I know this is confusing, and I'm not sure if I can explain it right. To biliganas (non-Navajos), anyway. First of all, the conference was not about "Changing Woman," or even "Changing Women." Whatever that means, "how to change them" or "women who change." It was about diabetes. Second of all, do you people even know who "Changing Woman" is? Third, there really was a woman in the conference who changed, but she wasn't the "Changing Woman." Are you confused enough now? Well, then, when in doubt, as my granny used to say, just be yourself --i.e., do it the Dine' (i.e. Navajo) way. Or, in this case, tell it like a Dine'. Which means all you biliganas out there better get ready to be really patient!
Because when we Navajos say we're going to explain something, that means we're going to tell a story, or stories. I know you people do it differently. Ms. Sondra Johnstone, my English teacher at Navajo Nation Community College, Lukachukai, AZ, is a Dine' like me (plus one-eighth Apache), so she began the year by explaining this important difference, which was a very useful explanation to do. Ms. Johnstone is a really sweet person.
"See," she said (let's see if I can imitate her), "in the biligana thinking way, first, before you even begin, you have a point. biliganas like to argue. They must always have a point, and they want it to become everyone else's point, too. So first you state this point. That way, everybody knows it's the point. Next, you start to prove the point, and you must do so step by step. Each time you get to a new step of proof, you state the point again. Then, when all the steps are over with, you state the point again, one last time, for good measure. The first time you state it, it's called the "thesis," the last time is the "conclusion," and the in-between times are the "topic sentences." Giving the point different names like that makes it seem less stupid to keep repeating it."
"Now, then," she continued her lecture, "I know a lot of you are thinking, "These biliganas must be really dumb if they can't even trust each other to remember their main point for more than a few sentences at a time." And you must also be thinking, "What a boring way to prove a point! How could anyone pay attention long enough to even know if they believe the point?" Well, without getting into this question, let me just say that the biliganas have stopped telling stories like we do, so their memories are a little weak, just like the muscles of all the people in this room who never do any exercise. Hint, hint."
Ms. Johnstone, herself, can be seen most afternoons climbing the waves on the treadmill over at the gym. When lightning hit the gym last month, she went in their the next day and did her usual jumping around, because she did not know the building had been hit and needed a purification ceremony before it could be used again. When she heard, just to be on the safe side, she had her own personal ceremony, because you can get a cough or other respiratory ailment from using a struck building. I know you don't believe this, but I believe it.
By then, our whole class was laughing. Anyway, this entire explanation was unnecessary, but kind, because, as Ms. Johnstone knew that we knew without her even saying it, we students have to learn to argue in the Biligana way. Period. The reasons are obvious. Even though doing so is worse than looking for a lost sheep among hills on a boiling hot day.
So, Dear Reader, now that I've finished making fun of your way of proving points, I'll proceed in my own way: i.e. get on with the story. I believe the previous sentence is a topic sentence. See, without going too much into my autobiography, let's just say that last month, September, 2000, I decided to go back to school for the first time in more than twenty years. This was a really hard thing for me to decide, for many reasons. Reason Number One Through Ten Thousand is money. A couple of years ago, my husband (retired, U.S. Navy) and I divorced, and in order to afford to attend college, even though it only costs a couple hundred dollars a year, I had to sell my sheep. All thirty of them, a very sad day. And I also had to bring my daughter along with me, since I couldn't stand the idea of being alone at college. Not that I would be the only one here without a family, and not that there aren't any other older students for me to get to know here, but that's just how I am. I just knew I couldn't of faced all this hard, boring work and all the sad loneliness without her company. Anyway, so far things have worked out fine for us. There's a charter school right here on the campus that she goes to, which is a very good school, and we live in the family dorm, and, being a bright 15 year-old who loves to learn, she can help me with all my schoolwork. Of course, I might still flunk out, but it won't be her fault!
Even this assignment, I confess. For every comma that is in its correct position, for every "ly" on the end of adverbs except for those adverbs which do not add "ly," for the use of italics and bold face on the computer keyboard, and for almost every word of above two syllables, plus many, many other grammatical items, I wish to publicly thank my beautiful and wonderful daughter, Lakota Jean Mailboy. "Bold Face" -- that's funny! It could even be someone's nickname. The perfect spelling is due to Mr. Spell Check. He's a genius, never getting one wrong.
