Friday, May 11, 2007

Why I Never Drink Tea

Move over old "the-dog-ate-my-homework" excuse! I've got a topper. I mentioned in a recent post that it had been quite awhile since I'd been away from the classroom - other than the odd meeting and tournament. The last time I was out was just after the Victoria Day long weekend in 2004. My reason for being absent for the day was snow blindness, so here is the rest of the story.

Every year for the past few years (I'm not sure when it started), a group of community members from Qikiqtarjuaq had been getting together and doing walks to raise awareness about the issue of suicide. As a teacher, I was asked if I wanted to participate and having lost students to suicide, and wanting also to see more of the landscape around me, I only had one answer to the invitation.

These "walks" were more like mini-expeditions. That year the stroll was 50km. A group of around 30, along with a small support team, left early on the Friday evening of that long weekend and made a 6 hour trip north of Qikiqtarjuaq to Kivitoo, a site once used back in the whaling days as an on-shore processing point. The plan was to overnight at a cabin right on the edge of Auyuittuq National Park and then head out the next morning on foot back to Qik, overnighting a second night on the sea ice.

I had done a few long marches while I was in the reserves so I figured since I was still on the sunny side of 30, I shouldn't have too much of a problem. How wrong I was. I neglected to bring along with me the one thing that I now seldom leave the house with on a bright spring day - sunglasses. I did have a traditional pair of Inuit goggles carved from caribou bone along with me that I was hoping to try out. But during one of our stops for a mug-up I accidentally put them in a small pack that ended up on a qamutiq pulled by one of the skidoos along with the support team.

I did notice a slight burning sensation around the corners of my eyes as the day progressed but I ignored it, thinking I just had a headache. It actually felt better the following day after we had camped out on the ice so again I paid it no mind. I was reunited with my traditional goggles eventually but foolishly neglected to wear them.

These goggles were traditionally carved by a hunter to custom fit his own face of course. The ones I had were ones I had picked up in Iqaluit that I was hoping to test out in real-life conditions. I also found the small slits rather restrictive to my vision. ( to put this delicately? When one makes a pit stop along the trail it is hard to see where you are going. Anyhow, the process of taking off my sealskin mitts, lifting my parka hood and removing and then replacing and repositioning the goggles became a pain so I decided after awhile to just not wear them.)

Anyhow, by the time we reached town, many people were commenting on how red my eyes looked. I just figured it was sunburn. The pain however, did not subside this time and only got worse. I went to bed that night in the comfort of my own bed but with a major headache. When I woke up early the next morning, it felt as if someone was jabbing needles into my eye sockets. The pain was so intense and my eyelids so swollen that I could barely open them. I fell back asleep and was woken sometime later by a ringing phone. I stumbled to it and found my principal on the other end. He told me that he had heard I had had a bit of a rough time so he understood if I wouldn't be heading in that morning. (In addition to the eyes, my left leg muscles had harden up like a brick and I could barely end my knee). Of course I had to tell him that fatigue was the least of my concerns at the moment. I could barely open my eyes due to my snow blind condition.

I spent the rest of the day chiding myself for my stupidity. Fortunately, after 24 hours, my eyes felt quite a bit better. A local staffer had phoned and suggested I use tea bags on my eyes. They worked quite well to dull the pain, but I think my nose can still pick up a mint green tea scent 3 years later. The following day I was right as rain again but I definitely learned some important lessons - sunglasses are a must in spring, walking over sea ice for 2 days is not as easy as it might seem and, I'll never drink mint tea again.