Sunday, November 7, 2010

Cherie's Memories

by Cherie Foster

(Note: Cherie, from Perth, Western Australia, came to Salt Lake City August 1st, 2010 and stayed until September 6th. Her story shows how deeply the Program can affect people at a personal level. Those of us who had the privilege of meeting her were inspired by her commitment as well as her adventurous spirit.)

I found Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program towards the end of 2008 on a website of actor Jay Tavare. I was looking to see what other work he had done and find out more about him, as I’d seen him in the television production called Into the West. Jay had written about his association with ANE, which prompted me to investigate why this organization meant so much to him. I perused the ANE website and was impressed with the program and how they helped the Navajo Elders. I had visited the area nineteen years prior, and the Native American culture had fascinated me, not for any particularly explanatory reason. I enjoyed reading about their culture and the different nations. Along with that reading, came the sadness of the hardships and unfortunate circumstances which these first people of the continent that is now America, have had to deal with. The ANE program appeared to be helping substantially to assist the Elders, not just with supplies, but also with human to human contact which included sincere empathy. This was an organization I decided to become involved with as being able to see where donations were dispersed is important to me. In 2010 I was finally able to adopt an Elder and ended up receiving two, a husband and wife. I was thrilled to have an adopted Grandpa and Grandma! When the opportunity arose to travel to the USA in 2010, I was hesitant. Traveling by myself was not my ideal situation. To experience the world, I knew I must more deeply pursue the courage, strength and fortitude that I had discovered in myself a few months previously, thanks to an inspiring Native American of Apache ancestry who had given me inspiration to hope and dream for my future. Thankfully, when organizing the journey, I could not see my traveling to the USA was about to give me challenges that exceeded anything I had encountered before (including a devastating loss about to occur) or I wouldn’t have gone. Such is the mystery of life, sometimes leading down a road seemingly unable to be traversed for the huge boulders strewn in the direction one is going. Gradually the boulders become stones and pebbles as experience and lessons are discovered that are sometimes beneficial beyond recognition at the time of intense emotion and useless had they been revealed before the traveler was ready to listen and learn.

I embarked on my travel to Salt Lake City, Utah, with trepidation, as I knew no one. I had briefly corresponded with Joyce at ANE via the internet, asking advice about accommodations and supermarkets near to the warehouse where I would be volunteering. Joyce has been extremely helpful and enthusiastic, so at least I had one contact. Still it was daunting to be going there alone. I don’t think Americans understand that for foreigners, the USA is like another planet. Even though we all speak English, there are a lot of differences such as driving on the opposite side of the road, tipping, spelling English words differently, the date written differently, zip codes instead of post codes, and trying to understand accents can be difficult too. As I’m sure my Australian accent was challenging for some Americans!

Thankfully I had a friend in California, my dear Laura, whose gentle guidance ensured that I pursued and followed through with my desire to visit ANE. Laura’s persistence in being everything I could need in a friend was priceless on my journey before leaving home and while in the USA. Her constant reassurance and calm assertive attention assisted me in following my dream to visit ANE and its people. Laura’s tremendous gift of wisdom, of which I have been a recipient many times over, has been greatly influenced by her Native American Sioux ancestry. The Lakota culture is beautiful and powerful, of which I am always astounded and grateful that I have had the opportunity of receiving the wisdom that comes my way. When I faced my most difficult challenge just before the important food run, Laura was there as always, guiding me forward, encouraging and empathetic. The perfect example of the definition of friendship that I have been blessed to have in my life started with Laura and as I was about to find out, was about to continue with blessings from new friends coming into my life in Utah.

