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The Polar Night – Life During the Darkness

Inspiration / Articles / The Polar Night – Life During the Darkness

Ivalo Egede Lund comes from Narsaq in South Greenland, but currently, she works in Qaanaaq. We have talked to her about the winter darkness and the difference between North and South Greenland.

To many of us, it’s a little scary to think that there are places in the world where the sun does not rise for a long time. One of those places is Qaanaaq, Greenland’s northernmost town. Ivalo Egede Lund is a nurse and currently works in Qaanaaq.

“This is the third time I have been to Qaanaaq for three months to work. I used to be the head nurse at Narsaq Hospital, but I chose to become a freelancer three years ago. Our children are grown up and have left home, so now I typically work in towns like Nuuk and Qaanaaq in Greenland, but also in Norway and Denmark,” Ivalo says.

It has always been one of Ivalo’s big dreams to come to Qaanaaq because her parents met here in the late 1950s and got married in Qaanaaq Church in 1960. When she is out working as a nurse, Ivalo is employed on local terms, so she feels local even when she is away from her hometown of Narsaq. Ivalo has been to Qaanaaq twice in the fall/early winter and once from February to May.

 

The Polar Night

“The polar night is called Kaperlak here, and it runs from October 24 to February 17. When the sun set for the last time this year, we went to the town hall. There were events for kids in the afternoon and music for adults at night. The coming of the time of darkness is not celebrated; we say goodbye to the sun. It’s different in February. On February 17, there is a celebration because the sun is back,” Ivalo explains.

“It’s not like it gets pitch dark all at once when the sun stops to appear in the sky. In October and November, it is still light for a long time in the day, even though the sun is hidden behind the mountains. Right now, the fjord has frozen. It’s too early to go out with heavy dog sleds, but you can walk on the ice. It’s fun to look out at the ice when it gets really dark during the day in December. The hunters go on dog sleds, make holes in the ice, set nets, and fish with their longlines. Then you can watch their headlamps moving around out there on the ice,” Ivalo laughs.

Polar Bears

Ivalo likes to go for walks in the town, but she stays within the town borders: “I do not go outside the town when it is dark because you cannot see if a polar bear passes by. They do come from time to time, so there is a risk of meeting them. But as I said, it is not so often. I’ve heard of someone taking a walk behind the cemetery just outside town. She decided to walk on the ice, but then she saw a polar bear on an iceberg. She slowly walked backward until she got a cell phone signal and could call for help.”

 

Seasonal affective disorder

“I like the time of darkness because I know it will be light again. It’s nice to sit at home, light candles, and read a good book in winter. I also walk around in the town, as there are street lights,” Ivalo offers. “People coming from the south…Well, we are not used to NOT seeing the sun. For some, the loss of sunlight is traumatic. They feel bad. For others, it’s just an experience. Seasonal affective disorder most often occurs when there is a change from dark to light or vice versa. Fortunately, you can get light treatment with light panels, and it helps some people. They come to the hospital for their treatment, because there are two big lamps there. It would be good if we could find some sponsors who can help with smaller lamps so that people can get light therapy at home.”

Great experiences

Qaanaaq is far off the main road, and it is not a cheap destination to travel to, but you will be rewarded if you come. “There are several glaciers at the head of the fjord at Qeqertat, a former settlement that may regain its settlement status, as there are many halibut nearby. The glaciers cast off huge icebergs, and from mid-August until the end of September, one large iceberg after another drifted past the town. It’s so beautiful. In winter, there is also the possibility of dog sledding and, in summer, boat trips. Nature is very beautiful and magnificent, even though it is barren compared to South Greenland. That’s not saying it’s bad, just different. Nature seems huge here, with wide expanses. Also, there are many mountain poppies in summer,” Ivalo tells us.

“My husband has visited me every time I have been here, and he is as hooked on the area and its people as I am. People are so nice and friendly. It’s exciting to see when the hunters come home with their fish and catch. There are also many artists here, working with hides and carving in bone and tusk. There is also really good drum dancing if you are into that.”

 

The return of the sun

Ivalo travels home to Narsaq on November 25, as she wants to be with her family at Christmas time. However, she’s coming back to town in February next year because she’s been bitten by Qaanaaq.

“The last time I was here in February, the sun peeked above the Ice Sheet on February 14. However, tradition says that the sun comes on February 17. Maybe it’s because some of the ice sheet is melting. As tradition dictates, we still met up un the mountain and said hello to the sun on February 17.”

On February 17, a new cycle begins, and soon the inhabitants of Qaanaaq can look forward to four months in which the sun never sets!

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