Written by Safrini Malahayati
Edited by Galuh Pangestri
When Safa (Safrini Malahayati) told me and our friends about her intention to move to Norway, our eyes popped out. We can still picture about moving to other European countries such as the Netherlands, France, Spain, Belgium, England. But to Scandinavia, what is she looking for there? With whom will she stay? Does she speak that language? In case something unwanted happens, to whom can she ask for help? We were worried. But Safa finally proved her responsibility and that her dream didn’t come from an impulsive attitude without calculation. She has been living in Norway for almost nine years and has experienced living in several cities: Kristiansand, Oslo, and now in Bergen. Here Safa writes about her experience living, adapting to a new culture, fasting and celebrating Eid, also meeting her husband in Norway.
Moved to Norway via Au Pair
I got an invitation to learn Norwegian culture through the Au Pair. In French au pair means equal, a status for someone who helps with domestic work. This equality makes an au pair considered a part of the family because she is a caregiver for children, not only a domestic worker. In European and American countries, au pair is a program for the young under 29 who wants to learn culture with a focus on learning the foreign language of the destination country. The host family will provide accommodation, food, logistics, health insurance, pocket money, sometimes round-trip tickets, and free language lessons for certain. In return, an au pair serves as a household assistant and a sister among the host family’s children. She helps children at home with daily business, lessons, and other household chores, around 5 hours per day.
I had a desire and dream to study abroad. At that time, Facebook became a social network that I used intensely to communicate with Mrs. Retno, my prospective host-family in Norway. Mrs. Retno and her family have inspired me and allowed me to try Norway via the au pair and they patiently helped prepare for my departure.
To be honest, I didn’t know much about Norway, neither have I ever dreamed of living there. I knew only a little from my hobby which is watching English Premier League football; I knew that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is a Norwegian. Or I knew some trinkets like funny troll dolls with big eyes, short legs and colourful hair belonging to my elementary school friends. They got the troll souvenir from parents or relatives who travelled to Scandinavia. When I was in junior high school, Prambors radio often played the indie band duo from Norway, Kings of Convenience. That’s all I know about Norway.
Towards my graduation from college, I really wanted to make my own life choices. I loved travelling and have learned several foreign languages (German, Japanese, Portuguese, French) but I felt like I have never “reached higher” because I had no chance to learn directly with native or I was inexperienced living in the country whose language I wanted to learn. When the opportunity came before my eyes, I couldn’t ignore it. In the beginning, my family were against my decision. After talking at length, arguing while sometimes it turned up the heat, finally, my deceased Mom, Dad, and my brother could accept. And that’s my mom who became the source of all prayers and my spirit while I was living abroad and until now.
Kristiansand, the city where my host family lived is not an easy city to adapt to, especially if you used to live in a bustling Jakarta. The city population is only around 80,000. It’s not a smooth adaptation process, sometimes ups and downs.
One aspect of my adaptation process was through food. I used to come after salmon because Norway is one of the biggest salmon producers in the world, salmon is always available at the local supermarket. About seasoning, we can’t compare it to Indonesian spices, salt and black pepper are common seasoning for all dishes. I was grateful for living with Ms Retno whose Indonesian culinary skills deserve a thumbs up. So during the ten months in Kristiansand, I was not too homesick longing for Indonesian cuisine.
The first Norwegian dish I tasted was Pinnekjøtt (e read like e in the word nestapa, then the letter k meets j read hissingly c like the word ceu in Sundanese, the letter Ø read almost the same as e in the word nestapa, but not floating), that is, marinated and dried lamb. This is one of the Norwegian people’s favourite menu in the winter. Pinnekjøtt is served with mashed rutabaga and carrots, boiled potatoes, or sausages. It’s also delicious to be served with warm rice and chilli sauce! But don’t let Norwegians see me doing that, I could be embarrassed 😀
My adaptation to the cold climate and the four seasons which take place every year were quite challenging. Cold and dry air causes scaly skin and frequent dandruff. Warm wool clothing and thick jackets are must items. Warming equipment such as gloves, skullcaps, socks, are also very important. No less important to use winter boots with spikes during heavy snowfalls. This survival kit is very crucial during the winter here. The most popular winter activity is skiing, both cross-country and downhill. The host family kindly got me to experience these two types of skiing in my first winter.
