Iraqi Snowflake

It got dark by four in the afternoon, so it felt later than it actually was by the time I got to the train station. It was cold, about twenty degrees. It was right after a blizzard had passed through the area so there was a fresh coating of snow on the ground. I was waiting to board the 22:59 train back to Oslo. It would be an overnight ride, so I reserved a sleeper car. There were only a handful of people sitting in the outdoor waiting area. Some were huddled together in the corner where the cafe left some tables and chairs outside after they shuttered up for the night. One guy in his fifties with an earring and a fake tan and frosted tips in a ski outfit was smoking right by the sign that said “No Smoking” in Norwegian. Waiting on a bench, I suddenly had an urge to use the bathroom. I followed the “WC” signs to the back only to find that it would be 10 kroner, or a little over a dollar, to use the restroom. They didn’t take coins, as it didn’t matter because I didn’t have any, and the credit card machine attached to the toilet didn’t take AMEX. There was no use in getting change from the convenience store inside the station, and I thought briefly of giving the cashier some cash so I can use his credit card, but then I thought better of it, especially in the middle of the night, a cold, quiet, dark night.

I walked outside of the station. The streets were barely lit so the snowflakes fluttering down were barely visible. I crossed the street and the only store that still had its lights on was a kebab stand. I wobbled over there, my bladder about to explode, there was a middle-aged man inside the stand wearing nothing but a t-shirt, a cardigan, some loose-fitting pants and slippers. He had a bit of a belly, a receding hairline and was unshaven. He seemed tired, but alert, and had kind eyes. I was hopeful. I tried to explain- “Machine only takes Visa or Mastercard.”
“Yes, and I only have American Express.”
“American Express?”
“Where you from?” he asked in a thick husky accent.
“I’m from America.”
“America?” his eyebrows furrowed. There were a lot of Asian tourists around. “You stay here?”
“No, I will be heading back to Oslo tonight.”
“Oh,” he said quietly and pensively to himself. He must have seen the desperate look on my face, because he nodded and waved me to the door behind the stand. I lept up and carefully treaded through the snow to the back of his little kebab stand as he opened the door which lead to the wooden stairs that lead to the bathroom on the second floor. I kept the American custom of purchasing something – a Coke- in order to use the restroom. He didn’t seem to mind, and as he was giving me change, I felt bold enough to ask where he was from. He hesitated, but finally said, “Iraq.”
“Oh, wow.” I said. I didn’t know what to say. I wanted to ask him if he was a refugee, if he lost anyone in his family, or if he ever saw any parts of the war that has ravaged his country for so long, and how he ended up so far away from his homeland. I was curious about what he did back in Iraq and if he was happy in Norway.

But all I could say was, “And it’s so cold here.”

“Only today,” he said softly, “when there was snow.”





The Anti-Travel Blog

Whenever I come back from a trip, I feel renewed and full of energy, and the daily grind back home doesn’t bother me as much. Everything has a glow to it- the coffee carts, the newsstands, the honking cars. I even smile and say hi to people on the street not expecting one in return. Whenever I return from a trip I come back changed in some way. From Italy, I had a new appreciation of lattes and the Renaissance, from France it was cheese and shoes, from Africa, it was water conservation. These feelings of renewal and rejuvenation usually last up to several weeks, but it’s been six days since I’ve returned from Norway, and I’m still really pissed. I don’t know why- maybe it’s the sudden drop in temperature in this otherwise mild winter, but I really can’t seem to get out of this funk I’m in. I’ve been short and impatient at work, I’ve been shoving fellow commuters aside during rush hour with more fervor than usual. I’m hoping that this grumpy mood of mine will lift soon.
I don’t know how to describe my experience in Norway. The one way you look at it, it was pleasant and people who were supposed to be friendly to tourists were friendly- like the clerks at the visitors’ center and the cashiers at the museums, but there were a couple of surly men that I really don’t care to mention that were just downright awful- I nearly got felt up by one of them on the train ride from Oslo to Bergen. I have lived in New York City for over seventeen years and I have never been felt up. They make the men here look like distinguished gentlemen, but that may just reflect the women here who would NEVER put up with that sort of behavior.
It’s the unevenness of friendliness, that is to say, about Norway which is so different from what I’ve experienced in other countries, like, Austria, where everyone was friendly. Even Copenhagen, if they weren’t friendly to you, they were indifferent, at worst. I only spent an afternoon in Sweden, but they were nice as well. You would expect such a small town like Oslo to be more friendly than it was, that’s all, but I still don’t know why I’m still so pissed. Maybe my expectations were too high, maybe because the food wasn’t very good, and maybe because the best meal I had in all of Norway was my last meal there- it was at the airport, and it was breakfast. It had REAL eggs- not that crappy neon yellow pasty gel from powder they served at the hotel. I could never do a travel blog because, well, have you read any of those things? It’s always so cheery and positive, and it’s always advertising for things you can’t afford, like five-star hotels and jewelry and fur and caviar and crap, and it has all these pictures of the food they ate and the hotel they stayed at and the shopping areas they pretended to shop at.

I’m all about: How well did you treat me?