Lessons Learned from “The Week of No Water”

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We get our water from a community water system that serves 60 customers along 20 or so miles of highway. The well is right behind us, with storage tanks atop the mesa.

notice the water tanks to the right on top the mesa…LCM is just over this hill

After a few months of scares, problems, and outages, the pump that brings water up from the bottom of the 1700’ deep well failed.

It took a number of days of scrambling to file the appropriate paperwork, but the State of New Mexico eventually approved an emergency loan of $25,000 to replace the pump.  This turns out to be quite an involved project: the pump, motor, electrical cable and approximately 48 lengths of pipe (each 32’ long) had to be removed with each length of pipe unscrewed by hand before eventually reversing the process and installing the new pump, cable, and pipes. The Navajo water authority donated their services to do this project which was a huge help.

After a week with no water, you can’t imagine how excited we were to hear gurgling in the pipes…and to eventually have a trickle of water coming out of the faucet!

We are so glad the water was only “out” for a week. It could have been worse—much worse, with estimates as long as 2-3 months with no running water if state money had not been granted…

Here, in random order, are some of the lessons I learned during our “Week of No Water”…

  • Imagination is NOT the same as reality… Many of our Navajo friends have beautiful thick long hair. They haul water all the time, and I have tried to imagine how they keep their hair so clean: buckets? Drip showers? Water heated on the stove? When I asked for advice this past week, every one of them told me to just go to a family member’s house, someone who has running water! (Great advice…but my mom lives a few states too far away to run over there to take showers!)
  • Water is FAR heavier than you think…especially when you are dealing with morning after morning of carrying in the 8th or 10th big pan filled with water from the tank on the back of the pick-up truck.
  • Be careful not to strain any muscles when you are carrying those pans of water…there is (unfortunately) no hot shower available to soak away the pain…
  • Actual running water to wash hair is such a treat it doesn’t matter if it is icy cold! (I was able to wash my hair after the Cuba Volunteer Fire Department meeting mid-week. I think the chief was shocked that I didn’t complain about the cold water…)
  • Students are extra thirsty when there’s no water in the drinking fountains at school…(The school stayed open all week—with bottle water, porta-potties, and a “water buffalo” hauled in the by National Guard for water to be used in the kitchen.)
  • Soaking caked-on-food-covered-skillets in cold water is useless, even if the water has dish soap in it. I had to heat water (on the stove or via my coffee-maker) and let the skillets soak in HOT soapy water to scrub them clean.
  • It takes far more pans of water than you think would be necessary to actually flush the toilets properly (and then you sadly remember how much work it is to haul that water inside…) Suddenly it is easy to follow the saying: “If it’s yellow, let it mellow; if it’s brown, flush it down.” That toilet really does NOT need to be flushed every time it is used…
  • With no running water, you start looking around the property, trying to figure out where would be a good place to put up a few outhouses…after all, that’s what many Navajo have and how things work for many area churches…

    fancy women’s outhouse at a nearby church…

  • When the community water system fails, you suddenly learn how many local people do not understand how things actually work. I was lectured far too many times about how we were discriminating against the Navajo by turning off the faucet they use to haul water—nothing I said could convince them that we, too, had no water…

    like the Navajo families in this area, we too had to haul water this past week…

A Rolling Party…

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We recently learned more about why so many of our Navajo friends have repeat DUIs. It has somewhat baffled us as to why Navajo who live way back on dirt roads where police never drive would choose to get in a vehicle and go for a drive rather than just staying at home to drink in relative “safety.”

party locationOne of my woman friends told me the story of her now-sober husband’s wild partying days. He had a favorite sports car that was his pride and joy. Whenever he got his hands on money, he would jump in his car, head to the nearest carryout to get some beer, and get the party rolling.

Turns out the drinking is often a moving party—someone drives to a buddy’s home and pounds on the door until the buddy comes out and gets in the car. They wander merrily along, drinking and getting silly, as they drive from home to home, packing the car full of friends who are happy to add to the stash of beer and join in the partying.

