Guest Commentary

The Fountain of Peace helped me learn more about the varied cultures coexisting in the Sonoran Desert

I thought I was dealing with a simple issue of translating text into different languages for a Fountain of Peace. To me, it was a matter of respect that if I was doing anything in multiple languages, I should include the native tongues of this region.

I ended up learning much more about the real building of peace.

Back when I first had the idea for a Fountain of Peace to be installed at the Muslim-Jewish PeaceWalk, in the spring of 2007, I met with the planning committee to get their input and approval. The fountain experience has two components. People release something that no longer serves peace by writing it on a glass gem with a washable marker, and then watch it dissolve in the water. Second, they write an intention that furthers peace on a rock with a permanent marker. They may take that as a reminder, or leave it at the fountain for others to see.

Using water to carry away what no longer serves us is rooted in the Jewish tradition of tashlich, conducted at the High Holy Days in the fall. We cast away behavior patterns that no longer serve us as part of making way for the new. While the Muslims do not have a similar practice, they felt comfortable with it, perhaps because they also use water for spiritual cleansing, washing before entering the mosque.

While at times I yearn to live in the Middle East again like I did when I was 23, this Sonoran Desert has provided an oasis of calm to explore issues of Muslim and Jewish coexistence.

In both the Middle East and the Sonoran Desert, access to water, fuel and minerals are all factors in resolving conflict and building peace. In order to address these issues, I applied for and received a grant from the Tucson Pima Arts Council to make a new version of the fountain with a base made from recycled copper, and power from a solar panel. Resources on water conservation will be provided, as will be the translation into Spanish, Arabic, Hebrew, Yaqui and O'odham.

That all sounds good--a little peace project that raises consciousness about the sacredness of water--right?

Here's where I was clueless. In the Middle East, there are such embroiled conflicts that, of course, we are eager for any method that will help us release some of that. It's a different story for the Pascua Yaqui. It's not part of Yaqui culture to hold on to negative things, explained Marcelino Flores, community development coordinator for the Pascua Yaqui Tribe. While elders could do a literal translation of the text for the fountain, this concept of needing a method to release things was not part of their culture; they have an intuitive sense to let things go, said Flores. So having the fountain text appear in Yaqui could be problematic; it would be important to make it clear so that it would "not be mistaken as our way."

"We all want peace," said Flores. As he was patient with my ignorance, I started to grasp how this focus on release was challenging when his people are working so hard to preserve traditions.

A Tohono O'odham elder also noted that needing a method for release was not part of his culture. Some concepts from my culture can only be partly translated, and some concepts in O'odham culture don't have a simple translation into English. Tristan Reader, co-director of Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA), told me about a T-shirt company that is featuring words that need a whole paragraph to be translated into other languages. When he said to look at the O'odham word "himdag," my brain pulled up a quick thought of lifeway. But if you'd like to get some sense of the full meaning of the word, go to the T-shirt company and TOCA's site. Flores from the Pascua Yaqui Tribe says his culture has a similar concept; you might like to visit the tribal Web site.

If you'd like to experience the fountain, the first installation of the new version will be at the Sept. 11 Tucson Multi-Faith Alliance Remembrance Service, at 6 p.m., Thursday, Sept. 11, at Temple Emanu-El, 225 N. Country Club Road. For more information, call Sat Bir Kaur Khalsa 690-5715 or Mila Anderson 327-4501.