May 20, 2012

Animals I've Eaten This Year

Living in Alaska has introduced me to so many new things. I've learned to live life differently here and be more adventurous in my daily-doings. M. and I have been chatting on and off the past few days about what we want to do when we get to Anchorage (tomorrow!) and that inevitably brought us to the subject of food and how great it will be to eat a salad and drink a beer... yes, as a whole meal. Beer. Salad. Don't judge me.

Anywho, that made me think of a fun post (finally! I've been lacking in the inspiration department recently) for people to see. I shall call it: Animals I've eaten this year...

We'll start with the basics and work our way up to the more... exotic? Eskimo? You pick.

1. Moose

We eat a TON of moose. A lot of it was given to us by friends saying thank you for helping them clean, skin, cut, and grind said moose. Moose is very similar to beef, and tastes good just about any way you prepare it.

2. Salmon and Halibut

Salmon and Halibut are pretty darn common in our diets... they show up as school lunch quite often and that's just fine by me. Yum.

3. Caribou/ Reindeer

These are not native to our region, and hunters have to travel to catch them. I got some as a thank you when I went to help clean two that a friend's husband had caught. Debbie and I also ordered some Reindeer sausage from Anchorage in the fall and that was extra super tasty. If you ever visit Alaska try one out, they sell them from street carts downtown.

4. Ptarmigan

Bird hunting is big here, I lose a population of my students from class every fall and spring so they can go bird hunt "other side" (of the mountain). The birds just recently came back into Scammon and it's all anyone can talk about, it's also pretty weird to hear after a winter of silence.

5. King Eider

I don't have much to say about this bird. They're very pretty to look at. Perhaps my least favorite thing I've eaten this year was the fat from this bird. Oh eew....

6. Herring Eggs

These are served one of two ways: mixed into a kind of cold Eskimo salad or soaked in oil and served by themselves. Pretty tasteless and VERY crunchy.
7. Bearded Seal

Seals are an important part of the diet and lifestyle here. Their skins show up in hats, gloves, and coats. Their meat is a big part of the diet here (texture= moist beef, taste= fishy, verdict= confusing for my mouth). And pretty much everything seems to be dipped in seal oil. 
8. Lynx

This is not something commonly eaten, but their fur shows up in hats and gloves and it very warm! In the fall, before our food arrived, a teacher went hunting an caught one of these. We turned it into a stew, because the meat is tough like rabbit. It wasn't too bad.

9. Beluga Whale

Yes. I ate a whale. Two of them swan into our river in the fall and their meat was distributed among the village. It's fishy, fatty, and oily. Eaten raw or boiled.

May 10, 2012

Preparing for Bush Life

Since I started blogging about my adventures as a teacher in rural Alaska I've gained a pretty steady following of readers (thank you!). Some of them are the friends and family that I figured would read this blog, but quite a few are other teachers

I've gotten a lot of emails from fellow teachers who are considering venturing into the bush for their own Northern Adventure asking about what I think is important to know when considering the move. I could write a book on the topic, and there are tons of opinions out there from jaded first years and career bush teachers alike. After careful consideration and a lot of list making, I've narrowed it down to my top four. Here they are!

1. The Isolation

I know you've seen this before and, if you're anything like me, you've brushed it aside with a simple "I know it's isolated, that's why it's rural!" but really consider this, because it's isolation like you've never felt before. You will be stuck in the village. And before the snow sets in and you can start snow machining to other villages I mean stuck. In the warmer months travel by plane is the only way to get around and it's not cheap. So unless you're willing to shell out the money for a weekend get away your village is your world. You can head out for a bit of a break and participate in subsistence activities like hunting and fishing, but it's still isolated. Very peaceful though.

2. The Relative Cost
Part of the allure to teaching in the bush is that rural districts pay quite a bit more. Remember that it's all relative.

Let's first talk about the cost of living in a village: it's high. Everything you need has to be shipped in and that can cost almost as much as the product itself if you're not careful. Then there's housing costs. If you are signing a contract and don't know about housing, ASK! Heating a house out here can cost several hundred dollars a month in the winter, so if your district isn't paying for your stove oil you can break the bank on heating alone. Paying for internet and cable in your home can also be pricey, so those may be luxuries you choose to forgo like M. and I did. And then there's rent- which you may pay to your district or to a landlord. Make no mistake though, when your district says housing is provided it usually means they deduct your rent from your paycheck, so make sure you check.

Now let's talk travel, where the real $$$ shows up. For me to get home at Christmas, my round trip tickets cost just under $2,000. That does not include the hotel costs for my night over in Anchorage ($148) or the food and transportation cost I accrued while there (about $50 for dinner and cab fare). And be aware that it's more expensive during tourist season. I know the counter argument to this is "no car, no insurance, no gas, it evens out." but beware if you get a snow machine or four-wheeler (which some of you may need to do if you are living far from your school). Gas can't be barged in during the winter and if you thought gas was getting pricey down states just wait until you're in the bush. Our gas prices hit almost $10 a gallon the last time I was down at the service station.

So just remember that while you are getting paid more, you are also spending more.

3. Patience and Planning Are A Must! 
There is no Wal-mart in the bush. The closest you can get to it is Amazon Prime, but having everything you need takes some serious planning. If you end up in a larger village you may have an Alaska Commercial (AC) Store around and I'll be super jealous. AC Stores are great, they carry produce, toiletries, a large stock of munchies, and ammunition. If you're in a smaller village, like me, chances are you'll have a smaller community store that carries a variety of items like basic toiletries, noms with a longer shelf life, and basic necessities (our store always has coffee and I love them for it!) But for some of those more rare items you have to plan ahead and either bring them with you or order them and wait for them to come in.

The problem sets in when you think of a great project for your class last minute and you just need that... oh, no... don't have that. And then there's that great recipe of your mom's that always makes you feel better after a long day and all you need are tortillas, ground beef, onions and.... oh, nope... none of that... or that. It sounds small, but around the third or fourth time you experience this you start wanting to bang your head against a cabinet. It can get frustrating if you don't plan ahead.

4. A Lot of Villages Are Dry

I've never been much of a drinker but from time to time I do enjoy sitting down with friends and a cold beer. I never realized how much I enjoyed having that option until I moved somewhere where possession and consumption of alcohol is illegal. There are just some days where I would like to blow off some steam from the day with a beer and pizza. Instead, I settle for enjoying a glass of crystal light with my roommate while we make our own pizza. It's cathartic in its own way, but just not quite the same. So if alcohol is a major part of your life make sure you know whether or not your village is dry.

Really, when it all comes down to it, the best thing you can do is make a list of things that are essential to your life and ask your district if they are available. Trust me, they've heard it all so don't be ashamed to ask if a village is dry or if teacher housing has running water (that was something that went on my list, honey buckets are not something I can live with long-term).

If you find a district that is compatible with your list of basic necessities (and be honest when you make it, no one needs to see it but you so if you know you need cable at home write it down) I say go for it! No experience I've had has measured up to my time in the bush. Take the chance, try it for a year, and have fun =)

Good luck!