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Just a Ferryman by Dan Branch

sign for bethel alaska at airport terminal

People in his village named their children after saints, so I will give him a holy pseudonym—“Augustine.” His friends would call him “Auggie” or use the Yup’ik teasing name that his cousins gave him. He found destructive anger in bootleg whiskey bottles like other decent men I met while working as a lawyer at a legal aid office in Bethel. Auggie was married to Elizabeth, somehow beautiful despite years of drunken beatings.

Auggie was passed out drunk when I first met Elizabeth. It was three in the afternoon on a summer Friday, only ninety minutes before the court closed for the weekend. Mary, the office paralegal and Yup’ik translator greeted Elizabeth at the door with a sedate Yup’ik hello—“Cama-i.”

Iitu,” Mary yelled in the direction of my bare plywood office, “Come, Big Eyes.”  She had given me that Yup’ik nickname a year ago, right after I had moved to Bethel. While I dug out a pen and legal pad from the mess on my desk, Mary asked Elizabeth to sit on our dusty couch and then filled a kettle with water dipped from a 50-gallon drum. It was warming on a hot plate when I took a seat across from Elizabeth. Even before she spoke, I knew that she needed a court order to keep her safe. Deep purple bruises spread across her apple cheeks and circled one of her dark brown eyes. Swollen flesh had closed over the other one.

Elizabeth and I sat in silence while Mary plopped tea bags into three mugs and filled them with boiling water. Mary delivered the darkening tea, took a seat on the couch, and waited with me for Elizabeth to speak.  In the Lower 48, I would have started with a question, but that constituted rudeness in this Yup’ik place. Hard at any time, keeping the expected silence of respect with a little more than an hour before the court closed was almost impossible.

 

Five years after I met Elizabeth, a victim of domestic violence would be able to obtain a protective order by appearing at an informal court hearing. She wouldn’t even need a lawyer. But that afternoon, Alaskan courts could only grant the order Elizabeth needed if she also filed for divorce. The time to draft and file a divorce complaint and a motion for a temporary restraining order ticked away as Elizabeth sipped her tea. She looked down at the chipped linoleum floor and whispered in Yup’ik, “Auggie scares me.”

Mary translated for me and then told Elizabeth in Yup’ik and English, “We could get you a paper from court to help, but you would have to leave Auggie, at least for a little bit.”

Several minutes later, Elizabeth said in English, “He catches fish and last fall brought home a moose.”

Mary said, “You could get welfare and food stamps, at least for a little bit.”

After another five minutes Elizabeth said, “He loves me when he’s sober, when there are no bootleggers.”

                        * * *

State law made bars and liquor stores illegal in Bethel, but people could still legally drink. Those who traveled to Anchorage brought booze back as luggage. Big liquor stores in Anchorage made a nice profit on orders phoned in from Bethel by those without money to travel. Their customers swamped the Bethel airport Friday nights to pick up ordered alcohol. Most carried away twin cases of beer that had been duct-taped together by the liquor store. Bootleggers grabbed cardboard boxes full of hard liquor.  People drank their own beer, but bootleggers resold much of their whiskey for four times what they paid for it. When he had forty dollars and enough wild-caught food put by for the kids, Auggie bought bootlegged Canadian whiskey.

I never drank bootlegged booze but did make many trips by cab out to the airport to pick up duct-taped beer. My tendency to fall asleep halfway through my second can of brew kept it a recreational drug.  Alcohol’s ability to draw violence from normally kind people, Native or not, tore up many families on the Kuskokwim River. Only a lawyer, I couldn’t stop the pain, only seek legal protection for the victim or defend in court the one who did the damage. I didn’t wield Excalibur or lift Diogenes’ lantern, only navigated clients through their court proceedings. I was Elizabeth’s legal boatman, not her guardian.

                * * *

Elizabeth sat without speaking for five minutes before she finally asked for help and gave me the information I needed for the court paperwork. I called the courthouse and warned the judge that I would be over to file Elizabeth’s restraining order. He agreed to stay late. At a quarter to five, he signed an order that would make Auggie a criminal if he approached Elizabeth during the next ten days. With the help of a Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) social worker who was willing to bend the general assistance rules, Elizabeth checked into the Kusko Inn under a fake name. Her kids stayed with her sister. She had enough credit from the BIA for several days of meals at the hotel restaurant. Mary brought her a copy of the temporary restraining order (TRO) and a number to call the police dispatcher if Auggie came around.  She also dropped off a copy of the order at the police station.

