Wednesday, March 31, 2010

I Did Good Today

First thing this morning I hired a guide who turned out to be just wonderful. She knows everybody in the village, of course, so is able to tell me who’s here, who’s gone, who’s left permanently, and who can proxy anybody missing. She drove me back and forth in her truck all day (I’m slightly less than organized) and was cheerful and helpful the whole time.

We got a lot of work done, too – more than I thought I would. I finished 2 whole binders and made good progress on the third one! That’s a good thing, because I found out there are no planes on the weekend. If I don’t finish by Friday I’m stuck till Monday.

Needless to say I’m going to try real hard to finish by Friday!

The weather wasn’t the best ever. A blizzard blew in overnight so it was almost white-out conditions at first. I was very thankful for her truck! By the afternoon, however, it warmed up and stopped snowing. I think it may even be melting off now. I took a walk down to the beach and actually overheated.

They have 10 wind generators! My guide says they were installed 2 years ago and are already paying for themselves. I was very pleased to see them – I think more villages in Alaska should have them.

Their school is pretty neat, also. It has maybe 15 students of all ages, and is probably only a few years old. They invited me to eat lunch with them each day I’m here, for just $4.00 a meal. I have to admit I wasn’t too happy with the food, but that’s mostly because it was meat (I’m vegetarian). I’m sure a normal person would be quite happy with the food; it was nutritious and filling. Since it’s my main meal, I made myself eat it – and since I was surrounded by 15 students and several adults, I couldn’t make any faces while eating it either!

All of the people I’ve met so far have been very kind and seem happy. They are all Aleut, with some Russian and/or Yupik mixed in for good measure – except for the teachers, who are all Caucasian. And as everybody keeps pointing out, even the dogs are friendly here! Two in particular came with us on our rounds this morning and where simply overjoyed at the snow.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Perryville, Alaska

Well, I made it: I’m in Perryville. It’s actually a nice little village. So far, the people all seem to be quite nice and friendly.

I had a bit of a meltdown earlier. When I got off the airplane upon arrival I had no lodging, no contacts, and no idea what I was doing. A very kind man who flew in on the same airplane took pity on me and let me hitch a ride with him over to the school where they were quite willing to set me up in one of their spare rooms. They also let me use one of their phones so I could call the main office and see if somebody there could finally tell me what I was supposed to be doing.

Thankfully they had finally gotten the lodging straightened out – just that morning, in fact – so were able to tell me that they had reserved a room for me over at the Tribal Office Building. Coincidentally just across the street from the school, as luck would have it. It’s a really cool Quonset hut type of building. I hauled my bags over and got set up.

At first look, the room was quite a disappointment. It’s large, but was almost completely empty except for a twin-size bed with no bedding in one corner and a chair in the other corner. I set my laptop up on the chair and set about trying to get settled in. One of the office workers walking by happened to see me sitting on the floor with my computer on the chair and very kindly pushed a spare desk and another chair in here for me. Then he came back later with an actual phone for me, as well as the secret password to log on to their internet.

I’m in business now!

I even managed to locate the two boxes of supplies that had been sent up here ahead of me, only to find t hat they contained not only the binders I expected but also supply kits for two enumerators.

That’s when the meltdown hit. They told me before I left Anchorage that I was not going to be getting any enumerators, so I didn’t bring the necessary tools to train them and get them up and running!

I totally freaked out and had to call the main office in Anchorage where a very nice man calmly talked me back down to sanity and explained that I really was up here on my own and didn’t need to worry about training anybody with no supplies on hand with which to do so.

Who knew being on one’s own would be such a good thing?

After I calmed down from my little episode, I settled in to the binders to get a feel for what my day will be like tomorrow. Perryville is a small place with only 50 some houses, so really it should go quickly. It’s also quite walkable, so as long as the weather holds out I will be hoofing it unless my cultural guide suggests otherwise. They all drive 4-wheelers down here: my brother will surely agree with me that I am not the world’s best driver on 4-wheelers, but if necessary I can get by.

About that time, a lady showed up with not only sheets and blankets for the bed - but towels too! Slowly but surely this room is sprucing right up. It's very comfortable now, and will be the perfect place to spread out and deal with my three binders.

