A Photographer’s first time to visit Greenland
“We can live in Greenland, for one year.”
This is what my husband said when we were packing for our solo trip (i.e. without kids) to Greenland. I didn’t know what he meant nor did I know what to expect. But he said it with such conviction that it made me wonder.
What’s so captivating about Greenland?
Why do people that have been there get that ‘glazed-over’ look when anyone merely mentions Greenland?
I didn’t get it.
I was heading there as Rasmus Lyberth’s personal photographer for the annual Akisuanerit Festival.
Just in case you don’t know, Rasmus Lyberth is a Greenlandic Inuit singer who is originally from Grønland (in Danish) but lives in Denmark. He’s pretty much Greenlandic royalty. Speaking of which, did you know that he was ‘knighted’ by the queen?!? So he really is considered royalty. But to me, he’s just a wonderful man with a kind soul and an AMAZING voice that has the ability to make grown adults cry with his songs. Believe me, he has moved me to tears on more than one occasion.
So, I went to Greenland with NO IDEA of what to expect, but with everything to gain because I had never been there.
Also, another huge thing was the very fact that we, my husband and I, (who was also going as part of the Rasmus’s band), we were leaving our kids for the longest time I’ve ever been away from them. They were in good hands BUT it still weighed heavily on my heart to leave them. But, work was calling and I knew the break would do us good.
And so we left for the airport at the crack of dawn. There, all five members of Rasmus Lyberth’s band and myself got all ticketed and security checked, with all our gear and we boarded Air Greenland heading for Kangerlussuaq. This was a former US airbase, which has the biggest airstrip, one well equipped to take the airbus we flew in on. Our final destination was Nuuk, the biggest city in Greenland, but we soon found out that the weather had other plans and cancelled all flights. So there we were, in this hub town with no internet, no wifi unless we wanted to pay by the minute, which is holy crap expensive, we were stranded due to really shitty weather. But what I thought was going to be a wanker of a time in this seemly ghost town, turned out to be hyyglit (Danish for cozy).
They housed us at one of the military base barrack buildings and it reminded me of my high school boarding school days at Mt. Edgecumbe. There were industry grade beds, chairs and closets, it was pretty standard, clean and it was perfect for an overnight stay. I thought it was comical that they only had U.S. grade electrical plug in’s, which NO ONE used. It made me miss home a wee bit being in this place. Still no wifi or any means of communication unless we paid for it, which I found through this trip, if I wanted the basics like wifi or water, I had to pay a high price for it.
The next day we got up at 4am to make the 6am flight to Nuuk. The weather was looking good. When we arrived in Nuuk, it was like arriving in a modern day ‘huge’ village.
It was an amazing to see mainly native Inuit faces. Repeatedly I saw people and thought that they could be my ‘cousins’ or they looked like family and friends from Alaska. People everywhere gave new meaning to the word ‘doppelganger’ for me. It was so nice to see. Even better, people that I said “Hi” to actually said ‘Hi’ back to me and smiled with their whole face, like they meant it. They acknowledged me! It really made my heart smile since this is the opposite of how Danish people act. I usually get the ‘cold shoulder’ when I attempt to say ‘hi’ to anyone in Denmark. Anyways…we were in Greenland and it was amazing!
We stayed at the Sømandshjemmet, (Hotel Nuuk’s seaman’s home) which was like a bed and breakfast for fisherman. It was really nice. Great accommodating rooms along with a large cafeteria-like dining area. I especially liked the shower room that had amazing shower pressure (as a side note, my home shower pressure is crap so this was a treat;).
So far everything was fascinating to see and hear. Immediately I loved seeing everything from street signs to advertisements, ALL in Greenlandic. Can you imagine it? Seeing ONLY native people on posters/advertisements and everyone speaks their own native language, everything from ordering food to names on buildings, all encompassed in their Greenlandic Inuit language.
More so, I couldn’t help to notice all the similarities to Alaska from the people and culture. As I stated earlier, there were people that looked like my cousins and friends from Alaska. I got a bit emotional just seeing the people. Their culture and identity as being Greenlandic, is so strong. I can’t really say that about myself, being Alaskan Native and Athabascan where my own cultural identity is a bit lost and dying. I was never encouraged to speak my own language nor was it common to do so.
In Nuuk, I found it so commonplace that it caught me off guard. I would speak Danish words and people would give me a ‘face’ as if to say, ‘oh…you’re not Greenlandic and you don’t speak our language.’ I was so surprised at the level of cultural identity here. It’s truly amazing to see, feel and hear.
Later, we went to sound check (which was at the Nuuk’s ‘Katuaq’ Culture House). This amazing wooden looking building was located in the heart of downtown Nuuk. It was filled with Inuit artwork and photos of Inuit artists and past performances. So many things to see and take in. I think I sat in front of the building ‘people watching’ and taking photos that I didn’t realize that I was getting cold. But it reminded me of Alaska in so many ways. It was like going home or attending the Alaska Federation of Natives (AFN) conference (that special time of year when Alaska natives get together to visit and discuss native Alaskan issues). For me, that was the only time I saw a lot of natives together. It is the complete opposite in Nuuk.
