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!!!

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!

Kenya vis Norway part 2

In the first part of my comparison between Kenya and Norway, I focused on some eleven elementary things that, in my perspective, were pertinent to one’s appreciation of the two countries.
whatMany issues were raised due to the last article; and so today, I want to attempt twelve more aspects to shed more light on this great comparison. I still want to reiterate that this are simply facts as per my opinion… I’d say this is a likeness of putting these two countries on a seesaw balance…

  1. Language variety: Norway has Norwegian as the main language; this is what is taught and used in schools all the way from elementary to university, at least until third year of study. In some few cases (where international students are involved), there are fields of study at the university in which English is fully used. This implies that even though English is taught at school, it is not regularly practiced. Thus, it won’t be shocking to hear a Norwegian shy away from using English for lack of confidence to speak it. In Kenya, on the other hand, both English and Swahili are nationally acclaimed as official. They are taught and used all the way from elementary school to university. English is, however, pretty dominant as all the subjects of study are taught in English except Swahili. Thus, most Kenyans tend to be relatively poor in spoken Swahili relative to English. One very interesting twist is the emergence of a third language called Sheng. This is the youths’ way of communication and is a dynamic derivative of the two national languages and some of the local (tribal) languages, making it very lucrative to learn and try. In addtion to this, every Kenyan has a native language that they locally use; at least when in the village. It is, thus, very common for a youthful Kenyan to have a command of four languages. This variety of langauge is very colorful… 😉
  2. Education system: Kenya has an education system called 8-4-4 simply meaning that a child spends 8 years in primary school, 4 years in high school and 4 years in university. University education has become the in-thing for most Kenyan youths, especially with the desire to get a good form of employment. Education in primary school is basic; information starts building up and getting quite specific in high school. Inasmuch as most bachelors degree programs take 4 years; engineering takes 5 while medicine and architecture each takes 6 years for attainmnet of a similar degree. Norwegian education system, on the other hand, is such that a child takes 7 years in primary school, 6 years in high school and 5 years in university (I guess we could call it 7-3-3-5). The remarkable thing about this system is that high school is split into two parts: lower and upper high school. It is not necessarily compulsory to go to upper high school; as someone may choose to forfeit their studies and focus on learning a craft that may come in handy in facilitating their upkeep and livelihood after. Furthermore, there is room for those who clear high school to have a one-year break to do whatever they want away from studying. So, most young Norwegians learn how to play musical instruments, go hiking and traveling, among many other adventurous activities. Both upper and lower high schools take 3 years each. University takes 5 years, but one could stop after three years to earn their bachelors degree. If they clear the five years, they get a Masters degree without a bachelors…
  3. Richness in food: Norway has quite a variety of food. While here, I have gotten the privilege of feasting on different delicacies ranging from fårikål (mutton stew), to kjøttkaker (meatcakes), to kjøttboller (meatballs), and to sodd (soup with meatballs). All of these foods are mainly eaten with potatoes. As such, the common dinner dish is potatoes served with something; whereas bread is served for breakfast and for lunch mainly as matpakke which can be eaten anywhere… Pig, fish and sheep meat is quite dominant; with notable absence of goat meat. The various meats are present in Kenya with goats, sheep, cows, pig and even game meat. In addtion, the mode of preparation varies greatly. Whereas boiling is readily used in Norway, frying, roasting and smoking are common modes in Kenya. Of all this, I think the fact that most of the Kenyan food is fresh is very laudable. Most of the Norwegian foods are canned ready for cooking. As such, the food in Norway usually takes a maximum of 15 minutes. Whereas rice is mainly eaten white in Norway, rice in Kenya is eaten in many forms. It can be eaten in a special form called pilau; which is a blend of meat, rice and some special spice. And it is quite something! This is one meal that most tourists end up loving so much. And of course there is chapati (harder pancake) made from wheat flour; eaten with any stew ranging from lentils to green grams (mung beans) or any meat. 😉
  4. Hospitality: Norway has a keen focus on completion of tasks and the keeping of time in everything that is done. Kenyans are more into the events and the people. As such, relationships are very crucial in Kenya. A Kenyan will endeavor to defend the relationship with a friend at the expense of a task. I remember in one sitting at Hald, we were given this task in combined groups. I got to sit with some Norwegian girls. When we sat down, one of them took the lead and everyone was focused on completing the task in the given time; while I desired that at least, we finish the task but also get to know each other; now that we were still new to each other. I was shocked when on finishing the task, every Norwegian was standing up and leaving!!! 🙂 There’s no emphasis on relationships when it comes to meeting targets and fulfilling given roles and expectations. A Kenyan will take you in, want to know how you are doing… Even on a bus, it is very easy to begin a conversation with a Kenyan; something that is ordinarily very difficult with a Norwegian.
