The Magic of the North

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I had a magical experience last week. The kind of surreal event which I feel is unique to travelling, in which you find yourself in a situation and suddenly think ‘wow. how on earth can I have ended up here…?!’ This precise thought struck me as I sat at a beautifully carved wooden table one evening, which gently rocked in harmony with the soft waves – the harbour’s edge the boat was tied up to bobbed slightly under a large white moon through the circular windows and I was being offered the most exquisite Japanese style cuisine made from fresh Tromsønian fish while a Saami man sang his family joik (traditional song) – a mesmerizing sound which gave me shivers.

I somehow managed to find myself in this utterly spontaneous and bizarrely wonderful situation through a Japanese friend in my Arctic Norway class… and such is the beauty of travelling.

For more magic in one blog – I am no longer in the land of the midnight sun, but as the polar night draws near; the aurora borealis can begin to show off its colours and I have been fortunate enough to catch it a couple of times so far. The first time was the best; I saw it while with a bunch of other, similarly awe-struck, internationals: we rushed out of the kitchen where we were sitting, into the night – necks craned backwards and mouths wide open as the shimmering green snake curled its way around the stars and stretched out above the dark silhouettes of the distant mountains. As the rain of last weekend reminds you of the power of nature, such a spectacle as the northern lights truly makes you aware of the intense beauty of nature – and with this combination one can only feel a deep respect for the natural world that we inhabit and the sense that the environment definitely owns us however much we try to own it.

There is too much to say to get across everything that has packed into the last few weeks sufficiently, however I must finish with one more tale of something which brought me a different kind of appreciation of my situation and how lucky I am to be here and be coddled by so many amazing opportunities in life.

The weekend before last I participated in an event organised by the ‘Røde Kors’ (Red Cross) which was a very unique experience. Called ‘På Flukt’ or ‘On the Run’, it was a 24 hour role play in which they simulate the experience of a refugee fleeing from Somalia to Norway. I was slightly dubious at first how this would work as the idea sounded slightly contrived but I was curious more than anything else! And I am very glad that I took part as they orchestrated the whole thing very well and it really was a weekend to remember.

From 12noon Saturday to 12noon Sunday I was to play the part of ‘Simka’, a 19 year old Somalian girl who, along with seven other members of her family, had to flee from Somalia in an effort to seek asylum in Norway. Any watch or phone or time-telling equipment was taken from us so that the whole experience was ‘timeless’; to make the task of getting from Somalia to Norway in 24 hours slightly more realistic! The ‘journey’ was punctuated by actors who very effectively guided us through the narrative while making us feel as confused and lost and humiliated and anxious as possible within the realms of knowing that, for us, its all a game. There were salesmen trying to con us, soldiers forcing us to abandon our makeshift shelters, officials going through our bags removing anything but clothes, water and sleeping bags, more officials giving us forms, ripping up forms, stamping forms, not stamping forms, making us fill out new forms all over again and closing the ‘offices’ before all this was over. We slept for an hour or two at a ‘refugee camp’ – laying outside on tarpaulins spread out on the ground and here we were given the only food that we were able to have during the entire game; half a plastic cup of rice from the ‘aid workers’. As the night had drawn in, we were awoken and had to continue on our journey passing or not passing various roadblocks with soldiers shining torches in our faces, shouting and taking the little money we had left. The night ended by reaching the immigration offices in Norway, waiting in the cold for our family’s turn, answering questions, filling in more forms and finally being allowed to lay down our sleeping mats on the sports hall floor and get some sleep. In the morning (though we had no idea of the time!) there were more trips to offices, more questions to answer and hours of waiting to find out what was going to happen to us. They eventually came round with small white envelopes for each person – one piece of paper holding our fictional character’s fate… all but one of the 25 playing were declined asylum. The rest of us packed our bags as they ushered us out of the door to catch the flights back to Somalia. It was at the point that we were met by yet another official, and waiting to hear what was to happen next, he broke the news to us that it was now Sunday noon and we had completed the role play.

The whole idea is to give people some kind of empathy with what so many people have to go through and some kind of idea of the devastating process. Of course, during the game you are very aware that it is just that and tomorrow you will have a nice bed and food and be reunited with your possessions. However, though just scratching the surface, I think this concept of putting yourself in somebody else’s shoes and attempting to see things from a different angle is something which – if experienced by enough, and the right, people – could really help on the way to breaking down racial prejudices and barriers.

With that, I shall leave you – but first to link quickly back to my previous entry; ‘Ut på tur – aldri sur’ A great phrase to remember on any hike…but I would also relate it to any travels; when away, enjoy whatever comes and take everything in your stride. For we, after all, are travelling by choice.

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