Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 23, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with one comment

A Ray of hope

 

Who is the teacher and who is the student?

I ask myself this question frequently, especially when I am living in the north.

Like many of you in my age group, lifelong learning is very important to us. Even though our runway is shorter now, we still have a thirst for knowledge. We would like to believe that if we can keep our minds sharp, that we may postpone and maybe even avoid memory loss, the scourge of so many older people. There are not many days that I don’t discover something new in the north.

Living a life with purpose is also very important, especially after retirement.

This past week provided an abundance of riches. My students had the opportunity to learn from several distinguished educators and motivators. So did I!

A few years ago, a small group of teachers and students from our school went on a class trip to New Zealand. From all accounts it was an amazing trip and the students met other indigenous people, the Maori, who have a rich history, but not without many struggles including racism. I think racism is one of the ugliest words in any language. They met Ray, a Maori, who was one of their guides. It turns out that Ray is a pretty amazing guy. He travels all over the world speaking with indigenous groups who have suffered trauma, oppression, family violence among other topics. He is a soft spoken, but his words are powerful and filled with passion. Last week, Ray spent a whole week in the village talking with students, elders, and community leaders. He is also very musical, and it didn’t take long for Ray and I to connect. Last Thursday after school, we had a little jam session at the Family House. He played some songs from New Zealand. His songs are often about hope and resilience. Thanks to The Beatles and John Denver we were able to sing a few songs together… in two-part harmony.

When Ray came to speak to the students, he was joined by my good friend Mary Arngak. She did a presentation on grief. Sadly, grief is far too common in the north. Before the school year even got started, a high school student took her own life and as many of you know, the reason that I’m back in the north is because a dear friend and mentor, Maureen, died suddenly a month ago. Most of Mary’s talk was in Inuktitut but she also translated as she went along. She started by lighting the Quilliq (pronounced hoo lick). The qulliq is a vessel often carved from soapstone which the Inuit have used for centuries. It was used as a source of light and heat in their igloos. It was used to cook food and to dry wet clothing. Mary often says that the qulliq was the first television when people would sit in the igloo and watch the flames! The fire in the qulliq is fueled by moss. In past times, beluga blubber was used as the oil to light the fire. The moss was gathered in the summer months. From time to time, when moss or beluga ran out, the Inuit had no way to stay warm and many people perished in the brutal cold of winter. Often, the men went out for weeks and even months in search of food and sometimes never returned.

Lighting a qulliq takes time as the moss and flames are slowly moved around the perimeter. Over the course of her presentation, Mary had the qulliq nearly completely lit and then gradually and slowly, she extinguished the flame until there was just a flicker. The flicker represented hope and as long as there’s a flame, there is hope.

I continue to marvel at the Inuit and their resilience.

Late in the week, my class had a chance to meet with a retired educator who has lived in the north for 40 years. He married an Inuk woman long ago and they are both inspirational figures in the village. He also happens to have a Ph.D. in Geography. Even though he isn’t a teacher anymore, make no mistake, Pierre is still an educator. He is the president of a Board who is looking at alternate energy sources for Nunavik. I asked Pierre to come to my class because we have been doing a unit of renewable energy in social studies. Interestingly, his Board is comprised of 4 Inuit and 4 Qallanaq (He has the deciding vote in a tie. Luckily, he is a consensus builder and has never been put in that position). He told the students that plans are in the work for wind power and solar power in many of the 14 communities that comprise Nunavik (Not to be confused with Nunavut). There are even a few villages that have rivers with enough flow to generate hydroelectric energy. This is pretty heady stuff for 12-13 year olds, but my students seem very interested in the topic.

And last but surely not least, there is Andy. She is a woman of Mexican descent. She is a recent university graduate, and her specialty is film making. She is part of a program called Youth Fusion. She will spend the school year with the students of Arsaniq school, sharing her talents. The Inuit are very artistic, and this is a form of art that many of the children find fascinating.

“When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Buddha.

There are worse things than being a lifelong student!

Have a great weekend.

 

Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Tri Mac Toyota!
Advertisement

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 9, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 2 comments

 

Canadian Indigenous Veteran’s commemorative pin

 

My first two weeks back in the north are in the rear-view mirror. Psychologically, it took some time to come to grips that I had left unseasonably warm weather back home to arrive in Kangiqsujuaq in cold winter weather. Even as recently as a few days ago, temperatures in the Maritimes were in the low 20s. It hasn’t gotten really cold up here yet. That will come after Christmas when it will likely get up into the -50s.

As this will definitely be my last stint in the north (famous last words!), I have decided to keep things very simple. I haven’t signed up for internet, cable, or a landline. Things that we take for granted in the south can be a source of frustration in the north where outages and poor reception are common. I live literally 50 paces form the school and go there for my internet fix. Actually, early in the morning, when internet usage is at its lowest, I am able to get a faint internet connection at my apartment.

The previous times (2019, 2020, 2021) that I had come to the north, I arrived with half of the contents of my apartment back home including bedding, pots and pans, baking ingredients etc. Because my decision to come north was so sudden, I decided to take only what was absolutely necessary – mostly clothing and some bulk food items from Costco like rolled oats (for oatmeal) coffee and coffee pods. Coffee is very expensive to purchase in the north. Before arriving, I sent out a message to my colleagues on a group chat asking for a few basic items for the kitchen and a bit of bedding. (I took my own sheets). My kitchen is embarrassingly spartan. I have one knife, one fork, one spoon, two dinner plates, two dessert plates, two bowls, one coffee cup, two pots and a frying pan, a spatula, a can opener, one good chef’s knife, a wooden spoon and two measuring cups for making my oatmeal. And that, my friends, is it. What I have discovered that if you are not doing a lot of entertaining, this is all a person really needs. Doing the dishes in the evening is like a scene out of Groundhog Day.

