Sunday, October 28, 2012

It's the little things

People are always asking me what it's like to live here in the Arctic.  I tell them 'hard' but that hardly covers it.  So I've compiled a list of things that make it hard and the reasons why the people who move north do it.
For those of you new to JustGolda, I should mention that this is the second time I have lived in an Inuit community.  I started my teaching career in Umiujaq, Quebec which is a village of about 350 Inuit residents.  I was a Secondary one and two teacher (equivalent to grade 8/9) in my first year and I stayed for two years before returning to northern Ontario.
This year I am living in a hamlet of 415 Inuit residents in Kimmirut, Nunavut.  This is quite a bit further north than I was before and it's already getting darker.  The differences between the two communities are more than I thought.  People in Kimmirut are on average, friendlier and more welcoming to newcomers.  Not to put down the people of Umiujaq because some of them were awesome. It's just that the ones that were racist towards us left a lasting impression and I have not encountered much racism here yet.  Also, here in Kimmirut the kids don't throw rocks at my windows at night and that is something that happened a lot in Umiujaq.  It's the little things...  :)

OK, so here are some of the things that are different from living in southern Canada:
1)  We have water tanks and septic tanks in our house.  There is no sewage and water system in this hamlet so all of us need to get water delivered to our house.  This is not overly difficult until the water or septic truck break down.  If you don't get water delivered or the septic tank is full, you don't have water to use until it's fixed.  It happened quite a few times in Umiujaq that people had to go for days with no shower or running water because of a septic or water truck breakdown.  Another thing that happened in Umiujaq was that if you pissed off the person driving one of the two trucks they might 'forget' that they had to deliver water to you.  Either this doesn't happen in Kimmirut or I haven't pissed anyone off yet. 
2)  Everything is delivered by plane.  Everything.  There are no roads up to northern communities so food, bottled water, soap, absolutely everything needs to be flown in.  If there is a snow storm you have to wait for new stuff for quite awhile sometimes because the plane can't land.  Here in this small place we go lots of days with no plane.  Also, in Kimmirut we have a small landing strip so the only planes that can land are Twin Otters and they are TINY.  This means that if I want something like a treadmill, too bad for me because the plane door is too small for it to fit in there.  (This has happened to me this year already.  I cannot get a treadmill delivered)
The twin otter       

Inside the twin otter

3)  OK, I lied because there is another way to get stuff in here.  The sea lift is a huge ship that comes twice a year with goods.  It is far cheaper to ship in bulk through the sea lift so really organized people order a full year of canned food on the sea lift and get it around the middle of October.  This is also how they get ATVs and snowmobiles into the community.  I have also seen whole houses delivered by sea lift.  A fairly big box of space rents for about $500 on the sea lift so if you want a whole load of canned or dry food you can get it this way and save money on groceries during the year.
4)  Most communities are restricted for alcohol so you can't just go to the store and buy it.  You also aren't allowed to bring it in without a permit.  Some communities are 'dry' so there is no alcohol at all.  In those communities they sometimes don't even allow you to buy bakers yeast without being given a good reason because it's too easy to make alcohol with yeast (as if you couldn't do it by just fermenting it over time!)  This is difficult for those of us used to having wine with dinner and drinks with friends.  I must say though, it is incredibly easy to get around these laws and it's almost easier to get alcohol in banned communities than in restricted communities.  I find so far that in restricted communities people make at least some effort to abide by the process put in place.  I'm not saying that I personally am breaking laws, just that I know it's easy to do so. 
5)  There are things we just can't get.  Some companies refuse to deliver up here at all.  It's annoying.  I will never understand why they won't just charge more for shipping instead of cutting us off altogether.  (Yes, I'm talking to you, Avon Canada.  You suck!)  Other companies have started charging MORE for shipping than it actually costs them (Sears Canada). 
6)  It's quiet.  REALLY quiet.  When I go outside at night there are no sounds and it's a relief to the ears. There are no traffic noises, no background hum of millions of people, nothing.  Sometimes when out on a hike you will hear the flapping of a crow's wings but aside from that, total silence.  I love that.
7) It's cold of course.  We need heavier winter gear. As long as you have that you are fine.
8) In this smaller community there are no cars.  None.  There are a few trucks, mostly owned by the store, airport and hamlet but there are no cars. If someone has a vehicle it is an ATV or a snowmobile.
9)  The sky is alive.  I don't know how to accurately describe the Arctic sky.  At night, even when there are no auroras, the sky seems alive to me.  It's an amazing sky and one of the reasons people love the north so much.  It's also a wide open sky with no big buildings or trees to get in the way of the view.
10) Oh yeah! No trees!  We have no trees here because we are above the tree line. I personally don't have any strong feelings about trees but know that some people are bothered by the lack of trees.
From my back porch

