Monday, May 23, 2016

Alas! The Time Has Come!




Hmmm.....well.....five years of "my next 30 years" are over.  My time in Shishmaref, Alaska has come to an end.  I will leave for the last time tomorrow morning (May 24).  It marks the end of my time here in this remote Inupiat Eskimo village just south of the Arctic Circle and 100 miles across the Chukchi Sea from Russia.  It marks the end of my 35+ years of teaching.  Shucks....now what?  What will I do with my remaining 25 years (or more...hopefully, not less)!  I won't dwell on that right now.



My time in Shishmaref has been an incredible experience.  I have learned and experienced so much thanks to the sharing of knowledge from the locals.  I think back to when this "quest" was first born....in 1993 after visiting China with People to People.  I recall my conversations with Shirley Bishop who had been subbing in my first grade classroom at the time of that trip.  She had taught in an Alaskan bush village and her stories piqued my interest.  The rest is history.  I remember Meg Kitson asking me more than once, "When are you ever going to go to Alaska?  I thought you wanted to teach up there."  I would nod my head and reply, "Yes, yes I do...and it will happen...when the time is right."  The time was right in August of 2011 after my retirement from East Jordan Public Schools.  Shishmaref was my destination.



I remember arriving on a rainy day and being picked up at the airport by the assistant principal, John Bruce.  If I started writing down all my "I remember..." statements, this blog would go on forever.  I do remember walking by the Native Store one afternoon though one November day my first year and thinking, "Gosh, there will be a time when I will no longer be here in Shishmaref....when I will be leaving for the last time."  I had tears well up in my eyes that day and realized how quickly I had become attached to this village, to these people, and to the kids.  Little did I know at the time that that "last time" wouldn't be for five more years.  During that time, I have had the good fortune of bringing up two of my three sisters (Connie and Shirley) and my own two kids (Dan and Jess) and Nate.  I can tell you that the tears that welled up in my eyes that day have turned into a floodgate the last few days.  Holy cow!  I have been crying at the drop of a hat and not just a little bit either!  I have been overwhelmed with the hugs and words being shared with me.  I will miss it here.  I will miss my home away from home.  This leaving business is for the birds....this is NOT easy.  I am dreading tomorrow when I board that airplane....shucks....the tears are starting again just thinking about it.



So...what have I learned?  I have learned that you can't take life for granted.  Well, I really already knew that but in the five years I've been here, I have lost some dear friends and family back home.  There have been some painful losses here in the village as well.  Today is the funeral of yet another Elder....reminding us that time marches on and we aren't on earth forever.  Take time to talk with your family and friends.  Show them the respect they deserve.  Treat others with kindness.....you know....all those things we were told as we were growing up and all the things we tell our kids.  If you want to have a friend, you've got to be a friend.  Treat others the way you would want to be treated.  Life is short....enjoy it to the max.



I walked through the cemetery here last night, stopping by two graves in particular.  I believe everything happens for a reason and I'm still searching for the exact reason (although I may never know it in this life) why I ended up in Shishmaref.  I have some ideas on that but out of respect for those still here, I will keep it to myself and share it with those who need to know it.  Just walking though the cemetery is a solemn experience here.  I stopped at the freshly dug grave for the Elder being remembered today.  Up here, it takes several volunteers hours/days to dig the grave because it's all done by hand and through the permafrost.  The care in preparing one's final resting spot is a reverent undertaking shared by many in the village.  I was also told that when the body is in the village prior to the funeral, there's to be no hunting out of respect.  I'm in awe, at times, of the ways of the villagers.  Much could be learned from these folks....if only we'd listen and watch.



I will greatly miss the simple lifestyle up here.  Oh, sure....I'm looking forward to eating out at restaurants again and getting in my car for a drive through the headwaters of the Jordan River and attending the Joshua Davis concert back home in July and so forth and so on!  But, I have appreciated my daily walk to and from school (farthest teacher housing unit in the village) especially when I've stepped on frozen puddles to hear the crunchy sound it makes or walked on top of hard-packed snow to hear the hollow thumps of my footsteps.  I've loved walking through the fog and even the blowing snow (sometimes....only sometimes...and NEVER the blowing sand) and experiencing what 40 below with a minus 60 wind chill feels like and thinking I was "Donna of the Tundra....Wonder Woman!"



The lifestyle is simple up here...you stay up late because it's light late into night....or even throughout the whole night.  You attend birthday parties where it seems the whole village is invited to come and partake of more desserts than you'd find in a bakery.  For entertainment, you cheer at a basketball game alongside all the villagers who come to support the teams because it's the best (and only) game in town!  Or, if you are a teacher, you know that you will have to take your turn in working at the games.  You walk most places or ride on a snow-go or a "honda" ("honda" is lower case because it is the generic term up here for any brand of four-wheeler....being that a Honda was the first four-wheeler to make it to the island many years ago).  My daughter enjoyed taking pictures of multiple family members riding on one four-wheeler at a time.  I think she saw 5 or 6 folks on one.  You snicker when you see that a stop sign has been installed in the village and wonder, "Why?"  You really laugh when you hear that the "streets" are going to be paved this summer and you REALLY wonder, "WHY?"  You think nothing of hauling out your honey bucket to the honey bin outside your house.  Stinky?  Yes, but that's the norm and no one really cares....it's just the way it is.  You thank your lucky stars you're leaving when you dump your final bag into the honey bin and discover the side is cracked and the bin is not going to last much longer.  You take turns at the washeteria filling up your water containers to haul back to your house and you remember to dump out the catch bucket under your kitchen sink after washing dishes.  You accept the fact that no mail came in for maybe several days because the planes weren't flying due to weather.  You accept the fact that you may not have fresh fruits and vegetable for weeks/months at a time.  You have candles and matches ready in various places around the house because it's a definite that the power WILL go out in the dead of winter when it's already dark at 4:00 p.m.



One nice thing about heading back home....when I need to "drown my sorrows" in junk food....as I did here just yesterday.....it won't cost me $17.74.  That covered one Coke, one 9 oz. bag of Ruffles potato chips, and one 15 oz. jar of ranch dip.  I'm glad there's still some left because I'll hit it up again tonight after Warren and Bessi have picked up the final haul from my house....including my television....my connection to the outside world!!  I told them they had to wait until after "The Voice" was over!  I'll have only my two suitcases and backpack left tonight....and my word find and Sudoku books.  My beloved jigsaw puzzles were divvied out weeks ago.  I can't wait to get back home to get going on one again.  I did a total of 57 puzzles up here this year alone....and most of them were 1000 pieces.  The advice to those coming up to work in a remote village is to send what makes you happy.  And I did!



I know if I start thanking people who have made my life interesting up here, I will forget some key people.  You have all claimed a spot in my heart and in my memories.  I can't dwell on that right now....I'm starting to cry again.  I can't even think it and I cry.  Shoot....a couple of Sundays ago, during the singing of one of the hymns, the word "tears" was in it....and I started crying!  This past Sunday was exceptionally difficult because the choir dedicated a song to me....which I greatly appreciated....except that I had no Kleenex with me.  Good thing those hoodies have long sleeves!



