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Thursday, March 29, 2012

the light bank

Daylights saving time was a foreign concept, like ovens that weren’t for baking. (in Europe they call the house heaters ovens.) This is something that becomes a part of your life, it is the first stop when you get home, and it’s your love, your warmth, your family at least in the winter months. Once we had a brownout(KPLC stalks me even here.) This was in winter and our ovens wouldn’t work, I went to sleep and when  I woke up it was cold, it was uncomfortably cold, it was painfully cold, pinpricks on every spare surfaced of skin, pain marks being left and felt. It was the first time that cold kept me in bed and the first time I felt cold without recourse to action. It was colder outside but at least outside you have clothes to wear, you have wool and you have jackets, scarves and gloves and the knowledge that it should be like that.

This is a picture of Kristiansand on 26th of March. The time is self-evident. Yes this is now the time the sun begins to go down. It’s not till 8 pm that the light begins to retreat from the earth and with that spring is starting.

Daylight saving is actually a quite artificial stealing of time from the atmosphere. It’s done ostensibly to save electricity but it really doesn’t. All it does is make people happier. On the 25th of March the whole country sets their clock one hour ahead. This means that 7 o’clock last week looks just like 8 o’clock this week. And we have been having some good weeks.

The sun comes out in all her glory dressed in a dress, dressed to impress and pressed with a glow that’s heavenly. I was in shorts and sandals on Saturday looking the full tourist down to a backpack. We walked through town, a town that had belched all its inhabitants onto the main street, Markensgate. The beauty of the main street is that it’s a pedestrian only street. No cars except police. This is the street you walk in when you are drunk and drinking. Even in the dead of winter there is no snow on this street. How? They heat it. They have ovens under it which warm it up. How is this affordable or even practical? This comes of a country that discovered oil decades before it discovered its 5th millionth citizen.

There is money to go around in Norway. Money and money. This is the richest country in the world, best standards of living and the most expensive. You see oil and weapons are exported out. Inside they have a government that actually works, one that makes sure that the economy goes round and round. The welfare system works here, it actually does. If you want an economic paradise get born a Norwegian citizen and sit back. Unemployed people will get 6,000 kroner a month. This is 1,000 dollars. Now the country is so expensive that this guys is not exactly balling but with some financial acumen this person could afford to go watch Jay z and Kanye west perform(600 kroner for the May show.)

But it’s also a kind country; they spread their wealth around through a program in the foreign ministry called NORAD which is taxed with supporting development programmes. Kind of like USAID if America had enough oil for all her hundreds of millions and no aspirations to empire. Maybe people learn about empire and conquest from the past. The Vikings came from Norway, they sought out foreign heads instead of shipping out foreign aid. On ships of wood and wills of steel they went forth into the world spreading rape, misery and plunder. But as they all do that empire crumbled and fell. People who play with empire rarely start that game again. Rome, Greece, wherever Babylon is they slinked away. England and her short man syndrome watched as the colonies shrank away, too far from her heart for blood to get there. They died and all that’s left is the Falkland’s.

But daylight savings. I can begin to understand the Vikings. I can begin to understand that the Norwegians of now are still struck by wander lust, a need and the means to see the world, to live a year here and spend 6 months there. The winter. The winter kills more than just the plants. It kills life itself. It leaves everything a shadow. I can’t pretend that I didn’t see it or that I wasn’t affected. Life was grey back then. Nothing happened. I ate, I slept, I drank, I shat and then I shut myself in. coming home at times I thought were too early but my body wouldn’t allow me to move out. It was cold and dark. My fingers hurt all the time. My face was used to the onslaught, well used to complaining about it. There was nay a friendly face to say hey! And I wasn’t in love.

I fall in love with countries if I do it right. Wherever I am I fall in love. It becomes home and my heart is lent to the most beautiful place in the world. It took me a long time to fall in love in Norway. But now I remember the moment I fell in love. It was 2 weeks ago. I had gone to Oslo and was invited by one of the Ugandans to watch a charity show. Earlier that night I had enjoyed heavenly cuts of meat and a bottle of wine, stimulating conversation, pretty faces and my favourite book library so far all in the same house. I stepped out of the event to have a smoke, just one (am still at the point where I lie to myself that all I’ll ever need is one a day.)

I stood there and watched the human traffic and heard the sounds of the city. I don’t know why it happened then but something just snapped. I liked her then I loved her. It was that simple. That point when you can see yourself making a life in a country is the only real joy of travelling. Then I came back to Kristiansand and walked around in the dark. I met a girl who made my heart beat like I was a school boy again. She works in a shoe store and asked me to go see her again.

I did and as we talked she had to pretend to work, so she kept touching the shoes, so slightly. Turning them this way and that, as she said, “I have to do some work.” But that action stuck with me, her just slightly, ever so slightly turning the shoes this way and that, a millimetre, a centimetre and then smiling. Then she told me she has a boyfriend. As one of my friends recently told me, story of my life.

Now the sun shines brighter for longer. We stole an hour. We artificially made it later and we went late to work on Monday. The fact of daylight savings a once in a lifetime excuse to sleep in (about to become one of those bloggers who never give the address to the boss.) they didn’t mind that we forgot, hours are lost to more experienced people who just forget. It slips their minds completely that now the sun goes down later.

So I get why they travel and why the Vikings went all the way to the ends of the earth, wouldn’t you if life fled your country all the time. It would be a moment to seek out warmer climes and better signs. When the sun came back though it would be time to come back because they didn’t lie when they said there is no place like home.

Monday, March 26, 2012

3 acts

Last night I came in contact with two acts of kindness, one 33 years old the other as fresh as fallen snow. While I was out I met this Bangladeshi guy and we began talking. It’s not a fallacy that foreigners are always drawn to each other, it’s not even a race thing, last year people who saw I wasn’t Egyptian opened up to me much faster, I was better able to access some social groups, go to some parties, hear some conversations than if I had been an Arab. Same thing here, our foreign identity, our stamp as outsiders, our otherness makes sticking together much easier.

Anyway he tells me he wasn’t really a foreigner; he’s been in Norway for 33 years. And here’s the clincher, here’s the part that can only happen since am so far away from home, he then tells me that he came over with mother Theresa. Yes. Mother Theresa. He was 2 and a half years old then so it feel important he was just along for the ride. As she picked up her Nobel Prize she left the seeds of a conversation I would have 30+ years later. He told me about this speech she had given to the nations of the world. Gathered before her were presidents and pressmen, consuls and cabinet ministers, dignitaries and everymen. She said.

“Know your people. Love your people.”

Simple message and I am a fan of simple messages. I am also a fan of Mother Theresa. I remember when she called on people to give. To give not just what they could bear to live without but to give until it hurt, give until they bled. 
Mother theresa said, "I want you to be concerned about your next door neighbour, do you know your next door neighbour?"
She said, "even the rich are hungry for love, for being cared for, for being wanted, for having someone to call their own."
and, "if you can't feed a hundred people feed one."

Am walking home later that night when I meet a friend of mine, baba Ali. He’s from Senegal. He has a head of dreadlocked hair tied up tight in his snow hat. He talks perfect French and imprecise English and can play the drums to the beat of the heart of a love-struck boy. He’s going home and I walk with him. A few metres away we see a guy sitting in the cold with his head in the crook of his elbow much like I was when I walked through Oslo. He tells me this guy has been sitting here for the last 3 hours, maybe he has nowhere to sleep.
“Let me wake him up” he shakes him. “ Hey men, you can come sleep at my place, tomorrow you wake up you go home.”

