They move like those who are familiar to the place, being at home: they do not take a look aroud, they just do. At the Kulusuk airport, two hangars beside the unpaved airstrip, in august visitors wear windbreaker as soon as they get off the airplane. An inuit girl with pink shoes, instead, goes straight to the bar and buys a liter of slush. The rest of the family eats hot dog.
Dark skin, olive-colored, oriental features and usually little build (but you can always find exceptions). Their words have guttural sounds that make you think to the mists of time, while their clothes have modernity written on them.
In Tasiilaq some inuit people smile at you on the street, others greet: “gudaa”, their hello, or a more international “hi”. Some others look at you with indifference. Everybody knows if it is your first time here.
Inuit are a 25-year-old guy who is a policeman. 96 kg of football player with the smile of a grown up kid. He says to be one of the few guys of his village not to have started a family yet. But he isn’t worried, at the moment he enjoys it and moves where his work asks him to. He arrived in Tasiilaq on july 1st and he’s going to go back to Nuuk on august 12th. He could go on two months of paid holidays, but it’s all up to his boss. He’d like to go to mainland Europe: he met a french tourist and he’d like to see her. For now he lives working 30-hour shifts in a team of three people, one of them is sick, and on call when he is at rest. “From outside you don’t see problems” he says, “but inside the houses there’s a lot of violence. Or there are cases of suicide. There are so many that we consider them minor cases“. He proudly shows you a picture of him holding in his hands the head of the polar bear killed a few days ago on the outskirts of the village.
Inuit are Abel who works at the Red House. I met him when he set up my kayak. He gestured with his hand to follow him, like he wanted to share a secret, instead he pointed at a place I had to reach on foot. He speaks a few words of english, but it isnt’ thanks to it you understand each other. It is the sign language, also of those signs you didn’t know to know, that clears the road. He is 35 and you would never guess his age, three kids and an entangled personal story. For me he has been the embodiment of melancholy sadness. Trying to know him is like running an obstacle race: you have to pass language problems, cultural differences, to show curiosity without being intrusive, to hope the hurry imposed by your short staying is also for him an explenation for your direct questions. I know he likes music because he sings and whistles and, if he can, he lets it freely come out of his cellphone. He has fun by teasing innocently, but I suspect this is a trait that combines him with his people more than marking him.
Inuit are Viggo and Peter, the experienced skippers of the Red House. Two silent worlds.
Viggo is always wearing sunglasses, even when he takes them off: the skin tone on his face, dark already, is suntanned, but not around his eyes. His eyes are two round and small cracks. They are brown and like different hands: his look weighs on you when it is heading in your direction and, even if it is shielded by the sunglasses, it hits you as a pin; he sees something you can’t and makes you feel it; he sees what you want to hide and makes you feel naked. When you stop hiding yourself and look at him, he smiles. He teaches you the meeting and the welcoming. His hands are big, gnarled and rough, but always gentle. His touch is tactful. Talking with him is like playing balance:
“Because I don’t understand everything you say.”
“It doesn’t matter. It is ok.” and places his hand on your face.
Peter is always wearing his glasses, the prescription ones. He tucks himself into a polar suit, wears thik gloves and sniffs whales. When he sees them on the horizon he points them and says “whale” in greenlandic; then you ask him “whale?” and he repeats the same word. His look gets a little stiff at the end of the day, after hours standing and going with the waves, vigilant to the presence of icebergs and with the wind in his face. But it is the physiological effect of cold that paralyzes, his spirit, instead, is imperturbable: when a wave pours on his glove, he lower his gaze on his hands for a moment, then waits the first stop to take it off and squeeze it. He doesn’t complain, he laughs at what happens: “do they want to spend the night waiting for whales?“, he radios Viggo after 10 minutes of useless floating off the Sermilik fjord, when the sun has already set for a while. Sailing with him, the moment to go back to Tasiilaq is laid down by another greenlandic word; you ask him “time to go back?” and he nods his head. You could learn some words in his language, if you were able to hear every sounds through the buzz of the wind.
Inuit are Axel who works at the Red House and is always wearing a blue jacket. He learnt danish thanks to a relationship with a danish girl, indeed. He also speaks english fluently and so he works as interpreter sometime. He’s a fanatic of electronics, that’s how he built his own computer, and he is also a great photographer. He suggested me to get engaged with a danish guy to learn the language faster and so being able to understand the life of Tasiilaq. I proposed him to exchange our houses, he coming to Italy and me going to Tasiilaq, but he told me he won’t be able to survive: “I’ll melt like icebergs“. He has cat eyes, full of green and brown reflections.
Inuit are Bianco, who works at the Red House and also drives the ambulance of Tasiilaq’s hospital. I asked him how the name matter works, the fact that Axel becomes Axelì, Robert Robertì, Abel Abidì, as a sign of intimacy. “And what about Bianco?“, I asked him. He smiled before saying “Bianco”. He was my last tie with Tasiilaq: he brought me to the heliport and greeted my with an hug.
Inuit are also the sexton of Tasiilaq, whose name I didn’t understand, who saw me sitted alone on a bench of the new church and offered me a steaming cup of coffee; inuit are the girls who work at the Red House, who just smile at you with some embarassment, but who throw stuff to Robert from the kitchen or knock at his door before hiding; inuit are kids jumping on trampolines or fishing in the rain; inuit are the three kids in Tiniteqilaq who look at you as you were an alien, but then play ball with you and greet you saying “bye”.
Inuit are dark eyes in all the shades of the land.