Sunday, June 23, 2013

Hello, Everyone!

Dear Readers,  Walt and I are skipping across the pond to England for a week!  I'm so excited, I have never been abroad and to quote my son, "The trip I have waited for my entire life!"

I doubt I will have access to  computers and whatnot, but you never know.  Otherwise, I will take lots of pictures and post upon my return.  In the meantime,  take care while I am gone and I shall see you when I get back.

Tea and crumpets here I come!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

And Now for Something Completely Different

Walt and I went to see Jersey Boys in New York!  What a hoot!  It was an amazing musical (and I really don't like musicals much).  But, aside from that tidbit, after the show, I waited by the stage door and collected an autograph or two, screaming like a teenager from the 50's, as opposed to being in my fifties.  Anyway, I took some pictures of New York and here they be.

The Autograph!
Add caption

The ticket and Playbill

The Marquee

Saturday, June 8, 2013

I've Been Lazy!

I've been so lazy with the slow process of healing.  I was able to see the surgeon this week and while he gave me two thumbs up, he acknowledged that I was going to be tired feeling for a while and sore for about three months.  Other than that, though, I feel fit as a fiddle!

I would like to fill in a little more back story on my second year in the bush.  First, November of that year, I remarried.  No, not an Alaskan.  Women ask me all of the time if it is true that the male/female ratio is more favorable in Alaska.  It is.  But instead I married an old friend, Walt, who was living in New Jersey which is how I migrated from Ohio.  We have been married three and a half years and it has been a good thing.

Second, I spent part of that school year working in Fairbanks.  Allow me to sum that up: I LOVE Fairbanks.  It is a college town that is immensely diverse and filled with lots of things to do, panoramic views and some of the nicest people I have ever met.  Over thirty languages are spoken in the Fairbanks schools.  The two also boasts two military bases and I had the extreme pleasure of working with some of the children at Ft. Wainwright.  Nice nice kids!

Fairbanks, Alaska

I will try to add some more photos from Fairbanks later.

Friday, May 31, 2013

I don't know WHAT I was Thinking!

The road to health appears to be a bumpy one!  Yesterday I was slogged down and barely able to walk, but nevertheless, I keep persevering and hoping to feel back up to par soon.  In the meantime, more from my previous writings:

Being afraid of students was unimaginable to me.  After working for years in high-risk urban settings, I found it illogical to be afraid of these kids.  I maintained an inherent belief that kids are kids, no matter what. 
I also worked with a student at the detention center.  That, too, was a very different experience for me.  I had worked previously in lock down, but this felt more foreboding as doors clanked shut, buzzers buzzed to allow entrance and again I was never left alone with students.  The entire experience made me want to get back into one of the village schools and see regular kids, kids whose worlds had not been so turned up side down.
In the villages, the weather was much milder than the previous year.  Surprisingly, the lower 48 was hammered with snow and wind throughout the winter, but Alaska’s weather was mild in comparison.  Wicked winds were intermittent and there was significantly less snowfall.  I wondered how much it had to do with global warming and if the unexpected warmth would somehow alter the ecology.  My musings provided me with no answers as I realized the school year was meandering along and I had work to do.

However, the second year did bring the unexpected pleasure of being recognized.  Sometimes when walking out, people randomly stopped to offer me a ride.  I was becoming a permanent fixture and I guess people were realizing they could invest time and energy in me since I’d returned for a second year.  Some of the teachers in the villages seemed happy I’d decided to return.  Often the turnover was such that rarely had they had the same support staff two years in a row. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Still a Little Tired

So I thought, I'd go ahead and post from my previous writings:

A new psychologist had been brought on staff.  She didn’t appear to be receptive to my “vast” experience and wanted to figure things out on her own.  When talking about the upcoming weather changes, she appeared amazed that she would indeed be expected to travel out in weather than would pale in comparison to the lower 48. 
My duties had changed, too, due to the change in staff.  I picked up several new sites including the juvenile detention center, the alternative high school and the residential treatment center.  I had worked previously with incarcerated students, but only occasionally had I worked with students in clinical settings.  I found it challenging to adjust to the rules.  I wasn’t allowed to be alone with the students, the care providers often made mention of “fear of my safety”.  I was not accustomed to being afraid of students.  But these kids were of a different kind.  Their experiences had created unfamiliar problems, sometimes the victims of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder; their behaviors were often unmanageable.  They had been abused and violated from the point of conception; the thought that they should care about another’s safety was foreign to them.  I was not used to the lack of compliant behavior from students.  I had to learn new ways to approach some students, students who were so clearly damaged.

