Intersecting Paths and Gaudí’s Imagination

March 15, 2018

At the top of the Passion Towers of the Sagrada Família

I began my first day in Spain by simply wandering around the hotel where I was staying. In a span of only a few minutes, I stumbled across the Palau, its full name being the Palau de la Música Catalana. The pillars were decorated with tiles of contrasting colors. Above the entrance was an extremely impressive array of statues and busts of various composers. My curiosity peaked when I saw a baby grand piano in one of the large glass windows, so I walked around the hall to find a way in without having to pay for the guided tour. (I’m cheap, I know.) The side of the building was covered in glass windows and so had a decidedly more modern look than the front. The interior reverted back to the typical style of the bourgeoisie, complete with gilded stairs and high, elegant arches. In the center, however, was a charming little café area with yet another piano. An old man dressed in a rumpled black coat and a large striped scarf was seated at the piano and playing Mozart’s Sonata No. 16 in C Major. The music filled the area, lending a nice juxtaposition to the quiet chatter of people milling around. To my surprise, once he finished performing the composition, he simply collected his keys, which were lying on the stand, and left after acknowledging the scattered applause. After questioning a guard standing nearby, I learned that the piano was there for public use, for any person to come and play if they wanted to. After some seconds of internal debate, I decided to play a piece, despite weeks of avoiding practice.

Once I finished, I was reminded acutely of Westtown’s South Room. Anybody can go in and play, and the main purpose, as I see it, is to find some respite in the middle of a busy day. It is by no means a formal performance, which I tend to strongly dislike. As I walked out of the music hall, I was filled with a similar sense of glee I had felt when I first played in the South Room four years ago. I also felt something new. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also once said, “Music is the universal language of all mankind.” This was the first time I understood this sentiment. When I had glanced up after performing, there was no sense of awkwardness when I addressed my audience. I felt connected to the people listening.

Recording of my playing in the Palau. Check it out, if you want!

In the afternoon, I began following my itinerary with visiting Casa Milà, or more commonly known as La Pedrera. It is currently in use as both a place of both residency and business. However, it dates back to 1912 when it was designed by Antoni Gaudí for the Milà family. The architecture was different from any other that I had seen before, in that I could not find a single right angle. This characteristic remained constant as I went through my tour of Casa Milà. The courtyard had an ovular shape, with the open sky overhead. Some surfaces were splattered with faint hues of blue and green. Even with this show of eccentricity and my knowledge of the pictures on Google Images, I was not prepared for what waited on the roof. Shapes that resembled bodies and faces lined up one after another in the middle of the curving tiled path. Some had white tiles stuck on them, others were left blank. As cliché as it sounds, if I could not see the city roofs around me, I would have believed I stepped into another world. Continue reading “Intersecting Paths and Gaudí’s Imagination”

Feeling Affirmed

It’s been healing and comforting to be surrounded by people who affirm my identity. At Westtown, I’ve struggled with coming to terms with my identity in a space that is overwhelmingly white, cis, and straight. While Westtown is in some ways a progressive and open-minded community, it isn’t one in which there are many other people like me.

At the museum, I am being surrounded by queer people of color, their art, and their energies. My boss Lindsay is genderqueer and black! So are a lot of the teens in the programs I’ve been helping with over the past week. I’m so grateful to be spending time in a place with people who are so empathetic and passionate.

And the people I work with are similar to me outside of our shared identities; we’re all passionate about art! I’ve been engaging in amazing conversations with my supervisors and other teens alike about what art means to them, especially in relation to social justice. This is one of the few times in my life where I have not been the only one, and I am so happy.




The Final 72 – Cooking with a James Beard Award Winning Chef.

