Thursday, March 11, 2010

If Greenland Has a Heart....

I want to think that if Greenland has a heart, Uummannaq just might be it!

I want to say nothing against  Qaannaq or  Aasiaat, but anyone who has once been to Uummannaq will return here again.

Uumannaq is a  town of 1,500 people and 7,000 dogs  on the West Coast of Greenland some 590 km north of the Polar Circle at 70° 40'N and 58° 08' W. It is built on an on a rock at the foot of the heart-shaped mountain which gave the town its name. Uummannaq literally means just this:  the heart-shaped.

If the big island of Greenland is a desert, then the small island of Uummannaq is an oasis in it.  After the 7 hour long flight to Qaarsut,  the disturbance aroused by bigness, grandness and endlessness of Kalaallit Nunaat, the White Earth, quickly becomes a liberation once you drop down to Uummanaq Heliport.

Here, in Uummanaq you learn to judge distances and to love the nearest things. The boiling hot halibut soup and the icy cold ancient water (made out of iceberg’s ice) are already awaiting for us at our friends' home where Joel and I head straight from the Heliport. While we are tasting the home-made bread and local caviar, the tupilaks (the bad willed Eskimo spirits) are watching us from the window shelf with precision.

Soon we are surprised to discover that we are not the only guests of the evening. More and more people are showing up, as if jumping out of the magic box of the night, and it seems there is not end to it at all.  Will there be enough halibut soup for everyone?

The night is pitch black, no stars and no moon, and  Ann is a lantern in the dark whose humble light attracts everyone who is caught  in the cold at the extreme edge of the world. The stars are too far, but Ann is near.

You can say Uummannaq  is a center of global warming, though many people here would rather not say it for a reason,  but what you can absolutely  say with a 100% confidence is that Uummannaq is a epicenter of global community. Would you like to know how many languages were spoken during our fancy halibut dinner? Let me count: Greenlandic, Danish, Faroesen, French, German, Polish, Russian, Spanish, English, Icelandic, Sanskrit, or maybe I’am missing something?

We were from all over, from all walks of life: from Cuba to Island, from NASA engineer to the navy seal on break from some dangerous service behind the  front lines in the snowy mountains Afghanistan, but  in the humble light of  Uummannaq we were just people. Inuit, which means just that - people.

Most of the old world would regard Uummannaq  as an inaccessible place: island away from the island. Yet, it feels like a hot spot in New York, or Paris, or Istanbul. Next time I will make a list of people who at least once sat at this table sharing the halibut soup and I assure you this will be quite a remarkable  list.

The Arctic world is small, and it seems that the epicenter of it is here, in Uummanaq.  No matter who you are and where you are from, you feel at home here.  Ole Jorgen Hammeken  and  other citizens of the heart shaped town make you feel that way.

In the morning I find out that the windows of my little bedroom look over the local  cemetery. White crosses on white snow, with odd shaped sapphire icebergs floating by. In Uummanaq, every day you get to see the life  from a different angle, from a wider perspective. You learn to live with a joy of being alive. You learn to observe the world around you with precision, you learn to appreciate the nearest things. You learn to love them.    

The first lesson we learned on our first night in Uummannaq was this one: you don’t lock your door. You don’t lock it during the day, and you don’t lock it at night. There is a hole for the key in the door, but this is only a hole.

Uummannaq is a heart of Greenland. And this heart is  open wide. 

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