Wednesday, August 17, 2011

A not so good day in Kobuk

Sunday was not a very good day.  I woke up around 7:30 in the morning and since church isn't until 11, I just laid around.   I had spent the previous two nights sleeping on the floor of the high school in Kotzebue (which just for reference is actually the middle school and high school and the building is attached to the elementary school which is where I am currently laying on an air mattress typing this) and so I sort of fell back to sleep.  Somewhere in here I heard some banging, but ignored it.  I then woke up at 10:45 with a start.  I grabbed my phone and found the first piece of bad news.  A friend of mine texted me from another school district to say that if I heard about it there was a plane that had left McGrath the day before and had not made it to its destination.  She told me she was NOT on board, but that was the plane she was supposed to be taking that morning.  I tried calling her for more details (the text had been sent at 8:29), but didn't get an answer.  I'm hurriedly trying to get ready for church and I don't have Internet at home (and not really enough time to run over to the school to use it there), so I called mom and dad and had them look.  They couldn't find any details.  I ran over the church, but I was a few minutes late.
As I approached the church building, I knew something wasn't right.  There weren't any Honda's outside the church (in this part of the state everyone calls a 4-wheeler a Honda and the usually are).  I wondered since I had been out of town until the evening before if I had missed an announcement or something, but decided to try the door.  It was unlocked and I went in.  Sarah and the kids were there, but Luke (the preacher and Sarah's husband) wasn't.  Sarah told me that the school maintenance man (also the village VPO) had been in an accident, but she had no details.  Luke had gone over to the clinic.  When Luke arrived I learned that a barge had arrived and the maintenance man had been filling the school fuel tanks (with diesel fuel which we use for everything from powering the Hondas and snogo [snow machine to people from other parts of Alaska and snow mobile to everyone else] to heating the school and our houses) when he was electrocuted and they were waiting for the fog to clear for the medivac plane.  After we prayed we called it a day and I received a text from my friend that the plane had in fact crashed and a rescue was going on.  I went home and called my parents to update them on the plane and tell them the new development.  While I was on the phone I received a call from my principal that there was a fuel spill and asking for my help in cleaning it up.
To shorten this very long story, I will now simply tell you what happened rather than spell it out as I learned all the details in this crazy day.  Usually, in the spring Crowley's sends a barge with fuel and the barge also hauls other supplies that people have shipped up on it (heavy equipment and the like).  The barge tries to make it through and some years it can and others it can't.  This year it couldn't.  However, this year was unusual.  There has been a lot rain and the river is really high.  Thus, they tried to get a barge through and they were successful (we are the last stop because we are the village furthest up the Kobuk river).  So the barge arrived at 9:30 Saturday evening.  The men slept on the barge and then Sunday morning the maintenance man was working with the Crowley guys to fill the fuel tanks.  I later got to tour their boat and the man who gave me a tour explained that most of these places (and Kobuk is no exception) have equipment that isn't up to code.  If they refused to service all of those places they would go out of business and so their liability ends and the end of their hose.  The client is responsible for the nozzle and everything from that point on.  So our maintenance man was up on a ladder filling the tanks.  He was using a pole as a dipstick.  Unfortunately, the longest pole in Kobuk is a copper pipe.  Guess what's running up the school tanks?  The power line!  He hit the power line with a copper pipe and then couldn't let go.  He ended up throwing himself off.  He was pretty cut-up and I heard tonight (Tuesday night) that he is still in intensive care.  He was taken to the village clinic and the school secretary had been walking by so she tries to alert the staff, but most (or maybe all) of us weren't answering.  That was apparently the pounding I heard.  It was apparently at 8:30, but I ignored it.  The medivac plane couldn't get in because of the fog.  They in fact didn't get in for a long time after the fog lifted.  I spoke with the pilots while the medics were at the clinic stabilizes the maintenance man (which took nearly an hour) and they said we don't have any weather reporting and so they were delayed even longer because they had to guess off of neighboring villages (but we're the furthest up river so its hard to see a moving trend if we're clearing first).  It was 1:20 p.m. before the plane took off from Kobuk.  It was taking him to Kotzebue where he was then transferred to a Lear jet to Anchorage.
Additionally we had three different things that resulted in lost fuel.  Since I didn't witness any of them, I don't feel confident describing them.  However, I was told we lost approximately 280 gallons of diesel fuel (are tanks are full though because Crowley was still there and so we got everything filled).  The head of the district maintenance department told us not to do anything because of liability issues and so we didn't do any clean-up (we didn't really have supplies or know-how anyway) and a bunch of them arrived on a charter flight at 4:30 in the afternoon (remember the first accident was at 8:30).  Needless to say there is a big mess to be cleaned up in Kobuk.  When we flew to Kotzebue on Monday morning for In-service we left several men staying at the school (after all there are no hotels or restaurants in Kobuk) working on cleaning it up.
There were a few good points to the day.  One highlight was touring the barge.  I didn't take any pictures on the barge, but I did take some pictures of it.  It's too bad I don't have any way to show you how big it is in comparison to the town.  They run big orange fuel lines from the barge all around town to fill everything up.  It was quite interesting.  Enjoy the following pictures.

