Pamela Berg

Find Self Inspiration even in Self Isolation: Report from Uummannaq Greenland

Hello from Greenland Everyone!

This posting is about Self Isolation and Covid – 19 from Pamela Berg. If you are curious to know more about Greenland, please send an email to explorerpamberg@gmail.com. I am in the process of making public my invisiblegreenland.com blog…stay tuned…’

There was a fog hovering over the island on Friday 20th March.  Fog and winds are signs Spring is near.  News reached me by a friend in Kangerlussuaq that at midnight on Friday 20th March, flights would close between Copenhagen (CPH) and Kangerlussuaq or Sønder Strømfjord (SFJ).  A slight rush of uneasiness came over me.  Presumably, suspension of flights would be temporary.  But I still felt disquieted not knowing when flights would resume, knowing I could not leave.  The few fishermen on snowmobiles there on the sea ice made their way onto the harbour as lightness began to dim and the winds picked up.  Fishermen, as far away from each other as they could be, carry on as they do even when a pandemic is happening.  Most of the time, fishermen pull their catch in a large plastic container that sits on a dog sledge by snowmobile.  They coast along the sea ice from fishing hole to harbour from morning to night.  Past the ice bergs, the snowmobile paths wanders around the fishing holes, the rubbish dump, the allotment of sea freights, factory yards to the northeast of the island where the heliport sits – my way out.  From the 20th of March till present has been the longest period of my life.

Arrival at Ummanaq

Crossing over Baffin Bay waters towards Assorput Strait to reach Uummannaq fjord is a 10 minute helicopter flight time from Qaarsut, the nearest airport.  At this lautitude of 70ºN all along the coast, soaring rock solid mountains, one after another ascend from the fjord.  From Kangerluussaq to Ilulissat, I stopped at Qaarsut as I made my way to Uummannaq back on 21st February.  When it was time, I walked towards the helicopter and in front of me were these conspicuous flow of mountains that completely faded away into the background as the bright red Air Greenland Bell 212 took centre focus.  I finally was on my way.  At one time, I thought, as I took the ticket out of my jacket, things will never be quite the same.  It was a gradual flight leaving the trail of mountains behind.  As we approached, Uummannaq had almost everything a town in Greenland required, such as colourful houses, water tanks, oil-powered heat, grocery store (Pilersuisoq).  All that was necessary for proper upkeep and sustaining a social position would later be brought in by Royal Arctic Line when the ice frees in mid June.  But now, there was just enough supplies at Pilersuisoq.  Soon, it will be Easter or Påsk weekend, and there is no more eggs, or selection of cheeses, or a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables.  Keep in mind, hardly anyone travels to Uummannaq in the dead of winter, as I did.  It seemed to me a curious lesson from the past, which repeats itself, a reminder to sieze the day – carpe diem.

JQA to UMD helicopter, Qaarsut to Uummannaq

At the heart of the Uummannaq Island or ‘heart-shaped mountain’ named for the twin peaks, are the local fishermen.  The fish factories are the main employers in town.  In recent years, following the tsunami of 2017, people started migrating to other settlements and towns for work.  There are about 1200 inhabitants occupying 10% of the island at the southern tip.  The 1200 metre mountain occupies the rest.  When I go out for a run in the early mornings, I barely see a soul.  In front of me is a seemingly endless expanse of sea ice.  Beyond the Uummannaq fjord towards Iterlak bay, a lonely ice berg emerges, and beyond that lay open sea ice and white clouds on the horizon.   Uummannaq fjord, including Uummannaq Island or town, has seven settlements: Ikerasak, Illorsuit, Niaqornat, Nuugaatsiaq, Qaarsut, Saattut, and Ukkusissat.  

Qarsuut or ‘naked mountain’ sits on the northern side of the Nuussuaq peninsula (25 km west of Uummannaq).   Fishermen and hunters make up the population of around 250.  Save for the solitary airport, there is nothing to be seen but silent mountains and rock surfaces.  As soon as the airplane lands at Qaarsut, there is a broken history, perhaps intervals of history that lingers at the foot of the mountain.  The settlement lays at the foot of the ‘naked-mountain’, the 2000 metre high, Greenlanders call Qilertinnguit mountain.  From the period of 1778 to 1924, lay the remains of Greenland’s first coal mine.  During this colonial period in 1870,  Qaarsut was granted status as a trading station.