Monday March 12, 2018 10:33 P.M. EST

Friday began quite early again due to us getting home early from a restaurant  opening that I talked about in the previous blog. So the plan was to get up and work out early after dropping chef’s daughter off at school.  The only real reason that I went was to swim at the gym that I thought we were going to. Instead we went and made some desserts for the restaurant. Yiheng made a flour-less chocolate cake that is matched with a round piece of chocolate Ganache. Once that was done we had a quick breakfast across the street, and went on a shopping trip.  We went to visit the local Cutlery store called Ambrosi Bothers. They service almost all of the chef’s knives in the entire city of Kansas City. It was amazing to see all of the different gadgets, and knives to use in the kitchen. I already have a few chef’s knives but I did purchase a new slicing knife. This will aid me when I need to cut prepared meats and other cooked objects. After this fun, we began running our errands for the day. This included dropping off  catering supplies to the company that we made lunch for that past Wednesday, and making a run to the apple store. Once that Happened we went back to the restaurant to start our prep for service. It was quite busy that evening due to the large college basketball tournament taking place down the street. At one point during the night we had hit a rush where we sold 20 burgers in about 15 minutes.  There was also an group that came into the restaurant for a special dinner where nothing was ordered off the menu. One of the starters that we made was salmon tartar.  This was a lot of fun to make because it allowed me to learn the proper way to filet a fish. Chef Tio made it look so easy.  Once we filet the salmon she took a small piece of the fish and chopped it up very fine and adding all of these amazing ingredients to it, like an artist adding layers upon layers of color to their work. She also knew that I had never ate raw fish before. So pictured below was the first raw fish I have ever ate before in my entire life.


Below is one of the other menu items that we made for the group which was pan seared scallops with blanched potatoes that were then pan fried, with homemade chorizo, and pickled red onions.


Shortly after this dinner was done we made our dinner, and headed home for some well needed rest.  The next day would also be my last day at the restaurant. Unlike most days we slept in pretty late and enjoyed it very much. This was a major day for getting prep work done for the next week of the three month catering contract that Chef had just received.  Once all of the shopping was done Chef took us to a really cook place for lunch in which she called ” fun Chinese food.” This place was called Blue Koi and it had some great dumplings, and roasted duck. We all got hit with all of the dreaded food coma and we all went back to the house and took naps. We all got up and rushed over to the restaurant to begin prep work. I chopped lots of squash, and eggplant for Monday’s vegetable dish for the catering event. Since we had all of these vegetables around Yiheng wanted to make what is really called vegetable byaldi, but is better know from a famous Disney movie which is called Ratatouille.  Here is one of the ones that we made before it went into the oven compared to the one from the movie

IMG-0825.JPG     Image result for ratatouille movie dish

So with that we also made a few other dishes for fun with some of the salmon and potatoes from the night before. It was great to see all of our minds come together to see make some amazing food. For dinner that night I made a pan roasted salmon with a maple bourbon glaze and the same potatoes as the scallop dish the night before. It was such a hit that I didn’t get a picture of it.  So to wrap up my time at the restaurant I took pictures with some of the people I worked with. In the first picture is Keith who ran the grill in the kitchen. In the second picture are Daniel, and Jake, who are probably the funniest and most enjoyable bartenders I’ve ever met.



Finally here are some of the pictures of the restaurant and kitchen.

IMG-0827 – The Dish Room

IMG-0828 The Kitchen: Small but Mighty

IMG-0822 – A map Showing Westtown township including Westtown’s Campus.

IMG-0823 The restaurant from the view of a comfy couch as I rest my feet briefly.

Sunday was a nice day to end my adventure out in Kansas City. After Sleeping in and packing we went to a donut shop for breakfast and then went around town on a street car, and took a few final pictures before I got to the airport.

The First picture below is me standing exactly in both Kansas and Missouri at the same time.


And the final picture taken of course was with Chef herself at the belfry before she took me to the airport so I could catch my flight home.

IMG-5633 Thank you for reading the blog, and I will be writing a shorter blog in a few days with a reflection of my time out with Chef Tio.  Until next time!




This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The museum’s One Basquiat exhibition is amazing. It is only one painting in a mostly empty room, but somehow that connects you to Basquiat even more deeply than if there were a whole collection of his work. There is something amazing about a painting that allows you to time travel into the exact setting of the artist. It was a deeply emotional experience for me to view the painting as I’ve always loved Basquiat.

