OK, so I know that in the last blog I had declared myself fully in the spirit of being sans keyboard during our mission trip to Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. That this would aid greatly in my immersion in the immediacy of the experience, rather on the work site or in cross-cultural discussions.
But as of yet, we’re still at the Day’s Inn in Rapid City, waiting for the van to pick us up — so the only immersion that’s occurred was me in the motel hot tub, in cargo pants at that. (Improvisation is at the heart of every SEND trip.)
And the computer is sitting here in the lobby, with a sign saying Adults Only, and I figure I am one — and I’ve got time to kill while my cargo pants are in the hotel dryer.
Besides, I want to tell you about last night.
So I was sitting in Northern Lights, a little Minneapolis airport grille with a massive wood carving of howling wolves out front, when the lady to my left overheard me ordering the walleye sandwich.
She expressed her approval, and I explained that back east the fish sandwich options were centered more on halibut, cod and scrod.
She then volunteered that she had just been in Panama City, as her t-shirt indicated, and she’d had grouper for the first time, at a place called Captain Anderson’s.
Which, as coincidence would have it, was the first place where I had grouper. I remember this because of who I was with (fellow church camp counselors) and how much I liked the texture of the fish. (More than I would turn out to like my first walleye.)
Then I volunteered that, in my childhood, Panama City was the site of the first Land family beach vacation — and that I had thought the Panama Canal was there. I was so sure of this, I didn’t ask my folks and thus received no clarification on this issue — I just craned my neck at every waterway we crossed, wondering if this was what all the fuss was about.
Of course, this geopolitical naivete is excusable in an eight-year-old; maybe it was a victory that I’d even heard of it.
Adult naivete, however, is more vexing. Especially in myself.
My new friend and I continued to talk; it turned out she was from Sioux Falls, South Dakota, which was back in the 1970s some kind of sister city to Tuscaloosa, Alabama — resulting in kids from my high school going to Sioux Falls and vice versa.
While coincidence made conversation easier, my new acquaintance was clearly warm and hospitable and open, grateful and blessed that she and her sisters — all 80 or close to it — still had each other’s company. She was proud and appreciative that our college group was coming to do volunteer work in her home state.
But when I explained that we weren’t going to Mt. Rushmore, as far as I knew, she seemed puzzled. I explained that we here to work, but she still seemed to feel this a major oversight. (And I myself had asked at some point in the last few weeks if that was on the list.)
Listening to her annoyance on our behalf, I came face to face with my own naivete. Mt. Rushmore is in the Black Hills, which the U.S. negotiated the Lakota away from in pushing them to settlements to the south in the less fertile badlands. After shoving them onto reservations in much more stern environments, white America then decided to take a side of a mountain and carve into it a bunch of white presidents.
No one from the res has said as much, but it seems logical enough. It would seem antithetical, in the least, to have a week of cultural immersion become a prequel to Mt. Rushmore. It would probably serve as a sure sign that we hadn’t, in the end, learned very much.
Of course, now that I’ve put this notion out there, watch Re-Member surprise us with a trip to Mt. Rushmore.
Oh well. At least I know better than to look for the Grand Canyon.
Let alone the Panama Canal.