  5. Cost of living: Norway has one of the highest cost of living in the world (http://www.numbeo.com/cost-of-living/rankings_by_country.jsp). It is quite difficult to live on a meager salary within this nation. As such, despite earning much, one ends up spending a lot for some of the most crucial services and products. When compared to Kenya, I think the Kenyan spending will definitely be a drop in the ocean… 😉 Taking a loaf of bread for example costs from NOK20 to 34 and this is about KES280 to 476; which is nearly 10 times the current cost in Kenya. It is much easier to live in Kenya despite earning less. I have seen this evident among some visitors from other countries when they are shocked at how cheap things are in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. A great cup of mocha coffee goes for about KES600 in Nairobi Java house (an equivalent goes for about KES4600 in a related cafe in Norway)… 🙂
  6. Weather: Kenya has a very stable and predictable weather. Being equatorial, there are equal days and equal nights; something that is a bit far-fetched in Norway. The seasons experienced in Kenya are more into the rainy and dry times; but the sun is always present. As such, the sun is largely used as an indicator for time; the clock is not a common phenomenon. People can actually tell the time by looking at the length of their shadows. In Norway, there are four seasons; all connected to the presence of the sun. Apparently, even in the summer, which ought to be the hottest, the sun is still not as hot as that in Kenya. Ordinarily, there can be the sun up high but without any warmth from it. This was a bit frustrating for me, especially now that I am aware of the importance of vitamin D from the sun’s rays. It is impossible to bask in the sun in Norway in any other time except in July (hottest summer month)…
  7. Beautiful nature: Norway has some amazing sceneries especially of the fjords; with outstanding fish life and the colorful northern lights. Kenya has a great nature too, with sizzling sand beaches; the wonderful Great riftvalley that one can enjoy from an escarpment; the high mountains including Mt Kenya (5199m high) and Mt Kilimanjaro  (5895m high) on the border. There are great coffee and tea plantations which are amazing to behold in Kenya…
  8. Animal life: Kenya has a very rich animal life. It is known to have all the big five comprising the lion, rhino, elephant, leopard, and buffalo. This is complemented by the presence of so many other animals that make Kenya a spectacle to behold. The presence of the tall giraffes to the chattering monkeys to the beautiful zebras and then the lovely wildebeests all make Kenya a preferred destination. Then the large hippos in the water, the fast cheetahs and the cunning hyenas in the savannas remain significantly visible. It is simply a profound blessing to behold all these in addition to the majestic flamingoes on Lake Nakuru. The fact that some of these animals can be encountered in forests locally available makes it even more adventurous. Seeing the gazelles and dikdiks grazing while appreciating the outstanding bird melodies from the sky is a wonderful view. 😉 Norway, conversely, also has some animal life. Given the coldness of the country, it is even difficult to find insects!!! This necessitates the presence of seals, crabs (including the giant ones) and whales… While in Kenya, the butterflies, locusts and crickets make the sceneries awesome.
  9. Social life: Norwegians are generally focused people. It is possible to meet a Norwegian and think they are smiling at you; only to be disappointed onwards. It is very common for them to express their politeness with a smile. This was  my first reality with culture shock in Norway when I encountered this lady on the road walking her dog; and then she smiled at me!! I was really glad, then I smiled back only to see her look away and pull her dog along… It is very common to find Kenyans not necesarily smiling but willing to talk. They are happy people; exuding with life!! 🙂 They have this enthusiasm of facing the next day that at times you may be shocked at what exactly drives them. It is very normal to meet a very poor person; one who has no idea what they will eat in the next meal, but yet very happy at what they have already gotten…
  10. Gratitude: Norwegians have a polite way of simply expressing their gratitude by giving simple gifts. In fact, giving a Norwegian a special treat will warrant an inquisition into why that happened!! The presence of great wealth, I think, has somehow altered their model of gratitude and spirit of thankfulness. In Kenya, most people are very grateful for everything including the very basic things that one may easily forget to mention. A Kenyan will typically be grateful for that meal they receive, no matter how meager it may be. They will be thankful for their families and for the gifts they receive without asking how much it may have cost… 🙂
  11. Cultural diversity: Kenya has 42 tribes most of which still have variations due to sub-tribes; adding richness to the diversity of culture that is present. Despite the intrusion of westernization, there are lots of cultural chunks and realities back in the villages. It is amazing to hear people express themselves differently; it makes it look spectacular. And seeing the values that every tribe attaches to the things that matter to it; their heritage and origin, makes it just splendid. In addition to all this, noting that these varied people can still understand each other by the use of Swahili, English and, sometimes, by the derived slang called Sheng makes it outstanding. Norway has a narrower scope; they speak a similar language with variations in pronunciations and emphases on the grammar hence differences only in dialects. All of them have very many common facts that when put together, it is more similarities as opposed to differences.
  12. Sports and games: Being an outdoor lot, most Norwegians love to play some kind of sport. They are renowned for cross-country skiing; given the availability of snow. Despite all that, soccer is the most popular sport in Norway. I guess this is similar for Kenya especially when it comes to football. Kenya thrives best in athletics; it has produced some of the very best athletes in middle and long-distance races. Some of the world records in those races are held by Kenyans; and this makes them very proud. Kenya also performs very well in volleyball continentally; as well as in rugby, a sport that has been greatly gaining fame in the past few years.