 The medivac plane on the runway.
 The ambulance meeting the medivac plane.
 The Crowley barge -  after fog cleared it was an absolutely spectacular day (except for about 10 minutes when the charter landed and it rained, but then the sun came right back out).
    The barge from the other side (this view is looking down river).

Friday, August 12, 2011

New Teacher Training

On Thursday afternoon Katie and I flew to Kotzebue.  It was rather interesting.  We didn't know when the plane would be arriving.  On Sarah's recommendation I called Bering Air in Kotzebue to find out what the routing was.  The plane was flying Selewick, Ambler, Kobuk, Shungnak.  Unfortunately, that knowledge didn't seem to help.  We could have listened oh the VHF radio to find out the plane was approaching, but we don't have a radio and we decided it would be nicer to simply sit at the airstrip rather than sit in the school office and listen to the radio there (although if it had been raining or later in the winter I'm sure the school would be the more preferable option).
Around 4 we went to the airstrip.  Several kids joined us and then the school secretary and pre-k teacher came and joined us.  Then as the Era plane was approaching (it came first yesterday), a bunch of people came.  Several stayed until the Bering plane arrived.  It was fun.  We got to know several people and know some we had met before better.  Also, several of the kids were trying to scare us.  It became quite a game.  It was also interesting because the kids were clearly concerned about our leaving.  Several of them were like, "you're leaving?" and we had to reassure them that we were returning.  It was quite heartening to have people concerned about our leaving.

