Thursday, April 27, 2006

Possible Work

As you may or may not already know, I've just graduated with a journalism degree. Journalism is a strange beast. Jobs are at once plentiful and scarce. If you're willing to take a job in some backwater town, you'll probably find steady work. The turnover rate for jobs like these is huge because people start at small papers and work their way up.

If you have the talent, the drive, and the equipment, there is always a market for freelance stories. Yesterday I got in contact with a Certain Broadcasting Corporation based in Yellowknife. This "Certain Broadcasting Corporation" (I'll call it the "CBC" for short) does radio and TV broadcasting all over Canada. I wanted to let them know that I would be living in Tulita, and that I have the equipment to do radio stories. The woman I spoke with was great. She told me there would almost definitely be some money in her budget for freelance stories, as long as I could find some stories to cover.

Although the subject of work was positive, some of her general comments were not as positive. She was a bit surprised that anyone would choose to live in Tulita, mostly because of the isolation. She did say it was a great town with an interesting culture, as long as we weren't too "stuck up."

"If you're friendly, you'll be fine. But if you don't make friends you'll have a long, lonely winter."

I assured her that Nicole had already been to Tulita, and she loved the town. This person at the CBC was surprised at the price of water, and she warned us that electricity would be expensive. Someone from her office had just flown to Colville Lake to do a story on high electricity costs. People there are paying upwards of $800 a month.

Her best advice?

"Just make sure that girlfriend of yours negotiates a good salary."

To get in touch with the right person at this CBC, I got the name of a King's alumni who is now working in Yellowknife. I sent her an e-mail to thank her. This was her reply:

Hey Brodie, Good for you for getting a hold of [a certain person at the CBC]... We never get stories out of Tulita so I'm sure you could get lots of stuff aired. If you don't mind me asking, what on earth are you moving there for? Have you ever been North before? Let me know if you need anything else, or if you stop in Yellowknife! Good luck.

There was something in the tone of her reply that was ominous. "What on earth are you moving there for? Have you ever been North before?"

She might as well have written, " Are you F---ing crazy?!"

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Tinfoil Hats

I woke up at eight this morning with sunlight trying to leak through the curtains. It got me to thinking: how the hell are we going to keep our bedroom dark up there? On the day we're due to arrive (May 20th), the sun will rise at quarter to five in the morning , and set at five minutes to midnight. On the week of June 18-24, there will only be about two and a half hours every day when the sun is below the horizon.

When I was a kid they used to show a short piece on Sesame Street (the Canadian version) about a girl who lived in the north. I remember her opening tinfoil-covered windows to let light in.

This subject came up when I was home on the weekend. My dad warned me not to try putting tinfoil on the windows, becuase the heat from the sun might crack the window pane.

So I googled "tinfoil on windows." I got a surprising number of hits advocating the use of tinfoil on windows to keep aliens out. The rest of the posts were by computer geeks talking about Microsoft Windows and making lame jokes about tinfoil hats.

So now I'm thinking dark towels, or else a night mask. I'm sure this is one of the many problems that will be easily solved once we get there. It's also one of those little things that will weigh on my mind for the next month.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Toilet Economics 101

Nicole e-mailed a list of questions to her soon-to-be boss, and we received the answers yesterday. Most of the answer were predictable, except for this one:

What is the tap water like there? Water is trucked to your home ... comes from the Great Bear River and goes through a filtration system. Some of the cleanest water in Canada. Delivery service is $0.89/L (minimum charge $20). Sewer is pumped and trucked to lagoon.

After four years of living in Newfoundland, water is something we've come to take for granted. Our shower in Corner Brook had enough pressure to blow you against the wall. It was heavenly. The shower we have here in Halifax is almost as powerful, and the hot water NEVER runs out.

Now I'll have to think twice before even brushing my teeth. Well, I'll still brush them, but I'll probably get a cup full of water rather than running the tap.

I really started to think about the cost of this when I considered how much water a toilet uses. Consider this:

Before the 1950s, toilets typically used 7 gallons or more for each flush. By the end of the 1960s, toilets were designed to flush with only 5.5 gallons, and in the 1980s the new toilets being installed were using only 3.5 gallons. Today, a new toilet uses no more than 1.6 gallons of water.

Assuming our house has a new, 1.6 gallon toilet, it will still cost us about $5.40 for every flush. If we have a 3.5 gallon tank, that cost will jump to $11.70. And if we are unlucky enough to get a 5.5 gallon tank, a flush will cost $18.70!

Of course we'll be saving money too. No vehicle. No take-out or coffee shops. No trips to the mall on Saturday. But still, at five dollars a flush, it's going to hurt. My roommate suggested putting a 2-litre ice cream container filled with rocks in the tank to take up space. Then we would be down to $3.40 a flush: an almost reasonable price. Then again, I may look into outhouse options.

