I got to go to Teller for a medical trip. There are a couple people staying at the clinic right now, which makes it less lonely than other village visits when I’m on my own. One is a midlevel nurse practitioner, and the other is a local itinerant health aid, Dick–a very perceptive, interesting, intelligent young man from Brevig.
Over dinner, we had some great talks about life. Dick served in Iraq in the Army several years ago and he has traveled somewhat. His dream job would be to run a boat service among the villages to help people from outside get to see and understand a bit better his culture. He also dreams of ways to help the community work together for subsistence living. He misses the elders who quietly but powerfully led and influenced the community, and who wisely led.
Best quotes: “some people grow old and wise; some people just grow old.”
“Everyone is the same—some people just have more… If you could take the thousands or millions of dollars out of their bank account, we would all be equal.” He enjoys travelling, seeing the world, and seeing how we’re all the same, underneath our different skins and cultures, we all have the same fears and hopes and dreams, the same smiles and the same tears. The same shit, the same desires to be loved, accepted, listened-to and understood.
He wants to find a way to get back to roots, to traditions. He told us he prefers a life of hunting and gathering, even with the inconveniences of it. He would rather walk miles to pick berries than take a four-wheeler, because “When you walk, you see more.”
He told stories of when he lived in Anchorage for a while, then just moved away and gave everything he owned to start fresh, closer to home. Not long after that, he was out on the ice fishing one day and the village midlevel said, “why don’t you become a health aid?” and that is what he did. Since then he has been serving the Norton Sound Community in several villages.
He talked about how he wants the smaller, traditional villages to be recognized and equally as important in the Norton Sound Health Corporation as the main hubs, such as Nome. He wants the vision of the corporation to see the villages equally, and doesn’t want to be left as an lesser recognized part of the system. In general he wants his community to stand empowered, independent, strong, true to themselves.
He thinks the new providers should have more cultural sensitivity training—like the 3 days he got in the army when they went on missions to Iraq. There is so much we don’t know, and so much we miss when we start working here in a new culture.
We had some difficult conversations, too. Like how do you maintain traditional culture and ways of life that are so dependent on Nature and the community in the modern era when jobs seem the way to survive and “make it.” In order to get access to medical care, you need healthcare providers, in order to not be dependent on outside healthcare providers, you have to become them. In order to become them, you have to leave your family and community and go get an “education” and sacrifice your hunting and gathering in order to get a “real” job. And when family demands are a lot, and a health aid can’t make it to work on time, it doesn’t fly in a western system. Well really, a system that seems like it must have some structure in order to provide good, reliable, accessible healthcare. And development, some argue that you must join development in order to progress. You have to get involved in modern economics and politics in order to keep up, stay afloat and compete.
You have to become part of the outside force so you don’t lose yourself to it.
Which is so sad and a really a catch-22, because to become part of it you lose yourself anyway. You lose your ways of life. A hunting, gathering, subsistence, community-dependent culture is not compatible with the modern era of working 40+ hours a week, raising kids, and taking care of grandkids and elders. Especially when all of the modern things, technologies, machines start to trickle in. What is the answer? I have no idea. I think people like Dick will find, or maybe create the answer. He said we shouldn’t be dependent on outsiders to try to fix our problems, we have to do it ourselves. Truly a wise person.
In the meantime, I feel like while there is not much I can do as an outsider, I am here to serve with love and compassion. The things I learned from this week that can be done:
Honor one another.
Be kind and compassionate to each other.
Inspire and empower one another.
Don’t judge. You never know what someone has been through.
Don’t gossip. It will always come back around. Plus “he who gossips to you gossips of you.”
Carry each other’s burdens.
Affirm the gifts of others.
Accept each other how we are.
Forgive the grievances we have against each other.
Don’t refer to others as “these people” “those people” like they are some other unrelated beings.
Be quick to listen, slow to speak.
Don’t refer to the western world as the “real world.” ~it’s all real! maybe more “real” in the simple places.
Know that every one is a “real person”
Work hard, do what you can do
Be a “Can-do” person.
Live with lots of grace and mercy.
Speak positively about others.
Speak positively about life.
Encourage each other to live better and love more.