Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 27, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

A splendid Saturday in Kangiqsujuaq

 

It seems like every week is eventful up in the north. No two weeks are remotely (!) similar except for consistently cold temperatures. There isn’t the fascination with weather here the way there is back home. Weather in not fodder for the media to spin every day. You never hear dire warnings about the “storm of the century” or weather bombs. It’s winter. Plain and simple. Cold, sunny days. So far, we haven’t had much snow. It looks like Mother Nature decided to give our share to St. John’s Newfoundland.

The focal point of last week was the visit of two accomplished athletes. Jordin Tootoo is the first Inuit to play hockey in the NHL. Clara Hughes is easily Canada’s greatest Olympian and the only athlete from any country to win multiple medals in both Summer (cycling) and Winter (speedskating) Olympic Games. There was a presentation (mainly by Jordin) at the school. Hundreds of people from the community came together with our students to hear about Jordin’s remarkable journey from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Nashville.

Jordin spoke at length about the challenges of growing up in the north – substance abuse (he is a recovering alcoholic) and suicide (his brother, Terrence committed suicide). He also spoke of resilience, something indigenous people are known to possess in abundance. He talked  about his strong attachment to the land, something that has helped him in his recovery.

Even though Jordin’s talk was quite heavy, there were moments of levity as well. He claims that he was the first Inuk to score a goal in an igloo. Actually, it was The Igloo, the former home of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Jordin scored a goal on none other than Marc- Andre Fleury.

I had a chance to have two brief chats with Clara Hughes, once at the presentation and the other at the opening of a new family wellness center later that day. She has been a strong voice for mental health in Canada. I asked her what she was up to these days. She spends a lot of time hiking in the mountains in Canmore, Alberta. She told me she hiked 6,000 kilometers last year. If my calculator is working properly, that’s an average of 16 kilometers a day… every day of the year. I guess if you’re one of the greatest Olympians of all time, pushing yourself is just normal.

In one of my first posts upon arriving in Kangiqsujuaq I mentioned that school is only closed when the furnace breaks or when there’s a polar bear sighting. Last week, we had both within a 24- hour time span. Last Thursday afternoon, a polar bear was spotted on Wakem Bay which is quite close to the school. A local hunter went out and killed the bear as it posed a threat to the community. The meat was shared. Apparently, it is quite fatty but delicious. I suspect that if I was eaten by a polar bear, he would say the same thing!

On Friday afternoon, as I was preparing for my last class of the week, an announcement came over the PA system that the school was being closed immediately because the furnace had conked out. A year ago, in Montreal, 35 students and 8 adults were hospitalized due to a faulty heating system. I have never seen a school empty so quickly. I wondered if it was the threat of carbon monoxide or the fact that it was Friday afternoon. I suspect it was a little bit of both.

In truth, school has been cancelled a few times because of weather when there were blizzard conditions and extremely cold temperatures (near -50).

Last week, I was interviewed for a podcast. Mise, a young man from Montreal working for Y4Y Quebec, a voice for youth in the province, was in the village working with a young Inuk man, Nigel Adams. Nigel is quickly gaining a reputation across Canada’s north as a new voice for indigenous youth. His brother, Robert, was murdered a few years ago and he has seen northern villages suffer the scourges of substance abuse, family violence and suicide. These two young men are trying to arrange a youth forum in Kangiqsujuaq in March. They were interested in getting some perspectives from local people and from individuals from the south. Nigel has strongly held views on colonialism and residential schools which is not surprising. It was a fascinating exchange of ideas. I agreed to work with them on the forum suggesting I could offer a music component to the event. (I am currently teaching three of my students how to play guitar).

Have a great week.

P.S. Some of you oldtimers will remember Tommy Hunter. He used to sign off his television show with the following – “We’ll see you next week, the good Lord willin.” Well, the “good Lord willin”, I have decided to tackle a second year of teaching in Kangiqsujuaq. Our principal has asked us for our intentions for the next school year. There are still many days when I have serious doubts about whether I can do this work. The mental toughness of people like Jordin Tootoo, Clara Hughes and Nigel Adams inspires me.

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 20, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet

How the cookie crumbles

 

I grew up in a large Catholic family in small town Nova Scotia. As youngsters, we feared God, but we feared the nuns who taught us far more than the Creator. Not only did they try and pound some knowledge into our questionable malleable brains with the three R’s, but they also provided spiritual guidance. We attended a Catholic school and religion was a core subject. The Sisters prepared us for the sacraments. If our attention wandered even a little bit, we might get a short, sharp rap on the knuckles with a ruler.

Why, in the dead of a northern winter, where the temperature rarely dips below -35 (maybe I’ve finally found the spot where “hell freezes over”!) would I be pondering the sacraments?

This is complex so bear with me. The sacrament of confession is a complicated piece of work especially when you are a youngster. Rather than try and explain it, for your reading pleasure, here is a story I wrote in 2013 about preparing for my first confession. https://www.week45.com/i-confess-2/. Obviously, some of the material is dated. There is a reference to Lance Armstrong .Cheating in sports has always been in vogue.

I was standing in the kitchen of my apartment here in Kangiqsujuaq the other day staring aimlessly at the cupboards. I’m not sure if I would consider this a spiritual moment or not but I was having an “examination of conscience” of sorts. In the Catholic tradition, before confessing your sins to a priest inside a dark confessional box, you were expected to examine your conscience and ask yourself some heavy- duty questions about how you may have offended God since your last confession. Now, truth be told, I wasn’t thinking about going to confession. I was wracking my brain trying to figure out how I could be a better teacher.