Hiring a cultural guide is the first thing on tomorrow’s agenda. I have a name of a woman who was recommended; we’ll see if she’ll take the job.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Heading Back Out Again

Well, that was a nice weekend – but now I’m back on the road again. Heading to Perryville this time, leaving Tuesday morning at 8:00 am.

While I was home, I got to hang out with Rob and his kids = that was so nice. We went to the zoo on Sunday where I gave them their own personal tour. I told them at the entrance that my tours usually last about 2 hours, but we managed to stretch that out to a whopping 4 hours! Lunch at Red Robin afterwards made it the perfect day.

Today they all came over at 8:30 in the morning for breakfast; we had rhubarb crunch with vanilla ice cream. How’s that for a nutritious meal? There’s a reason I’m not a mom… but then I headed out to Palmer to see the family before leaving again while Rob and the kids went off to sled the hills.

My family met at Vagabonds for lunch, of course (we are ALL about the food) but did walk it off with a 3-mile walk afterwards. Lauren even came with us, and Noel met us partway with her puppy.

Now I’m sitting here in my living room with all my gear and clothing spread out around me, trying to consolidate 4 large duffle bags into 2. Flying out will be fun, but it is rather constrictive on the luggage allowed.

As with last time, please keep an eye on my blog. I will have my computer with me and will be making regular posts – but will most likely not be able to send out notices to people.

Wish me luck!

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Home Again – Albeit Temporarily

These past few days have been busy ones! I worked so hard on Thursday that I didn’t have a chance to update my blog even. But I did get my binder done, and even managed to help a few other people out with their stuff, and help do payroll too. Not a bad way to end ones assignment, if I do say so myself.

The following day I packed up my car and headed on home. I had originally intended to start out at 9:00 but couldn’t sleep I was so excited to be going home, so ended up leaving at 8:00 instead. This put me in to Palmer just in time for lunch at 1:00 then arriving in Anchorage by 3:00, exhausted but happy.

My girls were so happy to see me! I missed them so much…

The first phone call I made was to my boyfriend/babysitter to let him know I’d arrived safe and sound and to let him know he should come right over because I missed him, too. My second phone call was to Mother for the same reason – although for her it was a surprise, since she didn’t know I was coming home so soon. I’ll head out there on Monday to see everybody. My third phone call was to GCI to see if I could fix my email problems so that hopefully I will be able to stay in contact with people on my next assignment.

By that time, Rob arrived and announced that he was taking me out on an actual date: dinner & a movie. Dinner was at Pizza Olympia, an absolutely fabulous place with probably the best spaghetti I’ve had in a very long time. I really was exhausted, though – so had to beg off the movie. I promised him I’d go see one with him one day soon, but after I was done with this Census thing.

I had to make a run in to the main office Saturday morning to turn in payroll and restock my supply of forms (this is the government, after all – no shortage of forms required to do my job). While I was there, I got to help out a little bit in “the back room” where they QC all the binders that come in from out in the field. It really helps to know what sort of problems they encounter – hopefully I can make sure they all get fixed BEFORE the binders go back to Anchorage. Well, that’s the intention at least.

Also while I was at the office I got my new marching orders: Tuesday morning I’m being sent to Perryville! My first thought on hearing that was “Where the heck is Perryville?”

Googlemaps shows where it is -,+alaska&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=58.858685,83.671875&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Perryville,+Lake+and+Peninsula,+Alaska&ll=55.912273,-159.125977&spn=10.594359,20.917969&z=6

I’m pretty excited about it, actually. My new boss (coincidentally named Perry – I kid you not) advised me to pack for wind and rain, so Rob and I headed out to The Outdoor Store where I snagged a pair of wind pants for the super-low sale price of only $19.95 (REI had them for around $89.00 and on up). I also got the coolest hat: it’s one of those with ear flaps and a long tassel on top, and it’s all in shades of green.

To celebrate my new destination we had lunch at one of my favorite places: The Organic Oasis. I do love that place… they have the best salads.