“Yer, yer. But don’t worry about me I’m Swedish." he says this as if it explains him sitting there the whole night,  "we Swedish people we drink too much.”

“Yer man but its ok, just come over.”

We begin to walk and he’s understandably uneasy, kindness is a gift horse life teaches us to look in the mouth as the words flow out. He obviously has nowhere to go but tries to ditch us, muttering his mantra of over and over,

“I’m Swedish, I’m Swedish.” Like it’s a cloak of invincibility. Finally he enters Ali’s house takes a couch and falls asleep. I leave this house a little later and I run into the cops.

I love running into the cops in Norway, I feel like it’s their job to take care of me, I will spend public funds to get me directions to a place(taxpayer, yeah!) but these guys stop.

It’s a police van. The one who’s going to do most of the talking is a young brash guy about to make his first arrest for possession and use of marijuana. He can’t wait, he really can’t he wants the textbook open in his lap, fresh out of cop school and already a star. The driver is older, more experienced, he sits and makes conversation with me all through, listens to my jokes but shows solidarity by not bursting out loud at my undoubtable humour.

Arrester : hello, do you have id?
Me : of course I do
I take out my passport and give it to him. He handles it awkwardly like the bouncers at clubs are wont to do and I know it’s going to be a long search.
Me : the visa is right there, no, no you’re going the wrong way, and you see that’s my other visa you have to keep scrolling to get to the relevant one.
Arrester : what are you doing in Norway?
Me: I’m here with the peace corps am working at the archives.
Arrester : So do you have a work permit?
Why hasn’t he given me passport back and why, oh why would I go clubbing with my work permit?
Me : it’s at home, but if you guys give me a ride there... it’s close Grimstad, 
Arrester : have you ever had contact with the police?
Me : well not till today 1, 2, 3, policeman.
Arrester: have you done anything illegal?
Does he mean tonight or in my whole life?
Me : I try not to.
Arrester :  have you smoked hashish
Me : I would have to go to Amsterdam for that.
Arrester : when were you in Amsterdam?
Sarcasm needs a map here.
Me : in transit I was passing through on my way here, I was just in the airport.
Arrester : you smoked in the airport?
What does this guy think happens in Amsterdam, you get a bag of hash as they check your belongings, a sit there and puff as we go through your things policy?
Me : in the airport? No.
Arrester :  when was the last time you smoked, you just talked about Amsterdam.
As long as we’re going to talk about things that are legal in other countries… everyone I know drives on the left side of the road at home, is that a subject of interrogation.
Me : I have never smoked.
Arrester : I’m trying to figure out why your eyes are so red.
With incredulity!
Me : its late at night I’ve been drinking, smoking cigarettes.
Arrester : what have you been smoking.
I could tell him but instead I take out the remnants. A pack with two cigarettes, one brown cigarillos from Denmark. He sniffs them suspiciously. As he is otherwise occupied I talk to the driver.
Me : the brown ones are cigarillos I got them in Denmark at 15 kroner a packet.
Driver : cheap huh?
Me : yeah it’s cheap.
Arrester : do you mind if I search you?
Me : go ahead
I assume the figure two stance ready for this.
Arrester : if I search you I won’t find anything right?
Me : yes.
He searches me thoroughly I stand there. The feeling of being untouchable by police is a great one.
Arrester : can I check your hat.
Me : my hat?
I take it off and plunge my head into the van because it’s cold. I have a weather conversation with the other guy.
Me : after the daytime I thought it would be warm but…
Driver : its Norway.
Arrester : ok.
he gets in and I realise I want something from them. Nothing as mundane as an apology, but a service would be good.
Me : home is far away, si you guys give me a ride there.
Driver : grim is not that far in fact you can go this way and be there in no time at all.
Me : ok, but does any of you have a light?
Arrester : no but I use snuz
How did we get to the point with this guy where he’s offering me drug advice, intimate search that one.
Me : I haven’t tried it but I have heard good things about it.
This I must say is the perfect way to get offered any type of drug (snuz is tobacco that the Nordic peoples use, they insert a bag of tobacco in their gums and suck on it. Some of them cut their gums so the snuz is delivered faster and purer.) The driver keeps looking for his light.
Driver: sorry I don’t have any.
Me : well ok.
Cigarette lighter : I have a light, here.
So I amble to the back of the van where this third policeman is carted around in just to provide cigarette lights.
Me: have  a good night.
And I puff away into the night. I hope his superiors ripped the recruit a new asshole for wasting my time.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

shared likes

By now you have all seen the Kony 2012 video but just in case and to give the blog some life, here is the link below.

Now maybe someone did take the time out to watch the 27 minutes  right now but if not that’s ok, its 27 minutes. In synopsis it’s about the warlord Joseph Kony and an effort to stop him. There have been some critics of the video  here and they make some very strong points for example "For all the excitement around awareness as an end in itself, one could be forgiven for forming the impression that there might be a "Stop Atrocity" button blanketed in dust in the basement of the White House, awaiting the moment when the tide of awareness reaches the Oval Office."   ) about simplifying what is so much more complex than 27 minutes can describe. But there’s no denying the good points, there’s no denying that awareness is good and people learning more about the world and what’s happening is the only way that they can find a way to doing more about the world..

Anyway, how many have seen the Israel-Iran video concerning the possible unleashing of the dogs of war.  Previously on current affairs; Iran has been trying to get their nuclear power program off the grid or on it, am not sure which. Israel is not happy about this and they have their reasons. Israel after all is a battered wife, there’s a lighter sentence for  a woman who kills her husband after years and years of psychological pressure, this constant fear can make her fragile and in her fragility gift her strength that can lead to an escape. This is not a crime of passion since usually the plan is very logical and thought out but it’s treated as such since anyone can see that permanent stress can lead to breakage.

Israel is like that battered woman, it’s hard to imagine another country whose history is so pockmarked with pain and discrimination (we are a whole continent and it’s just been 400 years.) theirs stretches back to the Egyptians and the Persians,  the Babylonians and the Romans, deportation, forms of ethnic cleansing and slavery jostle in the dark of their history. Then  in the last century the holocaust.

So they overreact. Cultural memory kicks in and they fight back answering a knife with a canon, 10 with1100. They are used to being hunted and they know they need to fight back. The Iranian president once  said he wants to wipe Israel off the map of the world. It was clarified  saying he  meant it literally, and this was one of those occasions where saying this still leads to ambiguity, does he want to kill all the Israelis or just not have a country called Israel in the actual world map, the latter he affirmed, but still.

So Israel have their reasons for not wanting a nuclear Iran(when said like that it sounds like the whole country was exposed to radiation and can now get everyone sick, I guess that’s how it’s meant to sound.) America bows to Israelis will. 40% of the world’s billionaires are Jews, the Google guys, the Facebook guy? All Jews. In economic strength they find influence.In money so old its turning brown they find a say and so America listens to them, when Israel says they don’t want a nuclear Iran you hear a US president  commit to military action if Iran arms itself with a bomb. You hear the rhetoric turned up by the Israeli prime minister, you hear answers from the Iranian leader and every day with every speech they get closer and closer to yet another war in the Middle East then you watch this video.

