Wednesday, Nov 21, 2018
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A Bahamian living in Alaska

Meghan Ruffini says despite the adjustment, the Alaskan community reminds her of the Family Islands

Most Bahamians would not think bringing down a moose to stock out a freezer would necessarily be a good thing, and Meghan Ruffini probably didn’t either, until she actually did it. But shooting her first moose to stock her freezer with “nice, organic meat” for her family was exactly what she did.

According to Meghan, moose meat is delicious, and tastes like cow.

Considering she lives in Wasilla, Alaska, where they had their first snowfall of the winter season in September, and where the temperatures drop into the negatives, this Bahamian (a Bethell) is happy to be able to stay indoors and pull something out of the freezer to prepare a meal.

Ruffini has lived in Alaska for four years with her husband, Richard; their daughter, Emma; their three American Shorthair cats, Skittle, Sweet Love and Luna; and dogs, Euro, a terrier-potcake mix, and Stella, their ‘Alaskan potcake’.

And just how does a Bahamian come to be living in the sixth-largest city in Alaska, which had a population of 7,831 at the 2010 census and was estimated to be home to roughly 8,621 in 2013?

She and her husband, Richard, whom she met in college and who is originally from Florida, made a joint decision to relocate to the northern United States for his job, working on gas stations.

When he came across a job posting for a position in Alaska, Ruffini said it was a great opportunity. Her husband applied, and the next thing they knew, they were being flown to Alaska for an interview. That was in the dead of summer.

“It was beautiful and warm with blue skies,” she recalled.

Her husband accepted the job. They packed up their car with their cats and Euro and drove from Florida to Alaska. It took them two weeks to make the journey, as they made a sightseeing adventure out of it. No matter how much fun the adults thought it was, Ruffini says Euro no longer likes cars.

They arrived in Alaska in August, during the cold, rainy season.

“The first words out of my mouth were, ‘What did we do?’”

When winter hit with a vengeance, it made for quite an adjustment on their part. After four years, she says she’s still not used to sub-zero temperatures. And she has to endure cold weather for at least half a year, including days when the sun rises at 10:30 a.m. and sets around 3:30 p.m.

“During the summer, we get like 20 hours of daylight, and that is way easier to adjust to than only five hours of daylight, because you buy your blackout curtains… but it’s a little bit of an adjustment period for the first season that you’re here. After that it does get easier.”

A housewife, Ruffini says she had to learn she could not allow the cold weather to keep her indoors, because things like grocery shopping have to be done.

Her usual store is about a 20-minute drive from her home. It has just recently implemented online shopping for the winter season, which means she can purchase groceries online and pick them up in the store’s parking lot, without leaving her car, which she says is convenient, considering she has to consider her young daughter.

“I’ve got an almost-two-year-old… just getting her in and out of the car on a good day is a production.”

When it’s 10 below, she dons thermals for her base layer, over which she throws on jeans and snow pants. She also wears a sweater, snow jacket, hat and gloves. And if she will be engaged in outdoor activities, she throws on “bunny boots” – military grade boots that can withstand frigid temperatures.

She said she was initially very surprised when she realized that $100 would only purchase her a half a jacket, when she was used to purchasing a whole wardrobe of tank tops and shorts for that same amount.

Sticker shock was very real for her.

“The cost of living is just slightly less than Nassau. It’s expensive because you have to ship everything.”

Despite all of that, she said Alaska is beautiful and she loves the adventures to be had.

“It’s absolutely gorgeous. You can drive an hour and a half away from my house and go walk on a glacier, and hike mountains, and go four-wheeling. I still drive around and look at the mountains, and I’m still in awe of just the natural beauty up here. It’s beautiful up here.”

Moose, reindeer, bear, muktuk (whale skin and blubber that is frozen and eaten raw), akutaq (also known as ‘Alaskan ice cream’, it is made of reindeer fat, seal oil, snow and berries and whipped to a foamy consistency) and stinkheads (buried heads of whitefish which are allowed to ferment for a week or more) are many of the Alaskan delicacies to be had. Of them, Ruffini has only dared to eat the moose.

“I have not tried the whale blubber. My husband has. He works in the whole state, so he gets flown to these little villages where that’s what they eat — seal and whale meat and whale blubber — so he’s tried some of that, like muktuk… he’s also tried Eskimo ice cream. The most exotic thing I’ve had was moose, and I shot my first moose last year. I actually went hunting and was actually able to get a nice moose for our freezer and provide that nice, organic meat for our family. It’s delicious. It tastes like cow, but it’s moose,” she said.

And unlike when they lived in Florida, family members don’t call Ruffini often to say they’re coming for a visit.

“Not too many family members visit here because it’s so far. When we lived in Florida, it was so much easier to come over for a long weekend, and plane tickets were way cheaper than buying a plane ticket to Alaska. We’ve had some friends and family, but not nearly as much. It is very isolating so far away,” she said.

Her mom, Rhondi Bethell, flew up to Alaska this month so that she could spend Christmas with them. She visited last when Emma was born in February 2016 and immediately decreed, like a ‘true-true’ Bahamian, that they weren’t doing anything outside due to the cold.

In Bethell’s suitcase were yellow grits, conch (because Ruffini can’t get conch in Alaska), Fox’s Glacier Mints and Calpol for Emma.

While Ruffini is soaking up all that Alaska has to offer and the opportunity to be able to stay at home to raise their daughter, living there for the rest of her life is not in the cards.

“Believe me, I would like to move back home. It gets lonely. With Bahamians, we’re so family-oriented, and it’s hard being away from family. I want [Emma] to have the growing up that I had, close to family, and you don’t have to travel 15 hours.”

She said eventually they would like to move to The Bahamas — either New Providence or Abaco — but it would depend on job opportunities.

“[Living in Alaska] is a shock at first, but the community really reminds me so much of the Family Islands. Everyone is really nice and welcoming. All the people that we’ve had opportunity to have met, it really reminds me of how the 0ut islands are,” she said.

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