Now I’m relaxing at the computer and am contemplating a relocation up to the library to watch some tv for a while.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Stupid Long Underwear

Okay, you know how I was so excited about my long underwear in my last post? Well, I’ve changed my mind. Sure, they’re all nice and warm and all that – but they keep trying to fall down! The only thing keeping them up is my jeans, which are a tad bit too large for me. Every time I get out of my car – which as an enumerator, you do a lot of – I have to reach into my pants to pull my underwear back up where they belong. I’m sure this adds to the good impression I’m trying to convey to people as I flash my government badge at them and try to coax them to give me all their personal information. It’s very annoying.

But aside from all of that, today went quite well. First thing in the morning we all met up in Dallas’s room to learn how to deal with payroll issues. Dallas and Rebecca have well over 20 enumerators that they have to keep organized, so it was quite the madhouse, truth to tell. That’s a lot of hours to keep track of, and this being the government there are something like three forms required for each day’s work, and of course you have to have multiple copies of each form all arranged in the proper order and paper clipped together in just the right manner.

Dallas finally got too frustrated to deal with 8 people in her bedroom, so kicked us all out to go learn how to do Quality Control on binders that had already been done. We ended up in Kate’s room, with Rebecca showing us how to fill out the proper forms and get everything in the right order. Once we had a good feel for it, we each took a binder into our own rooms and sequestered ourselves until we either finished or needed guidance. I ended up with just three or four EQs (Enumerator Questionnaire) needing attention. I called the guy who filled them out so that he could explain why he’d missed the few spots I’d found; once we had that cleared up, the binder was done!

I took a small lunch break, checked my email and facebook, and then headed back out into the field to see if I could finish up my own binder.

The binder that I’m talking about is simply a grouping of homes that the government, in their infinite wisdom, put together in accordance to some esoteric logic that doesn’t really make any sense to anybody else. Some areas have lots of binders, some have very few. One area nearby here has something like 65 binders all showing the Delta River. They actually had to send somebody out there to confirm that nobody lived or built a house IN THE RIVER. Because, you know, they would do that.

Anyway, back out in the field with my binder, I actually was able to make contact with one of my problem areas – but he … let’s just say he was reluctant to talk to me. He wasn’t rude of belligerent or anything like that – he just very forcefully made it know that I would not be getting any information out of him. I did get him to tell me how many people he had living there – and he gave me his name and number, too – so at least I got that much.

But I still have two other places that I need information on before I can turn in my binder. I’m going to meet up with somebody tomorrow morning who can hopefully give me what I need.

One very good thing that happened today is that I got to meet my boss! The Field Operations Supervisor finally made it to Delta just tonight; we all gathered for a meeting at the town hall to go over all our questions and get our paperwork signed - can’t get paid without her signature!

By the time the meeting was over it was dinner time, so Dallas and I stopped off at a Mexican place for a burrito. It was quite good, actually – the first actual meal I’ve had since I got here! Now I’m just relaxing – I’ll lay down for a while and read my book, I think. That sounds good…

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Thank God For Long Underwear

I never thought I’d be saying this, but honestly – Thank God for Long Underwear! Its mighty cold out here, where the land is so flat you can see the mountains that are millions of miles away (slight exaggeration). The cheap clip-on thermometer that I got for my coat zipper told me it was about 25 degrees out, but with the wind chill factored in I’m thinking it was more like -20.

We met this morning as a group over at the City Hall for a very brief introduction to our fellow Crew Leaders and then carpooled over to an apartment building for our on-the-job training. I had been so hot in my hotel room that I severely under-dressed. Thankfully I got to go back to my hotel room to redress after only an hour or so outside, so got to finish out my training in relative comfort.

The apartment building we chose to be trained on turned out to be mostly vacant, so that didn’t really go so well. But we regrouped, got organized again, and headed out to do some actual door-to-door counting (the official term is “enumerating”). I ended up going with Dallas, our trainer, and Aaron, a fellow trainee. We even got to do a group home, which is treated much differently than a normal house would be.

I have to admit that so far, I have not been eating very healthily (is that grammatically correct? I think not). I had some instant oatmeal for breakfast, a Cliff bar for lunch, and a bagel with peanut butter for dinner. The other guys all met for pizza last night, but I declined because I didn’t want to spend my first night here being sick from eating cheese – and if I had gone, I would have eaten it even though I know I can’t anymore. I love cheese!

