September 25, 2004

9. A Walk to the Dump.

Good morning sunshine!
Good morning! It's Saturday morning, almost 9:00 and the sun's just about to rise. We're going to walk east of Tunt to the dump I mentioned before. Be careful- the boardwalk is very slippery. I've slipped a few times... one time right off the boardwalk. Good thing no one was watching.

Every morning this week has broguht a thick layer of frost. The boardwalk isn't normally this color. Notice that the houses are on stilts. All the buildings are- just like the Jersey shore. Sometimes when I walk near a lot of drying salmon it smells like New Jersey too. (Not the whole village- just next to the fish)

Here, we're still less than a mile from the school, but we've passed the last house.

The ramps leading up to the boardwalk are snow machine cross-overs. In the distance you can see the smokestack to the incinerator at the dump.

The enrtrance to the dump. Sign reads: "Stop! Put trash in bin. Do your part in helping keep dump clean!" Hard not to appriciate the irony, though it is a very tidy place.

The incinerator. Anything that's not burnable at home is burnable here.

This gate is directly behind the incinerator. This is as far away as you can get from town and still be on the board walk.

Beyond the bordwalk I found this old sled. These sleds are common here. People hook them to snow machines and four wheelers to carry stuff. If you look closely, you can see how the sun melted lines through the frost on one inside wall of the sled through holes in the oppisite wall...

This is the kind of stuff that covers about 60% of the tundra in Alaska. The other 40% is mostly water.

September 22, 2004

8. Center Tunt, From Livingroom.

Finally got my camera! All right! Tuntutuliak is beautiful, agree? The building with the light green roof is the Moravian Church. I think that's one of the stores on the right. They're the ones that want to start selling hotdogs and things. Last week, they got a nacho cheese dispenser and sold out on the first day. Litter has already become an issue. We are doing our best to teach the kids NOT to litter... Now seems to be the time.

September 19, 2004

7. Content.

This is the school... The camera I ordered hasn't arrived yet. I wish I had it this weekend. All teachers new to the district flew into Bethel Friday night for the cultural orientation program. We learned to prepare duck and fish for eating- I got to pluck a duck. I'm not good at it, so I'll need to practice. The orientation was part of two courses in Alaskan Culture required for state certification. I learned a lot of interesting and important things from it- even though I had to miss part of it. Everyone seems to be catching a little something- a runny nose here and there, mostly. It's to be expected, as the cold weather sets in much earlier here. In any case, I got it checked out before returning to the village, and I'm fine now. I had to stay an extra night in Bethel, but as it turned out, so did pretty much everyone else. The tiny planes were grounded due to low cloud cover.

The three other teachers from my school almost made it to Tunt last night, but they had to turn back. The pilots need more than three hundred feet of visibility in order to land. Sort of makes me wonder what would happen if they returned to Bethel only to find the same conditions (or even worse). I'll have to ask someone about that. I feel like I have so much to say, but I think it is more important to not say so much right now. They are really wonderful things though. Right now I can tell you I feel very content. It bothers me a little in a way... Only three weeks have gone by. When we flew out of Tunt on Friday, I saw the village differently from the way I've been seeing it these three weeks. I've been so into my daily routine that maybe I haven't noticed some things. Or, maybe being this close to what is going on will somehow balance out the sense of isolation I keep hearing about. Or, maybe three weeks isn’t possibly enough time to have any real perspective and my ramblings just confirm that for now, I’m just your typical ‘green horn.’ For now, good enough for me. :- )

September 13, 2004

6. Iq'mik

~~I tried iq'mik for the first and last time today. It's a mixture of tobacco leaves and "powdered punk" that's commonly chewed throughout the Yukon Delta. I've heard of it before, so I asked the guy at the store about it. His face lit up... "You're a teacher and you want iq'mik?" he asked. I told him I was just curious, and he told me to come back today. When I went, it seemed sort of shady- the guy pulling out a clump of it wrapped in foil- but it wasn't really shady. Iq'mik is completely legal, though it is a serious health hazard to people here for a number of reasons. He warned me that it is much stronger than Copenhagen Not a good idea.snuff. When I got home, I mixed it with some water like he told me to and put it in the side of my mouth. About 15 minutes of this stuff and it was the weirdest and most powerful tobacco rush I've ever felt- like putting a whole tin of Skoal in your mouth and smoking about five camel nonfilters at once. I hurled.