Back to School and Work
After 10 months as an au pair, I continued my studies by attending a one-year college program majoring in Event and Culture Planning at Danvik Community College which is also a boarding school in the Drammen City, about 30 minutes by train from Oslo. While attending college, I continued to study Norwegian for the language test so I could take the master’s degree program the following year. Since I had to pay independently for tuition fees at this community college, working part-time at afternoon/evening in a restaurant is the most possible choice I had. I took the Toefl test and the Norwegian language proficiency test Trinn 3. The test results allowed me to try a wider range of courses.
In the 2013 school year, I entered a master’s program in museology at the University of Oslo. Fee per semester at the University of Oslo was not expensive around 550 NK. I only paid for academic administration fees, or almost equivalent to Rp. 1,000,000. However, rent-room and meal cost expensive. I then worked part-time as a sandwich maker, barista, or even an interpreter. I got a lot of knowledge and apprenticeship in several museums in Oslo and also in 2017 I worked during the summer at the Norwegian Tourism Museum, in the beautiful village, Balestrand, Sogn og Fjordane.
After having moved to Oslo and being a student in a foreign country, many new adjustments took place. Finding new friends, adjusting college assignments and part-time work, what equally important is searching a grocery store for buying Indonesian dish ingredients. When I lived in Oslo, cooking has become a troublesome yet fun therapy. I remembered when I was taking my undergraduate degree in Depok, I used to eat at the canteen or an eatery, while during my graduate years, I should cook by myself. So I didn’t push myself too hard and was grateful because having only one or two kinds of dishes was enough, such as vegetable soup and balado eggs, or when I found tempeh and basil and then I made the tempe penyet (bruised tempeh) with chilli sambal and warm rice.
It’s during my graduate school years that I had the best time to hang out with new wonderful friends from my department and with fellow Indonesian students as well in Oslo which at that time, were not too many. Luckily I met students and several exchange students (only for 1–2 semesters). With less than 10 Indonesian students in the academic year, it didn’t make us not actively engaged. Serving as a representative of Indonesian students in Oslo , a friend set up the formation of the Indonesian Students’ Association in Oslo (PPI Oslo). PPI Norway is based in Trondheim since the highest population of Indonesian students was there. As part of PPI Norway, PPI Oslo serves to provide information and assistance for new Indonesian students in the city. The assistance is practical, for example, distributing items left by former students to the new students. Or, the assistance in disseminating information and communication by collaborating with the Indonesian Embassy or local government agencies. With Indonesian family-like culture, PPI Oslo is expected to be a comfortable place to gather, have an opinion, respect each other among children of a nation studying abroad.
On several occasions, I was grateful to get invited to dance for the public through collaboration with the Indonesian Embassy in Oslo or with Indonesian citizens in Norway. It’s great that I could share dance material with friends who wanted to learn various Indonesian traditional dances. As an active dancer since school and college, dancing is always an important part of the rhythm of my life.
Finding My Soulmate
Been living in Oslo for five years, I’ve got a lot of inspirational and valuable life experiences from this city. My fearless and strongly determined nature plus with the blessing of my beloved parents were what I believe has blessed my life’s journey here. Almost every week I actively call home, the gratitude and unceasing prayer are for every kind person I met during my journey in this country. Through them, passion and good inspiration flowed into me.
One example is when I met my life partner who also speaks Indonesian fluently. Dag is a man who makes my life more cheerful and colourful amidst alienation in this Aurora Borealis’ country. Our friendship started from a travelling community, which then continued to become language swap partners because we both wanted to learn each other’s languages. Dag who had studied basic Indonesian when he was in college, claimed he enjoyed learning foreign languages and wanted to become a polyglot. As a mentor, he chose Indonesian initially for helping new students within the orientation period, a common practice for senior students actively engaging in student organizations during the new students’ orientation. Dag happened to help a student from Malaysia. After getting information that the Malaysian language is similar to Indonesian (like Swedish and Norwegian), Dag looked for information including the history of the two countries, then decided to explore Indonesian by himself. Indonesia, according to him, is more interesting in all aspects, especially its geopolitics, the history of its society and culture. I was amazed to know that he took an online course on the paid Italki.com website, using the services of a local tutor via Skype when he was in college. He got some local tutors, but the impressing one was Mas Andreas from Magelang, who according to Dag, was very good at speaking English and also provided a good and understandable teaching on Indonesian. Dag visited Indonesia first time in 2013, we visited Magelang to meet Andreas and who would ever guess that this modest-looking man is a local getuk business owner and becomes a paid tutor on the language learning site Italki.com as a hobby besides his busy days leading many souvenir shops owned by his family. Salute!