11) There are only two stores.  The Northern store and the Coop store.  The Northern store is one that is southern based (Winnipeg, I think) and has a southern manager.  The Coop is Inuit run and probably based in Iqaluit although I'm not sure.  At the Coop you buy shares and actually make dividends every year.  Unfortunately, the Coop often has expired food but is cheaper overall than the Northern store.  I'm very glad to have two stores!
12)  It's often very windy.  That wouldn't be as much of a problem if I wasn't driving an ATV instead of a car.  :)
13) The culture is different and so you have to go through culture shock when you come up here.  Culture shock usually consists of three main periods of time: when you first arrive you are amazed and enthralled by all the new ideas and think everything is great.  Then you start to see the bad stuff and start to think everything is really bad. Then you come to the conclusion that your ideas of good and bad need to be adjusted and you come to terms with both your culture and the new one and can allow them to co-exist in the world without judging them.
14)  There are polar bears.  You in big cities may have to look around outside your door for drive by shooters and kidnappers but here we have to look around outside before we go out so that we don't get eaten by a polar bear.  We also have to be careful when wandering around in this vast land to not run into a hungry animal.  As the sign in Timmins, Ontario says "Bears are dangerous".  ha!  (I have always found that sign to be hilarious.  Imagine...having to warn people that bears are dangerous).
15) Lastly, it's darker here during the winter.  I am expecting in December, the darkest time of the year, it will begin to get dark at 2pm and get light much later than the south.  We are closer to the north pole here so the summer will be brighter than the south.  This isn't bothering me yet so hopefully we will get through it without too much sadness.

There are many other differences but these are the main ones.  If you have any questions, I would be glad to answer them.  Later I will write about how teaching is different here. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Leaving Kimmirut (temporarily)

My last post was so negative that I had to write this one just to even it out.

I am currently in BC, where I started from two months ago because I got a call two weeks ago asking me to call my brother and ask him to come early because if  he wanted to see my father before he died it was imperative that him come immediately. I made that call and my brother left early to come down from his home in northern BC. When I mentioned this at work, several people asked me if I was going. At first I didn't even consider it. All the reasons: its too expensive, I'm a new employee and won't be able to get leave, etc.  Then it occurred to me that this is not something you don't do because of money.  There are no do-overs after death. So I bought a ticket and with the help of my principal, managed to get compassion leave from work.

I have to say this: when the chips are down, a small community in Nunavut is the best place to be. People who barely know me and have never met my father were making cards and praying for us.  They have been so kind, all of them. People who have lost their own parents came up and hugged me and didn't say stupid things that don't help. Just hugged me. Because they know how much this hurts.

I'm in BC now and have been since Friday. My father isn't doing well. He is in pain and we know he wants to let go.  He is scared and it's hard to see but I'm glad I am getting to spend this time with him and will be able to say goodbye.

It seems so unfair.  A man like my father, having to die this painful and undignified death. In this day and age of men who don't take responsibility....   My father was a man who always took care of his family first. He went to work his sheet metal job while my mother took care of their five kids. They were both strict parents, took us to church every week, upheld high standards for us, always behaved well in front of us kids. No swearing, drinking, drugs, etc. They both worked hard and were always there for us.  I grew up not even knowing how awful life could have been if I didn't have my parents because they didn't let us see the hard things in life until later.

Originally this post was going to be about how much I appreciated the support I got in Kimmirut before I left but I see it's morphing into something else.  I will wrap it up by saying tht this is one of the hardest things I've had to go through and the support I received from almost strangers was touching.  I will be back in Kimmirut on Tuesday and will pick up where I left off.