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Friday, 26 February 2010

Iceland: Part One

When I was 18 I applied for something called the Snorri Program, which in 1999 was just an experiment. Basically this was a six week journey to Iceland for people of Icelandic descent in North America with one week in Reykjavik attending language school (I think it was on the second day of our very relaxed Icelandic classes when we were handed our sheets of necessary phrases to know while going about our daily business in Iceland. One whole page consisted of pick up lines and where to find birth control and alcohol and the likes. Unfortunately a week isn't nearly long enough to learn such a unique language nor such lofty ideas.)

At the end of the first week we were all given a secret assignment, an envelope which upon opening, we would see where and with whom we would be spending the next four weeks. We were also given a summer job for that month.

The last week consisted of an adventure tour throughout Iceland...whale watching in Husavik, white water rafting and Icelandic pony riding, magnificent hiking and geysers, waterfalls, lava fields and sulfur deposits, snowmobiling (I am ashamed to admit that I was the only one that managed to tip the snowmobile over into a snowbank while driving about 10 km/ hour and as a result the only one that the instructor seemed to think maybe didn't need their own snowmobile and told me I could ride with him.), and hiking (with little ice hammers and spiked shoes even:) on Vatnajokull Glacier, natural hot springs and all that jazz. When it comes to uniqueness of geography and almost mystical, fog-shrouded beauty, Iceland really does have an embarrassment of riches.

So you can see why this 6 week program appealed to me. It didn't just appeal to me, it filled me with wonder and fascination and romantic notions at the idea of walking where my ancestors had. I am told by Europeans that this is a distinctly North American trait.:) But coming from North America, it does make sense. We are all displaced, our country of origin is elsewhere and we hear about it constantly from our parents or grandparents, we have multi-cultrual days in school to celebrate it and in Canada at least, you are German-Canadian, Irish-Canadian, Japanese, Italian, Icelandic, Whatever-Canadian, it always comes we long to find it so that we can reach a better understanding of who we are. It's a way of identifying ourselves if that makes sense.

I loved Iceland at first sight. It was summer, grey and cool. I stayed a gloomy bluish white color the entire time I was there.

After that first week in Reykjavik, I discovered upon opening my mysterious envelope that I would be sent to Isafjordur in the Westfjords, the region where my great grandmother Rannveig came from and where I had relatives still living with whom I would stay. I would also be spending my days working in a hospital, which was great fun for the most part and consisted of many interesting experiences. I worked in the kitchen first with a free-spirited middle-aged man named Reynir Ingason who took a refreshing delight in all he did, and who incidentally turned out to be a relative of mine.:) He loved to laugh and was full of mischief, the sort of man who grabs your arms and sweeps you along the floor doing exaggerated ballroom dancing moves which probably look quite ridiculous while wearing the white hospital uniform or who tells you to shut your eyes and hold out your hands and then places a beautiful garden grown rose in them that he brought back after his lunch break at home. There was no romance in it, just joy at being alive, he was lovely and treated me like a friend and I was very sad to hear that he died of cancer just four months after I'd left Iceland.

After the kitchen I went on to work in an elderly person's unit and even spent one day working in the morgue, a small cold room with sunlight slanting through the windows, making the all the metal in the room shine and me think that death is such a strange way to end life.

As it turned out I only worked three weeks in the hospital because the family I was staying with, my family actually though I have no idea how we are related as it all gets so complicated in Iceland:), were avid scouts and going to take me along on a camping trip, an international scouting jamboree, for my first week with them. I kind of shrugged and said ok although I hadn't camped before and didn't really understand why exactly people would want to camp in Iceland. Outside at that.

We arrived at the huge camp and I remember shivering with cold, dressed in like three Icelandic wool sweaters, huddled up in my sleeping bag writing furiously in my little diary about how exactly was this supposed to be fun?! The Icelandic group that I was with didn't really want me with them to be honest. In fact one told me quite clearly that I would have a very hard time making friends with them because they had all known each other for a very long time so I shouldn't expect too much. It was charming really.:) I am pretty friendly and have mostly just encountered other pretty friendly people, so at the time I was quite dismayed by these words but I am also quite independent so I thought eloquently "Eh, who cares?" and determined to enjoy myself anyway...

