Friday, October 5, 2007


Before the Brief Interlude I left you, dear reader, as I was gettting off my duct taped plane in Kalskag. I was staying with two teachers - Karen and Dave - who had kindly invited this stranger into their home. It was a lovely home and full of things from the local area, plus the Far East where one of their sons lives. They have been there about seven years. Karen teaches at the elementary school and Dave teaches Special Ed at both schools.

After a brief respite to sit down and have a glass of water (with special instructions to only drink the filtered as the ordinary water contains arsenic and mercury), and a delicious home made cookie, it was off to the school for a potluck supper with the other teachers. Also, some of the children turned up which was fun.

It was also the one and only time I encountered the not so pleasant side of life, a side I had heard about while being briefed in Anchorage. I think I mentioned that alcohol is a problem here, which is why a lot of the villages are dry. People here for some reason can't drink socially, but instead they drink to get drunk. A young man turned up who the teachers seemed to be wary around, and they watched him closely. Afterwards, I was told that the Tribal Council had recently thrown him out of the village for abusing a child. He was back, it appeared, and only the tribal council could do something about this. Most of the children here seem to be happy and healthy and loved and well cared for (in fact, in one of the other villages, one of the teachers told me that the parents never hit their children), but it's a small village, and life is hard, and sometimes the children get left to fend for themselves. So they play out until all hours and when they do go home, a lot of them still live in one room so if their parents are drinking or arguing, then the children are tired for school the next day. The younger children sometimes don't turn up for school because no-one in the family has bothered to remind them they need to go. The older children are better at turning up. I found that very heartening - I was trying to imagine how many children in Glasgow, given a chance to either go to school or not, would actually go. I came across a number of children who live with their grandparents, and some have even been adopted by them - one lady told me that her daughter drinks too much, so her children now live with her, the grandmother.

I know that that evening I wanted to round up all those children I saw playing out and take them home with me to keep them safe.

Anyway, enough of the sad stuff, but I do want to tell everything I saw and felt on my trip, and not just the happy stuff (which has FAR outweighed the sad parts).

Karen and Dave don't have a car. Roads in Kalskag are hardly worthy of the name, so almost everyone travels by ATV. Yippee!! This meant I got to travel on the back of one. Dave drove and Karen and I sat on the back, covered by a warm rug, as we drove to the school. We passed a Russian Orthodox church (it seems that the two main religions around here are Russian Orthodox and Catholic. In church the men stand on the left, the women on the right (no seats, and services can last up to 4 hours!) In the churchyard the men are buried on the left, the women on the right. There were a couple of graves just outside the fence. Karen told me those were for unbaptised babies. Yu'pik traditions also play a huge part. When someone dies a 'feed' is held 7 days, 40 days, one year, two years etc after their death. It's a big feast where they honour the person who has passed on. In Kalskag (although not in all the other villages), the 7 day feed is held sitting on the ground, so the spirit of the person who has passed on can share the food.

The next day was spent in the school. I spent about an hour and a half with each of the 4 classes in the elementary school. I did different exercises in each one and it was such fun. The littlest children I read to, and we made up a story, and they drew pictures for me. With another group we did our fingerprints and made up stories based on Harris Burdick posters I had brought with me. With the oldest group we actually made up our own mystery story which was hilarious as we had the children in the class as witnesses, suspects, victim, police...The children completely made up the story and it was about the school turtles going missing. When I asked what sort of things the witnesses might see, one of the boys said "One of the suspects might be carrying a bag of turtle food." One of the suspects said "But he might be hungry." And when I asked one of the suspects what his alibi was for the night of the turtle theft he said "I was at the store." "Did anyone see you?" "No, it was dark and I was robbing it." It was great fun - they are all so bright and funny.

I took photos of all the classes, and some of the children wanted extra photos taken with me either in groups or on their own. I also had each class do something that I could bring home with me - so I have a pile of pictures and stories to remind me of my trip. From Kalskag, I also have a book that one class gave me, which is set in the area and is very like the lives they live so I can't wait to read that. And Karen gave me a gift of a Kuspuk - a traditional dress here. I'll take a photo of it and upload it when I get home.

The janitor in Kalskag has a hook instead of a hand. He was in Vietnam in a helicopter and they were shot. His hand was shot off and when he said to the helicopter pilot "Look, my hand has been blown off, the pilot fainted and the helicopter crashed.

When it was time to go I was told "The plane will call the school and tell us when it's going to land. It did. I definitely want that sort of service from Northwest when I fly home to Scotland. It's great just turning up at the field where the plane lands, driving up to it and then just getting in and taking off. Check-in and security take...oooooh....30 seconds. Before going to the plane the principal of the High School took me up to a high point where I had a beautiful view over the gorgeous Kuskokwim River.

I meant to say before, please excuse any typos etc. I have limited time to post and am just setting down my thoughts in a mish-mash and not checking over the post before I send it - so apologies.


Julie said...

More wonderful stuff, Donna, you really give a sense of the place and the people. Although I'm not convinced they will actually let you leave after this - you've obviously made many friends on your travels.

Cheers, doll

J x

dave said...

Hi Dollface, your looking well. Glad to read all about it, it sounds fantastic. Im sure all those kids would love to go home with you. Have you ditched the hi heels for ever ????

Anonymous said...

When do you actually intend on returning home? It all sounds as if they mean to keep you.

John said...

Hi Donna, still enjoying your posts, you're clearly having the time of your life over there, and I'm looking forward to seeing the rest of your photos. I loved that wee boy's alibi, by the way, you have to use that in your next novel :-) Take care, John xxx

Donna said...

Jools - I'm glad if I can even give a flavour of how wonderful it is then that's good. The next report is from Sleetmute and I have a picture of a honey bucket and a bath house, as well as a new friend I made there who was really funny.

Dave - I haven't wornm high heels for a week - but they will be back!

Dad - I arrive back Monday morning - I'll give you and Mum a call when I get home. I forgot you were going to Wales.

John - I have about 2500 pictures - still want to see them all?????