This week's sweet sample is from RIDE THE RAINBOW HOME, which is now available as a FREE download (for a limited time) from Smashwords and scribd.com, and which will soon be available FREE from Kindle, Nook, and Apple as well. One reviewer said the overall quality of the book was "elevated by its cultural context." The book is set in northeastern Arizona and shares glimpses into Navajo and Hopi cultures, like this one.
Dawn crept over the eastern horizon as they made their way out of town toward the Navajo nation. The eastern sky was a rainbow of soft pastels, ribbons of pink, peach, and mauve mimicking the brighter layers of sandstone beneath them.
Meg quickly understood why Jim drove a pickup. By the time they crossed the borders onto the reservation, the roads had turned to barely paved trails. Later they became paths made by horses' hooves and wagon wheels, little more than ruts on the desert floor.
Their first stop was at a summer hogan some thirty miles inside the reservation. There Jim dickered for a magnificent squash-blossom necklace, got the price down so it sounded like a steal, then nonchalantly mentioned that he might consider the earrings too, and ended up paying as much as the artist had asked in the first place. All of it Meg followed through the men's body language, the items they picked up, and the dollar amounts they quoted.
"I didn't realize you speak Navajo," Meg observed with admiration as they started down the rutted path.
"Like a native, or so I'm told." He shrugged. "It makes sense. I learned it as a native language, right along with my English."
"How? Navajo is one of those languages nobody learns—except Navajos."
"Remember Franklin Nakai?"
She couldn't have forgotten. Nakai had been at the hub of too many jokes and pranks during her school years. "Didn't he work for your father?"
"That's right. He and his wife Ruth worked on our place from my earliest memory. Ruth helped Mom in the house. She understood English, but she never spoke anything but Navajo. I grew up speaking Navajo to Ruth and English to my mother. I learned both at the same time and never thought a thing about it."
"I've heard of that," Meg said. "We studied the concept in a language class in college. They say a child can learn any number of languages at once, so long as he always speaks the same language to the same person and never mixes them up. It's only when the same person speaks to the child in different languages that the kid gets confused, or worse yet, stammers."
"It worked that way for me," Jim answered. "When I got older, the Nakai boys were always around and we spoke only Navajo. When I'm with them, I think in Navajo. It's automatic."
"The only Navajo I ever learned was Yah-ta-hey."
"And that's only sort of Navajo," Jim said. When Meg looked confused, he told her of how a former tribal chairman had started a radio program for Navajo listeners and had created a greeting out of the Navajo words for "good" and "morning."
"So it's a translation?" Meg asked.
Jim nodded. “Sort of.”
"Then I promise I won't use it for the next two days."
“That’s a good idea,” he said, smiling wryly.
Their itinerary took them through Indian Wells and Ganado, as well as down a couple of rutted cow paths with the hogans or small homes of talented artisans at their end.
“I’ve noticed most of these little compounds have both a home and a Hogan,” Meg observed. “So where do they live?”
“Some of the Dineh still live year-round in hogans,” Jim answered, “but most have a more or less European style home they live in. Still they keep a Hogan for ceremonial purposes.” He grinned. “It can double as a guest house, too.”
Meg noticed how the hogans were all built in the same general pattern, mostly in hexagonal or octagonal shapes with an earthen ceiling. At each stop, Jim pulled into the door yard and waited patiently in his truck until the occupants came out to speak to him, explaining to Meg that Navajos considered it a sign of rudeness if a stranger walked up to their door. Whenever the people spoke English, Jim used it, trying to include Meg in their conversations, but many reservation-born artists spoke only their native tongue. Jim led those negotiations in rapid, easy Navajo, quickly concluding deals worth hundreds or many thousands of dollars and always paying in cash.
"Don't you worry about carrying so much money?" Meg asked as they loaded a beautiful hand-tooled saddle into the truck.
"Only when I'm off-rez," Jim said. "Things I take onto the reservation sometimes walk away by themselves, but I've never had anything stolen."
"What's the difference? Between walking away and thievery, I mean."
Jim frowned in concentration. "It's a little tricky to explain to someone who doesn't already understand the concepts, but the Indians have a communal sense of ownership unlike anything we know. If you leave a half-eaten plate of beans lying around, or a pair of still-serviceable work boots sitting outside your house trailer, they likely won't be there when you come back. They’re being used by someone else who has a need of them.”
“And people just accept that?” Meg felt her cultural norms doing a one-eighty.
“It’s what people grow up expecting,” he answered. “On the other hand, everyone here recognizes that money, being a European concept, is treated with a white or European kind of approach. It belongs to an individual. If it's mine, no one else will touch it."
"You sound like you have a real respect for these people."
"Where else in America could you drive around in a new truck with nearly thirty thousand dollars in your jeans and expect to come home alive?"
Check out RIDE THE RAINBOW HOME and the other Rainbow Rock books, available FREE (now or soon) at Kindle, Nook, Apple, Smashwords and scribd and soon at OverDrive.com.