Ahhh…no wonder there are so many DUIs…the drinking more often occurs in the setting of a vehicle than it does in an anglo-style-party-at-home. This pattern also makes it much more difficult for Navajo who wish to quit drinking. They can’t merely choose to stay away from the party when the party will eventually end up at their door with friends pounding insistently and demanding that all the usual participants need to come along for the ride.

As I have said before, officers from the various police departments are reluctant to get off the main highway and drive on the dirt roads. It might seem logical that the rolling drinking parties would just drive around on the network of back roads. However, to stock up on more alcohol, they usually need to get on the highway to get to a carryout that sells more beer. That, of course, involves drunk driving on the very roads patrolled by the police.

In addition, in the midst of drunken “good ideas,” someone often decides they should drive all the way to town to recruit some buddy who is visiting friends there. With no sober mind to raise objections, the moving party is soon headed at high speed down the highway toward town. And this is when the party often turns tragic—either ending in jail time, felony DUI, or even death.

One more piece in a perplexing puzzle…

Bus Adventures

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A Navajo friend of ours is living in Albuquerque, working hard to finish a degree in Early Childhood Education. Because she hasn’t been able to take care of her elderly mother, take a full load of classes, and work a job, “Sharon” had to quit her job. This meant she eventually quit making payments on her car and had to sell it.

bus oneSharon told me the story of her bus adventures. After giving up her car, she realized that the college is too far from their apartment for her to walk to class. For a few days she was in a panic. She might be able to get an occasional ride from a classmate, but that wouldn’t work every day.

Then she remembered seeing city busses occasionally driving down the major road a few blocks from where she lives. One day, she gathered her courage and some money and walked to a bus stop.

Sharon had never ridden the busses before. She had no idea where the routes ran. She knew there were bus stops on the college campus, but she didn’t know if those were on the same route as the busses running near her home.

Sharon spent the day riding busses, trying to figure out where they ran, working hard to guess when and where to get off to switch to another bus. Eventually she figured out what busses to take to get between home and college. Over the next few days, she learned by trial and error when each bus got to the bus stops she needed.

bus twoSharon explained this process to me in a very matter-of-fact way. She was rightfully proud of how much work she had done to solve her transportation problem.

I didn’t have the heart to ask her why she hadn’t gone on-line to figure out the bus routes. I didn’t mention that she could probably have picked up bus route brochures at her college. I simply congratulated her on her perseverance and her courage in taking a bus adventure!

There’s Something “Wrong” With Him…

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group playWhen I chaperoned science fair winners from our local K-8th Public School to the district competition last month, we had a long waiting period. Most of our Navajo students stuck close together—piling together onto a bench to talk, or huddled together to play board games. My daughter went to the side of the room, choosing alone time to deal with her nervousness. None of the Navajo students commented on that. However, one of the young Navajo students also chose solitude. He played a board game…by himself. He looked through a book…by himself. Others tried to join him which he just ignored. They tried to include him in their conversation—ignored again.

Over the hours we were waiting, each of the other Navajo students came to me to express their concern about Noah. “There’s something WRONG with him…” “Why is he so unhappy?” (while he was laughing to himself as he played both sides of the solitary board game.) “You need to help Noah…”

As we get more and more involved at the local K-8th Public School, we see a problem looming large for our Navajo students. This particular piece of Navajo culture causes difficulties for anyone negotiating the Anglo world. As students progress to higher levels, this preference for being surrounded by a group will cause major problems in the educational arena.

Introvert—Extrovert; Navajo—Anglo … On the one hand, cultures hold different values and that’s okay. On the other hand, when people from one culture need to interact with those from another culture, especially when the positions of power and the rule-makers are from the second culture, problems often loom large. When values clash, all too often those in the minority culture feel that they are disrespected and that they are victims.

We struggle to understand the Navajo preference for doing everything in a group. They may be silent in that group, but we rarely see Navajo alone. When Granny needs to go to the clinic for a cough, the adults in the family call in sick to work, children get pulled out of school, and everyone piles into the car to accompany Granny. When someone takes a coffee break, others need to join them. The same holds true for walking to the bathroom—it can only be done with a group.

