Thoughts From “Mission Country”

Have I had a summer?  Oh, boy, have I had a summer!  After quitting my job of 22 years, saying goodbye to my family, friends, students, fellow parishioners, and the many dear people in my life, I sold what I had, packed what was necessary & made my way to “Mission Country” in the high mountain desert of New Mexico to serve the Jicarilla Apache children.  At about 7,400′ elevation I am happy to report NO altitude sickness this time around!  Occasional headaches, but a couple of Tylenol and a gallon of H2O puts me right again.


St. Francis of Assisi School

I arrived safely on July 29th and made my way to Lumberton where I began orientation on the 31st.  My car arrived soon after, but my art supplies, kitchen & personal items on the moving van did not.  While I was expecting my things sooner than the car, that nightmarish scene from the latest Pixar film “Inside Out” came back to haunt me.  If you haven’t seen the movie, Riley & her family have to move across the country, they hire a moving company but their stuff isn’t there as promised when they arrive at the house.  The usual daily calls are made, but still no stuff.  De ja vu!  My moving truck was supposed to arrive by August 6th, but did not arrive until the 17th!  Some of the boxes looked like they had been crushed by elephants, others exposed to flooding, and a few actually made it here unscathed.  All but three boxes from my sewing room have been opened, and so far I have lost to breakage a butter dish, a pie plate, and a sushi plate that I made myself.  Still, not the end of the world.  That was yet to come.  Seriously.
The day after I finally got my stuff, I noticed a billowing cloud of smoke over the Archuleta Mesa.  We (the volunteer teachers) were told to “get an overnight bag ready & put it in the car; we may need to evacuate if the wildfire jumps the river!”  So…. My things finally arrive only to be threatened with 2 nearby wildfires.  Great!  Is anyone else looking for the icing on the cake?  Once back at the house, the water cuts out.  For two days!  Welcome to “Mission Country” where every day is a new adventure!

Smoke from nearby wildfires.

I laughed as best I could because the alternative was to have an emotional meltdown.  The sad fact is that this happens on a regular basis, and not in Africa, South America, the Middle East, or some other impoverished, war-torn country.  This happens right here in America; the good ol’ US of A, folks!  What I find almost surreal is the laid-back attitude of the locals.  I asked one resident, “Why does the water cut out?”  Answer:  “Oh, sometimes they’re working on the lines & they break.  Other times the pump stops & they have to fix it.  Other times they’re cleaning something at the plant & they just shut it down.”  That’s it.  No notice.  No warning.  No courtesy notes hung on door knobs.  No public announcement or a “boil water” notice announced on the radio or the local TV News.  There is no local news.  Just local folks guessing & making due until it comes back on.  This is their “normal” and now my new normal.
When I was discerning a call to “mission” I oftentimes imagined going a third world county or a place ravaged by war and poverty.  I never imagined the USA, yet here it is.  Our own backyard!  In spite of all this, I am immediately in love with this place, the people, the culture, and the children.  The scenery alone is distracting enough!  But the people?  They are amazing!

Rockies, valleys, sky… A painters paradise!

I have been placed in the First Grade, and am the Art Teacher for the whole school, K-8.  My First Grade has capped-out at 15, and I love them all!  One of my four most fidgety children is a real gem.  When I asked her how I was going to keep her in her seat, she suggested I try a seat-belt!  First Grade!  Too much wit for me!
Tragically their needs are great.  Most come from broken homes and experience great poverty.  Some are so far behind academically, I may very well have them again next year (yeah, I think I’m staying.).  Much of the curriculum is outdated, but the standards are not, thus creating a bit of a challenge for us teachers.  I’ve started out by telling my students that I think they are terrific kids, and I am positive that they will all work hard to do their best.  And I believe they will.  I’ve worked them hard this last month.  We planted seeds for Science, worked hard in Reading/LA and Math, I’ve given a lot of homework, and they still think I’m a great teacher!  I’ve got them walking in straight lines & quaking like ducks to & from the playground, yet walking silently like “silent e” when we walk past the Front Office.  Too precious!  And, I think I may have created something of a monster out here that my friends back East will appreciate:  Sunshine Sticks for behavior!  I’ve had reports from parents and other teachers that the hottest dinner table topic is “Who lost a Sunshine Stick today?”
I will do my best to keep posting throughout the school year.  Internet is very sketchy; it cuts out more than the water.  The hours spent at school are more than I care to admit, limiting my “down-time.”   If the Peace Corps is “the toughest job you’ll ever love,” then teaching at St. Francis School is by far “the toughest job I’ll ever, EVER love!”  Yep.  It’s Mission Country, but the people and the landscapes are totally worth it!

Sunset over the Mesa.


One thought on “Thoughts From “Mission Country”

  1. So wonderful to hear about your new life. Yes, the needs of water for the Apache don’t matter to those making other decisions. I know the beauty of the land and the people you are with. And the children are precious, wise, and strong. You’re fortunate to be working in a school that allows you to work with the students using your creativity and caring. I was a school nurse at a Hopi School, but the principal who hired me got fired and the new one was intent on being a dictator. So, look forward to reading of more of your adventures.

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