Letter from Norway

Dear Eskanza,

I hope that this finds you well. Let me begin by apologizing for taking so long before getting in touch with you. To be honest, I cannot even remember when we last talked. For that reason, I’ve chosen to deliberately put pen on paper so as to reach you my dear friend… But then, this is not an apology letter but an update; a small way of bringing you up to speed on what has exactly ensued since we last talked. I have vivid memories of the last encounters we had together prior to my flying to Norway and truly speaking, it was difficult for both of us. I was even more confused when I considered the possibility of not seeing such a dear and caring friend like you for over two moths, let alone the actual ten months. I know that while I was there, I kept posing as being strong, but the fact of the matter is that I was just as shaken as you were. What kept me going is the assurance that the Lord who had begun the good work in me would ultimately bring it to completion. And so the new adventure began…

I have a lot to tell you but time doesn’t allow. Neither does the space for scribbling permit. So, I will just get into the meat of my writing. I truly had an adventurous journey to Norway from Kenya with lots of new experiences; most of which are still fresh in my mind. Over here, there have been quite many different realities ranging from the culture to the language, to the people and manner of behavior. So, in this short letter, I’ll endeavor to highlight some of the highlights that have helped define my moments in a new context.

Let me begin from the very beginning! Writing had become my new-found pass-time hobby, and I loved it. But then, in the past four months I have been very lazy! Just taking time to sit down and write something has become a great challenge. As such, what I am doing right now has taken both courage and dedication on my part. That having been said, it is also worth noting that writing has never been easy! It is usually the taking of the time to put thoughts on paper in the form of legible and comprehensible words that remains to be a very slippery concept. It always comes with the mammoth task of sifting out what to include and what not to. A time span like the one I am considering could easily take days of narration and upload of pictures. So, pardon me when the ideas and issues I include don’t seem duly congruent! 🙂

I am now seated in one of the favorite rooms for most of my colleagues at Hald called the “internationals office”. This room is so-called because it is where nearly all the non-Norwegian students gathered whenever they needed to use the internet. It has about nine desktop computers; all quite fast and easy to use. This is the place where movies could be watched, songs played and chats held. It wasn’t a wonder to miss seeing students everywhere else, and find them waiting on each other to have some computer time in this room. It is where most internationals could connect; resulting in a number of alliances! 😉 This was, however, the case in the fall course. Now, in the spring course, the room has become notably deserted. Most of its former diligent users have gotten gadgets that suffice in its place! I am, therefore, glad to inform you that I am penning to you in the secrecy of solitude…

Norway is a diverse country with lots of different things to experience. While here, I have had opportunities to go out for camps with children ranging from 10 to 15 years. And I have loved what I have seen. The children here not only have rights but they are also aware of them. A child knows how to ask for what is deservingly theirs. It is not shocking for a child to ask some very direct yet genuine questions! There is a serious commitment in the education system to ensure that the children get to know their dues, and learn how to ask for them in the event that they are infringed upon. In addition to that, they duly have all the “toys” that they desire. In this case, it is vital to note that “toys” may not have a similar meaning as that in Kenya. Whereas an iPhone is considered great an achievement that takes both planning and dedication, it is simply a “toy” that a child as young as 10 years could have. But that’s not the point for raising this issue. I actually wanted to highlight the care and concern that is evident from the parents to their children. It’s quite noteworthy that every child is either personally brought to the camp or dropped at the nearest public transport pick-up point. It is done very personally! And I love this!

