Sunday, December 12, 2010

discovering alaska, part 1

I've talked a bit about the beauty of Alaska and Alaska snow.  Now I will begin to talk about and share what I discovered in Alaska.  It was the most exciting journey of my life, and it changed me forever. 

I arrived as a travel nurse in Alaska at the end of December 2008.  I had no preconceptions of Alaska, having never visited, and the only images in my mind were polar bears and Eskimos.


bethel


tundra boardwalk

Lesson one, day one.  There are no polar bears in Bethel, Alaska.  Bethel is located on the tundra about 400 miles west of Anchorage and about 40 miles from the Bering Sea, on the Kuskokwim River.  So I emptied my mind of those notions immediately.  Bethel is a starkly beautiful place, isolated and just this side of desolate.  It is considered one of the larger towns in Alaska, and is the hub for activity in the part of Alaska.  It has the only hospital in the area, the closest other hospitals are in Anchorage, one of the larger is the Alaskan Native Medical Center (ANMC) in Anchorage.


me with one of the babies I cared for

Lesson two, day one.  The natives are only called Eskimos by non-natives.  There are multiple tribes of Alaskan natives, and the main tribe being served in the Bethel area are the Yupik.  There is a smaller number of Chupik that are also served, but the majority are Yupik.  The hospital in Bethel serves almost 50 villages throughout western Alaska, most of which can only be accessed by plane.  So plane travel is the most common mode of travel, the second and third most common are boats, and snow machines, depending on the season.  Cars rank way down on the list I found.

clara (a fellow nurse) in her parka, handmade by her as a young girl 
I could give you a history lesson, what I learned about Alaska, but I would rather share what my heart discovered while I was there.  That is what stuck with me, and the memories I carry are of the beauty, vastness, isolation, and harshness of the land.  The people taught me so much more than I can convey.  They are a quiet people, and the culture was so different from any I had ever been exposed to.  I had to make some adjustments in how I approached my patients.  The main thing I learned is to be patient, calm and to slow down and really listen to what was being said to me.  I thought I had all these skills, but I found that they were sharpened by what I learned from the Yupik.


view from the boardwalk toward hospital apartments
 From day one my eyes were on sensory overload.  Bethel is fairly flat, and being tundra, not many trees are native to the area.  So not much interferes with the view of the sky.  And that view!  It is so magnificent it takes your breath away!  The sky was a panorama that stretched so far and was so breathtaking there were many times I felt as though I should be able to reach up and touch the clouds.  The stark contrast between the snow covered ground and the blue skies was indescribable.  So I will let my photos speak for me.




walkway from the hospital to the apartment

traffic on the only paved road in bethel




kuskokwin river in winter becomes a highway


out for a walk to the store

 












...to be continued.........
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