I'm fortunate that I'll be on sabbatical in the fall. As a result, I've taken two drastic actions.

1) I died my hair blue. Well, technically, just a swath of my hair is blue, but it was still something I probably wouldn't do during the regular school year.

Kathee with Blue Hair
Kathee with Sabbatical Hair

2) I've moved back to Oslo. I'll be here on and off for a few months, escaping the heat, enjoying an urban environment, reconnecting with friends, studying Norwegian, and working on my project with very few distractions.

Although I've been back in Norway several times since living here, it feels different this time around. I suppose one of the differences is that most of my friends are on holiday for the month of July which means that I've been left to my own devices, to some extent. I've been reading a lot and started creating my sabbatical website today (I'll be working on a digital humanities project)--but every day, I make sure to take long walks, exploring both the immediate neighborhood and other parts of the city.

Today, my walk was incredible. I worked most of the day, so this evening, I decided to retrace my favorite walk from when I lived here: down Drammensveien and then along the fjord. However, when I got to the part of my walk where I usually turn back towards Aker Brygge, I decided instead to keep walking on Bygdøy peninsula, taking a path along the shore, then venturing into the more rural landscape complete with cow pastures. It was incredibly beautiful and I felt some regret that I hadn't taken these paths before.

Drammensveien and Bygdøy
Drammensveien and Bygdøy

1

Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) once performed in the U.S. and all over Europe. Although she sang, the majority of people came to see her because of her physical appearance. Her body was covered with hair and she suffered from hypertrichosis. She was sometimes labeled "The Ape Woman" or "The Ugliest Woman in the World." After her death during childbirth, her husband had her body, and that of their son, who inherited his mother's condition and who also died, embalmed and stuffed. Their bodies were on display until the 1970's. After being stored in a basement of a hospital in Oslo, her body was finally returned to her homeland, Sinaloa Mexico, due to the efforts of artist Laura Anderson Barbata. She was buried February 12, 2013. Her son's remains were lost in the 1970s and have never been recovered. In this podcast, you will hear a poem about Julia written by poet Wendy Rose (Hopi/Miwok).

1

Sight: colorful homes, sparkling water in the fjord, electric cars getting charged, overcast skies.

Sound: ducks quacking, cars zooming, clicking of ski poles for skaters getting ready for the winter.

Smell: damp air, burnt coffee close to the coffee factory, sewage smell in a couple of spots.

Touch: cool air, light mist of rain.

Taste: bread and cheese at the end of my walk.

3

I'm still reeling about the terrible news coming out of Norway right now. How could this have happened in such a peaceful nation? One of the only "new" presentations I ever developed while on Fulbright there was on violence in the U.S. Edvin Svela, a teacher of really wonderful students at Oslo Katedralskole, asked me to come in to talk with his students about this topic. The students had a lot of questions:

  • Why are guns so pervasive in the United States?
  • Why is it so easy to buy guns?
  • What is the rationale behind the death penalty? How can death be an appropriate sentence for anyone?
  • Why are a disproportionate number of those executed people of color?
  • Why is violence such an integral part of American identity?

These questions reveal how distant these students felt that violence was from their everyday lives. According to these students, in Norway, gun permits are granted only to hunters who have taken an intense course on gun use. They couldn't understand why anyone else would need a gun, nor could they understand how violent acts could be so embedded in a culture.

Their innocence is why I'm even more upset about what happened there. When I read last night that there were over 80 victims on Utøya, I was sick. I went to bed wishing that there was some way I could wake up to better news. I think about the wonderful students I worked with in Norway; I hope that none of them were on Utøya yesterday . . . I wish that no one had been there. I wish that nothing had happened at that camp.

I didn't have to tell the Kate students that violence is wrong, damaging, and too often cyclical. They already knew that, and I hope they still do. The worst outcome of the gunman's act could be more violence. I hope that Norway will maintain its more pacifist views as it moves through this difficult time--I hope that as Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg said: "You will not destroy us, you will not destroy our democracy and our idea for a better world."

Over the last few days, NRK has been broadcasting live footage of the Hurtigruten cruise along the Norwegian coastline. I’d seen some of my Norwegian friends mention this on Facebook, but this morning, I finally got around to finding it online. The ship is almost to Lofoten, an archipelago I visited while I lived in Norway. I just checked my blog to see what I wrote about this trip . . . and it seems I didn’t write anything, I think because this was just the first part of a 10 day trip. So here’s a much belated entry about wonderful Lofoten.

