Wednesday, June 22, 2011


A couple of years ago, there was a nurse who was leaving Wakeham after 10 years of service. One of her Inuit colleagues said to her, "Qallunaat. They leave after they've taken enough." I'm not exactly sure how the nurse looked back on her decade of service, but I'm almost certain that she had never thought of it primarily as an exercise in taking.

I try not to think of the relationship that Kangirsujuaq and I have in terms of give-and-take. I try to think of it as an exchange of service.

Once, a friend of mine told me an interesting story. He was working in an isolated reserve, and by isloated I mean isolated. Each week, he had to travel two days to get to the reserve, work two days, and travel one to get back (I know it doesn't make any sense, something to do with ferries). He asked the chief one day, "You know, if you found some lodging for me, I could stay on the reserve and work five days a w...."

The chief cut him off. "You aren't welcome on my reserve. You are here to provide a service, nothing more. So, you can continue to travel two days in, work two days, and travel one day out each week, thank you very much."

Although this story is not at all indicative of my experience in Kangirsujuaq, I have kept it in the back of my mind as an angle through which I see the qallunaat teacher or other professional experience in the North. If I see it as an exchange of service for money, then I don't have to come to terms with what I have actually taken out of this place compared to the insignificant amount I have put back in. But now, because I like torturing myself, I'm going to go through this process anyway.

I have taken a great deal out of Kangirsujuaq. Sure, Kangirsujuaq provided me with a salary substantial enough to save myself from near financial ruin and get many of the material things I wanted, but that's not what I'm talking about. It was Kangirsujuaq that provided me with a loving relationship with a beautiful woman. I'll never forget those first few weeks Sophie and I spent together walking on the tundra and talking, and well... Kangirsujuaq also provided me with two amazing children (actually, I think one of them was made in Quaqtaq, but that's just splitting hairs). I hope I can also take some other long-term relationships with the friends I have made here. Indeed, it appears that not matter how much I gave or even could have given to Kangirsujuaq, it has paid me back a thousand-fold.

Yes Kangirsujuaq, I have taken enough. Thank you so much for all you have given me. I hope someday I can come back, even if just to visit, so I can take a little bit more.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Thank you

What can I write in my penultimate post? Today, I've been busy cleaning the house and packing the last couple of things. Mostly, I've been trying to keep myself occupied to stop me from thinking about what is happening. Every once in a while, a rush of emotion comes over me and I have to pause from cleaning the walls to breathe deeply and take pause, before being able to continue on.

I would like to reflect on some of the things I will miss about living here. I will miss the country food. I will miss my former students, colleagues, and friends. I will miss the sense of community that comes with living in a small, isolated village, even if I am largely disconnected from the community itself. I will miss the slow pace of life and my one-minute commute. I will miss hearing Inuttitut. Mostly, I will miss the many people who have welcomed me and my family into their community, if only for a short time.

Finally, I will miss writing something interesting enough for at least a couple dozen people to read. I feel like I have been extremely lucky to have had the chance to say goodbye like this over the past few weeks. About a month ago I realized that there have been five long-term teachers who have left Kangirsujuaq since I arrived. Sophie and I will make seven. Over the course of those five years, not one of the other five people left at the end of the year. Some departed in the midst of depression and sickness, while others left to have children mid-year and ave yet to return. Most of them never got to say a proper goodbye to the place they loved so much. I'm sure in some way, it still haunts them. By contrast, the past month has been like a farewell tour for me that will, at least I hope, bring some closure to my northern sojourn.

Thank you for sharing in my experience for the past five years. I'll miss you too.

Fifth Year

This year, I had the best job at the KSB. Teaching secondary 6 afforded me the opportunity to wake up in the morning and actually want to go to work. I'm not talking about tolerating work, or even accepting it. I wanted to go to work.

The task seemed simple enough. Take KSB graduates who were not strong enough to get into college and give them the skills to succeed in post-secondary education. At first, it seemed like the quintessential colonialist position. I was to get these kids ready for assimilation into the most Western of institutions: post secondary education. It didn't take me long to accept my mission openly, for at the very least, I wasn't trying to ready young Inuit for life in the North like I had been naively attempting to do for the past four years. This year, I didn't have to pretend.

