Monday, January 2, 2012

North to Alaska...again!

Part One - Anchorage
Where to begin? Well, I guess it is best to begin at the beginning. Annapolis was wonderful. However, teaching jobs are scarce these days, and I was missing Alaska anyway, so I decided to start applying for jobs in the great north again. I determined that I wasn't going back to a village because I wanted to be near a hospital and have access to doctors. So, I applied to teach in Barrow, the northernmost town in these United States of America. Yes, that's correct. You can't go any farther north than Barrow...unless you're in Greenland, Russia, or Norway. Technically, Barrow is the seventh northernmost town in the world.

I flew to Anchorage on the 30th. Chattanooga to Dallas to Denver to Anchorage. I have a big giant coat. No, really. I'm pretty sure a giant could wear it, and it'd probably fit. Okay, maybe I'm exaggerating. But it certainly felt like a giant's coat when I was carrying it through the Dallas airport. I wish I were hot-natured like I was when I was kid, but I'm not anymore. I was cold pretty much the entire trip to Anchorage, but I was too embarrassed to put my arctic coat on in the Dallas airport. So I shivered instead. The flight from Denver to Anchorage seemed interminable to me, but I was able to people-watch for a long time. I sat in between two people. (Side note: May I never sit in between people on a flight again!) Each seat had their own personal TV screen with access to movies and shows (for a cost, of course). The girl on my left read a trashy romance book and watched Family Feud on her personal in-flight screen. The guy on my right watched TV for five straight hours, but something I noticed was that he never finished a movie or TV show. He was constantly switching from show to show. 20 minutes here. 10 minutes here. 40 minutes here. But never finishing anything. The only reason I am telling you about this guy is because I just read this recent article, which I highly recommend. One of my goals for 2012 is to watch less TV and to read more.

In Anchorage I spent the night at my Alaska state mentor's house. Carol is such an amazing person, and she was such an encouragement to me while I was living on Little Diomede. I'm excited that she will probably resume being my mentor for the remainder of the year. On the morning of New Year's Eve, she dropped me off at Wal-Mart, and I filled up two
buggies shopping carts full of food. I dropped it off at the bush counter, where they pack it all up for you for a 10% handling fee (ouch) and ship it to you (with a shipping fee, double ouch). So, it's pricey to do it that way, but since my time was limited in Anchorage, I went ahead and did it for the sake of convenience. Plus, it's still cheaper to mail your groceries instead of buying them in the bush, which I will discuss later on. I did take all the frozen food and liquidy stuff (such as olive oil) with me on the plane because Wal-Mart does not pack and ship frozen food or anything that can freeze. Weird. The good news is that Alaska Airlines allows three free 50 lb. checked bags, so I didn't have to pay to take all of that with me.

Part Two - Barrow, Day 1

Well, I arrived in Barrow on New Year's Eve to pitch black darkness and -30 degree temperatures. When I exited the plane, I started coughing. The inside of my lungs were cold. I've never experienced that before...even on Diomede. It felt weirdly nice, like a cleansing of sorts.

I met some fellow employees of the North Slope Borough School District on the flight to Barrow, and they gave me their contact information in case I needed anything at all. I mailed my boxes from Annapolis on the 15th, but they haven't arrived yet, which means no blankets, pillows, etc. Thank goodness for the generosity of other teachers...otherwise I'd be blanketless, sheetless, and all other sorts of -less.

I was picked up at the airport by Robyn, who works in HR. She was kind enough to drive me around town, show me where the restaurants were, the police department, the senior center, the different schools, etc. She took me to my apartment, and when I opened the door, I was...humbled. I felt so undeserving of such a nice apartment. Seriously. I felt like I had been handed a big giant gift. "Here, Meredith. You've had some really horrible times in the past six months, so here's a beautiful apartment to console you."

I didn't have any food except olive oil, peanut butter, cheese, ground beef, and a few other items, but that's not really stuff you can combine to make into something edible. Sauteed peanut butter beef cheese balls? No, thanks. It takes about a week and a half to two weeks for Wal-Mart bush orders to arrive, so I had to bite the bullet and go to the AC store (Alaska Commercial Company). I've heard about prices in Barrow and have shuddered. There was much weeping and gnashing of teeth as the cashier read the total to me. I'm not one to spend money without cringing. In fact, for Christmas I received The Complete Tightwad Gazette from my parents, a wonderful book about all the ways a person can save money. So, when the cashier casually said, "Your total is $200.91," as if she were commenting on the darkness outside or the chilly weather, without thinking I gasped loudly, exposing myself for what I really am -- a newbie to Barrow.

