September 25, 2011

Quick Trip: The Village

I realized in looking through my past posts that I have shared a lot of little tid bits about my life here in the bush, but I have failed to actually show any pictures of the village where I live.

I guess I should qualify that statement and first let all of you know that the teachers live separate from the village. Not by a lot, but we are up on a hill with the school. The village is about a 10 minute walk down toward the river (and is responsible for most of my exercise here.)

We have a post office where I go about twice a week to check my mail. It has regular post office hours and if you call down ahead of time sometimes they will let you know if you have any packages. This comes in especially handy if the weather is poor and you're not sure that you want to make the trek in the mud (since our roads are not paved).

We also have a store here that is referred to as "Askinuk." I am not really sure what that means, but they have a pretty decent stock of canned food, frozen meat, baking supplies (minus the eggs), and occasionally the $1.60 cans of soda and eggs and apples that are so rare that you don't even check the price.

The village is pretty easy to navigate as long as you keep your eyes open and steer around the potholes and deep ditches filled with water. If you ever get turned around the locals are always happy to chuckle a little bit and point you in the right direction.

The tundra is still beautiful, sunset is coming earlier and earlier every day and the colors are shifting into a pretty autumn yellow. You can see by the little lights in the photo (courtesy of M.) that we do have street lamps. I have not been down in the village at night, but it makes the view from our houses somehow cooler... seeing the village and then the river and finally the Bering sea.

September 20, 2011

Hiking, Manaqing, and the Start of Fall.. Oh My!

I am slowly but surely starting to settle into my routine here in Scammon Bay. I still spend a lot of my time over at the school obsessing over what I'm going to try and teach the kids each day but I have gained enough confidence in my abilities as a teacher that I have actually been allowing myself to relax and get out of the house and classroom for more than just a trip to the post office.

The first wonderful thing about Scammon Bay has been the weather. The past few days have been absolutely gorgeous with temperatures in the 50s and only slightly overcast in the mornings. Perfect outdoor activity weather!

The area around Scammon Bay has foothills that provide some great hiking. Two other teachers and I spent Friday evening hiking the rocks just outside of town with a few of the kids. A little berry picking happened, but mostly we listened to the kids tell us stories about the Ichurairuq (I know I spelled that wrong...), small humanoid creatures that live in the rocks and steal children at night who come too close to the rocks. The view from the rocks is spectacular .... an overview of the village, the river and the Bering Sea.

There is also a foothill by the school (I refuse to call it a mountain) that has an old cross at the summit. It's a steep climb, but gives another beautiful view of the tundra.

On Saturday another teacher and her husband took a group of teachers out on their boat so we could all participate in local subsistence living activities. The men went out to hunt for ducks and geese while the women were dropped off to do some manaq-ing along the river bank.

Manaqing is the traditional fishing that goes on in this area by tying a line to a sturdy stick, attaching hooks and a weight, driving the stick into the mud and casting your line into the river.


We were manaqing for tomcods (small, silver, mini-cods) at Missy's special manaq spot. Between the four women who were manaqing we brought in about 60 fish. Missy's mother-in-law, Alice (who was manaqing a short distance away) also caught an additional 60 or so and taught us some Yup'ik while we manaqed.

Michelle with a tomcod.

The right of passage that we all had to undergo was learning how to clean the fish with our bare hands. I will admit that I squealed like a little girl and almost cried when I was cleaning my first fish (it was still alive) but by the time I moved on to my third fish and beyond I felt much better about the whole process.

Missy showing Michelle how to clean.
The fish are hanging outside of our homes right now and will continue to hang for about a month until they dry and are ready to be dipped in seal oil and eaten. I will report back on how they taste once I try one.

I know there are a lot of pictures of Michelle in this post, but that's because they're from her camera. A certain neglectful blogger did remember her camera but forgot to charge the battery.... whoops.

September 11, 2011

Travel: Scammon to Anchorage...Bush Style

Traveling in the bush is something that I think every person should experience, if for no other reason than it just teaches you to calm down, roll with it, and accept the fact that you will get there eventually.

