Thursday, March 27, 2008


The 2006 film, Babel, tells four interrelated stories, demonstrating the messiness found in interpersonal as well as global communication. Babel is evident in the American couple’s estranged relationship and the husband’s clumsy navigation of Moroccan generosity following his wife’s accidental injury. An international uproar is sparked by the shooting; an incident which results in the death of the young shooter’s brother. The gun is connected to a Tokyo businessman, a widower whose deaf teenage daughter struggles to understand her father and her surroundings. The Japanese daughter’s misery is matched only by the unraveling life of the American couple’s kind Mexican nanny. Bucking the American movie industry tendency toward a tidy ending, this story ends with a combination of shattered lives and rocky reconciliation.

Sarah Descheny
Navajo Rug Weaver Sarah Descheny

Babel is defined as a confused mixture of sounds and voices. Genesis 11:5-7 says: “But the LORD came down to see the city and the tower that the men were building. The LORD said, "If as one people speaking the same language they have begun to do this, then nothing they plan to do will be impossible for them. Come, let us go down and confuse their language so they will not understand each other."

Babel or is it, babble? Babble means to utter a meaningless confusion of words or sounds. The experts say the two words are unrelated. Babble is akin to other Western European words for prattling such as the Swedish, babbla or the French, babiller; the Latin, babulus, or the Greek, barbaros. Whatever the words’ origins, in me, they conjure the same strange internal confusion.

I have patience for babble, especially in its purest baby form. Babel has proven itself a much tougher linguistic nut to crack. Eight years ago, when Kira first entered Bluff Elementary's preschool, a new episode of babel was introduced in our lives. One day, she returned from school with Navajo. I was understandably perplexed, also realizing this conundrum faces local Navajo and Ute families as well as migrant Hispanics workers in San Juan County struggling to learn English.

I resolved to learn Navajo in a managed attempt at the foreign ABC’s and 123’s. Another reason to master this rich language manifested itself in the weathered visage of a little, old Navajo rug weaver named Sarah Descheny.

Sarah walked into the trading post one day with a pictorial weaving filled with cows, sheep, horses and dogs. Steve and Barry turned her down. Before she left the premises, Priscilla Sagg, and her sister, Molly Yellowman, in their best conspiratorial tones, called Sarah aside. In Navajo, and I paraphrase, they basically whispered, “ should go talk to the lady upstairs”.

Sarah's Purple Hoogan rug
Navajo Pictorial Rug by Sarah Descheny

After taking in her small, smiling persona, my eyes rested on her weaving; more specifically on the purple hooves gracing several of her pictorial cows. I burst out laughing and that was the beginning of a fine relationship fueled by Sarah’s woven musings on Navajo life.

Barry, Steve and I each claim a grasp on the fundamentals of “trader Navajo”, the ability to transact our business in the language of numbers and dollars. I wished to advance into areas of more polite conversation, hopefully in the process conveying my respect toward the elders who ventured through our doors. With that goal in mind, I asked Clayton Long, the San Juan School District Bilingual Education Director, about polite ways to welcome a Navajo artist; how to ask them to sit down; how I may properly request to view their artwork; how best to express regret; make queries into a malady; or tell a joke.

Eight years later, I continue my struggle up the babel tower. Despite the dire warnings of the Bible, I believe my motivations are sound in this modern endeavor. With social and political discourse becoming more fractious and international misunderstandings more deadly, my quest for mutual respect and honest conversation deepens.

So, we babel; I babel and...I...babble.

With warm regards,
Georgiana, Steve & Barry and the Team.

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