Thursday, April 28, 2011

My bad! CBC Interview on Monday...

I'm really sorry for those folks who got up early on Tuesday to hear me on Information Morning! They pre-taped it on Tuesday and they now tell me it will be aired on Monday at around 6:40. But they do keep podcasts of their shows, so that might be the safest way to go!

And I gotta say... Thanks again to all of you for watching and supporting my blog.

I kind of miss writing... I may start up again at some point- my harp is always travelling!

Friday, April 22, 2011

"Postscripts from the Edge"

P.S. (I just couldn't leave the blog alone, could I?)

I have been asked to do a CBC radio interview about my experiences up North, so I thought I'd let you know about it.
I'll be on CBC's Information Morning program (out of Halifax) Tuesday morning (April 26th) around 7:15.

I think it will be livestreamed on sirius satelite radio- If you click on their website:
and then click on "listen" you should be able to join us.

It will only be a short interview, but hopefully I'll be able to sum up some of the amazing experiences I had... I hope you can join us!

Saturday, April 16, 2011


Yesterday as I watched Cape Dorset dissappear through the window of the plane, I tried to formulate some final thoughts about my experiences here. The Inuksuk that waved to me seemed to be saying, "come back soon!", but I don't know when or how or if that can happen.

There is no way to sum up my trip and put it in a nice neat little package.

I arrived in Iqaluit, had a lunch meeting with Nick where he "debriefed" me, but I found myself really searching to answer all the questions he had. After our meeting, I got into the hotel room, called Sean to let him know I had made it this far, and then decided I should go for a walk around town. I walked for about three hours, stopping in little stores and looking at the art work- one store in particular had huge stone carvings and a polar bear skin for sale- it was like being in an art gallery.

To make a long story short, I spent a lovely day walking around Iqaluit, had a nice meal and a glass of wine, then a long bath and headed to bed. The whole day I kept thinking, "I really must write one last blog entry", but I just wasn't sure what to write.

Now I am sitting in my hotel room with all my bags packed and I still don't know what to write.

I can say that I will miss all my friends in Cape Dorset- this community really gets under your skin. I will especially miss working with Emma, who is a fabulous, inspired teacher. She drove me to the airport today and then went back to get Frances and picked up a few of the kids who were slowly making their way to the airport to hug me goodbye.

The airport was really busy since there had not been a plane the day before, and then on top of that there were quite a few people there to say goodbye to me. As the plane was finally called (we were delayed leaving because we were waiting for a couple fo the passengers... only in Cape Dorset!) I lined up and all the kids came to give me hugs and high fives. It was hard to say goodbye to them.

I have to also say what a great pleasure it was to stay with David and Frances. They were the perfect hosts and made me feel completely at home... I've told them and everyone else who was so welcoming that they have to come for a visit if they are ever in Nova Scotia.

I am looking forward to being home, though- it has been an incredibly busy time and it will be nice to just relax a little and get back into the swing of things.

I feel like it has all been one big, long, crazy dream and I am really glad that I started this blog so I can go back and remember all the incredible things I've done over the last month.

I am saying goodbye to the North today. The weather is perfect- it is sunny and -24 with a wind chill of -37. I am also saying goodbye to my blog... thanks to all the folks who were listening and commenting- it helped me remember to write every day and now I have a wonderful record of my stay in Cape Dorset as well as all the memories and thoughts and faces that will stay with me forever.

Here I go for the last leg of my journey home...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

"We will miss you..."

It is with mixed feelings that I begin to write my last post from Cape Dorset. Tomorrow morning I am scheduled to get on a plane and fly to Iqaluit. On one hand I am more than ready to go back- it has been amazing and incredible but also exhausting and hard.

On the other hand I am really going to miss a lot about this strange and wonderful place.

Today was an unbelievable roller coaster ride with classes in the morning, a presentation of our play, a great farewell party, a visit to the printmaking shop (finally!), a lovely supper with some good friends and one last snowmobile ride up over the mountain.

The day began just like any other day at Sam Pudlat, with breakfast.