The whole experience starts with getting to the airstrip in time for your plan. This usually involves a call in to the local flight rep. since bush planes run kind of on a schedule, if you can accept "in the morning, in the afternoon, or in the evening" as a schedule. Once you call and get the ETA of your pilot (usually a down to the minute time that is never quite right) you need to get to the airstrip, which is about a quarter mile or so away from teacher housing. If you're lucky, someone is heading down with their 4-wheeler and will let you jump on the back, but most often it's a walk through the village with your stuff (usually a backpack and maybe some Rubbermaid totes if you plan to bring back food from a larger town or a village with a more stocked AC than yours).

The airstrip is that thing that looks like a road behind the houses on the right. 
Once the bush plane (usually a Cessna caravan in our village) lands, you have to almost rush the pilot and let him know that you had reservations on the flight because there are usually locals rushing up to get on to another village in our area to go hunting, see family, go to a festival, go to Bethel for medical, etc. It's first come, first serve... if they have weight for you. Not room, weight. The pilot will nod as he unloads all of cargo he flew in, and you mentally take stock of some of the new deliveries in case you need to text another teacher that eggs have arrived.

Once on the plane it is a quick hop, skip and a jump from village to village as the pilot picks up and unloads passengers in Scammon, Chevak and Hooper. These little 10 minute flights cost about $60 one way, but are just about the only travel option during the spring and summer before the freeze allows for snow machining across the tundra.

The flight from Scammon to Bethel is a cold and bumpy 55 minutes. It's during this stretch that you start to notice things about the caravan, like the fact that the crack in the ceiling has been patched with packaging tape, the missing piece of the casing by the window has been filled in with something that smells suspiciously like super glue and the back right side of your seat has not been snapped into the track on the floor. The flight itself is only about an hour, but with all of the stops, unloading and loading, adding and removing of seats, and the pilot calling in all of the changes in flight path it can take closer to two hours. During these two hours you start to find yourself watching the sky for weather changes and praying that it stays good so that you don't get stranded in a village that isn't your own.

The view on the way to Chevak
Once in Bethel the pilot will walk you from the runway into the hanger to get your bag, which doesn't come out on a conveyer belt but is more chucked down a slide in the wall. Once it lands on the floor, it's usually time to walk out the back door of the hanger to take a quick van ride from the Hagland hanger to the Alaska Airlines hanger. This hanger actually has TSA security in it, so you get to take off your boots and stand on the cold floor while you walk through one lane of security to get back out onto the runway and walk up the stairs to your Boeing 737.

No little boarding tunnels here.
I never thought I would be so thankful to see a fully paved runway, but setting down in Anchorage was just short of blissful... no fish tailing, feeling the wind trying to push you off the runway sideways, and no worrying whether or not the high surf warning has put your runway under water. We made it in to Anchorage and the visibility in the villages looks good so far. Should be back home tonight to lesson plan =)

Travel safely this September 11th!

September 10, 2011

Sick: The Downside of Village Living

Okay, perhaps I am being a tad bit melodramatic, but this past week was my least favorite thus far in the village. It all started about a week ago when my nose started to stuff up and I got that tell tale tickley itch in the back of my throat that told me I was starting to get sick. Like any good person would, I took more vitamin C and zink then I probably should have, drank lots of water, cloroxed my classroom, deep cleaned my town home and hand sanitized after every student interaction. Labor day weekend saw me relaxing with lots and lots of water... and starting to spike a fever.

As any bush teacher will tell you, substitutes are not plentiful out here and so on Tuesday I trudged to school with a mild fever of 100 and began my lessons with less gusto than normal. By the time I left on Tuesday, many shades paler (a HUGE accomplishment for me) with a fever of 102 and in considerable pain my throat had started to grow its very own white and red polka-dots... not interior decorating I approve of. I took some tylenol, drank some water and planted myself on the couch.

Wednesday morning at 3:30am I walked my sub plans over to the school and tearfully admitted via HR leave request that I could no longer speak, swallow, eat or drink and I had a fever of 104. I couldn't put off a clinic visit and desperately needed a sick day.

