Saturday, December 10, 2011

Poem: Young Woman

I have changed far too much
For turning back
Like a hermit crab
Who has outgrown her

I must not stagnate
Not let myself forget
Must press onward
Push myself to look

I was once named after The Sky
And I am only just
Beginning to understand
The sky is not something you
Get to keep
Or hold down
The sky belongs to the world
Detached from people and places

The sky is not
One way
For long
Her clouds are always
On the move
The sun is always
Shining from a fresh point

Other times I am the horse
The filly who has finally
Discovered the strength of her legs
Now I stand on this vista
Always wanting to push ahead
Where to I should run next

Loving the wind in my hair
The sun on my cheeks
Casting life back into
My eyes

Let me tell you something,
Young Woman,
I will whisper it into
Your life history:
The possibilities are infinite
And you are a
Strong and free spirit

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Poem: Broken Shoes

These broken shoes
Should probably be replaced
But I
Know they have a

They were present
When she made the
Unexpected decision
To wake up and
Go flying.
They walked her out
And back in
The South African airport
They walked her up
And back down
The trail to the falls.
They were once soaked through
And through
With Zambezi water.

Then they walked
On red soil
Overlooking canyon walls,
Desert varnish,
Purple shadows,
Painted figures and hand prints
Like ghosts on the rocks.

These shoes
They played with children
Ten shades darker.
Walked alongside friends,
The kind met once in a lifetime.
Picked up countless
Burrs and thorns and grass seeds.
Like a sponge
Soaked up all the
Long-awaited rains
And the sunshine, too.

These broken shoes
Should probably be replaced
But I
Will ignore the holes,
Patch them with tape
To keep them alive
Awhile longer.

Broken shoes, you see,
They have a

Monday, December 5, 2011

Poem: A Fire in the Rain

We said that prayer
Didn’t we?
Out in the rain
We prayed for a fire
Of the spirit.
Long enough ago
To feel like a dream.
You musn't forget.

I thought I heard the African Wood Owl
Agree with our pleading hearts
As we asked the Great Spirit for
A better way,
To teach us all the healing,
The great medicine.

Thursday, December 1, 2011


Cliffs overlooking Lukachukai, where I spent Thanksgiving with other NABI staff and volunteers, my sisters and brothers in spirit.

Now that this Thanksgiving holiday has passed, I've been reflecting on the true meaning of thanksgiving as a spiritual quality of the soul. Abdu’l-Baha says “Be thou happy and well-pleased and arise to offer thanks to God, in order that thanksgiving may conduce to the increase of bounty.” Bounties are gifts from God, which rain ceaselessly upon us, we have only to open our hearts to receive these gifts. So maybe when we are grateful for the things we have, both spiritual and material, we are opening our lives for even more bounties. And what better way to celebrate this showering of life’s gifts then a reflection of one’s own blessings?

Below is a list of five things I am thankful for. And, dearest reader, I cordially invite you to join in and comment with a few of the things you are thankful for as well. :)

1. Creativity and the Arts--There is nothing more effective in helping to reflect upon my life, to unwind, to feel spiritually connected. When painting especially, I can forget about all the thoughts which burden my heart and delve into a watercolor painting. There is only the smell of wet paint on thick paper and the sound of my concentrated breathing…this is true clarity of mind.

2. Bluebirds in the winter--It’s easy to feel the winter “blues”, but the raspy calls of Mountain and Western Bluebirds as they fly in flocks of twenty or more lighten my heart a little. They remind me that splashes of vibrant color can be found in even the coldest and dreariest of times.

3. Spiritual Tests--When a soul is given heart-wrenching tests, it grows like a flourishing jungle plant. It’s this maturation of the soul and intense growth that leads to true happiness.

4. The Human Soul--We are loaded with potential, especially when we choose to live with a spiritual conscience. There are so many spiritual qualities to be developed. I imagine it’s like walking into a rainforest and being overwhelmed by the number of birds and animals. It awakens a sense of adventure, I would want to find every creature and sketch it. And with the soul, I want to find every spiritual quality and develop it.

5. A World Family-- I once listened to a CD of a talk by William Sears* in which he explained that the many individuals in our lives are like letters from the Creator. Every human brings with them messages and lessons for others. There are those in our lives whom we feel are tests, and those whom we feel immediately at ease with. Both are teaching us priceless life lessons. We are all beautiful letters to each other from God, no matter what the envelope or outer form.

*For those not familiar, William Sears (1911-1922) was a Hand of the Cause of God. He wrote many books and gave many talks on Baha’i subjects. The Hands of the Cause of God were appointed as sources of wisdom in the Baha’i community. We now have Counsellors who fulfill a similar function.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Artwork: A Prayer for Joy

A Happy and Joyful Being, portrait of a youth from Tanzania, watercolor

A Baha'i Prayer:

O God! Refresh and gladden my spirit. Purify my heart. Illumine my powers. I lay all my affairs in Thy hand. Thou art my Guide and my Refuge. I will no longer be sorrowful and grieved; I will be a happy and joyful being. O God! I will no longer be full of anxiety, nor will I let trouble harass me. I will not dwell on the unpleasant things of life.

