Anglo Adventure

Travel with a sense of humor


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Taos Pueblo Out in New Mexico

“One night my weary feet did go so I stopped that night in Taos…

That night there came a snow in the mountains and the valleys below
And I found a love that’s true I know in Taos New Mexico.” – Waylon Jennings

Flowers-New-Mexico

I went traveling, a journey through the Southwest. I left with the feeling that I could settle down in an old adobe under New Mexico’s powder-blue skies. Sante Fe – maybe Albuquerque, land of Breaking Bad and also as I discovered, a difficult city to spell.

We went to the Spirit of the Winds balloon fiesta and took the completely justified 1,000 pictures of hot air balloons (you’ll see those soon). We zipped north into Santa Fe, than Taos, then Colorado, honey-gold aspens winding through thick evergreen forest like a strand of garland.

We stayed at the Inn of the Turquoise Bear a historic B+ B in Santa Fe, formerly owned by the poet Witter Bynner and rented to his artist friends. Georgia O’Keefe. Ansel Adams. Carl Sandberg. I could write a whole post about that place and the food. Oh wow, the food.

I shopped South Congress in Austin, saw an armadillo in Houston.

But the Taos Pueblo stands out because it was one of those unexpected things you find in travel.

Taos Pueblo

Taos Pueblo New Mexico Travel

The Taos Pueblo is one of the oldest continuously lived-in residences in the US and one of the most private and secretive of the pueblo communities.

I didn’t even have it on my itinerary at first because we only had one night in Taos and I wasn’t sure about the timing or what I really wanted to see in the town. Touring the Pueblo is $16 per person. There are guided tours if you have the time to take one (which I sadly did not).

I read the list of rules thoroughly.

Taos Rules

Taos-Pueblo-New-Mexico

  • Don’t feed the dogs. (They should add “don’t step on the dogs,” because several dogs were lying in the sun so still and quiet, they appeared dead.)
  • Don’t take pictures of tribal members without their permission.
  • Don’t swim in the river.

After touring the pueblo and observing some questionable tourist behavior, I would add:

  • Don’t ask stupid questions.
  • Don’t let your kids run amuck.
  • Don’t take smiley selfies near sacred grave sites.

I felt icky. Like I should not be there, but that I should see it. Like I should whisper, even though the day buzzed with construction activity. Camera-strapped tourists darted in and out of the shops and residences of the tribal members. Their language (Tiwa) is unwritten and there’s an expansive wilderness area behind the pueblo off-limits to non-tribal members. Running water and electricity are prohibited in the pueblo.

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There’s a bell-tower from the original San Geronimo church, built in the 1600s when the tribe was forced into Catholicism by Spanish missionaries. That church was destroyed by US troops in the late 1800s (after the murder of Governor Bent) and many people died in the battle, so they turned it into a cemetery. But they built another church – its walls are smooth, a sandy color and topped by white crosses. The architecture of the church is extraordinary, but you still get the sense that the church doesn’t really belong.

I would rather my tourist dollars go to corn necklaces and fry bread made here, than those high-end shops that peddle overpriced turquoise rings. And I think interactions and access help dilute preconceived notions. But I cannot imagine what I would feel like if a bunch of tourists traipsed through my apartment to gawk at me.

Case-in-point: There was a twenty-something girl who had her boyfriend take a way-too-happy picture of her next to the sacred burial plot. The grin on her face might as well have been a thumbs-up. Continue reading

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The smiling language of butterflies

Last week, I took Rasmi* to the library for the second time. It was an unusually warm spring day, the kind where everyone stuck inside working asks if you’re out enjoying the weather.

She hands me a bar of coconut ice cream and a Red Bull. Something about that bar zips me back to the porch of my grandma’s bungalow on Chicago’s South Side. Whenever the ice cream man pushed his cart by her house, excitement erupted. Flavors were called out. Crumpled dollar bills were unrolled and counted. One of us would bolt from the porch to catch up to the guy, who would be down the block by then.

I can’t tell Rasmi that she found the ice cream of my childhood.

Rasmi is Nepali, a refugee from Bhutan. I volunteer to help her and her family through their first few months in the US. I read their mail and take them to the doctor’s and try to help find english classes and jobs.

There are a lot of people like Rasmi in Seattle. Newcomers shakily trying to navigate our complicated and expensive way of life while maintaining their traditions, holding on to things that remind them of home, a place they probably won’t see for years. And they encounter so much impatience, ignorance, apathy day-to-day.

Rasmi lived in a camp before she came here. Rasmi doesn’t have a computer, or an email address. Before here, I don’t think she had electricity, or a stove, or a washing machine.

It’s easy to dwell on what she doesn’t have, what she’s never had and how it’s unfair. (And it is. It disgusts me how unfair it all is).

