January 26, 2005

24. Fermented Fish.

In rural Alaska, some lucky newcomers get the privilege of enjoying a special Eskimo culinary delight. Fermented fish is something most people in the lower 48 would never think to try; and that is a shame, because countless people have been enjoying it as a regular part of their diet for millenniums. Fermented fish is prepared by first digging a hole about two feet in the ground. The preparer places a freshly caught fish in the hole, covers it with earth, and lets it stay buried for a couple weeks to a month or longer. After the fish reaches a desired level of fermentation, the preparer unearths it and immediately freezes it until someone is ready to eat it. Fermented fish tastes best raw and frozen. The picture shows part of the fish I recently ate. It makes a very satisfying meal and keeps you feeling full for a long time. Fermented fish is only dangerous if enclosed in plastic during the fermentation process.

January 21, 2005

23. Slaaviq.

Last weekend marked the end of Slaaviq, the weeklong Russian Orthodox winter celebration. Each day for a week, the entire Russian Orthodox community gathers together for many hours in the homes of fellow worshipers.

From what I understand, Slaaviq doesn’t replace Christmas, but it is the biggest time for celebration on the Russian Orthodox calendar. The celebration begins around noon and continues through the morning hours of the next day. Around four or five homes are visited per day. Inside, there is singing, worshiping, eating and gift-giving. The host has plenty of tasty food and treats ready for the guests to eat after singing and worship. While guests indulge, the host (with the help of some of the younger folks) hands out gifts of all kinds to everyone who is present. I was lucky enough to attend the last home visited. The singing was beautiful and completely new to me: uniquely rhythmic with intense harmony. After a bit of singing inside, everyone went outside for a short time to sing at the nearby cemetery, where some of the gravesites were tastefully adorned with holiday lights. After we came back inside, worship commenced in Yupik, followed by amazing food, fellowship and gifts. It was one of the most special forms of worship of which I’ve been a part.

This is the first year in some time that school has been held in the village during Slaaviq. Usually, winter break is extended for another week in place of spring break. A decision was made last year to give this a try, but although enough students made it for each day to count officially, next year school will not be held during this time.

January 09, 2005

22. Back To My Favorite Job.

My roommate was nice enough to shovel the snow off my bed and write this note. It was on the door of my room when I got back. Window latches are more important in Alaska.

I found out about that live materials order I was waiting for back in October when we didn't have mail for a week... it's on it's way finally. Giant hissing cockroaches, tadpoles, fish, snails, butterflies, plants... hope they make it.

I had a nice time at home. My sister had a great party the night I got back, was with friends and family for Christmas and went to NYC for New Year's with Alex. Saw Josh and Sarah's kid, Lowden... he was noticeably older. Went to Chris' party. The best part was giving a talk to the students at Stratford Friends School about my experiences here in Alaska. I've never seen a group of elementary school kids act so polite and thoughtful. I was blown away... Winter break was an energizing time.

It's nice coming back from winter break hearing "Holly cow, you're really tall" instead of "Yo, STRING BEAN!" There's a lot about teaching in the city that I miss, but I was happier to return to work this time around than in the past.


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