- October 17, 2021
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I looked in the mirror and frowned. I needed a haircut, but I was 1,860 miles away from home. Where could I go? I remembered that dilemma last week as I interviewed Father Art Faesser, a retired priest from St. James Catholic Church who has a stunning array of Lakota Sioux clothing, drums, head dresses and artwork and a deep admiration for the Lakota and their spirituality.
And I remembered 2009, when, during a 10-week cross-country road adventure, I stopped to see my cousin Joe Day on the Hopi Reservation. He and his Hopi wife Janice live across the road from the village of Shungopavi, near Second Mesa, Ariz. I hadn’t had a haircut for weeks, and my hair was behaving badly, so Janice called her cousin Leslie, who owns a tiny beauty salon in the village of Paaqavi.
I must pause here and define the word “cousin” because the Hopi define their relatives differently from the way we bahanas (White people) do. Referring to my nieces — my sister’s daughters — for example, the Hopi define me as their “other mother,” not their maternal aunt. So when Janice begins explaining “cousins” and such, she usually stops mid-sentence and says it’s too complex to explain.
Anyway, she said Leslie was her cousin, and Leslie told me to come on over, so off I went, heading west on Highway 264. The Hopi villages are strung out along that highway like beads on a necklace.
After 20 minutes or so I turned off the highway and into Hotvela-Paaqavi on Third Mesa. Every Hopi village has a large hand-written sign at its entrance stating that no photography is allowed. Villages are just a loose collection of adobe structures, mostly houses, with a large plaza in the middle. Streets are dirt. There are few, if any, shops. Only a couple of gas stations are spread across the entire rez.
I found the little salon on the edge of Paaqavi, population 950. If the salon had a name, I don’t remember what it was. Everyone across the rez knew it was here, so the name wasn’t important anyway. With a bit of curiosity, I went in.
It looked like a bahana hair salon, square and cozy, with white walls and a small window on each wall. It had just one station because Leslie was its only stylist. Leslie was cutting a man’s hair so I sat down in one of two plastic chairs to wait. I picked up a People magazine.
I was the only bahana in the place. Only locals know about this salon; and besides, the rez can seem intimidating. Few bahanas ever come up here, and those who do don’t get haircuts here.
I waited 10 or 15 minutes. Leslie and the young man chatted a little, but the Hopi turn quiet when a bahana intrudes. I relaxed. The Hopi way of life is unhurried. “Hopi time,” my cousin Joe calls it.
When it was my turn, Leslie, in her 40s, picked up her scissors and marveled at the natural waves in my graying hair. Hopi hair is shiny and black and straight. She did not wash my hair; she simply began to trim it. I watched in the mirror. I wondered with curiosity how often she cut bahana hair.
When I visited Joe and Janice three years before, right after I unpacked I drove to the rez’s single supermarket in Kykotsmovi, 10 miles away, to pick up bread for supper. When I got back, Joe said, “They all know you’re here.”
Huh? I said.
“It’s the moccasin telegraph,” Joe said. “They know a relative of mine is visiting.” Joe is one of just two bahanas among 7,000 Hopi on the rez, so when a bahana — especially an unfamiliar bahana — shows up anywhere, word spreads.
As Leslie worked, I glanced out the window. I saw the August afternoon sun spotlighting that bone-colored desert and distant red mesas. I saw the San Francisco Peaks poking up 70 miles to the southwest.
When Leslie finished, she charged me $15. I paid in cash. There are no banks on the rez. I gave her a tip, too. She earned it.
Mary Jane Skala
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