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Previous Challenge Entry (EDITOR'S CHOICE)
Topic: Accent (02/21/13)

TITLE: Paht-choon'-ta
By Beth LaBuff
~3rd Place


“Do you speak Hopi?” asked five-year-old Milo in Sunday school class. I quoted the two Hopi words in my repertoire. Apparently they didn’t match up with the Hopi words in his vocabulary, or quite possibly, my accent was off, as Milo quickly moved on and informed the class that he could count to twenty in Hopi. We listened while he counted.

Then I asked seven-year-old Julio if he’d like to count in Spanish for us. He opted out of counting in Spanish and instead volunteered a Navajo phrase, one that probably bordered on the derogatory, so before he could explain the meaning, I quickly changed the subject and boasted that I could count to twenty in English. I failed to impress Julio as he replied, “Duh, everyone can do that.” Before we started our Bible story, Julio announced that he forgot to brush his teeth.

Nine years ago we moved to the northeastern corner of Arizona, near the Navajo and Hopi reservations. Our church fellowship is comprised of Hopi, Navajo, and Hispanic peoples, as well as a few individuals from various other Native American tribes. We are the minority in this group. We are the pahana, the Hopi word for white man.

Having a mild fascination with languages, but semi-proficient in only my mother tongue, I enjoyed the challenge of learning new words in Hopi, Navajo, and Spanish. Over the years, my list of words has grown. Besides the Hopi word Lolma (a Hopi greeting), and Askwali (“thank you”—when spoken by a Hopi woman), there is Ya’at’eeh (a Navajo greeting), and “Cómo estás tú?” which is asked each Sunday by our Hispanic brother.

Our times of fellowship frequently involve food. Our ethnically diverse potluck dinners often include: tamales, enchiladas, fry bread, hominy stew (traditionally made with elk or lamb), green or red chili to spice up everything, and piki bread (pronounced “pee-kee” – a dark blue-gray, paper thin Hopi bread). Piki bread is made from blue cornmeal, greasewood ashes, and enough water to make a thin gruel. It is spread, with a bare hand, over a hot stone to bake before being folded in layers. After years of eating piki, we’ve only recently learned that the hot stone used to bake piki has been greased with a sheep’s brain.

The word that has been the bane of my newly acquired repository of non-English words is the Hopi word, paht-choon’-ta.1. After a meal, the word is announced by the host while pointing to the remaining food. It means “please, take whatever you want.” After potlucks, that is what we do. Plates, containers, or bags are filled with leftovers to be taken home. In my attempt to pronounce the word, my pahana accent always elicits a laugh from our Hopi friends. They ask me to repeat it for other Hopi visitors. Fortunately, you need not have the proper accent in order to participate in the practice.

I have also been challenging our church family with dishes outside their realm of taste. I’ve introduced ham-salad sandwiches at our Wednesday night Bible study and fellowship time. The fascination and perplexity on their faces as they stared at them while eating them made me smile. One native family has even inquired at the grocery store in order to purchase ground ham to make them.

We’ve acquired new tastes since moving here. Our choice of foods now occupies a higher rank on the Scoville2 scale. While I can’t report that my pahana accent is improving, at least I’ve gotten our group to enjoy ham-salad sandwiches, and after the paht-choon’-ta-ing, I don’t have to bother taking left-overs home. Perhaps, more importantly, I don’t have to stress over the Hopi pronunciation, as there is no Hopi word for ham-salad sandwiches.

And they sang a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased men for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation.”