The work was donated by Yusuku Maezawa, a Japanese billionaire and art collector who bought the it for $110 million dollars.The purchase made history as the most expensive American painting ever auctioned, so it was a huge deal in the art world when he bought it. Since I keep up with art news, I remember hearing it about it on one of my favorite podcasts! The purchase was a huge deal not only because of the price tag, but because Basquiat was a black artist in a largely white art world. On Friday, Mr. Maezawa came to talk to teen staff about how the education department was using the artwork!

It’s been a great first week and I’m feeling extremely grateful and inspired by the art around me.



At the Base of the Mesa (Day 6)


We left Farmington this morning for Chinle, where we would take photos for the Johns Hopkins’ unit there. After driving back through the Red Valley to Chinle, we met with employees of the unit and Ed photographed a shoot for their motherhood-planning program. Soon afterwards, we returned to Canyon de Chelly, this time at its floor, to photograph a mother and newborn for the same program.  We were then given the opportunity to read to elementary school students at the local elementary school. We stopped for lunch, and departed for another shoot, this time in the home of a Navajo family. The mother began to dress her two daughters in traditional Navajo outfits, and the two girls then made traditional food for us as well. We then travelled to the base of a local mesa to shoot them, where another family met us. After the sun set and the shoot ended, we went to a Pow Wow being held in a convention center in Chinle, and then drove 3.5 hours back to Albuquerque.

Continue reading “At the Base of the Mesa (Day 6)”

Lukachukai – Lucky Chucky (Day 5)


Today we woke up in Gallup and headed to Shiprock to work on the Navajo reservation with the Johns Hopkins Team stationed there. Part of their efforts to prevent early childhood obesity is providing clean drinking water to families with children ranging from 6-9 months. Clean drinking water is hard to find on the reservation; the tap water isn’t clean and buying water gets expensive. This leads families to go look for cheaper, less healthier options. In order to create healthier options, the center delivers water weekly to families in the reservation. Today, we started in the center helping out fill water jugs and than we were fortunate enough to be able to help bring the water to two different home visits. There we were able to meet two different and lovely families and see some beautiful scenery along our way.


Our first water delivery was to a family that lived near the Johns Hopkins Center. It was to a single mother of two adorable boys, living in a house sanctioned for lower income families. We were bringing them two jugs of water and to get some photos for Johns Hopkins. The mother had a boy that was two years old and a 8 month old baby. They may have been the cutest thing that I have ever seen. ever. When we initially got there the mother  was a little hesitant to engage but once Ed showed her one of the shots he had taken of her, she opened up quite a lot. She started staging the boys, posing with them, laughing a lot, and engaging with us as well. I think at first she was very wary of these outsiders entering her space but once she felt our energy of good intention and absolute love for her kids, she started to relax. Once she had relaxed, I could finally relax. I was worried that we would be invading these people’s lives and disrupting the flow, I needed her approval to feel okay with our presence. The younger boy was constantly bringing different toys out to show and give to us. He showed us so many of his toys ranging from a red chair, fake cellphone, dog rattle, and his bell. He had this long gorgeous hair that his mother was growing out. He loved the camera and was the most well behaved child that has ever existed. ever. His brother was as well. He had just woken up for a nap and was so content. Never in my life have I seen a child be woken up from a nap to go engage with a bunch of strangers and be so happy. But what pulled my heartstrings the most was how they interacted with each other. The older boy was constantly holding his brother, pushing him around in his playtoy mobile and making him smile for the camera. This experience may not have been the deepest nor the most eye opening but it definitely taught me something about family. I know that as long as those two boys stick by each other like they are doing now, and they stick with their mother who clearly cares about them very much, than they can handle anything life throws at them.




At 11, we were told we were going on another outing to photograph the water distribution program. Members of the staff implied that we would want to bring out cameras on this outing, as we would be able to visit Shiprock from a closer perspective. When taking the headshots, one of the founders of the program recounted the history of Shiprock. Once a volcano the soft rock had eroded to form the staggeringly large structure, leaving behind the hard volcanic rock. On either side of the rock, two expansive ridges also remain from the base of the volcano. We were told that from above, the ridges look like wings expanding from the rock itself. Traditionally, Navajo people called it Tsé Bitʼaʼí, or winged rock, to honor this resemblance. When the area was colonized, however, it was renamed Shiprock, as that is what the colonizers first thought it was. The name is now ironic on many levels, primarily because New Mexico is landlocked and most Navajo people had no idea what a ship was. The name remains on the reservation to this day, though some Navajo have begun to reclaim its original name.