O God! Thou art more friend to me than I am to myself. I dedicate myself to Thee, O Lord.


Saturday, November 12, 2011

Junior Youth Field Trip: The Arts in Gallup

We did a brave thing yesterday. We took 15 junior youth on a field trip to Gallup.

And you might imagine it being a crazy, out-of-hand, lets-never-do-this-again kind of trip….but I was astonished at the level of maturity displayed by the junior youth throughout the four hours. They let their nobility shine as the group learned about various art forms and the ways in which artists make a living.

We first visited the New Mexico Pottery Company, where the junior youth were given a tour of the pottery-making process, from making slip to firing. Then we were treated to a tour of Chester Kahn’s Mural of Light artwork at the Ellis Tanner Trading Post, led by the artist himself.
A little background: The Mural of Light is a painted strip of portraits encircling the inside wall of the trading post. It portrays Navajo leaders beginning with the long walk up to the present. The mural took 7 years to paint, and about 2 weeks per portrait. The portraits were first drawn free hand by Chester based on photos, some of which were in black and white. He then meticulously painted in acrylic and oil, and with incredible life and detail.

Junior Youth from the Querino group watch a demonstration on how to trim a pot and cut off unwanted or excess clay.

A selection of detailed pottery

This design is done completely by hand. The symmetry and straight lines look precise enough to be done by a machine.

A sampling of shapes and designs.

"Horse Hair" pottery. The curly lines are actually made with long horse hairs placed on the wet pottery and fired in the kiln. The horse hair is taken off later, leaving this pattern.

A Junior Youth from the Querino group and a child from a Children's Class in Sanders admiring the pottery.

A junior youth from the Houck group and a child from the Children's Class in Sanders.

Children's Class: Blue Corn Mush Demonstration

After attending a cultural celebration day at Pine Springs High School and watching the Miss Pine Springs contest, where girls share their traditional talents, staff and volunteers at NABI decided to invite the new Miss Pine Springs to a Thursday Children’s Class to share her mush-making skills! The following are pictures and explanations of a demonstration on how to make a traditional Navajo dish: blue corn mush.

Miss Pine Springs scoops out the blue corn meal. She will also add cedar ash to the boiling mixture to increase the blue color of the mush.

This particular Children's Class takes place every Thursday as a part of Thursday community dinner at NABI. The community arrives at 5PM for prayers, then children and junior youth break out into their classes, then all gather again for dinner at 6.

The final product. The ingredients: boiling water, blue corn meal, and cedar ash. Individuals can add their own salt, butter, or sugar after it is served. Blue corn meal can also be made into pancakes.

This activity is part of an ongoing effort in the community to bring cultural education into the Children's Classes and Junior Youth Groups. This endeavor includes asking grandparents to give demonstrations on language, cooking, and storytelling.

Monday, October 31, 2011


"Canyon Cat", Acrylic on slate

Portrait of a Navajo girl, watercolor

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Brilliant Stars

A photographic representation of some Children's Classes in Fort Defiance and Houck

Prayer for Children: "O God, guide me, protect me, make of me a shining lamp and a brilliant star. Thou art the Mighty and the Powerful."

"O Friend! In the garden of thy heart, plant naught but the rose of love." Baha'u'llah, Lesson 3 of Children's Class material

Something about chihuahuas and Children's Classes, they seem to mix well...

"O Son of Spirit! My first counsel is this: Possess a pure, kindly, and radiant heart." Baha'u'llah, memorization in Lesson 1 of Children's Class material

"Blessed is he who preferreth his brother before himself." Baha'u'llah, memorization in Lesson 6 of Children's Class material

Monday, October 3, 2011

Year of Service Interview: Australia (2)

The Baha'i House of Worship in Australia

5.What are some pointers you would give to those looking to do a year or shorter period of service?
I think going in with an open mind and heart is the most important thing for service. Going with a pure motive to just serve God, everything else will fall into place. It’s amazing all of the different people I met. I truly feel like I was given the opportunity to go to Australia because I was meant to be there at that time with those specific people. I think the bottom line is to just do it. School will always be there, and work too, but a chance to go serve as a youth won’t always be an opportunity someone can take.

6. What were your living arrangements?
At the House of Worship in Sydney they have youth houses set up for service youth to stay in. So in my application process they scheduled me to live in the girls youth house for nine months.

