Friday, August 12, 2011

The Cultural Divide

The things I did yesterday were pretty simple. I went to Eagle Shield to help out serving food, walked down to De La Salle School and swept a floor, on to the museum of the Plains Indian, back to De La Salle to pick up my son who was working with Brother Paul to clean up the trailer for a new teacher, and then back to the academy where a group of us were picked up by Chuck DeBoo and driven out to his ranch for hiking, horseback riding and dinner around a campfire.

But all day I was thinking about life on the reservation. Several (not all) of the workers at Eagle Shield are raising their grandchildren, and are worried that the tribal court will order them to give up the kids to the unwed and unfit mother. They discussed a woman who gambled away her husband’s life insurance in a week. Some of the younger people at the Shield picked up food for shut ins and jokingly complained about working a half-day. Walking around town, I was continually shocked by the amount of trash.

On the other hand, Chuck DeBoos’ son has braces from an orthodontist in Great Falls, and goes to school in distant Valier. The DeBoos main thought about the pow-wow in Heart Butte was not about the cultural practices, but about the additional (and probably drunken) drivers on the road past their ranch.

Even though the Deboos are adjacent to the reservation, the cultural divide seems infinite. It's something to think about....and perhaps to influence my own life.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Where There's a Will, There's a Way

Today started out much differently for me than yesterday. As I headed to Heart Butte for Youth Day yesterday, I knew that I was headed to my heart work – kids. Others seemed uncertain of whether there would be enough work in Heart Butte. Not me. I knew that I just needed one kid and I would have something to do.

My uncertainty came today as I volunteered to help take the residents at the Care Center on a picnic. I have a lot of appreciation for those who find their heart work with the elderly.

I’m typically a very positive person, this morning I was filled with doubt. I couldn’t understand why the care givers were insisting on this picnic. I agreed that the residents needed shade, but didn’t see a way to create shade on the bank of a small lake without a single tree around. Frankly, I thought it was a lot of needless effort.

Boy was I wrong!

My mind slowly started to change as the nurses and caregivers efficiently loaded 18 residents on to three vans to make the drive out there. My mind slowly started to change as Daniel, a resident of Browning, skillfully dug the holes for our canopy. My mind slowly started to change when I handed Ray a fishing pole and he stood up out of his wheelchair to walk to the edge of the water where he sat for the rest of the afternoon. My mind slowly started to change each time I saw the big smile on Jim’s face as he engaged in a long conversation with Ed. By the time we packed up and left, my mind was changed when Joan stopped me, put her hand on my arm and thanked me for the afternoon. I give my thanks to the care givers at the Care Center who helped to remind me that it is worth the effort.

As for last night, I’m not a skillful enough writer to describe the time at the DeBoo Ranch and the horseback ride in the most beautiful land I’ve ever seen. My son once asked me, “Mom, what is paradise?” After tonight my answer will be the Montana prairie is paradise. As I comfortably rode my horse back to the ranch, I found myself daydreaming of a home in a land like this.

Where there’s a will there’s a way.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Heart Butte Youth Day

As Chuck would say, "Today was a good day."

It started with a good night's sleep -- one of my favorite things to do. Breakfast and morning meeting was lively as usual. We all started out together this morning...headed to the 2011 Heart Butte Youth Day.

while not all were able to stay, those who did interacted with children of all ages. It was clear from the beginning that children here are no different from children in Chicago, Virginia, or anyplace else. they love food, gifts, playing games and most of all, they love attention. (Not so different from most adults.)

I gained three new friends: Tia, Talia and Talissa from Heart Butte. I also learned more about my teammates:

Melissa has flown around the world. Lucas has had long hair since the 4th grade. Henry did NOT play the violin in high school. Melanie has had a "unique" educational background.

Dinner was the product of contributions by several team members and it was delicious! Brothers Ray and Paul offered us the hospitality of their home in the country for the evening. We walked to a nearby cemetary where we saw headstones ranging from plain wooden to elaborate headstones with pictures. We saw the graves of six small children lost in the Flood of 1964. Brother Ray said a recent youth group brought teddy bears for each of these graves.

After dinner, clean-up and fellowship, we headed back to our "home" at the Academy. The only downside of the day was learning that Melissa's daughter broke her arm this morning!

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Working as a Global Volunteer

Working as a Global Volunteer can be as much about helping yourself as it is helping others. You might learn a new openness that changes your perspective, and your beliefs in your own possibilities.

For instance, you might need to keep an open mind when you get up at 6AM to take a shower, and the key to the shower room is missing!

You might need to be open to new cultures and new ideas as you learn the struggles and successes of your host; the Blackfeet Community College.

You may remain open to the fact that you can lose your team when they go on a walking tour of the campus, even though all 10 of them were right there a minute ago!

You might be open to trying a work assignment that stretches beyond your comfort zone, be it gardening, digging post holes, working with kids at youth days, or calling bingo at the care center.

You may have to be open to the possibility that the tomato and lettuce you wanted to put on your sandwich are in a refrigerator at another location a half a mile away, (and maybe switch to peanut butter and jelly!)

You can stay open-minded when plans change, when people say and do unexpected things, when a stranger walks across the street to say thank-you for the work Global Volunteers has done in the Browning community.

You need to stay open when the volleyball net sags too much in the middle, or your first attempt at fry bread turns black when it hits the "too-hot" oil.

