Sunday, November 20, 2016

concussion part 2

Last week I wrote a bit about how it there can be a quality of catharsis to recovering from an ailment while dealing with an emotional shock. The body offers a distraction from the troubles of the mind, and it makes for a stretch of life novel enough that when you return to health you get the comforting feeling that life is "back to normal" even if there have been fairly drastic changes...

Ironically my staying up late to write about the feeling of recovering from my concussion exasperated my concussion and the next day the symptoms returned. All in all I missed a week of work, including the opening night of the Killer Whale Cafe (which is the project we'd been waiting--first for funds then for supplies--since I got here).

In most ways it was pretty shitty. I felt like nauseous most of the time, I was unable to concentrate for any stretch of time,I was totally drained of energy, my dog was growing restless from lack of exercise  my home was descending into chaos because I didn't have the energy to clean up after myself (I'd actually been on a steak of being fairly good about this beforehand). I missed out on what would have been my first seal carving demonstration, I missed skating and I missed the opening of the cafe. On Monday I ran into a student of mine at the grocery store. He had been relying on the schools breakfast program for most of his food, and because the school is short of English substitutes my not working meant no breakfast for my students. I bought him a sandwich, it felt like all I could do.

In a strange way, this concussion (shitty as it was) helped provide me with many of things I was seeking when I came out here. I had a desire to work on my ability to be by myself, and while this town is isolated it does not compare to a couple of days doing nothing in a dark room. Much of the time I spent sleeping, but I certainly had to face the boredom which is at the core of me.

Conversely it also showed me the extent to which I have become part of the community. Other teachers called or knocked on my door to see if there was anything they could do. They took my dog on walks. They offered me rides if I needed them. When I encountered my students they showed genuine concern for me (most of them).

It also served as a reminder that what I'm doing here is important. Sometimes, when I teach it can feel pointless, like the kids aren't learning much. This helped me focus on a whole other aspect to my job, I provide a space when my students are fed and cared about, Where they can socialise with each other without as many corrupting influences as they have outside. Also, a place where they do learn, if not always what I had intended on teaching them.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

The US election from the Canadian Arctic

My experience of election night began with a common weeknight activity, listening to Joe Bowen announce the Leafs game. I often listen to the games on radio here, because the internet is too slow up here to stream the video live. I try to visualise the plays and then later I watch the highlights to see how close I get. Its surprisingly fun.

Monday had been a very hard day. I'm not sure if it was me being in a shitty mood or my class being particularly unruly, but I had come home feeling like junk. The school day on Tuesday seemed like it would turn my week around that. I mentioned earlier that the class I teach centres around the kids running their own cafe once a week. I had recently decided to experiment with expanding their serves into baking bread and treats by order for the teachers. We handed out menus to all of the teachers, and got a surprising array of orders. 4 loafs of bread, 3 dozen chocolate chip cookies, 1 dozen peanut butter cookies, 6 dozen rice crispy squares, and 8 loafs of banana bread (I later found out that one of my students tried to prank me by tallying an extra 5 loafs of banana bread... it didn't make too much sense as a prank because the cost of the ingredients came out of their profits and the labour was all theirs). So we baked all day. Everybody worked. Some worked quite marvellously and did dishes without being asked. The ones that made me happiest were the students who usually did nothing but sit in the back and complain, because on Tuesday they actually worked (at least for half of the time).
 We got most of the orders done. And about 70% of it came out pretty well, not great for a bakery, but I feel like that's a fair success rate for a first day with highschool students who don't really know how to bake.

I got home and made myself a nice dinner in time to listen to the game. I was tired, but happy from the day. The leafs had been playing well and had one 3 straight, so I was looking forward to a good hockey game. One of the nice things about listening to hockey on the radio (especially with Joe Bowen announcing) is you get 100% bias. I sometimes find myself agreeing with Joe, thinking "God another soft call on Kadri", or "the Leafs would be winning this if we had a couple less bad bounces" totally forgetting that I haven't actually seen anything that's happened. However on Tuesday the 9th of November the Leafs played with so little enthusiasm and provided so little hope that even Joe Bowen's voice grew flat before the end of the 1st period. For the first time in years I turned off a Leafs game without having any plan for the evening (the Leafs have played many awful games over the past few years, but I've always been fortunate enough to either miss the game, have a social occasion I can go to, or have lover in who's embrace I can find comfort). The final score was 7-0 Kings.