I was invited to present in Stokmarknes and Melbu by an energetic teacher, Siri Johnsen, who had never before had a visit from a Roving Scholar. She was so enthusiastic about my trip—and about where she lived. Since I also had heard from many others how beautiful Lofoten was, I traveled there a few days early. On the advice of Maj-Britt, the travel agent for the Roving Scholars, I chose Svolvær, a small town known for its striking scenery, as my destination. Although it was late January when I arrived, there had been quite a bit of rain followed by freezing temperatures that left a thick coat of (melting) ice on the roads. The hotel I was staying at was about a 10 minute walk from the center of town—and in order to avoid the ice, I had to walk down the middle of the mostly empty road. As I was there during the off season, the whale watching trips and other tourist activities were closed. I spent a quiet few days there, taking photos of the spectacular scenery on long walks, reading, and walking into town to eat.

I then went to Stokmarknes to present. Siri had prepared the students for my visit, even inviting a local reporter, Vegard Bakkely (who wrote a story about me published in the local paper), to attend my presentations. I spent the day with a really nice group of students, talking about American culture. The students were funny and engaged—and I remember that they asked really good questions about the U.S. Later, they made a video about Norwegian food for me to share with American students. Speaking of food, I also enjoyed a delicious lunch with the Hadsel VGS teachers that featured whale and a traditional dinner with Siri, her American husband and another teacher that evening. Siri gave me a beautiful necklace that I still wear and love—and I think of my visit to her school every time I put it on.


I also presented in Melbu, a small fishing village south of Stokmarknes. One of the teachers arranged a last minute presentation with students at the ungdomskole, the only time I presented to younger students during my Fulbright year. This group, too, was delightful—they were energetic and funny . . . and so excited to have an American to talk with. Several of them walked me to my hotel afterwards and two emailed later to ask if I could find an American penpal for them. My stay in Melbu was especially memorable because I had been the only one at the hotel the night before. Even the hotel employees went home and left me alone, but they had returned in the morning to make breakfast for me. I also really enjoyed walking around the area thinking about the cod that is caught and dried there. Cod (baccalhau) was such an important dish to Portugal, another country I’ve lived in, that it was fascinating to see where it originates.

Lofoten is one of the most beautiful places in the world, I think. I hope to return some day.

Note: the first three pictures are from Svolvaer, the last from Melbu.

Long ski race
Long ski race

I've been feeling very nostalgic for Norway this weekend. A year ago, I went on an 8 day trip that culminated in spending the National Sami Day in Karasjok, the capital of Samiland in Norway. Karasjok was one of three places that I most wanted to visit while in Norway (the other two were the amazing town of Longyearbyen, home of the Global Seed Vault, and Kautokeino, the other big Sami town, which I wasn't able to visit). I emailed schools in both Karasjok and Kautokeino, hoping that they would invite me to present to their students. When Martin Pope, a teacher at Samisk VGS in Karasjok, invited me to come for the National Sami Day, I couldn't believe my good fortune! It meant adding two more days to an already long trip and traveling late at night in order to get to Karasjok for the festivities, but it was well worth it to be involved in the Sami celebration. Read about my trip here.

Dixie and one of the Sami students getting ready for a spark race
Dixie and one of the Sami students getting ready for a spark race

Buorre álbmotbeaivvi!

For a long time, I've wanted to include a photo reference guide to the people I mention in my blog. I especially wanted to do this last year since so many of my friends back home didn't know my friends in Norway. Better late than never, I say.

Lixian and Jeff:

Lixian and Jeff
Lixian and Jeff

Lixian was the person I hung out with most frequently. She's always fun to talk with and I love how committed she is to making the world a better place. My 10 months in Norway would have been so much more lonely without her. I hope from some of my other posts, it's clear how much Lixian has meant to me this year. Jeff has so much energy and curiosity about the world. He was great fun to talk politics with. I love that this picture shows what close friends these two are. I enjoyed hanging out with them both separately and together. And I'm so excited to see Lixian next week in San Francisco!!!!! I promise to take a better picture of Lixian to post as a follow up.