The plane didn't arrive until after 5 (I had told my dad I was leaving between 3:45 and 5 well I was wrong).  There were still quite a few people on the plane and even more cargo (by the way quite a few means about 7 including us) so the pilot asked for a volunteer to sit in the co-pilot seat, just to Shungnak.  I quickly volunteered.   It was kind of fun sitting there and so when we got to Shungnak (and offloaded a lot of the cargo) he told me that I could stay in the co-pilot's seat if I wanted to, so I did.  Off and on through the flight he pointed out a few things to me and I think he might have pointed out more if I hadn't fallen asleep (it's kind of hard though because the engine noise is really loud and he would take his headphones off one ear before talking to me - I'm assuming to make sure that he was speaking loudly enough for me to hear, when he spoke to air traffic control it would be really quietly into his mic.)
When we got here I discovered several things: 1) my colleagues in Kobuk were right, most teachers come directly to Kotzebue without going to their villages.  I was surprised a number had just flown up from the lower 48 today 2) there were very few who are directly out of college.  Because of the number of layoffs throughout the country there are quite a few rather experienced new teachers.  When I spoke to many of them they had taken the job because it was a job that was offered.  That makes me nervous.  Most of them know nothing about Alaska and I'm afraid some of them are in for quite a shock.  One lady went into the home of one of the teacher's here in Kotz and she said that she didn't think it was very nice.  The three of us (all in the AKT2 program) who had been to our villages already looked at it and thought it was REALLY nice.  I hope the housing in her village is a lot nicer than in Kobuk (although from conversations it sounds like in a lot of places it is quite a bit nicer than in Kobuk). 3) I learned that the district teaches 6th grade as part of elementary school.  Katie and I are the only ones who are teaching 6th grade as secondary students.  This is because Kobuk is so small that we only have a k-2 and 3-5.  They didn't want to make the elementary grades include 4 grades.  However, the 6th grade will be taught reading separately (according to the current schedule we received they will have language arts with Katie and perhaps with some high 5th graders and then go to the 3-5 class for more reading.  The rest of their subjects will be with the 7th and 8th graders though).  4) The final thing I learned is that most teachers in the district are not teaching as many subjects (or grades as mentioned in 3).  Tom (my friend from the program in Shungnak) and I were the only ones in our group that were teaching 2 subjects and looking at the other schedules Katie appears to be the only other person teaching more than core subject.  I'm sure this is part of why Corrine said when we were at training that we should look around at people and think, "my job is harder than yours."
Katie and I also got a schedule today.  I'm not sure how this schedule came to be and Katie is pretty certain it isn't going to hold.  The other teachers didn't get schedules so I don't really understand why we got one.  However, our site is rather different from others so that might be how this came to be.  I think most of the other schools have things more set by the principal.  I don't know.  There's lots to learn.  The way the schedule goes now I am teaching 7-12th PE (first period), math and science then a middle school technology - keyboarding elective and some sort of high school technology elective (I think it is also some sort of computer based elective).  These should be pretty fun so I hope that at least that portion of the schedule remains.
Here are pictures our trip to Kotzebue.
 The view from the Kobuk "airport"
 Here comes the plane
 Here's our ride.  I got to ride in the co-pilot's seat
 Kobuk from the air.
 Another picture of Kobuk from the air.
 A cool building in Kotzebue.
I tried to get all the village names in the picture, but I didn't succeed.  I know I missed Ambler and I can't read the right side, but I think I missed some others to.  Anyway, this is our district office it is directly across the parking lot from the middle/high school which is actually connected to the elementary school (even though they have different names and offices and everything).

Fish Camp, Berry Picking and Bike Riding

This past Tuesday and Wednesday were busy days!  On Tuesday Corrine came back to town to feed the dogs and picked Katie and I up and took us up river to Anna Vera's (I don't know about the spelling, but Anna means grandmother) fish camp.  That was such a fun adventure.  Anna Vera was just opening her fish camp and it as still a bit early.  Later on they said people would be stopping by as they went back and forth to camp.  We cooked everything either on the outside fire or on a cookstove inside a platform tent.  Vera had her net set out just a little down river and we checked the net.  Tuesday night when we checked we only found one salmon.  We went ahead and brought it in because it looked like it was going to slip through the net (we had planned to just peek, but leave the fish in the net).  On Wednesday when we went back to check the nets again we found 3 salmon and sheefish.  We also found a beaver!  It was dead an amazingly hadn't damaged the net so we got to see how to skin a beaver.  Also, Vera hung the fish up on a fish rack to dry.  As the season progresses people will be drying a lot of fish, but since there were only a few right now Vera had us build a little rack right on the shore (she has a whole fish house up higher on the bank).  Additionally, we put in "stairs" from the beach to the camp because the spring floods had eroded things and made it really hard for Vera to get up to camp.

On Wednesday afternoon we went berry picking.  There were tons of tundra cranberries, but it was still a little early for them.  We also found a spot just full of low bush blueberries.  I've had them before, but if you haven't, they are smaller and much more tart than the blueberries you buy in the stores (and oh so good!).  We picked a bunch of those and I put them in the freezer. I meant to take pictures, but didn't.  Sorry.

