Thursday Tidbits

Posted on May 27, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with 3 comments

 

Farewell, Kangiqsujuaq

 

“Goodbye, goodbye,

 Think I’ll set my wings for flying,

In the sky, in the sky,

There’s room enough to fly,

So, goodbye.

Goodbye, Again – Ray Materick

 

Well, it’s time for this bird to fly. This will be my final post from Kangiqsujuaq.

There are just too many memories to list but here are a few:

The howling of sled dogs when the village is asleep.

Throat singing.

Inuit babies.

New Year’s Eve fireworks by the mountains and Wakem Bay.

The guys who work at the airport. My friends.

Just Dance in the school gym.

Dog sled races.

Inuit children.

Christmas in Kangiqsujuaq.

Inuit winter games.

Staff Christmas dinner where I ate raw beluga and raw caribou for the first time.

The Christmas dinner that we provided to those who wouldn’t have one.

The epic ice fishing trip.

Riding in a Qamotiq. A mistake!

The seal hunting expedition and walking across Ungava Bay.

Hiking in the mountains in summer and winter.

Inuit teenagers.

Walking the airport loop alone or with colleagues.

Singing with the children at the FM station.

The beauty of the tundra in all seasons.

Taking a stroll in a storm at -57!

Teaching after a 40- year hiatus.

The Inuit staff at the two grocery stores.

My colleagues at work.

Sewing mittens.

Attending the Pentecostal church.

Surviving my first few months in the Arctic.

Weekly phone calls with my brother, Don.

Inuit adults. Inuit staff members.

Teacher’s road.

Covid.

Getting my two vaccine shots.

Skating alone at the arena.

The Qaggiq.

Parent-Teacher night.

The first day at school.

The last day at school.

Inuit elders.

Spotty internet.

Spotty cable.

My adventures getting a phone line with Bell.

Doing music at the summer camp with young children.

Pen pals across Canada for my students. Thanks. You know who you are.

Posting a story from my neighbor’s veranda at 5:00 a.m. in -35 temps.

The sky. Oh, the sky.

The parade through town for our graduates. They sat on top of the fire truck.

Outdoor funerals in the winter.

Learning songs in Inuktitut.

Teaching songs in English.

Recess duty. Holding one end of a skipping rope.

The water and sewage trucks.

Trips to the airport to pick up cargo (groceries).

The nursing station.

Skidoo trip across Wakem Bay.

Learning about Inuit culture.

Zoom calls.

Masks. Hand sanitizer. Social distancing.

Skinamarink. Baby Beluga. Ed The Invisible Dragon. Country Roads.

The Christmas concert (pre-Covid).

In closing, I want to thank the people of Kangiqsujuaq for making me feel welcome and a part

of their community. I have learned a great deal from the Inuit people including patience, perseverance,

and persistence. These are among the kindest and most gentle people on the planet. They are incredibly

talented people who have endured so much hardship.

I will miss them.

Farewell, salut, tavvauvusi.

Nakurmik.

Best wishes and stay well.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on May 20, 2021 under Storytelling, Thursday Tidbits with one comment

 

The Qaggiq

 

Just about every small town or village in Canada has an official or unofficial hub. It is the place where everything of note happens. It is place where people come to gather for a variety of reasons. Legion buildings are popular as well as community centres. Libraries, arenas and senior’s activity centres are also common places for people to meet and greet.

When I was growing up, the Catholic Church owned a property called The Parish Centre. It was only a handful of steps away from the cathedral and the priests’ residence. Everything meaningful in the town happened at the Centre. It was used as the gymnasium for physical education classes for the nearby elementary and high schools. It hosted community dinners, bazaars, wedding receptions, political rallies, legendary basketball games and even boxing matches. I can still see the Cochrane brothers landing punishing blows inside the ring. But fights of the unorganized variety were common too at Saturday night dances. While bands like The Strangers and The Escorts played popular cover tunes, invariably there would be a scuffle or two involving a “townie” and some lads from the farms. Want to read more? I wrote a lengthy piece years ago about the Parish Centre and the Bowling Alleys. https://www.week45.com/those-were-the-days/

In more recent times, the nationally acclaimed People’s Place library in my hometown of Antigonsh is unquestionably the new hub of the town. It is much more than a library, providing a staggering array of services including English as a second language to newcomers to Canada, including many Syrian refugees.

It didn’t take me long to discover the meeting place in Kangiqsujuaq. The Qaggiq ( pronounced Haggick and not to be confused with the Scottish delicacy, haggis!), is located on the main street of the village. I had my first encounter with the Qaggiq shortly after arriving in the village. On my way to my apartment from the airport, I was given a quick tour of the community. I saw the Coop, the arena, the swimming pool, and the school also located on the main drag. Of course, after a long day of travel and it being dark, I didn’t pay close attention to these landmarks. My first day in the village got off to an inauspicious start. It was dark and -25 as I made my way to the school. I walked around the building at least four times, wondering why no one was there and the place in darkness. Of course, I was walking around the Qaggiq and not the school!

Qaggiq is an Inuit term describing an igloo (iglu) where people gather to strengthen culture and celebrate life in song and story.

The Qaggiq is primarily a recreation centre. It is a large building housing a gymnasium, walking track, weight room, meeting rooms and a kitchen. I quickly found out that it was much more than this.

Scarcely two weeks into my stay, I attended the funeral of an elder at the Qaggiq. School was closed for the afternoon ceremony as were the local grocery stores. When an elder dies, everyone comes to pay their respect. The deceased lay in a simple wooden coffin at the front of the gym below the stage. There were words, songs and mourning. When the service concluded, everyone filed by the coffin to say their final farewells and lay flowers. The wooden lid was nailed on by family and friends. As it turned out, it would be the only indoor funeral I attended. Covid changed all the rules regarding large gatherings. I did attend several burials on cold winter days at one of the local burial grounds.

