the water. After some coaxing though they would resort to just holding my hand as they kicked their legs. When it came to the actual swimming part, some picked it up better than others. I had three that after crossing the creek twice were fine to swim on their own with the life jacket. On the other hand, I had some that even if they got the hang of the doggy paddle, for the life of them they would not let go of my hand. Despite that, we even got to the point where some of them would jump off the little rocks into the water—as long as I was literally right below them in the water though. This was one of the most rewarding parts of my summer; I was glad I was able to teach them something, but in the end they taught me so much more.”