New York.- By Catherine Tsounis
The Long Island owl excites the imagination. Young and old are interest in the species. “In Ancient Greek mythology the Owl was a creature sacred to Athena, Goddess of the night who represented wisdom. Athena, the Greek Goddess of Wisdom had a companion Owl on her shoulder, which revealed unseen truths to her. … The Owl symbolizes death and renewal, wisdom, moon, magic and initiation.”111
“An owl sits on our school roof, greeting us in the morning,” explained Christina Grigoratos of Bayside and Mattituck, New York, who is teaching from, September 2019 through June 2021 in Kipnuk, Alaska. “An Artic fox greets us at the entrance below the owl. I was teaching in the Bronx. On www.Indeed.com website, I came across an opportunity of a lifetime: teaching in Alaska. I left my urban New York City life to begin this adventure. I have a direct flight to Anchorage, then small plane flights to Bethel and Kipnuk.”
Ms. Grigoratos comes from a traditional Greek Orthodox family from Crete and Cephalonia. Fluent in Greek, she attended Archbishop Iakovos High School in Jamaica. She has taught in various parochial and public schools. Picking up and going to Alaska was a life altering experience. She is an English teacher in the Middle School of Chief Paul Memorial School in Kipnuk.
“Kipnuk is in Bethel Census Area, Alaska, United States, consisting with mostly Yupik speaking Eskimos. The name means a “bend” referring to the bend in the (Qukaqliq) Kugkaktlik River where it is situated.”2
“We are near the Bering Straits, the educator said. “We went on a trip there. It was absolutely beautiful. Our guide showed us a dead hump whale frozen in ice.” The Bering Sea and Strait, northernmost part of the Pacific Ocean, separates the continents of Asia and North America. To the north the Bering Sea connects with the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait, at the narrowest point of which the two continents are about 53 miles apart. The boundary between the United States and Russia passes through the sea and the strait. During the Ice Age, the sea level fell by several hundred feet, making the strait into a land bridge between the continents of Asia and North America, over which a considerable migration of plants and animals occurred.3
“My students come from hard working families that are supportive of each other,” she explained. “There is a Moravian Church with a Russian Orthodox Church being built. The teachers live in a modern facility across from the school. Our apartment has two bedrooms, with living room, kitchen, bathroom and running water. We have access to the school facilities 24 hours a day. Our school is modern state of the art with Apple TV, laptops and iPads.”
Ms. Grigoratos described that “every two weeks we have a cupcake social. I enjoy baking for our students. The students are well behaved. I hope to stay beyond my two year contract. The teachers socialize with each other. Out students’ families invite us for dinner. The whole village is by a river with a water view. The Kipnuk community wants to keep good teachers with benefits and affordable housing. We go ice fishing, catching smelts. We lie on the tundra.”
“Arctic tundra is a landscape of amazing contrasts. View it from a distance, or visit in midwinter, and you might think it is barren. It’s not. Though treeless and often bitter cold, Arctic tundra is an ecosystem of great beauty and abundance, shaped by the dramatic seasons of the far north.”
The word “tundra” (from the Finnish tunturi: “treeless heights”) refers to treeless ecosystems where winters are long and cold, and summers are short and (usually) chilly. Those conditions are found both in the high latitudes (northern and southern), and also atop high mountains.”4
How do you fish in a frozen river? Christina and friends chopped a hole in the ice and fished. She is an expert in preparing fish for cooking from her days fishing in Mattituck with her Dad Gerasimos. Christina is a rare person who was one of the caregivers as a college student for her ill mother, Anastasia.
The educator explained that “the community is native Alaskans who own their own land. No reservations! The church bells are heard all day. The patron saint of Alaska is St. Herman.” He was an 18th century missionary to Alaska. In 1970, he became the first saint of the Orthodox Church in America.5
“There are no butchers,” related her childhood friend Despina Siolas, Md/Ph.D. “Christina explained a can of tuna fish costs from $5 to $7. There are no bakeries, bowling alleys, movie theaters and restaurants. Everyone cooks their own food.”
Christina during Christmas vacation said she is enjoying this lifestyle. I was her university adjunct instructor of Modern Greek. I see a change in her outlook of life now as an Alaskan educator. She has grown spiritually in her vocation with a genuine compassion for her students. She is non-materialistic. She is trying to enlighten students . Actually, I view Ms. Grigoratos as a modern day missionary, bringing her outlook of life as a Greek American from New York to the Alaskans she instructs. Educator Grigoratos is closer to nature and a spiritual way of living. The Kipnuk teaching experience is the beginning of an exceptional chapter in her pedagogical career.
All photos by Christina Grigoratos with some taken from her facebook account.
https://www.qgazette.com/articles/viewpoint-a-moment-in-russian-byzantium-at-kimisis-church-southampton/- role of Russian Orthodox Church in Alaska