A Deep Breath

I really haven’t been in the mood to blog much lately.  I’ve just been wanting to take in all my surroundings and process things.  I’ve also been enjoying the fact that I (almost) have an appetite again, and I’ve been able to get full nights of sleep – for the most part.  The most tumultuous upheaval I’ve ever experienced is not quite over yet, but the biggest headaches are out of the way for now.  And now, I can breathe.

I’m just glad that Ian’s been able to keep many of you updated with our initial reactions and experiences in Iqaluit.  It’s been a serious learning curve that we aren’t over yet, though our levels of comfort are steadily on the rise.

It’s hard not to feel comfortable here.  The people we’ve encountered thus far have been very helpful and friendly – aside from a post office experience.  I haven’t really had a chance to be doing what I will ultimately be doing for my job, but my division had its annual meetings this week, so it was a fantastic introduction to the people I’ll be working with, and what they’ve been doing over the past year.  I can already see the partnerships that I’ll be involved in for the coming years.  I have to say, I’m still very nervous about the job itself.  I feel that expectations are high for me and I certainly hope not to disappoint.

There are a number of things that I wish I had known prior to coming to Iqaluit.  However, lots of them really can’t have been helped.  Regardless, here’s some of the things that would have changed the way I prepared to come here…

1.     I wish I had known just how many ways an offer of housing could fall through up here.  Our housing situation has been a roller coaster from the beginning.  There are days where we have housing in theory.  And there are days we are homeless.  We are still holding on to a few shreds of hope for a more permanent solution to housing, however are working into several layers deep of contingency plans.  If I’d known that we would have had this many issues, I most definitely would have placed my name on housing waiting lists when I first accepted the job offer.  In fact, I actually would have considered putting myself on a waiting list back when I applied for the job…just in case.

2.     I wish I had known just how hilly Iqaluit is.  I probably would have started working on my cardio sooner.

3.     I wish I had known that the temperatures here in late November were on track to rival a mild southern Ontario winter.  I probably would have packed more in the way of rainboots and less in the way of parkas.  We could have safely packed away our parkas and deep winter freeze-style gear with the movers and been quite comfortable.  Walking to and from dinner tonight saw Ian and I with no mitts or hats and jackets open.  It has been a strange couple of months in Nunavut for weather – at least in this part of the territory.  I’ve heard many comments regarding the fact that normally there is a solid layer of hard-packed snow out on the land by now, with sea ice beginning to form in Frobisher Bay.  Today, we actually saw someone boating…

Source: Nunavut News

4.     I wish I had known that we would not be in a unit with a full kitchen.  We likely would have just packed away all of our kitchen goods and sent them with the movers.  It’s hard to use a saucepan or pot in a microwave or on a toaster.

5.     I wish I had known how cool YakTrax were for walking on ice.  I think I would have picked up a pair of these for my boots long ago.  It’s amazing the amount of confidence you can gain in walking on icy surfaces when you have these on.  However, it should be noted that extremely smooth and wet ice can still be very slippery, even with grippers on your boots.  Ian and I found that out tonight as we giggled and slipped our way about town – trying to safely navigate the icy and hilly walking paths without falling flat on our faces.  No wipeouts yet though!

6.     I wish I had known that while vegetarian food does exist in Iqaluit, foods that can be traditionally served meatless typically are not.   I found an egg salad sandwich the other day that I’m pretty sure was filled with chunks of bacon – though I cannot confirm that they were not soy bacon – and cheese ravioli that I was served tonight was served in a meat sauce.  I have to learn to ask more questions about the food prior to ordering it I suppose.  Not to worry…I’ve become pretty adept at picking around food items that I do not wish to eat.  And since Ian will eat pretty much anything, we’re a good pair.

