Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Qallupilluit (and messy fun)

The Qallupilluit are mythical creatures that live under the sea ice and gobble up children who go fishing alone. This myth was probably invented by parents to keep children away from the ice flows where dangerous creatures like polar bears and walruses might get them, or where they might fall through the cracks and into the ocean.

Robert Munsch was inspired by stories he heard from Michael Kusugak, an Inuit writer to write a children's book about the Qallupilluit called A Promise is a Promise.

Emma and I had already decided that we would like to focus on this theme using Robert Munsch's book and help the children interpret it with some kind of presentation or "ExtravaGAHnza" as Emma puts it.

Emma created a wonderful reader's theatre style script out of the book, which we read together and we started talking about the Qallupilluit and imagining what they might be like. I had the children draw some pictures to start with and they had great imaginations!

All the children knew about the Qallupilluit as well as you or I might know about the tooth fairy. These creatures are definitely a part of their everyday lives.

We talked about how we might illustrate the story with a play and about how we could make something to represent the Qallupilluit. We decided that we would create three huge masks and that's where the "messy fun" began...

Anyone who knows me knows I love paper maché... so I suggested huge paper maché masks, and we were off to the races.

Paper maché is always a hit with kids, but these guys were awesome at it. It was incredible to see the team work and cooperation. They sit at three tables, so each table was responsible for designing and creating a mask. They used newspaper and masking tape to give their masks some three-dimensional features, then the goopy, messy fun began!

I hope that we'll have enough time to work on all the little projects I have in mind for this... we need some scenery, and some props, and of course, we'll have to act it out. I am hoping to make some rainsticks with them so that we can use them for sound effects and instruments during the play- but the time is just flying by... I can hardly believe that my second week is almost over. 
If today is any indication, though, we are going to be able to get a LOT done in a very little time. These guys worked really hard and really well, and best of all, when it came time to clean up, they had that class looking better than it did when we started. WAY TO GO, 4A!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011


Music is the universal language. When I visited the younger grades who don't speak very much English, the teachers acted as translators. I especially liked playing my instrumental tune "Snow" for them... I asked them to close their eyes and imagine what it was about. Some of them could guess, but it was awesome when the teachers explained it in Inuktitut for me while I acted out a blizzard ( I got the kids to make wind noises).

I got my voice partially back today, so I was able to sing "Carrion Crow" for the kids. I explained the story ("Crow" is "tulugaq" in Inuktitut) and the kids kept the beat while I sang.

Some of the kids (especially in the younger grades) danced while I played Morrison's Jig. There is a traditional Inuit dance that looks a little like highland dance and goes really well with a jig!

I spent the day with the rest of the classes and then after school I took my harp to choir. Susan has done a wonderful job teaching the kids some great little songs and dances. I brought a few new warm ups to them and taught them a couple of simple silly songs. The choir has only just started this year, and they are working on finding a balance that will suit all the different ages and abilities. The kids seem to have a wonderful sense of rhythm and really got a kick out of singing Raffi's "Brush Your Teeth" song.

I found it really interesting that through my music it seemed like I was able to connect a lot more with some of the Inuit teachers. It was as if music broke down a few of the language barriers.

After supper Frances, Lisa and I went to sewing again. It was wonderful for me to go to the sewing group tonight and feel like I had a new connection with the community. I especially liked talking with Tirak, one of the elders. She teaches the kindergarten classes, and I think she really enjoyed the harp.

I didn't get a lot done on my parka, but Tirak and I layed on the floor and talked for quite a while. Her son works at the airport- she was very proud that he was one of the few people chosen to go to Rankin Inlet and take the course so that he could work there. I told her how amazing it was for me to arrive at the airport after seeing nothing but snow for so long and how I felt like we were almost going to land in the water. She was telling me how her son helped the pilots navigate their way in and then she was telling me all about how people can find food in this harsh environment. I asked her what the Caribou eat. and she said that there aren't many Caribou anymore, but they dig down in the snow for roots and moss to eat during the winter.

It was an incredible amount of work for Sean to make me the case so that Gwenivere could get all the way up here with me... And I wish I could have had a recording of each class's reaction when I told them he made the harp and the case... but it was so worth it. It was amazing to connect with the kids and their teachers and amazing to break down a few of those language barriers and connect with the community too. 

Monday, March 28, 2011

Gwenivere goes to school...

So I decided to bring my harp to school today finally. She was a big hit! I set up in the elders room in the morning and the library in the afternoon and the classes came one by one to visit with me.
It was really interesting what the kids did and didn't know about music or about harps or even about Nova Scotia. They had tons of questions. They were very respectful and interested in anything I could tell them. The kindergarten classes had a great time dancing to my music and all of the kids sang Inuktitut songs for me while I played.
I tried to learn some more words in Inuktitut... I learned how to ask "what's your name?" ("Kinauvit?") and I made good use of my "thank you" and "you're welcome"s ("Nakumiik" and "Ilaali").

