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Archive for the ‘Laundry’ Category

I have been pretty “quiet” lately thanks to the work volume all of the wonderful folks who have been stepping up to become sponsors for children and elders on Pine Ridge Reservation since the 20/20 episode aired.  I literally have not had time to write.

That is about to change!

This evening I called an elder to give her a sponsor for the 5 year old granddaughter she cares for.  The longer we spoke, the more I knew I had to share this story.  I’m sharing it because I am so far past angry I can’t keep this to myself.  It is difficult to type when all you can see is red, but I will give it my best effort.

[scrape … scrape … scrape … sorry, the soapbox makes a bit of noise]

I asked Grandmother how her granddaughter, who is in first grade, was doing.  She told me that the girl was happy but having some difficulty in school.  She was told the child may be dyslexic.  That will mean a struggle for her.

I told her I had a sponsor for the girl and she was very happy with the news.  We continued to talk as I confirmed the address information.  It was then that I began to steam.

This little girl’s family had moved away and left Grandmother with a trailer to live in with the girl.  If you could hear me, I would tell you to close your eyes and picture it as I describe it.  Instead I will try to paint you the picture with my words on this page.

The trailer is in a group of trailers.  It is very old.  Grandmother worries that the roof will come off in the wind that comes with storms – and in South Dakota that is often.  It seems that the wind is always blowing on Pine Ridge Rez.

The trailer has no running water or sewer connection.  They were using a nearby outdoor faucet for water, carting several jugs a day.  Some of the neighboring men “rigged” up the sewer pipe so they could use the toilet, flushing by pouring some of the water they had carried into the tank of the toilet.  HOWEVER . . . there was some kind of water line break in the area and the tribal water department had to shut off the water.  Yes, the outdoor faucet that they were using to obtain water is now dry!  The tribe has not made the repair that would allow the faucet to be turned back on.  Now they have to go to someone else’s home to obtain the water they need and carry it home.

Following the dotted line . . . or broken water line, let’s see the additional results of the lack of water and sewer connections. 

The most striking consequence is that Grandmother cannot get a propane tank without the water and sewer connected.  Is that important?  It depends on your perspective, I guess.  Do you think eating is important?  Do you think it’s important to have heat in the South Dakota winters?  Personally I think they are both things none of us would want to go without.  So how does Grandmother cook?  She uses a hot plate or electric skillet.  How does she keep herself and her young granddaughter warm in the poorly insulated trailer?  She uses several small electric space heaters.  The pair sleep in the living room.  Grandmother has hung a blanket in the hall doorway to keep as much of the heat as possible in their small living area.

Picture two old-fashioned thermometers, the kind with the bulb of mercury on the bottom.  One of the thermometers is measuring the temperature outside the trailer.  The second thermometer is measuring the electric bill.  As the mercury in the first thermometer drops (actually plummets at night) during the winter, the second thermometer’s mercury is exploding through the top of the stem like a volcanic eruption!  By spring, the electric bill will be too high to pay – causing the electric to be cut off and a $250 reconnect fee to be added to the next bill.  This is what will happen this winter as Grandmother tries to feed and warm herself and her granddaughter.

Are you beginning to get upset yet?  No?!  Okay then, it’s time for the clincher.

Do you remember that flimsy roof I referred to above?  That roof has another serious problem – it leaks badly!  When it rains, the water comes in through the light fixtures.  It comes down the walls.  Grandmother’s mattress in the bedroom can’t be used – it’s wet.  Even if they had running water, the bathroom would be unusable – the flooring and carpet is wet.  Besides, after her granddaughter got a small electrical shock when turning on the bathroom light to brush her teeth, Grandmother decided it was better not to use the bathroom at all.  So all bathing and tooth brushing and laundry is done in the kitchen.

I asked Grandmother whether she had sought any assistance to get the problems resolved.  She told me that she had.  She told the folks at housing.  A man came out and made one small repair.  He never returned, in spite of her calls.  Her district representative to the tribal council has tried to help her out but he has had as much success as she has had.

[okay, breathe . . . in . . . in . . . in very slowly, then out . . . out . . . out slowly, control the breath to control the rising anger . . . again . . . okay]

 

Is this how elders of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, the wise people of the Lakota, should be living?  Is this how they should be treated when they ask for help?

We ALL know the OST has no money, though why they don’t is harder to figure out.  But the fact is they have people.  They need to be training more people to do the very repairs that elders need and can no longer do for themselves.  The tribe needs to invest in their own vocational school to train plumbers, electricians, construction workers, carpenters, etc.  These trained workers could be licensed.  They could form companies and do work for an income.  They could also, in exchange for their education, give back to their communities by performing the repairs for elders for free, as a sign of the respect due to the elders.  The tribe needs to work at making it easier to do business on the reservation — especially for registered tribal members.