So, if you're wondering what the prices are like in Barrow, here are the prices of some of the things I bought:

three bell peppers - $8.39
one packet of chili seasoning mix - $5.78
box of Special K cereal - 8.15
box of Quaker granola cereal - $11.55
can of carrots - $2.99
can of green beans - $3.35
50 fl. oz. of Tide laundry detergent - $19.93 (Yes, you read that correctly.)
1 lb. bag of pretzel sticks - $8.95
small jar of salsa - $7.29
1 qt. of milk - $4.69

So, I'm definitely going to be ordering my shelf foods elsewhere and just fresh food at the AC store. Now, you may be wondering, "But wait, aren't those prices old news? You lived on a remote island in the Bering Strait. Weren't the prices comparable?" Well, yes and no. Yes, they would be comparable if the store on Diomede ever sold anything, which it rarely did. I never saw any of the things I listed above at the store on Diomede. Generally speaking, the shelves were pretty empty.

Part Three - Barrow, Day 2

On Sunday morning I called my friend Heidi, whom I know through my friend Julie, who used to work as the health aide on Diomede. Heidi picked me up, and we went to the Baptist church. Let's just say it was....rather interesting. I will probably be church hopping for awhile until I settle down. After that, Heidi took me to Point Barrow, or as far as you can get on the road toward Point Barrow. It's about nine miles northeast of town. We kept going and going, and we drove past old Barrow. Old Barrow is a group of several old shanties where the settlement was originally. I should have brought my camera. Sorry, guys. We drove out during daylight. By daylight I actually mean daylight. It's not completely pitch black all day long. It's kind of dusky for just a couple of hours, but very nice and pleasant... even with some pink and sky blue. I took a picture with my phone. See below. (It's kind of crazy, but Verizon has a really good signal up here, even at Point Barrow. Technology amazes me.)

Unfortunately, Heidi and I got the SUV stuck in the snow. We tried to get out of the snow, but to no avail. It was cold too...around -30 degrees. So, we had to call her friends at Search & Rescue (where she works) to come dig us out of the snow. Good times. Glad I'm friends with a flight paramedic and firefighter. It's good to have connections. ;)

Part Four - Barrow, Day 3

Today the high school principal took me on a tour of Barrow. It is so much bigger than I realized. There are three parts of the town -- Barrow side, Browerville (where I live), and NARL (Naval Arctic Research Laboratory, where all the researchers live). There are several restaurants, churches, stores, etc. Barrow is very multicultural too. It is approximately 60% native Inupiaq (same native group on Diomede), but the rest is a variety of ethnicities. The maintenance man who is working on the heating in my apartment is from Macedonia. There is a large Korean and Filipino population in Barrow, and it's not uncommon to see African-Americans, Indian, and Hispanic people. I really love the cultural diversity here.

After surveying the town, I took a tour of the middle school. It's absolutely beautiful. I wanted to cry at how pretty it is. My classroom is a really nice set-up -- complete with a SmartBoard and everything. Tomorrow I am going to be working in the classroom, getting ready to meet my students on Wednesday.

The view from my porch.

My porch.

There's a small ship in my yard. Not sure what it's doing there.

Also in my yard.

We may not have sunlight, but the moonlight is wonderful.

This is the school -- right across the street from where I live. (Stalkers, stay away. I will call the troopers. Plus, flying to Barrow is expensive. Just don't do it.)

Christmas decorations everywhere in Barrow!

My house. I live on the back side. Another teacher lives on the front side of the house. Still, isn't it cute? I like the hobbit door.


Suzassippi said...

And you are off to yet another amazing adventure! I had to laugh at your grocery store surprise. When I was out on St. Paul, they got in some bing cherries. I was so hungry for fresh fruit and vegetables and I picked up a bag. I knew everything was expensive, but I was totally unprepared for a small bag of bing cherries to be $25. I would not have gotten them if I had known in advance (they wisely did not have the price marked in the fruit and vegetable bin) but since I was at the checkout, I just paid for them and enjoyed them. :) I hope tomorrow is amazing for you and the students!

Drew and Rachel said...

The impression I get from you photos is darkness, stillness. In a Minnesota winter, we often left the house in the morning while it was still dark. In some ways your photos remind me of home, but to a cold and dark extreme!

I really agree that your cottage is darling. Stay warm Ms. Beck, and have a good start to the semester. I'm curious to know how many sections you have, what subjects, how many students total, what grade, what ethnicities and so forth.

Jeanette Ellis Peek said...

I am so excited to be your new FB friend.I am Brent's step grandma(in case you did not know).Am looking forward to reading your blogs and hearing about all your adventures!Am excited for you!!