My First Trip to the Rez

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It all started four years ago when I was standing in my closet trying to clean out some of my old clothes. I had several things I could get rid of, but the question was what to do with them. The natural thing to do was have a yard sale, but, ugh, the time and effort that goes into one of those did NOT sound appealing. Another option was to donate them, and that’s the option I decided to pursue.

Now, where should I donate my clothes? Several stores in town would take them, but I wanted to do more with them. I don’t know where the idea originated, but it suddenly came to my mind to donate them to an Indian charity. Excited now, I headed straight for my computer to do research.

My excitement quickly died, however, as one charity after another just didn’t seem right for some reason. I finally shut my computer in frustration as I came across one very large charity’s website. Reading through their pages, I had found the one that listed what they wanted people to donate, and what do you think it said?!? They wanted people to donate money, so they could build another warehouse to hold their clothing and food donations! Really!?!

That decided it. If I wanted my clothes to get to the people who really needed them, I would just have to take them myself. After all, I had always wanted to visit an Indian Reservation. This was the perfect opportunity. I went back to my closet and looked through my stuff again. Even if I donated everything, it wouldn’t really be enough to warrant a trip out west. I needed more items. With that thought in mind, I called my mom. Over the next several weeks, I researched reservations, and we collected clothes. We put notices in the bulletins of our churches, we told our friends, and I even went on Florence freecycle.com and asked for clothing.

When the week of our departure arrived, mom’s and dad’s garage was full. It took a while to sort through it all, but we ended up with a U-Haul truck full of boxes of clothes and other items.

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 And so, the trip began. I must say that driving that big truck was a new experience for me. Once I got the hang of trusting the side mirrors, though, it became a piece of cake.

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The drive lasted two long days. We finally arrived at the reservation late Saturday night. I was so tired that even the sight of our hotel didn’t go too far in quashing the excitement I felt at being able to stop and rest for the night. However, it did dampen our spirits a little. In my defense, let me just say that there are only two hotels on the reservation. Both showed up via an online search, but neither had pictures, nor could I find any helpful reviews. There was no way for me to tell what they looked like. Therefore, the sight of the purple (instead of red) lights lining the bottom of the roof for the length of the hotel took us by surprise. They shone out in the darkness illuminating the row of rooms beneath as well as the group of tied dogs in a corner of the parking lot.
Our arrival in a U-Haul truck must have seemed unusual because many of the doors to other rooms that stood open revealed people milling around in the entranceways looking at us curiously while little children peeked out from behind their mothers’ legs.

We got checked in and entered our room to find that the door lock didn’t work, so being the creative person that she is, mom propped a chair up under the door handle. With our security established, I walked over to the double bed on the far side of the room and dropped my bag on it. A loud noise made me jump, and I looked to see the side of the bed lying on the floor with the foot folded under. No, my bag wasn’t that heavy. Upon closer examination, it appeared that the foot had just been propped up under the bed but wasn’t really attached to it.

After securing the window (which also didn’t lock), we climbed into the remaining double bed and settled down, to the chorus of barking dogs, for a well-earned exhausted sleep.

Sunday morning, as is my wont, I slept as late as I could. As a result, mom got in the bathroom first. When I finally forced my eyes to open and my legs to pull me out of the bed, I was met with horrible news. There was no hot water. Now, I like to think of myself as pretty low maintenance (well, ok, medium maintenance), but the thought of cold water running down my back was not appealing at all. It actually bordered on being a serious problem. But what are Americans if not resilient, so I made the best of it. A very fast bath in a few inches of water and a quick shampoo executed by leaning my head under the faucet did the job, and I was good to go.

Leaving the hotel, we headed to the First Baptist Church of Eagle Butte. They had agreed to help us with the clothing drive, and we were looking forward to morning services there. Since the town isn’t very big, we found the church without much difficultly. We had arrived a little early to attend the breakfast that they regularly served to the children on the reservation. The fellowship hall was full of little smiling faces, and the guests seemed to really enjoy both the food and the Sunday School lesson. The adult service was also good, and we enjoyed meeting the people who attended, native and non-native alike.

After services, our work began (again). We drove the truck around back and started unloading. The wonderful church members provided a lot of needed help and delicious food. With everyone working together, it didn’t take us long to unload everything; however, even though the clothing drive didn’t officially begin until an hour or so later, many people showed up before we got everything off the truck. As a result, many boxes didn’t make it inside. We gave up trying to take all of the clothes out and let people look through the boxes. Thankfully, we had sorted everything by size, so it wasn’t too difficult for people to find what would work for them.

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We had a large turnout, and everyone seemed to have a good time. At the end of the day, we packed the clothes that had not been taken into two or three small boxes to drop off at an Indian charity in another town.

 I can honestly say that that afternoon was one of the most enjoyable that I had had in a long time. I meet many wonderful people there. One of which was Anne Konur, the founder of Windswept Academy. (If you continue to read my blog, you’ll hear much more about this school.) I made many friends, some of whom I have been able to see again on subsequent trips.
Our trip back to Florence was filled with interesting sights and fun times, but that night and day that we spent on the reservation will always live in my memory.
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