Not much happens here on our windswept campus in the shadow of the beautiful Chuska Mountains, except for classes, homework and (not me) drinking. Weekends, everyone but the few of us from afar goes home, so the place pretty much shuts down. Things are much nicer during the week when there are lots of people around. We especially enjoy eating together, accompanied by a great deal of talking. In fact, some of my fellow students will tell you their life story over lunch, with two-hundred or more trials and tribulations. Lakota, the clever thing, said she wants to know if that word "tribulations" is related to "tribe." She plans to look it up, and I will most likely be able to tell you the answer before the story is over. Her guess is that the two words are not related at all. I don't guess about such things, because I don't possess enough knowledge to guess.
Even during the week, however, there is not too much going on here at NNCC, other than classes, eating and homework. So when a notice appeared on the bulletin board inside the entrance to the cafeteria and in numerous other places for "THE CHANGING WOMAN HEALTH CONFERENCE," I immediately wanted to attend. It was scheduled to take place on a Monday and Tuesday. The Monday program didn't sound as good, so I decided I would go on the Tuesday, when two of my four classes, Foundations of Mathematics and Intro. to Navajo Studies, are held in the morning. Lakota said she wasn't interested enough to skip school. The kids at the charter school go the whole day, nine to five, Monday to Thursday, and then they don't have to attend at all on Fridays. So I made my own plans. I decided to go over there to the Student Center auditorium for the main event, which was in the afternoon. That way, if I was tired out from my classes, as usually the case, I could catch my "forty" during a quiet part of the program. Just kidding! So I went directly from class, with all my books and everything, not even stopping for lunch, since they always serve something at such occasions.
When I got to the Center, it was totally transformed. Instead of the usual bare, silent halls, there were lots of signs, tables and people. There was also music --Navajo music, chanting with drums, rattles, and etc.-- played on a CD player with small speakers set up on tables on either side at the end of the main corridor. In my opinion, they should of brought in real musicians, but there must have been budgetary restraints. The signs welcomed us all to the conference and informed us about the objects and services being offered, all of them free, including free blood pressure, literature on diabetes, and that sort of thing.
When I saw these signs I was really surprised. I must confess that I had expected the conference to be more like a religious kind of event, that the "health" part would be related to the Chantways ceremony, or something like that. I probably failed to read the poster for the conference carefully enough. As you have guessed, Chantways is a Navajo health ceremony. They are not supposed to be held this time of year, but we don't stick to the seasonal regulations the way we used to. The big ceremony at Window Rock, e.g., is happening next week even though they're supposed to wait for Winter. This ceremony is now part of the annual Navajo Nation Fair. Since the Fair is held in October in order to beat the Winter weather, the ceremony was moved up, too. Some people, such as my Navajo Studies teacher, Mr. Rex E. Begay, say it's effect would be greater if it were performed at the proper time. He blames the ten-year drought on these kind of errors, but my friend Maxine says the actual cause is, ten years ago, down near where she lives in the southern part of the Res, they broke a bad taboo, one worse than just changing the time of a ceremony.
So the name of the Conference fooled me. You see, in our Dine' religion, Changing Woman is a very important figure. Let me tell you about this figure, whom I love very much, almost like my own mother. Changing Woman was either born from a turquoise doll or was a foundling. Maybe, she was the child of Long Life Boy and Happiness Girl, who were called by Mr. Rex E. Begay, on Thursday, 9/28/00, "the inner forms of earth and sky." I take good notes. She is also everybody's favorite N. deity, like a Mary, Queen of Heaven or the wife of a male god, but with none of the "unsightly blemishes" (heard on radio ad) of some of those biligana goddesses, like nasty Juno. C.W. is constantly changing from old to young and back again, at her own sweet will, thus, again according to Mr. Begay, "representing the cycle of nature." You could even say she is Mother Nature. I do say that.
