Thursday, April 29, 2010

A Mighty, Big Bird!

A few weeks ago while visiting the Navajo Nation, my host took me to see the dinosaur tracks near Tuba City, Arizona. I had been skeptical from the moment I saw the sign that I was about to bilked out of a few dollars in order to see some carnival attraction made out of plastic.
A dirt road off the main highway took me to a few stands where Navajos were selling jewelry.

There I was greeted by a boy who offered to take me into the desert and who immediately began pointing out the many large bird-like tracks encased in the mud. He told me they were from a dilophosaurus, a plant-eating dinosaur the size of a horse. There were also larger tracks than the ones pictured above, plus skeletons, petrified eggs, scat, and allegedly the remains of a tyranosaurus claw. It then was not hard to imagine the wet fertile green swamp that once was home to these creatures that roamed 200 million years ago during the Jurassic Period.

To me, these imprints were like ancient starlight shining brightly still from a once living source that had burnt out many years before. In that quiet desert setting, the presence of the footprints of these long vanished animals evoked such a genuine, authentic quality, much stronger for me than reconstructed bones in a museum. The dinosaurs were real and they walked here. Naturally, I suddenly scanned the horizon hoping to still catch a glimpse of one that might have been left over. You never know!

To think there are people who don't recognize that these creatures existed at all and cling to biblical interpretations of creation or who believe God put these tracks in the ground like artwork to confuse humans. So much for having advanced beyond the Age of Dinosaurs!

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Finding New Lines

It has been over a week since I returned to Bend, Oregon, after completing my Amizade adventure. A few of you have written and wondered why I hadn't posted and were concerned about my well-being.

I have to admit it has been emotionally difficult to adjust to "normal"life, which is devoid of novelty and excitement which characterized the last four months. Also I find myself now strangely reticent and reluctant to express to others my Amizade experiences, which, predictably, seem to now be slowly enveloped in a mental fog as time elapses. What I have learned now feels strangely personal and is not easily translated. Of course I have lots of photos that will help remind me of the trip. I will eventually find a language to share these pictures so that they may inspire others to learn, serve and understand. That is for later. In any event I have decided to post in order to return to a positive activity and which may help me through what has been called by some a "transitional period".

The first photo of the shut metal gate at the home where I stayed in Jamaica serves as the closing picture of my adventure. Standing behind it is Ms. Dorothy, who represents a different race, national origin, generation, and culture and serves for me today as an archetype for the many people I met. She knew I was an unusual guest and tolerated my rants. She listened to my words and showed me great kindness and seemed to have remarkable understanding although she was of humble background and had never been off the island. Today I must declare my trip is over and the door is closed. I have lots of photos and memories to carry me from that time into the future.

The second photo taken at the Rose Garden in Washington Park in Portland, Oregon, of a raven cawing at me, even when I snapped it, felt strangely ominous. Influenced of course from my recent experiences at the Navajo Nation where there is a strong belief in the messages from animals, it put me in touch with a deep feeling of alienation and disorientation although I was now within the fabric of my own kind. After having been out wandering all over the world, now, at home, I felt more lost.

I chose the third photo of a soon to open rhododendron bud as a positive expression that, like it, I am eager to blossom in some new refreshing way. Today I am swaying quietly in the wind, so to speak, but I am eagerly open for a new challenge. I have no idea how it will relate to where I've just been physically or spiritually or when I will find it. I hope ardently to feel again the exhilaration of bursting growth. That's all I ask.

I intend to change the title of this blog to Lee's Daily Adventure and post pictures of wherever I am, including Bend, Oregon. You will be able to find me right here without changing the url. I hope you'll stay with me and keep in touch via e-mail and comments.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Navajo Children

Today marks my last full day in Tuba City, Arizona, completing my stay at 5 Amizade sites. I still have so much to show and say about the Navajo Nation and the surrounding landscape. Perhaps I should end this adventure with some really significant post, but instead, being in some denial, I want this to feel like a normal day, as if there will be another tomorrow here. I think that I will be back soon, but I have had that feeling at all the incredible places I've visited.

