My plans for next semester are a little unusual. They include moving to a remote part of Arizona, to live in a place with no electricity or running water, among people I’ve never met, to work for them for free for about three months. And what will this work entail? Herding sheep.
If it all works out, I will be volunteering at the Black Mesa Navajo Reservation in Arizona. At this particular Rez, a coal mining company (Peabody) is trying to buy/get the people off the land so that they can mine the coal underneath. The Navajo, or Dineh, have been fighting them for decades, mostly by refusing to leave their lands and continuing to live in a traditional manner. They are, as noted above, mostly sheep farmers, and some of them still reside in traditional hogans. Its mostly elders now, because younger folk tend to abandon the Rez. For a long time now the Dineh have had a program where volunteers can come down and live with a family, to help with whatever needs to be done- tending sheep, hauling water, cutting firewood, cleaning, cooking, etc.
Why am I going on this crazy adventure? My school, before it was closing, had this program called Co-Op. You would do something like this almost every other semester and get credit for it. Even though that’s no longer the case, I did hear about this gig through my school, and I choose this place with the express intention of going on Co-Op. So I’m still going.
Also, coal mining is pretty unsustainable, as we all probably know by now. So I get to say fuck you to coal mining and large corporations, as well as experiencing another culture and another way of life. Which is all pretty awesome. I’m also hoping to acquire a slightly new skill set… like being able to survive outside of my materialistic, capitalist society and doing work which benefits a group of people of no relation to myself or those I love.
A girl from my school went to Black Mesa last winter. When I asked about her experiences, one thing she told me was “Skinwalkers are real”. I checked with my mom- and she said that yes, skinwalkers are real. And armed with that knowledge, I will soon go off to my sheep herding with not some trepidation.
*Update: One of the things I’m actually the most freaked out about (even more than the existence of skinwalkers) is that I won’t be able to take my Tibetan Skull Beads, also called Boddhi beads or a mala, to the reservation because anything made from feathers or bone or parts of an animal are strictly taboo to the Navajo.
My particular mala was also once owned by a dead person, which is another taboo. This thing is like super-extra-freaky-taboo. I’ve been wearing them almost every day since I was in 8th grade, and they are a vital aspect of my culture and how I identify with my family. I haven’t gone three months without them at least in my room since I was a little kid. But now they’re taboo! I feel really sad.
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