The Last Day of Our Trip

On the last day of our trip, some of us woke up early in the morning to run like Navajo people do every morning to greet the sunrise. It is believed in Navajo tradition that running everyday to see the sunrise help them to be more youthful and have a longer life as one of the native Navajo kids told me. Even though the hill where we ran up to spot the dawn was only about six blocks away from our shelter, because of the frigid morning wind and high altitude, our hands were numb and we were running out of the breath. However, as soon as the segment of the sun appeared from the peak of the mountain, our fingers started to regain their sensation and our bodies warmed up. Surprisingly, the sunshine was not bright at all. We straightly gazed and explicitly saw the spherical shape of the sun. Since we were all fascinated by the sunrise, we were totally unaware of how long we stood there.

Then we all visited the Flea Market that is held on every Saturday from eight o’clock in the morning. The place was enlivened by various retailers such as sculptors, potters, and jewelers and the fragrance of traditional food at a reasonable price. All the retailers were from diverse districts that I encountered with a Navajo potter right next to the Zuni jeweler. I was surprised that all the retailers were not aggressive as most other sellers at a Flea Market are, but rather they were very extroverted to passers who came across. This was the reason why I did not have a hard time taking a glance at the products they were selling and leave the stall without purchasing. I learned that in New Mexico, some people are extremely generous and outgoing so that their priority is to care about each other and their social lives.



New Mexico: Canyon de Chelley

Today, Friday, is our last full day here in the Southwest. Eager to see the sights, we rolled out of our toasty sleepingbags and were on our way to Canyon de Chelly National Park in neighboring Arizona. I think I can speak for the group by assuming that our “off” day served as an educational experience all on its own. After a two hour drive west, we found ourselves peering over the edge of huge red boulders and onto the canyon floor. Each lookout provided a entirely new perspective on this massive cut through the plateau. Many of us were in awe at the sights that are specific to this region, and are not likely photo opportunities in rain forest-esque Portland, sunny California, or farscaping Japan. We were all excited to spend time  in the landscape that we had learned was a symbolic and necessary aspect of native culture. 

By mid-afternoon, we found ourselves trekking down a muddle mile and a half trail to the canyon floor. The farther we walked down the trail, the smaller and smaller we began to feel. Once we reached the bottom, most heads were arched upward, trying to take in the massive size of the surrounding canyon walls. Native tribes had spent the past 5,000 years living in this canyon, and as we passed agricultural fields and hogans, we saw the evidence of present habitation. Although the area is a national park, private ownership by tribal members gives the park a unique edge. Our walk ended at White Horse Ruins where remnants of Anastazi pueblos are driven into the side of the canyon. Cameras, that which flew out of our pockets, documented the interesting structures. Art sellers at the ruins served as valuable information on the region.

The canyon was an amazing combination of present and past peoples, all melded into one landscape. 


New Mexico-Tsé Yí Gai High School

Today we traveled to Tsé Yí Gai High School on the Navajo Reservation for our final day of volunteering in schools. We started our long day by waking up at 5:00am. We left the church about forty minutes later for a two hour drive to the high school.

The high school is in a very rural area. Except for teacher housing next door to the school and another school down the road, there was no other buildings in sight. We mostly volunteered in Ms. Sasson’s social studies classes.  She had us work in small groups with the students and talk about different political cartoons with them. She had written questions on the board to guide our discussions. Many of the cartoons were about the economy and the recession since they had just been learning about the recession in class.  Many of the students were well informed about what was going on in the economy. Some of the students were more talkative than others, however they all seemed interested in the cartoons and what us Lewis & Clark students had to say.

After we got through all the political cartoons, we had a chance to talk to the students about their culture and life on the reservation, as well as about college and our college experiences.  We learned that almost all of the students speak Navajo and feel a strong connection to their culture.  Since the school is located in a rural setting it draws students from a broad area. As a result, many of the students we talked to have to get up early for a long commute to school. Many of them live in houses with no running water and electricity. Several of the students ride horses and help their family raise animals.  We also talked to them about their plans for the future. We learned that in the Navajo culture the people live in the present; they are not supposed to plan ahead because they believe that things won’t turn out the way they want it to. Nevertheless, several of the students did seem interested in college. We talked to them about our own college experiences and what they might expect in college. We told them many things such as how many hours we spend in class, that we get to choose our classes, and how we spend our free time.