The kids made toast and mixed up frozen juice, poured themselves cereal and sat around eating and talking. A lot of the talk centred around the fact that I was leaving, but we mostly kept to our routines. After cleaning up and brushing our teeth (complete with Raffi's song of course) we had our weekly spelling test, and then headed over the the elder's room to videotape our play.

I was amazed at how well the kids presented this wonderful script. They really seemed to enjoy it and understood that it was a way of interpreting the meaning of a text and presenting it in a different way. I only wish we could work on it for longer.

After the play we had a few short lessons and then the kids had a party to say goodbye. I had made them gingerbread cookies since we have been reading books based on the Gingerbread Boy story and they had a great time decorating them. Once again I was blown away by their ability to share and work as a team. We only had room for four kids to work at a time and everyone was really good about taking turns and sharing the icing and sprinkles (what's a cookie without a sprinkle?)

The kids and the staff had prepared a wonderful farewell package and card. I won't deny that my eyes were a little misty... This is an incredible team  and I will really miss them all.

After school, Frances and I headed down to the art cooperative to see how they make the famous prints. It is labour instensive, to say the least.

It was incredibly interesting to see the process in action.

After the print shop visit, Frances and I headed to the store to get a few things for tonight. She had invited Cecil and Betty over and we wrere going to celebrate finally getting rid of me (yay!).

We had a lovely supper and a great visit, then someone mentioned the fact that I hadn't gotten my snowmobile ride in yet. I had already packed up my survival suit, as I mentioned in my post from last night, but I'll tell you, it was well worth unpacking everything just to get one last chance to ride on a snowmobile up over the mountain and around by the ocean. I'd love to say that I learned how to drive a snowmobile while I was here, but this is a posed picture. David and Frances' friend, Cecil drove it. He let me take the classic tourist shot of me pretending to drive it, though (thanks, Cecil!).
In this case the photos were not worth even close to a thousand words, since it was starting to get dark and there wasn't enough light to take any good ones, and even if there had been enough light, the pictures just couldn't do it justice. My head is full of the gorgeous scenery still. We headed up over the mountain and around by the sea. I hadn't seen the open ocean yet and it is impressive to say the least. The ice flow edge extends out quite far and Cecil says the ice there is around three or four feet thick. I've seen the skidoos heading out dragging their boats across the ice to go walrus fishing, but now I finally got to see where they would launch them from.

I think I packed as much into the last day as was humanly possible and now I'm exhausted.

On our way back from the print making shop and the store, the weather kicked it up a notch and we saw the plane that was due in circle a few times and then give up and head back to Iqaluit. No one flew in or out of Cape Dorset today- the winds and the blowing snow were too much (Yet I was able to go for an amazing snowmobile ride after supper with clear skies).

This is a strange and beautiful place. I will try and write a litlle bit more tomorrow from Iqaluit, but I'm not sure I'll be able to do this experience justice, even if i write about it for the next twenty years!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011


Has it really been a month?

I'm sitting in my room wondering how to pack and realizing that I have already packed everything I possibly could into this experience.

I have one more day of teaching... we're going to videotape our little production of A Promise is a Promise and then we're going to have a little celebration of our time together. We've been reading fairy tales and specifically we've read three different versions of the Gingerbread Man, so I've made some gingerbread cookies for the class. I think they'll like them. I also have a couple of treats for them from Sean (he got some awesome frisbees from the Navy family resource centre and some great pencils) and I brought some maple sugar candy (which I'll be sure to give them at the end of the day!).

Every day the kids have a class in Inuktitut and today I showed the teacher a copy of "A Promise is a Promise" that was written in Inuktitut, so she took the time to read it to them. It was reallly interesting to know the story and anticipate all the parts but not have a clue what was being said. I will miss hearing the language and hearing the kids with their strong accents.

As usual, school today included many things that could only happen in the North. Emma brought some caribou antlers into the class- she had found them while she was out on the land. We laughed about how she was going to take them back on the plane... maybe as carry on luggage?

