We have two contributors: A Newcomer in the Time of Covid By H. E. Eszter Sándorfi, Ambassador of Hungary to Norway
and A Farewell to Norway By H. E. Judīte Dobele, the Ambassador of Latvia to Norway
A Newcomer in the Time of Covid
By H. E. Eszter Sándorfi, Ambassador of Hungary to Norway
One of my favourite writers is Gabriel Garcia Márquez. I read Hundred Years of Solitude three times, and Love in the Time of Cholera left a great impression on me. My adventure as a newcomer to Oslo in the time of Covid-19 was by far not as romantic as the latter novel. However, despite the difficulties, it certainly enriched me with a lot of memorable experiences.
I arrived to assume my new responsibilities at the Hungarian Embassy at the beginning of March. My son was at university and my daughter was studying for her high school diploma, and I left my family behind to start my new assignment just as the pandemic was at its worst in Hungary. After the required quarantine, I plunged into work and started organising my first official visits. On one of the first weekends, as a slow yet enthusiastic skier, I met up with some of my younger colleagues at Holmenkollen. My photos of the fantastic view of the harbour of Oslo from the sunny and snow-covered hills provoked some enthusiastic, but also envious, comments from my friends in Budapest.
So, the start was fine but I missed my family a lot. I was looking forward to taking a short break back home for Easter. Then after a long, brisk Sunday walk, I received a worrying message from someone I had met the week before, informing me that he possibly had contracted Covid-19. I hoped for the best and counted on my robust immune system. However, out of caution I cancelled all my appointments. Unfortunately, some days later, I started having a sore throat, resorting to all the magic home cures that I knew of trying to stop it: talking vitamin C, D, drinking hot tea with lemon, inhaling steam with eucalyptus, and gargling with salty water. To no avail: my test result was positive. Naturally, we took all the necessary steps at the Embassy, testing everyone and imposing home office. Luckily, no one else got infected.
Finally, I don’t know if it was the virus that made me feel really ill or the realisation that I could not make it home for Easter. I was devastated. I did not remember ever spending Easter without my family. I developed a fever and felt pressure on my lungs. I regularly received calls from Helse Norge to check up on me, but I was utterly alone in a new country in an almost unknown house where I still struggled in the mornings to find my clothes. I just felt terribly sorry for myself, missing the fragrance of the early spring flowers in my hometown, the sound of the church bells, the preparation of our traditional Easter, but above all being with my loved ones.
Then surprises came. One morning I received a message from very good Norwegian friends that breakfast awaited me on the doorstep. I crawled to the front door and found warm coffee, fresh orange juice, cinnamon rolls and jam, enough for at least three days. My colleagues brought vitamins and warm soup. In the meantime, my medicine arrived from Hungary, which made me feel more at ease. I was able to consult both a Hungarian and Norwegian doctor by phone, organised by friends. I started to feel better and often talked to my loved ones back home, but I still faced a long and lonely Easter weekend in a very quiet Oslo.
During sunny hours, I sat on the balcony admiring the hard work of a woodpecker couple building their nest. Then just at the beginning of the holidays, the doorbell rang. First came Roland, the owner of a Hungarian delicatessen and butcher shop. He had heard about my being ill and brought me a box full of our traditional Easter food: smoked ham, sausages, and vegetable spreads. Later, a colleague brought some tulips, and a friend’s wife sent me homemade cakes.
By Sunday morning, a huge basket arrived with chocolate rabbits and eggs sent by my husband, just as in my childhood😊. In the end, I enjoyed an abundant and festive Easter table. Modern technology connected me visually with my family, who had gathered at my mother’s apartment in Budapest. We had a glass of champagne together. It was a beautiful feast after all.
Still in quarantine, I continued my introductory talks with colleagues by phone or online. This practice was not unusual in the particular circumstances. Everybody was very open and helpful. When we finally could meet personally, it seemed as if we had known each other for a long time.
By the time I had the honour to hand over my Letter of Credence to His Majesty King Harald V on May 6, I had recovered all my strength and, as they say in Norwegian, I was ‘frisk som en fisk’. All the support and kindness I received gave me a unique and heart-warming experience as a newcomer in the time of the Corona virus. It demonstrated once again how critical human contact is and how much we need and rely on each other – not only in the time of Covid-19.
A Farewell to Norway
By H. E. Judīte Dobele, the Ambassador of Latvia to Norway
Arriving in a new country with several years of service ahead, we are excited and overwhelmed with the possibilities to explore, experience and discover.
Today when I look at the past years in Norway, I am pleased to note that buried deep in my memory stays the richness of Norwegian nature, customs and traditions as well as the hospitality of the people. I have discovered and enjoyed wonderful similarities and cherished discovering many new things.
Latvia and Norway both have a rich and turbulent history, a living and diverse cultural heritage, customs and traditions reaching far beyond the existence of our nations. Our stories are inscribed in music, myths and heroic tales; today celebrated with the proud use of folk costumes or bunads.
In 2021, Latvia and Norway celebrate a centenary of diplomatic relations. The national awakening of Norway and Latvia, imbued with socio-economic demands and a wish for cultural emancipation, resulted in the establishment of independent states. Norway in 1905 and Latvia in 1918. This was achieved through determination and relentless work and hope of these proud peoples, willing to decide their own fate.
We are small nations, but our people reach far.
From 1889 until 1918, Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1828-1906) was the most popular author in Latvia. Alongside Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson, Knut Hamsun, and Edvard Munch, Ibsen left a significant imprint on Latvia. Almost 100 years later, Mariss Jansons – a Latvian who was one of the world’s leading conductors – conquered Norway by leading the Oslo Philharmonic Orchestra to international fame.
But apart from the celebrities, I would commend the inestimable, yet at times unnoticed, individual relationships creating strong bonds and friendship between our countries.
Norwegians and Latvians are close to nature. We are looking for ways to protect both flora and fauna in order to preserve biological diversity for generations to come. There is a genuine interest for the European Green Shift, as our minds are more open to and aware of the damage done to the environment and the consequences of not doing what needs to be done.
Norway is a great neighbour and partner for Latvia. Our shared values and interests are extensive, diverse and bridging the waters between us. I feel very privileged to have had the opportunity to serve this important and diverse relationship.
Using this opportunity, I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude for the experience and cooperation with the International Forum and Diplomatic Spouses Association. We joined our hands for a noble cause to assist those in need by organising the Diplomatic Charity Event in December 2019. The revenues collected were donated to a water project in Burundi. I would commend the cause and goal we attained, and hope that this excellent initiative will be continued. Let us remember a saying: ‘A friend in need, is a friend indeed.’
So I wish all of you who are staying on a good and beneficial future cooperation!