One of the most challenging kids I faced during the second year was working in the residential treatment center.  The student I worked with there made it very clear to everyone that he preferred to be somewhere else.  Tantrumming was a minute by minute occurrence.  He had been relegated to solitary:  a room with no furniture, no door and someone outside of the doorway watching his every move.  There was a window but it was too high to see out of.  The only thing in the room with the student was a 600-piece puzzle.  It had taken him about two hours to complete the outside frame of the puzzle.  I sat on the floor with him, talking to him and slowly tried to get one piece in right.  I failed miserably both at reaching the student and at the puzzle.  He became agitated and the guard at the door was signaling me to get out of there quickly.  I elected to stay, giving the student space, but not leaving.  While I eventually left unharmed, I received a lecture about personal safety. 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Surgery Over

Just a quick note to say that I had the correction on my stomach and it went well.  Recovery is slowly plugging along.  I will back up and blogging soon and I have pictures to post.

Take care, c

Monday, May 20, 2013

Springtime is Slow

My friends who are still in Bethel are complaining about the continued cold.  It has snowed and the temps are still hovering around freezing.  Even Friday morning, the temperature was 15 degrees.  Break Up is slow coming this year, that time when the river ice has sufficiently cleared for boat passage.  I came home early this year due to pending medical procedures.  I will be having surgery on Wednesday to correct a birth defect.  I hope to be up and about soon and posting again with pictures.  In the meantime, this is from my second year in the Bush:

            As a seasoned professional, it didn’t occur to me that the second year could be more difficult than the first.  I thought I would sail through and be faced with few issues.  Never say never.
The friends I had made as part of my network for survival, other professionals who made their careers in Alaska had not returned and I was left to my own devices.  The house where I had stayed the previous year was no longer the home to other itinerant specialists, but instead now housed an array of pilots, mechanics and hunting guides.  All men.  All very sloppy men.  I was the only woman and I felt so alone.  I found myself staying more and more in my room and not making any effort to socialize during my down time.  I became more and more reclusive as the year dragged on.  But I had my work and that proved even more challenging. 
I quickly learned to be cautious when opening the refrigerator.  The current residents being hunting guides et cetera frequently put their assorted gleanings in the fridge.  “Uhm, Bobby?  What is this in the big bowl?”  Without even looking up, “Bear”.  You’d have thought I’d learn after a while, but my morbid curiosity got the better of me. 
But most of all, I missed my family. 
I missed the other itinerants.  The loneliness was overwhelming sometimes.  I missed the laughter, the sharing of stories and the insights they provided due to their experience.  Now I was the one with the experience.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Home Finally!

Well, the school year is over and I am finally home in New Jersey.  I was fortunate that the volcanic activity didn't affect my travel.  Here are some pictures from the flight.  I couldn't get one I desperately wanted.  I flew over the Space Needle in Seattle at night and it was spectacular!

This is just out of Bethel:

This is just a bit farther out between Bethel and Anchorage:

So so pretty!

A friend invited me to the Board Room in Anchorage.  We celebrated with champagne:

Well, Dear Readers, please let me know if you would like me to continue with my writings, or would you prefer to wait until school starts up again?  It is up to you, I'd love to hear your thinking.

Take care, c

Monday, May 13, 2013

Last Day for the School Year

Hello, Readers,

I am sitting here winding down, finishing up the few minor details that encompass the last day of work (my year is slightly shorter than the rest, they are leaving assorted days through this week).

I always feel a little loose at the end of the year, like something isn't complete, or something is missing.  It always makes me unsettled.

But I fly tonight back to New Jersey and will be home by tomorrow late afternoon.

I am posting here my writings from the end of my first year in Alaska.  I will leave it to say all those things I feel right now as the year ends.

