I recently started a new volunteer job at the red cross. I took the job because due to my busy schedule, it has been very difficult to devote much time to my regular volunteer work and I felt like, there had to be more that I could do on a day-to-day-basis to help. I am no one, you should ask for advice when it comes to life choices, nor am I to any help in any survival situations. However, I can offer you a story about differences.
The red cross around the world is always in need of help. Either financially, morally or in any other way you could possibly imagine. I do donate blood regularly and if I can, I help financially as well. My main goal is not to be a do-gooder but to help where it is badly needed. I believe that we all have become very self-absorbed without realizing, how good we actually have it. Don’t get me wrong, I love shopping just as much as the next girl, trying out a billion outfits? Heaven. Come on, who does not like that? But I think for me it’s more about the experience than actually getting new stuff (have you seen my wardrobe? I still have clothes from 10 years ago and although they might not fit the way they used to and the colors might have faded a long time ago, I am perfectly happy with what I have). A always complains about how my wardrobe is overflowing and that it is my own fault “if I cannot find a single thing of garment and I have nothing to wear”. Like I said, I am no different from you.
In a way, I gain no actual happiness from a shopping sprees but a sense of accomplishment, hoping not to have to do this again in the near future. That’s just how I am. I am not very materialistic but I like nice stuff, we all do. Some people have no choice than to make due with what they have, which in these cases, usually is not a lot. It is impressive, when you realize how little a person can have but still being so content with what they have.
My new work usually takes place either super early in the morning, when no one voluntarily is up or super late, when people already sit in their yammies on their sofas watching TV or right around when most people sit down for dinner. I can pick and choose how I like and how it fits my schedule and to be honest, I would have picked different times in the day, but then again I am not in charge, I am merely there to help, to observe, to take in and to report back to you.
As I make my way to doubled-doors on an early Sunday morning, the air is crisp, not even a handful of people are on the streets, it is pitch dark and cold. I feel the cold slowly creeping into my inner core. I knock twice before a gentle bear opens the door for me. He has been up all night, making sure everything works smoothly, that everyone is in the right room, and that everyone feels secure in this place and the bear is tired, you know, like you would be if you work from 9 pm to 6 am in the morning. He offers me a cup of tea, which I decline, and then he falls into a chair. Sleepiness is in the room and you notice how he slowly nods of. He only awakens when his co-worker loudly enters the room, with a cheerful good morning. He too has been up all night, but he seems to actually like it. People are different… and odd. He is the translator and although he does not speak Norwegian, he speaks most of the languages the homeless do.
Big bear looks at his watch and motions me to follow him, we slowly make our way to the third floor. He tells me that this building once used to be a children’s psychiatry and that now they re-purposed it for the homeless people. This is not a hotel for people without a home, but a temporary place for the unfortunate ones to stay for a night, with a warm bed and a hot shower. We knock on everybody’s door, they have to leave before 8 am, because of the day-activities. We are greeted by a bunch of people, most of them rather cheerful. We knock on about 20 doors, each room has about 4 people in them. Most of the people that share a room are merely acquainted with each other but other than that have nothing in common. Sometimes we see mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, but usually no families, no extended relatives, people that seem to be alone.
You’d think that they would feel like the world did them an injustice, that this is not right, that they should be in their own homes, having a cup of coffee in an actual mug, not a paper mug from the convenience store around the corner. But they are not faced by my own ideas of what life should be like. In fact, they are more cheerful and happier than people I usually meet on a day-to-day basis in my store. But then again, these people down bother themselves with the stupidity of things that we put up with. What, your phone doesn’t work? Obviously your life will end right here and then when you cannot check your emails. Most of these people have not used a computer once in their lives. Maybe I am being unfair, maybe they have? How would I know? I cannot ask them, because we do not speak the same language, not even almost.