I have often posted photos of men and women from the various countries I have visited. In some countries it was easy to snap pictures and in others, people showed great reluctance. It often required some combination of stealth, luck or money to get a good shot. However, nothing is more rewarding, fun and easy than taking pictures of children. They love the camera and are forever amazed and excited, when seeing themselves captured in the moment.

The top photo of Navajo children taken at the Tuba City Boarding School could be a school scene anywhere, except these youngsters are in a unique struggle. They are not from immigrant families that have come to America from a different culture to learn English as second language and a new way of living. They seem aware as natives of their unique place in this land's history and have to make sense of it. Even at a less conscious age, there is already an internal pull between respecting, learning, and following traditional ways and the seductive lure of the anti-cultural, "modern" world.

The second photo of my host's daughter Talisha and her friend show me smiling faces . Both children understand Navajo, don't speak it fluently yet, but are being taught. Each also have learned dances and have beautiful traditional dresses which they wear at festive occasions. They will probably, as they grow older, leave the reservation. The question remains if and whether they will ever come back.

The boy in the third photo helps his father at a jewelry stand by an obscure local attraction which featured genuine dinosaur footprints preserved in rock. This youngster gave me a tour of his turf and was quite the expert in explaining various markings. He told me he lived nearby and claimed that he didn't go to school. What will become of this young Navajo? I'm told, Arizona is last in America in teacher-student ratio, in standarized testing scores, money spent on education and first in the nation in people below the poverty line. I'm not sure this is all accurate, but clearly, if it is even in part true, what are the chances this young fellow will become an archeologist? Many of my successful friends laud themselves about how hard they worked to succeed financially and often point out that opportunities are available for the disadvantaged as well. It is said that there is no excuse for poverty.

Take a moment to look at the desolate landscape in the background. I mean this figuratively and literally. What do you think?

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Canyon de Chelly Revisited

Yesterday I posted last weekend's trip to Canyon de Chelly and a number of people sent kind words and asked for more information and pictures on this remarkable remote spot within the Navajo reservation in Northeastern Arizona.

Even as I include a few more shots today, these scarcely does this amazing historical and geologically fascinating scenic site justice. Also I prefer a paucity of words to best convey a feeling of essence rather than relating facts which can be found on other sites.

By enlarging the first photo you may see a sheer rock face with a cave which marks the location of the "White House" ruins. The second photo, taken from the floor, shows the ruins peaking around the corner. The last photo is of only small part of the more than 60 rooms remaining from the Anasazi community who constructed homes here between 1040 and 1275A.D. I chose this photo because of the figure prominently displayed in the rock. I think it is a sign of welcome to those who come in peace. It greets you today and perceives the love in your heart.

Btw, the cactus in yesterday's post is called "Cholla" and, along with "Prickly Pear," is in abundance along the trail.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Canyon de Chelly Viewpoint?

I took many photos at Canyon de Chelly near Chinle, Arizona, and, as I review them, I am even now more amazed at the grace and beauty I experienced last Saturday afternoon. Instead of posting some of the more well-known scenes, I decided today to show some detail that may not appear into the numerous sites which promote this historic location.

At first I thought that possibly the effort to reach this isolated spot in the heart of Navajo country in Northeastern Arizona contributed to its mystique, but now I don't think so. This quietly dramatic, natural setting exuded a sacred energy which, by its sheer simplicity, eclipsed, in my opinion, the power of the Grand Canyon. Here, within its rocks, were the remains of homes and wall paintings of early peoples that reminded me of the once living and whose voices I easily imagined carried by the wind.

The first photo, taken through a rock window, shows a hogan on the canyon floor used today by sheep or goat herders perhaps during cold weather. Navajos use the land for grazing and for recreational horseback riding. It is an organic part of the reservation and not banalized as a separate entity defined by gates, fees, and concession stands, which is typical of national park status.

