Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Mercy Day

Happy Mercy Day!

I am so excited to be on the Navajo Nation today and everyday! Today is the feast day for the Sisters of Mercy, the Mercy Associates and all of us volunteers, past and present!

May the blessings of the day be upon you!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Blessed are the Peacemakers

I do bellwork with my students on a regular basis. It's an activity that allows them to come into the classroom and work on something for a few minutes to get settled down into class mode. It's especially helpful since one of my classes is directly after lunch, and they need to get back into a school mindset. One of the areas I hope to get the students interested in is political cartoons, and the other day I found a really neat cartoon about the death of Ambassador Stevens. It incorporated church and state in an unsual way; usually when the two are intertwined it is done in a mocking way. This cartoon was simple, but beautiful. Because I am working at a Catholic school, I thought it was appropriate to use in the lesson. Had I been at a public institution, I am not sure that I would have used the image, but I am posting it here because it is peaceful to me. It speaks of the legacy of a great man who was taken to soon from a problem he was working actively to fix.

To be honest, I can't say that the death of Ambassador Stevens made me dramatically sad. I did not know him in a way that would make me miss him. What really saddens me is that his death was completely senseless. He was a good man working hard to achieve good in Libya, a country that is in desperate need of help. What saddens and angers me is that his death has come under attack by people in our country, heedless of the feelings of his family and those in government who knew him on a more personal level. So, while I cannot miss a man I can't claim to have known, what I will miss about him is his dedication to the people of Libya, his loyalty to them to help them break free from a stifled society and his clear compassion for the work that he did.

I was so proud of my students for being able to look at this article and discuss it in a mature, respectful manner. I am glad that they are beginning to understand how global politics work and that they are able to see the dangers and problems caused by the attacks in Libya.

Rest in Peace, Ambassador. And truly blessed are the peacemakers, thank you for your service.

My favorite thing...

Hands down, my favorite thing about teaching is when my students get it!

I love watching them think, and as high school upperclassmen, I am incorporating a lot of critical thinking into my classes. I want to know their opinions, see them make their own conclusions, take an active role in their education.

I have heard how many people on the Rez struggle, how education is not always a priority here. I want to see every single one of my students go to college. Or, go on to something fulfilling. I don't want to see them fall into the stereotypical patterns that plague the reservation; ideas that they are not as good as other groups of people, or that heredity and genetics can't be questioned. A student in one of my psychology classes was telling me the other day how prevalent alcohol abuse was on the reservation and that he is likely to fall prey to it.


It doesn't have to be that way. It hurts to think that students so young are already being discouraged by the way things are, and not encouraged by the things that could be. If I accomplish anything this year, it is to make sure that my students know that they all have potential, and that they possess the tools to achieve more, do more, be more. I may sound like a half-crazed motivational speaker on a cancelled MTV show, but at the same time, I know that what I am saying is all a possibility. The Navajo culture is such an amazing thing to be immersed in; I am far from trying to come out here and change their ways, but at the same time, I am teaching my students to be social and personal advocates for themselves.

I teach my students in such a manner that they will become global citizens. The first day of school I explained to them what it meant to be a global citizen; a commitment that extends beyond the grounds of the Rez, past the confines of American citizenship and into an international theatre of understanding. When they ask me why they need to care about global events, I ask them why not? I told my students that first day that when they leave my classroom at the end of the semester, I don't expect them to be experts on the U.S. Government. I can't even claim that I am expert, but I do expect that they leave knowing what it means to be a citizen in multiple arenas and how that impacts their future.

With the recent death of Ambassador Chris Stevens, I was able to engage my classes in a deep discussion about foreign affairs and what times of crisis can mean for the United States and other countries affected. We discussed war and terrorism, and what fear can make people do. We talked about the Ambassador's influence on Libya and what he meant to people both in America and his adopted country. We got completely off track of our lesson plan and the bell rang before we got through the actual content I had planned. But it's okay, because finally, I see it. They're beginning to get it.

