By Aniebo Nwamu
I’m spending the Easter break in a quiet town called Bergen in western Norway. Three days have passed since we touched down at Oslo and, since then, I have not communicated with anyone in my home country. I know, however, that everyone at home is fine. Happy Easter Nigeria!
I chose Norway for this trip partly because I thought it shares a lot with Nigeria, a land overflowing with milk and honey. At least it starts with an “N” as does my country. Other nations from which I was asked to choose a “coastal sanctuary” included Denmark, Sweden and Iceland. Norway sounds like “no way” and I wanted to make a way where there is no way!
Bergen looks like the place to flee from it all. So far, I’ve had no need for my cardigan. It’s spring but the weather is still excellent. One can sleep for 24 hours at a stretch. It’s never hot; it’s almost always chilly, even when the sun shines. Little wonder mosquitoes don’t survive here. Power is constant – the bulbs never blink. And water never stops flowing from the taps. No fear of armed robbers or terrorists. No worries about what to eat or drink.
Except for the first night we spent at Oslo, I have been living in the home of my host in Bergen. Mr Glemmer is a Catholic like me and we have been participating in all the Easter activities together – from observing the Good Friday to keeping watch at the “tomb” on the eve of the Resurrection. Listening to old hymns, I have felt transported to heaven and in the midst of angels: O come, come, come, our saviour dear to me/ O come, come, come, there is no king but you…
I’ve spent some time in other European and American cities, but if ever there is a place on earth that resembles paradise, the place is Bergen. The environment alone lowers one’s blood pressure. I can’t identify many of the flowers I see but each is beautiful. They have different colours – blue, yellow, green, red, white; roses are conspicuous. Trees don’t make a forest here because they don’t share space with the undergrowth – and snakes. I’ve not stepped on a dusty footpath. Even where roads are not paved, they always look clean.
Almost everyone I’ve met appears friendly and rich. But, as I have learned, the wealth of the average Norwegian lies in his contentment. Mr Glemmer, for instance, rides bicycles around the town. The roads are free: at times, cars pass at 15-second intervals. I’ve not seen a keke or tricycle yet. Only horses and horse riders seeking fun.
A lesson in contentment is what I learned at a small prayer session we held to celebrate the Good Friday. “You can’t imagine the weight of human problems one could cut by just being less ambitious,” I heard the preacher say. At home, Mr Glemmer and I had a conversation during which I sought to know more about the preacher’s message and the secret of his people’s happiness. “All the problems of the world are caused by human greed,” he told me. “Wars are caused by megalomaniac leaders who seek to conquer new territory or prove their superiority over others.”
I agreed. Ever since I was a little child, I have been reading similar messages in the pages of the Bible: Do not be anxious about tomorrow; let tomorrow take care of itself. If you have two clothing items, give one to your brother.
There is no better gift I will bring home to my compatriots than this lesson in contentment. In Norway, everyone seems rich, yet they still ride bicycles. Shouldn’t we cast off our quest for material wealth for once? Why drive a car to a place within trekking distance? Middle-class and upper-class Nigerians hardly find time to exercise. Yet, they know that exercise is great medicine itself. Why this obsession with flashy cars and private jets?
In Africa, life used to be like what I see here in Norway. From the stories I have heard, I know that the quest for material wealth or a desire to be the greatest did not exist in the part of Nigeria I come from. Up until the 1980s, armed robberies did not happen in several towns. Thieves existed but they always bolted away at the first shout of a vigilant one.
Mr Glemmer wants me to tell our young people to value their life, be contented and be happy. I told him that over 1.7million candidates were about to sit for the university entrance exam, but less than 20 per cent of them will have a chance to be admitted. “So, must everyone go to university?” he asked. A half of Norwegians are not college graduates, he told me. It is more worrying that the young ones in my country are not even dissuaded by the growing graduate unemployment. And nobody knows what is taught in those universities these days.
As we celebrate the Easter, young Nigerians should let this lesson lead them throughout life. There is nothing anyone will be today that someone else has not been. We cannot live in the best home or drive the best car. We can no longer be the inventor of the internet, the airplane or television. Who can beat the achievements of Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison or Steve Jobs? So what is the unique thing we want to achieve? Is it about making money? Money doesn’t solve human problems; it creates new problems like deceitful friends.
Easter is a time of reflection and transformation. Will I see changes in the lifestyles of young Nigerians on my return? Will each give up vaunting ambition? When we aspire to be the best, who do we want to be the least? Life is short, and, if one must be happy, one must have time to enjoy what life has to offer. “Vanity of vanities, all is vanity, says the preacher.”
I’m having a nice time here in Norway. But I do not mean to spend a long time here. Soon, I will return to that great country in sub-Saharan Africa where nature offers almost everything for free. Indeed, you do not value what you have until you lose it. Nigeria – great country, nice people.
[First published three years ago, this piece is meant to put the reader in the Easter mood.]