Saturday, September 04, 2010

Year #5

When I came up here four years ago, I had no attachments. I had come because I didn't really know what else to do. I truly was interested in living in an Inuit village, and taking on the challenge of teaching kids from another culture. Certainly, my upbringing instilled in me a desire to "help". However, I'm pretty sure that if you suggested that I would be back for a fifth year with a girlfriend, two kids, and a dog, I would have looked at you like you have two heads.

"This year is going to be our last year." We've been saying that for three years in a row. "This time it's for real." People heard us say that last year too. It has gotten so our friends don't really believe us anymore. Or they don't even listen. Or they don't even ask.

This time however, is different. Last spring, Sophie and I bought a duplex in Montreal. The excellent renters' laws in Quebec (from which Sophie and I have benefited for many years) don't allow us to move in until July 2011. Undeterred by this fact, when we came back up last year after my forced extended paternity leave, we were certain that we would not be returning this year. I even resigned from my position.

However, things have a way of working themselves out. The day after I handed in my resignation, I was standing outside my house while Noah rode his tricycle in circles. I began to scan the horizon, staring at the mountains, just as I have done countless times before. I began to choke up, and soon enough, a single tear welled up in my eyes and rolled down my cheek.

The next day, my boss told me about another job that might open up at the school. It was to be an eight-month contract teaching high-school graduates who were not yet strong enough to enter CEGEP, but nevertheless had an interest in doing so. I went home and had an interesting discussion with Sophie, who too had been harbouring melancholy about our departure.

Then, as we began to tell people at the school and in the village that we would be leaving, they unequivocally responded a generous outpouring of support and love. We were completely taken aback as to just how nice people were acting towards us. It felt really good to feel appreciated, especially because in the day-to-day drudgery of the job, it is very easy to feel un(der)appreciated.

The most telling, and most flattering comment I received, came from the Centre Director at the school. I went into his office and told him that we would not be returning the following year.

"What? but why not?"

"It's not that we don't love it here. We do. We've been missing our families a lot, and we really don't get to see them enough."

"I understand. You are welcome to come back to Kangiqsujuaq anytime. We like you here. You don't bother any Inuit."

"You don't bother any Inuit." The words have been ringing in my head ever since. These words from a community leader who was born in an igloo. It was truly one of the nicest things anyone has ever said to me.

It was these words that really made me want to come back. I applied for the job, and after some confusion (ask me in person, it's a great story), I got it. And so we're back.

My new job is so much easier than teaching the younger kids. Sure, my students are much more capable of progressing through their work, which leaves me with a considerable amount more planning and correction to do. However, so far, my heart hasn't broken as many times as it had teaching young adolescents, and I don't find myself as frustrated with behaviour and cultural differences as I did before.

However, I know at some point I'll have to come to terms with the fact that my job is one of the most overtly assimilationist possible. I've always been uncomfortable with my own position in the colonialist structure that is alive and well in the north. I am well aware of the irony that despite my discomfort, I am overtly trying to provide Inuit students with the skills to succeed in a Southern context. However, I think I'm more comfortable doing that than what I've been doing for the past four years, which is trying to give students the necessary skills to succeed in the North. That was truly scary.

At any rate, I'm happy to be back, and I think I'll enjoy my year... as long as I keep my goal simple: don't bother any Inuit.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

Our bed

For the last four years, we have been sleeping on beds provided by the school board. While they have sufficed, this year, we decided that sleeping on our comfortable bed for six weeks in the summer and sleeping on inferior mattresses for 10 months a year was probably not the best way to stay rested. So, we had our bed sent up on a cargo plane, which, I'm sure, made my carbon footprint for the year bigger than someone who drives a hummer.

Anyway, for those of you who have lived in the North and have dealt with getting cargo into a fly-in community, here's what I remember of my conversation with Air Inuit yesterday, as I was trying to track down my lost queen-size mattress.

I must preface this conversation by saying that this was the third time I called Air Inuit Cargo in Montreal. The first two times, the man who answered said the system was down. The second time I called, he asked me for my name, number, and the waybill number. I gave him the first two, but said I could not provide the latter. He said that it was no problem, and that he would call me back when the system was back up and running. He never called. I called back.

"Air Inuit Cargo."

"Hi, I called yesterday. I'm trying to track down a piece of cargo that never arrived. Is your system up and running?"

"Yes. What's the waybill number."

"I dont have it, but when 'I called you yesterday you said it was no problem."

"I need your waybill number."

"Look, a guy from my school board dropped off my stuff and did not give me the waybill. How do I get it?"

"What community are you in?"



"Wakeham Bay. YWB."

"Okay, you have to call.... let me get the number.... okay... Wakeham Bay. 819-338..."

Of course, I already know the number to the local airport, so I finish his sentence while he's fumbling with some paper "3245. I'll call you right back."

I call the airport. "Hi. It's James Vandenberg. I'm looking for my mattress that didn't arrive with the rest of my cargo. I need the waybill number."

"Just wait." Silence. "Okay, it's 245-31289226."


I call Montreal again. "Air Inuit Cargo, bonjour."

"Hi, I just called. I have the waybill number."

"Okay. Go ahead."


"Okay let me plug that in.... Sir, that's a First Air waybill number. Air Inuit doesn't have your mattress."

"Ummm, I have to tell you that I live in Kangirsujuaq, First Air doesn't fly in here. The plane bringing my bed will be an Air Inuit plane."

"The waybill number is for First Air. It starts with 245. You have to call First Air."

"But First Air won't know where it is unless it's still in Montreal. They don't Fly to Kangirsujuaq."

"It's definitely not in Montreal. But you gave me a First Air waybill number. First Air is another airline company. You have to call them."

"Look, I called the Air Inuit agent here in Kangirsujuaq and asked them for my waybill number. The Air Inuit agent gave me that number."

"But it's the First Air waybill number. So, you..."

"Have to call First Air. Thanks."

So, I hang up and find the number for First Air Cargo. In Kuujjuaq.

I call.

"First Air Cargo, bonjour."

"Hi. I'm looking for a piece of cargo that didn't show up at my house"

"Okay, what village do you live in?"


"Let me transfer you to Air Inuit." Ringing and my muffled laughter.

"Air Inuit Cargo, bonjour." This time, I'm speaking with someone else in Kuujjuaq.

"Hi, I'm looking for a piece of cargo that didn't show up at my house."

"Do you have the waybill number?"

"Uhhh, I have to tell you. The number I'm going to give you is the First Air tracking number."

"That's the one. What happens is that First Air gives you a tracking number and we use the same one through to destination."

"Can someone please tell the guy at Air Inuit Cargo in Montreal that? He doesn't know how it works. I just gave him the number and he told me to call First Air. I did, and they immediately transferred me to you."

"Okay, what's the tracking number?"


"James Vandenberg? You're waiting for a mattress, right?"


"Go to the airport. Your mattress is on the flight today."

"You must be joking."

"No joke. You can sleep well tonight."


The whole thing made me think that people often call the airline "Air Maybe" because of the oft-delayed flights. I'd like to try out a new one. "Air Inuit: You Never Know".

Unfortunately, my sleep was interrupted mid-way through the night by a little boy who wanted to see his mama, which inevitably relegated me to his single bed. Maybe tonight?