Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Nunavut Primer

As we settle into our new community, the ebb and flow of daily activities begins to feel more familiar. However, there were certainly some terms, concepts and customs here that I did not understand at all when I first arrived. I thought I would write about them before they become so obvious to me that I can't remember why I found them puzzling in the first place. Please note that the following represents only my understanding of what these things mean. Feel free to correct me if you are a Nunavummiut reading this and snorting a $2.50 can of coke out your nose in laughter.

Going out on the Land: Pretty obvious, but this means that someone is going out into the wilderness, often to hunt or fish. This is not the same as someone taking a canoe trip in Algonquin Park. When someone goes out on the land, it's possible that you have absolutely no idea where they are or where to find them.
As in, "That TB patient who needs to start treatment and stay in the isolation room? We can't send him down, he's out on the land and we don't know where he is or when he'll be back."

Country Food: Food obtained through hunting and fishing. Country food includes caribou, seal, beluga whale, polar bear, arctic char and and walrus. This food is healthy: the meat is generally lean, and the fat consumed from sea life contains omega-3 fatty acids. It is a much better alternative to chips and pop. Here, people use every part of the animal. I have a hard time understanding why some animal rights activists are so against letting the Inuit hunt and kill animals here. This is their tradition and way of life, not to mention their source of (healthier) food! Plus, I have tried some caribou and arctic char and they are delicious.
As in, "Country foods are healthier than the McCain Deep n Delicious cake from the Northmart."

??????: Seatbelt. Why the question marks? Because I doubt there is any Inuktitut word for seatbelt. No one uses them here. In the words of one local, "If the cops see you driving around with a seatbelt on, they'll stop you for sure, because it can only mean that you're trying to avoid getting in trouble for something you're doing." Hmmmm. All I can say is, I always wear my seatbelt when I'm in a car or a cab, because have you seen the potholes on these roads? I'd also be surprised if there were an Inuktitut word for "carseat", because all the babies I've seen being driven around have been in the back of their mothers' amautiit (see below) at the time.
As in, "Why would you need a seatbelt in my cab? There are no stoplights here. Plus, I am a good driver, I come from Quebec!"

Sticks: Cigarettes.
As in, "I smoke about 5 to 6 sticks a day."

Water truck: The truck that brings water. Some of the houses here don't have running "town water" and instead have an adjacent water tank which is filled up on a regular basis by the water truck as it makes its rounds through town. The water truck gets refilled at the "Booster Station" where the guy driving the water truck climbs atop the truck, opens the hatch and fills the truck using a giant suspended hose. The water truck can pump 90 gallons of water a minute.
As in, "I got stuck behind the water truck on the road to Apex. Man, that was a traffic jam."

Amauti: These are one of my favourite things here. An amauti is a coat or parka with a place for a baby or toddler to stand in at the back. There is a hood that can completely cover the baby and the mom's head, keeping the baby warm. I love seeing babies peeking over their mothers' shoulders while they are in the amauti. To get the baby out of the amauti, I've seen moms bend at the hip and let baby slide out like a seal. The kids seem to love being in there. I'd definitely like to get one of these, but I think I might be considered really kooky wearing one around Vancouver (note: they do have both summer and winter amautiit, so I can definitely get a climate-appropriate one if I want). You never know though, the amauti might catch on in Vancouver and become a trend, although I wouldn't be suprised to see Vancouverites carrying their dogs around instead of babies.
As in, "Check out that baby in the amauti. Could these kids be any cuter?"

A carving (in whalebone) of a mother with a baby in her amauti

Ii: The Inuktitut word for "yes". Pronounced "Eeeeeeeeeee." This is so much easier than saying "yes" or "I agree." I feel like such a chump for expending all that energy when all along I could have been using a single vowel sound.
As in, "Wanna go to wings night on Wednesday?" "Eeeeeeeee."

2438B: Your address. Your entire address. There is no street name, no indicated direction, no cross street. The address, in its zen-like manner, simply "is". This makes things very easy in town, because when someone asks where you live, you quote them a number and they instantly know the exact location of your house. This causes no end of problems when trying to give your address to people outside of Iqaluit. They cannot fathom a place with no street names. Ok, fine, there are street signs, but no one actually looks at them or even knows what's written on them. The only thing they're used for is as a place to lean when you're outside having a smoke.
As in, "Hi there (insert name of cab driver), how's it going? I'm heading to 695A. Oh, by the way, did you know your backseat has no seatbelts?"


Elaine said...

Oh, thank you - this is sooo interesting: a place and culture about which I know nothing.

towniebastard said...

1. The "I'm a good driver, I come from Quebec" is pretty damn funny.

2. I've always worn a seatbelt and have never had a problem. I have to wear them. I don't feel comfortable driving if I don't have it on.

3. Trying to order things when they won't ship to PO Boxes, only street addresses, is one of the particular annoyances of the North. We normally give the street address (which is easy to remember, we just look out the window and there it is, assuming no one has kicked it over) and then sneak in the PO Box #.

Also, if you live here long enough, the crowd at the post office generally know who you are and make sure the mail goes to the right place.

Adam said...

Congratulations Dr J - you are the winner of this week's VizD contest at
NY Emergency Medicine. Please email me at nyemergencymedicine@gmail.com to arrange receipt of your prize.

Thanks again for playing!

mom aka mothina said...

Hi Aaron and Julie,
what a great read...I am catching up on your life going back to the start of you blog blurbs. Congrats on your first anniversary!

enjoyed the word descriptions and your comments.
Love Auntie Michèle


Michèle said...

sorry i have the mom aka mothina set up from when liana set up her blog. so bare with me. ps liana calls me mothina

The MSILF said...

How do you pronounce Amauti? Are they commercially made, or do people have to make them? Cool.

Dr. J. said...

1) Hi Michele! Glad you are enjoying the blog! I'm enjoying Liana's posts as well and have put a link to her on the sidebar of my blog!

2) MSILF: I am as bad at phonetics as I am at spelling but a-mau-tee is how I hear it pronounced. They are usually made locally and every one is different. They range from simple fabrics, to elaborate fur and bead emboldened designs!

3) Adam: Thanks for making me the winner of the contest! I've emailed you back and requested you donate the prize to any cause collecting in your emerg. dept. or use the $5 to buy a needy med student a coffee and muffin!

4) Elaine, thanks for the positive comments! It's nice to know people are reading our blog!

5) Townie: When we tried to change our address to Iqaluit prior to moving up here at least one large Canadian company (ehh-hmmm, rogers-wireless) told Dr. H that neither Iqaluit nor Nunavut were real nor parts of Canada. Ahh, to feel included!

The Tundra PA said...

loved this post; there are so many similarities between Iqaluit and Bethel. "Sticks" for cigarettes, house numbers without street names, lack of seatbelts, and the ubiquitous "eeeeeee". Among the Yupik, an enthusiastic affirmative has a rising inflection; a so-so one has no vocal change; and an ok-but-I-really-don't-want-to has a falling inflection. Amauti is not a word the Yupiks use that I know of; I've never heard it. The mothers carry their babies as you describe--and unload them the same way--but the garment is simply called a parka. A baby-carrying parka has extra room than, say, a man's parka, but it doesn't have a special name. Good post!

Anonymous said...

Loved your post! You have to ask someone to make you an amauti - you'll use it someday - and remember the North fondly when you do.
Your Mom

towniebastard said...

Wait until the next time you go to the States and have to explain where Nunavut is. I told people we lived in Northern Canada and several actually said "Oh, around Toronto?"

I weep, sometimes...

I now use West of Greenland, which most people can place. My wife prefers "We're neighbours with Santa..."