Monday, June 8, 2009

A Year in the Life

(This post is more for my own personal record-keeping than for anyone else's entertainment or education. Sorry, and please indulge me on this one.)

So, as some of you may know, I recently celebrated a birthday. I am now a seasoned 23 year old. I had a lovely Alaskan birthday and definitely felt the love - from home, from my co-workers, my community, and my Bethel friends. It was a really nice day filled with friends and good food, and laughs.

Anyway, I spent a lot of time this weekend reflecting on the last year of my life and I realized I had a lot of firsts. So, I decided that I would list them here - essentially because I want to document them, but also because I think they're interesting things. Enjoy.

Firsts for Maura Toomb in the Past Year

-graduated college (OK, that wasn't in the "calendar year," but bear with me)
-went to Central America (hopefully not the last time!)
-drove from New Jersey to Ohio without my family
-rode some of the biggest roller coasters in the world at Cedar Point
-went to DisneyWorld without my family
-became a godmother
-flew cross country by myself
-entered the Jesuit Volunteer Corps
-moved to Alaska
-learned how to catch, gut, filet, wrap, and freeze fish
-learned how to make my own preserves (from berries I picked)
-jumped into the Kuskokwim River
-frolicked on the tundra
-camped on the tundra
-was in a jail
-came to look forward to visiting a jail
-traveled in the front seat of a 6 person plane
-was in a native Alaskan village
-became a certified voter registrar
-ice skated on an actual frozen lake
-went on a business trip
-cooked a turkey
-drove on a river
-went to midnight mass on Christmas
-celebrated Russian Orthodox Christmas (Slaaviq)
-went to a sled dog race (and another, and another)
-worked at a sled dog race
-walked over a mile in windchills of negative 60*F
-had my own radio show
-was in a wedding party
-drove a snow machine
-crashed a snow machine (oops...)

-went to a native dance festival
-jumped over a fire to celebrate Azeri New Year
-went to an Easter Vigil Mass
-worked on a high school play that I was not acting in
-went to a folk music festival
-got a tattoo
-wrote a cover letter (and another, and another)
-learned to drive a stick shift
-ate moose, caribou, elk sausage, agutaq, seal oil, black bear, rabbit, goose eggs, tundra tea, smelts, tundra berries, and brussel sprouts
-traveled to Anchorage, Juneau, Wasilla, Girdwood, Upper Kalskag, Oscarville, Napakiak, Napaskiak, and Kwethluk, Alaska
-saw snow stick to the ground in October
-saw snow stick to the ground in May
-met an Alaska Supreme Court Justice
-learned how to hold my own in an office full of lawyers
-spent every Thursday and Friday morning with a bunch of people labeled as felons and loved it
-spent the majority of every other day talking to people labeled as addicts and abusers and loved it

-learned to love the challenges and rewards of living in intentional community (did we really just spend a half an hour weighing the pros and cons of honey vs. brown sugar?)
-was "ruined for life"

There are probably a lot of other things I'm forgetting, but that's the bulk of it. All in all, a pretty solid year, I think!

Friday, May 15, 2009

Exciting News

I am quite happy to let you all know (all 5 of you that read my blog) that I have accepted a position as Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Peter's Prep Jesuit High School in Jersey City, NJ. Essentially, my role will be as the coordinator of the Christian service program - this includes acting as a liasion for the students with the different agencies, education about justice issues pre-service, reflection after, leading immersion trips to Ecuador and Michigan, etc. This job is perfect for me and I'm really excited about it. Throughout the whole interview process I was very impressed by the community at St. Peter's and the school's commitment to Ignatian ideals. I can't wait to continue working in the "Jesuit world."

Also, obviously, I'll be moving back to New Jersey, that great state of fist pumps, diners, and the shore. (All some of my favorite things.) Get excited.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Check That One Off the List

This week, I checked something off my "Things to Do Before I Die" list.

I learned how to drive a stick shift.

Granted, this is not very exciting to most people. Or even considered an accomplishment. But it was on my list. And this is my blog, so there you have it.

I think driving stick is an important skill to have and never got around to learning while I was downstates. And, after talking about it all year, I was forced to learn this week. I found out on Monday that the family I was babysitting for/housesitting for Wednesday - Sunday only had two manual cars. So what did I do all Tuesday evening? Stall out.

I'm kidding...kind of. It took me a little while, but by the end of Tuesday night I was driving around Bethel. And by Wednesday morning, I was driving the Williams to the airport, their kids to two different schools, Meg to work, and myself to work. And I only stalled at one stop sign along the way. Wooooo!

Thankfully, Bethel is very flat. According to Marty Toomb, I can't really drive stick until I can park on a steep hill and then start again. But, oh darn, I just can't try that out here. So I'm taking accomplishment where I can get it and crossing that one off the list. Boo-yah.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Waqaa, Cama'i!