This is the context with which I turned to the 2106 US election: a low point in an emotional rollercoster I  have put myself on, dictated by the behaviour of a handful of erratic teenagers and the performance in a game by a group of young men representing, somewhat abstractly, a city I haven't lived in or near since I was an erratic teen.

I managed to find a low quality (again for the sake of the slow internet) stream of PBS's coverage of the election. Already the broadcasters sound disappointed, saying they had expected Hilary to have taken a commanding lead by this point in the evening. "The Democrats have to take the fact that this race is somewhat close as a loss." Their confidence fades as the night progresses "She may still eek by, but this election is going to be much closer than expected."
 Like Joe Bowen earlier in the evening, lustre in the broadcasters voices fade and they start talking more about the implications of a Trump victory than the possibility of a Clinton comeback

I have several Facebook conversations with friends from across Canada and the States describing our shock, our disbelief and our drinks (I have two glasses of Ameretto during the proceedings). Pundents are frequently reminded that the election has not yet been called, at first they correct themselves and restate in the "If Trump wins" form, eventually that fades and they respond to the correction with a simple "yeah". Hope grinds so slowly towards a stop.

At two AM there are still a few key states that have not been called, but they all have Trump leads. I have work the next day, so I go to bed holding on to the foolish shred of hope that they will somehow turn around. I go to bed very anxious about the future.

In the morning I check the news, what was inevitable as I was going to sleep had become actual in the morning. The market had crashed in many places around the world, acts of racial violence were apparently breaking out throughout the states. There was much to read, a lot to worry about. It felt necessary to take in all this information now--to try to understand what it all meant, in the 20 minutes after I eat my breakfast before I need to leave for work. Suddenly it was 8:30 and I needed to get to school. I rush down the stairs and start down my pathway towards the main road. Instantly I slip on the ice and land directly on my head.


That day was meant to be a pretty fun day. In the afternoon we were going skating. In the morning there was some cleaning left to do in the kitchen, but once that was finished some hunters brought in 2 large seals for the school to share. I'd heard about this custom at the school. The seals are brought in and cut up, The elders and culture teachers describe how they process seal and how all of the parts are used. The academic teachers can then use this opportunity to give a lesson about the anatomy of mammals. And then everybody eats. It has always sounded like a very beautiful and functional event. I was excited to learn and to teach and to taste, but I had to miss it, because shortly after we finished cleaning, I realised that I was nauseous and a bit disoriented.

Which Dead Seal Did You Vote For?

I went to the walk-in clinic.I had had a concussion when I hit my head on the ice. The nurse told me to take that day and the next off. The next day was the opening of the after school cafe my class is based around, I did not want to miss it. She told me that its up to me, probably knowing that I was still going to feel shit the next day. I went back home and spent most of the rest of the day in bed. Just being there feeling nauseous.

The guide said that recent research suggested that doing 15 minutes of activity every few hours was actually preferable to straight undivided bed rest. So, every couple of hours I would make a short phone call to a friend or family member. Only the subsection of people who I both felt comfortable speaking to at less than my best and I didn't feel worried about them being too worried about me.

The person who I felt it was most important to talk to was my brother, who teaches at UCLA and lives there with his family. Early in there year there had been a shooting on the UCLA campus. That shooting had happened in the building next to the one my brother works in. We talked about it this summer. "It was only a murder suicide" he said, "But its sort of crazy that I"m living in a country where you can say that, 'don't worry it was only a murder suicide' as if that's not enough." He said safety is a factor in deciding where he goes after his Post-doctorate. In that same conversation I mention the possibility of a Trump presidency, "I guess if that happens that'd be a factor too."

Talking to my brother now he says, "well it doesn't change too much for us, I mean I guess we're immigrants, but not the type that Trump really bothers...It is awful though. I've felt sick to my stomach all day. Just nauseous."