Lakota culture and values state that elders are to be respected; that women and children are sacred.  But it is only lip service that the tribe gives.  They spend more time with politics and nepotism guiding their decisions than the truth of their ancestors.

So I am left with the question of how I can help this particular Grandmother.  But I am also left with the bigger question.  There are many more grandmothers on Pine Ridge Reservation.  Many do not have the energy or ability to lobby constantly for the repairs they need.  I am trying to use the steam I am still feeling about this to brainstorm ideas on what would help.

If you have any ideas, I would love to hear them.  It doesn’t matter whether they are feasible or not at this point.  I just want to know that you think this situation is abominable and how you think it could be changed.

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OK, I know I haven’t ranted in a bit, but it’s getting out of hand.

The current price of fresh green beans is averaging about $1.29, depending on where you live and what kind of market you shop in.  (Add about 20% if you live on Pine Ridge Reservation.)

I am writing about green beans because I wrote about them 3 years ago (have I been doing this that long?) and that post has more hits than any other single post I have written.  When I wrote, the price of green beans where I live was hovering around $3.49 due to bad weather in the areas where we typically grow them in this country.  To have them more than $2 over the price I recalled had been a shock.  But prices are not doing that now and still I am getting hits on that post!  People, the price of green beans (noted above) is where it should be right now.  It will go down a bit in a month or so as green beans become more plentiful in additional local areas.

You might ask why I am so annoyed about that post receiving more hits than anything else – and even if you don’t ask, I’m going to tell you because it’s MY soapbox.

I have written about many more important topics over the years than the price of fresh green beans.

I have written about the Third World conditions that exist in the USA on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

I have written about Independence Through Music, a wonderful program for youth on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

I’ve written about living and coping with fibromyalgia for 45 years and raising a son (now 29 years old) who has Asperger’s Syndrome.

I’ve written about crime, death, dying, family, health, housing, nature, travel, national news media, passion, depression, rape, values and laundry to name just a “few” more topics.

But what comes up most often?  The price of green beans.  I’m not sure why that cannot be checked when one does the marketing.  Is it that important to know before you get there?  Or are folks in this country getting that lazy that they have to let their fingers do their shopping before they even get to the market?  There can’t be that many kids getting the assignment to find out about the prices of produce – especially in the summer.

OK, I’ve just heaved a huge sigh.

Whatever got you to this post in the first place, I hope you’ll take the time to look up one other category before you leave.  My personal suggestion would be Pine Ridge Reservation because that way you’ll learn something really important and you’ll have a large selection of posts through which to learn it.

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I can’t believe it!  The blogger was wrong.  I must be the only blogger to ever be wrong.  Right?

OK, enough histrionics!  But it is true.  Because when I wrote the prior post, I did not have complete information.  I did not realize that in addition to 5 adults, this family includes 10 biological children under age 18, 3 grandchildren and 5 foster children. I only had 2 foster children that I was aware of in the first post.

If you are as good at your math as I am, you will quickly see that

10 + 3 + 5 = 18.

So I admit my error.  But I think it makes this mother/grandmother even more amazing.

I actually spoke to her again last evening, when she wasn’t at a noisy basketball game, and got a bit more information.

She told me she has always felt “a passion for kids.”  That is why she had many children and continues to care for children.  She talked about children being sacred in her culture and about how many are not being properly cherished.

The foster children came along unexpectedly.  A cousin of her mother’s, a teenaged boy, had gotten in trouble and was kicked out of school.  He thought it would get him out of going to school, since his family wouldn’t let him quit.  But he got a surprise.  Instead of just being free, he was in juvenile detention.  They drove him from detention to school and back every day.  The only thing he was allowed out for was going to school.  A difficult lesson learned, the boy did a very smart thing.  He told the authorities that he would stay with this mother and her family.

Faced with the lack of foster homes on the reservation and with the authorities telling her that they were this boy’s last chance to stay on the reservation, they agreed to take him in.  He is doing well.

Soon afterward, they were approached to take in another young boy who had been in trouble in school.  They agreed, knowing that this placement meant they would have to attend school, in the classroom, with the young man every day for months.  He is doing well now, too.

A teenaged girl whom their daughter had met at a basketball game was the next addition.  The girl had been raised by her grandmother, who died recently.  She had no other family to take her in.  So she was taken in by this warm, loving family.

