Wales is definitely a tiny village…or maybe even a hamlet. It’s even more hunkered-down and minimalist/survivalist than Nome.
These are the places of human civilization that awe me the most. It feels so sparse compared to many places. What brought people here, and how did they learn to survive?
And yet, people do. And one can find all of the same emotions, struggles, needs, desires, hopes, inspirations, dreams and fears here as anywhere else in the world.
The houses are very humble and unassuming on the outside, beat up, weathered, rusting, chipping away. It’s a scattered mix of random buildings, including a post office,
two stores, a generator plant, a GCI antenna, an old community center, a few other buildings (that I don’t know what they are), houses, a bridge over a tundra river, and at the end of town, tucked at the feet of the mountain lies the clinic and the school.
The school building is large and very nice—probably the nicest building in town.
And it’s on beachfront property!
The clinic is an older, shifting building that is starting to show the effects of harsh weather and shifting permafrost (Ie cracks in the walls and the walls are starting to separate from the ceiling).
Overall it is much, much nicer than for what I had prepared myself for—which wasn’t much! But the health aids point out the deteriorating condition of the building, the lack of running water, and other maintenance issues. Apparently there is a confusing system of Government versus Native Corporation vs Indian Health Service (IHS) vs the local town governors, and it is difficult to get anyone to take ownership to fix the needs. The health aids have done a lot of work to submit requests, appeals, supporting documentation to multiple people in charge, and they keep being told that there is no money.
In spite of this, I am very impressed with the clinic, the resources that they have acquired over time and the health aids work here. They are a gold mine of knowledge for local history and culture, and they recommended several books and movies to read and watch. One health aid commented that she learned a lot about how her people were treated from her parents, grandparents and uncles and aunts and movies and books. It was fun chatting with them for a few minutes before I got to work. They were excited to have sushi for a late lunch! And we also broke out the donuts, because why not?!
I started seeing patients right away—I got to see 5 people this afternoon and the health aids precepted a few more patients with me. They are so grateful to have a doctor in flesh and blood. They wanted me to see the more complex, geriatric patients, which is difficult, because I don’t know them and a chart review takes a long time. Also, I had to learn the village system, which is different from the rest. Again, learning to swim by jumping in the the deep end!
After clinic was over and I caught up on charting, I went out to explore. There is a mountain ridge here and most of the tundra land, where only the locals are allowed to tread, because it is native land, which I totally respect. So I stuck to the roads and beachfront, as they had explained. I basked in an unexpectedly splendid sunset:
Although the evening sky was spectacular, walking on the beach by myself, I felt a I felt a distinct sense of loneliness that comes with being the outsider. There weren’t very many people out–because of the cold. Occasionally people would drive by in four-wheelers and smile and wave and comment on how beautiful the evening was. Although lonely, I found great peace in the solitude. How I imagine a solitude retreat (like Pacem in Terris) must feel like. It is a beautiful thing to get back to a place where you are alone with yourself, and away from cell phones, internet, distractions and even community for a while. Although this makes me appreciate community and friends and family even more! I think up here it takes more time for a community to warm up to an outsider–most likely for cultural and historical reasons.