Monday, October 8, 2007

Sleetmute - Part 2

So, after the High Schoolers in the morning, it was the Elementary children in the afternoon. We drew pictures, told stories, and I read them one of the books I had brought for them from Scotland. We had fun and, again, I came away with loads of pictures of all sorts of things - bears, fish (the boy who had over lunch told me how to kill and gut a ptarmigan, and what the best gun was to use for shooting bear, drew me something dripping in blood. I don't THINK it was me, but I can't be 100% certain... One of the girls (aged 9) drew the most wonderful picture of she and I going berrypicking. The picture was full of blueberries. She also sent me an e-mail later that same day saying she hoped I remembered her. At the end of the e-mail she said "What I want to be when I grow alive." These children really filled my heart with all sorts of emotions.

At the end of the school day the children went home and the airline picking me up rang to say they would be collecting me in 50 minutes. Ah, the usual check in hassles of going out to stand on the gravel runway :o)

Sue, one of the teachers gave me the present and letter from the cook, Mary, that I mentioned in an earlier post, saying that Mary was too shy to give it me herself. Luckily I didn't open it then or I would have just burst into tears. However I did go back inside and thank her and she gave me a hug. Then Lorna, the other teacher lent me an ATV and took me for a trip around the village. It's a lovely little place. First of all we went down to the river, and I took loads of pictures as it was gorgeous down there.

While we were there a native Alaskan man came down - he was taking some people downriver to another village in his boat. What a character. His name was Joe and when he realised who I was his eyes lit up. He was Ryan's Dad. I told him that his son was very bright and had a great imagination. He wanted to have his picture taken with me and he gave me his address, telling me that I had to put him in my next book and send him a copy. He also gave me a lucky pebble from the beach. Well strictly speaking it was just a pebble, but we decided it was a lucky one. He was hilarious.

We then drove around the village some more and Lorna showed me a bath house and a honey bucket. The honey bucket is the toilet they use if they don't have a toilet indoors. I'm very glad I didn't need to use one. Honey is not a particularly apt description. The bath house is like a sauna only, apparently, 1000 degrees hotter. Men and women bathe naked, but separately. Even without the stove on the room smelled fresh and sauna-like, but I'm not sure I could have coped with the heat.

While we were there, a native Alaskan lady who worked at the school came out of her home and invited us in to look around, which was a real honour. Most of the houses there have the most glorious view of the river, and she told us that she was born across the river. She pointed out a spot where she had been surprised by a bear when she was about 13. She was berry picking at the time when suddenly a bear appeared in front of her. She siad her mind went like a rolodex as she flicked through everything her father had told her about what to do. She stayed totally still. When the bear lowered its head she remembered that her dad had said that with its head like that it wouldn't be able to see her, so she moved slowly backwards. When it raised its head she stopped again. It took her about 15 minutes to get away. When she went back the next day her pail full of berries was still there.

Listening to her story was very relaxing. Yup'ik people talk very softly, very slowly, and with pauses to think. When you say something to them they pause and consider before answering.

All too soon it was back to the plane. My pilot for the journey back was so young I have chicken in my freezer older than him. "You're...ummmm...very young for a pilot" I said. He just grinned. "Everyone tells me that. Want to sit next to me? Just don't touch the red button." OK, I get it now. Don't touch the red button. Yes,yes, OK, I get the message that bush pilots don't trust me with the red button.

On the way back to Aniak - a flight of just over an hour, we had a stop to pick people up in Crooked Creek, which he warned me had one of the worst runways in the area. In comparison to the gravel and potholes I had already encountered? How bad could it be? I wondered. It was like landing on a roller coaster. Great fun.

The rain started on the way back. Even if I had had my eyes closed I would have realised. Mostly because spots of rain were hitting my face. And I wasn't sitting outside on the wing. Nope, it was raining INSIDE the plane. Now I realised what the duct tape was for.

I had a wonderful day in Sleetmute. Very special for all sorts of reasons.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Rain inside the plane! What a story. And your look at all the people and places of Sleetmute, WOW. These people have a sense of humour amidst all the difficulties, and I am so glad you saw these places, and EXPERIENCED so very much, will remember it always.
You will have a different way of looking at everything now, after seeing all this and meeting all these people, I am sure. Loads of stories, lots of fun, but also, a place in your big heart for sure.
Thank you for sharing so much,