Transition-to-Adult Retreat: an Outsider’s View (Guest Post #11)

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This is guest post #11 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

It has been a lot of fun having the eighth graders around for a learning retreat (in mid may—read a blog entry about the retreat HERE). This is actually part of their education. As an outsider, I had the opportunity to observe the activities “at a distance” and communicate with some of them. In my view, this program is helpful for them considering the high dropout rate of Navajo high school students.

Activities were indoors and outdoors

The four day retreat was quite intense. The activities combined both education and entertainment and were held both indoors and outdoors. They involved a lot of creativity and reflection. When it came to the part about presenting their personality, they were asked to make a collage. Although the pictures and symbols were limited for them to choose from, the way the collage was made certainly showed some traits of personality. Much of the lectures were about people and society outside of students’ main experience. Randy and Jill mentioned the different ways of thinking of different people. The effects of such lectures would be to familiarize the students with the complexity of the real world on the one hand, and motivate them to pursue a different life on the other.

Outside, students participated in a competition by completing certain fun tasks in pairs, such as shooting hoops. It was more of a fun activity than a competition. Our two dogs participated as well. One of the nights was a campfire night. Besides the fire, the students were joking, watching videos on the phone, or just careless talking. It continued until late that night.

Job-related training was one of the most important components of this program. The students were advised on how to write a resume, how to balance personal interests and actual job, how to do an interview, etc. For others, it is still too early to receive such training, but for these students, it may be practical.

closing activity of retreat

Overall, this retreat program provided an excellent opportunity to prepare the students for their future, especially when they look for a job. It was aimed at motivating the students to think about their future and promote their confidence to solve problems. It emphasized concepts such as adaptation, aspiration and achievement. Hopefully, they will reflect on this program and find it helpful for their transition to the next chapter of their life.

(Note from Jill Emmelhainz–after a rocky start for a few students, currently all 12 young people are still attending highschool. This is a victory compared to past years when by now in the semester there have usually been 1 or 2 that have already either dropped out or been suspended! As we have met some of these kids in the community, they talk happily about the retreat and beg to have a reunion retreat. We are hoping to schedule one for spring break. Please keep praying for each one of these young people as they go against their current culture and (for some) against family pressures as they work to stay in school.)
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Sports Day for Jemez Mountain Schools (Guest Post #10)

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This is guest post #10 in a series written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and the author HERE.

It was a sunny day of late May. The elementary and middle school students from the Jemez Mountain area came to the sports field for competition. I believe it was both a competition and for fun. The categories of competition included races, egg-holding races, relays, three-legged races, kicking a shoe into a barrel, etc.

The children seemed to enjoy the competitions very much. Sitting in the shade of the “stadium”, I enjoyed watching the activities without feeling warm. I couldn’t help but laugh at their performance. For example, in the three-legged race, the two partners who could not synchronize well sometimes fell onto the ground. In the sack race, some competitors could not move forward smoothly. During the egg-holding race, some kids couldn’t balance well and dropped the eggs. For the shoe kicking, some shoes ended up hitting the spot far away from the target barrel.

While students from Lybrook Elementary/Middle School were predominantly Navajo, the other schools had more white students. This sports day was a diversion for these students at the end of the school year. They could learn something about coordinating with others, balancing their senses, improving their physical strengths, etc. In addition, they had an opportunity to communicate with their peers from nearby areas. The activities could help develop their sense of achievement. And of course, the competitions were fun.

(Photos taken by the author)

 

 

Musings at the NM State Fair

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A few weeks ago I had the privilege of being a chaperone as students from the local school had a field-trip to the NM State Fair. I was responsible for 2 students (plus my daughter) and their 5th grade teacher joined us for the day as well.

“My” girls meet Smokey the Bear

We wandered the fairgrounds and enjoyed the usual things: shows, animals, art displays and 4H projects. The kids picked up lots of freebies and handouts from the Department of Natural Resources, and the various branches of the Armed Services, and Science groups, and Libraries, and more. (You can see photos from the day HERE.)

I enjoyed spending time with the girls. It was interesting to see what they found intriguing and what things bored them. It was fun to share my love of “agua de sandia” (watermelon water—a favorite drink from time in Mexico) with them. I was pleased to see that the tacky wares in the vendor booths were no temptation (at least to “my” girls—not talking about many of the other kids who returned to the buses as the end of the day with amazing money-wasters!)

