Saturday, April 23, 2011

gone so long

Some kids playing in the snow with the tundra stretching into the horizon. There haven't been too many days where the weather was warm enough for people to do much outside. (Can you spot the pompom on the top of a toque somewhere in this photo?)

I took this on my short walk to work one morning. The houses in the distance (far left) are actually on the edge of the harbour. I'll be sure to take a similar picture when the ice breaks up.

I may have been the only person to go to work during last week's blizzard (at least in the morning). There was a bit of lull in the wind when I took this. It was cool (figuratively and literally) to be out in an Arctic blizzard but I saw first hand how easy it would be to get turned around and totally disoriented when the world becomes nothing more than a few shades of gray and white.

The snow is probably close to to 4 meters deep. The recent blizzard was key in the formation of the stylish peaks on the snow bank that now mostly covers the sign for the Learning Centre.

Another morning shot. I took this shortly after arriving in Tuk. The daylight has already extended so much that I'd have to leave well over an hour earlier to try and catch the same lighting.

Kids don't stand a chance

(There's an ocean around here somewhere)

Never again will I take for granted the infrastructure that delivers clean water and removes sewage. In the brief time I’ve worked here the Learning Centre has had to be shut down due to a lack of running water/plumbing. The cause, as I later learned, was that the water reservoir for the school ran low and this in turn burned out the water pump. It’s now a week after the problem was fixed and our sewage hasn’t been pumped out since. Too much sewage is not only malodorous but it affects the water from being a) pumped into the school from the delivery truck and b) running when turning on the faucets/ flushing the toilet. If it’s not rectified soon the Learning Centre will have to close down again. A call to the Hamlet office was received by a rather cranky woman telling me the problem was due to a recent blizzard. She didn’t seem receptive to the idea that the lack of delivery predated the blizzard; she did however take the time to reiterate that the blizzard was the cause of the problem.

Showering at the mission house (where I live) is never a sure thing either. I’ve come back from running only to find out that water wasn’t delivered and that conservation measures are now in effect. It’s not a nice feeling to go to bed knowing that you’re mostly covered in dried sweat.

Interestingly the delivery/ removal systems are two of the few job options available to residents of the hamlet. My housemate told me that the unemployment rate in Tuk is at 80% (I will endeavour to back this up). The students at the Learning Centre certainly seem to reflect this as they do not (at this point) seem to have any clear idea of what they’d like to do with their academic upgrading. If anything the school provides a break from online gambling, movies, and video games for some of the students. I’ve had people show up after missing a day saying they were absent because they were gambling at a friend’s house (definitely an inexcusable absence). One student had a particularly bleak attitude about his future prospects. “You live to die,” he said during class. He went on to say that there is no hope of anything better up here when it comes to employment or having more to do. I countered that there is hope – that his being at the Learning Centre meant something and would lead to something if worked for it.

Friday, April 08, 2011

A cloak of Elvenkind

I'm not going to lie - it's really fracking cold up here. There's usually a strong wind that comes right off the Arctic ocean and even though Environment Canada says it's only in the -30s, I say it's colder than anything I've experienced before. Unsurprisingly there isn't much happening outside at any given time.

I guess someone made a decision not to shovel the steps leading to the learning centre prior to my arrival (maybe it was too cold). I had already chipped away the the snow bank that had a few footholds kicked in before I took this photo. A person wanting to gain access to the school literally had to climb up a wall of snow.

It took me well over an hour but I managed to dig out the bottom steps. I'm glad there are no students who require use of the ramp leading to the school - you can kind of see the railing in this picture.

Coming up this week is the Beluga Jamboree. Much like the Muskrat Jamboree in Inuvik there will be all sorts of competitions for people to show off their skills in areas such as: starting a fire and making bannock, ice fisihing, skidooing and dog-sledding to name a few. It should be fun and provide me with a few photo ops.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Spiders in the kitchen

Arctic life lesson: Remember that I am only mostly invincible.

I thought of this as I watched frost crystals bloom across the sweatshirt covering my chest and felt the moisture around my mouth turn to ice. I had been running with what I thought was a gentle wind against my back but when I turned around it exerted a bitterly cold force almost greater than the speed I was running. Walking wasn't an option as I was somewhat afraid of my sweat freezing and and then I'd have to consider the implications of being 'mostly invincible'. Arctic Wind: 0, Jesse V: 1

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Go further

There was a big snowstorm here a few weeks ago. I'm told it knocked out all communication systems but fortunately not the power. The implication of this is that people had no access to any form of money or even information of the world at large for several days. Most people were able to open a tab at the grocery store but some had to borrow from those lucky enough to have actual cash on them. The remnants of the blizzard seem to have been piled in front of the Learning Centre.

One day, maybe soon, I will climb the pingos I can see from the window at the Learning Centre. Today was kind of crazy at work. There hasn't been an instructor here for several months and it really shows. I'm going to approach this with the same mentality I've used with running: it can only get better.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bound away

View Tuk in a larger map

I've only been here for a day but I feel comfortable saying that life in Tuk is remarkably different than Inuvik. For starters, I feel like I'm living at the edge of the world (in a way I guess I am). As well, there's something unsettling about living in a climate where trees can't grow. I took my camera out this morning and it was so cold that it stopped being able to function (it was fine after being inside for a minute). There are two grocery stores (one deals mainly in dry bulk goods and frozen goods). Food prices are steep -$12.00 for 2 litres of milk and that's with the ice road open. Produce is, unsurprisingly, not in great shape (it's like it tried to go a few rounds with Mohamed Ali); the diminished state doesn't translate into cheaper prices. In a bigger city I'm pretty sure most grocers wouldn't even try selling what's available up here.
At this point I don't miss booze but it is different that I can't buy some whenever I want. My roommates asked that I bring them some wine - most of which has already been put to good use. Another difference I'm sure I'll miss in the future is that Tuk is without a restaurant. Fortunately I seem to have hit the jackpot and ended up with housemates that like to cook (and cook well).
Tomorrow is the first day of my new job. There are a lot of unanswered questions about what I'm doing and what's been happening at the Centre in the absence of a teacher. I have the key to the building and my supervisor is a 2 and 1/2 hour drive away. I guess I'm up to bat.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

come on and wake me up is now: unpaused.

A scant two weeks ago I was in the Bahamas with Capital M for the wedding of Hamesy and Dyson (nickname approval pending). The wedding was a blast though I'm still off rye and liquor in general. It pains me to say this but I think teenagers handle their booze better than I do. In my defense I was trying to help the newly wedded couple get the most for their money at the open bar. Yes, gentle reader - I drank for the noblest of reasons.
Shortly after arriving back in Toronto I was offered a short term contract with Aurora College - this time in the smaller, more northern community of Tuktoyaktuk. The job offer had been a long time in coming (I applied before Christmas) and it explains the view from where I am currently sitting.
From the window in the kitchen I can see the Beaufort Sea (Arctic Ocean if you'd rather) and a lone pingo in the distance. What I don't see are any trees or anything more than the tips of grass poking through the snow. The thermometer outside the window reads a temperature thirty degrees colder than the weather in Toronto. I share a home with 4 other people (I never thought I'd have housemates again) and have already been treated to what may have been the finest bowl of soup this side of the Arctic Circle. Housing in Tuk is extremely limited and I'm actually lucky that this place had a spare room.
I start my job on Monday - on Tuesday I'm having an open house so if anyone is interested in seeing the Learning Centre please come by (seriously).