I know that, because I have talked to all of them when we registered their names, ages, where they came from. We register the homeless people, because we only have 80 beds in 20 rooms on two levels of one building, when we would need 80, 100, 300 rooms to accommodate every homeless person in Norway. I am not even going to go into the global-problem that is at hand here. As we register their names, I understand, that they don’t understand me and if it weren’t for the translator, we would be completely and utterly lost in translation. I wonder why the translator does all the writing for the women, because most of them are well over 40, they should know how to read and write, right? Some of the homeless are barely 19 and sometimes I do not believe that, because when I look in their faces, I can see their innocence in their eyes and I can tell that they must be younger than that, but they know that if they are under 18 that we cannot accommodate them here but rather have to talk to the authorities. But no one asks for their ID, so if they lie about their age, we do not question it. I guess to make it easier for everyone?
As I watch a young fellow write is own name, it dawns on me that most women that have been in here, which is about 30 or so, do not write their own names, but yet the translator does and most men that come in here, write very slowly, child-like and my eyes widen as I watch how carefully they write their own names. In a modern way of sense, it takes forever. I realize that a sense of pride overcomes them as they finish filling out the form, they look exhausted from the write too. They smile at me and I nod and smile back. I cannot even begin to make out what their names are, not only because to me these are foreign names but also because the writing was just nothing they had to do in their lives. As far as the women go, reading too was nothing they had to learn.
The hardest part is not the people that we wake up at the break of the dawn and in a way tell to leave the facilities, but it is the people that we cannot register, because there is not enough space for everyone. We are not allowed to register more than 80 people, so if there are 81 people in line for a bed, or 300, we can only register 80. The rest has to find a place elsewhere and where that would be, I do not know. And in the freezing temps that have been hoovering over Oslo these days, I cannot imagine the horror some of the people have to go through, sleeping outside, somewhere. Most of them are not from Norway, and how they got to Norway, I do not know. That living on the streets in Norway is more lucrative than living on the streets where ever they come from, I can imagine, but moving across borders, just to be living on the streets in Norway, I just cannot wrap my brain around, what has to drive you to that action.
I reflect over all the people that have been sleeping in the very same beds only 30 minutes ago, as I strip down the beds. There is an odd smell in every room (as you could imagine, personal hygiene is limited and so are clean clothes), but I don’t complain, because I get to open the window, and close it when I feel the rooms are freshened out. As I look out the window, I see some of the homeless still standing outside, they do not get to close the window. They live in the open window, so to say. I think about all their belongings, that they took with them, when they left the facilities and I think about the layers of garments they had on their bodies to protect them from the cold. Most of them had either a big backpack or a big IKEA-bag with them. I do wonder, what they carry around with them, but I do not ask.
And I reflect over that although I believe all of them can imagine a better life, I do not think that they imagine a happier life. This might be very rude and single-minded of me, thinking that the less you have, the better your life would be, but that’s not what I am getting at. I realized that we all can learn from these people that you have to make due with what you have, so stop complaining and move on. Obviously I am romantizing the facts, because I have no idea how they actually feel, I cannot ask them, I can only play charades while trying to get my points across. But what it is in my power and what I actually can do, is show them all the love, the warmth and the help I can, and maybe one day, we can get rid of homelessness entirely. Just maybe.
Now that I showered you with my wisdom, I will get ready and head to work and deal with a bunch of complainatory customers, while thinking that life could be so easy…
Today I learnt a lesson from a man, who had nothing to give. I am not a materialistic person. I do not care what car you drive, how big your apartment is or how many ice cube trays your fridge can hold. It virtually means nothing to me, of course if you invite me to your home and show me your shiny pink car, a shoebox of an apartment and a billion of different shaped ice cubes, I will compliment you on it, but not because it is important to me, but because it is important to you. This does not make me a bad person, nor does it make you a bad person if you do care for these things, it just shows that people value things differently.
