Monday, November 9, 2009

The Great Escape

This past weekend, Neal and I made a trip to Fairbanks for a much needed break. Packing two barely filled suitcases, we celebrated Eben Hopson's birthday, which has become Inuit day, by boarding the Thursday night flight to Barrow, continuing onto Fairbanks.

It was a really great time and we came back with much more than we had anticipated. We even needed to make one last run to Wal-Mart to buy another duffel bag. The whole experience was really great, but after living in a village you start to have a little sensory overload after the third day in a bustling town like Fairbanks.

We visited Chena Hot Springs, and to anyone who hasn't made that trip before, I highly recommend it. Sitting in the water, taking in the beautiful sights and complete quiet is absolutely amazing. The water was 107 degrees near the entrance to it and as high as 115 degrees in other places. Truly a relaxing time.

The one downfall to this escape to the "big city" was the return trip home. I have come to find Fairbanks airport a serious inconvenience. I'm not sure if anyone else has had the same experience as me, but I have found the TSA agents there to have quite a superiority complex and way too much free time. Every time I have passed through that security checkpoint I have been pulled aside for some reason or another. Yes, I'll admit that I am somewhat absent minded, but seriously, what the heck. This time I did forget that I had purchased an ulu while visiting Santa's Workshop at North Pole. It was still completely in its packaging, tightly wrapped up. After going through security they pulled me aside, having to go through all my bags, remove items purchased from their packaging (even things they honestly didn't need to, like a Santa doll), and generally tick me off. I sent Neal off in search of an envelope so we could mail the ulu back to us and we were finally set free 15 minutes later. After that fiasco, I figured we were home free for the flight home. Boy, was I wrong. The next few hours passed with no issues and we made our way to the gate when it was nearing the time to board the plane. So did about eight TSA agents. Announcements were made, people made their way to the lines, and Neal and I made our way to join them. We were actually very close to the front of the 15 person long line, but as I reach the ticket agent, I was asked by one security man to show him my boarding pass and I.D. as part of a "random security check." Of course, I had put away my I.D. since you don't need to show it again most anywhere else. I needed to step out of line, dig through my back pack, and show the jerk my stuff. Irritation!!! It wouldn't be such a big deal if they wouldn't say it's a "random check." Just tell me that I'm on the list, or pick on someone else for a while. I was the only person to be picked out of the line, most of them we there when I was pulled out the first time, and there really aren't that many people at the Fairbanks airport. Seriously folks, get it together.

In the end we did make it safely back to Barrow last night and all was fine, but I have determined not to return to the Fairbanks airport if there is any way around it. I hope this is happening to more people than just me and that someone else agrees that the security measures are a little extreme. At least I had a relaxing weekend to prep me for that travel experience.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

September Update

Much has been happening on the North Slope since the last blog. We've had a wonderful visit from our new superintendent, Peggy Cowan, and classes have resumed fully. Snow came to us in the second week of September and we haven't been out of the 20's for a couple weeks. Last weekend the river and lake both froze over and, to our surprise, many of the villagers were ice fishing. It's not like the river has been frozen long either. It is probably about an inch thick, no more than 2 in most places, but people still venture out to catch their dinners. We've even seen a 4-wheeler or two out on the thin ice.

We also have had the pleasure of hosting two teachers from Scotland. Last year, our school began a partnership with schools in Scotland because of their similarities to our rural lifestyle. Our students learned Scottish dances, and our Scottish friends got a taste of what rural life really is.

Another big event on the tundra, that really took place on the tundra, was our engagement. Neal proposed on September 5th while out for a walk along the river. It was a beautiful day and we were both glad to share this experience together in the Arctic.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Another Year Begins

It's the first day of school and excited face dot the halls around Meade River School. I've had the constant banging on my door for the past two weeks from kids ready for a new year to begin.

With a new year comes new teachers, friends, and something more to do for the students. I was lucky enough to be the female chaperone for the football tournament in Barrow this past weekend. We took fourteen students, six of which were girls. And boy, could they ever take down those boys. Despite the crummy weather (40 degrees and pouring down rain), I stood on the sidelines and cheered those kids on. It was a great thing to watch and even though we lost, the score was very close, 47-55.