7. Describe an average day on your year of service.
An average day is hard to describe because my roles and jobs kept changing as I was there. Being at the temple was a very special opportunity because there are many jobs that youth can do. First, I started guiding and gardening, then bookstore and reception work. Most days went from 8am-5pm. With gardening, we usually raked the path, pulled weeds, planted flowers or plants, cleaned the shed, and cleaned the office and the visitors’ center. These tasks were rotated throughout the week, so each day was a different task. With guiding, that’s when we would talk to the visitors that would come to the temple about the Baha’i Faith, and the temple itself. Bookstore work was mainly selling books to the visitors, and also re-shelving new books. As a receptionist I was taking in calls to the National Baha’i Office, and transferring them to different departments, along with replying to emails, and sorting mail. All of these jobs happened during the day, and so during the evening many of the service youth would participate in community activities. We set up a regular devotional gathering, a few Ruhi study circles, children’s classes, and participated in the children’s classes that are taught in state schools, that’s called BESS (Baha’i Education in State Schools). So there weren’t too many ‘average’ days. My schedule frequently changed the longer I stayed.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Year of Service Interview: Australia

The following is the first of many interviews to come with other youth around the world who have been on a year of service. I post these interviews specifically for other youth contemplating doing their own year of service who don't know yet where they want to go or if they should go. The interviews hopefully shed light on some of the questions that arise for those seeking the life-changing adventures that a year of service can offer.

The Baha’i youth featured in the below interview chose to serve for a year in Australia. She is now in college and serving her community in Colorado. I know you will enjoy her comments and insights into the true meaning of service.

Youth serving at the House of Worship in Australia

1. What drew you to Sydney, Australia as a place to serve?
When I was looking for places to serve, I really wasn’t set on anywhere specific. I knew I wanted to go internationally, but I didn’t know where. So I started with Google, and looked up “Baha’i youth year of service”. As I was reading through the lists, Australia just seemed to keep popping up. So the more I thought about going to Australia, the more I liked the idea. I looked online at the Australian Baha’i National website, and found the application, and applied. The next thing I knew I had a phone interview and was accepted to serve. I felt that it being such a smooth process was a confirmation of my choice to go to Sydney.

2. How has your life changed as a result of service?
Everything about my life changed after my year in Australia. After high school, I needed a break from school, and I had heard so many wonderful stories from friends that had done a year of service, and how life changing it was for them. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but I decided to take the risk and travel all the way across the world by myself. By being able to dedicate my full time to service, I was able to see the true necessity of a community based on service to each other. Since I was at a Baha’i House of Worship in Sydney, I was able to pray there every day and contemplate about my life and future. As my year in Australia drew to a close, I realized how much I had grown in that year and become more aware of my own personal strengths and weaknesses. Also, being able to travel outside of the country I had grown up in gave me a better view of the world around me.

3. What was the greatest test you faced and how did you overcome it?
For me I didn’t really have one big test that I had to overcome. There were some conflicts that arose while being in a small house with seven other girls, but those were resolved through communication and organization. I guess another thing that was stressful for me was the fact that my plan for school after Australia completely changed while I was there. So instead of knowing exactly what I was doing when I got back to the U.S., I had to figure it out while I was still in Australia. In retrospect, it doesn’t seem like a huge test, but I know while I was there it was definitely stressful.

4. What was your happiest moment on your year of service?
I distinctly remember going into the House of Worship by myself at night, and just the feeling of peacefulness and serenity I will never forget. Being able to go and say as many prayers as I wanted, and just being able to feel that spirit was such a beautiful thing. I can remember a specific time when my service had reached an especially stressful point, and I went and said the Tablet of Ahmad on each of the nine sides. As I continued to pray I could feel my worries and fears just melt away.
To be continued….

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Camping in Canyon de Chelly

Unless guided by a Navajo or certified park guide, all visitors to Canyon de Chelly must be satisfied with a drive along the top of the canyon and stops at overlooks, each of which are striking and breathtaking in beauty. Thanks to a Navajo Baha’i family with land in the canyon, a few NABI staff and volunteers had the bounty of spending a night in the canyon.

Spider Rock, home of Spider Woman, who taught the people how to weave

A few of us hiked down while others drove in with a truck loaded with food, water, and tent gear. Those who hiked experienced a rubble-strewn and occasionally steep trail which bottomed out and followed a creek bed along the canyon’s base. The creek bed was overgrown with tamarisk and Russian olive, and Western Bluebirds flew over our heads in small flocks as we walked. A Red-tailed Hawk let out a scream, no doubt sitting on a canyon ledge, the rust red of its tail complimenting the terra cotta canyon walls. As we walked along our guide pointed out the dark streaks along the canyon walls, called desert varnish. The Navajo say these streaks are the canyon’s hair. Our guide told us that if a girl washes her hair in the water which collects in the natural wells on the canyon top, it is said her hair will grow long like the canyon’s.

After setting up our tents, another volunteer and I played our flutes at different points near the campsite. The sound of our flutes echoed across the canyon. Then we all had a dinner of Navajo tacos (after learning how to make fry bread). And of course, we made s’mores. Anna Feria, programs coordinator at NABI, taught us to make chocolate bananas over the fire (see instructions below). We spent the night singing and talking as the moon cast its warm glow over the canyon walls. Now that’s what I call a perfect night, spent with kindred spirits. :)

I’m Buildin’ Me A Home (part of a song we learned at trainings in Pheonix):

If you see me praying
I’m buildin’ me a home
Well if you see me praying
I’m buildin’ me a home
Cuz this earthly house
Is gonna soon decay
And I’ve got to have
Some place to stay

Rae and Nani at the campfire

* How to make a chocolate bananaphone! Perfect for camping trips (could be used in junior youth group activities, especially sleepover events). It may be helpful to place a grill over the fire, although the bananas can be placed directly on coals. Cut banana on the inside of the bend to create a space where you can wedge chocolate chunks inside. Use broken up Hershey bar or other chocolate to place inside the cut. Wrap banana in aluminum foil (do not take the skin off!) and place over fire or coals. Let cook until chocolate is melted on the inside. Use spoon to scoop chocolate-banana gooeyness out of the skin.