But the quagmire in Bethel began to look alarmingly more troubling as time continued into spring.  The ponds became lakes and some of the smaller villages farther north on the Kuskokwim were evacuated due to floods.  In Bethel, the flooding became so bad, the sewage pipes were floating and there was a concern of leakage and contamination.  The drinking water was compromised.  School was closed for a few days until the water receded. 
The ice roads were closed and with that, it became impossible to find alternate travel to some of the closer villages.  Water taxi’s were replacing them, but they were fewer in number than river taxi’s.  Almost anyone was willing to drive you up the Kuskokwim for $40.  But traveling by boat was a bit more complicated.  And you had to find a way around once you got to your destination, not always an easy thing to do.
As the water receded, it left behind a dry powdery dust that made my eyes itch, burned in my throat and stung my nose.  Every time I went out of doors, I coughed so violently my head pounded.  I wondered what bacteria might be lurking in the dust, with sewage pipes possibly leaking into water.  What on earth might be left behind?  I took small comfort in the days being very long and hoping the sunlight might quell any live bacteria.
Going to villages in the springtime made up for the dreadful conditions in Bethel.  Heading out towards a coastal village the view was spectacular with the mountains on one side and the vast ocean on the other.  The mountains were still snow capped with fog shrouding their bases.  Flying in and seeing that sight reminded me of the incredible majesty that can be found only in Alaska. 

            The students, as spring bloomed, became absent more and more, pursuing hunting and fishing with family.   For students who were required to have my services, their absences made this tricky.  Calling parents was often futile and frustrating.  Comments included, “Oh?  Did you need my son in school today?”  It took all my strength not to replay, “Every day, we need your son every day.”
But, I was able to complete all required work, finished up paperwork and headed back to Ohio.  On the trip returning, I found myself reflecting about the year.  It had been a good year, filled with an amazing adventure, sights I’d never before seen, and a new perspective on what it means to be an American.  I thought a lot about poverty and what it looks like.  I thought about how vast cultures can be in America.  I thought about survival and strength.  But most of all, I thought about the children and wondered how they would spend their lives.  And I hoped I had helped them realize their dreams.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013

More from my First Year in the Bush

On Monday I returned to my regular schedule and flew out once again to a village.  While waiting for my ride back to the air strip, I saw four men on snow mobiles with .22’s across their laps heading out for hunting.  I couldn’t help but think that was a sight I would have never seen back home.
As if winter weren’t bad enough, springtime in Bethel became a soggy mess. 
The entire town became a quagmire as the snow melted creating ponds where there should be no standing water.  The layers of snow and ice melted revealing an amazing collection everywhere of cigarette butts, chewing gum, dog feces, plastic wrappers, and just plain trash.  This array of debris settled on top of the muddy silt I had been introduced to in the fall.  It would have been an archeologist’s dream, layers and layers of trash and grit suddenly surfaced and the remaining piles of snow, even as late as May, were dirty and barely identifiable as snow.  
Throughout the year, there had been several natural phenomena I had found myself dealing with.  There had been a series of earthquakes, however, on the tundra, it is like being on a big sheet of Jello. It didn’t appear to affect Bethel much.   But the earthquakes were a signal for volcanic activity.  Mt. Redoubt had several eruptions.  Volcanoes in Alaska aren’t like what you would think.  They do not ooze molten lava, but instead spew a fine powdery dust into the air that does nothing but create problems.  People with breathing problems have severe reactions.  The airport shuts down because it causes the jets to stall in the air (not a good thing).  Air travel, which is the most typical way of getting around in Alaska, was halted off and on for nearly a month. 
There was a week in the spring that was Alaska’s tsunami awareness week.  That realization stopped me in my tracks for a bit.  

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Explanations are in Order

Dear Readers,  I didn't mean to suggest that my ER trip had been recently.  It was from the book I'd started back when I first came up here.  I am quite well currently, however, will be having surgery soon to repair a birth defect that I had been unaware of.  I have had digestive problems most of my life not knowing that the cause was that my stomach is above my diaphragm.  I always knew I was upside down.

On the cab trip this morning to the office (yes, working on a Saturday), I was explaining nuances of the English language to my driver (Korean).  While driving to the office, the roads are buckling and also have large pot holes.  After driving over one of the buckles, I said, "ka THUNK!"  He asked me if that was Native language for something.  I said, well no, it's sort of an onomatopoeia.  An onomatopoeia is when a word is what it sounds like.  An example might be "BARK!"  or "Meow." As we go over the road, the tires go ka THUNK!

He sort of glazed over.  Imagine that.