That’s just 2 minutes, if you have good net click on it, it’s definitely worth it. It’s a video that puts a face on the people. There’s something universally human about the point when the guy goes “I never even met an Iranian except a guy in a museum in France, nice dude.” He goes on to talk about the fact that he doesn’t think that Iranians are shaped by their foreign policy or even that foreign policy is shaped by the Iranians. There are people who are not consulted because war is not a democratic undertaking. People don’t vote to send off their children to die in far off battlefields, away from home, away from love, doing things that turn boys into monsters.

For too long all the interaction that an Iranian got with an Israeli was restricted to politically minded and economically funded rhetoric, speech that is not worth a pinch of salt in relating what’s actually happening. Think about  how many people think like their politicians, agree with what they say. And which politician’s children actually serve in the war. Finally we had an appeal from a father, a brother a son, to mothers and daughters, to husbands and wives, the real victims of war and the appeal was simple; we do not want to bomb you.

Of course there will be critics of this video too but that’s not the point. Nothing’s perfect even something that is so clearly pure (I believe a lot of the motives for the Kony video were pure but purity can be the  other side of naivety.)

Last year we had the Middle East revolutions(as my friend Lucas quipped once about the one still on-going "to all the homies dying in their homes in Homs #Syria #its getting Syrias"-‘twas a twitter thing-) and the role that social media, that instant communication played in these revolutions is undeniable. While I was in Cairo I saw a book about tweets from Tahrir. Someone had collected tweets over that period of the January 25 revolution in Egypt and made them into a book. An eye witness account in 140 characters or less of an event that changed our world, one stuck with me, a victory tweet “he’s gone now let’s get his fucking name off of everything.”

War works by demonising the enemy. Noone can rationalise killing people they know, they can’t think they are actually fighting people like them, they would go crazy. But what about what happened in your own country when neighbours turned on each other? Well there was a lot of brainwashing and name calling, a lot of convincing, Kikuyus called stains and Kalenjin called vermin. People had to see their neighbours as something less than first. But now we have a tool that allows people to actually talk, to talk across borders to send love and hugs and kisses from one point to another.

And I don’t think that hugs, love and kisses can stop bombs, bullets and bastards. I don’t think that any outpouring of love on its own is enough to stem the tide of greed that gets wars going. But it’s a start and something we never had before. Remember weapons of mass destruction what would have happened if there was a way for an Iraqi to say "don’t bomb us, we are just like you. we too are lovers and friends, brothers and sisters, parents and children. Each of us encompasses a  world of complexities and emotions that is being reduced to a meaningless 3 letter acronym. Talk to your leaders" they could have said, "protest." The war may have happened anyway but who knows what the butterfly effect could have meant for the war efforts. Isn’t the life of even one conscientious objector worth the 10,000 shares that get a video like that to him?

I fell into the trap of thinking about foreign policy as representing the countries wants. I thought of Iran as an entity and Israel as another I didn't think of the man up there who just wants peace, who’s tired of war and is tired of the propaganda that leads to it, who is so exhausted that he wants to do something and makes a simple message.

And facebook for all its faults; its lack of human interaction, the anger you feel when one person takes out their phone when talking to you instead of talking to you, for all their faults social media may be one of the most powerful weapons we have. A way to connect across the globe and across borders, a reason that we have all now heard of Joseph Kony and a steering force to right the rudder of the ship heading to oblivion.

It’s not perfect, it’s not all right but when was there ever a drive to war and a message of peace was sent out so simply. When last did a dove alight on a Muslim country from Israel, when last were we reminded that there are people there and not just governments? When last did the ideas of the people actually hold sway?

Humanity in all its excesses, the vanity, the shallowness, the snide remarks and cat calls are on display for us all to see, but humanity in all its innocence is there too. A graphic designer thought he could make a difference, a filmmaking ngo thought they could raise awareness and it looks like they can.

Immortal technique raps that “universal truth is not measured in mass appeal.” and the video we all like and share the most will not be the truest. but the Kony 2012 got us talking, talking about what's good with it and what's right. Got us asking questions about the calling for US military intervention. Debates have been had and information has been sought by people who wouldn't have had they not watched the video and felt there was something more. Its been a while since I read the sentiment African solutions for African problems turn up in so many well articulated and thoughtfully written articles.

"That we are people is something we oft forget, without seeing them how can we hope to remember that they too are."

Monday, March 19, 2012

oslo walks

So let me attempt to explain the trust based system that is  Norwegian public transport. You pay before you travel and in exchange for your money you get a transport card. You can fill it in day to day (charge it like a phone) hour to hour or month to month. In Oslo you need this if you will be going around since though it is a small city it’s still pretty big to walk from one end to the other. With a monthly card you can get on anything for the whole month, a tram to Tidemands, a bus to Bygdøy, a train to Tøyen, a subway to Sinsen. You  just walk in and walk out. If you want you can swipe it through the barcode machines and see if they turn green but you don’t have to.

They have random checks every other day or so but basically it’s a trust system, what’s to stop you risking the law? The slim possibility of a 900 kroner fine? Yeah that stops you in your tracks. I was in Oslo over the weekend and I got a card at one of the convenience stores, a Narvessen. It was just a piece of paper with a bar code printed on its back that would be valid for an hour. I had no idea how to use it, whether the hour started running from the time of purchase or the time of validation, so I asked this guy at the stop how to use it.

“There’s a little red machine at the entrance to the bus and you just put it in and it gets stamped and that’s it but,” leaning in conspiratorially, “I’ve been travelling for free for 3 months.”

I was hungry for this information and my frank stare told him this.

“You see with a card like the one you have it only starts counting down from the point at which it’s put in the machine and you don’t have to put it in the machine. I bought one in January and I just walk around with it in my pocket, if I see the inspectors I’ll put it in but until then. Another thing you may do is get some wax on your card, because it’s a stamping machine that begins the countdown, all you have to do is when the card is stamped take something and scratch off the wax then you are good to go, that’s an old school trick.”

With genuine appreciation “it’s nice to meet a Norwegian who breaks the rules”

“Well am Swedish so that may be it.”

Oslo, Oslo, Oslo. Looks so nice had to write it thrice. You see I have learned this one unassailable fact about myself. I am a city boy through and through. I need the thrive of the city, the beating of a million plus hearts to the stress of work, hurry, pollution, indifference and unhappiness. I need to share my air with a lot of other people who think they don’t want to share theirs with mine. I need the noise of a city, the constant bubble, bubble, bubble of the sound that cannot escape. The barely there smiles, the just scratch the surface to find it anger, the feeling of togetherness that comes from being human in a place that was fashioned out of thin air and made into a reflection of the soul. I love cities and so I love Oslo.

Later that night I was talking to this group of guys about Kenya and the differences between there and here. Its poor, we mistrust our government. That very simply sums up all the political and economic differences between the two countries. One of the guys had this theory that all could be traced back to the drawing of borderlines. I’ve read about this, an article about a book(i read many more articles about books than actual books) that said one of the greatest fallacies about the scramble for Africa was this lie that it was a partition of the continent into different nations and border lines when the truth is it was one of the greatest unifications of groups of people. Kenya has 42 tribes; Germany has the Germans, Nigeria 250 Poland the polish. This repeats itself over and over. Nation states here have a history of being a nation, a shared culture and language, a history that stretches back over bloodshed, partitions, conquests, colonisations and independences for hundreds and hundreds of years before Norway had the Norwegians and Sweden the Swedes.