Now that I think of it, all of the "info" in the preceding para. may actually come from our class text, since at that moment Mr. Begay was quoting, not making it up himself. This text is Dine' Bahane', by one Mr. Paul G. Zolbrod, a biligana, no less! (Albuquerque, University of New Mexico Press, 1984, pp.384-85, n. 9-12.) (Footnote instructions courtesy of Ms. Sondra Johnstone.)
Although the Conference did not turn out to be exactly about religion, I still have to admit the name did make sense, in a way. The main idea, as I can understand, is that even as we go forward into modern, biligana health methods, we should keep the old ways in mind, balancing the new and old in harmony. We Navajos are good at such balancing, otherwise we wouldn't of survived this long. Not that we're running the country or anything (not yet!), but so far, at least, our birth rate has kept up with our death rate. As you will learn, the Conference made good on its promise to mix the old ways and the new into an appetizing, healthy soup.
At the tables, women in beautiful Navajo clothing and jewelry, but with white medical coats over their rich velvet dresses, were giving some of the passersby various kinds of medical tests. The schedule of the day's events on a blue sheet of paper was handed to me, as to everyone else, when we first walked in, and I could see I had about ten minutes until the main program, which was a film and speeches, with box luncheons also to be served. I don't want to mock my own culture, but that "ten minutes" was biligana time, so I knew I really had up to one half hour or more.
Just for fun, I got my blood pressure checked. It was "High Normal," I forget the actual number. Since I am forty-one years old and a bit on the "chubby" side, I thought that "High Normal" was not too bad, but Lakota says that what "High Normal" really means is "Watch your step, Fatty!" She's "Mid-Normal" herself, the rude thing, and neither too fat nor thin, but she knows very well, as she reads this over, that being of an average build when you're a fifteen-year-old Native American also means, "Watch your step, Fatty-To-Be!" She just hit me in the arm, as expected.
Since I was tired, I went into the auditorium, planning to sit down and wait, or to chatter with any friends I might happen to meet up with. I should say, "auditorium." What it really is, a big room with a stage at one end and three flags on it: U.S. of A., State of Arizona, and, last but not least, Navajo Nation. The "auditorium" can be a dance hall, movie theater, and etc. etc. Today it was an auditorium. They had put in folding chairs and their was a "lectern" with mike on the stage, where there were also several folding chairs for the speakers to sit on during the periods when they were only listeners. I spotted the bag lunches right away, at least a hundred of them, in six cartons down on the ground alongside of the stage. It was about 12:30 p.m. by then, so I expected they would were about to serve the food before the program got under way. Having breakfasted at 7:30 and existed on one packet of peanut M&M's since then, I was more than ready for this luncheon, although I knew it would most likely not be very good. Free lunches never are, even the ones you have really paid for by your presence. I took a seat about halfway back, among my friends and acquaintances, including several fellow students of both genders, mostly women, though, and mostly older students like myself. Among those in our small group, I may name Jo Ann Benally, Marcy Manygoats, Letitia Begay, Janyce Brown, and Robert, surname unknown. There were one or two more on the fringes of our gang, as well, acquaintances whose names have not yet been disclosed to me. We N's. do not just throw our names around the way you biliganas do. We even have different names, some secret and others for everyday "wear."
The place was about 3/4 full, but people were coming (mostly) and going, so it is hard to give an accurate count. Perhaps, the total number of us folks in the audience was 75 to 80. Mostly, as always, it was women there, the men (excuse my language) never seeming to get their shit together for anything that might do themselves some good. Do not think I am a feminist or something. I only speak from bitter experience, that is, personal experience and having listened to tribulation stories from numerous girlfriends and others.
Every kind of person was there, although, as said, mostly women. There were young and old, hags and beauty queens, big and small, fat (more) and skinny. A lot of them were those professional Indians with about ten to fifteen articles of Native American jewelry and other N. apparel on them. One such was combing another's hair and one was breast-feeding her baby, both something we N's., who are modest except when drunk, don't normally do in public. I am aware that I keep saying things about drunks, which, as you must know, is a very major problem on the Res. I don't mean to sound "more holy than thou," since I, myself, have had a few dates with Mr. J. Walker and many more dates with Mr. T. Bird Wine. But I have no longer been seeing those guys or others of their kind, neither, since about five years ago, when a very close friend's pick-up rolled over right outside Farmington, NM. Don't ask what happened to her. I guess that these two well decked-out women in particular, the one with the baby and the other with the hair, represent one type of "changing woman," as they looked totally N., but didn't act it a bit.
