It was the beginning of summer vacation when I agreed to accompany my father on a work related trip to three rural Alaskan villages. Surprisingly, working would be the newest experience on this trip. In August 2002 my parents and I moved to Nondalton, a small village located in south-central Alaska. The fact that I was returning to similar village took away the bleakness that surrounds the word “work”.
We received a call the morning of our departure from the pilot of Lake Clark Air, the bush plane that would be taking us to Illiamna. It’s funny, but the first question a bush pilot will ask you before boarding is the weight of you and the bag you’re traveling with. After landing, we took a truck to the sister village of Newhalen.
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Illiamna and Newhalen are two small, isolated Alaskan villages. The complication that they are only accessible by plane has prohibited much development in the villages. Newhalen itself can only boast the possession of a school and about two miles of paved road. For the necessities such as a store and airstrip, you must drive to the neighboring village of Iliamna.
After arriving, my father and I got straight to work. What was work? Well, our specific mission involved replacing the servers and computers on the site. My job was to remove the hard drives from the old computers, catalog them for storage, and remove the computers from the classrooms.
After a day’s work at the school, we spent the night in an itinerant house nearby. The house is called Newhalen house and its main purpose is to bring young adults in from around the district for about a week and teach them valuable life skills by having the group function as a household. I thought this concept was a great idea. School gives us the knowledge for work, but unless your parents really make the effort, teens never learn the skills needed to live alone. I thought the program was brilliant and wondered why it wasn’t more broadly found.
I woke up the next morning to find it raining. Within a few minutes, my father and I made the decision to take the mail plane to Nondalton for the day. Yes Nondalton! My old home! It had been about five years since my family and I last saw this little village. I look back at that time and realize how great that experience it was. As the only non-native student, I got to learn a lot about the Athabascan culture, history, and language. I now look back at those years and know that they contributed in making me who I am today.
While working in Nondalton, I unfortunately locked the keys to the school in a classroom. This put progress to a halt and my father consequently had to book us an earlier flight back to Newhalen. This prevented us from visiting old friends and walking down memory lane, but mistakes will do that and for that reason you learn from them.
We got on the plane the next morning, our work in Newhalen done. I looked out the window at the village. I was happy that we had accomplished our task, but also sad to leave. I now held knowledge about entering the workforce and had learned the benefit of holding on to your keys. Being in a village once again showed me the unique differences between societies. It made me appreciate how diverse Alaska and its people are. I am thankful to have had this opportunity.
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