Sunday, November 27, 2005

88. Reply to Comment

I received a posting from someone who feels that my comments are condescending (comments to posting #86). I apologize for any hurt feelings.
While I am trying to give the facts about the town, they do not bother me. Hey, just all part of the experience. People outside are interested in the town, both the good and the bad. When I talk with non-Deering people I know that follow my blog, they all feel that I seem positive, so my good feelings must be coming through.
As far as teaching goes, I would like to spend another year here. (If nothing else, I will have a year contract on my satellite TV!) Others advise me to wait until I spend a winter here. As far as the future after next year, I will not even speculate. (I heard a saying – “If you want to make G-d laugh, tell Her your plans.”)
My main feeling about the town is that it is a friendly place. People wave hello as they drive by on ATVs. If I get a package at the post office that is too big for me to carry home, I know I can ask someone else there with an ATV to give me a lift (or, if they do not have room for me and my package, they will probably take my package and leave it at my door.) Some people know that I really want to see northern lights, and I have had a few people call me to let me know when they are out. It will be this friendliness that I will remember in my post-Deering days, whenever they may be.
I understand your protective feelings about the town, however. Point taken. I will be more careful in the future.

Thoughts on "Condescension":

I've never seen 'condescension' in any of your postings, Amy. However, I can't read them with a 'northern native' viewpoint, so ultimately I'm not able to judge the issue.

I think I understand the dynamics, however. Some years ago, I lived in southern Norway (about the lattitude of Fairbanks) for close to five years.

It's really a case of culture shock. It's inevitable and sometimes goes on for years. You've moved into a new society with the loss of many conveniences we 'southerners' take for granted. Furthermore, you've also lost a religious community (on a daily basis) that was a strong part of your life.

Unless you intend to work to retirement and live beyond that in Deering, you are a transient. You will feel like an outsider. You know that. They know that.

Nothing in this is judgmental. I'm not implying that 'lower 48' values are better than north Alaska values (nor are they worse). They are just different, and they take time to get adjusted to. That's fact.

Moving into a new culture can be a very difficult experience. (That's just as true for someone moving from the open spaces of West Texas to Manhatten.) When one is busy, life goes on. When one gets home at night and has free time to relax and reflect, one can feel terribly isolated.

Communication with family and old friends becomes a lifeline. You'll hear things from them that will make you smile and laugh. You feel comfortable in venting your frustrations. There's a restoration of (limited) intimacy. It certainly aids the transition to a new life. The sense of loss is healed by it.

A blog is one form of a communication lifeline. Your blog is obviously "lower 48"-directed. You are telling us who can not be there about many aspects of your new life -- the wonder of discovery, like your trip up (down?) the river, and as well the reality of adjustments into daily living. The comments you receive (that turn a blog into 'communication' (instead of diary)) are predominantly from those of us in the "lower 48".

For that, you owe no one an apology.

Now it happens that you have chosen a medium of communication in which there is no real privacy. It goes far beyond just friends and family. If it did not, I wouldn't be having this 'chat' with you, since I don't know you except through your blog. And your blog is read within your northern community. You can't escape that.

Though I can't read the blog through your neighbors' eyes, I anticipate that most are understanding of your situation. Certainly you have to be sensitive to the dignity of your new neighbors in your postings. In my opinion, you have been, though, as I have said, I can't be the ultimate judge of that. I don't see "condescension" in what you write.

"Condescension" is a matter of an individual's perception. As I said earlier, my family and I once lived in Norway for five years as part of a small expat American community (in a city of 50,000+ Norwegians).

We experienced culture shock. We were transients all that time, never intending to stay in Norway beyond the end of our work assignments. We were always outsiders, both in our own minds and in the Norwegians' minds. We coped.

We exhibited behaviors that could be interpreted as "condescending". Most of us did not become fluent in the Norwegian language. When Americans were out at public gatherings and in shops, we spoke English to each other, rather than conversing in Norwegian. We sent our kids to a local American school, not the community Norwegian schools. We'd complain, sometimes not very privately, about having only one TV station or about the lack of choices or of American foods in the local stores. We didn't like winter darkness and constant rain. Several times a year, families (or just wives and kids) would go to London. These trips were called "sanity breaks".

The Norwegians had a right to consider us "condescending". Yet those we knew were always most gracious to us. We were able to build some deep friendships with Norwegian families. Maybe those we didn't know resented us and thought of us as "condescending". That's a perception. Maybe we could have changed that. Probably not. We were still, at the end, outsiders. That's not, however, a negative. It's just an unresolvable difference.

Is there a moral at the end of this tale? I don't know. You just have to trust your own judgment in avoiding what is offensive to the community. After that, you blog what is right for you.

I think you've been doing just fine so far, Amy. :-)


P.S. - Apologies for the length of this. I guess I got carried away.
I'm gonna eat crow on this one. I was in a cranky mood and shouldn't have said that you wouldn't make it. That being said let me explain.