Monday, April 24, 2006

The Essentials

I hate shopping at Wal-Mart, for personal as well as moral reasons. But sometimes, when you're as frugal (read cheap) as I am, it can't be helped. Like when you're moving north, and you need a crap-load of toiletries and personal hygiene products.

We went in with fifty bucks. Our intention was to grab the necessities. I was thinking razors, aspirin, maybe a couple of bottles of shampoo. But as we walked up and down the aisles, we kept throwing more and more into our cart.

After doing the math aloud (with several people standing within earshot), Nicole announced that she would need four extra large boxes of tampons to get her through a year.

I bought three toothbrushes, three sticks of deodorant, two packs of floss, six tubes of toothpaste. The list goes on.

It's not that it's impossible to get any of this stuff in Tulita. We've just decided that it'll be easier to have piles of this stuff on hand so that we don't run out. There is a small store in Tulita, but it's more like a convenience store. You go there if you're out of bbq sauce on a Sunday afternoon, and you pay for it. Most people get their groceries flown in from Norman Wells. The plane comes once a week. It normally charges $2.55 per kilogram of cargo, but there is something called the Food Mail program that lowers that price to $0.80/kg.

And the price when it was all said and done?

Shopping Spree

It's been five days since we found out about the job, and the reality of it is now sinking in. Mom and Dad seem to be handling the news a bit better. Yesterday Dad gave me a new toolbag full of tools we might need. A new screwdriver set, a ratchet set, and some pliers. He said it was going to be a birthday present, but this will save on shipping.

On Saturday morning, Mom took Nicole and I to Halifax. It's been a long time since I bought a lot of new clothes at once. Generally I shop at frenchy's (used clothing). People say I'm cheap. I prefer the term frugal. Why should I pay more than $10 for a good shirt? Anything beyond that, and you're paying for the label.

The first store we stopped at was Mark's Work Warehouse. They were having a spring sale, which was perfect for two people headed to a much colder climate. First I raided the sales racks just outside the door. Four $5 t-shirts. Then I found a table at the back with $10 jeans. I used to always buy Levi's. It was the one label I was a sucker for, and then only because they make good quality jeans. But $30 later, I had myself 3 new pairs of jeans.

Finally, I found some good button-up work shirts and fleece sweaters on for $10. I bought two sweaters and a shirt from that rack.

If I had been paying full price, I would have probably spent close to $300. Instead I spent less than $100. Normally, spending even that much on clothes still would have bothered me. Come to think of it, I would never spend $100 on clothes in a single day. But now I have this little voice in the back of my head saying "What the hell! You won't be doing any shopping where you're going."

Thursday, April 20, 2006

The Call

Nicole got the call yesterday afternoon. They wanted to know if she was still interested in the job: A permanent position in Tulita, in the Northwest Territories. She said yes. We're scheduled to leave on May 19th.

Tulita is a small community located where the Mackenzie and Great Bear Rivers meet. The population is about 500. You can only get there by boat, plane, or ice road. Nicole flew up a few weeks ago for the interview. Even flying there isn't easy. She went from Halifax to Edmonton on the first day. Then From Edmonton to Norman Wells via Yellowknife. Finally, on the next day she flew south from Norman Wells in a six seater plane to Tulita.

The job interview went well. There was only one other candidate for the job. After the interview, someone drove them both back to Norman Wells on the ice road. The drive only takes about an hour an a half, but that's if you drive like a maniac.

We both sort of expected the other guy to get the job. He spoke the language. He was already from the North. But we agreed that if she got the offer we would take it.

Agreeing in principle and signing a contract are two very different things. When she did get the call, I felt a bit sick to my stomach for the first few minutes. I mean, this place is isolated. Part of that appeals to me. But if we go, we'll be staying for a while. At least a year, probably two. I e-mailed mom to let her know. She was very supportive, or at least, she put on a brave face when she called back. Mom is always an optimist. Dad found it a bit harder to hide his disappointment. It doesn't help that my parents and grandparents will be in B.C. for the two weeks before we leave. They'll basically have one day with us before we go.

Dad called when I was on the phone with my grandparents. The message was pretty bleak.

"Yeah. It's just dad calling. I'll try calling back later."

His voice was hoarse. Even Nicole thought he sounded bad.

Our family is close. Nicole and I go home to visit the folks almost every weekend. This will mean no summer BBQ's. No weekend visits. This will be our first Christmas away from home.

Nicole's mom was even more vocal about us not going, although her dad was supportive.

"Oh Nicole, I didn't think you'd actually get the job. You can't go up there. Why don't you stay in Halifax for the summer? Wait for something better to come along."

But when I can get the leaving part out of my mind, I'm excited. I woke up at five this morning, and it all came rushing back to me.