Warming Trend

This weekend is the Ambler Elders Basketball Tournament. I’m sure you all have marked this in your social calendars as the not-to-be-missed event of the season. Seriously, though, it’s exciting stuff around here. It’s a basketball tournament for high school and adult players, men and women. I think we have ten teams registered, but I’m not terribly certain of that.

Our village population has swelled to nearly twice its size, I think, from all the teams and friends and family that have arrived during the day. Most of them snowmachined from nearby villages, but there is one team from Anchorage, headed up by a former Ambler resident. Everyone is very excited, of course. Since the villages are really just three or four very extended families, everyone is happy to reunite with cousins, parents, siblings, etc. Or possibly meet someone they’re not related to for a potential crush.

There have been many games and events cancelled over the past couple of months. Students can’t travel if it’s 30 below, and planes can’t fly at all if hits 50 below. The gasoline starts gelling up and then your plane falls out of the sky or somesuch. Now it’s 25 ABOVE zero, which makes comfortable hanging out weather. (I’ve redefined my idea of cold. If the air doesn’t actually hurt when I go outside, then I judge it to be a pleasant day.) Since the villages are really just three or four very extended families, everyone is happy to reunite with cousins, parents, siblings, etc. Or possibly meet someone they’re not related to for a possible crush.

The teachers are in charge of the concession stand during sports events, which means my weekend will be spent serving popcorn, fry bread pizza, and candy. And eating popcorn, fry bread pizza, and candy, of course. There will be lots of home brew consumed as well.  Alcohol is illegal in our village, but home brew is very much an open secret.  The recipe includes macaroni, baker’s yeast, any kind of fruit juice, and lots of sugar. Not as potent as white lightning, maybe, but it will still get the job done. I plan on avoiding it since I don’t want to lose my job and I’d rather not get a bad batch and possibly go blind or die. I’ll wait until I get back to Texas and have a margarita or twelve.





My dog is not brave and other things

(At 4 pm…)
This blog entry is going to be, I’m afraid, a dreadful mishmash of things that have happened in the last couple of weeks. Bear with me. Heh. Get it? BEAR with me?
I’m getting along fine with the kids, or at least with the majority of them. Just like any school, there are some kids who don’t want tobe here and view me as their jailer. I have to admit to a fondness for my fifth graders who play Connect Four like old men play chess in the park – fast and cutthroat. And I enjoy the middle school kids. I spend three hours a day with them, so we’ve gotten to know each other pretty well. Plus a couple of the boys remind me of my nephews, whom I miss more than I can say. (I miss my niece,too!) The high school kids, however, are not sold on me. Not are they sold on The Hunger Games. I can understand not liking me, but The Hunger Games?? Crazytime.
The teacher housing is the old school into apartments. (The current school was built in 2004 and is super nice.) There are five apartments, with three currently occupied. Steve and Joan live in one and Don lives in the other. My dog, Cricket, lives for the moment when I say, “Let’s go visit!” every night.The other teachers might get tired of me showing up all the time, but no one can resist Cricket. There are no other dogs in the building, so she’s a sure thing. There are lots of dogs running around the village, mostly German Shepherds and Lab mixes. However, Cricket isn’t built for the cold, and there are plenty of wild animals around who would see her as a tasty snack. Specifically, there are foxes living under our building. I think she caught scent of them while she was playing the hallway the other night. She came running back into our apartment, looking exceedingly alarmed, and hid next to me on the sofa, under the blanket. I’m sure I can count on her to protect me from marauding moose.
Tuesday through Thursday, I hold Homework Club (which is where I am now.) The district pays me an extra twenty an hour to do this. This would never happen in Texas, I assure you. Currently, there are only George’s in here. “George” is the nickname I’ve given to the entire 3rd-4thgrade class. It’s basically an easy way not to have to remember their names. They are allowed to call me George back. Other than that the kids mostly call me by my first name, which takes some getting used to. In the Lower 48, a teacher who allows kids to call her by her firstname would only last a year or two. It’s kind of representative of your choiceas whether to be the kids’ friend or their teacher. Here’s it’s the norm.
One of my seventh grade students came to school with a bandage around his wrist on Monday.
Me: What happened?
Student: I got it caught in my trap.
Me: Oh no! What were you trapping?
Student: Lynx.
Further conversation revealed that he had been trappingsince he was about nine and that he checks his trap lines every day before and after school. He asked me if he caught a hare and it was still alive, did I want him to bring it in?
Me: Only if I can keep it as a pet.
Student: (confused expression)
There was a big scandal at the school this week because someof the 5th/6th grade girls broke into the concession stand during open gym one night and stole a bunch of candy. As a result, open gym is suspended indefinitely, and so are the girls. Also, this is federal property, so there is a possibility that state troopers may come out to investigate. Not because of the candy. They damaged the door and lock, and everything costs more in Alaska, including repairs.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I got a care package from my parents today. It included chocolate, which means I have plan for the night!
Chocolate. Yum.

Moose! Moose!

Things you get used to: a student coming and in and announcing that there is a mama moose and a baby moose in her yard.

The students kindly informed me that I do not want to go near moose and that if the hair goes up on the back of a moose’s neck, then I’m “dead.” Note taken.

School Daze, emphasis on daze

So a bit about where I’m spending most of my time: Ambler School.

Ambler School is a Pre K-12 school servicing around 60-70 kids. The exact number of kids varies, for the same reasons as any other place that I’ve taught. And the kids are very much the same. Yeah, they live in a very different culture and physical environment, but they are just kids. They pull the exact same tricks as all my former students; I find that sameness greatly comforting.