"I've been feeling nauseous too, maybe I don't have a concussion after all." We both laugh.


There's something to be said about healing physically while dealing with emotional changes. I remember when I was 18 my first girlfriend broke up with me while I was coming down with the flu.

I look at the teen romances in my class and they seem so silly, so much emotion and drama between people who seem to me to know very little about each other, but of course when I was a teenager I was exactly the same. As far as I could see back then Sammie was the only person who would ever understand me. I had built my plans (clumsy and foolish as they were) around her, even planning on staying in Toronto to continue to be with her.

Of course, since it was a young relationship based more on the idea of each other than who we actually were, we became very angry and toxic towards each other when the other was not the person you'd like them to be. So Sammie was wise and cut it off. I was left with the flu

At the time it felt terribly unfair: why was my world being torn apart at the same time my body is failing me? But of course I recovered, and as my strength returned to me so did my sense that life will continue more or less normally, different, surely, but more or less normally.

As the inner chaos that came from my brain dancing a bit inside my skull returns to order I am developing the sense that things will continue to be more or less than same. Different, yes. Worse than we had imagined, almost certainly. But more or less the same.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Treeplanting and Northern living part 1

When in a radically new situation it is natural to draw comparisons to past experiences. I seems like it'd be natural for me to compare my current situation with my experience teaching in Vietnam. After all, it is my only other teaching experience, it was teaching to second language learners in a foreign culture, far from home. Yet Vietnam mostly comes to mind as a contrast, as the life most different from the one I'm living right now. For some reason my mind drifts back continually to treeplanting.

The few direct parallels between teaching in Inukjuak and my time treeplanting in BC fall away under a little scrutiny. They are both in “the north”. But it depends on north of what. Inukjuak is much farther north in a much less temperate part of the country. Treeplanting is always in the summer, and north in the winter and north in the summer are different worlds. There I am planting trees, here I'm above the treeline.

Treeplanting is isolated. Treeplanting you may be 100km down a logging road from the nearest town, but to get here you need to fly. The isolation is of a very different nature as well. While planting you're spending long stretches of the work day totally alone, and during your free time you're spending with the same 30-50 people. Your social world is limited to those people. Here I am working with people all day and I have a theoretical pool of nearly 2000 people to choose from for my social life. But I have found the sense of isolation is more pervasive here. While I never had as many people to potentially relate to treeplanting as I do here, it is easier to relate because treeplanters mostly belong to a very narrow demographic. Nearly everyone in a planting camp is the same age range, nearly everyone has the same job. Most planters are white and middle class, most are left wing and atheists. While there are obviously a range of individuals and everyone is special unique and ect, people who plant are almost exclusively a) college students b) artists or c) ski bums. I find each of those lives easily relatable (I have never really been one for skiing but I appreciate being able to just bum around). Planting also has an added social advantage: everybody is in the same position.

There are many divides between people in Inukjuak, and while there is a lot of good work to form bridges across those divides (the community here is in many ways very warm and welcoming, more on that in another post), I also think that its important to respect the reasons they exist. Aside from the obvious sources of division, class, culture, heritage, and age (I have met very few people who are plus or minus 5 years of my age) there is a division is in how we are experiencing time. For me everything is new, the most mundane is the most fascinating. Since, every thought I have about this place feels like a brand new thought, its hard for me to know what's original and what's being rehashed (most of it is, of course, rehashed). This separates me from the Inuit who must see me as part of never ending cycle of short term teachers (I am told that the community becomes more trusting of you when you return after Christmas). It also separates me from the other Qalllant (non-Inuit, I've been told it literally means “bushy eyebrows”) who have been here for a year, since they now see the mundane as mundane.

Another distinction between me and most others is that I have an end date in mind. I need to return to school next September so I do not have the option of renewing my contract. I do have the desire to to return here after I graduate, but knowing how way leads onto is impossible to tell. Knowing that I will return to my normal life in June gives a very different feel to being here. It has the feeling of a separate life, detached from the life in Montreal. I picture life in Montreal as being rather static, I am told the fall colors are out now, but that just bares memories of the distant past. When I try to picture Montreal today I still see summer, its hard to picture my friends wearing the extra layer they must have on by now.

