“”White nights and dark days” is not ordinarily something to be giving thanks for. In the case of Alaska, however, I’m sure you will forgive me for calling the bright night of the white midnight sun, “breathtakingly beautiful”, and the dusky days, “delightful”.
Therefore I say in the Yup’ik language, “quyana”. Quyana is the Yup’ik Eskimo word for, “Thank You” in English.
Thankful, appreciative, and grateful is what I feel each time I remember the 10 days of my life that I spent in the Yup’ik Eskimo village of Quinhagak (pronounced kwin-uh-hawk).
In March 1998, I volunteered to go to Alaska as a member of a joint-service, military, medical team. The mission was a humanitarian one: to provide no cost medical service to the Yup’ik people of the village of Quinhagak.
Each year for the past 18 years, Operation Arctic Care brings approximately 300 military personnel, and 70 thousand pounds of cargo and medical supplies, to rural communities throughout Alaska. It?s a military field exercise that provides free medical care to underserved populations in Alaska. In 1998 we were in Southwest Alaska, and my team was assigned to Quinhakak.
In return for providing care, servicemen and women from several branches of the military would be learning to adapt medical services for unfamiliar field conditions.
And so it was that we entered the village in the only way possible, by air. Riding in on the Alaska National Guard Blackhawk helicopter one thing was clear: ahead of us lay long days and difficult working conditions, bitter cold in a harsh, unforgiving environment, hardships to be endured, and medical emergencies to deal with.
Would we rise to the challenge?
In a moment of horror, involving a shooting that would leave one person dead and another badly wounded, we would find out some very profound answers to these questions. Our actions would capture headlines all over the state of Alaska, and leave us changed for the rest of our lives.
Fourteen years later, I revisit, retell, and reflect on those white nights and days of darkness.
“Waqaa” and “Quyana” remain the only words I can remember in Yup’ik: Waqaa means “Hello”.
Quinhagak, I greet you again, this time from within these pages: Waqaa… Hello Quinhagak, a treasured memory…
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