Thursday, April 18, 2013

Village Life

In lieu of my dog sled excursion, I ended up spending more time out on the water as well as visited a neighbouring village to learn more about life there and share in a traditional meal. 

Our host was a young woman (27 years old), mother of 2 cute boys and wife of a hunter, fisherman, small engine repair man, and contractor.  One has to be able to "do it all" to make it out there, to take care of your family.  In such a small community, you know everybody, and you look out for everyone.  There was a palpable warmth there.  People hung laundry out to dry even in the winter. 

She spoke with such pride of her home.  Her husband and 2 neighbours took 4 months to build their one storey home (concrete foundation, crawlspace), clad in royal purple siding.  It was solid.  All supplies arrived by boat.  Just moving it all up from the dock would have been a huge workout.  And it took another 3 months before they were able to get hydro.  Up till then, they lived with her family.

The village of Ilimanaq has a population count of about 250.  From Dec to Apr, they have no way of buying groceries as deliveries to their "supermarket" do not occur as the harbour is mostly frozen over.  So families save in order to stock up one final time and then rely on fishing and hunting until spring.   

There are no roads in Ilimanaq, so no need for cars.  You should have seen her face light up when she told us they had a boat.  That was a big deal!  The addition of an aerial tower meant telephone, cable and Internet was available.  The school was brightly decorated with art.  The church was cozy.  And if you remember a picture I had posted earlier asking if you could find the helipad?  It was taken here. 

Lunch was muskox stew and it was delicious.  If no one told me, I would have thought it was just beef.  No gamy taste to it at all and not made as thick as the stew I know.   Her husband had just hunted it a month prior not too far north of the village.  The interior of their home was modern with a composting toilet.  And heated by electric radiators. 

An interesting emphasis was made, when someone mentioned how young she looked.  First of all, she didn't think she was young at all, which made the rest of us, ranging from late 30's to 70's, all smile at each other. 

She credited not smoking or drinking and being active outside for her youth and it was how she wanted to raise her boys.  The way she said it made it seem like more than a conscious choice.  I also got the sense she wanted us to know their lives there were as modern as could be (we weren't all that different) under the circumstances.  Just like us Canadians do not live in igloos and not all native people live in tee pees, they didn't either.

You can probably imagine all the thoughts that went through our collective minds while we toured the tiny settlement.  It was hard not to place ourselves in her shoes and wonder how we'd do living there.  What challenges would we face mentally, emotionally, physically?  Could we rise up to the challenges?  How different life would be from what we knew to be "normal". 

What did she think of us?  These people from all over (France, Germany, Canada, Denmark, Chile, Singapore, England, Taiwan), sitting in her dining room drinking the local berry juice, eating muskox stew and later a wonderful homemade dessert egg bread filled with nuts and fruit. 

I felt she was amused we would come all this way just to see the Northern Lights (normal nightly experience), Icebergs (literally her backyard), sled dogs (normal necessary transport) and visit her (small village that wasn't near as exciting as Nuuk or Copenhagen).  I didn't get the impression she thought of her life as "exotic".

It had been 1 1/2 years since she started hosting people in her home and she has gotten to meet more people than she would have been able to otherwise.  A glance through her almost full guest book, beautifully covered with seal skin, mirrored our group's appreciation for the experience. 

Fishermen coming in with their catch.
You can see the blood trail from an earlier catch to the left.
 Our ride


  1. "Exotic" is definitely a relative term. I'm sure some of the mundane parts of my existence would seem strange and foreign to a good part of the world's population if they stopped by for a visit.

    When my sister visited Australia back in high school, she asked her host family about the animals that lived in the area. They rattled off a list of Australian wildlife in a nonchalant manner, as if they were the most typical, boring set of creatures one could come up with. But to my sister (used to North American animals) it seemed quite exotic.

  2. Agreed.

    We were amused that she was amused that we'd want to come all this way to be in the cold. Considering the great lengths some of our group took to get there, money aside.

    I'm not convinced she realized how not typical a trip to Greenland really was, how deliberate the choice was to go there and perhaps even how the world viewed Greenland.

    And just how important their ice cover is to the world. And how much admiration we have for their way of life. They are tough without really knowing it.