My second time in Nuuk, Greenland’s capital of 15,000 people, feels like a homecoming. The city, roads and buses are familiar, I recognize which buildings have been completed or started in the last year and I know where to find the best pastries and souvenirs. I also have friends to visit, and through my time with each I learned more about life in Nuuk.
A visit to the cemetery
On a warm and sunny day I went for a walk in the cemetery that is across the street from the University, Illimarfik, with my friend Midtlarak (“Miilla” or “Mischa” to English speakers). Each grave is lovingly cared for – plastic flowers and small statues or candles adorn each, and rocks, bleached by the midnight sun, encircle each mound. Some graves are covered by native tundra, dug in neat blocks and hauled from elsewhere to the site. Evergreen crowberry, Empetrum nigrum, is one of the preferred plants. As we walk she laments that it was a hard year in which several friends and relatives took their own lives; two of her three friends buried here committed suicide. Greenland, like many places in the Arctic, has a high suicide rate, especially among young males. The government is actively researching the problem and working to provide support for those in need. My thoughts are with the families of those buried in the cemetery by the sea.
Greenland, a place of celebration
The first day of school is a big day for “kaffemik,” an afternoon and early evening gathering in a home where traditional Greenlandic fare, coffee, and cakes are shared with guests who drop by for an hour or two during a 6 hour window. Friday August 19th was the first day of school for kindergarten and elementary school students, and this year was particularly festive due to the opening of a new school in Qinngorput, the farthest suburb from Nuuk center. Many children wear the national costume for their first day, and then return home to quickly change into more comfortable attire and to enjoy a kaffemik in their honor. I appreciated the warmth and openness of the hosts, and enjoyed a listening to the many conversations in Kalallisut (Western Greenlandic). I even got to use my limited vocabulary by responding ‘naamik’ (no) to the offer of coffee. See below for images from the kaffemik menu.
This was my first kaffmik, held to celebrate the first day of kindergarten for Sikki, the child of a friend’s friend. We brought a new lunch box and markers as gifts, although on some occasions gifts are also brought for other members of the family. Inside we gathered around the table to eat, while others sipped coffee in the living room. Sweet treats of many types covered the table– sugared donuts, cheese cake, two chocolate cakes, a fruit tart, cinnamon rolls, and hazelnut pastries. It was a delicious celebration!