It’s better to focus on the task for the day. Go to the library. Get that email address.

It’s better to focus on her family, her brothers and sisters and the revolving door of neighbors, cousins, and friends, all there to help each other through their transitions. Rasmi  will be ok without me. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking I am her savoir. I don’t want to pity her because pity diminishes pride.

I’m there just to be her friend.

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Rhododendrons. Nepal’s national flower.

Rasmi wears a short sleeve shirt with a floral print and gray straight-leg jeans. She has a butterfly tattoo on her arm. I also have a tattoo, on my back—a monarch butterfly I had done when I was nineteen and because I wanted a tattoo, any tattoo. I won’t show her that though. I want to ask about her tattoo and what it means to her. Is it a regrettable symbol of teenage rebellion like mine? Or something else?

Instead, I eat the coconut ice cream bar, piloting the car one-handed. The windows are down and a cacophony of birds, dogs, kids, and bass rushes in.

“I like this.” I remind myself to annunciate and speak slowly.

She smiles. I am not talking just the ice cream. I want to tell her I like this whole experience. That it makes me nostalgic for driving around in summer with my best friend. Rasmi is only a few years younger than me. That means we were growing up at almost the same time. That’s something. I want to know about her home, her friends.

At the library, a man openly checks her out. Rasmi is cute. Her hair is twisted into pigtail braids, fastened with bright-red bands. He asks about her tattoo and she starts to respond. I usher her forward.

All of the rows are packed with people clicking or typing away. She pulls up a chair and gestures for me to sit. “We’re going to set you up with Gmail,” I declare. I type in Google then pull up the account page. Her name is already taken. There’s another Rasmi. “It’s not working, someone has your name.”

She doesn’t understand. I say it again, shaking my head no. “It won’t work.” After she plucks each letter, she looks at me expectedly. I click enter, knowing it won’t be accepted, that she needs to pick another name. Her brow furrows in frustration. I tell her we have to add numbers to her name. I add the required numbers and write the address down on a piece of scratch paper.

Then there’s the password, the verification code, the pop ups. I take over to get us through all the prompts and legalese I wouldn’t have glanced at twice before. “Yes, Yes, Accept, Yes…” Too many times in Quebec, when they didn’t have a translated version of a form available, I would sign it in French, not knowing if I just agreed to sell my kidney or if I was getting a phone contract.

I was lucky because many people speak English in Quebec. I don’t know what it is like to make a home in a place where no one but your family members and a few neighbors speak your language.

Only later, when driving home will I realize that maybe I could have had Chrome translate the page to Nepali.

She writes her first email to me as she doesn’t have her friends’ email addresses. I watch over her shoulder as she types a message to me and shakily clicks send.

You are good. You help me therefore thank you very much. 

I sort it into my “Emails You’ll Cry At Later” box.

When the session is over, we go to the reference section to check out English Learning DVDs. Rasmi wants a movie and writes it down, but the librarian and I have trouble figuring out what she means. The librarian tells us they have a call line for interpreters. Rasmi brightens at this. In three minutes, she’s speaking to an interpreter in Nepali. On the phone, her expression changes from tense to open and friendly.

“She wants a horror movie,” the Librarian tells me and pulls up some titles. This new fact fills me with delight and surprise. She informs us that the library doesn’t have many horror movies. Instead, Rasmi selects a classic black-and-white, a movie about a farmer and his wife.

Inside the car, away from the public, she becomes brazen with English. She says many people are afraid of horror movies. Not her. I notice she’s smiling more these days, almost making sentences. I met her four months ago. The first few times she came to the door and said “hi,” shyly or went into the kitchen. The first time we drove somewhere together, she barely said a word.

I want to thank her English teacher, even though I don’t know who s/he is.

I want to thank the Librarian for finding out that Rasmi likes horror movies.

I want to tell her she’s brave and strong and smart, but I just turn to her and smile.  There’s so much that can be said this way.

*Name changed


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5 Lessons I Learned from Unexpected Friends

sting ray, smiling, travel blog, travel photos

Lesson 1,001: A smile goes a long way.

In an effort to reverse all the bad karma I’ve collected during years spent as a hater, I am mentoring a family of Somalian-Libyan refugees through their transition here.

I won’t say too much about the family and their incredible story, as that would be more exploitative than that Honey Boo Boo show.

All I will say is that they’ve been through a lot. And they still greet me with the biggest smiles whenever I see them.

As I teach them things like simple English phrases (yo, canIgetadietcoke?, that’s hella cool) and how to navigate the bus system, they’re teaching me much more.

If you’re in a travel dry-spell, the way I am (one more week til we hit up New England), volunteer to help people from other cultures. You’ll learn a ton and it will make you feel all warm and fuzzy, like a teddy bear. Continue reading