My students were fantastic; that is, the ones who stuck it out. Over the course of the year, I had 21 different students enrolled in secondary 6. Only 8 finished. But they're all going to college next year. I hope I did my part to give them the tools to last more than a couple of weeks. I guess only time will tell.

Monday, June 20, 2011

The F Word

Last weekend was beautiful. The sun was out, it was warm enough to wear only a sweater, and there was no wind. On Saturday, we went for a picnic about 5 km from the village with our neighbours who then fed us a steak dinner later that evening.

On Sunday, we didn't do much, but at 7:30 last night, Noah asked me, "Daddy, can we go up the little mountain and see the big inukshuk?"

Just like that, my son wanted to go climb a mountain. So we set out quickly, and a few minutes later we were basking in the beauty of Kangirsujuaq. Thankfully, Sophie brought her camera to capture the magic.

This morning, when I awoke, I wasn't surprised by what I saw. I had checked the forecast, and knew that the beautiful weather we had this weekend was bound to be finished. In a word, it was foggy.

Around these parts, "fog" has become more vulgar than its four-letter counterpart. Among travelers in Nunavik, it is the most vile concept ever hurdled upon mankind. Fog wreaks havoc on people's lives. It separates families, and it torments even the most stoic of migrants. Flights cannot get in or out. When the fog rolls in over Kangiqsujuaq, it feels like mother nature has spread her blanket of isolation over a place that has only just recently been opened up to rapid travel by technological progress.

I once asked a nurse what would happen if there was someone who really needed to get out of the village with a medical emergency, like a heart attack or a ski-doo accident. I had expected her to tell me something about a helicopter or special plane, but she just said, "Well, that person could die."

Last year, not one but two babies were born in Kangiqsujuaq because it was too foggy to get the mothers to Kuujjuaq in time. Most recently, this morning the search for three missing hunters from Salluit had to be postponed due to fog. Yes, the f-word can be a very serious thing indeed.

And routine. Personally, I've been delayed so many times that I really have lost count. I've contemplated starting a semi-fictional blog called "stuck" to try to share the feelings of stress and helplessness that the f-word brings out of even the strongest of people. However, my attempts at capturing the frustration always implode, and the blog just sits there like the fog, waiting for something to happen.

Let me give you an example. It was December 16th, 2009. Sophie had gone down to Montreal by herself a few days earlier to rest her tired, pregnant body while I stayed with Noah in Kangiqsujuaq. The day after she left, the fog rolled in. And like that quiet uncle who comes to your parents house at Christmas, eats, watches television, and overstays his welcome, it didn't leave for another six days. No flights came in or out of Kangiqsujuaq.

The fog teased us. It would open up just a little, and we could hear the planes trying to cut their way through the shroud of condensation en route to and from Salluit, but to no avail. We were called out with our luggage onto the street so many times that I lost count and stopped caring. There were fights between teachers and one even threatened to stay here over the holidays. At least that way, he could feel like he was in control.

In the midst of the fog-induced chaos, there was a little boy who missed his mama. He had been promised that he would see her in no more than three days. But those three days came and went, as did another three days. Have you ever tried to explain the logistics of air travel and inclement weather to a two-and-a-half year old boy? Amazingly, Noah held it together. Once, he was frustrated with my attempts to reason with him and he just couldn't hold it in anymore. Lip trembling, eyes watery, he stammered, "Where's mam..." Sensing the lost look on my face, it almost seemed like he knew it was no use, as he stopped short, buried his face into my chest and sighed deeply.

On the fourth and final day of our delay, we were at the airport. I asked Pierre, a teacher of 20 years in Kangirsujuaq, what the longest he had ever been stranded had been.

"Me?" he replied. "10 days. But I remember talking to another teacher when I first arrived. He had been here for 20 years before me, a time when there was no airport. Back then, the flight only came once a week, and it landed on the bay. Every time the plane attempted to land, it was too windy, and the waves were too big. He was stuck here the whole summer."