After some intake paperwork and insurance formalities, our assistant IL's son (who also happens to be the health aide) took me back to the exam room and began asking me the standard questions that any doc would ask. I answered as many as I could but by the end the process of speaking had tears leaking out of my eyes. Normally I would have felt bad for the health aide for having to deal with the crying woman, but he started the appointment by telling me I looked like shit (in the kindest, most sympathetic way possible) so I thought this turnabout was fair play.

By the end of the rapid strep kit (yes kit, not test. It was in a cardboard box and tested right there in the room) and referring to the medical resource book on the counter I was told without a doubt that I had strep... and a VERY bad case of it.

Here comes the great part! Because my throat was so swollen and I needed antibiotics ASAP I would be getting a penicillin SHOT.

My first thought was to thank God that our clinic had the shot so that I wouldn't have to fly to Bethel for treatment. My second thought was of the last time I had this shot: I was young enough to still be treated by my very first pediatrician and I remember that the shot went into the meaty part of my thigh and made me limp for days. The fact that I remember any of this means one thing... it hurt like the dickens, because I am usually not off put by shots. (This teacher would like to note that the shot does NOT go in the thigh anymore, or at least mine didn't).

I stepped out into the waiting room and asked the school councilor, who kindly came with me to the clinic so that I would have a friendly face, if she would come hold my hand. (When I am sick I revert back to the five year old me who just wants her mommy to hold her hand and her daddy to bring home ginger ale and Popsicles).

The wonderful Debbie held my hand and rubbed my back the entire time I was being given the horribly cold and thick serum. you can tell that she raised four kids of her own and was a great mom to have around when you were sick.

After my shot (and 30 minutes of waiting to make sure I didn't have a reaction to the shot) I was sent home with orders to force fluids no matter how much it hurt and to take Tylenol and ibuprofen to reduce the tonsil pain. I was also given blessings to get on a plane the next day and head into Anchorage for training. Only in the bush, right?

Flying with strep is not something I will ever recommend, especially on a bush plane since the inability to swallow makes it impossible to pop your ears. It took almost two days for the pressure in my ears to equalize once we landed. I am happy to report that I am in Anchorage, fever free and pain free, enjoying the balmy 60 degree sunshine!

Reading this I realize that having strep in the village isn't any different than having strep in the city, but it did make the homesick feeling much worse because everyone (whether you admit it out loud or not) knows that when you are sick all you want is your mommy or daddy there to take care of you like you're five again. 


September 03, 2011

A Quick Update

I've officially been in Scammon Bay for three weeks and in Alaska for a month. I can't believe it's been that long, it feels like just yesterday I hugged my dad goodbye at the airport and ran through security to keep myself from changing my mind and taking the bus back to the comforts of home.

In one month in Alaska I can honestly say that I have done more new things than I did in an entire year in Colorado (though, to be fair, when you live in the same state your entire life you run out of new and exciting things to do). This month I've gone berry picking with some of the local elementary kids and teachers, seen beluga whales swim into the Kun river, cooked and eaten a moose, lynx, and the aforementioned beluga whale, taken my own trash to the dump on foot, by truck and by 4-wheeler, distilled all of our water to make it safe for drinking, and learned more key phrases in Yup'ik.

I'm thankfully also settling in a little more at school. After two weeks of classes I'm finally able to put my students' names with their faces, tell you a little bit about them and, even though I am a "strict" teacher, they will say hi to me when I walk into town to go to the post office or store.

We had an early out for first Friday today and we have a long weekend for the holiday. The combination of these two events makes me feel like I've died and gone to heaven. Heck yeah long weekend! I'm going to spend the time snuggled up in a blanket, writing a more realistic scope and sequence of my classes now that I know the kids. I will also be inhaling massive quantities of water, vitamin C and zinc to ward off the cold, pink eye and strep that are going around the village right now.

Today our cross country kids traveled to Chevak and two of the boys placed fourth and sixth in the race! So proud!!! The salmonberry festival is next weekend and I am sad to report that I will be missing it to fly into Anchorage for SERRC training (though I am excited to head to wal-mart for water containers, a coffee pot, and some curtains that actually fit my bedroom window).

In other news, I purchased my tickets home for Christmas today before the flights filled up for the season. Look for me in Denver on December 16th (especially you Dad, since I need a ride home!!) and keep checking back for more Alaska updates.