Every morning, up until a month ago, I (Donnie) drive my two oldest girls to their bus stop near the Ted Gallegos Community Center on Coors Boulevard here in Albuquerque, NM. During the 15-minute drive we usually listen to the radio or put on some Spotify if the girls need some motivation to get their day started. For a while our oldest rocked out to 80s rock and roll and the next oldest resonates with Billy Eilish. As a cool and hip father, I would often joke with her and say “whose Billy Eyelash?”
About a month ago we drove to the bus stop in silence because we knew this was their ‘last day of school’ due to the lockdown issued by our State Governor earlier in the week. None of us knew at the time it would be the official last day of going to the actual school for the year. During the first week of home school my wife and I were running on adrenaline and stuck to the COVID-19 suggested schedule that started with a 9am morning walk, followed by academic time, lunch, and then more academic time. The girls resisted the walk at first, but it was and is really helpful in getting the day started.
After the first week of homeschool it was Spring Break! We let the girls do whatever; watch Netflix, play Xbox and just hang out. Renee and I still had meetings online, which for us was pretty normal even before the lockdown was announced. We did not fully realize how much our work and lives mimicked stay-at-home orders. We were pretty happy being home all day, every day. After the second week we still felt the rush of what was happening and began to feel a little guilty for not freaking out or the need to hoard toilet paper.
We began to wonder if we were not responding appropriately, but as we talked and reflected on our response to the pandemic and we realized how we as Native people grew up with plenty of uncertainty. For me, I grew up sleeping on the floor of a trailer home, our pipes froze every winter and my family had to warm up our house by firewood and coal. For Renee, she would be home all summer with nothing to do, being bored was a way of life. Instead of going into panic mode, we simply thought about how we are going to get through this season.
As we entered the 3rd week of lockdown the adrenaline has worn off, we’ve settled into homeschool mode, and are daily reminded of the dangers of going out. As of April 13, 2020, the Navajo Nation Health Command Center said there are a total of 813 cases of COVID-19 on the Navajo Nation. COVID-19 cases on the Navajo Resevation are disproportionately high compared to entire state of New Mexico.
The hardest part of lockdown is not being able to go home and visit our families back on the reservation. The pandemic has hit the nearby Pueblos and Navajo Reservation very hard. The assumption made by many is Native people are not following orders or they are doing something to bring this on themselves. Most people do not realize the situation of Native people living on or near their Reservation. The Navajo Reservation, “where the Navajo people were forcibly resettled by the U.S. government in 1868, covers over 27,000 square miles stretching from northeastern Arizona into Utah and New Mexico and is home to more than 300,000 people” (Kreider, Planet Forward).
The other reality is plenty of Navajo people still do not have running water, the best health care and have preexisting conditions that make fighting viruses difficult. Dr. Michelle Tom, Navajo, wrote in a recent Yahoo article, “You’re saying 20 seconds of wash your hands with water [but] we have to haul our water. … We do not have plumbing. And that’s how I grew up.” An estimated 30 percent of homes on the Navajo reservation, which has roughly 175,000 residents, don’t have access to clean, reliable drinking water and have to haul it from local utilities” (Sottile & Ortiz, Yahoo.com).
The memes and jokes about the pandemic create some distraction from the feeling of isolation, not being about to go to restaurants, and especially from seeing friends. The unintended consequence of the pandemic for us has been introspection and reflection. Our motto for how to get through this season is to be okay with not being ok. There are tough days when young children will follow you around everywhere you go, the car will not start because you haven’t driven it for days, and the things you said you’d get to when and if you had the time still have not gotten done. It’s ok.
One of the few things I remember hearing from a speaker a couple of years ago at a Cru Christmas Conference was how hard it is being alone in your car. He said, “what’s the first thing you do when you get into your car? You turn on the radio.” He then suggested that we do that because we don’t’ want to deal with the stuff in the deep recesses of your minds. This season of lockdown may reveal the things we have neglected to reflect on or work out in our internal world. This may be the reason some people are still going out despite STAY AT HOME ORDERS.
Take what you will from reading this blog entry, I am not going to suggest embracing the lockdown or how not to respond, but I wanted to simply share about our life during lockdown. I won’t ask people to stay home, because if people won’t listen to the myriad of celebrities asking everyone to stay home, then people definitely won’t listen to me. Stay safe my relatives.