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.  

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