Okay, technically Labor Day is tomorrow. But it is Labor Day weekend, the final big holiday of the “summer season.” And what am I doing? Laboring!! I guess I can at least be grateful it isn’t the kind of labor that comes with a baby at the end – been there, done that. But yes, I am hard at work for the past 2 days. I will be tomorrow as well.
What am I doing to take up all this time? As usual, I am calling the rez. Specifically, I am calling as many of the 44 households who were to receive food orders last weekend in the 2 areas I serve to determine whether the food was delivered or not, whether it was in good condition when it arrived and if there were any other problems with the delivery.
I had tried to meet with the food delivery volunteers for my areas when I was out visiting my Lakota friends a couple of weeks ago. We were never able to connect (phone tag, even on the rez!).
You would think this would be an easy task. You would be wrong.
I have not be able to reach 25% of the people on the list because their phones have been disconnected or are “no longer a working number.” Do 25% of the folks you try to call lose their phone numbers because they can’t pay their bills? I doubt it.
Another 25% are not reachable for a variety of reasons: no one is home; they have never set up the voicemail box; the box is full; they don’t have a voice mail box; they are “not available” which can be code for “they have no signal where they are” or “they’ve turned off the phone to save power.”
There is a small percent, perhaps 10%, in which someone answers the phone but the person I ask for is not there. So I try to check anyway, “Do you know if the food was delivered last Sunday?” Nope, no idea. It always puzzles me. You are obviously at home enough to answer the phone for someone else but you don’t know if they got food. (Pausing to shrug my shoulders – I know how loose home life can be on Pine Ridge).
Now we come to the rest, the calls where I actually reach the person I am trying to call. It should be a simple task, a few quick questions.
If you’ve been reading my posts for a while, you will know there is no such thing as a “simple task” when it comes to the rez. There are the people who want to know when they will get a sponsor. Answer: I don’t know. The economy is bad, there a more natural disasters than we can keep up with and more people are torn among many places to be philanthropic.
Next question: Can you give my sponsor a message? Answer: Absolutely! A related question: Do you know why I haven’t heard from my sponsor in “x” number of days, weeks, months? Answer: No, but I will try to find out.
Most people do not respond to the East Coast direct manner of completing this task. They want to chat a bit, tell you about their lives and what’s been happening around the rez. It takes time. It’s probably something of a blessing in disguise that I can’t reach everyone. If I did, with the average call lasting at least 20 minutes, I would have been on the phone for at least 15 hours! Talk about labor!!
There are occasionally calls that take longer than the 20 minute average. Like the call I made yesterday when I connected with a grandmother who had not received her food delivery. Not a good thing, in and of itself. But she proceeded to tell me about her 5 year old grandson who is just starting kindergarten. He had no shoes that fit. He needed school clothes.
She told me she had just been diagnosed with diabetes on top of her problems with asthma. She thinks (and I suspect she is right) that the black mold in her home is responsible for the asthma problems.
She went on to tell me more about the house. The heating vents are not in the holes where the heat comes out. When the housing authority folks came over to fix them, the “fix” they proposed was to duct tape them in. Okay. She has so much trouble heating the home in the winter that she uses her oven for heat.
She moved on to her finances. She is on Social Security and receives about $600 per month. She must pay for everything out of that money. She gets no support except for food stamps for her grandson. That means she must pay for electricity, heat, clothing, cleaning supplies, phone, cable and the inevitable food and personal hygiene supplies not covered by the food stamps. She told me her electric bill is around $250 per month and the cable is $50 per month. She confided that the bundle – cable, internet and phone – was $113 per month, way more than she could afford.
With half her income used up by just 2 items, you can see how a food delivery that did not appear would be a disaster. She is very worried.
I have one more day to complete this task. Then I will send a report to the persons who direct the food program with the information I have gleaned.
But there will be no rest from my labors. There is always something to be done for the rez.