Foreigner in Trondheim - Winter Part I
11:31am. It’s the end of November. My classes have finished and I’m heading to the Øya library. Bzzt. I exit my building. It’s dark outside, as if it were still midnight. The sun that alerts my body to wake up never came, and I find myself waking up at 11am instead of the intended 9. White covers the ground, the ledges, and the leafless trees. I walk down the hill to the bus stop, feet slightly sinking into the snow with every step. It must have been snowing the whole night last night. It’s -8 degrees outside. The cold weather cues my nose to start running, to my annoyance.
I arrive at the bus stop. The message board shines in orange ‘bus 5 in 7 minutes’. I share the space with 6 other people. We try to cram into the protected area to be protected from the wind. The cold turns us to statues with stoic faces, paralysing us. The few who do move move as if robots. I begin to feel a stinging pain in the tips of my glove-covered fingers. The pain becomes constant with an additional throbbing. I cursed the gloves in my head. They were my replacement gloves, because the cold was too strong for my first ones. South African me still had much to learn about appropriate clothing for the Norwegian winter. They should be working! “7 minutes of waiting was 7 minutes too long!” I thought to myself, a thought I’m sure was shared by all of us. We waited in silence, Norwegians and international students alike, with the melancholy that comes from only 4 hours of sunlight a day, 4 hours in which the sun was usually smothered by clouds.
Cars slowly rode by, the crunch from their rolling tires breaking the silence. The usual grey of the road was the replaced with a long sheet of powder, the difference between the side walk and road barely distinguishable. I looked at my left to see a light green form with an orange 5, coming our way. I sat myself at one of the elevated seats in the middle of the bus. The warmth of the bus was a much needed relief from the cold, an appreciated comfort. The bus was half full. The riders, comprising of grannies and students, had choice of seats, which meant taking a window seat with the biggest radius of empty space as possible.
I looked outside to emptiness with the occasional person walking. The autumn buzz of movement was no more. Cars (although a smaller amount) reigned on the roads now. Each stop received more students. We arrived at Gløshaugen Syd stop, the closest stop to the main campus of NTNU. The doors opened and half the bus got off, turning left. No student got on. Study time was in full force. The bus continued down the hill. I stared at the iconic building of NTNU, an old rectangular building with points on each side made out of stone. Everytime I looked at it, I felt like a student at Hogwarts.
Studentersamfundet stop. I got off and headed to the hospital. As I walked, I debated on how to get to the library, which was on the far end of the hospital. Do I walk outside and freeze or do I walk inside and overheat? I decided to overheat. All the departments of the hospital are connected by sealed bridges. One could travel throughout the hospital without ever having to go outside! Unfortunately, the hospital interior was always excessively warmer than it needed to be. The way to the library, however, is nothing less than unique, as students, hospital employees, and patients share the same pathways. On the first bridge, I crossed paths with a patient in a wheelchair; on the second bridge an old lady being pushed on a mobile hospital bed; and throughout the journey, with doctors and nurses on scooters!
Books and a model skeleton welcomed me into the medical faculty library. The emphasis seen outside could not be seen here. Students occupied the couches, desks, and study rooms. It was packed. The library especially, packed or not, was a place that was always excessively warm. I looked for my classmates, eager to sit down and shed layers. I walked the stairs to the second floor and saw them in the distance. They were sitting at a section of tables at the corner of the library, glass because the corner walls were 2 big glass panels. The panels allowed students full vision of the happenings outside.
The exercise physiology class had overtaken the area. It was where we usually sat and the other regulars knew so and left the area alone. A group of Norwegians in my class had been there from 9am and many of them would stay until 5pm or longer. This was not a one-day thing. These students would continue these study hours Monday to Friday. They treated their studies as a 9-5 job, and the library became their office. Indeed, this dedication was common among the Norwegian students, and it inspired the international students to be as dedicated. However, it didn’t take me long to question the effectiveness of so many hours spent studying. My brain could only handle 3 to 4 hours of concentrated studying before nothing more could be written or packed in. Any attempts at continuing to work after this point, led to shaky memorisation, quality, and an increasing disdain for the whole studying process. Surely the same occurs with these students, yet they continued to peg at it.
