September 30, 2009

Family, flippers, and missing mojo...


I received such a wonderful compliment today...one of my students said to me, "I usually don't like to eat in front of a qallunaaq because I get embarrassed, but I'm not when you're around." There was a group of us gathered around a table with a pot of boiled seal flippers in the middle. In the morning they had been fresh and wrapped up in a generic plastic bag from the Northern laid out like and apple on the teacher's desk. After hours of simmering, they were finally ready...and, I must say, quite pungent.

I was a bit reticent about trying the flipper because, with the fur, it kind of looked like pieces of Gryphon. However, I put that thought out of my mind and started to concentrate more on the nails and bone structure. As you can see in the pictures, it looks like I'm being really picky...no, it was more like I was trying not to damage the end of the bones with my teeth (more on this later).


Anyway, I know the first question for those of you down south is 'What did it taste like?' I wasn't sure what to expect, but as soon as I tried it I knew there was something familiar about it - just like there was something familiar about the smell (it reminded me of parts of Nova Scotia when the tide is out leaving the seaweed and drying jellyfish on the rocks). It took me awhile to pin-point what it was, but I think I've got it now. Garlic spare ribs...without the garlic. You know how you have your big plate of Chinese food and you're oh-so-happy about the fact you have extra ribs? Then you look closer and realize how you've been 'meat deprived'? That little wrapping of fat and meat flavouring encircling the bone is what seal flipper tastes like.


Hee hee...in one of those pictures it looks like I'm smelling it to make sure it hasn't gone bad. Actually, what I was doing was trying to clean a few of the bones; I was able to strip the dog and one of the daughters. What does that mean? Well, in the seal flippers you find, obviously, a standard number of bones. Think of them like finger joints. Each has a different size and shape. Traditionally these bones were saved to make a little family with a qamutik and a dog team. The dogs are made from the slivers of bone that shoot down the hollow claw/nail, and the daughters are made from the second smallest joint (the smallest is, of course, the baby). I was trying to be careful to make sure I didn't bite off the 'head' in one of those pictures.

One thing occurred to me during this experience...it was somewhat like sitting around making a puzzle or playing cards. It was not presented in the way that some food has been presented to me in the past. Chicken feet, dog (kaegogi), fish eyes, insects...they were all offered as a type of test to see what the 'foreigner' would do. Would I blanche at the thought? Vomit? Talk about how disgusting it is? The answer was always 'no'. Perhaps the presentation of the eyeball I had last week had a little element of that...

...but no. Not today. Today's seal flipper was just a gathering. I wasn't being analyzed or laughed at nor made to feel it was 'go time' if I wanted to make an impression. People were doing their own thing and I was invited to partake. That made me happy. I did take a few pictures but, somehow, I felt that taking too many was just a voyeuristic behaviour. Taking pictures of me doing something that is so far out of my element so I can flash them around to friends and family in the south is like trying to make people uncomfortable using another culture's customs. It's not right. So yes, I did take pictures and no, I won't post more than these two of me. The pictures of me with the group are special only to me and, if someone doesn't like eating in front of most qallunaaqs, there's a reason for that...the same reason which makes it unfair for me to ever post them.

It seems that in the past week I've been banking the faux-pas (what is the plural of that word?). Either that or people just feel more comfortable telling me. Right now I question everything I do wondering if it's insensitive or rude. Today I chuckled when someone said her mom used to make Inuit dolls for her when she was a child then pointedly saying, 'We didn't have Barbies to play with.' The reason I laughed was not because I thought that was funny but because I wasn't allowed Barbies either..."promotes unrealistic body type". That amusement, naturally, was misunderstood. Another incident yesterday about Literacy Week here in Nunavut. I won't get into it...there has just been a lot of it recently; I'm usually more successful at maneuvering these things. Lost my mojo.

Well, I guess that's it from Pang tonight. Rest well my fellow bloggers...

1 comment:

Haz said...

http://answers.yahoo.com/question/index?qid=20080905063347AAPYzeN