They have also taken in a 2 year old and a 6 year old who were abandoned by their mothers.  Unimaginable to this mom (and me) that a mother would just leave a child in an apartment and go away.

So now they are caring for 18 children.  Yes, the young adults and older children do help with the young ones.  But there has to be leadership, guidance, role models to create a successful family.  This woman and her husband obviously provide those things.

The dad is an auto mechanic.  He works part-time when he can get work.  Although there are many vehicles that need repair on the reservation, most people don’t have the money to pay someone else to do it.  There are not many auto service stations available, so there aren’t many jobs available in that line either.  (Jobs – one of the biggest needs on the reservation.)

Mom had been working as a corrections officer locally.  However, she is going to be laid off Jan 6, 2011 due to budget changes and department changes in the facility.  Gratefully, she will be able to collect unemployment benefits.  She receives a small stipend for the foster children.  She does get food stamps because they are low income.  (Yeah, and they have 23 folks in this home to feed!)

Speaking of the home, it is small.  It does have a basement, which they have converted to a dormitory-style bedroom for the kids.  They did add a shower to the basement but they currently have only 1 working bathroom!!  The reason I know it is a small house is that she told me they can’t have a washer and dryer because their septic system is only large enough for a family of 4.  They do laundry 3 times a week at a relative’s house.  They still have to have the septic system pumped every 2-4 months!! I doubt that’s free service.  (I don’t know about you, but mine, used by 2 people, goes about 2 years.)

The children are engaged in numerous activities, especially sports.  Many of them play on basketball teams, one played football and there is a cross-country runner.

College is a hope for some.  She has one daughter in college.  The costs are very difficult for this large family to manage.  But there should be a way for these kids to go to college if they desire it – it could only help the tribe.

There are also children with health issues.  One of her daughters was born with a cleft palate.  She has endured many surgeries, which required traveling to Chicago, Denver and other cities from the small town they live in on the reservation.  The 6 year old foster child has speech problems.  One of her teen sons is being tested for autism in the near future.

Throughout the conversation, however, the biggest impression I had was that this woman was full of joy, peace and love. I asked her how she was able to manage this household and she told me that her children “are content.”  She explained that they accept what they have with gratitude and do not hunger for things they was some children do.  They feel loved and their inner needs are met, so they are content – content with what they have, content to share what the have with each other and content that life will be okay.

That is an amazing thing for any child, but especially for those who live with so little, as the children on Pine Ridge Reservation do.

I told her she was amazing and inspirational to me.  She didn’t get flustered.  She wasn’t embarrassed.  She humbly and quietly said, “Thank you.”

I will find a way to improve the life of this family somehow!

Perhaps you will help me find a way.

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Could you handle parenting 15 children?  Could you also try to work at the same time?  Could you do it in a place where the distances that must be traveled to get children to school, appointments and recreation are measured in how long it takes to get there rather than miles?

I am always honest with you in the posts and I will tell you straight out – I could not do this.  I know that about myself and I know I could not do it.

I am in awe of the strength of the Lakota women who live on Pine Ridge Reservation.  They work at keeping family together in a place where there are so many circumstances that put roadblocks in their paths.  But their culture values the children.  It values family.  They believe in generosity and hospitality.  They survive in the face of events that I am not certain I could survive – and I consider myself a fairly strong woman.

I want to tell you about one of these women who inspire this awe in me.

This grandmother still has 10 of her own children, aged 5 through 17, in her own home.  Fortunately she is not a single mom!  In addition, 3 of her adult children live with her – each with a child of his or her own (all about 2 years old).  If you are counting, that’s now 13 children under 18 years old.  But that is not enough for this family.

In addition to the 13 children of her own family, this grandmother has opened her home to 2 “placement” or foster children!  In a place where there are many children from broken and troubled homes, this family has opened their home and their hearts to additional children.  That is the Lakota way.  Children are considered sacred.  They are the future.

When I spoke to grandmother recently, I had a difficult time hearing her.  It wasn’t because of noisy children.  They were at a basketball game – attending the Lakota Nation Invitational high school basketball tournament in Rapid City – with ALL the children!  Amazing!  I remember the days of raising children.  It was a task requiring great planning and organization to travel comfortably with 2 children.  I would never have attempted to do it with 15.  It says something for the cooperation and team spirit within this family that they are able to do this!

I asked how they managed to fit 15 children and 5 adults into one house.  She told me that it was fortunate the house had a basement.  They had turned the basement into a dormitory-style bedroom to accommodate the children.

