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.
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.