I have invited my colleagues over for a potluck lunch on Remembrance Day. I have instructed them to bring their own knife, fork, and plate, or else they will be eating lunch…with their hands… off a napkin!

It’s all still a bit of a blur. For several days, I kept shaking my head, realizing that I was actually back in the north but after two weeks, I feel more settled. If there is such a thing as a moment when you know for sure that you’re back in the north, it happened last Friday. It was at the end of a Professional Development Day when word spread that the beluga whales were in the harbour. They come twice a year, and this is a very exciting time in the village as beluga is a prized food source for the Inuit. I walked down to the pier on Wakeham Bay. Most of the excitement was over for the day but I did notice the head of a beluga sitting on the shoreline. A young lad was slicing off pieces of the skin, called muktuk. In previous years I had eaten beluga raw, frozen and in many other ways but not muktuk. He offered me a slice and, of course, I accepted. After eating the brain of a Canada Goose and the eyeballs of a ptarmagin (a bird) in previous stints in the north, I was not going to be deterred by a small piece of beluga flesh. It is supposed to be a great source of nutrition. It was a bit chewy and didn’t have a distinctive taste, but it was not at all unpleasant. I asked the young boy if muktuk might make my hair grow back as I removed my toque! He gave me a big smile.

I wondered how I would pass the long winter evenings without television or internet. YouTube solved part of my problem. I purchased their premium package for $15 a month (I won’t tell you what internet, cable, and a landline cost) and am able to download movies, television shows and music. Even without an internet connection, I can entertain myself at home. Of course, I love to read so I’m not terribly worried that boredom will set in.

I plan to be home for Christmas and I’m trying to set up a book launch somewhere on December 23rd. My 7th book goes into print next week.

Here’s a little history lesson for you on the eve of Remembrance Day.

Many people are unaware of the contribution indigenous people made during the two World Wars and other global conflicts. Over 12,000 Indigenous soldiers volunteered to fight on the front lines in every major battle Canada has ever been involved in. Yes. Volunteered. You see, they weren’t conscripted like other Canadians because they were not recognized as Canadian citizens and did not have the right to vote. Many volunteered to fight despite the challenges they faced including racism. They fought with courage and distinction. It took decades before Canada officially recognized the efforts of Indigenous veterans and we now celebrate National Indigenous Veteran’s Day. (It was yesterday, November 8th.)

The commemorative pin that you see in the photo above was commissioned by the Royal Canadian Legion. The pin presents the Legion poppy on the centre of a dreamcatcher, acknowledging the efforts and sacrifices of veterans from all Indigenous communities.

On Friday, when you pause to remember our fallen soldiers and relatives, please remember the contribution that our Indigenous people made to keep our country free.

“At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

We will remember them.” Laurence Binyon

Lest we forget.

Have a great weekend.

Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Highland Hearing Clinic
Advertisement

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom (And Whimsy)

Posted on November 2, 2022 under Wednesday’s Words of Wisdom with 5 comments

Sealift – The lifeline ot the North

 

Life is full of surprises. None of us know what’s around the next bend in the road of life. It’s unpredictable. There are no certainties other than death, taxes and a lineup at Tim Horton’s at breakfast hour.

Two and a half weeks ago, I was living a pretty laid-back existence. After a summer of overeating and overdrinking, I was back in a nice groove. I was substitute teaching a few days a week and the rest of my days were spent walking, reading, and watching far too much sports and Netflix shows. Have you ever wondered how we existed before Netflix?

On Saturday, October 15th, I received a call that once again changed the trajectory of my life.

First, a backgrounder. In November of 2019, I arrived in Kangiqsujuaq, Northern Quebec to teach school. I had recently suffered some loss, so I wasn’t in the best frame of mind when I stepped off the plane on a dark and cold November evening. I hadn’t taught school in over forty years, there was no curriculum or textbooks to speak of, and I was inheriting a class of students with multiple challenges. It only took me 24 hours to realize that I was in way in over my head.

The morning after I arrived, I went to the school early. I would soon discover that there were two other early birds: Ben and Maureen. Maureen, a woman in her fifties, was a ball of fire. Even at an early hour in the day, she was energetic. She was also very cheerful. I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer but after a few days, I realized that Maureen would be my lifeline. Similar to when my good friend, Charlene dragged me across the finish line (literally) at the Boston Marathon in 2011, Maureen took me by the hand and helped me get through one day at a time. She was my rock and I’m quite certain that without her enormous support and guidance, I probably would not have come back after Christmas.

On Saturday, October 15th, Maureen passed away very suddenly. I almost decided on the spot that I would go back up north and take over Maureen’s class until the end of the school year in May. Before I had a chance to change my mind, I made a commitment and flew up on October 24th.

Not only was I going to take over Maureen’s class, but I was also going to be living in her apartment, a stone’s throw away from the school.

There is no way to compare the two experiences of arriving here three years ago and coming back now. I know exactly what to expect. I understand the north with all of its challenges and idiosyncrasies. My expectations are realistic. There is a comfort level that comes with experience. I’m not going to suggest that my assignment will be easy, but I have already been through the steepest of learning curves. I can almost call myself a veteran.

I will keep you posted when I’m able and when there’s a good internet connection!

Have a great weekend.

P.S. My 7th book is just about ready to go to the printer. I plan to be home for Christmas, but I don’t think a book launch is going to be possible. I will be selling books off my website and at the 5 to $1.00 in Antigonish.

Enjoy this? Visit the rest of my website to enjoy more of my work or buy my books!
Tri Mac Toyota!
Advertisement

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.