LaReesa:

LaReesa
LaReesa

I don't know what I would have done without my occasional get togethers with LaReesa. She reminded me of my friends back home and was great to talk shop with. We joked about how nice it was to spend time with someone our own age. I also really enjoyed LaReesa's family and wish that I had a picture of all three. John is a great cook and person, and Zach is one of the most intelligent and fun kids I know. I miss you guys.

Tove (and Jeff again):

Jeff and Tove
Jeff and Tove

Tove and I became friends far too late in the year. She worked at the Fulbright office, so I always assumed that the last thing she'd want to do on the weekends was see more Fulbrighters. When she got a new job, I decided to ask her if she'd like to have dinner--and that began our far too brief friendship. Tove is a great conversationalist and I love how independent and together she is. Tove, I wish we'd had more time to get to know each other.

Ben, Susie, Cathrine, Stine:

Ben, Susie, Cathrine, and Stine
Ben, Susie, Cathrine, and Stine

These four came to my New Year's Eve Party (in addition to a few other folks). I love Ben and Susie's yummy cooking (Ben, I still need the chicken tikka masala recipe!). They are both so talented, and I admire how well they seem to forge strong relationships. I met Cathrine through Stine--she is funny and smart . . . and I hope that she really will come to grad school in the U.S., preferably in California. 🙂 Stine was a teacher who invited me to her class last fall. She was so fun to hang out with then that I decided she *had* to be my friend. She's off to Spain on her own great adventure in August.

Hilde and Renate:

Hilde and Renate
Hilde and Renate

Hilde and Renate are teachers that I met at the first Fulbright reception. They have both done the Fulbright summer program for teachers in the U.S. They each were great friends to me and the other Roving Scholar. They have always been supportive and kind to me. Hilde, I hope you love your new house. Renate, love your posts to my Facebook page!

Ann:

Ann
Ann

Ann is an amazing teacher and avid learner of all things technological. Although she suffers from a devotion to Microsoft ;), I can't believe everything she can do with the computer. Ann and her husband Henning have been so generous and willing to teach me about Norwegian culture. I only wish we'd been able to spend more time together!

I look at these pictures and think about my fears when I moved to Norway. I worried that because I traveled so much, I wouldn't make friends and that I would have a very lonely year. I'm sometimes amazed at how quickly we can feel connected to other people. It isn't always clear at first meeting who will become a part of our lives, nor is it clear how long friendship will last. I'm so glad for the time I was able to spend with each of these people. Thank you.

My last week in Norway was filled with socializing, goodbyes, packing, and cleaning. It went by quickly.

I was able to explore more of Oslo with my friends--I enjoyed seeing new parts of the city and experienced some melancholy as I said goodbye to places that had meant so much to me over the last 10 months.

Blå, "the coolest bar in Europe," was one of the places I visited with Lixian and Jeff. We hung out on the patio by the river and enjoyed the band. After awhile, we walked through the city streets into Gronland and Jeff told us a little bit about the history of this neighborhood currently occupied predominantly by Oslo's immigrant population.

Blå
Blå

I also met Stine and Cathrine for dinner one evening--and then we saw "The Comedy of Errors" performed at Akershus Festning, the courtyard in a medieval fort. The production was funny and we all had such a good time. It was incredible to go look at the fjord during the intermission and to look up at the walls in the courtyard during the performance.

Shakespeare at Akershus Festning
Shakespeare at Akershus Festning

Another night I revisited Rust with Hilde and Renate. We enjoyed sitting on the patio, chatting, and eating yummy tapas. Rust has been a great Sunday afternoon destination for reading and relaxing.

Tapas at Rust
Tapas at Rust

I drank one last cortado at Le Rustique with Abbey, a former Roving Scholar who has moved back to Oslo. I love this cafe's owners who are from South American (Argentina, I think). They are always so friendly--and fun to chat with. Another neighborhood haunt was Apent Bakeri, not the big one by Literaturhuset, but the small one nearer to my apartment. Lixian and I met there to eat one last kanelboller together.

Friday night was dinner in Majorstuen at Curry and Ketchup. I had envied Tom his pea dish last time I was there, so this time I ordered this scrumptious combination of peas and paneer. Divine. After dinner, LaReesa, Susie and I walked in Frognerparken in the light rain. It was a relaxing way to say goodbye to this beautiful park.

Susie and LaReesa
Susie and LaReesa

I also really enjoyed parties at Tove's and Ann's, although I didn't take pictures.

Two last pictures. First, scenery by the fjord at Aker Brygge. After my last (amazing meal) at Ann and Henning's, I took the long way home and said goodbye to this bustling area.

