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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Artfully clueless

During my stay at the primary school in Norway I was offered an extension of my contract. It was a fantastic offer - a solid job, and they would pay for my Montessori education to boot. After many long, long discussions, however, it became clear that my girlfriend couldn't come to Norway to stay. The personal price she had had to pay for it was too extensive. I stood between two highly desirable choices and was forced to choose - stay in Norway, or go to Costa Rica. If I stayed, it would put a great relationship in dire straits. It would not automatically be over, but I have a close friend who tried to pull something like that off and it was... ugly. On the other hand, I would have a fantastic job for as long as I wanted it, a free education and the opportunity to pay down my student loan. If I went to Costa Rica, I would give the relationship a much better chance. And I would have the opportunity to really learn Spanish. On the other hand, I would have to pull some pretty intense stunts to keep my student loan payments on track with a Costa Rican salary. Some might even call it impossible, and not without reason. Either choice involved some pretty hefty sacrifices from one or both of us. Agonizingly, I made my choice.

May came around, and two weeks into it my girlfriend returned to Norway. We had run a webcam/chat/phone relationship for many months and I was not apprehensionless as I stood waiting in what passes as the arrival hall in Tromso airport. Neither of us knew what to expect - would we feel the same as we had? Or would there be something different? As the sliding doors opened and she stepped through, I knew I had chosen correctly.

About a month later, there we were again as we had been in January - waiting for her plane to Oslo in the departure hall in Tromso. It was a bittersweet scene. We knew we would see each other again, but under vastly changed circumstances. What I had chosen - what we had chosen - would either make or break our relationship. If it was up for the strain it would be put under only the heavens knew. We kissed each other good-bye and I waved to her as she walked down the glass corridor to the plane. She waved back and stepped into the plane.

Five days later, London, UK

I left Stansted Airport by train, headed towards London proper. A good friend of mine, who we will call Marion, was waiting for me there. That is to say, she would have been waiting for me, but I cleverly selected an obscure side exit from the underground. Fifteen minutes later, she finally found me. I gave her a sheepish grin and a hug, and we went to get a drink and something to eat. It was my first time in London. Marion took me to a pub (hey, it's England), where we had a couple of drinks and I ate sticky toffee pudding (yay!). Our reunion, however, was short - my plane had been delayed from Tromso, and I had a plane to catch from Heathrow. We went back to the underground, where we parted with a hug. En route to the airport, I called to check which terminal I Was supposed to check in at. I arrived with perfect timing at the terminal, spent thirty fruitless minutes looking for my check-in-point, talking to several just as confused staff, before it was finally made clear that I Was in the wrong terminal. There was no way I would be able to switch terminals and do what I needed to do in time. Fortunately, the Continental people were very nice and helpful (I am an expert at the slightly dense, clumsy country boy act - it seems to come to me very naturally), and arranged for me to leave early next morning. Armed with the same sheepish grin as I had worn earlier, I dialled up Marion from a payphone.

An hour later I met Marion and her boyfriend, who were waiting for me at their local underground station. They took me to her apartment, treated me to pizza, gin and vodka, quickly making an annoyance into a very pleasant evening. They even went to the trouble of retiring to his apartment so I could have the place to myself. Wow. Just... wow. Some people. Thanks a lot, Marion and mr. Jordan!

The following day, Newark, US

"Calling mr. Larssen. Mr. Larssen, please come to the check-in at gate 22." These words, which would normally be rather omnious, didn't disturb me particularly. I assumed they wanted to talk to me about my offer to stay behind in case the plane was overbooked, which it turned out to be. I was offered a $400 gift card plus an all-expenses paid overnight stay in Newark. Problem was my onward flight to San Jose, Costa Rica, would be split in two with a stop in Houston. However, when the woman told me I would be flying first class from Houston to San Jose, I couldn't resist. Sure, I said, and got a hug from the girl I had given my seat to. A little while later I unlocked the door to my room in Holiday Inn, Newark. I've travelled as a backpacker for years, so this was the equivalent of a luxury suite as far as I was concerned. I ordered food to my room but botched the math, and overshot my food budget (cupons) by a dollar - and the ATM was out of order. The lady I spoke with interrogated me sternly, apparently found my character worthy, and put in a dollar of her own money. I doubt you will ever read this, kind woman at Holiday Inn, but if you somehow do, know that I haven't forgotten the promise I made in return.

