Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Climbing the family tree

A few years ago, my good friend Tara moved to Norway after meeting and falling in love with a young Norwegian man (they met at an animal rescue reserve in Bolivia of all places . . . I guess thats how love is sometimes). Anyway, so Tara moved to Norway, got her Masters degree and then a job working in human rights and has been living there for about four years. When I moved to Europe, we sent plenty of messages back and forth about visiting each other or meeting somewhere, but you know how these things go. As I planned my trip though, I decided that Norway isn't really that much out of the way when you are already planning on being in northern Europe and Russia, so I decided to make a detour. In the meantime, Tara was also planning the next stage of her life- law school. As I figured out the dates I would need to travel and decided that I would go home for my friend Nichole's wedding, I let Tara know- perfect, she would be leaving Norway the next week to move home to Colorado. This would be a crazy time, but I was always welcome to a spot on her couch.

My great-grandfather on my mothers side was Norwegian, which makes me 1/8 Norwegian. I have never felt particularly Norwegian as I have more Russian (1/4), Polish (1/4), German (1/4) and because of my curly red hair and freckles people often think that I am Scottish (1/16??) or Irish (0). My mom has always identified more with the Norwegian side of her family as she grew up a "Berg", but she has never visited Norway. When I told her about Tara's invitation she decided that she would meet me there for a week. My mom looked up info that she had about her grandfather's family including a genealogy that some aunt or cousin had put together from a family bible and a letter from her aunt talking about a visit to Norway about 30 years ago. We had a destination, we had the information, Norway ho!!!

Since Tara lives in a small (but very nice) apartment and with my mom coming, the whole sleeping on the floor thing wasn't really going to work. Luckily that Norwegian guy that she was with also had a lovely Norwegian family and his sister was going to be out of town for the week, so we could use her place, perfect! It was also nice to be out of the way since as I mentioned Tara and Tor were getting ready to move back to Denver also and they were packing up their place (including selling off some furniture-there's a funny story about selling their bed, but that's for Tara to tell).

Anyway, I arrived from Kiev and my mom arrived from America (first class on the first flight she tried, flying standby which I will talk more about when I get to the part about going home). Tara made dinner and we went to crash in our gorgeous apartment. The next day, we went on our family searching expedition. Based on the letter from my great-aunt Doris, we knew that we should go to the village of Prestfloss and look for the museum there. We took two buses from Oslo and arrived at the small village museum of the Sigdal and Eggdal valleys. After a few minutes of searching around we found the caretaker of the museum, Sigrid. We told her that we had good reason to believe that our family was from this area and that one of the houses in the museum was from our families farm. I have no idea how Aunt Dorris had found this information, but it turned out to be correct. Sigrid showed us around, including in the "Bergen farm house" a typical farm house from the 1750s donated to the museum by the family, and also a nice exhibit of musical instruments. When we sat down in the museum shop for some waffles and tea, Sigrid went and got "the book," a record of the family genealogies for all of the local farms. On the Bergen farm we found my great-great-great-grandmother Kari who left in 1854 for America with two young kids including Marte my great-great-grandmother. In the book we found that her brother had stayed on the farm and in fact his decedents still owned the farm to this day- we had cousins! Sigrid knew the family (of course) and so she called them up. The farm is run by a bachelor and his sister is married and lives nearby. This brother and sister are my 6th cousins (I think???). The sister's husband (former mayor and history teacher) came to the museum to drive us over to the farm and introduce us to the family. Maybe I'm just dreaming here, but I could see some family resemblance- the farmer looks uncannily like my grandfather- the same thin frame, the same features; they could be cousins. . .