September 10, 2004

5. Videoconferencing.

~~The weather has been beautiful the past few days. Someone told me that they saw the Northern Lights a few nights ago. I didn't think we could see them yet. I took a four-wheeler ride to the dump on Monday. I expected a small landfill, but really it was just a junkyard with piles of ash everywhere. Trash that's burnable is burnt at home and everything else is put on wagons, which are sent to the dump for incineration before being left to decay. The dump is as far away from the village as you can get while remaining on the boardwalk. Beyond that is untouched, desolate tundra as far as you can see. A walk 100 yards out took me to the most isolated place I've ever been with a three hundred degree view of solitude. This is where I want to see the Northern Lights sometime.
~~This week, school was open for staff development only. The principal and a few other teachers flew into Bethel for NCLB workshops, while the rest of us stayed at the site for district-wide video conferencing. Each of the twenty-five some village schools (with 3-10 teachers per school) were connected to each other and to the district office staff via satellite. We watched as the facilitators explained Alaska's 'Phase' system of assessment driven instruction. On a different day, the morning was dedicated to getting everyone's lap tops connected to a centralized, grade/attendance district database. Overall, the videoconference was more participant friendly than I would have expected. It was serious business, but there was also lightheartedness in the air at times- towards the end, all the teachers at one school put on silly glasses that made EVERYONE laugh hard. A little comic relief never hurts.
~~The phase system is a relatively new effort to synchronize curriculum and assessment across all district schools. It is similar to Philadelphia's effort to implement a core curriculum, but it's a little further along. In addition to aligning units of study, the phases require students to pass anywhere from ten to twenty indicator tests before attempting the larger phase assessments. Furthermore, each indicator test is cross-referenced with the textbooks that are available in the schools. Generally, each grade level is composed of two phases. That's my sophomoric take on it, anyway. I'm really looking forward to getting the kids back in the classroom. Also looking forward to getting my hands on a decent digital camera soon.

September 04, 2004

4. After the first week...

Here are some of the things that really struck me:
-a large majority of our parents came on the first day of conferences
-many of the kids have a parent who works in the school
-our classroom materials are plentiful, and we're allowed to order more
-the kids are remarkably kind to each other
-the people are among the nicest I've ever met
-the water from the well at the school is chunky and rusty, but apparently safe to drink

Our Water Tank

-our rain gutters drain into the water tank in our house and is our primary water source
-moose, caribou, seal, salmon and berries are popular things to eat
-all wild berries and most local vegetation are edible, I've been told raw seal and raw salmon are too
-there aren’t any roads or sidewalks, just boardwalks with small traffic signs for the four wheelers
-the water makes us dirty, so most people take steam baths in steam houses, which are all over the place
-the electric toilet in our house actually burns the poop, it takes about an hour

-the electric toilet grosses me out; I prefer using the honey bucket, which is just a bucket
-the toilet in our school empties into an open pond that is about 70 yards from my house, but it doesn't smell
-we burn our trash every day
-i haven't left a 200-yard radius since I arrived
-dogs are everywhere, as are kids
-my students call me David

September 02, 2004

3. The Village Feast.

~~Today was our second afternoon of parent conferences. We have one more tomorrow, but we've already met with the vast majority of parents. That’s in sharp contrast to the 30% or so who would show up back in Philly. After conferences, around 6, more than half the population of the village came to the school lunchroom for a community feast. The cooks and teachers served the food to everyone: Salmon, Spaghetti, Fish Soup, Veggies, Cake and Eskimo Ice Cream. Eskimo Ice Cream is a base of lard (Crisco), sugar, and in this case, a wild plant called Sour Dock that had the texture of spinach- though often it is made with wild berries. The principal spoke for a while, teachers were introduced, and everyone went home full. On my way out, I ran into a couple of my students who asked if I wanted to go for a walk. They took me around a big circle, past the Moravian Church, the Post Office, the old Post Office (which was about the size of a dog house- seriously), and to the biggest store in the village, where a can of coke was $.85. Not a bad price, really. Most things are about three times the price I'd pay back home. The store had just acquired a slushy machine and is the closest thing to a restaurant in town. They have plans to sell hot dogs someday.


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