Monday, December 15, 2008

The Fourth World (fiction)

In a thousand miles of pedaling, the roads in the Navajo nation were the best we'd ridden- smooth, wide, black, and almost completely free of traffic. Once every ten minutes, a pickup truck flew by with stereo turned up and the occupants drinking from something wrapped in a brown paper bag. On the eastern side of the continental divide, the best roller coaster in America, we'd hit fifty six miles an hour just coasting. We spent the night at an Indian boarding school for girls in Crown Point: the students were home for the summer. Joe and Mary, our hosts, worked for the BIA. They made fry bread for us, told us about the long walk, and explained that the real name for the tribe was the “Dineh”. It was the Dineh who had made it through the four worlds until they found this permanent home between four sacred mountains.
After the guitar, the visit from the man in traditional dress who told us the story of the Dineh that led from the Bering Strait, through Kit Carson’s attempt at genocide, up to the Code Talkers, and an eggs and pancakes breakfast, we tell Mary, “You’re being too nice.”
“You're our guests. You’re riding your bicycles for a good cause. What was it again?”
We explaineintermediate technology for a second time and how our group of mostly college students was spending the summer riding bicycles from Los Angeles to New York to raise awareness of items like pedal-powered well pumps and refrigerators that run on solar panels. “They keep milk cold, but they can’t make ice. They don’t have roads or a power grid in the third world,” we explained.
Mary smiles. She’s short, squat, and has a smooth round face that evokes some more ancient time, “Well that explains it, this is the fourth world here.”
In the meantime, Joe wants to know how much our bikes cost and what we do about flat tires.
“Go ahead ride one of the bikes, give it a try, we tell him.”
Joe shakes his head, “I’ve never ridden one of these.”
“We’re not worried. Nothing’s going to happen.”
Mary stands back by the dormitory doorstep and says softly so Joe won’t hear, “He means he’s never ridden a bicycle. He never learned. He can’t swim either.”
“Well, we can teach him.”
“Next time you visit. You can come back and teach him.”
We follow Joe’s pickup truck to the opening of the Crownpoint Airport. He talked us out of our plans to go to Chaco Canyon that morning, the home of the Anasazi, the people who were either visionaries or cannibals who preceded the Dineh here. None of us have used “Navajo” since late last night even after we found out that Anasazi is a Navajo word for “Ancestor Enemy.”

“Go to the canyons tomorrow, stay another day. We want you to be our guests of honor. It’s supposed to be a big ceremony. You don’t want to say you missed your chance to see a Navajo ceremony. The Anasazi will still be there for you.”

The landing strip is the same gorgeous black asphalt as their highway. Our group of twenty doubles the size of the crowd present for the ceremony. The men wear Laker’s jerseys, Nikes, and Dodger caps. The women are in jeans and t-shirts. Most of those there seem to have something better to do. A woman sells sand paintings at the foot of the airstrip. An old man sells silver jewelry. The PA announces that Peter McDonald’s jet will land in fifteen minutes. A holy man, blesses the airstrip. The sky is black and grey.

We talk to a man in the crowd who works for tribal social services. He tells us about the delayed construction of an alcohol treatment center that he wants to discuss with Chairman McDonald. How the BIA school needs better teachers. “You know Peter McDonald was one of the code talkers.”
We sigh.
“He never made it into combat, but he spent fifteen thousand last year trying to be designated as one of the four hundred.”
A man at a podium set up near the jet introduces us to the crowd, but Peter McDonald is still on the plane. A group of women dancers makes us join them. The man in the suit at the podium passes a Hefty Garbage bag for people to contribute money to our cause. We try to tell them that their hospitality has been enough. By now we’ve heard about the toxic waste dump, getting kicked off land so the government can dig a coal mine, about the Mormon Navajo leader convicted of child abuse.
As the bag circulates, an elderly man in a dark blue suit gets off the plane, holds a hand up in greeting, then ducks into a black BMW 735i that drives away from the airstrip onto the smoothest highway in America.
“That was Peter McDonald.”
Before we get on our bikes for Chaco Canyon, we decide that we take the money out of the Hefty Bag and count out a hundred and sixty seven dollars with a single crisp hundred dollar bill making up the bulk of the contributions. It’s double what we got from the Flagstaff Rotary and four times what the Needles YWCA gave us.
Mary sees us looking at the hundred dollar bill and nods, her eyes dark and bottomless.
“Joe was told that he needed to make sure there was a crowd for the Chairman’s arrival. Peter McDonald was indicted last week. His aide slipped the bill in so the chief wouldn’t have to make a speech.”
In the corner of the runway by the highway, Joe sits perches on one of our two thousand dollar Colnagos. He spreads his arms like some great thunderbird as we run alongside, keeping the Dineh warrior from hitting pavement.



At 12/20/2008 01:37:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good story. Almost unbearably poignant, but a good story.

At 12/21/2008 07:18:00 AM, Blogger Dale said...

Often heard in my head at a certain hour of the day: I wonder what's for dineh?

At 12/21/2008 06:14:00 PM, Blogger Chancelucky said...

Thanks Pb.

If it's for Dineh instead of dinner, it's fry bread and mutton stew.


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