With the 10th anniversary of 9/11 behind us, we have had ample opportunity to reflect on how our world has changed.
To me, the loss of trust in the goodness of most people is probably the most serious change. I used to enjoy visiting friends south of the border, but crossing the 49th parallel now has become an uncomfortable experience most of the time since anyone undertaking a trip to the Unit States is regarded as a potential threat and subjected to a style of questioning that makes me feel annoyed, and that, in turn, has resulted in far fewer visits.
Travel by air has become a real hassle even when flying to any destination in the lower 400 kilometres of our country.
In the course of my frequent trips to the Canadian Arctic, I have become a real pro in minimizing the inconvenience and indignities of having to undergo an invasive physical body search by avoiding wearing anything that would cause any of those surveillance machines to go beep.
But it is still annoying to have to unpack your laptop not once, but several times and have someone check if there aren’t any explosives hidden inside. That happens at some airports and not at others; the inconsistencies in the various airports never cease to amaze me.
Some require you to take off your shoes and others do not, some require that you put certain toiletries in a plastic bag and all the others in another plastic bag and at other airports it doesn’t seem to matter if they are all in one clear plastic bag and there are many other rather silly examples.
In my travels to the Canadian Arctic, the contrast between the omnipresent surveillance and suspicion in the southern reaches of our country and the far north is striking.
Thompson, Manitoba happens to be the last place where one has to go through security. It is a relief to land in Churchill and beyond in an atmosphere where people trust one another. No more security checks, no closed-circuit security cameras, no need to put sky marshals on the plane, no secure cockpits and nobody worries if you carry a knife or other weapon.
Of course, it helps that the total population of Nunavut is somewhere around 30,000 people and the social fabric among these people is amazing. It is, therefore, extremely unlikely that you will find yourself on a plane where every passenger is a stranger to all the others.
Even the very first time that I traveled from Winnipeg to Rankin Inlet, I was no longer a stranger to some of the other passengers by the time we were ready to board.
During the hour that all 18 passengers were gathered near our gate, several people struck up a conversation, curious who this unfamiliar person was. One turned out to be a fellow physician who had been serving the Inuit population for many years; two were nurses returning after a break from the stresses of working full-time and being on call every three nights for weeks on end. All the others were obviously Inuit returning to their home communities after visits, investigations or treatments at the Health Sciences Center in Winnipeg.
Most of them were talking to one another in Inuktitut and that was my first exposure to the official language in Nunavut.
Suffice it to say, I did not understand a single word and that did not lead to initiating any conversation.
Later on I found out that most of the Inuit are rather shy, especially with people from another ethnic background, but most of the younger generation speak fluent English.
In general, the “white man” is looked upon with a degree of suspicion until they have had an opportunity to get to know you.
However, this initial doubt has not translated in the over-the-top distrust that exists in south, with all the surveillance and suspicion.
During that first flight north, I was sitting next to an Inuit passenger and I thought it was appropriate to introduce myself. That resulted in a learning session for me what I was to expect at my destination.
Later on, once most of my patients had figured out that I was there to help, they became quite friendly and each time I returned to one of the Nunavut communities, I found it refreshing to work in an environment where social relationships are founded on trust, despite the many societal problems affecting the lives of the Inuit.
Dr. Marco Terwiel is a retired family physician who lives in Maple Ridge.