As I move towards retirement and see more of the past than future, it seems…
It’s odd to think that in a timespan of just more than three months, I’ve been able to settle into a place almost 2,000 miles away from home and feel as if the town is where my home has really always been. St. Michaels, Arizona is nothing like Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where I grew up. Pittsburgh is a city where the closest shopping center is a five-minute drive; St. Michaels is a small town of less than 3,000 people where the only shopping center is a 45-minute drive, consisting of a Walmart, a Sally’s Beauty Supply and a Dollar Tree. Pittsburgh has trees and grass, while St. Michaels has red rocks and shrubs. This being said, St. Michaels has felt like my home since the moment I arrived. It helps that I immediately had a family – a community of four other completely different, well-meaning, and big-hearted people, who just like me, committed to a year of service. It also helped that our six-bedroom apartment was already furnished and really homey!
SMASE, St. Michaels Association for Special Education, where all five members of our community work, is only four miles down the road from where we live. It’s only about three turns, but for the first week and a half, we would make a wrong turn every time we drove to and from work. Now I can make that drive in my sleep! We were immediately welcomed by our coworkers and told we were “honorary members of their Navajo family.” The Navajo are normally very reserved people, but an instant bond formed as work began. The kids at the school all face challenges, but every day I see improvement in the students I work with as an occupational therapy aide.
It was easy to fall into a comfortable routine here. Work: Monday through Friday, reading club: Monday night with friends we made basically the first week here, Taco Tuesday and Spirituality nights every Tuesday, game night with the friends on Wednesdays, and most weekends we travel and hike at national parks, with Sunday being reserved for church and grocery shopping. I had assumed that I would grow bored living in a small rural town in the heart of the Navajo Nation reservation, but never for a second have I even had the chance to be bored!
Three months ago, I didn’t know my community members- they were just strangers I had texted a bit and met at orientation. Now, I know their likes, dislikes, and quirky habits. I know that Mike hates cheese, Abby has to walk around when she talks on the phone, Jess can listen to the same song on repeat for 16 hours and not be sick of it, and Jacob is not a multi-tasker. We eat together almost every night and spend most of our time together, laughing, watching movies, cooking, and enjoying each other’s company.
At the beginning of my year of service, I had just graduated college with a very expensive archaeology degree and no idea what I was going to do after this year. Now, I have a strong idea of what my future will look like: a career in occupational therapy or special education; hopefully in a town similar to St. Michaels! I’m not sure why it has all fit together so well, but for the girl who’s always questioned the direction my life is going in, I currently have more answers than questions. I wake up every morning excited to see the beautiful red rocks surrounding the town, as I drive to work ready to see my wonderful students!
Sami Rapp: St. Michaels, Arizona (Navajo Nation)