Well the good ol' paradigm "nothing in life is free" is kinda false here. Many things here are free. The government pays for it. I recently inquired about a sewing class that I was interested in and when I asked what the price was she looked at me strangely and asked "what? you want to pay for this?". My reply was "where I come from, nothing is free". She laughed and added me to the list of participants. So last night was my first class. We are making sealskin kamiks for a child (boots). In some ways I think the government is trying. These programs are set up to teach young moms the traditional skills and crafts that are slowly dying. They are meant to teach moms of children under six to make things like sealskin mittens, boots or knitted hats. The programs are set up to bring the young and the elders together since the classes are taught by an elder. The sealskin is provided for us as well as a healthy snack (it HAS to be healthy).
So once again I will say it, the government is trying. It's a good setup.
So there I was last night shy and nervous. I didn't know how well I would be received. I made sure it was ok with the organizing lady, but I was still afraid some would think that I was taking a local woman's place (the spots are limited). I was relieved to actually know two of the moms! One was the quiet birthday party girl's mother, but the other was a cheery girl from Arctic Bay. I was so glad to have her since it was all in Inuktitut and she was able to translate the important stuff. It was also nice to have someone to laugh with at how awkward I was at all of it! I was also well received by the elder - thankfully. She spoke Inuktitut 99% of the time but switched to English when she had something to tell me personally. She was patient, graceful and kind to me. I feel so blessed. She made the pattern out of paper by wrapping it around Isaac's leg and then cut it. I had to trace it on the sealskin, then cut the 2 pieces out. I asked her if I should use scissors and all she said was "ulu" (woman's knife). Well I don't have an ulu (other than the decorative one I bought) and I certainly had never used one! She showed me how and gave me her ulu to use. It's a small miracle that I came home last night with all my digits intact. Goodness the ulu was sharp!!!! I wish someone had taken a picture of me bent over on the floor (oh yes, BTW we work sitting on the floor and not at a table) painstakingly cutting my pelt. One lady suggested I sit upright and steady the skin with my leg but I didn't have enough control I felt so I went back down.
The room stank of dead seal. Yup you read right. The skins stink like that really stinky fishy smell we all hate. As I was cutting my skin with my face about 6 inches away from it, I remember thinking that I better not faint otherwise the upward tip of the ulu would slice my jugular... So I managed to cut my pieces and start sewing the two sides together of one of them. We use sinew thread. It's very tough to sew because the skin in tough and the sinew is thick. Not to mention that I have a crappy PLASTIC thimble and sweaty hands. This could take me forever...
Interesting fact: at the end of the night we had to bag the skins and put them in the freezer so that they don't dry out. I was very surprised at this and apparently some of the women put their own kamiks in the freezer too (or they leave them outside in the cold - but run the risk of having them stolen). Speaking of the skins, I noticed the bullet holes that had been sewn up, one on either side of the skin. I imagine that the bullet goes right through them when they are shot. Yes it's a little morbid but this is life here. On a side note, today on the way home from picking up the boys there was a caribou carcass hanging over the garbage cans in front of a house... People here life off the land and the sea. Not as much as they used to but it's still a big part of their lives.
Anyway, I had fun at my class despite the language barrier and I was glad as usual to meet other moms in the community as well as an elder. I'm looking forward to Thursday night's class. I'm going to try to find a metal thimble and a rubber band to help me pull the needle out of the skin after every stitch.