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Small Town Charm in Ajo, Arizona

USA4 min read

March 28 - 30, 2010

From San Diego, I headed east into Arizona so that I could cross at a small border crossing heading into mainland Mexico. The ride was pleasant, going up and over some mountains and getting to the Sonoran Desert as I neared the small town of Ajo, Arizona. It was 40 miles to the border from here and I would be staying with Gayle from CouchSurfing. I was thinking this would just be an overnight stop and then head to the border but when Gayle found out I was studying sustainable development, she invited me to stay an extra day to see some sustainability initiatives in Ajo, plus she really wanted to show off her town. I was all game for it.

Gayle and her husband, Don showing me how to play the game of Bananagram, a variant of Scrabble. She's quite the scrabble champ and competes successfully.

Each player gets 21 letters...

...and then it's a race to make a crossword puzzle out of all the letters. "Oxo" is a legal scrabble word, meaning something's that oxygenated. You learn something new everyday.

The next day Gayle took me around the sites of Ajo. This is at the local museum, where her and Don have volunteered most of their time. They're originally from Superior, Wisconsin but after spending a few years teaching in Abu Dhabi, UAE and being entranced by the desert, they decided to move down to the southwest.

Artifacts from the local Tohono O'odham Native American nation.

And since she's a board member of the museum, she gets to ring the old steam train bell. She was just bubbling with so much energy.

A rudimentary TV broadcast system, I think it worked similar to an overhead projector but sending the images over the air.

Hand-written advertisements that were broadcast. Gayle said it was the third such unit in the US at the time (not sure which year exactly, maybe early 1900's).

Ajo came about due to copper mining and was a prosperous town in the 20th century, but since the mine closed in the 1990's, things have slowed down. This is a model of the living quarters of the mine workers.

Gayle was quite proud of this display she put together from old telephone wire spools.

Displaying rocks and ore from the area.

The Ajo Mine.

The Curley School built by the mine in 1919. It's now been converted to living quarters for artists and teachers.

The main plaza in Ajo.

Gayle drove her golf cart all around town, on side walks and anywhere she could squeeze through. She had quite the lead foot, as well :) She really wanted a scooter but Don settled on letting her have this golf cart. Fun way to get around town.

Next stop was ISDA - the International Sonoran Desert Alliance, an organization aiming to foster stronger ties among all the various groups of people living in the Sonoran Desert in the US and over in Mexico, as it's considered one eco-region. They're also trying to get people to better understand the desert and learn how to thrive here.

The local ISDA office is supporting a GED program, where kids who've dropped out of school can try and get their high school diploma so that they can carry on with their lives. One of Gayle's friends, Nina started this gardening project to encourage the kids to connect with nature and learn some responsibility by growing plants and taking care of them as they produced vegetables.

The kids who showed me around their garden and pointed out what was growing on their little plots. They had tomatoes, carrots, lettuce and various flowering plants.

Nina instructing some of the other kids. She's worked hard to make vegetables grow in this dry, nutrient-lacking soil. She's trying different techniques, such as sunken-bed plots lined with stone to better retain water and emphasized that they're using only organic materials such as manure for fertilizer.

These are some raised-bed plots with I guess drip-irrigation.

Another form of raised-bed plots.

Rain water harvesting, which is used to water the garden. Water is already a scarce resource in the south-west and looks set to be a bigger and bigger issue in coming years.

A carrot that one of the boys pulled from his plot. They looked really proud of the plots they were managing and rightly so.

With all the vegetables from the garden, today Nina was showing them how to make their own salsa.

They all looked like good kids at heart and happy to see them getting a second chance.

Speaking with their teacher, Morgana after I gave a little spiel to the class about where I'm from and what kind of foods we eat in India. I was probably their first Indian from India that they saw. Morgana here was in the Peace Corps and spent about 2 years in Namibia and is planning on having a traditional Namibian wedding in the Summer of 2011 (in addition to her US wedding shortly) and that's about when I plan to be in southern Africa, so I was invited. I love unexpected connections.

A textbook for the class.

A interesting project that Morgana recently finished is this Border Project, where she encouraged students in schools separated by present-day political and cultural borders to express their views through mixed media on border issues.

The schools where in Ajo, Arizona, Tohono O'odham Native American Nation and across the border in Sonoyta, Mexico.

Some of the views of the kids. The lines drawn on their faces represent the border.

The artwork of the kids, which was picked up by the Smithsonian Institute as part of a mobile traveling gallery.

Interesting sculpture in the art gallery. A centipede made of mud and rebar.

A donkey fashioned from an ironing board.

That evening Gayle invited Nina and her husband Peter over so that we could cook a meal. Nina is from Slovenia and is finishing up a PhD from a university there and Peter runs a Slovenian translation business over the net. I was the director for the meal and Peter was cutting up the veggies.

Nina brought over all her spices and the meal that evening was going to be Red Lentil Curry (dahl) with a veggie stir fry of mixed greens plucked fresh from the garden (chard, leeks, etc) along with carrots and sweet potato (one of my favorite veggies) with rice and some steaks. Check out the cute doggie cutting board.

The lentils and rice cooking.

And here's the food we prepared. Glad to take the "Jammin Cooking Show" on the road :)

The spread: steaks prepared by Don, the veggie stir fry, rice and dahl.

Came out quite good and glad I could get my cooking fix.

Gayle and Don's house in Ajo.

The side attachment where I stayed.

Gayle's golf cart with teddy bears strapped on.

Their front yard with a bird feeding post.

Next: Mexico, Part 1: Border to Michoacan

Previous: Weekend in San Diego


Jammin thru the Global South was the 3+ year, 100,000+ km ride Jay did from the US to India via Latin America, Europe and Africa. Explore the photojournals at the Journey Posts tab.

Jammin Global Adventures is a tour company run by Jay Kannaiyan. He organizes small group, premium motorcycle adventures in Peru, Kenya, Mongolia, India and more.

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