Fort Thompson, SD (Sep 13-16/13) – Lucky for N&J, avoided any tragedy brought on by the terrible flood conditions in Colorado. After crossing into Wyoming at Cheyenne, traveled east on I-90 into Nebraska, dipping back into Julesburg CO to stay at a rest area for the evening. Playing a bit of frisbee in the evening as the sun set, they had a great sleep and were excited knowing would soon be at their defined destination.
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Next day made our way north to South Dakota. The expansive landscape afforded sweeping views in all directions. It was early in the morning and the miles of sunflowers still had their stems hunched over waiting for the heat of the sun to help them look up. In the early afternoon, finally reached the Crow Creek Indian Reservation at Fort Thompson SD… the site of the Habitat for Humanity (H4H) project. Unsure of what to expect, the scene that unfolded for N&J caught both by surprise. A rather stark contrast of what was experienced up to now; life on the reservation was humbling & shocking. Their ‘home’ for the next month or so is located behind a native elder’s community centre that serves hot meals in the middle of the town. The ‘town’ is made up of four corners: A corner store/gas station on one corner; across on the other corner a native run casino… surrounded by a depressed residential area, the ‘Golden Age Centre’, and lastly an empty lot. What is there to do here??
The Habitat area is located in the basement. This is where an H4H Guest facility is being constructed in a 50 year old building that used to function as a conference centre. Completely stripped down to the concrete walls the updated facility will house volunteers who come to build houses in the area. Previously the volunteers who built a couple of homes stayed in a church building much further down the road. The new guest centre will be able to house up to 50 people. It will include male/female bunk rooms, bath rooms (4 showers each), kitchen and a dining area. This is what N&J are volunteering their skills for… to complete this guest area for the multitude of workers expected next spring to start the next 4 homes. The goal is to complete this guest centre over the next 4 weeks.
The work in the centre was daunting at first, until Jim Huntley (the H4H Executive Director, Construction Manager & Chief Bottle Washer) gave a cook’s tour of what was happening… a very impressive project. Jim has been with H4H for four years and has an infectious smile and a voice that draws you in…. he has been named “Thunder Walks” by the locals. Chauncey Longcrow is one of the elders here who has been on site everyday to help and to watch the progression of the centre. His wife was the Executive Director of the project before she passed 11 years ago. Chauncey is also the Medicine Bear Herbalist and is a ‘wealth of information’ about his people and land.
N&J have become much more comfortable & confident knowing they can be an asset to the project. Jumped into their work quickly, insisting on starting work on Sunday (usually a day off). First thing tackled was the data, voice & video wiring for the complex including the elder’s centre upstairs. Installing telecom capabilities is J’s specialty so this was a quick win. Next was to complete the renovation of the upstairs bathroom facilities. The men’s room was essentially complete (except the washroom metal stalls require repainting & installation). The women’s room required the ‘whole meal deal’… removing soap/towel dispensers, patching walls/ceilings, spray-tex all, painting, etc… N championed this work and almost finished this in a day.
Living in Gizmo behind the centre has it’s challenges. Completely inundated with flies, the van is crawling with them!!! Have a special towel to ‘shoo’ them out with but they are overwhelmed. Watching them fornicate and knowing that they will soon be laying eggs, decide that the towel is now meant to swat and disable them (going against N’s humane thought process). Again outnumbered, so head to the local store to purchase the ‘yellow strip of death’. Worried having exceeded the quota for flies on one strip???… put up another. They drive N&J nuts!!!
There is an electrical supply to keep the van fridge running; use of the bathrooms (in the centre) and setup a solar shower in one of the unfinished shower stalls downstairs, collect hot water out of a tap at the other end of the centre. Needing a way to dry hand washed clothes have made a makeshift laundry line strung between the shower stalls. Wireless internet is available via the H4H offices, it provides a very fast connection for whenever the need arises to update the blog or email back home.
Behind is a ‘park’ that is occupied for the majority of time by locals who are displaced… homeless. The ‘park’ has remnants of cement slabs left over from a hotel complex and a few trees to provide shade. The park has been coined the name “Cirrhosis Park” (by the locals).
Yes, very much like some areas found in some Vancouver urban areas (this is NOT a dry reservation; I am sure you have the idea now). The local residents have approached N&J, introduced themselves, being very friendly and are interested in what they are doing here. At first it was a bit disarming, but have become comfortable knowing they mean no harm and are getting to know them by name. Gizmo has become quite a draw… the talk of the town as the Crow Creek people have never seen a Westfalia camper van before. Get a lot of folk asking about ‘Giz’, fascinated by the setup.
Stray dogs everywhere… itching and biting themselves, open wounds with flies embedded in, matted and dirty hair, infected pink eyes, they wander the streets unfamiliar with human touch or kindness they scurry away in fear at the slightest acknowledgement. The fear of infecting ourselves with ‘something’ overrides any desire to reach out to them. These creatures have no choice in the matter and have been left to their own defenses. Even worse yet most appear to be females who have just given birth to new litters, their teats swollen and infected hanging close to the ground. Hoping to make a difference in their lives, N&J will be contacting animal welfare from a bigger city to intervene on their behalf.
Although this is a far cry from a vacation, N&J feel honoured to be here and blessed to be able to offer labour and skills. Fully aware that as this experience continues… will grow and will keep hearts and minds open to what lays ahead.