They had a chance to play again the next day against the smallest school in our disctrict, Kaktovik. The Rams only had seven players on their team and had to take sixth graders just to have that many players. I was really impressed at the great sportmanship our students showed to that other team. There definitely was the cocky attitude that the team we had played the night before showed and when a player from Kaktovik was injured, we sent in some of our players to take their spot. Angela, the one chosen to play for the Rams from our team, showed no mercy toward her own team, playing to her fullest and even taking out our quarterback. It was great to see her play her all, even if it was going to cost her own team points.

I'm glad to be back at a school where everyone is a team. The feeling of being so close-knit makes a person really feel like they belong. You can see it in the kids too. They know the importance of being honest and lending a helping hand. I'm really looking forward to being back here for another year and ready for it to begin.

Monday, August 3, 2009

The Great Return

It's been two wonderful months back in the lower 48, but I'm now back in Atqasuk ready for another year. This time I have returned with Neal, my boyfriend who will be teaching third grade, and a kitten, Izzy.

The trip up was fantastic. Neal and I spent three days in Anchorage, taking one of those days to take a trip down to Seward for a glacier cruise. As we took the two and a half hour drive down there, I was having thoughts that this might not have been an ideal day for a cruise. It was raining, dark, and windy. In Seward, we were told the boat may only do half of its cruise for the day because of the weather. I was okay with that if it meant I wouldn't be sea-sick for six hours straight.

We boarded the boat and headed out into the ocean. Some of the waves not far from our boat looked to be six feet high. I could already feel the nausea coming on, especially since they served lunch right before we got out into the open and the really choppy water. After that I spent most of my time sitting outside at the back of the boat. I'm really glad I did.

The trip was truly amazing. I've never seen that much wildlife before. We saw a herd of resident orcas, those that live nearest the land and stay there. They were coming up constantly and we even saw one breach, where it jumped completely out of the water. It was very neat. We also saw many porpoises, sea lions, puffins, murres, and even a few harbor seals. They looked just like Mom's dog Pierre, lounging around on the rocks.

Although we saw many animals, the hands-down, most awe-inspiring thing was the humpback whales. There were two whales playing around right near our boat. They kept surfacing and showing their flukes. Typically when a whale shows its fluke, it means that it's going for a deep dive and you won't see it again for a while. This whale was just putting on a show. It kept coming right back up. I've never seen anything that incredible in my life. It made me think of Grandma Bell the whole time we were there.

Rough seas and all, it was a great trip and I'm happy we got a chance to go before heading up to the village.

Neal is in Barrow for a week, doing a new hire inservice, so I have a whole week to get things organized before school starts. The first day we have kids isn't until the 19th, and there is plenty of time to get things in order.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Nearing the end

I'm sitting in a beautiful hotel in downtown Anchorage on my last trip out of the village for this school year. I was lucky enough to be able to come down here for the past two weekends for class and it's been amazing weather. Sunny and warm, it was a welcome relief from the chilly winter we've had.

We're down to the final three weeks of school. Kids are already starting to check out. The sun is up for the full 24 hours now and children don't go to bed anymore. You can hear them playing and running around the village at four in the morning. Definitely makes for some interesting discipline issues.

This year I have been back and forth on my decision to return next school year, but a few weeks ago I got a wonderful bit of news that firmed up my decision. Neal, my boyfriend, got a job teaching third grade at my school. I'm super excited to be able to stay up here because I have made some excellent connections with the community and students. It will for sure put a better spin on things for next year. It's also exciting to be experiencing this with someone else. It will be a great year.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Point Hope Basketball Tournament

There is no doubt that basketball is a way of life up here. I've seen four year olds making three pointers, watched middle schoolers rocket up and down the court, and high schoolers that could really show up some of the top college players. These kids live, eat, and breathe to play ball. I was lucky enough to take a couple of days off of school to take my students to the middle school basketball tournament in Point Hope. This was my first opportunity to see another village and also to take in the true experience of traveling with students in the Arctic.

