Sam Setiawan is a participant with the 2021-2022 Anchorage Service Adventure unit. To learn more about Service Adventure, a program of Mennonite Mission Network, click here.
When I arrived at my Service Adventure assignment with Habitat for Humanity Anchorage, I entered a new world. Alaska is unlike anything I have ever experienced.
The weather is the most noticeable difference. I do not think I have ever been this cold and had this much fun. I'm also enjoying meeting interesting people. Hearing their stories about snow machining and school has shown me how different, yet similar, people are. This is the first time I have worked in any meaningful way with people who are significantly older than me for an extended period of time. The world looks different from 61 degrees north.
The construction manager at Habitat for Humanity has worked as a contractor for 30+years. As a contractor, the goal is to get the job done as fast as possible, but when working for Habitat, it is also important to make sure the volunteers have a good time and a good understanding of everything they are doing. Making that shift can be tricky.
Dropping temperatures have brought out stories about the worst weather conditions that people have had to work in. The worst conditions I have heard about was a day when the temperature reached negative 100 degrees F. There is little you can do in that sort of weather because everything freezes, becomes brittle, then breaks.
Working with retired folks is great. There is a group of retired men, mostly engineers who worked for oil companies, who work the paper side of construction. These are the men who draw up the plans for what we are building. Many of them have worked on the North Slope, right at the northern-most edge of Alaska. There is so much about the oil industry that most people do not know. What I have heard has been fascinating. Besides being well-versed in oil production, they also have years and years of life experience. The stories I have heard could fill a book.
I believe that people who are older are unfathomably important to those who want to live a good life. If you want to build a house, instead of buying some lumber and randomly putting pieces together, you go to someone who knows how to build a house and learn from them. The same goes for life, but it takes a lifetime to build the experience. And at that point, all the information you have gathered is much less helpful than when you were young. Listening to stories from the elders in a community will teach you much at very little cost to yourself.
Meeting these people has been the most fascinating part of living in Alaska. Alaska is also the most beautiful state I have been in, and the people in the unit house are good folk and fun to hang out with. I look forward to the future, as the year stretches out before me.