It is early Spring here and many cacti are in bloom. Creeks are gurgling with snow run-off and trees show signs of new leaves. In this environment of wildly fluctuating temperature and fine red dusty sand, adaptation takes so many forms. I included the second and third photo to add a touch of color which might help convey the tenacity of the plants I found along the 2 1/2 mile trail.

The last photo looking East is purely to let your eyes and mind explore a small section of this glorious place. Perhaps you will find a painting drawn near a crevice or by a cave entrance. Will it be of an eagle or a coyote or merely a puzzling symbol reflecting an innermost thought? Only you will know!

Monday, April 12, 2010

It's not New York!

This weekend my host family took me to Lukachukai, Arizona, near the heart of the Navajo Nation, where I had some of the most energizing and fascinating experiences of my Amizade adventure
In this most remote part of the state, live pockets of native people who eek out their existence in a constant struggle with blowing dust, vastly varying temperatures, little work and many of the other typical malaises associated with poverty. Yet, the people I met were rugged in character and complexion and projected a pride, deeply rooted in a love of this vast powerful and spiritually-filled landscape.

The second photo shows the sandy, dusty red landscape where people homestead. The especially large hogan may be a house, storage building or a sweat lodge. Most places are much smaller, often consisting of a run down trailer,a shed, and some broken down cars.

The last photo is of Round Rock., outside a tiny community of the same name, where last night I attended a tradtional song and dance evening. Local people meet in the school gym to sing native songs, drum, and dance. It is a wonderfully gentle, graceful affair where residents old and young dress up in local costume or in nice clothes to dance in a slow circular motion around the room in a heel tap fashion to the voices of other neighbors. I was asked to join and felt comfortable even though I was clearly the only person there who was not Navajo. I did record video and sound which I will be glad to share at a later date.

I am bursting with thought and am also so eager to post about Canyon de Chelly, which was even more dramatic than I expected. I am fatigued today by the intensity of my days. I just came from a day at school and have only a few moments to post before I leave with my host family for a "short" 75 mile trip to Flagstaff for some shopping. "The distances here are staggering" I remarked, but my host laughed and explained wryly, that here it's just another day.

Friday, April 9, 2010

The final adventure-Tuba City

It is always hard to know where to begin. After a long flight from Jamaica to Phoenix, I drove the next morning slowly North to my next Amizade site, The Navajo Nation in Tuba City, Arizona. I took a side trip to Prescott and then followed the scenic trail through Jerome, and Sedona to Flagstaff. As twilight approached, heading through a desolate moonscape, I past the turn-off for most tourists, namely the road to the Grand Canyon, and then found myself on a lonely stretch of highway, which led me to Tuba City.

The top photo taken from inside the quad of the Tuba City Boarding school where I spent my first day with 8th graders in the culture class. This school is a federally funded K-8 school which must have 90% Navajo enrollment and has almost 1200 students, some who live on campus, but the majority live at home with their families. Some of the children are from entirely Navajo speaking families and like my host family, speak their native language fluently. Like in all of the previous sites, I was again totally among people who were not white, and conversed in a language I did not understand, except this time I was in America!

I chose the second photo to verify how ethnic this location is. This older lady, who only spoke Navajo, allowed me to take her picture. She was selling a few handmade beaded items at an open air market I visited this afternoon with my host. This was not a tourist spot but a place where local people bought household items and food. I bought some beaded bracelets and earings from her that I hope my family members will appreciate. I can not vouch for the quality, but I felt great not shopping in the many "trading outposts" I saw loaded with tourists on my way here.

The third photo was a necessity to include. What would a first day be on the reservation without a traditional meal of mutton and fry bread! I sat on a long table with my host family who initiated me into the tribe by buying me this plate. By the way, under the corn is a long fried green pepper. In each country I have visited I have been treated to the local "delicacy" and this is one of the finest and complicated parts of the adventure, namely to eat healthily. I praised the meal to my hosts, although I'm sorry to admit that I have eaten so many carbs these past months that the paunch I so so struggled to remove last year, is again reappearing.