Time is very central in this society. Nearly everything is given in terms of time. If someone is to tell you how far a place is, it will not be strange to hear them say something like “It is five minutes drive away or thirty minutes walking!” The system of time is so integrated in the people such that the bus goes not because it is full but because the time has come. It was a shock and a concern at first for me to observe many buses on the road from one stop to the next without any passengers! I thought this might be very insolent until I listened to the reasoning… The argument for this is that, people operate on time! If the driver chose to stay at one stop waiting for more people, he’d most likely interfere with another person’s time most likely in the next stop… I must attest that this was not easy to integrate into my Kenyan way of thinking, but am glad to state that I have learnt both through experience and observation… Running after the bus and the train; or even ultimately missing them marked a great deal of my rough and solid exposure to the time system. 😉

It will definitely be an injustice of great magnitude for me to talk about Norway and not mention the beauty that comes with the most amazing landscapes. This land has an outstanding display of fjords, beautiful numerous mountains, a wonderful presence of the ocean and other water bodies including lakes and rivers, many swamps and a vast forest cover. I think I have not been to a place with such a very large forest cover as it is here in Norway. All these put together see to it that Norway stands out as one of the most beautiful places especially when there is just enough sun to ensure that everything sparkles in its own way and nature! I guess this explains the outdoors culture amongst the Norwegian people. It is truly inevitable to resist going out to enjoy such a spectacle… 😉 SAM_0527

It is in Norway that I have come face to face with the reality of seasons. I have now gone through nearly the whole cycle of four seasons and I have loved it. It is one outstanding display of natural diversity. It is great to see the various transitions from the summer to the autumn to the winter, then to the spring and finally back to the summer again. Varied things keep  taking place as I mentioned in my earlier blog on seasons. I have gone through the last phase of the brightness and illumination of the summer; the yellow-ness and shedding of the fall; the darkness, cold and snow of the winter, and now experiencing the amazing budding and bloom of the spring. Of all these seasons, the winter can be quite a crazy season! It can be very fun going out skiing or ice-skating but also very dark at times with only about two hours of the sun in some places… And people tend to be more indoors; so if one has no friends, they could end up being so lonely and depressed! It takes a lot of courage for one to remain afloat in this season. What fascinated me is when the clock is adjusted one hour back in the advent of the winter and readjusted back in the spring… It is a technical borrowing of an hour and repaying it back afterwards… 😉 This comes at a price that one has to pay namely sleeping more when you get an additional hour but then having to sleep an hour less when it is taken back… 🙂

I still remember that you had a heart for pets, especially the kitty that you kept for three years. It is with this in mind that I think it may suffice to mention that pets are quite significant in this society. For those who keep them, they have a personal touch, definitely more than you had with your own. The pets here are considered “part of the family”! They have rights! I was shocked to realize from part of the legislations that if “one keeps a dog, they must take it out for walks.” It is, therefore, a responsibility to keep a pet and it is a bit different! There are not many mice or rats for the cat to chase over here 🙂 I wouldn’t be surprised if some of the cats didn’t even know how to hunt! 😉

I now realize that my time has really run out; and now that time always keeps going in this society, I have to go. I am a bit sleepy at the moment and need to catch a wink of sleep so that I don’t start writing gibberish to you! Pass my kindest regards to all our mutual friends and acquaintances. Special kindness to Towa, our very funny colleague; I still remember his infectious smile and big heart. I can’t forget my lovely brothers and friends, Gesi, Gewa and Danga; please give them much regards. Inform them that I still remember about our deal and I am looking forward to meeting them in person. I also heard that my neighbour June gave birth to a bouncing baby girl! That’s so awesome; it broke the rumors that had started going round and am really glad for them. I hope to see the child soon too! And of course, my mother; this amazing diligent woman! Give her a big hug for me and remind her of how grateful I am for her upbringing! Everything she did has not and won’t go to waste at all…  Assure her that I am still in the business of becoming a better me as per what she taught me. To sum it all up, don’t forget my one and only sister. As you see her, please look her directly in the eyes and tell her that am proud of her. Not forgetting my father! Let him know that he is still good at what he does; and he should keep doing so. Assure everyone that God-willing, I am coming soon!

Yours sincerely,
Simiyu.