7.     I wish I had known to bring my camera to work today.  We visited Sylvia Grinnell Territorial Park today – and it is stunning.  I cannot wait to see it in the summer.  It is gorgeous and hilly with plenty of hiking and camping possibilities.  I will most certainly head out there in the coming weeks on a nice day and will certainly bring the camera to show you just how beautiful the north can be…

Source: Inuksuk Adventures

What I’ve learned so far

As I enter day 3 of being here, I’ve learned quite a bit in that short span of time. Mark and Milissa have been awesome guides to understanding the ins and outs of how this city and its people flow. I’ve always been a big city person. Not by choice but by circumstance. Heck, the housing projects I grew up in even had a larger population than this (about 10,000 in a six block area). That doesn’t mean I don’t welcome the small town way of living. My ability to adapt to my surroundings is my greatest asset. I’m not Survivorman by any stretch of the imagination so roughing it on the frozen tundra isn’t going to be in my foreseeable future, but contrary to what I (and many others who are ill informed) imagined this place to be it’s really not that big of a learning curve. Here are some of the things I’ve picked up so far:

  • It’s Iqaluit not Iqualuit. This is something you better learn and learn well because both spellings have entirely different meanings. Iqaluit (pronounced Eee-cal-oh-wee) means “place of many fish”. Iqualuit roughly means “unwashed buttocks” so be very conscious of how how you spell the capitol city if you intend to send any packages here. You could very well be insulting someone if you misspell it.
  • It’s pronounced Nun-ah-voot not None-ah-vit. That’s a quick way to tell who’s new and who’s been here.
  • People are actually friendly and courteous here. I’m not going to try and make it out to be a Utopian society or anything like that. I’m sure it has it’s bad eggs mixed in but for the most part you get a genuine good vibe walking around town. Having come from NYC where it’s an unwritten law to never look anyone you don’t know in the eye to this is probably the hardest obstacle for me to overcome. If you’ve read any of my blogs you know I’m certainly not a “people person” and being here puts me well out of my comfort zone – but in a good way. I would like to like people and it’s hard to not like people here. It’s still very strange for me to have someone stop their vehicle and let you cross a road. That’s something that just doesn’t happen very often anywhere else but is like an unspoken rule around here.
  • This is a humble community. I’ve never encountered a true community atmosphere before. I can see from just being here a couple of days that there’s definitely a everyone-knows-everyone feel around here. I don’t feel ostracized being a newbie, but I certainly feel out of place at times. For example Suzanne and I went out for dinner last night to a place called the Grind and Brew Cafe. It’s touted as having the best pizzas in town so we figured we’d give it a try. It’s right on the waterfront and could easily be missed if not for their illuminated sign. The interior is very small and rustic. The three person multi-purpose staff was very friendly and welcoming to the point where we felt infectiously jolly and chipper ourselves. As Suzanne feasted on a 10″ cheese pizza (surprise surprise) and I a smoked char pizza, we watched as locals came in and out. They conversed with us, the the staff and other patrons in both English and Inuktitut (the regional language) depending on what was the preferred dialect. Even though we were undeniably and noticeably new, we were welcomed into the fold without hesitation. The displaced feeling came solely from me having never really experienced that sort of community atmosphere before. You know how it is. If someone is nice to you the defensive wall immediately pops up because you think there’s an ulterior motive behind it. It’s hard for me to accept the fact some people are actually pleasant. Regardless the owner (I believe) gave us a menu on the way out and let me know they they deliver as well. I told him it’s my goal to try everything on the menu and that I didn’t believe I’d be calling for a delivery, I’d be coming back in for sure.
  • It’s expensive but not that expensive. That statement can be taken with a grain of salt depending on how tight you are with your money. Having paid a visit to a couple of the grocery stores I’ve had a good look at some of the food and supply costs. Some products are marginally more expensive while others are 2 – 3 times more. I’ve seen stuff like detergent cost anywhere between $29 – $38 while fruit and vegetables are comparable to gouged southern Ontario prices. Weight has a lot to do do with it. I’m glad we stocked up on cat litter, cat food, and detergent beforehand. The rule of thumb seems to be is if it’s bulky, heavy and rather pricey in the south stock up on it before coming up because it’ll be REALLY expensive up here.
