Norway used to be my favourite country. I spent 6 months in this amazing welfare state in year 2014; I used to enjoy the inclusive welfare model a lot.
Two years later I came back to this wonderful territory, and this time I chose to work in the fish market, one of the major tourists’ attractions. I came to know the fish market long ago, as a tourist. Never did I know until then it has given birth to so many heartening stories, and has been home to so many struggling souls. Unlike the rest of Norway, the fish market is a locale where most immigrant workers spend their lives inside. It is a separated world from the rich, laid-back population; I could never imagine such a group of left-behind foreign comers struggling everyday under this very corner. This summer, in 2016, is perhaps the only time that our lives come across with each other; me and the so-called underprivileged labourers.
In less than three months’ time everything will come to an end, I am heading back home and these men will still be living their lives, continuing with what has been regarded as normal for the society. Some people, like them, do not deserve a decent life. Because, because they have been accepting the rules of game for long. I know we can’t shake the world, and the real-world society is not a fairy tale. But there is a need, there is a need to tell the stories of our amazing survivors, because they deserve more attention than how much we have given them.
Erik, 35, an Italian. He visited his brother in Norway 6 years ago, and stayed there since then. Erik is a typical struggling story of every immigrant who wants to stay in Norway; they work in the society’s most unwanted sectors, and often receive no attention from the community. Erik used to work in a hotel in Bergen; until he was fired in 2013 without having a reason or whatsoever. ‘They just told me to leave’. He found a job in the fish market and a bar later onwards, and have been living a 16+ hours a day working life ever since. A person like Erik can live a luxurious, or better put, troublesome-free life.
He travelled for around 2 months every year, when it comes the low season of the fish market. Last year he stayed in Thailand for a month, spent another month in Cambodia. Erik can easily spend up to 200 kroners (approximately 35 dollars) a day for alcohol and food, yet this is not the life he deserves. I have always imagine Eriko as a person who knows how to make life easy, because I have never seen him getting mad at someone. Plus he is always patient and understanding despite me and the others being such trouble makers. One time I made the fish steaks in the wrong portion; Erik was the one being scolded. When I came and apologized he did not show a glimpse of sadness. He simply smiled, ‘now you know how to do it the next time’.
Eriko is always cheerful. But, when I asked him how did he see himself in 5 years’ time, he did not respond the way he usually did, the happy and slightly naughty way. ‘Yes, I have no thought to change my life. This work is shit, but I need to survive’. Erik is such a kind and sensitive person, he just needs an opportunity to turn his life around. I remember one night, he told me, perhaps causally, with his strong Italian accent, ‘I have a dream. I have a dream that one day everyone in the world will become brothers’. I was so touched. Erik is not lazy, he works more than 18 hours in a row some days, and he is taking Norwegian course in his free time. Erik wants to improve; Erick wants to be better; he is planning on learning Mandarin the next year, ‘because China has a huge market’. When I asked Eriko how did he see himself in 5 years’ time, he did not think anything could change, although ‘the work in the fish market is shit’. I can somewhat imagine the hardship – a man left his own country to look for jobs. One could easily find work at the bottom sector. But being the society’s most overlooked representation, there is few if not no chance for him to progress. This is a story that many immigrant labourers share. But this is also how lives go for some unfortunately.
Miguel is a Mexican. He came to Norway because there was no job available at home, and he heard of the chance to make a living in the fish market. How much worst it has to get until one ended up looking for chances in a country ten thousand miles away? Miguel has not bought his return ticket, because he did not prepare to return home soon. I cannot have had been brave enough to even have taken the first step if I were him. Miguel is turning to 30, how much is the weight of ‘life’ to this aging strong man? If the biggest worry of us is all about having enough salary to purchase branded clothings, how can we not be ashamed every time looking into the big sad eyes of Miguel? Miguel knows he does not want this job, he said this was for the sake of living., he wanted to work for 2 more years, save enough money and head back home.
Miguel is a survivor, he told me since he set his place in Norway; he has worked for the souvenir shops, hotels, restaurants and all you name it. ‘There is always a way to find jobs, there is always a way if you look for it hard enough’. Sometimes I caught a glimpse of sadness in this Mexican’s tough face linings. I know, I know there must be a thousand things going on in his mind. Miguel is a human being, like everyone of us. He gots his dream, like everybody else. But this man is stuck in Norway worrying about feeding himself on a daily basis.
I told him, ‘this is not the life we are supposed to live’.
‘Yeah, I know. But we need to be optimistic, because if we don’t, no one is going to save us.’
The last time I saw him, I came by his side and said bye. ‘See you tomorrow’, he paused for a bit, ‘hopefully’. I looked into his big black eyes, it was so deep. I went out of the fish market, out of this lost battle zone. The fresh air of Norway felt so great, and I have never seen Miguel again.