Revelation 5:9
(NIV 1984)

*true account, names changed for privacy reasons

1paht-choon’-ta – after checking numerous sources, the spelling of this word or phrase is unsure, I’ve written it phonetically

2Scoville scale is the measurement of spicy heat of a chili pepper

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Member Comments
Member Date
Loren T. Lowery02/28/13
I have an unexplained fascination with the Hopi peoples and their history and that's what drew me to this story. It was both comical and informative. And the writer's love for language and getting to know/understand other cultures is obvious. And, the quote at the end? Not the "cherry on top" as to many delightful deserts, but rather the pineapple on the bottom - as in "upside down pineapple cake" - one of my favorites : )
Ellen Carr 03/01/13
A delightful account of your food and language adventures at your church, which by the way, sounds like a great mix of people, and yummy food. Very well written. All the best with improving your vocab and accents!
Virgil Youngblood 03/01/13
You made me feel like I was there and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done.
C D Swanson 03/02/13
I felt like I was sitting with all of you! Nicely done, and beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this wonderful entry.

God bless~
Shann Hall-LochmannVanBennekom 03/02/13
I was fascinated as I read this. Our world is so diverse yet also very similar. We all fit together much like a jigsaw puzzle. God then puts us together like a tasty stew.
Judith Gayle Smith03/04/13
Delightful and enlightening. What a pleasure to get caught up in the beauty of all these dear souls . . .

And the food sounds yum!
Leola Ogle 03/07/13
Great job! Congratulations Beth!
PamFord Davis 03/07/13

Wing His Words
Loren T. Lowery03/07/13
Congratulations, Beth. So happy to see this!
Noel Mitaxa 03/07/13
Thank you for giving us so much thought for food, and congratulations on your win. You place so regularly that the rest of us could Navajo-pe to emulate (I Hopi spelled that right) But seriously, you have mixed a powerful sense of fun into your testimony of love for people with different cultures. Great work, Beth.
Danielle King 03/07/13
WOW! Loved it. Congratulations Beth.
Verna Cole Mitchell 03/07/13
Congratulations, dear Friend, on placing first in Masters with this little vignette from your life. I loved worshiping with you and your small congregation. This piece shows your beautiful heart.
Judith Gayle Smith03/07/13

Thank you for glorifying God with your true, honest, just, pure, lovely, good, virtuous and praiseworthy winning entry! God bless you.

Love and verbal hugs, Judi

KJV Hebrews 10:26 "For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, 27 But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. 28 He that despised Moses' law died without mercy under two or three witnesses: 29 Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace? 30 For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. 31 It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Kon Michailidis03/07/13
Yes Noel, we might not be apache on Beth, but let's just chippeway with what we have. Wonderful entry Beth,I enjoyed it so much and entered totally into it. Congratulations on first place in your category.
Yvonne Blake 03/07/13
You made me tear-up with your "Yah-te-hey." My grandparents worked with the Navajos in Window Rock, and that's how he greeted us til the day he died. I wonder if he said "Yah-te-hey" to those he joined in heaven.
Margaret Kearley 03/08/13
This is wonderful Beth - you carried us right there to your Church congregation with love, humour, understanding and sensitivity. Brilliant writing as always. Huge congrats on 1st place in Masters and very well deserved.
Ellen Carr 03/08/13
CONGRATULATIONS Beth! You certainly deserved this win. Great work, as I said earlier.
Bea Edwards 03/08/13
Charming and masterful story telling Miss Beth.
Oh how I miss Arizona and it's people...your piece made me a bit homesick.
Thank you for the work you are doing there and Congratulations on your well deserved win!
C D Swanson 03/08/13
Congratulations Beth!
God bless~
Claudia Thomason03/08/13
This was a great article. I loved reading about the children as well as about the food. I, too, live in Arizona, but in the north off the reservations. Native American food can be delicious, particularly Navajo Fry Bread, which is probably really an un-Native American dish! Your story conveys how comfortable you are in your church and made the reader feel as comfortable. Congratulations on your first place in Masters.
Olawale Ogunsola03/10/13
Deep and meaningful. Congratulations for placing third, EC.
Charla Diehl 03/20/13
Beth, congratulations on your EC win and top placement in "Masters" with this interesting and fact-filled entry.
One of our pastor's (and his family) spent 25 years on the Navajo reservation in Flagstaff. They have shared much about the love of these people and how they mentored each other.