Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Mmmm...Blubber For Dinner

This is a picture outside the back of Emily's house. I could see both ends of this rainbow - it was beautiful.

Today I was on familiar territory - back in Aniak in the Elementary School where I had spent Monday afternoon. Surprisingly enough, the teachers and children all seemed happy to see me back. There were cries of "You came back!" And "How long will you be here?" and "I drew you a picture Miss Donna." It was like coming home :o)

Some classes had written stories for me after I had visited them earlier in the week. Mr Brock's kindergarten class sat like little angels while I read to them one of the books I had brought for them.

Mr Henry's First Graders recited along with me as we read out the story 'We're Going on A Bear Hunt'. They knew all the words and it was great fun. They then all drew pictures for me, and finally they each read out a page of the book they are working on about bears (here they are pictured with a page from their book.

With the 5th and 6th graders in the afternoon, I had taken along a set of Harris Burdick posters and as a group the children made up a story about one of those. It shows someone coming down the stairs, a tiny door in the wall, and a rolled up carpet that appears to have something inside it, and has the caption "He could have sworn he had seen the doorknob turn." I asked the children questions, for suggestions as to what was behind the door (an elf, a baby, a mouse, a bear, an alien) and what was wrapped up inside the carpet (a ghost, some treasure, a giant, the alien again (another class decided it was Mike Myers which was hilarious). We took votes where there were lots of suggestions for how the story should go. They came up with the most wonderful story about a boy who opened the door to find an evil elf standing there. The elf said "Give me my treasure." The carpet was a magic carpet and the gold goins were hidden inside, so the boy got on the magic carpet (not realising that the elf had caught hold of the carpet and was flying along with him). The magic carpet went to Iraq (we had lots of suggestions including Anchorage, Disneyland, Scotland and Antartica but the vote went to Iraq). As they were flying over a village in Iraq a missile hit the carpet and the pot containing the old coins broke. "What happened next?" I asked. "It was raining gold coins over the village" said one of the girls. Wow.

The teacher went onto Amazon and immediately ordered a set of the posters (I would have left her them but I had already promised them to one of the teachers in Kalskag once I had finished with them - they went down really well with all ages - all the children loved making up stories. With the older ones I sometimes then showed them another and we talked about it for a few minutes and I then asked them to write a short story about it. Having done the same exercise in a group, they then had the confidence to let their imaginations really run wild. One of the other posters is a man holding a chair over his head, and a lump under the rug. I got some great stories for that one.

So the day passed all too quickly. That evening it was the potlatch supper. Lots of Dwayne's relations came over. I lost track of who was who, but there were aunts and uncles and cousins, and Dwayne's grandma, who was a wonderful lady. Some of the children brough me gifts of pictures, and some of the adults also bought me gifts. I got 2 jars of preserved salmon, and a pack of the lovely salmon jerky stuff I'd had earlier in the week. One lady brought me some salmon recipes that she had made into a card with pictures of the family's fish camp, which was lovely. A couple of the recipes were for dishes which people had brough - including the most delicious salmon dip which I really MUST make...as soon as I can find out where I can buy the 'liquid smoke' the recipe calls for.

Also on the menu was baked salmon, Russian pie (salmon and vegetables with a pastry lid (delicious), salmon in breadcrumbs, and then the two things I was half dreading, half dying to try - muktuk and aqutak (a-GOO-duk). The muktuk were little slivers of meat - about two thirds pale pink and a third black. The pale pink was whale blubber, the black was whale skin. The pink had a really nice taste but the whole thing was decidedly chewy. It didn't expand in my mouth, as threatened, but you certainly couldn't bite it - it had to be swallowed whole.

Finally - aqutak, or eskimo ice cream - which I had been really looking forward to. There were two different kinds - one with blueberries and salmonberries, one with low bush cranberries and high bush cranberries. So, as a spoonful of crisco, sugar, fish and berries made its way to my mouth they all watched me. It was DELICIOUS. More delicious than a desert consisting of fat and fish should really be. It didn't taste of fish. It also didn't taste of lard. It was light and fluffy and bursting with fruit. I might get this wrong but I believe the recipe is as follows: you boil a white fish, take all the head and skin and bones etc out and squeeze the fish until all the water comes out and all you are left with is little flakes of white fish. Then add about 3 tablespoons of Crisco (more if you like, a bit of milk (I think, and some people add a tin of condensed milk), sugar to taste and then use your hands to beat it until it's light and fluffy (no, really, it DOES go light and fluffy). The add fruit. Lots and lots of fruit. I'm not sure whether you freeze it or just chill it. It was really lovely. I would make it at home but it would probably end up tasting like fish and lard...

I was told that they had thought of bringing Stinkheads but thought they would spare me that. Even hearing the name made me feel extremely grateful, but when I found out the recipe, I was even more so. (Note: Maddy, you might want to look away NOW) Take some fish heads (OK, you can stop there), wrap them in fish entrails (no, really, I do NOT find this remotely tempting), then bury the whole lot for a couple of weeks. If you dare, you can then dig it up and apparently the fish heads will have cooked (no, actually they will have fomented and festered) and the fish heads will be nice and soft. Mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. Pass the ketchup. And a sick bag. Judy was glad to discover that I have my limits. I might eat half a pound of lard and oodles of whale blubber, but I have my standards. I do draw the line somewhere. That line is very slightly above rotten, stinking, mouldy fish heads. Actually, I think my line is drawn at fish heads, full stop.

Before we ate, Dwayne collected a little of each dish and set it aside. Later on he burned the food in the wood stove as an offering to those who had passed. I went first, and then the other guest (a nun from the local parish), and then Dwayne's Grandma. I think I mentioned in an earlier post that some of the important village elders have schools named after them and this lovely lady was one of those as she had taught all ages of village children during her life, and also taught yup'ik. A great end to a great day.


Anonymous said...

Donna if you saw both ends of a beautiful huge rainbow, what a grand sight! and that's a great picture of the rainbow! Your stories about the children and classrooms make me think you are a good teacher, what fun you had, and those children had. And the meal....I read every word, and it was wonderfully told; and you were nice to try everything, many would not have, and you showed them honour. I am so proud to know you.

Donna said...

Aw thanks Bobbie. I had fun with the children. And the food was all lovely - delicious in most cases. Even the muktuk was better than expected. It was just chewy!

Cathy Lemann said...

Hilarious! I will skip the stinkhead but am also intrigued and scared of whale, muktuk, and Eskimo ice cream.

Anonymous said...

Back to earth with a bump. Now you are home with many memories, and a working week in front of you. All say Ahhhh.

Donna said...

Catherine - definitely skip the stinkhead! And thank you so much for arranging it all - it really was a once in a lifetime experience.

Dad - you're so mean to your only daughter