AISES, Alaska, alone, Anchorage, beach, Case Western, competition, Dena'ina Center, Egan Center, Hawai'i, Manoa, Native American, poster presentation, research, solo travel, student, University of Hawai'i
Once again, I was up early and walking to the conference. I met up with Josh and his friends and ate quickly. Mostly, I was hanging out with Brennan. Josh had other things to plan for later, but Brennan and I had 4 hours of standing by our posters to look forward to. After we ate, we found our locations by our posters, and waited.
Standing there was awkward. I tried not to bother people who wanted to read my poster because I always feel awkward coming to booths and having people engage in conversation with me when I’m only looking. I’d stand there for minutes on end as someone read, smiled, thanked me, and moved on. I was fortunate to be at the back window. Although the window was cold, heat blew out at the base and I could watch the sun rise over the mountains. The girl to my right was one of the representatives from North Carolina. We exchanged a few words, she with her southern drawl, but we didn’t talk much. There was a walking lane between us. The girl to my left, however, shared the corkboard with me. I recognized her as Kelsey Lopez, the girl who was also before me in the oral presentations. We began chatting… and never stopped. It was the perfect way to kill the entire 4 hours before the judges came by.
Naturally, when they arrived, someone was at my poster and asking numerous questions. I tried to rush him, but the judges said they would go to Kelsey first. Not long after, this man’s conversation turned and we were talking about horrible stories. I brought up one about some family members being killed in a car crash and I think he was uncomfortable. He thanked me and walked away, leaving me feel odd at what I had said. Then the judges came by and I went through my spiel, hoping they couldn’t see the small error on my poster that had leapt out at me just minutes before. I was frustrated because it was my third draft and the error was in the printing. The woman who did it had let it slip, but I rolled it up and didn’t look back. The judges nodded, asked questions, and showed extreme interest. They shook my hand and gave me nothing but praise, then took my photo and moved on.
A student from the South Dakota School of Mines, Shane Herrod, stopped by. He introduced himself as “the other” wind turbine presentation. He did research on the data collection process. We exchanged information, hoping to one day work together. I realized he was one of the people who had sought out my presentation the day before. Once Shane had left, Kelsey asked if I was going to the Career Fair now that we were done. I said I was and, without either of us fully communicating it, we waited until the other had packed up and accompanied each other downstairs to another room.
The enormous space was filled with hundreds of booth and crammed with students eating boxed lunched and sipping on lemonade and iced tea. We picked out our own food, then I followed Kelsey to a corner where her friends sat on the floor. We were introduced. They were all University of Hawai’i students, mostly Native Hawai’ians, except for one, a Navajo named Karina. Shortly after asking about my Indian heritage, she grabbed my arm and said, enthusiastically, “Ooo, your eyes! They have green in them! They’re so pretty!”
My eyes had drawn attention, as I had feared. But it was positive attention and it never affected my Native status to my Hawai’ian friends as I would have expected it to. What a good feeling… Just then I looked up to see a girl I recognized as a previous competition winner. She had short, spiked, blond hair, pale skin, and bright blue eyes. She was also metis. What was I so afraid of before?
After we were done with lunch, Kelsey and I spent a long time making the circuit through the booths. I filled out a slip with signatures and dropped it in the box for prize drawings. I had taken the time to talk to several Native consulting groups as well as the Navy program sponsored by Alysse and Christine. I even showed the woman at the EPA table my RainWorks Challenge drawings and she took down my information. Then Kelsey found me again and we walked outside to a gift shop with some others.
One of these others was a girl, Riley, from a California tribe. We exchanged numbers. After perousing the store for some time, we decided to go our different ways. I wanted to drop off some things at my hostel, but we all planned to go to the beach later. I walked back, did as I said I would, and was soon meeting the others in the lobby of the Dena’ina Center.
“I’ve been waiting for you…” Josh said, standing up from where he was leaning against a wall. “Oh, I didn’t know!” I checked my phone. “I don’t know where Dean is,” he said. I wondered why he would wait for me when I hadn’t seen him since he passed my poster that morning. “A group of us were going down to the beach, if you want to join,” I said. “Sure, maybe Kaleb will come with us,” he said. Kelsey came over, “Well we are going to drop by our hotel on the way to get some others.” It was the same hotel Josh is in, so we all walked that way. Soon, we were sitting in the lobby, waiting for the others to come downstairs. We began walking towards the beach, but Kaleb and his friend suddenly turned and went another way, distracted by something else. That left Josh awkwardly with my group of friends, and he didn’t seem happy.
Meanwhile, I got a kick out of Kelsey. She was running and jumping in small patches of snow, bragging how she saw her first “snow drop”. I had to correct her: “You mean ‘snowflake’?” “Yeah, that!” And then I realized snow is a new thing to her, being from Hawai’i and all. She and I followed the others, but were distracted by a purple tree and whale figurine. We took many pictures, then joined our assorted group which had now picked up some Mexicans as well.
A couple of the Hawai’ian boys were testing the limits of some ice patches as they crawled across some frozen stretches of the swamp in front. These kinds of stretches are known for trapping people who think they can walk on them. We laughed as they built little bridges from small trees, then took turns trying to throw gravel through holes in the ice. Josh lingered in the back and it took some convincing for him to join our group photos. After some time, we went our separate ways in preparation for the dance that evening.