Wednesday, February 16, 2011

"She Maqiis Like a Man"

"I'm grateful to you. If it weren't for you, I'd be in Cicely right now and I'd still be running that rat race, still locked in that commute. I'd be totally stressed, I'd be totally ignorant of what my life could be. I'm happier now than I've ever been."

- Joel to Maggie after his time upriver, Northern Exposure

The Yup'ik Maqii

Salmon spots, hhhhooooo weeee, hot, everybody in we're going to pour, everybody out it's too hot in here! Add a little more water, it's good. (To the right a typical steam house with wood someone collected up river drying out and ready to burn.) Owww, my skin is burning turn around and put your behind to the stove and your face on the floor just like you learned in elementary school fire safety, hot air rises. Are you sure we can fit more? There's always room for more! Don't forget your maqii hat so your hair doesn't burn your face and your ears don't melt! Let me out, let me out, let me the outside door a a smidge, could you? So we can get some frigid air in. Time to wash, stove is cooling. Fill up you basin and grab your scrubber. That's how we do it. Add a little cold river water from the barrel and a little hot water from the stove. Suds it up and rinse off same way clean water. Back out to the drying/cooling room and your on your way. (To the left several artifacts they found at the dig site this past summer what you see is what they still typically use in a steam bath: the dipper for pouring water on the hot rocks, and the basin to wash with.) In the steam is where you learn stuff, stuff that you wouldn't get to know unless you steamed. Traditionally that was how it was, the older women would educate the younger women and the same with the older and younger men. I thought of this the other night while we were all in the cooling part of the steam when Liz, my friend Karen's mom was turned facing the rest of use almost as if she were teaching a class. She was telling stories, her sisters would jump in with more tales and we all listened intently. I thought that this might just be a peek at what it was like traditionally. Made me feel honored to see and be part of this strong even ancient tradition carried on. To tell you the truth, I'm not sure I can go without a steam every weekend. My body craves it now. Anyway regarding the title of this blog post... while steaming the women were talking about a friend of theirs who they steam with now and then. Evidently she takes super hot steams and can withstand the heat much longer than anyone else (this is a thing that men are known to do, they try to see who can stand the heat the longest). So one of the girls made the comment,"Yep, she maqiis like a man!" It made me laugh.

Excerpt taken from:
The Aleknagik Way: Alaskan Style
5th to 8th Grade Student of Aleknagik School

In our community we also have maqiis that our elders taught us how to use and make. Maqiis are steam houses that we wash with the same gender. The room is heated by a wood stove that is an old gas tank made into a barrel stove. The chimney is aluminum and sticks up through the ceiling and is changed once a year. On top of the stove there is a small wired fence that holds about twenty rocks and a water basin. We use this water basin to have hot water. The rocks get heated by the stove and when heated they get very hot. Then we put water from the water basin over the rocks and this makes steam. We call this splashing. The dipper we get the water from the basin with is a one quart coffee can on the end of a stick that is about two feet long. There is usually a large basin that holds a lot of water for the dipping. There is also a cooling room and that room is bigger than the heated room. The reason it is bigger is because it will have less hot air and this helps the people that are too hot to cool down. The heating room is smaller so the hot air is suffocating. Most of our village elders use maqiis,rather than a shower or bath. Most even say it is better than a shower or bath. We have two-three people (in Quin we have no limits if you can squish in you're good) in at a time in the maqii. Usually these people will sit together on bench chairs (in Quin we don't have bench chairs we use Le' Floor) and have conversation and bathe. Sometimes it gets so hot that people will get as low to the ground as they can. They do this so they can stay cooler and breathe.

We picked up a couple kids on our way home from the basketball game last night. Where are you going they asked. "Uptown." I joked. Jerilyn laughed from the seat behind me then corrected, "That's downtown, we are uptown." "Really?" I inquired surprised. "Really, " she again informed. "So I live downtown?" "i ii," she responded with a Yuktun affirmative. "Then I live downtown but I work uptown!?" I again questioned putting it all together in my little brain. "i ii," she again confirmed. "Wow, that 3/4 mile commute just got a whole lot longer. It must hard to live all the way downtown and work way uptown. You know how it is, fighting all the rush hour traffic. Everyday part of that crazy rat race. Poor me I never realized how tough I had it in this bustling village." I never knew I was a downtown girl.

I forgot my student today! We have an after school program in Quinhagak. Everyday from 4 to 5 students come in for extra tutoring in math or reading. Well tonight I had one student. How difficult is that? She came in quietly sat down behind my make shift wall/partition (one of the big, blue wrestling mats I stole from the gym) and waited for me to finish what I was typing. The problem? I completely forgot she was there as I excitedly made plans to walk down to the store (a relatively big deal since the store is the only place in town you can go ) besides and the post office (which is often closed by the time I get done with work) with Connie and Ken. Out the door we went. She didn't say a word. The only reason I know is because her teacher, my friend Alison, came in later and said, "Wasaa came back to my class and said you left to go to the store?" I don't think I've laughed so hard in at least 2 days or so! Alison joined me. Oh, my goodness! I did totally leave her sitting there behind the blue mat and she must have heard me all happy to get out of school. I hope she realized I'd forgotten she was there and wasn't just ignoring her! Luckily I was able to tease her because she skipped out on me last week so I told her it was my turn to ditch. Tomorrow we're even and we start fresh. She came over to visit tonight so we are square.