June, San Jose - Costa Rica

My triumphant return to Ticolandia was less than spectacular. Continental had been considerate enough to leave my luggage in Newark, and my girlfriend was at work. No reception commitee, no fireworks. My backpack and I got on a bus downtown and then to the barrio where my girlfriend lives. I walked to her house, rang the bell and was welcomed warmly by my girlfriend's mother. That was my return to Costa Rica.

Job hunt, June/August

The Tico family I lived with offered me a place to stay until I got a job - incredibly generous. This journey has been quite a reminder how kind people can be. I took the offer, and thank God for that - my girlfriend, her brother and mother (the sum total of the family) have treated me with impressive warmth and respect. Especially impressive considering how alien I must appear to them from time to time (well, not to my girlfriend, I hope), with my outlandish (pun intended) ways. It didn't take long before it dawned on me that the job culture on the American continent is something quite different from marginal northern Norway. With a lot of help from a friend in Vancouver, I studied up and produced some semi-decent cover letters and a working resume. I bought a ton of newspapers. I sent a lot of applications. I watched a lot of TV.

One day I found a somewhat odd ad on where a Scandinavian call center was looking for Scandinavians. I mailed an application and forty minutes later I was called in for an interview. I had my doubts. What the hell was a Scandinavian call center doing in Costa Rica? The business idea sounded strange, albeit with some logic to it. The job interview went down in a pub the following day. The two Swedes interviewing me impressed me - there was something about them. The salary was excellent, and what I needed to stay afloat. In addition, it appeared I would be given a lot of freedom and responsiblity. I was offered a job. A week later, I had decided - I accepted the offer.

It's now nearly September and I have finished my first week in the new job. It looks very good so far, and I am happy I was offered a job there. In a couple of days I will move to Rohrmoser in my own apartment, and on Monday I am going to the Little Theatre Group get-together and check it out. Hopefully I will get involved with them. Everything has worked out well, a lot thanks to the kindness of my girlfriend and their family hosting me and helping me with whatever I needed, especially Spanish phone calls. I'm very happy with my choice - it's been challenging, and it's not going to be easy getting things to roll properly economically. But hell - it's another chapter in the life of one who lives by the creed of the artfully clueless. I wouldn't want it any other way.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

The End of the Storm

Disclaimer: This blog entry was pieced together from three seperate half-finished entries from the last six months or so. It was commenced in early February and finished today, in mid-May. It's confusing. The tenses switch randomly. Lots of people do strange things and lots of things happen simultaneously. In short, this isn't the best piece I ever wrote. But hey... as I adviced a friend of mine a while ago: Publish anyway.

Northern Norway, early February:

I’m sitting staring, stunned, at the date of the last blog entry. The 31st of October? That can’t be! It’s just a few days away, it seems. Good Lord, but my life’s been a circus these past months.

The most obvious thing is to backtrack to the beginning of November where I stopped last time. But so many of the things that happened in these months are either very hard to explain or of a highly personal nature (or both). Well, I was never a fan of things being easy, I guess, so let’s give it a try and see if it the end result is even slightly readable.

Bread to the People

November passed in a pain of little work and, hence, very little money. I paid my landlady a sum of money in the beginning of November and told her I’d stay until mid-December. My flatmate had moved out by then, because he wanted to live somewhere closer to work. He found a place in Sabana Sur and is living happily there as far as I know. The third week of November I got a little more work, enough that I could stop starving, and enough to shave off at least the sharpest edges of the disaster(s) that followed.

All along this period I was plodding happily along in my relationship, trying hard to be a good boyfriend. We finalized our plans for her to go to Norway with me in mid-December and everything was set to happen.