Maybe sometimes the best lessons aren't the ones I have planned.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Acoma Pueblo

This post has been a long time coming, and I finally have the time to sit down and write about visiting Acoma Pueblo in New Mexico, also known as Sky City. We went for a festival, and the city was open to the public, which was great, otherwise it would be about $20 a person. The Pueblo Indians performed ceremonial dances to call the rain, and the outfits were simply breathtaking. Cameras were banned from the village, and we were asked not to speak to the dancers or to ask them questions.

Later that day, a woman who lives in the village was telling a few people in our group that the dances to bring the rain can be very emotional as they are steeped in such tradition. I completely understand the reasons for not allowing cameras, and I was glad this woman took the time to explain the dances since we were told not to ask questions.

There were a lot of craft booths and people selling food around the village and I bought some roast corn, which is honestly one of the most delicious things I have ever tasted. On the Rez, it is common to see people just parked alongside the road with a truck bed full, and I mean full, of roast corn, selling it for a dollar or two. It reminds me a little bit of the food trucks I've seen in Philadelphia and New York, and I had to laugh because they certainly aren't selling hot dogs or felafel's. During the Navajo Fair too, there was a lot of street food, and I bought a breakfast burrito from a family stationed across the road from where I was sitting. The cultural differences still continue to amaze me. Where I come from, you couldn't just sit alongside the road and sell food from a cooler. Here, the Navajo Nation police officers were buying the food too!

Back to the festival, I also decided to try something called Kool-Aid pickles, after I saw nine different stands selling them. I figured if so many people had them for sale they must a treat for the local people.

Never. Again.

I am all for trying new things, but I think my taste buds were mad at me for the next week. Maybe it was just the stand I bought them from, but I think I am going to hold off on experimental foods of that caliber.

Acoma has this beautiful chapel dedicated to St. Stephen, which they only open twice a year; for this festival and for Easter. A man who lives in the village pointed out the rainbows painted on the walls, an unusual mural for a church. He explained that there isn't red in the rainbows because red symbolizes war and blood, and rainbows are supposed to be peaceful. I had never thought about that before, but it is certainly something to consider. Again, the cultural differences are really interesting, I would have never considered red to be more than a letter in the ROYGBIV rainbow I learned as a child.

The day drew to a close, and we crammed into our cars for the long drive home. A few miles into the journey though, it started to rain! How awesome is that?

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Navajo Nation Fair

This past weekend was the Navajo Nation Fair, and I spent Friday and Saturday with Allison, Dan and Melissa (librarian) walking around, seeing all the sites and riding the Ferris Wheel. If you want to talk about simple living, I only went on one ride, instead of buying a wristband for $20. Believe me, it was hard, I am an absolute fair ride junkie.

School was cancelled on Friday since the fair is such a big deal for the Navajo Nation, and I worked at the booth the school had set up in one of the halls. Some alumni came by and told us stories about going there, and we even had a few people interested in enrolling their students for the next year. I was glad to see that overall, we had a good amount of people interested in us rather than the free pens. I really enjoyed the Energy Expo they had at the fair and I was able to learn a lot about sustainability and water conservation on the reservation. It is a very barren landscape, although where we are located isn't exactly a full blown desert. I think I talked to one of the women working with water conservation for about 15 minutes, and she gave me a really nice canvas bag with their logo because she told me she could tell I was genuinely interested in what they were doing, not just getting the free stuff they had.

Saturday, the four of us walked 3 miles down the road to see the parade go by, including a float from SMIS that had students and teachers. When it passed, we saw one of our friends, Ann, dressed as St. Katherine Drexel, and could not stop laughing. I told her I didn't know many sisters who incorporated a basketball shirt and sneakers into their habit. But, it was great to see the students excited to be in the parade and we made sure we screamed loud and clear when they went past.

There were so many great moments this weekend, seeing students and parents at the fair and in the parade, meeting new people and getting to network a little bit with people who have long standing connections to SMIS. My skin still doesn't like Arizona, I go through sunblock like it is my job, but otherwise, a good weekend with some good fair food, fun people and a new experience to add to my list of reservation adventures.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Labor Day Weekend

I climbed a 10,000 year old erupted volcano. What did you do on your labor day weekend?

I went with Mary Rose, Allison, Jake, Stacy, and a group of other teachers from St. Michael on a hiking trip in New Mexico this past weekend. Dan, one of the English teachers at the high school leads these trips around the area, and I was really enthusiastic about getting to see the area around where we live.

