Alaska Houses in Kotzebue

Houses in Kotzebue

This was my 9th trip to the NW Arctic and also my hardest. February is still my favorite time of the year here, but I was beyond exhausted by the end. A winter storm occurred while I was in Selawik, which meant no flights in or out and thus a missed flight home to Portland. The nice thing about being in a winter storm in the Arctic is that there isn’t a lot of differences between a stormy day and a regular day, except for the sunshine. There are no roads, heading to the school on a snow mobile or four wheeler is still possible, so there aren’t any school closures. I walked to the store on the evening of the storm and aside from walking into a robust wind, it felt very similar to any other walk I’ve taken here. Another wrinkle in my plans was that the internet was down in the village, which made the isolation so much more palpable.

Luckily, the plane out of Selawik the following day was heading up river, which meant I was able to see three remote villages that I had never seen before (Shungek, Ambler, and Kobuk). The plane was full, so I was able to be in the jump seat (next to the pilot) which afforded me the best views. Thankfully, the pilot was very experienced and I later learned had flown in Iraq. The pilots here are exemplary and I am thankful every flight for their experience and expertise. I was especially thankful on this trip as the runways weren’t able to be plowed very well due to the bulldozers being snowed into their parking places. Exciting!

Since I am a speech language pathologist who only comes in every other month, evaluation or new and existing students can easily get behind. For many different reasons, I had to administer 9 evaluations in 4 days in addition to providing direct service to my regular kiddos while in Selawik. Luckily, I was able to take a break when I was invited to a sewing circle recently formed in the village. Projects ranged from re-sewing a Parki to finishing up a pair of mukluks for a small child — so cute! I was given several tasks, including making a beaded bracelet and sewing appliqués on the underside of my ruff to make it more “feminine.” The thread I was given was waxy and strong used primarily for sewing fur. By far, this was my favorite activity on the visit. Becoming friends in the village takes a long time, especially as an itinerant specialist, so I was happy to be invited and involved. Although my sewing skills are basic to say the least, I was thankful to meet so many friendly and wonderful ladies.

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Call of the Wild logoHi! I’m Sara Ecker and I am a speech-language pathologist in search of exploration and adventure. Last year I found the ultimate assignment as a SLP in the Northwest Arctic Borough, Alaska. This year, I invite you to come along with me as I blog about my experiences in the Great White North. Join me as I travel to remote villages, survive extreme conditions and learn about the rewards and challenges of therapy 30 miles above the Arctic Circle. (You can read all of my prior entries here.)