Tag Archives: Cecilia

Blessed to learn and to love

It’s been five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. The whole trip, every single minute of it, was better than I had ever imagined it would be.

I’ve been thinking about how I was going to write this last blog post for the past 24 hours. How could I possibly sum up such a wonderful and impactful experience?  So to save you all from my rambling and incoherent thoughts, I want to share with you what I’ve learned from this trip:

1. Writing a movie script is different than any journalism story I’ve written. 

I’m used to telling stories using my words in my own style, letting others’ voices help me prove whatever statement I’m making. That’s what many journalists do, and that’s the privilege of being a journalist. You get to share stories, and it’s your job to tell the story to others. This experience has been different because instead of using our own voices, we help in another way.  We let our video and our interviewees tell the story. We rely heavily on them, while leaving ourselves out of it. Perhaps that’s what makes the best kind of story; when the subject is able to speak to a large group of others directly with only a little help from journalists.

2. I need practice shooting video, but hey, at least I know what all the buttons on the camera do. 

I can tell you how to set the ISO, aperture, shutter speed and white balance on a camera. I can tell you that when you don’t have time to set those features, shoot in Program mode. However, I’m not quite comfortable with a camera yet.  I hope to spend more time with a camera in the future (and maybe not with the thought of making an award-winning documentary in mind).

3.  Confidence is absolutely vital to a project like this. 

You need a lot of faith in yourself and in your team members to complete something like this. You need faith you’ll get the interview, faith you’ll get enough b-roll, faith you’ll find a good story, and faith it’ll all come together in the end. (I also learned I’m awful at hiding the times when I don’t have faith in myself; John had to remind me to be confident.)

4.  When you find a culture and a people as special as those in Bethel, you try to soak in everything you can.

I’m still trying to soak in all the lessons learned and the sights I saw. This culture is a welcoming culture, an open culture, a completely different culture than my own. Cecilia let us try on her parkas, pieces of clothing she hand-made and were a part of her culture and identity.  Nelson let a dozen people watch him cry as he told us how climate change is affecting the edge of the world and his life. If you’re blessed enough to be a witness to all of this, you keep a place for those people in your heart, knowing that truly good people, people who care, are out there.

5. Once you become aware of a moral evil or a social sin, you are held accountable for your actions. 

During our last lecture on Tuesday, we talked about social sins and modernity. We reflected on becoming aware of the social sin that has become climate change. Now that we are aware, we are held accountable to help make it right. As Nelson would say, we need to  find a way to say sorry to the land.

Carol asked us,”What is something you can do differently based on what you learned?”

I learned that climate change is not a hoax. I’ve seen the impact it’s had on people and on their culture. I’m now accountable for my actions. I can’t change the consumer society that is affecting climate change, but I can take little steps, like recycling and reusing items, and find out how to take bigger steps in the future.

6. It takes a lot to still love 19 people with whom you’ve spent five weeks, 35 days, 840 hours and 50,400 minutes. 

The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O'Keefe.
The Alaskan family. Photo courtesy of John O’Keefe.

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard sometimes. But, in all honesty, I couldn’t have asked for a better group of people to spend over 50,000 minutes with. This trip and my whole experience wouldn’t be the same without them.  I  walked out of the classroom today with a happy heart and a feeling of gratefulness.

So again, I’d like to thank Carol, Tim, John and the rest of my peers for a life-changing experience.

Five Farewell Thoughts

Today we spend our last day in Bethel, interviewing a few more people and enjoying the town that has touched us over the last 10 days.

I found this quote a Pinterest a few months ago, and I can’t find to whom to attribute it. I find it very appropriate for this trip. It goes,”You will never be completely at home again, because part of your heart will always be elsewhere. That is the price you pay for the richness of loving and knowing people in more than one place.”

I know Bethel will always be a part of my story, just as much as I hope we have become a part of its.

As I say so-long and farewell to Bethel, I reflect on the top five things I’ll miss the most:

1. The individual people who have been so open and welcoming to our group:
Every time we meet a new person, whether it’s for an interview or just to get a taste of the Yup’ik culture, I am shocked by how open and willing that person is to tell us his or her story. We’re a big group, almost a force, and most often we have lots of questions about the culture. Every question, no matter how long it takes, is answered well. I am so grateful to have met people like Cecilia, Tad, Sarah, and Stan (the barber in town who took all of us out to his fish camp). They have made this trip so wonderful and so incredible.

