A lesson in openness and boundaries

Author: Sandie Benitah   As is typical with long trips away from home, you tend to learn a lot about yourself as well as the community you’re visiting. I’ve only been here for two days and already I am noticing interesting things about myself and the life I live at home.

Sandie blog post
Youth in Sandy Lake First Nation (Sandie Benitah/CP24)

Life on a First Nations reserve is both a life of absolute freedom and a life of complete fearlessness.     Or is it just that life in a big city is so overregulated that our idea of what’s normal and safe is completely skewed?   All I know is that I’ve already done things that I would never dream of doing back at home.   Hitchhiking is a way of life here. Those who don’t have access to vehicles have no problem asking complete strangers for a lift up the road.   I couldn’t hide my horror when my fun-loving roommate and Journalists for Human Rights co-trainer Ophira flagged down a male stranger with ease asking if we could pile up into the back of his black pick-up truck for a ride to the community beach party taking place on the other side of town.   I tried to get her to reconsider, telling her we could use the exercise and walk but she just laughed and pulled me up onto the back over the hutch. Every road on the reserve is dotted with deep potholes and the ride to the party was a bumpy one to say the least. I held on tight, cursed her loudly the entire way and prayed emphatically that I wouldn’t turn into road kill. She may be free-spirited but I’m a big fan of law, order and most importantly, seatbelts.

JHR trainer Ophira Horwitz in the back of a pickup truck in Sandy Lake First Nations Reserve on August 17. (Sandie Benitah/CP24.com)

When we got to the party, it was clear to see that I was a huge wimp. Kids, small and tall, piled out of the backs of trucks screaming with glee. Our driver gave us a wave and told us to have fun.   And so we did and I learned another lesson about openness, honesty and boundaries.   As I sat and watched kids play and talked to volunteers who helped organize the event, a young lady holding a baby came right up to me and gently touched my face with her finger.   “Who are you?” she asked me with a smile and a friendly tone.   “I’m Sandie. Who are you?” I asked, gently poking her back.   She laughed. “My name is Sandy too!”   Sandy, her friend Brianna and I talked for a while and joined dozens of kids in a game of Mingle Mingle where everyone has to stop and hug a certain amount of people when the music stops. No one hesitated throwing their arms around me, a complete stranger. And I didn’t hesitate for a second either.   When I got home, I was thrilled. Thrilled that I survived another hitchhiking experience with two male strangers this time and beyond thrilled that I met such warm and wonderful people.   But a knock on the door made my stomach drop.   “Who is it?” Ophira asked.   “God,” a male voice answered.   When we opened the door no one was there and when they knocked again and again, we tried to look through the peephole but we could see the person had blocked it.   I’m a fraidy cat in the best of times and I guess working in news doesn’t exactly help.   We’re at the end of a muddy road and our home is surrounded by dense trees and a neighbour who was out of town.   I went into emergency mode, blocking the door with a table and making sure all windows were fortified.   Preoccupied with mentally going over all the self-defence techniques my dad has ever taught me, the always cool, calm and collected Ophira called our friend in the community Rosie for advice. We also called the local police detachment and asked if they would do a drive by during their nightly patrol.   No one seemed concerned and everybody seemed convinced it was some kids playing a prank on the new girls in town.   Besides, knocking on people’s doors here is a common, friendly gesture. There are no addresses on the reserve. Everyone just knows where everyone lives and no one thinks anything of swinging by without notice.

Sandie and Sandy in Sandy
CP24.com’s Sandie Benitah (far right) with youth from Sandy Lake First Nations reserve, Sandy (middle) and Brianna (far left) at Beach Day festivities on Aug. 17, 2015. (Sandie Benitah/CP24.com)

When I went to bed last night I couldn’t help but feel ashamed at all the boundaries I have put up in my life. Always a bit shy, I tend to balk a bit at being the one to make the friendly first gesture. I tend to always choose the safe route instead of embracing the wild, bumpy ride.   But yesterday was one long adrenaline rush and while I have a way to go before I would ever consider myself fearless, I have felt freer than I have felt in a long time.

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