Fitting into the new culture

A new culture is more like an adventure; a totally new experience, one that needs to be taken one step at a time. It can be a moment to shake a person to the core with its many shocks that come courtesy of the obvious yet new cultural differences. It could also be a moment full of joy especially with the realization of how expeditious it can be. That having been said, I must attest that fitting in can be quite a task! So, in the endeavor to find a place in this amazing Norwegian culture, I have had to become a baby again. I know this sounds hilarious but to say the least, that is the best that one can ever do… 😉

Some of the things I have had to take part in sound easy but to say the least, they take both energy and courage. And I am grateful to everyone that has made this possible. Here is a preview of some of them:

  1. The language: It is said that language is the key to any culture! This is true to the letter. Inasmuch as English is a language that is readily used in most of the activities and encounters I’ve had, taking a step of learning a new language is quite an experience. Så snakke jeg litt norsk nå (So, I now speak a little Norwegian)! I have practically noted that acquainting with a new language takes a lot of practice and determination. It has been an undeniable difficulty especially when it comes to pronouncing some particular letters that are not found in English. I, however, don’t regret trying out a few words every now and then. It has been quite periodic but I can now understand most conversations especially when they are said slowly. But then, what can one do if everything you’re doing involves that very new and estranged language! 🙂
  2. Meet new people: After trying out the language, it is always good to know the very users of the language. It has been a memorable journey just meeting new people; getting to introduce myself and making follow-ups. This may seem an easy step but it oozes every bit of your creativity especially if you are to remain reliably relevant. This has usually ended up being accompanied by an invitation for a cup of coffee, tea or chocolate (commonly called “kakao“) and/or dinner. Being Kenyan, preparing a Kenyan delicacy has also been a plus. And truly most of the Norwegians love these very simple kind gestures of concern and care. 
  3. Cabin trips: I have tried out cabin trips and I have loved them. They have become part of my favorites. Just going out to a place where you can be away from all the “destructions” and have a time to know each other more. They create an opportunity to interact closely but also to get to appreciate each other’s strengths. I love those cabins that are far in the woods and without many aspects of modernity like electricity; because they are more serene. Jeg liker å gå på hytteturer (I like to go for cabin trips). Getting to use my sleeping bag is also quite exhilarating!!!
  4. Play games: Most of the student fraternity loves games of different kinds. It is undeniable that to become effective in such a student culture, one has to try out some of these games. So, I have had a strong and lasting attempt at various games including card games like normal cards and ligretto; board games like chess and “Ticket to ride”; outdoor games like football, volleyball and most recently, frisbee. All these have not only created an atmosphere of getting to fit in but also getting to improve on my own personal fitness… 😉

It is indeed a joy getting to live in such a new culture and it is continually a journey that I have kept encountering varied realities. And the fascination continues…

Uniqueness in diversity

It is often interestingly sad to note how many people always confuse and negate the importance and place of diversity in our lives. Most people, from interactions, think that diversity is a bad thing! Well, today I want to attempt to demystify this very central reality. It is actually true that we ourselves are a true picture of diversity. We have bodies that have various parts, each of which is adapted to a different distinct function. The functionality of the respective parts cannot be similar because that is simply not what they were made for. In our natural design, we depict diversity. Yet there is a lot of unity in the way all the parts work together to fulfill the general good of the body as a whole. Whenever there is a problem with any part of the body, the entire system is wired such that it “stops” to ensure that everything is done to alleviate the issue and bring the whole of the body back to optimal functionality. And the body has an amazing way of  readjusting itself. It operates in such a way that every anomaly detected has to be acted upon with the necessary solution on the way… That’s why you hear that someone is not feeling well; and then they have to get rest or some prescription. Once this is done, one gets better and the whole body system comes back to normalcy again.

uniqueWhen I went to University back in Kenya, we defined the university as a place where there is “unity in diversity”. That may have become the closest that I have experienced and appreciated of how similar we are yet very far distant from one another. For instance, we were students from all walks of life and had simply come there for study. Thus, the central reality is that we were students pursuing varied fields of study; yet we had different stories that defined us. There were those who were from extremely rich families, those from the middle class and those from extremely poor backgrounds. One interesting thing though is that no one could tell the background of someone just by looking at their faces without getting to know them. And so, the students had a way of communication; a manner in which only they could understand; hence their similarities. They could appreciate the academic frustrations that they were going through; and could connive together to get a way out fighting a common enemy. At the same time, they all had different ways of thinking… All of these students remain to be unique in their own ways achieving their different goals and objectives at the end of their tenures at the institution of higher learning.

