Hand Maps

Up this morning with the fire alarms.

Syd, Jess and Alyssa were making pancakes and eggs, and then the whole building complex started blaring.

I woke up out of my deep sleep. And then immediately burrowed back inside my sleeping back and attempted to fall back asleep with the blatant fire alarm pulsing throughout my body.

We all did this for a few minutes. And then we had a simultaneous moment of panic as we realized that this was probably a good time to take the alarm seriously, and leave the building.

Throwing on my parka, and shoving my woolen socks in my pockets– I plunged into my rubber boots waiting for me by the door, and briskly walked outside into the tundra.

Where we waited for a good twenty minutes or so.

And met our neighbor, Cylas. Cylas is a warm native man with that characteristic calm, soft, easy voice that I’ve begun to associate with Barrow. Though he was woken out of his sleep with the alarm as well, he looked ready for the weather in his big traditional fur coat. Native cultural patterns along the bottom of the long parka, and furry fox paws around the neck– the claws smoothed around the neck of the parka like beaded decoration.

He’s staying with his aunt and uncle, who are teachers in Barrow. They are in Kotzebue for the summer- on the northeastern coast of the state.

Whenever people from Alaska tell you where they are from, they use their left hand. Upside down, thumb and pinky out, the rest of the fingers tucked under the palm- it becomes a map. Their thumb becomes the Aleutian islands and the Alaskan peninsula, Anchorage is the middle finger knuckle, the pinky becomes the strip along Canada with Juneau, and the top of the wrist is Barrow.

I talked to a woman the other night from the Kodiak islands, and she pointed to the place just between her thumb and index finger.

Today I am headed out to help with a tundra gardening workshop with the cooperative extension office. The other half of the team is headed to the library to help out with a table soccer game for the community kids.

We are really just going to be all over the place for the next month and a half.

Most of the taxi drivers in Barrow, Alaska are Buddhist monks.

Go figure. Just another mystery to uncover.

Our mission is not to create a factory farm of produce in the Arctic. Our mission is to spark a grassroots movement which integrates the food supply with the human. Locally grown, and access and control over one’s own food.

A communal society of subsistence hunters. You’re looking for the food justice movement? It’s happening right here. And has been for thousands of years.

Barrow has always been about eating locally– you need skills to eat. Up until the past twenty years, you couldn’t eat unless you knew how to produce your own food.

The belief system of the Inupiat people was traditionally a pagan, animistic, shamanism tradition, according to anthropologists. But if you ask anyone in Barrow about native beliefs, which we are advised not to do, you are greeted with an abundance of Christianity. And talk of how they threw away their sinful beliefs for the truth.

Which is super sad from a historical perspective.

In the 1870s and the 1880s, the Alaskan frontier was divided up between Christian religions. Bishops circled parts of Alaska with a pen on paper- gave the Catholics the interior, then the Arctic to the Presbyterians. Which is the predominant religion in Barrow these days.

I haven’t been to the heritage museum in town yet, I think I’ll go this weekend. But Laura said that a lot of the traditional art has been integrated with Christian symbols, and the past belief system is basically ignored.

There is still a large shamanistic presence in parts of the city, though. And those parts are something that I would like to learn about.

There are no garages in Barrow, they are too expensive. Plus, most people do not have cars in the town, as it’s cheaper to just take the taxi. It’s six dollars for a ride anywhere in town, and a ride back. The taxi will wait for you at the grocery store indefinitely.

Another interesting thing about vehicles up here– in parking lots there are these raised blocks of wood, with plugs coming out of them. They are for plugging into your car to warm it up, so that it will start in the cold.

So the most popular way to get around is ATV snowmobiles. Little kids driving them around– zooming around corners. Like I said before, kids play in the street here, and vehicles are supposed to look out for them. Sadly, Laura said at least one kid in town dies every year in the street.

Also, there is only one paved road in Barrow, it’s by the airport for TSA regulations. The rest of the muddy streets are free of formal rules and regulations, and for your riding pleasure.

There are also traditional dogs and sleds, but I haven’t seen anyone actually moving around this way yet. The dogs are so wild– they go crazy and bark at you as you walk past. They are so strong and big and beautiful and wolf-like.

We were told before coming to Barrow that the dogs are not pets- they serve a function for the people’s way of life. They are not socialized like pet dogs, and are not something you want to mess with. Also, it would be socially inappropriate to pet them in the city.

There is a tribal court in town– hand painted sign and super enthralling. I want to learn more about the tribal court system in Barrow. Karlin, the man I sat next to on the plane, spent many years as a member of an Alaskan tribal court system. And he said it is nothing like American court systems.

So while the girls are having these spiritual, artistic, empowering, radical sisterhood midnight sun inspirational nights– the boys are at their apartment across town all watching Dragonball Z together for hours on end.

Carinne asked them this morning, “What did you guys watch last night?”

And George responded with a list of four or five movies.

“It would be so boring if we didn’t have a tv in there.”

“We haven’t even turned ours on once,” Carinne replied.

It takes all kinds, you know?

We’re each having our individual experiences.

“All of the little things add up to something greater.” -Alyssa


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