Thursday, November 30, 2006

Day 123: Can You See Anything?

A year ago tonight my host sister died in a car accident. Becoming a part of this family over the last month leaves me with nothing to say that's not impossible to say. My host mother is broken.

It is easy to see how people can believe in spirits out here. The way the snow moves over the roofs in the wind sounds like lonely whispers and screams. Watching figures down the road swirl in and out of view leaves you wondering what is in your head and what is outside.

I couldn't stay inside today. My camera proved its value by shooting through a snow storm.

Maybe two people will have any idea what I'm talking about, but this post is best read while listening to Can You See Anything by Veto.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Day 121: A number of note

Today marks the completion of 1/3 of my year journey.

I am in no mood to give this post its typical entertainment value. A day of more significance than a bizarre fraction is coming very soon. When it comes I will write on it.

My host father works for the local weather station, which is one of the main stations in Greenland. A big part of what they do involves monitoring the upper skies for wind and weather conditions for the air traffic that passes through the region (of which quite a lot does from North America to Europe). One of my host father's main jobs is sending up a weather balloon and dealing with the mechanical and technical aspects of the information it receives.

The other day I went with him up to the station to see him deploy the weather balloon and learn a bit more about the station. It is also a seismology center, as well as the town's connection to the outside world - all internet, telephone, and satellite connections are organized through this station.

My host father explaining some Scoresbysund geography:

The weather station kitchen, where they spend a lot of time waiting:

Interesting: three men of an age significantly more than mine (let's say 50-60's) work at this weather station - one of whom is my host father. They were all here this morning and we sat around drinking coffee while waiting for some of the machines to warm up. I realized that I have never in my life sat down in a casual situation with three old men, where I wasn't 1) in some family function 2) making a presentation or being interviewed or otherwise extremely proper, or 3) too young to be part of the conversation. For some reason it struck me. And - although everything was relaxed and respectful - I felt my old RHS* training firing up and had all kinds of thoughts about gender and age dynamics.

Which normally I'd get into, but like I said I'm not in the mood.

*RHS - Residence Hall Staff, an organization I worked for at my university. RHS keeps order in the dorms and ensures the safety and well-being of the students in addition to maintaining awareness of a multitude of social hierarchies

View from the balloon platform:

Filling the balloon in the hanger:

Releasing the balloon:

Another station-worker's house:

"Sunrise", otherwise known as "as much sun as we'll get today." This day had remarkably clear skies.

Coming home, Duka (who we recently found out is pregnant) greets my host father:

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Day 118: A month gone

Been in Greenland for exactly one month. Hm.

I just recovered from the verge of panic when I found my computer, although connected to the internet, refused to find any web page. Believing the apocalypse to be upon my laptop, I was totally flumoxed as to why every test of my connection proved that yes, I was connected, but neither internet explorer nor mozilla would show anything. I had nightmare visions of trying to contact Dell support from Greenland.

After making some desperate backups and deleting everything I did in the 24 hours, I went downstairs and found out I hadn't turned on the wireless connection correctly.

Other than that...we could see some ridiculous winds today coming off the point across the bay:

You can't see on the photo, but the haze off the base of the mountain (over the icebergs) was rolling off the land - considering that point is 200 km away, those are some powerful winds pulling the snow off the mountains there. Also you can see the Arctic mirage effect going on at the base of the point.

More landscape...

Man pushing kid in a stroller:

The frigid preschool:

Color-coordinated clothes hanging out to dry:

A photograph:

When I approached this group of houses, I suddenly heard Sunday Bloody Sunday by U2 blaring out of one of the windows.

Street light:

A funny pairing:

Seal skins hanging to dry:

Some views of the town suddenly make me realize how out in the middle of nowhere we are:

My host sister Aviaja and Benjamin (her kid):

My host dad saying hi to Duka's mom, who's also pretty friendly:

Benjamin, standing on top of the meat freezer in a small shop, is captivated by the local tunes:

And that was that.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Happy thanksgiving...

Yeah, there's no thanksgiving in Greenland. Here's a sampler of what I spent my day doing instead of eating good food and doing nothing:

Today I had to teach, of course, as normal. We're reading a story in my 8th grade class (which only has 6 people) that is not exactly going well. We came across the word "grin" today - I KNOW they know this word, we learned it a few days ago. So we read a section, and I ask if they have any questions about any words (names changed to protect the guilty):

Student #1: What does "grin" mean?
Me: ...Well, we learned it a few days ago. Does any one remember?
[blank stares]
Me: Ok. It means the same thing as "smile". Do you all know what "smile" means? Does everyone understand?
[series of nods and demonstrative smiles]
Me: Good. Remember: "grin" means "smile". Ok. So, Student #2, what does "grin" mean?
#2: [blank stare]
Me: I just told you. What does "grin" mean?
#2: I don't remember.


