A Broken Shell

The trek to the beach was long; the sun peaked high on a cloudless day. The AC was set on high—it felt good. It felt like a typical summer day in Wisconsin—only it was April in Florida—a thousand miles from home. 

We parked and set out towards the beach. The smell of salt lingered in the air as waves filled the silence gaps between the voices of fellow tourists. 
“Charlotte*, take a pic of me next to the palm tree.”
“Uh okay sure.” My friend snapped a photo of me with my Polaroid. 

We trekked our way towards the ocean. The sand squished and sprawled beneath my feet, making it harder to walk. Sand sprinkled its way into my flip flops irritating me even more so I took them off, daring my way across barefoot. The sand was hot, as if the sun was trapped in the tiny little grains. Finally we found an open spot not to far from where the dry sand kissed the wet.


I dropped my backpack on top of the beach blanket and ran towards the water, my feet sloshing on the wet sand into the edge of the water. A big wave crashed against my legs as if trying to push me over. Seahells were pushed forward before being pulled back with the current. My hand swooped down and grabbed a tiny, broken, cream-colored shell. Though it wasn’t a perfect shell, I decided I wanted to keep it. Eventually with a lot of searching and avoiding huge waves, I did find many nice and even some “perfect” shells. 
It’s funny how when many folks go to the beach some are  looking for shells to keep as souvenirs or whatever given reason. Some folks are okay with a few shells whether they be perfect of slightly chipped. Some folks won’t settle for anything less than giant, perfectly shaped shells. 

I spent a good chunk of time picking at different shells looking for small ones and big ones, and even keeping a few broken ones because of their coloring. I’d let the ones I didn’t want slip between my fingers and plop back into the ocean.

It’s funny how in life we pick and choose our relationships much like these shells. We search and search for those “perfect” and big shells, yet there are imperfectly perfect shells slipping between our fingers simply because they’re slightly broken. We don’t want the broken ones because they’re not as pretty to look at. And they’re typically more fragile. 

After my ex and I parted ways, I felt stuck like the tiny shell at the bottom of the ocean. Just being pushed and pulled by the currents of life on occasion but mostly just submerged there under water. I liked being at the bottom where it was dark and cold—yet I could still see steaks of light that gave me pieces of hope here and there and on occasion I got swept up to the surface—if only temporarily. Though I preferred to be half buried under the cold sand, because I was broken. And useless. No one wanted me. 

Jesus doesn’t look at us like that though. He doesn’t care if you’re the giant shell or the tiniest broken speck of a shell. He can use all shells for a specific purpose.
He scooped me up and carefully held onto me—because He knew I was fragile. And he searched for other broken pieces to put me together again to create what He saw as a whole person. Granted I’m still originally that broken, tiny shell but made whole because of Him. 

He can do the same for you. He can bring you to the surface and put that tiny shell of yours back together with other pieces. Granted you will never be the same as you once were. But you’ll still be made whole again. And even more beautiful and unique than you were before. 

*indicates name change

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Wind and Terror: A Hurricane Story (part 3)

Friday Night: [Journal entry] Dad talked with Linda and Tia. Tomorrow we are gonna go to Adjuntas to check and see if the travel agency will be open and get some flight info there. This gives me a little bit of hope. God please make it so! Tomorrow, tomorrow—it’s only a day away.

Saturday I awoke at 7:30am—a half hour before my alarm was to go off. Excitement and hope radiated throughout my body. Okay. Gotta pack my suitcase. Today is the day. After packing my suitcase, I greeted my dad and Tia. Tia had prepared some coffee and breakfast. I was anxious to get to town. I was anxious to get info. I was anxious to go home.

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“…we saw just a hint of the damage that had taken place…”

Linda showed up about 9am or so…much chatting went on between everyone. Finally the time came when we were to go to Adjuntas; Pecas drove. The trek down the mountain to the small town was usually a half hour drive, that day it took an hour. We weren’t even two minutes down the road when we saw just a hint of the damage that had taken place—power lines down and across the roads, trees brushed to the side to clear a narrow but drive-able path.

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“They looked like giant twigs that were stuck in the ground.”

