We were extremely fortunate to be able to meet with a friend of our hosts who had been a teacher in the Alaskan Bush for 17 years, and now lives one street over from where we were staying in Anchorage. Breakfast was at The Middle Way Café on Northern Lights Boulevard. It was a really fun and comfortable spot for hanging out and eating and chatting. Cheryl came in, curls bouncing and three beautiful children following behind. Her personality matched her red curls- beautiful and full of life.
She was a wealth of information and put us totally at ease. I think the scariest thing about moving 4,000 miles to the middle of nowhere is the unknown. Not leaving all our stuff behind, or being so far from our families. Technology lets us connect so easily, I don’t feel like I’m that far away. But going into a village and immersing yourself in a totally foreign culture is scary. I don’t know what is expected, or what will be considered offensive. Being able to share these feelings with Cheryl and knowing that she went through the same thing was so comforting.
We learned that the community is likely to be extremely welcoming, but very curious about us and our lives as well- especially the children. They will ask unfiltered questions, and they are not being rude, it is just how they take away that level of mystery and form a connection with us. I think I was most surprised by the fact that they will begin to ask us where our children are. As a young married couple, we have talked about having children, but it has mostly been in an abstract ‘aren’t they adorable’ kind of way. Babies didn’t fit into the hustle and bustle of living in the suburbs working multiple jobs in order to advance our careers and pay the rent at the same time. We were told that they won’t be upset or judge us that we don’t have kids yet, but if time goes by and we continue to stay a family of two they will become concerned for our relationship. Children are seen as a blessing in a subsistence community- not a burden and a college education down the line. It is not unusual for girls to start having children in their late teens out here; it helps continue their way of life that requires everyone to work hard and do their part.
After talking with Cheryl I got really excited about the culture and moving out there. She simply glowed when she talked about being a part of a community, and all of the experiences she had out there. She was also able to elaborate on some of the educational programs that are in Alaska that are unique. Battle of the Books is something that the kids really embrace. Starting in the summer a book list is released for each grade level, and then middle school and high school students. They independently read the books and then there is a competition later in the year where they use the knowledge of the stories, titles and authors to compete in teams. We both were really excited to head to Title wave books next door and see some of the selections. I had read some of them, and took down the high school list to add to my growing list of reading.
Being able to have a little glimpse of village life was really exciting to both of us. It has been so easy to just get wrapped up in all the details of moving and shopping and such that we forgot some of the excitement about the lifestyle that we are going to be immersing ourselves in.