We ended the school day by watching traditional Navajo dancing. The dancing was part of the school’s Navajo Culture Week. It was great to watch! There was singing and the dancers all wore traditional clothes. The final dance they did was the Circle Dance and everyone got a chance to participate. It was nice to see that Navajo culture is connected to the school.



After the assembly we met up with some of the Teach for America teachers and chatted for a little while.  They told us about life as a TFA teacher in Pueblo Pintado.  When saying our goodbyes they told us that it was snowing a little and that we should hit the road soon because the dirt road that leads to the school can become extremely muddy with precipitation.  We laughed nervously and they assured us that it would be fine.  

We walked outside and found what looked like a mini blizzard.  Very small snowflakes were whirling quickly with the powerful Navajo wind in this part of New Mexico.  It was white all around; we could barely make out the nothingness that surrounds the high school.  We quickly hopped in our cars and started down the dirt road, Kirsten in the lead with the SUV; Dan following in the small 4-door sedan (still equipped with crank windows).  We were in awe of the sight of snow covering this very red, rocky, dry landscape.  It was beautiful.  In Kirsten’s car we were talking about the day’s events while taking pictures of the quickly changing landscape flying by.  We were slowly but surely making our way down the small road, checking in the rearview mirror pretty consistently for Dan.  We looked out the window and saw a pack of horses standing close together, dusted with snow, looking very stoic.  They almost blended into the landscape.  

Kirsten did a routine check in her rearview mirrors for Dan, but he wasn’t there.  Sometimes he lags behind a little in his old-school crank window sedan, so we drove on a little.  But he still was not popping up behind us.  Kirsten pulled the car over and we waited for a few minutes.  The other car was nowhere to be found…to be continued…

Okay, I apologize for the prolonged anticipation.  Kirsten bravely turned the car around and started heading back towards the school.  While it was fun to imagine all sorts of things that could have happened to the other car, the most likely possibility was that somebody had forgotten something back at the school, so they had to turn around, but were unable to alert us to this fact because there was of course no cell phone reception.  We were finally making our way down the last stretch of dirt road before reaching the high school when we see Dan’s car approaching us.  We are relieved to see them.  In fact somebody had left a bag at the school.  They apologized, which was not necessary, but we did make them give us all the bags of food they had taken for the long ride.  We were once again in possession of the cookies, which was the most important aspect of this trade.  

Anyway, so then we set back out on the familiar roads, however the snow had remained consistent this whole time.  It was sticking, and the roads were getting icy.  We knew it was a race against time because it was only going to get worse, but we were forced to drive slow because of the poor conditions.  By the time we made it to the next ‘highway’ we were sliding at times and having a harder time stopping.  But both cars were doing well and charging forward.  We were slowly but surely making our way down the road, slipping here and there, but making progress, hopeful that we were getting closer to Highway 40, which we knew would be in a better condition.  However, we saw the cars in front of us stopped in a line of traffic.  We inched our way through the line and saw that people were being turned around.  We rolled down our window and asked a man in a truck what the deal was.  He said that a semi had jack knifed on the road, and that cars were not allowed to pass.  This was an interesting twist in a rural adventure that we were hoping was coming to an end.  

Both cars turned around and as we slowly started driving back toward the school we saw that the man in the truck was pulled over waiting for us!  We were so relieved.  We rolled down our window and explained we were trying to get to Gallup; he said to follow him.  We didn’t ask any further questions because he was our only bet, seeing as most of the country roads on the reservation are not even marked on the map.  Both cars kept up with him through several turns onto icy, paved and snowy, dirt roads.  After following him for a ways he pulled over and so did we.  That was as far as he was going but he explained to us how to find the 40.  We thanked him and went on our way.  

Miraculously, both cars made it to the big highway, and all the way back to Gallup.  We were all grateful for the hospitable, native man that lead us through the rural backroads, and to our brave drivers, Kirsten and Dan.  When we arrived at a restaurant in Gallup and the waitress asked us how we were doing, Erika honestly responded with a smile “Glad to be a alive”.  Although our little blizzard adventure was stressful at times, I think it makes a good story, and it was a great bonding experience.  I love you guys! 