First I met the Americans. I hugged them and almost cried with happiness at hearing English after so much Icelandic. (Remember it was my first time overseas.:) I became quick friends with two guys in particular, hiked with one of them to the top of a small mountain where we sat down and looked at the view and he interrupted my appreciation for the beauty before me by asking " you ever watch porn?" I sighed inwardly, turned to him and said "I'm done, let's go back down now." And by my own doing, I never encountered him again. Then I met the Canadians and the Scots (who also wore make-up while camping in the wild, the girls at least, and it bonded us together like nothing else.) and...Janet who is a confusing mix of nationalities. Janet and I were friends immediately and went off in search of more friends.

One night, very, very, very late although it was still light because in Iceland in the summer, darkness doesn't fall, I saw a group of loud, crazy, rowdy people howling like wolves and they looked like a lot of fun. And I wondered what time it was. In other circumstances I might have passed them by but I really had to know so I stopped them and asked "Excuse me, but could one of you tell me the time?" There was a lot of noise and commotion and I discovered who they were and I went with them and we talked and laughed until almost morning.

I had met the Norwegians. My future husband among them. It was 2:18 am.

I'm so glad I asked.;)

Tuesday, 23 February 2010

One Woman's Rights

Since Sri Lanka is one of the countries where meeting the biological mother of the child one will adopt is a pretty likely event, we were encouraged to prepare beforehand for this possibility. Of course, this is a wise thing to do as it is perhaps one of the most poignant meetings a person can experience. I try to imagine it from the biological mother's perspective but I can't, except that if I were giving William up, there is so much I would want, no beyond "want", that I would just be desperate to know about the people in whose hands I was placing my child, my heart and world.

I think I would tuck the answers away in my heart and memory like secrets, so that regardless of what my life consisted of, I would have that hope and knowledge that he was loved and cherished.

Yet we were the ones encouraged to prepare. To make a list of questions for her. As though to interrogate her was our right. As though she somehow, along with everything else she was giving us, owed us information about herself as well. As if we had a right to the private pieces of experience and pain and joy that made up her life.

To be honest, at first I didn't question that we did have this right simply because it didn't occur to me to question it. It was only later, when we were told that we would be meeting the biological mother the next day that I began to genuinely consider what we should ask her. Lying on the hotel bed, I thought and thought and with every question that popped in to my inquisitive brain, my immediate response was " but that's none of my business". None of my business may be true, but what about William's business? Doesn't he have a right to whatever information I may be able to glean from his biological mother's answers?

Here is where some people may disagree with me, (or maybe I flatter myself to assume that disagreement comes so late in the post and you've really been fiercely disagreeing with me all along?:), but I don't believe it is William's right either. Not now at least. Most of us have a natural curiosity about those who came before us ingrained in us and if William does, then I will encourage that one hundred percent. I hope he does. I hope so much that he decides someday to meet his beautiful biological mother, a woman of quiet strength and grace. Then she can share her story with him and it can become his as well and he can choose to ask questions and she can answer them if she chooses, but for those involved, the seeking and imparting of intensely personal information is a matter of choice and not a presupposed right. It should be treated as such.

After a lot of thought, Per and I could only think of two questions that we had a right to ask. First, if she had anything she wanted to know about us, anything that might help put her mind at ease, that she could remember and draw strength from in the future, even just anything she was curious about. And second, if there was any message she would like us to pass on to William when we is older.

All the other details that make up a life...all the questions and answers...everything, both huge and small that love encompasses...every sacrifice made...there's time for everything. And while lives may touch, intersect, join, meet, or separate, every person's journey in life is always their own.

I see William, Per, William's biological mother and I as a circle. Our lives and hearts and hopes are now connected for eternity.