Only in the North…


I debated posting this on our Nunavut blog but in the end I figured I’d share some of the nuances of northern living with the other side of the blogging universe. You know, the people who aren’t already living in the North. I feel weird posting about some of my observations on the other blog because a lot of northerners read it and it makes me feel incredibly n00bish for noticing some things.  So I’ve brought a handful of my revelations here to share with the masses who visit my warped little blog from all over the world.

Only in the North…

…can you gather food off some broken down cardboard boxes in the middle of a parking lot and not feel weird about doing it. Yup. That’s the way it is up here. Iqaluit (or any northern community for that matter) is a place where hunting is a way of life and badge of honor. It’s never done for sport. Every bit of the game out there is either eaten or used to some extent. Bones are often used in artwork, skins for clothing and innards for medicinal purposes. The meat however is a hot commodity in the Country Food Markets. It feels odd calling it a market. You hear that term and think of a booth, maybe a cash register… something to that extent. No. Up here a market can be the back of someone’s pickup truck or as you see over there a cardboard blanket in the middle of the street. There you can find all sorts of local food from seal, whale and char to caribou, muskox or the extremely rare polar bear – depending on what’s in season. I know. It looks a bit unsanitary and yes it can be a little disturbing if you’re a tourist and see a dude with a bloody face and hands chomping down on a fleshy bone. Hi. Welcome to Iqaluit. We love zombies. Not everyone eats the food raw or right there on the spot. Many bring their own bags, snatch up self-chosen selections and pay the vendor in cash. I admit, I had been wanting to try country food since I got here. I got a chance to do so on Nunavut Day. I had my first sampling of fresh-cut whale and seal. Tasted like sushi (which I’m also a fan of). Oddly enough the seal tasted more fishy than the whale. Go figure.

… can you walk around while it’s 5 degrees Celsius (around 41 Fahrenheit for you Americans) in your shorts and not even feel chilly. I took this picture last month when we went to one of the local parks (Sylvia Grinnell). Yes. The river you see there was still ice choked and yes there were still patches of snow in late June but I was there in shorts with no jacket and felt fine. The temperature up here is hard as hell to explain to people sometimes. If they’re not from here they just label you insane and that’s it. Northern weather is something you have to experience in order to fully understand. It always feels 10 degrees warmer than it actually says it is. Must be the lack of humidity. Plus you have to factor into the equation that there’s a whole different level of cold up here when the temperature does drop. When you contend with sub-zero temperatures that can reach -60 or -70 degrees it makes your body reevaluate what’s warm and what isn’t. Trust me folks, there’s a point in the thermometer where Fahrenheit and Celsius don’t even matter anymore and we can reach that pretty often during the winter. That in turn makes trooping around in -23c feel like nothing too bad. Heck I can recall lurking around the city with just a winter jacket, toque and some thermals on days like that. Meanwhile back down south if it ever got that cold I was bundled like a bear.

… can house sitting be a way of life. There’s a serious housing problem in Iqaluit, believe it or not. It’s a growing city with a very large Inuit population not to mention a steadily rising worker population. Doctors, teachers, engineers, tradesmen and not to mention government employees pour into the city all the time. However with only a limited amount of actual housing, it makes for crisis in motion. We were the victims too. Our housing situation fell through as we were on the plane ride up. We basically were homeless and lived in a hotel for about a month before wheeling and dealing a subletting agreement with a contractor at one of the apartment buildings. They didn’t have any employees up there so they let us rent from them until they did. We were lucky. Some people have to rely on the transient status of the working population as a way of having a place to stay. People will quite literally live from place to place, sitting for people who have gone out-of-town on holiday or for business matters while they wait for a place of their own. Tenures can be a couple of days to a couple of months depending on the situation. It’s not uncommon for a person fresh off the plane to shack up with someone they don’t even know in order to have a roof over their head. In such a tight-knit community who you know ends up being more vital than what you know.

… is fashion not a big priority. We’re not savages. We dress nice like anyone else but there isn’t a really strong emphasis on fashion – particularly footwear. Functionality supersedes beauty when it comes to stomping around the streets, hills and rocky terrain of the city. When a good portion of the year is spent in either mud or snow (with the remaining bit being superfine dust, sand and dirt) how good your shoes look really isn’t all that important. My running shoes were pretty new right before I came up. This is how they look after being washed numerous times. Let’s not even talk about pant leg bottoms. Everyone looks like they’ve been dipped feet first into chocolate at times so trust me when I say fashion is not a big deal up here. People will swarm quicker for a nice bug jacket, parka or good pair of rain boots than they would for any designer wear.

… do you have to take several showers a day during the summer just to get the dust off. We’re a polar desert people. We get losts of wind up here. They don’t use salt on roads in winter time. Doesn’t do anything. Instead they use dirt. That means when the snow goes away during the summer there’s nothing but fine dirt and sand blowing around the city. Some days it’s really bad. Take the past 2 days for example. The wind has been gusting at 30 – 40km at times. Did I forget to mention we live across the way from the dirt factory that produces the dirt used around the city? It’s wonderful. Don’t dare walk around with your mouth open. You’re bound to have a nice crunchy after taste in no time. Such is the way it is up here. If the wind blows you get dust-covered. If it stops then they come.

Some might think these things are a turn off but I love it. Can’t say it’s not interesting here.

I love how even in a post about Iqaluit, I managed to talk about zombies. Take that Zombie Queen! *wink wink nudge nudge*

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4 responses

  1. The hubby use to be able to walk around in 20 degree (F) weather in shorts and a tank top without any issues. Flip flops in the snow and ice. It drove me crazy. Then we moved to Vegas and had to get use to the heat. Now 60 degrees (F) and we are freezing our asses off.

    July 24, 2011 at 6:02 pm

    • Hehe. This is what I’m dreading about heading south this summer. I’m hearing reports of 48c and what not. I will quite literally melt. My suitcase packing is going to consist of clean small pants and … uhm… that’s about it. Anything else would just be too warm.

      July 25, 2011 at 10:35 am

  2. Bob

    So true about the fashion and the food. My experiences with native peoples away from the city have been just like that. They can be some of the warmest kindest people I have ever met, but they do tend to eat differently.

    Let’s face it they survived for generations without cooking in any huge way so their bodies adapted to craving raw or practically raw meat. To them it’s completely natural to eat and use EVERY part of the animal they kill. It’s more than hunting, it’s survival.

    July 24, 2011 at 10:04 am

    • Very true and that’s what I admire. Being a uber-animal lover I have no issues with their practices up here (‘cept for how dogs are treated but that’s another story). To me if you’re going to kill an animal, do it for a reason and make it worthwhile. Killing just to kill is silly.

      July 24, 2011 at 1:51 pm

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