Friday, April 30, 2010

Wolves, Honey Buckets and Wanted Posters

Well, here I am in Aniak. The flight was great fun. When I got on the plane, I realised that my seat did not have a window, so I asked the flight attendant if I could move forward to the very front.

"Of course," she said "We like to have as much weight as possible at the front."

"Thank you very much, glad to be of assistance," said Airplane Ballast.

Then we went through the usual flight safety demonstrations - "This is how you work the seatbelt." She used my knee as a rest for the intercom phone as she demonstrated. "Here are the emergency exits. Sick bags are up the front here - you'll need them." She was right. It was, shall we say, a slightly bumpy ride. I loved it.

She also announced the co-pilot as Warren Beatty. "No, wait, that's not right, it's Joe Beatty - he's not as good looking as Warren." It turned out that only I and the flight attendant knew who Warren Beatty was, so she announced to the rest of the plane. "This lady and I know - it's our age."

"So not only am I fat, but I am old and fat?" I said. She laughed and passed me a bag of potato chips (see how easily I slip into American?) to shut me up.

My luggage all arrived safely, and after settling in at Emily's I went down to the river for a walk. It's still iced over, but there are patches where the ice is very thin. It's also really, really muddy, and my pink Doc wellies sank up to the ankles in gloriously squelchy mud. Here are a couple of pictures - it's totally different from when I saw it last time. This photo was taken in the same place as the two photos that say Kuskokwim River 16 October and Kuskokwim River 23 October. While I was out on my walk I waved to a few people and they waved back. It's an amazingly friendly place - everyone leaves their door unlocked - if I was to do that in Glasgow I'd come back to find the place stripped and all the paint missing from the walls, swapped for a huge steaming keech in the middle of the living room floor.

Emily's husband made us the most gorgeous dinner with some of the salmon he caught last season (apparently, one day he caught 22 fish in an hour - what were they doing - jumping into his arms?) and we had a glass of wine (Aniak is a damp village - you can own alcohol but not sell it. Most of the villages in the area are dry - it's illegal to possess alcohol at all).

Emily and I also went to the store where I checked out the outrageously priced fruit and veg. As we went in, I got a bit of a shock. There was a poster on the notice board announcing "Donna Moore is Back!" I checked, but there was no "Reward Offered - Dead or Alive" at the bottom which was a bit of a relief, especially since most people round here have guns, knives and, very probably (and, of most concern to Airplane Ballast,) harpoons.

Last night it was still light at 11pm when I went to bed. I opened my window (it's really not that cold here, despite the ice and the remnants of the snow).

This morning Emily said to me "Did you hear the neighbours last night? I think they were having a party." The neighbours do not have running water or a flushing toilet, so, apparently, they were running the honey bucket out several times to empty it (where, I did not ask).

"No," I said. "But I heard the wolves howling at about 6am."

"Wolves?" said Emily, puzzled. "I think you'll find they were huskies."

I was almost as upset as when I found out last time I was here that what I had thought were the Northern Lights were actually the lights from the airport. The regular sweeping motion should probably have given it away, but there you go.

Today I am off to the Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School (all the schools here are named after an Elder). Happy, happy Donna - I get to spend the day with 55 four to eleven-year olds. More tomorrow.


Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Fat Bird Has Landed

It's not often I get to say this but...I arrived safely in Anchorage and so, miraculously, did my luggage. I think the luggage fairies spared me this time. Instead, they had another little treat for me. At every single security check I went through (Glasgow, Amsterdam and Seattle), a little clutch of security people gathered around the x-ray machine to stare at my luggage. I was then made to open it and explain why my wellies were full of pens, chocolates and underwear. I knew it was a mistake when I did it, but a pair of wellies can hold a lot of pens and chocolates. The underwear was just to stop the pens and chocolate falling out. As always, I got my usual heavy petting at security at Schipol airport. This time, they also fingered my knickers.

In another Yin/Yang type moment, on the plane from Amsterdam I had two seats to myself. Delicious. On the other hand, on the plane from Seattle to Anchorage I was seated between two large men whose testicles were, apparently, the size of watermelons, since they did that whole, annoying "I'm going to sit with my legs as far open as I can and squeeze you into a tiny little space" thing. By the time we arrived, I was squidged, pretzel-like into a two inch space in my own bloody seat. Still, I got my own back - I managed to spill cranberry juice on one of them and jabbed the other one in the ribs with my elbow when I was opening my peanuts. I also fell asleep and drooled all over one of them.

When I arrived at Anchorage, I was met by the lovely Elisa from Alaska Sisters in Crime who took me to Office Depot where I bought $200 of pens, pencils and paper. She then deposited me back at my hotel where it was room service and sleep. Of course, I woke up bright eyed and bushy-tailed at 2am this morning (11am in the real world).

Today I am off to Aniak, the biggest of the villages I am visiting, and the only one which has an airport that can take a large plane (when I say 'large' I mean one that seats more than 12 people. I am currently sitting at the airport. And so begins the whole trauma of telling complete strangers your weight. The last time I was here, every time someone asked my weight, I shaved 20lbs off it, but added in "but I have heavy boots."

This time, I decided to be truthful, mainly because I could see the dawning look of horror on the face of the only man on our flight as, when each female passenger went up to the counter, they all, without fail...well, quite frankly, they lied. One woman must have shaved a whole 100lbs off her weight. She quite clearly was not 110lbs - unless she had bones made of helium. So, feeling very self-righteous, I told the truth. I walked up to that counter and said "Hello, my name is Donna and I weigh a horrible number of pounds." (Yes, dear reader, I will tell the Pen-Air staff all over Alaska, and people I am travelling with (who are, no doubt going to arrive in Aniak and tell everyone else - it's a small place after all), but I will not tell you.) Oh, and when I say I told the truth, I mean I only shaved 5lbs off my weight. Or maybe 10lbs, after that delicious Alaskan beer battered halibut and fries I had for dinner the night before. Despite my honesty, the Pen-Air check-in person looked at me dubiously and wrote in her notes - I'm not very good at reading upside down but I'm sure it said 'Passenger appears to be a compulsive liar - add at least 20lbs - 'heavy boots' my butt.'

So there we are. I am here, on my way to the villages and feeling very excited. Tonight there is a 'meet the author' event at the High School community library (I'm not sure which author they're bringing in for that, I hope they don't throw up out of nerves). And tomorrow I spend the day at the Auntie Mary Nicoli Elementary School in Aniak, which has around 60 students. Assuming I can get a wireless connection, more soon.

Bye for now, your Alaskan correspondent.