Let me tell you about growing up in Alaska.

I grew up in a small town in Alaska. It was on the road system, which meant we could and did drive to Anchorage once a year, maybe twice, but my town didn’t have, say, a McDonald’s, when I was a kid. I remember when the Dairy Queen opened, and the Arby’s, which was less of a big deal because it opened after DQ, but the first time I went to McDonald’s I was around 11 and I froze. I had no idea what to order. I hardly had any idea *how* to order, even though I’d gone to DQ and Arby’s. But that had always been with my parents, never leaving me on my own to order.

I remember standing there in the McD’s, staring at the menu in a panic. There was so much STUFF and I didn’t know what was *good* or…*what*. I ended up ordering a Big Mac, because two all beef patties special sauce lettuce cheese pickles onions on a sesame seed bun was basically all I could think, so it’s what I got. (I thought it was awful.)

And that was the first McDonald’s experience for a kid on the road system.

I have a friend who teaches in a Yup’ik village on the west cost of Alaska. You fly in, to get to Kotlik, or if it’s winter–and the ice is safe, which it often isn’t anymore–you can take snow machine (mobile) up the river to visit other villages. There aren’t many cars. My friend brought the first *cats* the kids had ever seen to Kotlik. The nearest movie theatre is 200 miles away, in a town you have to fly to, to reach.

Three of her students have qualified for a Yup’ik language spelling bee in Anchorage this year. They’ve never competed in the bee before, and didn’t expect to do so well. Their school has no money to send kids to Anchorage, so my friend is running a GoFundMe to get them there.

They’ve paid for the basics. They’re hoping to cover all expenses, at this point. They’re hoping to be able to go to a movie, which they’ve never done in a theatre. They’re hoping to eat at a sit-down restaurant, which isn’t something that exists in Kotlik. They’re hoping to go swimming in a pool.

It’s almost impossible to convey how much it means for me to see these kids get to experience what is almost certainly a once in a lifetime opportunity. Kotlik is threatened by climate change, but most people don’t leave the village, and most of them will only move with the village when it has to move, rather than going somewhere else.

It’s not just that they’ve got the chance. It’s that they’ve got the chance through academic achievement. It’s no insult to the kids to say most rural Alaskan schools aren’t well known for their academic prowess. They’re small, underfunded schools in tremendously remote locations. So I am *so proud* of these kids, and I want so badly for them to get to do all of the things they have a chance to do here. I think about me, eleven years old or so, overwhelmed by McDonald’s, and I think about how amazing and overwhelming and exciting this is going to be for them, and I want it for them so much.

If you have a few dollars to spare, it would be amazing if you could help these kids do the things that an awful lot of us take for granted, and that they’ve never had the chance to do.

2 thoughts on “Let me tell you about growing up in Alaska.

  1. I lived on St. Paul (in the Pribilofs) for two years in the mid-eighties, when I was in the sixth and seventh grades. My parents were teachers and moved us from Oklahoma to bush Alaska. I lived in a small town before that, but it was nothing like living somewhere where the groceries were flown in, and there were no such things as restaurants of any kind. Or bookstores, which I missed even more. I still remember what I treat it was to go out to Anchorage to play basketball the second year that we lived there. We all got to spend a week going to the mall, going to the movies, and eating things that were just not available on the island. I went back to Alaska to Fairbanks for graduate school – it was not nearly as isolated, but still very different than living in Texas, and I don’t just mean the weather. I don’t recommend moving from south Texas to Fairbanks in January (I think it was at least an 80 degree temperature difference).

    1. Oh, wow. What culture shock!

      I remember one time in the dead of winter in Fairbanks when I was chatting with a friend in Florida, and we realized there was a 120 degree temperature difference between where he was and where I was! It was like -40 in Fairbanks and 80 in Tampa Bay. O__o

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