Students in our tutoring groups do an excellent job of finishing assignments when they work in a group (with one student doing most of the work, then giving the answers to the others). When asked to work individually, most of them fail miserably. We have tried challenging the copy-ers to step up to responsibilities and do their own work. We have tried challenging the answer-givers to keep their papers protected from prying eyes. Nothing seems to change the dynamic.

When we ask more questions, the students are baffled by our concern. They are adamant that it is the social responsibility of the stronger ones to help the weak ones. They generally dislike competition—working together is a highly held value. They get worried and stressed when they are expected to do things or go places alone.

Our concern is that when they finish middle school here in Navajoland where group-behavior is accepted, they will head to high school in the Anglo dominated world. Although group work is sometimes assigned in the Anglo world, most homework and tests are expected to be completed individually. Plagiarism is often punished with suspension. How can we effectively communicate this to children who are surrounded with the highly-held value of “group-think” and group behavior?

solitary noahWe are wrestling with how to respond to this clash of cultures. We are struggling to know how to best help the students we are working with.

I keep hearing an echo in my head…”There’s something wrong with him…you have to help him.”

And who defines how we should “help”??

Music…er, LANGUAGE…Wars

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For the past decade or so, churches across the United States have been struggling with what has been termed “Music Wars.” The older generation and those who have grown up in traditional churches have a strong need to keep traditional music in their church services. Young people and new converts of many ages often choose not to attend churches whose music is not contemporary.

Here in Navajoland most churches appear to be settled into a 1950s style of “church” complete with hymn singing. However the “Music Wars” battle is raging in a few churches. The Navajo pastors who are concerned about reaching out to young people are adding worship bands including drums and electric guitars. One church we know of uses a native style drumming circle and native flutes. In most cases, local long-time Christians argue vehemently that these sorts of music are “devil music.”

There are a number of possible responses to these “Music Wars.” Josh Hunt, a leader in training churches for leadership and growth, has an excellent two part series about “Music Wars” and responses that are helpful versus typical responses that only seem to make the division worse. You can read it here: PART 1  and PART 2

navajo hymns

singing Navajo hymns

In this part of the world, we have an even larger conflict looming in the Navajo-led churches. The older members know little English. They have a strong need for services to be conducted in Navajo. “Music Wars” has an added component in these settings because the only worship songs in Navajo are hymns.

On the other hand, many of the local young people no longer speak Navajo. They have limited understanding of it because of time spent with their grandparents, but they don’t need to speak the language at school or at home. When both the music style and the primary language of the church services are “foreign” to them, young people frequently choose to not get involved in church.

Grandma and Granddaughter

Grandma and Granddaughter

The poor church attendance of Navajo youth mirrors what is happening in the larger US church world. Talking with young local friends about why they aren’t involved in church, we hear similar answers to those of their Anglo counterparts: it doesn’t have anything to do with me, I don’t like the music, I don’t understand what the pastor is talking about, I hated being dragged to church by my grandparents when I was little… Many researchers have shown that we are losing an entire generation. Some studies show that less than 4% of American teens are involved in church. If that statistic is true, we are in trouble!

The Navajo pastor of the church we attend is wrestling with this dilemma. He currently offers a bi-lingual service each Sunday which also includes both hymns and contemporary music. Unfortunately, many of the older members are becoming vocal about their dissatisfaction. They are pushing the pastor towards MORE Navajo language in the church, even as he feels pulled toward reaching out more strongly to community youth.

We have begun sharing with him some of the studies, commentary and experiences coming out of the “Music Wars” in today’s American church. It seems to us that there are strong correlations between “Music Wars” and the “Language Wars” this little church is experiencing.

contemporary songs

contemporary worship songs (in English)

It seems to us that the church must do whatever it takes to draw children and young people into vital relationship with God. (I will talk more about this in a later blog post…) To do that, changes may need to be made in the style of services offered by local churches…or new youth-focused services may need to be formed.

What’s going on in your home church? Are you experiencing “Music Wars”? Do you have any “words of wisdom” to share with our Navajo pastor as he sorts through the “Language Wars” around here?

