Sunday, April 17, 2011

Toonik Tyme

It could have been the fact that I spent the day frolicking in -35 degree temperatures yesterday that left me with this awful cold. The kind of cold that keeps you up at night because you cant breathe through your nose and your body aches so badly that you have no choice but to stay in bed, missing out on Toonik Tyme's Sunday festivities. Katie had to go in and do my baking today and I skipped out on work for the first time since arriving in Iqaluit. I missed out on seeing this mornings dog sled races and slept in until the early hours of the afternoon.
I'm not going to lie, I had so much fun yesterday that even if it was the cold that caused this sickness, it might have been worth it.

In true Melissa style, I wiped out early in the day

I spent the day with my friends Ellen, Sherri and Kayla. We slept in a bit, which was not planned but ended up being necessary after the wine consumption of the night before. We all met at Kayla's for brunch before heading out for the craft fair at the curling club. We only made it in time to see the last half hour but it is always nice to peruse through both the traditional artwork and the handmade accessories and articles of clothing.

The City is very busy during this celebration. We see visitors from all over Nunavut and the South. The girls and I walked around a bustling Iqaluit for awhile and ended up at the Visitors centre, thawing our toes and enjoying bannock (fried bread, shaped into a ring) before watching dog dash races out on the Bay. Dog dash racing is a race on a defined track where a single sled dog is attached to a skier by a rope. Both are harnessed and the dog runs in front, or is supposed to run in front, of the skier. It was amazing to see how fast they got around the huge track.

We had to take a pit stop back at the apartments to put on more clothing. With the wind, it was a painfully cold day so I wanted snow pants, some heavier boots and my favorite earmuffs.
We walked to the RCMP station to watch some ice sculpting. The men who participated in this competition sat on the cold ground and some worked with bare hands. The sight alone made me shiver. The sculptures were much more detailed than I could ever have accomplished with a chisel and ice. Truly an admirable skill.

The part of our day which had me the most excited was the iglu (yes, we've been spelling it wrong all along) building competition. Before I moved to Iqaluit I decided that there were only a few things that I really needed to do or see while I was here in order to feel like I made something of this experience. Of course the list grew exponentially but still, crawling into an iglu was on it from the get go.

 I am mildly claustrophobic and looking at the small entrance hole of the snow building put a lump in my throat but when the contest judge invited me in, I jumped at the chance. Doing things in Iqaluit that terrify me has paid off every time. I got on my stomach and dragged myself in through the hole. I surfaced in a surprisingly large feeling room.

I sat with the builder and the judge on the inside where we chatted for a short while. The builder, whose name I didn't quite catch, was native to Igloolik, a community North of Iqaluit. He told me that he had slept in an Iglu many times during his life while out on the land. I felt like I was sitting in a snow globe... I suppose that I literally was. I looked around at the snow that surrounded me. Fine filtered light seeped through between the cracks and in through the tiny ventilation hole that was carved out at the top point of the Iglu.

The structure blocked out all of the wind and was surprisingly comfortable. I could have sat in that spot all day long and revelled in the moment as long as it lasted. I crawled out into the open air with a smile on my face, high on the experience of Toonik Tyme.

Cutting up Seal with an Ulu

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

The White Way

I find some resentment in Nunavut. I have never experienced racism directed towards myself until now. It hurts.

I don't express negativity towards Inuit culture, I don't feel any, just awe, wonder and shock. I am truly awed by what the Inuit people have gone through. I am absolutely amazed with the changes that have taken place and how quickly the people here have adapted to the westernized way that has landed in Iqaluit. Most of the Inuit here are only a few generations removed from the land, which is incredible to think. I never once felt that this westernized way that has been forced upon Nunavut is a positive thing. I wonder all the time if white people took this culture and this land and these beautiful people and ruined the gift that their way of life was.

It is hard for me to put exactly how I feel into words. I feel as though the Inuit people had courage and skill that is unparalleled. When I'm on the land and it's only been a few hours and I can barely keep control of my body because I am so cold, I think about how they survived out here without heating and plumbing and insulated walls. It is amazing to me, it is something that I cannot wrap my head around. I admire them for the ways they adapted to the land and made the most of what they had available. They made housing from nothing, clothes and food from animals, which they used every part of.

I think they had it right, while we we're abusing nature and the natural gifts we had. We produced waste and pollution in so many regards. We have ruined mother earth and I believe that we will pay for the damage we have done. Possibly with the lives of future generations. I wish the people of the South could have taken lessons from those who lived in the North. It seems the Inuit had the right idea when it came to the natural lifestyle.

White people as a whole have done a lot of harm in this world and I know that. Years ago the Inuit were figuratively suffocated by "Christians," the white people who came here to "help." I don't know the stories well, but I have heard of the trauma and the torture. The time is referred to as the time of residential schools. The people who arrived here forced learning and aspects of westernized life on the Inuit, it broke their hearts, it impacts them in ways that I cannot imagine.

