Saturday 4 December 2021

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Eleven

The photos are of our boxes that finally arrived in Montreal over a week ago. Hard to believe that they are finally here (“here” being a very relative term) and more shockingly, seemingly intact. Of course once we unpeel them from their protective wrap of cardboard we’ll really know the end of the story. Still 180 days later there they are and our sense of eager anticipation is there as well, trust me.

Yesterday I wrapped up my 37th day working at the COVID testing clinic. It was established there near Hallowe’en and quite frankly I do not know when it will leave. The conundrum of the need to get information to better fight the virus invasion bumping up into the deeply rooted suspicions of the community against bureaucracy and seemingly obvious logic is really baffling. Of course I am speaking from the position of an outsider who has been here all of four months or so; what do I know? What I have seen is a combination of desperation, fatalism, dark humor, sadness, resignation, defeat. The scene yesterday, when a father, with multiple young children, so tired and frustrated that he could not remember his children’s birthdays, really hit home. I helped that dad carry one of his kids yesterday - that little guy’s look of fear/sadness will stay with me for quite some time. At least he did not cry.

There is a reason I longingly look at my daughter when I come home at night; her sweetness reminds me of why I am doing this. In an effort to make a difference, to help, has taken its toll, no question. I am this close to calling it quits and retreating to our bedroom. 

I know, I know: I won’t but man, it is so very tempting. 

One thing that might keep me away from Day 38 on this Sunday is the weather. Today we had our first official windchill/frostbite warning; more scheduled for tomorrow. Other than the trudging through the snowfall we have had (“Good Cardio!”, as I wheeze and waddle my way through the drifts) it really hasn’t been that cold. I mean I have found a way to manage it, multiple layers and forget glasses, wear goggles instead. I still have these little air leaks in and around my face which I haven’t figured out (balaclava here I come) and this curious cold spot, about the size of a football that appears between my shoulder blades - weird. We’ll figure it out, although I don’t think we’ll be venturing outside today.

When I was a teenager I can remember my mom getting angry with all the local folks whizzing by our house, across our lawn with their snowmobiles. Loud, whining, annoying as fuck. Well, here in Salluit, some 50 years later, you’ve still got snowmobiles: bigger, faster, louder. And folks doing do-nuts on their four wheelers up and down our street. Madness, but what else can a young person do - no school , no recreation center, no hockey rink, no pool… spinning in circles seems just about right. And the patterns they leave on the streets - now slick like ice, but cut with spaced lines - like the lines at Nazca: primitive, primordial.

We passed the beginning of Hanukkah on the 28th, reminding me that there are many more things like that to happen in the coming weeks. Be safe, be kind, hug your loved ones everyday, ok?

Monday 15 November 2021

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Ten


Things that tell you you are living in an isolated community in the far North. I

“Husband, water truck! Should we do laundry?” That was our battle cry on Monday morning: as soon as we saw the truck it was time to unload some water via laundry and fill up at the same time. Same goes for the Poop Truck - dump everything and start over with an empty tank. If only we had a real grey water provision in our home. We do try to save water everytime we bathe/shower, but the laundry dumps the most with no recovery. And just so you know, water trucks have chrome tanks, poop trucks have solid coloured ones. And our house is supposed to have external lights, blue for water, red for poop, so the wandering trucks can tell who needs what; several work orders later and still no lights. So, we stand out on our stoop and try to wave ‘em down. Where/when possible we also make an effort to stand on that same stoop and say/yell “Thank you!” - they really appreciate it.

And yes it smells bad when the poop truck leaves - maybe for a day or two.

Things that tell you you are working at the COVID Testing clinic and maybe, just maybe people are exhausted by the whole thing.