Announcing Lybrook Science Fair Winners…(finally!)

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We finally have the results for the school-district-wide Science Fair. If you remember, in an earlier post I talked about some of our Lybrook students who did well with their projects and advanced to the district level.

judging science fair

Interactive Judging of Projects

I was quite proud of all of the students who competed on this level. They often find it difficult to talk with strangers, ducking their heads, speaking hardly above a whisper. I challenged them to at least look at their display boards, even if they couldn’t manage to look directly at the judges.

Most of them were quite nervous, but when it was their time to be interviewed, each of them moved out of their comfort zones and stepped up to the challenge. They talked clearly about what they had done in their projects. They answered questions quickly, without long silences. Some were even animated, looking at the judges, pointing to their displays, gesturing with their hands as they explained their ideas.

Unfortunately, only 7th and 8th grade students can progress to the Regional Science Fair. None of our students at that level won at the district competition. However, we have three beautiful big rosette ribbons in the display case at Lybrook School.

Maurice won 3rd place in the Middle School competition (6thgrade) for his project on AIR.



Anna won 3rd place in the Elementary School division (4thgrade) for her project on G-FORCE and centripetal force on merry-go-rounds.



Noah won 1st place in the Elementary School competition (4thgrade) for his project on identifying different  types of FINGERPRINTS.



A big CONGRATULATIONS to all of the Lybrook Students who participated in the Science Fair competitions this year!

(And here is a little more information about Noah’s project for readers who would like more details…

On the day before Lybrook School’s science fair, one student was excited about the previous day’s fieldtrip to Sandia Labs in Albuquerque.  At this by-invitation-only event, students had solved a mystery using a variety of forensic techniques. Noah was fascinated by the fingerprinting process. He had previously shown little interest in completing a science project. But now he wondered if he could do something with fingerprinting.

His teacher asked if I had time to help him. I was happy to do so. We talked about what he had learned, made some plans, and ran around the school collecting fingerprints from a variety of teachers, staff, and students. “I promise I won’t use this for anything bad…really…”

Noah then analyzed the fingerprints, decoding which type of print each one was: loop, double loop, tented arch, whirl, and more. He spent a long time making a bar graph of the results and carefully coloring the bars to make it more visible. He gathered his thoughts and made a report, summarizing what he had learned. He put together a nice-looking display. He interviewed well, not too shy to tell the judges what he had learned.

Noah was quite excited to be chosen as one of the students representing the fourth grade class of Lybrook School for the district-wide event. Again, he talked excitedly with the judges about what he had learned. At the end of the day, he was pleased to find that a number of spectators had noticed his invitation and had added their own fingerprints to his collection sheet. More prints to analyze…heaven!

It took a few weeks for the results…but you should have seen Noah’s grin from ear to ear when he was given his big, blue, rosette ribbon for 1st place at the Elementary Science Fair District Competition! Way to go, Noah!)

Wood Stove Warmth

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Many of our Navajo friends heat their homes and churches with wood stoves. I’ve talked before about the process of cutting enough wood to last the winter. Today, I want to share a little more about this form of heating.

wood stove heatingWe have had a number of frigid Sundays. Just walking from our truck into church, my toes begin to ache, my figures freeze, and my nose starts dripping from the cold. By arriving a few minutes early, there is time to stand by the stove, basking in the warmth. Once or twice we sat in one of the pews close to the stove. It was lovely to begin with…but by part way through the service it felt more like a sweat bath than a church! Now we sit a few pews back from the stove—not too cold, not too hot, but just right.

Unfortunately, there is a darker side to using a big metal woodstove for winter heating. One of the little guys from our church family was chasing a ball across his living room. Ty tripped and fell against the stove, seriously burning most of his upper arm. At first it looked bad enough that the doctors were considering surgery. Fortunately, it is healing well.

tough guy tyBefore Christmas, I was involved in on-going treatment for an older girl at the school who had an unexplained deep burn on her forearm, somehow received from the wood-stove at home. “Della” stoically stood stiffly still while I pulled off the bandages, reapplied antibiotic ointment, and re-bandaged the nasty wound. Apparently the ointment and bandaging helped lessen the pain, very different than the Vicks Vaporub her mother smeared on the burn for the first few days!