But....I do have to mention Bessi and Warren.  Gosh....I think that's all I can do....mention them....because I'm crying again!  You can quit laughing anytime now, Warren....!  I have no idea how I'm even going to make it on that plane tomorrow.  I won't be able to see through the tears.  Good grief!  Thank you, Bessi and Warren for so very much....sharing your knowledge, culture, humor, support and friendship.  I will miss you dearly.  Warren, I'm seriously thinking I might have to put your "special saying and gesture" on my tombstone....!



I have so many thoughts swirling around in my saddened brain.  I have truly enjoyed my time up here.  I won't lie though....it hasn't all been "peachy-keen."  Is there anyplace on earth that is perfect?  I doubt it.  Shishmaref is struggling.  It has experienced the influences of the outside world in so many ways...Internet, television, music...drugs and alcohol (even in this dry village).  It's also struggling with global warming and how to save the village.  Just last week, another meeting was held to discuss the options of trying to stay and what that would take or relocate to the mainland at a place viable for habitation.  I will watch in the coming months/years for the outcome of both the saving of the village and the future endeavors of the students.  I want you to survive....and thrive.....with whatever means necessary.



So why am I leaving if it fills me with such sorrow?  That's an easy one to answer.  Last August, shortly after I got back here to start my fifth year, I received word that my brother-in-law, Mark, was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma.  That was news none of us wanted to hear...ever.  But it's happening.  Mark has undergone radiation and immunotherapy treatments.  He's doing well.  It's not a cancer that can be cured but it can be held at bay....and it better be because Mark has to keep his lawn and flower gardens (with Shirley's help) going for my enjoyment!  Be glad, Shishmaref, that Mark did not make it up here to visit.  He'd have been pruning and mowing and all sorts of things up here.....even though I told him often, "No, you would not!  You don't quite understand what "lawn care" means in Shishmaref.  Plus, there are no trees or bushes to trim."  Anyway, Mark is doing well and is planning another mission trip to Liberia in February.  I'm tossing around the idea of joining him but I have to tell you....when temperatures begin to reach 60 degrees, I'm done!  I'm not sure I could survive Liberia....let alone the high 70s I hear it is in Wisconsin right now.  Thank goodness for central air at their house.  See you soon, Shirley and Mark!  It won't be long now and I'll expect a trip to Cherry Berry!



The other deciding factor was this....I was dubbed "Ahna Donna" up here which means "Grandma Donna."  Well, I'm truly going to be an "ahna" in August.    My daughter, Jessica, has a "bun in the oven" and he or she (they won't share that info yet) will be arriving in August.  It's time to go home and be with my family again.  It's an exciting time for all and I want to be a part of it.  



Time flies by so fast, folks.  Gosh, this blog itself proves that.  I had no idea when I first started it that I would have stayed here in Shishmaref for five years....five years.  This year was a great year in that the third graders I had were the ECE students I started with when I first arrived up here.  I have had a riot showing these kids the pictures I took of them back in 2011-12 in ECE and now in third grade this past year.  All I can say is this....hold onto your kids....hug them....love them....and raise them well.  Another five years will fly by quicker than you can imagine.



So, there you have it, folks!  The culmination of my time in Shishmaref.  I think that after I've returned home and had some time in my rocking chair listening to the wind in the trees outside my bedroom window, I may try to add to this blog....maybe showing you more of my over 13,000 pictures I've taken up here and telling you more about this incredible experience.  Oh, wait....not all of those 13,000 pictures were taken here in Shishmaref.  Did I tell you that I went to Kauai in March to see Dan?  We took a helicopter tour of the island and went to a luau and walked the beaches collecting shells and ate fresh fruit right off the trees in the yard....and....and...



Hmmm....what will take place now in my life....???  Stay tuned!  







Thursday, December 31, 2015

Winding Down!

Today is Wednesday (It's Wednesday...it's Wednesday...the middle of the week.....yada, yada, yada!), December 30, 2015.  The year is winding down.  I guess it's about time I finally add something to my blog.  *** Here's an added note....it WAS Wednesday, December 30, when I started this post....but it's now after midnight making it the LAST DAY OF 2015! 

I am still in Shishmaref, Alaska...teaching third grade.  But that, too, is "winding down" as I'm 99% sure I will call it quits in May when the school year is over.  So, let's "talk" about that decision....

I started teaching in 1978.  I was laid off for three years after the "infamous strike" in East Jordan in 1980.  During that time, I taught two years of Co-op Nursery School and did some subbing in the public school.  I'm figuring I have approximately 36 years in my teaching career.  A lot has changed and I'm not convinced it's for the better.  In fact, I'm not happy with what I've experienced in education and I certainly feel sorry for the kids.  Teaching was a lot of fun at one time and the staff worked well together and enjoyed what we were doing.  Most everyone was willing to go that extra mile to make things fun so that the kids enjoyed being in school, too.  I'm talking about all the "extras" we put into our job because we didn't feel so stressed-out.  I have hope that with the recent signing of a new education bill..."Every Child Achieves"....(doing away with NCLB...No Child Left Behind) things will improve.  Having spent time in a bush village school, it's obvious that "one size does NOT fit all" (and I'm not referring to the weight I've gained since I've been up here).  Part of my frustrations here are with the curriculum.  Oh, my....let me just say....I viewed the local Bilingual program's past curriculum and if the government would back off and let these folks teach what is valid for this culture and location....these kids would benefit beyond belief.  The curriculum that I had the opportunity to go over (which has been pushed out of the school more and more "in favor of" packaged programs from the Lower 48) was awesome....and culturally-relevant.  I am left to sadly shake my head at what we are losing here and elsewhere.

There's more leading to my decision to leave Shishmaref and education....it wasn't an easy decision.  I won't use this forum to "gripe" and besides, my close friends know what I'm talking about.  Sometimes, you just have to ask yourself, "Are you happy with what you are doing right now?  Remember that life is short."  I will say this....I should probably thank some of the people that have irritated me the most because they probably helped me close a door....which led to another one opening somewhere else!  I am anxious to see what lies ahead in my future because I'm sure it will be wonderful and/or interesting.

Anyway, between having my every move observed, evaluated, mandated, and dictated....and having to deal with things beyond my control....I'm done...20 weeks from today.....Wednesday....so we can definitely sing the traditional "Wednesday Song"!  Ha....we can sing!  That reminds me of the sign I posted above my third grade classroom door back in East Jordan when I officially retired in Michiga.  It said, "The Fat Lady's Singing."  Well, folks, I'm tuning up for the second rendition of that song!



It's important to point out that there will be people I will sorely miss here in Shishmaref.  The experiences I have had over the last five years will stay with me forever....or at least as long as my memory holds out!  Seriously, a door closed back in East Jordan five years ago and another one opened up here in Shishmaref.  It was the fulfillment of a dream that began with my trip to China back in 1993.  I'll toss out a "thank you" to Shirley Bishop for putting the initial bug in my ear about teaching in a rural Alaska village.  I will be forever grateful to all of my friends and family for the encouragement and support I received along the way and also to all the good people of Shishmaref.

Here's a picture of me signing my contract to teach in Shishmaref back in 2011:



Speaking of which....I have to scoot for awhile....to get into the gym for the fifth night of Christmas Week festivities.  Now THAT'S definitely a memory I will want to keep.  What a hoot!  We definitely don't do anything like that back home!