Although Pierre's story did little to comfort a group of stranded travelers who were trying to get to their destinations in time to get at least the leftovers from Christmas dinner (we actually arrived on the 22nd, but it felt like we were going to miss it), it did say a lot to me about how much the north has changed in the past half-century. I might complain when there's no milk in the village for a couple of weeks or no eggs for a month. However, life is pretty comfortable up here compared to the way is was just a couple of short decades ago.

This time, it doesn't matter to me whether the f-word rolls in on Wednesday. Don't get me wrong, I would like to spare myself the stress of not knowing when we are going to leave. However, it might be evident to you from my daily doses of melancholy that it's not exactly like I want to get the "f" out of here or anything.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Fourth Year

On August 1st, 2009, Sophie and I came back for a fourth year. We had come up a couple of weeks early to go to Pingualuit National Park. Pingualuit is an almost perfectly circular crater made when a meteorite crashed into the Canadian shield some 10 million odd years ago.

The mountains created by the impact are the only major topographical feature in an otherwise flat plateau that dominates the Ungava Peninsula. I can only imagine the first time an inuk, probably hunting caribou, climbed up to the top of these mountains to see what was on the other side. This is what he would have seen:

In 2009, the park was fully operational, and we flew in for a three-day camping trip. The first day was beautiful. We climbed up to the crater and basked in its beauty. The next two days, however, were rainy. One night, it was so rainy and windy that I didn't sleep a wink and actually got out of the tent to check the pegs not once but twice.

As we were getting ready to fly back to Kangirsujuaq, the skies opened up. We were in for a treat.

Actually, the more impressive part of the flight came when we flew in the valley of the Wakeham River as we were approaching Kangirsujuaq. Unfortunately, the battery on the camera died en route from the crater, and we have only our memories of its incredible beauty.

That year, I taught social studies. I was able to take my students on a trip to Qajartalik, an island which is home to Canada's only arctic Dorset-era petroglyphs. There are hundreds of masks carved into the rocks at Qajartalik. We set out by boat on the Hudson Strait on October 1st and had an amazingly beautiful day.

We rode in a Peterhead boat named Qilalougak (beluga). We towed a canoe so some of the guides could go seal hunting.

We had fresh seal for lunch. I was a bit apprehensive at first, but found the heart and the ribs to be delicious.

One of the masks.
What a perfect day.

We arrived home after dark, tired and hungry, but completely content. The next day, I was bed ridden with a migraine headache and nausea. I couldn't even move. I think it may have been a combination of to much sun, not enough water, and camp stove fuel exhaust, but whatever, it was still worth it.

After Christmas, Sophie and I didn't return right away. Sophie was due to have Evie on the 17th of January, so I took a leave of absence from work until the beginning of April. I had asked for a shorter leave, but the school board suggested that I take a longer one because it would be easier to replace me. I obliged. By the time we had left, they had hired someone. He contacted me, and right from the beginning, I could tell that he was not going to go through with his commitments. I wrote him no less than 30 different emails, trying to allay his fears about everything under the sun. I even spent an hour and a half on the telephone with him on Christmas Eve trying to explain this and that. Sure enough, on January 5th, he was a no show at the airport.

This is one of the biggest differences between teaching in the South and in Nunavik. When you're sick, there is no one to replace you. If you take a paternity leave, there is no one to replace you. If you quit, there is no one to replace you; and if you don't show up for work, there is no one to replace you.

At one point, I wrote my flake of a would-be replacement an email. I'm not sure if he ever read it. In fact, I'm sure he flagged it as spam and went on with his life. I leave the text to you:

You probably have your reasons for backing out, and I'm not going to question them. I just thought that you should know that those students still do not have a teacher.

"There are two types of people in this world: those who do what they
say they are going to do, and then there's everybody else." - Anthony Bourdain.


My students went weeks without a teacher. Just as this began to weigh heavily on my mind and we began to consider coming back early, the school board found Jacob, who came for the last six weeks of my leave and later stayed to fill another position. Since then, he has become a dear friend to all of us. In the end, it turned out to be a good thing that my replacement didn't show up.