After we got back to town I took a nap, but then because the weather was still incredible I couldn't stay inside so I went for a walk and while I was walking I remembered that Erin had lent me her bike.  I decided I would bike up to the Dahl Creek runway which is three miles outside of town.  Erin had told me that it was safe to bike that far.  The bears usually didn't come out in there, but to stay away from the turn-off to the dump and not to go any further (we have 15 miles of road ending at the Bornite mine).  I had a great ride out.  Then as I was riding back I noticed that out on the tundra there was a flash of red.  Then I realized I knew that red.  That was the three year old daughter of Luke and Sarah.  Then I saw the whole family.  They were out berry picking.  I went out and joined them and hung out some with Sarah.  Unfortunately, this spot didn't have too many blueberries.  We went over to another spot (they rode their Honda - what they call 4-wheelers here in Kobuk) and I biked to another spot (which was closer back to town).  There were apparently some there, but the baby was starting to fuss and so we decided to head back to town.  Right after I started the back tire felt wobbly.  I got off an looked and didn't see anything.  Then as I was riding more I could see the tire moving.  I got off again, but couldn't see anything that was obviously wrong.  I rode so more and it got worse and worse.  Finally when I was a couple of bends from town (I have no idea how far it was - not too far because it didn't take too long) I simply couldn't ride any more and had to walk it the rest of the way home.  I haven't had a chance to try to figure out what's wrong with it.  I'll have to deal with that later.

Here are the pictures from fish camp.  Enjoy.
 The tent is behind the tarps.  The tarps are to help block the wind.  This tent is left up all year long.
 The boar parked in front of fish camp.  Isn't the scenery gorgeous?  And this is before the weather turned really nice!
 Some of the first signs of fall - the fireweed in town aren't turning, but they were up at camp.
 Some of the other plants were turning too...
 The beaver in the net.  Amazing that he didn't tear up the net.
 Me on the boat with the fish.
 Vera cutting the fish.
 Vera skinning the beaver.
 The fish drying on the rack.
This picture wasn't from fish camp.  This picture I took at the end of my bike ride.  This is right at the edge of town looking north.  Also, I took this picture at 10:05 pm.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Around Kobuk

So I have now been in Kobuk for a little over a week.  Actually as I write this I am sitting in Kotzebue Middle/High School and am not in Kobuk at all, but that is beside the point.  After my initial arrival things were a little bit slow.  My new co-workers invited me to dinner that first night and then to brunch the next morning.  That evening I had dinner with Luke and Sarah, Baptist missionaries in town so I didn't eat anything at home until the second full day.  Off and on through the days different kids came to visit me.  I took walks through town, but it just rained and rained so I didn't see too many people.  On Sunday I went to church and Sunday Katie arrived.  It was fun to be on the receiving end.  All the kids went to the airport as did I and the other teachers and we greeted her there.  It was great fun.  It was also the first time the sun had shined since I arrived.  Corrine took Katie and I on a tour of the village (I had already had one, but I went again) and learned more.  I didn't take pictures then, but I have taken a few pictures so I'm going to go ahead and post those now.
 The Kobuk Baptist Mission.  Right now though the Baptist church is meeting in the Friends church because the Friends church is without a pastor and they asked Luke to preach so he's holding the Baptist services in the Friends' church building.
The Kobuk river with just a few of the boats that can be seen on it. 

The Kobuk River again with some of the fireweed.
 The Russian Store.  There are two stores in town.  O'Brown's (see the next picture), which Luke run's and this store run by a Russian man named Eugene.  I haven't taken any pictures inside the stores, but since I'm getting to know Luke pretty well I might do that sometime before too long (although I'm going to be spending most of the next week in Kotz.)
O'Brown's.  This is the other store in town and Luke works here. I don't know if the Russian store accepts credit cards, but this one does.

I haven't taken any pictures of the school yet because they board it up in the summer to keep the kids from breaking the windows.  I also haven't taken any pictures of my house so I'll have to do that when I get back to Kobuk.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Arrival in Kobuk