42 tribes means 42 potential nation states, lumping them together without thought to shared rivalries and broken kinships, having hundred year relationships torn apart by a line in a map leaves a bitter taste, it sows the seeds of war and civil strife. It means that people who are foreigners to each other have to call themselves Kenyan and it means that the only thing we have in common in that country was a colonisation, a shared history of defeat. I agree with a lot of this since to makes sense but I also think we are to blame for many of our problems. This guy traced it back to the borderlines and like he had made it up the mountain stopped and stared. He thought corruption and the stagnated economic growth could be explained by this, he thought political instability and all the ethnic strife, the wars in and with Somalia could have been prevented if consultation on the process of border alignment had been done.

He blamed himself and all European for this (well the ancestors) never mind that Norway doesn’t have one African colony. I disagree with this assessment. I don’t like the lumping of the west together as a homogenous entity that only worked to rape and plunder Africa, it was some people. And I don’t like, especially I don’t like Africans being absolved of their sins in a wash of white guilt. He had given a lot of thought to this but he had not gone far enough. When the reins were handed back to us we fucked up. We really fucked up.

Jomo Kenyatta. There’s a guy we can all argue about, the father of our nation and it is possible that without him we could not have had unity, that we needed him released in order that Kenya could stand as one nation. But what he did. All through school you are fed stories about this hero of the liberation; our politicians have even had the gall to put back his face on the national currency. Seriously. There’s a vast brain washing machine in Kenya that might have to do with not talking ill of the dead and that general Kenyan tendency to forget slights and forgive injuries. Jomo Kenyatta stole and stole; he stole so much land and resources his family is worth billions, in American dollars. There’s a story of him falling asleep and waking up and saying that all the land between where we were when I fell asleep and now that I have woken up is  mine (they were in a car at the time.) he ran cabinet meetings in kikuyu, he whipped grown men and we are scared of saying these things to our children.  They grow up thinking he was a great man and why?

There is no real reason for it to be like this, none at all. Except history is written by the victors, people vindicated by their strength, cunning and wealth and so the history of the Kenyatta family is clean as a whistle. Behind every great fortune there  is a great crime and we all know of the crime but we don’t speak of it. We don’t have condemnations of him except when you get old enough to find out  for yourself. The Jomo Kenyatta myth is the Kenyan version of Santa Claus.

There’s a Norwegian girl I’ve known since 2008, she lived in Kenya for a while. I saw her for the first time here yesterday and it was strange. It was weird to be in her country now and it made me homesick as we talked about things shared from our vast history together, names not mentioned for so long, acts unburied and crushes half forgotten. She wants to go back and settle down in Kenya, she’s learning Swahili and has a Tanzanian teacher here. The most common admonition when she talks the way she is used to?

“That’s not Swahili, that’s Kenyan.”

At the end of the night I found myself alone, you see while we are in Oslo we live with some friends of ours, Ugandans and Mozabiquans here on the same programme. When we go out they lend us a key. They live in these apartments and the key is programmed to gain you admission to the front door, to the floor of your room and to your room. No key nothing, out in the cold. I was struck by a sudden bout of chivalry (the kind always brought on by a pretty face shielding an interesting personality) and I offered to get her to her bus stop. I gave the other Kenyans the key thinking I would call them as soon as I got to Anker hostel and all would be good, 3:17 am.

Walking around town and I stop at a bus stop. There’s this guy accosting these four girls there. As I stand he passes me and whispers something to me in Norwegian. One of the girls gets really angry and asks me what he said, “No idea I can’t speak Norwegian.”

And in the spirit of inclusion that all true perverts have he begins speaking in English,

“Tell her I have a big dick”
“Good for you" she says, for him not me.

“Do you have a big...” points at the crotch area

Now she’s really pissed and I want to interrupt and push him on his way but I know there’s something liberating about fighting a battle on your own and Norwegian girls can hold their own. He leaves soon and I apologise for the excesses of my gender.

“I can speak for myself.” I kind of seemed to understand that my quizzical look says.

Then we start talking and I can’t say how the conversation went here but it did. Norway is a country of subtleties and the rolling of the tongue turns a word more than just in the air, it shifts it meaning making it something else. Hurrah- prostitute hyurrah-hooray. They explain to me. And I sit there remembering how in my first week I went to this dinner and the national song was being sung. The chorus is “hyurrah, hyurrah!” we were singing it at the end of the women’s speech which is this speech where a guy says something about women and then everyone is happy and cheers. I gave voice to this speech,

“Hurrah, hurrah.”

I sit down and this girl immediately asks, “You do know you were just calling all the girls prostitutes right?”

The bus comes and the girls leave. 4:23 am.

I walk around and I get lost and ask these guys the way to the hostel.
“You are going in the completely wrong direction, it’s like 1 kilometre that way, and you should take a taxi, in Norway? No way.”

At this point in the night the city is almost completely deserted (clubs close at 3) silence rolls around the city like a ball of hay. It sweeps the streets and makes the buildings glow. It’s otherworldly to see a city like this stripped of its bare essentials, left a husk of buildings and naught else. There’s a huge space in the centre of the city, a space just for the sake of being a space. A structural oddity that all cities should have but very rarely do. It takes my breath away I stand there and just look at it as blue light falls onto it caressing the air and changing the earth oh so slightly. 4:49 am

I get to the hostel and try to call and then I realise I have no credit. The cold hits me and takes my breath away completely. You see there’s no kopa credo or similar service I am fucked. I go and sit down outside in these chairs and contemplate the extent of my fuckery. This happens once inevery country; a wait in the cold is given me. I will sit outside and contemplate my mistakes look at what brought me where I am and ask myself why I allowed it. It happens once in every country.

When you are really tired all you have to do is focus on a light somewhere, anywhere. You just look at the light and it wipes away your memory of all the horror stories about people waking up dead from over exposure in the winter, it blocks out the unfeeling hardness of the cold weather, it leaves you drowsy and you begin to fall asleep, then you close your eyes and welcome to the jungle. Am woken up by this passing girl, she looks at me sitted there and snickers to herself. I rouse and then drowse again and sleep. Another passing girl. Surely now it must be 6 am or something, its 5:07 this was when I gave up.*

Luckily someone takes the time when I ask them to point me to where there’s an all-night convenience store. I go in there and get some credit, I call my Kenyan housemate and get into my room, the thing about this is, there are two beds in the room, with three people, now me making it four, coming late messes up all the sleeping arrangements. When I get home at such ungodly hours I can’t shake people awake to give me a mattress or the hard surface of the beds, so I curl up to fall asleep.

It’s hard to sleep on a floor. You have no sheet so you sleep in your jacket. Then you need a pillow and it’s impossible to properly place your arms. They hurt wherever you put them incidentally the best place is to lay your head on your bicep but I know this will hurt something wicked when I get up the next day so I curl up and somehow I sleep.

And so I slept outside in the 2 degree weather and inside on the stone floor. Hard, unyielding surfaces, unfeeling and indifferent, cold and distant. Surfaces fading into oblivion like all cities do to us and even at the end of this I still know that I love cities.

*only time i actually looked at my watch the rest are approximations from my hazy viewing of city clocks and backward timing

Friday, March 16, 2012

they really are vikings

So I am on my knees scrubbing hard at the bathroom floor. There are globules of chocolate dotting its concrete surface, stuck here and there comets thrown with great energy and anger. My head aches and hurts, my eyes ring with dizziness and I feel slightly tired, sick in fact. 

A few hours previously my housemate came to ask me for something or maybe they didn’t that’s how bad I was feeling, that am not sure if my drunken sleep was interrupted or am just using that as a story device to describe the extent of my malaise. During this fact or fiction wake up I shrugged him  away groggy, glum and unresponsive.

