As I stepped into the van, my heart was racing, and I was about to overflow with excitement. People laughed and talked all around me, and I could sense that they too felt the same way I did. Not one of us had ever been to our destination. My dad and I were headed to the Cherokee Indian Reservation with a group to help an elderly woman and work at a day care. Most of us believed that we would be doing the teaching and helping all week. However, we found out that we ourselves had much to learn.
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Located to the west of North Carolina in the county of Swain, the Cherokee Indian Reservation covers almost 600 square miles of land. It is covered in part by the Great Smoky Mountains — arguably some of the most beautiful land in the country. The mountain air is fresh, and the view from many of the places in which I found myself was absolutely breathtaking. We went kayaking down the Nantahala River half an hour west of the reservation, watched an Indian drama called “Unto these Hills,” and worked at a daycare for children directly on the reservation. My favorite part of the trip, however, turned out to be the part of the trip we thought would be the most difficult. It began when we started our ascent into the hills.
Up in the mountains of the reservation was the home we were to work on. She had a small cottage that was falling apart and needed repairs, and our job was to repair it while we were there. The first day on the way to the cabin, I was dreading the work. I did not want to spend my afternoon in long pants during the heat of the summer rebuilding a broken down cottage. The moment I reached her home, however, my attitude changed drastically. The hill she lived on had a wonderful view, and I instantly fell in love.
I spent the next week painting, scraping, cleaning, and building decks — and loved every minute of it. My dad even taught me to use some power tools! The last day we were there, after I had finished painting the roof of her front porch, I stepped back to survey the finished product. The house had transformed from a small eyesore into a scenic home. The woman who owned the house returned home from an errand, and the look on her face when she saw her house made everything we had done that week completely worthwhile. The sweat, bee stings, and bodies covered in paint disappeared from our minds as we listened to her tell us about her family, and how she had lived on the hill top her entire life. We took pictures with her, said our goodbyes, and left a new house and thankful owner behind. But the house was not the only thing that had changed; our attitudes had also undergone reconstruction.
We learned many things while working up in the beautiful mountains of the reservation, one of the most prominent being that sometimes giving can be more rewarding than receiving. Not only did we learn, but we grew closer together. My dad and I went into the hills of the reservation knowing some travelers, but not being very closely acquainted with them. The trip to the reservation changed us. It brought my dad, my friends, and me closer together. Now the Great Smokies serve as a reminder of the great friendships I made; and that sometimes “a-da-ne-di,” the cherokee word for “to give,” is better than to receive.
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