Anyway, that’s my life so far out here in Delta.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Turn Left

My first day on the job went well – that’s a good omen, I think. Of course, it was just driving from point A to point B, but still… at least I made it in one piece.

And let me tell you – the drive from Palmer to Delta Junction has to be the most gorgeous drive I’ve ever been on! Absolutely stunning scenery: every time you turn a corner a whole new vista opens up in front of you, taking your breath away and leaving you completely awed. I wanted to stop and take a picture each time, but I had a deadline to keep to so I only got a few of them.

I started out from my house at 9:30 and ended up at my sister’s house in Palmer an hour and a half later (I stopped to get gas and wash windows along the way). A cup of tea and an omelet later, and I’m back on the road an hour later heading north. I stopped again, to stretch my legs and eat a bite at Miers Lake around 2:30 and got in to Delta Junction by 5:00.

The title of this posting comes from the fact that everybody that I asked for directions to Delta all said the same exact thing: “Turn left.” And they were right! There are only two intersections to deal with between here and there, and at both of them I turned left.

I found my hotel easily enough; got checked in & settled in. I even met one of my FOS (Field Operations Supervisors) already – we’ll all get together tomorrow morning , bright and early, to start our enumeration training.

I am having email difficulties, though… of course.

The Adventure Begins

Today is the start of my US Census Bureau job.

I’ve got most everything packed and ready to go: one big purple tub full of my manuals and paperwork for the job; one big box of the supplies required to do my job; two tote bags full of food – because you just know that nobody out in the villages will be vegetarian; one backpack full of miscellaneous tools, like my binoculars, my pepper spray, my magnifying glass, etc.; one duffle bag full of underwear, socks, long johns, undershirts, journals, and toiletries; one duffle bag full of clothing; one duffle bag full of winter gear; and several different coats, hats, scarves, and whatnot. Oh, and I’m taking my laptop, too – so that is in there somewhere as well.

That took the entire day yesterday – getting everything organized and packed so that it will be (hopefully) easy to get to everything.

I’ve got my roommate lined up with all the contact information she might need. I’ve got my babysitter lined up with everything he might need to take care of the girls (my roommate can’t because she’s allergic). I’ve got all my contact information disseminated out to my family.

Whew! I think I’ve thought of everything… Now I just have to get it all stuffed in to my car, get the car gassed up, and head out. I’ll start out at 10:00 and stop off in Palmer at my sister’s house at 11:00. If I’m back on the road by noon, I should make it to Delta Junction sometime around 6:00 this evening.

I’ll be posting updates on my blog periodically throughout this adventure, but will not be able to send out notices like I normally do – so keep the link handy and check back in each day! Comments are always welcomed.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Interesting Development

Two of them, actually.

First – I’m seeing somebody. His name is Rob, and he is a wonderful man. I worked with him back 20 years ago, but he moved out of state and I forgot about him. He’s back up here now, and looked me up simply because I’m somebody he used to know – and we connected! I’ve gone out with him almost every night since our first date. He’s the type of guy who always opens doors or gives his arm when we’re walking over an icy patch. I’ve never really known anybody like that before.

Second – I may have a job! What I actually have is the possibility of a job, but it could turn in to something pretty cool. It’s for the 2010 US Census: I’d be a crew leader (a supervisory position) out in remote places. I go in for a week-long training course next week (paid, thankfully) then if I “pass” that I could get sent out for weeks at a time. It involves snow machines, 4-wheelers, dog sleds, small airplanes… all means of traveling, since most of the villages out here don’t have cars.

As an added bonus – I get to go to Fairbanks this weekend! My friend Lorna had a companion fare ticket (meaning the second guy goes for only $50) so I can afford it. We’re going to stay at the Chena Hot Springs and take their Geothermal tour, hike the trails around there, and see if we can take some good photos of the Northern Lights (although this is not a good year for that, it being the low point of the sun cycle). Then we’ll head back in to Fairbanks and visit the Cold Climate Housing Research Center for a quick tour before heading on back home.