Another couple of teachers were heading after school out for their Easter holiday and one was proudly going to wear the homemade parka and Kamotiks (beaverskin boots) that she had made on the plane. She joked that her boyfriend was going to wonder who this "mountain girl" was when she arrived. We also joked about how many of our stories from our time here start with the phrase, " I thought I was going to die when..." It is definitely completely different from anything else I've ever experienced.

There's no question that this place gets under your skin and changes how you look at the world.

I was too busy working with the kids and teaching to take a lot of pictures today (I'm hoping to get at least one good group photo tomorrow and maybe a few pictures of the play), but the kids got a chance to use my camera if they were really careful. I got a lot of Calvin and Hobbes style photos of tops of heads and feet etc, but there were a couple of gems and even when they are a little blurry, there are some great pictures to remember the faces of my little class from the North.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Frozen North

This is a picture of the walk home from school tonight... yes- it's that cold. There was a 54 degree difference between the temperature here today and the temperature back home (Halifax was reporting +14 and Cape Dorset was at -40 with the wind chill). Now I know this may be hard to believe, but I really do still think it is very beautiful. As I walked back from the school my eyelids froze together and the wind took my breath away, but I just had to take a picture of the sunset. Not to mention the fact that this was taken at nine thirty at night... the days are getting longer!

Tonight we missed sewing because there was a penny sale at the school to raise money for a member of the community who is trying to get home from Pangnirtung for a funeral on Saturday. The whole community was out and hopefully they raised enough- The cost of travelling anywhere is astronomical when you live in the North. Once again, I was reminded that the isolation up here could be really hard to take.
It was awesome to see so many people out supporting the cause. I guess I thought the cold would keep everyone home, but I keep forgetting that they're much more used to it than I am. There were tons of kids and babies... Etugaluk brought her granddaughter in her amauti and I got a picture of Mary's granddaughter trying to win a cake in the cakewalk. With all the kids running around and neighbours visiting it seemed like the place to be on such a cold and windy night. And it was a great ending to a bit of a rough day...
I don't know why, but today was an interesting day at school. For some reason everybody was wired for sound and we had a hard time getting the kids to settle in and work on anything. I am reminded on a regular basis of the cultural gap that exists here... I'll start to tell a story in class and realize that I have to explain everything! These kids have a very different background from mine and when I told them a story about a raccoon trying to get into the attic of my house, I had to spend the first five minutes explaining what a raccoon is. Fair enough- I need to have lots of stuff about the snow and ice explained to me!

We worked for a little while at the end of the day on "A Promise is a Promise", but I am expecting an awful lot from them to make the leap to presenting a play in front of an audience. I am incredibly proud of the props we have made and the work the class has done already on this theme. I'd like for them to get a chance to show off what they've done to the rest of the school, but they are very shy about presenting and I really don't want to force the issue- they have already learned so much about imaginative play and interpreting texts visually. Emma and I talked about it and we think it would be better to videotape it. Emma may show it to the class and get them to work on it some more after I leave if they really want to do it for a live audience. As it is now it would be a very quiet play!

I only have two more teaching days before I head home. I think my professors would be proud because I'm probably going to be "reflecting" on this experience for the rest of my career.

Monday, April 11, 2011

From traditional knowledge to the "big league"

How cool is it to start off your Monday learning how to get lamp oil out of whale blubber? Today in school Hopi explained to the kindergarten class how to make the oil for the Qulliq, which was the lamp used for light, heat and cooking in traditional Inuit snow houses.
I wish I could bottle this woman up and take her back with me. She is one of the most amazing teachers I have ever met. Not only can she hold a class full of kids and teachers in rapt attention, but she knows so much about the traditional way of life as it was here not so very long ago. She used an ulu or woman's knife to scrape the oil from the meat and it looks a little like jelly, but when it burns it hardly smokes at all. I think it so awesome that the kids here are learning about their history in such a tangible way. It is no wonder that they are strong and proud of their heritage.
The rest of the day was what you might call a typical Monday other than the fact that it was bitterly cold out on the playground first thing in the morning... The temperature was only about -16, but once you added in the wind chill factor, it was down around -32. Yikes. I had a great time with my class, though- they were enthusiastic and sometimes overly energetic, but we managed to paint our rainsticks and get some organizing done for the play even though we had a fire drill interrupt us at one point. Believe me, going outside for a fire drill when it feels like -32 is no joke! 
After school I went to the arena to watch a couple of the kids from my class play hockey. They are heading to Iqaluit in a little over a week for a big tournament and they've been practicing really hard. I think they were glad I came out to support the team, and it was nice to see my students in a different venue. They sure take their hockey seriously here- and they're good at it.
I was impressed with their skating and puck handling, but I was most impressed with their team work. I'll be rooting for them in Iqaluit next week- Go team, go!

