A Night in a Teepee This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

March 30, 2018

One time, my parents made me sleep in a teepee. Since the population of people who've slept in a teepee other than myself is probably limited to Native Americans prior to the European's disastrous conquest, I'll be providing my own definition of the word. A teepee is a somehow less glamorous version of a tent, which was created by Native Americans in the Southwest. And this is the story of how learning to embrace one culture helped instill my own.

I have chronic planning-itis. Though not a real disease, I've self diagnosed myself because without a solid agenda for my vacations and life in general, I suffer severe side effects. The issue is this disorder does not seem to be genetic, and I'm the only one in my family who has it.

While riding down a bumpy road in Arizona, my rented Toyota Camry stumbled by a giant billboard that read "AUTHENTIC TEEPEE EXPERIENCE ON EXIT 42B". A sign that would go unnoticed to most, instantly caught my mother's attention. She soon announced that we would be forgoing our planned hotel accommodations for a night in a teepee. Because most people aren't teepee experts, I believed it was a luxurious cabin or historic hotel of some sort and pushed my panic aside as I drifted to sleep.

I awoke due to the beating sun scorching me through the window and gasped in shock. There was not a bar of signal on my phone and not a Starbucks in sight. I felt like a primitive cave woman. This so-called teepee was just a synonym for a skin cover on sticks, and that's where I would be sleeping. Without a pillow or blanket in sight, I silently sobbed.

To my surprise, life was not over without a tablet or television. We started a fire and sat around roasting marshmallows as the Native Chief told us ancient stories about the people who once roamed the grounds we were inhabiting for the night. He showed me his handmade headdress and let me help carve a totem pole. These Natives set a model for what family should be, closely knit while working together to keep unique kin traditions alive.

The chief described the cornerstones of a tribe’s culture in the Great Plains. Most importantly, he explained women must cook and direct orders in the teepee, reminding me of my own culture where women cook and light the ceremonial candles on Shabbat. Moreover, he continued by describing the teepee’s role in symbolic ceremonies. Once again, I found a commonality with my own culture where we construct a sukkah, a structure similar to a teepee, for the ceremonies of Sukkot. One night immersed in an unfamiliar culture was slowly making me feel closer to my own.

Then, after the festivities came sleeping in the teepee itself. As the youngest, I was sandwiched in between my siblings who provided ample body warmth and giggled with me until twilight. The small perimeter left me in utter darkness aside from the sliver of moonlight seeping from the miniscule hole above. I soon forgot about the objects I once thought made life worth living and learned that materialistic possessions are human constructs that aren't essential for living.

Like the Native Americans, my family’s own culture revolves around being close and keeping our own traditions alive. Whether I'm in the Arizona desert or my next travel destination, all I need is my family and that one night in a teepee, that's all I had.






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