I don’t regret moving to Barrow, on the edge of the arctic ocean, over 300 miles above the arctic circle, a town with no paved road or stops lights, I really don’t. However, it has been the most challenging thing I have ever faced in my life. More so than rotating between four different high schools back and forth across the country, more than being homeless at 17, more than hiding my marriage at 21 and then having said marriage fail two years later after my first move back to Alaska. More than becoming pregnant after having only dated my boyfriend for three months, while still waiting for my divorce to finalize. Even all of those things combined pale in comparison to the world of bush Alaska.
I applied for the open position in Barrow more or less on a whim, my boyfriend had said he wanted to commercial fish in Alaska, and I thought, why not? I’ll look for work there too. What I didn’t think would happen was that his job offer would fall through and mine wouldn’t, but that is what happened. I got the call at my sons swim practice, I had beat out all the other applicants for a position on the North Slope, they would pay to move my family there, offer housing for free until something opened up for us to rent (on the application in big, bold, bright red letters it said housing shortage in Barrow), the best health insurance in the nation, a huge increase in salary, travel and work in very remote locations, an adventurers dream, sounds pretty great right?
Until you look at the fine print it is pretty wonderful, but Barrow is a land of isolation, desolation, lost hope, broken dreams and broken people. The culture is strongly touted as a strength to the community and the Inupiat people are eager to display their heritage. The town is ‘damp’ yet overrun with drunks, the people are racist, unwelcoming, self entitled, and just plain rude, not all are like that, but most are. The children play in the streets at all hours, stray dogs form dangerous packs, subsistence food rots by dumpsters, a glorified tradition that causes a lot of waste. People move here because they are running away from something or they don’t want to be found, nothing in the world can prepare you for that. No amount of research or studying can give you any sense of what the slope is really like. The stories you hear, you can never really believe because they just sound so outrageous, but the stories are true.
The odd light cycle and the extreme cold are easy compared to the other issues of the slope, the darkness in the winter hides the filth and garbage that cover the streets. The blackness is almost welcoming and enveloping, when the sun comes back it is like a fury, coming in fast and blinding, exposing the seedy underbelly that has been hiding all winter long.
No I don’t regret moving to the slope, as much as there is negative, I get to see a part of the world and live in a place where very few can. My son has seen an incredibly unique culture and learned much about acceptance of others, even if he isn’t accepted because of his heritage. We have learned patience, appreciation, true hardship, true love, despair and hope. I am grateful to have this experience and to continue to have it, it only makes me appreciate the real world that much more.
I will say that the arctic has the most amazing sunsets and sunrises I have ever had the privilege to see and the moon appears bigger than anywhere else in the world, and that my friends almost in itself makes it worth it. I just hope that while we are here we can make a difference in some lives…