As you know I’ve been working at the clinic that was established at our school some weeks ago. Sunday to Friday, about a hundred hours so far. I’ve seen a lot while I’ve been there and I suspect I will see a lot more as time progresses. Recently there was one lady who came in on her own. Probably near my age, but looking much older, tired circles under her eyes. Pleasant voice, pleasant demeanor, nice to chat with as I completed her incoming paperwork. Near the end of registration she mentioned that her son was eighteen and with two vaccinations refused to come in and get tested. In a weary voice, she said, “I don’t know what to do.” I didn’t say a thing except to say I was glad she had come in for a test. I am hoping my slumped shoulders didn't show how defeated I felt.

We are not doing anywhere near as many tests over the last week. We were a lot busier, but not now. The scary thing is that we are still getting positive cases - that isn’t good since we get cases with even fewer tests - the virus seems to be deeply embedded in the village. Not me (or Hunter and Thy, thankfully): I test every week - four negatives in a row. 

I am tired, but I suspect that is all part of the work I do. It is stressful handwriting someone’s basic personal history (last name, first name and date of birth) when you know that you must not screw it up. Sometimes they yell at me for making a mistake. Sometimes they laugh. Sometimes we make it a little game to see if it is S-A-V-I-A-K-J-U-K or S-A-V-I-A-D-J-U-K. Sometimes there are families with four or five or six kids all under ten years old and you stop worrying why they cannot spell their children's names nor can remember their birthdays as they pinball around the foyer. You wish some wouldn’t come in with their pupils as big as manhole covers, but then you remind yourself that they are stressed, too and are managing as best they can..

Things that tell you you are living in an isolated community in the far North. II

Dogs. There are dogs everywhere and since there is no resident vet you end up with a seemingly endless line of mixed breed puppies running around. Moms with breasts and bellies drooping to the ground. Potential dads all looking for the next mom to go into heat, all with that hang dog look, tongues drooping, eyes glazed over. Little dogs walking with me on my way to and from work, getting in between my feet, looking for hugs and pats. 

And yes, we have fed them occasionally (any dog without a collar is considered a stray and will likely not make it through the winter); probably a bad idea but we feel so sorry for them. I did have an idea to buy some kibble to carry in my pocket. I changed my mind when I realized that would, at very least, cause me to buy a new jacket and the risk of something a lot worse. There are two packs of 10-12 dogs each, mature, “been around” dogs, not cute little OMG puppies. Those guys may want some 65 year old for dinner, if you know what I mean. So, as much as I may want to, I won’t.

My favourite I have named Bandit - she’s such a delight and will come running from just about anywhere if she smells/sees me. Such a loving animal - I’d love to take her in, but with our future in the North unclear I wouldn’t dare. There is a new contender for the “oh my” category, a little shoebox sized husky mix - practically fits in the palm of your hand. He’s a little shy still, but I am working on it.

The weather is quite wintry right now - nothing over zero for the foreseeable future. Everyone keeps telling me this is the warmest it has been for years or ever; I don’t disagree, I just wish my stupid snow pants would show up from the container ship.

Which brings me to the last piece of news - our property finally made it to Montreal. One hundred and seventy-three days after we packed the last box; they are so close to “being here”. I am betting it will take at least another two weeks or so to make it up North - maybe by the first of December. Imagine: almost in time for Christmas.

All our love. Stay safe, stay smart.

Saturday 6 November 2021

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Nine

Almost our ninetieth day here in Salluit. 

Things continue to be unusual and require a lot of on-the-fly adjustments.

I have only taught twenty-one days since I have been here - much less than I expected and wondering when it will get back to a normal Monday-Friday, 07:30-17:00 life.

Right now we are closed because of a recent outbreak of COVID in the community. As of the time of this writing we are over 200 cases accumulative, with just under 50 recovered. The entire district has had their fair share of infections - this is very, very real.

We closed the school on 20 October and I have been volunteering at the testing clinic the local nurses’ clinic/health board set up at our school ever since. I did miss one day, simply not feeling up to it; otherwise I have been there. The Red Cross is in now and with their assistance they have set up a vaccination clinic. Additionally we have people flying in from the South assisting with contacting people to come in and get tested or get their vaccine. My colleagues and I who have been working at the testing clinic and the other agencies have all been making a real effort to get this thing back in control. 