Back at the office, Mary, the eyes in her broad, round face half-closed in a smile, wished me a good weekend, as she had the previous Friday, when the most exciting event was the weekly visit of the man who emptied the bucket of human waste from the office restroom.  Mary showed no fear of Auggie, even though she had kids at home and everyone knew that she worked in our office. I followed Mary’s lead and tried not to think about Auggie and Elizabeth until Monday.

Elizabeth spent the weekend marooned in a hotel room with dark-paneled walls too thin to block out the sounds of lovemaking in the adjacent rooms. Unlike her house, she had cable TV, no kids to distract her, and running water. She had a mirror in which she could study her damaged face.

On Monday, Mary saw Auggie walk up to the office and told me to meet him at the door. He smelled like old salmon scales and drinker’s sweat but appeared sober. I asked him to come have tea in the waiting room. He followed me, the TRO clutched in his right fist, then took a seat on the couch.  As I filled the kettle with dip water, he shouted, “Give her back.” When I turned to face him, he tore up the TRO. “Give her back,” he shouted again as shreds of the order drifted to the dusty floor.

Even though Auggie had no gun, no weapon of any kind, just his fists, I was scared. I had been working in the office for two years but had never been around someone so angry unless they were drunk. Auggie was sober. His eyes watered as he broke off eye contact to study his hands. “Give her back,” he whispered, and then headed to the office door. Rather than relief that Auggie had left without hitting me, I felt guilty for causing him pain.

                              * * *

 

After arguing my first case before the Alaska Supreme Court earlier that year, I had stopped assuming that my legal work always benefited the families of my clients. During oral argument, one of the justices had asked if I really expected them to reverse the order terminating the parental rights of my client on a technicality. She had beaten her two-year-old child with a belt and burned him with a cigarette. The question did not stop me from arguing another technical appeal point.

That night, after the adrenaline rush had played out, I let myself wonder for the first time what I had done. If my clients lost, a loving family would adopt the child. If I helped them win, the kid might live for years in a series of foster homes. I had honored the lawyer’s code of ethics and zealously represented my client, had taken every permissible step to get her what she wanted. I did not fall asleep that night until I accepted the limitations of my power and responsibility. Without concern for any interest but hers, I had delivered my client’s best arguments to the court and guided her through court proceedings. We both had to wait on the bench for the court to decide whether she had lost her child. I passed the responsibility onto the legal system, the justices, and the lawyer who had argued the state’s case. If I won, the fault belonged to one who violated my client’s trial rights or failed to present the state’s case adequately.

The night after Auggie’s office visit, I stopped feeling guilty. He was the one who drank the booze and beat the woman he loved. I passed him the responsibility for the court order that had divided his family.

Elizabeth called on Thursday and said, “He loves me and won’t hit me again.”

I asked, “Are you home with him?

Ii-i, yes.”

“Are you going to stay with him?”

“Yes.”

“I’ll tell the judge.”

 

The next time Elizabeth asked for help, it took less time to write up a complaint and motion for a restraining order. I already had all the information I needed. It was harder to convince the social worker to pick up the tab for Elizabeth’s stay at the local hotel and to talk the judge into signing the TRO.

Two days after the judge signed the order, Elizabeth called to tell me, “Auggie loves me.”

The third time she came to the office, two blackened eyes convinced me again to protect Elizabeth from her husband.

Ignorant of what compelled Elizabeth to return to her cycle of violence, I vowed not to get her another protective order if she let Auggie back into her house. But the fear that showed in her eyes during a fourth office visit convinced me to seek another one.

I didn’t hear from either Elizabeth or Auggie again. Mary told me that they had moved to Anchorage.

 

Whether to live the kind of happy life that people enjoy in TV shows or to escape sadness and violence at home, many young people moved from the river to Anchorage. They settled in neighborhoods already home to earlier immigrants from Western Alaska. Since the ability to kill or skin a seal meant little in Anchorage, many returned home or joined the Anchorage homeless. Auggie and Elizabeth simply disappeared into the state’s largest village.