Anyways, I digress. I got some great shots of the band’s sound check. They were scheduled to perform at 24:00 (11:00PM), which seemed so late but we were on Inuit time (native time;) so we followed their schedule.
Let me tell you about that night! It was phenomenal! I didn’t realize what a rich music scene Greenland had. I mean, I had seen and heard a bit of it from talented Greenlandic friends (this includes the Suluit group and of course Rasmus Lyberth) but until that night, I didn’t realize just how rich and diverse each musician was. There are truly talented music groups that have a huge presence in Greenland.
The next day was all about sight seeing and taking in everything Nuuk had to offer. We did a LOT of walking around the city and saw a lot of amazingness.
Things that stuck out were the old harbor where the statue of the “Mother of the Sea,” was, the museum and the shopping mall (yes they have a shopping mall, which had a grocery store that sold DRY FISH! Dry Fish! I was in heaven:).
All the various Inuit native owned businesses and shops blew me away. Even the food was infused with their Inuit culture. We went to this restaurant where they served ‘muktuk,’ (if you don’t know, it is raw whale fat ‘blubber’ and skin that is considered a delicacy in most northern native cultures). I love it. The very presentation of how the muktuk was served was beautiful and quite tasty looking. It was an amazing production of food that I’ve never seen anywhere else. Can you imagine muktuk being served in Alaska or any restaurant setting? I can’t even.
It is truly amazing to see native people thriving in their communities and supporting their economy. I think Alaska can take a lesson in not only the cultural aspects of Greenland but also the very entrepreneurial spirit there. It was refreshing to experience all of this.
Rasmus Lyberth’s second concert was even better than the first one. This time, the setting for his performance was in the Culture House’s theater. It was only Rasmus and Kristoffer performing and it was amazing. It was one of those performances that left you speechless and emotional. When he sang, he took all of us on his journey through that music as if we were floating along with him. When he ended a song, I’d find myself with tears streaming down my face and I hadn’t taken one photo during that time. I got lost in his music. That’s the amazingly uncanny ability that Rasmus’s music has. It captivates you and leaves you changed somehow. It was a powerful performance that I felt fortunate to be a part of.
AS A SIDE NOTE: One prevailing thing I noticed on this trip had to do with my own identity. Nowadays, I mainly and solely identify myself as a “mom.” Nothing more. Its not to say that THAT is a bad thing, its just what I recognized in myself. It used to be that (when I lived in Alaska), my identity was as a mom AND also an executive, a leader, a single mom, a friend, an aunt, an active person, a competitive person, and generally just a social woman.
What struck a cord in me when I was in Greenland was this instance when I saw a sweet Inuit mom with her two little kids. At first glance, I saw how cute the kids were and I was hoping I could get a photo of them, but I didn’t want to be too intrusive. Then, it hit me. I realized that I was looking at myself. I literally looked at this sweet tired mom and her kids as if I was in her shoes. I was staring at ME from the outside looking in. I was her and all I saw was a ‘Mom.’ Gone were the other roles that I used to identify with.
But what I took away was that I can’t only BE just a ‘mom’ anymore. I need more. I need people and interaction. I need a work life outside my kids and my family. I need to ‘serve’ again. I need to ‘be-my-own-person’ again. I had been so lost in motherhood and practically drowning in my own self-pity of living a lonely expat life that I didn’t realize that I’d lost myself. Two years of being a mom can take its toll, let me tell you! I know! But, going to Greenland and seeing things in a different light has awaken my drive to get shit done.
I’m getting off the pity train and onto new endeavors.
And so Greenland…I fell in love with Greenland. I now “get it” about what everyone says about Greenland. I NOW get WHY people that have been to this place get a ‘glazed-over’ look as they think about Greenland. I get it.
It’s such a magical and deeply rooted cultural place that I have a renewed respect for the people. I hope to visit Greenland again and spend more time there. I hope to connect with more people there. It truly does remind of me of Alaska. From the people to the culture, there are so many similarities.
There are also differences that I think Alaska can learn from. Either way, it is a captivating place and I want to return to. Until I do, I will savor all the memories of this trip and maybe we can ‘go there for just one year.’
Reasons I Love Greenland:
- Native people and native faces.
- Native food.
- Native culture.
- Native “Inuit’ owned businesses
- Great town…Nuuk.
- The arts (music/dance/theater/movies) are strong.
Not so great:
- Expensive- everything is horrendously expensive.
- Bad weather is the norm.
- Must have a car or walk everywhere.
It’s all relative though. Denmark is expensive. Alaska is expensive. Life with kids is expensive. We just make life work.
But Greenland, you are amazing and I will return to you someday soon.