It wasn't just the whisky
Charshanbeh Soori in Norway

By Sanaz Salehi
March 18, 2004

A mock-up of nature: I, "a desert woman", arrived in an industrial, little town called Stavanger in Norway, two years ago and have lived here ever since. I am such a "Middle Eastern" at heart, so attached to my roots, and yet I decided to move to this lonely Nordic town, of which I knew nothing and where, I knew not a soul.

The winters, where winter lasts for nine months, are icy and gloomy. And the dark mornings? Ever left your home at 8 in the morning only to witness that it is still pitch-black outside? The wind pierces through my thick woolen coat and all I want to do is crawl back into bed and dream about the sun and the sand dunes of my childhood years in Dubai.

On my way to the bus stop, I slip on the ice for the zillionth time. My stiletto boots are just not meant for Norwegian winters.

At night, there is little to do in terms of nightlife and entertainment. I miss my jet-set life in London. It was all glitz and glamour: the trendy restaurants, the exclusive clubs and all my loud, outgoing, eccentric friends. Something is amiss in this Scandinavian village. Perhaps it's the zest for life or the lack of a "je ne sais coix" that makes people different and interesting. One Swedish politician once said, "Norway is the last communist state in Europe."

I have become very domesticated due to the non-existent nightlife. Thanks to my mum, I have learnt to make khoroshte bademjoon and zereshk polo, so sometimes my friends and I gather at my place to have a meal and play hokm. It's a far cry from my weekends in London when the garbage truck would pass by my flat before I got home at dawn.

On my really bad days, I call my friends, who have seen me through thick and thin. I look through the "Names" menu on my mobile. The list is long: Rana, Elnaz, Ali, Sahel, Yasi... and depending on what time it is -- they live all over the world -- I call one of these poor souls, who has to sympathize with my never ending moaning. "I hate it here..." sniff, sniff, "I want to go back home... It's cold and people are even colder."

These calls can take hours, I kid you not.

I remember one summer a long-time back, my childhood friend Rana and I were sent to Cannes, South of France, to attend summer school and polish up on our French. We literally lasted there for 30 minutes. One look at the school and we decided it was not for us and we wouldn't "have fun". We left on the next flight. I realize how far I have come from those days, when I was so spoilt and nonor.

A few days ago it was Charshanbeh Soori. I was not in the mood for celebrations, but my Iranian colleagues, Pani and Ali, dragged me out. We went to this park outside of town, where the small Iranian community was for the first time organizing bonfires. There were 20 or so people and a few fires burning on a small strip of land by the fjord. I stood there shaking in the cold, trying to defrost my fingers by the warmth of the measly fire.

People I hardly knew, with genuine smiles on their faces, came over and introduced themselves. Someone was ta'arofing ajil-e-moshkelgosha and Shajarian was playing from a car stereo close by. We took our smuggled whisky to a corner and had a few glasses each -- it really helps to keep out the cold, temporarily at least. This was the first time we had joined an Iranian event here and we didn't want to offend any people, who seemed more conservative than us. You never know with Iranians...

I jumped over a few fires and chanted the memorized verse "sorkhiye to az man zardiye man az to". I said a little prayer for myself, my loved ones and Iran. As long as I remember I always make the same wish: "Khodaya, Inshallah sale dige all of us, all Iranians will celebrate Charshanbeh Soori in Iran." I know my wish won't come true, but it's become some sort of a ritual.

The scene was so surreal. Ali was standing by the edge of the fjord feeding a swan with snacks that had been scattered by the wind. Pani had joined a few other young women, who were dancing around one of the fires and moving to a bandari rhythm. One of the older guys from the group had picked up a plastic bucket and was playing some random beat.

Another guy was singing some danbolidanbol that hardly made sense to me. Initially, I had been reluctant to come to this gathering, but at that point I was glad I was there. I was thousands of miles away from home and my loved ones, but at that moment, I stopped feeling lonely and sad. There was a certain warmth in my stomach, and no, it wasn't just the whisky.

My career circumstances brought me to this place, but my Nordic experience is coming to an end. In a month I will pack my bags and leave to start a new chapter in my life, never to return here again. Granted, I spent a fortune on phone bills to Dubai, Black Label whisky and lots of weekend trips to my beloved London. But I survived.

I don't know where life will take me next, but I am prepared. I have learnt an important lesson in life: You can get through anything and everything is possible, provided you have your family, friends like Rana, Pani and Ali and "Johnny Walker" by your side. Suddenly, I feel like Superwoman.

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