Saturday, October 6, 2007

Hooper Bay, Part II: A Walk Through Naparyarmiut Village

Little girl playing in a puddle, not feeling the cold. It was 40 degrees outside and yours truly (a Californian through-and-through) was wearing a wool coat with hood, three layers of shirts and sweaters, a fleece cap and gloves.

Walking through Hooper Bay, it's hard not to be impressed with the friendliness of the residents. The only way into the village is by boat in the summer, or airplane. Since there are no connecting roads, no one comes here by accident.

People smiled broadly at me as I wandered, taking pictures. In the native store, several people stopped me and asked who I was, what I was doing in Hooper Bay, and whether I was a new teacher. They gave me a warm welcome to their town.

Above: Cousins "fishing" in a puddle

Above: The "Native Store" offers everything from Coca Cola to wireless keyboards -- all at a steep price. Outside food and products have to be shipped or flown into town.

The town suffered a terrible fire in the summer of 2006, which destroyed the old school along with many houses. FEMA and a number of other programs have helped to build new homes for those who lost everything. Above are some new houses with a great new advantage: they're actually winterized, complete with insulation and weather-stripping.

A sister and brother pretending to be pirates

Path through town.

There are no trees on the tundra, but villagers collect driftwood -- and there's a lot of it-- from the beach and stockpile it to use in building and for fires. They need firewood to heat the "steambaths" --small shacks that contain a 55-gallon drum for a fire, upon which they sprinkle water to create steam. Especially considering the lack of running water, the steambaths provide a relaxing cleanse.

The green National Guard building, above, has been empty since the soldiers were sent to Iraq
Path through town. There are no "yards," since nothing grows in the ground due to permafrost. Homes and pipes are lifted off the ground for the same reason: the ground is frozen past the first few inches throughout the summer, and immediately freezes over in the winter

View of houses "uptown", with a water pipe in the foreground. As yet, only the teacher housing and school building have running water (and thus toilets and showers); everyone else makes due with "honey buckets" and by hauling water and waste to and from collection stations. The town is working on bringing running water to all of the residences. Children mugging for the camera on their way home from school. The children all have English names like Florence, Emmanuel, and Sharon; their Yup'ik names are hard for English-speakers to pronouce: Qassayuli, Quakaaq, and Tan'giigak, for example. They found my attempts at Yup'ik pronunciation to be hilarious.

Boardwalks provide a dry path in a muddy land. The town is built over what might be considered a marsh or a swamp -- the tundra is full of water.
Above: the Catholic church

There are very few public buildings in town, but Christian missionaries established themselves throughout the native villages years ago.

Above: Fish drying on rack above front door

Yup'ik families spend much of their time hunting, fishing, and gathering seasonal berries and greens. These subsistence activities allow the families to survive harsh conditions of chronic unemployment and poverty, but the hunting, fishing, and picking "parties" are also great fun, bringing families closer together and helping to maintain yuuyaraq, the Yup'ik way of life. The children told me many long and entertaining stories of searching for food with their families out on the tundra during the warm season, and hunting all year long. Any overabundance of fish, meat and berries are then dried or frozen and eaten throughout the winter.

Entrance to a typical home, complete with stash of driftwood.

More in Part III!

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