Tuesday, November 2, 2010

POW-WOW in South Dakota

We spent one more day in Yellowstone, visiting the Old Faithfull area and then driving towards the east exit. I wanted to see the grizzly bear but we did not manage to spot any. Driving towards east we realised that all the herds of bison’s were gathered in the same region where we could enjoy the spectacular wildelife. Its been great in Yellowstone but it was time to go to east and I was so surprised to feel again heat…a lot of heat and dryness.

We took little roads through Wyoming following the direction towards Rapid City, a place with not much interest except for its closeness to Rushmore Mt. , a well known national symbol. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore near Keystone, South Dakota, Mount Rushmore features 60-foot (18 m) sculptures of the heads of former United States presidents (in order from left to right) George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt and Abraham Lincoln.
Once close to Rapid city we started to search for Carrie’s house, actually located in a trailer park. It is typical in USA to find almost in any city or small village a trailer park. There are caravans or trailer houses, prefabricated. Some look good and are in super condition and other look creepy and like half ran down. Carrie was living in a trailer park due to the fact that she was a volunteer in Americorps but also because she vowed the poverty vow, admitting that she has no income so the state is helping her with few money in order to have a roof under her head and hers sons head. She was 16 when she got pregnant, gave up to school, and had to take care of her son being a single mother( the father of the kid being in jail). She lived most of her life in North Carolina, where she used to own her own house, but her dream was to travel and change her life. With the help of different programs from Americorps she managed to finish a college degree and now she was waiting to be offered a better housing condition. She just celebrated 36 of age and she now is able to enjoy more her life also due to the fact that her son (mixed with Afro-American) has grown up and needs less attention. She is a devoted mother and she welcomed us into her humble place with open arms. We felt immediately at ease and we spent the evening cooking dinner together with another girl from Seattle and a friend of Carrie, both members in CS. We talked a lot for the hole evening, sharing funny or serious stories about our general experiences in USA. In the night we decided to sleep in the car because it was better for Jan due to his allergies and also because Carrie had 3 big dogs that she had to keep locked because of us. We were supposed to stay in Rapid city and in the area for about 3 days visiting different things, but the same night , Rob, the friend of Carrie informed us that there is Pow – Wow ( native Indian festival) that he will attend and that we should go because it might be a once in a lifetime opportunity. So next day we visited the Monument of Mt. Rushmore
( famous for the faces of the American presidents) but the same evening we started to drive towards the Pow- Wow located in the planes of South Dakota, about 4 hours away from Rapid city. We said goodbye to Carrie in the morning but not before visiting her in Rapid city where she works in an office that helps women with poor situation to get milk and diapers. She also informed us that there are many many single mothers in america that do not receive any help from family or society, also that there are many teenage moms and victims of rapes. It is sad but true that in USA there is a big rate of rape victims many of these cases not being reported due to fear and shame. Many of these women are being drugged or they get drunk and the man does not understand when they say no and they take advantage of the situation. I heard of these cases but never been close to a victim of rape.
It must be a shocking and terrible experience, it must be though to be able to admit that you have been a victim and the saddest part is that many women do not report rapes because the authorities do not take things serious when a victim comes and reports the rape. The following morning we had to drive maybe 200 km more. We did not know where exactly will be the Pow Wow but we were supposed to meet Rob over there and sleep at a friends place in a religious mission inside the Indian reserve. Even right now, natives live in special reserves on the territory of USA. These reserves are autonomous and are control by the federal state and not by the local state which means that FBI is the one investigating all the crimes. They also have their own local police and administration but in general the reserves are some of the poorest regions in USA.
This one was not making the exception. Driving through the dry land we crossed the national park od Badlands
which we visited briefly and then continued through small roads in the middle of nowhere. It is surprising how uninhabited some of the regions of US can be. Sometimes we do not see a house or a person for 20Km or more. South Dakota, the state where this Indian reserve is , seems to be one of the poorest states in USA with a very low income per capita, huge unemployment rates and really once you get here you realize that not now and not in the close future there will be improvement here. You might be able to be a farmer but its pretty tough. Once arrived to the town where the Pow Wow was supposed to be we started to look for signs. It is normal that in many reservations the number of white people living there is reduced…very reduced. We spotted a valley with many many people and so once arrived there we parked our car. It was crowded, dusty and curious because it felt like we were in a different country, a totally different culture and totally different features. It was like the feeling I got when I was visiting an african country still very very interesting.

