Oslo bomb: our tears and fears
Norway is for me from Kenya, in Afrika, a country that seems to say to one that it has character and personality. Norway was before 1969 a poor country. Many Norwegians immigrated to the U.S.A. to make a living. They worked hard and helped build their country. They are now the aged in Oslo. They can see their country coming into the hands of a younger generations that do always seem to appreciate what it has taken to bring the country to where it is.
I found the older people I met in Oslo more friendly and open to us, who are called innvandrere here. At first, the word reminded me of the word ‘invade’ in English. Is there a language that has a friendly word for immigrants? Innvandrere means those who come in and its contrast is the innbyggere which is more positive and means the resident. But the politics of the words is not the issue here. It is the plunging of a nation almost into darkness by someone who many say is a lone ranger. I fear that this lone ranger is a reflection of us all even when he did what makes almost all of us extremely sad.
The bombing and killings of 69 young people on 22 of July 2011 arrested my pen and imagination. I felt like everything else was not worth writing until I had dealt with this. This took time. In one of my poems written on January 1st 2011, I feared that Norway would be woken up by violence. My spirit is for peace and non-violence. I was all for never again another bomb. All can read tensions in society and feel them. Perhaps artists do that even more. The physical silence of Oslo is welcome, but not the silence that consents views that destroy the world. In my poem, I feared that in this silence our vision was become poor. It was not going beyond what eyes can see. That everything was enfolded in the dangerous silence of complacency. In “Wake Oslo Up again” I wrote:
“We saw long clothes, we failed to see him.
Watching his youthful eyes and eagerness,
we missed the dashing spark in his iris,
the cold that said he was looking for recognition,
dying to be hugged on earth and in heaven.
We did not see his brain was a computer,
longing to be touched and loved in service,
force of creativity new barriers breaking,
the violent light of a bomb awakens us.”
Nairobi’s morning torn by a blast of clanging metal and fire lives in me. What has stayed in the mind is the pain, the loss. Who did it has stayed in the law. It was Al Queda. Then I wrote “Nairobi’s signature of Blood”. Dark smoke at mid morning, burning bodies and falling buildings. I was near the bomb on the 7th of August 1998. Appointments, visas, dentists, patients, buses, matatus, certificates, athletes, market women, hawkers all torn into pieces and thrown up in the air as would happen with the awakening of an underground giant who vows to destroy. Foundations of strong buildings, were churned up like clay in a crushing machine.
I have heard the din of many cities. Oslo is quiet. It seems to absorb all sounds and mute them. How rude to plant violence into her soil! Norway’s nature bears the dignity of Nobel. It is a place that speaks space and peace to you. It is the main town of a country that would rather have its pride in nature. A country whose people are happy to be in the mountains and on cragged lands whether skiing or swimming.
I was away on the fateful day. I do not know if I could have borne that kind of noise again. Strong. Shocking. Unexpected. Quaking. Confusing. Chocking. Nairobi was my first and yet I knew it was a bomb- had never heard one before- immediately. It is so crude and rude a sound that no creature should ever wish on earth! To follow it up with deliberate and horrific fires from a gun taking life after life til 69 was extremely cruel on the nation. Oh Utøya, island in the distance! Young lives gone! Young lives in a country where many live to die of old age. In a country where caskets are not so common as at home. In a country where the life expectaion of women has risen to 94 years when mother and child mortality in many lands is so high!
When I came back to Oslo, I was transfixed seeing the wall of bombed building as if bandaged now covered with a long cloth. I stood there. I stared. I was paralysed. I could not take out a camera from my bag. I was outside that building almost daily in the winter. I walked towards it sometimes to keep my feet from freezing even inside boots! I waited often at the bus stop that is now shielded off. Time is an interesting factor. Many people said the same thing. Were it not for time, they would have been there.
I was speechless upon realising that the library next door had been hit too. That is where I would have been coming from. I write on a desk in the basement there. This explained the silence of many of my friends. Some of them are still in profound shock and at that time were in utter confusion. I spoke with a few friends. I saw the pain of what had happened on many faces.
