Travel Notes ~ Around Iqaluit

I don’t expect many people to read all this, but some of you will, and I need to take some notes for myself. So without further ado, here is a sampling of things we have learned or observed in the last three days:

With a toddler and a pregnant lady, an 8 hour car ride is a 13 hour car ride.

I am really glad I more or less mainstreamed my diet before we left. Not so much because we’ve eaten with other people – we actually haven’t at all yet – but because when it’s 8 p.m. and your dinner plans haven’t worked out and you’re a wreck, and the first building recognizable as providing food is McDonalds, it’s nice to be able to eat horrible comfort food. There is a time to eat health food, and there is a time to inhale calories so you can make it to B.

Ottawa, from the tiny sliver of it that we saw, looks tres cool. On our taxi ride to the airport, we drove along a river that was entirely frozen, and the whole thing had been turned into a long river-shaped ice rink. This brought back childhood fantasies like you wouldn’t believe. I should see if my skates still fit… I haven’t tried them on since I started having babies.

N asked a thousand questions about Canada before we left, mostly about what of her favorite things would be there. The one she clung to most was that there would be “toys Can’da.” Then when we got to the house of our hosts in Ottawa, it turned out we were staying in their awesome man/boy cave, which was freaking choochoo mecca. The sad part: we were only there for nine hours total. The collection of toys we brought with us, which is her main amusement at our destination, has her a little disappointed. We will arrange for a longer, more social, stop there on the way back.

We got to Iqaluit around 12:30 p.m. yesterday (Thursday), and experienced our first bit of proper cold walking from the plane to terminal, and terminal to car, and car to apartment. It was snowing, but not too windy, and not too cold. The clouds and snow had a completely horizon-removing effect – whatever had snow on it translated directly into sky of the exact same color.

We are slowly translating relative temperatures into our heads from Centigrade. E.g. -20 C is only 0 F, not bad at all. -30 C is -20 F, a bit more serious, but we can handle it in our coats. We are still waiting to experience -40 C (which is equal to -40 F), or anything below. Mercifully we have very effective coats and boots and such, which takes care of windchill, so all this blather about “Feels like -70!” is mostly hype. It was -20 C yesterday. We haven’t even had to pull out our snow pants yet.

The apartment is very comfortable. The thermostat was plenty warm; we actually turned it down a bit. We have a stunning view of the Cathedral. Here it is just before sunrise (8 am today):

And here it is at noon:

N took a nap of ages yesterday. Not really surprising after the impossibly long day Wednesday. I’m not sure when she woke up exactly, because it was after it was well dark, and she might have thought it was night time and she was supposed to “go back seep.” We had planned on all going out with The Very Rev. Jonas Allooloo, dean of the Cathedral here, to go grocery shopping. This I was looking forward to mightily, as most of my questions about living here revolve around food. (Surprise surprise.) But by the time N woke up, she just wanted to play with her toys quietly, and I didn’t have the heart to make her go out again (the plane ride was hard for her). I tamped down my desires to explore, and stayed back with her while Jared and Jonas went shopping. My fleshly self was disappointed, but this was definitely the right call. Jared and I had already made a thorough shopping list and gone over it together. He exercised excellent judgment, and returned with food (generously paid for by our hosts) and a full report.

Also, we got to visit all three grocery stores in town today, so I had much of my curiosity satisfied.

Overall impressions: If you want a pretty normal “southern” diet, it is really not hard to find that in Iqaluit. The place has exploded with growth in recent years, and with lots of southerners have come a lot of their comforts, though of course at a price. Overall very very very tentative impressions:

  • If you shop around, different things are cheaper at different stores.
  • If you want to eat on the cheap, rice and beans (and dry goods bought in bulk generally) is still the way to go. Bread and noodles, not so much, though my recently acquired breadmaking skills may come in really handy if I can ship in wheat berries in bulk.
  • It seems like frozen meat is not that bad, and eggs. Also random things like tropical fruits, not much more $ than at home.
  • The non-Inuit population here is very diverse, with a lot of Asians, so there may be a lot available of the Asian variety of cuisine.
  • The real kicker is dairy, at least milk and butter. Over 2x as much. No one really keeps animals here for food. And of course produce, which is all over the place. So far, frozen does not appear to be cheaper. I guess once you’re paying for climate control all that way, it probably doesn’t matter if it’s refrigerated or frozen?
  • Still to explore: what are the real “local” food options. I know arctic fish is available pretty cheaply, though I am not yet sure how. I would love to eat fish all the time, and am desperately curious about things like caribou and muskox, so I’m hoping such things are revealed. Also, there is supposedly an Iqaluit greenhouse society, which is at least worth checking out.

