My Life in Savoonga

by Elouise Hawkes

I love Savoonga and the cool crisp mornings of the spring and fall. I love the mild mornings (40 F) of summer.  I love walking along the shoreline and listening to the ocean, specially when the wind is strong and the waves rumble and crash, each wave with its own identity. I love the simple life and the unity within the village. I even love the snow. I enjoy going outside on a nice afternoon and trudging along in the snow watching the sun glistening like diamonds across the crusted areas where there are not yet footprints or snow machine tracks. Most of all, I love the people. Everyone helps each other; they take care of each other in the hardest times as well as the easier times. They help take care of us. Daily life in Savoonga can be difficult, so you must always plan ahead.  

Winter brings special challenges, with days that you can't go outside because of a blizzard, strong winds and 'white-outs.'  Occasionally, I hear a snow machine go by. One such day, my husband attempted to go the ten feet from the house to our church. The wind blew him down. I tied a rope to something in the entry way and threw it to him so he could get back into the house! That was a lesson well learned.

Savoonga has several things that identify it with other villages: an air strip, post office, store, IRA council, and a school. School staff are from the lower 48 (states) and most of them are here for only 1-2 years. Presently, there are two that have been here 12 years and see it as their mission.
Daily life is about survival therefore you must plan ahead for not just tomorrow but for next month by making sure you do not run out of supplies and resources. Savoonga has just one store that is outrageously expensive.  It costs less to order from the outside and have it "shipped" but there are some things that I still buy at the store. Going to the store is one of the few places to go, and I always see friends that I might not have seen that day.
Friends in North Carolina ask, "What do you do all day?" Every day is full. On any day things go somewhat like this: Early in the morning we may get a phone call to come to someone's house because there is a crisis there.  That usually means a suicide or suicide attempt. So I dress quickly and get there as fast as I can. I receive many calls like this because I am a registered nurse. I never go to bed at night without having appropriate clothing laid out to put on quickly during the night or the next morning.  I get calls throughout the day requesting prayer for various things.      
Food preparation takes thinking ahead.  Do I make bread today?  Do I cook beans today or is there enough left from yesterday? Do I mix milk today? There is always someone coming by for a meal in our house or asking for food to take home and prepare for their family.  I never say no to anyone asking for food. You cannot feed the soul until you feed the stomach. Because we represent the church, we frequently have people ask for food and/or clothing items. I give to them out of our personal food supply and our family members often send boxes of food for us to give away. There are always kids coming by at supper time and I always feed them. I know they will come so I plan for it by cooking more than we need for ourselves. No matter where you are in the world, teenagers are teenagers - they are always hungry!

I receive phone calls every day from someone wanting special prayer. This is a big thing in the village.  Almost everyone believes in God but they also believe in spirits and dreams. Several times we've prayed to get rid of 'evil spirits'. I spend time in the church every day - reading, studying, preparing for the next activity - whether it is Sabbath School, organizing the cabinets, etc. Kids love to come by after school and help me with whatever I am doing. I pray that, years from now, those kids will have good memories of things in the SDA church and that they remember that they are a child of God and that He loves them, no matter what they do.

I go for a fast-paced walk every day along the shoreline by the school, down by the airstrip, then down airport road back home. To be a part of the village, I try to attend as many village functions as possible including the high school basketball games. Sometimes my husband and I go to the gym during 'open gym'. A lot of adults go there and play basketball or volleyball for the exercise and fellowship. Frequently, young ladies come to talk with me, mostly just to have a neutral person listen to them. Sometimes, they come to my house or catch up to me on my walks to talk to me. At times it is about spousal abuse. Often, it's about having to give their just born baby away. It breaks the mother's heart and they cry and mourn almost as if the baby had died. Their cultural practice of giving their baby away to an older person in the village is not adhered to as much as it used to be.

I have been called on many occasions to come help out in the clinic when it is very busy, after normal business hours.  One particular night I will never forget.  It was winter, a blizzard was blowing and it was cold, so very cold. Around 6 pm, a man accidently shot himself while putting away his gun and blew his left arm almost off at the ball/socket joint at the shoulder with only fragments holding his arm on.  There were two other emergency situations going on at the same time and I was asked to help. I did patient assessments, put in IV's etc. Medevac was coming from Nome to pick up the patient but due to weather, they could not land and had to go back to Nome.I prayed.  Dear God, it is in Your Hands. The GSW patient was in VERY CRITICAL condition.  As an ICU nurse, I knew if we did not do something quickly, he would die right in front of us.  So, in communication with the EMS in Nome, we put in a chest tube. The Health Aide was young in age and experience, but did a wonderful job in taking care of this patient.  We finished the chest tube just before the Medevac arrived two hours later from their initial attempt to land. This man is doing well today with one arm and as an ICU nurse, I did only what I would always have done, but to his family it was exceptional. They continued to thank me for a long time afterwards. Their appreciation made me feel great!

Even though life can be a challenge, I love Savoonga. I love the simple life. I love the people.
Elouise and her husband, Bill, are a volunteer pastoral couple in Savoonga, Alaska, an Eskimo village on an island in the Berring Sea that is closer to Siberia than to mainland USA.