Sitting on a bench under the sun at seven-thousand feet, I wait for the bus scheduled to carry me home. My bus happens to be running late today.
Next to me, on the same bench, a Native-American man is waiting to pick someone up. At some point, he begins asking me questions about who I am, where I live and why I am visiting the American Southwest. In way of explanation, I mention that I have come to visit old friends, dear to me since the time we lived in this region almost ten years ago.
In talking about travelling, the man explains that he has not actually travelled much himself, though he helped to raise funds for his son’s travelling expenses. His son has been as far as Georgia to compete in a national contest as an athlete.
“He had the advantage of training in altitude,” I comment at one point early in our conversation.
Then, the man explains, “I am Hopi. I cannot work for myself. I work for the good of my community.” This explains, in part, why he has not travelled extensively. “I helped raise the funds for my son’s travel. His mother travelled with him.”
The concepts of community service and strength over that of individual wealth and stature are philosophical threads common to both the Hopi and Navajo cultures of this region. Given the historically sometimes brutal and definitely difficult nature of self-preservation, farming and hunting in this region, these precepts make complete sense.
The sun is now at its zenith. I feel my skin growing overly warm, yet I stay in the full sun to soak up its rays and breathe the fresh air of the out-of-doors, anticipating the long bus-ride home.
My bench companion continues, “My home reservation is not far from here. Can you believe two teenagers recently beat up an old man and threw him off the mesa? Meth. It’s terrible. We are having to lock our doors. We never had to lock our doors at night.”
Not sure about what to say, I nod my head in silent sympathy.
His face is full of sorrow. “I told my daughters, ‘Watch your little children. These meth users are not right in the head.'”
Finally, I respond, “Meth is ruining a lot of lives.”
More quietly now, he continues, “I am almost afraid to be there—on the Res. It is safer here in town. Isn’t that sad when you’re afraid to go home?”