Poem: Morning Prayer

See the sun rays through the clouds,
The distant and misty rainbow.
Hear the gentle pitter-patter of the rain,
The thump of jackrabbit's over-sized feet,
Like a heartbeat against the Earth
As he races over the red-clay land.
Smell the dampened sage,
Let the sticky clay cling lovingly
To your humble sandals
Which have walked so far.

Now let us pray with radiance:
Creator, give this yearning heart
Hope to carry forward and courage
She is certainly the weakest creature
In this dust-ridden land
And like dust, will one day be blown
By the unexpected storm to
Far-away places

We grow with pain
Our souls thrive
After being uprooted
So give her detachment
From all things
Even the home
Even her dreams

She has become the eagle
Which soars over vistas and canyons
The beloved sun illuminating her wings
As she longs to come closer to its
Warming rays,
She is nearing its radiance
Yet infinitely far from the object
Of her desire.

Yes, her body is a hindrance
A mere cage
From which the bird of her soul
Longs to break lose
And stretch its wings

Let us pray with radiant yearning:
Illuminate our every action
O True Friend
We will all return to beauty
Hozho nahasdlii
Hozho nahasdlii
Hozho nahasdlii
Hozho nahasdlii

Thursday, September 22, 2011


Both need a lot of improvements, but here they are, from a girl who used to think she couldn't draw humans at all:

Navajo girl, watercolor

Radiant drummers, pen and ink

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Navajo Nation Fair: Song and Dance

A Navajo woman dresses herself starting from her feet and working upward to her head, the way corn grows, from the soil to the sun. I keep this in mind as I wrap the buckskin moccasins around my ankles, smoothing out the folds and tying the ends midway up my calf. Then the bracelets and rings, right arm first and then the left. Then the necklaces and turquoise earrings. Nanabah, the junior youth coordinator, fixes my hair in an imitation bun, since my hair is not long enough to be tied in a true traditional bun (called a tsiyeel). After at least thirty minutes of getting dressed, we are finally ready to leave for the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, where fellow volunteer James Foguth and I will dance in the annual song and dance competition.

The Navajo song and dance has its origin in the Enemy Way ceremony, a type of healing ceremony for Navajos returning from war. The dances are of two kinds, two-step and skip step, and require a partner. Typical female wear for such dances includes a long skirt and top, lots of jewelry, a sash and a concho belt. In participating in these dances, I learned a great deal about the importance of jewelry in Navajo culture. Often times the jewelry pieces are heirlooms passed down through generations. The squash blossom necklaces and turquoise-studded wrist cuffs have a memory accumulated through years of being worn in sacred ceremonies and dances. Thus when one dances, blessings and prayers are added to the memory of the objects being worn.

At first, the dancing was easy and the hours of practice spent in the previous week started to pay off. But the event spans over two days, and after an hour I began to feel the ache in my legs. Then I remembered something my flute teacher, Robert Talltree, had told me during a flute lesson. Sometimes when one is playing the flute for long periods of time it’s easy to get tired and lose the original energy which a song started out with. And sometimes that energy is regained in a second burst, like a horse receiving its second wind during a race. I thought of this as I danced, and thought this could be true of physical activity as well. I prayed, and thought of all the community effort which made it possible for James and I to even be participating in this event, and then I thought of all the Baha’is around the world engaging in community building processes just like the Native American Baha’i Institute. These were thoughts that gave me a second wind as I danced.

Forty-six pairs participated in the song and dance event, dressed in their best traditional outfits, from velveteen skirts to shirts trimmed with jewelry and silver buttons. We danced for at least 12 hours (with breaks every eight songs or so). The experience was reward enough for me, but you probably want to know how we placed: James took first place in the youth category for male best dressed and we both went home with first place for two-step in the youth category.

The greatest lesson learned from this experience was a community’s ability to band together and turn an idea into a reality. It began with an idea from Alice Bathke, who mentioned the fair on the car ride home from a children’s class in Fort Defiance. James started talking about the song and dance events and pretty soon we were buying fabric for our outfits and asking Charlotte Kahn to sew the outfits. Alice lent me her wrap-around moccasins* and jewelry, Nanabah lent me her jewelry and hair-dressing skills, and Rosemary, the cook for Thursday night community dinner, lent me her jewelry. Jon Fransisco, a local Baha’i, taught James and I the two-step and skip step on Thursday nights after community dinner. The community took two youth who had never participated in a song and dance before and nurtured them in a short amount of time (literally two weeks) until they had reached a new level of capacity, which involved dancing in a fair event. Now imagine the potential this Houck community has in spiritually transforming not only itself but the areas which surround it. When all work in unity for a common goal, the possibilities are limitless.