Or this ever-popular exchange:

Student #1: What does "pillow" mean?
Me: When you go to sleep in your bed, it's what you put your head on. Does everyone understand?
[Series of "yes"s]
Student #2: What does "pillow" mean?

I could go on, but I don't think that would be very professional. I will admit - from my attempts to explain Thanksgiving to some of the older students, I actually did get a "Happy Thanksgiving Day!" from one of the brightest ones. It was somehow comforting.

I had imagined something slightly bitter for this Thanksgiving day post, as I realize I am indeed going a little nuts and being reminded of the particular comforts of home on this not going well. But, against my natural attitude, I've decided to acknowledge that there is an ENORMOUS lot of things I have to be thankful for, and I can get through these times knowing that there are promising days ahead.

It does sometimes blow my mind that I've been involved with more international projects before the age of 23 than most people are in a lifetime. I love the fact that I've done work in so many different fields. And my position now really is not so bad. I'd like to summarize my general emotions towards this place as somewhat unhappy but extremely very appreciative. It's a stunning area in regards to my project (visually and culturally) and I'm rarely the type to let a few discomforts bother me significantly. I can say that I'm looking forward to taking a break for Christmas, seeing some familiar faces and getting back to normal for a little, then powering through the second half of this year adventure.

Then facing the terrfying question of "what am I going to do next".


This is an old photo from my time in Kunming, China (Yunnan Province) in 2005, but I want a photo with sunshine and green, and this photo always makes me laugh:

I'm 6'3" (1.91m) - I don't really fit in ANYWHERE.

Happy thanksgiving, sincerely.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Day 114: Things to be said and seen

Lots to say and see. Let's go.

Today I got up around 8, did all the usual morning stuff, and went downstairs for some food before school. There I run into my host father, who says,

"When you are out today, take a good look at the sun. Today is the last day you will see it."

Now...I knew this day would come. I mean, it's in the title of my project (newer readers, learn here). And the sun has been disappearing incredibly fast - when I went out for photos yesterday, the sun came over the horizon a little after 11am and was gone by 1pm. But upon hearing this, I actually freaked out a little (Mentally. Outwardly I maintain a constant facade of calm. Usually.)

I don't think you can realize what it's like to have the sun gone until you feel it happening. My internal timing is already all wacky because I usually associate light with my daily activities. That hasn't been true for weeks now, but its a hard habit to break. And hearing, very suddenly, that today was the last day to see the sun...well, its like suddenly finding out your best friend is moving to another country. Within the next 24 hours. Certainly invites a sort of sense of hopeless desperation. For me, it means a lot of things - the loss of good light for photography being a big one, as well as realizing that I am possibly already going a little crazy out here and this isn't going to help. Imagine being told something you've never in your life gone 24 hours without, you won't be able to have for the next four months. Makes you realize what you take for granted.

Admittedly, what with my Christmas plans, I will actually be seeing the sun sometime next month while taking a break in Canada. But then it's off to Norway, my northernmost destination in Svalbard, and the guarentee of a very dark, cold winter.


Speaking of holiday plans, which I am extremely looking forward to at the moment, I'll be in Canada for Christmas and Scotland for New Years before moving to Norway the first week of January. If you're the sort of person who has something to mail to me, email me and I'll give you the Canadian address. It will probably be one of the very few remotely reliable ways for me to get mail for the year.

What else...I guess I don't totally fit into this family:

(I hope everyone's figured this out by now, but if you click on the image you'll get a bigger version).

The forbidding darkness:

Yesterday's sunrise:

I'd like to say a little something about my camera. My camera is wonderful and I love it and my lens (for the curious, I use a Nikon D2oo with a Nikkor 18-220mm VR lens). However I view the entire system as something like a brilliant but disgruntled college freshman, who knows he's very smart but still needs someone to tell him exactly what to do. (I'm accepting suggestions for camera names, if you have any ideas. Keep in mind my eccentric tastes and that the leading option currently is "Jonathen", pronounced with a Spanish "J": Huanathen.) I realize I throw quite a bit of abuse at it, especially with the temperature conditions, but my confidence in the stuff I produce occilates drastically.

And of course I'm making everything up as I go. I have zero training in photography, so being totally self-taught means I actually technically am not very good at all at utilizing what my camera has to offer. When I see other photographer's work and think how...not-so-good mine looks next to it - well, I console myself with optimistically labeling my style as "honest".

Today would be a low-point in the photography confidence, if you can't tell.

But we continue all the same!


These sorts of things catch my eye:

How nice:

The town church:

The iceburger. Iceburglar. Icebugle. Iceborg.

An epic series of sled dogs (by the way, around here they don't call them huskies, they say they are "Greenlandic dogs". Which is really the best thing to call them, since they are a mix of huskie, arctic wolf, and who knows what else):

The edge of the bay:

My house is the green one:

Construction in full winter gear:

And one of my rare black-and-whites: