Steph’s Column: Reflections on the Navajo Reservation and What a Smile Can Do

The Navajo Reservation looks like this alien, lunar landscape that is perfect but extreme, tough to navigate, but surreal all at the same time.

It glows with eternity on its side, in a realm we can’t enter unless we’re a part of it. There is a trailer beside an unreal hill that is towering, smooth and dark in places. It’s like an underbelly where areas are upturned.

This terrain is tough to know firsthand.

Its expansive world. Ancient canyons. Mesas towering with time.

I can relate to this landscape because to me this vast terrain shows aspects of myself as an intercountry adoptee. As an adult, I can’t take back what has changed over time. However, I can live my life and try to make it better.

And help others, especially the ones I relate to.

At the school library, at first I don’t know what to do. I start munching on these lemon-flavored potato chips hidden in one of my drawers, that I bought on a different on my lunch break at the gas station next door. I recall how these chips first tasted weird to me. Now, I’m totally hooked.

Every bite tastes tangy but good.

After eating some potato chips, I remembered a goal that I’d written in a curriculum map that I made for the school library a month ago. This month in December, I planned to introduce Caldecott and Newbery book awards to the kids. So throughout the day, I made bibliography reference guides.

Throughout the day I also had interactions with children.

One interaction that stands out most was with Lena, a kindergartener with thin glasses and a matter-of-fact tone to her voice. She has long brown hair, is always pointing things out blatantly and has a dry sense of humor.

I swiveled in my chair at the desk around 2 p.m., and there she was, standing there, picking her nose for who knows how long.

And not just picking, but digging.

“Lena,” I said, “I think it’d be good if you gained a habit of using a tissue. We have tissues right there,” and pointed to a tissue box at the desk.

Lena frowned and kept staring hard at me. She removed her finger from her nose and handed me her book. I took her book and checked it out slowly, avoiding the potential danger zones of where her boogers might be lurking.

While trying not to make my efforts obvious.

“This looks like an interesting book Lena,” I said, “Enjoy reading it.”

I slowly handed the book back to her, as she still wore a serious expression on her face. Her expression made me think about things.

In that moment, I contemplated the reasons why I’m here at this library and chose to work on the Navajo Reservation in the first place. I wasn’t here to tell the kids what to do. Or to help Lena stop her habit of picking her nose. She’s in kindergarten and I was being hard on her, the way I’m hard on myself.

These kids are Navajo. Many live out in hogans and trailers that are scattered throughout the miles of open ranges on the Navajo Reservation. Some live with at-risk family members or are at-risk themselves, as alcoholism and drugs are a few issues out here. And, the kids’ literacy levels are effected by having to learn their native language and English too.

I’m a librarian but giving them just books is not the main reason why I’m here. I’m here, to support this community in the ways I can.

I decided to smile at Lena. And this is when Lena smiled. It looked as if she were glowing herself, beaming with this wide, open smile.

“Thank you, Ms. Flood,” Lena said in a chirpy voice, and I could see true, genuine happiness in her facial expression.

“You’re welcome, Lena,” I said, my heart bursting.

At the end of the day, I’d finished my bag of lemon-flavored potato chips and my book lists, and was soaring on the shuttle back to Flagstaff, staring again at alien-looking terrain and upturned cinder hills.

In my mind, I contemplated on my interaction with Lena. I realised all Lena needed, was a smile.

Funny thing is, I think that’s all I needed too.

STEPH’S DISCUSSION QUESTION

Q: How do you feel adoption has changed the way you live your life? Has this changed any views of yourself or the world?

Leave a Reply