Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Water in the Village

1/21/2015, Chefornak, Alaska: I recently learned how much effort is involved in getting drinking water to the clinic. Chefornak does not have piped in water - which means water fluoridation is not feasible. Running water is a luxury, requiring large holding tanks that need to be filled manually (usually once every few days). In the clinic, the sewage and water system are linked. When the sewage holding tank fills up, the water turns off to prevent overflows. This system encourages users to conserve water, particularly since the holding tanks fill up without any notification system. The local store sells commercially bottled drinking water, which costs about $8-$10 per gallon. To save money, locals will drink rainwater, which is collected through rooftop systems on top of homes during the year and stored in outdoor ponds. In the clinic, there is a water distiller that makes the rainwater safe to drink.

Last June, the water distiller was up and running. There was a slightly brown color to the water even after being distilled, but the water tasted just fine. This trip, the distiller is broken. When I arrived in Chefornak about 10 days ago, there was a large plastic container filled with drinking water.

Like over the summer, I assumed during the winter that water was simply brought to the clinic. Not so simple in sub-zero degree terrain. Where would water be stored in the village? Outside?

After running out of water over the MLK day weekend, I learned about the drinking water procurement process during winters in the YK. Drinking water starts off looking like this, which is hand-chipped from an outside pond.


It's quite the process to melt the ice into water, one pot at a time.

The most recent update on the clinic's drinking water status.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Chefornak 2015

01/19/2015, Chefornak, Alaska: I'm heading to Chefornak, Alaska - a small Yukon Kuskokwim community (population 418 according to the 2010 U.S. Census) - for my first winter clinic trip to a village. I was in Chefornak in June 2014. This time I had to pack winter gear in preparation for the cold weather, including my -40 degree coat. I left the Bunny Boots at home. I also packed 2 weeks of food, clothing, and entertainment (i.e., laptop and external hard drive full of data to process and analyze, one book, a couple of dental journals, dozens of hours of archived Dan Savage podcasts). Amazingly, I only had to check one bag at the airport.

On the flight from Seattle to Anchorage, I met a cute service dog named Teddy. She was sitting on the floor next to me. By the time we hit 10,000 feet, Teddy's head was resting on my right foot. An hour later, she had taken up most of my leg room. She was a very friendly, well-behaved dog.

The rest of the flight to Anchorage and the flight to Bethel was uneventful. Woke up early the next morning and arrived at the Era Terminal in Bethel, where I had at least 8 cups of complimentary Folgers coffee with instant powdered cream. The airport was pretty quiet when I first arrived, but it got pretty busy close to boarding time. This is one of the only places I know of in Bethel (besides the Bethel library) that has free wifi. This was the last time I'd be able to check email on my iPhone, access episodes of Glee and Downton Abbey through Amazon Prime, and check Facebook status updates.

It's January, which means it stays dark until pretty late in the morning and starts to get dark early in the evening. The winter solstice has passed and the length of daylight is increasing each day, but it's hard to tell. I complain a lot about how dark it is in Seattle during the winter. But we have it pretty good in comparison.

9:09 AM (liftoff)

9:21AM (midflight)

9:46AM (landing)

It takes about 35 minutes to complete the direct flight from Bethel to Chefornak. It was still pretty dark when we landed. It wasn't as cold as I thought it would be, which was a good thing given that I had not packed snow pants. The ride to the clinic was chilly but unseasonable warm (20s). The left side of my face got pretty cold. Thankfully, I didn't develop Bell's Palsy.

During the first few days in Chefornak, we spent our time at the Head Start Center and K-12 Chefornak School (Amaqigciq/Caputnguaq) screening children for dental disease. At the Head Start Center, it was nice to see a toothbrushing operation set up near the sink. Most importantly, the kids were brushing with fluoridated toothpaste.

It was nice to see the Yupik word for mouth, teeth, or smile near the toothbrushing sink (right up there with hair and ear).

It's been a great trip so far. We were able to meet with the Chefornak Village Council earlier in the week to share findings from our sugar sweetened beverage study. Our hope is to include Chefornak as a partner community for our next NIH grant. Over the week, the temperature has dropped and there's been a bit of snowfall. Today it's -7. The sunset is absolutely stunning. Just a few more days and I'll be heading back to the land of the 12th Man.

5:07PM (sunset)