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Stormy Sunday

Sometimes it seems like I only just arrived and sometimes it feels like I've lived here for a long time. Today, as I look out my window, I realize that I have less then a week left before I head back to Nova Scotia. I know I'm going to miss the people here, especially the kids at the school, but I think it will be good to get back where things are starting to get a little green and there is the smell of summer just around the corner.

It has been snowing off and on and I spent most of the day working on lesson plans, getting laundry done, cooking supper and hanging out in the house. I did go out for a short walk before starting supper, but it was kind of grey and not very photogenic. They tell me this is typical winter weather and that I have been extremely lucky so far to have seen so much sun.

I walked by the Kinggait Arts Coop, but of course it was closed up tight as a drum. I have yet to even make it inside the building since I am at school all day while they are working. I am going to try and call tomorrow and see if they are going to be there on Thursday afternoon (my last day here!) because we have parent/teacher meetings and I might be able to get down earlier that day.

I know that I have been packing so much into my time here, but I am constantly reminded of all the things I have not yet had a chance to see.

After supper Frances and I went out for another walk just to "blow the stink off" as my mom used to say. It was still grey and windy and getting greyer and windier by the minute.

Speaking of stink, I managed to get a picture of one of the frames people use to tan seal hides here... They don't cure them like we would and to be honest, although the traditional seal outfits are gorgeous, they don't smell very nice! When we went out on the land  Etoogaluk (one of the Inuit teachers) had one and for the longest time I couldn't figure out where the smell was coming from. David tells me that most people keep their sealskin suits in a deep freezer to try and keep the odour down to a minimum. Although it isn't very sweet smelling, check out the picture- it really is a work of art.

While Frances and I were out walking we ran across the cutest little sled dog puppy- I joked that I was going to find another suitcase and pack him in it to bring home with me. He was just out wandering and kind of attached himself to us for a bit... he seemed a little lost.

When we were getting close to home the wind started to pick up and the snow started to blow... I hope he'll stay warm tonight. We may be in for quite a storm and tomorrow is supposed to get really cold (-21 with a wind chill of -36!)... I might get more use out of that survival suit after all! This might have been one of the last mild days I'll have to get out for a walk around town so I'm glad I rustled up my "get up and go".

There is so much about this place that will stay with me forever (unfortunately not the cute puppy, although I am tempted!). I have been extremely lucky and have seen a lot in my short time here but I am certainly aware of the fact that I have barely scratched the tip of the iceberg.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Kitchen Party Cape Dorset Style

Well. They sure know how to have a good time in many different ways in Cape Dorset!

I often say that the people who live in the smallest communities where there aren't a lot of options for entertainment are often the ones who learn how to make their own fun- That is certainly true here. From a day out on the land, to school activities on the weekends and evenings, to a night with some of the teachers and friends of David and Frances, these guys know how to live.

Tonight we had a real honest-to-goodness kitchen party in Cape Dorset with music, food, dancing and lots of great company. The evening started out early for me with a great supper and excellent conversation at one of the teacher's houses (Thank you so much David and Carol Ann for inviting me!).

After supper, as the sun set on Cape Dorset, we all headed out and I hauled my harp over to another house for the kitchen party (not that anything is very far away from anything else here). I must have made quite a sight dragging my harp over the snowdrifts... incidentally, she seems to have survived quite well and she loves the snow!

When I got to the house there were a few people already gathered, but as the evening wore on, more and more arrived... I tried to get a picture of one of the guitars arriving on skidoo- that's got to be a first for a kitchen party for me!