2. Experiencing “real journalism”:
I was excited to participate in “real journalism” from the beginning. I had the chance to be the interviewer, take notes and listen for good quotes in other interviews, try my best to shoot b-roll and even cover or take notes during a town-hall style meeting. I’ll miss having interviews to go to, but hopefully one day I’ll be interviewing people every day.

3. Trying new things:
This is probably the only time in my life I’ll be in Alaska, so I tried to say “yes” to every opportunity I had. I said “yes” to eating lots of salmon, reindeer and moose. I said “yes” to going to a fish camp and just going fishing. I said “yes” to kayaking (and regretted it a little). I said “yes” to exploring the town with my peers at 10:30 p.m. because it looked like it was 3 p.m. outside. Saying “yes” with almost no regrets was a great feeling.

4. Disconnecting myself from the outside world:
I loved not having cell phone service up here. It’s going to be so sad when we travel to Seward tomorrow and our phones will work again. I don’t text a lot on my phone anyway, but it’s been great to take a breather from social media, except to post my blogs on Facebook and Twitter. I will miss taking a break from one world to be completely present in the current one, something I’ve done on this trip.

5. My crazy and amazingly wonderful peers and professors who have shared this experience with me:
This group, gosh, where do I even begin? Even though 20 is a big group, every member has gotten to know every member fairly well. Each of us has put our all into this project, and I can’t wait to see what our final product will look like. I’m going to miss seeing all 19 of my group members every day, all day. I’m going to miss our games of B.S., Bananagrams and Mafia. I’m going to miss sharing two queen sized mattresses with four other girls and sharing one bathroom with everyone. I’m going to miss the laughs, the tears and the serious moments. I might even miss Mari calling me “Baby Madz.”

The girls of this fantastic group, having fun on one of our late night walks. Photo Courtesy of Kari Welniak.
The girls of this fantastic group, having fun on one of our late night walks. Photo Courtesy of Kari Welniak.

So to my peers and to Bethel, thank you. For every moment.

 

 

Experiencing Culture at Cecilia’s

I was one of the first ones up yesterday morning, which almost never happens.

The only others up were those who were assigned to be on the interview team and Nico, who’s a video pro and always a step ahead of everybody else.

Sarah, a volunteer at the Church who was a Jesuit Volunteer last year, suddenly came into our breakfast/break room and told us that Myron, the interviewee that morning, wanted the interview team over as soon as possible. Cecilia, who we interviewed a few days ago, had also called. She was making soup, so if we needed b-roll of that, we needed to go over there immediately.

Talk about a rushed morning.

Nico was ready to go shoot b-roll and grabbed Scott, who’s quickly becoming a video pro, and the interview team started to gather equipment. I quickly felt out of place, since I wasn’t on the interview team and video isn’t my strong suit. I figured I wasn’t going in either group.

Carol, one of our faculty advisors, told me to go with Nico and Scott to see Cecilia and to observe, be present and take down notes about the b-roll the boys were shooting.

So Leah, who had just woken up, Scott, Nico and I piled into Sarah’s truck and drove to Cecilia’s. Her house isn’t big, but it is tall and skinny. When you walk in, you take off your muddy boots. You walk up a flight of stairs to her living room and kitchen.

When we got there, she had reindeer meat boiling in a pot of water. She added onions and later carrots, kale, noodles, parsley and basil. She had run out of tomatoes, so she instead put in a little ketchup. (I tried the soup later that morning, and yes, the reindeer meat was delicious!)

She showed us how she stirs, always in a clockwise motion, following the sun. She “follows the sun whatever [she does],” even when she purifies her house.

Next she showed us a little bowl of burned ayuk, or tundra tea leaves. These are tiny leaves you can pick out of the tundra. They smell fantastic and you can brew them to make tea. Cecilia burns them and and purifies her house from east to west (again, following the sun) once or twice a month.

When explaining why she purifies her house, she says that everybody leaves something behind in her house or wherever they go. It’s either positive or negative energy, like feelings of anxiety or excitement. Purifying her house removes all of that energy.

She must pick an awful lot of ayuk, because she also picks them for the Catholic Church. She has for the past two years. The Church uses the burnt tundra leaves as incense.

As Cecilia cut the different ingredients to put in her soup, she cut them using her ulu, which is a knife that is shaped like a wide “u.” She told us that when a woman gets married, she is given three things: a ulu, a traditional stirring spoon made of wood and a sewing kit complete with scissors, a smaller ulu, a thimble and needles.

While the soup was cooking on the stove, she proceeded to pull out her traditional Yup’ik mukluks (boots made out of seal and otter with waterproof stitching) and parkas. The four of us had lots of fun trying on the parkas. She told us her mother made the mukluks but she made the parkas.