And I'm back.....!  I'm sure I have explained in earlier posts about the Christmas Week festivities in Shishmaref.  In case you are not aware, here's what happens.  Each day beginning the day after Christmas, there are dog team races and foot races.  In the evening, the community comes together for the awarding of places and gifts.  The IRA sponsors these activities and they give each and every participant a bagful of goodies.  Then each person is given an empty garbage bag which is then filled with gifts from the community members.  This goes on for a couple hours.  Afterwards, there are games for the women to play and then the traditional Eskimo games for the men.  I am especially looking forward to tomorrow night when the "Two Foot High Kick" is held.  It's amazing how high some of these men can kick.  You can search online for images of this event held throughout Alaska.  According to Wikipedia, the men's record in the event is 8 feet 8 inches and the women's record is 6 feet 6 inches.

On my day of racing, I "walked" (my knee is still messed up from my first year up here) in the "ELDER" (I earn some respect up here merely by my age....ha!) Women's race with another villager.  We had a fun time prodding each other along.  Here's a picture of the evening ceremony:

  

The losing men's team in Eskimo football will have to give out coffee and cookies tomorrow night in the gym.  There will be more awards and gifts given out for the final day of dog team races and foot races.  Tomorrow's dog team race is called the "Run, Harness and Go" which involves five dogs that the racer has to harness up on the spot.  That's not an easy task when the dogs are ready and raring to go.  One of the local villagers puts on a fireworks show, too, to cap off the evening (Although he could shoot them off shortly after 4:30 p.m. because it would be dark enough!). 

Oh, man....that reminds me!  On the second day of events, it was the women's dog team race.  I found myself fearing for my life!!  Bessi was racing 11 of her very energetic dogs.  I had passed by her dog lot on the way out to the frozen lagoon where the race begins.  She and Warren were harnessing their dogs which were barking up a storm.  As I continued out to the lagoon, I realized it was quieter now behind me which meant that Bessi was bringing her dogs out to the starting line.  I turned around just in time to see them heading right for me.  EGADS!  I jumped out of the way only to see that Bessi's sled had flipped over on its side and she was tightly holding on....and swinging out towards my direction.  I had to jump back even more which isn't easy when you're bundled up as much as I was!  As she zipped by me, she flipped the sled the other way right next to Warren on the snow machine (known as a snow-go up here).  It was a scary scene.  Those dogs were extremely strong.  Warren had to zip ahead on his snow-go to get to the front and slow them down....and this was all before the start of the race....which, not surprisingly, Bessi won!  Here's a picture of Bessi's start in the race:



Here are a couple more pictures of Bessi....I'm really going to miss her.  Through the years, she's been a wealth of cultural information and understanding.  I'll give some credit to Warren, too....even though he harasses me nonstop....but then again, I give it right back to him!

I have to add this picture of Warren.  It sums up our mutual good fun teasing.  This was when I managed to contract C.diff which was contagious.  I was finally able to return to the village after getting home for Christmas in 2012 and being medically "grounded" until the early part of February, 2013.  This is Warren greeting me upon my return:



While I was waiting for Bessi to come back from the trail, I walked further out on the lagoon to check out an ice fisherman.  He was using the net method of fishing.  By the way, the smelt up here are much bigger than the smelt we're used to back in Northern Michigan.  Take note of Minnie looking up in the sky.  We saw a jet flying overhead....which is common back home.....but not up here.  We seldom see jets flying over....probably because we are so far north.




When I start thinking of all the things I've experienced up here, well...it warms my heart.....which is good because it can get mighty cold up here.  That brings up another story....another true story....all of my stories are true, albeit different from what we deal with in the Lower 48.  I guess I will warn some of my Lower 48 friends that you might believe in animal rights and be vegetarians or whatever, but please don't soapbox to me about certain issues without understanding what these folks up here have had to do to survive.  I am not saying that I don't believe in animal rights....I do.  But up here, these folks live a subsistence lifestyle which means they hunt for their food and very little of the animal goes to waste.  You don't see caribou heads mounted on a livingroom wall as a trophy but you can buy a caribou antler carving or some walrus ivory jewelry.  The profits buy gasoline and groceries that can't be found in the wild and fuel to heat homes.  Up here, a gallon of gasoline is about $7.00 a gallon.  Anyway....here's the story...

My son, Dan, emailed me to tell me he had been snowblowing his driveway recently.  His hands were freezing in the "normal" gloves we use down home.  He then remembered the sealskin mittens I had sent to him and he put those on instead.  He remarked on how incredibly warm his hands were inside those mittens.  I reminded him on what these people deal with up here with the well-below-zero temperatures and wind chill and that furs are a life-saver up here.  I can attest to that myself with an experience I had a few years ago up here.  I had taken off my "Cabela" gloves to briefly take some pictures in the village.  It was a -20 degrees out and I was able to get only six pictures taken before my hands were impossibly cold.  I struggled to get my gloves back on and warming up was not to be.  I went back to my house and put on my sealskin mittens and before long, all was well.  I realize that once I'm back in the Lower 48, there won't be a huge need for such warm mittens (I don't plan to snowblow my own driveway!).  But I will treasure them and know and understand how Native cultures survived.  Here's my beautiful pair of sealskin mittens made by a very talented friend, DeeAnn:



Check out a "few" of the carvings and crafts I have purchased since being in Shishmaref...which, by the way, is known for the quality of their Native crafts and artwork.  I would say I've contributed to the economy of Shishmaref many times over!


 



I think that I will bring this post to an end....although I do have a gift of gab!  I am thinking that if I don't post it soon, I may have trouble because I can hear the crowd gathering back in the gym.  When that happens, everyone gets on their hand-held devices and getting Internet connections is not easy.  Yes, I may be in a cultural haven up here.....but technology rules as well....sometimes to the demise of happy, healthy living.  I suppose that's true no matter where you are.

I wish all my friends and family, near and far, a happy, healthy new year.  I want to give a shout-out to my brother-in-law, Mark Molldrem, who is dealing with Stage 4 melanoma.  Mark is part of the reason I've decided it's time to go home.  You can't get back family time and I pray that his radiation and immunotherapy treatments have worked....we'll know soon.  I want some time to go to Cherry Berry with Mark and to marvel at the beauty of his yardwork in Wisconsin and hug the trees!  I want to laugh with my own sisters.


 
 




Plus, it's time to go back home to my own offspring:





I'll remember this...
 

And this....


And this....


I probably won't miss this....




Thank you, Elizabeth and Family, for being such nice, kind people.  I will remember you as well.  I sure wish I could have met Herbie (Shishmaref Cannonball) in person.  (P.S.  That's my son, Dan, on the left!)

 


HAPPY NEW YEAR, everyone!  And to the good folks in Shishmaref....THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart for sharing your culture, your children, and your hearts with me.  I will be forever grateful.

  



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The End...sort of....!


Blog Entry:  May 19, 2015!!

Ok, ok….so I’m not writing here on a regular basis.  So fire me!  It’s my blog and my time…or lack thereof.  But alas!  School has ended and I’m in the process of packing up my classroom, my house, and another school year.  Let’s see if I can figure this out….I just finished my 34th year of teaching in a regular education classroom.  Add to those two years of Co-op Nursery School and one year of subbing.  Yup, I’m still at it….I will be returning to Shishmaref for the coming school year…still in third grade.

