I woke up Tuesday ready to work, but only because I knew I'd be working in the shop this day. The shop is an old military barracks, so I felt right at home heading down to it.
We helped load up the trailers for the other teams to head out. A few months ago the Wife and I bought a couple of quilts at the church quilt sale. We bought a couple of things for the kids, and the Wife suggested we buy one for me to take out with me to Pine Ridge. I could leave it with the staff to give to someone who needed it. But as I thought about how giving Bart was, how generous and kind, I wondered if he would want the blanket. So I sent it with Bryan to give to him while they finished up his house, and told him to tell Bart that Wasicu Was'te said hello.
After they left, we who remained gathered in the shop for our marching orders from Jerry, who was our leader for the day. He told us about the logic behind bunk beds. Many homes had multiple families living in them. Elders, their kids, and their kids kids, all packed into homes sometimes as small as a trailer home. Floor space is at a premium in those homes, so instead of building individual beds, they build vertically to conserve space. He spoke of delivering bunk beds to kids who had never slept in beds in their whole lives. Six year olds, ten year olds, fourteen year olds. And he spoke of building beds for adults who had never slept in beds before including an 81 year old grandmother. It didn't take long for us to all feel miserable, but very motivated to build us some bunk beds to be delivered.
He picked six of us to wait for a bit, and sent the rest of the group outside to start sanding bunk bed parts. Soon there came the sound of a thousand angry bees from the other side of the wall. Many, many sanders going all at once.
Jerry then told the six of us that we'd be pulling lumber out of the semi trailers, bringing it into the shop, and cutting parts for the beds. So we learned the drill... Unload, stack, cut, re-stack. Sounds easy, and it was. After we finished the first set of parts, we moved on to the second set. After that we started on the third set...
Somewhere along the line we saw the sanders heading out to the open field to sit and relax, breathe and listen. We wondered of we should take a break too. But decided that if we did, we may have to relinquish our spots in the shop, and even though it was work, it was not as sandy as the sanding!
So we kept working, diligently chanting that we loved our jobs, and praying to the shop gods that they wouldn't notice us and swap us into sanding.
It didn't take long for us to become a well oiled machine. But soon enough we headed out to sand. As expected, it was sweaty and dusty work.
After lunch we were back out sanding. And as we sanded, I had the chance to think, and think some more. I thought about the people that would be getting these beds. It became a method of quality control. As I inspected each piece I finished, I questioned whether I would let my kids or parents sleep in a bed with that piece. If I wouldn't, well, then I kept on sanding.
By the end of the workday I was covered in dust. It was all over my water bottle, which meant it was then in my mouth. I love the taste of sawdust when I'm working and all, but this was ridiculous.
We were released around three, and headed in for showers before the other groups returned. It was short, but delightful.
That night after dinner we had a speaker named Larry Swalley. He came to tell us the Lakota creation story and talk about Lakota spirituality. I missed the talk, as I was engaged in a great conversation with one of the staff. It was supposed to be a brief talk, but ended up lasting through the speaker. Fortunately I am heading back in June, and I am anxious to hear his talk. From what everyone said, he was great.
I ran into Bryan and Anisha again at free time. They told me that they didn't deliver the quilt to Bart that day. Bryan told me that giving a blanket is a huge honor in Lakota culture. They thought that I should give Bart the quilt in person.
By the time bedtime rolled around, I was completely exhausted. I had planned on going to bed early, but was invited to play a game of Apples to Apples by some of the others, and I was feeling remarkably social.
Soon enough it was time to crawl into my rack. My arms and legs were sore from the past two days of work, and my head was bursting with information overload. So much injustice and hardship imposed on these people for no better reason than they are Lakota. They are Indians. That sort of racism, whether overt or just due to ignorance, was surprising to find in this day and age. Bart was no different than any other guy his age, except for the Lakota blood. Take him off the Rez and put him about anywhere else and he probably wouldn't get looked at twice in a crowd. So why were there so many hard feelings out here? Was it just due to history? Or were the feelings of distrust and anger trained in almost from birth? I fell asleep wondering if anything could be done, and if anything we did really mattered. Well. It mattered to Bart, I thought. And that mattered to me.
Boy was I tired.