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.