Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Last Day In The Bush

Friday was spent at the High School in Aniak, doing writing exercises with several classes of the older children. I varied the exercises depending on the class. It was a fun day. I found that the High Schoolers in general during my visit were some of the most difficult to get through to, but also some of the most rewarding. You could just tell when they got it, and the light went on, and they started to enjoy it. There are some very intelligent and creative students. One told me he wasn't going to be able to write me a story, he just couldn't do it. Two days later he sent me a really imaginative and well written story.

The last class of the day was especially interesting as it was conducted by video conference, with 3 students in the room, and 3 at 2 other schools. It made for an interesting hour. In that one we talked about music and how songs can hae stories in them, and be the jumping off point for ideas. We discussed the lyrics of a Nickelback song (Rock Star). Great fun. When I was their age, I would have loved to have had their teacher - he was great.

This picture shows one of the aspects of life in the Bush I really like. All the schools have pictures around the walls of the teachers and elders who have been important to the school and the village.

Every day I've had at least one 'stop me in my tracks' moment. This one was when I was doing the radio commercial exercise with one of the classes and the 4 boys who made up one of the groups were sitting with blank stares and blank pieces of paper. "OK, if you were picking up a book right now, what sort of story would you like to read about?" "Cryptozoology" said one. "Errrr, and what's that?" said I. So he then went into a very articulate and technical speech about what it is - having to do with creatures whose existence has not been proved. So they ended up coming up with a really inventive story about Bigfoot.

These students have lots of hidden depths. One of the girls is in an organisation called the Dragon Slayers - a teen volunteer around-the-clock emergency rescue team set up by the fire chief. They fight fires and respond to medical emergencies in Aniak and the surrounding towns. They are all aged between 13-18 and are mostly girls. Again, I was struck by how these young people have done so much more in their lives than I have, despite the fact that they live in a small village, cut off from what we would consider civilisation.

I gave out the rest of my gifts. I was pleased that I had had enough pens, pencils, notebooks and cookies so that all of the children I met got something. And since the aspersions have been cast by Paulie Walnuts - one of my dearest friends - and by my own FATHER, here is a photo of some of the children with their treats. I think, gents, that you will now have to give up on spreading this vicious rumour that I ate all the biscuits.

In the afternoon there was a pep rally for the whole school for a girls volleyball game being held that evening (between the Aniak Halfbreeds and the Kalskag Grizzlies. There was a poetry reading, a volleyball game between the teachers and the girls' team, and they also gave me a round of applause, which was lovely, if blush-inducing. It was a lovely wind down to my week and, as well as watching proceedings I sat chatting to one of the High School students - Amanda, and we were going ga-ga over a chihuahua puppy that someone had brought in. Ginger was dressed in a little coat that said 'Brunettes have more fun'.

After the pep rally it was home for a quick bite to eat before the volleyball game. Aniak's only restaurant closed down recently, and is currently awaiting new ownership. They do, however, have a fast food outlet. They have a pizza hut. I don't mean Pizza Hut, I mean a hut where Esther makes the most delicious pizzas. Really yummy.

The volleyball game was good fun. It's a real village event, and the hottest thing happening in Aniak on a Friday night. Children from the Elementary School were coming in and out and when they saw me I got hugs and waves. And one little boy with a cheeky face came and sat next to me and said "I enjoyed writing stories. When are you coming back?"

A little girl came up and said "My sister wants to see you outside." Blimey - the last time I was at school and someone said 'my sister wants to see you outside' a girl twice as big as me wanted to steal my lunch money and my maths homework (ha! more fool HER since I can't count). So, heart in mouth I went out and, phew, Amanda was there with her husky Sunshine. The family has about 10 dogs, but Sunshine is her special one. So we chatted for a while and I got licked to death by Sunshine. I really liked Amanda. She is a quiet, caring, thoughtful girl, wise beyond her 13 years, and with a smile that lights up her face.

After a while I went back inside and watched the Halfbreeds beat the Grizzlies, which went down well in the gym. A lot of the spectators had relatives who played on both teams, but the loyalty seems to be to your village rather than your relatives and friends :o)

Back at Emily and Dwayne's there was a knock at the door. "Donna, it's for you" said Emily. For me? Has the patience of the villagers finally been exhausted? Have they come en masse to run me out of town? But no - it was Amanda. In her quiet voice she said "When I took Sunshine back home I thought, 'what would Donna not have back in Scotland?' so I made you this." 'This' was a piece of caribou antler which she had sawed off one of the caribou her family had caught, and she had scratched on one side 'Aniak' and on the other 'Alaska'. Also a little box of beautiful shiny stones. I burst into tears and gave her a huge hug. What a way to end my last day in the Bush, with the friendship and generosity that I encountered everywhere during my week here.

And on my last day here it snowed. Just a bit, but that's now the start of winter. By the end of October the place will be covered in snow, and it will last until about april time. The wide, fast flowing Kuskokwim River will freeze to a depth of 5 or 6 feet, and it will be thick enough to drive on. Hard to believe. I would love to see it. And I'd love to whiz up and down the frozen river in a snowmobile.

Well, only one or two more posts left to go - I'm sure you will be pleased to know. If you've stuck with me so far...what the hell's wrong with you people?!


Anonymous said...

Photographs can be doctored, I need a better excuse.

Paule Walnuts said...

..I agree with your father Donna. As you know im an Art Director for a publishing company in London..i know my stuff...ive worked with Gary Rhodes, Nick Faldo, Terry Pratchett...Walt Disney..Lucas name drop and rub my ego with just a small few......and if its one thing i know, photos can be Photoshopped..and id say those kids have either had packets pasted into there hands or there holding empty packets..some of the kids look a little dissapointed like they know youve eaten them but you're holding an antler-tusk to their backs for fear of snitching...either way..youre rumbled!..look at me, ive always got a six pack in my holiday photos.

and whats with the 'one of my dearest friends?'..last time you came down you borught a casket of cheese that you forced-fed me with crackers, barking 'its cheese ya mad essex git..get it down ya wee neck...' still trying to lose the weight now...friends dont do that..

and you made me watch Bob Hope Tap.....or whatever it was..

Paulie Walnuts

Donna said...

Gawd, you two are so HARSH. The kids got the cookies. I ate...very few, OK?

And Paul - you LOVED Bubba Ho Tep, despite yourself. And what do you mean I forcefed you the cheese? I only went into the kitchen to get a glass of water and when I came back in you had a face covered with dipping cheese and a suspiciously cheese shaped lump in your stomach.