Usut mikisuaraavoq, talliunnaranilu – visit to Greenland

…fair play to you, if you can translate the greenlandic words

Back in ’79 – ’80, my parents decided they wanted to be a host family to a teenager from Greenland. Back in those days Greenland was ruled by the Danish government. It was our last colony.

Please note that most nations such as UK, Holland, Portugal, all had their share of colonies, but for some bizarre reason the Danes went as far North as possible, and found the coldest piece of rock and claimed it as theirs.  Rumour has it that Iceland should have been named Greenland and vice versa, but some old fart made a mistake on some maps and the names were permanently swapped.  No wonder Denmark never “discovered” and owned other colonies around the World.  We did have some islands in the Caribbean, but we sold them!

Anyway, we had this teenager living with us for 3 months, hoping to help her learn Danish.  To be honest, 3 months is not enough time to learn Danish, especially not the dialect we use in my hometown.

The 3 months passed by quickly and she went home again.  As my parents had volunteered to host a language student, we were invited to visit her village in Greenland.  So, along with 4 other families in our community, we left for Greenland for a two weeks holiday.  As previously mentioned, this was in the early ’80s, so Disneyland Paris was not an option and not many of my friends had been on an airplane.  I was as a result the coolest kid in my class – at least for two days.

I was around 8 years old and flying for the first time.  I don’t really remember much of the 5 hour flight, and my parents are still refusing to talk about it.  Perhaps that’s why my mum is still scared of flying.  To make me even more of a celebrity in my class, I also flew in a helicopter for the first time.  Unfortunately that experience caused me to be deaf for two days solid, because  I was sitting on the side of the engine. So, all I heard for two days was the engine!!

One thing to know about Greenland is that the sun shines almost 24 hours a day, well, at least 20 hours, which is brilliant for us kids and annoying for our parents.  The most amazing thing about Greenland was seeing the Northern Lights – the sky shimmering and full of colours.  It cannot be described well enough. It has to be seen first hand.

My dad packed the only thing he needed to pack, which was the handycam and the camera – both items top of the range back in the ’70s.  Neither survived long into the ’80s, but we still have the film from the cameras.  Brilliant to watch…and yet scary.

So, what was there to see in Greenland beside icebergs and mountains?  Not much really, but that wasn’t the point either.  We stayed in something that looked like a giant wooden train, with bunkbeds.  It was absolutely hilarious to watch my slightly overweight dad, with a beerbelly, climbing up.  My mum was terrified that it would break. She was underneath him.  I shared a sofabed with my sister.

This was an educational trip, in many ways. It was a trip where we were to get to know Greenland and its culture.  Looking back at it, it was actually a really cool trip.

We were lucky to have a local guide, who drove us to all the sights that had been organised for us. He had a Volkswagen van; one of those with sliding doors.  On Greenland, when it rains and the snow melts, loads of water runs down to the sea, through the villages.  As a result, the council had been clever enough to build these gigantic ditches, which were 4-5 feet deep. The ditches were covered with a dark green algae during the summer.

One day, after arriving back to our wooden train house, I was very eager to get out of the van.  Agile as I was, being 8 years old, I jumped out of the van, completely forgetting about the ditches.  Without a sound, my well known ninja style, I slid down the ditch. I was instantly covered in the green algae.  My dad, who hadn’t seen me disappear, started to shout for me. He was getting agitated because he couldn’t find me and because I didn’t answer.  Either way, he was getting slightly impatient.  Suddenly, he heard my faint cry and looked down the ditch. There he saw his favorite son (only son by the way) covered in green algae. He immediately jumped in to get me out.  He too slid in the slippery algae and landed on his butt.  Despite the embarrassing situation we found us in; two tourists sitting on our butts in an algae covered ditch,  we started to laugh.  My dad picked me up and he got me out – dripping green sticky algae from my white hair.

