Tuesday night, and it’s snowing and raining and all around great weather for posting up in the library with a window view, and taking in the ambience.
I got a ride to the library with Heather, and am working through my distaste with our housing location. The boys’ apartment is a two minutes walk from the library and the Arctic Women in Crisis shelter, while we have an entire 45 minute lagoon to traverse, consisting of a huge strip of ice with no houses to run and hide in, no cars to jump in, just me and the unknown world.
And I might have come to terms with it all today. I began to realize that this has got to be the best possible place I could be, somehow. Our apartment reminds me of my sophomore year college apartment with Deb and Jade in Lawrence, and how isolated and lonely we were out there on the edge of town. It feels much the same, and that has been on my mind for the past few days, as I compared the boys’ experience in the heart of town to our own on the outskirts.
But I choose to believe that everything happens for a reason, and this is the best thing that could happen to me. Living in that antisocial apartment complex my sophomore year of college was a big influence on my desire to jump on a plane and leave the country the following year.
It all adds up.
My first night in England has always been metaphorical for me in the way I strive to perceive life. You’ve got to own it, and make it yours before you can truly see beauty.
Twenty years old in a yellow scarf and sweatpants, I got on that plane and was all about it. No turning back.
I arrived in Leicester, and felt immediately at home. All of the study abroad students drank coffee together, and then we gathered for our tour of the campus. As we walked around, we dropped fellow students off at their new housing. I was the last one to be taken to my room on the tour, all the way across campus. And I ended up in this isolated building, right next to a construction zone. The only person in a 100 person complex. I had no way to contact anyone because I didn’t have a phone, or an internet connection. I was the definition of alone.
Unlocking my room in this hidden corner of the world, I took a deep breath. This wasn’t my permanent housing, it was just for the study abroad week before regular classes started. I would be around people again soon. I just had to sleep in an empty dorm by myself for a week. I could do this.
I got out my laptop, laid across the bed, and played my favorite songs loud. And I could almost hear the music over the manic construction drilling happening right outside of my window.
I decided to take a shower.
Walking into the shower, it was super dark, and dirty, and different than any shower I had experienced before. Old style European. I don’t remember quite what it was about this shower that brought me to that low point, but I have a vivid memory of turning on the faucet, and feeling all of my life choices spraying out at me with the cold, metallic water.
And I had a split second of self pity and doubt.
And then I looked straight at the old rusted shower spout, took it all in fully and chose to see the beauty. Fully saw my ownership of the situation, and never looked back after that.
The rest of the year was one of the best years of my life, because I never let myself doubt my decisions again. I just enjoyed them, or learned from them. No regrets, everything was exactly the way it was going to be.
And that is exactly what I feel like I need to accept right now. Something I’ve been flitting back and forth with throughout this entire year of travel. I need to turn that shower on, look at that rusted faucet straight on, and embrace everything single thing that exists at this point and time. How it got me here, where it’s taking me, and where I’m going to take myself.
As I finished my shower that first night in England, I had the biggest smile on my face. This was what I wanted. And now I was able to fucking run with it and make it mine.
I walked out of my sad apartment building later, and my new friends I had met hours earlier were walking around the buildings searching for me. A week later I was moved into a communal house that made for my first family away from home, and the beginning of my life as I know it.
It wasn’t England. It was a chance to face myself.
Today I am stretching my boundaries by coming to the library after work, and realizing this experience is just as atmospheric and conducive to reflection as I had imagined it. My housing this whole year has never really been easy, or in a super safe area. This is just one more thing to put on my list of things to overcome. A love of books over a fear of polar bears.
The view out my library desk window is straight out flat landscape. It’s almost impossible to really see where the landscape ends, and the sky begins. If you look closely you can see that the snow lets off a little bit of a blue light, compared to the white, snowing sky.
And hey, I’m kind of excited to make the solo trek back to my apartment, ice and snow blowing in my face. Make me feel alive again, remind me that I can’t control everything. And when I start to attempt that is when I start to really lose what control I do have.
Books over polar bears. A responsible life of intrigue over a life of fear.
Our workdays here are so long. They are always stunningly thrilling, with new information, and lots of thoughts and engagement. And Laura never runs out of energy. Not ever.
That goes for most people in the city, really. They are out on the beach on the weekends all night, til the morning, then on til the next morning. Time doesn’t really exist here, and it’s a concept that I am falling in love with, and still having a little bit of struggle catching up with.
We are supposed to be ready for work around 8:20 daily, but our ride doesn’t usually get here until twenty to thirty minutes later. And it doesn’t matter, it’s all part of the flow. It’s all perfect. There are no apologies.
But at the end of the day, when you’re super tired and ready to start the countdown on your clock, you realize that there is no countdown. And that things will just keep moving until they stop. There is no timeframe, no real tempo for the day. Just keep going with a loose idea of goals until someone tells you to stop. Or until you crawl back to your van and curl up on a seat, with some not so subtle hints.
So today we started out the morning picking up supplies for our cooking day with Laura. And then setting up the kitchen at the local middle school.
Starting our day of cooking we split up into pairs, and Carinne and I partnered up. We began the morning preparing homemade sourdough bread, and then moved onto making banana walnut muffins with streusel topping for a mid morning snack.
After consuming a great quantity of muffins, we moved on to fixing lunch: lentil soup. We cut up veggies, added spices, rice and lentils, and each pair made their own pot. We then went back to our sourdough bread after it had risen, and prepared it for the oven.
Carinne and I’s bread was hilariously unprofessional, and we trading dough with our teammates whenever they were not looking. Caught in the act awhile later, we had to take ownership of our dough again, and ended up having to make it into biscuits. Everyone was cracking up and calling them our fortune cookie failures.
An hour later we were all sitting down eating fresh sourdough bread and Carinne and I’s biscuits (which turned out to be endearing and lovely, though we were the only ones to venture eating them). I was tearing apart the biscuits and mixing them in with my soup– like little dumplings.
After lunch we were fading fast. We are still so tired up here, a week into the climate. We still had much to do, though. We were making gnocchi from four different types of potatoes, two different sauces, and homemade yogurt made out of powdered milk.
Like I said, Laura and Angela never run out of energy. And maybe it’s just an Alaska, eternal summer day thing, but it is amazing.
The gnocchi was delicious, we decided that it is best with red potatoes or Yukon Gold potatoes.
They gave us all the leftovers, the spices, and random food they had stowed away for us during the week. Earlier in the day, when we were loading up for the day at the old hospital, Laura saw a man she knew.
“These are the oppressed,” she said in reference to us and our food situation.
No longer oppressed, you ladies and the city of Barrow are making our food dreams from the year come true.
Tonight we are getting a couch surfer on our couch for the next week. She’s flying in with the 7:30 evening plane from Anchorage. I know she is a masters student with some mission to accomplish in Barrow, but I don’t know her name. Kind of exciting, and chaotic to have one more person in that tiny, stuffy apartment.
Who knows what will happen? I’m going to start giving things back up to chance. I’m much happier when I do that.
And find much more to write about.
Watching the 7:30 plane taking back off into the air through the library window right now. Two planes in and out from Barrow a day. Right in front of you. Can’t miss it regardless of where you are here.
Polar bears are the only animals in the world that actively hunt human beings.
The biggest bear in the world, and the only one that you cannot scare off.
They have terrible eyesight, so they track you with their sense of smell.
They can smell prey from a mile away.
They’ve never really bothered villages until recently, with global warming happening and their habitat and food supply being destroyed.
Fuck going to the library.