As we neared Shiprock on the way to the water delivery, we took an abrupt right off of the highway onto a dirt road sprawling towards the rock itself. After about fifteen minutes of almost off-roading, we stopped at the base of the Shiprock, all gawking at its sheer size. This was one of the most incredible moments of the trip, standing in the grasses and shrinking next to Tsé Bit’aí.

As we continued on our journey to the next home, I experienced the most swift and dramatic change in scenery of my life. At first, everything was tan: the shrubbery, dirt, and Shiprock exploding from its flat and dusty surroundings. As the road spread out before us, suddenly the world became red with rocks and sand, as if moving along a natural gradient. Just as soon as we entered Red Rock Valley, where horses walked along the highway and everything was tinted pink, the road began to incline and twist, launching us up and over the mountain blocking the road. We chugged up the sharp turns, and trees started to accumulate. The ground snow suggested we were entering a ski resort in the middle of Arizona, though the undeveloped land proved otherwise. At the top, the pines opened before us for a brief moment, revealing the valley for all its beauty, resembling a grass sea behind the red sand. I begun to understand why the white colonizers called Shiprock a ship. On the other side of the mountain, the red returned, in the form of enormous boulders and cliffs with sunken caverns.

I felt like a child playing in an oversized world, leaving a sense of insignificance and yet wonder instilled within me. The beauty of each detail, the small wash, the red coves in the cliffs, the snow-topped mountains, spiritually captured me in a way I thought unimaginable.


Our second water delivery trip took us from Shiprock across the Red Valley and through the mountains to the small community of Lukachukai. The landscape was magical of course, but the most special part of the journey was the family we met at its end. We had a bit of difficulty locating the home we were supposed to bring the water to, but when we finally did, we were greeted by two llamas, a sheep, a rooster, a group of dogs and goats, and a turkey named Thanksgiving. This eccentric group of animals is cared for by the family of an extraordinary young woman who was kind enough to welcome us into her home. She began by taking us around her yard and letting us pet her animals, which she explained that she owns more out of her love of animals than for their practical use. The bond she has with the animals became clear when Ed photographed her with one of the llamas, which she adopted from a friend who had to give them away. She told us that when she first got the llamas – a mother and her baby – she had no idea how to take care of them and had to look up information on her phone after they arrived. Nonetheless, over two years later, they are clearly healthy, happy, well cared for.

After Ed finished taking the llama photos, the woman showed us her family’s hogan – a traditional Navajo dwelling. She told us that her wedding had taken place inside, indicating that the building has played a very important role in her life and that of her family. When Ed asked her if there was something she could hold while being photographed outside the hogan, she went inside her house and brought out her adorable eight-month old daughter. My heart melted watching as the baby, just woken up from a nap, grew more aware and came alive in front of the camera, smiling at us and hugging her mother.

When the photoshoot was finished, we were able to go inside the hogan, where the woman’s parents and older daughter sleep. The interior was a mix of traditional and modern, with all the typical components of an “ordinary” bedroom combined with a sense of Navajo history and a powerful feeling of closeness to nature. Inside the hogan, we heard about the woman’s extended family, including her brother-in-law in the army and her nine-year old niece who has already been engaged in autism awareness activism for several years.

Finally, we went inside the house, where we met the woman’s younger sister, who cares for the animals while she is at work three hours away in Ignacio, Colorado. There, she works five days a week as a pastry chef at a casino, having studied at Le Cordon Bleu in Scottsdale. In addition to this, she weaves, makes children’s costumes, and creates and sells accessories made out of sacks of Bluebird Flour. The amount of drive and energy required to do all of this is astounding and inspiring. And perhaps most extraordinarily of all, she showed no indication of being stressed or tired and was gracious enough to spend her time showing us around her home and sharing her stories with us. Her dream is to open up her own pastry shop, hopefully sometime in the next two years. With her talent and work ethic, I can’t imagine anything that could possibly stand in her way. Meeting her – a woman who embodies feminine strength to the core – was an indescribably moving experience and one of the highlights of my trip.