And back to the rest of the ER story:

The cab drivers in Bethel represent a large and diverse population.  Mostly Korean, some Albanian, a few from here and there, they are all hard working, aggressively seeking the most customers for the trip.  Everyone pays for the cab, not split between riders like in New York.
            I noticed on the night of my famed ER visit, I was not headed in the direction of my abode.  Instead, headed the other direction.  I quickly voiced my concerns, the driver said, gotta check something.  We pulled into a little side street, where there were two women, arguing, a police officer and a large SUV marked “Bethel Police.”  Alarmed, I said, uh, I think we should leave.  Gotta check, gotta check.  One of the women flew into the back seat. Usually, Alaskan Native people are very quiet, almost shy, not so once they begin drinking.  The driver then waited for the second woman.  Both were intoxicated and very loud. 
They were doing all of the typical things intoxicated people do:  loud, vulgar, flirting with the driver, and generally being obnoxious.  I sat very quiet, just wanting to go to bed.   I just prayed they wouldn’t become violent.  I very quietly said, now? can we go? 
Fortunately, we went straight to my residence and I quickly paid the driver and got out of there, but not before I was the recipient of several comments about my disheveled state.  All I wanted was sleep.
So weak, I barely made it into the house and up to my rented room.  But once there, I fell blissfully asleep.  I awoke the next morning, feeling not quite dead, but not really alive.  I made the decision to stay in Bethel and address issues in the local schools, rather than flying out to a village.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

More about Getting Sick in the Bush . . . From my Alaska Tales

When you think of the “what if’s” of being up here, it is easy to consider all of the obvious possibilities.  What if I were eaten by a bear?  A rather unlikely prospect if one remains sensible in their daily endeavors.  What if I were in a plane crash?  Always a possibility, however as frequently as it does happen; amazingly, rarely are there severe injuries or death.  What if I fell out in the cold and couldn’t get help?  Again, a possibility, but if one is cautious in preparation, it isn’t likely to happen.  What if I got sick in Bethel?  Bingo! 
Getting sick in Bethel is nine kinds of hell.  I started feeling rough over the weekend but chose to ignore it.  Heading out to a village on Monday was par for the course and while there I deteriorated rapidly.  The tickle in my throat transitioned to a very wracking cough and a pounding in my face I couldn’t bear.  Once leaving the village, getting into one of the tiny planes and then proceeding to complete three landings and take offs, my ears and neck had stabbing pains that brought tears to my eyes.  Once finally in Bethel, I then made the unheard of decision to go to the ER. 
The hospital was small, the ER tiny.  I was triaged almost immediately where the nurse said I might have a community spread type of pneumonia.  I’d heard about people dying up here from pneumonia.  That wasn’t on my list of things to do.  I asked about how long the wait might be . . . a guess, just a guess.  She brightly said, it’s not too bad out there today, it shouldn’t be long. 
Feeling hopeful, I returned to my seat.  It was 7:30 pm.  After about an hour, I was summoned for a chest X-ray.  I again asked, about how long do you think it will be before I see the doctor?  The X-ray technician said, oh, it’s not too bad out there today, it shouldn’t be long.
I again, returned to my seat, feeling hopeful.  I watched not an endless parade of people trailing beyond the golden doors, in fact, I don’t think I really saw anyone heading towards treatment.  I began coughing so violently I then experienced uncontrollable urination.  My jeans were soaked through, and I wasn’t sure what to do at that point.  I had been waiting for about two hours.  Finally, a ward clerk came out with a handful of plastic ID bracelets, calling off names.  When she called mine, I gestured for her to come nearer to me.  I whispered to her that my condition was worsening and that I had wet my jeans.  She said ok.
It was at that time, the nurse returned to inform me I was fifth on the list.  Four people ahead of me.  That wasn’t so bad.
Another patient who was also waiting for medical attention, vomited on the floor.  A nurse came out and unceremoniously placed an upside down wastebasket over one of the larger puddles.  About 30 minutes later, someone from custodial services made a feeble attempt at cleaning the offending mess.  Three children then proceeded to move the plastic barricades that indicated caution due to a wet floor and use them as ramps for Match Box cars.
I watched patients vomit, spit on the floor, order food, accept food deliveries, eat, you name it.  I watched children playing on the filthy floor.  I also watched the clock.  Fearing pneumonia, I stayed, but as I remained, I kept thinking, I really am not well enough to wait.  I should get some rest, feel better, then I would have the strength to wait. 
Two hours became three.  Then four.  Then five.  Then six.  I had been sitting in my urine soaked jeans for about four hours.  I was feeling worse by the minute.  I was alone, frightened and sick.  I was having muscle spasms. I felt like I was in a tiled floor kind of hell.  I wondered how many other patients had urinated on the seats.  The thought nauseated me even more.
Off and on, I silently wept.  I coughed.  I cried. I wasn’t sure what to do.  Finally after about six and a half hours, I was beckoned to the other side of the doors on my way to medical attention and hopefully feeling much better. 
On the other side of the doors, I was asked questions I found confusing.  How often do I drink alcohol?  I couldn’t remember:  I’m not much of a drinker.  Did I smoke?  No.  Chew or dip?  Nooooooo.  What about marijuana?  No.  Meth?  Nooooooo.  How many children did I have? Four.  Their ages?  19-29.  Was I married?  No.  Divorced?  Yes, but my husband was deceased.  Why was I in Alaska?  I work here.  Who was my doctor here?  I’ve not seen anyone here yet. 
            I was ill.  Not substance abusing.  Sick.  I needed help.  Antibiotics.  Something.  Finally, the doctor decided I was what I seemed, a very sick woman.  He determined I was dehydrated (probably from the six plus hours waiting), and that I had a sinus infection.  Thankfully, no pneumonia.  I was set up with an IV that hammered a clear fluid into the veins in my hand and somewhere along there, I drifted off to sleep. 
While asleep, I had peculiar dreams, the kind you have that you don’t want to remember because you know they are caused by some outside force like being ill, their meanings have no meanings.  The doctor returned with a bottle of amoxicillin and instructions to buy a nasal spray and ibuprofen.  No flying for a few days.  I should stay home and rest.  I explained I didn’t have sick leave:  no work, no pay.   He shrugged nonchalantly indicating it was up to me.
The folks on the other side of the golden doors gave me some clean, although very worn blue pajamas to put on.  I left the hospital looking like I’d just been released from a refugee camp.  Asking security to please call a cab, I saw one pull up and I opened the door asking if someone had just called.  Yah, yah, git in, git in!  Upon hearing that he had been summoned, I got in and gave him the address to the hovel I had been staying in.  It was 2:30 in the morning.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Last Village Trip of the School Year

