Setting out on the road I expected to meet interesting people, engage in strange conversation, gaze upon beautiful landscapes only previously seen in magazines, eat out at some of the tastiest restaurants in the nation, reconnect with family and friends, and sleep on stranger’s couches, but I didn’t anticipate the variety of cultures I would encounter while wandering the States.

In many ways my time traveling in my own country has been just as monumental and life-altering as my one year spent on the island of Papua, Indonesia. It never fails that each location brings a unique nuance I’ve yet to experience anywhere else.

Photo out the bus window in Arizona

While traveling on the bus to Arizona I had a moment of brilliant recollection, remembering that a childhood friend works as a 4th through 7th grade writing teacher at a school on the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. Though I hadn’t seen her in years, I quickly shot a message asking if she’d be able to put me up for a night. Her welcoming and excited reply was all I needed to re-direct my travel plans to a new destination.

The Hopi people are a private culture, not wanting outsiders to influence their society. Photography is forbidden (which, as a pleasure photographer, was something I struggled with) and tales of their rituals and beliefs are purposefully kept secret. Ceremonies aren’t typically open to the public. Therefore, though I learned a lot in the brief 30 hours spent on the reservation, I’m not going to elaborate. Instead, here are a few reflections:

    • Stepping on Hopi lands, you can feel a spiritual presence. Hopi people view their mes- covered lands as sacred, partially because they’ve always lived where their ancestors did. Death is important as birth is important; a common Hopi proverb, “In death I am born,” struck me long after reading it. I haven’t been able to shake the eery beauty and understanding it brings to my life. Agriculture is an extremely important component of their culture too, and therefore they have a unique appreciation for the desert landscape. Being there I felt as if I were on another continent. What I saw of the Hopi people I respected immensely. Their religion, stories, and understandings of the world are something I hope is never lost.
    • It’s a tragedy most people in the United States have no idea what Native American culture truly is, or that most have never seen reservation lands. Through trekking onto this new territory I’ve decided to make a pledge to acknowledge social issues within Native communities (such as sexualized violence perpetrated by outsiders), and gain a better understanding of their spiritual and cultural practices.
    • The Hopi children helped me remember that I don’t want to take my days on the road for granted. My friend invited me to speak to her writing classes about what it’s like to be a traveling writer. The kids I encountered were hilarious and endearing, and their questions provided me an opportunity to reflect upon what a gift it is to travel. Experiencing the Hopi land and meeting new people along the way is a blessing granted only through a privileged flexibility and freedom to go where the wind blows.Through the children’s (sometimes) hilarious observations such as: “Why don’t you just live in an RV?” or, upon learning I had never been to France or seen the Eiffel Tower, telling me “You should go to Vegas, they have everything,” I was better able to understand my wanderlust and view is as a positive and possible way of life. Their prying questions made me more motivated to explore freelancing. Additionally it made me realize I must provide myself space in the coming months to write essays about this trip.
My friend Rebecca, who teaches on the Hopi reservation, and myself.