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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.