I have a lot of white friends here who have felt the whip of racism and I have heard their bitterness when they say, 'look what we brought here.' They say the words as if we brought the real world to Nunavut. The truth is, we brought materialism, we brought drugs, we brought alcohol, we brought a whole whack of awful things and forced them on a beautiful culture.

I will take the criticism and I will take the words and all the hurt intended by them. If the colour of my skin brings back memories to people who the white man hurt, then I will carry that burden because I feel for the people who were pained by the experiences of their past. I feel that they deserve to be angry with me but I wish they knew that their culture is nothing short of inspiring to me. I wish they knew that if I could take them back and change things in their favour, I would. If I had the power to put up a wall that blocked out all Southern influence I would do it.

When I express my shock in regards to the way of life here, its not because I don't approve, it's because I am trying with all of heart to wrap my mind around it, to really understand. I am an outsider and everything I see here and hear here amazes me. I compare it to my materialistic and privileged Southern lifestyle. Because of this I am taken aback by a lot and I want to share these things with the people I love who would never know this experience otherwise. I am inspired and excited by seeing such a different way of life. It makes me question everything I was raised to think and feel. It makes me a better more compassionate person and for that I am thankful.

I moved to Iqaluit for the adventure and the experience. The organic aspects of this City are my favorite parts. I have a million questions and I want to immerse myself in the powerful culture that seems to be slipping away. I want to hold onto it for the Inuit people, I want to see it preserved and embraced and respected for what it is worth.

I believe that the integration of good health care, education and law enforcement (or law in general) is positive for Iqaluit but there is a lot that has had a negative impact. I wish that I could fully understand the pain that was caused here but I also wish the people who were hurt could find a way to forgive. The people who caused that hurt were bad people but there are people like me who come here to explore something wonderful and to learn from the stories and wonder of this culture. For what it's worth, I am sorry.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The Big Plan

One of my part time girls told me the other day that she was about ready to start trying to have a baby. She's sixteen years old. I've expressed my amazement for everything that is life in Iqaluit, I've expressed it a million times. This was one of those moments that made me think that not only is the culture here different but it is the complete opposite of the culture that I grew up in.

I looked at her, my stomach knotted, not really knowing what to say. I was stunned into silence for a few seconds before the words started flowing out of my mouth. The words that my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents had used when I was growing up. I told her she needed to finish high school, go to college, wait until she had a man in her life who loved her more than anything. I told her she should never settle and she should wait for the right person. Get married, have a roof over her head, money in the bank, love in her life and a support system that she could trust. Before I finished talking, I knew that no one had ever said these things to her before. When she looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language and then laughed, I knew just how foreign these words were to her.

She feels the societal pressure to fit in. I know it well, we all experience it, but here the experience is phenomenal, over the top, life changing. The young girls she works with have babies, her friends have babies and she wants to be on the band wagon.

I cannot quite wrap my head around this. The things that are so deeply ingrained in who I am ring in my mind like an alarm. In my ideal timeline there was an order for things, I pictured my life unfolding in this order from the time I was old enough to know what success was. One, high school. Two, University or College. Three, love. Four, marriage. Five, a house and babies. Through all of these steps, I would be stashing money away to provide my children with a stable life and a solid roof over their heads. Growing up I wasn't sure if I believed marriage would be in my cards but no matter what I thought, I always knew my life would unfold in a manner that was similar to the big plan.

Maybe this ideal isn't what success means. Maybe these precious girls have plans too. Maybe when I tell them that I don't have a baby yet and I'm twenty-two, their mouths hang open in surprise because my plan is so foreign to them. My life isn't following their plan.

I've blogged this before, but when I first got here someone said to me, "people don't realize that if you plan on coming here and changing things, you might as well leave now." When I heard that, I knew that I wasn't the only one who landed in Iqaluit and felt their heart shatter for the way of life here. There are things I have no power over that I would love to see change. Time will bring changes as people from cultures all over the world meet here and lifestyles shift for the sake of adaptation. 

It may take a couple more generations to see the good things that Iqaluit deserves, come to life. Knowing this, to keep myself sane I try not to judge anybody by my ideals and remember that all we really want in this life is happiness. We all just want to enjoy the time we have and if something makes another person happy, who am I to judge them for that?

The best I can do while I live in Iqaluit is to remind these young ladies of how worthy they are of love and pass on the little wisdom that I have gained in this life. I try to show them what they will be doing if they invest in themselves, in an education, in finding activities and people that bring out the best in them. I want these girls to know their worth and to find passion in life. I want to show them that it isn't right, let alone love when your man beats you. Every day I wish that I had the power to hand good things to them on silver platters. Sometimes Iqaluit seems to kick me when I'm down, make me feel powerless. To hear a sixteen year old girl offer sixty dollars for a can of beer, or see the tongue of an eleven year old who just pierced it herself breaks me down, makes me want to hold them.