There were even a few female biliganas attending, skinny, dried-out ones hanging with their friends, the professional N's, laughing with them and admiring the long hair, chubby baby and such. And there were even a couple biligana guys, one of them sitting up on the little platform on the west side of the room next to the doors, yakking it up with Hank, who was up there in his big wheelchair. Like many Navajo guys, Hank, as usual, looked big, fat and sweaty, but you could see from all the way across the room that he had washed his long hair, which gleamed for the occasion. That platform was constructed last year, in accordance with Federal law, to provide access for the handicap, like Hank. They were required to construct it because the auditorium is three steps down from the level of the corridors in the Student Center. At that same time, they also built ramps, both to this building and to all others. Hank Yazzie, his full name is, and he is yet another victim of a DUI tragedy, although he never told me if he was the "D." Hank lives in my dorm, the family dorm. He has his little daughter with him, a cute four-year old whose real name is Heaven Lee, but whom I call "Sunshine and Rain." You see, they keep an illegal kitten in the dorm, "No Pets Allowed," and the kitten is always running out of their room and getting lost and then found. When it is lost, Lee (they call her) cries, and when it is found her big smile comes out again. She is a fat little kid, really spoiled, but what is Hank supposed to do? He doesn't mind my teasing name for her, but the clouds come up fast when she hears me calling her by that name.
"Are you still married?" I asked him once.
"I wish," he replied. His wife is always telephoning the dorm, but I bet it is just to make sure their girl is okay.
Anyway, this biligana guy often comes over to our dorm to hang out with Hank. He is a pretty nice guy, I suppose, always doing things like finding the kitten and helping Hank load his car when he goes home for weekends. Hank says he is here for only one month, studying something or other about the College. He bragged that he is doing this work for free, or, as he put it, "I'm an unpaid consultant, and worth every penny they pay me." Ha ha. Not to be nasty, but this guy is a typical biligana, full of little jokes like that one, and always sniffing around the least fortunate, like Hank. He stays in the guest dorm, also used for official visitors, for those passing through and in need of a place to stay, and for Jimmy Chavez, the exterminator, a Pueblo Indian who drives up here from Pima once a month. This Jimmy guy, though happily married according to him, always fools around with my friend and fellow-student, Ethelou Todleechinee. As for Hank, he seems to like the biligana guy well enough, or maybe he just tolerates him for the help he can gain from him. What's Hank supposed to do? Anyway, there they were up on the platform, where, like it or not, everyone could see them, one of only two biligana guys in the whole auditorium, plus the only person in a wheelchair, who was also one out of a total of maybe 4.5 male N.'s present. It was very nasty of me, but the thought entered my crazy brain that if the people now mounting onto the stage were the show, Hank and the biligana guy were the sideshow. I know, my brain needs a better security system, to lock out all those evil thoughts which rise up unbidden at any and all moments. The second biligana guy who was present in the auditorium always goes around with a Navajo walking stick, a little pollen pouch tied to his belt, and etc. This guy, whose name is Dave, is from Detroit, Michigan. He was sitting near the front with Larry Claw, a vet of, I think, the Army or Air Force.
At 1:21 p.m., twenty-one minutes late, or nine minutes early by NST (Navajo Standard Time), they commenced the program. It began with announcements, mostly stuff like who was sponsoring the event, and numerous thanks and introductions, including the local Rep. to the Tribal Council, who stood up for a bow, but without receiving his hoped-for applause other than a few claps from his own crowd. You see, this guy is what we call "a mustache sniffer," a bad leader, named after Adolph Hitler, who, as I am sure you can remember, had this habit of rubbing his finger under his nose as if he was ... etc. And it was also announced, the box lunch would be forthcoming after the short opening film. No one groaned at this unwelcome news, we are a polite people, but out of the corner of my eye I could see Janyce pull a secret angry face. Even more than me, Jan is a "chow hound," although miraculously she is able to maintain her slender figure, probably due to a fast metabolism.
