Thursday Tidbits

Posted on December 16, 2021 under Storytelling with one comment


The hug

What are the 10 greatest movies of all time? Books? Songs? Or, who is the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) when it comes to ranking sports figures, female actresses or political figures? There seems to be a fascination with compiling these kinds of lists, but at the end of the day, this exercise is very subjective by its very nature. No one can dispute that Wayne Gretzky has amassed the most points in NHL history but was, or is he, the greatest hockey player of all time? My vote still goes to Bobby Orr.

As I take my leave from the north, I have a list of my own to share with you. Here is a list of my 10 most memorable moments… from a very long list. You may wonder why there’s barely a mention of my students but privacy prevents me from disclosing this type of information.

#10. Holding the end of a skipping rope at -30. Never, ever in my wildest dreams did I ever think I would return to teaching after a mere 40- year layoff or did I think that this would happen in the Arctic. I knew that dusting off my BEd., after such a lengthy hiatus, would be challenging. I knew my skills would be rusty and that school curriculum had probably changed a dozen times over the years. But somethings never change. Elementary students still go outdoors for recess. Some activities have stood the test of time. While schools have built incredible playground apparatuses, kids still like the basics like kicking a ball or skipping. But I have to admit, I was stunned on my first day of recess duty when I was asked to hold the end of a skipping rope. This in itself is not that remarkable but the fact that it was -30 was stunning to me. I thought a skipping rope would freeze and break into little pieces in these temperatures.

#9. Managing a possible water contamination. Our senior administration team was away at meetings when the news came that there was a possible water contamination problem in our school. I certainly had no expertise in this but was asked to coordinate the efforts. The school was closed for almost a week as experts from the south arrived to empty and disinfect our water tanks, have them refilled and tested over several days. It was a great learning experience for me.

#8. I was asked to take part in an after-school activity as the accompanist for a children’s choir. We met weekly at the local museum to learn songs, mostly in Inuktitut. The local FM radio station is a critical piece of infrastructure in the village. It is the primary line of communication. Everyone listens to the FM. One day the choir was invited to perform live. We crowded into a small studio (pre-Covid) and gathered around a handful of microphones. The children were simply awesome including some young throat singers. The phone lines lit up in the studio as many people called in to express their joy in hearing the young people of the community preserving culture and language.

#7. It is no secret that I love to walk. I have walked (and run) in all kinds of crazy weather over the years but nothing could prepare me for a 7 kilometer walk with two of my colleagues last winter. The distance wasn’t that impressive, and the degree of difficulty wasn’t an issue. However, when you decide to go walking when it’s -50, then it’s a big deal. I know that this sounds totally crazy (which it is) but the three of us have an adventurous streak in us. When you have the proper clothing, masks and footwear, walking in extreme cold is not really a big deal.

#6. One of the greatest thrills of my life happened very early in my tenure in the north. On the first weekend after my arrival (I came to Kangiqsujuaq on November 6, 2019), I went for a walk on the frozen lakes on the outskirts of the village with a group of teachers and students. On the return trip to the village, I could see a dogsled team off in the distance. They were coming in our direction. Despite the frigid temperatures, I removed my gloves and readied my phone camera. I was astonished to discover how quickly the powerful dog team steamed across the frozen lakes and tundra.

#5. When someone dies in the village, everything shuts down for the funeral. This includes the school. In the winter, the ceremony is conducted in the local gymnasium with burial in one of the cemeteries afterwards. Covid changed all that but the first funeral I attended was pre-Covid and this funeral was for an elder. You need to understand that elders are revered. I arrived at the Qaggiq (the local gymnasium) about ten minutes before the start of the service. There was a fair-sized crowd with people of all ages. By the time things got started, the place was packed. I was moved by the feeling in the room and the simplicity of the handmade wooden coffin. What intrigued me most was watching how people looked after several infants in attendance. They were passed around the room continuously. I never heard a whimper from one of them.

#4 – Christmas in Kangiqsujuaq. Last winter, Covid prevented many of us from travelling home for Christmas. The thought of spending my Christmas holidays in quarantine in Nova Scotia held very little appeal. I took part in several outdoor Inuit games. Me, and a number of my colleagues prepared Christmas dinner for about 125 people which we hand delivered to homes in the village. I’m normally not a big fan of New Year’s Eve mainly because I can’t stay awake! I was determined not to miss this one, so I went to bed for two hours and set my alarm for 11:30. I’m so glad I went. The fireworks display with the mountains and Wakeham Bay as the backdrop, was spectacular despite the fact it was bitterly cold. After the fireworks, I hopped on the back of a skidoo for a parade through the village.

#3. I got to go seal hunting and ice fishing with my students. This was a great thrill seeing my students in their element. The Inuit are people of the land and sea and watching young children do what comes naturally was a great joy.

#2. The sky. It’s hard to imagine that the sky could be on a top ten list but there’s something about the sky in the north that leaves you breathless almost every day… and night. Watching the Northern Lights in all their splendor is one of those things that needs to be seen. It defies description.

#1. The hug. This past fall, the village celebrated Truth and Reconciliation Day. Students and staff were dismissed early to do a walk through the village ending up at the Family House. The Family House is a safe house for families in need. Prior to the event, I was asked to come to the Family House after the walk to sing a few songs for some elders. They were seated around a dining table eating country food and telling stories in their native tongue. I listened intently to an interpreter. These women had been born in igloos or tents and I was fascinated with their stories of survival and resilience. I played a few tunes and even did a couple in Inuktitut. Knowing that these women were spiritual, I did a number of religious songs. I sang them in English, and they chimed in with their native tongue. The last song was The Old Wooden Cross. There was something about this song that touched them deeply as a few of the women had tears in their eyes. When the song ended, one of the women came up to me and gave me the biggest, warmest, and most heartfelt hug of my life. I nearly lost it. This, folks, is my number one memory of my time in the north.

I should give honorable mention to “country food”. The Inuit grew up eating food from the land and sea and they still do to this day. I had many opportunities to sample raw and cooked fish and meat. Caribou was easily my favourite (Cooked!). I also sampled delicacies like arctic char eyes, the brains of a Canada Goose and the eyeballs of a ptarmagin!

In closing, I want to thank everyone in Kangiqsujuaq for giving me the education of a lifetime. I was touched by your warmth and generosity of spirit.

What a great way to bookend a work career.

Have a great weekend.

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