We returned in April to finish out the year. When we arrived, we had no intention of coming back. However, I was outside with Noah on our first day back, and I was staring at the horizon that I had come to know so well. A rush of emotion welled up inside me and it was all I could do to not break down. I knew that Kangirsujuaq and I were not quite finished with each other. When we announced that we were moving to Montreal, the outpouring of support for us was so intense and overwhelming that when another opportunity to stay arose, we decided to take it.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

More Goodbyes

Last night, we went to our friend Mary's house for what she called "the last supper" (I wonder who is going to get crucified). Actually, it was also the first at her house, but who is counting.

On the menu was roll-it-yourself sushi, featuring fresh arctic char as the star of the show. I sat at the table and gobbled roll after roll. I think I said "I'm really going to miss this fish," about thirty or forty times last night. I have been stuffing my gullet with country food for the past few weeks, trying to cram in as much as I possibly can before we re-enter the industrial protein chain. Mary and her husband were more than happy to oblige. For the first time in my life, I was also able to eat wild caught eggs.

Lukasi and a group of local hunters had spent the day on the land chasing eider duck, Canada goose, and seagull hens out of their nests in order to steal their brood.

We were able to try each of them. The eider duck egg was mild and rich, as was the goose egg. The most interesting was the seagull egg. I know you all are probably thinking how disgusting (or enticing, depending on your point of view) a McGull egg would be. But these animals do not dine on day-old buns behind the neighbourhood KFC. They eat fish, like you would imagine that something named "seagull" would. The shell was a dark camouflage. The inside was orange and soft-boiled. The yolk was very creamy and tasted of the ocean. With the combination of the texture, the surprising taste, and the temperature (it was cold), a few bites were more than enough. After satiating ourselves on fish and eggs, we walked home and I reflected on this and other dining experiences we've had over the past five years.

I remember once Sophie and Noah were in Montreal and I was here. The school's Centre Director came up to me just before lunch and asked me who was cooking for me. I motioned to myself, and he immediately insisted that I go home with him for lunch. "We don't want you to starve now," he said, matter of factly. Obediently, I followed.

We arrived to a spread of beluga muktuk (skin and fat) and arctic char. I sat down on the floor (the table in his house is covered in stuff and doesn't look like it gets used) with him, his wife, a couple of his grandchildren, and Adamie Inukpuk, who once played Nanook of the North in the movie Kabloonak. I remember thinking, "this is the coolest thing ever." I have had several similarly interesting culinary/cultural experiences over the past five years, and I am truly grateful for having lived each of them.

As much as I like to reflect on northern cuisine, I've spent an equally substantial amount of my time here thinking about what I'm going to eat when I get to Montreal. Near the end of every four-to-six month stint in Kangirsujuaq, my mind begins to wander and inevitably ends up fixating on one thing, and one thing only: Bangkok. I can't wait to go to Bangkok. I know, it's just a food court vendor, but over the past several weeks, I've again developed an obsessive craving for some squid with eggplant.

In Kangirsujuaq, we don't have access to a lot of the things that make city living agreeable. There are no restaurants. The produce comes in intermittently and often arrives in an already inedible and expensive state. They don't carry my type of razor blades at the Co-op Northern doesn't carry razor blades at all. A few weeks ago, I saw that they finally started carrying contact solution. My glasses are currently being held together with a piece of a twist tie because there are no opticians within 1000 km who could supply one of those little screws that holds the arms onto the frames.

But the protein... oh the protein. Fresher fish than you can find at any market. Organic, lean, and socially responsible caribou, fowl that lives outside and actually flies, and the freest of free range eggs.

I am going to miss that fish. I am going to miss that fish. I am going to miss that fish.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Day Care

For the past two years, I have sat on the Board of Directors at the day care. Let me tell you, when the school secretary called me in September 2009 to ask me if I wanted to be nominated, I was touched. However, I never expected that being on the day care committee would be such a tough gig.

The day care itself is a Southern concept, just like the school or the fire hall. After moving into villages and starting the 9-5 life, it only made sense for the Inuit villages to start day cares. Unlike the school, however, the day care is run and staffed almost exclusively by Inuit women.

Shortly before I started my two-year term, we had a group of five educators graduate from a CEGEP-level programme in Early Childhood Education, and not a moment too soon. Before that, the educators tried really hard, but most were really not trained well enough to know what to do to keep a group of 13 kids busy. It was often hard for us to send our son there.