My client for the Alaska Supreme Court appeal may have lived in Anchorage while she waited to learn whether she would get back her then six-year-old son. It took four and a half years of trial court hearings and appeals before she would know. While she waited, the child learned language and love from a man and a woman he called “Dad” and “Mom.” I can only imagine the pain the boy and people he believed to be his parents would have felt if the court returned him to my client.  But I never let those products of my imagination discourage me from doing my best for my client or the other parents that I represented in termination trials. For almost forty years, I followed the lawyer’s Rules of Professional Responsibility and worked hard within the law, to satisfy my clients. It didn’t matter if they wore a Yup’ik kuspuk, prison orange, or the business casual attire of a state worker.

Other battered women sought help during my five years of service in the legal aid office. Their cases generally followed the pattern set by Elizabeth. Then a woman new to Bethel, Martha Smith, walked in the door with an unblemished face. She looked out the window or at the office door as I conducted a Lower 48-style client interview.

“Did he assault you?”

“He hit me where no one could see the bruises.”

“Please point to where he struck you.”

After touching her breasts, genitals, stomach, and the patch of skin over her kidneys, she said, “Once, he slowly loaded bullets into the cylinder of his gun, pulled back the hammer, and said he’d shoot me if I didn’t apologize for talking back.”

“What did you do?”

“I told him what he wanted to hear.”

“Why did you leave him?”

Before she could answer I said, “I mean, how did you leave him?”

“One day, when he was visiting his mother in Billings, I packed up some clothes, cleaned out our bank account, and flew to Anchorage.”

“How did you end up in Bethel?

“Somebody in Anchorage told me they were looking for waitresses at the Kuskokwim Inn.”

“How did he find you?”

“I don’t know. One night, during the dinner shift, I found him sitting at a table. He followed me home. I just opened the door of my place and let him in.”

Martha asked for help on a Monday morning, and we were in court two days later. Her husband sat in the back of an otherwise empty courtroom while Martha and I sat at counsel table.  I experienced some of the fear that Martha had felt every day since she had married the tall, hard man. From what she told me, her husband had come to Bethel to regain control of his wife, not to seek her forgiveness. As the black-robed judge entered the courtroom, I wondered if Martha would again yield to her bully.

The judge had to ask Martha to speak up several times during her testimony. She looked away from her husband when she described his fists striking her breasts, privates, back, and stomach and how he pointed the revolver at her. The husband leapt up and shouted, “Judge, she is lying. Martha, if you don’t stop lying, I am going to teach you the value of truth.” The judge told him to sit down until it was his turn to testify. I was encouraged by the look the judge gave him because it was the one he’d given me just before denying a recent motion. When Martha answered my final question, the judge asked her husband if he wanted to cross-examine. He stood up, nodded yes, then said to Martha, “Tell the judge what this is really about.”

“I don’t know what you mean.”

“You go out of your way to piss me off.  Sometimes, you hit me first.”

“Objection, Judge; he is testifying, not asking a question.”

“Sustained, Mr. Branch.”

The judge told Martha that she did not have to respond to her husband’s demand. She blushed and started to speak until I shook my head. Her husband didn’t testify after Martha left the witness stand. The judge told us he would sign the order without asking me for a closing argument.

Martha took refuge in an empty courtroom while her husband and I waited for the clerk to make copies of the restraining order. I could see the police station out the window and wondered how much damage he could do to me before someone responded to a 911 call from the clerk.

He broke while he read his copy of the order. Martha left the courtroom and walked up to her sobbing husband. He raised his face, blotched and snotty, to look at her.

“I’m sorry, Martha. Let me take you home.”

She had forgiven him before when he cried and said he was sorry. I expected her to comfort him to silence and ask me to get the order vacated. Then she would have been like all the clients who had returned to danger for love. I would have had no choice but to pass on her request for the court to vacate the hard-won order. That’s the lawyer’s charter – do the client’s bidding, even when honoring a self-destructive request. But she left her sobbing batterer, protective order in hand. I couldn’t pump my fist or even claim victory. I was only Martha’s ferryman, fighting legal currents to carry her to her chosen destination.

Dan Branch lives in Juneau, Alaska. He won two first prizes for poetry, one awarded by Charles Bukowski. Kestrel included one of his essays for their fall 2015 issue. Others have been accepted for publication byGravel, Concho Review Review, Metonym, Tahoma Literary Review, Punctuate, and Portland Magazine. He is a student in the University of Alaska Anchorage MFA program (creative nonfiction) and is a recipient of the program’s Jason Wenger prize for literary excellence. Blog: https://kwethluk.wordpress.com

STORY IMAGE CREDIT: Flickr Creative Commons/Mamterilleq

Disclaimer: The names and identifying information of all of the characters in this essay have been changed to preserve client confidentiality. For the same reason, the dialogues attributed to them are amalgams of statements of similar client interviews.