When I treeplanted I also had the sense that I was living a separate life from my primary life in Montreal (especially in my first few seasons), yet this feeling didn't isolate me because it was common among most treeplanters to some degree or another. They are putting a pause on their life to have this other experience (and to make money). In my first year treeplanting this detachment manifested itself sometimes when I closed my eyes before going to sleep. I would picture a map of the world and I would zoom in on the spot that I was. As I approached northern BC, in my mind, it became more and more strange to me. There was a strange sort of cognitive dissonance... It felt like it couldn't be right, my mind couldn't except the fact of me so suddenly being in this strange piece of earth so far from all of the places I'd imagined going to. Now, six years later again I find myself picturing a map: no that can't be right—but it must be.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

One person's adventure

My first week and a half here I didn't have internet, but one of the neighbours had wifi that I could sometimes steal. I remember laying down on the couch holding my phone in the air, keeping my arm as still as I can, all in order to keep reading posts on a hockey forum. At this moment I thought: someone back south is probably picturing me having a real adventure in the arctic. I guess that's how it goes.

Whale Day

On Tuesday morning I had a prep period, my students were meant to be with their Inuit culture teacher. But the students all came into my classroom saying there teacher wasn't there. This was puzzling to me as I'd seen him less than an hour earlier. With my class, I go down the hallway to his class which is empty. I ask another student walking down the hallway if he'd seen the teacher.

"He's probably at the Belugas downtown," he says, "I'm going now." Most of my students follow him out. 

I go back to class where there is just one student looking out the window who had missed this exchange. I say, "Should we go see the Belugas downtown."

"Belugas?!?" He says and gets ready to leave.

I walk down with him and with the two youth fusion workers (my travel companions in the first post, Emily and Xanthe). As we walk down town I notice for the first time that I have the habit of walking in the middle of the roads here, it is the first time that there has been a flow of two way traffic in the town. Cars behind us honk to get us off the road so they can rush downtown. ATV's are passing the other way, with passengers holding onto sagging garbage bags.

I can smell the whales before I can see the crowd around them (and I have notoriously bad sense of smell). The hunters had caught four whales, but by the time we get there, there are just two remaining and the skin had already been taken. The water near the shore was pure red from all of the whale blood that had been drained into it. People were coming up and the men were handing out large chunks of the whale to each of them. Sharing food is very common in Inuit communities, so when there is a hunt as successful as this the whole community gets to partake.

One of the other teachers asked me if I'd tried it yet. "No." "Why not?" "No one has offered me anything." "You have to ask." So I asked one of the men  if I could try it. "You need a bite?" "Umm, well I'd like to try it." And he cuts me off about a pound of it, "You can eat it, raw or dry it. What you like."

Whale is not like anything else I've ever had before. I would describe as tasting like a mix of red meat and fish. I tried a few more bites to see if I could get used to it. It was never bad, but it didn't become something I craved more of. I gave tiny pieces to Emily and Xanthe (they are both vegetarians but didn't want to miss out on the experience) and took the rest home to dry. It's better dried.

(That's a photo of me and one of the students from the girls IPL class biting into our whale chunks, with Emily on the left taking the selfie.)

The timing of this is quite interesting. The day before was Thanksgiving, and I had asked the students on Friday if any of their families ever did anything on Thanksgiving. "No, its just a day we don't have to go to school." Was the general response. I remember thinking that it was a bit of a shame that with all of the corruptive influence of Southern culture (Halloween is popular for people of all ages, but many don't dress up and simply go door to door to feed their candy addiction), Thanksgiving seems to me be a holiday based more on true virtues of love, gratitude and sharing among families (despite its colonial past and messed up historical narratives). I see now that the lack of celebration in this community is not because those qualities are not deemed worthy of celebration, as much as the people find no need to celebrate them because those virtues are so ingrained in their culture.

