This is my last post from this Sami town of Kautokeino – next week I will be moving to and starting a new job in Toronto. Exciting times indeed and I very much look forward to the new challenges and opportunities in my new job and hometown (not to mention seeing again my friends and colleagues). I lived in Kauto for 1,5 years; it wasn’t meant to be quite so short but this is the beauty of life – you never know what’s around the corner. It’s certainly been a deep learning curve being back in Sápmi (if curious, see some of the previous posts). Experiencing first hand some of the most profound challenges of reclaiming, rebuilding and decolonizing Sami society has been a very good reality check for which I can only be grateful for when I embark on the next part of my journey. There’s no need for eulogies, however, for I will be back. I am not leaving Sápmi, I’m only leaving Kautokeino and I want to say adieu with an architectural tour of the town.
Easter is the biggest thing in this town, and the only time of the year when something really happens. It’s been like that if not from the time immemorial, at least for several hundred years – a time when people gather for a márkan. Márkan marks a time of the year when Sami from different regions traditionally used to gather together for an annual market and to carry out business and pleasure: socialize and visit with relatives and friends, meet new people, change news, discuss topical issues, gossip, trade, and later also go to church and deal issues with non-Sami authorities such as priests and police. In Kauto, the márkan time is Easter and now that the town has both a permanent church and police station, people can focus on pleasure instead of business.
A couple of weeks ago a neighbour unexpectedly invited us for a turkey dinner. We hadn’t really got to know each other well except brief exchanges outside his building or bumping into him on our evening walks. We gladly accepted the invitation – dinner invites don’t happen too often in this place but above all, we were keen to meet new people in the ‘hood.
It turned out to be a very pleasant evening. There was another couple, also folks we hadn’t met before. At some stage, we ended up talking about living in Kauto. Our host said the town is like Twin Peaks, full of odd and strangely behaving people. (In fact there is a mountain with twin peaks that I can almost see from my window. It’s called Bealljáš, ‘small ears’.)
The quick facts: In June, I reluctantly agreed to take the position of the acting Dean of Academic Studies at the Sami University College for a year because there were no other takers. In August, we started with a new leadership (new Rector, new Vice Rector, new Dean and continuing Director and Research Director) and with a new organizational structure. The new structure meant two new positions: those of the academic directors (Dean and Research Director). In late October, I resigned from the dean’s position as I saw it impossible to continue in the current system and under the current leadership that resembled more that of a political party than an academic institution. My last day of work was a couple of days ago.
The snow is back – two weeks late they say – and it reminds me the time when we first got here ten months ago, when the days were even darker and the weather quite a bit colder. The freezing temperatures of 30-40 below lasted for two months from January to February. It was a shock after rainy mild Vancouver (via mild, sunny Italy). It turned my skin into a sandpaper and I also developed excema for the first time in my life. It was way too cold to x-c ski (something which I had been looking forward to a lot) or run outdoors, so one of the first things I did was to scout the town for treadmills or ellipticals or anything to workout. No such luck – the new huge sportshall had a dingy weight room where they had pretty dated looking weights and an ancient sad-looking stationary bike that should’ve been retired a while ago. I had to resort to using a bike trainer in the storage when walking in the cold weather didn’t quite do it (wrapped in layers and layers of clothes, face covered with a woolly scarf).
A couple of weeks ago I had my first haircut in the Sami language in my new hometown. I was excited and sure that it’s only possible in Kautokeino. The hairdresser, however, dampened my excitement, but only slightly, by telling me that there are Sami-speaking hairdressers also in the neighbouring towns of Karasjok and Alta. Maybe it is not as unique as I had thought but still I think it’s something worth recognizing in a world where the opportunities to speak indigenous languages are rapidly shrinking. It’s also worth recognizing because one quickly starts taking for granted the fact that nearly everyone in Kautokeino speaks Sami. I don’t need to practice my rusty Swedish/Norwegian because everywhere I go – post, bank, stores, town hall, health center (save the doctors who are from elsewhere) – I can operate in Sami. Even if you can get a haircut in Sami in a couple of other towns, there simply aren’t other towns in the world like this where Sami is so widely spoken.