Alaskan Orientation

Thursday morning. A couple days into the Arctic life.

Carinne made coffee, and Jess made hot water for peanut butter, honey oatmeal. We’re all settling in and eating at the table, getting ready for the day.

We walk out the door without locking up. No one locks their homes in Barrow. The city is apparently almost crime free. Because if you’re going to steal something– you’re not going to get very far.

We show up for orientation around nine o’clock. No one is really worried about starting, though. It’s about the quality of the interaction- enjoying one another’s company as opposed to a purely work mindset. Our sponsor Laura lets us know how times are approximate up here. They are fluid. They are relative to the environment. They are not absolute. Time is real, up here. Human being terms are inseparable from wild nature terms. We are all one, we’re all going to get to where we need to be going at the appropriate time if we respect the flow of life.

Our sponsor Laura is a Canadian native. She has a PHD in anthropology and archeology, and her specific field of study is in Western Arctic cultures.

After orientation we go to Tuzzy library, and watch the Eating Alaska documentary. Learning about the people that inhabit it. The culture that’s been created that is unique to this place and this place alone.

One in five Alaska citizens is native– amounting to a huge native population, with a strong voice. However, one in five Alaskans are also in the military- they come up here for the military, and then get Alaskan IDs for the benefits.

This creates a really interesting dynamic of a huge population of people who thousands of years of history in the place, and then a huge population of people who just showed up last week and are calling shots.

“Sometimes living in Alaska is like being in a trainwreck. I love being here and I love being part of it,” Laura added.

In general, the people of Barrow are in favor of oil drilling, as it provides much needed revenue for their community. The North Slope Bourough is worth billions of dollars in natural resources and oil revenue. Shareholders receive a dividend of about 10-50 thousand a year depending on what corporation they are a part of. Thus, the native communities are not opposed to this globalized petroleum society- they recognize that our collective culture needs oil, and are in favor of land based oil drilling. The general population is also in favor of opening ANWR-the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge- as it is not pristine wilderness anyway. The natural resources within ANWR are all inland– and there is no chance of oil spill into the ocean.

The Inupiat community within Barrow is strongly opposed to offshore drilling, however. There is a 60% chance for a spill to happen when any offshore drilling takes place, and there is no technology that can clean up ocean spills at this point in time.

“The ocean is our garden,” Edward Itta, the former mayor of Barrow in justification for opposition to offshore drilling. The entire culture is based around harvesting Bowhead whale. The Inupiat people harvest, they do not hunt. The whalers do not catch the whale, the whale is given to the whaling captain’s wife back at home. This is not sport hunting, this is deep, mutual respect from creature to human. The entire Inupiat economy is based around the sea, and if there was to be an oil spill in the area, it would be destructive to an entire way of life that has existed for thousands upon thousands of years.

Despite all of this, Shell oil company was given the green light to drill offshore 40 miles from Barrow.

Today we went on our new weekly “Wednesday Walk” out at the college. Free meal, and the chance to meet new people.

I sat next to this group of people, who turned out to locals.

A little man named Alexander, wearing a whalebone carving neck piece on his tie, and a flannel shirt and suit. He worked for the mayor’s office, and his job was being in charge of travel.

He told me everything about his life growing up in Barrow— the plants that they ate in the tundra growing up as kids. How to play “Eskimo baseball” (only two bases– and you have to call long shot, or short shot) and during Eskimo baseball you play 24 hours straight, the mom’s bringing out Popsicles out for the kids during the 24 hour sunlight and games.

I sat down unannounced with them, and he went straight to grab me some napkins to clean up the ranch spilled on my plate. And then engaged me for a full hour telling stories of his past and present.

Lots of horrifying stories of polar bears. “They’re nothing to be scared of. It just happens every once in awhile. My friend got chased by one last year when he was taking his trash out in the middle of the city. Luckily someone had left their car unlocked, and he dove in right before the bear pawed his head. The cops came by after people saw and helped him escape.”

What??! People are shaving their legs with peanut butter…“ -Syd, with a kleenex shoved up her left nostril, “I don’t want to miss any of it.

“Oh, god. Syd’s found another way to use up all of our $15 peanut butter.” -Alyssa and Carinne

“Wait, wait, wait. Believe it or not, peanut butter is actually “great for shaving”. The end result is a very smooth shave, and the result is balancing the oils on your skin.“

“If all our peanut butter and coffee grounds are in the shower, we’ll know who’s responsive.

“Just caked on the shower walls. Coffee grounds like shit– peanut butter like misery.”

“I didn’t know what it was. I went in and was “WHAT THE FUCK”

“Hey Lyss… can you grab my charger.”

“I thought your were going to ask me to grab your damn peanut butter.

“What happened to being myself?

“I have a tissue up my nose for christsake.”

“And everytime I talk it flaps”

“What is this??!” -Carinne finding white powdery substances in our kitchen. “I’m going to use it for my painting. *Sprinkling it on on the living room floor

“Annie, I’m so proud of us not touching the chocolate chips yet…”

“Yeah. We’re in a good place.”

“People say gypsy is a bad word, but what do the gypsies call each other? You know what, nomadic. And tea. This tea is the best kind.” -Carinne

“Damn. Could you find a bigger pot to cook this in?” -Jess in respect to the five gallon stainless steel pot Carinne boiled tea in.

“I know you like tea, but shit…”

“We’ll just keep reboiling it. Water can’t go bad, right? I wasn’t sure how much everyone wanted.”

“I JUST WANT TO POUR HONEY ALL OVER MY BODYYYYYYY” -Carinne putting on a show in the kitchen.“

“What is this peep hole for? Looking at people’s belly buttons? Yes, oh okay Stacy, come on in.” Alyssa

“It’s like the face of guilt. Once the dog has just shit on the carpet.”

11 pm conversations. We’ve been going at it for five hours now. Day one.

Not tired at all, up with the midnight sun.

The sky is beautifully clear right now.

Carinne showed us the picture she took from the airplane bathroom. A tea bag hanging from the hook at the top of door, foreshadowing.


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