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My editorial in the Stavanger newspaper

13 January 2014

A week ago Stavanger’s newspaper, Aftenbladet, featured a two-page special section on schools in Stavanger. The article discussed the decision by the local government to give more money to schools categorized as having “the worst living conditions” in the city.

storhaug-levekår

The small box in the lower left-hand corner of the infographic states that the lowest index (lightest colors) denotes the best living conditions, while the highest index (darkest colors) denotes the worst. Below this the newspaper informs that the survey, completed in 2012, was based on the following factors: percentage of children, percentage of non-Western immigrants…

levekår-faktorer

And that is where I stopped, mouth open in a pre-scream. I immediately grabbed my phone, took a picture of the newspaper page, and posted it to my Facebook page with the comment: “Oh no you didn’t, Stavanger kommune!”

But I felt it wasn’t enough just to rant to all of my friends on Facebook, preaching the converted, as it were, and so I wrote an editorial for the newspaper which was published on Saturday . The English translation follows.

“Stavanger: Storhaug raises my living conditions”

When we moved to Stavanger from Bergen with our two young children we were not forced to live in Storhaug; we chose to live in Storhaug. I admit that I did not fall immediately in love with the area. Its run-down buildings seemed dreary, and I didn’t think there were enough trees, but I did appreciate that it was within walking distance to town. The fact that a large number of my colleagues at the University of Stavanger lived in Storhaug was also a good sign.

Our first week in Storhaug convinced us that we had made the right decision. We do not love Storhaug for its buildings but for its people: dark brown, light brown and various shades of pale. Storhaug is alive. It is a place with friendly neighbors, and not the type of area where people lock themselves up in their houses and don’t speak to others. I was angered, but also confused, by the categorization of Storhaug as having the poorest living conditions in Stavanger.

In his autobiography Nelson Mandela wrote, “No one is born hating another person because of the color of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” It is absurd that in 2014 we are still categorizing people by their ethnicity and race, that it is still ok to make claims about what is “best” or “worst” based on skin color or ethnicity or nationality. But I am in agreement with Mandela that love comes more naturally to the human heart, and so I would rather share my love and gratitude for the people of Storhaug who raise my living conditions on a daily basis.

Thank you to my Pakistani neighbors for being among the first to stop by and say hello when we moved in. And thank you to your son for his kind smile when we pass in the morning on the way to school and work. Thank you to Sandra, an assistant at Storhaug school. My daughter adores you for your kindness and warmth. To the Romanian who lives next door to us with the Hollywood license plate and colorful flowers around his home: you once shouted to me with an enormous smile, “Music is LIFE!” Thank you for adding vibrance to our street and to our lives. Thank you to the Turkish shop owner who introduced me to the best yoghurt I have ever tasted. Thank you, too, for giving my daughter a chocolate. You made her feel special. I would also like to thank the Somalians who live behind us. In the evenings you sit outside and speak animatedly to one another, and although the stories you tell are not in a language I understand, your laughter reminds me that life can be good, even on tough days. Thanks to all who have moved here from near and far away and have chosen to share their lives with us in Storhaug.

It is true that I have only lived in Stavanger for six months, but my experience is that Stavanger is a wonderfully diverse, lively, cosmopolitan city, and Storhaug contributes to this. To the Municipality of Stavanger: I believe you owe an apology to the people who comprise your city, but I also believe you have a serious choice to make for the future. You can be a town of suspicion and fear that views people from other countries as a problem, or you can embrace your immigrant identity with excitement and love, recognizing that whether or not we have Norwegian citizenship, we immigrants are members of the Stavanger community who create the tapestry of culture, traditions and beliefs that is Stavanger.

I am pleased that the city government wants to give more money to the schools in the downtown area, but I want them to do it for real reasons such as poor results which show that students in those schools need extra help – students who are Western immigrants and ethnic Norwegians, too. And maybe if the criteria were changed a bit and intercultural education (something I value for my children) were considered, some of the schools out in Madla and Hinna would also need extra funding.

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5 Comments leave one →
  1. 13 January 2014 18:13

    There you are! And still fighting the good fight! From my experience immigrants come to a place bringing culture, food (which I personally love), music, traditions, and hope for the future. Often special skills and talents come to light, as well. When I was in Oslo last summer I could see and feel the growing pains, but I also noticed the variety of foods available. Change is never easy, but it is inevitable, so we should use our adaptability as humans to turn a challenge into a success for everyone. We can learn to do that as easily as we learn to hate and the results are infinitely better. Stavanger, of all places in Norway, should be a shining example of this. Give ’em hell, Jena!

  2. 14 January 2014 08:40

    Hello Jon! Here I am! 🙂 After many years of searching for a permanent job I finally found one in Stavanger. So we moved the family this summer. And as a result of working full time I have neglected this blog and I’ve been missing it. It is nice to hear from you again! I thought a bit about the “growing pains” you mentioned and how I grew up in the 70s and 80s (with school bussing as an attempt de-segregate). I think issues of race have always surrounded me, but they are still new to Norway, and I am often surprised by the blindness to racist discourse. I hope people will become more aware that words matter. I was disappointed that some of the Norwegian feedback I received from my article pointed to the factors for the survey as “just statistics”, as if they were neutral. So I find that I desperately want to “give ’em hell” but that not everyone wants to listen. 🙂 … but there is probably nothing unusual about that!

  3. 14 January 2014 23:35

    Good for you!!!! Any comments coming in from Aftenbladet? Follow-up posts? Explanations? Excuses? Apologies? Supportive neighbors? Curious minds want to know!!!!
    I’ll say one thing! The description of your neighbors sounds wonderful! I’m coming to visit!

    Klem,
    Kimberly

  4. Tj Amadi permalink
    17 January 2014 08:41

    Thanks for this post.

  5. Natalie permalink
    4 August 2015 21:29

    Hi Jena,
    My name is Natalie Sullivan and I’m casting an international travel show about expats moving abroad. We’d love to film in Norway and wanted to know if you could help us find expats who have moved there within the last 15 months or have been there for 3-4 years, but recently moved into a new home. The show documents their move to a new country and will place the country in fabulous light. The expats on the show would also receive monetary compensation if they are filmed. They must also speak English fluently and can be buyers or renters for their homes. If you’d like more information, please give me a call at 212-231-7717 or skype me at natalieesullivan. You can also email me at nataliesullivan@leopardusa.com. Looking forward to hearing from you.

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