The next time you enjoy the warmth and peacefulness of a wooden stove or a fireplace on a cold winter’s night, take a moment to remember our Navajo friends who use this as their only form of heat. Remember the work it takes to bring in enough wood for an entire winter of heating. And, don’t forget the Navajo young ones who get hurt by this source of comfort for us. Say a prayer for their protection and safety…

Circle of…Death?


There is something so hopeful about the Circle of Life. Babies are born, couples marry and start new families, eventually elders die, and the circle continues over and over and over. Keeping this picture in mind, death is just one part of community, one part of family, one part of life.

Within the idea of the Circle of Life, even unexpected, out-of-sequence deaths can be grieved and worked through. When our son died, it felt like the world had just ended. And yet, our other children still needed our guidance, our support, and our love. Life was continuing and we talked about these patterns with each other and with others within the community who were also affected by the death of our son.

Unfortunately, it can be hard to see this positive circle out here in Navajoland. There seems to be death after death after death, tragedy followed by tragedy, an endless cycle of trauma. It is hard to find hope when it seems like the circle leads over and over again to death, not to renewal and life. (As many of you know, we are currently walking through the aftermath of fatal accidents from January 1st – you can read more about it HERE)

For far too many hurting and angry people in this community, the “solution” to such trauma is to numb the pain with alcohol. This in turn contributes significantly to more dysfunction and death. And the circle spirals downward…

How can this be changed? How can the Circles turn back upward, toward hope and toward life?

First, we need to recognize that more education or yet one more program will make no noticeable difference. There have been hundreds of people out here in Navajoland for generations past, working hard to change the patterns. But the Circle of Death just seems to be spiraling downward faster and faster.

A few tendencies within Navajo culture make it difficult to change the current patterns: family members avoid confrontation whenever possible; hesitating to confront alcoholism for fear it might cause a break in relationship with their loved one. Their fear and avoidance too often enables the alcoholism to continue, leading eventually to shocking deaths (an ultimate break in relationship…). For the friends we know who have stopped drinking and personally won the battle against alcoholism, the trigger for change was most often family members who challenged them to stop and did everything possible to keep the drinking from re-occurring.

In addition, Navajo are taught from a very young age to “be strong,” “don’t show emotion,” and “be a survivor.” Sometimes these ideas can give strength to a person walking through difficulty. But far more often, this lack of allowing emotion causes people to “shut down” during traumatic times. A lack of sorting through emotions and a lack of grieving can cause heart-wounds to fester. When the pain becomes unbearable, with no other coping skills to deal with it, alcohol seems to be an acceptable way to numb that pain. And, again, the Circle of Death spirals, faster and faster as trauma is layered onto trauma, over and over again.

Walking through our own time of grieving, after the death of our son, we realized we would not survive if we remained passive. We had to choose to reach for hope. We had to choose to allow strong emotions to wash over us. We had to choose to move forward into the Circle of Life. That sounds so simple and easy, and yet it is quite difficult. For many dealing with traumatic loss, including my husband, it takes the concern and prayers of many friends to bring one back toward living again. It takes a powerful God to break through the darkness and show light. It takes a radical transformation of heart and mind; a glimpse of hope given by a God of joyfulness and love.

Some days the darkness here seems overwhelming. Some days we just want to run—back to a suburban or rural haven where there is no obvious Circle of Death. But we choose to stay…to walk through these tragedies with our friends: to listen when they need to talk, to allow them a safe place to express anger and sorrow, to cry with them and to pray with them, to help them reconnect with the Circle of Life and with a God who can give them true strength.

Some days we recognize our overwhelming need for support. We are grateful for friends who encourage us, who donate funds, who pray for us. With the help of team-members scattered across the world, we can stay. We can walk with our Navajo friends through joyful times and through tragedy. We can enter in to their Circle of Life!