I am going to visit with the other half of the school tomorrow and then after school I'm going to meet the choir. Their director has asked me if I will teach them a few songs, so I'm trying to get organized for that. There are just enough cultural differences that I am not sure what to expect, but they are such a good audience! At some point I hope to go to the high school as well... I wonder what that will be like?


Sunday, March 27, 2011

A (warm!) relaxing Sunday.

Everyone was out this afternoon and who can blame us? It was only -2 with absolutely no wind. I think I might have gotten a sunburn!
I ran across Sheojuk (in the middle of the picture), who is in my class. She introduced me to her friend and her sister and we spent the next hour or so walking around town. They introduced me to all the puppies and dogs (SO cute!) and took me sliding down a very short hill.

We had to stick to walking around town today because there are a couple of polar bears in the area. Apparently the RCMP had to chase them out of town at about four in the morning last night. (YIKES!) I keep saying that I'd love to see one, and Hopi (the elder who is helping me with sewing a parka) just shakes her head and says, "no, you don't."

It was really interesting to walk down by the water and see all the boats. There are even a couple of boats out on the ice- it looks as if they just leave them there to freeze over the winter. After supper I just had to go back out for an evening walk on my own again. It was really nice to explore the streets- so far most of our walking has been on the land.

I feel a bit like I'm invading people's privacy when I take pictures, but it is all so fascinating. I managed to take a few candid shots of a couple of ladies out for a walk in their amoutis with their children on sleds and a little boy playing with a tonka truck (tonka trucks are obviously a hit all over).

 As I headed back to the house I could hear the sound of a grinder and managed to catch one of the carvers creating a huge cloud of dust by his house. It seems as if there are a lot of carvers around, but the ones you see out and about selling their carvings in the street are not the really serious ones. I didn't want to interupt this guy, but I wish I could have gotten a little closer... I'll bet he was creating something amazing. 

I have been invited by a painter named "Tim" to go over to the coop tomorrow after school and see some of the artists at work. I hope I can get there before they finish for the day!

More gorgeous scenery

I don't know why people didn't rave about how gorgeous Cape Dorset is. It has been one incredible day after another and thankfully Frances shares my love of hiking, so we've been able to explore together.

As if my Saturday hadn't been busy enough already with all the activities at the schools, Frances and I decided to go out for another walk after the penny sale. 

We managed to walk for quite a while- it was so sunny and even though there was a wind, we managed to keep warm. The mountains are so beautiful and we ended up quite high up with a great view of the island.

We walked up through the town and then back again on the skidoo trail, so there was lots to see. We passed the little Anglican church and the graveyard. I would like to go to church one Sunday even though it is apparently all in Inuktitut. I think it would be really interesting.

As we finished up our walk we came across some more kids sledding. It looked like a lot of fun. I'm hoping I'll get a chance to try that too one of these days.

Our Saturday finished up with a wonderful home cooked meal at Cecile and Betty's (the high school principal and his wife)... we talked and laughed until quite late, then I tumbled into bed. I can't believe how much I'm packing into each day- I thought I had to bring lots of things to occupy my time, but it seems like I'm busier here than I am at home! I am going to make supper tonight, but this afternoon we are hoping to either go out for another walk or maybe even a skidoo ride- the time is just flying by.  

Saturday is a busy time for teachers!

Emma invited me to come down to the High School in the morning for the table tennis club. I walked down and when I arrived at around eleven, there were about thirty kids doing Judo in the gym. I watched for a while, but I didn't want to interupt, so I decided to go exploring...

It wasn't long before I found the principal and his wife working in the kitchen preparing a lunch. The principal offered to take me on a tour, and I was impressed once again by the technology! Every class had a smart board and their computer room had about thirty brand new macs. The school has a wonderful kitchen/lunch room, a gorgeous library where they have quite a few artifacts from traditional ways. They are hoping to turn it into a community museum, which would be awesome.

The school has become a focal point for the kids on weekends and there were quite a few teachers and Raymond, one of the RCMP officers there to help with the day's activities.

After Judo there was table tennis and then at one we served a lunch of chicken burgers, poutine and ice cream for desert. These kids sure can eat!

After lunch, I helped clean up and then Emma got us a drive up to the elementary school in the RCMP pickup truck. I got to ride in the back with all the kids and made some new friends. As we left the high school some girls on an ATV threw a mitten at one of the girls in the back of the pickup with me. She caught it and we took off, so the chase was on... They followed us all the way to the elementary school trying to catch up and get their mitten back!

The elementary school was packed since they were having a penny sale and cake walk to raise money for a new fitness initiative they are starting at the school. 

I have never seen so many skidoos out front... it was definitely the place to be on a Saturday afternoon.

It is really great that all of the teachers have become so involved in the community- Everyone was busy with one activity or another and the kids are learning that school is a place where fun things happen. I'm sure it can be exhausting at times- there is always so much going on, and it all needs to be organized by the teachers, but I was really glad to be a part of it!