Carlton, one of our district superintendents is here in Quinhagak visiting us! He is actually the man who recruited me way back 2 years ago (which feels like yesterday and ten years ago all at the same time). Principal Eric couldn't resist the opportunity to take a walk down memory lane asking permission of course to drag me my first 24 hours in Quinhagak, Alaska... little did I know but they actually had bets on whether or not I would make it. Sherry gave me 8 days and the Boss Man had me packing up and sneaking out in the shadows of the night. We all know my ability to transition is rocky at best but experience has shown that if I can just ride it out it usually turns out okay, not always but usually. Trust me it stems way back to needing to call home in the middle of the night for my parents to come get me at my own cousin's house 1/2 way across town and it hasn't changed all that much except for prayer. Isn't it wild what God can do! I really was in shock when the plane dropped me off on the runway August of 2009 and headed back to Bethel, "Wait for me!" I silently cried watching it fly away. Three rainy, windy, gravely miles through the vacant, treeless, flat Alaskan tundra separated me from the village I was to call home for the next year. I was offered a ride by my now good friend Lily in the back of her little Ranger pick up then kindly plopped down at teacher housing in the middle of the road wondering which tin sided trailer was mine. I distinctly recall Principal Eric popping his head out his doorway and surprisingly calling out "Rachel? Is that you?" I don't even think I could squeak a word out I'm sure I just nodded. "How did you get here? We didn't know you were coming? Welcome to Quinhagak!" From there I was whisked away in the rusty, old, broken, down suburban as he excitedly gave me the 5 minute grand tour which was entirely a blur. My stomach progressively tightened, my throat was trying to choke me and I fought tears with all the energy I had left. All I wanted was nothing more than to go home to my cozy comfort zone where nothing stretched me or caused me pain, to wake up in my own bed surrounded by my own family, friends and stuff. Oh, that God would always, always, always, push us out of our 'zones' because out there on the the edge...that my friends... out there is where you really begin to live...and learn to trust Him! Obviously all bets were off and I'm happily on year two, Praise the Lord and give Him all the credit! Never ever would have imagined it in my first 24 hours, that the tundra would become my play ground, the ocean a back yard and the people my close family. But it has and I am such the better person for it. What can you really tell in the first 24 hours of change anyway? Nothing, best I can figure. Thoughts go something like this: I don't know where I am, nothing is familiar, I don't know anyone and that all makes me sick to my stomach and I have to pee in a bucket. At my loneliest moment...seriously that's when God really said 'Trust Me.' And I really said back, "I can't." And He really responded,"I know you can't. But I can." Then somehow with my weakest crying-est puny-est microscopic-est ounce of trust He did! One moment, one hour, one day, one month, one year at a time...He did. But what he did was simply reveal to me what I couldn't possibly see in the first 24 hours... you see I've been blessed beyond comprehension out here on the edge of nowhere. Met the dearest of friends who I do not deserve, experienced real living from the heart that I never could have understood, was given respite for sorting out what is important and what is not in life, and learned to be more thankful. I absolutely know it in my knower that this is one of the most precious gifts from God and I nearly missed it for wanting my comfort zone, but for the grace of God, eh? So my wonderful friends I hope and pray you have moments on the edge with Him that make you know it in your knower too:) All that from a visit by Carlton. And Carlton...Quyana for making the effort to meet with me 2 years ago at the Perkins in Hayward, it has made all the difference.

To Anchorage and Beyond! We're gearing up to head into Anchor Town to attend the statewide special education conference next week, hopping a prop plane on Friday night. Then on to Wisconsin and back. Don't know if I'll be posting while globetrotting around. Lord willing, I can give you the low down on the adventures upon my return maybe even get to run into a few of you live! How bout that! Have a great couple of weeks everyone!

Shout Out to: All you Februarians!!! Happy Birthdays! to Melissa Dawn, John Teddy, Miss Alicia Weaver, Auntie Shelly, Cousin Stu, Jenny and Christopher Lewis (if yours counts) belated to Donna, Jerilyn, Jasenut and Justus! Let's here it for the amethysts! You all have the best birthday month ever.. but what can I say I'm biased;)

"There is no remembrance of former things; neither shall there be any remembrance of things that are to come with those that shall come after." Ecclesiastes 1:11


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  2. Rachel, you are truly living the dream!

    By the way what are the differences between a Maquii and a Scandanavian sauna?


  3. Happy Birthday to you too Rachel! I love your blogs, uplifting. I love your reflection of living on the edge. Well said. God has challenged me outside my comfort zone much of my life, but amazingly enough the hary-cary becomes the new normal. Somehow the edge has always found me. Unlike you, I've found myself wishing I could just run away to escape the hardships. He's an amazing God and continously teaches me what is really important. By the way, I have found my escape; in God's arms.
    Love You Rachel and I hope you have a Great Birthday!
    Auntie Shelly

  4. Kathy: Yep. It's like a sauna but you also wash.

    Calvin: So it is like a sauna however it is much much much much etc hotter though it is called a 'steam' the idea is to have a hot, dry heat. Sometimes the wood doesn't burn hot enough and nobody is ever very happy when it's really steamish. Also you wash after the rounds of in and out usually 3 or 4 times are done. Though I have told the girls that when they come visit 'downstates' someday I'm going to take them for a swedish sauna and they are all jumping in the frozen lake. They look at me like I'm crazy lol.

    Auntie Shelly! Thank you and I'm so happy you are on this journey with me! And you are amazing as God is through you!

  5. See Rachel... Like Shelly says, Happy Birthday to you. Thought it was your birthday today, the 17th of February. So, you can't do any early birthday for me; you need to come back to Quinhagak in the summer during my birthday and take a maqii at that time to be able to jump into that ugly, dirty pond behind our maqii. Imagine what people here would think if they saw you go jump right into there... Miss Jaye