Cecilia let us try on the parkas she made. They are so warm, and I love the pockets! Photo Courtesy of Nico Sandi.
Cecilia let us try on the parkas she made. They are so warm, and I love the pockets! Photo Courtesy of Nico Sandi.

Even though I didn’t really need to go to Cecilia’s because everything that happened was caught on camera, I was happy I got to go and learn a little more about the Yup’ik culture. I felt like I was at my grandma’s house, but instead of hearing about my family, I heard all sorts of traditions and history from another culture.

She told us that every Christmas her and her siblings would receive new mukluks and kuspuks (hooded overshirts with pockets; each group has a different pattern and style of kuspuks).

I hope that moment, when we laughed as we tried on the parkas and examined the mukluks, reminded her of past Christmases.

Learning from and with Others

One of the phrases that accompanies this trip is “blessed to be a witness,” and these last few days has showed me what that truly means.

I’ve felt unbelievably blessed these past few days to experience the things I have, to hear stories, reflect on what I have heard, and hang out with some of Creighton’s coolest.

On Wednesday, we had the privilege to experience a full-day workshop on cultural trauma, which is experienced by many natives in the area. Rose Dominic is in charge of a program that helps natives in the healing process after experiencing trauma, and she hosted us in her home.

She told 20 strangers the story of her life and stories about the trauma her family has experienced: her grandpa being separated from her grandma, her uncles being taken out of their homes to attend boarding school, only to come back not being able to interact with family members or fit in with the culture.

She also told us stories about the trauma experienced in her own life and in her brothers and sisters’ lives. She and her older siblings were taught the Yup’ik language when they were young. Most of her older siblings went to boarding school, but she did not. Although she was not in boarding school, every time she spoke a word of Yup’ik in school she was slapped on the wrist by a nun. She experienced all of this at the age of five.

As she’s telling these stories, you can see her depth of sadness and hurt. She started to talk about sexual abuse experienced by her siblings and the alcohol abuse that has affected many of her family members, because it’s the only way they can pretend the trauma hasn’t touched them.

On Thursday, we talked to a Yup’ik elder named Cecilia, who also attended boarding school and further reinforced the idea that the sense of Yup’ik identity and culture was extremely discouraged in her early years.

This topic of boarding school and the discouragement of showing pride in culture is a topic that has interested me since day one. The Catholic missionaries and Jesuits are often mentioned with these topics, which is probably why I find them interesting. It’s hard for me as a Catholic to imagine someone who shares my faith to do such a horrible thing as separating children from their families, but I have to wonder if at the moment they thought they were doing what was best for the people.

The government is rarely mentioned but is still pertinent in the discussion. The United States at one time had a native population of 40 million. That number has now dropped to 50,000. Read that again: 40 million to 50,000. It could be called a genocide or a holocaust. We don’t like to think of the United States being associated negatively with the words “genocide” or “holocaust,” but in reality, those two topics are and should be associated with each other. But we don’t learn about it, because we’re never the bad guys in our history books. We could never admit that.

A lot of this talk is hard to hear, but the people on this trip are great people to discuss and talk to about the topics we hear all day.

We all have different talents. Some of us shoot video extremely well, others of us do not. I’ve grown fond of the group that struggles shooting video because, well, I can’t shoot great video no matter how much I want to.

On Thursday, a group of us went out to shoot B-roll, and a number of us were those that have had very little video experience. I was paired with Claudia (she’s great and you should check out her blog!) and John, one of our faculty advisors, pretty much had to talk us through our first couple of shots. We later joined up with Erin and Catherine and John assigned us to shoot a gas tank. It’s a stationary object, so it’s not too difficult to shoot. We shot it from several different angles, gaining more confidence on the cameras.

Catherine, Erin, Claudia and I, from left to right, shooting B-roll. See how it's a layered shot with the camera peaking out in front? Tim would be proud.
Catherine, Erin, Claudia and I, from left to right, shooting B-roll. See how it’s a layered shot with the camera peaking out in front? Tim would be proud.
The gas tank of which we took a million shots. We still have to go back and re-shoot it.
The gas tank of which we took a million shots. We still have to go back and re-shoot it.

By this point, it’s pretty much decided who’s on the video team. Yesterday the video team got to go on boats and shoot fish camps while a group of six of us stayed home. We call ourselves the C-team. We got the opportunity to ride kayaks on a pretty stream, which turned into a nightmare on the way back, paddling upstream against the wind. The story is too good not to tell in person, so hit me up when I return.

For now, just picture my physically-inept self struggling to paddle for 40 minutes. That’ll give you a few laughs.