Looking at God Himself; we see diversity. That very God who exists in three with each person of the Trinity playing a significant role in our lives yet solidly one! The Genesis 1 account shows that He created lots of animals; all of different kinds. The trees were also of different kinds; there are no two things that He made which were basically the same. And even in creating man; He had to create female and male, different yet equal before Him. That should at least say something to us about the place of diversity in His kingdom.

In His quest to reach out to His people, God used different people with different endowments to fulfill His purposes. He used Moses, a stammerer, yet a great leader, a person with great humility and patience… He reached out to Abraham, a polytheists, yet a man with great faith, from Him we get all the nations. That is why Abraham is the father of the nations. He used Joseph, a showy young timid man, yet a great planner and orderly strategist, who saved the whole of the known world then. He uses Rahab, a harlot to save Israel’s spies. And this woman appears in the lineage of the Savior of the world!! 🙂 God surely has a great sense of humor!! He did not only use the strong but also used the weak. Actually in His ways, He kept contravening the norms of man. He set a mark of quality on those things that seemed unqualified in the eyes of man!! Thus, He shows that all people are necessary in His Kingdom. He uses all; and does not discriminate. If anything, He chooses those He desires; yet ensures that diversity is kept and maintained.

diversityGod doesn’t expect us to be the same. He actually expects us to be ourselves so as to fully accomplish the plans that He has for each of us. In Him we get to be ourselves! And that is best achieved by stopping the business of wanting to be other people. If only we could look deeper and see the great treasures that He has endowed us with. We have so much; that if we only knew, then we won’t be so much amassed in the comparison sequel. We will actually not look up to the celebrities to set the agenda in the fashion world but instead we’ll choose to remain distinct. We won’t be so taken up by the trends in the movie world; speaking like the entertainment bigwigs and stars, but just be ourselves. I think it is much better to become a carpenter and a great carpenter than to become an engineer and a struggling engineer. Why frustrate myself with the thoughts that won’t necessarily lead me to getting fully fulfilled?

I like the quote in a movie Coach Carter that “Our greatest fear is not that we are inadequate; our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure”. And this is true; we are able to do so much, and we have the power within us. Paul says that he “can do all things through Christ who gives us strength” (Philippians 4.13). And furthermore, He is able to “do immeasurably more than we could ask or think, according to His power that is at work within us!” (Ephesians 3:20). We have this power at work within us; let us go out and keep shining, releasing the very light we were created to release. And let’s blossom even the more…

I am Kenyan

Being in a different country can be quite difficult and frustrating to say the least. To fit in becomes the only option. But blending in can actually be at the cost of losing your own identity; becoming something that you are not. It is so easy to start behaving like your new contacts, to begin thinking like them, and arguing similarly. While all these things are adorable and desirable, there comes a limit which one is not supposed to exceed because then one loses themselves. And I guess that is one of the extremities of engaging cross-cultural exchanges and/or activities. They could subject you to another dimension that if you don’t have a sober mind in, you could easily fall into the pit of becoming a copy of yourself. For instance I know that I am Kenyan, and yet I am in Norway. In the quest to fit in, it is quite easy to simply put myself aside and start adapting to the new way of life. But being a good student of culture, it is imperative that I learn as I teach at the same time. And learning doesn’t mean changing your entire self; it simply means observing with appreciative eyes and deciphering what is different and what can be picked knowing what needs to be discarded.

The only time that people will be regard you as being a true student; and even enjoy your company as you penetrate their territory is if they know they can also learn something from you. In fact one of the things I have learnt and noted over the past several months while in Norway is that I have ended up learning more about myself and my country!! This is because everywhere I go, most Norwegians and the people I meet are interested to know more about my country and my origin. This has meant that I end up speaking more about my country than I had ever expected.

