They boarded the bus to visit the camp site on the idyllic island near their temporary quarters. Mother, father, and four children had fled from Iraq and were staying in the country-side. Here, they waited to learn whether they would be allowed to stay in this country, where they needn’t fear for their lives each day. In order to break the agony of waiting for that day of judgement, the parents had decided to take their children fishing at a nearby waterfront camp site, where one could stand on the long docks and cast a line out towards the horizon. It was a beautiful evening: one that offered the hope of forgetting, even if just for a few short hours, so that the young ones could catch a glimpse of how childhood could be. All of them longed for their homeland, but it was too dangerous a place to be in. They told themselves that there were beautiful experiences to be had in this new land, to which they had reluctantly fled.
As they boarded, the bus driver – a local woman with family roots in the area – greeted them. The youngsters responded in the local language and held out their tickets. The parents remained silent behind their children, embarrassed that they had not yet picked up this language that was in every way foreign to their own. The bus driver looked into each of the children’s faces and smiled at them. She had children of her own and knew that these young ones had been through experiences that she could not imagine. She acknowledged the parents, thinking how bizarre it was to believe that her country’s problems were created by them.
The family disembarked from the bus and walked down the long path that cut through the middle of the camp site. To their left and right, they saw people enjoying the still summer evening outside their trailers and tents. The mood was open and friendly. No one stared at the outsiders, or, for that matter, thought of them as outsiders. This was a place for anyone who loved nature and the sound of the crickets as night fell.
Children playing football near one of the trailers kicked their ball in the direction of the Iraqi children. At first, the newcomers were afraid to kick back, not because they couldn’t play football (a national sport in their country), but because they had been told by their parents to keep a low profile. Ignoring their advice, the most forward of the children took a gigantic kick and sent the ball flying back. The children at the camp site cheered.
There were many boats moored at the long docks. The family walked quietly past them to the end of one of the docks and cast their lines toward the horizon. This evening it was in various hues of fuschia, orange, and yellow, no different than the sunset in Iraq. The boaters, many of whom were drinking coffee after dinner or having a night cap, watched the night entertainment with interest. Would they or wouldn’t they catch a fish? After an hour or so, one of the boaters emerged from her boat and offered the parents some coffee and biscuits, which they gladly accepted. The children’s eyes were wide with delight, as the boater offered them some cordial, and, most importantly, biscuits.
A fish bit onto one of the hooks, and the boaters collectively held their breaths. After an extensive struggle, the fish got away. The silence was broken by the father of the children, who began to laugh. It was the kind of laughter loaded with the relief that there were good people here, and that life still had its beautiful moments. The boaters thought it infectious and began to laugh along. The parents looked back at the boats as their children continued to fish. For the first time, they felt a commonness with these people, who could laugh with them, sit in suspense with them, and share in the universal love of children.
I was one of the boaters this evening, and I know that this is how it can be on a Nordic island. Here, love, hope and humanity are so great, that there is no room for anything else.
Written in memory of the victims of the Oslo and Utøya tragedies.