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.
Woke this morning by a bomb blast, 8.30. Turn on the news and wait to hear what is was. 22 minutes later I find out that a suicide-bomber tried killing a Government minister but ended up killing 4 of his guards. I go for a swim to remove myself from the war zone, then to a shop outside our heavily guarded hotel complex. The shopkeeper is a friendly 27 year old with a good command of English. I am looking for Lurpak butter but he has just sold out. The great thing about newly liberated Iraq are the imports never seen before, luxuries like Lurpak. I fancy mash and beans for lunch despite the horrendous heat. I’d seen baked beans about somewhere but couldn’t remember where. I make do with processed peas. The shop-owner wants a girl friend. I tell him of the Iraqi girls I’d seen swimming in the hotel pool, “No I want English girl” he says. He starts drawing a diagram to help explain to me that 95 % of Iraqi’s don’t have sex before marriage and the 5% that do are dirty. “Are they prostitutes?” I ask.. “Yes” he says and shakes his head disapprovingly. We are interrupted by a man who enters holding a piece of paper. The man doesn’t speak. The shop owner hands the man 500 dinar, about 20p, the man nods and leaves. The shop owner tells me that the man can’t speak, he had his tongue cut out for speaking against Saddam. I watch the man wander outside looking for his next call of charity. I pause to think about what this man may have said to receive such a punishment. He looks destroyed, destitute and helpless. Whatever he said, this form of punishment has finished this human being. Perhaps he was a brave man that once stood-up and spoke-out against the tyranny of Saddam, when everyone else was so scared to even think bad things against him. Or maybe he’d lost it one night and swore against Saddam in a rage, a neighbour overheard him and grassed him up to the intelligence. Whatever it was, I had an admiration for him and a sadness. I watched as he strolled off in his well dressed suit looking for more charity. The shop owner tells me that his father was killed on the front line in the Iran war when he was 7. As the oldest child in a family of 4 he took on the fatherly responsibilities to look after his family. We return to my dilemma about finding Lurpak butter, he tells me to try the store next door. Next door they only have Iraqi butter, I am eager to try it. It cost 30p. I go back to my room and mash my potatoes, dropping huge dollops of Iraqi butter into it and it tastes fantastic. As I eat I can’t stop thinking of the man with no tongue. Sometimes, almost by accident you come across the brutality that ruled this land for far too long and you see the reality of what Saddam has done. I feel awkward about the war but happy that this monster has gone. The shop-keeper who was so happy about the war despite the chaos today told me “Bush deserves a place in heaven, he got rid of Saddam. The Americans can have all the oil they want.”