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.

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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…

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.

Christmas in diaspora

In the just ended year, I got the privilege of celebrating Christmas away from home; but in the company of a loving family. I had to commemorate this phenomenal day in a far land; one that is full of memories worth clinging to. Well, I joined Kristian Lowzow’s family for this important festivity in Mortensrud, Oslo. Kristian is a third year student at NTNU pursuing Building engineering. He also doubles up as one of my amazing housemates; and we have truly had our moments (that’s a story for another day)! 🙂 Well, my journey began on 22nd when I had to take a train from Trondheim to Oslo; where I had a few difficulties that resulted in a two-hour delay (this meant arriving past 11pm in the night!). 🙂 I was really humbled to be warmly received by every member of the Lowzow family to their home (despite my lateness!). This was just the beginning of a great and memorable time… 😀

To best capture my julestemning (Christmas experience), I will elaborate on two main facts about Christmas in Norway as indicated below: 

Christmas is a time for family

The Lowzow family wasn’t left behind in this. They were all there; alive and happy! Both parents and the three children were present. This time, they had the holistic task of hosting me; their mormor (maternal grandma) and onkelsfamilie (uncle’s family). It was a time to blend and catch up on various happenings in each of their lives. To better capture this, every family usually does a julebrev (Christmas newsletter). In this newsletter, they enshrine all their highlights for the year; and then send them to other families and friends.

When together, we played various games which incorporated a good part of the family members. While some went for online chess, some took on actual chess. I loved watching men play this; but also attempting this game of the mind. 😉 With time on our side, we kept trying out new games; and it was an outstanding experience!!

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A game of chess to refresh minds

We had moments of talking; and my favorite was when I engaged with mormor on several issues. She kept reminding me of my grandma back in Kenya; both in her vastness of knowledge and willingness to share. And the fact that she could still speak good English despite her deteriorating hearing was duly inspiring.

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Having a talk with mormor

And did I mention my time with Liv Tone; a young 15 year-old Kristiansen daughter! She is an amazing girl with a keen eye on details. She kept engaging me with a high level of innocence on facts about Kenya. This made me upbeat; ready to answer as many questions as possible. And I loved it!!

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In the company of two amazing Livs

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With part of the Kristiansen family

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With the Lowzow family after Christmas

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Attempting journalism on Hanne

Christmas is a time to reminisce traditions

Norway has lots of traditions, just like any other place, on Christmas. With the help of the all-humorous uncle, Thor Kristiansen, we defined tradition as “anything one does for more than two times in the same way…”

1. The advent

This is the period that marks the beginning of Christmas in Norway. It lasts for approximately four weeks before the Christmas eve (juleaften). It is marked all over Norway by erecting Christmas trees in city centers, work places, and churches. There are lighting decorations that are set up in the cities just to indicate the arrival of the year’s most important celebration. In every home four candles are lit; one for every week in cumulative way. This is done in such a way that at the end of it all, the one lit in the first week is shortest and the one in the fourth week is longest. These candles are lit every time the families meet for meals at the dining tables. Furthermore, at the window of every home, there shall be a star (usually electrical) lit to indicate the star that led the wise men from the East to Jesus birthplace. What is remarkable is that this is marked all over Norway. Throughout the advent period, there is a gift calendar with a gift every day before the D-day. It is an unsaid rule that one should not open any of the calendar gifts before the day is due… 🙂

Shopping is done in massive amounts. Thus, people get to fill up their fridges and shopping baskets before the craze on the Christmas eve. Interestingly, the prices are not so bad!!! It is during the advent; or thereabout, that most people get to purchase Christmas gifts for their loved ones. The entire shopping malls, just like in most other places, are clothed in red…

2.  Pepperkaker

These are simply gingerbread cookies and are made in readiness for Christmas. These are prepared from a ready-made kind of dough; one that is bought awaiting being shaped and baked. Afterwards, various things can be made including houses, angels, animals… We couldn’t resist making some ginger breads; and here are some findings!! 🙂 

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The process of making pepperkake house

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The pepperkake house

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The curiosity of the cat

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With mormor and Marie

3. The Christmas tree

A Christmas tree is set up and well decorated. It is strategically placed for both decor and aesthetics.