Grandmother had been working.  But she will be laid off on January 5, 2011 because the tribal office in which she worked had received decreased Federal funding and was being downsized.  The family is fortunate to have a car and they do receive food stamps.

She must have raised the older children well; I have to believe that it is only because the children are responsible and willing to work together that this family can function so well.

I sit here thinking about what it takes to simply take care of the day-to-day tasks for 20 people:

  • the amount of laundry that must be done
  • the quantity of food it takes to feed everyone
  • the cost of clothing everyone adequately
  • the trips to doctors, dentist, activities that must be coordinated
  • the time that must be given to each child
  • the squabbles that must be settled
  • the time to help with homework and meet with teachers
  • finding a few minutes for oneself

It would overwhelm me.  I am amazed at and inspired by someone who can accomplish these things in a less than optimal environment!

I will be listing the family on the OKINI list at ONE Spirit.  When I asked what the children needed, the response was “socks, underwear, feminine hygiene products, soap, shampoo.”  No expensive items, no toys.  The necessities in life.

I will then be looking for sponsors for this large family generous and loving enough to take in children whose lives are in chaos.  It will not be easy and I may have to look for another “sugar daddy” as I explained the other day.

It will be especially difficult not only due to the number of sponsors needed for this family.  It will be difficult due to the economy in general and because I already have almost 700 children and 85 elders on my list waiting for sponsors too.

Do you have room in your heart and wallet for 15 children?  Okay, just kidding.

How about one?

 

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When was the last time you washed anything by hand?  What was it?  Perhaps it was a sweater or bra that required special care.  Or perhaps it was a pair of socks because you ran out of socks a day before laundry day.

Have you ever had to worry about not having enough laundry detergent?  Or a better question – do you have to worry about not having laundry detergent every time you do the laundry?

Do you have enough underwear and socks that you can do laundry, say, once a week?  Or do you have to wash your underwear and sock every night so that you’ll have clean ones tomorrow?

Do you have a washing machine at home or do you have to go to a laundromat every time you want to wash a load of clothing?  If you have a washing machine at home, I have 3 questions for you.  Do you also have a clothes dryer?  Did you find your washer “at the dump?”  Does your washing machine have water gushing out of the bottom every time you use it?

Some of these questions may seem a bit too personal for you – like do you have enough underwear to go more than one day without washing it.  Others may seem ridiculous.  All of these questions occurred to me as I pondered my conversation with a mom from Pine Ridge reservation.

I spoke to this mom last evening, just after she arrived home from work.  Please don’t mistake work to be the equivalent of a job.  Many on the reservation work TANF hours for tribal offices in order to receive the benefits for their children (TA in the acronym indicating Tribal Assistance).  We enrolled her children for sponsors and got their sizes for the OKINI (Lakota for sharing) list that ONE Spirit operates in addition to the sponsorship program.  Then we chatted for a while.

She told me that laundry detergent was one of the things she never had enough of (she has a family with 2 adults and 3 children).  It is also expensive to purchase on the reservation.  She also told me that, because the kids don’t have enough underwear and socks, she tends to have to wash underwear and socks every night by hand.

Then she told me the part of the story that really made me grateful for what I have.  She told me that, before they got their washing machine, she had to wash ALL their clothing by hand!!  Can you imagine washing laundry for 5 people by hand all the time?!

They finally found a washing machine “at the dump” that someone had gotten rid of because it “leaked.”  Since they have a basement with a drain, they took it home to try it.  It definitely leaked!  In fact, as she described it, water gushes out of the bottom when it is used.  But the water goes down the drain in the basement and the washer functions, so they use it.  She considers it a blessing to have it!

And that, folks, is the difference between living on the reservation and being you and me.  I’m not saying we all expect things to be perfect (though many do these days) and I’m not saying we aren’t grateful for what we have (though it seems many people are not satisfied with what they have).  But the women I speak to on the reservation are strong enough to see that everything is relative.

A “leaky” washing machine is something to be grateful for when it means you don’t have to do all your laundry by hand.

Now, all she has to do is figure out how to afford laundry detergent, underwear and socks.  Since her “job” pays about $450 per month, from which she has to pay rent, propane for heat, electricity, phone and food, clothing (including underwear and socks) is at the end of the list.

Laundry detergent.  Shoes.  Socks and underwear.  Winter jackets.  Warm clothing for the severe SD winter.  Those are the kind of things that a sponsor can help with to help moms on the reservation.  I know, I’ve been a sponsor for quite a while now.

So the next time you are doing your laundry in a washing machine with all the laundry detergent you need, this about this mom.  It will change your perspective on laundry, if not on life!

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