I moved to the boys’ apartment today.

I’m having a moment. A day. A few days of it.

In an absurd twist of events, which I should have begun to expect with this job, we are to continue work with the wood without respirators. And even though I called the EPA and was told we should be using respirators the other day, Heather and Laura have printed off EPA regulation sheets today stating that a dusk mask is the necessary precaution.

Laura likened cutting pressure treated wood to working in a bakery. How you are supposed to wear a dusk mask if you’re around tiny airborne particles a lot, because it will over time add up to a carcinogenic effect.

And I said, I understand what you’re saying about the fact that any fine particles can be carcinogenic if exposed to over a long period of time. But we are talking about carcinogenic sawdust, not just flour or even regular wood dust. These woods have not just been “dipped into preservatives” as she keeps reassuring us, but have been pressure washed so that the preservatives have reached every fiber of the wood. Which is why it’s a problem when you cut it, because the dust is released into the air.

And, of course, it’s denied that this is a big deal. Brushed aside, and Laura leaves to attend her children.

And then Heather talks with me about how it’s not a big deal to her. That we take in toxic properties daily through our daily lives. And I say, yeah, I understand that as well. But if we have a chance to minimize a known toxin, why the hell would we not do that?

And of course, the Inupiat man who came over and told my team to please stop cutting the treated wood yesterday, was called the “Inupiat mafia.” Honest to god direct quote from our sponsor. Who the fuck am I working for? Let us all be people together. Let good people stop us from dangerous work activities, and thank them instead of calling them names. I want to actually work for the Inupiat people here, but to work for them, we’ve got to listen to them and take them and their thoughts seriously. Not create a culture of “us and them,” plowing ahead on our own agendas we think are best for them. And most comfortable to our understanding of the world. How are we any different than everyone else who comes up to the Arctic, and any indigenous culture for that matter, and tells them how to do things? Doesn’t listen to the local knowledge?

“The struggle for survival is based on the fact that this old Arctic Slope keeps the Eskimo alive. It has been our security for ages. Anytime that we wanted an ‘apple,’ we went out and got it. We got what we wanted to live on, got what we needed. So this is the reason that we want this secutiy for our coming generations. We cannot help but know that is being exploited and will be exploited to the point where we will not have freedom to make our own living. All we ask is… we don’t want to be left out in the cold, as long as there’s oil coming out of the ground.” -Alfred Hopson, 1971 hearing for the North Slope Bourough

Today’s work consisted of attending a women’s soccer match projected on the wall of the Inupiat Heritage center meeting room.

And mostly everyone in that room was a white outsider.

And we were just sitting there, eating popcorn, chocolate, and drinking smoothies.

And it’s a nice idea, but don’t you think you’d want to approach the situation in a merging of cultures instead of a monoculture of traditional American culture, ironically held at the Native Heritage museum?

I have no fucking idea. This shit is blowing my mind.

I feel a little better now that I am not living with Bactrim resistent MRSA anymore. Syd really just needs to go home. I love her a lot, but this program does not insure for the best state of health. And she needs to get healthy. And we need to be away from the disease that has had six months in her body, with antibiotics started and not finished, to grow and become super strong. It’s not ethical for her to be living in close quarters with us. I wouldn’t want to put others through that.

Also, Syd is just not the cleanest person. She’s been sick for weeks, and leaves balled up kleenex behind her life a trail of breadcrumbs. Always blowing her nose. Always touching everything. I had to get away for a bit. I have to comprehend my life situation from a new environment tonight.

Really fucking scary, though. I don’t want to be anywhere near it.

And of course, George has MRSA as well and is taking Bactrim. But as far as we’ve heard, the Bactrim is working. But he hasn’t been tested, so he might have the evolved kind as well. But I don’t know that yet. So I feel safer at the boys’. But Dre and Ricky have previously had boils in the past, but maybe they never got to MRSA, and just went away. And Ricky has been sick the past three days, he’s had no energy, can hardly stand up. What is going on? Does he have mono as well? Could he be developing symptoms weeks later after contact with Tony? Or could someone else like me be a carrier for mono and not know it, since I’ve had it in the past?

I need to check and see if George’s wound is healed, though. Because if it’s not, then it probably is safer to stay at the girls, as Syd’s hasn’t popped up into a wound recently.

And so there is all of this. And frankly, I just want to get the fuck out of Barrow, Alaska.

It’s been fun, and now it’s scary and complicated and frustrating.

Our sponsor Laura thinks we don’t trust her, and is getting defensive about the wood. But jesus, she’s trying to start a grassroots tundra garden project with this wood, but then the IUC, which is the native authority in town, is telling us to back away from the wood. Don’t cut it! They said it contains PCP as well. How are we supposed to get the community behind the idea of coldframe gardens if the ones with influence in town are not advising it? For really good reason?

And the part that really gets me, is that had we not worked with treated wood in the past, we wouldn’t have known to ask the questions that we did. And we would never have received safety training on working with the wood.

It’s all really shady, because on our project summary before getting here, it apparently said we would be working with hazardous materials. And it’s a bunch of bullshit that our team leader didn’t ask what that would be, or listen to me when I brought up safety concerns. And now we’re causing a snag in the work process, but then again, we should have had this training and knowledge before starting work. Not after we are caught cutting the wood by a local UIC worker concerned for our health, three days in.

Always ask, I guess. That’s the lesson we’ve got to take from this. If you don’t ask, they’re not going to tell you. I don’t know why the fuck they wouldn’t tell you, but I’m not them. If I were leading a team, if I had employees who were not trained construction workers, I would brief them on the safety measures of treated wood before handing them a saw. And I would not brush aside their fears like they didn’t matter, or like they were burdening me and crazy. I would listen, then I would research how best to answer that question. Also, I would just fucking scrap the wood. I would find another way to make gardens, that was safe for the community, for my team, and that wasn’t creating tension with the local people who were here when the wood arrived in the 80s. Our sponsor has only been here ten years, she can’t convince me she knows better than the people who live here and saw the wood come in.

I’m at the library right now. All the scientists I’ve worked with for the past two days, avoiding the toxic wood, just walked past me and waved. Life is interesting. Life is light when you want it to be. Help me find the lightness of life again. I am getting too heavy for my own good up here.

Heavy and circling thoughts.

I think that I can graduate and get my education award if I finish my diversity packet and stop right now. Why not? Hey brother, you want to go on an early roadtrip?

Well, this is fucking beautiful. Who knew.

I am over at the boys’ in Dre’s room (Dre sleeps on the couch in the living room though), and that Tony was scheduled to take when he gets here on Monday. But Tony had his own room in Willits, and I’ve done my time all year with roommates.

I really need a break.

There is a view of the frozen ocean out of my window, two blocks ahead, and people walking back and forth on the road outside. It feels alive, and I feel alive here.

My apartment with the girls only has windows facing the graveyard, and it’s dark and my side of the bed is on the far side from the window. And I have to share the bed, and the room.

Right now I’m sprawled out across a queen bed in a quiet room, windows open and books and papers all over. My eyes are so tired, but there is so much daylight to use. I need to go to sleep, though. Maybe I’ll try waking up early tomorrow and enjoying this lovely room.

I’m staying over here, somehow. It’s only four weeks left, I will find a way to make it work. Walking distance from the library, a view of the Arctic ocean every morning, a break from the MRSA worries, a bunch of boys who leave me alone to my thoughts and escapism.


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