We hiked in El Morro, a National Park in New Mexico, checking out the sites (awesome) and getting to see the historic trails of travellers who came through New Mexico. There were petroglyphs on the wall from ancient indian tribes, as well as carvings from the Spaniards who came through centuries ago, and more recent carvings from Americans who travelled by on their way west. Pictures will be forthcoming since I am still without a camera, but some of the things we saw, you had to be there in person. If anyone starts to question God's creation, I challenge them to climb a mesa and look out over all they can see. Beautiful.

At the top of the mesa was an unearthed Pueblo, the the Zuni people built in the 1200s. By the time the Spaniards came in the 1500s, the pueblos were already deserted. The pueblo we saw contained about 875 rooms, huge, but only part of it is unearthed. I love old ruins, it is like looking into a picture of how people lived. And the fact that centuries later I can look and stand where so much history occured never ceases to amaze me.

El Morro is Spanish for "The Headland" and the Americans called it "Inscription Rock", but when it was made a national park, the Spanish name won. What I found interesting about El Morro is that the trail we hiked was actually hand carved by workers of the Civil Works Administration, an organization started by FDR during the Great Depression.

After we ate lunch at El Morro, we went to something called the Ice Caves, which is where I got to climb the volcano. The volcano, Bandera, exploded about 10,000 years ago, and today there is a wonderful area with petrified wood, and lava fields, and ice caves in a collapsed lava tube. It was absolutely fascinating. I love nature, and how it can be so pure and ruggedly beautiful. Allison and I crawled into a cave formed by lava for a picture and, I laugh because it is funny, but, I ripped my pants.

There are signs that say to be careful because the lava formations can be sharp and jagged. I sat down next to Allison on a rock that was there and caught the seat of my pants on a piece of hardened lava. I heard a slow, creeping ripping sound, and all I could think was oh crap. It was bad. It was really bad. From the back pocket to the hem of the shorts bad. Allison, laughing, pulled a bandana out of her backpack and made me a "tail" so no one could see the rip. So yeah, I climbed a volcano and ripped my pants.

Later still, we drove to El Mapais, Spanish for the badlands and completed a third hike. This one was fairly uneventful, but we got to see some cool rock formations and a bat cave. Luckily, no rattlesnakes, although this site told us to be particularly careful. El Mapais also had remnants of volcanic activity and all in all, it was a beautiful hike through some gorgeous areas.

Sunday, we went to Acoma, a pueblo in New Mexico that had the nickname Sky City, and is one of the oldest continually habituated places in the United States. Stay tuned for that later!

Monday, September 3, 2012


It's been a few days since I posted, but now that school is into full swing, I am tired by the end of the day and finding time to sit down and write for myself is significantly harder than it was a few weeks ago. Our art teacher arrived! I am so excited, but I do miss working with the art students. They were so creative and were willing to work with me and the cans for two weeks. I was able to find some great art videos those last few days I was in the classroom, so it wasn't charcoal drawings all the time.

I've slowly started to add student work to the walls in the computer lab where I teach so that the room is starting to look more like my home than a stark, bare room. My psychology students did outlines of famous psychologists and my government students will be working on some projects soon too. I am excited to see my students actually beginning to particiapte in class; the first few days they were a little wary of me. Sometimes, I wonder if what I am doing is a good thing. The students know that teachers come and go here so often, that there is not a lot of continutity. But, slowly, they seemed to have come to the concluision that I am okay and I see that in the way that they participate. It isn't always easy, but I love all my students and each one brings something different to the table. I have my jokers, my serious ones, the usual assortment of characters one can find in any high school classroom in America.

Drama club should be starting up soon, and I am excited about that because there are a few students who seem genuinely interested in working on some productions. I am glad that there is some enthusiasm becuase I would like to see the school do some pretty cool shows this year. One of the girls asked me if I would lead the choir because they don't have one anymore, after the old director left. I wondered why she was asking me, and then she told me that the same man led both groups. Hmm.. I am not much of a singer, but I might see what interests there are for students to sing and if enough students show interest, I might give it a try. Middle school choir throwback?