We continued on down, though the destruction didn’t get any less; it got worse. Looking down towards the valleys that were literally green and luscious just days prior were now stripped of everything. They looked like giant twigs that were stuck in the ground. We got to maybe the halfway point when we came across a literal one lane path in the road. So we sat…and waited…and waited some more…maybe ten minutes and like thirty cars later, we were finally able to make our way down through the path, along with our train of around twenty to thirty cars. After what felt like an eternity, we finally made it to the small, cramped town. Upon noticing that basically every single building was boarded up, we were extremely disappointed to see the travel agency no difference.

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“…like thirty cars later, we were finally able to make our way down through the path…”

F#@$!#  B^%%$#!t.” My dad screamed into the busy but quiet air.
“Well…now what are we going to do?” I questioned out loud, not expecting an answer.
“I don’t know, Honey. But we are going to go home by Monday. Let’s go find Pecas.” Thus began our slow ascend back to Tia’s…it took longer since we had a few extra stops to make.

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One of the stops we made was at the Panaderia store; across the street from it these folks had to dig their driveway back out. 

When we finally weaved our way back to Tia’s house, a cloud of disappointment hovered over me. Dad talked with Tia and Linda about what they were going to do next. I trudged myself around between my bedroom and outside, burdening a great deal of anxiety.  I sat on the ground, while Asevache used me as a chew toy (my arm never felt so loved!). When lunch was made I had only a few bites of the rice and postale. What are we going to do?

What felt like hours later, but perhaps only maybe an hour, my dad came up to me. “Okay. Listen to me,” he got his usual serious face on, “Tomorrow we are gonna go to San Juan and go to the airport. We will take Linda’s car. They are going to be flying planes out maybe on Monday I think is what they say. We gonna find out all the information we need. I don’t care if I have to buy more tickets, I’m not worried about that. I wanna go home, and we gonna go home.” By this point it was twenty-four hours after we were supposed to say ‘Sayonara’ to Puerto Rico…yet we were still there held as a prisoner by the storm’s devious hands.

A couple more hours pass and Tia begins making dinner for us. Then afterwards, we took Abuelo back to his house. Now he lives the opposite way we go to go to town, so I’m sure my dad and Tia were just as curious to see how the road looked going this way. Trees toppled over as if they were made out of wet pieces of cardboard. There are two small bridges that go over really tiny creeks, and both of them were completely covered in water. It was a dramatic change to say the least.

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“There are two small bridges that go over really tiny creeks, and both of them were completely covered in water.”

At Abuelo’s house, we walked around to see what damage had occurred—which was hardly anything. One tree had fallen over and my uncle’s work shed just fifty feet from the house barely remained standing. Abuelo’s house stood strong and untouched. My brother’s house next door ended up getting some shingles knocked off on the porch portion of his house, but nothing else was hurt, not even his car. And then, my dad, though he had a lot of pain in his leg, suggested we go and see Noel (his brother) and Coca’s house (which essentially is across the street, but one has to climb up a steep hill to get there). Noel and Coca’s house was pretty much destroyed. Though the walls stood firm (as they should, they’re cement), the roof had been completely plucked off like a Band-Aid and tossed somewhere far away; 90% of everything they owned was destroyed by rain and unusable. A short while later we went back to Abuelo’s house and then went back to Tia’s.

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“…90% of everything they owned was destroyed by rain and unusable.”

My dad and I were outside, not so much talking as we were watching the sky and listening to the night creatures croak out their songs. My dad gasps.

“There’s a plane!”

“Where?” He points towards the southeast. A tiny yellow speck glittered in the sky. Dad ran inside to go tell Tía, who came outside to look. They talked. I felt hopeful. Very hopeful. After a bit, we saw another one. Tía went back inside and I followed to look at my phone. I knew that I wouldn’t get any text messages and it was essentially useless, but still I turned it on. I scrolled through my messages, wishing something would change. Dad came in to tell me he saw two more planes. That was four so far. We went to the back area and stood and watched them fly towards the west. In total, we saw nine planes. Just as we were watching the last one, I linked arms with my dad. “This means that they’re trying. This means we have something to look forward to tomorrow.”

That night, I didn’t fall asleep until 2 or 3 in the morning. I was too anxious and too hopeful about the following day.

