I’d heard about the Bush, and I’d imagined it in depth before I came, but my first night here was an intimidating welcome I didn’t expect. The loud, shaky flight into Newtok was an adventure in itself, and the tiny plane couldn’t even fit most of our luggage, so it was sent a few days later on a different flight. We walked the boardwalks through the village, dodging the broken pieces and avoiding the large cracks between the planks. I looked at the homes and wondered how the natives stayed warm in the winter (or even in the summer) because some of the homes look like five pieces of ply wood thrown up as walls and a roof. Kim and the other teachers were greeted by little Eskimos welcoming them home, and many of them asked who I was and why I was here. The questions I’ve answered so far range from “are you a cowgirl?” and “do you have a boyfriend?” to “does Texas have dust?” Since English is their second language and they have a Yupik accent, I have a difficult time understanding some things they say, but I’m sure they have a hard time deciphering my Texas accent, too. I was impressed by how Kimberly could translate even the most unrecognizable words they said into plain English so that I could understand and respond.
I have flashbacks of the scorching Texas heat, the sweat running down my forehead, feeling dizzy from the intense sun, and having to drink a ton of water just to feel somewhat hydrated. When we stepped off the first plane in Anchorage, a gust of cool wind rushed past us and then disappeared, and I felt like all of my worries disappeared with it. I realized that, no matter how desolate or dreary life MAY become in this little village, I could handle it all with this weather by my side. Newtok is even windier, rainier, and colder than Anchorage since it’s right on a river and near the Bering Sea, and the entire village is wet, wet, wet right now. I already knew not to step in the mud (since there’s E-Coli in some of it from the natives dumping their honey buckets, or sewage, in the wrong places), but you simply can’t avoid the mud sometimes. On the grand tour that Kim gave me of Newtok, I stepped on a rotted plank, lost my balance, and sunk knee-deep into the mud. And at the time, I had no clothes in Newtok since my luggage wasn’t here yet.
When we reached the house, we were greeted by the smell of rancid meat. Cringing and gagging, we walked in the house to discover that the deep freeze had gone out in the summer and all the food in it was ruined. Then the heater went out. And to add to the permanent hassle of taking showers at the school and packing water from the school, the incinolet wasn’t working (and still isn’t), which means we walk to the school to use the restroom. “Welcome to the Bush,” Kimberly said with a smile. “This is how we live.” So with full bladders and empty stomachs, we crashed in her bed, hoping for a better tomorrow.
And better days definitely came. So far, the village life is relaxing and refreshing. When you’re here, it seems like Newtok is the whole world. So life is somewhat simple right now, and I’m enjoying this rejuvenating time. And this time around in my travels, instead of site-seeing and rushing from place to place to see and experience everything we could in the short amount of time we had in Europe, I’m blessed with five long months of experiencing the Eskimo culture in this tiny setting, and I’m getting to know the Yupik people and their unique lifestyle and beliefs on a deep level. So, even though the village may be desolate and secluded from the rest of the world, it is far from dreary for me right now as I soak in every detail of the people, the food, the land, and the stories.