Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Barrow blog

Barrow, Alaska

•Saturday, Nov. 19

Here we are at the top of the world! Steve Culbertson picked us up Friday morning at 10 a.m. We wanted to do some sightseeing in Barrow while there was light. The sun rose for the last time in 2011 yesterday, so from now on it will never rise above the horizon, just lighten the sky for a few hours a day until it’s all dark. Sunrise was scheduled for 12:50 and sunset about 2:00.

We drove around Barrow to the grocery store, the middle school, the elementary school, and out toward Point Barrow. At the grocery store prices are a little over twice what they cost in Charles City, IA. But grocery store really isn’t correct because this is almost a department store with everything from fresh produce to clothes and from ATVs and snow machines to greeting cards and inflatable Christmas decorations.

The drive out toward Point Barrow took us past the old airport to where the road ends. The village of Barrow harvested 23 whales this year, and they haul them onto the old galvanized tin runway for butchering. Then out past the road is what they call the  Boneyard, where they haul the bones to get them away from town. Steve pulled over because he saw something red at the side of the road where there were tire tracks which he said looked like blood, and, sure enough, there was a chunk of whale blubber about 2 feet long and 10 inches square. He told me to touch it and then smell my fingers, which were fishy smelling. On the way back into town I made the mistake of rubbing my eye, and it got red and began to water from the fish oil on my finger. Note to self: don’t do that again!

We went out by the football field on the way and past the community college.

I enjoyed seeing Hopson Middle School where Steve used to teach. Every classroom has an LCD projector and a cart of laptops. There is a sink in every classroom with new tables and whiteboards. Especially interesting was the arts & culture classroom where the students had been working on sewing things with real fur while learning traditional native crafts.

In the special ed classroom on this Saturday there were 3 women. One was the special ed teacher who told me she has 32 students. Another woman was the school secretary who was laying out quilt blocks on the floor. She was making a quilt for one of the teachers from Minnesota, and their was a Minnesota Viking along with a guitar. The smaller blocks were in a pinwheel pattern or in a bear paw design with Alaskan animals in the paw prints.

Then we picked up Vanni and went to Brower’s CafĂ© near the whalebone arch. The original restaurant began in 1905 as an outfitters station by Brower who was the first white resident of Barrow. Carl and Vanni had hamburgers and fries while Steve and I had Teriyaki beef or chicken.

After lunch Vanni went back to her office to work, and Steve took us to the elementary school. The children’s Thanksgiving artwork was displayed on bulletin boards in the hallways. On the tail feathers of their construction paper turkeys were their favorite things including maktak (whale blubber), tutu stew (caribou), grandma, and grandpa.

There are 2 playgrounds INSIDE the elementary school—one for preschool and another for the elementary students. There is a rubber mat on the floor beneath the slide and jungle gyms.

All of the buildings in Barrow are built up on stilts because of the permafrost. There are fences around the school foundation to keep the kids out from underneath the school. All of the steps outside are metal grates so that the snow falls through. The schools are built in “pods” with hallways connecting the different parts. That way, if there is a fire, they can bulldoze the hallway and save the next pod.

Barrow has the Central Office and where Steve and Vanni live is called CO2. Ha! The apartment units are again connected by hallways. There is, for example, a 10-plex, a 4-plex, etc. Vanni’s office is right down the hall from their apartment, and Steve’s is on the other hallway across the building.

Carl took his Vietnam CD in the evening to Steve and Vanni’s. We watched a DVD of The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson on which Fran Tate of Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant appeared in 1984. After we ordered pizza for supper, we watched the Vietnam slides.

•Sunday, Nov. 20

We have continental breakfast at the Airport Inn, and we spent the morning sleeping in and relaxing. The hotel operator is the tech coordinator. He had to leave for a family emergency, so Fred is covering for him. Fred is the chief operating officer of the school district who has just resigned effective Dec. 1. He is going to Anchorage to be head of the Alaska Miners Association. His wife who is a teacher will stay here with their 3 year old daughter, but he’ll be back every 3 weeks.

Steve and Vanni picked us up about noon, and we went to Ilisagvik College cafeteria for lunch. That is the 2-year tribal community college, but the facility shares space with the Barrow Arctic Science Consortium (BASC) and the National Arctic Research Laboratory (NARL). Carl and I enjoyed learning about the scientific data that is collected on weather, the environment, and wildlife—including whales. One of the studies researched how old whales live to be, and they helped determine their age by studying the broken harpoons etc. that were found in harvested whales. The oldest so far is 222 years!

