one perspective on life in a remote northern community
Sunday, July 4, 2010
This post will NOT be related to the 4th of July; in spite of last night's "fire cracker".
While walking up the trail to my house late last night, a gun was fired nearby. As my friend and I had passed three parties in a space of about 100 yards, we naturally assumed the gunshot was alcohol related. Neither of us were injured and we did not hear anything to indicate a party-goer was hurt, so we continued on our way. This morning I got a report of two brothers quarreling at that location (one has stabbed the other before) but no blood was spilt last night.
They come in different shapes, sizes and colors. Some are young, eager and full of potential. Some are old, withered and wasting away. Some are attractive (for hands, at least). Some are bruised and battered, scarred and scabby. Some don't even possess all the digits they started out with.
Some are equipped with long, slender fingers. Some attached to stubby, chubby ones.
There are handsome hands, homely hands, hairy hands and "horny", calloused hands.
Hands can tell a story about their owners. A simple handshake may convey personal information. A working man will usually respect a firm grip from a hand with a rough feel. The same would be put off by a handshake from a tender hand with a limp grip.
A doctor would naturally have different hands than a carpenter, as would a piano player, rancher or pro basketball player.
I notice hands because, among other reasons, I spend a considerable amount of time looking at hands. I play cards at a teen rec. center several nights a week, so I typically have 5 or 10 other hands nearby by for a couple of hours each night.
I know who has stubby fingers, who has long ones, who needs to cut their nails and who needs new polish (because the remnants of the black polish has been chipping away for weeks now).
And I know who never, ever washes their hands. I see the fresh dirt, the old dirt, the grease from working on the car, the stamp on the back received after paying the admission to last week's dance. While playing cards I see it all.
Some homes in our community do not have plumbing. In such cases the Alaskan Honey Bucket serves as a toilet. That's just how it is here. A honey bucket means no running water, and vice-versa (if a home had water service they wouldn't need the bucket, right?). So home owners without water/sewer service must haul all of their water to their home. This in turn puts water at a premium and none is wasted.
And this, usually, leads to a lack of personal hygiene. Honey bucket users often have the unwashed hands; I know this from countless hours of personal observation. Scarey thought, isn't it. This is a cause for the high rate of hepatitis throughout rural Alaska.
One pair of hands is always dirty...always! The owner likes to play cards too, which can make it interesting. Subtle suggestions to wash them are usually ignored (and in this culture the subtle suggestion is the appropriate way to communicate; embarrassing confrontations should be avoided).
The excuse of "Why? They'll just get dirty again." has been used, repeatedly.
So what to do? Sharing cards with hands that literally have not seen water for days at a time (I know; I recognize yesterday's dirt; and dirt from the day before, and the day before that...) is not desirable, but excluding the owner from playing cards is not culturally acceptable. Hmmm?
Incentive! When "Dirty Hands" wanted to purchase several cans of soda ("pop") I made an offer.
"I'll throw in a free one if you go scrub those hands."
"Yep; but I mean really scrub them; get them clean!"
Several minutes elapsed before "Dirty Hands" emerged from the bathroom, having changed his name to "Clean Hands".
For a day, at least. By now he likely has assumed his old alias.