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Final touches on the tree

And then there is the going round the tree with song, dance and any possible creative activity. It was really awesome to go for push-ups as part of the activities!!! 😉 I apparently enjoyed this especially the fact that everyone goes round regardless of age or size!! We sang lots of Christmas songs; most of which I simply hummed at (for lack of knowledge); but joined in on the moves…

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Going round the tree singing

4. Entertainment

It is interesting to note that the Norwegian national TV station (NRK) always plays some specific programs and movies during the Christmas period over and over the years. It is thus, common for most families (at least from what I have heard and seen) to gather in their living rooms and watch clips like “Dinner for one”; and for girls, to watch a Cinderella tale named “Tre nøtter til Askepott“. The movie is a poorly dubbed movie that is entirely in Czech with a singular voice translating it to English. It is said to be most loved as it brings the Christmas feeling… To appreciate this more is the fact that the dinner clip and Askepott movie are played at specific times (9pm on 23rd and 11am on 24th respectively).

5. Gifts

Who doesn’t love the sound of a gift? Just like everyone loves to have a gift; Norwegians are no exception. The gifts fully comprise Christmas. It is expected that every person buys a gift for the other. Thus, every family member gets a gift. No big deal with choice as people ultimately get to be asked what they would like for Christmas. What is notable is that the gifts are opened one at a time! And it is important that everyone knows what the other gets; unless it is strictly private!!!

Despite being a visitor, I got lots of gifts (ranging from books, to warm clothes, and to some edibles) for which I am really grateful. I was, however, utterly touched by mormor’s gift for me; she made me some woolen socks just to ensure that I keep warm throughout the winter. This took her over three weeks to make, despite her aching shoulder!! It was really humbling to note the amount of time that this 85-year-old set aside to make for me such a gift; despite the fact that I was estranged to her…

6. Meals

There are delicious meals that are specifically meant for Christmas. Each of these “delicacious” foods is cooked to accentuate the landmark feasting… The specific delicacies may differ from one region to another; but they are meals that most, if not all, people look forward to. They are, thus, prepared with the ingredients of due care, love and skill. I got the privilege of taking pinnekjøtt (literally means “stick meat”). But just before the sumptuous meal, I was then given an opportunity to read the Luke 2 text in English at dinner on 24th December; breaking the all-time tradition of the father reading the text in Norwegian… The meal is followed by dessert which comes with different cakes (up to 12 types or even more) implying the need for choice… 🙂

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Two families at the dinner table

7. A walk in the woods

It is common for some Norwegian families to take a stroll in the woods on Christmas day (25th December) for fresh air. With part of the Lowzows, we succumbed to this reality and took a brief walk of about 2 hours!! It was quite interesting to meet other people doing a similar thing. Of course the sight wasn’t that colorful for the absence of snow; but it was greatly refreshing.

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With Andreas and Hanne

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Going downhill with the Lowzows

8. Church service

Christmas in Norway is actually celebrated on the 24th December. On this day, the family goes to Church for a service; which could either be at 2pm or 3pm. And this timing is synchronized all over the country, at least from reliable sources…. 🙂 The service on this day doesn’t last more than one hour; to allow people to go enjoy the dinner, which at that time will be in the final moments of cooking…. The Church service is composed of Christmas songs in Norwegian, and a “traditionized” reading of the “Christmas story” from Luke chapter 2. This text is elaborated by the priest (or pastor) within a short time. The attendance is for this service is usually the largest for any year. The Christmas service attracts all people, believers and non-believers alike. Back at home, it is dinner time and we all sit at the table ready to eat!! The dress code is usually suits for men and something colorful for the ladies…

As I pen off, I must attest that despite not being with my family, I had a memorable time thanks to both the Lowzow and Kristiansen families. Takk for en flott tid! You all made me feel part of the family and I am really grateful!