Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Tales From The Bush

Since I was fogged in in Aniak, Emily took me to the elementary school which is Kindergarten to 6th Grade (so, ages 5-10 I guess. The school was very accomodating and arranged for me to spend half an hour with each of the 5 classes (I go back on Thursday to spend all day with them). Needless to say, I was very nervous. I've never taught children before. Before we left Anchorage I was warned by people who had been to various villages that the children would probably be very shy, and that they wouldn't want to be touched (And, which brought a lump to my throat, that some of them would flinch if they WERE touched). Well, that so didn't happen. Every class was chatty and friendly and I was surrounded by excited faces and asked lots of question (was I married, where did I get my necklace from, did I know their auntie Sarah/uncle Nikolai/mother/sister/grandfather, if not, why not, and could I stay and teach them every day).

The first class was Second Grade - ages 6/7 and I read them a story. They started off several feet away. By the end of the story they were all crowded around my knees :o) My second class was a kindergarten class. We talked about bears and moose and fishing, and they showed me purple potatoes. And at the end of the class they came and gave me hugs. I almost cried. They were so sweet.

I asked every class I went to how many of them had seen a bear, how many had seen a moose, who had gone fishing, who went out to pick berries and in most classes all their hands went up. Then I told them I had never seen a bear (or, as Gary would say...a BAT), or a moose or done any of those things and that I wanted to hear about their lives and their families and what they did. So I got great tales of moose hunts and huge bears and someone whose face was clawed by a bear, and going to fish camp...it was wonderful.

When I was in the final class of the day, Emily came to tell me that the afternoon plane to Kalskag was able to leave so she drove me to the airport and I checked in. In the Alaskan Bush this basically means going up to the counter and saying "Hi, I'm Donna and I weigh a horrible number of pounds." The planes get smaller and the airports less airport like every village I go to.

So I got into the plane with 5 other people for the 20 minute flight to Kalskag. I was taking pictures of the scenery when I happened to notice that every window in the plane was held together with tape. And since I know nobody will believe that I took a couple of pictures which I will upload at a later date. Seriously, the plane was held together with duct tape.

Now, I said the airports got less recognisable with every trip. Well, in Kalskag there IS no airport, just a gravel field. The plane landed, the pilot walked across the wing, jumped down and took my bags off and the principal of the school drove up next to the plane and picked me up. No interminable walk to the terminal, no long waits at the luggage carousel and, yes, every single flight I have taken in the Bush, my luggage has come with me.

My trip to Kalskag deserves a post of its own so more in the next couple of days, but just to update you on a delicacy I have to come on Thursday at the supper, let me tell you that I am having Aqutak (pronounced A-goo-duk), otherwise known as Eskimo Ice Cream. Mmmmmmm, sounds good doesn't it? Well, let me tell you the recipe as far as I can make it out from what some of the children have told me. First you take berries of various sorts (sounds yummy so far, right?), then you get a salmon (or seal, or whale blubber or reindeer fat) and you squeeze it until all the fat and juices run out. Because that's really not enough fat, why not go ahead and add a couple of pounds of Crisco or lard, then beat it all up with your hand until it's light and fluffy (no, really, it DOES get light and fluffy apparently). Enjoy. Then take a trip to the Emergency Room to get your arteries unclogged. Apparently it's delicious, and does not taste of fish. And since I live in Scotland, the home of the deep friend snickers bar, I can't wait to try some.

I love this place and these people. It would be a tough place to live but everyone is so wonderful and welcoming and happy to see me. And the children are bright and funny and affectionate and just so very very warm. All my joking aside, this is a very humbling, fulfilling and fun experience and I am so unbelievably fortunate to be here.


PK Geezer said...

Hi Numpty

Glad you are having a great time, and happy birthday for last week. sorry its late, but had a few stressful days!

Glad its going so well and you're enjoying it, looks lovely and sounds great. How are the biscuits going down? and by that i mean with the children, not into your stomach!

enjoy the trip, live the moment.
speak when you get back.
take care

Julie said...

Sounds great, mate, good on yer! (Airport tales remind me of a distant flight to Orkney... they have a shed.) Ice cream sounds yummy... but do you mind if I stick to cheesecake!

Cheers, hen

J x

Anonymous said...

I am so jealous, Donna. What fun! Even if the plane is held together with duct tape. Yikes! International diplomat, school teacher and bat hunter. Who knew you would have whole new careers after this trip. And, there must be a story in this somewhere, don't you think? Take care--Gary Warren Niebuhr

Judy Bobalik said...

As they are fortunate to have you there. Do try to get the recipe for the crisco/fish ice cream. Would love to serve that next Labor Day. I'm loving your reports.

Mary said...

This sort of airport was my dream when I was much younger and learning to fly. I wanted to be a bush pilot in either Alaska or Australia. Didn't work out, but the idea still intigues me.

Donna said...

Paul - I hope things are less stressful now. I've not eaten the biscuits! (Too busy eating neat lard)

Jools - please send cheesecake.

Gary - I haven't seen one bear (nor bats for that matter). I was sitting next to the pilot on the Bush plane today and asked him if we would see bears. "Sure" he said. Did we? Did we heck. I told him I've decided that there are no bears in Alaska. And you forgot 'dancer'.

Judy, I will try and get you a recipe. I think I had most things apart from I missed out sugar (yep, sugar AND fat, it gets healthier by the moment! Apparently I will be trying two different sorts tomorrow, as well as muktuk (whale blubber that expands in your mouth)

Mary - there was an advert in Aniak airport for people to train to be Bush pilots - I seriously thought about applying!