  • You can be a vegetarian up here. That might not be the case with some of the more isolated northern communities but in Iqaluit you can be a vegetarian and be quite comfortable. Suzanne was delighted to track down her Schneider’s (Fake) Chicken Burgers at Arctic Ventures (one of the local grocery stores) so she was content. There’s also a selection of fruit and vegetables that you’d find at any supermarket in the Ontario as well. The freshness though is defendant on when you go shopping. We were advised that if one of the stores , NorthMART, gets their shipments in on Tuesdays so if you want the freshest produce it’s best to go Tuesday night or Wednesday morning.
  • Locals hock their wares. Many local Inuit are artisans and often approach you looking to sell hand crafted sculptures, jewelry and nick knacks. It’s an interesting aspect to adapt to. For example Milissa took us out to dinner at The Water’s Edge Seafood & Steakhouse our first night here. While we dined we were approached by at least 4 – 5 locals (not at the same time but in intervals throughout the dinner) who were looking to sell their products. They approached each table and didn’t day much – just simply displayed what they had on hand. With a simple glance and a soft “no thank you” Milissa dismissed them with no problem whatsoever. They’re not rude or pushy but definitely invasive if you’re not prepared for it or uncomfortable with that manner of intrusion. I know my father would probably lose his mind after the first proposal. I must admit when it first happened I said to myself “What the hell?? I’m eating! How can someone just roll up and try and sell me something??” But after seeing the process unfold a couple of times it occurred to me that this is just a way of life round these parts. Note to self: eyebrows up means you’re interested. Eyebrows down means you’re not.
  • It’s a menagerie of different people. You’ll find people from all parts of Canada around here. While there this a very high Inuit population I’ve seen a variety of racial backgrounds while I’ve been trooping around the city. One of my concerns (as always) has always been that feeling of being an ink blot in a bowl of milk. That’s an unfortunate byproduct of growing up in the States. I can’t say I’ve dealt with any level of racism that my parent’s generation had to contend with but I’ve had my experiences with the darker side of humanity for sure. I grew up surrounded by many different ethnicities. Middle Eastern, Asian, Indian, African American – that’s what I know. That’s what I was around for a great majority of my life. It’s been a long and exhausting period of adjustment being in Canada. There’s racism here for sure, but not nearly at the level it is in the States. Being overly aware is something that’s ingrained in me and hard to break. However being immersed in a such a mixed culture has made me feel very at ease with the world around me. I doubt I’ll ever really let my defenses down but it’s liberating to be able to fall asleep at the controls every so often up here.
  • Function over fashion. Oh man. It’s so awesome to see that functionality reigns supreme over glitz and glam up here. From the buildings to the fashion, it’s functionality over appearance in every aspect. This is not to say this isn’t a beautiful city to behold. As you’ve seen from the handful of pictures the structures are colorful and have intriguing designs. Many of the newer residential apartment buildings look kinda like facilities you’d find in southern Canada but the older buildings and residences have a definite rustic feel to them. I remarked to Suzanne yesterday that it reminded me of the Fallout video game series. In it you encounter many communities that don’t look like much on the outside but are quite eclectic on the inside. It’ll be interesting to see what it looks like around here come summer time or as I like to refer to it as warm fall.
  • It’s cold but a different kind of cold. Yeah it goes without saying that if you’re not a fan of the cold then this is not the place for you. However I find that it’s a different kind of cold than the south. It’s hard to explain. A lot of it has to do with the contrasting humidity levels but the dry cold up here is quite invigorating. If you’re layered properly it’s actually quite enjoyable to just walk around during the winter. Mind you I have yet to experience some real deal Iqaluit weather like blizzards and -65c wind chills so I may have have to eat crow with regards to my statements above when i get hit with that. However I’ve been here so far and haven’t even worn my parka yet so I’m having fun right now.
  • No time for technology (for now). It’s amazing how little interest I have in blogging at the moment. Yeah I’ve written a few entries in the past couple of days but I’ve forced myself to do so. As much as I want to let everyone know the experience, my desire to go outside, explore and experience the world around me greatly exceeds my desire to play around on the computer. Sure this is another lengthy Ian entry but it’ll probably be the only one for the remainder of the week unless I find myself snowed in or have some really incredible experience to share during some down time. The amount of walking you do up here is great for your health. The air is crisp and clean. Noticeably different from down south. I’m even considering doing a weekly weight check to see how all this outdoor activity affects it. I’m currently 228lbs as of this morning’s weigh in. Let’s see if this is end up being the fitness program I’ve been looking for.