I don't think this will ever get easier but I know it makes me a stronger person and I know that as long as I have love to give, I'll give it. Iqaluit just happens to be in need.


Spring has arrived in Iqaluit. The days are long and sunny and beautiful. It's getting warmer, today is a sweltering -11, -14 with wind. It'll sink back into the -20's later in the week but for now we are enjoying the revitalizing qualities of the warm sun.

In the dead of winter, I longed to feel the suns warmth on my cheeks and now I can. It is a beautiful feeling that reminds me of spring time down South.

We probably have more sun now than Ontario does. On Wednesday the sun woke me as it shone through my window before six in the morning.

Today I slept in and when I woke up I pulled the curtains open behind my head and let the sun shine down on me. I lay there in bed, stretching in the glow as the cats did the same thing by my feet.

Spring brought inspiration with it. I rearranged all my furniture in the living room and moved my bed. I cleaned the apartment from top to bottom and it feels a little more like its my own. I was afraid of this, of being left alone here, and now I wonder why I was so timid. I feel independence pumping in my veins and everyday is a refreshing reminder of the incredible experience I've been given.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Watching Planes

"I'm really sorry ladies, but we are out of caribou and muskox right now." These were the first words out of our waiters mouth when we sat down at the Kickin Caribou for Sherri's 30th birthday dinner. I smiled, knowing that I would never have ordered either of the unavailable options and thinking about how funny it was to hear someone say such a thing. I've been here six and a half months now and sentences like that usually don't phase me anymore. Every once in a while however, I hear words and remember how they would have sounded to me six months ago.

"I think he lives in that sea can behind the store," Robert said while sitting in the living room with Matt and I. We were talking about one of the men here in town, literally living out of a sea can, which is a giant metal container that goods come to us in when they travel here by sea lift on a ship. 

Everyday in this city is an adventure, and eye opener, a life experience. Yesterday was no exception.

Robert picked me up from work just after noon, hurrying me to the truck, saying, "his security call is in twenty minutes." We drove to the airport, both of us with very heavy hearts. I knew I would never see Matt in our apartment ever again and that when I went home his belongings would be gone. Robert knew that there was a good chance that he might never see Matt again at all.

When I saw him sitting on one of the orange chairs in the little airport, he looked sad, knowing that this chapter in his life was ending. I sat on his lap and whispered my goodbyes, my eyes leaked uncontrollably while he assured me that this wouldn't be the end of our relationship. We would always be friends and I would see him when I visited home and when I moved back. Nothing he said made the hurt go away. I missed him as he still stood in front of me. I knew that this was really the end of the way it had been. We would no longer share our lives in such an intimate way. His presence in my life would go from constant to an occasional facebook message. Five and a half years of my life was about to walk onto a plane.

I said my goodbyes as he got in line for security, hugged him once and ran back for one last touch. I told him I loved him and he held my face in his hands and said "I love you more." I knew it was true and saw the look in his eye that said, 'we have to do this.' Which I also knew to be true. We weren't meant to be a forever thing.

We parked the big old box truck out side of the airport, with a perfect view of the runway. I watched the plane taxi and I watched Matthew fly out of my life and leave Iqaluit behind. I watched until I couldn't see the plane anymore. Robert sat with me while I cried and we shared all of the good memories the three of us had together.

I worked the rest of my shift not wanting to go home. When I eventually did, I felt such heaviness that I could hardly stand, my knees wobbled and I tried with everything in me to push past it. I know this is a good thing and it will open doors and bring wonderful new things. I have a lot to look forward to and will eventually be thankful for the turn that life has taken. It took the rest of the night with my friends and some good laughs to push the sadness out of my mind.

We shared homemade English muffin pizzas and listened to the philosophical views of a drunken Nate, whose even more intoxicated girlfriend, Erin, didn't hear the door bell or the phone when he tried to go home to bed. It landed him sleeping on my couch for the night. It was good to have friends around, it always is and I am very thankful to have the people that I do in my life.

I'm going to spend this week doing a little bit of moping around and a lot of soul searching. I am determined to be happy, determined to make the most of this experience and enjoy the good things that I have at my finger tips. It's time to move on and let this fall into the past as yet another experience that must be making me stronger, since it didn't kill me.

I kicked off my first day alone by joining Robert for a lunch date. We had the shwarma that I have been so excited about. The restaurant opened yesterday down by the airport. It was fantastic and is officially going to be Iqaluit's hottest lunch date spot.

Check out this video by Alex and Luke that they made after visiting Iqaluit, keep your eyes open for my shout out. I'm so glad they enjoyed their trip and think Iqaluit is as beautiful as I do.

With love from Iqaluit