My day has been dotted with walks to the toilet for a piss, something that thankfully took me past the bathroom where there was a pizza cooked (store bought and oven warmed, the best kind) and pork dumplings that I lovingly pigged into my mouth as I nursed yet another European hangover.

In Europe I will get hangover. It doesn’t matter what I do, a headache follows a night out, Friday I didn’t drink a thing and woke up Saturday with the left part of my head aching and throbbing, maybe my head just misses its soil.

The night before had been one of those that you don’t write home about. Too much to drink, too fast and two fingers become four and suddenly there’s chocolate all over the bathroom floor. But it was also one of those nights where the chocolate wasn’t the most interesting story.

We had left the house early to go get in cheap at the club, come back home, get drunk and go back. We come home and there’s a scene on the road in front of us, there’s someone crying, sobbing and wailing. She’s surrounded by some people and we go close to find out what’s going on, see if our help will be needed. Standing in the middle of the road is a girl whose body has been wrapped around by her comforter, she’s not too drunk and there’s other people around, a situation that looks to be in control.

We passed the entrance to our house so we walk on nonchalantly since we don’t want to look too nosy. We find a party going on but lose the nerve to crash it, plus we sort of stand out, being a crasher is about blending in until you’re all having such a good time people think it’s your party. So we leave and go back home.

As we pass there’s a couple exchanging words against a fence due to the dark am not sure if its the same one as before. The guy gets angry and he pushes the girl against the fence really hard. Their friends are around and so an escalation seems unlikely. I seem to be proven right when hard shoves are traded in for harsh whispers. The tone of them fills the night air now, tearing pieces out of  the peace of the dark and leaving a hiss of menace everywhere. This is not the sound of peace and atonement; this is the sound of anger given in a just-you-dare kind of voice. But their friends seem to think it will blow over and I am the only one giving any attention to this powder keg.

Then the situation is defused and the guy is walking away from his anger and her mistress. The tension hasn’t left the air yet, this would be the point to turn but something n the atmosphere holds my gaze, I haven’t worn my glasses this night so it’s nothing scenic nothing just a feeling, a whisper that is not all over.

The girl rushes her boyfriend and pushes him simultaneously tripping; he lurches forward and curls to the road in a heap. And quick as a flash her heels are being planted over and over in his stomach. He is being pummelled and everyone is in shock about what’s happening, he tries to get up and finally he manages but he’s learned from last time’s mistakes…

…so he picks her up and twists his body to the left in one fell motion, he lets go of her and she hits the ground hard.

Is it ever justified to hit a girl? Are there instances in life where we can forgive temper taking over the person who was tempted. I think this is a more difficult and varied question than we commonly give credit to. It’s wrong to hit women yes, but it’s also wrong to steal but we almost  understand if you are doing it to feed your children. So if we took the argument to its absurd roots, what if there’s a female thief literally stealing from the mouths of your babes do you still hold on to those ideals? What if you are pushed so far that you have no idea that it’s happening.

What if while you are drunk she throws you on the floor and you curl up like a foetus and she keeps kicking you with her heels, kicking and kicking and kicking and kicking, what then?

It’s wrong to hit a woman but it’s not always the one who does wrong who stands alone in the wrong. I'm trying to write this in a way that doesn't paint me as a wife beater sympathiser, i'm trying to find a way to say that its possible that anger can overcome logic and beat ideals down to a stump, parents get so angry they hit their children, that most defenceless of beings and this is wrong too but provocation behind the shield of a greater wrong is not right either.

But a shove is not a full body throw and this guy had taken it too far. As soon as the girl was down on the floor her friend came to defend her, another girl who came and pushed him. He did not pay mind to arguments about proportionality, about the immorality of his act, he grabbed her too and threw her on the ground, a thud reverberating to where I was.

I am frozen in place by the sheer speed of these acts, by my mind still trying to process the girl tripping him, by my surety that their friends wouldn’t even let it get this far. By my distance from the scene, its hazy and dreamlike, its emotionally disconnected i have never seen a fight like this and i can't wrap my head around it or yet move my feet toward it. Hiding behind the banner that reads "their friends will take care of them right?"

Before all this properly flashes through my mind the second girl’s boyfriend has ran to pummel the first man. He’s angry and it comes off in waves and waves. This is the window to carnage, the opening salvo in a war that would roll along continents and years if allowed. But there’s  a silent still  third party. One of the friends who springs into action and hold hands pinned behind neck and does it in the textbook manner, so quietly and quickly, silently and suddenly that the fight stops. And all we have are the sounds of a struggling child.

And so two minutes after I stopped to stare the drama has unfolded and found itself laid out on a table for me to dissect. A girl is crossing the street opposite with her boyfriend who needs to pee, so she waits for him. I begin talking to her,

“So that’s the end of the party?”
“Yer it’s like this every weekend, we drink, we fight , the cops come and we start again.”

A few days later at work my colleague told us that a lot of muggings happen in Easter when people are travelling, “but the police know the criminals so they just round them up and lock them for those four days.”

Monday, March 12, 2012

things i watched, things i read

I recently watched the kite runner, I had read the book a few years ago and then I read it again fewer years ago. It’s a sad story, a story of pain and love, a story of betrayal, mistrust and carelessness and perhaps most painfully it’s a story of redemption. It’s strange but when I hate somebody and then come around to understand them and seek ways of forgiving them because they can’t seem to find a way of forgiving themselves at that point in a movie or a book when I see someone try to make it right and unabashedly try, try when there’s no other way out. Try when all the actions are ultimately symbols of hollowness of the emptiness within it touches me.

The movie had subtitles in Norwegian which was ok except when they spoke in Dari which is the Afghanistan native language. At those points I would read the Norwegian subtitles and try to pick up what I had learned in class. The simple pronouns, simple acts that i already knew. You, me, marriage, work tomorrow. Language class is an endless exercise in humility, sitting back and parroting what the teacher says and then getting nuts even when you know you did wrong, veldig bra she says to every half reached attempt at Norwegian.(favourite thing thus far about Norge is that I can say bra whenever I want, its good literally.)But when I sat there and read the Norwegian subtitles and could make out what they were saying it i did feel bra.

Anyway it was nice to watch the movie without the intrusion of a screenwriter’s vision (even though David Benioff is the shit wrote Troy and is one of the guys at work on Game of Thrones.) still not being able to follow exactly what was happening in the movie and have to fill in the blank spaces with pages of white , black code and memory, a script from the recesses of my mind made the experience more touching. I was watching the book come to life. I wasn’t always sure what was happening on screen but there were times, certain scenes that corresponded to the book so much I knew exactly what was happening. I would see Amir write a story and hear it in my mind. I could see scenes coming up and fill in the internal dialogue that books can give us, see his reasons for doing what he did. Know that in time he would be redeemed but still be angry at him, oh so angry.

Sometimes I think I really liked this book because it was the first father and son book I ever read. The first exploration of what that relationship means and contains that i had ever read. The relationship of the characters in the book was not universal, it was anything but it carried within it aspects that I recognised, things my friends who read the book agreed they felt with their fathers, to their fathers. The constant burden that sometimes the son places on himself to try to be superhuman, the misdrawn disapproval that comes of living in two generations that communicate love and acceptance in such different ways that we can go through life thinking we never felt it. It was a book set in a time of change and we all always live in a time of change and so it felt right.

