Saturday, 15 January 2011

Greenland blog 08: Housing old and new

1960’s apartment blocks, Nuuk, Greenland. Image copyright Margaret Sharrow, 2008.

I spoke a bit yesterday about Denmark’s early colonial period in Greenland. One legacy of Danish colonialism, still very evident in Nuuk, is the apartment blocks that were built in the 1960’s, which are now increasingly run down. Again, the intention behind them was probably well meant: in the 1960’s many Greenlanders were still living in sod huts, often without plumbing or any modern conveniences. While perhaps more ecologically sound, they were certainly not as comfortable as the apartment blocks when they were new. Yet the traditional ways of life persisted, despite mass transplantation to ‘modernised’ dwellings: in this photo the balcony is transformed into a curing ‘shed’ for caribou antlers and an array of drying fish, bones, etc. However, bringing people together in single large dwellings was also a means of social control. Living in a place with mains services such as electricity and water requires paid employment, rather than a hunting and fishing economy, and in Greenland many jobs have an apartment included in the contract. This is why local newspapers frequently print photographs of employees who have worked for the post office etc. for over twenty years - quite young people who have obviously had the same job since they were teenagers. When I was there it was obviously people with better jobs, such as my landlady (an administrative assistant) who were living in flats in the new suburbs such as Timerlia - her building was less than three years old and obviously a model of energy efficiency. Those who are unemployed, in lesser jobs and/or succumbed to alcoholism (endemic in Nuuk) have been left in the crumbling blocks in the town centre. And yet there is no sense of danger - the few drunks I encountered were harmless and just wanted to chat. In fact the only thing approaching harassment I had on the entire trip was from a Norwegian pan-Arctic conference goer who had obviously been celebrating with large quantities of Tuborg on a boat outing. After I declined an invitation to join him at a party that evening his Marlene Dietrich-soundalike colleague actually said, without a trace of irony, ‘She vants to be alone.’

26 August 2008 15:47 recalled 12 January 2011


and stay tuned for another episode tomorrow!

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