Wind and Terror: A Hurricane Story (part 2)

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Are you there God? I’m here…still. I pause. Hesitant to go on. I’m tired. Sleeping is the only time where I’m not worried. Yet here I am…awake. Not afraid, just worried. Can you please make it so we can leave tomorrow? I wanna go home. It’s Thursday night, a day after the storm. The song “Say Something” has been on repeat inside my head all day now. Finally, as if on command, my body falls back into a deep rest. My eyelids drop down until I shut out the darkness with more darkness.


When I awoke on Wednesday morning, the storm had already started.  By that point it had been going on for hours. My Tia had prepared breakfast for all of us—sandwiches warmed in a pan and coffee. Tia was able to run the generator for an hour, although by doing so they discovered water dripping through some of the lights—meaning it could potentially be unsafe to run the generator at all (it wasn’t started again until Friday). Afterwards, I went and napped.  I was awoken again for lunch, which was lukewarm sandwiches and lukewarm juice.

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“The wind whistled…Rain fell in heavy drops onto the cement driveway…” [screenshot from video]
The wind whistled through the cracks, as it thundered against the house, as if it was trying to pry its way in. Rain fell in heavy drops onto the cement driveway where it would slither its way towards the road in streams. Everyone was just sitting around mostly silent (except for the occasional small talk), rustling about trying to be comfortable in the uncomfortable situation. I watched and listened, as I was unable to communicate with anyone other than my dad; I felt so alone. Throughout the day I just bounced between sitting on my bed in the dark, to reading in the living room, to watching the storm, to reading in the kitchen.

I wasn’t scared. No. Anxious is a better word for how I felt. Anxious for how this would affect our trip home. Anxious for how this would affect our communication even more. Yet despite my feelings, the wind howled on, unaware or perhaps uncaring for what lay in its path.

Finally, the time came when we could all go to bed. I lay there silently, staring towards the dark wall. Waiting for the next day to come. Are you there, God? It’s me…again. I cry out into the blackness that had engulfed my entire room. Wind rattles and shakes the trees outside, causing a whooshing sound against the window shutters. I’m nervous about how our flight is going to be affected. A tear slides down alongside my nose and into the corner of my mouth. I try closing my eyes, but they sting from crying. I open them again, and stare ahead into the night.

After a few hours of aimlessly lying there, the wind suddenly was letting up. The storm that whistled and banged outside began to cease. As quickly as it came, and as long as it lasted, the hurricane was over. I hear another bang outside. My eyes close as if the tiredness that wasn’t there suddenly overwhelms my body. And sleep.

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“…her lemon tree in the back [was] broken, her shed was ripped up and twisted, several other trees in the back were pushed over…”
Thursday was inspection day. I awoke to my aunt making fire outside my window (as it was next to the back porch), cooking us breakfast and making coffee. My dad and cousin Pecas were going around finding decent scraps of wood and bringing back my Tia’s cardboard banana boxes to keep the fire going. All around outside my dad and I walked around looking at everything that was broken. My Tia’s cement wall and her lemon tree in the back were broken, her shed was ripped up and twisted, several other trees in the back were pushed over, her papaya tree in the front yard was shredded. Banana tree leaves littered the ground like a thick carpet.

 

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“My Tia’s cement wall and her lemon tree in the back were broken…”

But Tia’s house stood strong, barely damaged (except a few paint spots that sagged from the drenching rains) just like my aunt’s faith and strength. She continuously hummed “Alleluia” as she worked throughout the day to fix what Mother Nature had broken. My two cousins and their wives went back to their house, which was just across the street essentially to go and fix up their house. Word from my cousin staying with her brother, Pecas was that my Tia’s stretch of road was blocked to town from either direction. Basically we were stuck there, not that we would go anywhere even if we had wanted to.  I mostly shoved my nose in a book the rest of the day, to keep my mind preoccupied about my flight home. Tia had heated some water for all of us to be able to bathe ourselves; that night was the first night where I could take a quick sponge bath, and how glorious it felt indeed.

Friday: [Journal entry] Our flight was supposed to leave a half hour ago. But here I am…stuck. Anxious. Annoyed. I’m fearful about work. I’m fearful my mom will be waiting for us, but we’ll never come. I feel so alone, except for the licks I get from Asevache (my Tia’s puppy).

