Wednesday, May 5, 2010

So long, and thanks for all the fish

And so it ends.

It was 1294 days ago that I first set foot in Nunavik and now it's the last day. As I leave, there are no awards, no fanfares, no hour long special featuring your favourite moments from all the previous seasons, as well as some never-before-seen outtakes and behind the scenes footage. Instead, I'm now just the man in the suitcase, sitting eating a last bowl of cheerios whilst surrounded by all my boxes (20 of them), waiting for the van to come to take me to the airport.

It's an ordinary end to what's been an extraordinary journey.

If you'd told me five years ago, when we were still back in the UK, that I would spend four years - three of them on my own - in an isolated Inuit community teaching English to college hopefuls, I'd have taken you about as seriously as a very unserious thing that had just won the world unseriousness championships. However, life never pans out quite how you'd expect, and here I am and there I was.

To paraphrase Celine Dion the blog will go on - I think - so keep looking in, but this particular chapter has now reached its end. Thanks for sharing the journey with me; you've been great company.


Monday, May 3, 2010

Inuit Idol

Two days to go.

Despite the prolonged build up to my departure, and the fact that I'm writing this surrounded by boxes in various states of 'packed-ness', I still don't think it's really sunk in that in two days I'll be on a plane out of here for the very last time. At this stage of proceedings there are so many loose ends to tie up and last minute jobs to be done that there isn't really any time to think much further ahead than today.

James' party on Saturday was fun, and I've been invited next door for supper on Tuesday, so my adventure in Kangiqsujuaq will be ending just as it began. James and Sophie fed me on my very first day here back in August, and I shall miss their kindness and friendship when I leave. I'm also eating out tonight, as Roland is putting on a supper at the residence for the departing students, and it was earlier today that I gave my students their TOEFL results, the results that dictate whether or not they get to go to college.

I always feel like Simon Cowell at this stage of the year, the whole process reminding me of the conclusion to Hollywood Week on American Idol when the contestants are told whether they've made it onto the show or not. The students sit in our classroom and then, one by one, I call them into the room next door (which is fortunately vacant a lot of the time and was again today) to give them their results. Like Simon, I'm not one to sugar coat the truth if it's bad, and whilst I don't gain any personal pleasure out of doing it this way I don't think I'd being doing the students any favours if I did it any differently. If they get praise from Simon then they deserve it, and it's the same in my class.

As it was, my students did pretty well this year so there wasn't much disappointment floating around, but it's only now that their journey really begins. When they head south to college they'll no longer be the big fishes in a small pool, and like the contestants on Idol they're going to have to work hard to stay the course. Whether they manage to stick it out remains to be seen, but at least their fate is in their own hands, with no phone votes and no Ryan Seacrest to deal with.

Dim the lights...

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Packing up

It's now my last weekend in the North, and the end really is in sight. Packing has begun, and even though I have relatively few possessions here, I still have a whole bunch of stuff that I've hardly ever or in some cases, never, used. I came here with 18 boxes, and if I were to do it all again I could probably halve that number and still live relatively comfortably. When I get home next week I'm going to be going through the whole process again as we prepare for our major southern move - more on that in the days and weeks to come - and it's for that reason that I'm not quite as hyped about leaving as I might be otherwise.

I hate moving, or at least the packing side of things, and the fact that we've done it so often over the course of the past decade hasn't made me alter my opinion in any way. I make it that I've been involved in eleven moves over the course of the last ten years, including one inter-continental move and several excursions to, from and around Nunavik, but hopefully this will be it for the foreseeable future. Frank Sinatra used to sing that it was nice to go travelling but so much nicer to come home and I tend to agree, but I bet he never had to pack. Mafia connections most certainly have their perks; two men, a van and a horse's head...

In other news, it's James' birthday tomorrow, and as Sundays aren't the best days for parties he and Sophie are hosting a potluck tonight. I'm making spaghetti and sauce (how original), and in true Keith Floyd style there will be plenty of liquid stimulation on hand during the process as, in the initial stages of packing, I found a bottle and a half of rum plus some pina colada mixer that I forgot I had. My spaghetti's going to be awesome...

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Drains and radiators

We all do it. You've probably done it at least once today already; much to my shame, I know I have. Gordon Brown (texture like sun) did it earlier this week and it might end up costing him the UK election. No, I'm not referring to talking in a Scottish accent. I am instead talking about the noble art of back-biting, gossip or just plain old bitching. Talking about other people behind their backs, the kind of talk that usually takes the form of derogatory slander, must be one of the most universally popular pastimes known to man.