The Arrival of Mr. Tall

Excerpts from my mail:

Tue, 27 Nov 2007
[Mr Tall] wrote:
> > Hey Ole hows things? I´m contemplating a journey
> to
> C.R with [Mr. Leadership], are you going to be there and if > so
> whats the situation with your apartment? Is it big
> enough to accomodate Mr tall?
> I hope to be travelling with [Mr. Leadership] on Thursday but
> Tica bus have´nt confirmed my ticket yet, we shall
> see....

Wed, 28 Nov 2007
> Ole wrote:

> There's plenty of room and you're more than welcome.


Note that in his first mail he referred to himself as Mr. Tall. And that he’s British, and that his written English is atrocious – worse than mine, even. In his defence, he’s been using Spanish a lot more than English for a while. But even so... tsk!

As you will no doubt remember, my flatmate had moved out and as such, there was tons of room in my apartment. Little did I know about the background of his arrival to Costa Rica...

One week earlier, on the border between Mexico and Guatemala – Mr. Tall. Everything is freely translated from Spanish to English. Note that the woman referred to here is not really Mrs. Tall, but his girlfriend:

“No, I’m sorry, he’s not here,” said the border guard, looking bored.
“Damnit,” said Mrs. Tall. “When will he be here?”
“Don’t know. Couple of days maybe.”
“Couple of days?!”, she screamed.
Mr Tall, after his standard five seconds of lag time between speech and comprehension, sighed.

A few hours later they had returned to the nearby little border town. It had all the charm of a decomposed hyena carcass. The little hotel-ish building they stayed at had far more fleas than guests at the best of days, and the mattress creaked alarmingly if someone even dared approach it closer than a few feet. Here they stayed through the hot, sweltering days waiting for Mrs. Tall’s relative to return to his job, so he could let them through the border without checking their nonexistent visa stamps. He had let them in a few weeks earlier without any visa, so they could stay as long as they pleased, then when they were on their way back to Guatemala he had vanished.

It was a damp, unpleasant evening when Mr. Tall ran into the people who would set the course of everything that happened in his life during the next two months. He never saw them. He never knew they were there – or had been, rather, before he returned to his hotel and found his pockets empty. He had chosen to carry with him everything except his passport and a few pesos, since the hotel was hardly safer than his pockets. His cash and, most devestatingly, his bank cards.

The details of what followed are unclear to me, as they are no doubt to him. He returned, by and by, to where he lived at the time, Xela in Guatemala, with the help of Mrs. Tall. She was on her way home to Honduras, however, and had very limited funds with which to help him. Mr. Leadership, his closest friend in Xela and the only one with the means to help him, was about to go to Costa Rica to see his girlfriend. Decisions were made. Within a few days, Mr. Tall closed up as much as he could of his life in Xela and went to Guatemala City with Mr. Leadership, who funded him all the way to San Josè, Costa Rica, with his limited supply of cash.

Early December, San Josè

He came, all right, broke as a gypsy and carrying everything he owned with him. Piece by piece I got the story from him. He settled into the room where the crazy Canadian had lived until the end of October, and we took stock of what funds we had between us. It wasn’t much. We went to Paseo Colon to look at options for getting him a bank card sent to Costa Rica (normal mail was pretty much out of the question, since it wouldn’t be very safe or reliable). A slick guy at the TNT office – Johnny Ace, we dubbed him, a slight adaptation of his real name, gave us a great deal and said the card would be in his hands in a few days. Mr. Tall and I walked away from the office, congratulating ourselves and making jokes about how Johnny Ace would hop on his personal jet and go to Northern England to get it.

I needed to go to Quepos to give a Christmas present to my host family there, and Mr. Tall wanted to go as well. At that point, I had enough money to float it, so I said yes. He went a day before me and managed to get mugged again, losing everything I had given him (basically our budget for the stay in Quepos). Needless to say, he was pretty upset by the time I got there.