As for my blog, I have some time tonight while watching the next to the last show of the David Letterman Show.  Boy, there are lots of things coming to an end lately.  I’m not so sure I like that.  Time marches on and I’m having a hard time keeping up.  Maybe it has something to do with the torn meniscus I acquired after my first year here…and haven’t had repaired yet.  Let me just complain for a minute….insurance companies and medical providers who don’t submit claims in a timely fashion irk the heck out of me….!!!  Long story….aren’t they all?  I definitely have stories to tell.  I should write a book….in my “spare” time.

I found myself following “The Voice” this year.  That’s not something I normally do but hey….Joshua Davis is from Traverse City, Michigan and I was enjoying his performances.  He’s really good.  Sorry he didn’t win but it was still quite a run.  I especially enjoyed the opportunity to work on jigsaw puzzles while watching TV.  Ahhh….life in remote Alaska!

Alaska….remote Alaska…”bush Alaska”….as in Shishmaref, Alaska….100 miles from Russia across the Chukchi Sea…15-20 miles south of the Arctic Circle….located on the Sarichef Island which is washing away into the sea.  Someday it will not exist…and neither will I.  Morbid thought….or just acceptance of reality!

That, my friends, is what I want to talk about in this blog entry….change and endings….and how life goes on.  For example, both of my favorite late night talk shows are done (Craig Ferguson and David Letterman).  But you know what?  There are other talk hosts and shows to take their place.  I might not like them as much or even at all….so what?  Life goes on.

Joshua Davis didn’t win….darn it.  But guess what?  I would bet that he will still find great success in his singing/song writing career.  And what the heck….he was given a new car!  Life goes on.

My long teaching career in East Jordan came to an end in 2011.  I certainly have some comments on that but….not here!  Nevertheless, life goes on and I’m now fulfilling a quest by teaching in another culture in remote Alaska.  As a result, I, too, am fulfilled.

HOWEVER….teaching up here in Shishmaref has required me to face “endings” that I find hard to do.  Because it is such a small village, I know a lot of people…if not by name, at least by face, wave and smile.  I’m known as “Ahna Donna” up here and once I leave, that will most likely end as well.  I have embraced the nickname.  I’ll miss it.  I will also miss the people…adults and kids.  I will wonder about them when I am finally back home in the comforts of life in the Lower 48.  I will think about them dumping their honey buckets into the honey bins while I flush my toilet.  I will think about them playing out late at night in the sunshine while I am standing out on my deck gazing up at the stars in the blackened sky.  I will think about them during the week between Christmas and New Year’s knowing they are having the time of their lives with the traditional Eskimo games, sled dog races and awards ceremonies.  I will think about them when I see the Northern Lights.  I will think about them when I listen to folks down in the Lower 48 complain about hunting seals and polar bears and wonder if I should try to explain what that means to people who live a subsistence lifestyle. 

That end is coming….eventually.  It’s not here yet….but it’s coming.  I miss my own kids….even though they are adults with lives of their own.  I’ve missed them…and four years of spending time together.  There’s a price to every decision.  Life has definitely gone on while I’ve been up here.

I’ll be going home soon, knowing that one of my best friends is not there anymore.  She passed away last summer.  Several of my friends and family members passed away since I’ve been up here.  Endings…and life goes on.

This year, another sort of ending has affected me…and after four years of going through it, I now understand it for what it is.  Teaching in this remote village means that teachers come and go.  Some stay longer than others….but most come and go.  This year was no exception.  We did have retirements though of three local staff members…one after 40 years of being part of the school…40 years.  And still….his career came to an end.  Another end…and more change.  

We are losing five other staff members this year, too.  That, folks, is what finally hit me this year.  Other teachers have left in the past four years and it was just sort of a “fact of life in Shishmaref.”  I still keep in touch with some of them….friends I wouldn’t have met had I not come to Shishmaref.  Nevertheless, nothing lasts forever.  The turnover is hard on the students.  They find it hard to build a trusting relationship with the teachers because we leave…we don’t stay.  It’s a fact of life up here.  I have recognized the difficulty some of the students have because they will begin asking you a few weeks before school is out, “Are you coming back?”  Folks you meet out in the village will quickly ask the same question, “Are you coming back?”  Well, I am….but some of my fellow teachers are not….and this year, I felt the loss.  I don’t like it….I don’t like change and I don’t like endings…..

The End…..and so it goes….life goes on! 

(BTW...I wrote this on May 19....and I just posted it on May 20.  It took me that long to figure out how to get logged in to my own blog....ha!)  

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Last Day of 2014!

Well, here it is....December 31, 2014!  I would be amiss if I didn't write at least one post for this year.  No guilt trips here, folks...none at all.  Time is "different" up here.  For starters, I have never worked so hard in my teaching career as I have up here in Shishmaref, Alaska.  It's not just the changes that have taken place in the field of education (which I don't totally agree with but I'm almost done anyway).  Nope....it's not just the day-to-day work in and for my classroom.  It's the extra work that goes into living up here in the Frozen North....although today is unseasonably warm again.  What is up with that?  I walked to school in my jeans...no snowpants.  Unreal!!  I came to school because I can get a better Internet connection...I'm probably going to cancel my home Internet service on Friday....what a waste of money.  All you folks down in the Lower 48...quit whining with your slow Internet connections....you have NO idea what slo-o-o-w means!

Speaking of "slow"....I would like to remind my friends and family back home not to listen to what the post office staff tells you about when "the package will arrive" here in Shishmaref.  I come from a long line of postal employee relatives and I appreciate their work...but in all due respect, this is remote Alaska (just below the Arctic Circle, folks, and 100 miles from Russia) and delivery dates mean...nothing...up here!  Packages might get to Anchorage in "normal delivery time" but that's where "normal" ceases!  From there, it TOTALLY depends on weather and room on the plane....I'm serious!  I still snicker over a package that was sent to me from Michigan a couple years ago from a bank where the personnel had been told what my situation is up here....not only mail delays but time zone differences and dropped phone calls.  People just don't get it.  Those folks sent an "overnight" package with instructions that the contents had to be signed and back on their desk the next day by noon or some such nonsense.  Cracked me right up!  First of all, I think it took about a week for their "overnight" package to get to me in the first place....which was, in all due respect, quicker than it normally would get here....ha!  Oh, well....on a happier note....thank you to the friends and family who sent Christmas packages....I enjoyed them all....on Monday, December 29th!

Anyway...living up here adds more to daily chores as well....like being sure enough water is distilled for daily usage....or having enough water in the holding tank to begin with.  Oh, yes....and dumping the honey bucket which I will have to do when I get home today.  Going home today is a trek...not a car ride.  It's not that far of a walk and it'll be light out when I head home....I think....if I leave before 4:30 p.m.  The biggest problem in walking home today is that the snow pack has turned a bit soft because of the warm temperatures.  Again, what is up with that?  Craziness!  It's so much easier to walk in minus degrees when the snow is hard.  I will be hauling my sled home today with some totes that need to be taken home now that Christmas is over and the week-long village activities are coming to an end.  Each day starting on December 26th, there have been dog sled and foot races.  Each night in the gym, the community comes together to celebrate and award prizes to ALL participants.  Today marks the final events and tonight will be the big celebration in the gym.  Admittedly, I will probably stay home in my humble little abode....watching the crystal ball drop in Times Square (four hours after the actual event...hee....time is "different" up here)....and doing a jigsaw puzzle.