Saturday, March 26, 2011

Grocery shopping

Everything you need to do just takes a little bit more time and a little bit more planning in Cape Dorset. It's not that there's much you can't get here, it's just that you have to plan ahead.

You don't want to wait until the last minute to go grocery shopping, and you definitely don't want to save it up and do it all at once unless you happen to have a skidoo!

The two stores in town are about a ten minute walk from Frances and David's house, so after school yesterday, Frances and I went grocery shopping. It was gorgeous out and the thermometer was reading only -8, so everyone was out enjoying the sunshine.

It is such a wonderful community here that you can't get far without someone calling out "Hi Jennifer!" or sometimes "Hi Emma!" (since we have the same silly hat!). The kids were all out sledding and playing, so I got lots of hugs hello. There were lots of women out with their "Amouti"s, which is the traditional Inuit coat that has a spot in the back for a baby. They seem to carry children in these right up until almost two years old- and it looks like a really comfy ride for them!

Once you get in the store, it's clear that you need to plan ahead and be flexible about what you want to cook! There is fresh fruit and vegetables, but sometimes not the ones you had in mind. You kind of have to go with what you find. And at these prices, it doesn't pay to buy something unless you have a definite plan for it- it would be terrible to have it go to waste!

Frances came prepared with a backpack and a grocery bag to carry things home in, but most folks brought their skidoos. I saw as many as five people all piled onto one skidoo!

On our way home we ran into a couple of young carvers who were selling Inuksuiks they had just carved. They were lovely, but I had already said that if I wanted to buy a carving, I thought I would like to have a polar bear, so Frances said, "Thank you, they are very nice, but she is looking for a polar bear". The two carvers then said that there was another carver who was working on a polar bear just around the corner, so we went to see. He had roughed out the shape and was working on smoothing it out. I wish I had gotten his name! I said that I might be interested in buying it when he was finished, and France told him where we lived, but he likely sold it to someone else. I'm sure I'll get another chance at some point.
As we made our way home, we saw lots of children playing and had to stop and say hi, patting dogs and meeting new puppies. All in all the grocery trip took well over an hour and a half, but when there aren't tons of things to do, I can't think of a pleasanter way to spend an afternoon.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Life at school

Every day starts with a breakfast served in the classroom. The kids are awesome at setting up the food and cleaning up afterwards. This morning was special because it was "Fun Friday" and we had fresh cooked sausages along with our regular cereal.

Classes were held as usual in the morning, but after lunch we had a fun fair where the whole community was invited in and the kids had sack races, "Pin the Nose on the Polar Bear" games, "Cupcake walks", musical chairs... you name it.

It was great to see the whole school having fun and to meet some of the families of my students.

Just when I start to think about all the ways things are different up here in the north, I find something that reaffirms the fact that kids are just kids wherever you go...

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The community

It was a really warm day today. Only -10 and very sunny. After dinner Frances and Lisa (the school tech teacher) asked me if I wanted to join them at "sewing night". "Why not?" I thought, so we headed downtown. I had to take a picture of Sheba, the high school principal's dog on the way by- she has the most incredible eyes!

On the way we took a short cut over the hill by some sled dogs. Frances assured me that they couldn't get over to the path, but I kept my distance anyway. They were absolutely gorgeous- Strong and proud.

As we walked through the town, lots of people were out and about. They all said hi and a few of the kids recognized me from the school. There is a constant hum of skidoo engines in town. It's much more likely to see a skidoo than a car on the road, and they go at ridiculously high speeds! Down by the store seems to be a local hangout and the boys try to impress by spinning doughnuts.

The children were all out playing. It was great to see them sledding, running, playing hide and go seek, tag etc. It made me realize again how important community is. I remember when our girls were little and we used to have community soccer games. Everyone played... parents, big kids, little kids. And no one kept score. 

I think we could all learn something from Cape Dorset about community. 

We walked past the store and the high school and came to the door of the community centre. As we entered I started thinking the whole community must be in there! They were having a "penny sale" to raise money for a community member who was in the hospital in Iqaluit. Lots of the kids from our school were there, and they all came over to give me a hug. I met many parents and sisters and brothers of my kids as I took a walk around the community hall. I could have stayed there all night, but the sewing club was about to begin, so I headed to the sewing room.

Inside were several elders (Hopi from schol included!) and they were helping people make traditional parkas. I settled in to learn how to do it and for the next two hours there was a steady stream of visitors and sewers. It was a wonderful night.

Reki and Hopi are sisters, and they seemed to be in charge. They helped people find patterns, cut out pieces, choose trim, and just generally have fun. I only caught the gist of what was going on, since everyone was speaking in Inuktitut, but they made me feel incredibly welcome.

Tomorrow we're having a fun fair at the school in the afternoon and on Saturday there is another penny sale to raise money for the school book fair.

It strikes me that here, in the middle of nowhere, with so few people, I have met more new friends and been involved in more community activities than I ever am at home. These folks sure know how to make people feel at home!