One of my part time girls told me the other day that she was about ready to start trying to have a baby. She's sixteen years old. I've expressed my amazement for everything that is life in Iqaluit, I've expressed it a million times. This was one of those moments that made me think that not only is the culture here different but it is the complete opposite of the culture that I grew up in.
I looked at her, my stomach knotted, not really knowing what to say. I was stunned into silence for a few seconds before the words started flowing out of my mouth. The words that my grandparents, aunts, uncles and parents had used when I was growing up. I told her she needed to finish high school, go to college, wait until she had a man in her life who loved her more than anything. I told her she should never settle and she should wait for the right person. Get married, have a roof over her head, money in the bank, love in her life and a support system that she could trust. Before I finished talking, I knew that no one had ever said these things to her before. When she looked at me as though I was speaking a foreign language and then laughed, I knew just how foreign these words were to her.
She feels the societal pressure to fit in. I know it well, we all experience it, but here the experience is phenomenal, over the top, life changing. The young girls she works with have babies, her friends have babies and she wants to be on the band wagon.
I cannot quite wrap my head around this. The things that are so deeply ingrained in who I am ring in my mind like an alarm. In my ideal timeline there was an order for things, I pictured my life unfolding in this order from the time I was old enough to know what success was. One, high school. Two, University or College. Three, love. Four, marriage. Five, a house and babies. Through all of these steps, I would be stashing money away to provide my children with a stable life and a solid roof over their heads. Growing up I wasn't sure if I believed marriage would be in my cards but no matter what I thought, I always knew my life would unfold in a manner that was similar to the big plan.
Maybe this ideal isn't what success means. Maybe these precious girls have plans too. Maybe when I tell them that I don't have a baby yet and I'm twenty-two, their mouths hang open in surprise because my plan is so foreign to them. My life isn't following their plan.
I've blogged this before, but when I first got here someone said to me, "people don't realize that if you plan on coming here and changing things, you might as well leave now." When I heard that, I knew that I wasn't the only one who landed in Iqaluit and felt their heart shatter for the way of life here. There are things I have no power over that I would love to see change. Time will bring changes as people from cultures all over the world meet here and lifestyles shift for the sake of adaptation.
It may take a couple more generations to see the good things that Iqaluit deserves, come to life. Knowing this, to keep myself sane I try not to judge anybody by my ideals and remember that all we really want in this life is happiness. We all just want to enjoy the time we have and if something makes another person happy, who am I to judge them for that?
The best I can do while I live in Iqaluit is to remind these young ladies of how worthy they are of love and pass on the little wisdom that I have gained in this life. I try to show them what they will be doing if they invest in themselves, in an education, in finding activities and people that bring out the best in them. I want these girls to know their worth and to find passion in life. I want to show them that it isn't right, let alone love when your man beats you. Every day I wish that I had the power to hand good things to them on silver platters. Sometimes Iqaluit seems to kick me when I'm down, make me feel powerless. To hear a sixteen year old girl offer sixty dollars for a can of beer, or see the tongue of an eleven year old who just pierced it herself breaks me down, makes me want to hold them.
I don't think this will ever get easier but I know it makes me a stronger person and I know that as long as I have love to give, I'll give it. Iqaluit just happens to be in need.