Things Got Very Busy Very Fast- Cooking with a James Beard Award Winning Chef

March 8th 2018  9:09 P.M CST

So the last four days have been quite crazy to say the very least. Monday was a day starting to do prep work for what was to come on later in the week. Going into the later half of the week there was multiple events going on later in the week.  After Monday’s prep we went into service not knowing what to expect the crowd would be like. It just so happened that it was quiet, and we were able to leave early. However, Chef Tio told us that the next morning we would be leaving in the morning when she does and follower her for the whole day. This meant not sleeping which I was able to do for the past few days. The day included going to the gym,breakfast, food shopping,and beginning to prep for a catering event for Wednesday. The cool part about Tuesday was that Chef Tio had a speaking event at Sprint’s headquarters which are just over the state line in Kansas. She along with two other successful women from the Kansas City area to talk about empowering women in the workforce. This was ahead of  International Women’s Day which was on Thursday. It was amazing to hear her talk about her experiences as a women chef in a male heavy profession. This was because she showed all of the power and tenacity needed to get to where she is today. That event took up most of the night. IMG-0811  – Chef Tio speaking at an event at Sprints Headquarters.

Continue reading “Things Got Very Busy Very Fast- Cooking with a James Beard Award Winning Chef”

Knife City (Day 4)


We started our day off by returning to Fort Apache and finishing up the work we started on the Etsy shop yesterday. However, by 11:30, we were on the road again, heading to Gallup, New Mexico. Although it was mostly a travel day, we did see some interesting sights, especially the ghost towns along Route 66. This route, which stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica,  flourished when it served as a major path for westward travel and migration. However, beginning in the 1950s, it fell into decline after being replaced by the Interstate Highway System. Today, the communities which were once made affluent by the heavy traffic along Route 66 have either fallen into disarray or been abandoned completely.



Driving through Holbrook, AZ and the surrounding area today, it was so strange to see the decrepit buildings set against the backdrop of one of the most incredible landscapes I have ever encountered. The grassy fields stretched far beyond the remnants of human life, turning into mountains and cliffs, silhouetted against a purple evening sky. My experiences on this trip so far have shown me that the earth itself contains so much spiritual power. Even in the environment of immediate dreariness which we drove through today, I recognized that it paled in comparison to the immense beauty just beyond. However, there were indications that the power of the land was often forgotten in this area. This was shown most clearly by the several large, hand painted “land for sale” signs we saw standing in open fields. At first, I didn’t give much thought to the signs beyond the fact that I had never seen land advertised so explicitly and casually. However, Ed seemed moved by the sign and stopped to photograph it. This prompted me to think more deeply about the meaning of the sign in relation to the work we have been doing on this trip. Soon enough I realized just how wrong it is to be selling land for profit. To begin with, this is not our land to sell, as it was stolen from the native people who have lived here for thousands of years. Furthermore, I have been learning and experiencing the spiritual value that the land holds in the eyes of native people. To them, and in a variety of spiritual traditions, the land is sacred and should be revered for sustaining our lives. Therefore, at least according to my own interpretation of native spirituality, it is not something that can be possessed by one person, but rather all the land is home to all humans. It is not meant to be bought or sold, but honored and cared for. This is easy to forget in the fast-paced, materialistic, profit-driven society we live in – a lifestyle embodied by Route 66. However, now that the money has gone away, nature has begun to reclaim the terrain, restoring the beauty and spiritual power of the landscape.