Some people just don't make here, and that happens for a variety of reasons. Some people just can't take the cold or the lack of daylight. Some people miss their family or whatever area they call home. Much of the time, however, it is their attitude that does them in. The first thing you hear them talking about is how filthy the village is and the hoardes of skinny dogs, the dirty children, the smell of rancid seal oil and thawing honeybuckets etc etc. Some people never get past that and the locals become, well, weary of listening to all the moaning and whining.

We all come from different areas and have different expectations. The biggest problem we get with new people in this area is they seem to try to fit the Northwest Arctic into their expectations of what is "right" or "proper". Doing that here makes as much sense as going to africa and trying to reconcile their lives into the Northwest Arctic expectation of what is right.

A lot of folks wonder why they seem to be held at arms length by the locals. While they may be friendly, the locals sometimes seem standoffish. It is difficult to invest your time and heart in a relationship with someone who will probably be gone in a year. Many many people come to this region to make their money and go. They invest little in the community but reap the benefits in their pockets. Although the locals are, for the most part, used to this, sometimes it can be hard to stomach.

One time I was at Church and there was this guy who was a Doctor, had been here going on three years. It was his last sunday in town, he was moving to Arizona. He got up and thanked everyone and blah blah and then went on to say that he felt like he was like somedody or other in the Bible and how because he was faithful and steadfast G*d was "delivering" him from his trials. Let me tell you, there were some of us sitting there who would have loved to deliver that condesending twerp from his trials. I have a lot of stories like that.

Don't get me wrong. I by no means think that this area is perfect. I too see the hoards of skinny dogs and smell the honeybuckets....I just don't let it cloud the beauty and the bigger picture. I am not from here. I am originally from NH, but this is what I now call home. This area fits me like a glove. I tried to leave once, but after two miserable years realized that this is where I belong. The open tundra, the rivers, the mountains, the people speak to my heart and give me peace. I hope you find some of that here.

I have committed the sin of assumption which is the same no matter where you go, and I apologize. I shouldn't judge your motives or your fortitude.
BTW.....there are a few Jewish folks here in Kotzebue....well at least there is one. Ummmmm....the judge, Richard Erlich is jewish. Ummm.....can't think of any others at the moment. Yes.......losing the support of a local religious community will be difficult. This is a deeply Christian are and the locals will find it difficult to relate at all to you on areligious basis. The children, however, may find it fascinating. this
Hey all

I'm Amy's (sorta) ex and still really good friend, and can provide perhaps another perspective. I live in Anchorage now, and to be blunt, thought Amy was the worst candidate alive to teach in the Bush; well I might be worse :) I've actually been amazed how well she has adapted, and actually at the acceptance she seems to have found there. I've known others who have taught in Native bush communities with a wide variety of experiences but you are right about one thing. The districts simply have to figure out who is likely to stick around and who won't, the kids deserve that.

I met up with Amy in Kotzebue a couple of weeks ago and was blown away by how friendly everyone was. (It of course helps a lot to know someone in town and in my case I happen to know Bob Douglass through Ham Radio). If my life were a bit less complicated .I'd be looking for an IT spot at the hospital in Kotz right now!

Alaska is a weird place. It often brings out something in a person you didn't know was there. I think Amy's biggest long term difficulty is going to be that I think she has found her "calling" (being a rural teacher) in a place without a Jewish community. I think she will have more of a challenge NOT staying than staying though
To Ariel HaSchnauzer, yup, YOU would be the worst candidate alive
for this job! ;)

But then, I still have John Candy in a parka images of you when I think of you living in Alaska!

Amy, I enjoy your observations about the town and expect that once you feel more at home in
Deering, your blog will reflect it.


the funny thing is, there are more John Candy in a parka types up here than one would think (though man I'd really rather be John Goodman in a parka! Even as horrid an elitist as I can be, the "status" crap means less than nothing up here, and as much as I hate to admit it, there is a lot to be said for that.

To "Anonymous (#1)" ... You're right that some people just don't make it in the far North. But it's just as right that some people don't graduate high school, some drop out of college, some lose jobs one after another. It's a challenge, but those who succeed in meeting challenges in one aspect of life generally succeed in meeting challenges in far different areas of life.

You are also right that attitude is critical to survival in a new environment.

I don't know Amy any more than what I read in this blog. I'm 3000 miles away. My impression is that she has more enough in her to be able to adapt.

It's not realistic, however, to expect that there are no frustrations. Further, it's unhealthy to have to keep all one's frustrations inside oneself, where they will fester. One of the functions of the blog, though not the only function, is as a relief valve.

You point out that some of the local folks may have a standoffish attitude and you explain why. If that were an impermeable barrier, no one would adapt. Yet you, yourself, did. Obviously there must be other local folks who are friendly and welcoming and act as a counterbalance to the more reticent population.

Who can tell yet whether Amy will adapt to the environment and its people or not? I think it's wrong to presuppose a failure. I feel that Amy's a battler. My betting money would be on her.
Wow what a "battle"! haha.. I'm going on student exchange to Finland and it's going to be such a huge difference cos I'm from sunny Singapore and Finland is going to freeze my toes off. I liked all your comments and the posts as well.
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