I won’t lie. Lying is a sin and I would have to confess this. I’m finding teaching very difficult especially after a 40-year hiatus. As I stood there, I thought of all the ways I could improve the classroom experience for my students. My mind suddenly cleared. I opened the cupboard and pulled a bag of Oreo cookies off the shelf. I quickly polished off a row (only one row?) washed down with a glass of ice-cold milk. It suddenly dawned on me that this was the answer to my question. I can be a better teacher by eating Oreo cookies. You won’t find this in any pedagogical journal.

A few weeks ago, I mentioned that I was given a photograph by someone who was a school principal here up north 50 years ago. Three teenage boys from Kangiqsujuaq were attending his school. I vowed to try and track them down. One of them is alive and well. His house is a stone’s throw away from the school. Last Saturday was bitterly cold as I made my way to Charlie’s home. I made some cookies to bring to his family. Regrettably, Charlie was far off in the wilderness at his fishing camp and wouldn’t be returning for a few days. I did, however, have a wonderful chat with his wife who got a great kick out of the picture. She suggested that I call to arrange a visit with Charlie.

You know how shy I am. I asked Charlie’s wife if Charlie might consider taking me ice fishing sometime. “Yes, but you’ll have to dress warmer than that.” At first, I thought she was joking but when she explained that the camp was 80 miles away by skidoo, I started taking her very seriously.

I already look like the Michelin man as I waddle to and from school every day with my new winter wear. Throw in my new goggles and I look like some space alien. How is it possible to dress warmer? “You need another jacket and pants and warmer boots.” I’m standing in front of her. Fully clad, I just about fill the doorway. I ask her about the parka. “Just go and find someone bigger and borrow theirs to go over the top of yours.” Northern logic 101. I’ll let you know how this goes.

Jordan Tootoo, the retired hockey player from Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, is coming to our community this week to speak to our students and people from the village. Jordan’s story is well-known to hockey fans. He was the first Inuit to play in the N.H.L. He was an alcoholic and his brother committed suicide. I am certain that he will deliver a powerful message.

This past week, we had two young women educators from Quebec City visit our school to talk about “project daily active”. This program fosters the notion of getting students and teachers to incorporate more activity into their daily routines for better physical and mental health. I first found this notion amusing and a bit counterintuitive. In the north, students are already very active. I would be interested in a program to try and slow them down. All kidding aside, this was very instructive and helpful. The two women (who had never been north before) commented that the children in our school are far more active than their counterparts down south. This probably has something to do with the absence of cell phones in the school. There is no cell service up here.

If you missed this last Thursday, here’s a true story about a colleague who got locked out of her apartment late at night when the temperature was -50. She wasn’t wearing any winter clothing at the time. https://www.week45.com/thursday-tidbits-209/

Have a great week.

P.S. I’ll be hearing confessions when I come home for Spring break in April!!!

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on January 13, 2020 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

Hats off to balloons

 

“Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?
We could float among the stars together, you and I,
For we can fly, we can fly.”
Up, Up and Away – The 5th. Dimension

I was having a WhatsApp phone conversation with a buddy of mine on the weekend. For some reason unbeknownst to me, he reads my twice weekly column, something he’s been doing for years. I won’t embarrass him by outing him for this serious lack in judgment. We’ve been friends for well over forty years. Our conversations are easy and usually filled with insults. We have laughed together, lamented, commiserated and even shed a tear together. That’s what friendship is all about. Especially the insults which keep us humble.

I chuckled when he said that I could probably write an entire story on farts and farting. Sometimes I even surprise myself when I write 500 words about absolutely nothing. I guess I’m channeling my inner Jerry Seinfeld. I will not insult your intelligence or spoil your first coffee of the morning by discussing flatulence. Safe to say that it is impolite to fart on an elevator.

Now that I have your curiosity piqued, I want to have a serious discussion about balloons. Some of you probably popped a few on New Year’s Eve at midnight. Balloons are popular at birthdays. A few have been lucky and brave enough to fly in one. Up, up and away.
So, what’s with the picture at the top of the page? The geniuses amongst you will know exactly what that picture is all about.

When I was home for Christmas, I received a beautiful gift of a hat. Yes, that hat. It was made in a northern community decades ago. The colors are beautiful and the craftmanship simply amazing. The problem is that it is a few sizes too big. You may wonder how this is possible as some of you think that I have a swelled head as it is!

I know a bit about knitting. Forty years ago, I had my first of three knee surgeries. All that kneeling and praying on hard wooden floors saying the rosary finally took its toll! Truth be told, it was a hockey injury. During my convalescence, I learned how to knit. I went on a rampage and knitted about 10 lopi sweaters which were all the rage back then. When I screwed up a pattern (knit one, purl one), I would make a mad dash out to Marie MacKenzie’s home in Morristown and magically, she would clean up my mess. I knew enough that the knitted hat that was given to me couldn’t be fixed.

Rather than go to Google, I went and talked with the woman who made my parka. She told me to wash the hat in hot water and then blow up a balloon and sit the hat over the top in order to maintain its shape. My own solution is to go to the drugstore and get some Rogaine and see if I can grow some of my hair back.

So there. Just shy of 600 words about nothing.

Speaking of flatulence, I think I’ll go and listen to Mason Williams’ Classical Gas.

Have a great week.

P.S. If you’re ever bored, you can call me, but not by phone. Facetime, Messenger, WhatsApp and Skype all work reasonably well. The video occasionally works. The audio can be a bit spotty. I’m not lonely by the way, but I’m always happy to chat. If you think my writing is boring, you should hear me on the phone.

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