Noise. The ever formal definition of this absurdly common word as defined by dictionary.com is, “A nonharmonious or discordant group of sounds.”
While this meaning may be sufficient on an ordinary day in an ordinary place, the word has gained an entirely new meaning for me in a place where so little is said and so little is heard.
In Bethel, a city of 6,000 people, miles and miles from the nearest skyscraper, McDonalds, or stoplight, I find the general noises that accumulate in my everyday life are absent. The stillness and silence of the landscape are only interrupted by the most meaningful of sounds, and these are the sounds that will tell our story.
The rain tapping on the pick-up roofs and the sloshing of our boots as they trudge through the mud, tell us of the bizarre weather patterns facing Alaska which we are coming to learn may be having a negative impact on the subsistence culture of the Yup’ik people.
The large humming noise that booms through the social hall in the Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, our home for the next week and a half, which presents itself every time someone uses the bathroom or fills their water bottles, tell us of the lack of city wide water services and the need for the purchasing of water tanks, which are drained bit by bit with every activation of the water tank.
The ring of the doorbell interrupting our third interview of the day demonstrates the immense kindness, generosity, and hospitality of the Bethel community as a random stranger stops by to gift our group freshly caught salmon to welcome us to the community.
The strong gusts of wind picked up by our audio equipment every time a plane flies overhead reminds us that Bethel is a city only reachable by air, which causes the cost of living to be astronomical and the fear of famine to be a real problem.
The passion and assertiveness that resonates through the room as we interview Michelle Dewitt brings us all to attention. She speaks to us about how the eurocentric system is failing at solving the problems it originally created when trying to acculturate the Yup’ik people.
And finally, the emptiness of noise, the silence that is heard, completes our story.
The silence that overwhelms our entire group after we hear the tragic and inspiring story of trauma and healing, as told by Rose Dominic, a Yup’ik woman who has underwent horrendous tragedies mainly stemming from the insensitivity of organized religions and the United States government, grasps perfectly the immense heaviness of what we are investigating in Bethel. It reminds us that sometimes there are no words that can express the shame and awe felt when we learn of things our society has so purposefully forgotten.
We will maintain our purposeful silence as we continue creating our documentary, and let the only noise we hear be the noise of the people of Bethel, as they tell us their story.