Last week, I posed a question to everyone who has access to my facebook page (you can ‘like’ it here anytime). Basically, I was wondering if anyone had particular post topic requests. I know that a blog is generally a personal narrative, but it can make you feel rather narcissistic if you get caught up in it too much. I mean, who really cares about my opinion of the wilted cilantro that is occasionally available at the Northern?
…that is, of course, unless you’re a foodie being sentenced to a cold Arctic winter. For those people, merely know that cilantro is attainable will probably perk them up!
Although no one has (yet) commented on that request, I did get a few questions emailed; most are comparative or retrospective in nature. For the former, I believe that most things I write are comparative. Every new experience is necessarily measured against previous experiences…if something is ‘remarkable’, it’s because it has affected you in an unexpected way.
Many things are unexpected in the north for someone like me.
It’s the retrospective questions that have me blocked: “Would you do things differently in your first years given what you know now?” Tough one. What I know now is a compilation of lessons. Sometimes making the mistake – that random falter – is the whole point. Granted, it’s not always the most comfortable way to learn, but it’s often the most effective.
As an outsider, I arrived in Pangnirtung in 2009 with what, I though, was a completely open mind. Now imagine a little video clip of me bouncing my fist off my temple and, as my fingers spread open, the narration saying, “Bam! Mind…blown!” Yes, my ‘open mind’ was a good start, but there was still a lot that I struggled with. Judgement. How do you put aside that inner critic…that negative niggling sensation that something is not quite right? Well, it’s environmental. What’s normal in one place isn’t necessarily a portable truth.
Inuktitut is a language that can convey a nuanced concept much easier than English. Inuit Qaujimajatuqangit is often translated to mean ‘Inuit traditional knowledge’, but it should be noted that it’s a dynamic process. IQ is not ‘traditional knowledge’ that should be left in a museum somewhere for the anthropologically-minded to ponder. It means something closer to ‘the past, present, and future knowledge of Inuit Society’.
I am not Inuk. Is there a Qallunaaq Qaujimajatuqangit? Is there a QQ? Probably not. But I’m working on my own philosophy and way of living…I’ll call it Tauja Qaujimajatuqangit (Tauja, pronounced Taw-ya, is what my students in Baffin used to call me instead of Tara).
My first lesson in this spiraled learning approach? The first obstacle? The first thing I didn’t even know I had issues with? Patience. Well, that and acceptance.
Regardless of political affiliations, the Arctic is a harsh environment for any living creature. Survival – the ability to make it to the next season – was never sure. Traditionally, people spent most of their time in preparation for the future. Hunting and preparing various caches were essential. ‘Going it alone’ was not an option.
On the other hand, I come from a culture which taught me it was prudent to work hard and save money. If I wanted something immediately, it might be more costly, but it was available. Family was important, but independence was highly valued. When living south of the treeline, if you have money, you have control.
In the north, money is important – don’t misunderstand me there – but you have to realize that, no matter how much you have, you will always have to wait for certain things. You cannot control this place…it’s wild. Unexpected things happen. A blizzard blows in for days and leaves you feeling so insignificant; then it clears. People start to go about their daily business again. You may have an incredible bank account but, if the Northern store doesn’t have any food because the planes weren’t able to land, you’d better hope you have the connections or the stockpile to access some sustenance!
I think my generation has lost a lot in terms of the respect given to time. Patience. Waiting. Knowing that you can’t do anything to speed up the process and being ok with it.
Can you imagine what it would be like if you couldn’t just flip a switch and have light or heat? Can you even fathom spending weeks gathering the Arctic cotton and moss needed to keep a qulliq wick lit throughout the long winter months? What about the oil? Spending your summer months stockpiling for the winter? I suppose preparing a sealift order to fill up a storage space in your apartment is similar in concept, but nowhere near it in reality…a credit card and a computer is all you need for that last one!
The original question was: “Would you do things differently in your first years given what you know now?”
What’s important to note here is that I answered this way NOT because I did everything right – I got a lot wrong. There were a lot of missteps and misadventures. But I don’t think I could learn that all important ‘Tauja Qaujimajatuqangit’ value without experiencing all I have.
A word of advice though? Don’t try to cook seal meat in a slow cooker. That’s a lesson I wish I hadn’t experienced…trust me on that one!