Friday, November 2, 2007

Welcome to Iqaluit

Before I got here, I would never have imagine that the Arctic would be overstimulating. I mean, Times Square is my idea of overstimulating. But my brain had trouble absorbing the first couple of days in Iqaluit. It doesn't just look and feel different. It smells different. It sounds different. And the sky is so different from home that I cannot believe it is the same sky. Every time I look at the mountains and the ocean, I feel happy. It could be just a glimpse as I turn a corner on the way to work, or I could be staring out the window while I eat breakfast. The snow diminishes the beauty not one bit. In fact, I would say it improves it. The contrast of bright white against blue on a sunny day is something to see. I have not yet seen the Northern Lights, namesake to my blog title, but there's no lack of opportunities over the next few months.

When Elayne (my heroic officer manager who you may recall from the previous post) and my deputy director, John, picked me up at the airport, I experienced in full force the reality of life here. Duffle bags, hockey bags, and large rubber maid containers are the luggage of choice. People clamor around the small baggage conveyor to grab them. One woman had actually carried her 24 package of toilet paper onto the flight. Toilet paper is very expensive here. It takes up so much room in the plane.

Elayne, John, and a fellow member of the force, Constantin, whisked my 3 bags and I into Elayne's jeep and off to my new place: Capital Suites. I am lucky. The job I have qualifies for subsidized housing. I have a large 2-bedroom, 1.5-bath split level suite in a hotel/apartment complex in central Iqaluit. For those unfamiliar with the housing shortage in the North, I can advise you that this is riches beyond imagination--and quite controversial. I'll leave the controversy for another day, however. This is the happy part of our story. And until I get my goods in air cargo, I'll be rattling around the place like the last peanut in a can of Planter's.

Elayne took me to dinner at the Storehouse (a bar/resto) and then to buy groceries. I had no pillows or comforters (all in the truck with my worldly goods), so she took me to raid the "staff house". The staff house is a 3 bedroom apartment Justice Canada maintains here in Iqaluit so that visitors of all stripes can have a place to stay when they are here. I stayed there when I interviewed here. There is a TV, phone, and (now) internet access. There is also a large kitchen where the archives of meals and dishes past go to wait for the next guest. My personal contribution in August was a jar of spaghetti and a bag of oatmeal. In return, I ate all the leftover BBQ potato chips.

In the odd little way that is Iqaluit, my dinner at the Storehouse grew from 2 to 6 thanks to the addition of Elayne's husband, my friends Mark and Sophie, and Telesat Tony. Yes, his name is really Telesat Tony. He works for Telesat and happens to have a house right next to my apartment building. Mark and Sophie are from Toronto, and I met them because Deb Krick has a friend who knows Mark. Despite my having persuaded them to drink far more than they wanted the first time I met them just 5 or 6 weeks ago, they have befriended me. Already, they have invited me to dinner and offered to take me to a grocery store called Baffin Canners. Sophie makes homemade bread. There is no fresh bread in Iqaluit unless you bake it yourself. Sophie is a good person to know.

Here, it is also good that people show you grocery stores. Most streets have no names (oh yes, Bono, you wish you filmed that video here), and there aren't really street numbers so much as building numbers. Almost every building in Nunavut is a strange, pre-fab, shed-like structure. At home, you can see something like it near the water on the Leslie Street spit. The exteriors are nothing to speak of. Inside, however, is another story. On Hallowe'en, I got lost looking for the Atii fitness centre, the gym. In my cold meandering, I wandered into Baffin Flowers. From the outside, Baffin Flowers looks like a flower shed. Inside, it could be the Christmas Store on Front Street. Every square inch is packed with nick-nacks, gift items, candy, coffee, name it. If Carleton Cards or Hallmark has ever carried it, they have it. They also own Fantasy Palace, the coffee shop around the corner: also nothing to look at, also a surprise inside--faux vines and all. I guess when you spend so much time inside, you make the most of the space.

Apartments are no different. Some of the residents of my building have transformed their places. I glimpsed into one apartment and saw a collection of Inuit sculpture that made me eager to barge in and poke around the pieces. I guess I am my father's daughter. I live on what one person called the "government floor" of my building. There's me, the INAC (Indian and Northern Affairs Canada) people, the Parks (Parks Canada) people, the Geological Survey people, and the RCMP. I'll offer a prize to anyone who can think of the most interesting set of facts on which all of us would be involved in an offence--and I don't mean personally! But all of Iqaluit is like this.

It is easy to meet people doing interesting work. They sit next to you during the buffet at the Francophone Society. They are in line with you at the grocery store. They buy coffee where you buy coffee. And me, being the shy, retiring individual that I am, talk to them as much as I can. Today, I stopped a woman wearing a pink amautiit with embriodered roses so I could ask her who made it (her mother) and have a look at her baby in the hood. She laughed and told me her mother was one of the best seamstresses in town. Another good woman to know. I wondered if her mother had also made the baby's little, thick, woolen hat. I was wearing one that was pretty similar. It was a gift from my dad's friend in Cape Dorset. It doesn't match my purple Snow Goose parka, but it's damn warm. And warm is all that matters here. That's another thing I learned my first week.

I'll let you know what the first weekend is like soon. :)


Karen said...

So you finally made it - Excellent news!! I'm going to enjoy reading your blog over the next few months as you make everything seem new and fresh to some jaded northern eyes. You will meet a lot of great people and I expect you'll have a great time. You'll have to do better about the puzzles worthy of prizes, however. It is not hard to come up with a fact pattern at all that takes in your floor of feds - say, a geologist with the survey team is working in Ayuittuq national park, finds an acient burial ground, and decides to keep some artifact for themselves. You've got Parks, Survey, RCMP conducting a criminal investigation, and I expect INAC would have to manage the political end of things.

I'll expect the prize in the mail :)


S said...

I'm not even from your neck of the woods, and I figured out the scenario Karen detailed on my own, as well.

Have we (Dave and I) mentioned how incredibly proud we are to know you? You're living the dream, babe :-)


John Mutford said...

Welcome to Iqaluit! Hope you enjoy it here.

Megan said...

Is it weird that we all came up with the same story? My version would have included INAC a bit more directly, though: you see, the area manager would try to interfere with the investigation.

Oh, and I'm Megan, Karen's friend from Yellowknife. :)

Anonymous said...

Well I was doing a research on Cialis Online, looking for prices, best places, etc. Finding your blog is funny because Iqaluit its a place that I always wanted to visit.