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
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
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
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
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
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
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).
Article © Ron Singer. All rights reserved.
Published on 2021-04-05