Wednesday, March 25, 2009

The Police Bear and the Day Care

We leave for Cuba in three days. We'll be on our Bike Fridays.

Noah looks petrified. I'm afraid of polar bears (and pigs) too.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

In which Noah shows us what he learned at day care

He got better, so he went back to day care, where he learned a few tricks.

"Alla loo!" Means shut up. That's what he said. I felt like a paparazzo taking pictures of Alberto Tomba.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Monday, March 09, 2009


Once in a while, I have a bright idea. Well, at least I like to think so.

A few years ago I invented something brilliant. I was on hold with some company, and I thought, "why in the hell do I have to sit here on hold? I should be able to hang up the telephone, and when the line is no longer busy, the company should call me back! I am their customer, damn it!"

I really thought I was on to something. I thought about how to market this system to telephone companies, I thought about how it should be set up. It was to be a service that companies could subscribe to, much like call waiting or call display, that their clients could enjoy. It would have been an innovation which would help to undo much of the customer disservice that seems to go on in modern-day life. Damn it, I would become a consumer champion. All I needed was someone who knew how to actually make it happen practically, and someone else to invest all of the time, money, and effort into making it a reality... because I was broke and had no idea what I was doing.

Of course, the technology already existed before I had thought of it. I was being sincere. I had thought of it independently, having never experienced it. What's up with that? Why hasn't this caught on?

Anyway, so, I've been spouting out the word "selfleshness" for months now. A mixture of selfishness and selflessness, it infects many of us who come up North.

In my first year, someone said to me that people go up North for three reasons: the 3 Ms: Money, Missionary, or Socially Maladjusted.

For the most part (with some notable exceptions) I think people who head up North have all of their marbles in a row, and are in the North following a combination of the first two Ms. I certainly have my issues with being a qalunaat imperialist sometimes, and think I can at least not do any more damage to the culture in which I am immersed, and I also realize that my job affords me a certain standard of living that would not be possible if I taught in the South.

The thing is, that our jobs are really hard. This year, teaching secondary, I had almost forgotten that. However, over the last few months, Sophie has been replacing a teacher who left in December, herself consumed by the heartbreak and isolation of the job. Each day, as I walked through the door of the house, Sophie would already be in mid-sentence releasing the incredible stress of taking care of truly tragic children for five hours a day. I did the same thing to her for two years, and I cavalierly used my blog as a catharsis one too many times.

Some teachers lose the mission and focus on the money. They begin to forget about what they are doing day to day and focus on a future goal: a house, a retirement, something. They stop living their lives and start postponing it. They start talking about what they are going to do after the North.

Others who end up trying to do this for too long seem to lose perspective about what they are doing. They tend to forget about the money and begin to focus on the mission. Their work becomes all consuming and they find themselves at the school until all hours of the night, taking students into their homes, trying to save somebody. In a way, it's truly admirable, but in other ways it's naive to think that they are doing more than providing band-aids for wounds that run deep through the society.

Regardless, even if teachers who become consumed by the mission put in all of the extra effort, it at least doesn't do any harm. Well, it doesn't until said teachers start to feel entitled because they put in all of the extras. I've heard teachers say things like, "I'm just so tired of giving," without remembering just how much they are taking too. Once the giving ceases to feel good (and even this is just as often assuaging one's own guilt) and becomes a chore, they can begin to feel like they should be entitled to more. Hence, selfleshness. They give because they want to feel entitled to more, and to assuage their own guilt and complicity in the system that continues its colonialism in the North.

Alas, before composing this, I googled "selfeshness" and got a billion hits. The first few were interesting and made me hopeful. They focussed more on the "flesh" of the matter. However, when it came down to it, I found a plethora of sites which more or less used my new word in the same way.

Nevertheless, I've made it my goal to not become infected by selfleshness and to remain completely cognizant of the fact that I get a lot out of teaching up North. For instance, this year I chose a job that ended in March so Sophie, Noah and I could go spend a month in Cuba. I also feel extremely lucky that we were able to organize a trip to Rome and Athens with really little difficulty and a fraction of the work it would have taken in the South. I also feel fortunate to be able to go back up for six weeks at then end of this year to replace someone who will go on maternity leave.

Ultimately, however, I, and especially Sophie, have been very nearly consumed by the guilt of leaving vacant the position for which Sophie had been replacing for the last two months. We had said at the end of last year that we were coming back to Wakeham because we would be able to leave after six months. Sophie didn't take a full-time job this year primarily to take care of Noah, but also because we were going to leave early.

We try to remember that Sophie did the school a favour, by replacing a teacher who was too sick to come back, and giving the kids the benefit of her presence and expertise for two months while the school waited for the news about the teacher's leave, and then while they searched for someone to replace her long-term. It nearly tore Sophie apart.

In the end, we have left. We'll be back up for the months of May and June. After that we don't know.

So far, we haven't been consumed by the mission, and we have yet to focus entirely on the money. In fact, it still feels good to teach the kids. A few weeks ago, Sophie was speaking to an older woman in the village about a nurse who was leaving after ten years. The woman said that "qalunnaat leave when they've taken enough."

I think I'm comfortable with that perspective. I hope I am. It's better than leaving when I become "tired of giving".

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

When Noah Was Sick

Over the next few weeks, some videos will post themselves. Featured in them is Noah's increasingly fluent Inuktitut.

A couple of weeks ago, Noah was very ill. We had to stay home with him and all he did was sleep all day... and do heartbreaking stuff like this:

"Auka" means no.