Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 31, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with 2 comments


Thankfully, my goose was cooked!


Every day in the north held a surprise.

In some ways it reminded me of India. Now, there are very few similarities between a country of 1.3 billion people and a village of 900. The climates are polar opposites. The culture, the crowds and the food are worlds apart.

It’s hard to measure warmth when it comes to human connection, but I would rate Kangiqsujuaq and Kanyakumari very high on this index.

The other similarity was the shocking regularity of events and situations that left me shaking my head in disbelief. Honestly, I can’t remember a single day in either part of the world that something unusual didn’t happen.

Last Friday was a perfect example.

May 28th was my last full day in the north. Those of you know me well would not be surprised to learn that I had packed my personal belongings (which will be shipped home and arrive sometime this summer) a few days early, had finished up all my responsibilities at school and had cleaned my apartment (not to Teresa P.D. standards!). I was wondering how I would fill the final hours.

I spent the morning at school wandering aimlessly, chatting with colleagues and saying my farewells. At noontime, I made my way over to the Family House, an amazing facility that provides supports for families in a variety of ways including a safe space when things aren’t going well. The Board of the Family House had invited the team that had prepared and delivered over 100 Christmas meals to those in need last December.

Fittingly, lunch was a wonderful array of country food including ptarmagin, Canada Goose, raw and pan fried arctic char, deep fried bannock and raw vegetables. The President of the Board welcomed and thanked the group. She spoke in Inuktitut which was translated by one of the other Inuit women in attendance. I was deeply honored to be asked to say grace. The Inuit are very spiritual people, and no event starts without a prayer of thanksgiving.

The food was amazing. We were fortunate to have Mary Arngak in attendance. She is the director on Pingualuit Park and the manager of the local museum. She is one of the chief collectors of Inuit stories and is doing her part to conserve the culture and the language. She is warm, gracious, witty and musical. Throughout the meal, she told us story after story about the food we were eating. The Inuit are hunters. For centuries they roamed the frigid north constantly searching for food. Hunting is every bit as important today as it has been over the long timeline of the north. Food is precious. Nothing is wasted and surplus food is stored in the community freezer for any resident who needs meat or fish.

The meal was wonderful. It was still mighty chilly outside but inside, the dining room was filled with warmth and laughter. Much of the meal had to be eaten by hand. I was able to share some culture from India, demonstrating the way people in India eat with their hands.

I cleared the bones off my plate (saved for sled dogs) and was about to pour myself a cup of coffee when Mary looked at me and suggested that I try a delicacy – the brain of a Canada Goose. I knew she wasn’t kidding. I have never been one to shy away from adventure, but I took a few hard gulps. I thought it might be seen as a snub if I didn’t try it. The brain was cut in half. Mary showed me how to extricate the brain from the skull. Yup. I can see that this has a few of you squeamish, possibly revolted but this is what the Inuit have been doing for millennia. NOTHING is wasted. It reminded me of removing escargot from a shell. The taste and texture was very much like a liver pate. Now liver pate is not my absolute favourite food in the world but one that I can consume quite easily. It was surprisingly tasty and apparently very healthy. A friend at the far end of the table jokingly (?!) suggested that I could now legitimately be called a bird brain!

I was rather proud of myself as the laughter died down after this epic performance. Pride turned to grave concern when Mary handed me the head of a ptarmagin (a fowl similar to a partridge back home). I was wondering what ptamagin brain tasted like but I never found out. “Len, you need to eat the eyes of the ptarmagin,” uttered Mary. Mary had a sheepish grin on her face. At first, I hoped (and prayed), that she was joking. Not a chance. There is an art to removing the eyes of a ptamagin, one which I mastered quickly.

Ptarmagin eyes can be eaten raw. I’m guessing that this is an acquired taste. They can be eaten frozen and of course, cooked. Mercifully, the dead bird lying in front of me had spent a few hours in the oven. When was the last time you stared into the eyes of a dead bird? I gently extricated the first eyeball and with cameras fixed on my face, I popped it into my mouth. It was not at all unpleasant. The second was a piece of cake. I posted a picture later that day on Facebook and much of the reaction was predictable. It left many people gagging and revolted. I saw the experience very differently. I felt honored that they would share their food and traditions with a stranger to their land. It was NOT revolting. It was humbling.

When in Rome….

Would I do this again? In a heartbeat. Speaking of heartbeat, I was retelling the experience to a colleague later that same day. He chuckled and told me about his experience eating a chicken heart… a live, beating chicken heart!

After lunch, I stopped by the staffroom one last time. Many of the Inuit teachers were there, anxious for the day to end so that they could go to their camps to hunt and fish. I told them about my lunch. There were gales of laughter. Surprisingly, one of the women had never eaten ptarmagin eyes. She told me that I was more Inuk than she was. I will miss these amazing women. Many of them have children and grandchildren and have very busy and often challenging lives.

Having already cancelled my phone and internet, my last piece of business was to bring my cable receiver back to the Coop and close my cable account. You’ll have to wait for my new book to hear the description of that exchange! Nothing is particularly straight forward.

