On the way to Urnes stavekirke May 2009…
The inherent quality of memories is that they fade away and unfortunately the good memories too. You forget the experience and only the memory is stuck with you for a while which in years might be deleted too. I fear that to happen about some stories and experiences of my stay in Norway and that is why I had to pen them down. Though I would never forget the beautiful people I met there, I can’t afford to forget the details of the place and the wonderful experiences.
Going to Norway was my second move from my homeland India, after studying in the US. It felt exciting, challenging and nerve-wracking all at the same time.
The first thing that struck me there was the beautiful nature. In almost three years, it never stopped stunning me. By and far, it is the country with the most, rather almost overflowing natural beauty, I have ever seen. Also, you don’t get to stay besides a huge waterfall a lot of times in your life…
Every season in Norway had its own charm and enchanting beauty. I don’t remember too many days that went without the discussion about weather, owing to its uncertainty and our dependence on it, of course!
Summer brought aai-baba. Those days when aai-baba visited me in summer, we used to sit in the balcony, listening to the gushing sound of the waterfall, reading books and sipping a glass of cold beverage. The trips to other waterfalls, the walks in the town, the continuous hangout for friends owing to the expert chef at home (of course mom) and the happiness of gathering great moments with aai and baba was priceless. And the fun of sipping coffee in the sun at 12 in the night is indescribable.
Then came the fall with beautiful color changes, though this season also reduced the force of waterfalls from mountain. The daylight became more normal. Sometimes it was rainy and sometimes it was just as nice as summer. It brought the news of the coming winter. After the long summer days where you wanted to be active all the time, fall provided the respite.
Then sneaked in the winter season. In the beginning of this season, you want to distract yourself from the menacing winter, which is just bitter and brown. So this brought a lot of dinners with friends and indoor sports, mostly in an almost futile attempt to forget the weather and the lack of sunlight which vanishes in October and is a waiting period for the skiing season and the white winter season to start.
Then came the brighter winter, which many say is the only stable season in Norway. It brings lots of beautiful snow. The trees turn from green in summer, to red-yellow in fall, to brown, to fairytale white in this time. Though the sunlight is virtually non-existent it is a time to rejoice and also Christmas time. I always took liberty to get a quick vitamin D boost in this time by traveling a few thousand miles to India.
Then came the spring. For me, the name itself rang some bells in my head, of happiness and upcoming fun. Easter brought my angel to me. It is the time that I feel that Norway’s nature is at its most beautiful. My first experience of ‘skiing in the sun’ came last Easter when we went there over-prepared with clothes, and eventually ended up skiing virtually on t-shirts. Skiing was one thing I definitely wanted to pick-up from Norway. I took the first steps towards it when I was there and I think it has stuck with me for a long time.
I was thinking that I should talk about people before nature. But Norwegians are nature-people. So talking about people without talking about nature would be really difficult. Norwegian lifestyle, owing to the unlimited richness of nature, is characterized accordingly. It has abundance of activities around nature, may it be kayaking, hiking, biking, glacier walking, sailing, rafting, orienteering (It’s a kind of treasure hunt but in mountains or forests where you are left with a compass and a map) in summer and most people would do multiple of these. It’s not unusual to see fit grandmas aged 85 years walking past you when you are trying to catch your breath. The fresh air for years and the adventurous nature has filled their lungs with overflowing energy. Non-sports activities like taking boat trips to small summer towns (places which are used only in summer, winter the population reduces by 90 % or so), fjord trips and the visiting stunning wooden churches from 11th-12th centuries is quite common too. Winter is the most desired and the longest time of the year. Plethora of activities spring up. It depends on your will and adventurous spirits what stage you want to go. I was, this year at least, satisfied just watching Norway take one medal after the other in winter Olympics. But cross-country skiing, downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, hunting, ski jumping at different adventure levels can be found everywhere.
I have great memories of when I first put the skis on and had the reaction of ‘why are they so slippery?’ and of course the answer I got was ‘they are supposed to be’. Believe it or not my Danish colleague and Scottish colleague were the once who actually gave me the first lessons. In Norway, Danish are generally mocked in a friendly way for their lack of skiing skills due to their flat topology back home and obvious lack of snow. But my friend is a complete exception, even if we take the previous statement as rule. The very first thing I learnt was ‘how to fall properly’. On reflection, it feels like I learnt much more than just the technique of falling. Once that was through, it was more walking than skiing, then slowly I graduated to skiing on hills (back then even a one meter bump seemed like a hill), then I finally graduated to a bigger version of hill with my limited cross-country skills. It’s amazing to take moon-lit tours on skis, that feeling of eternity is marvelous. That is the closest I have felt to flying.
Of course all these experiences wouldn’t have been as beautiful as they were without my friends and colleagues there. I met amazing people in Norway. Of course, everywhere you have good and bad experiences. But that also shows you the value of the good. And I met a lot of really nice souls. The work-life balance, the simplicity of life, the equality of men and women, the dignity of labor, modesty, largely minimalistic way of living instead of being prosperous, and their closeness to nature were the key factors in these people. I have met some of the most kind people I have ever seen in Norway. Though they are shy in the beginning, once they are your friend, they are friends for lifetime.
I felt great being surrounded by virtually the whole world, owing to the extremely diverse group we had. I always refrained from generalizing Indian people and putting my stereotype in their minds being the only Indian there and for many people the first they had met. The discussions were always a lot of fun and everyone shared their own perspectives on their homeland. The discussions transcended from countries to cultures to current issues, personalities to our common point of contact, aluminium industry. There was never a dearth of topics, personal, local or widespread. The food we ended up making also was diverse to the power infinity. Here also, I refrained from calling it Indian food, I used to call it ‘my Indian food’ (meaning my version, not the real tasty one). One thing I didn’t want to miss here was the festivals I was used to celebrating. I created such a hoopla about Diwali in the first year that from the second year, I used to get wishes from my colleagues on Diwali (it was of course working day for me), and then I used to call my friends for evening dinner. Had quite fun Diwali celebrations there around people who had very less idea what they were celebrating but enjoying it anyway.
Living in Årdal, was more cultural experience than I thought it would be when I entered this small town in Norway with 6000 population.
Living in Norway, in totality, was a big learning experience for me. And blessed as I was, it was with some really nice people around. When you live outside your own country, you carry a nostalgia of not being able to share your emotions with your family and real close friends back home, of missing the little pats on the back or hugs from them, of missing the festivals you have celebrated as a child, of having this instant connection just because of the fact that you belong to the same country. But in my stay in Norway, it felt like I was taken in very delicately and I never realized when it became a part of me.