That being said, when they list their hobbies, more of them will mention trapping or hunting instead of video games. Subsistence living is serious business here. Prices in the two small stores in town are impossibly high, and the other option is going to Anchorage, buying food, packing food, and then paying to have food shipped here. Not cheap. Why do that when there are moose, caribou, and bear wandering about, just waiting to become food? Additionally, if members of PETA came here in January, they would immediately try to buy a beaver hat or otter/seal skin mittens. Fur is the only truly warm item of clothing. As soon as I get my paycheck, I plan on purchasing a beaver hat because the hat I brought from home is a JOKE. I will, however, maintain my resistence to wearing anything with rabbit fur out of love and respect for The Great Shmee.

So back to school. The teachers wander in about 8 and the kids wander in about 8:30. All teachers have the 8 am hour as work time. Classes start officially at 9 am. I teach 7-8th grade for the first two hours, language arts and then PE. Bonus points to any kids who sit near me during PE and blocks basketballs from giving me a black eye.

I have another work hour during third period, which will probably not last. I’m sure I’ll be teaching some other random something class, but that hasn’t been decided yet. It will perhaps be decided by March. Maybe April. This is what I mean by slower than molaska. Things happen when they happen.

I teach one period of high school, which includes all of the high school students, about ten in all. I’m trying to teach The Hunger Games. For some reason, they can’t get into it. I have to admit…there is a little bit of Attitude going on in the high school class. I’m tempted to summon a few former students to come up here and scare the crap out of them.

Next is lunch. I walk the 44 steps home every day to have lunch with Cricket and maybe talk to my Mom.

I teach 5-6th grade for the next two hours. We separate the boys and girls because they are SILLY when they are together. Each class consists of four kids usually. We are reading James and the Giant Peach.

I’m back with the 7-8th graders for the last period of the day. I’m kind of starting to think of this bunch as “mine” because I see them the most. I’m developing a moderately good rapport with them. Of course, with teenagers, that could change at any minute.

A few other things about school:

I get to wear jeans every day.

On Mondays, we have a staff meeting after school. To accomodate ourselves (and avoid staying late!), we let the students out an hour early.

Everyone who works here is super laid-back, kind, cool, dedicated, and fabulous. And there’s only six other teachers besides me.

The kids who live a bit too far to walk arrive at school on a snowmobile, or as they are called here, a snow-go.

When kids are kidding around, instead of saying “I’m kidding,” they throw their hands in the air and yell out, “I jokes!” I have already picked up this habit.

More pics and stories to arrive soon. Thanks to all who have shared good thoughts and well wishes. It makes me feel close to Texas. Love you all.

Alaskan Adventure – Part One!

It is beyond cold and snowy here. My plane flight was the last one in for the past few days because it is simply too cold for them to fly. My pilot was a very friendly Russian woman named Ula, who told me that I would be okay and that “everyone cares for everyone else out here.” The guy who drove me from the airport to my apartment was named Gerald and he drove his snow machine very, very slowly while I held on to my dog and truly believed I would die of frostbite on the four minute drive. Gerald was probably laughing at me the whole way home.
Cricket did not eat or drink for the first couple of days we were here. Neither did I really. The water is orange and smells of rust…or blood, depending on depressed you are. It comes directly from the river and made us both sick. We seem to both be okay now.
I’ve been to both stores with my little plastic sled. It’s for dragging my groceries in, which is useful because my hands stop working on the way back home. Honestly, though, even though it’s terribly cold, it’s fun to walk outside. (I look just like the little brother in The Christmas Story. It takes about 10-15 minutes to put on my gear.) There’s several feet of snow under my feet and a beautiful landscape to look at. I caught my first glimpse of the river today. It’s vast and white and icy. There is mist rising from it with pine trees on both sides. There are little ramshackle cottages all around the place with smoke coming from the chimneys. I met a grandfather and grandson today on the way to the store – Woody and Nelson. They couldn’t believe I had come all the way from Texas. Everyone has been super friendly. Except for the other teachers and a woman at the store, they are all Inupiaq Eskimo so far. I have the exact same build as most of them; in fact, I could even be considered svelte.
Things that have gone wrong – no FB, no television, no phone. Cell phone that only receives calls. The pipes broke my second day here. My hair dryer broke while I was in Anchorage. Several boxes haven’t arrived yet. I locked myself out of my apartment and then out of my bathroom later that same day. I cried and cried and cried. I miss my family dreadfully.
Good things that have happened: My best friends (the Leslie’s) had a beautiful baby daughter the same day I arrived in Ambler. She is the fifth most beautiful child I have ever seen. I made it through FIVE plane flights and EIGHT landings. Two women from the administrative offices took me to a restaurant overlooking the frozen Chukchi Sea for a lunch my first day. Later another employee found an air mattress and sleeping bag so that I could take a nap before my flight to Ambler. My housemates, Steve and Joan, have been warm and welcoming, gracious and generous. My family and Leslie Anne have listened patiently as I have cried on the phone to them. New Year’s Eve was filled with the sound of snow machines and fireworks (and gunshots??) And now, my dog and I are sitting on our sofa, kind of warm and kind of content. School hasn’t started yet, but we’ve already had plenty of adventure.
Everybody in Alaska seems to do everything in their own time. It’s not just the weather, I don’t think, although it has a lot to do with it. It’s terribly efficient and inefficient, all at the same time.

Pictures are forthcoming as soon as I figure out how to load them onto my Mac book.