Saturday, August 28, 2010

Going to the Dogs

When I was in college, I remember that my best friend's brother regularly borrowed a friend's puppy when he went walking on the beach...because the dog was a "chick magnet" (his words). This was how he met gals whom he often wound up dating. I don't remember what happened when the gals found out he didn't really have a dog; he didn't share that fraudulent part of his life with his sister, I guess. I don't remember him having any particularly long-term relationships, either. Could have had something to do with beginning the relationship with deceit (DOH). When you're 20 something, those kinds of things don't occur to you, though.

Now, I've noticed I'm experiencing somewhat of this same phenomenon, though not being a 20 something Southern California surfer dude, I don't attract "chicks" when I have the dogs in tow. I do, however, attract any and all youngsters. Sometimes I feel like the Pied Piper, with no complaints, mind you. It's really very fun. 

The kids gravitate toward our doggies because they are a novelty. Dogs that are pets in this culture are not necessarily treated with the exalted family status that our two cherubs enjoy. This status is granted simply because we don't have children, so these are our little ones. Now, make no mistake, we don't dress them up, nor are they allowed to sleep on the bed, or eat off of our plates (really, I have seen this often with folks; it causes confusion for the dogs). We've trained our dogs to come when called and follow basic commands. And they do (well, almost always). They also play ball with gusto and Frisbee with the gleeful abandon.

So, naturally, the kids want to play too. The other day I went for a walk around the lagoon and ran into four 12 year olds who entertained my Border Collies for over an hour. Seriously, I can't leave the house without the two neighbor boys joining on our walk. Especially on the beach.  I notice Husband has met most of these kids as well. How do I know this? The other day the neighbor boys were playing with the dogs and giving the exact commands to sit and wait for the ball to be thrown. Then the boys gave the "free dog" command. I asked Husband if he'd taught those commands to the boys. The answer is "no". But the boys had watched and listened and consequently learned what to do.  And the dogs respond.

So I ask myself, why aren't we using these EXACT same strategies in our classrooms? It was so easy to teach these boys. First, because it was something they enjoyed and second because no one stood in front of them telling them how to do it.
I learned a lot today from watching them.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Timing is Everything

So if you've read any of the first posts in this journey, you know that the barge has played a huge part in our story. Between our grocery order and household goods we've had a lot of our lives tied to the barge arrival. The barge was due on August 1st, but didn't get here until the 15th. As you know, this delay did cause us to run out of life and death items (like coffee and toilet paper). However, the day it came we watched it arrive from our front window. It was like seeing Santa and his reindeer swoop into town. And then we got the call. They had our groceries, or our household see we got two phone calls saying two different things.
What the hey, didn't matter, something was here. I was at work, but Husband was home to receive our goodies. We live on the top floor of our building so getting all of those boxes up the stairs is no small feat. The delivery guys had a great system. They made their own fire brigade and moved everything up the stairs in short order. So when I came home most of the work had been done.
SWEET! It was the household goods, which meant we finally had the piano...I'd missed the sound of music in the house. We also had the rest of the stuff that makes a house a home, some pictures, pots and pans, silverware, shampoo, soap, you know minor stuff that means a lot in the long run. This was about 10 days ago and we've almost got all of those boxes unpacked.
Since then we've been waiting for the delivery of the grocery order. We know it's here (it's only this one barge; it has everything on it (we found that out when we loaded stuff in June). Have I mentioned that Husband is going out of town for the next three weeks? So I'd been hoping he'd be here when the groceries were delivered to help out a little. Yesterday it became clear that wasn't happening since his flight was due out this morning. I drove him to the airport (yeah, that would be less than 5 minutes away). I was home for less than 10 minutes when the phone rang.

"Hello, Barge guy here. Are you ready for your groceries?" What, are these guys staking out the house? Were they just waiting for Husband to leave so they could have a good laugh while I got buried under the boxes of groceries? How DID they time it this way?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

I Could Have Danced All Night

Any self respecting potluck has entertainment and this community potluck was no exception. But it wasn't just any entertainment, this was a unique opportunity to see all four dance groups from Barrow on stage together. My understanding is that the four groups have not come together before like this. The potluck was held to welcome back the teachers to the district, so this gesture of unity was pretty special.

This was the first time I had seen or heard Iñupiaq Eskimo dancers/drummers. Be sure to watch more than 30 seconds of this video, that's when the action really starts to happen. This is a motion dance with designated gestures. Mostly the women and men dance in separate groups. Only men get to play the drums, which leaves me out (damn! it looks like tons of fun!).