After an hour of studying, the group and I headed down to the cafeteria for lunch. It was peak lunch time and the area was full. After some searching, we found a shared side table. The group had brought their own food. I looked at the menu. Tacos – 81kr. Too much. Pumpkin soup – 61kr. Still too much, but there was nothing cheaper, so I ordered it. “That looks very nice! You always have the best food,” said Martin. I looked at what the others were eating. Bread, bread, and more bread. Martin was eating bread with slices of salami. Håkon was eating bread with salt and egg, Thomas with Levepostei paste. Bård had made his own bread and put raw salmon on his slices. “Yes, I do have the nicest food,” I thought. Bread was on the menu every lunchtime for my norwegian classmates, and it was eaten several times a day. I wondered though how they didn’t get bored of bread! To my benefit, the huge bread culture of the Norwegian population inspired the creation of very delicious bread.
My classmates spoke Norwegian amongst themselves. I tried to follow the conversation but to no avail, catching a word I recognised here and there. What was a string of words sounded like one long word. The tone often went low to high or the other way around very quickly, and the words seemed to flow into each other. Were they asking a question? Were they finishing a sentence? It was very hard to tell.
Lunch times tended to be a time that highlighted the Norsmann’s preference to speak Norwegian over English, even though most Norwegians are fluent in both. When I’d order in English, the cafeteria cashier would usually reply to me in Norwegian. When several of my international classmates joined us, my Norwegian classmates would still speak mostly Norwegian. I sat there pondering this, and remembered back to pretty much every time I met a new a Norwegian, how they’d greet me in their language, how I’d respond in English, how their face would show a foul expression for a split second when they realised that I only spoke English, and finally how they started thinking of ways they could exit the situation so they could speak Norwegian again! It didn’t take long for me to realise that one cannot become truly integrated in Norway without knowing ‘norsk’.
After 2 more hours of studying, I said my goodbyes to the group and headed back home. It was around 4pm now. I exited the building and was met with an already fully matured night sky. The rays of sun never got a chance to shine this day, cloud-trapped for the few hours it could have shone. A Tesla with a taxi symbol turned into the road in front of me. To my right waited another one with a silver Mercedes taxi. When those taxi drivers arrived in Norway (most of them being African/Middle Eastern immigrants), they probably weren’t expecting to be driving those kind of cars for their job!
I walked towards the Studentersamfundet again, the cold as unforgiving as in the morning. Then…it started to snow. Flakes of white fell steadily to the ground and gently on my face, and my mood was lifted. Like a favourite song, falling snow is something I never get tired of seeing. A sense of peace and enchantment came over me. I relished the experience, an experience I had never known until recently, having always lived in warm countries. The 66 bus arrived as I arrived to the bus stop. No waiting this time. Moholt Studentby. I got off with a few other students. At any point in time, one could guarantee that a student would get off at Moholt Studentby (meaning Moholt Student Village).
As several students walked down toward Herman Krags road, I crossed the zebra crossing towards REMA 1000, the closest supermarket to the student village. I entered into sights of red and green. Christmas products of all sorts could be seen in the aisles and display racks. I walked past julebrus (Christmas soda). Then I walked past ingredients for glogg (mulled wine). I looked left and saw limited edition Christmas chips. I looked further left and saw Christmas beers. I walked to the end of the store and saw limited edition Christmas brown cheese! It was November, yet the Christmas fever was already in full force, and supermarkets across Norway, a representation of the very fact. I bought some glogg, pasta, and my staple 4-pack of already-cooked chicken.
Click. I opened my flat door to see my Iranian flatmate making tea. We talked to each other about our days before I retreated to my room to crash. My bed becames a pile of clothes as I undressed. My Chinese flatmate began to cook at the same time. “This is dirty! I hate dirty!” he shouted to himself. This was followed by “This is insane!” his favourite thing to say. He was undoubtedly the odd one in the flat. It was time to take a nap.
5:45pm. The nap was much needed. I lay on my bed pondering the dreams I’d had, incredible, out of the box dreams, and as always seemingly uninterpretable. It seemed so strange to wake up to ‘night time’. The darkness outside and the lights within confused my body to think that it was already 11pm. Lethargy took reigns again and a stark demotivation to leave the flat set on me. But I had to go out. I was going to a pre-Christmas service at 7pm. The battle to get ready and LEAVE had begun. I sat down on my bed, mind blank for 10 minutes. Then, I laborously got dressed. Stalling and more aimless sitting stole any time to have something quick to eat. I put aside my feelings and headed to the bus stop. Early evenings proved to be a powerful opponent.I won this battle, but would lose many in the coming weeks.