The saddest part is the number of people who come to get tested, saying “I was told to come” versus the others who come on their own. It is about a 50-50 split, but it does make you wonder why people don’t feel compelled to come in. It is frustrating to witness but it will not stop me from volunteering. 

There is some fear in some eyes. There is some foolish bravery in others (“what me worry?”). There are those who walk by our home every day not wearing a mask. There are young (oh so young) mothers wondering if their babies can be tested (yes is the answer - the youngest we have done was one month old!). There’s a grandma who comes every day simply because we are warm and friendly and a safe place. There’s five people flown out who required emergency medical care that a nurses’ station couldn’t provide. There is a very real sense that when someone dies then everyone will wake up. I truly hope that will not be the case; I hope everyone will find the will and courage to stand up and do the right thing.

Like I mentioned, I have barely taught. At a minimum the school will remain closed until early January. All of my colleagues, except we vagabonds who have no home outside of Salluit, will be flying out on Monday. I will miss them as much as I miss my students: there is a sense that a bond is still there, but tenuous and thin, at best. That just makes me sad. I hope they will stay safe, I hope they will travel well and be with their loved ones during the holidays, I hope they will come back soon.

In that light: all blessings to them, continued safe passage on their journeys. Regardless of what they believe in and where they will be, it is my sincerest hope they will be surrounded by the ones they love.

That, of course, goes for everyone - all our love to you and yours. <3

Saturday 23 October 2021

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Eight

The attached photo, appropriately named “Twelve Eighteen” shows how much the times are changing here in the North. That’s a shot at high noon, more or less, that if the family and I were back in Vietnam there would be virtually no shadow cast. Instead, the progressively lower arc in the daytime sky shows the sun is slowly, inexorably slipping away. Not really sure when we will have complete darkness, but it is coming.

It is a Saturday. I’ve been home since Wednesday as we have had an outbreak of COVID and they immediately closed the school. There are four cases in the village, all with some sort of connection to the school, so out of an abundance of caution we are shut down. The village itself is under a sort of lockdown, in the sense that there is a 22:00-07:00 curfew, all non-essential buildings/offices/schools are closed, etc. The grocery stores are still open, thankfully, and we can still get air shipments of food and goods. No visits between homes and no frivolous activities are allowed. This is a serious situation, serious enough that testing will take place starting tomorrow right at the school. I will be one of those to be tested as I teach one of the classrooms with a suspected case. I have also volunteered to assist in the gathering of the necessary paperwork to support the tests given and even have volunteered to learn how to administer a rapid test should the need arise. Serious times, indeed.

There is a fairly widespread outbreak, as nearly all of the communities (Ivujivik, Salluit, Kangirsuk, Kuujjuaq, and Kangiqsualujjuaq) are reporting COVID results. My suspicion is that the virus is being spread by the way the communities are being serviced, i.e. by plane. One hundred percent conjecture, obviously, but the case could be made.

Teaching has now become even more challenging. There is no viable remote teaching option - the Internet is just not reliable enough to support that methodology. I must emphasize that there has been no call to move to the assemblage of take home work but, for those who know me, I am planning on it anyway. As those who have read my earlier pieces can attest  this is an additional challenge as the classic methods of teaching I am good at just don’t play here at all: Maslow over Bloom, remember? I’ve done some head scratching and will engage my ‘The North” experienced colleagues, but I think I’ve got a couple of things worked out for about 30-35 days of teaching.


That's right - from now right up to the Christmas break. Crazy.


Christmas. We’ll be, assuming COVID doesn’t get in the way, travelling South during the break. Almost eleven years since I last did this in Canada and a first for Thy and Hunter. So looking forward to seeing everyone “down there” and spending some time getting additional winter clothing as well - our container at the time of writing still hasn’t arrived.


