Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Adjusting to life on the Rez

My dear husband was born in San Francisco and lived his entire sub-adult life in The City. Adjusting to life in the midst of the Navajo Nation has been head-spinning for him. Even though I grew up in Arizona and spent my high school years not far from where we are now, I've struggled with a few of these adjustments myself. After nearly eight months on "the Rez," we still bump into occasional spin-worthy moments.

In our earlier life as residents of a small California city, we experienced infrequent "traffic jams," not like those seen by our friends in L.A. or the Bay Area, but we could sometimes wait for two or three green lights before getting through an intersection. Kayenta, Arizona has only three stoplights in the entire town and no one waits long to get through them.

Our cute little car had it good in California and slept every night in a finished garage. Here she has to rough it outside, 24/7.  She also struggles with a different kind of driveway.

We made some changes in our living arrangements as well, leaving behind a fairly new four-bedroom three bath home to live in a 480 square foot apartment, half the building pictured here, in the church parking lot. It serves the purpose.

Our former home town was hardly a shopping mecca, but we could usually find anything we needed and most of what we wanted. Kayenta has one medium-sized grocery, a hardware store, a small shop that sells western wear, and another for auto parts. If we can't find what we need in those four, we get to drive ... and drive. We have put nearly 23,000 miles on our car since our August arrival.

Medical care presents something of a challenge. In mid-February when my husband suddenly developed some frightening symptoms, we took an unplanned tour of the Four Corners: first a drive to the clinic in Monument Valley, some 25 miles away, then to Blue Mountain Hospital in Blanding, Utah, and two days later, to the San Juan Regional Medical Center in Farmington, New Mexico, where we could see a cardiologist. Two months later, we are still running tests and doing check-ups, but most of the truly frightening possibilities have been ruled out. Atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is manageable, though it means a 2.5 hour trip each way any time we want to see his doctor.

In our first days here, we marveled at signs written in Navajo. Now we've become quite accustomed to them. Just don't ask us what any of them mean!

We are also learning a few words of the Navajo language. We don't expect to learn much; if the Japanese couldn't get it during all of WW II, surely we won't learn it in a couple of years! Still it's nice to be able to say "hello," "goodbye," and "thank you." Perhaps with time, we can expand our vocabulary a little farther still. 

Then there is the mail. In Kayenta, everyone visits the local post office daily, or nearly so. We have no delivery to home addresses. For the most part, we have no addresses. People describe to one another where their homes are. Street addresses don't exist, a fact which challenges police and fire services. For compensation, we do have a lovely stone post office.

One of our adjustments, and one of our great pleasures, has been our "adoption" by some of the local folk. Alberta Cly and her family were among the first to take us in. Wonderful people!

We haven't yet learned how to live with the wind. Local lore claims that the air heated in the base of the Grand Canyon rises and rushes to the east. As I know little of the science of weather, I have to shrug and say, "Could be." What I do know is the wind blows much of the time and blows HARD. It stirs up clouds of dust which, in turn, stir up allergies in both of us that we never experienced before.

One other thing we haven't yet become accustomed to--in fact, we may never get used to it--is the magnificent, unique beauty of our surroundings. We marvel at the scene around us every time we step outside and especially during the long and beautiful drives.

Except for our neighbors here, who else can claim Monument Valley as their backyard?

Yes, we are still making adjustments, but we love it, and the longer we are here, the more we have to love.

Susan Aylworth and her husband of almost 48 years, Roger, are serving as full-time missionaries in a 12-step Addiction Recovery Program in Kayenta, Arizona, Navajo Nation. Susan is the author of 15 novels, all available as ebooks. Find her on your favorite ebook platform, at www.susanaylworth.com, @SusanAylworth, or susan.aylworth.author@gmail.com. She also blogs about her mission experiences at https://susanaylworthauthor/wixsite.com/walkingthegoodway. 


  1. Susan, I love reading about your adventures with the Navajos. What wonderful experiences you and your husband are having as you help those who need your services. Thank you for doing what you do. Not everyone has it in them to give up an easy life to devote to others. Hope your husband's health improves. Looking forward to hearing more about your mission and the wonderful friends you are making.

  2. Susan, this is wonderful. Thanks for sharing with us. You and your husband are part of the cure for the illness affecting our world today. Thanks! Hope your husband's health improves. Bless you both.