My “Arizona Dream”

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My first “introduction” to Arizona was the famous movie by Emir Kusturica back in the ’90s –
“Arizona Dream”, a surrealist comedy drama starring Johnny Depp and Faye Dunaway.
Its first image of a cactus and a fish forever imprinted a picture on my mind of Arizona as a very
faraway and strange place. At that time, I never would have thought that someday I would be
living here and this new world of cactuses and fish – reality and dreams – would open me up in
the most amazing ways. Scratching beyond the surface, you’ll find more and more hidden
wonders in The Grand Canyon State.

I was just thinking about how to explore this land with all its opportunities and places to visit
while we were starting a trip to Northern Arizona and the borderline with Utah. Life in Phoenix
and within the Humphrey program comes with a certain crazy rhythm, and it is not that easy to
plan and travel everywhere. Sometimes you stop at some borders for different reasons, while
other times you have the need and desire to explore these borders and find out what’s behind
them. Page is just over four hours away from Phoenix, yet it is so different. It is home to the
Navajo Nation and the most amazing natural canyon called Antelope, as well as the stunning
Horseshoe Bend.

I had arranged a meeting with Krista Allen, journalist and editor at “The Navajo Times,” which to my surprise, still continues the unique ritual of being sent to print in these days and times. Krista was working intensely during those two days. The newspaper, which has only a limited number of reporters, is the voice of the Navajo Nation. It covers mainly issues in this community – a nation on its own, with its own governing structure, police, rules and even its time zone. Strangely enough, time goes forward or backward whenever you enter or exit Page. I never got used to it.

I was supposed to meet Krista over lunch to talk about common things in our profession had
she not written to me suddenly, asking, “Have you done Antelope yet?”

I had not. Tickets for Antelope are sold weeks and months in advance, and it almost broke my heart thinking I wouldn’t get the chance to see this wonderful canyon. I had seen it before but in photos only, which, to me, looked surreal.

“I will get us a tour there,” she says. And there I was the next day, waiting for her at the
entrance to the canyon. The groups were very small, maximum 6 persons, and we had to be
masked at all times. I learned that the COVID-19 pandemic hit the Navajo Nation hard. Ninety
percent of the people got Covid and there were many victims. Our guide lost his grandmother
and grandfather. He was very strict. “Keep the mask on or it will be a pity to cut this tour short,”
he insisted. One hundred steps to go down in a wonder canyon, all in red stone, in unimaginable shapes beautifully placed by nature, and above you just see the blue sky in a contrast with ten different shades of red. National Geographic, many other magazines and newspapers have documented this wonder. But I always thought the photos had been filtered or re-touched. That day I found out that there’s no need to do that. One hour in this beautiful setting is not enough. I saw groups arriving after us – the day simply cannot accommodate all the visitors from around the world who want to see the canyon. It takes around one hundred steps to come out of this impressive scenery–one which I will never forget.

Krista invited us for a rafting trip on the Colorado River and I guess this will be another unforgettable experience. “Journalists come from different states and media outlets to write about our community, to
cover their stories,” Krista said in a very quiet voice. “I feel many of them do not quite get it, do
not get the story right, simply because reading about Navajo Nation and living in it every day is
not the same thing.” She went on to explain to me that the main problem they experience is
water-related. Added to that, the power generator was demolished a few months ago because
the lease was not paid on time. Education, opportunities, the health system, and well-being are
other challenges that Krista and her colleagues report on every day. Through the newspaper,
they want to elevate the distinct voice of the Navajo Nation. It’s a community that is home to the most beautiful hidden treasures in Arizona that deserve to be shown to the world.

About Elira Çanga

Elira Çanga has worked as a journalist in Albania for the past 11 years. She works as a media project manager at the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and her goal is to modernize the public service media in her country and enrich journalism curriculum. She has previously worked as journalist and producer for the BBC and as a Media Team Leader at USAID. Çanga is experienced in media development and international affairs, with a master’s degree in EU Studies from Centre International de Formation Européenne. She has spent 10 years working on media development to encourage investigative reporting and fact-checking, as well as training and mentoring young journalists on media and information literacy and countering disinformation online. During her time as a Humphrey Fellow, she hopes to improve as a journalist and media developer to make stories more impactful and to help guide future generations of reporters.

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