And from here on out things get very fuzzy in my memory. My landlady showed up and told me that there had been no deal made, and she wanted more money. Maybe I would have given it to her if I had it. I didn’t, so I hegded and stalled, and eventually staged a (if I must say it myself) quite devious get-away. I was broke as a rat, and during December (while dodging my landlady), mr. Tall and I lived on creativity and a few colones a day. Things were relatively under control until my girlfriend went to the American embassy and had her visa application flatly refused (apparently they have a lot of Ticas coming around wanting to supposedly visit their Norwegian boyfriends, because they didn’t believe she wouldn’t stay in the US even after she showed them the return ticket to Oslo). Things got hairy. I begged a bunch of money from friends and relatives and we got the ticket changed to passing through Cuba instead of the US. Somewhere around there I taught my last class in my school. And finally...

Northern Norway, December 23rd

We arrived at my parents’ house after much debacle. I had waited for a few days in Oslo for my girlfriend to complete her round-the-world circuit to get to Norway (Cuba-Amsterdam-Hamburg-Oslo). She had had plenty of issues and, having never travelled before, crossing the Atlantic had been very scary. But at long last, we had arrived in Tromsø and gotten in a car with my two brothers to drive the three hours to my parents’ home.

My girlfriend’s itenary:

San Jose-Cuba (24 hours wait in Havana) – Amsterdam (five hours wait in Amsterdam) – Hamburg – Oslo (36 hours wait) – Tromsø then finally to my home town.

This was her first time travelling! And all this because she was denied her US visa to visit her boyfriend in Norway.

Her first week and a half in Norway was rather hectic, since all my family and friends had gathered (as is usual around Christmas in this country), and she had to meet all of them. Right away. Now, all my friends and most my family are above average or fluent in English so communication was no problem. My parents stepped up and polished their rusty skills. Hell, even my rather shy uncles threw all they had at her! She had, all in all, quite a hectic first period here, but as warm a welcome to this incredibly remote part of the world as could possibly be wished for.

We celebrated Christmas in my home town with my entire family (i.e. my parents and my two brothers, plus one uncle). From later talks with her, I understand she was switching between horrified and enthralled in intense waves. Norway is, after all, quite a capitalistic country, and the level of consumerism we have in the country is far cry from most of Costa Rica. A far cry indeed. Because of the nature of the beast during Christmas time, she met my friends in batches of ten (at least). Lots and lots and lots of impressions over a short period of time. We went to Tromsø and celebrated New Year’s there (fireworks! Woo!), and finally, when we returned to my parents’ house (me being broke and all, we needed somewhere we could stay for free), it was 2008 and we could at long last relax somewhat.

I needed a job, but I was already called in for an interview with a small private school in the area. I went there the second day of January and talked to my current boss. She was cool, the job paid well and had a very high challenge rating. How could I refuse?

My girlfriend and I spent three more weeks together, but without any great adventures. We had a lot of fun, though. She left during the third week of January, when I had been two weeks in my teaching job.

And here we are. It’s the fifth of February, and I’m looking back over the past two or three months of my life thinking “Geez”. However I survived (literally) those last weeks in San Josè is anybody’s guess. I distinctly remember sitting on an internet cafe with my girlfriend, planning and getting the tickets she needed in half an hour or so. I guess that my back was against the wall, so I let the bullets fly.

[Long, long interlude]

15th of May, Northern Norway

Well, this only took me a million months to get back to. Not much has happened since last, though. My girlfriend is coming back to Norway in a month, and in mid-July we’re both going to Costa Rica. I’ve worked as a primary school teacher since mid-January, and it’s been a fucking fantastic experience. I’ve learned so much it’s not even funny. Living with my parents have gone suprisingly well – we’re all adults, and that, I guess. I even got a part-time gig as a lifeguard in the local pool, which was nice to complement my very demanding day job. One of my closest friends died tragically in January – you are deeply missed, my friend. I’ve started going to the gym. My brother and I drove to Trondheim to visit our third brother in Easter. We forgot to bring a map to bring us through Sweden, so we found ourselves asking Swedes for directions at 1.30 in the morning. I love travelling like that.

And now it’s May, two days before the Norwegian independence day. I’ve roughly a month left before the school closes. I was offered to continue working there, but it wasn’t possible to get my girlfriend here, so I chose Costa Rica instead.

That should cover it. God damn long overdue update, I’d say.