It's not like you can just take a bus to get where you are going. It all starts with a chartered flight from our village of Atqasuk. The district booked us a flight on a 19 seater plane that took us to Point Hope, with a flight time of about an hour and a half. These kids could hardly sit still, they were so excited.

When we arrived there, it wasn't too much different from our own village. It is much bigger, but you still have the disadvantages of living in the village. We were able to visit a store and all the players just loved it. We've definitely helped to stimulate the economy of Point Hope.

Another benefit of traveling with the school is the comfortable classrooms that become your homes over the next few days. Luckily, we were able to get a classroom with a couch and that makes all the difference.

Both the boy's and girl's team played really hard, but being made up of mostly younger kids, they were defeated in both of the first games. Today they will play their second game each in the losing bracket. Hopefully, we can still board the plane tomorrow to head home.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

The difference between Alaskans and everybody else

Has anybody ever watched the show "Airline?" The show focuses on Southwest Airlines and always features people pitching complete fits whenever their flights are cancelled. People in the lower 48 always have to run on a tight schedule. When one thing falls through, everybody instantly gets angry and starts blaming the nearest person they can sink their teeth into.

I came to a realization the other night. Alaska changes you. I was supposed to fly out to Fairbanks for my final class this weekend, but Barrow and Fairbanks got absolutely dumped on. There was a huge blizzard with tremendous wind. There were four flights cancelled this weekend. That's two whole days of flying. Instead of people immediately flying off the handle at not being able to fly out, everyone in the airport stood around and joked about it. It was amazing and I was right there with them. I would have been one of those people freaking out about something I couldn't control, but now, there's no point. You learn to just roll with the punches, not matter how uncomfortable they may be.

It was unfortunate that I had to stay in Barrow the whole weekend. I ended up spending nearly $500 on hotels and having to eat out, not to mention being sick as a dog all weekend. I look on the bright side though. I get to go grocery shopping for the first time in a month!

I'm just thinking back at the last seven months here and can't believe the adventure I've had. I'm just so thankful for everything that I have and can do. This is a place where hardly anyone would dream of visiting, not to mention living here. It's been such an incredible adventure so far and it's something that will change me for the better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

You can't control the weather

Today marks another day of school being called off. We last had students on the 10th. Understandable as to why we don't have them coming in though. I felt like a sailboat walking to school today. All I had to do was slightly pick up my feet and I was blown all the way to school, although turning was another task. We have winds of 40 mph and you can't see anything in the distance, not even buildings that really aren't that far away. Here are some pictures that I took this morning. You can see all the blowing snow. Hopefully, things will get back to normal soon. We're only allowed 10 weather days before we start having to make them up. We've used 5 so far and I already have my ticket home. The weather needs to get better soon.

Thursday, February 12, 2009


This week has basically been lost. We did have one day of school, but the rest of the time it has been too cold to have the kids come in. It reached -50 this morning.

The temperature wasn't the only thing keeping students away from school. This week is also part of an important cultural event for the people across the Slope. Starting on Wednesday was a festival called Kivgik, or Messenger Feast. Inupiaq people gather together in Barrow for Eskimo dancing, speaking, and other great events. Most of our students were able to attend and those who didn't stayed behind and listened to it being broadcast on the radio.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Wildlife in the tundra

The sun is back and am I ever happy to see it. We have a full day of light. The way it hits the snow out in the open tundra is absolutely beautiful. On top of the light, we can also see literally tons of caribou. There is a whole herd that graze right across the river from the village. It is an amazing sight to see. Where else on Earth would you see this kind of thing.

Due to the many caribou around the village, it does cause some inconvenience. A couple weeks ago, the pilot who make trips into our village often said she needed to buzz over the runway a couple times to clear it of the animals. All the caribou were just hanging out, not at all intimated by the close proximity of people. It also causes a few disturbances in the classroom as well. I have one boy, very easily distracted, who will jump up in the middle of class to go count caribou. This in turn gets the rest of the kids out of their seats and crowded around the window. I will admit it is quite a cool sight. I find myself at the window too.

We also have wolves in the area which is very neat. Doug, our science and math teacher, was out cross county skiing the other weekend and saw a few near the caribou herd a little ways out of town. Also, a few of the teachers were gathered in one of the classrooms and saw one walking just across the river from the school. That was amazing.

