When Cultures Clash

Leave a comment

Young Navajo friends of ours have been living in an RV in town this school year so they can attend the local community college. Even RV living differs greatly from their homes on the “rez.” In town, Calvin* and his buddy enjoy electricity, running water, and electric heat (rather than wood-stove heating). They are within walking distance of the bus which whisks them to and from campus. Included in the monthly lot rental is cable TV and internet. (And the internet is not pay as you go, running out before the end of each month!)

Both fellows have appreciated the benefits of town living. However, over time, we have realized they lack fundamental knowledge about how things work in town..

RV living in winter

RV living in winter

Recently, Calvin moved out of the RV with little notice, frustrated at how cold the RV was and at having no running water for more than a week (with frozen pipes.) When my husband arrived a few days later, he soon had the RV toasty warm and had the pipes thawed within a few hours.

What was the difference?

Having grown up with wood heat and a lack of indoor plumbing does not prepare someone for town-living. Throughout the fall, we urged Calvin to put up insulation around the bottom of the RV. We explained a number of times how this “skirting” helps the heater work more effectively and keeps the water pipes from freezing when the weather gets cold.

In back-country Navajo culture, there is no reason to do extra work that is perceived to be unnecessary. Daily living takes enough energy and work. Unfortunately, even though we provided the needed materials, Calvin followed his life-knowledge and never got around to installing the extra insulation. In his world, one just throws more wood in the stove when the weather gets cold. With no skirting around the bottom of the RV, as the temperature plummeted this winter, it became more and more difficult to keep the place heated. Eventually, as we expected, the pipes froze.

Calvin’s perception was that the flaw was in expecting to live in an RV during the winter. He found little connection between the lack of preparations and the eventual consequences. The proposed work was viewed as unneeded—which it certainly would have been in his childhood home. Even similar suggestions, by neighbors who lived year round in their RV, fell on deaf ears.

RV parked in a similar location to where Calvin lived in town

RV parked in a similar location to where Calvin lived in town

Another clash of cultures occurred in the matter of paying rent. Calvin’s buddy was inconsistent, often choosing to spend extra days at home rather than staying in the RV. He then saw little need to pay for days he didn’t use the RV. He fundamentally did not understand that rent is owed each month for the entire month, regardless of days spent in the property.

Having to consistently pay monthly rent by a certain time was also challenging for the fellows. Few Navajo in outlying areas have any concept of credit, which translates to a lackadaisical attitude about bill-paying. After all, with no concern about a personal credit rating, what is the downside of being late with payments? In addition, having to pay a deposit to move in was a new idea. Putting money ahead of needed use is rarely done in a culture where family “need” trumps personal savings.

We are happy that Calvin is continuing to pursue education at the local community college. We are sorry it didn’t work out for him to continue living in the (low-cost) RV at this point. Sometimes cultural expectations outweigh other considerations…

*name changed to protect privacy

Another School Shooting?

Leave a comment

This is something that has infuriated me over the years. When something tragic happens in a suburban school, people from around the country rally in support of the community. At the time of the Columbine shooting, young Cambodian friends of ours had not-too-long-earlier had to deal with shootings in their neighborhood which killed friends and family with no acknowledgement or support from the outside world.

Working with families and students in the Lybrook area of Navajoland was devastating at times. Far too often we saw first-hand the results of beatings, of abandonment, of neglect, of abuse. I’ve written occasionally on this blog about some of the bigger tragedies in the community. But where is the outpouring of support? Where is the free counseling? Where is the money and the prayers and the encouraging notes…for the adults choosing to work with these families and for the children themselves?

There was another school shooting this week. But it hardly merited comment. Perhaps that was because it might have been gang related. Perhaps it is because it happened in a school that has metal detectors at the doors. Perhaps it is because we can’t acknowledge the violence faced by thousands upon thousands of children every day in this country. Perhaps that is just too hard to think about when it makes us feel too helpless.

Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives.

Our family is no longer living and working in Navajoland. But a piece of our hearts is still there, suffering and celebrating with our friends. Concerned for the children we know who are trying to raise themselves and their siblings with no stable adults around them.