Have you noticed by now how many things seem to be true of a very large proportion of N's? Such as diabetes, weight problems, and having quite a few of the same names, such as Begay, Benally, and Yazzie. Well, some of this, though not the names, of course, may be a reaction to diet and the environment, as I learned many ages ago during high-school Biology. However, I think that more of it comes from our very close inter-relatedness. Mention a little town anywhere on the Res. and whoever you mention it to will have at least one relative living there. Without going into our clan system, which would turn this already long story into a book-and-a-half, I offer as the principle explanation for this sameness our unfortunate history. When we got back from Bosque Redondo in 1868, after the tragic Long March, there were only about 200 of us N.'s left on earth. So, of course, there was a lot of what you biliganas call "in-breeding." Not that we N's are some kind of exception to the universal taboo regarding incest or anything, but what were we supposed to do? Anyway, before you condemn us, consider whose fault the Long March was, in the first place. Sorry, Reader, but facts are facts.
Once the announcements had concluded, and the M.C. (the Director of Lukachukai Health Center, a professional N. woman, but nice) announced the video. The video maker, another professional N. named Jerry Whitehorse, a guy with a pony tail, jeans and a whole pawnshop full of jewelry on him, strode to the platform. Jerry Whitehorse greeted us in N. ("Ya' ah te''), then said he would continue in English out of politeness, because he knew that not everyone present was an N. speaker. This included himself, I am sure. Jerry's video was in N., with subtitles. There was probably a consultant for the N. speech, one name buried among the hundreds listed on the screen before the video ever got started. Ten or so of these "credits" were to "Jerry Whitehorse," with another ten or more to other various "Whitehorses," as expected. I don't want to get into this question of why we N.'s hire our relatives. You biliganas have a nasty word for it which I forget, but it is not the same for us, believe me and let it go at that. Well, if you really want one reason, our unemployment rate is about the same as your employment rate, okay? Sorry, Reader, I don't know what's making me so snippy tonight, probably the pressure to complete this assignment, which is due in less than forty-eight hours from now. I better hurry, right? Anyway, I apologize for my "snippiness" (word not in computer thesaurus, but found in dictionary by valued assistant, "L.M." Remember who that is?).
The video was called "Diabetes,Tribal Scourge." But it was better than that dull title sounds. They showed this young husband who was informed that he has Type-2 Diabetes. Type-1 is the worst kind, which afflicts mostly youth, treatable by insulin injections and other recent medication. The theme of Type-2 is "Watch Your Diet And Exercise Or You're Headed For Trouble." After which you must take insulin, and then may start to lose one or more digits or even limbs and so forth. Everyone in the video tries to help this guy, who seems like a nice enough person, nice-looking, too, but totally unable to deal with his bad news. Until they help him, of course. First, the video portrays him as he takes his refuge in depression and solitude, occasionally breaking out in rage and throwing objects, some breakable. An interesting feature which I noted, and my friends, too, when we discussed the video later, was that the guy did not drink at all, either before or after he got his bad news. My own guess is, that would have made everything too complicated and messy for the purposes of this brief video. "Keep it simple," Jerry Whitehorse must have wisely decided.
Anyway, the character has reached near-suicide before help kicks in, in the form of a nice young woman health care worker and the guy's young wife, also nice. I'm sure having a wife as pretty as an actress (!!!) made the road to recovery a lot smoother for the also cute victim-actor. Anyway, these two women, plus several other characters, help him with the tough adjustment he must make. First, however, the two women form a bond, with a lot of hugging, crying, and coffee drinking in the little kitchen of the trailer the couple lives in, which is a nice one, and so forth. This way, the wife gets to express into a sympathetic ear how hard it is for her to deal with her diabetic, depressed and angry spouse. That taken care of, the two women then go on to tackle the problem of getting the guy to face his own problem. This process makes sense. If you are an N., you can feel the invisible hand of Changing Woman in the whole thing, as she sets the healing process into motion. So far as I could tell, the audience, including me, was interested in this video. Everyone was watching, none asleep, and not a single person stood up and left.