Christmas and Christianity have come up a couple of times in class. Kids are confused by the old guy who says he follows (or at least tries to follow) Buddhist tenets, doesn't believe in a Christian God, but somehow respects that they might do just that. The simple statement, “We don’t celebrate Christmas” truly confused them. “You don’t want presents?” followed by an explanation why Christians celebrate Christmas and concluded with “You don’t want presents?” was a particularly spirited circular argument. 


They are as fervent as I am on the belief that prayer benefits everyone but struggle that someone could still pray and not be Christian. They were particularly surprised that I pray for them every day during my daily prayers: who do you pray to exactly? Explaining the concept of Ietsism has proven difficult but as my policy in my classroom is that I will try my best to answer their questions I will keep at it. Fantastic discussions abound in my classroom - maybe not enough actual work, but my goal has always been to teach about life through Visual Arts, so I think we are getting somewhere.


I pray for my colleagues as well. It has been a trying time - lots of interruptions, lots of disruptions. These kids need a level of consistency, predictability,  if you will, in order to counter their lives outside of school and give them some hope of learning. The younger students don’t seem to be as impacted as the seniors; the ones who have stayed the course to the best of their ability... well, you can see it in their faces. 


That stress/disappointment, of course, carries over to the teaching cadre as well. My colleagues are a resilient bunch - all working as hard as they can to be that safe place, that place of learning and hope and all good things. They are human, too and the look of defeat is coming up more and more often. They haven’t given up, but the tired look in their eyes speaks volumes. Is there a solution? Of course - keep reaching out, keep talking, keep sharing and most importantly keep listening. When I sit in those School Council or Staff meetings it is brutally apparent that there is significant, collective wisdom in that room - use it, abuse it, but don't stop asking for it - I know I won’t.


The family is doing well. We are being respectfully cautious due to the recent COVID issues - wearing a mask and staying socially distant is really old hat for us now - we get it. Otherwise we have many ongoing art projects, so we are staying out of trouble and keeping our learning at a high level. Unfortunately our chance to start learning Inuktitut has been stalled, but we are still eager to get some of the language going and look forward to taking it up once there is some normality.


Life goes on - the sun may rise and set fairly quickly, but we keep on keeping on. All blessings to you and yours. All our love...


Saturday 9 October 2021

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Seven

Two months - we landed in Salluit two months ago. Sixty-one days. First Thanksgiving weekend in Canada in ten years (other than that quick one week adventure so my wife could see a real Ontario Autumn - it was so fast it doesn’t really count =) ). Two months - much to be grateful for, much to be happy about, much to think about.

Two weeks - we took two weeks to re-jig, to rethink how we were teaching and how we were going to teach. Necessary for the health and welfare of the teachers, the students, for everyone in our little community. The attached picture is from the inside of my new Visual Arts classroom. We moved some classes, made some changes as to who taught what. So, one week into this new arrangement and I couldn’t be happier. My French language colleagues were supportive and amenable to the changes made - thus I now teach all of the Visual Arts classes, French and English (save one French credit-level class). The brilliance of the kids I am now teaching is a tribute to their teachers that taught before me - sharp, funny, engaged, a real privilege to be around and work with. And I am learning so much! Makes you want to drag your butt out of bed in the morning, know what I mean?

We are starting to see progressively cooler days now. Even our Terry Fox Run was interrupted and subsequently delayed by 100 km/h wind gusts. No snow yet - lots of reports of flurries and such up on the highlands but nothing “down here”. The locals are saying this is the rainiest they can remember and it has been unusually wet this Fall. There was 150 cm of snow last year but the long range forecasts are calling for a lot less snow, with far colder temperatures (see for one perspective on this). It will be Winter, that’s one thing I can say for sure - and definitely colder than what we have seen. We’ve got some solid winter clothing to keep us going, but during the Christmas break I can see us doing some additional purchases, just to keep us ahead of the game, so-to-speak.