New Mexico (Zuni Reservation) 3-25-08

We drove to the Zuni Reservation, about an hour south of Gallup, NM. We volunteered at Zuni High School in Mr. Fishman’s tenth grade social studies class. He teaches three classes per day, each with about 15 students. The students sat in small groups of three or four and the Lewis & Clark students split up among the tables of students. They were learning about historians and interviewing processes, so each of us we asked by Mr. Fishman to bring in an object of historical significance. The students were given a set of questions covering the significance of our object and how it spoke to our personality as well as a variety of questions about our lives. The students seemed truly interested in our lives as college students and the variety in our upbringings. The Zuni students  do not have much outside influence and were given the opportunity to hear about various regions all over the world. The Lewis & Clark students were able to ask the Zuni students about their culture. The students told us about stories and tradtions of the Zuni culture. One that stood out was about a local mesa where all the inhabitants fled to during a massive flood. During the flood, two virgins sacrificed themselves by  jumping into the water to please the gods. There are currently two large rock figures on the mesa that resemble the two virgins, and to keep the mesa sacred, no non-Zunis are allowed to climb the mesa.

The students gave us a short tour around thier high school, where they pointed out some student art work such as pottery and metals. The students had strong artistic talent, and each object was impressive. They also told us about their families and traditions as they pointed out the surrounding rock-cliffs that they run up for cross-country practice. After leaving the school, Mr. Fishman took us to a local ice cream shop and showed us around Zuni. We bought some jewlery and pottery in a local shop, visited the Zuni Cultural Center, and bought oven bread from a local family with a gigantic handmade clay oven which could hold up to 100 loaves. We concluded the day with a group discussion back in Gallup where we discussed the day and our thoughts about Zuni culture and our experiences.

Alison and Shane

New Mexico: One school day…many lessons.

March 24, 2009 is what I repeated along side a few students with special needs this  morning as we sat in a semi-circle on little carpets on the floor of Rocky View Elementary School. One by one the teacher handed the students velcro words with the days of the week on them, saying , “today is Tuesday, if today is Tuesday, than tomorrow is Wednesday. If today is Tuesday, yesterday was Monday. They were mostly able to read the word and all sang me the “days of the week” song, but the teacher had to put the correct word in their hands for they wouldn’t have know on their own which day it was, or what came before or after. I spend the morning with this fascninating and diverse group of learners, ages pre-K to 4th grade, with autism, down syndrom and other yet unidentified learning disabilities. It was especially hard to insert myself into the classroom as a visiting volunteer because each child was at such a different level with strengths and weaknesses in very different areas, and the teacher to student ratio was nearly equal since two of the six kids had aids with them, plus the teacher and I. However, instead of lessening my own involvement in the classroom, I got to participate more by working one on one in rotations of learning (making letter shaps out of straight and curved wooden blocks,) and could also help by keeping the kids in their seats and placing a finger’s width of space between their first and last names they practiced writing. I was impressed with the small classroom size, and the teacher worked really well with them, each child practicing writing at their own level, tracing pre-written letters, or writing in cursive, and seemed to have a good schedule down that they were all comfortable with even if they often screamed in frustration or said they wanted to go home.

As a psychology major looking to go into education, I’ve considered working with special needs students in a pull out group such as this one, and seeing these kids accomplish what we may at first see as very small gains can be immensly satisfying, especially when they shoot you a smile, but I also couldn’t help but notice a feeling of deep sadness in the back of my mind, that most of these kids will never catch up to their peers, and can’t be expected to with an IQ in the 40s. I felt guilty noting this reality as I worked with them, because I should focus on all the wonderous things they can learn and where their individual strengths can take them. One boy who had just joined the group was a fabulous artist for example, and I can already see him as the passionate artist who does nothing but art. I was sad to leave when they took their snack and recess break, but headed down the hall to find three of my LC group-mates finishing up their “BEE” painting. This was our service project of the day, collectively painting three huge bees on the walls of the school halls to remind students of the 3Bs: Be save, be positive, be of good character, and be respectful. As we painted, tracing the projected image on the wall and trying not to drip on each other, heards of kids streamed by in lines saying things like, “awesome!” and “wow, that’s so cool” and “oh I really like it.” On occation we’d quiz them on the 4Bs and every kid knew them all! From their comments, you’d have thought these kids had never seen paint before, but their own art was all over the walls as well, they simply didn’t get to paint “awesome cartoon bees” directly on the walls which seems like a lot of fun…though I think most of us, even those of us who love to paint, did our best to finish ASAP so we could get back in the classrooms instead of inhaling toxic fumes and battling the clumby paint as we attempted neatly painted lines.