Generally, though, my feeling is that since we are pretty good at being “creative” with our food sourcing, we’ll do fine. In fact we’ll probably have a lot of fun figuring out the options that are both healthiest and cheapest. We already eat pretty differently than how we grew up – not because our moms aren’t great cooks (they both really are), but because we’re always exploring our options and letting our foodways evolve as we learn more.

We kept N up later than usual last night, because of her long, late nap, and headed to bed ourselves shortly after. I had some trouble sleeping, but Jared slept like a log* and N slept ’till 8, so I was able to eke 8 hours of sleep out of 11 hours in bed. Here I thought Tom Clancy novels took forever to read, and I’m almost done Patriot Games after a week.

*Jared seems to have trouble understanding why this makes me hate him a bit. After N was born, though, he finally said “why do you get mad at me when I fall asleep?” I am working on controlling my envy.

Since we all slept in this morning, we rushed through breakfast a bit to squeeze in a visit to the Cathedral. Our hopes of a morning tour of the city had been interrupted by news that there would be a funeral at 10, but Jonas still took the time to show us all around the building at 9. I’ll bring the camera next time; it’s as beautiful on the inside as on the outside. Some of the more striking elements are the narwhal-tusk cross and the altar rails and lectern styled after dog sleds (I’ve gone and forgotten the word for them already).

We had ourselves geared up to take a walk during the funeral, which we attempted right after our Cathedral tour. At -25, this was going to be a walk with a wrap. The only wrap I brought was the ring sling, quite possibly a mistake, but it takes up the least room, and I can get N on my back with it. It worked pretty well, though I didn’t really get a good seat with her snow pants on, so that made it all worse. She was happiest when I sort of held her booted feet up, which was not sustainable for a long walk. The part that didn’t work so well is that it was hard to keep her face well covered. I have hats and cowls aplenty for her, but nothing engineered for this sort of thing. We’ll keep trying, because we want to get out more, but it’s frustrating.

The most sad part is that N hates being wrapped right now. Like will scream and cry like I’ve taken her favorite toy and burned it before her eyes. (If she loves her independence as much as her mama does, this might not be far from the truth.)

All this has meant that I really get the brilliance of the Amauti coats the Inuit moms wear. They have a sort of pouch under the hood, that you tie a kid up in very simply, then you can pull the big hood over both of you. Should be plenty of room for kiddo to breathe, but totally cancels out the wind chill and cold for both of you. Apparently the way to get one of these is to buy the fabric and have someone make you one. If we move here, that is probably a necessity.

The Kindercoat will remain awesome for carrying a bigger kid on my back, or a teeny-weeny one on my front, or two kids at once. And it is rated to -25 F (-30 C)! We were certainly not cold in our core. When we stopped in a Tim Horton’s, one Inuit lady came up to me and said “how are you using that Amauti??” I showed her the wrap underneath. She seemed to approve. Kiiiinda made my day.

We more just have to troubleshoot what to do about kiddo’s face. Her nose is adorable and I’d like her to keep it. Seriously. You know it’s for real when your eye sockets start to hurt. And there was that brief moment of terror when the frost on my eyelashes first made my eyes stick closed.

We did succeed in going on a short walk, probably not more than fifteen minutes total. N was hanging backwards, seemed generally unhappy, and needed me to hold her feet half the time. Continuing to work at being able to walk places outside is going to be difficult, and it’s not absolutely essential to living here, so it’s not a dealbreaker if we kinda fail at it right now. I’m also carrying another kid up front, after all, and have extra pregnancy-related walking difficulties besides. But it’s important enough to me to keep trying. And to try again, even more intentionally and consistently, with the next little one.

The rest of the light part of the day was spent in the apartment. We sat by the sunny window and played, researched everything from Inuktatut orthography to the history of Canadian books of common prayer, made egg and bacon sandwiches for lunch. From our window we could tell that the funeral got out around 12, and Jonas was back around 12:30. He ended up having to also make an airport run to pick up a visiting bishop from Ireland, so he wasn’t available to take us out again until 3.