Some of my art supplies arrived this week - so exciting. I am hopeful I will help give these kids a leg up or two on some fundamental techniques and then they can express their stories in a number of different ways. Some, quite frankly, don’t need much guidance from me - there are a number of gifted artists in this community. In talking with my senior French class just yesterday we were talking about the viability of bringing in an expert artist and having them guided through a traditional art form that translates into the message they want to portray. Man, who would have thought this is just one path I could travel in my 65th year. Amazing; so looking forward to figuring that all out.

Of course, just this week we celebrated our 7th wedding anniversary. In closing it is worth noting again that my beloved @the le has made all the difference. Her level of patience with her crazy husband and his even crazier ideas (“c’mon honey - how cold can it get?”) gives me hope and makes my heart very happy.

Being this is Thanksgiving, regardless of what you believe, or where you are, it is my sincerest hope that you get to spend time with the ones you love. All blessings to you and yours; continued safe passage on all your journeys. From our family to yours: much love and happiness today and everyday.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Six

I won't provide many details but it has been a very difficult week here in Salluit.  Lots of issues, lots of sadness, lots to think about, perhaps too much.

Then a colleague said let's do something different and we did. As a friend and colleague said later, “We needed this."

We went to what is referred to locally as the Airport Lake and I have to tell you no photograph could do it justice. It is simply not just a place, it is a place where glaciers "just" receded 5000 years ago. Where evidence of that movement and change are everywhere to be found. Where if you make even a modicum of effort you can find the oldest rocks on Earth - billions of years of history. Where you can watch your wife and child engage with local people, who are nothing but the warmest caring and sharing people you could possibly imagine. Where you can pick blueberries and cranberries and another berry whose name escapes me at the moment. Where you can find the remnants of a caribou and with appropriate guidance bring it home to draw for maybe the next year.

Do I sound out of breath? If I do it is because I am. Not from the effort of the walking about that I did. No, not that - it is from how loud my heart is beating. The experience was exhausting but in the most marvelous, awe inspiring way. I'd be lying if I said I can wait until the next time - how about tomorrow? <3

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Five

This week was a wild one - lots going on, not all pedagogical and such. First and foremost, at the end of the week, Saturday, we finally got snow! See the attached picture. It wasn't hitting and staying and there was more rain than the white stuff, but up on the hills it was starting to linger. The Hunter was out of her mind, for about fifteen seconds - that'll change. =) Of course it doesn't help that Mom and Dad were running around outside in the rain/snow to snap pictures, in their pyjamas, no less. =)

Thursday we had our good friend and my colleague/teaching partner over for dinner. It was a Ban Xeo fest (see the pic in the Salluit Adventure gallery for pre-consumption evidence). Holy yum - the wonderful Thy really cranked them out and all were suitably enjoyed. Amélie brought over some Death By Chocolate cookies for dessert - the perfect end to the meal, in Hunter's opinion (mind you she had to eat some extra sweet potatoes to earn a cookie). And yes, I liked them, too! =)

The national election is coming up next week and I have to admit I have absolutely no opinion. Having been abroad so long I haven't really paid attention to the comings and goings of Canadian politics. I get there has been a significant uptick in the interest of MAGA/Trump like politicians - that, of course, assumes Canadians want their own version of that dumpster fire. No thanks should be the response. At the end of the day i suspect we'll have another minority government and again, like so many times in the past, not much will get legislatively accomplished. There has been very little discussed here, save for the sudden appearance of census takers who are looked upon with great skepticism by the local population.

The 30th of September has been declared a national holiday in Canada - did you know that? And not in Quebec and Ontario, too. By the same token rumour has it several communities will be actively protesting during that day. That I look forward to, as I try to grow in my knowledge of this people and their experience. I look forward to any opportunity to increase my knowledge and then, eventually, contribute in a valuable, positive way. The school will also be planning several events that again I look forward to.