After the educators graduated, the day care started to function more smoothly on a day-to-day basis. However, because it's such a small village, and such a difficult job, there are only just enough qualified educators to cover each of the classrooms. When your kid's educator is not there, they are often taken care of by someone who doesn't know what she is doing. I'm not being condescending or mean here. The replacements are just not trained. So, because I have a view of the day care from my kitchen table, my morning routine includes sitting at the table with baited breath, hoping to see my daughter's educator's car and my son's educator's Honda. When both are there, a smile spreads across my face.

Working as an educator in a day care is an extremely difficult job. If you have an office job, no matter how hard you work, these ladies are working harder. Have you ever taken care of 12 three-year-old kids at once? Would you? Not me, thank you very much. I couldn't take more than two years of looking after a dozen 11-year-olds, and had to move to teaching at the secondary level.

My term on the day care committee has been chock-full of small town drama. In-fighting between staff members, bickering between the staff and parents, and battles between parents themselves. When you are working with people's children, the expectations are high and the emotions are raw. When something happens, there is plenty of complaining and even more passion, and that's understandable. Two years ago, I had several issues with the day care, and that's one of the reasons why I joined the board.

Let me give you and example. At our meeting last week, we re-hired someone who we had previously fired because there was an opening and we realized that the kids needed her back. During the same meeting, we banned a parent from entering the day care for his transgressions. Both of these people had grown angry because of something that had happened to their child, and ultimately had to pay a hefty price for it.

As I was sitting there in the meeting, I realized that I was the only non-Inuk in the room (there are actually two qallunaat on the board but my colleague had to leave early). I was sitting there with five Inuit ladies. I scanned their faces and realized that three of these five women had buried their full-grown children during my 5-year tenure in Kangiqsujuaq. One of them had been beaten to death, another was killed by a drunk driver, and yet another committed suicide. On top of that, one had just buried her one-year-old grandson who died of poisoning. What is truly telling is that their experiences are not the exception, but rather the rule around here. There is enough pain and suffering in these little villages to fill a town ten times their size with paralyzing grief.

I couldn't imagine the pain that these women must have suffered and were in the midst of suffering. Yet amazingly, they continue to function and work hard to ensure the safety and happiness of the village's children.

Over the weekend, the drama with the parent we suspended had continued, so when I heard that we were going to have another meeting last night, I wasn't surprised. I was, however taken aback to discover upon arrival that all of the staff and board were throwing my family and I a going-away party. Each one of them took turns thanking us and telling us how much they love our kids.

Over the past few weeks, I've been thinking that one of the things I won't miss about Kangirsujuaq would be the day care. I stand corrected. I won't miss the drama, but I will miss the people.

Sunday, June 12, 2011


Inuit leader, philosopher, and former politician Zeebedee Nungak once wrote in his excellent tongue-in-cheek article "Qallunology: The Inuit Study of White People" that "qallunaat were born to be nicknamed when they are living among Inuit". The practice originates from a time when there were few qallunaat here, and virtually no Inuit spoke English.

A few days ago, I got my nickname. I was sitting in the staff room with several Inuit teachers and another qallunaaq, and everyone was speaking in Inuttitut. As usual, I was sitting there with no idea what was going on. When this happens, I just sit there and passively listen, completely lost, soaking up every last minute of something that I won't get to experience in 10 short days. At some point, I clued in that the younger teachers were asking an elder how to say my colleague Jacob's name in Inuttitut. Apparently, it's Jakupusi. Then, they moved on to me. I've heard "Jaimisi" so many times that I knew what was coming. However, the elder didn't say "Jaimisi", she said "Kayuapik". Then I realised what was happening. She was giving Jacob and I nicknames.

Jacob had clued in too. "How do you decide on a nickname?"

"Well, in the old days Inuit couldn't say qallunaat names, so we made up a name by looking at their faces. I remember there was this old missionary that everyone used to call "umigaaalaq" (forgive/correct me if I'm wrong), because he had a huge beard."

In "Qallunology," Nungak adds that "it was not mere inability to pronounce English or French names, which gave rise to this custom. There was an attitude of ‘During your time in my space and environment, I will call you as I see you’ about it."