So what's my point in this one and only blog post for 2014?  Time is "different" up here.  I have been thinking about this post for a week now.  When I first arrived here in Shishmaref in August of 2011, I was totally fascinated by what I was experiencing.  It was all new and different....big time "different" from what I was familiar with back in my hometown of East Jordan, Michigan.  Plus, I was living a dream.  As you will recall, if you have been following my dwindling blog, I came to bush Alaska as a result of my trip to China in 1993.  I wanted to experience teaching in a different culture.  Upon the suggestion from a friend who had already spent time in remote Alaska, I began taking the steps to fulfill my dream....and here I am....half-way through my fourth year in this Inupiaq Eskimo village of Shishmaref, Alaska.  It's still here even though someday it will not be....as Sarichef Island washes into the Chukchi Sea.  I may have made my mark....but my mark will be washed away.  Time is "different" up here.

The "point" that comes to mind is this....if you read my previous blogs, read them again.  Life does not change up here.  Oh, sure....teachers come and go (and that's something I will save for private conversations with close family and friends) and the field of education is driven by "change" (boy, am I laughing right now....second grade team members from many moons ago back in East Jordan....CHANGE....ha!  The more things change, the more they stay the same!).  But life in Shishmaref has basically not changed....to a point.  The culture is the same....subsistence living is a driving force.  The folks hunt and fish for necessary food...despite what people living in the Lower 48 think should be done....until you have lived here, you wouldn't understand.  You talk about global warming and complain because you've gotten more snow (and snow days) than you ever imagined.  Of course, I'm old enough to say, "Remember when the snow banks were so tall and we had 10 Monday snow days in a row....yada, yada, yada...?"  Up here, the folks are saying, "The sea hasn't frozen over yet....what is up with that?  That will change the travel patterns of the seals, walruses, and polar bears.  The lagoon isn't freezing quickly enough.  We need to get over to the mainland to reach the migrating caribou herd."  And snow days?  Even in some of the worst weather, we seldom close school up here.  The changes in the weather patterns, I suppose, are relevant to where you live.  What works for one region doesn't work for another.  I just know that once I move back to Michigan, I will appreciate my sealskin mittens during some the the "blizzards" and will gladly shake my head and laugh at those who look in disdain at my mittens....at least my hands are toasty warm....and I will know that my friends in remote Alaska "get it" and are surviving the -40 degrees (with a -60 degree wind chill) because of the "gifts" the seals have given to the tribal hunters.

The culture hasn't changed.  What the folks do day-to-day has not changed.  It's the same...since I arrived in 2011 and well before that.  Another example would be the Christmas week festivities and games here in Shishmaref.  I was talking to one of the IRA members a couple nights ago at the awards ceremony.  I asked him how long the races and games have been held like that.  He said, with a gesture of his hand, "As long as I can remember....as long ago as when I was this big."  He continued with a little bit of the history of the Christmas celebration here in Shishmaref.  It's been going on for decades.  It hasn't changed.  I am sure that several years after I have finally gone back to Michigan (or wherever), the games will be going on each day between Christmas and New Year's Eve....provided the island is still there.  It will not change.

There are some things that some of the folks here in Shishmaref will tell you have changed.  The kids are being greatly influenced by technology.  Computer games, television and Internet have brought some not-so-great changes in the behaviors and attitudes of the kids and in parenting styles.  It's a force to be reckoned with.  I'm not sure what will destroy the culture/island first....technology or erosion.

Nevertheless, for the Inupiaq Eskimo culture....I wish you a prosperous 2015....prosperous as in hunting and fishing and preserving your culture....not in monetary wealth....not in material goods.  Change for the sake of change....bah humbug!  Keep the change!!!  The Inupiaq Eskimo culture is wealthier by far in their beliefs of tribal unity, humility, honesty, hard work and respect for Elders. 

Before ending this post, I must say that I do recognize that the only two sure things in life are taxes (which I need to get started on...even though Alaska does not have a state income tax...Michigan does and I still need to file down there!)...and death.  I have lost a very dear friend this past year (as tears well up in my eyes at the very mention of it).  Cancer is an ugly disease which I wish could be eradicated.  Not only did I lose my very good friend, but some other families back home were hard-hit by their own losses, too, due to cancer (and other sad endings).  I'm afraid that if I start mentioning names, I will forget someone and I don't want anyone to think their loss is any less important than another loss.  Families up here in Shishmaref have lost loved ones as well.  One very poignant reminder of the loss of a family member up here came a few months ago.  I watched for two days from my living room window as the men of the community chipped away at the frozen ground and permafrost to dig a grave deep enough to lower a casket into the ground.  It took several men days to dig the grave.  Something like that would have taken (and did when my Grandma Peterson and my Dad died in January of 1995) just a couple hours with gas-powered machinery.  A few days after the funeral, I then watched as the local children turned a nearby mound into a sliding hill.  There was no disrespect for those "resting" in the cemetery.  It's a fact of life up here....you make do with what you have and that's about the "highest" spot on the island and makes for a great sliding hill.

With that, rest in peace, my dear friend, Pam.  Although I miss you dearly, the happy, vibrant you will never be forgotten.

Happy New Year, everyone!  I hope you enjoy my one and only post for 2014.  No promises for 2015...no resolutions (I'd break them anyway).

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Can You Believe It?

NOTE:  This might be an indication of how this year's blog entries might show up!  You will note in just a bit that I had started this YESTERDAY and didn't get it finished/posted.  It's now Tuesday, August 13.  Let's pretend it's still yesterday....

Good grief!  It's now August 12, 2013, and I'm finally writing another entry to my blog.  Can you believe it?  What is up with that?  I am shamed about not writing on a more consistent basis during my second year in Shishmaref, Alaska.  Now...I'm headed into my third year....still in Shishmaref and still teaching third grade.  Let's see what I can do to bring this blog up to date!

I am currently in Unalakleet, AK, attending teacher inservice trainings.  I have been here since August 7th.  The remainder of the BSSD (Bering Strait School District) village staffs arrived today.  We will all head back to our own villages this coming Wednesday.  I came in early in order to get more SFA (Success for All...reading program) training that I missed my first couple of years.  It'll be helpful as I head into my third year of teaching.

A most exciting thing happened today just before the conclusion of our session with our new superintendent.  We were surprised with an impromptu visit from General Chuck Yeager.  Awesome!  He said a few words to the gathering and received a standing ovation.  Some of the folks here have posted pictures on Facebook....and I did share one of them.  So, if you are able to access my Facebook page, you will see a picture of General Yeager.  He said he celebrated his 90th birthday in an F-15.  Seems appropriate!

I have already been to Shishmaref....arrived on August 3rd.  My son, Dan, came up with me.  We spent a few days in Anchorage, driving down the Seward Highway, touring parts of the Kenai Peninsula, and going up Mt. Alyeska.  We went to Nome for an overnight stay before heading into Shishmaref for a brief stay.  Dan had the opportunity to go up one of the rivers with Ken (our science teacher) and saw a herd of musk ox and many different kinds of birds.  His toes got very cold on that trip and he declared "the people in Shishmaref are a tough bunch of folks!"  He also had the opportunity to try black meat in seal oil....which turned out to be an "surprising" experience.

Let's see....going back a few months....

I last wrote about how sick I got on my trip down home for Christmas.  I'm over it now but...whew!  That was wicked.  I didn't make it back to the village until February 1st, I believe.