Took the Grade 7's off to the seashore this week - to hunt for sea shells and talk about why the bay exists and what happened thousands of years ago. These folks are so removed from meaningful assessment there was no need to determine/test if they figured anything out or not; it was all about the experience. They can't work in a traditional classroom, at least not very well - they need the space to expand into. Again, it is like a new how to teach lesson every day - got to keep the avenues open.

For a variety of reasons we have determined that we will homeschool Hunter. To that end we are very inexperienced. So, let me use this forum to solicit any advice any of you can provide. Think Vietnamese, English and maybe even beginner French. Online resources, books to buy, etc. - all suggestions are very welcome. She is such a sponge, so full of curiosity and seeking more, so although she isn't four years old yet, we are thinking she is more than ready for Kindergarten/First Grade level adventures. Our thanks, in advance.

All our love - winter is coming. =)

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Five, Addendum

I mentioned in my previous post about how I took my grade 7's to the seashore. The picture shows what we gathered but doesn't begin to show what we (really I) learned.

Many, many years ago my father took my brother, my sister and I to a roadside far from our home. I had just got my first (and as it turns out, last) rock hammer and this location was full of what a budding rock hound would want to explore. How he found it and why he made an extra effort to come here I have no clue. My sister was bored out her mind, my brother was more fascinated by the turtle found in the nearby creek and I, well, I couldn't believe my good fortune - a pure vein of quartz, maybe a meter high and five meters long. I was maybe 10, maybe 12 years old and I was presented with the motherlode of my dreams.

In my reading I had learned that quartz equals heat and likely mica, and if we were lucky, gold! I hammered away at the face of the quartz, not realizing that football size chunks of the stuff was lying at my feet from earlier calving. It was all there for the picking and I gathered as much as I could, sure I was going to be a rich man.

Despite many hours hammering in the garage I, of course, found no gold. The real "gold" was what I learned about the passage of time, how hundreds, thousands, millions of years can cause change, that these beautiful hunks of white crystal were the silent evidence of.

Fast forward and here are my students gathering up seashells on the seashore - some pristine, some covered with barnacle skeletons, some even with lumps of coral! I looked at them, smoking their cigarettes, slip sliding in the low tide mud, laughing and joking with each other. I looked at them differently, in terms of the time that had passed between us and the effect time before me had had on them. I truly believe there are dreams beating in those hearts - what would more time reveal?

At that point I realized the inordinate amount of quartz that was also lying in the sand. Noting that their attention span was shortening by the second I challenged them to each find a piece of quartz before we left the sand and mud to the rising waters. I shared with them the story of the quartz "mine" of my youth and how there might be gold... they were running over again and again, asking, "Is this one, is this one?" They were actually excited, to be one of the ones who found a piece of million year old history.

They have no idea, but for that one moment, they, it, were one.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Four

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Four

Sorry for the delay in the updates - been as busy as a one armed paper hanger.

School officially got underway this week, with first classes on the 7th. As mentioned earlier we had our share for fresh water problems getting in the way and that really slowed things down. No harm, no foul: it was good to have time to plan and get further acclimatized to the world of Salluit and Inkusik Secondary School.

Teaching in the North has been nothing but challenging, in the sense that you can pretty much throw out everything you have experienced before and make some major adjustments. Bloom is replaced by Maslow and then some. You have to completely rethink how you teach and pay a lot more attention to the day-to-day lives of your students. It is not like you didn’t think about their well being before; it is just that these youngsters need so much more. Assessment is not a day-to-day activity: getting outside is. No more “stand and deliver” lectures and demonstrations: more “how are you?” and “what can I do to help?” are the quizzes of the day.

I’d be lying if I said it has been easy. It has been hard and I have come home many days filled with self doubt and questioning what I can do with these kids. The reality is that these kids have become my teachers and I their student. There is so much more they can bring to the table than I can. Again, if it is not like I haven’t listened in the past, but the planning is a lot more fluid here, not so structured and demanding. I came home Friday smiling, not so glum, with this realisation: as a lifelong learner this is the opportunity of a lifetime. I wouldn’t say it is quite the Socratic Method but it does have that feel. Trust and care building will take a while, but it will happen. As for meeting the curriculum goals, well, that’s another story for another time. =)

The previous bits and pieces were all about the grade seven’s I work with my colleague Amélie. The art classes are a different story. It appears they’ve never had formal training like this before, with an emphasis on the stories they have to tell via the skills Amélie and I will help them acquire. The classes have been a different sort of challenge, but with a lot of really interesting conversations and discussions.

