When Cultures Clash

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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

Traditional Architecture and Change (Guest Post #17)

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This is #17 in a series of guest posts written by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read an introduction to these posts and to the author HERE. Jianping provided many of the photos for these guest posts. However, the photos for this entry were taken by Jill Emmelhainz.

From the LCM buildings to the houses along Highway 550, all are “modern” styles of buildings. It is not easy to see the more traditional style of building. In towns like Cuba and Farmington, there are some buildings with adobe characteristics. However, I suppose many of those buildings are new and public, and the adobe features are stressed in order to show local cultural heritage, while the adobe homes are no longer popular. The buildings around Farmington, such as some of the hotels and Farmington Public Library, preserve some features of adobe buildings such as the exterior terracotta color and the rounded rooms similar to hogans.

Farmington Library

Farmington Library

I had the opportunity to visit an adobe house. I was very impressed by the layout and coziness of it. It was a two-story building, if not three-stories. The circular living room has large windows that give good views of nature. It was an interesting contrast between its simple outside appearance and the modern living conditions inside.

However, this traditional type of building as a residential house, I suppose, is not common in this area. I guess it would be easier to obtain and use modern construction materials to build a new house nowadays. When did the adobe house lose its popularity? Was the change more the result of an economic or social factor? Recently, I read an article about social change. Basically, it suggests that the elite in the society play an important role in bringing about social changes. In other words, social change starts from the elite, and then spreads to ordinary people. I was thinking, was the replacement of adobe the result of the Navajo people who may be regarded as elites? And to extend the question, how was the architectural change related to other changes of the society?

a typical Navajo "family camp"

a typical Navajo “family camp”

[Note from Jill Emmelhainz: much of the modern style of housing was the result of planned housing built by the Navajo government a number of years ago in such communities as Nageezi and Dzilth-na-o-dith-hle. In addition, for local families with consistent income, modern mobile homes are a status symbol desired by many.]

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau–A Sketch of the Natural Environment (Guest Post #13)

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This is #13 in a series of guest posts by Jianping (Corey) Yang. You can read more about these posts and about the author HERE.

Here I am attempting to describe the weather in May, June and July in northwestern New Mexico. My description is from a layman’s experience rather than a geologist’s professional study. Therefore it might be inaccurate. However, a description will paint a more vivid picture than numbers and thus complement the statistical data.

Northwestern New Mexico Plateau
(photo taken by the author)

The climate is quite dry in this area, the elevation of which is above 6500 feet. According to my record, it rained a bit on June 4. During the night on June 26 and the day of June 27, it rained again, but not very heavily. There was a temperature increase from May to June, but it seems that the difference is more tangible at night than during the day. It is often windy, both during the day and at night. Most of the time, however, the wind is not obvious. Most of May and June were sunny days with blue sky. I believe that monsoon season started July 6, because it rained several times during the following week.

The typical scene is the sagebrush on plain areas and the mountains. Irrigated crop fields can occasionally be seen along the highway. The vast green agricultural land is a sharp contrast to the rest of the immediate area, where sagebrush thrives. The terrain is generally flat without sharp slopes. Small cacti are everywhere. Poplar trees can be seen sporadically. It is interesting to see that in Cuba, a town not very far away, the environment is much greener. I noticed that there was more rainfall around mountainous areas.

When we were on the road, I often wondered when the rock pieces fell and formed the current landscape. It was interesting to see the fallen rocks in a distance. However, if they are close to the road, it might make drivers or passengers feel threatened, as there are many huge rock pieces scattered near the road. I have no idea how fast the rock pieces can break and fall onto the road. I believe the probability of seeing it happen is low. It would be a better idea not to worry about it.

Few kinds of animals are seen here very often. It would be reasonable to assume that there are fewer animal species here than in greener areas. However, we can see eagles flying. I saw rabbit once or twice. Coyotes are also in this area. We can see horses and cattle roaming near the roads. It is rare to see accidents of unfortunate animals on the highway. I talked with Navajo people about animals here, and according to them there are more species than I have described. It is just not easy for a newcomer to see them.

