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.