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.