Well, I completed my last village trip for the school year on Monday.  My pilot for the trip was brand spanking new and you could even see how shiny he was!  Just in from Michigan, he came up here to get some experience flying in adverse circumstances.  I told him to just wait, the weather will come.


It was one of those trips in a teeny tiny plane, only seating four people including the pilot.  I rode shotgun:

The tundra is beginning to thaw finally:

More from Alaska Tales:

The Natives seemed to have an affinity with the weather.  Waiting impatiently (as always) for a flight to take off, I heard one of the Native pilots comment quietly, “Small snow.  Small snow coming,” as he stood in front of a large window.  Within 20 minutes, a light flurry ensued, dancing flakes that was truly a small snow.   Often transplanted pilots from the lower 48 spoke in awe of the Native pilots, following their lead when flying looked difficult.
Prior to coming to Alaska, I’d heard that the Natives had 200 words to describe snow.  That urban legend was quickly scotched.  The Natives have one word for snow.  It is . . . snow.  The Yup’ik language is a rather sparse language that conveys meaning mostly through inflection.  However, it contains sounds my mouth is incapable of recreating.  Even some of the village names are so difficult to pronounce, those of us who are transplanted have nicknamed and shortened their names to something we are able to manage.  Often I feel bad about that.  It is, after all, only courtesy to pronounce a name correctly.  I struggle with it, and the local folk laugh at my efforts, amused by my lack of articulation.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

More Village Trips

I'm sorry I haven't posted lately, but I've been busy working and traveling out to villages.  However, I have some more pictures taken from the clouds.  

Bethel, Alaska from the airport (known in the area as PABE, Pacific Bethel)

The Bering Sea.  The darkness toward the center is the area that is finally melting.  Again, just look at that blue sky!

Nightmute, Alaska located on Nelson Island.

Nightmute again.

