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Thursday, January 19, 2012

Oslo talks


Small talk takes two forms here, bitching about the weather and bitching about the cost of living. Into this is sandwiched the price of alcohol and cigarettes. There's a common Norwegian joke, if you don't have enough money to take a vacation to another country just stay longer there and you'll save some money. It’s not uncommon for people to drive to Denmark or Sweden for shopping packing full fridges while they are there with chicken, meats, alcohol and cigarettes.

Nevertheless there is a huge cosmopolitan population here. When I was in Egypt I actually was the only black person I would see for days, there just weren't any Africans here it’s completely different every street you walk down is populated by immigrants from everywhere. People from the Middle East, Africa, the rest of Europe. There's an informal Palestinian settlement set up near where I live, it’s just a sheet metal structure with graffiti declaring the world a borderless entity. It’s a protest against a government policy of sending back some Palestinians. I couldn't say am sure why the ones sent back are since this country seems to hold up her arms as wide as America used to. Inside the tent there are Palestinians sitting, distributing literature and smoking shisha.  A random fact is that Norway is the biggest oil producer outside OPEC. Yet oil here costs something like two dollars a barrel. I let one of them know that in Egypt it was closer to thirty cents he said, “We couldn't do that we have a reputation to hold up as an expensive country.”


Cultures have a way of seeping into you. Here you don't say hi to random people, you are friendly but not overly curious. Two strangers have said welcome to Norway. But for now I ascribe it to the winter. The winter here is fierce though am here in a particularly warm year. The temperature dips below zero degrees every day. It has been days since snow fall, this doesn’t mean the snow leaves the ground just that it becomes brown slush in the places where people often walk. Foreigners bitch about the weather while the Norwegians have dreams of summer in their eyes. “In the summer... in the summer... ” is what you’ll hear most if you talk to Norwegians.

The sun is out for a very short time. It really only shines for a few hours then it goes down but when it goes down it takes hours. I saw a sunset that lasted and lasted. The sun sets red and black and long. The fingers of red begin to take over the sky. The fingers are red set against a black sky, a silken spider string that's woven for hours by the night sky, the sun refusing to give up its post and the night claiming it by force fighting back the red till its all black and you look at your time and its 5 pm.

The night is a different creature in Norway. From the summer longings you would think the night is abhorred, from the alcohol price prohibitions you would think there are no drunks. We went out on Thursday night to a pub and you can't smoke indoors here meaning that when someone is struck by the urge they have to leave the premises and stalk the outdoors for a minute. A Mozambique here in the same program as I am calls outside the battlefield. You can be protected from the vagaries of war as long as you are in the barracks but as soon as you are exposed to the battlefield you remember, immediately you remember. The best part about these smoking zones is the people you meet. We met two very interesting Swedes that night. They were drunk off their heads. They too had been in the country barely a week,

“And how long will you stay?”
And with the most fatalistic air I have ever seen he said “I don't know maybe forever, the company sent us here for this one job but it looks like we should just get comfortable.”

They were however so drunk the words were a jumbled mumble, sounds more than anything else where you tried for an approximation of meaning instead of accuracy. A while later one of them joined our table and I engaged him in conversation. The formula for making friends in Oslo is ridiculously simple; as soon as you ascertain that they are not Norwegian or even if they are talk about the weather. ‘ Yer, yer its way too cold is the general consensus.’ Then talk about the cost of living, ‘alcohol here huh? I wish I had brought more from home.’ And then you have a friend. In this ranting Swede I had a friend. He told me he was working for the office of the president and had come to repaint the government buildings that had been blown up the terrorist attacksof 22 July last year. Thinking about the attacks awoke a righteous passion in him and he metaphorically frothed at the mouth as he spoke about the perpetrator. If I see him again I will kill him he said. Then he said it again with such vehemence I felt that he thought I didn't believe him. It didn't matter though whether or not I believed him in that moment he believed himself. And so i told him  I believed what he was saying was true. He talked a little about this and that and then decided to prove his credentials. Apparently he is a hell's angel, a madman on a motorcycle with the tattoo to prove it, he lifted up his forearm and showed it to me, now I have never seen a hell's angel tattoo and have no idea what it looks like but I believed him when he showed it to me. Soon he left and as he walked out he said to me as sincerely as always,

“My friend if anyone fucks with you I will fuck them up, I will kill them.” so I nodded sagely knowing that for and only now I had a guardian angel from hell.