Friday, May 17, 2013

Springtime in the Desert

(Day 9)

I took an O'odham language class once during the Spring semester.  It was surprising to be out in t-shirt weather again, after a cold (cold for Tucson) winter.  I felt naked without my sweatshirt but the air was cool and crisp in the morning with bursts of heat throughout the day.    The flowers were in bloom and the birds were out and singing.

It was beautiful in Tucson and I was absolutely miserable.

I had severe allergies. I was walking around campus with a thick wad of kleenex stuffed in my pockets; clean ones in my right pocket, used kleenex in my left.  Every few minutes I'd have to honk my nose and shamefacedly avoid eye contact with anyone within range.

After a particularly obnoxious day of coughing, sneezing and blowing my nose in class, I asked the instructor, "How do you say 'allergies' in O'odham?"

She looked me in the eye, something she didn't often do, and said in a challenging tone, "O'odham don't get allergies."

I didn't say a word, being too used to the "half-breed" taunts of the kids from back home for the majority of my life.  I sat there fuming for a few minutes, nose on fire, kleenex in hand.

Finally, I blew my nose. I blew my nose and until my classmates stared.  I blew until my face passed the color red and changed to maroon.  I blew my nose until I could feel the shosha that was wrapped around my brain slowly unwind itself, and thickly coming out, through my nose.  I blew my nose until everyone in the room had been convinced: No, she was wrong. Yes. Yes, O'odham DO get allergies.

This post was written as part of the On the Warpath Women's 31-Day Native Women's Writing Challenge 

Day 9 Prompt: Write about the Springtime

Monday, May 13, 2013

Rummage Sales and Lowrider Shoes

(Day 8)

Back in the 80's when I was growing up in Pisin' Mo'o, there weren't a lot of people in my village who had a vehicle. If you did have a car or truck, town was still almost two hours away, so it was a pretty big deal if you decided to make the trip. In my family, if my mom decided to go to town, she would only take one or two of us kids. There were five kids in my family, plus my Mom, my Grandma and depending on which year of my life, either my father or in the later years, my Mom's boyfriend. Being the youngest, I didn't often get to go.

Sometimes a lot of us would go, but we'd have to sit in the bed of the truck. It was an extremely uncomfortable two hour ride home, the wind whipping your face into your hair, no matter what you did. Often it was freezing cold and you would sometimes worry about things flying out onto the road as you sped down the highway.

If you went to town, you'd have to remember to hit every store you could. The hardware store, pep boys, K-mart, the grocery store, the gas station, you'd have to eat while you were there, and you'd have to bring something home for the kids waiting at home. It was an enormous expense, so "going to town" wasn't just a fun thing. There was a lot of sitting in parking lots, guarding the purchases, waiting as my Mom and Grandma shopped for hours.

Instead of going to town for clothes, we got most of our clothes from rummage sales put on by the nuns who lived in our village. Donated clothes would arrive in the village in big trucks. They would heap piles of clothes onto sheets on the basketball courts at the old catholic school. People from the village and even from surrounding villages would come to sift through the piles all day long.

Me, my brother and my cousins would play on the old jungle gym and every once in a while see if we could find something interesting in the piles. We didn't know anything about picking clothes, so usually we just ran around playing. My mom would be bent over, looking, searching for something only she could describe with hurried determination. Trouble was, my Mom didn't know anyone's sizes. She'd hold up shirts and skirts and levi jeans, eyeing them, stretching them to see if they were going to fit anyone in our family. There were no dressing rooms, you could sometimes try something on over your clothes, but it was all guesswork. At .25 cents a pop, you could afford to guess. My Mom always insisted that it would fit "someone".

I remember standing there as my cousins looked on, in the middle of the basketball court as my mom made me try things on, over the clothes I was already wearing. This was "too big", this "too small", the sleeves on this hang shirt hang down past my waist. Mom promised to sew everything. "Eeee! I can sew it."

We bit our tongues, failing to remind our mother that the clothes she bought at the last rummage sale were still in a pile, waiting to be hemmed or sewn or to have buttons replaced. We failed to remind her that she was an awful seamstress. None of her buttons or hems ever stayed, and god forbid she cut something. She couldn't cut in a straight line to save her life. But you didn't mess with Mom when she was in 'Rummage Sale Mode'.