Before the adjustment process can continue, however, there is a break in the video action for a lot of documentary stuff, such as scientific information, practical tips about diabetes, and etc. etc. In my opinion, besides being useful information, this pause in the story is a good trick, since we in the audience are forced to be kept waiting before we find out if the guy is going to triumph over his adversity. Of course, the kind of film this was and the whole occasion of the conference made it pretty clear that he is going to triumph. I mean, could a diabetes video conclude with the main actor's death, either from diabetes or by his own hand? They might as well of had the trailer burn down or a bomb drop on it or something. Death would have been awful! And it wouldn't have fit at all. But even so, whenever you have to wait for something to happen, whether in a video or an actual movie, it makes it that much more enjoyable when the expected ending finally arrives.
Next, before the two women helpers could even start working with the diabetes victim, the story shifted. Some other person whose role I wasn't too clear on runs in and tells the guy that his kid, who was herding their sheep, has disappeared, and maybe been eaten by a mountain lion already seen in the area. Boy, talk about a thickening plot! So the guy and his father, a nice, wise-looking old man, very traditional, grab their rifle (one) and run out into the hills seeking the boy. I wish they'd had horses to ride out on, but maybe the father was too old to ride or the budget would not permit the use of horses. As they are going, the old man, like the two young women, becomes another helper, telling his son stories, including bits from our N. mythology and chants. Then he says the diabetic must pull himself together in order to transmit all this same cultural material to his own son. Assuming that the boy has not been eaten, of course. The old man tells his diabetic son a lot of cultural material which time is too short for me to transmit now, but part of it was about a horse coming with magic power, and part was about our four Sacred Directions, each of which points toward a mountain important in Dine' Bahan'e'. (Do you remember what that means?) They find the boy alive and well, of course, and then they see the lion, but when the old man is about to shoot it the diabetic pushes down the gun, so as not to take a life without need. This is a fact, because the lion is shown moving away from the boy and the sheep, not toward them. Pushing the gun down is also a sign of change, a turning point, and after it the diabetic, with the assistance of all his helpers, including his old mom, who comes in, too, gets his stuff together. This part of the video is easy for you to imagine for yourself. The only surprise was when the guy's wife gave him a big kiss on the mouth and a sexy hug, which was a little 'Hollywood" for the N. audience, provoking our "oohs" and "ahs." As for the detailed information about diabetes with which the video concluded, there is no need to put any of that in my story, either, since this story is about N. culture and I am sure you can find all the diabetes facts you want for yourself!
At this point, the lights were turned on, and Jerry Whitehorse introduced two cast members who were right there with us in the audience, although I had not spotted either of them, the "wife" and the "father." He praised their efforts very well, and we gave them all, Jerry included, a nice round of applause. Then, immediately after Jerry had stopped talking, the lunches were finally distributed. As you can bet, we dug right in! People were chatting happily as they munched away, some moving here and there with a sandwich in their hand or a beverage. Jerry was over eating his own lunch and talking to Hank, who was writing down information on a sheet of paper. I don't know this for sure, of course, but I bet that Hank was taking down Jerry's address so he could send him a tape with some of his songs, which Hank is always trying to get people to listen to. So that, some day, he might have a record cut or something. I've heard Hank practicing in the dorm, singing his original compositions accompanied by electric guitar, without the juice on, of course. I like his music. It is a sort of country rock with a strong N. sound to it, and lots of feelings, mostly mournful. Jerry also shook hands with the biligana guy and they had a few polite-looking words together before Jerry moved on to a different group.
Meanwhile, my friends and I ate our lunches and chattered on about the video, which we all liked, although Marcy and Letitia had a short disagreement about whether they should of shot the lion, with Letitia arguing the affirmative because the lion could of come back and gobbled up the son and sheep after all. Janyce gave the best answer, however, which is that they probably just didn't have any video footage they could of used for a lion being shot. When she said that, we all realized they had never shown the lion and people at the same time, it was trick photography to disguise the separate filming. Marcy then repeated her point, that not sparing the lion fit with the N. way of not taking a life without strong need, even that of a fierce animal. But she admitted Janyce's clever observation was probably right, too.
