Wales, Alaska ~ 2nd Medical Field Trip!!! Day 1

Another village medical trip to Wales, Alaska! Hooray for village medicine!

The flight was delayed due to weather, so we were in the air in the middle of the day, when the sun was “high” in the sky (ie it looked like sunrise/sunset the whole time. :))

Another plane ride on the Navajo!

Snowy/cloudy Nome:

Flying over snowy nome

The clouds did clear a bit to grant us views of the sun and the wilderness.

I did not recognize it from when we flew over it before. This time it was so different flying over a whitened landscape! Compare to the flight in October. I can’t believe how this place changes so drastically.

Ice shelf:
Sea ice

Before I came here I was nervous about the changes—namely, the darkness and the cold. But I think that is part of what makes Alaska so exciting. It is constantly changing. Radically! Up in the North cap of the globe, it’s a wild environment of extremes. Extremely long days, then extremely long nights. Extreme cold. And well, not so extreme heat. The people that live up here are extreme survivors. Especially the natives!

Super rad! Especially to look out over all this iced landscape. Sunny day! This is the highest the sun gets in the sky.

high noon

snowy hills

Bering Sea (how it looked before)
Alaska Coast

More stunning views:Sea ice shelf

Flying into Tin City

Nose down

After we landed in Tin City we picked up two soldiers, so I got to sit up in the co-pilot seat again! 🙂 With a super cool pilot that I have not flown with yet, who was born and raised in these parts of Alaska. He’s been a pilot for almost 40 years. He seemed like a totally pure Alaskan. Trapper hat, mustache and very simple, unassuming, down-to-earth way about him, smelled the classic Alaska bush smell of hard work and fish. The same smell of the hitch-hiker I picked up on the way to Homer, the same smell of many of the natives, and the raw, outdoorsy people I have met here. I like it. I grew up where people smelled of nature, and that smell was their signature cologne, and I love it and I miss it. 🙂

Tin City (remember this from before):Tin City Mountain

Not great visibility coming into Wales! (this is an aerial view of the same village in October)
Low visibility Got picked up by the ATVs at the Wales air”port” and brought to the clinic.

ATV to the clinic It feels great to have it feel familiar! Before I had no idea what I was doing. This time I feel a bit more in tune. There is an amazing front desk clerk working at the clinic who makes all the difference in getting things done for patients. She used to be a health aid and was trained as an administrative assistant before that, so she is amazingly trained for the job. Just like anywhere, that’s not always the case. A lot of times, because the clinic jobs are tough, higher education is rare, and people have not gone out of their locality much, there are different levels of training and skills. But no matter what the skill level or training level, they do an incredibly amazing and important job for their community! Mad props to every Community Health Aid and support staff member to what they do for their villages!

Of note, she has a LOVE tattoo on her right arm, and on her left arm, a key, that she says is not “somebody’s key to her heart”, but rather the key that represents that she holds the key to her own happiness. Brilliant lady!

When I asked her what are the keys to her success, she mentioned 1. Excellent mentors, 2.  some amazing training seminars that she got to go to, and 3. Having the right attitude. And she thinks that many of these principles could be incorporated into Health Aid training, because those modules were so important in her training.

*******

More conversations with the janitor. I am so happy to be back! It’s great to see Joe, the Janitor again. He was super warm and friendly, and I rejoiced to see him, because I had some burning questions about whale hunts that I knew he could answer.  (and he did). I also wondered how people used to survive in the frozen Arctic, before the advent of modern housing. He told me about the sod houses that people dug under ground in the winter. And some stayed in tents in the summer. He also told me that he has found beautiful carved artifacts and dolls in some of the old sod ruins that he has found. And he told me of how hard the life was before the modern era. Of how the hunters had to paddle out to catch the whales, harpoon it without modern bombs or guns (which he says even with bombs, the modern hunts are hard and exhausting and scary), and then tie it by the tail to the back of the Umiaq, and paddle back home. And then, drag it up on the beach. Fiercely strong!  He said some of the old guys were so strong they could lift 55 gallon drums full of fuel. After seeing how tough some of these natives are, I think I believe it. They had to be.

As if to underscore the point, I watched “The North,” an Imax documentary about the “Top of the Globe” features the extraordinary plight of the people who have long lived in harmony with the harsh elements of the Arctic.

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