Behind the up-front, oh-so-typical story of kids going to the fair is another story. It’s a story that I’ve been pondering. Let me share a few pieces with you…

I tutor one of these girls—let’s call her Dee. Many days she is sullen and withdrawn. It can be hard to engage her in what we are working on. At one point, she and I had an in-your-face argument. You don’t need to know the details…it is enough to say that I wrote an apology and an affirmation of the value and worth I see in Dee. I assumed our relationship, which was tenuous to start with, was irrevocably broken. The principal herself wondered if it would be more effective for someone else to work with Dee. I chose to stick with it for a little longer to see what might happen.

Imagine my surprise, then, during a tutoring session the day before the fair trip, when Dee asked me if she could be in my group. WOW! But I knew she was bringing money for a ride band…and I don’t believe spending the day on the midway is an appropriate use of a school funded trip to the fair. I gently explained that my group would NOT taking time for any rides, and suggested she would probably be happier in another group.

The next morning, I discovered that Dee was assigned to my group after all. I suggested that she might want to trade and be in someone else’s group…but she chose to stick with me. That made me both happy and worried that a no-rides-policy might yet again break relationship between us.

Our vote for “Best of Show” quilt

Once we got to the fair, Dee, Kay, and my daughter, were happy to follow my suggestions about which shows to see and which exhibits to visit. They asked to walk through the petting zoo—commenting that their grandmas had sheeps and goats, too. Dee asked once or twice about rides, but didn’t argue when I pointed out she was the only one in our group with money to pay for rides.

Eventually, Dee quietly asked if everyone could put their money together to share the cost of rides. That seemed totally unreasonable to me, since Dee had $25, my daughter had only $5, and Kay had no money to spend at the fair. However, Dee persisted. She quietly insisted that if the money was pooled together, she would be happy to share.

Sharing the rides…

I finally gave in, and the girls enjoyed a few rides together in the last 30 minutes before time to leave the fair to head home. Instead of a day full of unlimited rides, Dee had only 3 rides. But she was happy. After all, she had done the rides together with her friends. They had shared their money, and their fun.

I can’t get this picture out of my mind. In my Anglo world, it is only sharing if everyone is (somewhat) equal in what they contribute. Otherwise, it is either a gift or charity for one to pay for others. In my Anglo world, an expectation of “sharing” can become a burden, or can cause the giver to feel taken advantage of.

…sharing the fun!

But that wasn’t Dee’s world. She was happy: happy to spend far more than the others to pay for everyone to ride. As long as each person put everything they had “into the pot,” Dee felt that they had all shared the cost of the rides. It was a gentle, face-saving way for everyone to enjoy the special occasion.

It makes me wonder: we work hard to break the “dependency culture” out here. We see how the expectation of hand-outs from Anglos too often undermines the Navajo taking care of each other. But perhaps there is another way…a way to pool resources…a way for everyone to walk in mutual respect, taking joy in sharing with each other.

“Ethnic Heritage”

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I team teach reading two mornings per week at the local school. Mrs. M and I recently put together a variety of activities to celebrate the finish of a language arts unit on Immigration. We had two goals: help the students feel what it might have been like to be a new immigrant coming through Ellis Island in the 1800s, and learn about the ethnic heritage of the teachers and staff at the school.

For the first objective, Mrs. M and I spoke to the students only in Spanish–a language they do not understand. We marched them down the hall for a “medical exam.”

checking eyes and heart

When we returned to the classroom, each student had an interview (in Spanish) about their intentions.

“entrance interview”

When they managed to guess the correct answers, they eventually got some stamps in their “passports.

each student received a “passport”

…with “picture,” basic personal info, and eventual stamps for successful entry

As we went through this process, the students couldn’t decide whether to laugh and goof off, or whether to get angry that they couldn’t understand what we wanted them to do. Discussion helped clarify that this is often how new immigrants feel. Goal one: Successful!

