I’m told there is only one place in Nunavut where trees grow. Except, now I forget and all the information I have found states otherwise. The land is treeless tundra that covers endless ground over mountains and around communities, only taking a break to give way to lakes and the ocean.Life is just different here in the north.
Roads and Transportation in Iqaluit
The territory is fly-in only, so roads go as far as a community needs and then just stop. In Iqaluit, the largest city in Nunavut (and the capital) taxies run on a flat rate of $6 to anywhere in the city, because there’s only so far you can go before you have to turn around and go back. (Although, if you make a stop or dash into a store, that’ll be another $6.)
Transportation is a big issue – on top of flights being very expensive – but also food prices. Groceries and dried goods are shipped up on a sealift once a year in the summer, allowing stores and restaurants to stock up, and costing residents who want to buy direct about $10,000. Produce is flown in daily, so it has to be purchased at the grocery store.
Food and Groceries in Iqaluit
For those who don’t have the money to make such a big purchase (lots of people use their income tax refunds), they must shell out the money for some very expensive groceries. At the museum, there is actually an exhibit on right now that has photos of grocery store prices to show just how expensive the cost of living up north is.
Some of the Inuit do still rely on the land, as they always have, to make country food and avoid the grocery store prices as much as they can. But convenience sometimes rules and the kids love to eat candy and chocolate bars that don’t come cheap.
Growing your own food is out of the question, as temperatures just don’t sustain most plants and the permafrost tundra isn’t conducive to fruit. There are some smarty pants, though, who do grow a few veggies.
The Greenhouse in Iqaluit
Near some of the government buildings downtown, there is a small greenhouse that looks out of place sitting on top of the dirt ground. Supposedly, there are three organizations who keep plots here, as well as a few individuals. Another, private greenhouse is also somewhere in the city.
Recycling in Iqaluit
The hardest thing for me about daily life is the inability to recycle. We finish off milk cartons and flatten cardboard boxes, but they all go into the same place: the garbage can. I find myself separating recyclables everyday, only to look around and remember that there’s no need. I’ve gotten (rightly so) used to recycling everything that I can, that it feels inexcusable to throw the things I have into the garbage can.
I’m actually saving all the paper I can and putting it in my suitcase so I can recycle it back down south. I hear that others who travel back and forth a lot do the same.
[UPDATE: It looks like Arctic Co-operatives will start a recycling program this summer (2011)!]
Composting in Iqaluit
Another frustration is throwing out compostable food. That hurts. There is actually one man in the city, a volunteer, who drives around once a week picking up people’s compost. Unfortunately, he maxes out at 125 households and it’s not unusual to be on the waitlist… indefinitely. I tried to track him down for a story, but couldn’t…
Oil and Water
I was walking home one day and there were monster trucks stopping at all the houses, one with a giant tube sticking into the one I was staying at. Huh?
Once a day, the water truck comes around to refill water tanks. Each house has a red light: if it’s on, the water tank is full; if it’s off, the tank needs refilling. I believe gas is brought in once a year, like the sealift, and it’s a lifeline. Houses are heated by oil (important in the winter!), so the oil ship parked in the inlet (like it is right now) is always a big relief.
When the weather was colder, longer, ice often delayed the ship’s arrival, a considerable worry. The last few years, though, with ice melting earlier, the ship has been able to come in on time.
Life is just different here in the north.
There are three official languages in Nunavut, so you’ll hear English, Inuktitut and French for every in-flight announcement; toys and miscellaneous objects are strewn all over the city, being used by whoever is playing there; dogs are tied to almost every house, making quite the symphony of barking at all hours of the day.
No matter how many problems and inconveniences there are up north, it remains one of my favourite places to travel to. By all the “southerners” working in Iqaluit, it also seems like a great place to set anchor and stay awhile.
Related articles on Iqaluit:
My first day
Alianait Arts Festival
Restaurants and Inuit Art
Fishing in Sylvia Grinnell Park
Inuit Throat Singing
Greenlandic Mask Dancing
Greenlandic Folk Dancing
Inuit Drum Dance
Inuit Hip Hop