"So, what's mine again?" I asked

"Kayuapik," the elder replied.

"What does that mean?"

"Ummm.... brown." Later, I found out it actually means "little brown". Wonderful.

"So, does everyone have a nickname?"

"No, we don't do it that much anymore. We can say all of your names now."

I had read "Qallunaology" several times before that, so I knew very well that this practice was in the process of dying out. Nungak writes, " [Qallunaat] are now so common in such great numbers all over Inuit Nunangat that they have ceased to be the novelty they once were. Besides, the Qallunaat turnover rate is such that it is literally impossible to get a ‘feel in the bones’ handle on a subject sufficient to rate him or her with a decent atinnguaq [nickname]."

It only took five years for me to get my atinnguaq; just in time for me to become another statistic in the turnover rate.

Friday, June 10, 2011

The Red House Dance Club

On Thursday, we had a garage sale.

We didn't make signs or take out an ad in the paper (actually, I made signs, but Sophie just laughed at me. She was right). Rather, the day before and the day of the garage sale, I simply called the local radio station, known simply as the FM.

Ever since complaining that white people don't speak enough Inuttitut, I've thrown off my shroud of shame, and have been flaunting my pathetic vocabulary just to make people smile. Now, I'm repeating it to impress you (actually, it's totally the only reason I wrote this whole post). I called the FM and announced the garage sale. "Ullumi, garage salelangnaju, illu aupartuk iliniatitsiji Sophielu Jaimisilu, 4:00-6:00. Nakurmiik. Bring your money!"

Almost immediately, I got a call from the school secretary telling me how well I did. "You sounded just like a missionary!" He told me. I was touched. You see, years ago, when the missionaries began coming to Kangiqsujuaq, they all learned how to speak Inuttitut. They had no choice.

Well, let me tell you, if you want to throw a party in Kangiqsujuaq, just announce it on the FM. At 4:00 sharp, the red house was packed. It was seriously just like a dance club. We actually had to turn sideways and put our arms over our heads just to get from place to place. As the bartender, I didn't even have a chance to understand what was happening.

I felt like a bookie at the Kentucky Derby who was giving great odds. Everything was really cheap. Some things were so cheap that people actually giggled and made big eyes at each other.

At one point, an elder was eyeing up a glass bowl. Sophie had actually bought it at her daughter's garage sale five years ago before she moved to Montreal. She insisted that the elder take it for free. At another point, a woman tried to buy a little vase with flowers on it and a little poem about friendship that her husband gave me three years ago for my birthday. I also had to let it go for nothing. Only in a small village.

Anyway, the point wasn't to make money. It was to get rid of our stuff, and get rid of it we did. Then, all of a sudden and altogether too soon, it was over and our house was empty. I felt like a prostitute who had just had sex with a rich, teenage boy (whoah, slow down... hey... oh... that's it? Where are you going? Where did all of this money come from?). In twenty short minutes, a Sophie-James-Noah-Evies's-stuff-diaspora had spread throughout the village. Hopefully, people will think of us from time to time when using our old forks, binoculars, and unopened cans of shaving foam. If not, at least our stuff didn't end up in the dump.

Goldilocks and the Three Bears

This morning, Noah woke up screaming from a nightmare. I went in to comfort him, and had the bright idea to tell him a story. I thought that "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" would be a good one, so I started in.

You see, Sophie and I read to Noah all the time. However, we don't ever just tell him stories. We had discussed this fact after speaking to our neighbour, an Inuk, who grew up in a home where the parents' stories were a large part of the entertainment in the home. In an era like ours in which early childhood education is becoming more and more scientific (or at least that's what scientists would have us believe) books reign supreme. I guess I figured that Noah was going to miss out on something, so I told him a classic.

Let me tell you, I was rusty. Here's my recollection of how it went (with my simultaneous thought process in parentheses):

"Noah, do you know the story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears?"

He looked at me like I had a golf ball-sized tumour growing out of my forehead.

Goldilocks was walking in the forest (you know Noah, with trees? Those things on TV?) one day and she got lost (is that how this thing starts?). Goldilocks was a little girl with beautiful blonde curly hair, and she didn't listen to her mama, who said "don't go into the forest" (shit, that's Little Red Riding Hood). So, she was walking through the forest and she got lost.