     I arrived in Kobu a little after 5 pm on Wednesday August 3rd.  I was greeted by one of my fellow teachers and a whole bunch of students.  It was pretty nice. I had flown from Anchorage to Kotzebue and then from Kotzebue to Kobuk on a small bush plane.  The plane had 10 seats for passengers so it was a lot bigger than I thought it might have been and it was what they call the milk run, which means that it stopped in Amber, then Shungnak and finally in Kobuk.  While most people would consider this an inconvenience, since I had never been out here before, I really enjoyed it because I was able to see the villages briefly as we passed through.
     So to pick back up on the story of my arrival... I was met at the airport by one of my co-workers and a bunch of students.  They had brought a 4 wheeler with a cart behind it and the students happily carried my luggage for me.  My co-worker drove me to my house (which was actually less than 100 yards away).  When we got there she told me that they had had a problem.  Namely, they didn't have the keys. So what I found was that they still couldn't get in.  Another co-worker had drilled out the deadbolt lock and while we were standing there one of the men from the village picked the other lock with a credit card. The inside door wasn't locked and they did find a key that would open the door lock there (but not the deadbolt) so for right now that is the only door I'm locking.  Unfortunately, today I accidently locked myself out and so one of my neighbors called the man who had picked the lock the first time and he picked it for me again today.  Hopefully, we'll get some keys from Kotzebue (from the district office) soon.
     After I was let into my apartment my co-workers, the kids and I then went and got all my boxes and tubs from the school.  I was pleased to see that everything I had shipped from Anchorage two weeks earlier had arrived as had everything I had ordered on Amazon.  Unfortunately, there are still a few key things I am missing because my parents shipped them from North Carolina only a week or so ago.  Additionally, I still have  tub and a suitcase I left in Kotzebue plus the six boxes I shipped from Anchorage only this past Tuesday.  We'll see when those arrive.  Luckily, I have a pretty good supply of stuff and can borrow the few things that I need or can live without them.
    I'm told it is usually pretty nice around here, but it has been raining since I got here.  Today is the first day there has been any sun (and it was raining this morning) so I haven't really taken any pictures around the village.  Below are some pictures I took though on the flight in.

Kotzebue from the plane.

I know it looks like snow, but this isn't.  These are sand dunes.  In between Kotzebue and Kobuk is a desert.  It just seems like it pops out of no-where!
The welcome sign at the airstrip. 

The map feature on my phone.  The blue arrow shows you where I am.  The star is Anchorage.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Packing and Shipping Part II

In preparation for my flight to Kobuk today, I finished packing and shipped off the last of my stuff yesterday.  I shipped another 8 packages including 36 pounds of hand weights, which I fit into a medium size flat rate box, and my HDTV (which required an extra fee for being oversized - I knew it was oversize before I took it).  This time I did take a picture.  Additionally, I didn't get to the airport until a little after 5, so it was a lot busier than last time, plus there were some other new teachers (from out-of-state I believe) who were shipping their stuff - this time of year the stores are full of teachers who are passing through Anchorage on their way to the Bush.
I took my camera to the post office with me, but didn't want to draw even more attention to myself so I didn't actually take it out. I might have taken a picture outside the car as we were getting everything out, if it hadn't been raining and raining rather hard.

Monday, August 1, 2011

So where is Kobuk anyway?

Everywhere I go (and I'm in Alaska) people ask me, "so where exactly is Kobuk?"  Yesterday my pastor was giving a missions team report on their trip to Shungnak (10 miles down river from Kobuk) and he said Shungnak was the second to last village and then told everyone if they wanted to go to the ends of the earth they should follow me to Kobuk.  So now I will describe where the ends of the earth are.  If you are flying commercial, you fly 549 miles from Anchorage to Kotzebue (population approx. 3,000).  Then you change to a bush plane (pictures coming as soon as I get to do this and then get Internet connection for posting) and fly another 155 miles to Kobuk (population anywhere between 109 and 150 depending on the source).  This however is not the most direct route.  If you were a bird it would only take you 449 miles, but flying commercial airlines it takes the above total of 704 miles (and for a round trip ticket a little over $800).  For those of you (and I would imagine this is almost everyone) who are going, "well she gave us a lot of numbers, typical Kristin, but that doesn't help me to actually know where Kobuk is," I am posting a map too...

And for anyone who doesn't know Alaska well enough to know where this is, here is another map...

The highlighted portion is Northwest Arctic Borough, the borough of which I am about to be a resident.