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 atik├Žuk. 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.

1 comment :

The Rudstroms said...

Thanks for the link up Meredith. Keep up the great blogging. We always enjoy hearing your stories and descriptions.