We played everything from blues to country... the Tragically Hip, Sinead O'Connor, Joni Mitchell, Neil Diamond, Pink Floyd- you name it- nothing was sacred!

Lots of folks got up and danced and one guy got up and sang a hilarious traditional Newfoundland ballad- it was awesome.

After the incredible culture shock I've been through of coming to the North and realizing what a different world it is, it was almost as much of a culture shock to be at such a traditional Nova Scotian phenomenon all of a sudden!

Gwenivere and I settled in pretty quick, though.

Thank you to Susan and Kathy who offered up their kitchen for the event (David and Frances' house was just a little too small for all the people!). Thank you to all the musicians who hauled their instruments out and thank you to all the folks who provided awesome munchies... it was a great time.

I'm going to tumble into bed now... Gwenivere and I had a lovely walk home over newly fallen snow than sparkled under the street lights. It was a great way to spend our last Saturday night in Cape Dorset- She had a lot of fun and so did I!

Friday, April 8, 2011

Nunavut... our land

Out on the land at last, thanks to Sam Pudlat school. I just have to take a moment to thank Sean (once again) for his foresight on the whole "survival suit" thing. It sure got a workout today! I think I was one of the very few "Qallunait" (non-Inuit) who didn't get cold at all. We did end up having a gorgeous, sunny day for our trip out on the land, but it was freezing when the wind was blowing and even colder hanging on for dear life at breakneck speeds across ice fields, frozen lakes, mountains and hills.

Now I know I look excited in the picture and I can honestly say that this was one of the most amazing things I've ever done in my life, but I also have to say that the 50 km ride out to "Fish Lake" was one of the scariest and most nerve wracking things I've ever done.

At around eight thirty we gathered at the school and everyone who had a snowmobile or a Kamotik (home-made sled) started packing everything and everyone up. As you can tell from the picture, the sled I was in was really just a plywood box on homemade runners. Emma and I grabbed some gym mats to put in the sled, but they didn't fit very well and we were kind of awkwardly packed in.
No sooner had we gotten across the frozen harbour and up onto the land but we capsized completely. The snowmobile dragged the kamotik for a litttle bit, but luckily we weren't going fast and Emma and I just kind of tumbled out on our sides. Everyone stopped to make sure we were all right and we heaved the wooden crate back over, packed ourselves back in and continued on.

At this point the cavalcade began to pick up speed and I started to get really nervous. I had drawn the "short straw", and was facing backwards, sitting at the very front of the kamotik, where the lack of shock absorbers meant that I was dropped unceremoniously over every bump and turn. I couldn't see where we were going, and had to rely on Emma for cues about how to lean to keep this contraption from spilling over again. It felt as if I was sitting in a wooden box that was being dropped about two feet every two and a half minutes and manhandled around corners, over mountains and through narrow passageways. Not to mention the fact that the wind from the speed was bitingly cold.

Once we got over the first part of land and started out over another frozen harbour, our driver kicked it up a notch and I thought we were going to die.

Just when I thought we couldn't possibly go any faster, we heard a noise and the kamotik slowed down and then stopped completely. Emma started laughing and jumped out, pointing ahead of us at the receding snowmobile, which was happily continuing on the track without us, oblivious to the fact that the hitch had broken.

Pretty soon it was just me and Emma and the kamotik, with not a snowmobile in sight! We laughed and shrugged our shoulders, hoping they would figure it out eventually, and sure enough, they did. They came back, jury-rigged the thing back together and we headed out again at breakneck speeds. Needless to say, by the time we got to Fish Lake about an hour later, I was ready for a rest!

Once I recovered from the journey, which really didn't take long for me (It took a little longer for Emma who had gotten quite cold and needed help getting out and activating some hand and body warmers she had brought), I started to look around. I just couldn't believe how incredible it was. Once again, I'm glad that a picture is worth a thousand words, but I think this experience is worth an entire library's worth of words.
Some people started setting up a tent and others got to work digging holes for fishing. Most of the Inuit had holes they fish at quite often, so they only required a little bit of ice-breaking and slush removal, but we had brought a big gas-powered auger with us to help dig a few new ones. The ice was unbelievably thick... on more than one occasion the auger wasn't long enough to reach the water!
It was really cool to see them work the auger- it would dig deep into the ice and then they would have to haul it up to clear the crushed ice. At one point they hit water, hauled up the auger and threw a huge mound of slush and water up out of the hole and all over the ice.

