Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Of sickness, Jell-O, whaling, and more...


That is the sound of me writhing in pain. What I wouldn't do for a bowl of my mom's chicken and dumplin's. It had healing powers the time my sister had a throwing-up spree on our Grand Canyon vacation, so maybe it could heal me. Of course, I am not throwing up. No, I will not allow that. I haven't thrown up since I had the flu about fifteen years ago. I will not give in as my not-throwing-up record is my proudest achievement in life thus far.

But I have a fever, and I can't breathe. And my nose feels like it has a furnace in each nostril. (Nice image, right?) So, I called in sick, which I've never done before as a teacher. It's more work to prepare for a substitute teacher than it is to just show up sick, but I can't show up like this.

One of my students brought me a cup of Jell-O the other day. She whines a lot, and I can't handle complaining in class and let her know it; so, I thought she hated me and my class. But no, she brought me Jell-O. You don't give Jell-O to people you hate. At least, I don't think so. So, I took the opportunity to tease her.

"How do I know you don't secretly hate me? What if this Jell-O has poison?"

"It doesn't have poison, Miss Beck!" she claims.

I raise an eyebrow. "But how do I know that? What if this is just a ploy? If I die, the entire class will know you caused it. You do realize that, don't you?"

She laughs, reaches for the Jell-O cup, and says with false indignation, "Fine! Then don't take the Jell-O."

I grab the Jell-O cup. "But I want it!" I say in a whiny, complaining voice. (I don't want the Jell-O, actually.)

The kids laugh, and I proceed to eat my dessert, wondering if the artificial food coloring will kill me someday, but thinking this moment of connection with my students is probably worth it.

When I am better, I will publicly blame her and her Jell-O for my sickness. And I can see her laughing about it now. It's good to have these moments in the classroom.

Sometimes I forget I am in Alaska, and then I read the words of my students. On a vocabulary quiz, I had the students write sentences using six vocabulary words. Here are a few sentences from one of my students. Can you tell what his passion is?

"The writer's theme is about a hunting trip."
"A story about a hunting trip is an anecdote."
"After a hunting trip I am arogant [sic]."
"When someone harpoons a whale they might be haughtiy [sic]."
"I was in bewilderment when the whale didn't die."

Barrow is a whaling community. The high school's mascot is, after all, the whalers. This student of mine aspires to be whaling captain, and when the spring whaling season comes, he won't come to school very often.

He is one of my brightest students and knows Inupiaq fairly well. He was the only one in the class who knew how to spell my Eskimo name, Taaqpak. He looks white, but his dark swoopy hair hides his Eskimo eyes. The swoopy hair thing is a popular trend amongst middle-school boys.

In my opinion, the swoopy hairstyle is very Justin Bieber-ish, which is ironic because my middle-school boys are so much cooler than Justin Bieber (so they think). The choice of music amongst native Alaskans in Barrow is rap and hip-hop. The choice of music amongst the natives of Little Diomede is Eskimo dance music, some rap, hip-hop, along with a strange, random love for the classic rock of the 80s. AC/DC was remarkably popular on Diomede. The only music I let my Diomede students listen to in class was Eskimo dance music. Sometimes I listen to the 1950s recording of Diomede Eskimo songs, and it takes me back to my classroom on the little island of the big sea.

The sun shines. It really does. On Sunday I took a taxi to New Beginnings Church of God and took the above picture on the road that separates the two lagoons --- the road which demarcates Barrow side from Browerville. This time my taxi driver was Filipino, who lived in New Jersey for awhile, but it became too expensive for him to live there, which is strange because the cost of living in Barrow is outrageous. I told him I lived in Annapolis for awhile, and he said, "Ohhhh, D.C. area! D.C. so expensive. Most people are so selfish there, and most people only care about themselves and their careers."

And I said, "I know exactly what you mean. I like Alaska better because people are more real and down-to-earth here." However, to be fair, I have to mention that there's a fair share of money-grubbers in Alaska too, hence gold-diggers, which still exist. And Barrow is in the middle of the oil preserve, so yeah, people like money up here. But there is still a sense of function over fashion. To quote a fellow teacher, "Nobody looks sexy in snow pants." So. true. And there is a sense of earthiness and realness. I feel like my descriptions are so inadequate, but maybe that is why the Inupiat had no other words to identify themselves except as the "real people."

The taxi driver agreed.

Yet I am returning to Annapolis in the summer for about six weeks to start my first semester of grad school. I found out today that I've been accepted to St. John's College, and I am...beyond excited. And of course, I can't wait to see Stephen, Tacy, and my two nieces, soon-to-be three nieces. Good times are a'comin'!

But back to church. New Beginnings is probably the most multicultural church I've ever visited. About 40 or 50 people filled the small room. The church consists primarily of Inupiat and Pacific Islanders (Tongans and Samoans) with a handful of African-Americans and a couple of white people. The pastor wore an atikæuk. Don't ask me how to pronounce that because Diomeders called them kuspuks, which is much easier to pronounce. (Check out my friend AnnMarie's blog post on how to make a kuspuk.)