I wish I knew what WE could do about such callousness in our country. And I wish there was some way to set hearts on fire so that each and every one of us would rise up in outrage at these tragedies, insisting that things MUST change for the “least of these,” for children who are precious in the sight of our Saviour…

I read a few blogs written by families who are doing what they can to stand in the gap for needy children. One of these summarized that life well today:

And the truth of the matter is that the cracks aren’t very comfortable. They’re dark, and kind of squishy, and supremely lonely. We’ve been having trouble recruiting mentors, which has given me a bad attitude and made me feel a little despondent and frustrated. Like why in the world are we the only ones here? Where are all the other people who love Jesus?

But when I get in that place, when I get overwhelmed by the darkness, by the storm that so often surrounds us here, it usually means I have taken my eyes off of Jesus. Because here’s the thing about cracks: they let the light shine through. So even when they feel broken, and dark, and even a little scary, I am learning that standing in the gap for “the least of these” means we bear the great privilege and responsibility of being a fissure for Christ’s love to seep through.

I challenge each one of us to step outside our comfort zone. To reach out and help someone who is in a difficult situation. To speak up for the children. Discussing and debating laws and regulations won’t change lives. Making time to spend regularly with one or two of these children could make a huge difference. Jumping into the “trenches” with a family who is working with little ones in tragic situations, trying hard to understand what that life is really like, and encouraging those workers can make a difference.

The real question is: are we willing to wrestle with the uncomfortable? Are we willing to be stretched outside our “normal”? When will we react with as much shock and horror to the devastating lives of the poor as we do to tragedies among the well-to-do?

(If you are interested, you can read more from the above blogger HERE)

Drinking Among Navajo People (Guest Post #20)

Leave a comment

This is post number 20 in a series of guest posts written by a visiting anthropology student. You can read more about the author and these posts HERE.

Drinking is one of the first things I got to know about Navajo people right after I came to Navajo land. Randy and Jill have talked a lot about the consequences of drinking, generally car accidents. We touched upon the topics such as the genetic influence, cultural traditions and Navajo people’s world views. Much of what we have discussed is sporadic and lacks depth. I felt so especially after I read a scholarly research on Navajo drinking.

Quintero’s study (1997), conducted in the mid-1990s, provides a comprehensive analysis on Navajo drinking from local people’s perspective. By focusing on the narratives of Navajo people about their experience with or without drinking, this study investigates issues such as how and when Navajo people began drinking, how drinking behavior changed during one’s lifetime, what Navajo people’s attitudes to drinking are, and what the alcohol abuse treatment’s effects are, etc.

The author reveals that most people started drinking as an adolescent, as a result of socialization and growing up. Family is an important factor for the start of drinking behavior. The author emphasizes that drinking behavior changes during one’s lifetime due to various reasons such as consideration for children and family, health, religion. This study illustrates that there was a trend that problems associated with drinking happen at an earlier age among younger generations. According to the author, Navajo people consider drinking to have contributed to the decline of ethics. This study also investigates the cultural factors that affected the abandonment of alcohol use when people were older.

As to treatment programs, the author argues that the effects are not clear since people tend to change their drinking behavior while they are getting old, and that the label of sickness associated with drinking suggested in the treatment programs may negatively affect people’s psychology. In critiquing the theories that consider Navajo drinking as problematic for social change, this study emphasizes the social and cultural mechanisms that help control drinking.

Reference:

Quintero, Gilbert. 1997. The Discourse on Drinking in Navajo Society. Ph.D Dissertation, University of Arizona.

(Note from Jill–although I haven’t read the referenced dissertation, I disagree with his conclusions as portrayed in this post in two respects. From what we have heard from “elderlies” in the community, there USED to be more effective social and cultural mechanisms that helped to control drinking. Today most family members throw their hands up helplessly and bemoan the deaths and violence caused by alcohol but state very clearly that nothing can be done about it. Second, we experienced first hand that often the older people who talked with pride about “being on the sobriety road” were actually drunk on numerous days per week. Navajo are very good at giving the expected answer in conversation. I know that we heard occasional joking among Navajo friends who had given nonsense information to outsiders who then believed that erroneous information. The Navajo saw this as a joke, not as something to be concerned about or something to be corrected. It seems to me that this might well have happened to the researcher who wrote the dissertation.)

(I have written a number of posts about our observations of drinking among local Navajo. You can see two of these posts HERE and HERE.)

