As soon as we climbed out of the bush plane and set foot on the gravel runway in the rural town of Napaskiak I could hear the shouts of children running towards us. Along with them was one of the other new teachers, Liann. We turned to help our pilot unload the plane, stacking our luggage and boxes of groceries on the runway. Joe, the school’s secretary would be coming out to meet us on his ATV with a cart to move all of the luggage to teacher housing. He arrived within a couple minutes, just as we had unloaded the last of the boxes. Our pilot, seeing that we were taken care of, climbed back into the cockpit, waved goodbye, and was taking off down the runway back to Bethel.
We had learned so much about the people and the culture of the village that we were moving to, but all the knowledge in the world couldn’t have really prepared us for our first journey through the village. An overwhelming feeling came over me as an ever increasing group of children surrounded us, took our hands, and asked us an unending amount of questions. All of the advice we were given kept going through my head, and I was trying to think of what to say and do, but it all just kind of went out the window, and I just said whatever came to mind with all of their questions buzzing around me. The little girls fought over who got to hold my hand, but we took turns and everyone got to hold hands so no feelings were hurt.
We talked about how I was married, and they all wanted to look at my ring. When the little girl on my right saw that I was wearing my class ring too she asked me if I had gotten married twice! I explained to them that where I grew up when you graduated from high school you could get a ring. Moments like this really made me realize what a different world we were stepping into.
Walking along the boardwalk through the village children joined our group and peeled off to go play as well. Everyone wanted to know our names and if we were teachers. I exchanged names with so many little girls that I’m not sure I will remember any of them. They chattered away as we walked and I tried to take it all in- seeing if I could discern one building from another. I knew that the village had a store and a post office as well as a health clinic. We passed by the store, but arrived at the teacher housing before we saw anything else.
Teachers and their families live in one of two 4-plex apartments connected by a large ramp. The two story buildings look out of place in the village comprised of one story houses on stilts. Joe had already unloaded all of our luggage at the bottom of the ramp, so we began moving boxes up to our apartments. Nathan and I will be living in apartment 4 in the left building, and they had left a key for us taped to our door inside. However when Lisa, the dean of students, attempted to open the front door her key went in and turned, but the door stayed locked! We had traveled over 4,000 miles across the country to our new home and couldn’t get in the front door!
Never have I known the saying ‘so close but so far’ better than while we stood on the porch waiting for the maintenance man Paul to arrive and let us in. He had been taking a steam (more on that later) when we called, so we felt bad for interrupting, but he came right over on his ATV. Paul looked at the door, took the lock apart, fiddled with something and then took Lisa’s key and pushed hard on the door while turning it. He had worked some sort of magic because we were finally able to go inside!!
After bringing our boxes upstairs and saying goodbye to the kids outside we had some time to explore our apartment and unpack. As overwhelmed by everything as I was, I loved the feeling of community that I got in the village. Everyone was connected, and we were going to be a part of that.