Notice the long line of poles in this photo, about 15 feet tall with yellow bottoms? These line the bank of the Kusko in Bethel. Come to find out, these poles are filled with freon. They are there to keep frozen the permafrost mud river banks so that they don't collapse and wash out. That's what I call a proactive approach to erosion prevention.
Monday I began my real work here as I was shipped out to my first village, beautiful Napaskiak (home of the Hawks), or PKA as it's known from by airlines. So that morning I packed up the rest of my crap and headed in to the District Office, and from there I loaded up an LKSD cube van with all my gear and the drivers ed/welding gear. We chartered a Cessna 207 and one of the boxes still didn't fit. Once it was time to go, our pilot turned and asked "ok who's co-pilot?" to which I said "what the hell...can I be?" It turns out, yes, I can. Pre-flight instructions are a little bit different on bush planes. Ours went something to the effect of "your seatbelt works just like you'd think it does, the emergency exit is the door right next to you, we'll be there in about 10 minutes." A friend told me about the pre-flight instructions they got a while ago, which went like this: "In case we go down, the gun's under my seat." I can see how that could be a really good thing to know. So sure enough, 10 minutes later we were at PKA International Airport and Convention Center. (see photo)
It was a really nice day, and the pilot radioed the school to let them know we were soon there, so upon landing I just dragged all my gear out of the plane and sat down on some of it and waited for Joe, (the school secretary, town mayor, barber, et al.) to come get me on his 4 wheeler/trailer, which he did within a half hour or so. After a hectic day of setting up, settling in, planning schedules (overfilling my schedule), and other business, I was "ready" to teach on Tuesday. My daily schedule has 4 welding classes in a row in the morning, then a drivers ed class in the afternoon. Then at 6, I have a group of 10 students from the village of Oscarville (home of the Hornets) who come across the Kusko for drivers ed class. I give these kids a lot of credit. They work hard, have good attitudes, and they get on a boat every day to go take a night class. I've really enjoyed the students so far. Here is the Napaskiak slough where nautical arrivals and departures take place. I have had the opportunity to cross over to Oscarville a couple of times myself. I went and taught the class at their place this past Wednesday, in the very classroom of my great friend Erin. We had so much fun that I was invited back to Oscarville after class on Friday, where I was treated to a couple of delicious meals and learned how to play Canasta. Crossing the Kusko is more of a trip than it would seem like. It's a very, very big river. It takes about 10-15 minutes in a boat moving at a pretty good clip. Here are some photos of the river. It is not only large, it is effected by the tides by several feet. That is why you will see some boats sitting way up on dry land in some photos, and boats wisely anchored out in the sloughs in other photos. Getting in and out of boats at low-tide requires rubber mud boots, which places mine high in the running for being the Best 17 Bucks I Ever Spent.
At Napaskiak, everybody gets around on 4 wheelers via the boardwalks, which go everywhere, like streets almost. There is a small general store, a public water fill station, the school, and a large Russian Orthodox church(below), among other things. There is a basketball court at the school, 3 feet above ground on deckboards and fenced in. The kids are really good basketball players. They play anytime the weather is good for it. The weather has been alright. We've had some really nice days and a few, like today, that have been sort of drizzly and blah. I teach class in a little red shed outside the school, where they have their "shop" classes. Wednesday morning was a particularly chilly one, about 45 degrees, and I hadn't yet gotten the heater working out there. The girls came to class and exclaimed "MAaaaannnn, so COoooolld" Anyone who has spent time in the bush has probably heard that.
That's right, I decided to go ahead and have a nice bowl of ice cream for breakfast this morning. Tomorrow morning I head to the first of my estimated 9 villages for the year. For the next 3 weeks I will be calling the village of Napaskiak my home. I am looking forward to going there. Napaskiak is right across the Kuskokwim from Oscarville, home of my dear friend Erin Kavanaugh. I'm hoping I can sweet talk her into showing me some of the sights and sounds of Oscarville and the nature that surrounds. The Oscarville students will be joining my class as well. How many places in the lower 48 do kids get on a boat after school to cross a river and take a night class? None I'm aware of. After Napaskiak, I will be spending 3 weeks in Napakiak. Following that, having exhausted our district's villages that rhyme with Napaskiak, I will be moving on to Newtok. So I figured with all that on the agenda I had better enjoy my ice cream now, while I can have the kind that has no fish or Crisco.
I am going to miss the Tundra Oasis. I have had a really nice time here. I will miss my new friends that are my roomates. I will miss my king size bed. I will miss the fine dining at VIP, Shogun, and pizza at the airport, my favorite so far. But, there is work to be done.
As for the pictures, one is of the TO, the other is of me walking the bank of the Kusko. Enjoy.
Let me introduce you all to the newest addition to the family. The name is Big Red Fred, and this is what $250 will get you in Bethel if you go halfsies with a friend. All in all a pretty sweet rig, sure to be the envy of many.
On Sunday the 10th I made it to Bethel. Mom and Dad took me to the bus stop at 5 am and by 8 I was in Chi Town. There I stood in long lines, and when I finally got to the front of each, my business at hand (check in, security scan)took a matter of seconds. I was a little saddened to miss Six Flags last week, but I guess I got to have about the same thing at the airport. My flight from Chicago to Anchorage was about 6.5 hours and put me there at 1 PM AKDT. From there I got to enjoy a nice 5 hour layover (make that 6 hour after our delay), during which I made a couple last phone calls and took a couple of airport naps. We finally boarded the 737 for Bethel. I thought it was hilarious. We've all been to an event where somebody comes and finds another somebody sitting in the seat that is by rights theirs. Well, that happened over and over again. Everybody just got in and sat down wherever, and this flight was filled. Nobody was sitting where their ticket said to. As the pre-flight announcements went, people kept getting booted out of the wrong seat as new passengers straggled in. The last one was yours truly. At least I was in the right row. And my rightful seat was a window one, so all the better. I was picked up by Jimmy, who runs the Tundra Oasis (the house I am staying at.) My roomates are all really good folks. We have coffee to drink in the mornings. We have wireless internet in the house. I have a queen sized bed in my room, as well as a TV, which gets more channels than I have time to look at. SO the living situation is very nice here. I'm going to enjoy it to the fullest before I head out to the villages. Bethel is unlike any town in the lower 48 that I know of. It has about 7,500 residents, and the one main road is about 17 miles long. There are little subdivisions scattered here and there along this road, separated by low bogs and sloughs. Boardwalks make for a nice dry footing on a shortcut if you're walking, otherwise there are cabs to get you around. I've been fortunate enough to live with folks who also work for LKSD and have vehicles. One more thing I should mention. Today we picked up some groceries for our dinner here at the T.O. and to give an idea of the price differences, a jar of off brand pickles will run you $8.69 here in Bethel, AK. Water, power, fuel, and any necessity will be steep. So, if you take it, eat it, if you're done, turn off the lights, and if it's yellow, let it mellow. I've taken some pictures which I would love to share. As soon as the download software shows up I will do just that.