Tuesday, May 4, 2010

If This Is Tuesday, This Must Be Kalskag

The photos in this blog post are all from the flight to Kalskag and from Kalskag itself, of which more later.

Yesterday (Monday) I was at the High School in Aniak. I started at 9am and had classes all day until 3.30pm. It was lovely to see them all again and a lot of them remembered me. They’ve all grown up so much in the year and a half since I was here last. One of the girls who has e-mailed me poems occasionally since I was last year, brought me a whole bunch of poems to read. Her poems are very personal and she told me that she can write things down that she can't say in person to people. I told her that was a good way of doing it and that she expressed herself very well.

My first class of the day was a Junior High class. We did some character exercises. This was very funny – one of the boys in the class was a real joker – and then we did a ‘one sentence’ story. I gave them the first line of a story and they then had to write one sentence, before passing it on for the next person to write a line “This is hard, Miss Donna,” they said. But they did it, and they came up with some excellent stories.

The next four classes were senior High School students. With all of those I did a crime story in 5 paragraphs. I gave them instructions as to what to write about in each paragraph (para 1 – tell us what the crime is and introduce the protagonist, para 2 – who is the villain etc etc). It was a real challenge for some of them and they struggled at the start, but it was so wonderful when the idea just seemed to click with them and every single one of them wrote a story that had great things in it. Some of the stories were wonderful, and the students wrote pages and pages in the hour we had.

Then with each class I did a very short non-fiction exercise – one class I told them I was their fairy godmother and could grant them 3 wishes, one class I asked to tell me about a time they had been blamed for something they hadn’t done. Every year, here, somebody makes me cry. This time it was a girl who wrote a very touching piece. I had asked them to write something with the title “I Remember...” about a memory – any memory. Jaydean wrote a really nice piece about celebrating Slaviq (Russion Orthodox Christmas, held on January 7th) with a friend of hers called Jason. She obviously cared for Jason very much and her story made me smile – it was very descriptive and gave me a real insight into Slaviq. What I didn’t know until the end was that Jason was a Marine and had died recently in battle. I couldn’t hold back the tears, and neither could she. Afterwards I thanked her for sharing such a personal story and asked her how she felt while she was writing it. She said that it felt good for her to write it, and she didn’t expect to cry. It touched me very much.

After each of the classes, some of the students brought me pieces of writing for me to comment on. These were excellent – one boy had a wonderfully descriptive piece about his summer vacation, the joker from the previous class had some fiction about an alien (I made him promise to e-mail it to me when it was done). My friend Juliana who I spent some time with last year, had a wonderfully imaginative story for me – she is a very talented writer. As was Francis – his poetry is stunning. I told him he must submit it to magazines and competitions. Very dark, very powerful. I asked him if it helped him to write poems about things that were troubling him and he said it did. I hate to think that he has so much trouble that he has to write such dark poetry but it was amazing writing.

In the last class of the day, as well as helping some of the students individually, we also talked about food (yes! my favourite topic). For some reason, they all went "Ew" when I told them what haggis was, but wondered why I did the same when they gave me the recipe for Stinkheads. And yes, Stinkheads are as bad as they sound. If you really want to make them here's the recipe: catch some fish, remove all the bits that you want to eat and put it to one side. Take all the bits that you think are rubbish, wrap them in a cloth and bury them in the ground. Forget about them for a couple of weeks, dig them up, eat, enjoy, throw up. Apparently, burying them in the ground makes them ferment. Or, as I prefer to call it, rot. The yup'ik have been eating them for hundrds of years with no ill effects. However, the advent of modern technology and invention of plastic bags meant that some people buried their fish in plastic bags. And died of botulism poisoning.

I love these students. It was an honour and a pleasure to spend the day with them.

Then it was a ten minute flight to Kalskag – 5 minutes of which I flew the plane. Cheryl was in the back and I didn’t make her sick at all. At one point Fred turned round to her and shrugged as though to say “What can I do?”

As we neared Kalskag, he said to me “Bring it in towards the runway, between those hills.”

So I aimed for between the hills and kept flying. After a couple of minutes I said “Where is the runway, anyway?”

Fred looked at me and laughed. “You can’t see it? You’re heading straight towards it.”

“Oh, well that’s lucky then.”

As usual, I gave the plane back as we were coming in to land. You have to do all sorts of technical stuff when you’re coming in to land. I’m not good at the technical stuff. I am rubbish at multi-tasking.

So we arrived in Kalskag, which is actually split into two cities - Lower Kalskag, where I'm staying, which has about 260 residents, and is primarily Russian Orthodox, and Upper Kalskag, about two miles away, which has around 230 residents and is primarily Catholic.

I'm staying with Karen and Dave, two of the teachers at the elementary school. I always stay with them while I'm here and they're lovely. Dave and the husband of one of the other teachers had caught a bear, so we had that for dinner. It tasted delicious. They caught it coming out of a blueberry patch, and that's why it tasted so good. They don't taste as nice when they've been caught by the river, and they taste even worse when they're caught in the town dump.

We also had something I never knew existed - powdered butter. Aniak, which has a large enough runway that the larger planes can come in from Anchorage and Bethel (and when I say 'larger' I mean relatively speaking) gets some fruit, vegetables, milk, butter, eggs and cheese. The other villages sometimes struggle to get it. So Karen and Dave use powdered butter. It's powder and you add water. And, most surprisingly, it tastes like butter

After dinner, we went for a walk around Lower Kalskag. Jenny, one of the teachers, has recently brought in some bees, so we went to see the hive. And then we walked around and about. This picture is rush hour in Lower Kalskag. There are very few trucks and cars here (and those that are here seem to not work any more, as you can see from other pictures, so most people use 4-wheeler ATVs.

This is a picture of Jenny and Porcupine the dog - so-called because he looks like a porcupine.

There are two Russian Orthodox churches here, only one is in use today.
On the picture, the graves outside the fence are the graves of babies who died before they could be baptised. They are not allowed to be buried in the churchyard itself.

The other church is ruined, but there are still graves there. I met Levi who was in one of my classes last year and he took a walk to the ruined church with me and told me where his Uppa (grandfather) and his Gram (grandma) and his uncle (uncle :o) ) are buried, and then we went down to the river where he pointed out an eagle and told me where he fishes and rows his boat and drives his snowmobile. On the way back to Karen and Dave's we saw another girl who was in my class last year - Anniemary - who came over and gave me a big hug.

Then it was back to Karen's. While I had been away for my walk she had made the most gorgeous biscuits. I deserved one after my walk so I had two.

1 comment:

bookwitch said...

That fish must be closely related to gravad lax, and now you will never eat that again. If you ever did.