Meanwhile, no one said anything about the unhealthy lunch, which I am sure I was not the only one to notice how stupid it was to have such a meal during a diabetes program. Every item in the shiny white cardboard box was full of salt, sugar and/or grease, the very ingredients us N.'s love all too well and the ingredients which cause diabetes in those genetically prone. In each box, there was a big, sweet "health" bar, ham and cheese on a very greasy croissant, no less, plus two enormous chocolate chip cookies and a 12-oz. can of pop, only some of which were Diet. I'm surprised no one said anything regarding this inappropriate menu. They also added an apple and orange, to give the meal one element of healthfulness, I suppose. Apples, oranges, and sometimes, grapefruits, as well, are served at breakfast in the cafeteria almost every day, but they may not have known this. Needless to say, despite the nutritional flaws, each of us finished every crumb and drop of our lunches. It's not even as if the food was cheaper than a healthy lunch, it was probably only to save time setting up the Conference, because nothing in the lunch boxes required cooking or other preparation of any sort. Even the ham and cheese was sort of slapped inside the croissant, which was not even cut through all the way, at least not mine. Slap, slap, slam, slam, and there's your lunch!
Next came the speeches, although a few people, I noticed, were rude enough to finish devouring their lunches and head straight for the exits, or even to leave while carrying the little white boxes, some of them still unopened. Among the leavers, although I did not see if he ate or took it with him or possibly just left it behind, was Hank's biligana guy, but not Hank. Well, too bad, all those people missed the best part of the program, at least in the opinion of us five girlfriends, plus Robert, although he did not say more than two words that entire afternoon. I should say, although Robert is quite a bit younger than any of us women, he has "a thing" for Marcy, suggesting to me he is a boy who misses his mama. By "the best part" I mean the speeches. The first one was like a warm-up for the second, which was much longer, plus much better. Speech #1 was by a man, of course, and speech #2, by a you-know-who. Male readers must not blame me for this fact, I am not making it up.
Anyway, Speaker #2 was a fifty-one-year-old self-describing "Christian woman," who said she wished to give public thanks to Jesus and his mom for helping her out of her dangerous health difficulties, through inspiration rather than actual miracles or anything like that. The woman was a Type-2 diabetic (as in the film), but very enthusiastic and a skilled speaker with a pleasing, high voice. I had the feeling she might even be a regular on the diabetes circuit. She spoke a long time, maybe about one hour even, going round and round about how she grappled with her affliction. Here was a case of spirit and body in perfect, if funny, harmony. For the woman included the fact that her weight came down from 193 to 141 in six short months, and she also recited many key health statistics about herself: her hemoglobin, tri-glycerides (I'm not even sure what those are), her good and bad cholesterols, and etc. etc. Each time, she would give us the six-month old number and the one now, with some others in-between. As she recited the first, bad number, her face was sad, but you could see the good one on the horizon. Then, when she got to the improved reading for each particular category, she would pause dramatically, and then her voice would fill, and the number would fly out and she would start to cry. After the first few tears, she would also raise her arms and do a little twirling dance, taking tiny steps. Which, in my opinion, was an expression of her happy feelings, as well as a chance to display the fact that, though old, she now enjoyed a newly slim and fairly pretty body. With each number and little dance, we would all clap. It was touching and funny both, and looking around I could see an amount of moisture on every one of my friends' faces, even Robert's, as well as (feel some) on my own. As I said, this speaker rambled. After a number change or two, she would take us over to the supermarket, where her words let us watch her shopping, with her grandchildren along to read the small print showing the key nutritional information on all the food packages and containers. She was very specific about her growing love for certain fruits and vegetables, and about how she was able to exchange her prior "junk" food binges for these nutritious items.
