Saturday, July 23, 2011

I thought it was thunder

It was raining, and I remember thinking that was the first time I had heard thunder in Oslo. I grew up on the Highveld in South Africa where thunderstorms are commonplace. So I didn’t think much of the earth quivering.

A while later my neighbour upstairs was knocking at my window and she told me that it had been an explosion, in the government quarter. Regjeringskvartalet. That is where I have been at several meetings the last few weeks, both at the Finance department and the Trade and Industry Department. I had been planning to go the library, which is just adjacent to the quarter.

That was however the tip of the iceberg. After ascertaining that the one colleague I know was indeed on holiday, something was mentioned about shooting at Utøya. I didn’t think much about it at the time, one was so focused on the bomb. I wondered why they just didn’t call it a terrorist action. Like so many others I did assume it was the work of Islamic fundamentalists. I thought of how naive I thought Norwegians are, we should have known.

As the full extent of what was happening on Utøya started to come out – a man on the main Norwegian channel reported that at least 30 had died – that was so much more shocking and frightening.

I finally went to bed at about quarter to three this morning. The death toll was reported to be 17, seven from the bombing, and ten from the shooting at Utøya. It was also reported that a man had been reported. Not a ”muslim”, but an ethnic Norwegian. In this country that makes a difference. A big difference. One of ”us”, not ”them”. Still a terrorist act, even if not by Al Qaeda.

I woke up about about quarter to seven this morning by a thunderstorm. That first explosion that I thought was just thunder – will I ever be as unperturbed at the sound of thunder again? I thought I would quickly catch up with the death toll before heading back to bed.

Nothing could prepare me for the news. How conservative that initial 30 suddenly was. Now it had been confirmed that 80 kids had died. 80 teenagers and tweens. Unbelievable. Even now I think it completely unfathomable. How can one person do this? How does a run-of-the-mill Norwegian boy-next-door do this? How does one even put words to the horror you feel. The bomb was just a diversion – one was grateful that it had gone off in the middle of summer holidays and even after the end of the work day. But it seemed to be intended to keep police and emergency services busy, not to inflict maximum loss of life. That was reserved for a youth camp. A political youth camp – how can you hate that political party so much? It does not make sense.

I still cannot. I have been down to town, and laid down flowers in several locations – close to the government quarter where so many of my colleagues could have been injured and killed. At Oslo Cathedral, simply because today I am entirely Norwegian. At the parliament because I do believe in this social democracy which is Norway, and believe that it can be a multicultural society – where tolerance and just opinion sharing is possible.

It is scary, I think of my great ”jump” into public debate when I compared comments by a politician to apartheid South Africa where onclusions were being drawn from statistics which were racist. My lack of surprise that the alleged perpetrator was once a member of that same political party.

The police presence here in Norway perhaps doesn’t shock as much as it would Norwegians as I have seen bank guards with bigger guns! There was something about seeing flags at half-mask which moved me. Suddenly the flags were not just symbols of countries, they were symbols of the people of that country. That the US and EU countries also had their flags at half-mask. All my friends who sent messages on facebook or who sent smses. It meant a lot.

At some point I simply have to turn off the TV, go to bed and remember that life goes on. At least for me. The greatest impact on me may be what comes to mind the next time I hear thunder.

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