I’ve probably forgotten a slew of things to add but Lord knows I got time to add them in the future. We’ll probably be taking a foot tour of the city this weekend so be prepared for another onslaught of images. Till next time.

Dilemma and Concession

Living in the north will require a lot of compromise.  Compromise due to the availability of goods primarily, which is fine – except if they tease your principles.  For instance, I’m a vegetarian.  I’ve been a vegetarian for over half of my life now.  I plan on remaining that way after we move to Nunavut.  Yes, this will likely be exceptionally expensive if I shop exclusively for meat substitutes.  However, it will also mean consuming a lot of fresh produce – which as even those of us in southern Canada know, can be pricey at best, and not so fresh, at worst.  I’m not concerned though…this is something I can live with.

Sometimes it's hard to know which way to go... (Source: Andrew Beierle, sxc.hu)

The problem I’m facing now is due to cold weather.  With temperature potential of well below even -20° C on a regular basis, all recommendations point to animal-based clothing.  I have investigated the option of synthetic materials compared to items like goose and duck down, and fur.  The synthetics would likely keep me warm enough on most days, but perhaps not on those days where extreme temperatures and wind chill dip to below -60° C.  We humans just simply have not been able to replicate the natural insulation that most polar animals have adapted with and survived through thousands of years.  The other issue is that most synthetic materials require a huge amount of energy and create waste in excess of items where animal products have been used.

You see my dilemma.

And so, I must consider what my principles mean to me.  I’ve always lived my life with the intention of minimizing my impact on the environment as much as possible.  I recognize that there are times where we must live off the earth, and absorb its resources – but we must never forget that we have been given so much from it.  I am not a vegan, so I am not completely against using animal products.  I do however try to use as little of them as possible.  If I do not need to use a product create by or from an animal, I will not.  If a suitable replacement is available, I will use that instead of the animal product.  This however can be a very expensive endeavour, and being completely animal-free takes dedication.

I’ve researched one particular company:  Canada Goose.  They are very forthright with regards to their animal usage and policies.  Their policies are sustainable and extensive testing of their products have allowed them to use the minimum amount of fur as possible.  They do not use endangered animals and respect hunting policies and limits.  They do not purchase down or feathers from suppliers that obtain these products by live plucking – this is an inhumane and cruel method of harvest.  Finally, they truly support the sustainability of traditional native hunting methods – considering this is an Inuit territory that we will be moving to, this is perhaps one of the most important parts.

As I have grown and accepted my reasons for becoming vegetarian in the first place, I believe my beliefs have matured.  Some people may call me hypocritical for even considering clothing made from animal products, but I’m not so sure.  I’ve never pushed my beliefs on others.  I’ve never stated that I do not ever use animal products.  I’ve only ever been a supporter of environmental and humane animal treatment.  I do not agree with fur for vanity, but I have always been a supporter of traditional native hunting rights…there is a level of respect intrinsic in the activity that some of us that use animal products just do not have.  I am not against those who eat meat – I just prefer that if they choose to do so, that efforts are made to understand where that meat comes from – in the hopes that humane methods of harvesting are sought.

It would appear that I have an important decision to make – one that I think I have already made.  I’m quite certain that I will have to succumb to the wilds that lay ahead of me and buy for survival, rather than principle.  Though, when it all comes down to it, I think that’s a good principle to have.