The best part about fishing, though, was watching the Inuit set up their holes and patiently wait, bobbing their lines up and down to attract the fish. They scooped out the slush with their bare hands quite often, and laid on their stomachs for hours to look down into the hole. if you looked in the hole, you could see the bottom of the lake, and the idea is you watch for a fish to go by and then you jerk the line.

I asked Mary (one of the elders who had come with us) if she had put anything on the end of the line, and she said "No, you don't have to. Sometimes I put a little piece of orange peel and today I put some white plastic."

She was pretty quiet, but I offered her a granola bar and she let me look after her line while she ate it. Then she started telling me her fishing stories... According to her story, she was fishing one day and caught thirty fish in one hour. Apparently everyone who was with her started digging holes near hers, but no one was able to catch anywhere near as many fish. Now there may be a bit of exaggeration going on, since I think she only caught one tiny little fish today, but it was nice to hear the story anyway.

We stayed out on the lake for about five hours. Ina, the school ESL teacher and trip organizer, had brought bannock, caribou stew, Atlantic Char and hot chocolate, which they kept piping hot all day on a couple of burners in the tent. It all tasted incredible... especially seasoned with all the fresh air.

I didn't have any luck fishing, but I did manage to score a snowmobile ride out further into the wilderness. Cecil, the high school principal, took me out about three or four kilometres past the lake, up onto a mountain. After surviving a pretty harrowing and uncomfortable ride on a kamotik, the cushioned snowmobile seat with its gentle, shock-absorbing ride seemd like a luxury cadillac. And the million-dollar view is something I will remember forever.

When we got back to the camp, lots of people were still hard at work fishing. I couldn't believe how long some of the women could lay on their stomachs in the snow and just watch for fish!

All good things must come to an end, and eventually we had to pack everything back up for the long ride home. I was kind of dreading the bumping and banging, but I didn't want to seem like a wimp, so I put on my brave face and hopped back in the kamotik.

We only drove a short way before we stopped to check on another group that had been fishing at a different lake. One of them had found an arctic fox along the way, and being a complete tourist, I had to take a picture. I mean how often am I going to have the opportunty to see and arctic fox this close? It was quite small, and had apparently been injured, possibly in a trap. The guy who found it was going to take it home and use the fur... it sure was soft! When we were ready to start on our journey again Emma offered to change seats with me, and after a reasonably convincing amount of protesting (I thought), I agreed.

Well I wish I could describe the incredible journey back! Firstly, Emma said, "How in the heck did you do this?? I can't hack it- I just have to see where we're going!". She proceeded to turn around, but even turned the other way, she agreed that the bumps were excruciating. I felt really bad for her, but a little vindicated... I was beginning to think I was a wimp!

And as for me? Well, I had the most incredible ride through the most amazing scenery... it was like being in another world. The bumps were no where near as bad sitting in the back, and I could see this frozen wasteland stretched out for miles in front of me. I was sorry to see Cape Dorset appear on the horizon about a half an hour later... I could have gone on that way for days.

The kamotik ride out was definitely a little rough, and I just had to take a picture of my "war wounds" when I got back to prove it. Both arms got pretty banged up from the hard plywood sides.

I also took a picture of the two Atlantic Char we managed to get from one of the guys who had more luck fishing than we did. They were huge and you just can't get them any fresher!

All in all, I have to re-iterate... This was a trip of a lifetime. I am so incredibly grateful to the folks at Sam Pudlat school and especially Ina, who organized the whole thing and David and Frances for making sure I felt welcome on this amazing experience. I had no idea what I was in for when I prayed for good weather last night as the dancing bears and kids sent me to sleep, but I will be saying my own private "thank you"s to whoever answered for a long time.