I read an article today on just this topic, an article inspired by Gordon Brown's pre-election gaffe of calling a Labour Party supporter a bigot once he thought he was out of range of the microphone. In it, the writer espoused a number of theories as to why we indulge in such behaviour, my favourite being the one in which our lives are viewed as dramatic productions. We play out the roles given to us and we have a centre stage where we assume that we are being observed and a backstage area which we think is hidden from public view. When engaged in formal social interaction we have to remain 'in character' for the benefit of the audience (everybody else), but Mr Brown's 'bigot' remark or your slagging off of your boss to your colleague at the water cooler are examples of backstage personas.

Every workplace is, to a greater or lesser extent, afflicted with this type of behaviour, and in a small school like the one here in Kangiqsujuaq it's hard to avoid it and even harder to avoid being sucked in by it. Jacob and I were discussing this issue along with the article I read, and we came up with the idea that perhaps schools should have two staffrooms: a bitching staffroom and a non-bitching staffroom. This idea also has an added benefit, in that staff might be so self-conscious about entering the room with the sign above the door marked 'bitching' that they would have to enter the non-bitching one instead, thus diminishing the problem with the minimum of effort.

Even in such a multi-staffroomed school though, back-biting would not disappear; human nature dictates otherwise. I remember a prize-giving speech at my old school in the UK in which the guest speaker declared that most people in life fit into one of two categories: they are either drains or radiators. Radiators bring light and joy into a room whilst drains suck the life out of everybody in it. That speech has stuck with me over the years and I think the speaker was spot on; think of everyone you work with, and I bet you could draw up a list of drains and radiators pretty quickly.

The speaker concluded his speech by urging all present to go forth and be life's radiators rather than life's drains, and it's advice I've always tried to follow. As I alluded to earlier though, sometimes it's hard to stay on such a righteous path, and I'm very aware that I've been all too easily led astray of late, so much so that I now avoid our staffroom unless I really have to go there. We only have one, you see...

But there I go, straying off that road again. I told you the path of righteousness was a difficult route to follow.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Sound judgment

We are most definitely into the realm of 'lasts' now. Today was my last ever Wednesday in Kangiqsujuaq, and this time next week I shall be, weather permitting, well and truly back in the south. Just how much of me will remain in the North? Only time will tell on that one; as I've said before, the North has very much become 'my Canada' over the past four years, and I guess we will have to wait until we get to the end of August and I haven't crammed myself into a Dash-8 or a Twin Otter before we can start to make a judgment.

For the moment I'm still here though, and today we marked International Noise Awareness Day with a number of highly interesting (honestly) in-class activities. Hearing loss is a big issue in these parts, with iPod-induced deafness exacerbated by the roar of skidoos and ATVs (or Hondas, as they're universally referred to here), and I suppose the occasional use of hunting rifles and carving tools doesn't help either.

I was somewhat shocked to witness my students' genuine amazement when they learned that listening to music through headphones at full volume will undoubtedly damage your hearing, but at least their eyes (and ears) have now been opened, and maybe they will now take steps to rectify the situation. Or maybe they'll pay no heed whatsoever; you can take a horse to water...

On a semi-related note, my research for Noise Awareness Day led me to the discovery of a rather fascinating series of recordings. They were made by a man named Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville around 150 years ago, and are now regarded as the earliest known recordings of the human voice. Now, it would seem that Scott was only interested in studying the visual properties of sound waves and never intended for these recordings to be played back, which is a bit like studying ice cream by looking at it rather than eating it, but thanks to modern scientific advances we can now finally hear the results of Scott's experiments whilst at the same time enjoying over a thousand flavours of ice cream. You can hear the recordings here.

Oh, and lest I forget, I must report that my students unanimously rejected the lone gunman theory after their investigation into the assassination of JFK. Instead, they believe that there was a conspiracy involving the FBI and Secret Service that possibly went up as high as Vice-President Lyndon Johnson; Oliver Stone and Kevin Costner would be proud. Maybe we'll discuss the Moon landings tomorrow...

Monday, April 26, 2010

The Persistence of Memory

It's now the time of year when everything is starting to melt. The landscape is still covered with a snowy white shroud, but rocks, roads and patches of soil are now starting to poke through, much like the way in which the hairs on the legs of an East German women's shot-putter from the 1980s would have poked through her stockings should (s)he have tried to wear any.

Time is also melting away, like the clocks in Dali's famous painting, and it's melting just as slowly, if not slower, than the snow and ice. For both myself and my students we are now at the stage where nobody wants to be here any more and, if truth be told, nobody really needs to be either. For the students, their exams are now long over, and consequently their academic fate is effectively already sealed. Quite why they have to sit their exam a full two months before the end of the course I never managed to fathom out but, just like the Light Brigade, mine is not to reason why.

