The Great Spirit will bring the waters

1977-1986
Financial Plaza, Phoenix, United States*

It’s one of the few stories connected with Arizona’s Valley of the Sun that Native American elders still know and tell their grandchildren. This is a place where the Salt River once flowed and today is the site of a big city non-Native Americans call Phoenix. Anyway, legend has it that, among the homes and big buildings, with the elderly enjoying the warmth of the sun and young careerists climbing the corporate ladder, there’s a new spring flowing from the ground. There’s no end to the water spouting forth… cool, refreshing, clear, sweet. It’s a gift of Nature after years of drought and torrid temperatures.

That was the story his grandfather told him the night before and he was still mulling over the next day. Nyol, not yet a teenager, was already lanky with gait to match, his jeans worn low below the waist, baseball cap reversed. He also has a penetrating gaze bespeaking the pride he feels for the Navajo blood that runs through his veins and colours his skin. The genes of his forebears are unmistakable.

Nyol loved his granddad. He was Navajo through and through, spokesman for a people that sought to keep their heritage alive and hand down their customs and traditions. But he was just as thoroughly American, perhaps more so than many of the pale faces he knew and had met in his young life. He was full of vitality and grit, wanting to make the world his own. Later that day Nyol was walking by Fiesta Mall across the street from Mesa Financial Plaza in downtown Phoenix. It wasn’t one of his usual haunts. Big money and big business meant there would be few kids like himself. Not much fun in that.

But Nyol had gone there on an errand. He crossed the street. That’s when he saw them. He stood still: in front of the building were two beautiful fountains. It was obvious that they had just been completed. The construction site hadn’t been fully cleared yet. The colours of the finely glazed tiles instantly reminded him of the colours of his ancestors. Bright, cheerful, strong. All in an instant. The legend was alive before his eyes. The water spouted forth. He bent over. It was cool and tasted sweet. No mistake about it. He ran home and told his grandfather in a torrent of words.

Grand-dad Naalnish (‘he who works’) smiled. “No, Nyol, what you saw is a beautiful fountain not the spring of our story. I know because I was the foreman of the crew that built it. It’s really a work of art because we used only Mapei materials: Kerabond and Isolastic for installing the porcelainglazed tiles and Keracolor and Fugolastic for grouting tiles”. It wasn’t what Nyol wanted to hear. He nodded and left, wordless.

What a shame, he thought. Then he stopped a second and wondered, “Why did Grand-dad tell me the names of the materials he uses on the job? He’s never done that before. Those names he mentioned sounded like Indian words. Grand-dad is hiding something… That fountain is our legend!”

* Arizona’s a key arm in Mapei’s international reach. The Phoenix suburb of Tempe became the headquarters for its continental expansion. It too has one of the 18 R&D laboratories the company operates throughout the world.

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