Friday, December 28, 2012

Buffers


For those of you planning to travel over the holidays, let me offer you some sound advice; add a buffer. Or two. To put it more plainly: factor an extra day or two into your trip. I mention this because weather is that great unknown quality that can make your holiday beautiful, or strand you at an airport, and in my line of work, I see all too much of the latter. I've joked with my pilots before about the show Arctic Air, which shows planes taking off and landing in what appears to be really crazy weather, and ask them why they can't do that, and the response I get is that TV and reality are widely spaced. The truth is that the minimum conditions to land an airplane up here do contain ample safety margin, and the other day is a good example of why. Up until about 20 minutes before the plane was due to land, the weather was fine. In those last 20 minutes, though, we had thick fog roll in, making visibility on the ground impossible, and making some passengers' plans all for nought. So take it from the expert - don't assume that travelling in the north will mirror your experience in the south.



Come to think of it, that's good advice for any aspect of our experience so far. There are so many things that happen here that are completely different than our lives in Ontario, it's impressive that we've adapted as quickly as we have....although there are still a few things that will take longer for us to adjust to. I think my training for going to live in Africa played an important part in helping me adjust to life in Baker Lake. One of the best training sessions occurred as follows: our instructors told us they were going to pretend to be a culture we had never seen before, and through observation and interaction, we had to determine what kind of culture they were, what their religious beliefs were, and anything else we could find. When we entered the room, all of the women were made to take their shoes off and sit on the floor in a circle. The men, on the other hand, kept their shoes on and sat on chairs behind the women. First thought in everyone's head - patriarchal society for sure. Through other interactions, we learned that they don't like people taking food with their left hand (I was hissed at repeatedly until I figured that one out), and there were certain sounds and movements required during each greeting, etc.

At the end of the session, we were asked what we knew of this culture. Everyone agreed right off the bat that this was a male-dominated culture, and pointed to the chair/shoe observation as proof. We discussed everything else we had learned, and at the end, our trainers just smiled, and said all of us were wrong about one key observation; that in fact, this was a matriarchal culture. They went on to explain that this society worshipped the Earth as its god, and so only the women were allowed to touch the ground. You could almost hear the collective lightbulbs in our minds click on, as we all came to the same realization.

Our instructors performed this exercise to prove to us that our North American stereotypes follow us wherever we go, and we need to learn to let go of them to fully appreciate any new culture we encounter. It was a very valuable lesson and one that I made use of during my time in Uganda. I saw many things there that I didn't agree with, or things I thought I understood until I learned more about them. That same lesson is one I'm trying to use up here, although it is more difficult now, partly because as you get older, you want to cling to the ideas and beliefs and ethics that have helped shape who you are.

Hopefully, as our journey continues, we will find ourselves assimilating better, and growing more accustomed to life in Baker Lake. As I've said before, we will never complain about Ontario winter again, so I know being up here will do us wonders in many other ways as well.

-J

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