On strangers’ faces, I saw the small thread of goodness trying to open up in our society. For the first time I realised that many were making an effort to greet one another on the streets. A young man got off his seat when he saw me come into the bus and i had to thank him and urge him to sit down. This is not natural in Oslo. For a time, some people wanted to introduce a new way. There were more smiles on the streets. People wanted to say, we are in everything together, something that we say with our words very often at home in Kenya whenever we feel like it and also when one feels under threat – tuko pamoja! we say in Kiswahili and other languages longing to express our bonds and to forge them better. We are together!
But after sometime in Oslo where the greeting is a quick “Hei”, soon followed by a rather popular “ Har det bra!” for ‘goodbye’ many say that the cocoon of selfishness has opened up again. Europe in general is not the land of Ubuntu. You must be not so that I can be. I am not because you are.... I am I. Ubuntu says “A person is another person through other persons”. And this is for good and for worse. That young man who committed these crimes is us. The political parties that are against some people are getting a higher vote in Norway as all over Europe. Europe has learned nothing about Canada’s approach towards immigrants. She sees her tiny land as threatened. I mourn deeply. I try to find meaning.
I used my sackcloth jacket which I made when Kenya was at war to again stitch some meaning by my own hand and get deeply into all this. “No to Silence: Love is bullet-proof!” I am against the silence that is not physical but the silence we connive with when evil things happen.
Lisbeth (Whose words I will not quote till I can reach her) and I visited the Cathedral where all things were being gathered in memoriam.
The most significant moment for me there after all the tears, was when Lisbeth, two strangers from Amsterdam and I held hands in silence after speaking about the events, about Nairobi and peace in the world as such. It was a moment and a gesture that came to us not as planned but when I tried to recall Nairobi’s own bomb and tears choked my voice. It was a moment of openness in pain. A moment I wish upon the whole world. A moment of silence and absence of violence that is impossible to explain how deeply it touches. The moment I wish that one day, some great leader will make happen in the world. Is it possible for us to stop violence even for a week and try to see how people react to lack of violence? Is it possible not to bomb for goodness somewhere? Is it possible NATO? I know you make this decision when you must but why are we still so unable to reason with those whom we try to defeat after so many years of ill experience with wars?
My friend Lisbeth missed the bomb because in the hospital where she works as a nurse, a patient was un-cooperative. Negative delivers positively. She had an appointment in the government building that was bombed at the time it was bombed. I was left with the memories of similar stories from all over the world in all disasters. It is something difficult to fathom. That the entity we are all together is capable of allowing such crass minds to move with plans of destruction and kill so many, and at the same time weave such delicate connections that also saved a Japanese woman I saw talking about 9/11.
It is maybe just another way for us to make meaning of such loss that comes to mind. I think that is the loss of a complete picture that frightens us in life. I also see that is that lack that we should not take easily in life. We should fear our loss lack of connectedness. It is the beginning of societal insanity. We must fear that we live next to someone whom we never look in the eye but are willing to give a billion hours to the internet. That we have been afraid to question that coldness. That even if the doors of our hearts are opened for a few, we have not made everyone we meet feel that they are worthy of being themselves. That some people turned upon the immigrants near them in Oslo on buses and other parts and beat them before they heard that the bomb was not an act of a foreigner is appalling.
Who is a foreigner? It is that person we fail to connect with no matter if they are in our bodies. It is the poor connection that causes cancer, the foreign body that starts disease in us. It is not the person who looks different from the color of your skin. Anders Behrivik does not like Muslims. He does not like immigrants. He does not like that Europe- some of the countries he refers to are not like Norway, they were built on wealth from colonies in Afrika and South America- has in it some people who are not European. To destroy the other, he destroyed himself and others. There is no dropping our human connectedness. If we take our connectedness negatively, it impacts negatively on all. If positively, positive rain pours on us all round the world! I would we chose the positive option.