At one point during the two-step I looked up to the sky and was fascinated by the storm clouds progressing our way. In that moment my soul was an eagle longing to soar high in those clouds, and this physical body a mere limitation. All the confirmations of service descended upon me and I felt like there was no dream I couldn’t make come true. If there are any young people, especially female, out there reading this blog there is one thing I want them to take from this blog: if there is an adventure you have been dreaming to have, there is nothing but yourself to stop you from making it into reality. You have your prayers, the world community, and your own volition which, when combined, are an invincible force aiding you to make things happen. All doors are opportunities. Some may be shut, even slammed in your face, but with perseverance and reliance upon the Creator, you will find confirmations which surpass your wildest dreams.

*The style of wrap around moccasins has its origin in the historical Long Walk from Canyon de Chelley to Bosque Redondo. The moccasins consist of buckskin moccasin (usually red-brown) and white buckskin straps that wrap around up the calf, in some cases to the knee. They were designed to protect women from thorns and snake bites during the Long Walk.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Post for Naturalists

Path to the Prayer Hogan. Hogans are traditional eight-sided Navajo structures, with the door always facing East.

The habitat surrounding The NABI campus consist of piñon and juniper, sagebrush, with maybe three deciduous trees on the campus itself. It is often dry and the ground sandy, except for this time of year when monsoon rains flood the washes and turn the sand to mud and clay. Looking out over the land, the primary colors are green and brown, and once in awhile there are bursts of red and purple prickly pear blossoms. To a passerby, it might seem gray and dreary. Even the birds reflect the colors of their habitat: Gray Vireo, Gray Flycatcher, Black-throated-gray Warbler. There are sandy colored Canyon Towhees and dusky gray Juniper Titmouse.

Not all the wildlife, however, is devoid of color. The colorful side of piñon/juniper habitats must be searched for and found over time, perhaps not in a day, or even a week, but after many months of being aware of one’s surroundings. Driving along the wash-board dirt roads one might catch a glimpse of the canary yellow of a Scott’s Oriole, or the tangerine orange of a male Bullock’s Oriole in migration. In late July and August, Rufous Hummingbirds with shimmering red gorgets cluster around birdfeeders on their way to Central America. If one is lucky enough to get a close look at the fast-moving Black-throated Gray Warbler, even they have a speck of sunshine yellow on their lores.

But besides color, the land is also full of unusual life forms: horny toads, hummingbird moths (sphinx moths) which hover over tube flowers at dusk and sit on window screens during the day, and alien-like cicadas which buzz like miniature chain saws throughout mid-summer and leave behind husky skins which they have shed.

Perhaps my favorite wildlife memory at NABI is the howling of coyotes as they throw back their heads and release their high-pitched voices. It is an eerie sound, they are the ghosts of the land which hide in the washes during the heat of the day and come out around sunset.

For the birders out there who might be reading this blog, here is a list of birds seen on the NABI campus and some of the nearby dirt roads:

White-faced Ibis (closer to Sanders)
Turkey Vulture
Red-tailed Hawk
Swainson’s Hawk
American Kestrel
Mourning Dove
Eurasian-collared Dove
Broad-tailed Hummingbird
Rufous Hummingbird
Northern (Red-shafted) Flicker
Hairy Woodpecker (a single bird)
Gray Flycatcher
Say’s Phoebe
Ash-throated Flycatcher
Western Kingbird
Gray Vireo
Western Scrub-Jay
Common Raven
Barn Swallow
Juniper Titmouse
Bewick’s Wren
Blue-gray Gnatcatcher
Western Bluebird
Northern Mockingbird
Black-throated Gray Warbler
Yellow-rumped Warbler
Western Tanager
Spotted Towhee
Canyon Towhee
Chipping Sparrow
Lark Sparrow
Bullock’s Oriole
Scott’s Oriole
Western Meadowlark
Brown-headed Cowbird
House Finch
Lesser Goldfinch
House Sparrow (kinda goes without saying)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Hózhó Naashá Week

Many Children Learn to Walk in Beauty

With 36 to 55 children in attendance and no less than ten adults assisting at any given time, the Hózhó Naashá children’s camp hosted on the NABI campus proved a success. This four day long children’s day camp provided for the spiritual education of children ages five to ten, using the teachings of the Baha’i Faith and Navajo spiritual traditions, which go hand in hand. In the words of Ellen McAllister-Flack, the coordinator for the camp, “I have been thinking for a long time about the relationship of Navajo spiritual, cultural tradition and how many of them are in line with the Baha’i Faith. This children’s program was an opportunity for exploring that relationship.” The camp was characterized by three Navajo Blessing Way themes: Há áhwiinit’í(be generous), Ahééh jinízin (Be appreciative), and Házhó’ó ajinízin (Be a careful listener). These three values are also celebrated in the Baha’i Faith as attributes of God which humans can reflect in their actions and service to others.