One interesting thing for Americans traveling abroad is explaining to people the "Heinz 57" mix that many Americans are, especially after a few generations. In Albania, I got the question all the time "what is your origin- Albanian?" since one way that they could explain my presence in their country was that I was Albanian originally. When I would answer with my litany of origins they would be amazed. I don't think about my different backgrounds so much and I don't think that most Americans do anymore. This was the first time that I had gone searching for my roots; it was interesting, but I don't know if it made me feel more Norwegian. It was nice to be there with my mom, because she was excited about it and it was fun to see her so happy. And it is kind of cool to know I have family- somewhere out there.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

I'm sorry

I don't actually know how many people read this blog except my parents (hi mom and dad!) and Chris's mom (hi Arlene!), but if I do have any other fans, then I'm sorry, becaus I have been a slacker lately. If you go by the blog hen you would think I'm still somewhere in Bulgaria even though I'm about 5 countries past that. I totally intended to get caught up when I was home, but between weddings and my gorgeous nieces and mahjong I got even more behind. I have a couple of long train journeys coming up (I'm in Russia by the way) so I willget to use that time to write. I WILL NOT be writing any "catch up posts" in which I try to cram three months of stuff into one entry, bit hopefully over the next few days I will have several posts ready for upload, hopefully even with pictures.

So, again, sorry for the back log. . .

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Now entering the former USSR

I crossed into Moldova on an incredibly hot bus, which got better briefly when it started to rain- but then the windows were closed and it got hot again. I could tell immediately when we crossed the border as the road became worse. Heading into Moldova felt a little like coming home- I reminded me a lot of Albania. Similar in size to Albania, Moldova surpassed it a few years ago to become the poorest nation in Europe. Like Albania, Moldova has a large part of the population living abroad working and sending money home and Moldova also has many unfinished buildings. In Moldova I stayed with another RPCV with his HCN wife. I only stayed one night, and I imagine that Moldova has a lot of secret places, again like Albania, that could be explored, but I didn't have time. I needed to get to Kiev by August 3rd for my plane home . . . But I'm getting ahead of myself . . .

I took another incredibly hot bus over the Moldovan border to Odessa, Ukraine. I had to be careful about which bus I took as some of the hisses cross through Trans-Dniester an occasionally volatile break away region of Moldova. It is listed as another one of those "restricted zones" by Peace Corps, and even though I'm no longer a PCV and don't have to follow those rules, I had heard that sometimes foreigners are sometimes asked to pay heavy bribes to cross the border and I just really didn't want that trouble.

So I arrived in Odessa- my last chance for nice beach weather. Something has always seemed really romantic to me about Odessa and it didn't disappoint. It had everything I love in a city: walkable streets, nice parks, a beach and of course falafel. In the states, we are used to a lot of different kinds of food all the time. When people would ask me food I miss from home, my answer would be things like falafel, burritos and real (American) Chinese food. I always love the randomness of ethnic food available in different places. Budapest seemed to have a profusion of sushi places and Odessa had a really amazing falafel stand. The guy who owned the stand was not just a falafel stand owner, he was an artist. Each sandwich took about 10 minutes and was a whole process, but it was worth it. Anyway, as indicated earlier, I finally found a nice day and headed to the beach to swim in the Black Sea. The beach wasn't anything spectacular, but it was nice and wasn't too crowded and so I had a nice relaxing afternoon.

From Odessa I headed west to Ukrainian Ukraine (as opposed to Russian speaking Ukraine) to couchsurf with some PCVs in Lviv. One thing to know about trains in Ukraine- book ahead, especially in summer. I had originally thought that I would try to go to Crimea for a few days, but when I arrived in Odessa I found that Crimea was sold out two weeks in advance. So I headed west instead. When I got to Lviv, I found out that the night I wanted to go to Kiev was also sold out- problem since I had to arrive in Kiev, by a certain day to fly to Norway. No problem, as I could stay an extra night in Lviv and take a day train, which brings me to the second thing you should know about trains in Ukraine in the summer---- HOT!!!! And not in a good way.

Anyway, I arrived in Lviv and met Linnea and Kari, my PCV hosts. Linnea actually lives in a town about 45 minutes outside of Lviv, but came into town to meet me, have some American coffee and sushi and use the Internet, all things which can be done in Lviv, but not in her town. Things that can be done in her town, I found, included eating borsht, shopping in the pazar and swimming in the river. I spent a really relaxing few days with Linnea and one night in Kari's weird apartment attached to her school and then headed to Kiev for my last stop on this "Peace Corps couches" part of my trip.

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