Hallo der ute - her er hjemmesiden min!

A Bad Experience – part VI or Hell and Heaven

Karina is full of surprises, and I don’t think I will ever get the full picture of her life and her personality. It became very clear to me that there were certain incidents in her life she just did not want to discuss with me or anyone else, and her professional career was obviously one subject she wanted to avoid at all costs. In fact she had had a hard time adapting to regular teaching positions and so she had been shuffled around between different schools in the Capital Area of Oslo, Norway. It wasn’t so much because she did not do her job professionally and conscientiously, but rather a case of her being too engaged and too motivated for her principals, and more often than not she had conflicts with some of her colleagues. More than once she had spilt the beans to teachers she perceived as unfit, lazy or unfair. This of course did not in any way increase her status in the staff room.  She was extremely popular among her students, though. Obviously she must have given them more than would be expected of any teacher. She opened up her Facebook account to show me her former students and the comments they had written on her normally concealed timeline. Amazing stuff, I must admit. Hundreds of students praising her work as the one and only best lecturer of their lives. I could not believe all the stuff I read and actually all the fantastic features that were submerged within this complex woman.

She named four different schools she had been working at, and then she evaded any further interrogation from my part. What was she hiding from me? What was she so desperately trying to avoid talking about? According to my math skills, three years were missing in her “oral CV”, and I really needed the story to add up, so I begged her to reveal whatever was so secretive that she had such a hard time telling me about it. After I bribed her with promising her to stay for two more weeks in the turtle sanctuary, she burst and an eruption of bad experiences surfaced.  We are not talking about parts one through six, but rather parts one through indefinitely.

Some years ago Karina had applied for teaching positions abroad. She wanted to get away from her badass life in Oslo, forget about the drugs and the prison sentence, and at first she had ended up in a school in – you’re not going to believe this at all – North Ossetia, situated in the Middle of Nowhere in Russia. North Ossetia is an oblast within the Russian Federation, and she got engaged there in a school in the city of Beslan teaching Maths and Physics to kids with learning disorders.  Karina loved teaching at this school, she made friends with other teachers and everything worked fine between her, the kids and the principal. I saw a certain sadness in her eyes as she went on. “You’ve got to get it Svennie, finally I thought I was happy, I thought I had found a place where I could put myself and my full competence to use. I managed to teach kids Maths and Physics without even speaking their language, I stayed away from drugs and alcohol, I even had a relationship for a while to a Moslem . It was an unbelievable experience.”

“Then, and this happened so fast, I can’t remember much of it. The school, called School number 1 was surrounded by armed men with machine guns, grenades and lots of other stuff I don’t know anything about. I watched the whole process from my classroom window. The armed men approached the entrance of the school and in the crowd of armed men I spotted my boyfriend. I didn’t understand what was happening, but all of a sudden guns were fired and people were screaming desperately. The classroom door was forced open and left ajar, and the only thing I could spot was the mouthpiece of some kind of firearm. The school was under siege – and my boyfriend was one of the invaders and gunmen.”

I all of a sudden recalled the news stories on TV some years ago. This was about some rebels from Chechnya who wanted to take people hostage to force withdrawal of Russian and UN troops from Chechnya and I remembered lots of casualties and really nerve-wrecking situations for the hostages, the kids’ parents, the teachers The Beslan school hostage crisis  took place in 2004 and  lasted three days.  It involved the capture of over 1,100 people as hostages, of whom some 800 were school children. 380 people were killed. The crisis began when a group of armed Islamic separatist militants occupied School Number One, thus Karina’s school. On the third day of the standoff, Russian security forces entered the building with the use of tanks, incendiary rockets and other heavy weaponry. Karina had lived through it all, and she’d seen how people were killed by the hostage takers, but also by the liberators of the Russian army who did not exactly thread carefully when they decided to invade the school in order to end the hostage situation. Karina’s boyfriend had avoided her during the whole process. He fell victim to the liberators’ firearms and she saw his dead body right outside of her classroom.