Aker Brygge
Aker Brygge

I also took some photos of a quiet street that was part of my morning walk. I'm not really even sure what the name of the street is, but I always loved when I arrived at this part:

Near Aker Brygge
Near Aker Brygge

These are places in Oslo that I will miss--and people that I will miss, too.

Now that I'm back in Fresno, my 10 months seem so mystical. It feels so normal to be home that it's hard to believe that I was away so long. I find myself wanting to revisit these places--and I have yet to find such pleasant and inviting spaces in the Fresno heat.

Friday was the Sami national day. The Sami, sometimes labeled with the derogatory term Lapplanders, are the indigenous people of Scandanavia. For decades, the Sami were oppressed, forced to give up their language, religion and culture. About 30 years ago, though, the Sami resisted construction of a dam in Alta--which led to increased interest and pride in their culture . . . and greater political clout.

I was invited to celebrate the Sami national day at Samisk VGS (high school). I talked with first (sophomore) and third (senior) year students about American Indian literature (the second year students were in charge of the day's activities so they were busy making sure everything ran smoothly). The students are required to learn three languages at school, Sami, Norwegian, and English. As you might guess, the result is that the students aren't as confident in English as many of the other students I work with. Still, they responded well to the videos and literature that I shared.

After my presentation, the next event was the dedication of a special hut that teachers and students had been building. There was a roaring fire inside . . . which was so inviting in the cold, -27 degree weather--but most people actually chose to remain outside since smoke filled the room (they're going to have to work on getting the smoke to draw outside).

We all went back inside to dress warmly for the outdoor activities: spark racing (the spark is a sled powered by the driver kicking or walking behind it), lassoing reindeer antlers, brush hockey, and long ski races. There was also a lavvo, a Sami tent with a fire, reindeer skins, and hot chocolate inside. The games were a lot of fun. Emily and I did the spark race; she was blindfolded and I sat on the sled yelling "left," "right," or "straight" to help guide her. We were winning until we had to turn the spark around at the end of one lap.

One of the students, Jovna, taught Dixie and I to lasso reindeer antlers. Each person got three tries and both Dixie and I were successful!

I also watched the long ski races (four people on two long skis) which was a lot of fun. People fell, laughed, and eventually learned to move in unison. I never made it down to the brush hockey game--there were too many other things to do.

Finally, the cold became too much for everyone, so we went back inside the school for a program. Two women sang joik, the traditional Sami music, another told a story about embracing her Sami heritage. The Slovakians, teachers and students who are partners with Samisk VGS and who are in Karasjok for 2 weeks, sang and danced. And a group of students showed a video they had made about their every day lives in Karasjok. Then, we ate lunch. I tried everything, including boiled reindeer, blood sausage, lingonberry jam, reindeer broth, and reindeer tongue. I even sucked the marrow out of a bone. I had more than one bite of everything but the tongue--I just couldn't get past how it looked. This was not, however, my favorite meal in Norway.

After lunch, Dixie and I walked to the elementary school where there would be another program honoring the crown prince and princess of Norway who were visiting for the day. Everything was outside--so we talked with people, both adults and children. Dixie is a teaching intern from London who works at both the VGS and the elementary school. She's just been in Karasjok since the beginning of the school year, but the community is so small that she already knows a lot of people.

I had to go indoors after awhile because it was so cold, but I came out in time to see the prince and princess, who were dressed in Sami clothing and who were gracious observers of the dancing and other festivities. Norwegians seem to be quite fond of these two. Prince Haakon attended Berkeley where few people knew that he was royalty, and he married a commoner, Mette-Marit who was a single mother (note: the picture above is of some members of the community, not the prince and princess).

Dixie and I left before all the entertainment was done in order to meet other teachers and the Slovakians for a church service. The prince and princess came to this service, as well. I didn't understand the thankfully brief sermon, but I enjoyed sitting in the beautiful church with the interesting, many bulbed light fixture that circled the entire room.

After a brief rest at the hotel, I met Martin, his family, Dixie, and the Slovakians for the culture night. There was a too long speech, but then a lot of fun singing and dancing. The little kids sang a popular Norwegian song which contains Sami words, one boy sang a joik and then combined it with rap music, a girl I had met at the elementary school danced with her older sister. There were a lot of really enjoyable moments. I also ran into a woman I'd met on the bus the day before--and talked with another woman who was sitting next to me during the second half of the program.