I arrived in Utah the day before I was to start work at the ANE office/warehouse in Salt Lake City. My first sunset in Utah was spectacular, even viewed from a hotel room overlooking a highway! The first day of work I walked from my hotel to the office on Gregson Ave, which ended up being a not so good idea as it was extremely hot. Joyce had tried to warn me, but I needed to find out for myself. Joyce offered to pick me up every day and drop me off at home as it was on her way to work, so I gratefully accepted! My first day at the office was fascinating. As Joyce showed me around I noticed a colour photograph of my Elders on the notice board! I was thrilled to see the picture from the newsletter in colour. There are wonderful photographs on the walls around the office of volunteers, Elders, and the events of ANE. Also there are many photo albums, which I was finally able to peruse a couple of weeks later. Joyce began to show me straight away what her daily work consisted of. The orders were coming in over the phone and internet for the fall food runs and had to be processed, which was time consuming. I couldn’t have chosen a more perfect time to learn how ANE operated. Actually that wasn’t my intention when I decided to go to ANE to volunteer. I thought I would be in the warehouse working, even on non volunteer days. Joyce had other ideas and once I started, I realized why. The administrative work was out of control! There was so much to do, which was wonderful for me to learn and great for Joyce that she had assistance. Of course she could handle it all herself, but it isn't good to be going at such a frantic pace every day. Joyce had been training volunteers to help her in the office, so I would be working with them in the following weeks. Gina was extremely helpful to me when Joyce was busy. Her smile lights up a room, as does her generous heart. As I was about to find out Joyce was a wealth of knowledge and was kind enough to share it with me in enabling me to learn how the ANE administration operated. Joyce also has a hidden talent. If you ever need a shoulder to cry on, she is able to assist. Her instincts and empathy are a precious gift.

I was nervous and excited about meeting everyone, especially Linda. Her writings in the newsletter frequently had me teary, so I expected that meeting her in person would be an interesting experience. As it happened she was there the second day, as it was Tuesday volunteer day at the warehouse. Linda gave me an embrace as soon as she met me, which took me by surprise as we did not know each other. It was that moment that gave me insight into why this organization was successful.

Everyone started to appear as volunteer hours started, and I had my first introductions. Joyce was fabulous in letting me know who everyone was. I recognized people from their pictures that had been in the newsletters and on the ANE blog website. I met Wendy, Beverly, Gina, Oscar, Cheryl, Elinda, Art, Sandy, Dean, Roger, Ed, Nancy, Sheila, Fientje, and Janet. I left Joyce and headed out back to the warehouse where I was able to help with backpacks for the children. We the volunteers were loading them with school supplies. I was excited to be experiencing what I had seen volunteers do in pictures! Three hours goes quickly and then it was time for everyone to leave. I asked Beverly questions about weaving as I am fascinated as to how it is done. Beverly was patient with my questions and I learnt much from her. When it was quiet again I resumed helping Joyce in the office. The view out the window is spectacular with the huge mountains looming in the distance. After work Joyce took me around Salt Lake City. We drove around with Joyce familiarizing me with the layout of the streets and landmarks. She drove up the top of a mountain where I could overlook the valley and was able to see the entire city. Such a spectacular place and difficult to imagine the roads were on would be covered in snow in a few months! Joyce was my Salt Lake City tour guide and the time I was there we had many days of fun driving around after work having dinner, shopping, talking, laughing and learning about each other. Joyce is amazing and has so much knowledge! We settled into a daily work routine which really consisted of me asking lots of questions about how to do everything Joyce gave me.

Friday of my first week I met further volunteers Sandy, Boyd, Rodger, John, Eileen, Shirley, Mary Anne, Masuda, Betsy and Katie. Friday’s activity was quilting, as quilts were being made for the Grandmas to be presented to them at the rug show in November. There is always something to do at the warehouse. The enthusiasm of the volunteers astounded me. They are willing to give up time as well as use their own money and contacts to help the Elders. No challenge is too great for them.

 One of the volunteers, my new friend Cheryl took me mountain climbing and wildflower viewing on my first Saturday in Utah. The wildflowers were spectacular. Talking to Cheryl I realized why I’d been feeling so tired the first week. Seems the elevation was affecting me. Apparently it takes a while to adjust. I didn’t realize until I left Utah just how affected my health had been by the elevation. I now know I function best at sea level! Cheryl was a fantastic tour guide over many days during my stay in Salt Lake City and took me to a favourite restaurant of her family, where I had the best Mexican I’d ever tasted! She also got me addicted to a Mexican drink called Jarrito and Tony Hillerman books. Cheryl is also responsible for me falling in love. With Harvey her adorable dog!