We’ve had our first frosty mornings, no snow, but chilly enough to remind you that there is a reason why you cover up your head and ears on the daily trek to and from school. And did I mention I get to come home at lunch? That is a remarkable treat - I love coming home to hugs and kisses at noon - nothing quite like it. Thy and The Hunter seem to be adjusting well; I worry a lot about their adjustments to this new life, but like all things, time will help. Hunter had her first cold - 24 hour, welcome to North American virus type fever/cold; quickly abated. Mind you it happened the same time as our first social/get together at the school and when Mommy and Daddy got their second vaccination. Call it a bit of lost long weekend… things happen, right?

So, the adventure continues and so do we. Hope you all are well and healthy; all blessings to you and yours - more as it develops.

PS Our container ship is now 15 days out of Vancouver, having finally left Shanghai/Yantian; I look for it every night at sunset.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Three

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Three

Out of quarantine and back in the saddle. Our ten days in COVID purgatory ended on Tuesday, so Wednesday we were free to exit our home and go take a peek at the neighbourhood.

Before I went  into work I promised I'd take Thy to the COOP store right across the street and do some shopping. It was an eye opener. The supply was reasonable, the prices were what we expected to encounter and the people were cautious but friendly. We had some young kids, maybe 7-9, glom onto us and follow us around the store. Freaked Hunter out a little bit, but that'll change soon enough. They were polite and engaging us in those first tentative steps of ESL - "Hello. What's your name?" - followed by run-away! HE SPOKE TO ME. =) Seen it all before, Korea, Vietnam, Japan, Hong Kong, now Salluit; not too surprising.

The walk to work is like five minutes - I cannot remember if I have ever been able to walk to work in less than twenty minutes - right: 2003, for about three months. Hell more likely schlepp it in via the car or, more likely, a local bus. And I can come home for lunch every day if I want... I haven't done that since elementary school, some fifty years ago. Now that is a welcome change.

The school. Still finishing up the renovation, the building is a really interesting set of winding hallways and little nooks and crannies... it'll take a little of getting used to.

The school. The people in the school are amazing - friendly, funny, gracious, helpful; really, you just want to hug them all. From the principal to the Inuktitut cultural leader (she is AMAZING) to my remarkable co-teacher - hell: they are all amazing and remarkable. Like I said in an earlier post: no question they will turn over every stone until the answer is found. I can only imagine what it will be like to be in their classrooms - I cannot believe my good fortune to be here.

I come in with one pronounced weakness - my French is simply not up to speed. That is a goal for this first year: study, listen, embarrass myself on occasion, but try and then try again. Thy wants to learn as well, so it will be in a joint effort. Hunter, too. Inuktitut is another thing entirely, but I am going to start with the basics, hello, goodbye, please and thank you. Although they don't have a word for please, so I will have to work that out. Worth learning as well is AMESLAN/ASL/Handspeak - there is a serious problem with middle ear infections leading to hearing loss throughout the North, so learning this is a very good thing.

Maybe this will be the year of languages.

Long story, short: there is a lot to learn but so much of it is going to be so worthwhile. Life is meant to be an adventure, right?

More to come. Love you all...

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Two

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Two

A note about the title of these little missives. I was originally interviewed by three principals, all in the North. The interview went on for an hour and near the end there was some time for general questions about living/working in their various localities. My eventual choice mentioned how they did not open the school at -50 C; a severe cold day, if you will. One of the other principals piped up with, "Oh, yeah: well, we close the doors at -40!" I waited until someone offered teaching on a cruise ship in the Caribbean, but, darn it never came up. Guess we're goin' North! 

