‘If you manage here in winter, you can stay here forever’

September 8, 2010 § Leave a comment

By Irna Hofman

 I know I am typical Dutch when talking about the weather. But it is part of Mandø”s daily life.

The weather shows us another side of the island these days.  The wind has strengthened and is going to turn direction, at least, that is what is expected. We face more wind, a grey sky, and the sun has gone.

People on Mandø are used to the changing circumstances. One woman who came to live here last year said: ‘if you manage here in winter, you can stay here forever’. If you can survive the harsh winters, you can cope with all weather conditions one can experience on Mandø.

Mandø is ‘home’, that is what I wrote last time. This home can be characterised as a rough kind of place. It houses a pure life. Life subject to nature. Interdependent with the sea, the tide, the wind, and everything nature brings and takes. It is what people want to experience here. It makes life more challenging, but also more difficult. It is related to the way people approach each other here: they use a kind of tough speak which one should be able to deal with. What may be shocking at first sight as another side: nothing remains hidden. Of course, this is not to say that there are no rumours around. Social control is there, but it is something you find in each (small) community, people say. 

Each October men on the island gather for a day to go hunting on ducks and hares, together with relatives from the main land. Afterwards they have an expansive meal, of course accompanied by some alcohol. It is one of important yearly events, a typical men’s thing. Other events which are traditionally celebrated by men and women separately are birthdays.

The roughness of  life which largerly disappeared from the Western European countryside is still prominent here. What is a rural area today in the Netherlands? There are no stretched, vast natural spaces left. Urban areas have swallowed the countryside. 

On this island the inhabitants find the freedom and challenge they prefer. ‘On the main land people might complain about my dogs, my way of life’, one man told me. He spends his days hunting and fishing, and drinking some beers. The isolated character of the island does not bother him, though implicitly he indicates he likes people dropping by. It is the proximity of life which brought and holds him here. He lived for years in New Zealand where he worked on an oil platform, and on Antarctica, counting whales. His health made him to come back to Denmark, on Mandø, where he has his roots. Here he can find some of the pureness which he enjoys so much.

I think this also explains why people from this area are attracted to Greenland, apart from the colonial ties. Being subject to nature and face the insecurity that it brings. It made me think of the movie ‘Brokeback Mountain’.                  

 ‘It makes people realize that they do not have it all in own hands’. Actually it is related to the social cohesion I wrote about earlier. A kind of life people value on Mandø. Distance in daily life, but for survival people know they need each other.


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