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Beluga Smile

USA | Tuesday, 13 May 2014 | Views [9284] | Comments [7] | Scholarship Entry

It was the smile that confounded me. I had not prepared for the joy.

My students rushed out the school doors towards the beach with shouts of elation. I had never seen the village so alive. Compared to the gentle pace of village life, today was a torrent of community, of life, of survival. The first beluga of the season had been caught.

I was one of the first down to the beach, awed by the three ghostly bodies of the whales on the sand. A mother and a set of twins; a gift from the ocean to my Inupiaq friends.

The village poured onto the beach, flooding the shore with hearty laughter, toddling children, and willing helpers. Soon the harvesting process was going full steam as the community melded into a well-oiled life engine. Women wielding ulus artfully carved the thick layer of pearly blubber away from the ebony meat. The blades flashed in the sunlight as they danced, dividing the precious fat and flesh into family-sized chunks.

Silent heavy-browed men stood over, tugging the blubber-handled sections off the carcass, hoisting them above the blades, and placing them on tattered blue tarps.

Crinkly-eyed children armed with pocketknives dodged over to steal slices of the tail, retreating across a trickling stream to savor their victory, their tongues darting across their lips in satisfaction. A tap on my shoulder and a student grinning as he challenged my weak gussuk stomach with a morsel. A pass or fail test, much like the one he took in my English class this morning, but now it was my turn.

The saltiness came first, then a wet, earthy flavor, reminding me of the aftermath of a coastal storm. An ocean candy to Eskimo children, it was chewy and rapidly expanded, taking me back to games of “Chubby Bunny” I never won. A quick slap on the back from an elder, a mischievous chuckle, and “Swallow while you can.” I quickly followed the advice. Yet I could see the gleam of respect in their eyes; I passed.

As I watched the final streamlined body being rolled towards the cutting area, I could not help but notice its expression. It wore a crimson grin that told a tale of cultural peculiarity, a subsistence lifestyle, and a deep respect for the earth. The whale’s peaceful smirk hinted at the knowledge its body would keep the village alive through the long, dark winter.

Nothing went to waste, nothing was forgotten, and the Inupiaq people gave their thanks. As a crimson, sacrificial tear slowly made a trail down its ivory cheek, the beluga smiled.

Tags: 2014 Travel Writing Scholarship - Euro Roadtrip



Congratulations to you on winning the World Nomads Traveling scholarship.

  Amaobi Nwachukwu Jun 9, 2014 10:50 PM


You'll have to reserve more smiles of yours for your Euro trip. Congratulations!

  Dj26sangalang Jun 11, 2014 9:20 PM


A admire your writing skill :) Congratulations ^^

  Kheyreddine Jun 15, 2014 10:35 AM


Congratulations :)

  Amar Jun 17, 2014 5:07 AM


I'm so not happy you won :P but congratulations. Hope you enjoy this a lot

  pcyra Jul 1, 2014 4:12 AM


Congratulations!!!!! More smiles will come on your way with World Nomads Travelling.

  Sangam Jul 9, 2014 3:32 PM


Great writing, really interesting and evocative!

  DJRaby Jun 9, 2016 10:52 PM

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