On the frozen ice, it’s hard to imagine this cluster of settlements were once part of a whaling station in the 1700s.  Through merchants and missionaries, Uummannaq became a Danish colony, founded by I.H Bruun in 1763.  Only a few kilometres away east of Qaarsut lies the Inuit dwelling of Qilakitsoq.  I was once told, by the museum vicar in Qasigiannguit, of the mummies of Qilakitsoq, who could remarkedly remember the excavation in 1972 of eight mummified bodies dating to 1475 CE, and commented on the unique artefacts of Inuit ’design’ (seal skin and stitching) worn by the Qilakitsoq mummies.  Yet, just as when the mummies were transported to Nuuk to be on display at the National Museum, Inuit culture personified inadvertently faded with it.  It would then be shaped by those elsewhere.  The Inuit ancient culture and ’history’ from the colonisers, so to speak, allude to a divide, defining regions and locating the northwestern region as Inuit, where people are ’more Inuit’.

Jens Kaali

My Uummannaq conversations, as I sometimes recall them, turns out primarily to be misunderstood or mis-translation.  In conversation with a tourist operator who spoke perfectly well English, responded by ’I was not sitting by my phone waiting for your call’ when I asked if he was busy or able to talk.  The national dog sled race was the concern at that time and visits to neighbouring settlements took up all his time.  Most conversations are in Greenlandic, which I am picking up slowly.  English is taught in schools and seems to be preferred over Danish, as I’ve experienced.  At the grocer, Pilersuisoq, hours are usual and at closing time, my usual time, the few guests still lingering at the alcohol section, one by one pay and leave.  The handful of people shopping mirror the handful of people on the street.  I was left to pay, and the Jack Daniels whiskey did cross my mind.  The faired-skinned girl at the counter, whose features were a combination of Greenlandic and possibly one quarter Danish, smiled at my purchase of peanuts, sunflower seeds, and coconut flakes.

I walk the town, make my way to the stores repeatedly and not once on these days do I encounter ways I could get infected.  As of 3rd April, there are 10 persons infected with the Covid-19 virus and they all live in Nuuk, a far away place from Uummannaq.  There is no panic here.  Upon my arrival back on 21st February, landing towards the dark station, I had begun to feel the isolation, and this sense of being alone persists today.  I still remember the uncertainty of my footsteps as I walked out of the heliport.  Plagued by lack of stimulating conversation, intellectual discussions, empathy towards others, I take refuge in books, writing, FaceTime, WhatsApp and the internet.  Living in isolation and prompted by the Covid -19 I suppose, if you are kept from socialising or from school, work, or meetings, or chosen to take refuge in this social distancing to find time alone, value the things you value.

 

One fishermen I meet from time to time, appears youthful in his tobacco smile, with aged lines round his eyes, curiously pleasant face of kindness.  On every occasion, Jens Kaali wore a dark blue fishermen’s winter overall and heavy Baffin boots with a warm hat and seal skin mittens covering his inner gloves.  His fishermen attire was like others, but Jens Kaali differed.  He occupied his time in Uummannaq saving up in order to possibly leave Uummannaq one day.  He took out his camera to show me a picture, a selfie with his girlfriend.  During a pause in our conversation, we both noticed an endless length of time went by before the minute went by on his watch.  Even though we expected it to move forward, we began to laugh and he headed towards his snowmobile.  In many ways, the Covid – 19 pandemic allows us to halt time to the sixtieth of an hour in the future.  Halt those thoughts of menace that you hear in your mind.  Take a moment and live in it, because honestly, everything is possible in that moment.

Uumannaq – heart shaped mountain

 

Hello there, this posting is from a Pamela Berg.  If you are curious to know more about Greenland, please send an email to explorerpamberg@gmail.com  I am in the process of making public my invisiblegreenland blog…stay tuned.

a 1500 DKK bottle around 200 dollars

PS. I did not buy the Jack Daniels, however, if George Basch was with me, we would be toasting to Laphroaig. Cheers George. Please see George’s posting at www.explorergeorge.com from his visit to Greenland last year.  George captures exquisite images.  His Arctic journey begins beyond Greenland and seems to never end.

One comment

  1. George Basch Thanks so much for posting this. Mikael Strandberg Please let Pam know that it looks very lovely (and civilized). Glad that they are taking precautions, and that the nearest case is in Nuuk.

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