The day before we left Shamattawa was intense. In between packing, Spencer and I were out in the sun almost all day with the dogs to give them lots of attention. Aurora and Pirate didn't want to leave our sides, Joy bounded around with 626 like the happy pup he is, and Spotty slept nearby in the sun. Everything was pretty calm until early evening when I ended up in a situation I did not expect...
Aurora, my pretty girl. She took a smiling selfie! Also, pictures of Spencer with Joy, 626 and Spotty, and Aurora and Spotty Nibbles lounging.
The last pictures taken of and with Aurora and Pirate...Good ol' pup hugs!
COMFORT AND A TINY PUPPY
While Spencer was out to collect wood for a bonfire, I heard Saeed talking to a couple of his grade 5 students outside. I looked out the door to see a girl sitting on the step, crying, looking at the ground, holding a very tiny puppy (a white and black spotted one that was maybe three pounds, with a puffy tail like a Pomeranian). She had blood on her hands, her friend was beside her petting the puppy, and Saeed gestured for me to come outside.
Saeed and I went to his place and he explained that his student had been more depressed in his class. She had come by with her friend to see him and the dogs, carrying the puppy they had found, and he tried to talk to her about what was wrong. She refused to speak to him and tried to cut her wrists with broken glass that was on the ground (broken window from our door). He asked me to talk to her and see if she would speak to another female because he was at a loss. Saeed is a wonderful teacher, his students adore him, and he was very worried.
I sat down beside them and introduced myself - they only knew me as "Mr. Rice's girlfriend." For the sake of privacy I will call the girls Sarah and Amy. Amy was more talkative and asked me questions about being up there with Spencer, all the dogs, her plans for the future. She explained that they had found the tiny puppy near a ditch with a small cut on her face, and the pup started to follow them. Sarah wanted to bring the puppy home because her parent's old dog had passed away and they had been thinking about getting another one. I told Sarah that was a very sweet thing to do and to take good care of the puppy.
I went inside to get some milk for the puppy to drink, and we sat out in the sun. The first 10 minutes or so Sarah was quiet and scraped her wrists with another small piece of glass. I gently put my hand on hers and convinced her to put the glass shard down. Amy, being young and having grown up in Shamattawa, seemed almost oblivious to how her friend was hurting herself. I asked Sarah why she was doing it and she said, "It's the only way out. I don't know how else to get out." At that moment I went inside and grabbed paper towel with warm water, soap, tea tree oil, and bandaids. I returned with them and helped her clean her hands, along with the puppy's scratch that Sarah wanted to clean. It made her feel more relaxed and she started to cry as she held the puppy close. I told her it was okay to cry and it was not a sign of weakness, that I cared about her, and that she is a sweet girl who now had an adorable puppy to bring home. She named the puppy Sweetie Ann.
A SAFE PLACE
I asked her if she wanted to talk about anything and that's when I was no longer just a Stranger in Shamattawa...I felt like a kind of Guiding Light.
Sarah: "Will you come somewhere with us?"
Me: Where would you like to go?
Amy: "Our safe place. It's where we go to talk or when we're scared. We don't bring anyone else there."
Me: I would love to see this safe place. Your puppy can come with us as well!
As we walked the girls opened up to me. They talked to me about how depressing Shamattawa is, how they want it to change, about the violence and murders, their friends doing drugs, those who had committed suicide and those who want to, how their friends want them to drink home-brew and smoke weed when they don't want to. They talked about the homeless dogs, animal abuse, their family lives, how they want school to be over quickly so they can leave and go to college, how they want to travel and go to Europe but are worried they'll never get out.
Behind the back Units and near trees, we came to a small row of what seemed to be old sheds and transport truck trailers on large pieces of concrete, the back doors chained shut with rust covered locks, moss on the edges, and piles of garbage underneath.
Sarah: "This is our safe place."
Me: Oh!...Do you sit on the logs beside the trailer?
Sarah: "No...it's inside. C'mon."
We ducked our heads underneath and there it was: a small, jagged, hole in the floor. We crawled under and I poked my head up in the hole, the edges against my shoulders, and my emotions felt heavy. To think that their safe place was a dark, windowless rectangular box filled with tarps, old school desks, stoves, chairs, among other things, made me feel sad. Their safe place wasn't anywhere along God's River where you could hope there might be some peace, but instead it was a cold, dark box. I moved a large metal pipe out of the way and pulled myself up. Sarah handed me her puppy who I kept on my lap to sleep, and the girls shuffled up.
We sat on old chairs and desks in the silence with an eerie energy around us. They talked to me about how haunted Shamattawa is, about how a girl had been murdered right near their safe place and they think her spirit was still there. They asked me about spirits and what to do to make them feel happier, about bad dreams, the ghosts they had seen and their curiosity with Cree culture. Luckily, I have had experiences with such things and could lend my advice and support with how to help spirits. They told me about their grandmothers who used sweetgrass to smudge and help clear bad spirits away, but that they could rarely discuss it because to everyone else there (the Christianized-Cree), it is thought to be witchcraft and the girls had been told they would go to hell. These kids were told they will go to hell...A scare tactic to bury their culture and ancestry, to prevent them from feeling complete.
Sarah talked to me about her family and how she would prefer to be in Awasis Child Care because her parents drink all night, come home at 6am, sleep until the afternoon and then drink again, and Sarah would be left alone with her siblings. She felt guilty for saying anything because she cares about her parents, but wished often that things would change. We talked about bullying, how she and Amy stand their ground for what is best for them. We talked about travel and things they enjoy. After long conversations in a cold box filled with laughter and tears, we crawled down the hole and back into reality.
A BONFIRE AND A BOND
I invited Sarah and Amy to stay for our farewell bonfire and get-together. We walked to Sarah's and asked her parents if it was alright for her to stay out late, and brought them the tiny puppy. Her parents talked to me, were very excited to see the puppy, and gave permission for Sarah to come back to the Units. Sarah and Amy spent time with me inside while I made dinner and we talked more before we headed outside to the bonfire.
The girls stayed until midnight and Sarah finally talked to Saeed. He gave her a small gift to remind her of the strength and love she has. She cried when he hugged her, and when she hugged me, tears streamed down her face and she told me she would no longer cut her wrists. Spencer gave Sarah and Amy cedar to put under their pillows, in their shoes, and on the walls in their house to help keep bad spirits out and to ground their energy. The girls discussed smudging with Spencer and other things they could do.
After they went home, Spencer and I sat on the couch we had brought outside to watch the bonfire and talk to our friends. It was an emotional night - We were a team. We not only helped the Pack, but also some students. I sat beside Spencer, thought about all that had happened, and pet Joy and Spotty until they decided to join the rest of the Pack inside of Saeed's place.
That night filled my heart and mind with so many emotions. I was saddened, determined to help, calm and positive, I felt worried and strong. That evening started with a hopeless girl who was contemplating ending her life, yet the rescue and sweetness of a tiny puppy gave her a reason to stop for a moment and reconsider. She had a new pet to take care of who needed her help and depended on her kindness. I was a stranger who became a counsellor who became someone the girls looked up to. That evening was meant to happen for one reason or another. If I had gone with Spencer to gather wood for the bonfire, I would not have made a connection with such kind hearted girls who truly needed some light.
Sweep the branches aside
Let the light beam down
You are stronger than you think
You are worth it
You are loved