The children participated in an array of activities from learning prayers in Navajo to creating paper cradleboards. Adults supervised activities like beading, weaving, nature walks, drumming, and sports. The group was fortunate to have an elder from Houck, Mr. Chester Kahn, share with the children the importance of the eagle feather and the eagle as a symbol of strength, the one who carries our prayers to the Creator. The children sat attentively before Chester on colorful mats, practicing one of the three Blessing Way themes which the camp emphasized: Házhó’ó ajinízin, be a careful listener.

Among the children were a handful of junior youth between the ages of 11 and 15. Although initially unsure of their role in the program, they quickly found their place as counselors to the younger children. A brief training was offered for them on their role as mentors to the children. They did not hesitate to assume the responsibility of leaders as they guided a group reflection, asking the children which parts of the day went well for them. Counselors supervised the playground and group activities, showing us their true colors as noble beings eager to serve and uplift the children in their community.

Baha’u’llah says “Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom.” Each child is a mine of virtues, such as kindness, love, joy, generosity, and unity. Children who attended the camp were encouraged to see their Navajo culture as one of these many gems which lay within them. In one activity, children were taught basic principles of showing appreciation. As they passed an eagle feather around the room, each person learned to say thank-you in Navajo: Ahéhee'. In another activity they read a story on the equality of all human races, whether black or white, red or tan. Throughout the program they were taught the importance of prayer and the proper attitude when praying: we must sit quietly when we pray, for we are talking to our Creator. Among the prayers learned was a simple Baha’i prayer translated into Navajo:

Diyin Nílíinii, shi Diyin, shi Ayóó o’ni’, shijéí Yínízinii.
(He is God, O God, My God, My Beloved, My heart’s desire.)

Ellen McAllister-Flack, a trained educator with many years experience, says “this is the beginning of letting young people know that who they are and where they come from has valid moral teachings and that if they become Baha’i or recognize Baha’u’llah they bring these with them.” The Hózhó Naashá children’s camp served the greater purpose of bringing the community together through child education. In communities around the world, children are the hope, the ones to whom the future belongs. Hózhó Naashá Week was one of many steps in a process of community building through the spiritual education of children.

The day camp has opened the door to holding children’s class at the neighborhood level. Already, NABI staff and volunteers have held classes at homes in Querino, Houck, and Sanders with children who attended Hózhó Naashá week.

Note: Some of the letters used to write the Navajo words are incorrect and lacking in certain accents. My apologies, I was unable to use the right type of font on this blogging site. I have done my best using the accents available in Times New Roman.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Poem: How "I" Have Come to Understand

When writing, they say
To avoid the word “I”
It is an indication of
Selfish character,

In this verse I will use the word “I”
Too many times
To tell you about the journey I went on
The struggle for detachment
Realizing that to be hurt on account of
Is also a sign of ego
Focusing too much on the “I”
Thinking about
How they should have treated me
How I am frustrated because of them
Me and them

There is no me
There is no them
Something lost
Something found
There is only us
And we
And our Creator

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Canyon de Chelley

After a week of Ruhi intensive, the youth decided to visit Canyon de Chelley, a national monument particularly important in Navajo history. We drove two hours through sage brush and juniper bordered roads before we arrived at the visitor center and proceeded to the trailhead for White House Ruins.

At its deepest locations, the canyon walls rise 1000 feet above the canyon floor, through which runs a dry and sandy streambed. The name Canyon de Chelley actually refers to several connected canyons, including Canyon de Chelley and Canyon and Canyon del Muerto. People have occupied the canyon for 5,000 years, beginning with nomadic hunters. After corn was introduced from the south, a new way of life changed the people living in the canyon and they are known as Basketmaker for their expert weaving skills. Farming techniques improved and these people became sedentary. They grew the three sisters: corn, squash, and beans. After the Basketmaker were the Pueblo, characterized for their skills in pottery. Dispersed households gave way to villages which changed the social life and structure of the people within the canyons. The Puebloan lifestyle ended around 700 years ago as they moved out of the canyon, establishing themselves along the Little Colorado River and Black Mesa. They became the Hopi and a few stayed or visited the canyon seasonally. Then, around 300 years ago, the Navajo occupied the canyon, bringing with them herds of sheep and planting fields of corn. Among there resources in the canyon was an orchard of peach trees planted in the days of the Spaniards.

In the 1860s, General James Carleton began a process of removing Navajos from their native land and relocating them to Bosque Redondo, a reservation he had “prepared” for them. He promised them happiness at Bosque Redondo when in actuality the soil there was poor for farming and the water unclean to drink. Many died there from famine and disease. The Navajo chiefs resisted for some time but eventually had no other choice but to submit. Carleton partnered with Kit Carson, who had once had friendly relations with the Native Americans, in a campaign which involved removing the Navajos by brute force. There would be no more promises of peace or words of compromise. Many Navajos died from the cold winter, as they had been cornered by Kit Carson in Canyon de Chelley but still refused to leave. Hogans, the traditional Navajo home, were destroyed and herds of sheep killed. The peach tree orchards which the Navajos had so carefully tended were also destroyed. Thousands of Navajos were escorted on The Long Walk to Bosque Redondo over 300 miles away.