After this, I quickly ate a half of a PB n’ J, and went to a 4th grade classroom where they were working on a vocabulary project having to do with a story they read about the Titanic. This classroom was very radically different than the other two I’d been in. The first one had been very brief, we met the “superstars” in Ms. Longs’ 2nd grade who smiled and stared profusely and seemed thrilled that we were there, and then proceeded to describe every detail of a picture of a snail and an ant “staring” at each other. focused and interested in the activity as much as can be expected for an ant and a snail…both fascinating creatures. This 4th grade classroom however was all over the place. Students were up and about doing as they liked, running around and talking with friends, anxious to be done with the project, and were yelled at several times. I tried to help out, and asked the kids to read me their stories which they did willingly, but without much preperation, I couldn’t easily just jump into their project which I knew little about and spent much of the time critically observing the teacher-student interactions.This is what I noted: One girl, Dana, always shot her hand up and was almost always called on even though she often didn’t have an answer prepared. I thought that was she being favored by the teacher who always smiled at her and thanked her for her contribution, I quickly saw some hints of “teacher’s pet” on the side of the teacher, rather than the student, and I wondered if her classmates might be bitter towards her for unintentionally hogging attention, but that didn’t seem to be the case otherwise.

On the flip side, the boys name who was spoken most, Keano, was constantly yelled at, and told to stop doing this and that, usually causing him to act up more. I was impressed, however, with the teachers ability to yell at him one minute, and then call on him, and graciously accept his intelligent answer with a smile the next.

The third student I paid special attention to was Faith, sitting a good distance away from the other students in the back of the classroom, (closest to me), who was never called on, but sporadically yelled at for drumming her fingers or tapping her pencil repeatedly on the desk. I was sitting right by her and never even noticed until the teacher drew attention to her, asking with an exasperated look why she kept doing it. To me it seemed that her actions were completely unintentional, and that hands were simply antsie and needed something to occupy them. I don’t know if my observation was correct, but I thought I might as well attempt to prevent her from getting yelled at again, and knealed by her desk, whispering that when my fingers need to move, I like to twiddle my thumbs as fast as I can. She obliged, and we twiddled our thumbs together for nearly 10 minutes. At one moment, she was called on to read the next paragraph outloud as others had just done, and she read so well but so quietly and the teacher asked her to speak up, she did but not enough. Then the teacher asked her why she wouldn’t read louder, and said I guess we’ll have to get a different student to read who would read louder. I was immediatly upset by this response, thinking that she should have been given a better chance to contribute to the class (especially because every student had the book infront of them and could easily see the words she quietly spoke, but I was also aware that the teacher knew a lot more about this students abilities than I, and may simply know that Faith could reach her higher expectations of a loud voice. When I worked with Faith later, I learned that she was one of the brightest kids in the class, and the teacher later told me that she’d been acting up more than usual the past few weeks which might have been due to the fact that her mother keeps saying they’re finally going to move next week, and then next week, and then next week and it still hasn’t happened. I can see why a kid would mentally check out if they were expecting to move any moment, and that frustration of her mother’s promises could be negatively affecting her behavior in class. The teacher also told me that sometimes the kids are very well behaved and focused, but that her being sick caused them to take advantage, and that me as a distraction probably also caused them to try to be cool and shout out funny comments when they would have been on their best behavior if I’d been the principle.

