Monday, August 25, 2008

Little Bit of Winter

Last night I stayed at school until 9:00. It was Sunday. I'm slowly discovering all the new challenges that I need to face with my job, as well as all the added duties that I seem to fall into. At last tally, I have assumed responsibility of: my own classroom of sixth and seventh graders, a high school music elective, managing the student store, running after school detention, student council adviser, and organizing the pep rally for Friday to send off our football players to Barrow. Go Team! I'm definitely glad that I'm busy, although it would be nice not to see the school for more than 12 hours.

This morning started the first full week of school and I awoke to a light dusting of snow on the ground. Looking at the thermometer, it says 30.4 degrees. It's also a bit blustery. Also, it's August. Can't wait to see what November brings us.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Polar Bear in the Village

On Tuesday, I came to school for inservice and everyone was in a buzz. Apparently there was a polar bear meandering through the village. Here's the thing about polar bears, they are ridiculously dangerous. Even though this beautiful, majestic creature was walking amongst us, I knew that if it was in the village, it would soon be dead. Everyone gave us warnings about the bears right when we got here, but it's kind of like they don't really exist until you actually see one. Unfortunately, I didn't get to see it, or maybe that should be fortunately...

That evening the community held a potluck, complete with maktak, grayling fish, caribou (tuttu), anf the main dish, roast polar bear. It is a little like eating fish flavored beef. Very strange, but not bad.

Wednesday was the first day of school. Wednesday night was the first night I cried since leaving home. I couldn't believe it. I expected the kids to be a little disrespectful and rowdy, but wow, was I ever underestimating them. I planned a whole bunch of fun activities that I thought were pretty neat. Obviously, the kids didn't agree. Even though I'm down to only six students, they have to be the toughest six to deal with in the whole school. I don't think I've ever been so exhausted in my life.

Today, things got a little better. Instead of doing anymore fun activities, I pushed the kids right into work and even sent home homework. I definitely had more of a handle on things and I can tell things will be looking up from here. At least I hope so.

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Bush Surgery

Last Sunday gave us our first encounter with just how secluded we really are. Doug, Chris, Janey, Jen, and I decided to take Oakley, Jen's dog, for a walk in the tundra. At this time of year the tundra is covered with wild blueberries and salmon berries. They are delicious, but you have to walk a ways out to get to them. Of course, once we start walking all of the village children have to come out and follow us. These kids are in love with Oakley. They all run around him or bike ahead of us, all calling his name. Oakley is the happiest, friendliest dog I've ever seen and loves the attention. He's also not the brightest. As all of the children are calling his name, he doesn't watch where he's going and falls right into a ground squirrel hole. We all burst into laughter at the sight of it, but didn't notice all the blood at first. When we caught up to him, Jen noticed a large flap of skin hanging off his lip. The poor guy had bit through it and it was gushing blood. She grabbed a piece of paper to push against it to hopefully stop some of the blood, but it was no use. This was a gusher.

Jen took the dog back to our apartment while the rest of us continued our walk. When I returned home two hours later, the dog was still bleeding. Jen had already walked all over town trying to figure out what to do. There are no vets in the village, not really even a doctor. There's just a nurse and she won't do stitches. We came to the conclusion that super glue will have to do. I ran outside and paid some kids a dollar to find us a tube. They come back with this tiny, dried up, old tube of super glue, but when you're in the bush, you use what you can. We gooped up his lip and held up the flap. This method held for about an hour, but was for sure not a permanent solution.

We did eventually get a hold of Mel, our superb plant manager who does it all, and he ran us over a brand new bottle of super glue, but we soon realized his cut was much worse. Jen finally decided to catch a plane in the morning to fly to Barrow. Luckily, the vet was in town, although it would turn out to be the most expensive vet bill ever once she factored in the flight. Total amount paid: $360.00. $270.00 for the round trip flight and $60.00 for the doctor bill.