In our travels between reservations, it could feel like there was nothing around us – only our car and the highway. Just when the road seemed too long and we began wondering whether we’d ever see civilization again, another car came sputtering down the road, or we’d find a gas station or abandoned motel. These often vacant rest stops were found on the historic Route 66, parallel to the main highway, I-40. Each miniature stop had a separate theme, whether it’d be the petrified forest gift shop or, as we saw today, Knife City, a town named for its tourist knife shop. Each sign was a weather-worn relic from the 1920s – 1960s, painted onto the billboard or building itself when Route 66 was still a highly-frequented road and major tourist destination. A particularly large and rusty town we encountered was Holbrook, AZ, where most of our photos were taken. Continuing with the theme, many stores there perpetuated the cultural appropriation of Native people, despite the fact that a quarter of Holbrook is Native. It’s easy to write off these appropriative stores as outdated and artefacts of history preserved in abandoned towns, but that does not take into account why these Native gift shops are still open today. In addition to this disgusting appropriation, each town was filled with enormous, tacky, and wonderful dinosaur replicas, meant to honor the expansive dino fossils found in Arizona. Walking through the towns felt like entering an abandoned theme park whose imagery suggested that Native people and dinosaurs roamed the area at the same time.

At one photo stop, we encountered a supposedly abandoned motel, whose open doors and mattresses on the floor told a different story. Even in this vast expanse of nothingness, there are people everywhere. People live in these abandoned buildings. People shop at Native appropriation gift shops. People work at dinosaur gift shops 40 miles from all surrounding homes or communities. People live in these preserved towns of a past America.



As we made our way from White Mountain Apache through Holbrook towards Gallup, we saw an odd mixture of beautiful and rugged landscapes that called us to explore and document them through photos. However, these impactful scenes and moments were mixed with more images that continue to perpetuate the romanticization and commercialization of natives. We stopped at the Wigwam Hotel in order to take photos. The Wigwam Hotel rooms were each individual tipis (photographed below) surrounded by old cars in the parking lot. At first, my attention went to straight to the vintage cars, and then to Maggie’s obsession over the the replica of Mater from the movie Cars, but afterwards I took a closer look at where I was. The Wigwam Hotel’s name implies that they use the traditional image of a dome home structure known as the wigwam or wikiup. The Wigwam Hotel used the typical image that is often seen in most displays of Native culture, the tipi. Tipis were not used in this part of the country but rather in the great plains and parts of Canada. It would be more accurate to use wigwams since this type of dwelling is used in this particular region. The hotel is using a traditional place of dwelling as a tourist destination. Its main attraction is the exotic experience of living as the natives did, which perpetuates the idea of us versus them. It is businesses like the Indian stores and the Wigwam Hotel that commercialize and romanticize Native Americans that are causing these negative stereotypes to impact perceptions of the modern native. As I was leaving the White Mountain Apache reservation, nothing was more apparent to me than that the modern native narrative is complex, diverse, and cannot be summed up by a tipi or a derogatory image. The modern native narrative is a product of history, past and present.

KO’ – fire (day three)



Day three started with Jane feeling much better, a delightful breakfast with our wonderful hosts, and a 30 minute car ride down into the heart of this specific Apache reservation, White River and Fort Apache. Today our agenda was mainly to help the employees of Johns Hopkins Center for Native American Health with whatever was on their plate for that day. Ed, our mentor was tasked with taking the photos of the newest employees and some select individuals from the surrounding areas. We helped him stage and set up the photos, and as a result met some amazing people, three of which we talk about below. In addition to meeting these people and aiding Ed in his work, we volunteered at Arrowhead Cafe, the Apache run store and cafe. The cafe sells delicious food and drinks to many of the people and, from what we saw, is a central gathering area. The adjacent store sold handmade jewelry, art, and apparel from local Apache artists. Our job was to help photograph the pieces of art so they could be posted on their online Etsy shop, which has so far been a booming success.  Being in the cafe and the shop was a unique experience because it allowed us to meet people that would provide interesting conversations. As well as being able to see this thriving business all based on the efforts and determination of Apache people to help benefit their community.