I have travelled a fair bit over the last few years, living in Ecuador and Vietnam for 6 months a piece. This experience made me realise that thought those places are different countries and much further away, here I am in a place more different from the world I grew up in. Its a nice feeling.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Gold-Digger Conundrum

Perhaps my first real cultural conundrum came this Friday, the students with some free time on the computer decided to play several “gold-digger prank” videos. I had never seen these videos before and I was intrigued by them in very much the same manner that one is intrigued by the arguments of trump supporters on Facebook: how can someone live in the same world as me and see it so differently?

To save you from googling this and to save these videos from getting any more views I'll describe the premise of these videos. In these “prank” videos a man goes up to a woman and attempts to get her number. The woman, obviously, does not respond positively to street harassment and rejects him. The man then finds a contrived way to show the woman that he has a lot of money and she, for some reason, then decides to give him her number. (There are many of these videos with minimal variation, it seems odd to me that students who seem to find everything boring could watch so many of these predictable, dull and contrived videos.)

I like to think that most of my readership can see what's bad about these videos without much outside guidance, but to my students, it is perhaps a different matter. Most of my students have very limit experience with large cities. Most have been to Montreal once or twice, but I don't believe that any of them have spent more than 2 weeks there. I think this makes understanding street harassment more difficult for them. Inukjuak has 1600 permanent residence and about 300 temporaries (like me!) – it is not quite so small that everybody knows everybody, but it is small enough that if you don't know somebody it would not be weird to get to know somebody. There is also a distinct shortage of outdoor public space that one uses to be alone. My students do not understand the anonymity of city spaces, so they do not recognise when its being violated. To my students the woman is being quite rude when she refuses to speak with the man.

The other difficulty when dealing with situations such as these is the complexity of gender relations here. Inuit culture is distinctly gendered. There are “Culture Classes” that are a large part of the curriculum at all levels, which are separated into two genders. The IPL classes are separated into two all boys classes and one all girls class. This is not meant as a criticism of this practice. Their culture is their right and has been proven to be an essential aspect of their education for other aspects to flourish—and their culture, like many cultures, create different roles for men and women (this is further complicated by the fact that boys learn to use power tools in their culture class, which is obviously not part of their traditional cultural roles, but an import from the cultural rolls of the south). Nor is this meant as a judgement on how sexist their society is—in many ways they respect women's work more here than they do in the south. I am simply outlining differences in gender roles that make this more complicated.

While the circumstances of the videos are not likely to be recreated in the lives of these boys, what these videos imply about the character of women can have very detrimental effects. The misogyny represented in the context of the culture south can manifest itself differently in the culture of the north.

How do I explain the immorality of an act without coming off as judgemental? How do I teach critical thought when they have so little context to understand the situation? How do I start a discussion with a group that's so reluctant to engage intellectually and so tied to the opinions of the group?

First week of school

I wrote this a week ago but somehow didn't get around to posting it:

While mystifying a new experience is natural, it is also dangerous. Part of what drew me to the north is the sense of adventure: going to a place very few people have experienced, a place with conditions harsher than you've ever experienced before, a place both rapidly changing with overwhelming numbers of youth and a place rooted in a tradition entirely foreign to you. But while all of this may be true from my perspective, it is important to that I remember that the frontier for you is the everyday for them. Your thoughts about the issues the community struggles with are new to you, but very old them; most have been mulled over for a generation. The owl that visited me on my first night is a common creature of not much particular use.

Perhaps the best way to demystify a place is to try to teach teenagers there. Before I began teaching I had planned on connecting with the students by sharing with them a book about sculpture largely from the Inukjuak area. I have for a long time appreciated Inuit art but I don't know a great deal about it. I thought that having them teach me about their culture as I teach them English and math would help make a more reciprocal relationship. To this idea, one of my other teachers responded, “some of them might be interested in this, but you have to remember they are teenagers first and Inuit second” and boy is that true.