Just around the corner from the Coop is the home of one of my students. Pound for pound she was, by far, my most difficult student. I had her for the better part of two years and the loss of the few remaining hairs on my head can be traced back to this young woman. In the first year, she routinely upended her desk, threw things at me, and hurled expletives in Inuktitut. It was an uneasy relationship. I’m being charitable. Some of my readers are current or retired teachers. You know what I’m talking about. If you can survive them, they often turn out to be your favourite students.

When I look back on this experience, I think the most important aspects of teaching in the north is showing up for work each day and caring about the kids. Like children everywhere, they need consistency and unconditional love, even when they drive you to the brink.

Year two, I saw gradual improvement in my young charge. Her outbursts all but disappeared. She warmed up to me in the oddest of ways. Most Inuit children are incredibly affectionate. They want to be loved and hugged. I will freely admit, that hearing my name and having a child run up to hug me, will be one of the things that I will cherish most from this experience.

My student always backed into a hug. She never faced me. I would wrap my arms around her. She never wrapped hers around me. Mind you, she would have had difficulty getting her arms around my ever-expanding waistline. All of those coconut cream pies and cookies (and Goose brains !) have added some heft to my belly.

I decided to drop in and see her one last time. Her father is a sweet man and so appreciative of teachers. She was sitting on the couch. After shaking her dad’s hand and exchanging well wishes, I called her over. I wished her well and then asked her for a hug. She faced me with tears welling up in her eyes as we embraced face to face for the first time. And likely the last time. I must admit that , I too, was misty eyed.

And that, my friends, was the highlight of my two years in the north and it came at the 11th hour.

Surprise and mystery.

The north.

Their home and native land.


Have a great week.

P.S. After eating the brain of a Canada Goose and the eyes of a ptarmagin, I wasn’t worried about my flight last Saturday. I reckoned if the plane didn’t show up, I would just fly home on my own!





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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 17, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with one comment

This is how my life felt when I arrived in Kangiqsujuaq


“All things must pass,

None of life’s strings can last,

So, I must be on my way,

And face another day.”

All Things Must Pass – George Harrison

Yes indeed. All things must pass.

Circumstances took me to the north and now reality will bring me back home.

It has been quite the ride. I still shake my head often and wonder what in the hell happened in the past couple of years. I promise that this is the very last time I will use the word surreal in a post, but this word best sums up this latest chapter in my life. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would return to the teaching profession, especially in the Arctic, in a fly-in community. But isn’t this the beauty and wonder of life? We’re never sure what’s around the next bend in the road.

My earliest days in the north were very hard but let’s face it, there are millions of people around the world who understand real hardship. The days were dark and bitterly cold. I was like a fish out of water trying to manufacture lesson plans in the absence of a formal curriculum. I inherited a difficult class, a group that continued to push me to my limits on many days but a group that I will love and cherish.

The school year will end in a few days. In some ways, the past week may have provided more real learning opportunities than all the previous months put together. A colleague from head office told me that this was the time to celebrate a year of hard work with my class.

There are two grade 6 classes in the school, one for students learning English as a second language and the other, French. My counterpart, Pierrick and I have worked together throughout the year. The two groups were considered a bubble under Covid protocols. We did a lot of activities as a group. With the year winding down and year end testing and reporting completed, we decided to put the books aside and have some fun, but fun with a purpose. We did a big cleanup of garbage in the school yard. With all the melting lately, the garbage surfaced. We went to the school kitchen and prepared spaghetti sauce and baked some cakes. We went for walks. We watched movies and we played games. My colleague’s boyfriend is the head nurse at the local clinic. He was able to arrange to have male and female nurses come to the school and talk to our students. We had a session on hygiene and another on puberty.

What did our students learn? Yes, they learned about wellness and their bodies but something far more important. They learned about responsibility (the yard cleanup) and teamwork. They learned about effort and reward. They really enjoyed the spaghetti dinner that they had helped to prepare. As is typical, we cooked way too much spaghetti and along with the remaining sauce, we put the leftovers on a table in the staffroom. It didn’t last long!

On a personal note, one special moment from last week stands out. It is no different here than anywhere else. There are students who don’t fit in. They come from difficult domestic situations. While school provides a safe and caring environment, they struggle mightily and often rage against everything and everyone. We were in the kitchen working in small groups. I asked Donna, (not her real name), a student from the other class that I only knew by reputation, if she would like to make a cake with me. With the hood of her hoodie covering most of her face (and wearing sunglasses!), she grudgingly agreed. The transformation was stunning. She was totally in her element as she almost single handedly whipped together the cake. She obviously knew her way around a kitchen. She was comfortable and confident. In the modern vernacular, I was “blown away”. I don’t know what will become of her but for one 30 minute period of time, Donna mattered and felt good about herself. I was thrilled beyond words to be a part of something special.

What’s next? My future is uncertain just like everyone else. Until we get a handle on Covid, it is very hard for any of us to make plans. I’ll come home at the end of May and quarantine for the fourth time (Q4!). I’ll continue to work on my 7th book and hopefully get some fresh Atlantic lobster in my belly. And rest.

