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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