Here are a few pictures from a walk I talk a week ago. The black spots on the picture are the caribou. I'm hoping to go out on a snow machine for better pictures in the future.

We've also been experiencing some bitter coldness up this way. So far this week we've only had one real day of school. Both Monday and today were cancelled for the kids due to it being too cold. Today it was down to -44 air temperature, but -63 with the wind chill. All the kids are frostbitten and the risk is to high for them to walk to school in this temperature.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

And for your next trip by air, please remember Alaska Airlines since we are your only option...

Over the past 5 months, I have been in and out of airports all over Alaska, becoming an expert at Arctic air travel. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as being an expert up here. You are strictly at the mercy of the weather and the airlines. When I say airlines, I mean Frontier, which runs from Atqasuk to Barrow, and Alaska Airlines, which covers the rest of the state.

Last night I was supposed to fly out to go to my class in Fairbanks. Of course with my luck the plane that flew into Atqasuk got a flat tire and made the rest of the flights run late. I ended up being stranded in Atqasuk because by the time I would have left the village and made it to Barrow, my flight to Fairbanks would have left already, or so I was told. I promptly called Alaska Airlines to rebook for this morning, so that I would at least make it to one day of class.

This morning I board the plane and make it to Barrow on time, no problems whatsoever. When I check in for my Fairbanks flight, I was told that I would have made it and that Frontier had told me incorrect information. Grrr.... Anyway, I was rebooked and made it to Anchorage...wait, I was supposed to be in Fairbanks. What the heck am I doing here?

Currently, I'm sitting in Anchorage, waiting for my flight to Fairbanks. I needed to go all the way south and then head back up because the morning flight does not go to Fairbanks after Barrow. What that flight does do is go to Prudhoe Bay, where a bunch of oil workers are. They then proceed to get drunk on the flight to Anchorage and make for quite the entertaining trip. I've never heard the f-bomb quite so many times in a five minute conversation.

Luckily, I'm about to board and head on my way, destined for shopping and good food tonight and class tomorrow. At least all this trouble makes for interesting stories.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Back to school

Today was the first day back after our long Christmas vacation. Students seem to be running on empty and one of mine was bragging he didn't sleep at all last night. It was really great to be back with them and we had a wonderful day. They all seemed excited to be back at school, although the transition seemed to be a little rough for them (me too, I guess). I was thoroughly drained by the afternoon, ready to crawl up on my desk and take a nap.

Many of the kids seem to still be out. I was still missing two of my students today. Apparently flights still seem to be a little screwy. My principal was supposed to fly in last night, but didn't make it back until this morning. Traveling in the arctic is always an adventure.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Half Way There!

Christmas break is nearing the end and I've made it back to Atqasuk after two wonderful weeks at home. My time spent back in Wisconsin and Minnesota was full of great people and good food. I definitely feel a little more recharged and ready to face the rest of the year. My trip home and back was relatively uneventful and I'm extremely thankful for that, especially after seeing how many people got stuck somewhere on their holiday travels.

It's a good feeling to back in the village, too. I came home this afternoon and began the long, tedious task of unpacking my numerous boxes that I had shipped up here. Just as I was finishing up making dinner, I heard a strange noise coming from the drain of my sink. I didn't think too much about it until I ran some water to get a drink. All the water that ran down the drain began leaking from the pipes under the sink. Our plant manager, Mel, is always on call, so I gave him a quick ring and he said he would be right over. Not two minutes after I hung up the phone I heard running water coming from the bathroom. In a panic, I ran to the bathroom to see my toilet overflowing with blue water, obviously from somebody's laundry machine. Next thing I know, there's an inch of water on the floor and my bathtub also has water coming up through the drain. Welcome back to the arctic.

Apparently, there is a freeze somewhere in the drainage pipes and I'm the only one in the 4-plex that is having this issue. Wonderful, I get somebody else's waste water in my apartment, just perfect. I also have to wait until tomorrow to get it fixed. Luckily, there is an empty apartment in the building, so if I need to use the bathroom, at least I can go over there. Too much fun...