Bering Sea:

More from my Tales:

I was sometimes afraid to go out.  The wind pushing me in ways I didn’t want to go.  The burning on my face, fingers and toes went from commonplace to unbearable.  The bitter cold enhance the isolation.  I felt so alone. 
I also saw enormous black birds everywhere around Bethel.  They were, without question, the biggest birds I’d ever seen in my life.  They also had an attitude about them that was unlike any birds I’d ever observed.  They seemed to size you up and came relatively close as you were out walking.  I discovered they were ravens.  I also discovered that the natives believed ravens were mystical and were very wary of them.  When coloring birds, the children would say, make the bird any color but black.  You could sense the uneasiness.  I understood it when I saw a raven flying with a frozen solid rat in its beak.  I felt uneasy too.
I later discovered, too, that ravens are considered highly intelligent birds.  I figured that had to be true because they survived in a frozen environment, yet managed to find things to eat and places to nest.  They had to be smarter than me because I was constantly having difficulty figuring out survival.   Later, I also learned that many Native Alaskan tribes believe the raven is the creator of life, the father of their existence.  It made sense to me then:  to normalize the creator of their existence would be blasphemous.   From then on, I looked at Ravens a bit differently too.
I noticed a building that actually had wooden carvings over the windows.  Another passenger in my cab told me the building was the first church built in Bethel and it was over 100 years old.  It seemed so out of place among the other buildings I’d seen previously.  And I began to realize how much I missed architecture.  All of the buildings in the villages and mostly in Bethel were of a pre-fabricated type, modular units bolted together with no imagination. 
In Bethel, occasionally a house stood out as a log cabin type of structure or maybe something more commonly seen in the lower 48, however, the majority of the buildings lacked any sort of architectural style that would date back to before the turn of the century so often seen back east.  I missed Victorian mansions and Georgian columns, marble and stone.  I missed the ornate decorations that are so commonplace back in Ohio and even farther east.  No art deco.  No art nouveau.  No 50’s kitsch.  I didn’t even see anything that resembled the arty angles of the sixties.  I missed the rich visual scenery that is the backdrop to every venture out of doors. Few buildings even had more than one floor.  No elevators, no escalators and as winter dragged on, even the outdoor steps became fewer and fewer as the snow levels rose above the bottom two or three steps leading up to every house or building.  

Monday, April 29, 2013

If you don't like the weather in Alaska . . .

Wait five minutes!  It WILL change!  as the saying goes.  I was weathered out and unable to get to the village, so I spent the day in Bethel, working on new referrals there.  Trying again Wednesday to get to the islands and get my work done.

In the meantime:

The weather continued to escalate and while some days the warmth of the sun would beat through the plexi windshields of the airplanes, the air outside was indescribably cold with winds that cut through clothing like a knife blade.  Being in that climate is just plain painful.  Your legs, feet and hands hurt and it becomes difficult maneuvering limbs or gripping anything.  Holding on to grip bars on the snowmobiles becomes more and more difficult.   I often noticed large burns on the children’s cheeks.  When I asked one pixie looking student what had happened to his face, he matter of factly said “frostbite”.  I tried so hard to mask my horror.  As time passed, I saw more and more children with burn like marks on their cheeks.
Climbing in or out of the planes required caution:  one slip and falling on the ice would be very painful.  Sometimes the winds moved the planes while people were in them, but the propeller wasn’t moving, the plane being pushed by gales that indicated flight was hazardous, but it was the only way to get to where you were going. 
The streets in Bethel built up thick layers of ice.  They were rutted and difficult to navigate.  Large graters periodically came through and chiseled off the topmost layers to level the thick ice and also to provide some texture to the ice for traction.  Without that remedy, the streets looked like they were covered with a thick layer of glass that was more than slippery, it was downright treacherous. 
            Sewage pipes froze, even though they were heated, and that prevented school from convening.  Water pipes burst in a couple of the schools, leaving a soggy mess in hallways, tiles coming up off the floors and everything was saturated with water that then froze on the floors.  There was no way to shower or wash clothing, let alone find sufficient water for cooking or cleaning up after.  Day after day was a new challenge.  

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Back from Chevak

It was a great week filled with lots of things to do.  I promised some pictures.  These are from the plane headed out to Chevak:

This is again from the plane, a great shot of the tundra still frozen.

The edge of Scammon Bay (another village).  Look at that sky!

From inside of the plane.  As you can see, it is intimate!