And it showed me one major difference between men and women MAJOR SPOILER ALERT IN THIS PARAGRAPH Amir’s father sleeps with his servant’s wife, a beautiful woman. A woman of the kind that breaks men and leaves them by the wayside not giving them a second glance. She gives birth to Hassan, the poor object of so much betrayal and latent hate we can’t help but saint him. The woman's husband is sterile so we know that this could not be his child. Most men will agree that the adultery happened because of beauty and lust, while women will attach honour and friendship to it. They say it was because he didn’t want his servant not to have an heir, because of the pain that he saw not having a son caused his friend that Baba slept with his friend's wife.  I can see why, he’s saintly and good, almost takes a bullet for a stranger and has a halo surrounding him most of the time. But guys can see that even in there lies a capacity for betrayal, for weakness, for lust and to fall. I saw that betrayal mirrored in the relationship between his sons which was why it came as such as a shock. Admittedly this is very limited research and it may not hold true applying to only the women i have asked about it. And the scene in the end nearly broke my heart all over. after all the eyepopping, suicide inducing parts of the afghanistan-pakistan trip when there is nothing holding Amir to his nephew except a betrayal that seems to stretch back three generations and a carelessness that's appaling, in that scene when like the beginning there are kites being flown and cut. when the last kite of the book is cut and amir turns to look at his nephew before he runs for it and says for you a thousand times over just like his brother would say to him, the hope in that sentence, the memory in that scene, the pain in that hope always gets to me.

Away from the kite runner, I began reading this blog recommended by a friend. It’s sad, beautiful and wistful, it’s a woman looking out of the window as it rains biting her lips and thinking about life because in each raindrop she sees love but all the drops fall to the ground and splatter.

I couldn’t stop reading it and it struck me how weird it is to read a blog, everything gets upended, most of us don’t read a blog from the first day its put up, we come to it later by way of reference, curiosity or almighty Google. When it’s a chronicle of a life we catch the life halfway and never really see it full. We watch the movie from the last scene as it were.

You begin with the most recent entry and go back, you read about December then November then September. There’s a backward chronology to the act that becomes suspenseful in a way. Sometimes there’s a lot of self-reference in a blog, when someone says for example “the person from that time” and you’re new. The first time you’re hearing about this character is when they are being assumed known and then you wonder about them. There’s so much mystery that surrounds it so many gaping holes as you keep peeling the onion from the inside out.

You go lower and you see the person change. You see their lives rewind you see them hope for something that you know will not come to pass; you can read in their words from earlier a fear of an event and know that it’s going to happen or that it will blow over. Its the ultimate testament to its not as bad as you think. And you see them grow young again. You see them say goodbye to somebody before you read about the hello. The ugly ending is put before the beautiful beginning and in between there’s the evolution, the backwards evolution a slow march to where it all started.

Then maybe you come to gaping holes that you will never fill out. You find deleted posts and their shadows waiting for you, just waiting to mock your suspense. You find links that are not open anymore, the internet hiding something from you that your frustration and proficiency with Google will not reveal. And ever backward you rush, sands back into the top of the hourglass and then maybe you come to the first post, the first foray into the whole thing. The purity that was before stats and comments and an audience or lack thereof.

There’s that old scientific maxim about the very act of observing something being enough to change it. I want to know if being read changed her as much as it changed me. If the obsession with page views and comments, the need to get the people who read you last time changed her writing. I want to know if I can read the point in the blog where she spent more time looking at stats than she did writing new posts. But I also want to hope that this never happened to her. I want to hope that it stayed just self-expression that the pressures of having an audience had no visible effect on her writing. I hope for this but I would be envious at the same time.

I get over my insecurities by telling myself I don’t own them all alone that everyone is like me. That though we all like the sound of our own voice we are not as enamoured of it when its recorded and played back. I don’t want to think that I was the only one who looked at his stats and where they came from and even went as far as to wonder why more people with opera access the blog than people with Mozilla. I don’t want to be the only one who looks at the countries that it was accessed from and treat it as more than just a passing curiosity. I don’t want to be the only one who gets tired of engaging just myself in these tirades and seeks ways of engaging others of promoting dialogue by direct addressing. I don’t want to be the only one who isn’t sure his writing hasn’t stagnated and maybe even fallen backwards, who feels he isn’t as funny or good as he wants to be and even worse as he once was.

I guess in life I just don’t ever want to be the only one.

Thursday, March 8, 2012


With as presumptuous a title as that there are many places this could go. It could plumb the depths of my spiritual, intellectual and moral growth. It could talk about the effects that long, lonely walks have had on me, let you know about the quiet whirring of my subconscious mind, the part that doesn’t have to tell me what I think but just lets me know that I have decided. It could be about how all you have to think about are the big things in life; love, happiness, family and that from these  trains of thought carriages about politics and understandings of the human nature develop.

Well, one of my favourite biblical passages, (right now I think it’s the most important but that changes from day to month to year to me almost not remembering it at all) right now is that passage in exodus where Moses encounters a burning bush and starts to hear things(would anyone be offended if i mentioned that though its quite clear it not this episode could be misinterpreted as a metaphor for marijuana?.) the true metaphor, the more important metaphor comes later. Moses takes off his sandals in the presence of God and asks him a simple question. the simplest and most complex of questions

He asks, “Who are you?” God gives him the most beautifully complete answer you can imagine.

“I am who I am.”

And in those 5 words religion gifts us happiness. It gives us peace, joy and supreme knowledge. Those 5 words are all you need to keep your compass steady, to find your true north. That’s it. Just accept who you are.

“I am who I am.”

Yeah this post could go off on this serious note and explore the deep thinkological (I made up this word because philosophical implies something abstract usually and am not philosophising, just thinking) nature of those 5 words. But…

As I found out after years of wondering why Kenyan girls thought it was ok to share with me that they had fungi on their heads... growth also just mean that your hair has grown.

So, my hair has grown. It’s been a while since I let my hair grow. A month in I’ll cut off my hair I’ll keep it short and neat. Because I can’t do one without the other. Here’s the thing about my hair, it’s hard, its rock hard, its steel wool hard and after a while running a comb through it becomes just too difficult an attempt for the shoddy prize of good grooming. But I like to look good (who doesn’t and it’s not vanity I am who I am) so I just cut it off and keep it short.

It’s not bad looking hair understand. It’s dark and strong. It’s lustrous in the way that  men’s hair can be lustrous. At 55 my father still has a full head of hair, he looks young and completely youthful the mane of a thirty year old, well one who does not have a bald spot. His mother has her hair at 70 something am not sure what age exactly because she predated mandatory birth certificates. It’s long and hard, it has a streak of white running through it but its the streaks that denote steel more than age. This is not an invitation for all the girls who want children with nice hair to go off looking for my brothers (not enough Norwegian hits on this blog to make this an advertisement for myself yet.) it’s just my way of saying I like my head of hair.

I like the way it comes forward and gives me the opposite of a bald spot, almost a threehead if I let it get away without being trimmed. But since I can’t keep it neat and I like to look good I shave it off.

Enter this black man in Norway, moi. You know what's really different, our hair. Ours curls, theirs is straight, it grows like a cloud, that one falls like water. so no one will know that my hair is supposed to look neat ergo I’ll still look good even with shaggy hair though the evidence of recent dry spell may prove this point moot(ok it’s just a little bit of an ad.)

So i  let it grow, I have growth. 2 months’ worth on my head now. I wake up I don’t comb it I just go off to the office and sit there and work like this is how it’s supposed to look(this is not something you can get away with in Kenya.) and then I start to play with it.'