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The True Story of Ti Cheng

Ti Chang, photo by Crave

For better or worse, I was raised in the South; Georgia to be exact… I love my biscuits and gravy with a large helping of grits, and it is that Southern grit that first brought me overseas when I started my previous company, Incoqnito, and went to China alone to get my products prototyped and produced. The journey of finding factories and managing vendor relationships is a long process of hustling, fist-pounding, nail-biting, friendly drinking, karaoke-ing, and most of all, testing the limits of one’s adaptability. In addition to the language barrier, the work ethic, culture, and customs can be mind-boggling and maddening, even for someone like myself who is fluent in Mandarin.

I lived and worked in China for a year until I sold Incoqnito to Crave in 2010 and now return several times a year as I design and develop new products at Crave. Living and working in China can be difficult, especially when you’re an outsider. The air, the pace, the food, the customs… I remember an English friend of mine who was not used to eating “family style” all the time. One day he snapped “I just want a plate of my OWN food! Is that too much to ask?!?!”

For a lone female entrepreneur, the journey is as frustrating as it is rewarding. Running a sex toy startup as a woman automatically makes me an anomaly. Nevermind the sex toy part—just having started my own company, as a woman, is rare. Luckily, it’s not so rare that women can’t find success. According to Wealth-X, the U.S. has the highest number of self-made female billionaires, followed by China and Italy in a distant third. China’s work ethic promotes equality through earned merit, and unsurprisingly, there are many Chinese female entrepreneurs who are leading the charge.

Despite that, yes, I have met sexism and prejudice along the way—but in China, I learned that ultimately I am judged by my character, work ethic, and the business I create, so that initial judgement is only temporary. When I visit a factory for the first time, the people greeting me often ask, “When is the customer coming?” assuming that I am a translator. I smile and inform them that I am actually the customer and it is MY company. They are taken aback, but they generally get over it quickly. Ultimately, they care about making money: as long as you pay on time, they are happy to do business with you. In my years of visiting factories I never once encountered one whose owners turned me away because they were uncomfortable dealing with a woman. They have turned me away for legitimate reasons—as volume, a mismatch between my products and the  factory capability, or an inability to meet my quality assurance standards—but not because of my sex.

Chinese business customs often include taking customers out for elaborate evening entertainment and/or debauchery that provide more opportunities for both misunderstanding and clarification between the vendors and me. I’ve lost count of how many times people mistakenly assumed I was an administrative assistant or sales rep—or a prostitute. For the former I correct them and laugh it off, and they often apologize profusely. For the latter, well, I’m usually not so kind. Here’s a tip: when dining, drinking, and singing is necessary, only accept the invitations of vendors you really want to work with. It is perfectly okay to politely decline an invitation if you are not interested in working with them. If you must go to these socials, bring a friend you trust. Chinese vendors will not find it rude and  would be honored and delighted to have the additional company. That way you have someone who has your back should the “bai jiu”—China’s alcohol of choice—get out of hand.

I have been asked if it was scary being out there by myself. No, not at all. I have never felt unsafe in China. The closest I come to danger is crossing the streets. I joke, but it is true. (My tip for crossing the street is to just go: if you hesitate too much, you will never get to the other side. I know that seems counterintuitive and brash, but trust me—once you start moving forward, the traffic will go around you. Chinese drivers are actually vigilant about looking out for people, carts, scooters, and dogs to swerve around.)

When you’re manufacturing in China things will go wrong—not because it is China, but because manufacturing is hard. Hardware is HARD. I have worked with domestic factories who still screw up parts, even though we speak and write the same language. Good product documentation and over-communication are your friends. Constant check-ins with your factory are necessary, not rude. Especially with new factory relationships, you will need to micro-manage them until they prove to you they are competent. In my experience, Chinese vendors appreciate my attention to detail and respect me more as someone who is dependable and hardworking.

It is through this type of communication, day in and day out, and even in the middle of the night, that the people I work with come to respect my serious work ethic and we build rapport and trust. This careful relationship-building is how I convinced my first factory to produce my first small batch of products without any down payment.

