Saturday, October 15, 2011

Riding the Bus is SO Lower-48

In the village, I answer to a lot of names.  Collier.  Ms. Collier.  Megan.  Teacher. 

Almost always, my class calls me Teacher. 

It’s like stepping back a hundred years into the old prairie one-room schoolhouses, except I’m on the tundra and I teach only half of the elementary in one-room (not all of it).  So instead of Little House on the Prairie, it’s like Little House on the Tundra.

Anyway, now I have a new name: Coach Collier.

If you know me at all, you are either laughing or holding your breath out of sheer shock.  Trust me, though, it’s not a joke.  I am co-coaching High School Volleyball just like I did in Gambell. 

Our first game was an away game this weekend.  Since the villages are all so far apart, we have to fly to all our away games.  This one was a tournament against Alak School (Wainwright, AK) and Kali School (Point Lay, AK) in Point Lay.  Point Lay is about an hour west from Atqasuk, situated on the northwest coast of Alaska.

We left at 2:30 on Friday afternoon on the Beechcraft 1900 (a 19-seater operated by Era Aviation).  We picked up the Wainwright team and then arrived in Point Lay at about 4:00 pm.  We had just enough time to unpack the plane, unpack the bus, sort out the uniforms, warm up, and stretch before our 5:15pm game against Wainwright. 

Wainwright is arguably the most aggressive volleyball team in the district.  They went to state last year.  They brought 11 players, a huge playbook, and all sorts of fancy gear.

We brought exactly 6 players, no plays, and the gear that Wainwright let us borrow for the past month.

So, we lost.  We ate after that game, and then played another match against Point Lay.  We won that match, watched Wainwright kill Point Lay, and then we played our scheduled massacre with Wainwright in a third match.

We all slept on a classroom floor, and woke up before the sun (though that’s not saying much during an Alaskan October) to play our fourth match against Point Lay.  We lost the first set because two-thirds of our team doesn’t function well in the morning.  We lost the second set because we are sore losers.

So that’s that.  We hopped on the Beechcraft when it came to pick us up in the middle of a blizzard, and rode the turbulence all the way to Wainwright before landing in Atqasuk.  Magnus was our pilot on this flight, so none of us were exactly sure we were going to make it back to the village alive. 

Every pilot in the bush has a reputation that proceeds him or her. To my knowledge, Magnus has never crashed a plane.  But there are stories statewide of near misses.  Rumor has it that he’s Swedish and has a wife in Thailand, but he’s been flying in Alaska for nigh on 30 years.  Every time I see him pull up in a plane that I’m scheduled to ride in, I say a quick prayer.  If he’s flying, you can expect extreme turns, quick take-offs, and even quicker descents.  Landings are usually crooked and at a 45-degree angle until just about the time you feel like you could grab a handful of snow if the windows were open.

We did make it make to Atqasuk in one piece.  Most of the team was sleeping by the time we got near the village.  We were all awake for the landing, though, because Magnus scared us out of our sleep.  One player awoke screaming our descent and turn happened so rapidly!  No one really laughed at her though, because none of us were sure that the scream was unwarranted.

Anyway, it’s nice to be back in Atqasuk with a comfortable bed and no teenagers to herd around.    I will have to spend all of Sunday lesson planning for this week, unfortunately. 

This weekend was fun, but I could use a real break.  Sometimes I feel like it would be nice to just have a 9-5 job.  Teaching is tiring and exhausting.

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