Not wrong; just different

Norway has a way of doing things that is totally different. These are some of the things I have noted that are just outstandingly different yet true…

  1. When you meet a Norwegian for the first time, there is a warm handshake and a mention of their name. Thus, it is very normal to have the Norwegian stretch forth their hand while at the same time saying their names. It is so easy to  mistake this for a greeting!!! 😉 But what is even more intriguing is that that is the only time they will ever do that; they never introduce themselves again. The subsequent greetings will be in the form of “Hi!” or simply a hug if you’ve become a bit close, especially among cross genders.
  2. Attaining the age of maturity is such a big deal in Norway. At the age of 18, one can move out and have their own appartments. This means they can now fend for themselves. What is even striking is that parents can rent out their appartments to their own children. I have observed this in two cases, where parents receive rent from their children… 🙂
  3. Norwegians are time-oriented (this cannot be over-emphasized!). It is, therefore, expected that most of them will always be on time. I have always marveled at seeing Norwegians unsuccessfully run after the bus in Trondheim (and I guess the same applies in other cities as well)! It has always made me wonder how they can get so frustrated by something they hold so dear to themselves. In addition to this reality, time is a great factor in appointments; but this doesn’t always hold in Churches. It is very common to attend a Church meeting that may start about 15 minutes late or a Bible study that starts over 30 minutes late or even a fellowship that runs much later after the planned time.
  4. Everything in Norway is planned for. That includes visits and dinners. It is a norm to have someone plan for a dinner a month beforehand; and interestingly, this will be realized on trust without any remidners! 🙂 The meal times are fixed. I couldn’t stop to wonder when we had been invited for dinner with my teammate in a certain family. When I delayed courtesy of missing the bus; the first thing that our host said is that the food will have to be warmed again!!! And when we got there, the meal times were altered.
  5. To most Norwegian young people, Africa is one very big country containing different people and not a continent! Whenever I introduce myself and say “I come from Kenya,” it is not surprising to hear a young Norwegian reply saying “You come from Africa!” This become clearer on this day I was going for a worship night one city up north (Levanger). We were to meet with an African family (who are now Norwegian citizens); and when I was being given the man’s contacts I was told he was from Kenya. Just later to realize he was from Liberia. This contravenes the fact that most Norwegians read and are knowledgeable… 🙂
  6. Norwegians are basically outdoor people! They love to travel and explore other places; to discover new places. I have, however, since the day I came to Norway, noted that most Norwegians have not entirely traveled over their own country. I was shocked that one of my teachers at Hald had not been to Ålesund, while a good number of Norwegian Hald students had never been to Trondheim yet… 🙂
  7. Norway has a very small population (just over 5 million people). Every Norwegian is aware of this! The country is, seemingly, one of the wealthiest in the world. What is amazing is that you’ll keep hearing them stating how much they are few; but most of those who get married don’t necessarily have childbearing as a priority! Most Norwegians just want to live together out of convenience and insist that having children is extremely demanding!!!
  8. Most Norwegians don’t have a high regard for Christianity; in fact they hate hearing anyone talk about it. It is not surprising to have a Norwegian shut you off; either by silence or by simply walking away; simply because they don’t desire to hear anything about Christian faith. It is said that Christianity is a bunch of extreme rules. Conversely, the entire country is built on the Christian fabric. It has the important Christian values of honesty, trust for each other, integrity and generosity.