Christmas Baking

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I love baking special treats for Christmas. We don’t usually bother with cut-out cookies, but we definitely have our family favorites. This year since there were only 4 of us at home, I asked both Jakob and Anna to name just 3 favorites we “must” have for Christmas. Amazingly, their lists agreed: Molasses Sugar Cookies, 7 Layer Bars, and Caramel Bars (sinfully rich cookies brought by a friend to Randy’s birthday celebration—looks like they will be added to the “family favorites” list). I added Chocolate Chip Cookies and Peanut Butter Blossoms (you know, peanut butter cookies with a Hershey’s kiss topping each one).

christmas cookie baking

Baking Christmas Cookies...

It took me a few days to bake all of this. Yes, my back was sore each evening. Yes, my hair wilted and I was sweaty working around the hot oven. Yes, the cookies disappear with alarming speed. But it is part of Christmas. It is something I enjoy.

christmas baking

Making Cookies...a family Christmas Tradition!

I found it quite interesting, however, to discuss Christmas baking with women at church. To make casual conversation, I asked what sort of baked treats each family prefers. The women gave me blank looks, baffled by my question. It turns out that none of them do any Christmas baking. The ingredients are somewhat costly, but the real problem is kitchen appliances. It is difficult to bake on an old fashioned wood stove. And it is cost prohibitive to use an oven with a propane stove. Their families still consume plenty of Christmas calories—but in the form of candy rather than cookies.

Ahhh…now I better understood the excitement of a friend’s family when I gave her a plate of simple chocolate chip cookies to take home. To me (and my family) baking that type of cookie is a simple thing. Often I choose to bake them as a form of stress relief. The ingredients are almost always sitting in the pantry, ready at a moments notice to be turned into a quick snack. But to my friend and her family, who rarely taste home-baked goodies, it was truly a special gift!

christmas cookies

Our family's Christmas calories come in the form of cookies...

Just one more example of different cultures having different holiday traditions…

Career Day…Expanding Their Futures

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We are gradually learning that a huge roadblock to “success” out here is a profound lack of envisioning a future. There is a quiet strength in our Navajo friends who live mostly in the “now.” They often lack the striving, stressing, worrying-about-tomorrow that most of our Anglo friends (and we, ourselves) experience. At the same time, they often seem incapable of seeing possibilities and weighting options. And sometimes, I think, this lack of envisioning future paths contributes to high school drop out rates and eventual despair and purposelessness.

career day group photo

"Ya'at'eeh" -- Wecome to Career Day

Today I joined the local 7th and 8th grade class on a field-trip to a Career Day held at the high school most of them will eventually attend (45 miles from here). At first the students were baffled about why we were dragging them to this activity. They hung together in little groups and wandered aimlessly—other than trying to avoid making eye contact with anyone at the tables or getting sucked in to possible conversations. Eventually, with the prodding of their teacher and myself, most of them started engaging with the various presenters and recruiters.

career day_firefighter

Learning about new Junior Firefighter program at Cuba Highschool

Career Day_firefighter

Playing with the firefighter's tools...

They learned that they can sign up for the military during their senior year IF they keep their grades up and stay in school. They learned what it takes to become an agent with the FBI. They learned about outdoor careers with the Fish & Game Department and with the Forestry Service. They learned about indoor careers such as dentistry and working with mentally handicapped individuals.

One boy who is an excellent artist and enjoys drawing as an escape from a difficult family situation, was quite excited to find out you can actually study ART in college! Another was interested to learn that he could participate in rodeo in highschool and that if he is good enough he could go to college on a scholarship to be on the rodeo team. A few of the girls discovered that deciphering blueprints is kind of fun, and the need to be detail oriented in the construction trades is a good fit with their personalities.

Career Day_girls

Learning about dentistry...

It is possible that some of our students will eventually follow-through on interests started by this Career Day. Likely, however, the most significant thing about this outing was that it expanded their options. It widened their horizons, and exposed them to many possible futures they had never considered before.

Now if we can only help them stay in school long enough to pursue those possibilities!

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