As some of you know, shortly after my arrival in the Bush, I met someone at my first teacher inservice. She’s from a nearby village and when the district brought us back to the district office for training the next week, we decided to try a relationship – though neither of us knew exactly what it would look like or how it would work.
Well, it has been about 5 weeks now and I can clue you in on how a relationship in the Bush works. It looks quite a bit different from a normal relationship – in fact, it probably resembles internet dating in quite a few ways.
First, there are (usually) nightly instant messenger sessions to answer the all important questions that people apart usually want to know, “How was your day?” and “What have you been thinking about?” It’s an instant messenger conversation because long distance phone calls are expensive and besides, neither of us has a telephone. VHF handsets, which are common for communication in the region, can’t cover the 40 miles between the two villages, nor do we want everyone within the range of the radios listening in on idle chitchat and personal conversations. Usually, nighttime conversations are multi-tasked with cooking, cleaning or working on lesson plans.
Then, maybe once a week, usually on Friday evenings, we find two or three hours to set aside and actually talk to hear each other. Usually, I’m reminded of what a poor substitute text is for voice – so many nuances and feelings simply aren’t conveyed through words and emoticons alone. Unfortunately, copper doesn’t carry the conversation, instead it goes over an internet program called Skype, a voice-over-ip or internet telephone system – which is carried over our satellite links. And the delay between speaking and being heard is about a second, which results in a fair bit of talking over each other before someone realizes it and lets the other finish their thought.
This week – we did something new. A video dinner date using Skype. And like my mentor teacher told me the experience would be, it was one of the highlights of my week. (Along with a reminder that I haven’t had a haircut in almost two months now.) Hopefully this becomes part of our routine as it’s a better substitute for actually seeing one another regularly that we’ve found.
Before coming to the Bush, I never really thought that 40 miles would be long distance. It’s less than an hour’s drive most places – here it is a 6ish hour window of time when the plane might show up, if the weather is good, followed by a 20 minute flight. That’s after forking out $160-$200 for the plane tickets. In a lot of ways, that 40 miles is more like 400. Come winter though, snow and ice will cover the landscape and Norton Sound and I’ll be able to snowmachine there and see her instead. It is odd to think of winter as the season of mobility and travel opportunities, but that’s life in the Alaskan Bush.