Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Going to Umiujaq

To continue with my story:

After a lot of packing and moving things (and getting married), I headed up to Nunavik in the northern part of Quebec.  The school board I had chosen operated 14 communities up on the Arctic tundra and all of them were fly-in only.  The village I had been assigned to was Umiujaq, a village of about 350 people.  Before I went there, I was sent to an orientation in Inukjuaq, a village just north of Umiujaq.

When I arrived, all the teachers were picked up from the airport in a bus and our luggage was picked up by a pick up truck. From there we were all driven to our homes for the week. Some got to stay in a hotel and others were placed with Inuit families for a week so that we could fully understand how the Inuit lived before we arrived at our home communities. I was placed with a lovely Inuit couple who were the Christian ministers for the Hudson Bay communities.  They were very nice to us (there were two teachers assigned to the same house) and let us ask them a million questions, shared their food and home with us. They also took us on several excursions around Inukjuaq where we could appreciate how beautiful it was up there.

The orientation was interesting although incredibly long.  We learned about the Inuttitut alphabet, the Inuit culture, some of the challenges we may face as new teachers and we were given lessons about the KSB curriculum.  Back at the home I was staying in, they were eating raw meat, skinning seal skins, going out to the camping tent and doing other cultural stuff with us.  Unfortunately, the other teacher who was with me in that house was quite horrified by a lot of what we saw and decided to return to the south to get a different teaching job. That happens a lot up there and after some perspective, I suppose it is better that she left then instead of after beginning her teaching position when it would just make the students more cynical about the weak character of "Qualunaat" (that's what they call us, it means "outsiders"). At the time I was very surprised and felt a jolt of superiority that I was tougher.

After arrival in Umiujaq, we were shown our new homes (which were very nice) and escorted to the two stores in the village where we could purchase food. The first thing one notices is how very FEW items there are to purchase. There is no fresh milk, only the packaged kind that does not go bad outside of the fridge (which I had never even HEARD of before). Items are very expensive, a jug of water was $7 and there are few fresh veggies and no fresh meat. I felt a sense of adventure from all of these things but a few people felt that these were intense challenges to over come.

An interesting thing happens when you are in the north: in the first year you start to long intensely for the things you cannot get that you were used to buying in the south. Mine was a particular type of coffee cream, the wine that I used to enjoy, and Tim Hortons coffee.  You can start to obsess about how to get these things and spend tons of money trying to replace them. However, if you stay long enough (the second year for me), you start to let go of those things you thought were so important and start to  'make do' with what is available.   You start to wonder why they were so important. After years of perspective I have discovered that it was probably part of culture shock and that over time, it passes. You even laugh about how silly it was and some of the most interesting conversations are started on the planes down to the south where you talk to strangers about the 'one thing' they missed the most. It's fun!  :)  We talk about how we are going to have a 'double double' as soon as the plane lands. Or McDonald's, or a beer.  It's one of the things you miss when you leave, a feeling of belonging to something bigger, a team of people who are working toward the same goal who have the same type of adventurous character as yourself.  It is an amazing thing, to belong to such a great community of teachers. police, nurses and social workers who are there to learn from the same amazing culture and people.

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