Since I didn’t have much to unpack, it didn’t take long.to settle in. I looked again at the “honey bucket,” and noted the can of pine oil to pour in it; I supposed that would keep the odor in check. Since I had often used the outhouse on the farm, this was not going to be a hard adjustment. At least there were no flies here.
I went outside and walked around my little house. The Tundra was muddy, explaining why all the houses were interconnected with boardwalks.
I noted that the drainpipe from my sink ended one foot outside the wall; the water would just run out on the ground. Basic, simple, easy to maintain. No OSHA regulations here to interfere with life. Later I found that I had to periodically go out and break off the huge icicles that would form on the pipe in the winter so the water could drain out.
I walked over to the edge of the steep bank that went down to the sea. The wind blew cold and strong in from the Arctic Ocean. There was a narrow beach of black volcanic sand with a number of aluminum boats lying on it. The waves rolled in one after the other and were split by the point of land sticking out into the sea.
To my right were wooden racks holding several walrus skin boats. Beyond them were sled dogs chained to their little houses. They greeted me with challenging barks, causing the sea gulls to rise up and wheel overhead.
“Well,” I thought to myself, “There are going to be a lot of challenges in these coming days.” Very prophetic words.
After supper Jim took me to my classroom, which was in a Quonset hut left over from WW II. This was actually the National Guard Armory and played an important role in US security. Since this Island was one of the closest to Siberia, the Eskimo National Guard played a significant role in monitoring radio traffic and activity in this area of the USSR.
Jim gave me one day to prepare lessons and then we plunged in. I had 6th, 7th and 8th grades in one classroom, thirty-two students in all. As time went on I found that the spectrum of abilities actually ranged from first grade through eleventh! Plus my students all spoke English as their second language, with the range of English language skills going from zero to perfect.
I had no experience, no training and no idea how to proceed. Having three grades at the same time meant I had to give some kind of class work to two while I taught the third. Then give that third class some work while I taught another. It was literally a three-ring circus.
I had responsibility for all subjects and had to prepare as many as sixteen lessons each day. I struggled to keep up. The old feeling that I never had done enough nagged me more and more.
Discipline was another challenge. These kids were Eskimos who would much rather be out hunting seals and seagulls, not sitting in a classroom. With English being their second language and sitting still not being what they were used to, it was a challenge to keep their attention. Add to that my insecurity and desire to be accepted, and you had a prescription for discipline disaster.
Another factor was that I had entered an ancient culture with a totally different approach to life. The Eskimos were only a few years out of their traditional life style. They had ski-dos for travel in the snow, but often piled their dogs onto a sled to pull behind their snow traveler in case it broke down, which happened at times.
In their homes they weren’t sure what to do with the ready-made clothes they could now buy. The houses were tiny, and often were crowded with eight or more people living together. There were no closets and the clothes were just piled up in a corner.
Along with this, I had none of the normal relaxation outlets from my old life. I soon realized that what most people back home did to relieve stress was go somewhere, visit someone or buy something. Here it was difficult to do any of these things.
I could go to a “coffee shop” in the evening, a tiny room in the front of a home where there was a coffee bar, a couple of pool tables and lots of Eskimos hanging out in the blue haze of cigarette smoke.
They were very kind to me, and included me as much as possible, but the ability to speak English for many was not fully developed so they conversed mostly in Yupik Eskimo. I was an outsider and really felt it. Loneliness was another pressure in my life. What was the Lord going to do with this?
Picture: my school building in the village