One day when I was a young woman I drove along a northern Arizona interstate highway through a large Indian reservation, on the way to somewhere, coming from somewhere else, I do not recall the where, when, or why of it. I did not drive onto the reservation as I perceived it as private residential areas in a sovereign nation of American Indians, either the Apache (Indé), Hopi (Hopituh), Maricopa (Pee-Posh), Navajo (Diné), Papago (Tohono O’odham), Pima (Akimel O’odham), Yavapai, Yuma (Quechan), or some other.
I stopped for gasoline at a station along the interstate within the reservation, and I was tricked out of my credit card by some teenaged Native Americans who distracted me then snatched it up from the gas station counter and ran away. The attendants said they knew nothing about it, and I had to pay in cash to fill up my gas tank. Later I found that only one illicit charge had been made to my credit card on the reservation which I thought was frugal of the thief, and the credit card company reimbursed me for that loss. But not having my credit card was an inconvenience on that trip that made me feel a little unsafe.
As I was leaving the reservation, I stopped at a small convenience store, but before I could get out of my car a deeply sunburnt, decrepit old Indian man came hobbling up to me with a huge, toothless grin on his face. I rolled down my window to see what he wanted. He thrust his hand into my car window to shake my hand, which I did reflexively. Then I saw his wizened old face turn evil and he nodded down to our clasped hands. His hand was dirty, gnarled, and deformed with the disfigurements of leprosy. It was hideous. He held and shook my hand firmly, then tottered away laughing with manic glee at the thought that he might have infected me. It seemed like a very long time before I found somewhere, off the reservation, where I could wash my hands.
I suspect that old Indian man loitered in front of the small convenience store half a century ago, lurking for unsuspecting tourists, to see if he could grab them to pass his disease of leprosy onto them. Did that close-knit Indian community knew what he was doing, and allow it?
Caption: Leprotic Handshake
by Annmarie Throckmorton 2018