My first sight upon landing in Nome two years ago was that of a 6’7 man with a Mohawk and a unicorn-Lady Gaga t-shirt.
I sported army pants and a British pith helmet because, why not. He pranced towards me and welcomed me with a huge hug. His name was Josh, my soon to be new roommate, co-worker, kindred spirit, creative collaborator, dance partner, dinosaur enthusiast, and friend. Next to him was another tall dude, drinking coffee out of a mug—not a travel mug, a regular mug—and maybe it was the sleep deprivation or something, because of all the bizarre sights I caught that first day (and there were quite a few) I thought that was the weirdest of all.
His name was Matt, a second year volunteer in the news department soon to be wrapping up his time in Nome.
I can’t say how strange it is to think about all of this now. Josh and I are still in touch. He does some magical environment- savin’-related-thing in Tennessee, and while he still enjoys dinosaurs and unicorns, he no longer sports a Mohawk or Lady Gaga t-shirts during regular business hours. Matt is back in Nome. His coffee drinking habit (obsession?) no longer freaks me out, and he is no longer a volunteer. He is our News Director.
As for me? My days at KNOM and Nome are numbered.
Dear Western Alaska,
Thank you. To fellow Nomites, listeners, donors, and friends. To everyone who fed me, housed me, took care of me, and taught me something new. To cheese, for existing. To books, for keeping me company. To everyone at parties who gravitated towards discussions regarding art, race, class, culture, and gender at the risk of being labeled “too serious.” To my second grade teacher who told me I had no ear for music and giving me the chance to prove her wrong. And, of course, a big thank you to the KNOM staff for taking a chance on the girl with the crazy ideas and weird accent.
I am going to miss Nome a lot. I can’t even begin to list all the things I’ll miss. My time here has not been without its share of challenges, but it has also been a time of great growth. You can’t get one without the other, I get that now.
You know how they say that when you die your life flashes before your eyes? That hasn’t happened to me because, well, I’m not dying, but over the last few days I’ve had little bits and pieces over my last two years come back to me at random intervals.
Most of these are not the kind of stories you tell at parties, nor are they the kind that you keep to yourself for reflection. They are merely moments of calm and joy, times when I felt both myself and others being authentic, selfless, and brave: a hotline of a mother saying “I love you” to her daughter on her birthday. Going on long walks with friends. Going on walks alone. Describing floppy disks to kids at the Boys & Girls Club. Sitting around the Schmidt table for dinner. Watching a movie with Patti’s cat, Pepper, on my lap. Making peep-shi in the kitchen (part I and II).
These kind of bits don’t seem as significant as stand alone memories, but when I put the pieces together they create a bigger picture of all the times people were kind to me, as opposed to times when people weren’t. When I think of the big picture, I finally see that the positives trump the negatives.
Ric says it takes years to unpack the volunteer experience and that you know you’ve done a good job when you feel like the relationship you have with your community is a symbiotic one. To me, such relationship is the most beautiful thing about the KNOM program. Both the community and myself feel they got more out of it than the other, and what we give and take comes with no strings attached.
The station works in a similar manner. Every group of volunteers brings something new and takes away from what was already established. Despite never meeting most volunteer alumni I am fully aware that I stand on the shoulders of their hard work. In exchange, I leave behind my own piece of legacy to guide future volunteers.
That’s the essence of KNOM: the sum of things is greater than its weight when we divide it.
I’m glad I got to spend some time with Jenn, Caitlin, and Francesca (Jenn, don’t let Zach boss you around. Also, you go ahead and buy all the chicken fingers you want!). Having never met my predecessor, it is weirdly exciting to get to train Caitlin and see her potential. I will not get to meet Courtney or Kristin, but I am excited for their upcoming year and wish them all the best.
This is not a goodbye, western Alaska. There are no goodbyes here, only see you laters. Most likely at the Anchorage airport.
Thank you again.