Its minus eighteen and a group of twelve year olds near the health center are racing on crazy carpets wearing shorts, sandals, and parkas with fur wrap-around hoods. Everyone has yellow seal skin mittens which the teenagers doodle all over like I used to do with my sneakers in grade eight. The oldest ladies walk around wearing big muffs and beaded knee high boots called Kamiks while the young mothers sew frantically through their pregnancy to make “amautis”- large hooded parkas where babies are tucked into for trompsing through town. No one uses car seats or seatbelts with amautis around. You can tell who the locals are because all their winter gear is home-made and brightly coloured while us foreigners from the south are stuck with our dark canada goose and north face. You tell me who has life figured out.
It feels like spring. Today you could walk around without a balaclava, down pants, and- if you took the smoke break fast enough- one could theoretically keep their coat hood pulled off to feel the sun on your face. Your nose will get wind burned but the feeling is sublime. I am going to get a tan by June if it kills me. Every day is a little brighter, and people can’t stop talking about the upcoming melt. Next week is the annual snowmobile race, and around the corner is the highly anticipated fishing derby. I swear the reason I am up here is so that the two local midwives can finally (for the first time in five years!) enter the contest. Excitement is palpable.
All the cliches about this place are true and false at once. As always, travel is the best way to clear your head and start anew. I was so scared sitting in the plane about to take off from Winnipeg but, a week in, have found passion where the west coast winter and its intricities were stripping me dry. It is cold, but its light out, the snow meeting horizon so beautiful, the air so crisp, and the difference intoxicating. The waves of hudson’s bay have frozen into undulating shards of sea ice that are inticing to explore. It costs $25 for a hamburger in the only real restaurant in town. Grocery store food is ridiculously expensive. But, we are only a plane ride from Winnipeg here- so unlike other parts of the arctic- you can find kale, boc-choy, and strawberries alongside arctic char, caribou, and furs hanging on the wall. Like the produce, the town is cosmopolitan. Patterns of global migration for work are obvious when you only have 3000 people and the government runs on an import model. This week I have been lucky to be immersed in inuit midwifery, but have been totally surprised to run into people from the Phillipines, Tanzania, America, Australia, Uganda, France, and Argentina. All with their own opinion on how and why things should be run. A strange kind of colonialism I am struggling to understand. Yet, I am so enamoured with the newness and joy of working my beloved job with such wonderful collegues (who are reasonably tired of the constant rotation of workers from the south) yet are so happy we are here so they can take a break, be with their families, and go hunting. The critical part of me thinks this is all screwed up, but the part that already loves this cowboy medicine and is scheming how to get back next year, thinks being here might be less problematic than I think. The praxis of theory and life is always hard to reconcile.
What I have not struggled to reconcile is the clarity found in long walks around town dodging snow-machines, SUVs, and the idea I am going to be eaten by a polar bear at any second. All my problems seem far away and petty. I bravely made it out onto the ice the other day and wished I had my cross country skiis and a gun so I could really start to explore. But, I am not stuck inside. With all the months of snow and the pile of transient workers, there are many easily accessible things to do in the evening. It kind of feels like summer camp except you wear four pairs of pants to go outside. I never thought I would have to add ten minutes of getting dressed to my getting to a birth on-time routine! Ive tried drop-in volleyball where I proceeded to play as poorly as I expected but instead of ridicule was greated with invitations to the legion for the one day in the week you can buy a beer and (!) a potluck on sunday. There is aerobics, zumba, yoga, and a new gym that is enormously popular because everyone eats a lot of chips and pop and smokes and drinks and statedly loves to lift weights and wrestle so the gym is packed at night to work off all those carbs. Im stuck with a big walk in the middle of the day- lunchtime is the best-time because we get a full hour and a bit so people can go home to make hot food and visit with their kids. The health center is supposed to be locked because we are not allowed to be at our desks working. Noon is the only traffic jam in town: I’ve learned that 12:00 is not a good time to be a pedestrian in front of the northern store, co-op, or royal bank. You will get run-over by a snowmobile in the race to get home and make soup.
I’ve been lucky to attend two births already. Dozens of people show up for the birthing time and our birth center has a long hallway with chairs for folks to sit and wait. Sisters, aunties, cousins, and friends move in and out of the birthing room so no one is ever tired and wiped. Some woman birth alone, in general everyone is quiet. The midwives I am working with are the first two inuit graduates of the northern midwifery program and, both growing up here, fill a void of locally trained people serving their own communities in their own language. I would try to interview them but they are understandably sick of academics and research projects following them around. I don’t understand much of what people say, as english is definitely the second language, but what I am gathering is how treasured these young woman are to keeping tradition alive with a modern dash of obstetrics and evidence based medicine (for what all that is worth). Its intimidating, but yet again I am reminded birth is birth everywhere and it doesn’t take much to gently be its guide. I’ll save the discussion of medivacs and airplanes and birthing away from home and weather reports for another post, but in the face of huge odds its impressive to have this little birthing center tucked up here among the ice rock and snow.
All of last year I was worried I made a mistake going to midwifery school. That it wasn’t worth all the moving, the packing, the loss of self, the missing out on holidaysbirthdaysfunthingswinedrinking and goingintosomuchdebtitsinsane. It was.