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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Together in a new land

Being in a new country with lots of new things, new experiences, new people, and new systems is definitely a big leap of faith! More so, when it is that you are to serve God in a seriously secular setting! All these, however, get so encouraging when you realize that you are not alone in it. Thus, the presence of a teammate is really inspiring. A teammate is someone with whom you come from the same setting; have faced similar or near-similar episodes in this life; have a common viewpoint on things; and understand each other given the common origin. This comes with the extra task of having to accommodate the other person. But then, is there anything that ever comes so easy!? In each and every matter, one must be willing and ready to pay the price! And so I was willing to do likewise. This meant that each of us had to be disposed to the fact that a number of compromises would be made, so as to mitigate any eventual difficulties. And as sure as rain, being human beings, I anticipated that there would be conflicts that would arise once in a while…

Learning the identity of the teammate became one of my quests; and finally the truth unfolded… It ended up being someone who I had known for some time; Joyline Mutai. I had heard that being in a new country would unearth us both into getting to know both the bad and the good. This sounded very scary, and as such, I wasn’t really looking forward to it at all. But the true taste of the reality was yet to come… 🙂

It is funny how we began our journey to Norway. We couldn’t travel together courtesy of visa troubles and delays that were eminent then. Beginning with separation from the very start wasn’t very encouraging, to say the least. That meant that each of us had different entry experiences in the land of the midnight sun. While I had to pass through Oslo to Kristiansand, Joyline came directly to Kristiansand from Amsterdam. She came a week later after I had already arrived. And so, we had some catching up to do…

Fast forward; it is now nearly five months down the line, and we’ve had a good share of experiences as a team. There has been a share of both the two sides of teamwork; and by God’s grace we have come through and are still going strong!!

Hereunder is a pictorial of some of the moments we have had together…

For starters, we held closely to what gave us the Kenyan identity.

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Still holding tightly to our documents

We had times when our childhood dreams nearly came true… 😀

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I want to be a princess…

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I want to be a king…

…and times to face some of our inherent fears like learning how to ride a bike…

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Stay steady teammate…

We then enjoyed some good views…

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Taking a cup of coffee in Trondheim

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Appreciating a good Norwegian view while on a camp at Vassfjellet

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Enjoying the view of Ålesund city

…and lots of spontaneous happenings…

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An attempt at looking scary…

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How about a funny face?

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Being reminded of birthday the Kenyan way

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Appreciating some breeze of music

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In the company of our contact person and friend, Karla

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Are you scared?

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Waiting for the bus at a typical Norwegian bus stop…

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Cooking with consultation…

And there are those times when we simply had to have some meal together…

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When the knife and fork gave way for our own hands

With all such activities and engagements, it becomes inevitable to begin to know each other more. And thus, Joyline and I have been in that journey. There are those moments when all we needed to do was sit down and watch a movie together. Other times, all we needed was to listen to each other’s week-long experiences. It is not easy, of course, to become vulnerable to your teammate but until that barrier is broken, it is quite difficult to resolve any conflict that may arise.

It is indeed encouraging to have someone from your context; one who understands the background that you come from. This sets a stage for a clear mode of operation… And so, the journey continues!!!

One of those moments

images6One of those moments
When all you want is to express yourself
To an understanding audience
A people who would listen
A people who would help
A people who would feel
And appreciate you as you are.

 

One of those moments
When all you need is to be accepted
To get a warm Brazilian hug
To perceive actual reception
To gain a clear stint of belonging
To have a people to call friends
And a connection to bear.

One of those moments
When all you desire is genuine affection
To be held gently and closely
To be spoken to softly
To be smiled at heartily
To be received warmly
Exuding due care and love and tenderness.

images2One of those moments
When all you admire is to step out
To get into the open
To behold the world beyond
To experience the life unseen
To handle the sealed delicacies
Sailing into the undending opportuntities.

 

One of those moments
When all you yearned for is a person
Someone who could stoop low enough for you
To wipe the flowing tears
To acknowledge the pain within
To simply be there
And not necessarily speak a word.

One of those momentsimages4
When all you see is chaos and confusion
And the heart longs for peace
The very stillness that shapes life
That transcendent gift from above
To calm the raging tempest and storms
And reassuring the wavering possibilities.

One of those moments
When all you need is assurance
The hope for a better day
Another day to taste growth
To outperform yesterday
And add to the day’s nearly full bucket
Making up for realized memories.

One of those moments
When all you deserve is punishment
But get forgiveness instead
A total cleansing of life’s stench
And a full overhaul of progress
Into the abundance of the life unseen
And a new lease of status.

One of those moments
When all I seek is to ask a question
A question that is life-striking
A question that resonates with truth
A question only divinely answered
A question that holds the key
Delving into reality that cannot be forsaken.

One of those momentsimages3
When all I seek is to see
To gain clarity of things
To look ahead in retrospect
To look back in reflection
And to see the real giver of sight
The sight that yields authenticity.

On of those moments
When all I search for is truth
A truth unspoken yet unveiled
A truth realigned yet unheard
A truth with freedom pegged to it
A truth that leads to fulfillment
And firmly astounds the skeptics.