That's how I got my white ProWings. They were two sizes too small, already dirty with someone else's adventures. My toes were crammed in from the start. I tried to tell Mom but she told me I could, "stretch them out." I was disappointed that the shoe laces were already frayed and knotted. My Mom promised me new laces.

We paid the .25 cents and I began doing my best to "stretch them out". I wore my brother's tube socks and bent them from side to side. Eventually, I guess they must have stretched out, but rather than stretch to be longer, they stretched to be wider. We never bought new laces, so I never tied them. I just slipped them on and off.

My brothers used to call them my "lowriders" because they said the sides were almost touching the ground. Whenever I passed they'd start singing the song "Lowrider" by WAR, until I would scream for them to shut up and run outside.

I felt like I wore them for years.

I wore them until they were grey and gnarled.

I wore them until they started talking with every step I took.

I wore them until the next rummage sale came to Pisin' Mo'o and my Mom found me a pair brown and green hiking shoes. They were only one size too big, and almost new but they were too narrow for my big, wide, brown feet.

This time they cost .50 cents.

"Eee, you can just stretch them out!"

Written as part of the 31-Day, Women's Writing Challeng On the Warpath Women
Today's writing challenge (submitted on O'odham time) was to write about your favorite pair of shoes.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

My Grandmother Wasn't Born With The Right To Vote

My late grandmother was born here, in the United States, in 1918.  And although our people were here first, she was not considered a United States citizen because she was born O'odham.  She was born without the right to vote.  

I'm talking about my grandmother, as in my mother's mother.  Not my great-great-great grandma, or ten generations before that, just my grandma, who I knew and loved and respected.

In 1924 (when she was six) legislation passed which granted Natives citizenship and technically would have given her the right to vote, though it did not guarantee that she would have been able to REGISTER to vote.

My grandmother would have been 21 in 1939, the legal voting age.

In 1948, when my Hu'uli-bat was 30, the same age I am now, legislation was passed granting Natives the right to register to vote, but ONLY if they could read and write in English... which my Hu'uli-bat could not.  My Hu'uli-bat was an extremely intelligent woman.  She was well respected in our community.  She was creative and stubborn and very, very funny.  She was a sharp, opinionated O’odham speaking woman.

It wasn't until 1976, when she was 58 years old that she could vote with the help of a translator.  I remember being in her home when someone would come with her practice ballot.  They would carefully translate the propositions for her and my late great-uncle.  My grandma would ask questions.  She would give her opinion.  Sometimes she and my Mom or my Great-uncle would argue and discuss each item for days afterward.  She would carefully consider each proposition, or each candidate that she would be voting for.

As my grandmother aged, it was harder and harder for her to leave the house.  She insisted on going to the polling place in person, to vote at every election.  I remember driving her there after school.  I wasn't old enough to have a license, but in Pisin' Mo'o, you didn't need one, especially if your Grandma was in the car with you.

Taking her anywhere was a huge effort.  Getting her into the car, helping her in and out of the car, packing up her walker, opening and closing doors, slooowly walking by her side was an ordeal.  But she was always excited to vote.  She dressed up for it.  I remember watching a look of relief spread to her face once the ballot was finally in the box.  I remember her smile.

She proudly displayed her I VOTED stickers on the wall right next to her bed.  Some were yellowed with age, some bright and new.  She would carefully peel her sticker off her dress each time and stick it on the wall with a look of triumph.

Every time I get my own sticker, I think of her and the pride she took in voting.  I remember that she was not born with the right to vote.  

If my grandmother were alive today, she would have been 93, going on 94 years old.  She would have only had the freedom to vote for almost 36 of those years.

I vote in her honor and in the honor of those who fought for our right to vote.

The Native Vote counts.

 *I wrote this piece about a month before the 2012 Presidential Elections.  Voting Day fell on my husband's 30th birthday that year.  We had planned to vote, then go out to a spendy dinner.  Instead, the two of us waited over 2 hours at our new polling place, separately, because there had been a computer glitch in the Pima County Recorder's Office, and though we had registered to vote within the appropriate deadline, after we had just moved, our names were not on the list.  We waited as a poll worker sat on the phone to verify that we were registered voters, before they would even hand us a ballot.  They had been sitting on the phone, verifying hundreds of voters all day.   