The men's dances also have a definitely different theme to them. I can't tell what the lyrics mean (doh!) but the men always seem to be portraying a hunt; either going on the hunt, actually getting the animal, and/or bringing it back to the family. This dance was created by the dancer. He is the bird being hunted. If you listen closely you can hear the bird calling.

This was not entertainment that the audience gets to sit back and watch entirely. In fact, for the first half of the dancing, audience members were invited to dance.  The dance groups called up different groups to dance...elementary teachers, secondary teachers, Iñupiaq language teachers, etc. I got to dance with several women from my office. I rated the song a 95. It had a good beat and was easy to dance to. Was it fun? Just look at our faces. The best part was the moves were pretty easy to follow, so anyone could do it. This was the first time in a long time that I was one of the last ones out of the hall that night.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Back to School Night

I grew up in California, near San Francisco. I don't think I ever actually attended a potluck event as a kid. I think we thought that was something more along the lines of something we saw in Ma and Pa Kettle movies. So, you can imagine how dumbstruck I was when I first moved to Juneau, which I came to believe was the potluck capital of the world.

You see, one of the first things that struck me in Juneau when I got there in the early '90s was the plethora of potluck events that I was invited to and that I attended. Now in the early 90s I was single, going to classes for my masters degree, and working two additional jobs to stay afloat. For many of the potluck affairs, the only thing I could manage to bring based on my ridiculous schedule was often a bag of chips. I must confess, a couple of times I didn't bring anything!

But here in Barrow, they have developed the potluck into an art form, at least the one I went to last week. Admittedly, all of the
potlucks aren't like this one. This was the community potluck welcoming all of the teachers (veterans and new teachers) back to school. In order to make sure there's enough food to go around, anyone who brings a dish to the event receives a raffle ticket. This cuts down on those, who for whatever reason, don't bring anything, but do enjoy the party. Now that I don't work two jobs while going to school full time, I'm happy to bring my share and more...makes me feel as though I'm paying back. The grand prize in the raffle was two round trip tickets anywhere Alaska Airlines flies. I didn't win that. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

We've been here for about 3 weeks now and have done our share of exploring and driving around. We've put no restrictions on where we go or how much we drive, which has resulted in just one trip to the gas station to fill up (when we got the car, the tank was half full). At this rate, we'll be refueling once every two months or so. Remember, the organization pays for the gas for the vehicles they give us. Now I kinda understand how they can afford that.

Last week our walkabouts included an informal tour of the town with my colleague who was born and raised here. This is the kind of tour you really want, when someone can show you the site of the original schoolhouse (that really was painted red) and tell stories about looking for trade beads as a kid on the top of the ancestral sod houses. The houses were formed by digging into the earth and framing the structure with whalebones. There are a couple of key locations in Barrow where you can see the remnants of the whalebones and the mounds of where the houses stood. Usually there is also an ice cellar nearby. Just what it sounds like, a big hole dug deep into the ground with a wooden ladder descending to the bottom. It stays frozen all year and makes a great place to store food.

I've been thinking since we got here that the Iñupiat Dry Cleaners is an unusual business to have smack in the middle of the Arctic. I mean, when there are so many amenities lacking, it just seems a little strange that of all the things that are available in Barrow, a dry cleaners would be one.  Oh ho! You don't know the half of it.
During our tour my friend casually steered us into this building. We were talking about hunting rituals and how some of the jackets, gloves, and hats were made and the kinds of furs and materials used as we entered the door at the top of the stairs. First off, this is a dry cleaning establishment. They will also do your regular laundry as well, if you so desire. However, the treasures inside are much more unusual.
This is the main location in town of the materials available to put together your parkas, mittens, gloves and other traditional outerwear. Now, I've been into my share of JoAnn Fabric stores and New York Fabrics but I've never see anything like this before. I'm telling you, the furs are spectacular and so soft to the touch.
Now, members of PETA may be put off by this, but this is part of a longstanding culture of folks who have been surviving for hundreds of years in one of the harshest climates on Earth. Using all parts of the animals that have been hunted and captured is required of the hunters and serves to show their respect and gratitude to the animals they hunt. So in addition to the outerwear that incorporates fur ruffs (trim around the hood and cuffs to keep out snow and wind), you also see seal skins being stretched along the hulls of the umiaks this time of year as the hunters prepare for the fall hunt.