Gambians in Norway: My Oslo visit

Written by Alieu Khan

Norway was one of the countries on my ‘must visit’ list. I kept hearing a lot about the small Scandinavian country. It is the world's fifth-largest oil exporter, with annual oil revenues of around $40 billion. The country is highly respected for how it manages its oil wealth.

I was in Oslo for the Christmas break. This was at a time when the Oslo-Gambian community was still mourning the sudden death ofAmie Joof and Yandeh Njie. Two prominent women who were killed in a car crash with a truck just hours after a shopping trip in neighbouring Sweden.

The secretary of the Gambian Association, Omar Drammeh said: “The departure of these ladies have created a vacuum and we pray that Allah give us the strength to deal with these very sad losses. We will forever cherish the fond memories and hope that they will overcome the sadness and deep sorrow.”

The Norwegian capital is home to hundreds of Gambians. It is a vibrant city with different shopping centres. But I was not there to buy anything. Oslo has the reputation of being an expensive city and sometimes beyond the means of struggling immigrants like me.

Some of the Gambians I met said they feel safe in Norway. Like they can go out at night and not have to worry as much about their personal safety.

It is easy to get around Oslo whether by train or bus. During my one-week stay, I dodged paying train fares. Unlike Stockholm and other major European cities, in Oslo there are no barriers or security checks to get onto the train. You buy your ticket and validate it, but there is nothing stopping you from walking right on. According to my host, the train company always encourages commuters to be honest.

I love using the train whenever I visit a country, because it is always an opportunity to get very close to the locals. Norwegians are friendly and understanding. The government is well known in the European Union for promoting a tolerant and multicultural society.

Do you remember the 2011 Utoya terror attack? Anders Behring Breivik, a 32-year-old right-wing extremist, killed 69 members of the Norwegian Labour Party’s youth division. Norwegians were shocked, but refused to be shaken. They impressed the world with the graceful way they handled the attack.

Two days after my arrival in Oslo, I ventured out for my first proper wonder round. I was curious to see how Gambians live and raba raba.

I visited Café Evita, located a stone throw from the city centre. According to my host, it is a place frequented by Gambians. I met a handful of them there, some are already Norwegian citizens. They were very welcoming to me as I explained that I was in Oslo for the Christmas break.

In Norway, it is not permitted to hold dual citizenship. I was surprised that some of them at the café gave up their Gambian citizenship. They have to apply for visa any time they arrive at the Banjul International Airport.

One of the famous young Gambians that live in Oslo is film producer-cum-DJ, Lil Sisqo. He moved there to join his father. I was unlucky to meet him and discuss about the grand premier of his new TV series, Nakala.

Another prominent Gambian in Norway is Jaysuma Ndure. He is arguably the greatest sprinter ever produced by The Gambia. However, in 2006, he swapped nationality and currently holds Norwegian record in 100 and 200 metres.

I was also informed about a wealthy Gambian in Oslo who wanted to start a private electricity company in The Gambia, but was allegedly refused permission. NAWEC is not yet prepared to compete!

From Café Evita, I took the train to Toyen. I was invited to lunch by a Gambian family living there. Toyen is popular for its high concentration of immigrants.

The family is very nice and welcoming (in spite of meeting me for the first time). The wife, I am made to understand, is currently in university studying something related with criminology. Their apartment is a famous meeting place for young Gambian immigrants. They welcome everyone like family.

Unlike many Gambian families in the Diaspora, the parents speak mainly Wollof with the children. I strongly respect them for that!  If you don't give children your language, you’ll surely turn them into half-strangers whenever they visit The Gambia.

We had superkanja for lunch. Guess what? We were more than ten in the apartment. The lunch was served in a big bowl and everyone crowded around it.

The girl that sat next to me really caught my attention. She is very pretty! After eating, she brought me water and asked if I enjoyed the lunch.

I later asked my host about her and he told me that she was single. I told him that I would like to meet her for a drink. He promised to call her when we reach home, but surprisingly he never did. He was seemingly reluctant to introduce us for reasons I still don’t know. Sometimes, men think on things they do. But my intentions were sincere, bilie.

Next I visited another family in Roa. They have a house of their own. In Oslo, a substantial number of Gambians bought houses. I know of a young woman, possibly in her late 20s, who own an apartment in one of suburbs. From my guess, she bought it for more than one hundred thousand Euro.

Back to the family in Roa. I was there to celebrate the Christmas with them. It was the first time in my life to spend Christmas with a Christian family. I was not the only Muslim in the house, there were few others. One of them is a boy who recently moved to Norway to start a new life. We had a very interesting discussion about What’s On-Gambia. According to him, he hates the online magazine because they ‘fabricate lies and intrude into people’s private affairs.’

“I just go there, read and leave. I don’t even like the page,” he said.

I cannot remember what we had for lunch, but it was some roasted beef with potatoes. I really enjoyed it! They had tons of food and drinks, lots of decorations and music playing, all of which made the day awesome.

Some of the guests in the house are Akus from Banjul.  I felt so awkward when they started talking about the capital city. I was born and brought up in Brikama.

We also spoke about the mortuary workers at Edward Francis Small Teaching Hospital. One of them explained about an incident where the bodies of two elderly men were mixed up.

After six hours of eating, drinking (soft drinks), talking and listening to musicians like Wally Seck I reached my limit and so decided to head back home.

Oh, I forgot to mention! One of the girls at the Christmas get-together loves taking selfies. I can’t count the number of selfies she took that evening. Poor me, I was not on any of them.

During my stay, I was unlucky to meet Hot B Da Sufi, but we spoke on the phone. He is a Gambian rapper that is trying to launch his career in Norway. Few days before I left, he dropped a new music video, Tha God’s Superstar. Hot B is one of my favorite Senegambian rappers, but I hate it when he raps in English.

 

On the 27th December, I said goodbye to Oslo, the wonderful Gambians I met, and the city’s beautiful structures.

Overall, I enjoyed the visit very much and I am thinking of visiting again in the summer 2014 when they have the traditional Gambian cultural week.

Takk Norge!

Alieu Khan is part of the What’s On-Gambia team