Me in my gear!

Another installment from the book:

About mid way through winter, Susana decided to close down her bed and breakfast.  I was left with finding new accommodations.  The weather had become too harsh even for a seasoned transplant and she closed shop and headed for more palatable weather.  Finally, a new room was located, however, it wasn’t particularly clean, the water disgustingly orange/brown with a smell I found especially nauseating and the heat and hot water sometimes didn’t work.  I had kitchen privileges and shared a bathroom with several other women.  There were laundry facilities there also, however, soon my clothes all took on an orange tinge that wouldn’t leave and the smell clung to every fiber.  I found myself constantly seeking something to drink.
There had been a kind of insulation at Susana’s.  Most of the people who stayed there were somehow connected to the schools, as I was.  But this was not the case at the new house.  There were women there from all walks of life.  Their stories were frequently dubious and I spent more and more time in my room.  One Native woman was there, having left her small children in Idaho.  She missed the Bethel culture.  Another was transplanted from Baltimore, stating very loudly she was fed up with America and decided to leave it so she came to Alaska. 

I'd love to hear from you, if you are out there, reading.  Take care and enjoy! 

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Getting Sick in the Bush

Is never a good idea.  I'm staying actually in the school this week.  And I managed to get a monster migraine.  No place to lay down in quiet and nurse my head.  But I'm better today and managed to get some work completed.  It's my last trip to this village for the school year.  I have pictures and will post over the weekend.  In the meantime, here's a taste from the book:

As the weather continued to escalate, I found it harder and harder to get out to the local villages.  Even the ice roads seemed dangerous with temperatures and winds making it a very frigid prospect to head out.  Winds gusted in February up to 55 miles per hour and with temperatures sometimes in the negative numbers, wind chills fell even lower.  I was faced with constant frustration knowing I had students to work with, yet I was unable to reach them. 
People back home in Ohio didn’t seem to understand just how marooned this region is.  Weather had not permitted flights into Bethel, so the grocery stores were quickly running out of things taken for granted in the lower 48.  Fresh bread, milk and fresh produce and meat were vanishing from the shelves.  I couldn’t even imagine the condition of supplies out in the villages.  I didn’t want to think about it.  Shopping in a village store was a depressing experience even with regular deliveries of foodstuffs.
            My first trip to a village store was shocking to me.  I was stranded in a village and without food for the night or morning (preparation for the trip was lax at best).  I trudged over to the location I was informed was the store.  It was a dark dirty warehouse with meager offerings of produce that appeared wilted and bruised, some canned goods and of course a large array of packaged junk foods.  After selecting a microwaveable single serving ravioli, a small bag of ginger snaps that were expired and a one-liter Pepsi, I paid $17 and felt grateful that I’d gotten what I had.
Leaving the village store, clutching my purchases, I stopped for a moment to look at my surroundings.  It wasn’t quite dark, yet it wasn’t light.  And all I could see for miles and miles was clean white snow.  It looked almost blue, reflecting the slight blue tint of the sky.  There was nothing to break the vastness of it.  The snow met the sky uninterrupted by houses, trees or buildings for as far as I could see.  There were no sounds as I stood there and I was overwhelmed by the loneliness of my being. 
Each day I wondered if I was up to the physical challenge.  The rigors of hauling equipment, hoisting myself up in one of the tiny planes, battling the cold all took its toll.  I joked about my bottom waving in the face of every pilot on the tundra, but I was often grateful for the offer of a hand to pull myself up into a seat or help with my gear.  I was often too proud, though to accept the help.  I figured it was the same for all of us, and we were all on survival mode. 
But it was the children who kept me going.  Each day I looked forward to meeting a new student.  I was in awe of their response to their own circumstance.  Their matter of fact acceptance of a way of life that is each day a harsh reality was something I found strength and courage in.   
I found myself constantly questioning what I was doing here?  I looked at the students and realized that this generation was living a life markedly different than their grandparents did.  Each day in a school shaved a tiny layer of cultural experience away and put distance between them and those who lived previous.  Yet, as American citizens, they were entitled to a free and appropriate education.  I thought about the homes I’d visited that failed to have plumbing but had satellite television service.
As the year progressed, a cellular telephone company had completed construction of towers in the region making cell phones affordable for almost anyone.  Back in Ohio I was used to seeing teenagers with a cell in one hand either blatantly talking or furtively texting.  Not so in Alaska.  However, by springtime teenaged hands that had previously been empty now were busily texting or looking at pictures on camera phones.  The technology had penetrated with a vengeance.
Sometimes I would see Native teenagers in oversized, baggy black and white jackets and pants, ball caps cocked at odd angles, imitating the “gansta” look of urban youth.  All that was missing were the sparkling white athletic shoes that usually rounded out the look.  They even emulated the swagger of urban kids.  Occasionally I’d see the complicated handshakes that also was common in the lower 48 among urban kids, those signals that indicated who belonged and who didn’t.  Where did they see this?  Why was it now part of the teen culture here? 
            The cultural divide between the teens and grandparents was an enormous gap separating a “subsistence existence” and the desire to look like they belonged to a different world.  I feel like part of the chisel making the gap wider.  I desired to serve the children, yet not ripple waters that stood still for centuries.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Holy Cannoli!

