Tag: Norway


Waiting for bloody Godot must have been easier than waiting for Nizam, my life seemingly revolves around waiting and waiting never knowing if he will show up or not. In Oslo he has a very busy work schedule and an extremely troubled family life, so he ends up bouncing from one to the other and now, he also has the problem of me and my needs thrown into the frantic mix. His partner is completely against us making this film and won’t even agree meet me. I sense, not surprisingly, that this added pressure is exactly what Nizam doesn’t need right now.

Torn between getting his family life back together and making a film with me he must obviously prioritise his home life, but when he said he was taking a vacation from Oslo to see a friend in Bergen it seemed a good time to catch-up and get some filming done.

For me it was also difficult to organize, I had my own kids to care about and managed to get my mother to come down to London, which allowed me to make a flying visit to Norway. Following my night-time arrival Nizam and I just sat and drank with his bubbly Iranian friend, I didn’t want to film on the first night and hoped to do some the next day but, as usual, I found myself imprisoned in my hostel waiting for his call.

Nizam eventually rang at 5 and we met in darkness at 8pm. I’d already given up the idea of filming this beautiful city with him, and anyway he wanted to cook something before taking off to a jam-night in a local bar. I saw a glimmer of hope, maybe I could at least film a cooking scene at his friends place, but this was short lived as he asked me to stop filming, he didn’t feel up to it.

So we ate the wonderful couscous he made and hit the bar, I tried filming but he wasn’t interested so I didn’t push it. Instead I watched the scenes we could have filmed. A great conversation with a Norwegian guy in the bar about the simple life he misses in Syria, followed by lots of Norwegians drinking and partying hard and then hordes of them drunk all along the streets as we headed home with my camera still locked in its bag.

Any-time soon I’m supposed to sign contracts with a German agent to sell this film, a film already commissioned by the BBC, nearly commissioned by the Japanese, and with a possibility of Norwegian TV coming on board too. Now I wonder what to do, do I push someone who isn’t interested in being filmed anymore, do I continue to try and convince Nizam of why he should be filmed, why it mattered to him and to me, or should I just cut my losses and call it a day?

A better life

I met a British guy at the bar in Gatwick banging back a few cheap beers before heading ‘home’ to Norway. Dave was big in IT in the UK but can’t do it in Norway without speaking the language so now he works as a chef in Oslo. In his early 30s, and planning to have kids, Norway seems the dream place, the place to be, he said “Norway charts highest in the world as one of the best places to live”.

He left for Oslo and the noisy kitchens and I left for Bergen to meet Nizam on his well deserved vacation following a mad 2 months of solid work. In my mind Bergen is far more beautiful than Oslo and thankfully nowhere near as cold. Nizam is staying with an Iranian friend who studies architecture here.

She shares the same dilemmas as Nizam about where her ‘home’ is today. She wants to go back to Iran but must stay another couple of years in Norway before her passport is approved. Waiting is hard she tells me, before adding, “Sometimes I wonder what it is I’m waiting for”. Nizam looks subdued, tired after 6 hours on the train from Oslo.

They both struggle with the pressure of maintaining the good life. They seem as lonely as I feel when I’m here. A sense of not really belonging but of merely surviving.

I think back to Dave banging down his beer in Gatwick airport, I gave him my number to have a pint in Oslo sometime. He was excited, “You know it can get lonely out there, I really miss having someone to drink with” then he necked a double vodka and raced to catch his plane.

-18 in Oslo

The misery around me is snow and ice. I slip with my heavy bag, why is no one else slipping? I’m clearly the newcomer here, my first time in temperatures of -18. “Welcome to Norway, Sean my dear” – It’s great to hear Nizam’s voice again even if it is only on my answerphone – but it is impossible to comprehend how he can tolerate this cold. How did the ‘Road to Damascus’ lead us here?

I’m freezing. My ears worst, then my nose. My nose runs a little bit, and then it freezes on some nose hair. A brave painful tug removes the tiny snot ridden icicle. A homeless guy sits staring at me. How can he sit there in this weather?

I continue delicately making my way down a dirty public staircase. Is this the clean Norway life Nizam told me about? I spot a film of oil that makes beautiful colours down the dirty stairs, oil can’t freeze I tell myself, then it dawns on me that this is another oil rich nation I have found myself in, just like Iraq, Iraqi’s always blame the oil for the war – ‘We had to share it with the American’s’ – but here in Norway it’s peaceful. Why don’t they have to share their oil with the Americans? Maybe Norway will be invaded next? I doubt it; Norway is far too cold for American GI’s.

With a tiny population of only 5 million Norway is one of richest countries in the world. I am always fascinated where the oil money goes and how it reaches the people. The oil money goes to provide better social services I am told, that is why immigrants want to come here they say. People will always follow the money I reply, it is the natural way of things.

I pass some prostitutes standing in the freezing cold outside of my hostel, I refuse to imagine how can they have sex in this weather, as I climb the stairs again and disappear into my room to wait for Nizam.

The Damascus conversion

High up on the mountainside we are charmed by the panoramic view of Damascus city by night. This is the most popular tourist stop for bus-loads of tourists and for those Syrians wealthy enough to afford the prices. I’m getting some great landscape shots when a SMS arrives on my phone, it is from Nizam’s wife, she can’t contact him directly since he lost his own phone so she is texting me. It is in Norwegian, I tell him to read it to me, the message says “Let us talk tonight on Skype at 11pm”.

Nizam is thinking deeply about his life in Norway and his love for the magnificent illuminated city that shimmers below… his distant home. I can see his mind hard at work as he looks down into the streets where he spent his childhood, floods of memories; a life that was lost when his mother took him and her family away. “I like Norway and have no regrets about going there. I learned a lot but now I feel something is missing”. Later that night I leave Nizam locked in an intense dialogue with his wife.

In the morning we drink Arabic coffee under the sun, “I think I had my Damascus conversion” Nizam suddenly announces, “It was your blog that did it St Sean, it opened up a new dialogue with my wife, I talked about her and my daughter moving back here and she was open to the idea. I love this country I really want to make a go for it here with my family. We could spend the winter here and the great summers in Norway”.

The hotel attendant joins us. “What are you filming for?” Nizam tells him of our road to Damascus, explaining how he has been a disciple to St Sean’s journey. The attendant holds up his hands and says “St Sean I want to be one of your disciples too, I will look after Damascus when you are gone”. Thank you I say, you have my blessing. “But what is the message?” he asks. “The message is there is no message”, I tell him. He looks bemused for a moment, smiles and agrees. “Ok” he says, “There is no message”.

How easy it is to get a following in this ancient biblical land I think to myself.