My second week I was privileged to stay with Linda and Rodger where I was able to work at the ANE Park City office , the farmer’s market, and attend an ANE rug show meeting. I was fascinated to learn about Linda and Rodger’s journey through life, which had brought them to the place they now are. They were generous, kind and thoughtful to me and I will always remember their wonderful hospitality. I like to walk, so spending time walking with Linda was special to me. Her experience and words of wisdom also helped me on my journey. Park City is beautiful and Linda showed me around and what she does, such as picking up the mail, depositing donations at the bank etc. I was pleased to see where the Sundance festival is held and learnt that she had met Robert Redford. Learning different aspects of how ANE administration works at the Park City office was interesting. Much work goes into process of ANE functioning and I hadn’t thought about that until I saw it for myself and was involved in some of it. I was able to have a glimpse of the roles of people at ANE and it was great to see how the Elders are benefiting from time and effort. I was also able to spend more time with Wendy and getting to know how busy her schedule is. ANE and especially Linda are gifted to have her input, knowledge and sweet disposition.

The ANE stall at the farmer’s market was fun. The wind likes the market too, frequently increasing wind speeds unexpectedly to catch people off guard and then laughing at their reactions! Lots of people like the Navajo handmade crafts for sale, especially the jewellry. I was able to purchase a beautiful silver and black bracelet named The Storyteller, which has pictures engraved of Navajo life and the scenery, which now reminds me of my time visiting the Reservation while on the food run. I experienced the unique taste of a Navajo taco while at the farmer’s market. Delicious! Also I had a scrumptious mixed berry ice cream which was a refreshing respite from the heat.

Another volunteer Masuda, also now one of my new friends, was generous with her time, taking me out to eat in various locations in Salt Lake City and Park City and to do quilting with Betsy and Katie. Masuda took me to the location of the rug show at Snow Park Lodge so I was able to identify what I’d seen in newsletters and pictures. Now since I’m familiar with the location it will mean more when I see the rug show pictures. We had a marvelous brunch in Park City, some of the best food I’ve ever tasted and drawing on the tablecloth was something I’d never done before! Sometimes experiences shared cannot be put into words and sometimes no words need be spoken. Such is this unexpected friendship, which surprised me and came to me exactly when I needed it most.

John and Virginia were also wonderful to me. Long time volunteers, they are much involved with ANE. John’s photographs have been influential in my wish to get to ANE and experience it for myself as he manages to capture the essence of the program. It is a gift to be able to do that with words and pictures. So, thanks to John, someone in a land far away was able to grasp the essential meaning of Adopt-A-Native-Elder program. Virginia, with her sparkling, vibrant eyes took me to her home, so I was able to add to my experience of seeing how Utahns live! The three of us had a wonderful day talking and touring exquisite gardens in the city. I shall always remember the most delicious authentic Lebanese I’ve ever had.

Beverly, a long time volunteer at ANE was gracious in giving me rides to ANE events. She told me about her ancestry, of which I was fascinated. Her laugh makes me smile even now remembering the sound. Beverly is always busy, yet maintains calm and I’ll always have a visual memory of her working, surrounded by the wonderful rainbow colours of yarn.

I drove with another new friend Fientje on the food run. When I say drive, I didn’t drive at all, only as a passenger. There was no way I was attempted to drive on the opposite side of the road. It was scary enough being a passenger and not because Fientje’s driving was bad! We had a fantastic time on the food run, talking, laughing, crying, and for me, learning from her. Upon our return Fientje invited me to stay at her cabin north of Salt Lake City. I saw wild moose for the first time and wild deer. I hand fed a doe and was able to touch her mouth and tongue. It was a magical moment for me as my name means ‘dear one’ in French. While cruising around searching for wildlife I was astounded (and nearly fell off my seat) to see a road sign named ‘Apache Way’. An astonishing sight for me personally as it was a remarkable Apache, who had been influential in me traveling from the other side of the world to arrive to that moment in time in front of the road sign. Life sure is strange. I had gotten well into being homesick by this time and miraculously Fientje had Vegemite at the cabin. Most people don’t like the taste of vegemite. It is an Australian acquired taste, children grow up with it in sandwiches for school, and I was pleased to see my old friend and the best toast I’d had since leaving home! Fientje also introduced me to the namesake of the city where I stayed for five weeks. The Great Salt Lake was a vision of the like which I had not seen before. Fientje’s generosity is endless.