Ten stitches and one day later, Oakley and Jen returned. Oak doesn't even seem to know the difference and is still as happy as ever. Now to train the kids on not yelling his name.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

The Village People

My first night in the village I watched a little kid puke up ice cream right outside my apartment. Real fun. Once the village kids know you are in town, they will flock up to your door. I had a group of ten little kids all screaming "can we visit?" at 10:00 at night. They were all bursting with enthusiasm about meeting new people. It was such a great thing to know these kids were excited about school and about the teachers. Every kid that I asked said they couldn't wait for school to start.

School for the village is what they live for. It is the center of their community, providing them with a place to play and socialize. I think this is such a good thing that they are exciting about learning as well. Not something you often find in the lower 48.

One thing I could live without up here is the constant knocking on my windows and doors. They always want to come in to play. I made the mistake of letting them in one time and ended up with about 20 kids running around the apartment, hiding in every corner they could find. I couldn't get them out, either. We've made a strict "no kids in the apartment" rule for our home.

The kids are still really excited whenever they see you, even if you don't let them in. I'll be walking around the village and from what seems like a quarter mile away, they'll spot me and shout "Hi Lindsay!" It's pretty neat that they already know me and are welcoming me into their lives. This will definitely be a unique experience.

First Week in Barrow

Last week we stayed in Barrow for new hire inservice. Beyond the draining experience of sitting in classroom for nine hours a day, it gave us all some time to bond as a staff. We did partake in some interesting activities, such as walking four miles along the beach frequented by polar bears to go buy soda at the only store in town, as well as taking a dip into the Arctic Ocean for the Polar Bear Plunge (we got a certificate!). It was quite an adventure and made me realize that these are the people that are going to make or break the year. Atqasuk seemed to make a name for ourselves at the inservice, as we were the youngest group there. We coined ourselves as "the fun village," while others thought we were just loud.

On this page you will find some pictures of our discoveries on the beach. We found really interesting creatures in the ocean, jellyfish, a weird purple thing we decided to name "The Amazing Technicolor Sea Corndog," Also, a few pictures of the plunge. It was cold, but not that unlike swimming in a bigger, saltier Lake Superior. Not nearly as cold as I expected.

In addition to a water fun, we also had the opportunity to attend the Youth and Elder's Conference put on by the Inupiat people. This conference is something they do every year to discuss issues facing their culture. A lot had to do with education. You'll see a picture of three people on my staff, my roommate Jennifer, Chris, and Janey, all wearing headsets. Part of the conference was delivered in Inupiat and we wore these to hear it in English.

Along with the conference, the Inupiats held a potluck to welcome the new teachers. They served traditional foods, such as caribou, bearded seal, bowhead whale (both cooked and fermented, called "maktak"), and various other dishes. Yes, I did try the fermented whale and seal, and it's definitely an acquired taste. The whale was chewy and mushy at the same time. Not truly my style, but a good experience all the same.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Return to Alaska (for good this time)

At the end of July my mom and I made the trek up here to do a little bit of sightseeing of the more beautiful parts of Alaska. We made a four day stop down in Anchorage and saw some amazing sights. The more southern part of the state is green and lush, with mountains rising all around. It is absolutely gorgeous.

After emerging from the plane, we went directly down to baggage claim, picked up our luggage, and then tried to find somewhere to stay. We didn't make reservations because we were unsure of exactly where would be the best place to stay. Boy, were we ever in for a surprise. You can't find a hotel for less than $200 a night. It was outrageous. Being the thrifty people we are, we decided to inquire at the information booth to see if there was something more in our price range. The nice woman there offered a few options, one being a new hostel built near downtown. Mom wasn't as down for it as I was, but I quickly convinced her that it is actually probably quite safe a clean. Heck, for $60 for a double private room per night, how could you go wrong?

