Iceland review - 2002, Blaðsíða 45

Iceland review - 2002, Blaðsíða 45
ICELAND REVIEW 43 view of the bay between Kulusuk and Ammassalik island. “I’m try- ing to see some whales down there.” Ice floes jam up between rugged brown mountains, but no whales. “There are more ice floes than usual coming down from up north this summer so you can’t see the whales,” he explains through our headsets in a Danish accent. “I guess because of the global warm- ing. Up north, they say that fjords that are usually covered in ice year-round are bare now. So things are pretty well twisted.” The helicopter pilot has been living in East Greenland for three years, and in Greenland since 1994. Today, 20% of the country is foreign born, or not of native Inuit origin. Though Greenland home rule was instituted in 1979, it is still a part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and most of Greenland’s non-native residents are from Denmark. A Danish woman in Tasiilaq estimates, for instance, that of the town’s 1,700 inhabitants, 300 are Danish, most of whom work in the town’s school, hospital, and occupy most of the gov- ernment positions. “The population of Greenland is 56,000 now. Twenty years ago, it was 30,000.” The pilot attributes this to better standards of living that the country’s light-speed modernisation has brought. “Everything is generally better here. A hundred and twenty years ago, this country was living like we did in the Stone Age. Now it’s a modern society, with all the problems that it brings.” He adds, “And the benefits as well.” Between two steep fjords, a collection of red, yellow, blue, green and white buildings suddenly comes into view far below. “The cap- ital of East Iceland,” he says, holding his hand out for me to behold. From this vantage point, it is immediately clear how physically soli- tary the town is – a concept difficult to grasp from the perspective of many countries and cities around the world that grapple with urban and suburban sprawl. The helicopter blades beat steadily as the pilot delivers us without a bump on to the tarmac of the Tasiilaq heliport. The capital Tasiilaq gets under your skin. It has the rare quality of being as interesting as it is beautiful. If you’re walking around town on a seemingly quiet street, beware: the town’s two taxis periodically tear around corners at maddening speeds, delivering residents up and down the steep hills of neighbourhoods where fish hang from driftwood racks and seal skins are stretched taut on wooden frames. Roughly half of the town still fishes or hunts seal, whale, and polar bear for a living. Though the one central intersection and modest clutch of central businesses offer the illusion that anybody can get a feel for the place in a few hours, the more time you spend covering its looping side streets and hills, the more you notice the town’s smaller enter- prises. Tasiilaq is host to an eclectic mix of businesses – both govern- ment run and privately owned. You can buy couture seal-fur gar- ments and walrus jaw, tusks, molars and all on the main drag in a shop that doubles as a tourist information centre. Up the street, Gerda Vilhom runs Neriusaaq, the bookstore that keeps longer hours than anyplace else in town and is an unexpectedly eccentric gathering place for Tasiilaq’s residents. Out front, a wooden sign reads Verdeusuuiversitetet – ‘The University of the World’. “The World University is down there,” she points downstairs to a room lined with books and magazines and a computer terminal. People stop by to buy ice cream, have a cup of coffee or use the Internet. Another worthwhile stop, if you ever manage to get there during its sporadic tour hours, is the Greenland Post, not to be confused with the post office down the road, lest you severely perturb its In the Inuit communities native to East Greenland, there’s no sense of ownership over the land or the life in it. In Greenlandic, you would not say, "my daughter," but "Daughter." 40 IR302 - Grænland bs-rm 3.9.2002 12:14 Page 43
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