As we became friends who learn each other’s languages, mutual understanding, respect for each other, and affection started to grow sweetly, ha-ha… We then agreed to take the relationship to the next level. In 2017 Dag asked permission from my dad and mom to marry me. On February 21, 2018, finally, we officially got married at KUA Pulo Gadung. We’re legal now!
Alhamdulillah, I don’t really feel homesick sometimes because my husband always gets updated with news from Indonesia. He even often knows earlier than me, because he diligently watches news, travel, culinary live streaming or YouTube channels about my home country. Indonesian is our everyday language because my husband is fluent in Indonesian, although for me it’s annoying, I want to be fluent in Norwegian and must grumble at him to make him swap into Norwegian when we talk together.
Fasting in Norway
Fasting in Norway is not the same as in Indonesia, where there is an obvious time for the sunrise and sunset. During the summer in Norway (May-August), the day lasts very long. Especially for those who live in northern Norway, such as in Romsø, Bodø and its surroundings, the sun doesn’t completely go down. In Norway and the Nordic countries, this natural phenomenon is called midnight sun. In the Svalbard islands, the outer part of northern Norway, this can even last for months. So, how about fasting times? From the beginning, I often ask my seniors from Indonesia here and I always fast during Ramadan. Besides, I look for reference sources from several Islamic organizations and mosques in Oslo. Some follow the Mecca’s time, or some follow Indonesia’s, some people follow the sun’s movement in the local area so that fasting lasts up to 17–18 hours. So, there is a quite diverse interpretation about the fasting times. This is interesting to me. With Muslim residents coming from various parts of the world, Islam in Norway is developing fairly in dynamics. The secular Norwegian government guarantees each resident to embrace and practice worship according to their respective beliefs. Even people can debate on fasting times, but for me, the sincerity of the believers is the primary thing to worship Him.
After searching for information and fatwas of scholars (also vary) about fasting time in the countries of above 50° North Latitude, I followed the Ramadan worship schedule based on the provisions of Danish Muslim organizations on the website http://prayertimes.dk/ with that is 14-15 hours fasting.
What I miss the most during Ramadhan is the ngabuburit time, that is when we buy food or drinks (takjil) in the market for fast-breaking and the congregational tarawih prayer. It is understandable because we can find so many delicious culinary creations in Indonesia everywhere in Indonesia. Here I thank God even if I only have one kind of takjil.
My husband and I then moved to Bergen. My husband has been familiar with this city since he was studying at the University of Bergen. Over time, I myself enjoyed the city because Bergen is located near the famous magical and beautiful fjord of Norwegian West. Moreover, the city centre is close to the mountains, there are 7 famous mountains which become local tourist destinations. We live in the city centre but we love nature walks and running together, so we’re enjoying living in this city even more, as one of Norway’s major destinations.
Normally, we break our fast together with Indonesian citizens almost every week. When I just moved to Bergen, getting invited to a fast-breaking event was so delightful. We have a potluck, each invitee brings dishes to share, it even has made a warm Iftar (fast-breaking) for us. It’s exciting when we decide on a joint menu, for example, in the previous fast-breaking we had kebuli rice, seafood menu, grilled shrimp, grilled fish, etc., and for the last week of Ramadan, we served vegetable rice cake at my house at their request. Maybe they just couldn’t wait for the special savoury coconut milk menu for Eid! But fasting this year is very different because we have to do physical distancing due to the Coronavirus outbreak.
Eid in Bergen
This year I’ll have my third Eid in Bergen. I celebrated my first Eid with my husband modestly since at that time we liked veggie burgers made from spinach leaves added with cheddar cheese. Eid al-Fitr festive at the Indonesian Embassy in Oslo is awaited, I usually take time to stay in touch with fellow Indonesians at Wisma Duta of Indonesian Embassy in Oslo. People always wait for gathering to celebrate Eid, mainly for doing it while eating the Eid specials dishes: ketupat, opor, rendang, lontong sayur, all served in delicious tastes by the Indonesian Embassy’s culinary team. After having moved to Bergen, I had to give up the gathering and meeting/seminar event from the Indonesian Embassy since I no longer had a flexible distance and time to do it. However, this does not make me sad because Indonesians in Bergen have a solid relationship. What I really miss from the Eid is for sure to get together with family and relatives in Indonesia. This year’s Eid feels harder because my beloved mother has passed away, and the plague is sweeping across the world that force us to reduce our mobility.
Images: by Safa