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!

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…

Cultural Disconnect

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The more time we spend at the local public K-8 school, the more we realize what a challenge these Navajo kids face when they reach adulthood. For so many, they have limited contact or knowledge of the world outside this remote corner of New Mexico.

Less than 20% of the students at this little school are “proficient” by state testing standards. There are zillions of reasons for this, not least a lack of stable, encouraging home environment. But there are cultural reasons as well. Let me give you an example from the younger grades:

youngs

lack of experience

One of the teachers was surprised that her young students incorrectly answered a question on the state test about boats. Just like planes are in the air and cars are on the roads, boats are in the water, right? Umm, no…her students had circled “roads” for where boats are found. Roads? Really??

So the teacher asked her students why so many of them circled that answer. With disdain, since the teacher should have known the obvious, her students pointed out to her that throughout the summer they see boats being towed by big pick-up trucks along the highway that cuts through this corner of Navajoland! Since most of them have never seen a lake and have rarely seen water flowing in the “washes” around here, I guess they can be forgiven for not knowing the proper location of boats!

Gradually, these students gain mainstream cultural knowledge, through books, curricula and television. Eventually, they will learn that boats indeed belong on the water. But a new problem comes up: they have little life experience to give them the discernment to properly sort out which stories they read are “true” and which are “fiction.”

middlers

lack of discernment

A few months ago, Randy was shocked when some of his math students started talking about the alien spaceport to be found in a mountain nearby. He started to laugh about the movie they must have seen…but the students were adamant it was true. They had seen (blurry) video of the spaceport on a cable-TV documentary, after all.

And why do only 15% (1 in 7) students from this school finish high school? Again, there are many reasons, including a lack of preparation and a lack of motivation. But there is also a lack of mentors and role models for these students from within their own families and their own culture. Unlike some areas of Navajoland, the majority of adults in this forgotten corner have never finished high school. Most of them hold no regular jobs, relying on outside aid and day labor to survive. It can be hard to convince middle school students that they should continue something that seems to have no relevance to their eventual adult lives!

olders

lack of role models

Like some other blog entries I have written, this is an area that has no clear-cut answers or solutions. We (and many other concerned individuals and groups) are wrestling with how to bridge the cultural and economic divide; sorting through possible solutions to this disconnect. All of us, including Navajo parents and grandparents, are concerned about the life-choices these students will eventually make. Unfortunately, there have been few success stories so far. All of us will keep searching for answers…

Police “Theater” … and the use of technology to avoid DWIs

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Within a few weeks of the tragic accidents on January 1, 2012, the various police departments who have jurisdiction along Hwy 550 announced that they were starting a special program. Almost three months later, there are still police cars to be seen parked along the highway, passing out tickets to speeders, and “keeping us safe.”

I feel sorry for the folks from out of state who are passing thru this area and don’t know that they need to follow the posted speed limits. Quite honestly, most of us who live here just sigh when we see a police cruiser, slow down, and grumble about “police theater.” Giving tickets to those who are speeding does absolutely nothing to increase safety along this corridor. What is really needed is police presence after dark, when the drunk drivers start cruising up and down the highway. The fatal accidents are not caused by excessive speed: at 70 miles per hour (the posted speed limit) any accident could be fatal, and accidents caused by drunk drivers greatly increase that risk.

On the other hand, we recently learned that police checkpoints to assess for DWI violations are largely useless. Apparently a few weeks ago when such a checkpoint was set up, a friend of ours was waiting at a dirt road turnoff for his wife to meet him there after catching a ride with a friend from work. That friend explained that there was a long line of cars parked along the side of the dirt road. Drivers were all on their cell phones, texting back and forth with others further up and down the highway, warning each other of the police check point. Once the police packed up and left the area, all those drivers—unlicensed or drunk—got back on the highway and finished their drive home.

We hate the hassles of “police theater” which makes a big show of making the highway safe. But we also feel sorry for those same policemen who can’t seem to find a way to change the culture out here…and modern technology seems to favor the law-breaking drivers, at least for now!

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