I recently (last night, when I couldn’t sleep) made a list of goals I want to achieve, things I want to see, languages I want to learn, experiences I want to have and technologies I want to test out. Some of these goals require great strength and a lot of discipline, others require me to be persistent, stubborn and devoted. And some of the goals require me to have faith in human society. I mean, obviously I am betting on the wrong horse believing that by tomorrow climate change will be resolved and people will free all the whales from all the themeparks in the world, but one might dream.
As I re-visited my strong-minded and -willed goal-list this morning, I realized that none of my goals included a big house, a nice car, a fancy dressing room, which is funny because in a way, it is implied, we all like that, right? I mean who wouldn’t want a cupboard full of Nutella, a walk-in closet for shoes and about 50.000 different types and colors of fluffy guest towels? I think the majority would say yes to that, and I know I would, but when it comes down to it, the only thing I really long for at the end of the day is a small place that I can call home. Which I am lucky to have with A by my side, every single night, even when it is cold and dark outside, which it is 79% out of the year in Norway, I like my life.
Sometimes people do not get that chance that I so luckily got put into my lap, even if it was a struggle to finally get here. Sometimes their home is ripped apart because of mayor catastrophes like earthquakes, a vulcano erupting, nasty split from a loved one or because they miscalculated their finances. We sometimes don’t get to pick our battles, sometimes they get picked for us. And I understand that living from hand to mouth is heartbreaking, but see, just because your bank account is not going nuts with black numbers, doesn’t mean that you are worth less than anyone else.
I say this because I realized today, that people more and more define their own personal value by their bank account and although I can understand that in the materialistic world we live in, but I feel like it is utterly wrong. Let me remind you that it doesn’t take a rich man to understand the value of a good home. It doesn’t take a shiny red car, the newest model with what ever fancy pants features there are (you can tell by my jargon, I am really into vehicles), to have a pleasant conversation. And, although appreciating the most expensive bottle of wine is a gift, being able to appreciate the time we have with loved ones, even if these times can be tough, that alone shows true appreciation.
Let me remind you, that you too are worth the world, even if you don’t hear it every day. I am here, to tell you this, because sometimes we need to hear it. I know, life can be dark and lonely and cold (no pun intended on Norway’s weather), but you are not alone. It is so easy to forget, that people are here with you and they appreciate you for who you are.
I, for one, enjoyed myself today, because I felt loved and because I was able to show someone else my love. Because I showed a perfectly nice stranger the respect and admiration he deserved, even if he smelled a bit iffy and didn’t have a home and also didn’t have time to brush his teeth this morning. I tell you this, because sometimes people don’t deserve what they get, they just were at the wrong time at the wrong place.
To conclude my late-Friday-night-blogpost (yes, I am a party-animal, much like my night active hamster, who is spinning in his wheel like crazy right about now): I was told a story today, one that broke my heart. It was full of spite and racism and hate and pain. I am going to spare you the details and although his story was a tragic one, he still found it in himself to sit down with me and talk to me and I listened. Today I learnt a lesson from a man, that had nothing to give. The lesson was simple, one you all heard many times before, but today it felt like I heard it for the first time.
We all are worth the world to someone. Although the man knew people look at him oddly, and he could have achieved so much more in his life, he was happier than most of the people looking at him, he was content. Although people would judge him by his shabby clothes and rather unwelcoming smell, he knows that he did his best in his life. And at the end of the day, and the beginning of the night, that is all we can hope for. So I say, take your bank account, your shiny car, your seven pairs of Manolo Blahniks (and yes, I know nothing about cars but yet can spell that), your rotten most favorite blanket and your torn-in-pieces but favorite T-shirt and be happy. Because you mean the world to someone, someone will value you for what you are truly worth but first, you need to value yourself as a great person, because you are simply that. Amazing.
As a person you evolve. It is not possible for you to remain the same, you get older, wiser, more experienced. As you progress in age and in wisdom, you should never feel like you want to be 16 again, or 18, or 20 or 23 or 45 or 78. Better yet, you should feel blessed for being able to get a year older, move forward, experience things with different intensities.