 The entire time I sat there, in silence, unable to even look at my phone without being chastised by the poll workers, I thought to myself, "I will sit here and wait as long as I have to."  Others gave up and went home.  Discouraged and defeated.  But I sat, watching, as all the blonde hair, blue-eyed faces quickly made their way through the lines and wondered if my two hour wait was just another tactic.  

I sat quietly and watched as the blonde haired women on the phone checked to see if I was still there.  I gave my name three times. I turned my body into stone.  I sent telepathic messages and shot darts out of my eyes.  I waited. 

Then I voted.

This blog was written during the 2012 Presidential Elections.  I am submitting this to the On The Warpath Women 31-day Women's Writing Challenge

Day Seven Prompt:  Write about something you believe in and will stand up and fight for. 

*Added to original post after the elections. 

Planning Ahead

(Day Six)

When I was a little girl, there was no such thing as "planning ahead". The furthest ahead we could think was dinner.  After all, someone needs to get off their AUTH and go skin that rabbit!  Paulie is the one who killed it, as usual, and he's best at it, but I know he just wants to see if someone else will do it.. He's right, everyone else needs to pitch in too.  Andrew is making the fire, Elaine made the dough for the cemait and I was the one in charge of stirring the beans all day.  Our oldest brother, George is off somewhere, listening to a walk-man, pretending he can't hear us calling him.  Paulie, just go skin it.  I'll get the big bowl for you.

When I was a little older, we planned and planned.  But there was never any money, so we just kept planning.

When I was in high school, there were plans and maybe there was even some money.  It was so surprising though, we'd forget about the plans and just use the money. 

But, we were so close we could taste it.

When I was a new mom I planned from from the moment I woke up in the morning to the moment I went to sleep.  I even planned which dreams I wanted to dream, like picking a television show on cable TV.  I planned on taking two extra outfits for each kid, ten extra diapers than I thought I would need.  I packed band-aids, an extra toy, the thermometer, a back-up thermometer in case the first one didn't work, tylenol because the baby is teething, wipes, an extra pair of shoes, even though the baby didn't walk yet and six bibs.  It felt great to plan ahead.  I felt like I could plan the rest of our lives.  What I didn't plan on was picking up soggy diapers and street-blackened clothes from the gutter, after the diaper bag was accidentally left on the roof of the car.

Now I get statements in the mail telling me about the money that's waiting for me when I'm old enough to stop moving.  I listen to power point presentations telling me about retiring to an island paradise or taking trips to Europe. 

In the meantime, I'm happy if I remember to pack a lunch the night before.    

Written as part of the On the Warpath Women 31-day Native Women's Writing Challenge.
Today's prompt was: "Plan ahead, make a list of things you'd like to accomplish in the next ten years."

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lessons from my Hu'uli

(Day Five)

My hu'uli-bat, my mother's late mother, lived right next door to us when I was a little girl. 

I grew up calling her "hu'uli" instead of just "hu'ul," which is the baby-way of saying "mother's mother" and never grew out of the habit.  The "-bat" that now adorns her title indicates that this beloved person has made her journey to the spirit world.     

I spent a lot of time with my hu'uli-bat when I was a child.  Every day after school I would run home just long enough to dump off my school things before running the 12 or so steps it took to get to her front door. 

Hu'uli-bat didn't speak English, so when you were in her home, neither did you. Though I've never been fully confident about my ability to speak O'odham, I never had to worry about it with hu'uli-bat. 

Everyday I would walk/run/burst into her house, shouting for her, "Huuuuu'uuuuuuuullllliii! Huuuuuu'uuuuuliiiiii! " and would undoubtedly find her in the middle of some project.  She would have been waiting for me to get home to show me how to do something.  I was always eager and excited to help.

I was my hu'uli's shadow, her fetcher-of-things, her messenger, and her pupil.