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Asevache: Tia’s Puppy

I have faith that God will take care of us…yet I question. Why couldn’t we have known about the hurricane a day earlier? I would rather not have come had I known. Ironic though, isn’t it? I always wish to have so much time, and here I am, with so much time, and now I’m wishing I could be home, where I have little to no time for anything. God, is this your way of showing me how much time I’ve wasted…You wait for me, but sometimes I ignore that time that’s given to me. Now you’ve given me time, as if saying “See…now you have time.” Grandpa has been here since Monday. He has been asking since Monday night when he is going home. The answer is always the same—we are in a critical condition, it will be some time yet. He feels out of place I’m sure, being that he’s blind and can’t walk anywhere without assistance. He can’t talk to anyone because everyone is outside. I sit with him but I can’t talk to him. He misses his son, Isidro, who lives with him and cares for him. He misses his dog and chickens I’m sure. He’s lonely; him and I are alike in this given situation….Why is it raining so much today?

Whistling down
it plops, in multitudes
splashing on the hard cement.
A puddle, dirtied by
red clay, welcomes the new
drops, tossing rings to the side
as it does suddenly a wind whips it
in swirls
causing a mist to swell.
It falls harder, as if the clouds
cry harder,
just like the tears on my face.

Wind and Terror: A Hurricane Story (part 1)

Are you there, God? It’s me…again. I cry out into the blackness that had engulfed my entire room. Wind rattles and shakes the trees outside, causing a whooshing sound against the window shutters. I’m nervous about how our flight is going to be affected. A tear slides down alongside my nose and into the corner of my mouth. I try closing my eyes, but they sting from crying. I open them again, and stare ahead into the night.

Oh where do I go from here? And then suddenly, the wind let up. The storm that whistled and banged outside began to cease. As quickly as it came, and as long as it lasted, the hurricane was over. I hear another bang outside. My eyes close as if the tiredness that wasn’t there suddenly overwhelms my body. And sleep.


The day the hurricane was announced was the day my flight arrived in San Juan. September 16. A Saturday. The sun beamed down on a cloudless day, allowing the heat that had already saturated the air to feel immensely thicker. My uncle and dad conversed back and forth, I listened. I was always listening, trying to grasp at the few Spanish words I could filter out between the words I didn’t know. A few hours later, after a full day of travels, we finally pulled in my Abuelo’s driveway. I greeted my Abuelo and Tia with a peck on the cheek—a typical Puerto Rican greeting. Some more conversation, where I pretended to understand more than I actually knew, and then we drove back to my Tia’s house.

More conversation. I think my dad and aunt were talking about all that was new since our last visit, 2 years prior. I caught on they were talking about trees, and dogs, and at some point chickens. Finally, my aunt signals it’s time for bed, and after only a few measly, uncomfortable hours of sleep on the airplanes, I was more than okay to find a bed to sleep in. Frogs screech out their “co-kee” sounds all around outside. And after maybe 20 minutes of reading, I found myself reading the same sentence more than once…after maybe 20 minutes of reading, I found myself reading the same sentence more than once…I found myself reading the same sentence more than once…

Then blackness.

I was greeted the next morning by sticky heat, dogs barking, and people talking loudly. A knock on my door, “Angel. Time to get up, okay.” My phone declared it was 9 o’clock. So 8 o’clock in Wisconsin.

It was a typical vacation day for me in Puerto Rico. It consisted mostly of reading and enjoying the little bit of sun that I could handle while my cousin and a few other guys were working on slicing the banana plants to fit them in a box (my aunts husband was a banana farmer, and she still continued the business with her son after my uncle passed away).

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On our way to Lares; 3 days prior to Hurricane Maria

The next day is when my aunt, dad, and I went to Lares a town about half hour away. My dad had to get something at Walgreens, and so my aunt said we should just make a day out of it. We stopped at a place to get food; I ate arroz (rice), bistec (steak), and pescado (fish), and then we went to Walgreens. Sometime during that afternoon after we got back from Lares, I went to go use my dad’s phone and discovered it had no service. Hmmm. That’s strange.