About a year ago I started to run and let me tell you, man was it painful. So painful indeed, I felt it for days and days. My abs were unforgiving and so were my arms and last but not least, my legs. Because when you run, you train your entire body, not just your legs. You train your mind as well, because that is what keeps you going, not your leg-muscles. I had a fever that night, because I was just not used to that kind of exercise, or any kind of exercise for that matter. And running is not like walking, you use different parts of your body for walking and different parts for running, that might not sound right, but it is. My dad was running next to me, and I want to say, he never in his life ran so slow, like ever, but then again, my dad has been running for the last 16 years, so what he experiences now as being slow, was probably his normal speed back in the day (at least that’s what I keep telling myself).
I think that day he realized that the person, that he knew a few years ago, is not the same anymore. I think, that is the moment he realized that I for one, are very different from my brothers. My brothers are more into team-sports, basketball and football (European that is…) and what not, I have no talent what so ever in handling any sort of round device while running, I mean seriously, I can do one thing or the other, NOT BOTH. My eye-arm-leg-coordination is just so horrible, you’d be better off, telling me to run up and down the field about 4.000 times. It is still a wonder, that I know how to drive a stick-shift car. That too, my dad taught me, the very first time I “parked” the car, I did a 180 on a highway, on purpose. It was not my dad’s intention for me to do so, but I understood from what he said, that this is what I was supposed to do, which clearly I wasn’t and if a policeman would have been close, I am sure, they would have never in a million years given me my driver’s license. My dad didn’t talk to me for days, he thought it best, not to talk about this instance, ever again.
The moment my dad dropped me off at the airport, the very first time I went to the U.S., his heart was heavy, I knew that, but I think he was trying to stay strong, so my mom wouldn’t completely melt down. After all, I am their only daughter and I chose to move so far away, that weekend-visits were not in the cards. I think in the end, my dad was not proud of me, for deciding to move so far away, but to stick to my decision and following through. And although my entire family was really looking forward to me moving back home after a year’s time, I believe that somehow they all knew, that I was going to stay longer, it was an unfinished business kind of thing. But they were even happier, the day I did come back.
When I called my parents on October 16th last year, they were in shock for about a month and a half. All our conversations would end in a deep, awkward silence. October 16th was the day I told them, that A and I were getting married. It was the first phone call I made that night, and my mom was crying, like there was no tomorrow.
To this day, I wish there was a different phone call I could have made that same day. My heart was heavy as I scrolled through my phone list, only to discover that the number I so badly wanted to be connected to has been disconnected. Instead I called a different number, it was late, and usually he wouldn’t pick up the phone, but he did that day and I told him about A and my engagement and he laughed. My grandpa laughed, and then he stopped, he took a breather and then said, “I wish your grandma would have been still alive to experience this” – you and me both. He trailed off into a different world, I don’t think he was listening to himself, as he told me how he and my grandma were talking about our wedding, and how much she was hoping to be able to attend. He told me that it was one of her last wishes. I asked him why he didn’t tell me before, why he waited until I did get engaged, a year later and he told me, that it wouldn’t have been right, it was her wish for you not her wish for herself.
A few years ago, on New Year’s Eve, I was living in the US, it was a couple months after I moved there, I called my grandpa around midnight to wish them a very happy New Year and he said, “You know, it ain’t a happy New Year, without you being here. We are all like a chain and when a link is missing, the whole chain is weak. I wish you were here”.
I love my family and their backwards thinking, saying the one thing, doing another. Keeping their most precious hopes to themselves, for someone else to discover them years later. My family has always been like that, it’s okay, I think in a way every family is a bit twisted. In a way, that’s the beauty of having a family, because you appreciate them for what they are and how they have made you the person you are. I guess, my point is, I love my family and although sometimes they cannot be part of something that is important to you, somehow they are always with you, even if you cannot see them.