After dinner, we went to Martin's house for dinner, a typical Norwegian spread with bread, meats, cheese, salads, etc.

I think I experienced everything the community had planned for Sami day. Now, I just wish I could go back for the Easter festivities which include reindeer races. There's so much I left out of this description--the things I learned about the Sami's love for their reindeer, the nice people I met, Kari who was my "shepherd" for much of the day. This will be, I think, one of my most memorable experiences in Norway.

5

Longyearbyen is the largest northernmost populated town (population: 2060). It's on Spitsbergen Island in the Norwegian archipelago Svalbard--within the Arctic Circle close to the north pole. It's an unusual town--in the winter, it experiences several months of polar night (days with 24 hours of darkness). And in the summer the opposite, 24 hours of light. In between, there's a three week period of what locals call "blue light." Pictures of this phenomenon are quite striking--there's a blue haze (for lack of a better word) everywhere that tints the snow, ice, buildings, people. I met someone here who visited Longyearbyen 11 years ago during the time of "blue light." He was an architect from Stavanger who was sent up here for 3 months to work on a building. But he became so enamored of the blue light that, 11 years later, he still lives here. He has a taxi/tour business and makes much less than when he worked as an architect. But he loves his life up here--the honest simplicity and generous community that he finds here--and he plans to stay for the rest of his life.

Coal Miner, Longyearbyen
Coal Miner, Longyearbyen

I've been here in Longyearbyen for three days now and have my own polar night experience to recount. Although I know I couldn't live here, it's been amazing to be in Svalbard. I'd love to come back two more times: once to see the blue light and another to see the midnight sun. I want to see what the fjord looks like and take photographs (so I want to return when I have better cameras and know more about photography). During this trip, I presented to students, went to an award winning museum depicting the history of Longyearbyen, took a tour of the town, and ate reindeer. I decided that I also had to do something "polar" while I was here, so yesterday I went dogsledding. There was a time when I was scared to death of dogs--and I don't much like speed (except when I'm driving). I didn't allow myself to think much about dogsledding because I could have worried myself into not doing it.

Kathee in Dogsledding Gear
Kathee in Dogsledding Gear

I met Sigurd, the dog sled guide, at Basecamp Hotel. There was only one other dogsledder yesterday, Renta, a medical doctor who is currently working on a master's in art history focusing on color and outdoor ornamentation in Longyearbyen. Sigurd gave us well insulated jump suits, boots, a knit face mask, an insulated face mask that covered the knit version, gloves, and a headlamp. Then, we drove out to the dog camp. Sigurd explained what to do, and Renta and I helped to harness the dogs. Of course, we only managed to do a couple while Sigurd quickly harnessed the rest. Renta and I decided to ride together and take turns driving. I told her that she could choose what she'd like to do first and she decided to ride. After Sigurd taught us the basics, we took off down a hill. I was worried about tipping us over, so I took it slow and focused on leaning in the right direction to keep us steady. Soon, we were in a valley where we could see the ghostly outlines of mountains on either side. We whisked through the quiet, deserted landscape hearing the crunch of the snow and the barking of very happy dogs. The dark blue sky overhead looked endless--and I absolutely felt the draw of the landscape . . . although likely just a small degree of what Arctic explorers must have felt.

Kathee and Renta
Kathee and Renta

There's something so exhilarating about dogsledding. I can't claim to have had a mystical experience where I felt one with the dogs. I knew quite well that the dogs had been trained to follow the lead sled, so it wasn't like I was guiding them. Still, I managed to stop them from overtaking the other sled, to help when we went uphill by kicking behind as if I were skateboarding, to brake and anchor, and to pick up the anchor when we resumed the ride. When it was time to trade with Renta, I was a little regretful we had decided to be in the same sled--but I was also excited that she got to experience what I just had.

The Dogs
The Dogs

At the end of the ride, we unharnessed the tired dogs and went into a candlelit, toasty warm cabin for a hot drink. We sat at the table talking; Sigurd told us a bit about what it was like to live in Longyearbyen and Renta talked about the research she was doing. After we were completely warmed up again, Sigurd drove us back into town. I'm so glad that I went dogsledding. I feel like it's probably one of the most adventurous things I will ever do.

I hope that this isn't the last time I come to Longyearbyen.