“Dad, your phone isn’t in service.”
“What do you mean?” And I showed him. He said something about it to Tia and the conversed back and forth a few minutes.
“Auntie says that there is supposed to be a hurricane to hit on Wednesday.” He looks at me with concerned eyes.
“What? Well, dad, how is that going to affect our trip home?”
“I don’t know, honey.” And I felt a bit nervous thinking how this could affect our flight home, and how I had no way of communicating with anyone to let them know. As serious as I thought it was, to me it seemed like it wasn’t as big of a deal for my family. My cousin Pecas (his nickname which means freckles) was chuckling and saying, “You’ll see things flying in the air.” My thought process was how they handle things so differently than the United States. It’s like they already knew and accepted that they wouldn’t receive help from the mainland, and would make the best of the situation and what was thrown at them. The rest of the day I was numb.

IMG_6835The next two days were preparation day. We went to town to get gas. The lines were long. We waited maybe 20 minutes for gas (which to me was crazy), which in reality was nothing compared to after the hurricane. At home, I watched my aunt and cousin take boards and covered the glass windows and front door. I wasn’t sure what to do. So I read and watched and listened.

Tuesday night, my aunt and I shared a room, while my dad shared a room with Abuelo, and my two cousins and their wives each had their own room. We boarded ourselves up—all the shutters were closed and the back door was latched. The power was still on, the heat was still strong, but the darkness encompassed all around. I stayed up as late as I could to avoid sleeping, because sleeping would mean that the storm would come. But sleeping meant I could avoid the day; sleeping would make the time go by faster. Finally after a couple hours, my aunt came out and beckoned me into the room to go to bed. That would be the last time I’d see electricity for the next 5 days.

Westward: Like the Setting Sun (part 4)

Wednesday

Sunlight plays peek-a-boo through the yellowed blinds, and shutters my body awake. I let out a silent groan thinking “I want to sleep,” but my mind keeps wandering to the day plans. I clamber out of bed to go fill my grumbling stomach with a bagel. Then Skyler, Ashley, and I go out to explore the grounds a little more. Behind the school we see a dome shaped green house and an old looking building with chipped white paint which is probably used as a storage shed. A couple yellow-orange buses are parked, with the words “Red Cloud Indian School Pine Ridge, South Dakota” gleaming in shiny black paint on the side, dried mud is splattered across the the bottom part.

DSC04253Being considerate of our time we play on the playground a bit before heading back towards our rooms so we could get started with the plans for the day. First on our agenda is to stain a deck and the skirting of a trailer for a local woman named Robin. In the previous year, the group had helped with fixing up the home, but it was a surprise to hear that she still had yet to actually move in.

After some time into our work, Robin comes by to introduce herself to us; her daughter and son-in-law, Daisy and Nolan, also come to visit along with their five children. We decide to take a break and have lunch together. Lola, one of the girls, is coloring with Ashely. Although she is super shy at first, soon her chipper personality bubbles out. After some time, we say our goodbyes and go back to finishing the little bit of work we had left. Then we head back to Red Cloud before our departure to the other school.DSCF4427

Painting horses, a Game of Ninja, and a Skateboard

I start out in the painting room again, and sit next to Twila. She doesn’t say much in the time she sits next to me, but I can tell that she is intrigued by my painting. I glide the paintbrush with brown paint over the paper, making curves and lines until at last I have a horse. I see her hand copying the same motions. Then I goop some black paint to make a mane and tail. She makes her paintbrush do the same. At last we both finish our bay horses, “Wow, that looks really good, Twila! You’re an artist!” A smile slithers across her face. I smile back.

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Ninja

We head to dinner, and then play a game of Ninja afterwards, a game that I have yet to master to this day. Then we shuffle off to play Bingo with the kids and some of their family members. I don’t win anything, which I am definitely ok with, because I would find it hard to decide on which kid I’d give the prize to. There is a young man sitting diagonally from me who gets a Bingo and wins a skateboard. He is super excited to be able to share it with his best friend.

A Hospital Far From Reach

 We travel to the one and only hospital on the reservation in Pine Ridge, and a lady who has been here for 11 years now gives us a tour and talks to us about the hospital. One hospital and two health care centers on 3,469 square miles of land. To put that in perspective, that’s one hospital and two health care centers for 3.32 Rhode Island’s, or 1.78 Delaware’s.

