The Flat Tire at Nazlini

One afternoon in the second summer [shi shigo] that Steve and I taught at Navajo Community College [now Diné College], when we were driving on the road from Chinle [Ch'ínli] to Nazlini [Nazlíní], we found a Navajo family whose car [chidí] had suffered a flat tire [chidí bikee' niiltsooz]. Although there were two [naaki] young women ['asdzáán], one [la'ii] very pregnant, who knew how to change the tire [chidí bikee'], their jack [chidí bee dah ndíídlohí] was inoperative. We stopped to help, using our jack [chidí bee dah ndíídlohí] to lift the car [chidí] and our tools [chidí bibee na'anishí] to remove the lug nuts [chidí bijáád bil 'adaasgizígíí]. When we had the flat tire [chidí bikee' niiltsooz] off, we asked where the spare tire [chidí bikee'] was. It was only then that we found out that they carried none! This was our first encounter with the reality of an Indian car.

The family group in this car consisted of the two [naaki] young women ['asdzáán], a four [dii] year old boy ['ashkii] and his grandmother [amá sání]. The two [naaki] young women ['asdzáán] conferred in Navajo [diné bizaad] with the older woman ['asdzáán] to determine who would accompany us to the Nazlini [Nazlíní] trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan] to get a replacement tire [chidí bikee']. It was finally decided that the grandmother [amá sání] who spoke no English, at least to us, and the boy ['ashkii] would accompany us. We did not understand this decision but could not question it. The boy ['ashkii] and his grandmother [amá sání] climbed into our van and we proceeded to Nazlini [Nazlíní].

As we had never actually entered the town of Nazlini [Nazlíní], we were directed to the trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan] by a series of hand ['ala'] signals. When we arrived there it was closed but we were instructed, again with hand ['ala'] signals, that Steve should knock on the door. Reluctantly he did so and found that the only occupant was a visitor. The trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan] operator was away in Gallup [Na'nízhoozhí] getting supplies and might not be back for hours. Faced with this situation we all went around to the structure that served as a garage [chidí bighan] to see what we could accomplish with the help of the one other person available. After all, we had all watched tires removed and replaced on a wheel rim. We could handle it. We had no choice!

We first ascertained the size of the tire [chidí bikee'] that we had. Then the three [táá'] of us began our hunt through the large unsorted array of repaired tires [chidí bikee'] available as replacements. The elderly woman ['asdzáán] divided her attention between us and her grandchild [atsóí]. We soon concluded that it didn't matter whether or not we found a radial tire [chidí bikee'] as it was unlikely that the other tires on the car [chidí] were matched. We finally found a tire [chidí bikee'] the right size which still had some tread [chidí bikéso]. We decided that we should now remove the old tire [chidí bikee'] from the wheel rim and then figure out how to get the "new" one on. We cleared off the required equipment and placed the wheel on as best we remembered from the times when we had watched this procedure. But the next step was tricky. We couldn't figure out the proper way to place the lever on the rotating axle and the tire [chidí bikee'] in order to remove the tire [chidí bikee'] from the rim. After the three [táá'] of us had tried several permutations, the older woman ['asdzáán] became impatient with us. Using hand ['ala'] signals again, she showed us the proper method for placing the lever on the axle. Then it was only a matter of seconds before the tire [chidí bikee'] was off. Step 2 (3 ?) was completed. Now more imagination was called for. We had to get the "new" tire [chidí bikee'] onto the rim, securely. We had only the vaguest memory of how to accomplish this. We placed the new tire over the rim and managed to get it partially stretched over the top edge. While we were struggling with this quandry, we heard the sound of a truck [chidí tsoh na'ayéhígíí] engine [chidí bitsiits'iin] outside. We were soon joined by the operator of the trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan] who was exceedingly amused at our situation. He heated up the glue [bee ída'diijeehí], cleaned the rim of the tire [chidí bikee'], swabbed it with sealant, and had it on the rim and inflated in minutes. We all had a good laugh, the boy ['ashkii] had been in a boy's ideal playground, the family had sent the best possible consultant on tire [chidí bikee'] replacement, who also, incidently, had an account at the trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan], the sisters had a chance to talk, and we had a different afternoon than planned.

We loaded the tire [chidí bikee'] and everyone back into the van and headed back to the car [chidí]. When we arrived we found that another family member, a young man [diné] had arrived. He watched with folded arms ['agaan] while we placed the "new" tire [chidí bikee'] on the car [chidí]. We discovered that one of the lug nuts [chidí bijáád bil 'adaasgizígíí] was stripped and unusable. We tightened the others while everyone watched silently. We lowered the car [chidí] to the road ['atiin] and recovered our jack [chidí bee dah ndíídlohí], said goodbye to the family and went our separate ways.

We have told this story many times and I'm sure that the trading post [naalyéhí báhooghan] operator, his visitor and the Navajo family all have their different versions of it. The details and the emphasis were different in each case but it turned out well each time. So be prepared if you meet an Indian car with a flat tire [chidí bikee' niiltsooz] when driving the back roads on the Rez. You may be in for an unexpected experience!

The recording of Indian Cars go Far, from Electric Warrior by Russell Means, is used with the permission of the Soar Corporation. The entire song may also be heard in RealAudio.
© 1994, 2000 Karen M. Strom
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