China is not a scary place. It is many things, but scary is not one of them. If you are interested in doing business in China, just go. You will figure it out. Like entrepreneurship—and maneuvering through Chinese street traffic—it is a lot scarier to contemplate than to do. Once you try, you will be just fine.


❔ Whois

Ti is an industrial designer / entrepreneur passionate about designing products for women. She is the co-founder and VP of Design of CRAVE, a San Francisco-based company specializing in discreet and luxury sex toys. Prior to Crave, Ti foundedINCOQNITO, a line of intimate accessories that double as fashionable jewelry which was acquired by CRAVE in 2011. Since then, Ti has continued to lead the concept and design for the company’s full line of products which has won numerous awards, including Red Dot, IDEA and Good Design. She is best known for the design of Vesper, a vibrator necklace, one of the most celebrated and innovative sex toys disrupting the adult toy industry and changing the conversation around sex. She has been featured in numerous publications including Fortune, Forbes,HuffPo, and New York Times and is a former POPTECH! Speaker. She co-chairs the Women in Design section of theIndustrial Designers Society of America, where she organizes events to support the community of women in industrial design. Ti holds a MA in Design Products from Royal College of Art in London and a BS in Industrial Design from Georgia Institute of Technology. Ti grew up in Atlanta, GA and now enjoys life and work in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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I Think.I Ran

A few months ago a couple of friends tricked me into running with them. Tricked. It’s more of a jog, really, they said. Hucksters.

I am many things, but athletic is not one of them and the times I was forced to run in gym class were some of the darkest, most tortured, most terrible twenty minutes of my life. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. But I took the bait from my friends. I ran. I lived. I even found that I liked it….enough. Let me be clear: I did not like feeling as if my heart were galloping alongside me; I did not like thinking about what I suspected I looked like galumphing along on the trail, slightly hunched over, red faced while my friends and others we passed careened effortlessly along like majestic Gazelles. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. I liked that I did it. I liked that I had challenged myself, that I had pushed myself to do something I considered hard. I really liked the way I felt—strong.

I could do this once a week, I thought. I surprised myself a little, not just for the intention, but because I am a classic step-skipper. I would show up to basecamp on Everest and be all “We summit tomorrow, right? All good? I brought trail mix guys!”

Turns out there are some perks the more spins you get around this planet. Wisdom is one, if you’re lucky enough to absorb it. Self-awareness is another, if you are brave enough to receive it. I suspected there was more to this running thing than trying not to die while doing it.

That was five months ago. Since then, once a week, usually Friday, I head to the trails that weave their way through the miles of conservation land not far from my house. I go as early in the morning as I can when the air is still a little bit cool and the light is just starting to dapple the trees, which are now lush and green. I’ve only walked twenty or thirty feet from the small parking lot into the beginning of the trail, but it feels like crossing a threshold into another universe. Everything is hushed except for the curious calls of birds and the rustle of unseen critters.

I walk for a bit to warm up and then, I run. I listen to music, but I key into the rhythm of my breathing. It becomes its own kind of wordless mantra. When I hit an incline, I keep my eyes focused on the ground. I know if I lift them to the slope, I’ll want to stop. For me there is just the next little bit and the next little bit after that, a metaphor for life metered out with each dig of my heels.

I notice what happens is that every few minutes I will desperately want to stop. To override the running “kill” switch you’ve got to give your mind something else to chew on. But here’s what I’ve found most surprising: the stand-by churn, the stuff about work or relationships or that shamefaced thing I did when I was a stupid 19-year old (ok, stupid 34-year old, ok, last week) gets no traction. As quickly as they enter the frame they fall away; they’re too heavy, too sticky. Those things–the spin and whir and crank in the factory of real life– have no place in the beautiful, serene, Serengeti of time out of time you’ve created through your measured, reliable movement.

Zero exaggeration, like, seriously.

My mind really does just want to be here now, as Ram Dass writes. It is wildly liberating. It’s as if my mind were thrust into one of those Hazmat showers, the ones that sandblast your skin clean off and all you’re left with are smooth, shiny surfaces.

I think about my breathing.

I think about the woods.

I think about the light, the crunch of dirt and stone under my feet.

I think about how lucky I am that my lungs, my legs, my body does this thing.

And then before too long I’m walking again, heading out of the woods back into the world with all its noise and chaos and a little bit of silence tucked into my back pocket.

Biblioklept is ten years old today,so ten sets of ten somethings.

