I was in the midst of writing a silly blog post about how I’ve been rather reluctant, loath even, to call myself a Calgarian, even though I was born in Calgary and have lived here for the past 16 years, and about how I still feel like a transplanted Ottawan, having spent my entire childhood and formative years there, when I first heard about what happened in Norway.
I stopped writing it because it seemed rather stupid all of a sudden to pit Cowtown versus O-Town and dissect which one felt more like home and why. It is true that I’ve always identified more strongly with Ottawa, and Ontario, for a myriad of reasons, (family, cottage, childhood nostalgia, hot summers, Gatineau park…) and to that end, it still feels like home to me. It is also true that I’ve occasionally been at odds with Calgary for a different set of reasons altogether (sheer geographical size, traffic, short summers, no lakes, politics…) and because I only moved here for sport it doesn’t always feel like home.
It seemed stupid because in reality one can feel at home or at odds with any place given the right or wrong circumstances, and ultimately I should feel grateful that I have two places I can call home. And it seemed especially stupid when I heard about what happened in Norway.
Norway is like home #3 for me. My mother was born in Norway and lived there until 1969 when the pull of a certain gentleman in Vancouver drew her to this great country. Leaving her country, her language, her life and her entire family behind to forge a new life in Canada was a leap of faith, and love, that made it possible for me to exist.
We traveled to Norway many times when I was younger; to visit relatives, explore the country and experience new things. I loved going there. We went hiking, camping, and cloudberry picking. We skied in the winter. My uncle Olav made us beautiful little crafts out of wood and birch bark in his workshop. The sun stayed up almost all night during the summertime. I fell in love with heart shaped waffles and homemade strawberry jam, Firkløver chocolate, vanilje saus, reindeer stew and even boiled potatoes.
Norwegian culture, language and life were threads woven through the cloth of my Canadian childhood; at Christmas we celebrated ‘little Christmas Eve’ on December 23, we ate peeled shrimp for dinner and kromkake for dessert, and we received gifts from Jul Nissen too. We celebrated the 17th of May, the Norwegian national holiday, and planted Norwegian flags in the garden. Sometimes we had fish balls from a can for dinner (if you weren’t careful you might mistake one for a boiled potato on the other side of your plate). My mother made fresh bread, weekly. We never had store bought bread. She also knit us Norwegian sweaters and mitts, the envy of all my friends.
In later years, when I began traveling to World Cups, it was a treat that we raced frequently in Hamar, Norway, the site of the Winter Olympics in 1994. Friends and family would travel to Hamar to watch me race and after racing I would inevitably get invited to dinner and they would always serve fruit salad with my favourite – vanilje saus. I used to buy boxes of the stuff and bring it home to Canada. I drove my teammates nuts by raving about the superiority of all things Norwegian.
At some point Norwegian television caught on that I was half Norwegian (I’m pretty sure one of my relatives made an anonymous phone call) and every time I raced they would announce this at the rink and on TV and I would get an extra loud cheer. On TV they would sometimes say that I merely had Norwegian ancestors, which drove my relatives batty. “Nei nei!” they would cry, “Henne mor er Norsk!!” They wanted me to skate for Norway. I could have too; I have Norwegian citizenship and could live there if I so choose.
I feel a palpably strong connection to my Norwegian roots. I love everything about it and feel so lucky every time I get the chance to go; it feels like home too. The news of the horrific events of last week pierced my heart with a devastating blow. Images of places I’ve been, now destroyed, shocked my senses. Listening to the updates and learning new facts about the attack and its motivation left me saddened and heartbroken. How could this happen?
It was doubly shocking because of what I know about the Norwegian people and their society. Norway is a peaceful country, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, ever-present at NATO and global peace negotiations and has one of the lowest crime rates in the world. The standard of living is high, health care and education are major priorities. They are open to those who come from war-torn and poverty stricken nations, offering a better life. For someone to attack them for being this way is beyond me, and thankfully beyond pretty much everyone else of sound mind. It is a beautiful country and a beautiful place to live.
I am heartened, proud even, of Norway’s stalwart response to the attacks. “We will not be broken, we will not retaliate, we will not be afraid.” That they will strive to become even more open, free and accommodating speaks to their strength and their belief in democracy. It’s no wonder people want to live there.
It’s easy for an idealist like me to get disillusioned by the endless problems we seem to face these days. Local, global, social, environmental, political, economical… A tragedy such as this paints a bleak picture. How are we going to fix this? Thankfully I’m reminded of the capacity for change: by idealistic youth in Norway, motivated to create a better future, some tragically killed by a misguided madman, survived by others who vow to continue their work.
Whenever we discuss any sort of geographical subjects, my boyfriend Scott likes to remind me (often) of the minor in Geography he earned in university. He told me once they learned that Norway is like a little Canada; they share similar geography and an abundance of the same natural resources. I like to think it goes beyond the physical; we also share similar social values like democracy, education, health care and open arms to others seeking a better life. And for me, it’s personal. I share a love of both and feel at home in both too. That I have three places where I feel at home is a blessing. That two are in Canada and one is in Norway is luckier still.
Truth be told, there are a lot of things I do like about Calgary (chinooks, mountains, the new mayor, Kensington, farmers markets, long summer nights, friends…) and some things I don’t like about Ottawa (winter slush… is that really all I can think of?) I’ve lived in Calgary as long as I have in Ottawa. I’ve never lived in Norway. But they all feel like home. Somehow a tragedy in Norway, innocence lost in a beautiful place, and a devastated people forever changed, has not only saddened me but also made me rethink what home really is.