This is the real reason why my hair is so shaggy. You see am a run my hand through my hair kind of guy. I don’t know why I picked up this habit but I like it. It makes me look thoughtful, sometimes sad and sometimes vulnerable (or so I think but with evidence of recent dry spell…) this is ok when the hair is short, I’ll do this and get back to work. however hair grow longer at first I like how it feels, its soft and seems to match the grooves of my palms, my fingers feel happy there.

Then I start to play with it. I twist it and curl it in an unending game of bend your will to me. I run my hands through it again and again, I find the little standalone trees and tweak them. I watch the hair fall in floods of deforestation onto my books and computer, littering the whole world with my DNA. And always I twist it.

I twist it and twirl like there’s someone in the vicinity I like, I make tiny little dreadlocks, micro dreads my little fears I call them. I straighten them out and remake them then I forget to straighten them out and they just sit there all curled up together the strands woven like a loom and when I have to get a comb through them they wail with the sound of sweet freedom. This is all I do all day, all waking night. I sit with my hands in my head. my fingers in my hair making snares.

Then my biceps begin to ache. They ache and ache with the pain of always being at that stressed position they have to be in in order to parley with my hair. They scream out in frustration and I heed their call and I take my hands away from my hair. But am addicted so my hands find their way back. And this process goes on and on and on. Scream relief, release and scream.

I can’t stop myself this i now know. And now there’s the pain that comes when I have to comb it and even worse the pain in my biceps that will not go away. As the hair gets longer the strands are more available for tighter weaving and now it hurts to take them apart but I feel like I like this pain or find it necessary or just can’t stop and so there I am tearing the weave apart bringing doom to the loom and my biceps ache, my muscles quake.

There is only one release. I have to shave the hair off. It is in these moments that I remember why I shave my hair off. I don’t like this pain, it’s too much and I can’t stop myself, I try and I can’t I really can’t and I hate it. Shaving is my saviour. I always think it will be different, I think I will change myself next time and stop this touching, twisting and running but it never is and the reason I think it will be different is because I forget those eternal words. The immutable, immortal proclamation that I should make every day…

“I am who I am.”

Monday, March 5, 2012

talks in transit

Long journeys have a way of coming to an end he thought as he waited for Viola’s plane to land. Years have a way of falling through the hands like sand until all that’s left is the last grain, a pebble that represents the immensity of all that came before but one pebble, something small that can be considered and comprehended.

He had pasted a smile on his face in preparation, your lover leaves for all that time and you are not sure. It doesn’t matter what you tell yourself, it doesn’t matter what you believe about human decency and the strength of your bond all that matters is that the flesh is weak and faith follows its vessel. Even all the preparations for weakness, all that proper pragmatism doesn’t keep you from being wounded and scars may scab but that says nothing for the pain they harbour.

Your lover leaves and the truth is your body becomes weak too. Your flesh yearns and there were many times when lust was the last memory before regret. And regret he did. He couldn’t help it. But he wasn’t sure if he regretted the mistake or the fact that he couldn’t lord his purity over her anymore. He would know inside he wasn’t better than her and this hurt, not as much as  betrayal would but there was no betrayal yet just his thoughts and his betrayals. But a man has to eat he told himself, then why did his stomach ache so much? he should have wondered but this was not the time for sad thoughts. The first surge of passengers was coming through and paste his smile back he did.

Viola was tired. She had flown across seas and oceans; she had been gone for so long that she knew nothing would look the same again. She had that feeling familiar to all long gone people coming back home. A tinge of excitement ran down her  but even surer was the feeling that she had changed too much or perhaps home had. There was a fear it would be like watching a movie you liked as a child and being completely unable to relate to yourself. It was unsettling and in the pit of her stomach she was more scared than happy. This was why she sat and let the rest leave the plane first. This was why she took her bags ever so slowly as she prepared to go back into the world she had left behind. A longer preservation of the memory she held dear was needed.

Besides she wasn’t ready to face him.

Promises are kept or they are broken and that’s the way of the world. She had kept hers as best as she could but she still felt like she hadn't. Physical betrayal hurts, but it doesn’t hurt the worst. And they had their understanding, implicit as only a mental wink can be. Silent and never to be talked about. there was also the promise regarding coming back, starting a life when she was finished. It was a promise to hold things in stasis. A promise that she wouldn't change and that he wouldn’t either, a promise that when she got back they could pick it up from where it was no questions asked, no time passed, no bonds broken, no barriers unbreachable.

She sighed.

And looked around at the bubble of the airport again. The whirring of the luggage conveyors as they went round and round and round. Her thoughts swirled too. She was supposed to be happy, she supposed she was but even more she was scared.

She gripped her suitcase firmly and began walking.

The pasty smile had turned doughy now and like putty fallen away from his face. There was no frown on, not yet. He appreciated the time to think and think he did. Yes they had an agreement, unspoken but no less acquiesced to however his indiscretions were in a radius that he would walk into. Their presence in the air he breathed made it heavy, he hated that he felt guilty and he was jealous of his friends who wouldn’t and he felt jealous of her who had left behind what if any she had done far far away. If anyone would be caught it would be him and then she could magnanimously forgive him. A chance he wouldn’t have and then he would feel even smaller. The agreement was of silence after all, discretion was necessary for silence and he had not been discreet, not all the time.

Time passed.

 And then he saw her come through the doors, her bags weighed down by memories and thoughts and he left all his behind. In the end his guilt was not formed out of thin air, it was not based on empty emotion, he loved this woman and all he wanted to do was to hoist her in his arms and forget all that had happened.

She looked up and saw a look of pure joy. And she responded the way we all respond. Since childhood we are taught to treat love with love, love God because he first loved us, love our parents because they took care of us, showered us with emotion, love ourselves because… well that may be the only true love. But seeing such naked joy, such bright love on his face she responded in kind.

All her worries were washed away in a second, inside that smile and in that heart there is a way. I will it to be.

And for just a moment it was. They hugged and in that hug there was the best of everything they had left behind. The unspoken promises and the unsaid understandings, the silence of not having to speak in order to be heard. Peace and warmth. Love and peace.

“How was your trip?”   And just like that it was over. Words have a way of intruding where they are not wanted, of finding their way into places where all they can do is break things apart. The real reason for war is words, without them understanding would be possible but with them…

“It was fine”   Weariness had crept into her voice, a silent sigh. A need to speak about something more important, amnesia about the need for small talk to bridge that gap.

“Am happy to hear that, you look really tired though it must have been so long.”   In his there was a wound, a touch of pain that the sight of him couldn’t wake her up as it woke up Barb… he shook his head out of that, thinking about her right now would be a betrayal.

“Yes it was a long trip but am happy to be back, just tired.”   The stars had stopped peeking through the sky she noticed. The clouds were gathering already and it would rain as it always did here.

“It looks like rain clouds.”   She added. Fatality creeping in and making her more tired. Had she expected the very weather of home to change, had she thought just because she felt different even the sky would change.

“Either that or its their bastard son.”   He knee jerked like he always had with her. A joke that had long ago sacrificed humour on the feet of repetition but it was a memory they shared, a déjà vu and the joke wasn’t the joke. Or more rightly the smile wasn’t owed to the joke but to the memory everything was owed. To the memory that peace of a smile was owed, so why wasn’t he smiling. Why was he smirking as he said it? Why did he not even act like that deserved happiness.