Hu'uli took the time to patiently show me everything.  She was very particular about how she wanted things done, so she was always detailed in her instructions and explanations. 

I remember her showing me how to grind wheat, clean beans, pound dried meat, make a fire, wipe a table, chop wood, pick bahidag and i'ipai, flip cecemait on a hot komal, things all good, industrious O'odham should know. 

I remember her patient instructions and her strong, dark brown, wrinkled hands working next to mine, sometimes stopping to shape my hands or to give me gentle reminders or tiny bits of indirect praise. 

Although my hu'uli-bat took the time to show me so many things and purposefully taught me many skills, she also unintentionally taught me things that have stuck with me all my life. 

One day in particular, I remember bursting into my hu'uli-bat's house after school, just as I always did and found her sitting in her front room, staring at the ground.  She had a huge smile on her face but wouldn't look up as I walked into the room.  I asked her what she was doing and she immediately shushed me, as if not wanting me to break her concentration. 

Excitedly, she told me how she had tried to kill a fly earlier and that it was taking its time dying.  She had been watching it for over an hour and she didn't want to miss a thing.  She said that it had decided to die several times, but it kept changing its mind. 

Hu'uli-bat gave me a blow by blow account of where she originally hit the fly, where along the ground it had traveled, and its behavior during the entire ordeal.  She made it sound like an adventure.  She said she admired its spirit and now, didn't have the heart to finish him off the rest of the way, because he had too much spirit. 

As she recounted her story, she did impressions of the fly dying, then coming back to life, she waved her hands and dramatically shut her eyes again and again as she imitated his death.  She was smiling the whole time; her eyes were bright and alive.   

I was completely engrossed in her story and the two of us continued to watch in silence until the fly stopped buzzing one final time and was officially declared deceased.  Instead of scooping him up with the flyswatter and throwing him in the trash, like we did with all the others, she instructed me to take him outside and throw him to the wind so he could be back with the earth. 

This silly memory is one of the strongest that I have of my late grandmother.  I can still vividly picture her smile and the look of pure delight in her eyes.  The memory of her impersonation of the fly still makes me laugh to this day.

In O'odham culture (and in general) there's a huge emphasis on the idea of respect and revering our elders. When I think of my elders, I immediately think of them as being all-knowing and wise. I have to remind myself that elders can also be humorous and silly. My grandmother was an incredibly wise and intelligent woman, but she was also extremely funny and she loved to laugh. 

Even though my hu'uli-bat never intended to teach me anything that day, I learned a surprising number of lessons from her anyway.

I think most people have an idea of what it means to "enjoy the little things in life" and of course imagine beautiful things, like flowers or clouds or sunsets.  But what I learned from my hu'uli-bat is that anything you give your attention can be beautiful.  I know people don't usually think about watching the death of a fly as "enjoying life", but the simple act of sitting still and observing the world is what struck me and has stayed with me for all these years.

One of the most significant things I learned from hu'uli-bat's dramatic recounting of the life and death struggle of the fly, was to listen.  I've always been talkative.  Talking is easy.  Listening is hard.  I was quiet and I listened to my hu'uli-bat describe what she saw that day, I was both sad and excited with her, over the tragic death of a fly, and it was an amazing feeling. 

Sometimes it's hard to patiently listen to others, but I think about other people's excitement when they tell me about things that I don't particularly see as exciting or noteworthy.  I patiently listen when my daughters tell me about the shapes they see in the clouds, or when they're describing their drawings or when they share the dreams they've had.  I'm reminded to pay attention to the things that I don't always see as significant.  I wouldn't have thought twice about a fly, but my hu'uli-bat drew me in and I was just as invested as she, to watch the fly finally stop buzzing.   

It's a goofy memory, but one of the most cherished that I have of my hu'uli-bat.  It is constantly reminding me to draw my attention to the world right in front of me, and of course, that no matter how old I get, I can be as silly as I want, just like my hu'uli-bat.      

A photo of me and hu'uli-bat as I brushed, braided and pinned her hair.  She liked to tell me to be sure to use the "shosha" on her hair, to keep it in place. 
Shosha (I think spelled 'sosa' with dots under both s') is the O'odham word for boogers.  It's what she called hair gel. 

