Many Homes

Sunset in Napaskiak
It’s about 1am the night before we leave the village. The sky is finally dark, but not for long, and I lay in bed, unable to sleep. Three years have come down to a flurry of cleaning and packing and tearful goodbyes. 

I hate saying goodbye. But, I love new adventures, and the two go hand in hand. I have learned to laugh through the tears and embrace the whole range of emotions I feel each time we embark on some new adventure. 

I’ve been so lucky to call so many places home. I’ve never been one to like living out of a suitcase. Even in hotels, I love to unpack and really make wherever I am for the moment feel like home. Napaskiak has been home for me longer than anywhere else since my childhood home in New York. Leaving here has been hard. Every picture I took off the wall, every drawer I emptied brought that tightness in my throat. I’ve been so busy with trying to coordinate all the details to move a family and dog back to the Lower 48 that I haven’t had too much time to get excited about my next adventure. 

Sunset in Roanoke, VA:

Sunset in Roanoke

We don’t have an apartment yet, but we will be visiting later in the summer to see my brother and sister-in-law who live there, and hopefully we will find something on that trip. I think having that concrete will really help me get excited. 

I’m not sure we will move again in the future, but then again, we didn’t ever think we would move to Alaska either. I’d be happy to settle down for a while though, and watch my baby grow up in a place he can come to love and call home like I did. My childhood home holds such a strong place in my heart. I hated it as a teen and couldn’t wait to leave after high school, but now I find it is a great place to visit family and spend time. There was so much there that I took for granted as a kid, but I don’t think I would have been able to see that if I hadn’t left. In fact, one of the most important things I have learned is the real importance of family and how the people will always be more important than the physical location you inhabit. In fact, it may seem odd to you reading this, but even though we will be a nine hour drive from my hometown when we move to Roanoke, I am downright giddy at the thought of being able to just jump in my car and see my parents’ faces in less than a day. To be once again easily connected to the people I love makes all the complications of packing worth it. 

Although we will wave goodbye to Napaskiak tomorrow as we fly away, this tiny village will always hold a big piece of my heart. Watching my baby be embraced by a loving community was a priceless thing that I will miss. His babbled conversations with staff at the school as they taught him Yupik bring a smile to my face even now. Thank you to everyone who has welcomed us and embraced our little family that grew so much here. I look back at the person I was stepping off the plane with my husband three years ago, and I can’t believe how much has changed. I was told that we wouldn’t regret taking the leap of faith to move 4,000 miles to a world so different than anything we had ever experienced before, and I can honestly say that I don’t regret it for a second. Thanks, Napaskiak.  ❤

Our First Feast

In the orientation we learned that many members of the native communities were Russian Orthodox and held fast to the tradition of feasting when a member of their family had passed away. They feast for about three days after the death, and then have a commemorative feast on the 20th and 40th days after their loved one’s passing. This symbolizes the community eating to aid the loved one on their journey to heaven, with the 40 days being highly symbolic biblically.

On our first full day in the village we attended one such feast at the house of the school’s secretary, Joe. His mother had passed that week. One of the other teachers, Seraphima, was gracious enough to take the rest of us under her wing and explain what to expect and how to act. Unlike many events in the lower 48, we were told that it would be considered rude and insulting to bring anything to his house in terms of food for the feast. Food is still a sign of wealth and well-being in a subsistence culture, and to bring food when someone is hosting you is akin to saying that you don’t think that they can provide.

When we arrived at Joe’s house, we saw lots of other villagers there already, and a swarm of children playing all over the yard and porch. Going inside, we did not have to take off our shoes because there were a lot of people there, rather we proceeded to the dining room/kitchen where a large table was set up with chairs all along and food on it. There were a number of large pots and serving bowls in the corner of the kitchen as well, with Joe’s family members manning the serving duties. We sat or stood quietly around the edge of the room and introduced ourselves to members of the community after saying hello to Joe who had met us at the door. I have heard so many new names in the past week, I’m not sure I will ever learn who everyone is. As overwhelming as it is right now, I’m sure that I will look back on these writings later and laugh.

As each person finished eating, they would rise and leave, and a person who had been waiting would be called to sit in the now vacant seat. As new teachers and members of the village, we were invited to essentially skip ahead and eat before some of the people who had been there before us.
Taking my seat at the table I was offered a variety of different dishes, including clam chowder, moose stew, and another type of fish soup. I took the clam chowder (having been told by a priest who was leaving that it was very good) and I was not disappointed. It was very good- warm, tasty and familiar. Elders sitting around the table urged me to try other types of food that were on our table. I tried some dried whitefish that had been smoked. I almost choked on the first bite, not prepared for the deep smoky flavor. Now I’m used to what we call ‘smoked flavor’ down in the lower 48- a subtle taste that compliments, but doesn’t overpower. This must have been a delicate fish to start with, because it tasted like I had solidified smoke or a wood chip in my mouth. I politely finished the piece, but learned to take smaller bites!

At a feast, it is said that it is “all you can eat” but that is not really the case. It is important to come and show your support, but it is also important to realize that there are simply not enough calories in the village for everyone to eat to their fill all the time- and “all you can eat” is a way for people in the community to provide for each other and support their friends as well as family. The feast continues all day until the family simply runs out of food.

After eating, the group of new teachers took our dishes to the girls washing them in the sink, and thanked the family again for the meal. It is very humbling to be welcomed into a community so openly.