In 1868, under the new authority of General Sherman, the Navajos were allowed to return to their homeland.

Today people of Navajo descent live in the canyon, farming corn and raising sheep. Their hogans and homes dot the bottom of the canyon. Tourists are asked not to take pictures of the hogans, as they are the homes of people living there and not a spectacle for tourists to take advantage of. Though it has since been made into a National Monument which many come to see, it is still a home to Navajo people.

We took our time hiking to the White House Ruins, which were built by ancestral Puebloans. A few faded pictures remain on the surrounding canyon wall near the ruins, including a depiction of a road runner and a man. Along the bottom of the canyon vendors sell turquoise and coral jewelry or clay pots. The four of us paused for prayers in a cool tunnel, escaping the heat and refreshing our souls. I played my flute and thought of the people who had lived here throughout the years, wondering if there had been other flute players in this canyon, as I released my own song and prayer into the atmosphere.

Note: Much of the above history I learned from a National Parks service pamphlet and the second chapter of Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee by Dee Brown. One of the youth serving at NABI is Navajo and he also graciously shared his knowledge with us.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Ruhi Intensives at NABI

A view of the scenery from NABI, the white haze is from the recent and still out of control fire, now the largest in Arizona history

After some tough decision making and painful but necessary spiritual growth, I am now serving at the Native American Baha’i Institute near Houck, Arizona. I’ve only been here for about two weeks, but I’ll try to fill you in on what I’ve learned thus far….

Since I’ve been here I have helped with children’s classes and junior youth groups, facilitated an intensive Ruhi book 4, made a few home visits, and washed dishes (no less important of a service, and a needed one!) I have learned the most from the facilitating, which, by the way, just ended today! The study circle consisted of nine to ten people, although that number fluctuated from day to day as people had various appointments and commitments. Here are a few gems of learning I mined from this week:

1. It is part of Navajo culture to take things at a slower or more contemplative pace. This makes an intensive challenging because they are meant to get people through one of the books in a short amount of time. Intensive studies of the Ruhi books tend to feel rushed no matter what the setting. The books are, after all, meant to be carried out in study circles which might meet once a week over a period of months. So taking a Ruhi intensive in 5 days might sometimes feel like one has been hit and squashed by a very fast moving truck, and when it’s all over you might not remember what hit you! Some options for making intensives more manageable are to skip some exercises and suggest participants work on them at home, include ample arts and crafts to keep it from being dry, and splitting participants into small groups or partners.

2. I thought it important to remember that as a facilitator, I am also part of the learning process and in no way the “teacher figure”. Especially being a young facilitator with elder participants, I thought it necessary to establish that I was not an “authority” on any of the matters within the book 4, but rather a more experienced member of the group sharing what I had learned from when I took book 4, as well as the experience all tutors gain from taking book 7, which is all about how to facilitate Ruhi books!

3. Don’t be afraid to do the practices. In fact, you must do them for a Ruhi book to achieve its purpose. In this case, participants visited a few families and shared a simple presentation on the life of the Báb and Baha’u’llah. Sure, the presentations weren’t perfect and sometimes felt unnatural or awkward, but the group learned from the experience, even if all we learned was to overcome our fear of visiting someone in our community whom we’ve never met before or don’t talk to often.

There might be a few readers of this blog who are not Baha’i and wondering what I am talking about with all this “home visit” and “Ruhi” business. Am I some weird spiritualist or involved in some kinda obscure cult? Absolutely not! Here’s a very brief overview on some aspects of the Baha’i Faith and its emerging plan of action for bringing the family of man closer to universal peace and understanding.

There are Baha’is all over the world: from the mountains of Colorado to the villages of Zambia, from war-stricken Iraq to ever-peaceful Canada and Australia. Baha’is are followers of Baha’u’llah, whose name means “The Glory of God” in Arabic. Baha’is believe that Baha’u’llah (1817-1892) is the Promised One of all ages, fulfilling prophecies in many of the world’s religions and cultures. In Baha’u’llah’s writings we find instruction on how to build universal peace, how to improve our characters and grow spiritually, among countless other topics. A few Baha’i tenets/principles are:

1. Elimination of all forms or prejudice
2. Equality of men and women
3. The responsibility for every individual to independently search for truth and not see through the eyes of others
4. The harmony of science and religion
5. Universal education

That is not even a taste of the Baha’i Faith, but a very brief and incomplete representation. So if you agree with everything I have said up to this point, maybe you ought to check it out for yourself and delve a little deeper into the search for truth. You can start here:

Now for all this Ruhi business: Ruhi books are a series of materials developed by the Ruhi Institute which Baha’is around the world are using as a tool for social action with religious principles as its base. The sequence begins with Book 1, which investigates the life of the spirit, the meaning of prayer, and life after death. Book 4 covers the history of the faith, specifically the life of its two manifestations (messengers from God): the Bab and Baha’u’llah. As one progresses through the sequence, skills are acquired for teaching virtue-based children’s classes (book 3) or mentoring junior youth groups (book 5). In book 6 participants learn the meaning of a home visit, which is to visit a community member and engage in deep and meaningful conversation on spiritual matters.