There’s one student I haven’t yet mentioned, Katlyn, a 4th grader with down syndrom whom I’d worked with in the morning. She’d been quietly lying on the floor of the classroom when I noticed she was there, and since I wasn’t being of much use, I decided to go hang with her. She was flipping through a book of difficult statistics of US history and geography that I didn’t know the answer to, and seeing as she’d spend the morning learning the “R” sound, I didn’t think she was getting much out of that. So I asked if she wanted to read a book together, and she picked some great ones, and we read together, her shadowing my voice and moving her finger along each line with mine. As I saw that she couldn’t read or sound out words on her own yet, I had her focus on the word “I” which was frequent, and she tried to remember that word each time, doing a very good job. When we read Curious George, I had her track the word “George” by looking for the capital “G” as we read together, and she nailed it each time. While her reading hadn’t gone past recognizing individual letters, she had better reading comprehension than I did, knowing exactly what was going on at the end of each page, who was saying what to who, who was angry about what, and telling me so with the sweetest and softest smile on her face. While her IQ said one thing, her face and her actions betrayed a deep sense of maturity, an understanding, patience, and love that I had yet to see in her classmates eyes. She was very calmly living in the present,  grateful for every moment, and I began to see a marvelous sort of peace and joy just being around her. I doubt we’ll ever meet again in our lives, our collective one-on-one interactions adding up to less than an hour, but I’d love to see her in the years to come, so that perhaps, she can teach me more about life.


New Mexico: Days 1-3


Welcome to New Mexico!  We’re staying in Gallup to work with schools and clubs around the Navajo Reservation.   Kirsten Fix and Daniel Bae are leading our trip, and the other participants are Jessica Clarke, Anne Gorman, Alison Dubchansky, Shane Rivera, Tomo Ueno, Dana Levin, Hannah Bushner, and Erika Merz.

We arrived in Albuquerque on Saturday afternoon, and checked into La Quinta hotel.  We met up Leigh and her husband, who are both LC alumni working as teachers in Albuquerque.  After dinner, we explored downtown Albuquerque and one group stayed and walked around Central Street.

The next day, we split into two groups to travel to Gallup.  One group stayed in Albuquerque to visit the Pueblo Cultural Center, which was filled with artifacts and historical information about the 19 pueblo tribes.  The other group drove through Old Town and saw the traditional houses and stores.  Along the way to Gallup, we stopped at the petroglyphs and walked along the cliffs where Native Americans and early settlers had inscribed their names.

As we stepped out of the cars in Gallup, we were nearly blown away by the forceful winds!  It was still sunny and beautiful, but the windchill chilled to the bones.  Sharon, the pastor’s wife, showed us around the Stronghold Church where we are staying for the week.  Many Gallup residents trickled into the church that evening for an enchilada potluck.  We sat around and listened to Virginia, a Navajo woman, sharing her stories and traditions.  She was raised in a hogan (traditional Navajo house) with no running water or electricity.  Her parents spoke only Navajo.  She described the wedding ceremony, a coming-of-age ceremony for girls, and how difficult it is to keep the traditions alive with her own children.  After dinner, we played a rousing game of Farkle, a joyous dice game.   The community of Gallup has been so hospitable and welcoming.

Today, Monday, we woke up at 7:15 and were surprised by the startling cold, both inside and out.  We met up with Karl, the director of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Gallup and he arranged for us to go on a hike up Pyramid Trail with some of the workers for the Youth Conservation Corps.  We were introduced to three young men, Ryan, Lamuel, and Arson.  They shared much about their personal lives growing up in Gallup and about the culture of the Navajo. They were proud to show us all the work that they’ve done on the Pyramid Trail.  The landscape was beautiful, filled with  red rock, caverns worn into the cliffs by the wind, jutting sandstone towers and views for miles.  We got to the top of the “pyramid” and paused take lots of pictures, have a snack, and reflect on the beauty around us.

We came back to the church for lunch, and a group left to find some public showers to wash off the dust from our hike.  After our break, we went to the Boys and Girls Club to meet all of the children.  We worked with elementary school kids, who we helped with homework for an hour and then were free to play.  We had the choices of arts and crafts, basketball, break dancing, ping pong, and touring the neighborhood on bikes (weather permitting).  The kids were enthusiastic and full of energy and curiousity about our group.

Next, we met up with Landon, the regional director of Teach for America of New Mexico, and also an LC alumn.  We toured their new center and discussed the many triumphs and challenges of the program.  Then together we drove to El Matate, a family-owned Mexican restaurant where we met Anne Long, a second-grade teacher at the school we’ll be working at tomorrow, and another LC alumn.

Now we are relaxing after our busy day, and contemplating all of our experiences by journaling and reading and hopefully getting enough sleep before our 7:00 wake-up call tomorrow!

From the “Land of Enchantment,”

Jessica and Anne