She came upon this house, and she could smell oatmeal. She was so tired and hungry from wandering around all night (was she wandering around all night? Oh boy, am I in trouble). She smelled the oatmeal and followed her nose (Dear God, that's so lame). She went into the house and saw three bowls of oatmeal (where the hell are the bears anyway? Who leaves hot oatmeal on the table?).

She sat down and tried papa bear's bowl. It was too hot. She tried mama bear's bowl, and it was too cold. She tried baby bear's bowl and it was just right. She ate the whoooooolllllle bowl. (Hit the panic button. How the &%$@ does this end? Does she get eaten? I'm not telling him that. That's ridiculous. I know she goes to sleep. Uuggghh, this is going to get worse before it gets better.)

Then she realized that she was really tired and climbed up the stairs and went to bed. The end! (I'm such a failure. Where the hell is google when you need it? Why can't they just wire it into my brain like in Feed? Then I wouldn't have to remember anything. I'm googling "Goldilocks and the Three Bears" later.)

I looked at Noah, he laughed at me. He had never heard the story before, but he knew. Oh he knew his old man %&$#ed that one up.

Anyone else? What happens?

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Clean Shaven

Today, I shaved off my beard. Before I moved up here, I almost never wore a beard. I did all sorts of ridiculous stuff with my facial hair, but I never rocked the full beard. In my first year in Nunavik, I definitely had a little Farley Mowat/Grizzly Adams mentality going on, so I let it go. Plus, it's really freaking cold here. It snowed about four inches today. Anyway, over the years, my beard has become part of my identity.

The last time I shaved off my beard was in January. I set two feet outside to go for a run in the -30 winter before deciding that it would not come off again before I left Kangirsujuaq. However, my desire to pack the clippers today got the best of me, and I found myself clean shaven at 7:55 p.m.

Not that any of this really matters, but it did get me thinking about how different I am than I was when I arrived. I know that the changes go a lot deeper than the follicles of my facial hair, but I can't help but think that a more than significant part of me will stay here with my shavings when I go.

It's not that I want to pine over the North forever. I want to be able to get on with other things. However, I don't want to leave behind everything that I made here for myself. I guess it's a good thing that the most important things I made living in Kangirsujuaq were a couple of kids and a loving relationship with their mother. I guess I just hope that some of the other relationships that I've made will endure the distance as well.

People say they will visit, and I say I will stay in touch, but there is a part of me that wonders if Kangiqsujuaq and I will cut off our ties to each other the way I cut off my beard today. I hope not.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Our First Last Year: The Best of Times and the Worst of Times

Our third year was the year we began playing the game of cat and mouse which has taken over my consciousness and has had me spilling my thoughts onto the page for the last month. Our third year was supposed to be our final stint in the North. I had forgone my permanent position as the grade 7 teacher to move into the secondary side of the school and do a six-month replacement for a teacher who was on maternity leave. Then, that was supposed to be it. We were done. It was a done deal. We told all of our friends that we would be moving back to Montreal.

Of course, after leaving in March, I came back to replace another pregnant teacher in May to finish out the year, and then replaced her all the next year and then took another job this year, but that's beside the point. Our Northern journey was coming to an end, and what a year we had to end it.

2008-2009 provided the best and the worst that the North has to offer. In a school that has ample staff and available replacements, a principal would never let a permanent teacher take a replacement contract for part of the year. They could just as easily find someone to fill in the holes. Being a principal here, as far as I can tell, is not unlike sticking your fingers in the dike to plug the holes as they appear, and using every available extremity to delay the inevitable flood of discontented parents and students who understandably are confused as to why there is no teacher for such and such a class.

That year also humbled me as a teacher. I remember painstakingly trying to help a student to simple arithmetic in a secondary 3 Math class only to look up and see that the rest of the students, who were much quicker than the one I to whom I was devoting all that attention were asleep; tired of waiting for me to get to the point. All of these boys have since dropped out, no doubt in part due to having had their patience tested for so many years. It was at that point that I began to really appreciate how teachers' will to leave no one behind often pulls everyone down and drill holes in the hull of an already sinking ship. Since then, I've tried to raise the bar and have the students grab it instead of lowering it so the weakest can hurdle it while the strong students couldn't be bothered to leave the starting blocks.