The bus was coming in 5 minutes. A big group of Norwegians waited with me. The men were wearing suits and the women nice dresses. They spoke quickly and loudly to each other. Many laughs and some singing were exchanged among them. My guess was that they were going to a julebord, a Christmas dinner in which many dress up and get absolutely shit-faced. A pair of women stood to the side, also dressed to impress. The pair behaved better, more like your typical Norwegian, but looked at the group approvingly, thinking how that’s what they’re going to be like after some more alcohol in their system.
The bus arrived and I found a seat among other juleborders. The loudness and rowdiness of the group continued for the whole ride. Many passengers turned their heads towards them and a smile or giggle followed. Thoughts of good times at julebords in the past painted pleasant expressions on the faces of the older natives.
The red stopping sign lit up for my stop. The madness inside the bus was replaced with tranquility outside. With stomach growling, I entered a convenience store and bought a pastry to eat on the way to the church. I walked through an empty Torg (city square). Golden Christmas lights covering the trees and outsides lights made the darkness of the night flee and the snow-covered floor glisten like thousands of tiny diamonds. I stopped to take the sight in despite being strapped for time.
Nidarosdomen, my destination, stood glooming 2 blocks away. A long queue of semi-freezing people could be seen to enter the cathedral. The queue stretched from the side door of Nidarosdomen and turned down along it outer gate. After some searching, I found my friend, Øyvind, close to the front of the line. A tall man, he was easy to spot. We talked about study progress, exams, strength training, and other topics as we waited. Not one to like waiting, conversation made the queueing more bearable, and soon the cathedral doors opened. Young adults, predominantly Norwegian, moved purposefully to their desired seats. Shortly after, empty pews were filled with eager Christians.
Øyvind and I sat in the center of proceedings. Between speech, I admired the church’s interior, its organ pipes, its tall columns, it stained glass windows. More so, I admired the women. Never had my eyes been treated to so many beautiful Norwegian Christians in one place. Fair, soft-skinned, blue-eyed faces with full bodies were everywhere. “How happy I’d be if I were to marry one of them one day,” I thought. The joy of that thought diminished quickly when I though of all the obstacles in the way of that reality, the biggest obstacle that I couldn’t speak Norwegian, the second biggest that I wasn’t Norwegian. One also cannot forget that when it comes to money, most Norwegians had more of it. 3 months in Norway made it pretty clear that when it comes to intimate relationships, Norwegians favoured their own.
Inside Nidarosdomen on another day.
The priest, speakers, and servicemen were at the alter. The service was about to start. We stood up, with hymn pamphlets in hand. The organ was awoken and the space was filled with song. Everyone joined the choir to sing. No one’s lips were sealed and the sound produced was magical. I flashed back to the first time I heard worship in Norwegian. Back then, I recorded it on my phone because I loved it so much. The worship in Nidarosdomen that day was comparatively on a whole other level. Our voices reverberated on the stone walls of the church. Vibrations rumbled our chest walls. It was a poweful moment and a moment of great unity.
Song and music coupled with long pauses of dead silence. The presence of God was tangible in the sound; in the silence, even more so. Not long after, we were singing together again the final hymn. The service was short, merely an hour, but it will be a service I’ll remember for a long time. I may not have understood what was being said, but I was glad to have joined brothers and sisters for this special service in the oldest cathedral in Europe.
As I exited to the courtyard, I felt like I wasn’t alone in my beliefs and that I wasn’t the only young person with those beliefs. In a country where the majority don’t care about God, it was easy to feel the contrary. Rings of people formed in the courtyard, most forming them with friends and people they know. Gloog and cookies were promised after the service and an unorganised block of people crowded the receive their share. The cold outdoors quickly dampened people’s social motivations and most people had left within the half hour. Øyvind, me, and some people we know were some of the few that remained. Long pauses plagued our conversation. The flow of our social juices were experiencing resistance, but we enjoyed each other’s company nevertheless.
An intriguing blonde sociology student that the other had met but didn’t know much about, became the center of our attention and questions. She was bubbly and animated, in other words, a rare breed of Norwegian. She spoke a lot and matched words messily in an endearing way. She was a breath of fresh air. We had had enough of the real fresh air and decided to go our separate ways. I walked with the girl to the same bus stop and she got on an earlier bus. I hope to see her again.
The bus ride back was just as lively as the ride down. Chants from a group of overintoxicated males were sung loudly the entire journey. The energy kept me awake, but the minute I got back home, the tiredness hit me hard, except this time, when it was supposed to. It was time to call it a day. I finished a lazy dinner, then melted into my bed.