People of all ages were at the church... from the babies being carried on the backs of their mothers (SO CUTE) to the elders wearing their hand-sewn parkas. One of the guys in the church gave me and another woman a ride home. Turns out, he's from Huntsville, Alabama, and he's my next door neighbor. The other woman I met is a fellow teacher in the district and is from South Africa. I never cease to be amazed at how multicultural Barrow is, and the people I meet have the most unique stories of how they ended up at the top of the world.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

barrow in the light

Barrow in the daylight. Nice, eh?

Current stats:
Temperature: -6 F
Wind Speed: 17 mph
Wind Chill: -28 F
Sunrise: 9:57 a.m.
Sunset: 5:25 p.m.

The middle school. 
On the way to my history class...

Cornerstone Community Church, a nondenominational charismatic church I visited last Sunday. Very nice people at this church. It was interesting to see how eskimo dance was incorporated into the worship music.

Frozen tundra. This is just a couple minutes' walk from my house. Sometimes you can see planes land out there.

The assisted living center. There is a free taxi service for the elders of Barrow.


One of the stores in town. I haven't yet visited World Gift. 

In Barrow all you have to do is call a cab, and it will be there within two minutes or so. It's $5 one way if you stay within your "town" -- whether it be Browerville or the "downtown" part of Barrow. It's $6 if you cross over to a different side. All you have to do is call and tell them your street number because every building has a different number, regardless of street name. It's pretty simple.

I love getting to know the taxi drivers. The other day another teacher dropped me off at the dentist, and then I called a cab to take me back to my house. When I entered the cab, the driver said my street number to me because he remembered where I lived. If I were anywhere but Barrow, it might be considered creepy. But nah, the cab drivers are so nice. He and I talked about dentistry in Thailand and how inexpensive it is. We talked about the thick fog on the streets in Barrow, and we talked about how sad it is when parents let their little kids "play out" at 2 a.m. in the morning by themselves. When I got out, he said, "Bye, Teacher! Have nice evening!"

Another driver and I have become friends. Her name is Myuri, and we talk about church and Thailand. She's hoping to go back to Thailand in a couple of years, but first she's going to save up some money. Before she mastered the pronunciation of my name, she would say in her Thai accent, "Hello, beautiful teach-ah!"

The Inupiat Heritage Center and Tuzzy Public Library.

It's an amazing center! I will try to discreetly take pictures inside of the library sometime because it's so nice. I say "discreetly" because I hate looking like a tourist.

The Browerville Center of Ilisagvik College. This is where I go for my Alaska history class on Saturdays. We had an exam today.

I felt really silly taking a picture of the AC store. Since I can't take pictures with my mittens on, I froze my hands off for this picture. It was -10 at the time.

The AC (Alaska Commercial) Store. You can get pretty much anything you need here. Today I bought cage-free eggs, havarti cheese at half-price, Chobani Greek yogurt, and organic basil.

Speaking of food, I am trying out some organic food from Full Circle Farms. The district librarian travels to all the villages on the North Slope, and she wasn't here to pick up her weekly box of organic veggies and fruits. So, she gave it to me, and I must say I am impressed by the quality of organic food! There are a lot of greens, snap peas, pears, apples, beets, and radishes. Now...if I only knew how to cook beets and radishes.

The dish you see above is chicken parmiagiana and a salad with red wine dressing. Mmmmm. The only thing about cooking for yourself is that you make one meal and then you're pretty much set for the next three or four days. Good for saving money, but bad if you want variety.

 Banana bread.
I've been feeling very domestic lately, baking my own bread. My mini-loaf breadmaker is wonderful. And! I totally got free Amazon prime shipping on a 25-lb. bag of organic whole wheat flour. Gotta love Amazon.

Cranberry bread.

If you were here, we could sit down for some P.G. Tips tea and some cranberry bread.
Want to come visit?

Monday, February 13, 2012

arctic rose

Receiving a rose for Valentine's Day is somehow more meaningful when you're in the arctic. 


Happy Valentine's Day!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

magical sky

 I wish I could pack the sky in a suitcase and bring it back to the lower 48 to show you all. The sky in Barrow is magical. When it is dark, the moon glistens, and the streetlights make everything yellow. When the sun rises, the sky turns the most beautiful blue I've ever seen. I will try to take a picture of it to show you... even though I know it won't do it justice.

This is the street I live on.

Sorry for the blurriness. I am thinking about getting an ATV, or as they call them in Barrow "Hondas." No joke. If I were joking, I'd say "I jokes" really fast at the end of the sentence, which is how they say "just kidding" in Barrow.

My bulletin board by my door. Hot pink polar bear!

I decided to go with "Miss Beck" instead of "Ms. Beck."
Ms. Beck sounds so stuffy and matronly to me for some reason.

We've had quite a lot of snow the past few days, but they only cancel school if it is below -40. At that temperature, wheels turn into a square shape and won't roll. It's true.

Yes. People walk here. One of my students has frostbite scars all over his face and hands. And his forehead is peeling all sorts of grossness because he doesn't protect his face.

I saw a girl wearing knee-length sweat pants and standing right outside the store for a smoke break. Bare shins and -30 degrees out, not including wind chill.

The pathway to my side of the house.

Random crib and tires under my house.

Random pirate ship in my yard.

My neighborhood, "Browerville."

My house.