Our cross-cultural (CC) group split into three smaller groups for five-night homestays with local Diné (Navajo) families on the reservation. All three homestays were in Leupp, which is a very small town near the reservation border. My group consisted of six guys who stayed in a modernized off-grid hogan. Hogans were a traditional round housing for many Diné, and came in many forms – the most common of which was a round log building with dirt floors.
Our hogan was about 25 feet in diameter, built from cement block with a shingled roof and a finished interior, featuring drywall and linoleum floors.We used kerosene lamps (and our flashlights) for light, and had a large container of water for hand washing. There was a plywood outhouse with a small solar garden light about a hundred feet away for use as a bathroom. We showered every few days at a local chapter house (similar to a chamber of commerce).
Our hosts, John and Dixie, were incredibly hospitable and welcoming. Dixie and her daughter cooked delicious food for us and we always had more than enough. They did a great deal to make us feel comfortable and at home.
John’s father, George, is one of only a few remaining Navajo Code Talkers. George very graciously agreed to speak with our whole CC group about his experience as one of the Code Talkers who served in WWII. His daughter Annabelle explained much of his story, and then George spoke for a bit. He also mentioned that he often declines requests to speak for groups now, but that since John had requested on our behalf, he was happy to meet with us.
On Monday (5/29), we were allocated the day to spend with our respective host families. My group awoke early to travel to George and his wife Emma Jean’s house. The six of us spent our morning with mattocks and shovels, clearing their garden and yard of hearty weeds. Though it only took us a few hours, they seemed to really appreciate what we had done – Emma Jean even went so far as to introduce us as her “pale, sparkly grandsons” (rough translation) to others we met.
It felt really good to be able to do something in return for this family that had done so much for us, and I was really honored to be considered as part of their family even though we had only spent a short time with them.
Today was a wonderful experience at the STAR school. My favorite part was playing basketball with all of the kids. I was blown away by how well they got along with one another in the game. Joe, Kyle, Griffin, and I talked about how all the kids were extremely close and have an inseparable bond. They put a smile on my face when I saw how much excitement those kids had. I was also happy to have a nice conversation with an 8th graders named Stephen. He made me realize that the Navajo people are just like me because he told me how he was nervous for the 9th grade. It allowed me to think back when I was in his shoes and had the same thoughts. These kids allowed me to escape my thoughts about missing family and to just be a kid. I am thankful for this experience today.