Sunday, August 31, 2008

A Nobel Prize winner, an Obama supporter, a Texan and a Parakeet

So I am safe and sound and about as surprised by Greenland as I thought I would be. I have met a Nobel prize winner (Steven Schneider of the IPCC, who gave a fantastic presentation about climate change last week), more than one Obama-fan, a Texan (whose couch I am sitting on) and a parakeet named Connor (who lived on a piece of driftwood in the apartment I stayed in last week). I came here to Nuuk, the capital city, expecting a small town, a lot of nature, no English and limited options for a reluctantly ex-vegetarian. OK, so I was right about the food :) But I've only had to eat maktak (whale blubber, which many here eat like it's candy) once and luckily I was sharing with a hungry 6-year-old who could probably eat maktak until she developed her own layer of whale blubber. Otherwise, there is a lot of nature, but it is mostly outside the growing city, which is full of long apartment 'blocks', one of which supposedly houses 1% of Greenland's population! And I have been lucky to find so many people who are patient with my lack of language skills and will actually speak English with me (I expect this will change when I get outside of Nuuk).
As I write this, I am sitting in what must be one of the most idyllic living rooms in this city. Out of the bank of windows in front of me, I can see miles of calm, late-summer sea that connects the mainland of Nuuk to any number of mountainous islands. Because it is the weekend and because it is late summer, there are lots of boats speeding across the water as people take breaks from the city to go reindeer-hunting, fishing or mussel-collecting in different spots all over the area. I have yet to get out on the water, but I did spend the day yesterday walking around one of the big mountains, which was incredible. There are no trees, so the landscape looks like one big mountain summit, except that the ground feels like a bog, squishy and absorbent. There was not a cloud in the sky yesterday, which meant sunblock and sunglasses for me, but also long pants because it was still only about 40-50 degrees in the sun.
As excited as I was to be out and about in the mountains, I was even more excited to come back to this beautiful house, where the most wonderful family has welcomed me to stay for a few days. Last week, I was at the university attending a conference on arctic social science studies, when I met Stephen during a coffee break. Stephen is 23, speaks English and likes to cook (Stephen, I know you will read this so feel free to add any of your other charming qualities in a comment :), so we had some things to talk abouit. After being introduced to his mom, Ruth, on Tuesday, I was invited to come and stay with them for a few days while I try to work out the rest of my itinerary in Greenland and make contacts here and in other cities. I think Ruth must be the most well-connected person in Greenland and she has been unbelievably helpful to me in suggesting people and organizations to contact in different cities. She has also leant me a room, a towel, a computer, a phone, so much food and her very playful and funny family for the last few days. Ruth is from Texas and her husband is Danish, but they raised their two sons mostly in Greenland, where they spoke English at home and Greenlandic and Danish outside. So in addition to their company and contacts, I have also had translaters, historians and storytellers to fill my days and my imagination.
Before I came out here, I stayed one week in a 'bed and breakfast' downtown. Basically, I rented a room in the apartment of a 49-year-old Greenlandic woman, who served me breakfast every morning. It was great in so many ways and for so many different reasons than my stay with this family has been. When I came home to Mina's house in the evenings, she was usually watching television with the Icelandic guy who was also renting a room from her. I would sit on the couch and we would alternately get absorbed by the American T.V. shows and comment on them. In additiomn to 'America's Funniest Home Videos', one of Mina's favorites is *Paranormal Encounters* which is an ABSURD reality tv show about ghostbusters in middle-America. My apologies to the die-hard fans that might be reading this, but I was stifling giggles the entire time - or at least, during the times that I forgot to be aghast at the pieces of American culture that make it here. Today, Stephen wanted to leave the breakfast table to watch 'The Hills'. Oi.
In addition to ghosts, Mina is also a fan of Barack Obama, though she is sick of how much airtime he is getting on CNN (always on in her house) and Greenlandic radio. 'Oh, yes, we love Obama,' she told me, 'we need change!'. I agreed ... and laughed.
There is so much more to tell! There are apples at the grocery store that are from Chile but are crisper than the ones at Shaw's in Newton. There is a single club in town, where beer is $9 and girls dress like it is not 30 degrees outside so that they can dance 'MTV style' (this is what Stephen calls it. His mom and brother are both dancers, technically trained and on another level entirely than the kids at the club. His brother is 19 and just started at a dance academy in Norway). I spent my first few days here at a conference and mostly with a student from Alaska named Brit, who taught me a lot about the Arctic and about how to do social science research. I ate really delicious Thai food on Tuesday and found some of the best choco-chip cookies I've had in a while at the 'Barista Cafe' downtown.
I could keep going, but I also need to spend some time today doing some reading and writing for my research. If I get bored, I might dip into my 'adventure survival kit', created and gifted to me by Macall and full of crosswords, trashy magazines, pudding mix and toy cars :) If anyone is looking to purchase such a kit, feel free to get in touch with my sister, as she could use the extra income to finance her new apartment (and hire a dog walker ... or was Dad going to commute to the city to do that for you, Macall?).
I love and miss you all and hope that you are finding your own end-of-summer adventures, wherever you are.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Setting off!

It took far too long to pack 2 backpacks this morning. But I'm pretty sure i have a sleeping bag, a toothbrush and enough books to start my own library in Greenland, so I should be all set. I'm also pretty sure that I have driven my family crazy enough (nearly every one of them is running an errand for me right now) that they won't be too sad to see me go. Family, you are welcome to dispute that claim.
I'm feeling tentatively ready to leave, if only because leaving on this trip has been on my mind since last August, when I started to dream it up. In typical me-fashion, the dreams didn't always materialize into concrete plans. Luckily, my laziness (often disguised as a "trust in the world to provide") is occasionally interrupted by anxiousness and in a week-long series of anxious moments (sorry, Auntie!), I found myself an activity and a room in Greenland ... for 5 days. Until Monday, I will be attending a conference in Nuuk on the social sciences and climate change. I'm sort of hoping that I make a friend there and things fall into place (laziness? trust?) for the remainder of my 3 months in the country. But if not, you might be hearing much more from me because I will be sitting, lonely, in internet cafes.
If, however, my blog posts are not so frequent (or as funny or stimulating as you would like), you might try some of the other stories in this "if you give a..." series:
I love that the description of this book reads: "If a hungry little traveler shows up at your house, you might want to give him a cookie." Could anyone write that down in Danish for me so that I can present it to my hosts in Greenland? Then again, all the mouse had to do was ask.
So off I go, asking the world.