On my last weekend I spent a day at the sheepdog trials at Soldier Hollow where ANE had a tent with volunteers working, displaying rugs, jewelry, etc for purchase. Some Navajo weavers were there, giving weaving demonstrations, which was fascinating for me to see, as I have purchased a few rugs and while there, realized that I’m not the only one with that addiction!

Everyone I spent time with associated with ANE, when we were not working, told me about their connection with the program, how they had become involved, what they do to assist. It became apparent to me that helping the Elders and their families has become an integral part of their lives, like another family member. For such is their dedication and heartfelt compassion, respect and love for the Navajo that this is now normal and they do what needs to be done to help these unique people in the best ways possible to keep their traditions alive.

I’m grateful to Linda for allowing me to participate in the daily processes of the Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program. I’m grateful to Joyce for her patience in allowing me to learn and teaching me how ANE functions. I’m grateful for everyone for their assistance and patience in showing me what to do in the warehouse and help on the food run. Lastly, I’m grateful for the friendships I have been blessed to make, for without friends the journey would not have been as magnificent as it was. It was a pleasure to make the acquaintance of hearts and souls at Adopt-A-Native-Elder Program.

Thank you!


  1. Ah'hee'he Cherie! Thank you for sharing this beautiful experience. Reading your experience made me feel like I was right there with you. Your descriptive writing warmed my soul and helped me to realize that the world isn't as bad as it sometimes appears. Thank you so much for the time, funds, and your willingness to travel from your country to ours, to get acquainted with our Dine' people. Your assistance to shi chai doh shi'ma'suneh (my grandfather and grandmother-not my literal grandparents, but my way of showing respect to my elders) will be a blessing to you and yours for generations. I can say that because, I myself am Dine' (navajo). Our gratefulness is expressed in prayer; therefore, rest assured, you and yours have been lifted up to the Great Creator of this whole universe, for continual blessings.

    Thank you again! You don't realize how your selfless act, has blessed my soul.

  2. You write beautifully, Cherie. You should consider writing a book, my friend.

  3. I hope that you will be able to visit us again, so that those of us who didn't get the opportunity this time, can meet you then. You are a kind, giving, empathetic woman and the ADE program was blessed by your presence. I pray that you are doing OK with the challenges that you mentioned. Take care, and thanks for sharing. - Marsha

  4. Thank you all for your kind words which were a surprise! Mrs Joe, your thoughts have been helpful in enlightening me about an unusual situation in my life. Thank you for taking time to share with me, as your words have been extremely beneficial. Anonymous, I sort of wrote a 'book' which was perused by an avid reader (now a hero of mine), so that is the best gift a writer could wish for and is the unltimate reward. Marsha, every day is a challenge, some more so than others. I'm going okay, strengthened by my time in the USA and persevering, no matter what comes my way, as challenges make me stronger.

  5. I'm so happy I was web surfing and became reintroduced to Jay Tavare.A brilliant actor and even more brilliant human being.Thankfully because of listening to his interviews raising awareness of the many isses and problems the American Indian people have, I became are of this incredible program that exists. Now I have added Adopt An Elder as another organization I donate to because I truly believe in its cause. You beautiful people keep doing all that you're doing. It's a blessing and gift that you exist to be of service to those who need help.

  6. Dear Cherie every time I read your journal I feel like time stop for a while and transports me there at ANE, living through your very descriptive and heartfelt words which must be an amazing experience for the soul.
    It makes me impatient to live that experience myself next year, but in the same time it scares me, afraid as I am in not being able to be confident and not shy when it comes to human relations. But I'm looking forward to living with all my heart and savoring moment by moment everything that for me represents love, hope and compassion by working in unity toward the act to preserve the precious gift of life and human dignity of these amazing people who have one of the most rich culture of the world!
    May Linda, Joyce and all the volunteers at ANE be forever blessed for all their efforts and love in what they are hope to the world!
    Thank you again Cherie for sharing this life changing experience and encouraging more people in joining in the giving.