Learned about Inuktitut: syllabic alphabet. Three vowels, long and short. So orthographically, reminds me of Japanese. Grammatically, reminds me more of German, with prefixes and suffixes added on to make really long descriptive words. I’m sure that’s wildly oversimplified and inaccurate, but that’s as far as my touchpoints of experience will get me.

When we finally got out again, we got the whirlwind tour of the town. We drove past three of the five elementary schools (there are a lot of playgrounds), the middle school, the high school, the college, the hospital, the library, and the jail. We went into 2 out of 3 grocery stores (and Jared had visited the third the night before), and learned a bit about bulk food buying options. We saw the little town right down the lane, which has its own church congregation, part of the same parish as the Cathedral. We saw some of the different neighborhoods around, and took a journey down the “Road to nowhere” (seriously… there’s a sign), paved out to the next area for development. The views, seen here mostly right after the sun had set, were stunning. I realized at some point that living here wouldn’t so much mean the absence of trees and flowers and grass, as the chance to live in a bit of the world with wonders most people only see in pictures.

Jonas made sure we knew that the haze you see means it’s really cold. We learned today what a forecast of “ice crystals” means. Imagine looking into a beam of sunlight, and instead of seeing dust motes, you see… ice motes. It looks like fairy dust, but then you discover the feeling of your nose hairs freezing.

And on request, we stopped in Baffin Electronics, fully half of which is devoted to sewing, bead, and knitting supplies.

The most promising elements were a full stock of Patons (makes sense, as its a Canadian brand). Their classic wool was available in quantity, for about half again as much as you can get it at Joann’s in the states. The sewing supplies were impressive. There is a crafting group that meets somewhere on Saturdays, and I plan on seeing if I can stick my nose in.

A more acutely trying circumstance came not with the cold, but with the constant change in temperature when you are, say, going on errands. During our sweet tour of the town in the afternoon, Jonas rather had to keep the heat blasting in order to keep the windows from totally frosting over, but there was almost no way to help Naomi modulate the heat. Then every time we stopped it was hat, scarfie, mittens on again. At one point her ear got very cold and she got mega upset, though it’s hard to know how much of her meltdown was triggered by exhaustion.

Oh yeah, another lesson for the day. We were sort of torn about putting N down for her naps, since they’d mean she’ll miss almost half the available daylight. We tried just skipping nap today, and she seemed OK until around 4:30, when it had been pitch dark for a while, we’d made several stops on our tour, and she got a cold ear. Meltdown time. We got her home pretty quick after that, and were trying to get dinner on as quick as we could, but she was a hot mess. Finally she demanded numnums and went to sleep at like 5:30. Lesson learned: one of us will be unavailable outside the house for two hours between 1 and 4 pm. We need to be as flexible as we can, but we also need to embrace the limits that let us take care of each other! Such is the dance of being a healthy family ministering in our bodies, as ourselves, in a human culture.

When Nomes went down was about when I started writing this post, and Jared made a nice dinner.

It’s helpful to have so many of our practical curiosity satisfied already. Traveling like this doesn’t so much mean that we’re bored, as much as we don’t have all our own stuff to do during down time, so we feel a little fidgety. But we’re grateful for the time to rest and adjust, especially for N’s sake. Expecting that the weekend initiates more people time.

The comfort of wifi in a new environment… is almost embarrassing.

4 thoughts on “Travel Notes ~ Around Iqaluit

  1. Thanks for all that detail. Since I’ve been thinking about you all nearly constantly, it’s nice to hear all about it. I can appreciate the change of temperature problem, and Naomi not understanding. I have enjoyed the pictures too….I have wondered if you won’t miss our beauty in MD and PA too much because there will be lots of different beauty up there…..sounds like that is the case.


  2. Hi Rebecca – Keep the essays coming! I like to read what you are experiencing! Take care of yourself and Naomi. As Ever = Sheila


  3. Rebecca, I love reading your notes! The more the better. What an adventure you are having. I feel like I am adventuring vicariously through your experiences. It is so interesting to see how you are already considering how to adapt to the environment. If the Lord speaks to you and Jared to serve there, I know He will have just the right family! The Lord be with you and bless you all!


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