*Written as part of the 31-Day Native Women's Writing Challenge. On the Warpath Women Poetry
Today's prompt (a day late) is: "Write about what your Grandmother taught you."

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Rain Blessings

(Day four)

When it rains in the desert, everyone takes notice.  As desert people, we pray all year long for rain.  We sing for it. We dance for it.  We rejoice when the scent of the clouds descends into the desert basin.  We walk around with faces lifted towards the skies, waiting, watching, hoping to be blessed by the sacred water that falls from the sky.   

The first drop you feel on your skin can stop you dead in your tracks.  You hold hands outward, palms towards the sky, waiting for that second drop of confirmation.  The rains have come.  Your heart sings.   

Rather than run inside to seek shelter, we desert people open our front doors and stand welcoming and admiring the rain.  No one minds if they get wet.  It's a blessing. 

Except if your car doesn't work in the rain. 

And you find yourself being honked at an intersection because you're not moving. Which means you have to get out and push.  Even though you're wearing your brand new, Payless, work shoes that you just splurged for and you're splashing through water that comes up to your ankles. 

Sometimes, you forget that rain is a blessing, if you're sitting on the side of the road, waiting for the car to dry out, so you can drive through another wash.  Your crying, hungry babies don't know yet that rain is a blessing and all you can do is calculate the time it will take you to get through the four running washes that are between you and home. 

Sometimes you forget that rain is a blessing when you're standing in the rain with a piece of wet plastic, trying to use tape that won't stick, to cover the car window that can't be rolled up. 

Sometimes you forget until you're back home, listening to the rain, smelling it, sitting with the doors and windows open.  Like a good friend who played pranks on you.  You finally smile at your day and wonder, "How did I end up with a Rez Car, if I live here in the city?"

*Written as part of the "On the Warpath Women Poetry" Native Women's Writing Challenge.
Day Four Topic: Rez Cars.On the Warpath Women Poetry

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Hairties and Bad Haircuts

(Day Two)

People say they want things to stay the same, to never change, but that's crazy.

When I was a little girl, my mom would tie my hair up in tight pony tails with hair ties that had bright, plastic balls on the ends. They snapped at your fingers if you tried to take them out yourself. So much hair. Neatly packaged in the morning, escaping for dear life in the afternoon.

I remember my Mom angrily cutting my long hair the day she discovered I had come home with a'ac. There was an argument between my Mom and Dad. Nothing new, there was always an argument. It ended with the screen door slamming and my black hair on the floor. I cried because I was embarrassed, but my sister told me, "Hey, it happens." and my brothers just shrugged their shoulders.

My Mom continued to cut my hair after that. A little here, a little there, "Oops." " no! Quit moving!" "You can't sit still!" "Eee! It's straight enough, no one's going to notice..."

Everyone noticed.

On top of that haircut, my hair was now frizzy.

I wanted straight, shiny, black hair like everyone else.

I asked my Mom for hair gel. So we bought some at the swap meet. It felt like water in my hands, I didn't notice a difference except that my hair smelled different.

"I spent money on that! You better use all of it."
So I used all of it. Then she bought me more.

There was the time I was mistaken for a boy at McDonald's. "You gave me the wrong toy..." My Mom still likes to laugh and tell the story, even though it used to make me cry.

I wanted straight, shiny, black hair like everyone else.

In high school, I went to a very fancy place and got my hair cut and highlighted. It cost me over a hundred dollars. The highlights were red, but they looked blonde against the black of my hair. I had to learn to use a curling iron. Scabs on my forehead. "Maybe no one will notice."

Everyone noticed.

Oh well. It happens.

When I became pregnant with my twin daughters, I called to cancel my appointment to the fancy salon. Every O'odham woman knows you don't cut your hair when you're pregnant.

When I became a mom I combed and styled hair. I wouldn't cut their hair at home, I remembered the accusations of "not sitting still". The McDonald's incident. I didn't want angry scalps. I let them have wild hair.

They had straight, shiny, brown hair.

I started to cut my own hair after a couple of years. A pair of scissors on the bathroom counter is a dangerous thing to have around when a woman keeps getting tangled in her own hair, on a hot, summer evening.