At the end of February of this past year, I had the opportunity to travel to Wasilla for a math conference.  While there, I stayed at the Best Western on Lake Lucille.  I happened to look out my window one evening and saw two trucks out in the parking lot with dogs being fed out beside the trucks.  I took pictures and wondered if they there for the upcoming Iditarod.  Talk about wanting to kick myself later on!  I got back to SHH and upon doing some Internet searching, I found out that one was Josh Cadzow, a rookie, and the other was Ed Stielstra, a musher from my home state of Michigan.  I could have met a musher from Michigan.  Well....

Skipping WAY ahead to the end of July (just a few weeks ago), that came true!  After not meeting Ed in the parking lot in Wasilla, I made a point of contacting him through his business, Nature's Kennel, in McMillan, Michigan.  On my way to Wisconsin with my son, we stopped off at the kennel where we got to see some of Ed and Tasha's 150 dogs and, of course, to meet Ed.

OH, MY GOSH!  Another side note!  DeeDee Jonrowe was outside the Unalakleet School earlier tonight....and I MISSED IT!   She signed posters for folks.  DeeDee is another Iditarod musher.  I saw her the first year I was up here when the Iditarod came through Unalakleet.  At that time, I managed to get one of her dogs' pink booties!  Gosh darn it!  Oh, well....

Another interruption....but a pleasant one....my son caught me on Skype.  He's in turmoil about his decision to walk or not walk the Pacific Crest Trail in the spring.  As you will remember, he walked the Appalachian Trail last year.  He has some valid reasons for hesitating but I believe he will, someday, hike the PCT.

Back to my blog post....

I got through February....and then March, April, and part of May to the end of my second year of school.  May was....interesting!  I was notified by my daughter that she would, in fact, be graduating on May 11...one week before the end of my school year.  This was another one of those "no brainer" decisions....I had to get home for her graduation.  It had been such a long haul for her and she finally was going to earn her degree.  Consequently, off I flew to Michigan and when I landed in Detroit, we (my daughter, her boyfriend and I) immediately drove to Sterling Heights to see my 97-year-old aunt who had fallen, broken her hip, and ended up in a nursing home.  The message I had received while in the Seattle airport was that she wasn't doing well and we should really get up to see her...as in now.  I believe she knew we were there but it's hard to tell.  The interesting thing is that her only surviving sibling, 95-year-old Uncle Bob, went to see her the next day and she perked right up.  My sister, Connie, and I were able to stop by the nursing home after Jessica's graduation in Saginaw....but she was sleeping.  Sadly, not long after this visit, Aunt Lue was up out of bed and fell again, breaking her leg.  She underwent more surgery and it became a downhill slide.

On May 14, I returned to Shishmaref to finish off the last four days of school.  I left the village on May 21 for the summer....with snow still on the ground!  I met up with my daughter and her boyfriend (Jessica and Chris) in Anchorage where we did some sightseeing.  We then flew to Portland, Oregon.  The way my daughter described it was, "Michigan is beautiful....but Oregon is like Michigan on steroids!"  Unbelievable....intensely beautiful.....words cannot begin to describe what we saw.

From there, we flew back to Michigan towards the end of May.  I spent a night with my daughter and Chris before heading to Coopersville (west of Grand Rapids) for another night's visit with my oldest sister.  The next day, Connie drove me to Muskegon in order to board the Lake Express ferry across Lake Michigan to Milwaukee, Wisconsin.  I was met there by another sister, Shirley and her hubby, Mark.  I spent time in Beaver Dam before Shirley and I took off for East Jordan.  We took our time driving through the Upper Peninsula checking out the Lake Superior shoreline and waterfalls.

On our final leg of the trip home in June, we received a phone call that our dear Aunt Lucille had passed away. We were thinking that we'd be headed to the Detroit area for the funeral but the family decided to have the burial back in East Jordan where she could be laid to rest next to her son and other family members.  Rest In Peace, Aunt Lue...one very incredible woman.

http://wujekcalcaterra.tributes.com/show/Edith-Lucille-Nowland-95966776

My sister, Shirley, eventually left to go back to Wisconsin.  I immediately got on the phone to start scheduling doctor and dentist appointments.  I also started my "bush shopping" which led to lots of packing and shipping.  My summer sped by at that point.  I am happy to say that I did get to visit some dear friends, including my friend with that crappy cancer issue.  She's the reason I went home at Christmas and at that time, I didn't get to see her because of my crappy (literally) C-diff.  Anyway, we had a very nice visit.

As for my medical appointments, I was able to get an MRI done on that "knee issue" of mine...and yes, it's a torn meniscus.  And no, I did not have time to get anything done about it other than to have it confirmed.  I'm going into another year with dealing with the pain and discomfort.  What the heck...we bush teachers are tough!  The doctor is planning to get me scheduled for surgery as soon as I get back to Michigan next May.

The end of July came quickly.  My son, Dan, traveled first to Wisconsin with me.  We, too, checked out a number of Upper Peninsula waterfalls on our way to Beaver Dam.  On July 30, my sister and her hubby drove us to Chicago O'Hare to catch a plane to Anchorage.  We then did some sightseeing north and south of Anchorage, including a drive down the Kenai Peninsula to Soldotna and the City of Kenai.  Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful!!!  The highlight probably was our trip to the top of Mt. Alyeska in Girdwood.  The view was incredible.  I need to come up with some different adjectives!  Dan had been struggling with the decision whether or not to walk the Pacific Crest Trail beginning next April.  After going to the top of Mt. Alyeska, he decided he should do it.  OH....FUNNY!  I just realized I'm repeating myself because I've had so many disruptions throughout this blog that I've lost track of what I've already written.  Ha!  Doesn't matter....I have more to add here....from Dan's Skype call tonight.  Speaking of Skype, my sister, Connie, kept trying to Skype me right during one of my teacher sessions today....and I had to cut her off twice.  There are some interruptions I can't allow!!!  Anyway, Dan called and is still in turmoil about his decision to hike the PCT in April or to wait.  He does have some financial obligations to deal with right now.  He'll make the right decision...whatever it turns out to be.

Continuing, we flew from Anchorage to Nome and stayed overnight before flying into Shishmaref on August 3rd.  Not much to say about that short leg of the trip....other than we were delayed in leaving Nome because of the weather.  We eventually made it.

Dan's stay in Shishmaref was definitely an eye-opener.  He enjoyed meeting the people and seeing what I do and where I live during the school year.  He helped me set up my house again and with Warren's help, he hauled our first tankful of water.  Ken took him on an evening boat ride (it's still light late) up one of the rivers and he saw a herd of musk ox.  He also had the chance to eat Eskimo food (black meat in seal oil).  That was "an experience" to be remembered.  Warren got quite a kick out of the results....and we'll leave it at that.

Dan flew out on August 6th and I flew to Unalakleet on August 7th.  The weather for Dan was questionable.  His flight was weather-delayed (again) due to fog.  He eventually made it out though and made all his connections to California where he met up with a friend from several years ago living in California.  As for my trip on the 7th, it wasn't weather-delayed but there was a bit of a snafu in which plane I was booked on....actually, that happened to Dan the day before, too.....but it all worked out for both of us.  My flight was on the District plane...first time.  The weather was quite nice for my flight which I appreciated because we did what's called "the milk run" where we stopped in four more villages to pick up folks headed to the inservice.  I saw Teller (and Brevig Mission which is right across the bay), Elim, White Mountain, and Golovin before landing in Unalakleet.

