My journey to Pangnirtung: Part 1
By Penny Deeter

Two years ago, I was invited by the Arctic College of Nunavut to teach early childhood educational courses in Pangnirtung. Pangnirtung — affectionately known as Pang — is located in the Canadian territory of Nunavut across the Baffin Bay from Greenland.

The hamlet of Pang is 8 kilometers in radius and has a population of 1,300 people. The community is located on a gently sloping beach at the bottom of a classic glaciated, U-shaped valley known as the Pangnirtung Fiord.

Imagine my excitement when I got the call to go to the Arctic. Little did I know this was going to be a life-changing experience traveling 3,800 miles from home. My journey started with a jet plane to Edmonton, then to Whitehorse, then Iqualit and finally landing 12 hours later in Pangnirtung. The planes got smaller and smaller as I neared my final destination; a small bush plan was my last plane.

So here I am in Canada, but in a completely different culture. We landed at what I am sure is the world’s smallest airport and there was no one there to greet me. People came to greet the other five passengers and then I found myself completely alone — I mean completely alone, not even airline staff. Just as I am contemplating walking, I see a person walking around outside, who I find out is a jack of all trades — handles customer service, unloads luggage, cleans the runway and is the office manager. I call the hotel and a grumpy man with a Scottish accent picks me up. I arrive at the hotel and learn that they do not have a reservation for me. There is only one hotel in town, so there is no where else to go.

The operative question was do you have any available rooms, and the answer was no. Now I’m getting a feeling deep in my stomach which feels like a combination of stormy ocean waves and an octopus entangled inside of me. I explain the Arctic College had made a reservation on my behalf. The gentleman with the Scottish accent invites me into the office and starts to rummage through a large pile of papers.

I wait patiently trying hard to ward off sleep and jet lag (or bush plane lag). Papers are strewn across the desk, onto the floor and as the gentleman reaches the bottom of the pile I hear a-ha here it is. The lost reservation is found, only to be told there are still no available rooms. Just as I am nodding off to sleep, I am told a room has been found.

I slowly push the door to my room open, and I am greeted with a 36-square-foot room with a single bed, a small dresser and a TV that surprisingly has a remote control. This room may not be the apartment I had a reservation for, but I decide it is better than sleeping outside in the cold. My last task before I go to bed is to call my husband and let him know I have arrived safely. Nothing in the north is ever easy. I learn that I can not make a long-distance call without a calling or credit card, of which I have neither.

Luckily for me there is a kind man who tells me there is one phone at the end of the hall which will let me make a collect call. I am ecstatic when I heard my husband say, “Hello.” All I want to do is break down, especially when he asks how I am. I reached way down inside of myself and with the bravest voice I can find I say, “I am fine.” What can he do? He is 3,800 miles away, so I decide not to worry him and save my crazy story for when I get home, in six weeks. I go back to my room and crawl into bed in my tiny room and rather than thinking about what tomorrow may bring, I cry myself to sleep.

I woke the next morning to the housekeeper flinging the door open with cleaning cart ready to clean my room. How shocked she was to find someone in the bed. She quickly apologized and closed the door. I had slept four hours but was now awake and decided I should get up and see what new things where awaiting me.

As I rubbed the sleep from my eyes, I recalled last night’s adventures and how lonely, afraid and sad I was when I went to sleep. I stretched, got out of bed and look at myself in the mirror, straight in the eyes and out loud I said, “Penny there are a lot of people depending on you, so put on your big-girl panties and get busy on what you came here to do.”

And so started the first part of my 12-week journey in Pangnirtung. Like to know what happens next as I learn how to speak Inuktituk, eat raw food and make lifelong friends? Check out next week’s edition of the Interaction.