Steve dropped Vanni off at home and took us south out of town to the lake, past the satellite farm. We passed the two cemeteries and the one and only gas station. Then we stopped at The Fur Shop. It is a store that sells furs and fabric for clothing and local crafts. I found the perfect gift for our travel agent—a one-inch crystal cube with the outline of Alaska and the Big Dipper flag design inside.

Steve took us to meet Fran Tate and her son Joe at Pepe’s Mexican Restaurant. Joe has a museum and only gives tours when he gets off work. Since it was Sunday, the restaurant closes at 9 p.m. so that’s when he’ll give us the tour. Then we went back to the hotel for a little while before both Steve and Vanni picked us up to go to Pepe’s.

Vanni Prichard and Steve Culbertson were WONDERFUL hosts and tour guides.

The Mexican food was good, even the guacamole. Fran came by the table for photos and to give us our certificates for crossing the Artic Circle. She’s about 80 now and her son Joe is 56. She does a monthly radio program on a Chicago station, and she has a jazz music program on the local Barrow radio station.

I couldn’t have a margarita with dinner because Barrow is not a wet nor dry borough but damp. That means there is no alcohol served in any establishment. You can only bring in 9 cans of beer, 2 bottles of wine, or one bottle of hard liquor for your own home consumption. The natives have no tolerance for alcohol, and alcoholism is a great problem. However, because they have their Permanent Fund checks and Native Corporation checks, they can buy liquor illegally, as well as marijuana.

• Monday, Nov. 21

This morning after breakfast we planned to call a taxi and go to the Inupiat Cultural Center museum. But Fred Parady was in the hotel office and offered to give us a ride. We’re in one end of town and the museum is at the other end. So about 10 a.m. we were dropped off at the museum. The whaling exhibit was FANATASIC. They had artifacts and panels with detailed explanations—both historic and modern. There was a birds of the Arctic display with taxidermy birds. Lots of birders visit Barrow in the spring and summer to birdwatch.

Then we wandered down a hallway to the workshop where natives can work on their crafts. Glass cases along the hallway held displays from the various North Slope communities. In Olgoonik (Wainwright) we found a photo of Carl’s Army buddy Terry, taken several years ago, we assume.

About 11:30 we walked across the street to the AC store. It is the descendent of the Artic Circle supply company. In Barrow it is the biggest grocery/department store, and there was a little lunch area where we got sandwiches for lunch. After we were done eating, I wandered out into the front entrance area where some of the locals sell their crafts. I found some baleen items for gifts. That is the gill material along a whale’s mouth through which he/she strains krill, its major food source.

Steve picked us up and took us to Barrow High School. I went with M.J., the sophomore English teacher. During her planning period she took me to a couple of different classrooms. In the biology classroom we looked at the students’ cell models. Only instead of making a model of the cell like Donna Forsyth’s students do at CCHS, they had created a model of something else to show the cell structure. There was a farm, a circus, a mall, and even the school with the parts labeled like a cell. Very inventive.

Each classroom has an LCD project. Lat year they started the Apple One-on-One project. Each student did have a laptop, but now they are kept on carts in the classrooms. Some student (I don’t know where) decided to test the Kevlar case and shot at it. So the school decided that they needed to be kept at school.

Then M.J. had two sophomore English classes. One had 5 students but 2 were gone, and the other class had 1 studetns. Each started out with 2 Daily Oral Language sentences, just like I used to do. They have been studying poetry and each student had notecards with the terms defined. She reviewed a little orally and then each student got out a laptop. They’re wireless, and each kid has his own login ID. They went to the website and were to select a poem that was 25 lines or fewer in length. They printed out 2 copies, one for the teacher and one for themselves to analyze. The poems ranged from Walt Whitman to Emily Dickinson to Shakespeare to Langston Hughes and many newer poets that I didn’t recognize, but the poetic elements were obvious (to me at least) in every one.

While I was in the English classes, Carl was with the social studies teachers. He showed his Vietnam slides 3 times to American history and government classes. He had to explain about the draft. The principal was sitting in on one class, and she told them that the boys all had to register with Selective Service when they turn 18 or they will not get their Permanent Fund money. By the way, the principal was in Waverly 20 years ago.

After school was out, Steve took us on a tour of the high school. They have a band, as did the middle school. I saw one English handbell, and the band director said that the Presbyterian church had borrowed the handbells because their were worn. There was an auto shop, a swimming pool, a weight room, and the wrestlers were running laps in the gym.

One interesting thing about the English classroom was that they had exercise balls for some of the chairs. Oh, and we saw the second place state football tournament trophy in the office. Thanks, John Culbertson, for sharing that information with us before we left Charles City.

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