I teach an IPL class, hypothetically containing 9 boys aged 14 to 18. I say hypothetically because I have taught for more than a week and I have only met 6 of them, and there have rarely been more than 4 in my class at once. Francis, the other IPL students, has 12 hypothetical students, he has yet to meet one of them, and several others have been to class only a handful of times. I believe IPL stands for something like Independent Personalized Learning. At this point I have only heard the acronym expanded once, even in the mass of literature I have been given about the class (some of it surprisingly useful) they use only the acronym. Whatever the acronym stands for is quite irrelevant in the end the important details of the class are as follows:

  1. Students are placed in the class when the administration feels that they are at risk of dropping out.
  2. Some of the student have learning or developmental problems and some have behavioral problems. Some have both. Some have experienced poverty. Some have had a bad home life.
  3. I have no outside pressure for these students to achieve any academic standards. My primary goal is keep the students from dropping out.
  4. Each student has his own independent academic goals which I help them set for the semester. These goals are based on their needs, abilities and interests.
  5. Much of the learning is centered around one large project. In this case (as it has been at this school for the last several years) a cafe which sells treats during recess and fast food once a week after school.
I have not yet asked for permission from my students to talk about them in this blog. Out of respect for them I will try to keep my comments general in this post.
Teaching this class is complicated for a number of reasons. First off I am teaching students with learning disabilities sometimes fairly profound learning disabilities, which I have no training in. Also I am dealing with students who have behavioral issues, who often do not struggle with academics. When you provide the same material to all of the students, the stronger students complete it quickly and act out—distracting and sometimes discouraging the students with learning disabilities. The fact that I am hired to this job without any special training (not even a completed education degree), and little previous job experience, speaks more to the severity of the teacher shortage in northern Quebec than it does to my character. However, before I came my spot was vacant and none of the boys I'm teaching right now had a teacher.

It will most certainly be difficult, but I do feel up for the challenge, as the class has already proven to be at times rewarding. After my first week I was asked by Emily (one of the travelers that accompanied me in the first post) to give a run down of each of my students, and in giving a few details about each it became clear to me that I like all of them, in one way or another. “He's very sweet, he always smiles but is very quiet”or “he is usually the first to show up and he goes straight to the back, gets on a chair and looks out the window” or “he's funny, not as funny as he thinks he is, but funny” or “he just thinks that school is bullshit and doesn't see why he should have to listen to me, but he kind of has a point”.

I'm finding myself sometimes enjoying their defiance of me, partially because it reminds me of the shit-disturbing friends I had when I was young, and partly because it limits my teaching to what is immediately relevant to them, better to have them tell me what they think is useless then to let me carry on secretly despising the material. When they express distaste for a lesson there are two possibilities.
  1. They dislike the material because it is not relevant for them, in which case I can set it aside until it becomes relevant.
  2. The lesson is important to them now and they are resistant because it is easier for them not to learn, in which case I have to find a way to make it more palatable to them, or apply my will to teach them over their will to not learn.

I'm sure as the class progresses I'll become better at discerning between the two.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Arrival, actually

            I arrived in Inukjuak at a reasonable hour, the flight itself took at most forty minutes. I'm greeted by an Inuit lady named Betsy, who is the center coordinator, basically an administrator in charge of orchestrating all the extra logistics which schools in the north need to deal with. She is very pleasant and seems to cope with the unpredictability of everything quite well. I'm given my keys and my young traveling companions are given theirs. My address is simply 610; in Inukjuak the streets have no names. I am between 609 and 611, but my traveling companions' address is in the six-hundred and teens and they are across town from me.
My place is really quite nice. I have an extra bedroom I'm going to turn into an office and my kitchen is large enough to have a table will never get in the way of cooking and I have a pantry will a large freezer; all in all much more space than I'm used to having and much more space then I'll likely use. I'm typing this on my kitchen table, not in my office, cause it's still weird for me to use an office.

            I have with me only one pot, that combined with the limited range of reasonably priced ingredients at the co-op have lead me to eat a lot of premade meals. The night I arrive I have a frozen pizza. I look very much forward to having my kitchen supplies and first food order here.