It was really hard for Karina to talk about this, but I realized that most of the puzzle now was in place. I understood why she had left everything behind and gone to her remote island, why she after this experience had given up teaching and managed to be declared unfit. Tears were running down her cheeks, and I held her tight. I was happy she had finally opened up. We talked the whole night until sunrise. Then we went for breakfast and then she invited me to join her morning class and that I could learn first – hand how they were taught respect for and knowledge about environmental issues. This particular day, Karina dropped her plans, and decided to give a demonstration of the kids’ fabulous skills. And it was a once – in – a –lifetime – experience.

We started off on the beach where twenty children were lying flat out on their stomachs waiting for Karina’s command.  At her careful whisper – “voorwaard”, the kids started crawling around the sand, just like the giant turtles. Under a large tree they all started to dig deep holes, using their  arms and legs like paddles legs to rid the area of as much sand as possible, until they had a clear spot where they could dig deeper. They all worked with such enthusiasm, that I was left speechless. All of a sudden their role play was  interrupted by some beach bum holding a surfboard under his arm. “Aikanti”, “Aikanti”, pointing northwards. Aikanti means giant turtle in Sranan Togo, their native language. The children jumped up like crazed jerks and ran towards the area of the beach that the beach bum had indicated.

And here is where the amazing once-in-a lifetime chance to see and feel something really outstanding starts.  About twenty or so giant turtles crawl out of the water, slowly moving to the edge of the beach, settling down in area they seem to be familiar with. As if somebody were giving them a kind of a signal, they all start wandering slowly in circles limiting a small area by running one flipper in the sand creating a kind of border. At the strike of something or other they all start digging  holes using all four of their flippers. And the flippers seem to work just as good as Swiss clockwork. They do it with total synchronicity. At the same time one can see their mouths opening and closing to such an extent that you’d think they were forming a Catholic Church quire.  The kids lie down beside the giant turtles and start doing exactly what the turtles  doing, actually impersonating giant turtles and their egg-laying rituals. Both turtles and kids are so preoccupied with their jobs, so nobody makes any notice of all the commotion taking place around them. The whole village has decided to make this a field trip, so about 70 people show up on the exact spot to take part in the great spectacle going on here. After some time, still digging with arms and legs, the children start singing “Aikanti –Aikanti”, over and over again praising these wonderful creatures who show up over and over again on exactly the same spot to secure the survival of their species.

The very special and unique feature of these specific giant turtles is  that they lay their eggs at noon, and not after sunset. All other species of sea turtles get up on the beach and lay their eggs after dawn. Another special feature is that these specific turtles dig several holes in the sand and leave many of them with no eggs. Scientists believe that they do this to deter predators, such as birds or snakes which can somewhat sense where they have dug their holes and that way get easy access to an easy and nutritious meal by working their way through the sand. Many empty holes probably double cross the predators into thinking there is nothing to be found anywhere.

The kids follow the turtles around and keep digging holes. At Karina’s soft voice they all gather up in a row, brushing off the sand that is stuck to their elbows, knees and on their clothes. They all march back to school chanting “Aikanti-Aikanti-Aikanti” over and over again.Settled in their home room, drawings are  made of what they’ve just seen and learned. The kids are eager, and they are like small artists making large and colorful stories of what they’ve just seen. The kids all loudly and eagerly discuss which day today’s eggs are going to hatch. They all notice exactly were the eggs were, and the usual procedure when they hatch is that they all go down to the beach to help the little turtle babies get safely down to the seashore and then out into the open ocean. They all know that there are predators lurking to eat the small ones, such as birds, snakes, fish even the odd house cat. The Americans and Karina equip most of the turtles with radio transmitters, and so the school kids get to follow their journey.  The turtles get names, funny names like Ronald Reagan, Konigin Beatrix, Prince Philip and so on.

School’s out at 5 o’clock, and the kids all go home to have dinner. There is a village “Barbacot” this afternoon, a special meal for the whole village where everybody participates and brings something to barbecue. They all come to celebrate yet another day of successful egg-laying turtles.  Large barbecues are arranged, and the people sit down to enjoy coconut milk, sweet potatoes, fish and meat.

In the trees surrounding us there are parrots, large parrots of different colors. They’re begging for food, dancing around to lure some from the people. If they are not fed they try to steal some. People here love them.  Parrot preservation is going to be their next project. I heard it, over and over again: “Please Mister Cool Guy, Svennie, won’t you stay and help us”?