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10 March, 2002

Water. It's necessary for cooking, washing up, laundry, and most importantly, for hydration. All living things need water to survive. It's odd to think that an island, surrounded by water, could regularly face such extreme water shortages. However, it's important to remember that even though the island of Little Diomede is surrounded by water, that water is sea water, not fresh water. It cannot be used for drinking. The arctic is actually a frozen desert. So, just like Los Angeles and other arid, desert regions, drought is a serious concern.

With the exception of the health clinic and the school, there is no running water on the island. People in this community have to haul water to their homes in five gallon buckets. The water is then stored in the house, usually in a large, clean plastic trash can for use in cooking, drinking and washing up. Because Diomede is a bird island, nitrates can be found in the water, and it is generally recommended that people distill their water before drinking it. (Distilled drinking water is also made available for pregnant women and children under the age of two.) As long as the village's water tank has a supply of water, showers and laundry can be tended to at the washeteria but obviously, water conservation is a serious, and daily issue. When the community's water tank runs dry, there is no more fresh water available. If/when that happens, snow must be collected and melted.

In coming to Little Diomede I knew about the severe water shortages that the community regularly faces, and I felt strongly that it would be very important that I not overuse or waste this precious water supply. For that reason, I knew before setting out for Alaska that long or frequent showers would be out of the question, and I chose to get my long, curly hair braided to reduce the amount of water I would need .

I naturally have long, very curly hair that cannot be easily brushed. At home, I am in the habit of wetting it each morning but, I knew that the extreme weather conditions and the vital need to conceive water would make that kind of daily water use an impossibility. I had hoped that wearing my hair in braids would be convenient and require much less daily care because they do not need to be washed as frequently. Those assumptions turned out to very true. However, there has been another benefit to having a head of over 120 braids: most people in this part of Alaska have only seen these kinds of braids on TV and in the movies. So, the hairstyle has proven to be a wonderful conversation starter and a great (hands-on) ice breaker with both adults and children. Here is a picture of me with some of the 3, 4, and 5 year old students in Linda Gies's class. Clockwise from the top: me, Dana, unknown/hidden student, Casey, Agnes, Savanna, Felicia and Marianne.

Here I am out on the sea ice with the village in the background. The water tank is visible on the left. The tank sits right on the edge of the island just a few feet from the ocean, it holds the fresh water supply for the entire village. This water tank is not the village's first, a previous tank (or two) was destroyed; literally blown into the sea by strong winds.

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