            The landscape here is in some ways quite similar to PUV, grass and moss with various shades of orange and yellow, but here there is the added dimension of many rolling rocky knolls, which add jagged dashes of grey and green to the landscape. I take Ritchie for a walk up one of these rocky hills very near to my house. It is raining and approaching dark, I am not sure what my reason for ascending was if not the view. I am wearing many layers on my torso so my body is warm, but I have yet to find my hat and there is a small tare in my pants which lets the wind blow through, yet I keep climbing. Soon a white owl appears, floating above Ritchie. I stop and watch. The owl circles around Ritchie slowly, observing my dog as I observe it. It dips and rises, while I stand cold from not moving in the rain, but too captivated to move on. The owl is the first arctic creature I have seen, and it is not hard to understand the draw of mysticism.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Arrival, sort of

It is quarter to five in the morning, I am in a hotel room in Puvirnituq Quebec and I have been up for 3 hours trying to fall back asleep. Travel, even without crossing time zones, always distorts my sense of time and consequentially my sleep patterns. I never sleep much before leaving a place I love, partly because of my intensely sentimental desire to hold onto places and people dear to me, and partly because I convince myself that exhaustion will help me cope with the anxieties and boredom of travel. It is so rare that I travel without being exhausted that I cannot put this theory to test. My last night in Montreal I went to someone else's going away party and opted to not sleep whatsoever.

I arrived at the airport excessively early took a brief nap. Shortly after I awoke I encountered two other Anglo youth who were taking the same flight (I believe the 3 of us complete that demographic, although I did not take a survey and I am no longer certain if would be considered a youth). They have been nice travel companions. They are younger than I am and their excitement seems less mitigated by anxiety than mine is. They seem better adjusted and better prepared than me. I am surprised that my lack of preparation has caused me so little guilt, perhaps I've reached a point in my life where I have become so used to being unprepared for what I am doing, that I feel prepared to deal with whatever consequences arise from that. Hopefully this confidence is not misplaced; I think of Jack London's To Build a Fire and know the potential cost of arrogance when dealing with the north.

Perhaps exhaustion does help time pass as I crack open my book and before I finish a page I wake up in Kuujuarapik/Whampmagootui. It is raining and as I walk from the plane to the airport I regret not bringing a sweater in my carry on. The town has two names because it has significant populations of both Cree and Inuit people. I am now officially in Nunavik. I meet a very friendly school councillor named Alex, who is around my age and has been living in Nunavik for 2 years now. Alex sees me in my t-shirt and gives me his contact info in case I find myself without any other essentials when I arrive in Inukjuak (I have always relied on the kindness of strangers).

During the next leg of the flight I read a fair bit, but eventually succumb to my need for sleep. I wake up during the landing and hear a message in three languages, still in a daze I listen only to the 2 I do not understand. My younger travel companions say "I was told this might happen". Alex can see my puzzlement as easily as he saw my t-shirt, "just take all your things and I'll explain in the terminal." 

The plane couldn't land in Inukjuak because of fog, so it overshot and landed in Puvirnituq instead. I emailed the school board (on Alex's suggestion), and let my dog Ritchie out of his cage, before heading to the hotel, where I am now staying courtesy of the Katavik school board. We go to the coop to buy some dinner and just generally scope out what's there. They have half an aisle of Habs merchandise, but not a single piece of Leafs ware, for the first time I sense why I am getting isolation pay.

I walk Ritchie around town with my younger travel companions for a while. The town is situated on a river so wide and slow moving that I never would have used the word river if I hadn't been told. Most of the houses have grey bottom halves and brightly coloured tops, we try to speculate why this is but do not come up with much. The surrounding landscape is very flat and mostly empty; rocks with moss and bits of tall grass, the colours remind me of trees in the fall, yet there is something to do with the texture of the scene that makes it so vastly different then back home.

The children are oddly fascinated with Ritchie; there are many dogs around but all of them are larger breeds (Ritchie, is a German Shepard/Border Collie mix) and none have leashes. They ask about his age and his name and share the same about themselves. They like to lead him and I get a group to run around with him and play. It was a very joyous moment and it reassured me that this will be positive experience and I can have a positive impact on my students so long as I focus on developing a relationship and sharing experiences with them.

 I'm going to leave you with a radio documentary by Glen Gould which first sparked my interest in the north, and provided me the title of this blog: The Idea of the North