After we got to our home, there was this crazy feeling of what are we going to do first and damn I'm hungry. Hunger took second place, with what we are going to do being the rapid unpacking of suitcases (all eight, plus two backpacks). Once that was complete it was time to dig through the boxes that had already arrived in our home prior to our arrival.

Prior to departure we soon discovered that other than bedding, Canadian Tire has reasonable prices and suitable delivery rates. Who would have thunk it, eh? I honestly rarely stuck my nose in a Canadian Tire store during the ten years when I came back to Canada for summer visiting and vacation. They have *everything* and we placed a number of orders - they were all waiting for us to rip and peel them open.

The other source for outfitting our home was Walmart. It sure took some internet gymnastics to get them to come round to the idea that yes there is a small community in Northern Canada that doesn't do home address delivery and no, you'll have to ship to my school's PO Box. They came through - and those boxes were really important since that is where the bedding was hiding.

Out comes the bedding, made up go the beds.

That was enough by that time - we were so bushed I have no recollection if we ate anything. Actually I know we did, since our food order was not there we called upon my new boss to help us out. And that he did - some UHT milk cartons and boxes and some water. Perfect to go with the four boxes of cereal we brought in one suitcase. =D

I think we slept ok - travelling the way we did tends to wear you out, so sleep came easily. By morning of the 10th it was now all about what comes next. Oh yeah, all that stuff piled in nooks and crannies and all those empty drawers to fill... and say do you want the dresser there or there? New homes bend really nice.

Hunter only spent part of the night with us, "No room. Toooo hot!" and the remarkable Thy helped get her into her own bed. She's since come to visit once and dragged Thy back to her room a couple of times. I think she is adjusting well. 

Food became an obsession. It was obvious that our ordered food wasn't going to be coming anytime soon - it only arrived from the supplier to the Montreal airport on that day, so it wasn't coming North anytime soon. I got familiar with our waybill number and the Air Inuit website, checking like every couple of hours or so. I also finally bought a membership on Flight Radar 24, something I've been meaning to do for some time now but it became a necessity: with my tummy a-grumblin' I needed that additional distraction of watching for a plane that might come our way.

My boss came through again, with a food run that included additional milk, water, toilet paper, monster turkey breasts and fruit. The latter we needed for our prayers (documented in the photo section). I cannot begin to tell you how supportive my new employer has been - there was no way they were going to let us starve. Maybe it's just me, but it was quite a change to go from an employer who didn't really give a shit about your personal well being to an employer who was willing to drop everything to help you. This generosity will not be forgotten.

The next concern was water. Like most Northern communities there was a boil water advisory in place when we landed. In a way that was no different than what we recognized and understood in Vietnam. Shower in it, brush your teeth with it, but don't drink it and boil the hell out of it when cooking. The biggest difference was the actual availability. There are no water pipes running through the community; simply not practical. So, water is delivered by truck. Sadly that job is not well respected so the stops to drop water is infrequent at best. You have to plan your water usage, for both consumption and, well, waste disposal. Tricky, but for me, at least, it was about time I started being more responsible in how I use this valuable resource.

All about the strategic management of resources. Big words when you are sharing a bathroom, trust me.

I'll end this part with a little story from yesterday. We got a knock at the door mid-morning. This nice lady said she was with the Federal government and was coming to complete a census form with us. "You've been here since before the end of May, correct?" "Ah, no, we just got here on Monday." "Monday, this week?" "Yes, it is day five for us." "Oh, thank you but you cannot complete this form - I will have to talk to my manager and then maybe come back later." "Ok with us." Just wait until the "where have you been the last ten years" questions start to come down; she honestly looked at us like we were from Mars. Don't mind that in the least. 

More as it develops.

Teaching at Minus Fifty - Part Seventeen

So, back to writing again. New position at the school has me writing a lot more than I am used to, so keyboard time is preoccupied with that...