Then we moved on to looking at the ethnic heritage of each teacher, staff member, and administrator at this little school. I had surveyed the adults ahead of time, gathering the information into a chart and writing it on cards to be put on a bar graph.

putting together the bar graph

It was fascinating to follow the progress of this activity and discussion time. It quickly became clear that these students fundamentally have no idea of world geography. They were baffled by the differences in names: Italian, Italy; Irish, Ireland; Swedish, Sweden; much less being unable to find the countries on a map.

We also had a long discussion about “Indian” versus “Native American.” Most of the students were quite offended that white people had decided they should be called “Native Americans.” All of them were adamant that they are “Dine” or “Navajo” or at least should be called “Indian.” They also did not want to include other tribal groups in their own grouping of “Indian.”

I assumed they could understand many different tribes making up “Native Americans” and many different nationalities making up “Anglo.” However, what the students came back to over and over and over was that they are Navajo and everyone else is “belagaana–other–not us.”

Ethnic Heritage of School Staff, Administrators, and Teachers

Seems to me this was a successful closing activity with lots to be learned…by ME, if not by the students!

Visitors

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We live in a remote area. I’m sure I have told you before that we are 60 miles from a full size grocery store and from the library. We see other people at church and at the local school, but this area is no longer a strong, vibrant community. Most people who live in this area still live here because this is where their families have lived for generations. Their social relationships tend to be primarily family-based.

All of this means that we LOVE to have visitors! Some times it reminds me of pioneer-time stories of families being excited by visiting pastors and traveling peddlers. Visitors bring new stories and new topics for conversation. As we talk about life here in Navajoland, visitors help us gain new perspectives on things.

Some visitors are just wanderers traveling through. They end up on our doorstep for a place to sleep and we share a meal with them to better enjoy their company.

read more of these visitors’ story at http://www.velocos.ch/letsgo/

Other visitors come for a specific purpose: to see first-hand what is happening here at Lybrook Community Ministries. We recently hosted a lovely couple who have been supporters of LCM for years. In addition to lots of talking time, they also showed their servant-hearts by helping with mundane repairs and organizational chores that we never seem to get around to doing. These type of visitors are often “unknowns” when they arrive, but frequently turn into friends with whom we hope to keep in contact.

Anna enjoyed spending time with Jay & Judith, our most recent visitors…

Finally, some visitors are beloved family or friends. We always appreciate the sacrifice these people make to travel here (high cost and long distance) and we treasure every moment they spend with us. It is a joy to share glimpses of what our lives here are like and to introduce them to the wonderful people and beautiful scenery of this corner of Navajoland.

taking cousins to the “top of the world”

It is quiet again, with just our little family here now. Sure wish YOU would call and tell us you are stopping by for a quick visit!

Pinon Season

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It is pinon season here at Lybrook. We have a handful of these gnarled, scraggly trees on the property. Most years these trees are just like any other tree in the pine family—dropping occasional needles and growing a few small cones here or there. Every 3-7 years, however, these trees drop GOLD!

A steady stream of gold-miners (aka pinon-nut-gatherers) have visited our property in the past few weeks. The honorable ones knock on the door and ask if they can harvest nuts from the ground in front of our house. Others act more like commandos—everyone young and old piling out of a beat-up car, started to pick up nuts as fast as they can! We send most of these treasure-hunters on their way, saving the bounty for some of the local Navajo with whom we have on-going relationships.

We enjoy the rich taste of these nuts but have decided that we are entirely too lazy to bother harvesting this “gold.” The nuts are tiny, and are too easily camouflaged by the dirt and pebbles on the ground under the trees. To pick them up either puts a crick in one’s back or requires sprawling on the ground. And the sap, oh the sap…we have never experienced such drippy, sticky sap! I admit it smells wonderfully “pine-y” but it is next to impossible to remove from skin, clothing or hair.

oh the SAP…nasty sticky sap…

pinon nut camoflage

Some historians claim that pinon nut harvesting is what allowed native tribes to survive long, cold winters. The nuts are an almost perfect food for active hunters & gatherers with 13% protein, 60% fat, 20% carbohydrates. Today these tasty bits of richness are more often used as a snack.

