Sunday, September 27, 2009

Shak Attack

This past weekend, BSSD invited all the new teachers to a Cultural Inservice in Shaktoolik. Most of the new staff in Gambell (and a good number from the rest of the district) decided to attend, and we all around had a great time! Not only did we get paid for working on a weekend, we got a free flight across the Bering Sea and a free mini-vacation in another village! Shaktoolik is a pretty village. There are mountains, a river of sorts, Norton Sound, and even a few trees! They took us out on Hondas down the road to the old village site, and it was nice to see an area completely different than Gambell. Did I mention the trees?? They have at least 20, and it was a grand sight.

Another thing Shaktoolik has: ice cream! You better believe most of us got at least one ice cream cone.

The residents of Shaktoolik were very open and generous. Liz, Amy, and I were walking back to the school after our Honda ride and saw this weird looking log stuck in the ground. It had bumps all over it and an Iditarod sign on it (the race goes through this village in the spring), and we were very curious. While we were examining it, we heard the buzz of a saw and decided to go investigate. It was a local man making a steel boat from scratch, and when we asked about the crazy-looking log he told us to go to his house and ask his wife. She invited us in for tea, cake, and some amazing stories about their days raising reindeer and mushing dogs in the Iditarod. We had a really good time eating and enjoying conversation with them; we were sad to have to leave!

I only wish the inservice was a two-part conference so that everyone could come to Gambell and see another Eskimo culture that still lives their cultural traditions daily. The other teachers would have loved Yupik dancing (atuq)! During the whole weekend we all realized how different it is for us in Gambell. The language is still spoken by most residents daily, traditional art like bone and ivory carving is still practiced, food is still obtained by hunting in walrus-skin boats . . . in short, Gambell is one of the more traditional villages in the area. We had to learn most of the traditions and expectations on the fly as the year progressed. Even still, it was great to see Shaktoolik and meet the very hospitable people that live there.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Kite Day

Apparently, it is tradition in Gambell School to have a Kite Day. The elementary schoolers make kites (from kits that were ordered last year), and then fly them at the end of the school day on a Friday. This year, we teamed up with the high school and had the HS students buddy up with ES students for an afternoon of whole-school fun.

For the most part, I think everybody had a good time. It was crazy-windy and cold outside; so windy that we had to call off Kite Day about 20 minutes into it. Just in case you're wondering, it has to be REALLY windy to call off a Kite Day. :-) Such is life in Gambell.

In the background of those pictures, did you see our new wind turbines?? They JUST went up this week, and should be a great source of energy for the village. With as much wind as we get, seems like the energy companies should be paying Gambell for the excess energy gained!


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Seasons Come and Go

In a land without trees and relatively little grass in the near vicinity, it is sometimes hard to tell what season it is. I walked out on the tundra near the beach yesterday, and the tundra grass tells me it is Autumn. Sure feels a little colder than the autumns to which I am accustomed. The Bering Sea is getting colder and stormier . . . it's amazing how much that water changes in an instant. A few days ago it was calm and serene; today it was violent and quick.

Here is how I know the season is changing: everyone bundles up a bit more (especially the teachers!). Here are a few of us being carted from the school back to teacher housing (a rarity).

I sure do miss the changing colors of tree leaves! I miss the smell of autumn, too. Autumn up here is foreign to me; it almost feels like living on an alien planet where anything might happen. Truly, everything I know about how the world works and how the weather should be is useless here. Back to square one.


Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Coolest Souvenirs Ever

Gambell is one of the few places in the world where it is still legal (only for Alaska Natives) to carve and sell ivory. Mostly in these parts, it is walrus ivory that is carved. This village is perhaps one of the best and most active in this tradition, which means that teachers often get really great prices for some amazing pieces. Here are a few pieces I bought in the past few weeks:

The rounded knife is called an ulu (I can't remember the name for it in Siberian Yupik). Traditionally these are used to skin seals or carve whale meat (they are super sharp), but I'll probably just cut pizza with it. :-) The handle is made of walrus bone.

I've learned so much about the art of ivory carving! For instance, female walrus ivory is preferable to male walrus ivory. Fossilized ivory can be found on the island, and is worth more in value. These pieces range from a soft tan to a dark brown in color. Fresh ivory is slightly less expensive and is a bright white (sometime with pale pink or yellow tones). The black that is used for the eyes is made from whale baleen, though walrus whisker can be used for a dark brown (which I generally prefer). It is becoming much easier to tell at a glance which carvings are really good and which were hastily carved, and I am beginning to know the different artists' styles.

I'm sure I'll purchase more throughout the year, but here is the first batch! (Aren't they adorable?)


Friday, September 4, 2009

Mountain Climb Take 2

It was another beautiful day in Gambell, so I mentioned briefly (to myself) during school that I should climb the mountain later. One of the kids overhead my solitary conversation (how many times to I talk to myself? I wasn't even aware I did it), and most of the class decided to make it a group trip after school.

Word travels fast in this school. By the end of the day, the whole school knew about it and several other students/teachers were planning on climbing the mountain with me. It turned out to be a really great time, with about 4 teachers and 20 students total. Many of the kids had never climbed the mountain before (which surprised me).

It doesn't seem like so long ago that I climbed it for the first time, and yet the landscape had changed significantly. Either that, or I am growing more observant the longer I remain in the Bush. The tundra greens had turned brown, and the edible greens like Nunivak were no longer any good. Unfortunately, it was a bad year for berries in this area of the island, so we didn't have those to eat either.

The fearless leaders:

And the climb to the top:

While on our way up, a huge plane circled Gambell a few times and then landed. I still don't know what it was doing here, but most of the kids thought it was probably carrying Hondas. One track minds. :-) As you can see, the plane is actually bigger than our 'airport' aka hanger shed.

Hopefully, we will have more days like this before the winter sets in!


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Just Another Walk to the Dump

It was yet another (randomly) gorgeous day in Gambell, and since the trash has been piling up we decided to make a spontaneous dump run.

I have never seen Russia so clear before! We could see the snow melting on the Siberian mountains, practically. It was 9:30 or so at night, and the sun was setting by the time we finished playing around on the beach (around 10:30pm).

I Can See Russia From Here

We were having such a good time . . . and things got a little out of control.

Gravel Roll (Starring Tyler)


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

I'm So Hungry, I Could Eat a Whale

Today, I was fortunate enough to try a local Yupik food: Mungtuk. Sounds exotic and delicious, doesn't it? Well, here it is:

That's right, you're looking at a prime piece of Whale. More specifically, the mungtuk is whale skin (the black part) and whale blubber (the other part). You're also looking at an oreo, because the whale seemed a little less daunting with a delicious cookie next to it. I'll be honest, I was nervous about trying it but it really wasn't all that bad. Extremely fishy (odd considering whales are mammals), but not bad. I wouldn't want it for every meal, but it didn't make me sick either.

Natalie and Andrew tried it too, and you can see how that went for them.

I think that for now, we'll just stick to oreos.