I have been thinking a lot the past couple days about storytelling and how story content and structure can speak volumes about the storyteller's values and culture. A couple days ago a native Alaskan (adult, well educated man) told me a story that I will sum up the way I believe I'd have told it if it had happened to me: I heard a noise outside that sounded like gunshots so I grabbed my gun and loaded it, just in case. I didn't end up having to use it because the cops showed up and arrested the guy outside. The guy just snapped, and we never knew what his issue was--but he didn't hurt anyone. Now, when the native fellow told the story to me, he began by telling me that his grandfather had found some minerals and left for Fairbanks to make his claim official. Meanwhile, he (the man telling me the story) was at home with his family. When he heard gunshots outside, he instinctively grabbed and loaded the gun (though not because needing your gun here is routine--it's not) because his nephew was standing bedside him and "there's no way I'm letting anyone hurt him". Then he explained that his Dad told him to grab the gun, but he already had it ready. His story ended about as mine did.
What I find fascinating about our two accounts is that he felt he needed to explain why his grandfather wasn't home, while it wouldn't even cross my mind that his grandfather might be involved in the story; in every detail of the story he mentioned a family member and how they impacted this experience while, though I love my family, I would likely focus on how I felt, what I heard, what I could and couldn't see happening, and maybe my plans A, B, and C.
Fuzzy snapshots, which is all I've had of each village, is enough to show me how differently this culture views families than mine. I've found that asking, "do you have brothers and sisters?" is a much more successful ice breaker question than, "what did you for spring break?". The kids' faces light up as they list the names of their siblings and usually add in a few cousins as well. The schools have banners that read, "respect your elders" and the hallways are decorated with pictures of their village elders, appearing to be 80+ years old. Most of the kids were named after elders, so I'm treating little 2nd graders with names such as Seamore and Betty. They seem to be more respectful toward adults than many kids I've worked with in my Colorado experiences. Though the older kids don't want to be pulled for a speech-language evaluation, they never complain but sit and participate until I say it's over.
Yesterday, when I arrived (by snowmobile since the plane couldn't land on the icy strip, 8 miles away) at the special education room in Kobuk, about seven 2nd graders lined up, shook my hand, and said, "hello, my name is _____. Welcome to Kobuk!" I can't remember the last time I saw something that cute! After school I had about a half hour before I had to board the plane, so several of the kids I treated took me on a tour of the town via cross country skiing. They were so encouraging as they taught me how to climb up hills in my skis and to ski down a steep hill onto the frozen river. They were so excited to be able to teach their teacher a new skill!
I spent last night in a Kotzebue again and left this morning for Noatuk. Since I was the only passenger for that leg, the pilot let me sit right seat. I've flown over amazing landscapes this trip. Much of it it has been lakes and braided rivers but since it's all iced and snowed over right now it's hard to tell what is land versus frozen water covered in snow.
At Noatuk today, I did five evaluations and have a few more to do tomorrow before flying back to Kotz. I'm spending the night in this school in my sleeping bag, on my ThermaRest. When high schoolers travel for basketball, specialists come to town, or someone is here giving a presentation, the school doubles as a hotel (at other times, it's a town hall). These schools have fully functioning kitchens, showers, and some have mattresses. I've felt very safe here and they give me keys so I can lock myself in a room at night.
It's gonna be a late night of report-writing, so I'm signing off. Thanks for reading!