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Local Nurse Learns Life Lessons from Navajo Nation

Susan Cogan of Martinez has self-published a book detailing her experiences as a public health nurse on the Indian reservation in Arizona.

The amenities of modern American life are plentiful. Surrounded by convenience, ease and comfort — freeways and drive-throughs, Wi-fi and air conditioning — simplicity grows ever sentimental, like a relic from an ancient past.

But that past is present, right here in America. Susan Cogan knows because she lived it — on an Indian reservation in Arizona.

Cogan spent just under a year with the Navajo tribe in Kayenta as a public health nurse, leaving a large family home in Pleasant Hill for a trailer on the reservation. Her and her husband Bruce explored the deserts of Arizona, New Mexico, Utah and Colorado, and returned to the Bay Area with a stack of experiences, a mailbox full of emails, and a new appreciation for living minimally.

Now retired, Cogan has self-published a book about her experiences in the hope of sharing the culture of the Navajo people. After deciding to "do something different for a while," Cogan left for Kayenta in 1998 to work for the Indian Health Service (IHS), traversing hours of rocky terrain each day to visit patients living in huts called "hogans". E-mail from Kayenta chronicles her journey through a memoir-style narrative interlaced with emails sent to friends and family during Cogan's time on the reservation. Life in the Navajo Nation was an "eye-opening experience" that prompted a tangible change of perspective.

"People live without electricity, without water, on dirt floors with no heat," said Cogan. "When you see what the people there live with, you realize you don't need nearly what you have."

When the couple returned to the Bay Area, they shed much of their former life — the space, the stuff, and the spending — to live in a townhouse in Martinez. There are no floods or Navajo women knocking at the door selling handmade rugs, and the roads are smooth and flat. Kayenta is almost a thousand miles away, yet still close to home.

Order E-mail from Kayenta by Susan Cogan on Amazon.com for $5.99 or buy the e-book for $1.99.

Have you been inspired to live more simply? Share your experience in the comments, and let us know what you think of E-mail from Kayenta.

Edward Toomey May 31, 2012 at 05:25 PM
Knowing Susan and Bruce for a long, long time, the column captures the value system that prompted the decision to spend a year as a public health nurse of an Indian Reservation.
J. Scrivner May 31, 2012 at 09:58 PM
E-mail from Kayenta, by Susan Cogan, provides an intimate look at Navajo life. It also paints a vivid picture of the beauty of that part of America.
Tina Noreika June 01, 2012 at 06:40 AM
Enjoyed reading about life on the Navajo reservation. Having read the book, I enjoyed your article. Think Susan Cogan did a nice job capturing the simple life of Native Americans and it made me more aware of the things I take for granted on a daily basis. I'm looking forward to visiting that part of the country.
Winnie Smith June 04, 2012 at 05:20 PM
Through her words, Susan paints a beautiful picture of the entire region and its native people. This book is a must read for those who have visited the area in the past or plan to do so in the future. The book is riveting and I was sad for it to end. I wanted more! Winnie Smith
K Azevedo July 21, 2012 at 04:35 PM
Susan, congratulations. Were you a school nurse at the Mauzy center? Would love to hear from you again. Kathleen Azevedo

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