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To put in perspective how far away each city is, here is a map with the three cities on the reservation marked in green as well as the proximity of where Rapid City would be.

As the lady is talking to us she mentions how there are two health care centers located in Kyle and Wanblee, and there is one ambulance being utilized because they are extremely short staffed. For some people, it can be a 2 hour trip to the hospital. The next nearest hospital is located in Rapid City another 2 hours away. It made me think of how we as Americans can easily take for granted what’s given to us, and quickly become oblivious to problems right in front of us. We’re too blessed and that has made us spoiled.

The more I hear the woman speak about her family and how much she actually enjoys her job and just wishes there were more people willing to help, the more my brain rattles on about how I have to come back. Someday.

To learn more about the Native American Health Services here.

Westward: Like the Setting Sun (part 3)

DSCF4310Tuesday

My phone buzzes me awake. It’s 6:30 a.m. I grumble as I turn over and get out of bed; I slowly get dressed to head out on a hike with Skyler.

We head outside, there a light powder of snow dusts the ground and rocks, and a chill clings in the air. I feel as if I never seen snow before! Skyler and I explore and wander for a good hour, and talk about life. It feels amazing to be out in the ‘mountains’ where time doesn’t matter.

We traverse back to the dining hall to begin our day, and get everything together for our week ahead of us. The van hauls us to Pine Ridge Reservation.
On the way, we spot several Bison on the side of the road, so we stop and gander at them.

Bison!
Photo Credit:Brad Fischer

A School for Red Cloud’s Children

For the next few days we will be staying at Red Cloud, a K-12 “private” school (it’s really public, but works in a private school sense). The building is composed of old red clay brick, and has stood here for over a hundred years. Being built in the late 1800’s, it’s actually the oldest school on the Reservation. One part of the building has “face wall.” In front of the school stands a church, replicated from the church that burned down in prior years.

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The “Face Wall”

On the school’s left and split between the road is a cemetery covered in old weathered gravestones, and yellowed grass dead from the winter and most likely unruly in the summer.There is a small fenced space reserved for Chief Red Cloud and his wife. Chief Red Cloud had a desire to build a school for the children, so he set out to do it. DSCF4351.JPG

A School, Kids, and a Fog

It’s around 2 p.m. when we arrive at the Pine Ridge Public School. Here the children stay throughout the week, and then go home on the weekend. We are going to set up board games, an area for painting, and we have some outdoor equipment ready to play with the children. It wasn’t too long after our arrival that we were given the distraught news about an 8th grade girl who committed suicide only three days earlier. Then it hit me, there is a musty fog in the air thickened with depression, and these kids are stuck in the midst of it all. They can’t escape as easily as we can, because the eleven of us are only here for three days.

I stick myself in the painting room because it is the one area I could easily work and make connections. I sit down at a table with a few young ladies who are making “R.I.P.” posters for the girl who committed suicide. It’s sad to see, but at the same time it’s good that they are coping and healing with the tragedy in a healthy way. I feel a connection with a girl named Tristiana, she is sweet and petite. Her straight black hair is a tad past her shoulders; her bangs are brushed to the side. Other group members make a bond as well    Skyler with Twila, Lacey with Diamond, Kim with Dillonte, and Ashley with Natalia and Mystic. Another girl named Espy made this amazing anime art piece    she truly has an amazing gift. DSCF4368.JPG

At dinner time Tristiana saves a spot for me. I ease myself into a seat next to her. I am really amazed with the children because they all finish their food; they are grateful for their food. We finish eating and then go back to continue our activities until it’s time to go. The end of our first day at the school is a success!

Ken the Volunteer

Back at Red Cloud, we are introduced to Ken, a volunteer of two years. He talks about his time that he’s spent here, and how he is a gym coach. He truly puts his heart in his job. I only wish that there was a more awareness of this treasurable place that is treated just as poorly as a third world country, and a deeper understanding of what it truly means to give time and love to our own brothers.

This trip, so far, is a real eye opener; it’s one thing to read articles about suicides, or about the poverty-stricken land, but to feel and breathe and live it is a deeper comprehension.

You can read more about the history of Red Cloud Indian School here.