Is the purpose of the sequence to convert people to the Baha’i Faith? Nope. The Ruhi books empower individuals to lift up their community. Baha’is all over the world are learning how to weave close ties of friendship with people from all walks of life and how to knit together the hearts of their community members. This sequence of courses is open to all, Baha’i or not, and all are warmly welcome to join the process of community building, which is part of a greater goal of global unity.

Baha’u’llah says:

“…These strifes and this bloodshed and discord must cease, and all men be as one kindred and one family…Let not a man glory in this, that he loves his country; let him rather glory in this, that he loves his kind…”

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A Poem: Lifted


Down a road I know well
Tall grass and palms
Thatched roof huts and women in
Bananas and tomatoes sold on the
Side of the road
Puffed up cumulus clouds
Birds perched on wires
Today as if they have sat out
Especially to bid goodbye
The buzzard and the roller

Last memories:
Clicks and croaks of a boubou
Words from a loving, hopeful, and trusted friend
Hugs from my sisters in Africa
Limp and dried out ears of
Her greatest resource

From above
Those square fields and
Don’t look so different from
Other parts of the

I am lifted
I am away now
Giving myself over to God’s will
Yet ever mindful of the power of choice

Monday, May 16, 2011

Arts and Crafts: Monkey Fruit Bowls

I've decided to leave Banani and serve the remainder of the year at the Native American Baha'i Institute in Arizona. I plan to continue this blog and record the lessons I learn on my year of service.

But first: I was able to take one monkey fruit home with me, where I painted it with acrylic, sealed it with varnish, and added plastic beads. I still think this would be a great craft project for junior youth, and it could be done with wooden bowls or gourds in place of monkey fruit.

stylized Crested Guinea Fowl

The words on the inside of the bowl read: "Ye are the fruits of one tree and the leaves of one branch..." A quote from Baha'u'llah

Friday, May 13, 2011

Livingstone (Part 2)

The Baha’i Community
We spent one morning visiting some of the local Baha’is and meeting children and junior youth. The children and junior youth had prepared songs and quotes from their classes to share with us and they also invited us to play some of the games they had been playing in their classes. We were then asked to teach them a few games which we used in our own classes at Banani. What I found most exciting about this meeting was the realization that the books created by the Ruhi institute (in this case book 3 and 5) really has had a worldwide effect. The Baha’i children in Livingstone, though of course their class is unique and colored with their own individuality, are memorizing many of the same songs and quotes as the Baha’i children in Colorado, or any other part of the world! Baha’i communities are arising to create close-knit communities, and children’s classes are one of the many activities that have brought communities closer, and Zambia is no exception.

We were welcomed like family into the community and as we left the residential area, the children crowded around the Banani youth and showered us with their laughter and hugs, waving goodbye.

Victoria Falls: Knife Edge Bridge and the Boiling Pot

Mosi-oa-tunya: that’s Lozi for “the smoke that thunders”, an appropriate description for this 100 meter fall of water. Around 625 million liters of water rush over the edge per minute*, and the falls span the width of the Zambezi, around 1700 meters wide. But I’m not a fan of numbers, so suffice it to say the falls are a torrential and thundering downpour of H2O. Nura, Sharghi, Krista, and I walked out to the Knife Edge Bridge. It began to rain as walked and the storm shower combined with the mist from the falls soaked us through and through. “I’ve never been so wet,” Nura said “not even in the shower!”

The Knife Edge Bridge from a distance

The bridge to the Zimbabwe side

The Knife Edge Bridge crosses a section of the gorge and gives visitors another perspective of the falls. The mist is so heavy, however, that one must constantly watch for the mist to lift in order to catch brief glimpses of the curtain of water. There was so much water on the footpath that it covered my shoes and created miniature waterfalls on the stone steps.

The boiling pot is where the falls meet the river below and can be seen by taking a steep footbath to the bottom of the gorge. Along the way, one can enjoy the surreal rainforest landscape. White butterflies flutter up and down the heavily vegetated cliff edge and the sun shines through the glittering confetti-like spray of water. The mist from the falls makes it seem like there is always a light sprinkle of rain.

The rainforest bordering the boiling pot trail

Natal Spurfowl (Francolin) on the steps leading down to the boiling pot

At the bottom of the trail visitors stand at the edge of the Zambezi and see the powerful swirl of water created at the base of the falls. We also saw the bridge which crosses to Zimbabwe, where people bungee jump or ride the gorge swing (often times they are screaming as their bodies drop and twist like a limp doll into the gorge).

*This number is approximate and changes throughout the year. Peak flow happens to be in April, the time of my visit.

Ah yes, and once again what better way to end the post than with a picture of, I mean baboons!