A Variety of Social Aspects of Navajo People (Guest Post #18)

Leave a comment

This is the 18th guest post written by Jianping (Corey). You can read the introduction to this author and to these posts HERE. Some posts have been illustrated with photos taken by the author. Photos in this post were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

The other day, I was asked by a Navajo if I knew any famous Navajo people. I tried to think, but couldn’t think of anyone. He mentioned someone who was a golfer. I did not think I had ever heard of the person. But anyway, it is interesting that he asked such a question which provoked me into thinking about the importance of role models. Simply put, role models help to shape the society and people. They provide inspirations for people and examples for them to follow. The earlier question was a direct link to the issues of role models. I wonder what other famous Navajo or American Indian people the locals know about and how they think of them.

"Culture Day" is good...but not the same as having role models

“Culture Day” is good…but not the same as having role models

Randy and I once saw hitchhikers on the highway. The weather was hot. It would not be a pleasant thing walking along the road. Also, their destination must be far away considering the remoteness of this area. I was wondering how they would manage to reach the destination. Another time, I was in Randy’s vehicle on a dirt road. Randy stopped near someone who was walking. Randy asked if he needed a ride. It sounded like the guy didn’t make it clear where he wanted to go. So, we left without picking him up.  As can be imagined, without a vehicle in this rural area, life can be hard.

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation...along the highway and along dirt roads

Hitchhiking is a common form of transportation…along the highway and along dirt roads

From my observations at Lybrook Elementary/Middle School, I assume there are some families of Navajo mixed with other people, particularly Hispanics. According to Randy, some of the non-Navajo school teachers have a Navajo spouse. So there is ethnic diversity here to some extent. But obviously the mixed families are the minority. It is not surprising that there are mixed families as there is no restriction preventing Navajo marrying people of a different ethnic group. It would be interesting to know how the children of the mixed families think of themselves in terms of their identity.

Some students have mixed heritage...

Some students have mixed heritage…

Victory over Death!

Leave a comment

One year ago, the Lybrook community was devastated by the tragedy of multiple deaths in two horrific accidents. Through family lines and marriages, these deaths directly affected most families in the area. (If you weren’t reading this blog back then, you can find the story HERE.)

It seems to be part of being human to wonder where God was when someone we love dies. Death often feels so wrong, such a horrible shortening of what “should” be a long life. Questions come flooding in, and it can be hard to walk in faith during such times.

Today, at the start of a new year, I want to share a different story of death with you. A story that still leaves questions, but one that unfolded with clear signs of God’s victory.rainbow photo from microsoft

A few months ago, one of our friends died of cancer. Rosie had been fighting this cancer since before we met her 2 ½ years ago. She was a loving, generous woman who was full of life and laughter. She was passionate about God and longed for others to have that same kind of relationship with God, rather than just following lifeless rules or religion.

Rosie doted on her family. Along with God, her family was the center of her world, something that came through in every conversation. And with her husband, children and grandchildren at the center of her heart, she was the one who held her family together through whatever storms they faced in life.

Then, she died.

As her husband Eddie told Randy a few weeks ago, God walked with the family through this dark time. They chose to work together in their grief and paint the casket. One side was given a rainbow. One side was filled with roses. Eddie was surprised when their artistic daughter chose to paint the top of the casket black with a simple white cross rather than painting some glorious scene or a more specific painting of her mother. roses by Microsoft

It rained the morning of the funeral, mirroring the grief of so many who loved Rosie. When they reached the cemetery, the rain stopped and a rainbow filled the sky. The casket was lowered into the ground, covered with roses, reminding everyone that Rosie herself was being buried. And then, as family and friends threw handfuls of dirt into the grave, a white cross appeared to glow in contrast to the darkness that was surrounding it. That simple painting by the artistic daughter was visible for a long time as more and more dirt covered the casket.

In looking back, Eddie realized that each painted side of the casket had been fulfilled that morning. Over the next few weeks, Eddie had encouraging dreams of Rosie. God was present that funeral day, and continues to bring comfort to the family.christian cross 1 by Microsoft

What a different story than the one from last year! Yes, Eddie and those who love Rosie miss her. Yes, they question why God took her home so soon. But there is a sense of celebration, even in the grief. Rosie’s love for others and her passion for God continue to challenge and encourage those who knew her.