On the plus side, another teacher and I organized a graduation trip to Rome and Athens without really thinking about it. We asked for money, and it came (one-third of it came six months after we had taken the trip, but that's splitting hairs, right). We asked to go into the Vatican Vaults, and they let us in. I was supposed to go on a leave of absence on the day I left Wakeham to go on the trip and I asked to get paid. To my utter surprise, the school board paid me to go to Europe.

The North also offered up enough money for Sophie and I to use the break between my contracts to go to Cuba and cycle around for a month. And what a month. But even during our tropical sojourn to Cuba, we felt a little sub-arctic village pulling us back. Mid-way through the trip, we called our neighbours only to find out that our favourite student had killed himself. I know we're not supposed to have favourites, but anyone who taught that boy knows what I'm talking about.

To be brutally honest with you, the part that I found most frustrating was that I wasn't here when it happened. I'm not so naive as to think I could, or better yet should, have done something to stop it from happening. My motives were much more selfish than that. I wanted to be here for my own grief, for my personal closure... and to not miss it. I needn't have worried. We arrived back here only to have another student take her own life a couple of weeks later.

Finally, upon coming back to Nunavik, Sophie became pregnant with Evie. I mean it. Upon arrival in the North, Sophie became pregnant. I'm not sure if there's something in the water here...

What a year. No wonder we decided to come back for more.

Monday, June 06, 2011


I packed my cross-country skis today. Up until last week, I thought this year was the worst ski season ever. We hadn't really had any snow since February, and the bay was glare ice. I had been able to run across it a couple of times this year, but found it too icy to ski for more than a few minutes. Last Sunday, Sophie asked me if she could pack the skis. I said that I wanted to go one more time.

The next morning, I took them out and skied down to the bay. I had to dodge the bare patches of land on the way down, but when I arrived, I found the best ski conditions I've ever had. I skied all the way across the bay and back, a distance of 10km round-trip. It took less than an hour. I went again on Wednesday, and skated all the way there and back. 47 minutes. And again on Friday, 44. I'm not exactly and expert skier, so I have no idea if that's any good. Let's see... google 10km cross-country ski race times... In the 2006 White Pine Stampede 10km I would have been about 60th. If I was 45 years old, I would have been close to the lead in my age group. Which is to say, not better than mediocre, but it was fantastic for me. Once, one of my iPod earbuds fell out, so I started gliding, took off a glove, put the earbud back in, put my glove back on, and I was STILL GLIDING. However the sun had been beating down on the sea ice all week, so it wouldn't be long before there were puddles on top of the ice, thus rendering skiing impossible. I knew my time was limited.

On Saturday night, I was baking bread (I know, my life is that interesting. Jealous?). I went into the laundry to get my apron. The closet door was open, so as I was walking by, I pushed it shut and kept walking. One of my ski poles was stuck in the door jamb and the door bounced back.

A sudden pain rushed to my temple as my glasses fell to the floor. I went to touch it and found myself weak in the knees. I fell onto my back and stared up at the stars (I was inside). I remember struggling with all of the concentration the door hadn't knocked out of me, desperate to not lose consciousness. I saw myself get up and dust myself off, but it didn't actually happen; I just laid there on the floor, holding my head. After what seemed like an eternity, I felt the pain rush back to my temple. I couldn't tell if I was bleeding or not, so I stood up to take a look in the mirror. I foresaw a nasty gash and some stitches, but instead just found a measly lump protruding from underneath my eyebrow.

I took it as a sign, and as soon as I found the courage to venture near the closet, I grabbed the poles and put them and the skis away. Well that, and now there are puddles on the bay. At the very least, Kangiqsujuaq saved its best ski conditions for the end.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Cut my finger

Sorry all (seventeen of you). I cut my typing finger. It's not too bad, just painful while typing. Actually, I use four fingers to type, but blogging and reminiscing will have to wait a day or two. It's okay, I was looking for an excuse to take a mini-break. It's hard to be productive every day. I realized that the quality has been going downhill, and I probably need to recharge anyway.