If you’ve lived somewhere your whole life, it’s easy to have a connection with a place. To the people who are expats, life travellers, and global citizens, I ask this question: at what point does a place where you are based become home? To everyone else, what keeps you from leaving home?
I started thinking about this the other month when Greenlanders celebrated their National Day with flair by proudly flying flags, blasting canons, holding kaffemiks and just having a good time. On that day especially, it was easy to see that they loved their country, and were proud to call Greenland theirs. The festivity prompted me to ponder what made people love a place enough to call it their own.
On National Day I put some thoughts to paper, but refrained from publishing the post because I didn’t think enough people would find the topic interesting. Then a few weeks ago an Aussie living in Denmark blogged my thoughts exactly in a post called ‘At what point is life here?‘ (great title). I was finally convinced to publish the post when a few days ago my sweet cousin wrote that she didn’t know if she could ever call Australia home. She’s lived there about 5 years.
Even if you’re living away from the place where you were born, ‘home’ can probably happen easily enough with the right conditions. Obviously, liking the place helps. In Greenland’s case, you have to enjoy the nature, not mind the cold and be prepared for a somewhat slower-paced lifestyle in a tiny ecosystem. Add to that some true friends, a fulfilling job or past-time, good food, access to social and cultural activities and I think many people would be content. In my mind, Nuuk is probably the easiest place for an outsider to build a life here, because of the cosmopolitan nature of the city and locals, and of course job opportunities.
The idea of a future is also important. You could almost analyse it as if you were in a relationship with a partner – are you serious about this place, or is it just for fun? Can you see a life together, that will fulfil your personal, social, familial and professional aspirations? Are the conditions possible? Can you contribute back to the community?
Well, that was one way to view the concept of ‘home’, let’s look at this from another perspective.
I’ve been told that although many Greenlanders move within the country a lot and beyond, many stay put in the place where they grew up. To those people, that place, and that place only is THEIR HOME.
A significant number of public sector officials will tell you that the bane of many problems in Greenland is that there are just too many unsustainable and tiny settlements in this vast country. The government has actively attempted to close some settlements down in the past so that they can maximise resources in a smaller amount of larger settlements. Attempt have been with strong resistance. It’s unsurprising, as any HR or business consultant will tell you that it’s in human nature to reject risky change (and acquisitions and mergers).
The case that highlights the extremity of the resistance is the settlement which refused to close down, even though their population was three. Yes, no joke, THREE. They refused to move away from their home for a long time, but eventually one person moved away, and three became two. Then one of the two died, and suddenly two became one. Despite protest, that lonely person really didn’t have much of a choice and the government was finally able to shut the settlement down.
Two huge events from the 1950s make this topic touchy: The first is the forcible relocation of the residents who lived in the vicinity of the United States Army’s Thule Airbase. The Greenlanders who lived there resent that they were forced to move away and blame the Danes (although there are arguments that the Americans didn’t really give them a choice in the matter). The second is that in the past the Danes forced 22 Greenlandic kids between 5 and 8 years old to live in Denmark to train them in the Danish ways. It was hoped that they would one day go back to Greenland to lead the country. None of the children from the ‘stolen generation’ ever saw their homes again. Although it was done with good intentions, it’s widely recognised as a huge mistake. There’s a movie called The Experiment, based on this history…
You can probably guess that since I’m in Greenland and grew up in Australia, I don’t really have any problems moving around. I can’t properly imagine desiring to stay put in a settlement where I’m probably related to everyone, but I can only think that it’s the deep bond to the place and the other people that is keeping the people who want to stay there. It could also be the fear of being displaced, which I can totally understand. Because although they might move, they may never call another place home again. Not, at least in the same way.
I would love to hear the perspectives of people who have more knowledge and experience about this than me. Thoughts?
- At what point is life here? (Expatindenmark.com)
- Greenland demands apology for Danish child experiments (Icenews.is)
- Stolen Children, Drinking on Benches, Size Problems, and Going It Alone on Climate Change: A News Round-Up from Greenland (fastertimes.com)
- Film om eksperiment med grønlandske børn er hjerteskærende (politiken.dk)