One of those moments
When the heart longs to go out
To express itself in the most unique way ever
Just to do one crazy unexpected thing
A thing unfathomed yet with meaning
Just to relent the inner clot of insight
And make sense of the thin line between faith and doubt.

One of those moments
When in the eyes of pain and things don’t make sense
When everything seems to fall apart and no one cares
When life isn’t coherent and all you hold puffs away
And there lacks meaning for living
Yet the certainty of Christ’s love stands
His peace transcends, his grace abides and his mercies renew.

Dedicated to all those in transitions.

Counting my blessings

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one,
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done!
And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,” the song declares! Well, I don’t know how many of us ever take time to simply count our blessings and name them as we thank God for what He has done so far. I also don’t know what the above song really means to you as a person… For me, the above song has been real to the letter of every one of its words. And it has been quite evident in the journey I have had so far in Norway. I have witnessed and experienced so many blessings, that on naming them I am short of words to express my thanks to the Sovereign Lord! So, today I just want to count by mentioning the blessings I have gotten in the various families that I have gotten to visit. I do all this as a way to simply relay my heartfelt and sincere gratitude to God for having allowed these families to be a blessing to me in my short stint in Norway.

My various visits have given me a clear picture of love in families. I have gotten to see and appreciate genuine love in a family; to witness submission from children to their parents; stable love among the couples; and generosity at its best. I come from a warm culture in Kenya and we are generally hospitable; but what I have experienced here so far is a rare kind of hospitality! It comes in a very resounding manner. It has some degree of simplicity and humility that is difficult to describe with mere words; it is best felt and experienced. And the centrality of unity keeps sprawling within… All these are, despite Norway being a cold culture!!!

Firstly, is the Normann family. Joyline and I visited this family back in September. We were still very new and they gave us a notable warm welcome. Despite being in a hurry, I couldn’t help but notice the passion for God present in the home. Ben David, who is the second of the three sons to the lovely couple, is my “roommate” and he is a true depiction of that passion. We took coffee with some chocolate and engaged in several chats ranging from faith, to social, to church history, to civics matters. I enjoyed the simplicity with which Olaf, the father, took it all especially in sharing his Christian faith. At least from my chat with him, I noted he has a notable hunger for God and His Word. And the great library of books that he has is also something to mention. Given my love for reading, I’ve already engaged two books from his library “Living water by Brother Yun and Farewell to God by Charles Templeton”. Am proud to say that this family gave me another view of what it meant to be Christian in Norway.

Secondly, is the Kiplesund family. This is the family to John Olav, one of the Hald students in Madagascar. Here, we got an exposure to further simplicity and I sensed genuine love in the family. Listening to the talks in the family really brought me to the grand realization that there is power in humility. John Olav is one very humble yet friendly young man. And on visiting his home, I noted that indeed the humility had its source in his upbringing.  We had dinner in what is considered a Trøndish delicacy…

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Trøndish delicacy

…after which we went for a boat ride with our friend…

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Out for a boatride

…and then, after dessert, we had varied talks about different things including the reality of being in a different culture. From this, we got to express some of our fears and “culture shocks” we had encountered by being in Norway. It was really great to hear their comforting encouragement. For me, it was very sobering to see that the family had some concerns for one of their own going away. Hearing Tormod, the father, saying that “it is our son’s decision after all” was quite solemning! This cemented the very love for one of their own; supporting him to the very end, and giving him an opportunity to go out.

Having done all this, the family still surprised me when they gave each of us something to keep us warm during the impending winter…

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Hand-knit socks 

Thirdly, is the Opedal family. This family has, to say the least, been amazingly good to us. Our first interation was courtesy of their son, Eivind, with whom we are at Hald and who was going to Kenya on exchange. It was a wonderful union through which we talked, laughed and even played “Ticket to ride”, a typical Norwegian game. We had a fun-filled encounter with a good part of the family. And their willingness to host us; to know us; to listen to us was quite astounding at first. There was no question as to whether I had felt at home or not; it seemed like we had known each other for so long!

We had the Trøndish special for dinner and then had dessert…

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Cake and coffee for dessert

 …and we had some time for a family photo…

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA section of the Opedal family

The Opedals have become our mentors; and what a joy it was for us (Joyline and I) to learn of the news!! They have been more like our parents; always looking out for our welfare and asking the right questions at the right moment; extending the hand of support in this very cold Norway. There is a warmth that I cannot put in words at all… Just this week, we had some great meal together in an Italian restaurant downtown! And it was awesome partaking of the delicacy in the company of new-found friends; people you can look up to and ask the difficult questions about life in the new culture. When with Jan Peter, the father, and seeing him listening and asking those questions not out of duty but concern, it prompts me into reminiscing the great family and warmth back in Kenya. This has helped me come to terms that God is still at work, and in full control.

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…then receiving one of the best gifts ever, given the winter season we are in. This gift came at a time when I was already struggling with cold in my hands despite my gloves…

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Warm hand-knit mittens

And for the love of reading, I am already going through one of the books from their library called “Barack Obama: Dreams from my father”. I think there is more to learn from this lovely Opedal family; and I am keen to tap as much as I can…

All these experiences have helped me specifically realize how God can and will always have His remnant; to use in demonstrating His love and greatness.