Westward: Like the Setting Sun (part 2)

Monday

It’s a brisk and chilly walk towards the dining hall for our morning meal. I walk with a few of the students in my group, while some were still getting ready. I set myself down at a table next to Skyler probably my closest friend in the group. The rest of the group trickles in.

After we finish breakfast, we pack ourselves a sack lunch for our climbing adventure later that day. Then, Mary, Larry, and the eleven of us squeeze ourselves uncomfortably into the Great White Beast, who I decided to call Moby Dick. We set off for Rapid City to talk to Kristin, a Native American lady from Montana, and a local pastor; their goal is to inform us about Bear Butte and the prayer cloths that are found along the steep trail.

The interview process was nerve wracking. I was motioned to come in the interview room, and I plopped myself in a seat across from Ashley and another lady named Abby. Both ladies asked me questions such as what experiences I’ve had with children, what would I get out of this trip, how would I be an asset to the group, etcetera.  I fidgeted in my seat, peeling away my already peeled away cuticles      a nasty habit of mine because my hands always need to be doing something. My voice stuttered at times because my mind works faster than my mouth. I was nervous that I wouldn’t be deemed good enough for the group. Then all of a sudden two weeks went by and I got an email: “You’ve been accepted for the Alternative Spring Break Trip.” My lips slowly curl into a smile of excitement.

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Moby Dick takes us closer and closer to Bear Butte. Everyone is talking about this wonderful place and how it provides a sort of comfort to those praying. I’m filled to the brim with a sort of excitement because I’ve never gotten to go hiking before. Little did I know about the adventure that I was about to endure.

DSCF4301We arrived probably a little before noon, and were welcomed by many signs explaining the rules and a bit of history on this sacred place. Soon we set out on our quest towards the top. It’s a steep, rocky climb. My breathing soon becomes heavy. Everyone surpasses me, except Skyler who staggers behind with me. I remind myself that it’s not about winning a race, it’s about going as far as one is comfortable with. My goal is to make it at least halfway. My fear of heights is slowly starting to creep upon me.

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“Everyone surpasses me…”

We hike about a mile before taking a short break for lunch and resting the weary legs. At this point, we’re approximately 3,500 feet. The view I got was not short of incredible and amazing. I was proud of myself for making it as far as I did, and accomplishing my main goal. The rest of the group hike onward to the top, while Skyler and I want to stay there and just admire the view before us. My phone had died earlier that morning, so I truly do not have a sense of time. It feels wonderful no not have to worry, and to feel like I am in a place where time does not matter.

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“The view I got was not short of incredible and amazing!”                         Photo Credit: Brad Fisher

Once the group returns from the top, we all start our way back down. The descent is always easier and faster then the climb up, but nontheless it’s still a difficult climb. Rocks still clutter the same parts of the path, the ground lays uneven, and I’m still slow like molasses in January. “This is what many months of smoking does to a person.” Brad breathes heavily as he walks past me. I smile, having heard that phrase all too often. we finally make it back down to normal elevation, and thirteen tired adults squeeze themselves into Moby Dick as he roars to life with more energy than we have.

The incredible adventure on Bear Butte resembles my spiritual journey. It was a steep climb to get to where I am now, and sometimes I yearned to just turn around and go back down. If it’s one thing I learned, it’s easier to climb down than go up. But I’ve made it halfway, and I still have a lot of climbing to do.

Dancing to the Rhythm

We are welcomed by the Native Americans as we enter the big gymnasium. There we see many people getting ready and anticipating for a Pow Wow. I am engrossed as their feet keep to the beat of the drums. It’s so beautiful to watch.

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Photo credit: Brad Fisher

Then we are invited to dance. I am extremely nervous, because I’m a very self conscious person. What if I screw up my footing and fall or run into someone? What if someone looks at me funny? But when I step out into the dancing circle I’m shown how to dance with my feet and keeping to the drums.

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Photo Credit: Brad Fisher

As I’m going around the circle following other kids in my group, there are other dances going on around. It’s like being a part of an “organized chaos.” Women are doing their own thing, while children do a different dance, and then men will perform a more active dance. There is spinning, hopping, and gliding, and yet no dancers crash into one another. These individual dances create one beautiful melody. One rhythm. One beat. One Spirit.

After a few hours of watching and being a part of this amazing experience, we gather our tired selves and head back to Outlaw Ranch.