Because pinon trees can’t really be farmed, and because the tiny nuts must be harvested by hand, the price is high for any nuts that are gathered. In this area of New Mexico, small bags can be found for sale each fall. They are sold at the local mercantile, in health-food stores in town, and from the back of pick-up trucks. Usually the nuts have already been roasted and salted, although they are rarely shelled. The price per bag is clearly listed; the price per pound is usually absent. Paying $5-10 for a bag of nuts feels reasonable; figuring out that those bags cost $15-40 per pound is a painful realization!

It’s pinon season at Lybrook. There’s GOLD in them thar woods…for someone ELSE to find!

Links for more information:

Prices HERE

Tree Facts HERE

Stories HERE

Another blog entry about gathering pinon nuts HERE

A Busy Summer…

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It has been a busy summer for our family here in Navajoland. I’m a bit horrified to realize no blog posts were published for over two months. That certainly doesn’t mean a lack of activity!

Here is a summary of the past few months:

We had a guest staying with us for a few months, a friend of our oldest daughter from her days as an anthropology student at Texas A&M. Starting Monday, we will be publishing a series of guest blog posts written by Jianping, reflecting on life here in Navajoland.

To celebrate my 50th birthday at the end of May, I was able to take a two week trip to England to visit with my sister at the end of June. I so much appreciate family and friends who gave special Christmas and Birthday gifts so we could afford for me to do this…and an extra thank-you to my sister who paid for many wonderful “extras” while I was visiting!

Anna spent a week at Bible Camp near Gallup NM with a friend from school. Both of them had a great time and hope to go back again next year.

Jakob so much enjoyed his week at Bible Camp that he paid the fees to go back for a second week later in the summer. He earned money working long days at Mustang Camp from April to mid-August, helping to tame wild mustangs so they can be adopted. We are all glad to have him back home again.

Randy squeezed in a trip back to Ohio in July to spend time with family. He also left our beat-up ancient PT Cruiser with our older son who is transitioning from a career back to grad school a year from now.

There were two weddings this summer at the Navajo church we attend. As a gift to each couple, Jill did the photography for both weddings. (There will definitely be a blog post about this in the future…)

Lybrook School, the local K-8th school, started the new school year on July 16th. It is a year-round school which holds classes on Mon-Thurs. This year Randy’s schedule is lighter: teaching 2 math classes in the mornings with no contract to do tech-work. Jill has significantly upped her hours and responsibilities: now doing Reading intervention full time on Tuesdays and Thursdays, plus significant prep time to deal with 7 small groups ranging from 1st to 8th grade!

In addition to the visitor from Texas A&M, we had a number of short-term visitors this summer, including a dad & daughter from Maryland, a few supporters of LCM, my sister and her family, and our oldest daughter (home for a week from Kazakhstan where she lives and work). It is always fun to share this starkly beautiful place with visitors, often including a trip back to Chaco Culture National Historic Park.

We also hosted a fellow for a few weeks who got stranded while traveling the country by horseback. He is currently back east, driving a truck to earn enough money to come back and retrieve his three horses. In the mean time, he is paying feed costs for us to pretend we are horse-owners (and for Anna to get a chance to learn to ride).

Now that all of the area schools are back in session, we have a number of students to check in with occasionally at their various locations. 3 of last year’s 8th graders are living in a dorm and attending highschool in Bloomfield (45 miles away); 1 is in the dorms and attending Navajo Preparatory School. At least 2 are attending Cuba Highschool (45 miles the other direction), including one fellow who has stuck with the challenges of practices so far and is on the football team. 1 student has already dropped out of highschool (after only 2 days) and we are uncertain where the remaining students are.

In addition, we made significant efforts to help 3 young men from church apply for and attend colleges this fall. Jeremy is attending the Master’s [Bible] College in Southern California, Kevin is living in our RV in Farmington and attending San Juan Community College, and Koby is living with his Grandma in Albuquerque and attending Central New Mexico Community College. We are continuing to keep contact with all 3 fellows (and with their folks) as they make this difficult transition to living away from their family in this area.

I will write more detailed posts about these students in the future, including photos, so you can keep them in your thoughts and prayers, and can possibly encourage them…

This gives you a general idea of what we have been up to this summer. Now that I know there are actually people who regularly read this blog (and miss it when I don’t write new posts) and now that I’ve somewhat settled into my expanded role at the local school, this blog should go back to posting new stories each Monday and Friday.

See you then!

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