Eventually, I cut out the last of the highlights. Then I remembered that I wanted straight, shiny, black hair just like everyone else.

My hair was cut short when Hu'uli-bat passed away.

And again when my brother passed away.

Gray hairs are starting to grow in.

I'm okay with that.

It happens.

We used to call these "Bolitas".

I hate these with a passion. 

* Written as part of the 31-day Native Women's Writing Challenge
Today's Challenge: Write about "Change". On the Warpath Women Poetry

They Were Maybe Five Years Old

(Day One)

They were maybe five years old the day they were playing in the doghouse. It didn't belong to any dogs in particular, it was just plywood and nails put together in a way that was perfect for hiding in.

The whole village was quiet except for the wind. The wind was blowing dust in swirls and the trees were swaying. Maybe that's why they chose to play in there, instead of the big tree out front, where they normally played. They must have been looking to hide from the biting sting of the desert sand hitting their bare, brown, ashy legs.

Usually they saw the occasional person walking down the dirt pathway that went right next to Grandma's house. Usually you could tell who it was as they approached, even before you recognized their face. You knew everyone's particular style of walk and without asking, you knew where they were going. Today, it was windy and cold. Today, there was no one.

The two houses on either side of the doghouse were both empty. Everyone must have gone to town or work. It didn't feel like a school day. Maybe they had just ditched them again, to play a the best game of hide and seek ever or kick the can or maybe they were playing at the houses under construction, even though we weren't supposed to. They wouldn't know where they had been all day, until the twilight hours, when the sky turned pink and you could hear moms and grandmas yelling out their doors for the kids to come home or else.

It was stinky in that dog house. There were several matted down blankets full of fur that belonged to dozens of different dogs. None of the dogs had names. They never do. How could anyone keep track of that many dogs? You never know when they're going to run away or get hit by a car or eaten by a coyote. They're only yours until they follow someone else home anyway. Today, no dogs lived there.

He suggested they kiss. She didn't want to. She didn't know how. He got angry and tried to kiss her but the look on her face stopped him. They sat in silence and she wanted to go inside to watch Sesame Street or hopefully Reading Rainbow. She didn't know what time it was. She told him she had to go inside, that her Grandma would be looking for her. He knew no one was home. They sat in silence. She stared as dust particles floated downward, highlighted by the strip of sunlight that was shining through the gaps in the roof of the doghouse.

She said she needed to go to the bathroom. Which suddenly became true. He didn't believe her. He blocked the way out. She didn't know why he wouldn't let her out, but suddenly, she HAD to get out. He told her to take off her clothes. She refused. He told her again. She told him her Daddy would spank her if she did. It was a lie. He tried to tell her that it was okay, but she knew it wasn't. She didn't know what was happening, but she knew she had to get out.

The stale smell of dog and dust was overwhelming. She felt like she was going to throw up. She thought about trying to make herself throw up so he would go away. But he was watching her.

She wondered where everyone was. She kept waiting for someone to come and make him go home.

No one came.

They sat, listening to the wind getting angrier. He was still blocking the only way out.

She told him she really wanted to, but she was scared they would get caught. It was a lie. She told him if her Daddy knew he kissed her he would spank both of them. She hoped it wasn't a lie. Fear started to grow in his eyes. She frantically started to think of more and more lies. She told him again that she wanted to, but she was scared her Daddy would hurt him really, really bad if she had a boyfriend. It was a lie. She wanted her Daddy to hurt him.

They heard the wind whipping around the yard, knocking things down.

She told him it was someone coming and he better run home. She knew it was the wind who had been watching and listening and had finally grown angry enough to intervene. But he believed her.

She watched as he ran home. Her messy, black hair blew in front of her eyes, as if to keep her from seeing him. She saw the back of his head getting smaller and smaller and she knew she wouldn't ever play with him again. She already hated him.

They were maybe five years old.

*Day One of the Native Women's 31-Day May, Writing Challenge.
First challenge: To write for 20 minutes about anything.  I lost track of time.  My post was inspired by a conversation a good friend of mine and I had regarding violence against women, particularly in Indian Country.  On the Warpath Women Poetry