Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sørlandet and Arendalsuka

Summer is almost gone! I can't quite absorb that one, it has really gone by too fast. I just got back from Arendal and Grimstad on the southern coast of Norway, where I spent the last week at a political networking event called Arendalsuka. It was five days of mingling, debates, talks, and of course after hours receptions and informal get-to-know-each other events (aka parties).

Arendalsuka brings the entire government plus think tanks, political parties, NGOs and others together in a nice little vacation town on the southern coast for a concentration of political discussion before Oslo comes back to work after the summer holiday. It was a long tiring week, but a great chance to learn and stretch my Norwegian language muscles.

Many of the political debates during Arendalsuka took place in the city's Town Hall and Culture Center. This debate was about food security and climate change. 

The city of Arendal on the south coast of Norway was taken over by political debates and tents of different parties, organizations and causes.  It was hard to turn a corner without running into a debate or Q&A about the various political topics of the day, from climate change to local road building. 

Working at Arendalsuka was not a typical week at the office, though still work none the less. I attended dozens of panel debates and discussions (all in Norwegian) and used the time in between to meet new people and reconnect with people in a more informal setting. One evening this meant a smaller dinner outside of town at a summer resort. The on and off rain rewarded us with an amazing rainbow over the sea. 

With no hotel rooms in tiny Arendal available, I ended up staying the week with a good friend from college, who as luck would have it comes from just outside of Arendal. After a long week of long days, the weekend meant I could finally spend time with good friends. His dad took us out for a boat ride through the islands along the coast, providing a much better view of the city than from the inside of a meeting hall. 

The southern coast of Norway outside of Arendal and Grimstad is dotted with red and white houses in traditional style. The water was a balmy 20 degrees celsius (68 degrees fahrenheit), so after the boat ride and lunch, a few of us took a refreshing dip in the sea.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

The Day I met Jimmy Carter: Independence Day 2014

Waiting for Independence Day to begin (credit: US Embassy Oslo Public Affairs)

As a first or second our foreign service officer (known as ELO for entry level officer), you end up doing a lot of things that aren't necessarily in your "job description," to the extent that we have job descriptions.  Among the things that I have been able to work on that don't necessarily fall into the portfolio of an environment and science officer are drafting the annual trafficking in persons report (this year's was release on June 20) and coordinating the Embassy's annual Independence Day celebration.

The garden at the US Ambassador's Residence filling up (credit: US Embassy Oslo Public Affairs)

Planning the Independence Day party is a privilege bestowed upon one of the "fresher" officers in the Embassy each year, rotating between the different sections so as to spread the experience around.  As one of the newer arrivals but with still enough time in country to know a few things, I was the lucky one this year, so it was up to me to be the nominal figurehead for a party of 1600+ people.  In truth, the Embassy has this party every year, so all of the permanent staff are well practiced in making this happen, so my job was just to check-in to make sure we were on track and provide a point where all of the different pieces meet.  After months of planning and many detailed discussions on decorations, invitations, food orders, and bands, on June 19 we celebrated the American Independence Day at US Embassy Oslo. Yes, I realize that the traditional day that this takes place is of course the 4th of July, but with school and Parliament going on summer vacation on June 20, it's prudent to move our event up a bit so as to actually have guests.

The Marine Guards present the Colors (credit: US Embassy Oslo Public Affairs)

After all of the stress and planning, I was very happy when the party day arrived and I could enjoy a glass of wine with some of my good friends and colleagues. It was a great reminder how far I've come in this last year, with so many friendly faces this year. We had a mix of sunshine and rain, but that didn't keep people from enjoying the traditional burgers, hot dogs, french fries, and ice cream.

President Carter gives a signed copy of his most recent book to our Charge d'Affaires (source: ME! I was RIGHT THERE!)

Oh yes, and we had the most amazing special guest! Former President Jimmy Carter was in Oslo for some meetings and agreed to stop in to say hello. As one of the behind the scenes people at the party, I had the amazing good fortune of shaking his hand and getting a picture with him!!  There are not enough exclamation points that can express how excited I was. The thousand plus guests that stayed to hear him speak were similarly starstruck, listening in awe as 90-year old former President Carter delivered a passionate speech about the different challenges we are facing around the world, highlighting the work he is leading through the Carter Center. Speaking without notes for 15 minutes was impressive enough, but when he took some questions from the stunned crowd, I nearly fell over in admiration.  I know that there will be many days like this to come in this career, but this will surely be one I will remember.

President Carter, a great surprise for our guests (credit: US Embassy Oslo Public Affairs). 

After a long day of working and mingling, my colleague/friend and I chatted with Jimmy Carter.  

NOTE: More pictures can be found on the US Embassy Oslo Facebook Page

Friday, June 20, 2014

Becoming a Bike Lady

The new bike, in her element. 

I have found a new obsession. I fought a used racing bike off of Norway's version of craigslist ( and am now completely hooked.


Within three weeks of taking my first spin on the fuji (a brutal 52km that I am still mad at my coworker about), I had accomplished my first 100km ride. And I've decided that this is the sport for me. I love the long rides, seeing the countryside, pushing my limits, climbing the hills. Who knew that I was bike lady?

The top of a hill, a view earned. 

And because nothing is worth doing if not done all the way, I will be riding in my first long-distance cycling race in a week and a half. 134km from Gjøvik to Oslo, which is actually one of the shorter legs of the Trondheim to Oslo Styrkeprøven race.

The Reward. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Bunadmania: 200 years of Constitutional Fun

Enthusiastic Norwegians, a few in full suits, celebrating May 17 by paddling through Oslo's inner waterways. 
One month ago today Norway celebrated the 200 year anniversary of creating its very own constitution. This is an especially significant and unique holiday because it is not Norwegian independence day, that came nearly 100 years later, but rather the day when Norway took matters into its own hands and created its constitution after being handed over to Sweden from Denmark following the Napoleonic wars. Norwegians are extremely proud, rightly so, of their constitution and the democratic ideals it put into writing. And so, May 17 is not just a celebration of one day in history, but rather a celebration of what it means to be Norwegian.

I was lucky to have a few visitors from the USA here for a visit. These crazy folks planned their vacations for the sole purpose of seeing the spectacle that is May 17.  They were not disappointed. With the holiday falling on a Saturday, the festivities began on Friday night and kept going for the whole weekend. The main event was the children's parade on Saturday, preceded of course by a champagne breakfast at 9am (brunch is for the weak). With corks popped well before noon, the spirits around town are quite high around 1pm or 2pm. And of course these high spirits are enhanced by the fancy traditional dress, the bunad, that is donned by all. These spirits (and comfort level of the bunads) fade by about mid-afternoon, but the true pros get a mid-afternoon nap in, and then keep going for the rest of the evening. We tried this strategy and spent the evening watching the events downtown from a lively rooftop.

The following day we recovered by taking a walk in the woods and an evening spent in relaxing. The weekend went by too fast, and on Monday my friends were back to the USA. But with some of my favorite Americans here in Oslo mixing with some of my favorite Norwegians, it was a truly memorable way to celebrate a historical day for Norway.

Participating in Norwegian tradition - flag waving and sun worshiping. 

Soon to be graduating high school "russ" students. 

Norwegians in full bunads, enjoying the sunshine and a traditional ice cream.