“This looks a lot like Saudi Arabia,” I mumbled as I awoke from my deep sleep in the passenger seat of the Mazda. Drool coated my right sleeve and my now husband glanced over at my matted hair.
In the distance, city lights twinkled, protected by a perimeter of cascading mesas and an ocean of sand.
Spiked green and violet plants lined the cracked highway – a species of plant that looked as if it belonged at the bottom of the sea. A road runner darted in front of our speeding vehicle.
The magnetic city lights were pulling me in – closer to my new home, where I would live for five years.
Nostalgia hit me intensely like that softball that was hurled into my thigh when I played the sport in elementary school. This new home of mine – Farmington, New Mexico – brought me back to my childhood days of playing on the baseball fields and climbing the “jebels” in Saudi Arabia.
Farmington was inviting and charming. The first week I lived in the high-desert I was bounced back and forth, like a pinball colliding into neon-colored prongs and switches, meeting numerous influencers and friends of my husband’s family. It was a whirlwind, but forced me to leap out of my safe shell and meet individuals who have impacted my life over the years.
I wrote for a local newspaper and covered beats that introduced me to topics like the school board, oil and gas and the city government. The idea of sitting in a city council meeting for three hours, rapidly typing on my laptop trying to understand what the acronym “RFP” stood for was never something I dreamt about. But, we all must start somewhere.
One vivid memory that hasn’t escaped my busy mind is when my colleague and I explored the Navajo flea market in the summertime heat.
I jumped into her minivan and waved goodbye to Daniel. My eyes wide open and curiosity sitting on the tip of my tongue, I asked hundreds of questions about the Navajo culture.
After thirty minutes of driving in between mesas and passing hitchhikers on the road, we arrived in Shiprock – a community on the Navajo reservation.
Tented booths sprawled across the sandy floor and turquoise jewelry dripped from the tables like moss that dangles in between branches.
“Yá’át’ééh,” an elderly woman said to me, her arm stretched out holding coral and silver earrings.
An uncomfortable smile stretched across my face; I wiped the sweat from my brow.
“That means hello in Navajo,” she explained; the wrinkles tightened around her mouth when she laughed.
In the distance, a dusty yellow tarp protected a dented food truck from the sand blast caused by whirling wind gusts. “FRY BREAD,” was written on the side of the tarp, shouting in my direction and causing my stomach to growl.
“Red, green or Christmas?” The young man asked as I ordered a fry bread taco. Once again, a puzzled look was drawn on my face that made the man laugh. It was the middle of July and “Christmas” was an unusual word to bring it up in sweltering heat.
“Would you like red chile, green chile or both?”
We both laughed together.
“Thank you” in Navajo is “Ahéhee’.” I’m truly thankful for that day; experiencing a culture I only glanced at in tattered, high-school history books. To witness the daily routines practiced by the Navajos was eye-opening and to be immersed in their lives was a humbling adventure.
Another life altering experience I recall was when I interviewed New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez.
“Lauren,” my then boss called from her office.
I walked into the office and she, not even glancing up from her computer screen, said, “I need you to interview Governor Martinez tomorrow.” A request that sounded entirely nonchalant, but made my bones tremble.
“You want me to interview the Governor?” I thought. “But, I just graduated from journalism school three months ago. Are you sure?”
The next day I gathered my notebook and pens and drove to San Juan Community College in Farmington. Martinez was the keynote speaker at a banquet that was centered on the construction of the School of Energy.
After she spoke, excited and proud citizens crowded around Martinez to take photos with her. Could you imagine if Snapchat was around then? How marvelous would it be to take a flower crown filtered snap with the most powerful woman in New Mexico?
As I patiently stood in the line, I could feel my feet eager to turn and dart away, leaving a cloud of dust as if I were in a cartoon.
The Governor stared in my direction and smiled. “How are you?” she politely asked.
I will always cherish that opportunity because it is a small fragment that has helped build my character and confidence within the last five years of living in New Mexico.
I will deeply miss the high-desert. I will miss the lavender sunsets and mesas that almost appear ghost-like behind the morning mist. I will miss trips to Albuquerque breweries and drives to Durango with my family. But, most of all, I will miss everyone who has touched my life in such a profound, earthshaking way.
Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.