In no particular order of importance, the Qaggiq is also used for sports and as a place for young people to hang out after school. It doubles as the local courthouse when a judge and court officials come to town. Of course, being curious (nosy?), I felt compelled at attend one court sitting. Even if it didn’t have the look or feel of a traditional courthouse, justice was administered in much the same fashion.

I attended a few meetings at the Qaggiq none more interesting than the one celebrating the 45th anniversary of the signing of the James Bay Northern Quebec Agreement (JBNQA). Two of the signatories of this historic document were in attendance to give us a first hand account of the proceedings.

I contributed one of my coconut cream pies for a banquet held at the Qaggig for the return of a group of students and teachers who went on a five day cross country skiing excursion on the land in the middle of winter.

I received my first Covid vaccination shot at the Qaggiq.

In normal times, the Qaggiq is also the place where Christmas activities happen, literally around the clock including dancing competitions and a wide array of games. Sadly, I was unable to see the Qaggiq full throttle at Christmas time because of Covid.

I attended a volleyball tournament and was amazed at the talent level.

On a personal note, my most memorable time at the Qaggiq was the summer of 2020 when I returned to the north for a second year. After completing my quarantine, I volunteered at a day camp for children at the Qaggiq, providing music for young children. It was a lot of fun and it was my first experience witnessing throat singing. I have embarrassed myself enough in one lifetime and didn’t try to emulate these amazing women.

A few evening ago, I was out for my evening walk heading for the inukshuk. Passing by the Qaggiq, the back doors flung open. A gaggle of young children were standing at the doorway waving and yelling “Len”.

As it turns out, my last memory of the Qaggiq will be the best.

Have a great long weekend.

Please stay safe.

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Thursday Tidbits

Posted on May 13, 2021 under Thursday Tidbits with one comment

On the Camino with Tracy (Australia) and Marty (Argentina)

 

Oh, we won’t give in,

We’ll keep living in the past.”

Living in the Past – Jethro Tull

With humblest apologies.

It’s official. I’m incorrigible. I’m perpetually living in the past. The pandemic has brought me to my knees. I am longing for the good old days while staring into the future with uncertainty.

What is your favourite movie of all time? I think it depends on many things including the genre but for pure entertainment value, The Shawshank Redemption is still near the very top of my list. After reading this, please feel free to post your favourite.

I have just finished watching The Way for the fourth time. It stars Martin Sheen and is the story of an ophthalmologist living the good life in southern California. His son Daniel, played by Emilio Estevez,   is a PhD student and the two have a bit of a rocky relationship. The son is a traveller and a dreamer and decides to discontinue his studies, much to the chagrin of his father. His latest adventure takes him to southern France to cross the Pyrenees and start his march across Spain doing the Camino. On the very first day of this 800 -kilometer pilgrimage, Daniel dies in an accident in the mountains. His father flies to St. Jean Pied de Port, the starting point of the Camino, to pick up his sons remains. He has his son cremated and then decides to walk the Camino himself, carrying his son’s backpack, along with the ashes.

Two years ago today, I was into my second week of the Camino. I was inspired to do the walk by my late brother, Tom. A year before, he had done the Camino while in the latter stages of cancer. He raved about the experience. For many years, Tom had been an avid hiker. He and his best friend Mark had tackled some serious mountains and trails over a lifetime of great friendship. They often joked that when they were old and frail, they would tackle something simple like an 800 kilometer stroll across Spain! Mark never got the opportunity as he died while hiking in some bad weather. To honor Mark’s memory, Tom carried some of Mark’s ashes and deposited them at the highest peak on the Camino.

After hearing Tom’s anecdotes about his Camino and looking at the dazzling pictures, I knew I had to go. Tom was gracious and loaned me his backpack, his hiking poles and most importantly, a guidebook. My plan was to try as much as possible to follow exactly in Tom’s footsteps and write a book about it. For the first two weeks, I managed to match his frenetic pace but eventually I eased back on the throttle to make sure that I could actually finish the walk in one piece.

Upon completion of the Camino, I was preparing to return Tom’s equipment. He decided that his hiking days were over, and he gave me the backpack and the poles. He died shortly after I finished writing the book. I was so pleased that he had a chance to read it before he passed.

When I’m not teaching, I have a lot of time to think which is a dangerous preoccupation. The pandemic makes me yearn for happier days when I can see my family and friends and do some more travelling. At the top of the list is the Camino. Some of you who read my book must wonder about my sanity. The Camino is not for sissies. It is a long and difficult walk compounded by aching muscles and especially blisters. Why would I want to do this twice let alone once? The answer is quite simple. My plan is to do the walk when the pandemic has ended. I will take some of Tom’s ashes and take them to the highest peak on the Camino and reunite Tom with his best friend.

A few days ago, I reached out to my Camino friends. I met hundreds of interesting people along The Way and have kept in touch with a small group who are scattered around the globe. So far, I have received messages from The Netherlands, Germany, Italy, France, Poland, the United States, Canada, Portugal, Spain and Argentina. I expect I will hear from many others in the days to come. I can tell you that every single one of them pines for better days and a chance to walk the Camino again. And yes, they are as sick of Covid as everyone else.

It is hardly surprising that The Way is now my favourite movie of all time because it is deeply personal to me. If you are healthy enough, go and do The Camino. If you can’t and want to experience it vicariously, I would encourage you to watch The Way. It is a feel good story in these difficult times.

Buen Camino!

Have a great weekend.

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