There is something about the winter darkness that soothes me. While the numbers of suicides, especially in the northern European countries such as Finland, rise in the long winter months, to me this period represents my first memories of peace and security. Aged 16 I landed in what would forever be my home away from home, Norway.
December 15 1997 my family and I landed on a land so far away from what we had ever been or dreamed of being. The intricate operation of uprooting a family of eight from our temporary home in Nairobi, where we had been living for three years, turned out to be more trickier than anyone could have thought. My mother, a courageous woman, who spent most of her waking hours trying to find a way out of the situation we were in as illegal immigrants in Kenya, received the news of our move to the Scandinavian country on Thursday afternoon and we were to be out of the country by Sunday. How do you prepare for that?
You really don’t. Suited in a multi-coloured pair of jeans, a white tee, knitted jumper and canvas shoes, I was ready for the new life ahead of me.
My parents are well educated and held good jobs back home in Rwanda and had often travelled to the west, as had most of my siblings, but no one had been further up north, so we all didn’t know what to expect or how to prepare. For how do you prepare for what you don’t know?
Born and raised below the equator had afforded me a luxury I never knew I had; warmth and sunshine. Nairobi can be cold at times but what I experienced the second I stepped out of the plane in Germany for a short transit before boarding our next flight to Norway was nothing in comparison.
An elderly Norwegian gentleman looked us over as we stood shivering in the cold and asked us where we were headed. Upon responding Norway, he shook his head at our clothing and said we were in for a rude awekening. This was 6 degrees celcius and I couldn’t fathom what this man was on about, but soon enough I found out when mid afternoon we set foot on Norwegian soil. Mother of God! Where have we been dumped? And how, or better, why would anyone want to live in these conditions?
Aside from the punishing ice-cold weather, the darkness was also an unwelcoming feeling. While watches told of a time which logically would still be light, reality showed pitch black.
Our first days are just haze for me now, but certain things still remain strong. Like the trouble understanding whatever was written on foods or our first encounter with snow, when my then 20-year-old sister refused to go to her new job because she couldn’t see herself walking on snow.
15 years have now passed since that December day and more than a dozen of winters have come and gone. Sometimes it just feels like yesterday, other times like a lifetime ago.
So when the deep darkness falls upon us for months on end in the winter, I’m reminded of the magical time when my life and that of my loved and close ones’ finally was at ease. While I don’t know how many more winters I may stay here, I aim to cherish each of this time as much as I can. When the time is ready and I head back home, I know I will miss the winters, the fresh and crispy air freezing the hairs in my noise, snaking its way down to my lungs, which in return get filled with the cleanliest air known to man. Or the sound of snow underneath my foot or the feeling of euphoria I get when the first snowflake lands on my face.
This is what 15 years home away from home has taught me.