One of the first Apache natives we meet was a 90 year old man. We met him while standing on the grounds of Fort Apache. Fort Apache was the military base during the Apache wars and the home to the Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School. The Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School opened in 1923 and aimed to dismantle many of the natives’ historical identities. The implementation of boarding schools trying to assimilate natives can be seen through the history of most reservations. As we stood on the grounds of Fort Apache, now the home to many offices and the newly developed Theodore Roosevelt boarding school that serves to provide education to middle school students and is approved by the tribal council, we heard about his own experiences at this place. While Ed and I photographed him, he said something that I thought was quite unexpected considering the context. He said to us “I hate Hitler because he took away my education.” When we asked him why, now intrigued by this comment, he explained that he had attended that boarding school. However, when the U.S. army started recruiting soldiers to fight in WW2 and pulled many natives from their homes to join the fight, he was one of them. Clearly, despite the acts of assimilation, had valued his education at Theodore Roosevelt Boarding School. He kept reiterating that because of Hitler, he had lost, despite the oppressive nature, his only access to education.

This idea generated a lot of thoughts in my head. It was mind blowing to think that after 73 years, this 90 year old man is still thinking about the education that he could have had. In fact, he arrived at the cafe and immediately started talking to me and within 3 minutes into that conversation he was talking about his experience at boarding school. Education was clearly very important to this man and it made my heart very heavy to think that not only was his education taken away from him but that even the education he did have wasn’t respecting who he was and his history. For me this conversation clearly stressed a very important lesson I carried with me throughout the day: that history stays with us.



One of the first Apache people we met on the reservation today was a painter. When we entered the cafe this morning, he was already there, waiting for Ed to photograph his newest painting (that had already been purchased) in order to add it to his portfolio. The painting itself was astonishingly beautiful, with intricate details in every aspect of the design. He recalled the legend of Geronimo, the historical Apache leader and focus of his painting. The focus was of Apache people, their heritage, pride, and current identity, similarly to all of the other artwork in the cafe. He explained each aspect of the remarkably realistic painting, and told us how all of his work related to some historical Apache event. His next painting, he confided, would be about the movement of guns into the tribe when Fort Apache, and the building adjacent to the cafe, was used as a storage unit for the white American colonizers’ rifles. After he and his paintings were photographed, we asked him when he started painting. “In jail,” he responded. When telling us about his past struggles with alcoholism, it was clear that art, along with his family, were what saved him from relapse. Twelve years sober, he has never taken a painting class, but sells each of his Apache-pride paintings for hundreds of dollars apiece. Until this trip, and specifically before meeting him, I had never fully understood the power of visual art as a force of personal change and liberation. On the walls surrounding the cafe, visual arts from students in the reservation hung for sale, bringing in revenue for kids exploring their passions. In the afternoon, high school kids came to the cafe for an after school entrepreneurial program – many of whom were artists Some planned to go to art school to continue their education and change their lives. In our academically focused East Coast prep school setting, traditional college is the only way to pursue a realistic career. On the reservation, however, art is a route through which many advance their lives, financially and personally.



While spending time with the high schoolers at the Arrowhead Cafe, we happened to meet a 17-year-old boy. From the moment we first encountered him while making crepes in the cafe’s kitchen, it was clear that there was something special about him. To begin with, he was the one to strike up a conversation with us, rather than the other way around. Although our position as volunteers for Johns Hopkins gave us the unspoken responsibility of reaching out to the students and trying to make them comfortable, it was this boy who ended up taking on this role for us. What really struck me about our first interaction with him was the fact that in spite of all the pain and injustice inflicted on his tribe by white invaders, he treated us – three white girls inserting ourselves into an Apache-run group for Apache kids –  with tremendous kindness.

However, it wasn’t until a bit later when we found out just how extraordinary he is. At one point while having his photo taken, he mentioned to Ed that he designs and sells T-shirts, after which Ed offered to drive him the few miles to his house in order to buy a shirt. During the short car ride, we were all laughing, talking about nothing of great importance. But after he showed us his shirts, which we all ended up purchasing, he began to open up about more serious matters. The shirts themselves, which are decorated with images of a cactus that looks like a rose, along with the word ko’ (Apache for fire), embody his pride in his tribe and commitment to keeping its spirit alive. All of this became clear as we stood in his yard, talking to him for at least half an hour, with Maggie and me occasionally leaving for a few minutes at a time to play with his four year old sister.