Waqaa is the Yup'ik word meaning "hello," and Cama'i is the Yup'ik word meaning "welcome." However, Cama'i is bigger than that. It's also the three day native dance festival held in Bethel every year. Dance groups, native craft vendors, and people from all over the state come to share in a weekend of native dance and culture.

Most of the dance groups that perform are from the Bethel and the YK Delta. Yup'ik dance is pretty stationary; each dance tells a story, and the story is told by the rhythm of the drums, the singing, and arm movements. Men and women dance together, with men kneeling in front and women standing in back. The men and women all wear qaspeqs (native shirts), mukluks (fur boots), and use dance fans. The men's dance fans are made of feathers, and the women's are made of fur. The women also wear beautiful fur headresses. Usually, the qaspeqs are all different colors, making for a very colorful and vibrant stage. Add that to the thump of the drums and the chant of men's voices that constantly rolls underneath and you have a very evocative experience. It was a great way to experience Yup'ik culture.

We also got to experience some other cultures, including other Native Alaskan groups, Sudanese (GORGEOUS outfits), Japanese, and urban (a break-dancing group from Anchorage called Static Elementz. Note the "z"). It was a really cool weekend, even if it was a little overwhelming to have as many people as were there crammed into the Bethel Regional High School gym and lobby.

Another thing I really liked about Cama'i was being able to see a lot of my clients out and about. So often, I come into contact with my clients over the phone, in court, and in times of crisis. Seeing them at Cama'i gave me the opportunity to just "hang out" with a lot of them, which was a really nice gift.

Lastly, I bought my first qaspeq at Cama'i! I'm so excited. It's lime green and I love it. And, as my clients from the jail told me at Therapeutic Court last week, it brings out my eyes. Nice.

Of course, some pictures! (Bear with me on the quality of these, I'm not good at being pushy enough to get all the way to the front.)

Friday, March 20, 2009

Here Comes the Sun

Just an update for all of you who think I'm still living in darkness: Daylight Savings Time has done wonderful things for Bethel. We're gaining minutes of sunlight every day, and are at approximately 12 hours of light a day. It's awesome- only March and it's already light until 9p. I can't wait for June when it's light until midnight again.

I was amazed how quickly the light came upon us. I had heard that the Yup'ik word for February meant "the month between the short and long days," and that couldn't be more true. In January, we were still making our way through loooong days of darkness - the residual from December. In February, between retreat, and being home and whatnot, I wasn't around long enough to notice a difference. All I could tell was that when I got back to Bethel on February 23, I was shocked by the fact that the sun was up when I left for work and when I returned. It was like a whole new world.

Well, you should see it now. I walk to work in the sunrise light, and it's not completely dark until 9p or later. All the darkness didn't seem so bad in the midst of it, but now that we have this much light, we're ecstatic. Makes doing more in the evenings a lot easier and more inviting. Next, we just need it to warm up! We're back down to windchills in the negative 20s, after a week of balmy mid-thirties. However, break-up (when everything unfreezes) officially happens in May, so we're imagining warmer weather will begin soon enough, to prepare the frozen Kuskokwim to break by early May. Stay tuned for updates.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Jya Know the Capital of Alaska? Juneau?

The weekend of Feb 6-9 was our second JVC Alaska retreat. We traveled to the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau to meet with the rest of the Alaska communities, our area director, her husband, and Leah Nusse, who is head of alumni relations and recruitment for JVC:NW. The theme of our retreat was social justice, and we spent our time talking about justice issues in Alaska, comparing the issues each community deals with, and relating them back to Catholic Social Teaching. Considering I a) love retreats, b) love talking about justice issues, c) love seeing the other communities, and d) loved the place we were staying at, it was an overall wonderful weekend.

Our retreat was facilitated by Patrick Tam, who was JV in Emmonak, a village on the Yukon River in the 1980s. He has stayed in Emmonak (and/or the YK Delta) since then, working for the Archdiocese of Fairbanks, doing Catholic ministry and Development work. He facilitated an interesting and engaging retreat for us, and I have to say, it was pretty great to have a facilitator from the YK Delta because he could relate to me and my community specifically about the issues we see here in Bethel day in and day out. Because we usually spend most of each retreat trying to explain the differences between life in Bush Alaska and the Road System Alaska to the other communities, that was nice.

And, as always, it was lovely to see another part of Alaska. Juneau is beautiful...mountains, water, snow; it was like a fairytale land. And, we got to see all the weather has to offer Juneau - it was overcast when we got there, raining by nightfall, icy the next day, beautiful, sunny, and warm the next, and blizzarding by Sunday night. Apparently all of Alaska goes through the ridiculous weather changes that Bethel does.

Lastly, the best part about this retreat (and any retreat) is that my community got to spend some quality time together while also bonding with the other Alaska communities. It's always great to take time away to remind ourselves of what is really important during this year. And, it's especially cool to see how other people are experiencing living the same values we are in different places. My community has grown close with the other Alaska JVs and it's like a mini family reunion every couple of months when we all get together. Sadly, we only have one more retreat that we'll ALL be at, buuut we do have FolkFest in April where MOST of the Alaska JVs will be to spend some purely recreational time together. Who's got two thumbs and is excited? THIS KID.