For the first hours we were watching different ceremonies and dances, the different Indians dressed with colorful and vibrant traditional costumes. Pow Wow is a competition also of dancing and of honoring the Indian heritage. It is a competition for all ages and the indians come from different tribes and reservation, this time mostly from The Sioux Fall region. Later in the evening we met Robbie who took us to the house of his friends in the city close to the Pow- Wow. The girl was not there but the property of the Lutheran Church loocked beautiful and peaceful in the middle of fields of green grass. It was also getting dark and while driving towards the house next to the church I actually mentioned with Jan some of our bad experiences with protestant churches in Africa, thinking loud that it will be a big change if they will show us hospitality and let us park for the night in their land. Funny enough, the girl that was supposed to host our friend did not answer the door and we began waiting on a bench in the garden but a women that seems to be from the church came to us and started to ask us questions….like why we are there and who we were. We answered that we are waiting for our friend and that we were going to sleep in the cars on the parking lot ( where there was no other cars). The women showed herself very nervous and told us that the girl should come and talk to her. As soon as the girl appeared the women told her that we are not allowed to stay there (It was already dark outside and it is dangerous to sleep in a reserve) and that we have to leave immediately and that she will have to leave the property next day although she was paying rent and working for an NGO that was doing projects in the reserve. Again it was confirmed to us that people of churches are mean, and that what they preach is not the same with what they do in practice. These kinds of people are the worst, being hypocrites and liars. I wonder if they are conscious of their behavior. So without thinking twice we decided its better to start looking for a place where to park safely for the night and also be close to the Pow Wow, to be able to return the next morning. We started to drive but it was so dark that we could not see anything outside the road in the end deciding it is better to park the vehicles on the side of the road and sleep like that. We found a spot but soon after parking a police car came and told us it is very unsafe to park there, also because it is close to a jail and that we should look for a different place. We ended up sleeping in the parking lot of a supermarket where we had breakfast the next morning. We spent the whole day at the Pow- Wow, resting in the shadow with a lot of cold drinks and enjoying the ceremony. It has been a very interesting experience and we could be close to the natives. One indian guy came to us and asked me if I was the Senator lady they were waiting for. It was funny….because they thought that Jan was taking notes for me and that Robbie was our bodyguard.
Around 7 pm we left the celebrations and started to drive our of the reserve ending up sleeping in the middle of the fields close to a closed church. This time there was no one to kick us out!

Next day we were expected in the house of a Prosecutor of USA , also member in CS. In South Dakota there are no big cities and we were lucky to find people to host us generously. Pamela proved to be a great host and a great women. She welcomed us in the afternoon at her nice home in the fields, we prepared dinner and shared stories and her story proved to be pretty interesting. She was fostering children that came from families with problems, especially kids of indian origin. She had a girl for 3 years but recently the girl had to go back to the indian reserve for a reintegration program. The indians do not accept for their children to be adopted in non indian families so Pamela could not decide for her foster daughter. She also commented that many of the kids come from abusive environments and they are exposed from very early aged to drugs, alcohol, sexual aggression. Many of the young indian girl are pregnant before 16. She was feeling hopeless for the girl she had for 3 years because she feared she is not strong enough to say to drugs and abuse and that she will lose her path in this environment. Pamela was now a prosecutor for US but its been just few years since she earned this status because she finished the school in her late 40s. She also came from an abusive family ( her father was drinking) and actually she was adopted by this catholic family but her birth mother which she looked for many years was from ireland. It sound complicated story and it is actually because before 20 years of age she had 2 children and 2 divorces. Her adoptive parents never really helped her and she ended up driving a truck for about 17 years. When her daughters grew up she managed to get back to school and put some order in her life. She is an open and warm lady and she offered us great hospitality. The next day we even went to court and saw what she was dealing with everyday, mostly small crimes by natives. After 3 days at her house, we left towards Toby’s house, close to Minneapolis in Minnesota, a state with not much interest. We were trying to avoid the big cities of US and we were also looking for people from whom we could learn new things about this big country.
Toby welcomed us in his small home, along with his 2 daughters that were staying with him for the week-end due to the fact that he is in shared custody with his ex-wife. Many American ex-couples seem to be doing the same thing. In Europe it is not that popular. Generally one parent gets full custody and the other has some time in a year to spend with the kid. I do not really know how the Americans cope with this shared custody thing. Even for the kids it seems a bit confusing because while we were there Toby explained us that he is trying to feed healthy food to the girls but his ex takes them all the time to Mc Donalds, also mentioning that may parents in US do the same for commodity.

Toby offered us a room and cooked amazing pizzas in the over that he built outside of his house in the garden. We spent 3 relaxing days with him and his daughters and girlfriend. We spent an entire afternoon through the thrift stores and had fun playing Wi at home.
This travel is not always about seeing new places but also about experiencing the life of the people we meet.