Alyssa and I panicked. I was standing in our kitchen making lentils, veggies and dumplings. And she asked me what’s wrong. And I tell her why I’m upset right now, and she tells me she is feeling the exact same way. And we wind each other up, while also feeling a little less alone that we’re not the only ones feeling extremely scared and trapped.
We talk about George’s MRSA, and how scared we are. And how we don’t feel supported by the program at all, and they don’t seem to have any backup plans or options for us. How much worse does it have to get before they would pull us out of a situation?
And we talk about all of it, including the vibes in the town. And I tell her about the creepy guy leaning on me in the library yesterday who I had to tell to fuck off, and she told me that some other creepy ass dude who came in the library today and walked straight up to her, followed her all over the library and then outside, his breath in her face reeking of alcohol and not backing off.
And then I told her how as I was walking home across the lagoon today, there were two guys screaming and holding beer cans. And then they were pulling this other guy up who was passed out under the gas line. And then all three started yelling at this person across the lagoon.
I walk on, and as I get closer to the person across the lagoon, I realize it’s a female. And she is so drunk, and falling all over the place. And the guys are yelling at her to get the fuck back here, and then yelling at me to grab her. And I don’t know what to do because they are all drunk as fuck, it’s nine in the evening, I’m alone and a visitor here and I’m equidistant between the two parties. I continue walking the way I was going, and soon catch up with the girl, who is stumbling all over. I talk to her, and ask if she’s okay. She says she’s fine, but she’s slurring her words and barely able to stand up straight or talk without drooling. And I ask her if those are her friends behind her, and does she want to go meet up with them? And she says, No.
And I say, okay. Are you going to your house? I’m headed this way as well. And she tells me she’s not headed to her house.
And I don’t really know what else I can do, and the guys behind us are yelling and upset and I do not understand the context of this situation enough to stick around. So I tell her to let me know if she needs any help, call out to me. I say this knowing full well that there is nothing that I can do, and I’m not sure what I even should do. They are probably her friends, in an ideal world at least, and she’s drunk and wandered off. But what if that’s not the case? I don’t know. She seems satisfied to continue on her own in the opposite direction, so I continue my walk back across the lagoon to my apartment.
Walking past the water, I curse the shapes floating in it. There are a few little black spots bobbing around, and in my mind they might be the noses of polar bears in hiding.
“You better be fucking ducks,” I tell the shapes in the water.
Finally, arriving to the block our apartment is on, I see the neighbors slaughtering a walrus in their front yard.
Jess comes out after we talk about this, and is like, well fuck I hope I don’t get assaulted when I go outside tonight. She says she just needs to go outside and cry somewhere. And she walks out and does.
She returns an hour later, with a shocked but numb expression on her face.
“You guys, I’m pretty sure I was followed.”
She proceeds to tell us how she noticed that the same person who was behind her at the lagoon was still behind her when she got to the other side of town thirty minutes away, walking around the neighborhoods. And then she kept looking behind her shoulder, a bit concerned. And each time she looked back, she saw this dude running in her direction, and then slowing down and stopping once he registered that she was looking behind her. And this happened like three or four times as she tried to make her way back to the house as quickly as possible. She would walk, then look back. And he would be running toward her, and then stop and saunter off a side road but be back doing the same shit the next time she turned around.
She spent a good twenty minutes after she got back to our apartment staring out the window and making sure he hadn’t followed her here. Because, you know, there are no locks in Barrow.
There have been no locks all year for this team.
Jess and Alyssa tell me about how, when they were digging for bodies today behind the senior center (this was the literal job for the day, as the spot picked out is right next to an ancient burial site) there were a bunch of Inupiat people that lined up to watch them working, and laughed at the idea of a tundra garden in their faces.
“You’re going to try and GROW things on our tundra?”
I told them about my day. How I felt super uncomfortable from the moment I got there– arriving at this Native July 4 games festival, being some of the only white people there, and definitely the only white people with a booth. And an undesirable booth, as well. Did we belong there? Did we belong there as we were instructed to semi-patronizingly promote vegetables while delicious smelling caribou gravy over rice was served in steaming bowls at the tent next to us?
It didn’t really matter how I felt, the people who we interacted with were the tell tale sign of how well we fit in there, with our “mission.”
“What are you doing here?” Robin, this nice Inupiat man with two small children asked me. “You know that it is the North Slope Borough celebration, don’t you?”
I said I did, and I said I wasn’t the one who set this up, so was unaware of how we fit into it all. Laura had simply dropped us off this morning, after engaging us in a tent fiasco that epitomized our time here, and I watched a baby with a pacifier shaped as a mustache honk the car horn at me for fifteen minutes. That part was nice, anyway.
But yeah, the locals were like, what the fuck are YOU doing here?
People were laughing at our promoting the tundra garden as well, and people especially laughed whenever we talked about the job opportunity for 15-18 year olds dealing with the garden for a week this summer.
“Ha! That is during hunting season. My son and daughter like to hunt, not garden.”
What we’ve been thinking all along about this hunter gatherer culture we are living among, but was explicitly stated by the people themselves throughout the day.
There were some nice people I met, and I really met a lot of people, even if I felt like I was going against everything I believed in and was partaking in this sample of cultural imperialism. Symbolic of all the shit white people have forced on native populations for the entire history of America.
One woman was a bit interested, but when she heard what the community garden contained, “carrots, potatoes, greens…” she scoffed, and said, “Oh. American food.”
And I was like, fuck yeah! You go, lady. Fuck American food. And fuck what I’m doing here. Tell them to send me back to Sacramento. Or else tell them that I need to spend the rest of my time here eating whale with you!
But the best part was when I got back from grabbing a glass of water, and I went to sit back down in my seat in the booth, and this adorable little 65 year old lady with very few teeth sitting at a table across the arena from me locked eyes with me. And then she lifted both of her hands, and stuck her middle fingers up. Still not breaking eye contact with me, she mouthed the longest “FUUUUUUCCCCCCCKKKKKKKK YYOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOUUUUUUU” I’ve ever experienced in my life. And then she turned around, and life went back to normal. I would have thought maybe I had misread her lips, seeing that it was such a strong statement. But the two middle fingers high in the air facing me left no room for doubt.
I don’t know what we’ve walked into here. I don’t know what my responsibility is going from here. Am I safe? MRSA, hazardous materials, creepy drunk men, a community that I would love to get to know outside of the contexts that I am meeting them.
Alyssa, Jess and I are staying up all night. We have decided that we can’t get any lower, so we might as well get fucking crazy. And be crazy as shit during our conference call tomorrow, when we are to learn our options. If leaving is an option. And I’m thinking if leaving early is not an option, some of my team is going to leave on their own.
And I keep going back and forth on it as well, honestly. There is too much to think about. And I just really want to make it out of this healthy and safe and not extremely emotionally fucked. We all do. But it’s getting heavier day by day.
Right now I feel better than I have all day, though. Go figure.
I’m going to go finish a book.
You can never sustain panic for very long. And after panic follows this nice, chilled out numbness that is possibly unhealthy, but also a very useful coping mechanism.