Thus, to keep up the acknowledgement of my own country and my origin, I have adapted some precautions. These precautions only go ahead to aid me in being authentic as I present myself and represent my country in this new land….

1. The Kenyan flag: I have hung up my national flag on the wall so that everyday I wake up, I can always see it. This is to remind me of my country and what I should stand for. Every time I see the four distinct colors and the notable shield and spears at the center, my country’s entire history gets refreshed in me all over again. And I must say that with this, I have begun appreciating how beautiful our flag is; with an amazing blend of colors. And I have discovered how rich our history is. 😉

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Amazed at my origin

2. The Kenyan food: I guess I should say that my coming out of Kenya has really made me love and appreciate my Kenyan food more. It is true that getting used to a new system of eating can be quite a daunting task. In this breathe, and having been formerly informed of the importance of carrying some bit of Kenyan foodstuff, I packed a few things like coffee and tea. And for my Kenyan roots and nature, I couldn’t forget some unga (maize meal) for ugali (a special Kenyan delicacy). Other things like sugar, salt and sossi soya just found their way in my luggage. I must attest that these things have really come in handy… There is nothing as sweet as tasting your local food in a foreign land! 😀

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Kenyan salt, maize meal and sugar

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A blend of some Kenyan beverages

3. The language: Language is one very essential element of any culture. Coming to Norway has opened me to the beauty of loving my own mother tongue. Therefore, every time I call back home, I endeavor to speak in my own native Luhya language (I have sufficient proof that this is not a dialect, but an entire language!!). And in Trondheim, I have made it a practice to always speak some Sheng and Swahili with my teammate. I have kept learning more in these languages and taking more pride in their distinctness. I have also found out that speaking English with my Kenyan accent (Oh yes, I also have some accent!!) is quite refreshing. It has been very original and given me a sense of pride for my rich origin. I, thus, have not been trying to speak any differently…. 🙂

4. Kenyan Music: Whereas I need to learn Norwegian by listening to Norwegian music, I have found my greatest inspiration coming from the music that I was listening to while back in Kenya. I have also kept track of the progress in the Kenyan music; thus ensuring that I am up to date and continually uplifted. It has been quite uplifting listening to Christina Shusho (I know she is Tanzanian!!), Sarah K., Reuben Kigame, Paul Mwai, and at times, when in need of being contemporary, getting hold of Juliani and Kanjii Mbugua! These simply give me a real Kenyan touch…

5. Kenyan shows: It is inevitable to lose track of all I used to watch while in Kenya. So, when in need of a Kenyan laughter, I have been enjoying the Kenyan jokes. And this has been made possible by watching comedy shows like Churchill show, Churchill raw, Offside, and Kenya Kona. 🙂 To keep up with the political flips, I have been watching news satire features like Flipside, Truthmeter and Bull’s eye. Not forgetting the amazing TPF, for the love of the East African progress in the music industry.

6. Kenyan news: To know what is happening back in my motherland, I have been reading from the online Kenyan dailies and keenly checking the newsroom tweets and Facebook updates. This has ensured that I am apprised and that I can always be at par with my fellow Kenyan fraternity. 

7. Connecting back home: Given that I am human, I am truly not an island! As such, I need to interact with others because I am a very social being… 😉 And there are those moments when chatting with friends and family back home is just the only option.Getting to hear them “verbalize” what is going on and just to know that they are well is quite inspiring. It has been a great boost every time I talk with friends back home whether on Facebook, on phone or via Skype. It has become my weekly endeavor to ensure that I connect with both family and friends; a people who form a very essential part of my life.

8. Time with my teammate: Coming from the same country gives us a lot to share. To tap more from this encounter, both of us have purposed and agreed that we meet every week for a debrief. In this, we keep it natural and just talk… This really helps. It is through a teammate that somebody gets to know if they are changing; which is a good way of raising a red flag about stuff!

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My teammate and I on an AtB bus

What more can I say but to simply declare that I am Kenyan and I am proudly so.