Snow Place Like Home

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Apologies for the title… couldn’t resist it!

Pleasantly fitting also now that a world of white has become the norm since the first flakes fell at the beginning of October, a norm in a place which, with every day that passes, feel a little more like home.

The green, bright Tromsø of my arrival has transformed into a winter wonderland and I permanently have the surreal feeling that I’m living in a Christmas card. However breathtaken I was by the views which greet me everyday back in August, I’m even more at a loss for air at the sight of the snow covered peaks which rise up over this little island, bathed in a warm orange-pink light from the late rising or early setting sun.

It is nice to be in a place where you are so acutely aware and so incredibly appreciative of that life-giving and enhancing orb in the sky. Every single day in which it shines, there’s a tangible sense of ‘grab-it-while-you-can!’ in the air. A collective feeling that there is nothing more important than being outside and soaking up those precious rays.

We have been loosing 10 minutes of light every day, speeded up by the turning back of the clocks, which leaves me writing this at 4pm and it’s dark like midnight. A couple of weeks and we’ll be properly in to the polar night…!

The way to enjoy the dark days, everyone says, is to keep busy. I feel like I should manage this well enough with the period of exams and essays creeping up, staying active with the various student groups and working in Sivertsens Kafe.

Yes – I’m lucky enough to have fallen into a job at Tromsø’s only (I wouldn’t be too surprised if Norway’s only) vegetarian cooperative café. I found this charismatic wee place in my second week of being here and, entranced by a place so un-Norwegian, so wonderfully familiar to places I love to be in Edinburgh and created with a mind and heart that I can so relate so, I visited every week for a deep breath full of cosy café atmosphere and a cup of coffee. After a while the guys who run it asked if I would like to work there, which I gladly accepted and have been doing so for about a month now. As my first ever job in a café there’s a lot to learn, but I feel like I’ve at least mastered the coffee machine now and am able to use all the expressions practised in the Norwegian course simulated ‘in-a-shop’ role plays for real!

Still with the feeling that I’m finding my feet there, I’m very much looking forward to the sense that should come after some time with everything feeling smooth and second-nature.

From one little sanctuary which makes me feel connected to my Edinburgh-self, I have somewhat bizarrely found another little sanctuary which links this ‘island’ of my life to another very special one of a few years ago.

One day a few months ago, a house on the no.20 bus route caught my eye. Since then, every time I took that bus from town to uni I caught this odd glimpse of an otherwise normal looking Norwegian-style house covered in Thai flags and a sign with that beautifully familiar swirly script scrawled across it. My curiosity took me on a hunt to trace the path of the bus and find out what this little piece of Thailand was doing here in Tromsø.

A little piece of Thailand is exactly where I found myself and I left my first visit there feeling weirdly like I’d just stepped back four years or jumped across continents. I’ve been back several times since and always relish the hours I spend in this makeshift Thai ‘Wat’ (Budhhist temple) – the centre of the social and spiritual existence of the Tromsø-Thai community. There is something wonderfully magical about sitting in a warm room, packed with such familiar objects; from the little triangular cushions scattered on the floor to the large golden Buddha resting in the corner, chatting with the women and old monk who are usually there in a strange mixture of Thai and Norwegian, being called ‘Som-O’ and eating som-tam all while watching thick snow pour down outside the window.

This definitely feels like a year not only to envelope myself in new experiences but also to rediscover past loves. I say this now in reference to picking up the saxophone again after the past few years of guiltily spotting it laying under my bed and only giving it the attention it deserves once or twice a term.

I have joined ‘Ompagniet’, the student union’s zesty wind band, who amazingly had an alto sax available for me to borrow for the year. It’s a fantastic group of friendly people who have a created a unique band full of character and an atmosphere which couldn’t be more welcoming and relaxed. We meet every Wednesday evening to play and drink beer together (both seem to be of equal importance!). I am very glad to be reminded of what a great feeling it is to play music alongside other people. I’ve just had the most wonderful ‘practise weekend’ away with them in which we had a whole Primary school to ourselves from Friday to Sunday. This made a perfect base for practising, playing and partying.

Somehow I ended up volunteering to cook veggie curry for everyone for one of the evening meals, which was a little daunting after realising that I was cooking for 10 Norwegians who, true to their nature, love meat and are not fans of spicy food. Fortunately my mild coconut and chickpea concoction did the trick fine, especially as I did concede to a small plate of chicken on the side…

The rest of the weekend consisted of playing lots of ball games in the gym hall, several sessions of practising our pieces (the most memorable being a semi-drunken midnight concert to ourselves!), card games, hide and seek in the classrooms, sleepy knitting and chatting and for me, creeping out in the morning while the others slept for my favourite secret time of the day and walking up some small local hills on the coast. There is truly no better hangover cure than an Arctic sea-breeze in your face and a vista of staggering views!

I was surprised, on my Saturday morning walk, to find that we were right by the place where I spent the kayaking trip way back in August. Taking photos in the same spots as several months ago, I could get such a clear sense of the contrast of the seasons here. And a poignant reminder of the time which is speeding by…

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