Other cool adventures from our time in Greenland occurred when we were being introduced to various local foods.  Some were more disgusting than others, but for some reason kids don’t always mind trying these new culinary experiences. Perhaps it helps when your parents are very enthusiastic and force you to try these.  As a result, my sister and I tried following local snacks:
(It was an experience alright, and I would try them again.)

  • Freshly caught whale skin, against all Greenpeace rules. It is fairly chewy and salty.  It reminds me a bit of mild licorice.
  • Freshly caught fish eyes. It reminds me mostly of a grape, with the exception that when you chew it, it is very salty, it has no flavour and the  consistency is as snot.
  • NOT freshly caught fish, but wind dried sardines (same style as the ones you can buy for your pet!), with bones and eyes . Darn little pieces get stuck between your teeth.

My parents bought special equipment for the trip, just like I would do today, to ensure that we would be able to survive in the wilderness.  So, my parents invested in two sleeping bags for us kids.  But, these were not standard sleeping bags, but surviver sleeping bags.  Apparently, you could sleep in freezing conditions, down to -50 degrees. We put it to the test one night.  We were sailing overnight to another local village with a local ferry. We kids slept outside in -20 C degrees.  It was probably more like -10, but for the sake of the story, it was freezing Antarctic conditions.  We survived 6 minutes and legged it back inside.  We were no fools.

The locals took us fishing one day in small little motorised boats.  The boats only had enough room for 7-8 people.  The water was calm, dark blue and the icebergs were huge.  If only 10% were over the water, then I would hate to see the remaining 90%.  We were close enough to see large ice pieces falling off the actual ice cap, which was frightening.  It didn’t make it any better when the guide said that we weren’t getting any life jackets because if we fell into the water we wouldn’t survive for long!!  Still, we went out fishing and stayed out for several hours, catching enormous cod fish and sea cucumbers (disgusting looking creature).

My sister and I also adopted a sled dog.  Well, it turned out it was a wild dog, but we cared for it anyway. We named it dosebier (can beer in German).  What we didn’t know was that wild dogs are shot and the shooter gets a reward.  So, our dog didn’t live that long, but we loved it as long as we had it.

There are two things that I still clearly remember; one embarrasing and one scary – you choose which is which.  They both happened on the same day funnily enough.

We were out sightseeing in mother nature, probably 50-100 kilometers from the nearest residential area, walking in the mountains and the snow.  Suddenly I had to do number 2.  When you are a kid, it just happens and you got to go NOW.  My dad looked around for trees, but there are no trees on Greenland – at least not where we were.  He spotted a church and we ran towards it, hoping the priest would have mercy on me.  Running is probably exaggerated, as it is difficult to run while you are squezing your checks together, trying to avoid an accident. Keep in mind, we were a long way from being able to change clothes too.  Anyway, we made it to the church, but there was nobody there!  Resourceful as my dad is, he quickly ripped off my pants, exposing my arse to nature (and the freezing wind) and placed me on a bin outside the church.  It was metal, so my poor checks were bitten by the cold rim, but I was relieved.  All we needed now was paper!!!!

Later that same day, we were out sightseeing on the glacier, and the guide told us about the Bitches Ditch (glacier crevasse), which is where unfaithful women were dumped ages ago.  Basically, they fell 20 meters down an icy void, only to be greeted with freezing water.  No way to escape.  And, who had to film into the crevasse with the family’s first camera – my dad!  He was lying on his belly, while filming the frozen death trap.  My mum and us kids were begging him to step away from the edge. If it hadn’t been for my earlier church experience, I would have blinked with the brown eye all over the glacier.  My dad slid away from the edge, back to safety and smiled at us with a victorious sparkle in his eyes.

All in all, it was an amazing experience visiting Greenland, and I would love to go back with my own family.  I know it will be difficult to persuade them, given that there are no amusement parks or sidewalk cafes, but it is a wonderful place to go.
– just don’t adopt a dog and stay away from the local fish market.

…BTW, the title means ‘you have a small penis, and it will never get bigger

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