From my point of view it's just a matter of keeping my class occupied for one more week and trying to maintain the mutual motivation of both students and teacher. To that end I always fill this time of year with projects which at the very least interest me and hopefully manage to pique the interest of my students as well. Last week I taught my class some German - they can now count to ten, ask for directions to the railway station and order two large beers, please - and tomorrow we're going to examine the conspiracy theories surrounding the assassination of President Kennedy. I'll let you know whether my students subscribe to the theory of the lone gunman in the next post.

In the meantime I shall continue to stare out of the window, wishing myself away as I watch the snow melt, and as I do it's rather opportune that the Dave Matthews Band's Dive In should come up on my iPod:

Wake up sleepy head,
I think the sun's a little brighter today.
Smile and watch the icicles melt away and see the water rising.
Summer's here to stay and all those summer games will last forever.
Go down to the shore, kick off your shoes, dive in the empty ocean.

Nine more days...

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Eleven days

Eleven days to go now, and my thoughts are most certainly starting to turn to the summer and all the changes that are on what is an ever-nearing horizon. Now that my imminent departure is official I've been able to talk more openly about my plans with friends and colleagues here, and the more I talk the more excited I'm actually becoming about the future.

Those of you that know me well will know that I'm normally a very phlegmatic person, perhaps too phlegmatic, but for once I really am feeling genuinely excited and I don't think that the next eleven days are going to pass anywhere near quickly enough. My students are on a trip to the Pingualuit Crater this weekend and don't return until Monday afternoon, so consequently I will be starting my week with a personal ped day, which means that just six of those eleven days will be spent teaching before my flight on Wednesday week. Whether this will make the time pass more quickly or not remains to be seen.

The only blot on the landscape is the need to pack which, thankfully, is not too pressing at the moment. However, by this time next week I think I will be in full-on packing mode, and whilst this shouldn't prove to be an overly arduous task it's never one that I look forward to. I arrived in Kangiqsujuaq with only 18 boxes, and as I haven't really accumulated any extra possessions in my time here there shouldn't be any more than 18 boxes coming back down with me. Quite when they'll make it back is anyone's guess - as I've said before, things tend to happen very slowly in the North - but as long as they actually do, that's all that matters.

Eleven days...

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Nothing to crow about

I read a news report today headlined 'Clever New Caledonian crows can use three tools.' It was all about the way in which crows have been studied for their apparent intelligence and how scientists in New Zealand have observed crows using three tools in succession to reach some food.

Well, I don't find that especially clever at all. I can use four, sometimes five tools in succession to reach food, and on occasions I can actually use two tools - namely a knife and fork - simultaneously. Beat that, Mr Crow.

The article then goes on to describe how one of the birds, named Casper - quite how the scientists knew his name was not explained - completed a task involving food on a string on his first try, although he was 'initially puzzled by the string.' Well excuse me scientists, but I've seen a lot of string in my time and not once have I ever been puzzled or even remotely perplexed. And do you hear me bragging about it? No you do not.

In all honesty, I don't think these crows sound particularly clever at all.

Simpleton birds.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Two weeks notice

It's official; I'm leaving the North.

I have my ticket, and in two weeks' time I will be back home in the south.


As I mentioned a few posts ago, this moment has been coming for a while now, but yesterday I finally confirmed my intentions with the powers that be and today I received my travel itinerary. Most things happen very slowly in the North, but in my life events are now moving on apace. The number of teaching days that remain are in single digits - so even I can count them on my fingers - and just two weekends sit between me and my final flight.

I know I'm going to be feeling some mixed emotions over the coming days - in fact I'm already feeling them - but I'm glad to have finally made an irrevocable decision and I know in my heart that it's the right one. I've said before in these pages that my time in the North has changed my outlook on life, and whilst I really do believe that my experience has been largely positive, I also feel that the misanthrope inside me is edging ever nearer the surface, especially this year, and that can't be a good thing.

Consequently, my repatriation to the south, and to Melanie in particular, is coming just at the right time I think, and as much as I'm going to be looking back over the next few weeks, now is really a time to be looking forward. There will be many changes ahead and all the routines I've established will need to be broken, but it's all for the greater good.

The countdown has begun...

Monday, April 19, 2010

Don't try this at home

Ben, who teaches math and science to my class, took his lesson outdoors today - it was a balmy -1 degrees outside - and aside from the temperature I was impressed by two things in particular. Firstly, his audience swelled dramatically as a result, which says something about the ratio of students who are actually in the school building when they are meant to be compared with those whose aren't, and secondly...well, there can't be many science lessons that take place with a backdrop like this one!

Oh, and in case you were wondering, in light of the fact that we don't have a cloud of volcanic ash lingering over our part of the world at the moment, Ben was trying to create our own alternative version by dropping increasingly large chunks of sodium into a bowl of water. The end result was pretty impressive and one was left with the thought: just how many outdoor science lessons take place in Iceland?

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