The hostel was very reasonable and decent, the perfect place to stay if you really aren't looking for luxury. During our stay, we visited the Sourdough Mining Company and watched the show there *cough*rip-off*cough*, took a train to Seward, went on a glacier cruise, and had my first real bush teacher experience. When you live in the far reaches of the northern tundra, you don't have much access to a grocery store. No more late night ice cream runs for me. In order to get food, you must go to Sam's Club or Fred Meyer and place a bush order. This consists of filling up your cart(s), making your purchase, and crossing your fingers that it gets there before Christmas. Still waiting for my food, by the way. This order usually costs just amount in shipping as it costs for the merchandise price. Little insane. Also, note to anyone considering doing this, buy from Fred Meyer. They are always a better deal, as I quickly found out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Let the Adventure Begin

Before I officially accepted my position at Meade River School's newest 6th/7th grade teacher, I had the opportunity to visit where I would be soon calling home. In May, I flew by myself north to Barrow, Alaska. I stepped off the plane onto the steps leading down to the runway. What was I getting myself into? I saw snow. Not just a small spattering signaling the end of winter, moving into spring, but drifts. Large drifts and snow falling from the sky. Real glad I remembered to bring my jacket. What a warm welcome and hopeful sign for the future. Luckily, I was able to move past the weather and started to see all that Barrow and the North Slope had to offer me.

As I walked into the small shed the townspeople referred to as the airport, I met several smiling faces. Everyone was very kind and I quickly introduced myself as someone coming to teach in the fall. Most of the people living in Barrow and the outlying villages are Inupiat. The Inupiat people are very proud of their heritage and value their culture. It was a great relief to know that they would be accepting of outsiders coming in to teach their children. I hoped people in my village would be as welcoming.

The day after arriving in Barrow I took a flight out to my village. The flight itself only took 25 minutes, as Atqasuk is only 60 miles from Barrow. On the ground in the village I noticed that there really is no actual airport, simply a runway and a gravel patch where people come out to meet the airplanes to help unload. The plant manager for the school, Mel Wong, was waiting for me, waving a large sign with my name on it, he said just in case he missed me coming off the plane. The plane only holds four people plus cargo.

Mel is an amazing guy. He does absolutely everything in the village and will be the first one there if you need a hand. That day he gave me a tour of the whole village (it took about 15 minutes) and also showed me around the school. I stayed the rest of the afternoon, catching the 2:00 flight back to Barrow and thought over my recent life changing decision. I wasn't doubting myself at all. I couldn't believe what serious change it would be, but I could definitely see myself there, living and teaching amongst the villagers, slowing becoming part of the community. This was a seriously reassuring feeling.

The Start of an Idea

I get the question quite often as to why I decided to apply to teach in Alaska. People mostly think I'm crazy to completely remove myself from all the creature comforts of the modern world. On demand internet access, cable television, malls, phones that don't echo. It is an interesting thought as to why a person would put his or herself into this type of situation. The answer for me is simply, who wouldn't? I have been given a wonderful opportunity to experience first hand that so many in the world never will be able to. This is a serious adventure, a new beginning, and a look into a whole new culture.

My mother was the one who placed the seed of thought into my head. She had mentioned it in passing sometime after my completion of student teaching back in January. The job market for teachers in America is less than stellar, and I'll admit I'm probably not the most worthy candidate in most cases. I'm really just not experienced and you need experience to get hired. What a wonderful catch-22. After some applying at schools across Minnesota and Wisconsin, I decided to post my resume on the Alaska Teacher Placement website, just for fun. After a mere 24 hours I checked my e-mail and to my surprise a response was waiting for me. I was shocked, to say the least. Who was this woman responding to my post, was this a scam, why would they want to talk to me? I had so many questions and this is the closest I had ever come to a job in my life. The e-mail expressed interest in my resume and asked if I would like to learn more about the small village I could possibly be teaching in. Of course being the eager, young thing I am, I immediately replied. Two e-mails later, I had an interview that evening for the position. Once again, I was nearly blown off my chair.

The interview went extremely well. The interviewer, my future boss, Becky Crabtree, was a wonderful woman, full of gusto. I was pumped! I couldn't believe my luck to finally have the possibility of a job, especially so close after finishing school. One week later I received my official job offer to become a teacher for the North Slope Borough School District in the village of Atqasuk, sixty miles south of North America's most northern settlement. What did I just get myself into?