In the meantime, I will finish the year and remain focused on the present. Someone sent me this quote a few weeks ago. It resonates with me.

If I think about how long I have left to be here, my heart and soul won’t truly be where I am. I am here until someone tells me I am needed somewhere else.”

Have a great week.


The finished product!

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Monday Morning Musings

Posted on May 10, 2021 under Monday Morning Musings with no comments yet




Flashback. Turning on the new water taps in Kanyakumari, India 2017


Do you ever have vivid flashbacks? Of course, you do, and they seem to come more frequently the older you get. Not to be confused with hot flashes. I know my demographic and most of my readers would like to forget that phase of their lives!

When my cable is working (Oh Lord, grant me patience dealing with technology issues in the north), I watch news, sports and one or two television programs. I quite like one of the series , Call the Midwife. “Are you serious, Len? Did your brain freeze the day you and your colleagues did a 7km walk when the temperature was -50?” Why would I be watching a show about midwifery?

Why not. I attended four births so it’s not like I’m going to be shocked by what I see.

The program is about a group of nurse midwives working in the east end of London in the late 1950s. It tells of the pressures of their day to day lives while trying to cope with the changes in the world around them. The show takes place at a Catholic convent. The nuns are nurses and there are also a handful of civilian nurses living and working with them. Every cast member is unique, and the writing is exquisite. A narrator’s voice cuts in from time to time, always with some insightful words. While I find all of the roles quite interesting, Sister Monica Jones is my favorite. She is old, slightly demented, and always in the middle of some mishap. She is the resident philosopher of Nonatus House, the name of the convent.

A recent episode of the show was the one that triggered a serious flashback. A group from the convent travelled to South Africa to do some charitable work. Living and working in a rural village they discovered that poor quality, and an almost non -existent, water supply had created a crisis. There was a source of clean water nearby but between the spring and the village stood an embittered landowner who refused to allow the village to have the water piped across his land. The logistics of circumnavigating his large acreage made a water project virtually impossible. At the end of the episode, he finally relented. The final scene showed a young polio victim wearing leg braces struggling to walk up to the new water tank to turn on the tap.

Bang! I was back in Kanykumari, India.

Most of us never think about water. We turn on our taps and we have a constant supply of clean, safe water. This is not the case for many people around the world including our own country. Poor water quality in the north seems to always make national news headlines. I am extremely fortunate to live in a community that has really good water. It comes from a nearby lake and is piped into the village’s water treatment plant before being transported to homes and businesses by tanker truck. During stormy weather, we are always conscious about our water consumption when delivery of water is not possible.

Many of you followed my every move during my six- month stay in India so the next part of my Musings is well known to you. I was living and volunteering with an order of Catholic Sisters. Twenty-five years ago, they built 50 homes on their property for many people suffering the scourge of leprosy. In addition to providing every manner of support for these people, including food, medical supplies, education and electricity, the Sisters supply water to the community. There are a handful of water taps scattered throughout the village. Every day of their lives, the residents have to line up at one of the pumps to get water for their daily needs including drinking water, water for bathing, cooking etc. Many of these folks have severe impairments including loss of vision, loss of limbs and disfigurement. Some have to literally crawl to get to the taps. This was a source of great frustration and fights over the years.

After visiting orphanages, schools and nursing homes with the Mother Superior, we concluded that the single greatest need was additional water supply to the leprosy community. Spoiler alert. This next part is NOT about me. I agreed to try and raise the money for the installation of taps to every home in the community. The “Fifty Taps” project was launched online. Initially, the estimates to complete the project was $5,000 and within days of starting the fundraiser, the amazing folks at the Wishing Wells Society from St. Andrews, just outside my hometown, stepped up and agreed to fund the project. As construction began, it became apparent that the estimates were on the low side but luckily many friends from all over Canada provided the additional money to complete the work.

All of the labour required to install a new water storage tank and the lines to people’s homes was of the manual variety. I watched as men dug the trenches using picks and shovels, often in temperatures in the mid -30s. Not only were they able to bring water to the doorsteps of every home but for those residents most severely affected by leprosy, the water was brought inside their homes. Besides providing easily accessible water, the biggest benefit was providing dignity.

I will never forget the day that the project finished, and it was time to turn on the taps. It was quite early in the morning and the unofficial “mayor” of the community went to every door to make sure that every person came to witness the event. The new water tank, of course, was on a slight rise and I watched as people struggled to make their way up the hill. A local priest came to bless the tank and the new water lines.

Long after I left India, the head Sister informed me that all fights had ceased instantly after people had their own water supply.

I have been involved in quite a few fundraising projects over my lifetime, but none have come close to providing the level of satisfaction as this one. My role was quite easy. A few pictures, a couple of videos of the work in progress, and a good internet connection was all it took to change the lives of fifty families.

India is struggling mightily as Covid rages through the country. If you would like to help out, please consider this GoFund me project. Our money goes a long way in India. And donation, large or small will make a big difference.



Have a great week.



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