“Could be its long lost daughter, she has  bumps and men, well bastards at least, don’t cry as she’s preparing to.”   A rejoinder she should have thought of a long, long time ago but that wasn’t her back then. Her back then would have flinched at the word bastard but people change.

Then he laughed, he laughed long and loud.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Across the narrow sea

This may be my favourite part of the town, the pier. Kristiansand is a beach town making it warmer than Oslo also meaning that the people have boats and places from which the boats take off. The wind here is fierce, it whips the snow into a frenzy, tiny bullets flying all over the place like an annoying corporate memo. The water that you look into is called the Skagerrak, its cold out there. Wind is cold, its annoying, its irritating and its oh so strong. When you walk along this pier you're usually wearing these heavy jackets that the wind pushes back. Walking slow motion has never been so easy. And it howls, making a mournful, soulful sound as it hurls snows at you. Maybe this is why the water looks like it has no soul, a sound that strong cannot be just elemental, it has to be spiritual too, a sound that mournful has to be meaningful.

And across this narrow sea is Denmark.

There’s a hierarchy in European countries I was told on my first week here, a hierarchy that is not disputed and has nothing to do with power, politics or economy. Depending instead on borderless travel, cost of living and absurdity. When people in Norway want to buy cheap they go to Denmark, people in Denmark go to Germany, people in Germany to Poland and it goes on each country passing the ball to another until there is nowhere to go but up.

The cost of living in Norway is huge. The formalities of going anywhere else within the Schengen bloc of countries is nil, the absurdity I will explain henceforth. Let me take the example of a bottle of liquor, a full blooded bottle; those that run to 1 litre or at least 750 ml. fondly referred to as mzinga back home. This in Norway costs 350 nok. One euro makes 7.5 nok. In Denmark it costs about 150 nok. And here lies the absurdity. The ship ticket to Denmark, the round trip-6-hour-in-total-ticket costs 50 nok. Let that sink in as I tell you that a pack of cigarettes costs 90 nok here and 30 nok in Denmark. Let it begin to be clear to you that you save money if you go to Denmark buy one pack of cigarettes let alone a bottle of liquor and come back. One pack of cigarettes.

So bright and early on Saturday morning we went on the boat. A service provided by colorline running between my town of Kristiansand and the Danish town of Hirtshals. It was the biggest boat I have ever been on. I can now without having to qualify this statement with a quick no homo confirm that it is not the motion of the ocean that matters but the size of the boat. 7 stories tall, a business class and an even more prestigious voyager class, a hold in which buses, yes buses were parked.
that's the ship.

I wasn’t there to see the boat pull up anchor but I went on the deck soon afterward. The ship moves fast and I am knot kidding. It cuts through the sea like a ship through a sea; I have no idea of any other simile that better captures this. Behind the ship in the wake of its motors is a churning of the sea water it looks like someone took detergent in their hands and mixed it in with the sea, the water looks solid but not in any complete way, a broken glass, or a mirror with a huge, huge gash. A gash so huge in a mirror so big that you can convince yourself what you are looking into is not a fault of this world but a window into another. Added to this is the feeling of seeing an actual horizon. Not that thing we have in cities and on lands which is broken every step of the way by the shadow of a tree or the barging in of a building but actual horizon. Clear and endless, disappearing into mist and mystery in the palace where the last clouds meet the end of the world. A world that at that moment looks flat as a plate, a world where you are careful as you rush because if you go to fast you could fall off.

like di caprio am on a boat!
It was a gentle passage, so slow you could almost forget you were on a ship and as the size of the ship overwhelms you don’t think you are anymore, my friend took a nap woke up and came to me,
“I think something is wrong.”
“What do you mean?”
“I can’t walk straight I feel so dizzy like am drunk”

“You think that could be because of the rocking of the ship?”

Those three hours flew by pretty fast and soon we were in the Danish town of Hirtshals.
Denmark looks different from Norway, for one thing they have this wheat grass is I guess what you would call it. Grass that looks blow dried, sun bleached hair hanging out in the sun, lounging back in the breeze of the wind. There was no snow on that day and the sun was shining which is a very important plot point come later. Another difference is the attitude towards alcohol. Norway is scared of alcohol, it is traumatised deeply by some past experience and it has this deep, deep need to keep the devils liquid out of its resident’s lips. You can only find any alcohol stronger than 6% beer in a government controlled shop called vinmonopulet which translates directly to wine monopoly. In Denmark you walk into the convenience store and the first thing you see is the liquors for sale. Granted this may only be in this Norwegian supermarket of a town, which needs some explaining…

…I don’t want to throw dirt on this town, I may miss. It’s that small. No one lives here, nobody. I got the impression that it exists as some kind of supermarket for Norwegians. Wikipedia informs me now that “The shops in Hirtshals thrive on the excessive number of especially its Norwegian visitors, who shop regularly in the small town all year long.” The reasons for this are as I have stated earlier. so they immediately display what the Norse peeps want.

We walked down the streets and we were alone. It was a pervasive aloneness a silence that wasn’t bothered by our intrusion.It wasn’t the tense silence of the library where you can just tell that people are ready to break out in song and dance and that only their willpower is holding them in check or more accurately their disapproval is holding in check those who would make noise. Here you are invited to make noise and it’s not the solemn quiet of nature, the kind of places where you speak just so that your echo is let loose but different. Speak as loud as you can, there is no one around, shout as loud as you can, no echo will return. It feels empty, the streets are, the stores are and there is almost nothing to do except…


actual pictures

My friends stopped for lunch I did not want to be financially irresponsible, so instead of lunch I bought beers with the same amount of money they used. And these were not 4.5% norge beers these were 9% Danish beers. Packing a punch in a small bottle asking to be throttled and swallowed and this I did. In the afternoon we walked toward s the pier just to sit by the sea.

A boat was playing some music and the sun was shining down on us.it was warm somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees and as I sat there I understood why people sun bask. The light caress of the rays on my face was something. theres a sight i had missed seeing more than i knew. Its that thing that comes when you close your eyes to the sun and the light peeks through your lids leaving a red stain. Its a sight as much as a feeling, its something that stretches back before humans, this warmth of the sun that yawns back to the beginning and you can't shut your eyes to such history otherwise all you'll have is a red stai...and then I just fell asleep in my winter clothes, with my Danish beer and all my cares left behind.

We woke up with hours and hours to kill, I eventually bought some liquor, something I have sorely missed. Stashed it in my bag and bought a few more beers to make the ride back by ship that much better.

We drank on the way to the ship, we drank as we waited in line variously getting into conversations about the problems that will arise when your family gets used to life in Europe and you want to return home (with a Jamaican who had the one of the closest parental relationships i have seen in a while.) talks about native American art and the reasons Americans don’t travel as much (cost is as important to this as ego.) and of course punctuated every conversation with sips of beer.

They don’t allow you to get on the boat with your beer. The reason it’s so cheap to go is that they can sell you alcohol, both at their bar and at the tax-free. So a ship captain confiscated my beer. He took it away when I had just opened it. No time to swallow, or protest, no open opportunity to chug it away and hide it in my gut, just summary execution.

So for the last Danish beer a friend and I went outside and stood in the cold. Stealing sips like schoolboys. Security came and my friend quickly said, 

“Yer we were drinking a beer but we finished it.”

They believed, they left, we drank, and got careless got caught again.

“You know you can’t drink beer here right?”
“Where’s the dustbin then?” I said chugging it all away as I took the can to the bin.