We leave tomorrow....and I WILL post this tonight.  I may try to come back later to add some pictures for enhancement of my stories!  Earlier this summer, I realized I had taken over 7,500 pictures so far.  As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.  Given the amount I write and the pictures I have....whew....I could write volumes.

WHICH....brings up another thought....speaking of volumes!  When I was in Portland, Oregon in May, one of our stops was to Powell's Books....a four-story bookstore filled with new and used books.  I saw a very rare book worth $12,500 or some such price.  To think I complain about the $10.00 I sometimes have to pay for a paperback if I want it badly enough not to wait for a resale shop visit!

Another highlight of our Portland trip was a visit to Voodoo Doughnuts.  If you are in Portland, it's a must....even though you will encounter long lines that literally wrap around the block...no kidding! (http://voodoodoughnut.com/index.php)

The absolute BEST part of the trip to Portland was visiting both the Chinese Gardens and the Japanese Gardens.  Both have some of the most ornamental plants and flowers you could ever hope to view.  I think I would have to call the Japanese Gardens my favorite.  Put them both on your "must-see" list if you ever get to Portland.

Ok...I have to call it quits.  It's pushing 10:50 p.m.  Most of you know I tend to stay up rather late but it just so happens that I am "bunked" in a classroom of 13 woman....sleeping on cots and air mattresses.  We try to adhere to "lights out" and quiet time rules.  We get up relatively early tomorrow morning for packing and one more session before we are all scheduled to fly out to our respective villages throughout the afternoon.

Good night from the land of the midnight sun!  I'm sure I'll have many more adventures to share in the days/months ahead.

Friday, January 25, 2013

I'm Baaaack!

It's January 25, 2013.  Yes, I have reasons for not having written in my blog in so long (October, 2012) and yes, you're going to hear them!

I have been sick....very, very sick!  That's one excuse.  In fact, I'm still in Michigan at this point.  More on this later.

I have been busy....very, very busy....and that's the truth!!!

So...first the busy part.  I reread my post from October.  I am teaching (or had been...and will be again soon) third graders in the "big school" as opposed to the ECE job I had last year.  Now don't get me wrong, teaching little preschoolers keeps you hopping, too.  In fact, at the end of last year, my knee was in serious pain because of all the activity in ECE.  During the summer back home (Michigan), it looked like it may be a torn meniscus but there was no time to do anything about it other than physical therapy sessions before returning to Shishmaref.  I'm happy to say that the switch to a classroom of older kids has eased the stress on my knee.  It did, however, open up a new level of stress....learning a brand new curriculum and a way of teaching that I have not had to do in my over thirty years of teaching.  It has been a whole new learning experience for me.  In addition, I have a student teacher (intern) in my classroom this year which brought on lots of paperwork, etc.  My student teacher is a sweetheart though.

Truly, I have been so busy that finding time to add to my blog was not easy.  Also, for some reason, I couldn't access my blog when I tried and I didn't have the patience to figure out what was wrong.  That's a whole different story and as you can see, I am able to access it right now.

Let me tell you about my illness....an interesting story for sure!!!  But it's also a serious story.  I'm half-tempted to post it by itself with a title of "WARNING!  C-DIFF!"  If you are a follower of my blog, please share this info with your family and friends.

The illness started rearing (appropriate word choice being that it had a lot to do with my rear) its ugly head on December 19 in Shishmaref with a grumbling gut and bouts of diarrhea on the last day of school before Christmas break.  Fortunately, it was a half day and we were having an easy, fun morning planned.  It was fortunate, too, in that I have some great people working in my room and they were able to basically run the show as I continued to go downhill fast.

That afternoon, I made it back to my house to pack for my Christmas vacation back home in Michigan. Believe me, it was a struggle.  I knew I was getting sick but I thought it was the "run-of-the-mill" stuff that goes back and forth in Shishmaref all the time.  I made it to Nome that evening and to the hotel which was the plan as I had had trouble getting connecting flights out since most of the bush teachers try to get out for Christmas all at the same time.

A little side note here....I originally planned to stay in Shishmaref over Christmas break because of the awesome experience I had last year with the festivities in the village.  But in October, I had received a message from a dear friend back home informing me that her cancer had returned for the second time.  Done deal...I was going home to spend some time with her!  Keep this information in the back of your head!

So, I am in Nome for the night where I can get FOOD from restaurants (no offense, Dennis....I still love Snack Shack).  I walk down the road a bit to Subway for a chicken teriyaki sub and chips and pop.  Gosh, it still sounded good even though my stomach was flip-flopping.  Being away from food like that will do that to you....not the flip-flopping....the strong desire to partake.

Oh, wait!  Let me tell you about what happened on the plane out of Shishmaref first....it's always an adventure.  The Assistant Principal at school was in Anchorage because she was about to deliver her baby.  When locals are "with child", they are required to fly out of the village a month or so before delivery to wait in a hospital or nearby.  Arrangements were made to fly her dog out to some people in Nome to take care of it while she was in Anchorage.  The dog was boarded on the plane in a kennel right behind my seat.  These planes are small...7 to 8 passengers.  Before leaving, I had a conversation with one of the dog's family members (human).  He told me the dog's name was Sprinter.  So Sprinter is in the kennel right behind my seat....and he's not happy!  He struggled in the kennel for awhile and then all of a sudden, I feel something brush my leg....and there was Sprinter starting down the aisle of the plane.  "Oh, no, you don't, Sprinter!"  I grabbed his collar and put my leg across the aisle to the empty chair and held onto him for the rest of the flight into Nome.  He was a nice dog, thank goodness!  He didn't seem too mad that I wouldn't let him go sit with the pilot!!!  I'm glad I knew his name because I just kept saying, "You're ok, Sprinter, you're ok!"

Back to Nome and Subway....I got my sandwich to the hotel room and ate half of it and the chips.  Soon after, I was in the bathroom for the first of many trips that night.  Now I'm still thinking it's just the simple crud and I also ate lettuce which I'm not used to and that's all it was.....ha!  We tend to deny reality, don't we?  That night, I spiked a high fever....no thermometer....but fever blisters broke out on my mouth and I was up every hour on the hour running to the bathroom in agony.  The crazy part about it is that I was actually very comfortable climbing back into that bed each time because it was so incredibly warm and comfy....from my high temps.  I probably was delirious!!!

I'm looking back on this and wondering how the heck did I make it!!!

I ran a couple errands before heading out the next morning to the Nome airport to catch the next portion of my flights out.  I even had bought some antidiarrheal medicine thinking I might need it.  But things seemed to be letting up so I packed them in my checked bag which I wouldn't see again until Detroit the next night.  You guessed it...I got worse...and didn't have the medication.  Oh, well...at that point, I'm not giving a friggin' fig leaf!