The one part of her speech which created doubt, in me at least, but I am very skeptical by nature, as you have seen, was her saying that even a poor person could accomplish a similar change in diet. Everyone knows produce is extremely high on the Res. and I remain unconvinced you could cook a nutritious meal for the same cost as the bad, starchy ones we normally eat. Well, the woman said so. Except she looked like someone whose husband brought home a fat salary. She, herself, is a retired grade school teacher, so her pension, if she has any, must be tiny. Anyway, she was a good Navajo-type speaker, even though she spoke almost entirely in English, except for a few expressions and exclamations. She mostly gave sound advice which her hearers could believe and might even be able to apply, because she told it through a story where all the important points were clear and where her own experience was the "proof" it could be done. Of course, this excellent speech was rewarded with a prolonged loud applause, which made a happy end to the program. And to the whole Conference, since Tuesday afternoon was the final session.
As the five of us women friends and Robert made our way back down the hill to our respective dorms, we were all happily chattering at once about this last speaker and how much we had enjoyed the whole afternoon, in general. None of us actually said they would really change anything in their life, such as diet or whether or not they did any exercise, but you never know, it is too soon to tell.
One last incident took place as we were passing the "C" dorm for the younger female students. There was a rare pocket of silence among us six people when suddenly Marcy, who is a big woman in all dimensions, raised her arms and broke into a beaming smile on her big face.
"Seven-hundred and fifty-eight!" she shouted, and did a twirl right there on the sidewalk just like the ones Speaker #2 had done. We all laughed, but she almost lost her balance and could of possibly fallen right down onto the hard pavement and hurt herself, if it were not for the gallant Robert, who caught her in a big hug. As he did so, Robert's face wore a tiny sheep smile, and although Marcy frowned at him when he held on for a moment too long, you could tell she was not really mad, either. Although she could of thanked him for preventing her fall, which she failed to do. That was four days ago, which is how long it has taken me, four long afternoons and most of the evenings, to write and to correct (with Lakota's assistance) this very long story.
Well, Reader, you have reached the end of my complete account of "The
Changing Woman Health Conference," and I hope you have now grasped the answers to
all those puzzling questions which I posed at the beginning. Such as how the "Changing
Woman Health Conference" was not directly about Changing Woman at all, but
diabetes. You have also learned the identify of Changing Woman, the goddess herself.
As well as hearing stories of several other people who changed by getting diabetes and
learning to cope with it, at least two men and one woman, through my accounts of the
video and speeches. Plus ways to change, mostly through women's efforts, e.g. the
conference sponsors and the inspiring speaker, all of whom, in a sense, fighting under
the flag of the Changing Woman (goddess). And, finally, one more pair of C.W.'s whom
I have not yet mentioned as such, but which has been implied throughout: Ms. Johnstone
and me. You must have seen how much my changing woman (woman who changes
others), Ms. Johnstone, has helped me become a changing woman (woman who is
changing). For even though I have only been here a mere one month, I can see big
prospects on my horizon. Thanks to Ms. J. and thanks to the College Experience, in
general. Oh, and one more I almost forgot: Lakota, who as a teen is changing into a
woman, plus helping her old mom to change. Well, then, Dear Reader, is that enough
"changing women" for you? I bet it is! Now I have only three final points to write, after
which I will quote just one of our N. sayings, and then, at last, (whew!) I can "round 'em
up and head 'em on home."
1. "Tribulation" is not related to "Tribe." Lakota has looked this point up and is
sure. Actually, I did not think they were related, but I was really making a kind of joke,
which I wonder if you caught. That this tribe seems to have nothing but tribulations!
2. There was one lie in my story, only one, right at the beginning (p.1), and it has
been bothering me ever since: Sondra Johnstone is one-eighth Apache (true), but the rest
of her origins is not Navajo (lie), but biligana.
3. And, lastly, thank God this story is finally over! You can't imagine the efforts and hours it took for me (and Lakota) to write down this extensive material. And I certainly hope you have found the results of all these labors extremely worthwhile, both educational and enjoyable, that is.
And remember this, Dear Reader:
"T'a'a' ni anite'ego t'e'iya lina' ya'a'te'higii, lina' baa hozooni nididiileel.
You, and only you, can realize a good, fruitful, blessed life."
(courtesy of Mr. Rex E. Begay)
Previously published in:
-- Puckerbrush Review Summer/Fall 2004; The Second Kingdom, Cantarabooks,
2009 (one of 3 novellas).