We landed in Bethel on Monday morning on a plane with about 6 other teachers. It was our first time flying on a plane with open seating. To hear more about that check out my blog on Bush Flying. For the next two and a half days the school would be putting us up in the hub town for the school district; providing food and training for all the new teachers. Because we are a couple we got to stay in the Longhouse Hotel here in Bethel, with some teachers who were also married or had pets. All the other single teachers stayed in the dorms on the other end of town. We had free unlimited Wi-Fi and cable so I think we totally got the better end of the deal.
The first day of teacher orientation focused on the culture and traditions of the Yupik people, as well as characteristics of the villages we would be flying out to. The YK delta has three distinct areas: Costal, Tundra, and Kuskokwim/Yukon River. Napaskiak is right on the Kuskokwim River, in fact it is only 7 air miles from Bethel.
It was exciting to finally meet some of the other people traveling to Napaskiak. They came over later than us because they had already been out to the village, but their plane back into Bethel was delayed because of weather. That is something that we are going to have to get used to out here- they say everyone is really flexible about it, and that is just how it goes. Anyway, there are a total of 4 new teachers this year, including Nathan. Lianne is the new 6th grade teacher, John is taking 5th, Nathan is the high school English teacher, and Lisa is the new Dean who is also covering a couple classes. Everyone is so nice and inviting and open. We are all in the same boat and I think we clicked right away. John is married with two kids, and his wife isn’t a teacher, so I was excited to know that there is someone else out here who is in the same situation as me.
I also met Nathan’s principal for the first time. TJ is really nice as well, (everyone out here is just great! Seriously!) and we talked for a minute about me signing on as a substitute teacher- something that they really need out here. I think that it would be a great way for me to keep just busy enough, and earn some extra money for savings as well.
Right before lunch they took a break from the power point presentations for a live demo… on cutting fish! Some local people from the school district pulled out some huge silver salmon and demonstrated the different ways they cut up the fish for preservation and cooking. It was fascinating. You could hear the bones crack as she skillfully cut off the head, and that made me cringe a little bit, but I couldn’t deny that once she opened up the fish and had it all laid out it looked like some of the most beautiful filets I had ever seen. Her technique was amazing and she made it look so easy.
We also learned some traditional native Yupik dancing. The movements told the story of a grandfather shaman who could not find the drum and drumsticks of another shaman that he was challenging, so each time he asked one of his grandchildren or great grandchildren to help look. When the drum was found he cast it down and stomped on it, defeating his opponent. It was fun to learn while dancing, and it would get faster and faster, as we tried to pair the movements with the words. I was really just mumbling most of it, but could really get into the beat of the drum and enjoyed myself immensely. We did this dance several times during the day to get energized.
The second day of orientation focused a lot on the more technical teaching aspects for the school district so I decided to sleep in, stay at the hotel and explore Bethel. We were staying on the other end of town, so I would have to walk to the school or take a cab. Rather than spend the $7 for the cab ride (Not a bad price at all! Flat fees per person to go all over town) I would walk to kill the three hours I had before orientation let out. Armed with the map they gave me at the front desk I was on my way!
Here is a little of what I saw:
Finally I made it to the School without getting lost (thanks map!) and we were all waiting to head to the airport and finally fly out to our villages!