It would be impossible to capture everything he said to us in this blog post, or anywhere other than that place in that moment. Never in my life have I encountered a teenager with so much wisdom and heart. He opened up to us about the tragedies which transpire on the reservation and his own struggle to overcome depression. He also shared his sadness about the declining value in which his generation holds Apache traditions. At one point, he cleared a space in the dirt and compared it to the Apache mind before the beginning of colonization. And then, he kicked in the pebbles and rocks to represent the confusion brought on by the arrival of European invaders. It is his goal to restore at least some of the former clarity, although doing this is easier said than done.

One of the last things that he said to us circled back to the shirts he designed and the importance of ko’ – fire. He said that when you look into a fire you made with wood you gathered yourself, you can hear it talking to you, and you can talk back to it. This piece of wisdom seemed to exemplify the Apache connection to the land and its spiritual power, as well as his amazing sense of nature, spirit, and self. As I reflect on everything he said, I am realizing that there is so much wisdom left for me to draw from his words, so much I have only just begun to comprehend.


Today was incredibly impactful for all three of us but we still are processing a lot of what the day meant for us. We are sure much more insight on this day in particular will come later.  

Day 2: Window Rock, Chinle, and Canyon de Chelly

Unfortunately, Jane has been suffering from altitude sickness (or a stomach bug) today, making her extremely sick for most of the day. The day was spent mostly driving – first from Albuquerque to Chinle, and then from Chinle to Whiteriver. On our way to Chinle, we stopped at Window Rock, the capital of the Navajo Nation, where we witnessed the titular geological marvel that resids adjacent to the governmental buildings. In Chinle, we visited the multiple sites at the Canyon de Chelly, a historic Navajo site. Tonight, we are spending the night with gracious hosts from the Johns Hopkins Center for Native Health by Whiteriver, AZ, the largest town on the White Mountain Apache Reservation. Jane was extremely resilient over all 400 miles travelled today, but her sickness means her input will be missing from today’s post.

Maggie on “Indian Gift Shops”:

On our drive to Chinle from Albuquerque, we quickly left behind the populous areas of the city to find a vast, empty, and varied landscape. Rock formations sprinkled among the sagebrush starkly contrasted the highway plowing directly through this nature; we were officially on the Navajo Reservation. Though it was sometimes hard to distinguish the reservations from outside lands, kitschy “Indian Gift Shops” line the highway as a clear reservation indicator. Filled with Route 66 Memorabilia, the main focus of most roadside shops was Native imagery and exploitation. Obviously aimed towards white tourists, the shop featured terrifying dolls of romanticized native children, fake moccasins, and appropriated dream catchers adorned with screen printed US flags. While some pieces in the shop were authentic, most were highly commercialized Anglo perceptions of Native culture and Native Americans themselves. The murals and trinkets featured traditions from tribes and cultures that do not exist within a thousand miles of the Navajo reservation. This ignorant ideology of Native Americans completely disregards the actual experiences, practices, cultures, and lives of Native citizens living a few miles from these shops. These shops exemplified the objectification of Native people perpetuated by White Americans, through which actuals humans are devalued and simplified into dolls and things to observe as if in a zoo or museum.

Gwyneth on Canyon de Chelly:

From the moment I first saw Canyon de Chelly, I once again found myself speechless before the extraordinary natural beauty of the southwest. Located deep in the land of the Navajo, the canyon has long been an important part of the tribe’s history. Although they were difficult to make out, we saw several homes deep within the canyon. I can only imagine what it would be like to live there, almost completely isolated from other humans but quite literally enveloped by the wonders of the natural world. The spiritual energy of the place was intense. Standing high up and looking down into the canyon, I could see the Navajo creation myth, in which the first man and woman traveled through three other worlds before reaching this one, brought to life. It was as if a giant hole had been dug in this world – the fourth world – revealing a glimpse of the third world underneath. As I reflect upon my experience at the canyon, I am beginning to see the clear connection between the land and the traditional spirituality of the Navajo people.


Closing thoughts:

Something spiritual can be witnessed in the seemingly eternal landscape of the Southwest, especially at night. With our car hurdling into the darkness on an isolated backroad in Arizona, it was unclear where the land ended and sky began. As a sea of darkness enveloped our car and its beaming headlights, there was a beautiful and terrifying sense of being alone in a giant world.