I'm headed out to Chevak tomorrow for a week.  Chevak is a small village north west of Bethel.  It is primarily inhabited by members of the Cup'ik tribe.  Known as the "Beautiful People", the Cup'ik are dwindling in numbers.  There are about 950 in Chevak, about 150 or so in Mekoryuk and a handful scattered here and there.

Last year for this springtime trip, one of the teachers contacted me asking if I'd bring up cannoli with me.  I was able to accomodate her and the local bakery in New Jersey packed the pastries with special care.  They were delivered with much excitement, but the Native Alaskans looked at the delicate shells and creamy filling with caution.  Finally encouraging them to taste, they still didn't find the cannoli to their liking.  I don't think they ever did get what my friend and I were so excited about.

Anyway,  I must start adding in some pictures.  I will try to do so as time passes.

In the interim, here's another installment:

As winter headed into full swing, I saw trucks and cars tethered to posts in the ground.  Upon closer inspection, I realized the tethers were actually electrical lines and they were plugged into outlets sticking out of the ground.  I chuckled to myself thinking they looked like umbilical cords providing lifelines to vehicles. 
During the most dreadful of times, the weather kept vehicles from starting. Then it meant walking if you wanted to be someplace.  My face was frequently pink with windburn, and the skin on my legs dried and cracked, no matter how much lotion and oil I put on them.
            Prior to the advent of snow and freezing temperatures, the trips from the airstrips to the schools usually happened on four wheelers/ATV’s.  Even before the temperatures dropped, the wind blowing in my face was stinging.  Now that it was very cold with the ground frozen, which meant the rivers were frozen, I would be picked up on snowmobiles sometimes pulling sleds.  I had neglected to get snow pants and often arrived at the schools with wet jeans and my face virtually burning from the cold.  My skin would turn blood red as a natural reaction to increase circulation in order to avoid frostbite and maintain temperature.
            I found it easier not to look at where I was going, especially once I realized I was heading on an ice road.  Rivers freeze over and they are treated like a highway.  There was so much snow everywhere, the only clue it was a river was the lack of vegetation poking up through the snow.  After that, I found it best to pull my hood down and simply not look.  That turned out to be a good choice because the bitter cold air blowing was painful against my eyes and the surrounding skin.
Working with the children, I was immediately struck by the sheer beauty of them.  Lovely dark eyes, coal black hair and an exotic look that was so foreign to my traditional European influenced experiences.  When speaking with the kids, I was haunted by their isolation and survival instincts.  It is my habit to chat with kids prior to beginning my work with them.  In past experience working in urban or Appalachian settings, upon asking students what they did afterschool, the typical responses were “Gameboy” or other electronic gaming system.  Here, the responses were, “hunting, fishing” or more commonly, “pack water”.  I then realized that it was often the children’s job to haul water from the only source in a village for the family’s needs.  They were responsible for providing water for cooking, drinking or for the family’s dogs.  I mused about children I’d worked with previously, wondering how they would respond to such responsibility.
I later learned that hunting, fishing and trapping were the entertainment.  Kids looked forward to running trap lines or hunting.  For the boys, it signaled a rite of passage.  Girls, on the other hand, were tied to more domestic chores.  Boys seemed to experience a more charmed life, not having significant demands put upon them, whereas girls had more consistent duties and responsibilities.  The boys frequently responded that packing water was their only domestic chore.