Through Jesus, there truly is Victory Over Death!

Don’t Miss the Bus!

Leave a comment

Yesterday the 4th-8th grade students at the local public school went on a special field trip. They got to see a play-version of The Hobbit in a live production at a theater in Albuquerque.

This trip was planned weeks in advance. Students were given permission slips to return, which clearly stated that parents needed to bring their children to the school one hour early on the appointed day. Most students promptly returned the required forms.

During this past week, students were reminded each day that they could not take the usual school bus; they needed to find someone to drive them to school so they would not miss the field trip. Everyone seemed to understand this requirement.

There were 6 students (out of 50 or so eligible for the trip) who never brought back a signed permission form. Perhaps they “forgot,” or they “lost” the form, or their parents never signed it. Most likely they made the decision that they didn’t want to go on the trip. After all, in most Navajo families the parents rarely say “no” to their children. If it was important to the child, the signed forms would have been turned in long before the trip occurred.

I was assigned to oversee these students who were being left behind. It was still a school day with attendance expected at either the theater or back at the school. When I got to school yesterday morning, I discovered that there were more students who had “missed the bus.” I was responsible for 15 students, rather than just 6 children.

A few of the girls were belligerent. They had returned the required permission forms weeks earlier. They were grumpy that they had been left behind. They rode the usual school bus to school and were shocked to find that the classes had not waited for them. I reminded them that they had been told (and told, and told) that they needed to find their own way to school to be there at least an hour earlier than usual. That didn’t seem to sink in. The girls remained grumpy throughout the day that the teachers had been so mean and left them behind.

As I looked around the room, I realized that 25% of the eligible students were sitting in that room with me. It was interesting to note that these were the same students who are significantly behind—both in grade level and in day-to-day assignments. These are the students who lack family support for education; the ones who seem to be least knowledgeable about cultural differences in time management and expectations between Anglo and Navajo worlds. These are the children of adults who walk through life as helpless (and hope-less) “victims.”

I realized yesterday that we are failing these children in more fundamental ways than merely their lack of a solid education foundation for adult life. They lack models who can show them how to “catch the bus.” They lack understanding of the expectations of the work world they hope to join someday.

STOP! How can we help these Navajo children not “miss the bus” in life?

Perhaps even more important than teaching these kids the 3 Rs, we need to help them gain skills for functional adulthood. We need to help them take responsibility for their own lives. We need to help them so they can change the patterns in their family culture so that THEY won’t “miss the bus” in their own lives!

 

(all photos from fotosearch stock images)

Mule Deer — 1 Mission Truck — ?

Leave a comment

There are large herds of mule deer living in this remote corner of New Mexico. We used to see them frequently on the mission property, although since we have been “babysitting” some horses there is little grazing left which means far fewer deer sightings.

Why did the mule deer cross the road??!

I used to think that white-tail deer (in Ohio) were large. HA! They now look puny when compared to the hulking mule deer out here! Plus, there are elk roaming this area and they make the mule deer look puny.

Randy made a long drive up to Colorado a few weeks ago. He left before dawn to get to a meeting by late morning. Unfortunately, one of the many mule deer who wander this area of the state decided to cross the usually deserted road right when Randy was passing. (Fortunately it wasn’t an elk—those collisions often send the driver/passengers to the emergency room. And the big hulking black bull mangled on the side of the road a few nights ago didn’t look like it would have been “fun” to hit, either.)

OUCH! poor truck…poor deer…

Randy didn’t see what happened to the mule deer, although judging from the damage done to the front end of the truck, the deer most likely didn’t survive… Randy was surprised to find that the truck continued the trip with no problems. No fluids were leaking out of the radiator, although the rattley noises were loud enough that he tied the bumper and other parts together with some rope for the trip home.

rope…almost as good as duct tape or baling wire!

Unfortunately, driving the dirt roads to church a few days later apparently shook more things loose. The radiator sprung a leak and the truck had to be limped home. Randy was a bit shocked when he opened the hood and saw all the damaged parts. And when he got an estimate for parts and labor, the repairs come close to “totaling out” the car.

All I can say is, I’m SO glad it wasn’t our new 4wd that tangled with that deer!

(The mule deer photo and lots of additional information about mule deer can be found HERE)

Older Entries