This blog is ten years old today. So here are ten sets of ten somethings.

Just a picture of ten random books, which in no way should be thought of as a real list, okay?:

Ten great books I read in 2016:

  1. JR, William Gaddis–a reread that topped the list of nine books that I said I wanted to reread in theBiblioklept Ninth Anniversary Post Spectacular
  2. Collected Stories, William Faulkner
  3. A Temple of Texts, William Gass
  4. Quiet Creature on the Corner, João Gilberto Noll
  5. The Franchiser, Stanley Elkin
  6. The Dick Gibson Show, Stanley Elkin
  7. Marketa Lazarova, Vladislav Vančura
  8. A Manual for Cleaning Women, Lucia Berlin
  9. The Leopard, Giuseppe di Lampedusa
  10. Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Novel Quartet, which I guess actually counts as four novels, but whatever

Ten Commandments, Lucas Cranach the Elder

Ten books I want to read soonish:

  1. There Is a Tree More Ancient Than Eden, Leon Forrest, a novel I’m actually reading now so I’m not sure if it counts
  2. Bear, Marian Engel
  3. The Tunnel, William Gass
  4. The Last Days of Louisiana Red, Ishmael Reed
  5. 99 Stories of God, Joy Williams
  6. Antigonick, Anne Carson
  7. Vineland, Thomas Pynchon
  8. The Lime Twig, John Hawkes
  9. The Magic Kingdom, Stanley Elkin
  10. The Passenger, Cormac McCarthy—drop the album, Cormac!

Ten Bacchanal Scenes, Jean Philippe Guy Le Gentil

Ten reviews of books (perhaps underrated or under-remarked upon, at least–the books, I mean, not the reviews) by authors whose last names begin with B:

  1. U.S.!, Chris Bachelder
  2. Sandokan, Nanni Balestrini
  3. The Complete Short Stories of J.G. Ballard (specifically, “The Subliminal Man”) J.G. Ballard
  4. The Hospital Ship, Martin Bax
  5. Gargoyles, Thomas Bernhard
  6. 2666, Roberto Bolaño (hell yeah it’s underrated)
  7. Two Serious Ladies, Jane Bowles
  8. First Love and Other Sorrows, Harold Brodkey
  9. Lenz, Georg Büchner
  10. X’ed Out, Charles Burns

Sketch with Ten Saints (etc.), Albrecht Durer

Ten Panels of a Scholars Books, unidentified early 20th c. Korean artist

Ten books I aim to re-read sooner rather than later:

  1. Gravity’s Rainbow, Thomas Pynchon
  2. The Pale King, David Foster Wallace
  3. 2666, Roberto Bolaño
  4. Moby-Dick, Herman Melville
  5. The Confidence-Man, Herman Melville
  6. The House of Seven Gables, Nathaniel Hawthorne
  7. Autobiography of Red, Anne Carson
  8. Blood Meridian, Cormac McCarthy (2015 is the first time I didn’t reread it)
  9. Native Son, Richard Wright
  10. The Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. Le Guin (hopefully with my daughter, who’s just a bit younger than this blog, and with whom I’ve been reading the Harry Potter books way.too.long.).

Ten Cavaliers Forming a Circle, Stefano della Bella

Thanks for reading/viewing/etc.

 

The place where my spirit breathe.

maskéko-sákahikanihk.

This summer, I took a four day intensive néhiyawéwin class. I’m learning my language, slowly. This class was the beginning of a commitment to push myself further towards this goal.

I live in Ottawa now, but I’m a prairie girl through and through. Going back home is a necessity in staying grounded and connected to what calms my soul. The language is in the land, in the vast prairie skies, the water. nipiy. my veins.

Don’t bother writing the words down. Just listen. You’ll remember.

péyak. níso. nisto.

I’m in kindergarten, my favourite class is Cree class. We learn numbers, greetings, animals. Those words come flooding back in my memory.

I’m grateful to the educators that provided us with the opportunity to be exposed to our language and culture.

Thirty years later, the class is full of eager students willing to learn néhiyawéwin. The instructors are passionate about passing on the language. It’s a beautiful and safe environment to learn and make mistakes.

Living thousands of kilometers away from my home, I have to make an effort to practice and hear the language, so I don’t forget again.

When discussing the struggles I’m having with this distance, one of my classmates told me that home is “the place where your spirit breathes”. He was right.