Sleeping with Masks

Yesterday was unique because we had the entire afternoon and evening to just do whatever we pleased. Everyone took a different approach to exploring Bethel, but once night fell, we were all pretty exhausted from our week of activities. Around 10:30 PM, AKA right as I was about to go to bed, Tony and Nichole announced that they were going on a sunset walk. Naturally, sleep became unimportant and several of us tagged along.

The sunset was unbelievable. Casting the most gorgeous rays across the sky, I felt like we were walking directly into the sun itself. As night began to fall, the sky became a canvas of purple, pink and blue brush strokes. Blending into a masterpiece right before our very eyes, I couldn’t help but feel the magic of this town.

On our walk back though, I was heavily reminded of the real reason we’re here. Three children, ages roughly 16, 12 and 8, the first of which I had met earlier that day, walked us back to the Church. We were talking and getting to know each other, each parties equally interested in the lifestyle of the other. We asked the oldest how late she normally stays out, and she responded with 2 or 3 AM. Naturally we asked how late she sleeps in and she responded with, “about 1 PM; my mom usually is drinking by then. Not my dad though.” And the youngest told us that he is already chewing tobacco. Heartbreaking.

We’ve all had such an amazing trip so far, but it’s easy to forget that despite how many native people we connect with, our trip is not the reality of life here in Bethel. People are struggling with poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, historical trauma and trying to live a life based on subsistence and culture despite the pressure to change to the western way of thinking.

It’s like sleeping with masks on to block out the sun. We’re able to dream of wonderful things and focus on the beauty while ignoring the painful reality around us.

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