Instead of going to the Grand Canyon this weekend, my family is taking me on a special journey to Canyon de Chelly, a National Park which is allegedly so beautiful, private, and deep in Navajo country. There is also supposed to be a local music and songfest in a nearby community. My host's husband is from that region and has built a small cabin in the mountains where we will stay. I had to laugh when I was asked whether I minded that it had no running water or indoor plumbing! What else is new? Been there, and still doing that!

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

My Jamaican Mothers

For the past two weeks I have been a guest of Ms. Paulette McKenzie and her mother, Dorothy. My adopted parents have been feeding me, doing my laundry, and have kept me on schedule. I believe it has been quite a challenge and this post is a tribute to them and a way to express my heartfelt appreciation. I know that I am not alone in my feelings. All the Amizade volunteers here in Petersfield, Jamaica are taken in by host families and are given incredible care. It is a credit to the program here that all the Americans are made to feel so welcome.

I am certain that it has not been entirely easy for these ladies to have me. I am referred to by many as a free spirit. I tend to roam the streets and go off on my own in search of adventure and have been somewhat hard to supervise. I think that the two women simply decided that I could find my way home and finally gave up worrying. I feel today like a part of their family and will miss them, including their nephew Roman and son Robert Jr.

One of the true benefits of the Amizade adventures is that the experience thrusts the volunteer directly into the culture. Some of the finest moments have occurred while sitting at the diningroom table and exchanging stories, or going to the market with a family member and shopping for groceries, or attending community functions and realizing that you are witnessing events and interaction that no regular tourist ever sees.

This is my last afternoon here in Jamaica before leaving for the Navajo Nation in Arizona. I feel so fortunate for having chosen to visit this site and know that the other volunteers have felt the same way.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

High Fives!

The above photos show the WVA students working on the Amizade classroom project in Petersfield, Jamaica.

Tonight their school is in a big basketball tournament in the United States and millions of people will be watching this "Final Four" event. The real heros of the day in my estimation are those who are before you, a team of students dedicating their time and energy to help disadvantaged people from a vastly different culture. For this we should salute the "Mountaineers".

I only have a few minute to post this evening. I will have no connectivity on Easter Sunday and Monday is a national holiday in Jamaica, so I hope to find you on Tuesday. Wednesday is a travel day when I return to the U.S. and head for the Navajo Nation in Arizona.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

A little of this and that.

My photos today have no central theme. This morning our Amizade group toured a sugar cane factory. It was such an intense experience to watch the cane stacked,washed, ground, separated, heated, squeezed and transformed in brown sugar. I saw mountains of sugar, bagged and loaded onto trucks for foreign markets. I have so many thoughts about sugar I hardly no where to begin other than I think it is a terrible product, but more on that some other time. Rather than showing one of the hundred pictures I took of the plant, I liked this last photo of a plant worker resting. It was at least a hundred degrees in the factory, it had an indescribable, noxious odor, and was noisy as hell.

After the tour, the group went to the larger town for some shopping. I left the group and strolled down to the chaotic market. I have so many photos of foods and vendors, but chose this one of a pickup truck bed, because it lumped together in one big pile many of the local foods. How many can you identify?

The top picture of a sign on the seawall of the nearby town, Savanna al Mar, caught my fancy. Like most places, this Jamaican town lacks public bathrooms. I would be cautious and reluctant to use them, even if there were any, but when you have to go, well you have to go. Travelers often tell one another bathroom horror stories and, so far, I've avoided sharing any on my blog. Relieving yourself in any town for a tourist unaccustomed to ruder accomadations is always a challenge. Anyway I walked over to the wall to see the beautiful blue Carribean and unfortunately it wasn't the sea air that caught my attention. So much for civic messages!