Keep an open heart and mind as you experience new people in the schools and in the churches, at the pawn shop and the C-store; and if anyone says “sweat lodge”...GO!

Monday, August 8, 2011

"People Just Like You"

My children have a book about the kids around the world. The message of the book is that “there are kids all around the world just like you.”

Seattle, WA and Browning, MT are not a world apart in distance; they may seem like a world apart in other ways. In fact, what I’ve realized over the course of today is that the message in my kids’ book is quite right – “there are (fill in the blank) all around the world, just like you.”

There are people grieving all around the world just like you. I had the privilege to see part of a funeral procession today. There were some difference – drums, a headdress. But mostly there were similarities – grieving family and friends; a gun salute for a veteran; a folded flag for the widow; a lifetime friend raising his hat and speaking a finial greeting to his comrade.

There are people helping people all around the world just like you. I spoke to Daryl, an Indian man, for a long while today. He was a man who compared to me has little financial wealth. Yet he spent several minutes telling me all the ways he helps those less fortunately. All anonymously.

There are families all around the world just like you. I worked with Boney today helping with grounds keeping around the Blackfeet Community College. I asked him his favorite thing about the reservation. His answer was family. It is the very same favorite thing that I have of my own hometown.

There are people worshipping all around the world just like you. The ceremonies may look different but the intent is the same. I was invited to attend an Indian Sweat Lodge. I sat in this small domed lodge about 15 feet in diameter and watched the people gather for their service. Their conversation was not much different than that I hear as I wait for my church to start. Friends asking about the well being of family, inquiring about recent travels, and sharing their health concerns.

There are kids all around of the world just like you. If ever I find myself thinking that I’m different, I just need to watch the kids. The four boys that gathered in the sweat lodge were “boys” – laughing, spitting, taunting, and tooting all under their grandmother’s watchful eye. Of course, never during my church does the minister call from the pulpit, “You kids be careful around them horses now, you hear!”
- Melissa

Sunday, August 7, 2011

"It's a Good Day!"

The early morning hours of the day were cloud covered, but the sun quickly burned off the clouds and fog of morning, leading to a bright sun-filled day. That was a sign for what this day had in store for all of us. Our day began with a sense of uncertainty around what the week had in store for us, but led to clarity and confidence in our role of service for the week. Going from BCC to the school for our orientation in the first half of the day, we were able to learn and share our thoughts and hopes for the week. Following lunch, we proceeded to take a grand tour of the reservation. It gave us all a sense of awe and wonder for the beauty of the land and this people. Even a flat tire on a mountain pass could not dampen the spirit of this group of volunteers. Following our cultural learning, our day ended where it had begun, at the school, for an evening meal of Colorado Wedding Beef, rice and roasted vegetables. As the suns sets in the west on this day in August, I can honesty say that it was a GOOD Day!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

A Team of Diversity in Service

All of the global volunteers, except for Elizabeth, who was driving up from Springfield Missouri, met up at the Great Falls airport by 1:30. Exodus from the airport complex was slightly delayed as Michele, our intrepid leader, made the wise decision to pick up a small U-haul trailer, which was termed ‘cute’ by at least three male members of the GV team.

The voluteers got to introduce themselves at the airport: Ed and Anne from Cherry Hill NJ, Melanie from Redding PA, Barbara from Fairfax VA, Vladimer and Sarah from Northern VA, Henry and Lucas from Chicago, Melissa from Seattle, and Chuck from Springfield Illinois. Chuck and Michelle had previously brought groceries in reat falls. The travel award went to Vlad and Sarah, who had spent all night, and three planes to get to Great Fall, arriving at 7:30 AM.

We drove north from Great Falls, driving through the high plains prairie. Melissa, a Kansas native , remarked on the many types of grasses that are grown on the plains - - wheat, winter wheat, rye, alfalfa, hay. Eventually we headed west through Valier and finally onto the reservation land. The land got hilly and drier, with more ranches and less crops. We stopped briefly to admire a statue of an Indian made of cast off metal. Michele discussed the vagueries of the Two Medicine river.

We eventually made our way into Browning, to the Blackfeet Community College (BCC), where we were staying. Elizabeth met up with us at this time. We selected beds, unpacked the groceries, read and played with some of the quarter-feral Browning dogs, and then drove up to the DelaSalle school for dinner of chicken-an-rice (prepared by Candy), and met Brother Ray. The volunteers gave a little biographical information: Melissa works for T-Mobile. Ed is an IT worker. Chuck is a manager for Hewlett-Packard, did a GV trip to Hungary, and is an admitted class clown. Melanie is a speech pathologist. Elizabeth is a Vietnam vet, and a retired women’s health high risk nurse. Vlad is an interior designer. Sarah is a student. Lucas plays tennis in high school, and Henry is a pathologist. Barbara is a retired school counselor. Michele and Brother Ray discussed the reservation a bit, and then after dinner Michele drove us around metroploitan Browning. We saw the junior high, the high school, Headstart, the casino, art museum, pawn shop, hospital, and the elder care facility.

Back at BCC we found out where the showers were located, finished unpacking, and discussed the future activities of Sunday . I can’t say much more of what happened that evening. I had planned on staying up to see the stars and (possibly) the northern lights, but I was too tired, and fell asleep by 10, before night had even completely fallen.