The next part of my flight took me to Unalakleet.  Normally, people fly from Nome to Anchorage but again, when I booked my flights, I had a heck of a time getting connections.  Flying from Nome to Unalakleet (which is also the home of the Bering Strait School District offices) to Anchorage meant a couple of other short stops before finally reaching the big city.  I am happy to say that the pilot announced that we were going directly to Unalakleet first because of our delay in leaving Nome and some of us had a connecting flight to catch.  In Unalakleet, I met up with several teachers from around the BSSD flying out.  I sort of sat back quietly in the crowd because I really wasn't feeling too great at that point.  Here's an interesting side note....behind the counter was Ferno Tweto of "Flying Wild Alaska" fame.  She was busy marking luggage and hauling it out to the holding area.  Upon boarding the plane, I was told that the pilot was Jim Tweto.  Their daughter, Ariel, has been an interesting person to watch in the series.  She's also often been on Craig Ferguson's Late Late Show.

I made it to Anchorage where I stripped off my cold weather duds we are required to wear when leaving bush villages.  I packed it all in my suitcase and headed out to check in and to find a bathroom as soon as possible!  Boy, I'm still amazed, looking back, how I made it back to Michigan.  I ran into another migrating teacher and we walked awhile looking for a particular store my daughter wanted me to find for a print of a raven she had seen back in August.  If it hadn't been for my friend, I wouldn't have found the store...but we had a successful walk!  We parted ways and I went to find a McDonald's because at this point, I was still trying to eat even though it wasn't settling well.  I knew I had a long night ahead of me.  I didn't even finish my fries....that should have alerted me that something was way not right!!!   I was able to find a row of unoccupied seats and sprawled out.

From Anchorage, I made it to Seattle.  In the wee hours of the morning, I finally found a wooden bench in a small bathroom and camped out until my next flight.  I have to tell you that even though I felt incredibly bad at this point, as I was finishing up in yet another bathroom, who should appear but my good buddy, Amy, from White Mountain.  We have the craziest ways of meeting up with each other throughout our Alaskan travels.  She introduced me to her fiancĂ© and their little boy.  Oh, that was so nice!  But I quickly excused myself because I needed the bathroom....again.

From Seattle, I landed in Chicago where I had been hearing horror stories of the bad weather and cancelled flights.  It was weird but there really was very little snow on the ground as we landed.  There were issues in the airport though with people trying to work their way through rescheduled flights.  My flight was delayed while waiting for the plane to arrive from who knows where.

So....I FINALLY got to Detroit on Friday night....about 48 hours after leaving Shishmaref.  My daughter and her honey and my "grand puppy" picked me up.  You know, if there's a saving grace in all this....the vomiting didn't start until I got to my daughter's house in Tecumseh.  The next day, we started out for East Jordan...a four to five hour drive north.  I know we had to stop a few times along the way but by now, my memory is fuzzy as to how we made it home.  I was in agony.  It was now December 22.

I continued the "both end events" until December 26.  At that point, I'm still thinking I "just had" some sort of crazy flu from Shishmaref and also not realizing that I could have seen the doctor prior to this despite it being Christmas in there.  But...GOOD NEWS...I was able to go to the doctor (in sheer agony at this point), eagerly leaving a stool specimen and being called that very night with the verdict.  You see, back in Shishmaref, remember that EVERYTHING has to be flown out and in.  Yup, the specimen would have had to be flown to Nome and the meds would have had to be flown back....all weather-permitting.  Here in Michigan, I was on meds that very night and I now knew what I had....Clostridium difficile....C-diff for short.  There will be some of you out there that when you read that, you will know from experience what that is and say, "Oh, my gosh!  How did she make it from Shishmaref to Detroit to East Jordan (over 3,100 miles) and live to tell about it?"  For those of you not familiar with it, please, please, please check out the following link because people need to have some awareness of this horrendous malady:  http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/c-difficile/DS00736.

Thus, the first round of meds began....10 days of Flagyl.  What caused this?  I say this with caution because I am NOT laying any blame.  It could have happened anywhere.  It was NOT because I was in Shishmaref.  In November, I had some dental problems and was prescribed Clindamycin.  Again, consult the link on C-diff because as it turns out, Clindamycin is only one of several meds that can do what happened to me...but Clindamycin is high on the list.  It killed off the good bacteria in my intestinal tract allowing the bad stuff (C-diff) to take control.  Some people are natural carriers of C-diff and I have no idea if I may be one of those people.  In any event, C-diff became a part of my life.  As I said, by Dec. 19, I was already getting sick.  On Dec. 26, I was diagnosed and put on meds.  The first round ended on Jan. 5....the day I was supposed to be returning to Alaska.  Of course, at that point, I was already grounded by the doctor and plans were being worked out back in Shishmaref for a sub to take over in my room.  I must mention that the Assistant Principal who was then in Anchorage waiting to download her baby....was making those arrangements while walking the aisles of a store trying to speed up her labor pains!  What a woman!!  She later delivered a healthy beautiful baby girl!

So, the first round ended on Jan. 5 and on Jan. 9, I was in the endodontist's chair having the original problem dental work taken care of.  I was becoming uncomfortably aware at that point that I wasn't out of the woods with this C-diff business.  The first round of meds did not do the trick and it was returning with a vengeance while I was 30 miles from home.  I wasted no time in driving myself directly back to the doctor's office in tears where I was immediately put on another 21 days of Flagyl.  I made it home and collapsed on the couch...again.

Where do I stand at this point on January 25th?  I am most of the way through the second round of meds.  I am now on a probiotic that I had two other people scouring the northern and southern parts of Michigan for enough boxes of it to take back with me to Shishmaref.  I also had to pick up a heavy-duty medication that I have to take back with me and catch this....honest to God and thank goodness for prescription insurance....the 58 pills that I have for the "just in case" scenario (which we won't know until I'm done with this second round of pills) cost me $36.  Without insurance....those 58 pills would have cost $1705.99!  There's no way in heck people can afford that....come on!

I am scheduled to leave Detroit on Jan. 31 and arrive back in Shishmaref the following evening.  That's the quickest I've ever been able to schedule connecting flights so I am pleased.  Plus, what I had to pay back in October for this Christmas adventure was rather steep and my rescheduled flights are about half that.  I will have money on my "account" for my spring flight out.

Oh, I also want to go back to the original reason I was coming home at Christmas...to see my dear friend with the cancer.  As it turned out, I could not see her...first because of my own illness that kept me somewhat in isolation and then because her second round of chemo began on Jan. 8 and she can no longer be around people.  We have emailed and talked on the phone though.  I have thanked her because, if it had not been for her, I would not have been down here in Michigan where I have gotten quick medical care for this situation.  Ironic, isn't it?  Please keep my friend in your prayers.

One more added bit of "humor" to this otherwise discouraging illness....if I'm not cured...and this is a very hard thing to kill....there is treatment whereby healthy family members can donate their feces to be injected into my intestinal tract to build up the good bacteria.  Hmmm....I've had one family member ask if his "donation" is tax-deductible!

How about if I post this and start working on another entry about the three polar bears recently caught in the village and the lack of snow in Shishmaref that has everyone wondering and the Eskimo dance that my students presented at the Christmas program...and...and....and...!!!

I'll be baaaack!




Friday, October 5, 2012

Ahna Donna!

People up here have Eskimo names....obviously!  They are often named after relatives and many names have meanings connected with the person being named.  Many of the teachers are dubbed with Eskimo names and I now have my own which I think fits quite nicely....

Ahna Donna!

It means Grandma Donna!

What do you think?  I'm the oldest staff member here in Shishmaref...at least that I know of....and admits to it!

For those of you back home in East Jordan, how does this sound?

"Oh, class?"

"Oh, what Ahna Donna?"

Yup, it works quite nicely!