And, some pictures of Juneau.

Alaska JVs following our bus on foot because it was too slippery to drive with all of us in it up the hill to leave the Shrine's grounds.

Alaska JVs pushing the bus around the corner when we got to the top of the hill.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Kuskokwim 300 - A YK Delta Holiday Weekend

I'm back in action! After a long hiatus, a whirlwind trip home, and many people yelling at me for not blogging enough, I'm back. I need to catch you all up on some cool things I did in the meantime, so we're going to travel back in time a little bit. First, to Kalskag, January 17, 2009.

On Saturday, Jan. 17, after a day and a half of being on weather standby, Jon and Erin and I hopped on a plane to Upper Kalskag, Alaska, a small village about 100 miles upriver from Bethel. Kalskag is a main checkpoint on the Kuskokwim 300 dog race trail. Each year, the JVs are race checkers for the "K300," as it is so affectionately called. It's a win-win deal: the K300 gets free labor out of us, and we get free trips to villages, adventure, and funtimes with dog mushers and the people of the delta. And, the race didn't start until noon on Sunday, which meant that mushers weren't into Kalskag until after 9pm, so we had a lot of time to explore.

Working the K300 was one of (if not the) most fun and exciting things I have done all year. As race checkers, we were responsible for noting what time each musher came into the checkpoint, counting their dogs, taking care of any dogs they decided to drop (you don't need to finish the race with as many dogs as you started with), and making sure they stayed the amount of time required by race rules. Because Kalskag is a main layover checkpoint on the race trail, we got a lot of face time with the mushers and got to be right in the craziness that is completing a 300 mile dogsled race. And, because the K300 trail goes from Bethel to Aniak and BACK AGAIN we got to see everyone twice in a 24-36 hour period. Lucky us!

The atmosphere at the checkpoint was a ton of fun. Mushers coming in at all hours of the night, one after another, very hectic. Families, dogs, race officials all hanging out - K300 is like a holiday weekend in the Delta. We met lots of Kalskag-ians, including many, many a cute little kid. I played some rousing games of Go Fish while waiting for the mushers. We had a lovely woman named Loreen cooking looots of native food for us all weekend - I ate toons of frybread, agutaq (Eskimo ice cream), moose stew, etc. I even tried moose intestine! (Not bad.) It was awesome.

However, the most fun thing about it was my actual responsibilty as a race checker. Despite getting almost no sleep for the weekend, lots of confusion, and having mooost of my clothes smell like dog, it was incredibly fun and invigorating to be a race checker. We felt like we were right in the thick of it, seeing the mushers in, adrenaline pumping, calling times into headquarters, etc. And, we got to see how not only the community of Kalskag, but the whole YK Delta came together for this race. It really is something huge out here, and a real source of pride. People from all over the Delta were in Bethel for the race start, and everyone in every village along the race trail was excited about the race, keeping close tabs on who was in the lead, etc. And, we're proud to report that local mushers did incredibly well this year, with three of the top ten finishers being from the YK Delta. Because the Delta is not known for mushing in the way that other parts of Alaska are, this is a huge achievement.

Flying back to Bethel and going to the closing banquet on Tuesday evening made me realize just how much this event meant to the people of the Delta, that it was much more than just a dogsled race. The K300 is something that brings attention to Bethel, and puts it on the radar of the rest of the world, in some small way. This is huge for the people of the Delta, and it felt great to be a part of it. I realized that I was just as excited as everyone else there because I was proud, too. Bethel has become a home for me this year, and I was proud to share in the excitement with everyone. For one of the first times this year, I felt like I was part of something "big." So, I understand why the K300 is the deal it is. It's pride.

Lastly, I have a story from Kalskag that is probably one of the oddest/funniest things that has ever happened to me. I can't do it justice without telling it in person, but if you remember, next time you see me, ask me about my experience walking 33 dropped sled dogs a mile and a half.

And of course, some pictures. (Of course, I don't have any of the dog teams. Sorry. I was actually doing stuff when they were around.)

View of Bethel from the plane. Pretty legit, huh?

View of the Kuskokwim at sunrise (circa de 10:30a) from the top of the mountain we hiked up in Kalskag.
Playing Go Fish with the ladies of the Kalskag. Stephanie, the girl on my left, followed me into the bathroom later in the weekend to ask me if I had a boyfriend. Pamela, the girl on my right, drew me a lovely picture of a sunset that is now on my bedroom wall.

And, most exciting news of the weekend: Erin, our resident vegetarian, tried moose stew! Granted, this bite was about as far as she got, but it was a big deal for Jon and me.
I'll continue to travel back in time for my next few blog posts until we're caught up. Next: our winter retreat in Juneau...