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.
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.