Traveling Moccasins: Macedonia – Greece 2015
The following story was written by Jared Massey.
“And while I stood there I saw more than I can tell, And I understood more than I saw; For I was seeing in a sacred manner.” Black Elk, Black Elk Speaks
My ancestor’s fought to ensure the future of my people would be prosperous and filled with opportunities. Opportunities such as the one I embarked on. As a young Native American, the likelihood of traveling to a land beyond the boarders of the country were slim to none, so I thought. My journey abroad has taught me lessons I’ll never forget, and began with five college students simply wanting to create change in a foreign land.
Arizona State University’s Chi Alpha is a Christian organization centered around the idea of creating an authentic community on campus. My journey to Europe was made possible through this amazing life-changing organization. I encourage other youth, seek authentic community and faith while pursuing higher education.
My travels abroad could be titled “traveling moccasins,” “adventures of a Rez boy,” or maybe “He who has no idea what to expect!” Because those are all the things I experienced during my travels. I traveled to Europe with a purpose, but along the way that purpose changed and exceeded my expectations. As I boarded the first plane to begin the sixteen-hour flight to Greece, I thought about the people who made the trip possible, the people who encouraged me, the people who believed in me, and the people closest to me, my family. Prior to my arrival at the airport I departed with an overemotional mother, and an excited father, both clueless about what exactly my purpose was traveling abroad and I’m sure they were filled with fear of the unexpected. I imagine that is what all parent’s feel when their children leave the reservation.
The Land: Sixteen hours later, I looked out the plane window and saw what I imagine heaven looks like. I saw hills covered with tall grass, green as if a rainstorm had just passed through. It hit me, I’m in Europe and I’m about to touch foreign soil. The country of Greece, and specifically the region of Macedonia, is breathtaking. Everyday we visited a new city, town, and with that the vegetation changed for the better. There is a Navajo prayer, one that states “beauty above me, beauty below me, beauty in front of me, beauty behind me, beauty all around me” and that prayer became reality. My travels lead me across several European counties; from Athens, Greece to Thessaloniki, Greece, to Negotino, Macedonia, to Skopje, Macedonia, then to a mountain named Kokino, where Serbia, Kosovo, and Bulgaria are in sight and only miles away. The Ancient Observatory Kokino was a sight to see, the ancient observatory was used to watch the movement of the sun and moon, and by doing so they created a 19-year calendar based off this information. My journey also led me to a mountain castle, which dated back to the eleventh century, Marko’s Towers (Markovi Kuli). This mountain overlooked the city and the fields. I brought my traditional Apache moccasins and tested them while traveling around this mountain, they did not disappoint. Through the rough terrain, weeds, brush, grass, and rocks, they kept my feet safe. I thought of my Apache people while running down this mountain, and how they were able to run everyday, often from New Mexico to Arizona, Mexico to Arizona, and the great Southwest. History was all around me; the places mentioned only in books became a living story. This is how learning should be.
The People: There are still amazing people in this world, you just have to go find them. Macedonia and Greece is home to several groups, the Macedonians, the Albanian, the Romani, the Romans, the Greeks, plus people from the bordering counties. However, being that I’m a typical brown Rez boy I stood out everywhere we went. Which led to sharing my Apache and Navajo culture, language, and history with them. In addition to speaking about my faith and culture, I did hoop dance performances. A majority of my time in Macedonia was spent with the Romani (Gypsy) people of Shutka, which is the largest settlement of Gypsy people. The Romani (Gypsy) people are considered the lowest people group in the country and many live in conditions similar to those in Indian Country. It was a reality check. They were so curious, so nice, so thankful, and so content with the lives they live. The Romani children are very appreciative and taught me about myself, how I should live, how I should treat others, and how I’m nothing compared to them. As I was teaching the Romani children the beauty of Hoop Dancing, the excitement in their eyes reminded me of myself. They would light up with excitement as a shape came out, the same excitement I had when I made my first shape. I departed with words I would share with my sibling’s and people, reminding them of the importance of never forgetting where you come from.
Teachings: I hold dear to the teachings of my grandparent’s, the teachings of my Apache people. Like the United States, Macedonia has villages located in rural places scattered across the country. One visit I’ll never forget led my team and I, with the assistance of the local Missionary Brian Thomas, to a village located at the base of a mountain. This village was home to five families, which were mostly elderly. The first elderly woman we met didn’t look her age, for she was very active, a woman of working hands and humility. Her home sat at the base of the mountain, and her source of running water was a pipe from the ground that brought fresh cold spring water 24/7. At age 77 she still washes her clothes in the river, grows her own food, and walks miles to tend to her fields, in addition to being a wife to her husband. It was definitely a visit to the past. I was wearing an “elderly floral scarf” (just like the one elderly Navajo’s wear) and as this woman shared her life experience and hospitality with us I couldn’t help but think of my grandmother’s, and so I gifted her with the scarf. She was excited to share with us soda, life lessons, and showed true hospitality; although she didn’t know us she treated us like her grandchildren. She didn’t have much in the eyes of the dominant society, but to her she had everything she needed, she was content.
I traveled to Europe with a purpose, a purpose of wanting to change the lives of the people, but I realized along the way that they were changing my life. My journey from the reservation to Europe was an unexpected one, and one my family and I never expected. My moccasins have touched foreign soil, and through that I brought my people with me. Opportunities are endless, and there is life beyond the boarders of our reservation. From four wheeling around the Greek Island of Thassos to teaching English in Macedonia, my time in Europe was filled with purpose and excitement. I encourage Native youth to take chances, step out of your boundaries, lead by example, and look into opportunities that’ll better yourself and people.
Thank you to those who made this trip possible, it was through the donations from individuals in Indian Country that my costs were covered. Thank you!
Adventures of a traveling Rez boy and his moccasins.