On Friday night, we arrive at Alta’s small airport. At the luggage belt we are met by a girl with a beaming smile – it is Ieva (26). She has spent the last five summers in Norway’s north, in Honningsvåg, a small town above the Arctic Circle, not far from the legendary North Cape. She has been working as an administrator at the North Cape campus, yet the diversity of her tasks, as well as her own initiatives, don’t allow her to be described simply as an administrator. For example, she loves to take photographs, especially of northern nature. She has even created her own series of postcards. Also, with one of her employers, she has developed a tradition of collecting the stories of the travellers visiting the campus. This ‘remote periphery’, as Ieva calls it, attracts many extraordinary people. Thus participation in our project is a very special experience for Ieva, since this time someone is interested in her story, rather than the other way around.
It was in 2011 that Ieva came to Honningsvåg for the first time. She was a university student with a rather vague idea of her further plans. An opportunity to go to the north of Norway for seasonal work at the campus came as an unexpected offer from some acquaintances. Ieva saw it as a great chance to experience life in another country, a country with such amazing nature, and additionally, an opportunity to earn some money for her next study semester in Riga. However, what was meant to be a one-off summer adventure turned into a lifestyle and an exciting experience that has already lasted five years. Today, memories of her first impressions make Ieva smile. Back then, she was surprised not only by the fascinating landscapes, polar sun and the inordinate peacefulness, but also by the astronomical prices of food. Fortunately, she had brought several packages of Rolton noodle soups with her. Her suitcase was packed with the warmest clothes she had. Yet it turned out that one doesn’t really have to face the Arctic cold here. In winter, the temperature rarely exceeds minus 15°C, but in the summer, seldom does it fall below zero.
Since Ieva just spends summers in Norway, she is separated from her family and friends only for a third of the year, yet this seasonal migration does significantly influence her life, not only at a practical, but also an emotional level. For instance, Ieva hasn’t been able to attend any of the major music festivals in Latvia – Positivus, Laba Daba, etc., which makes her very sad as her friends always go. Additionally, Ieva misses having some sort of routine, being able to regularly attend a gym or dance classes, for instance. “I feel like I’m always sort of out of sequence – I am here for those four months and then, just when I have started getting used to things, I have to leave again.” Ieva calls this her ‘ticking-clock feeling’.
This is Ieva’s fifth summer in Honningsvåg. For the first time, she is concluding her customary work season earlier – as early as July. This is because of some unscheduled events that have turned her life and plans upside down. At the very beginning of summer, shortly before her annual trip to Honningsvåg, she met someone, someone special. She had roughly planned out her life for the next few years: in autumn she should have started studying at the University of Tromsø, for example. Now her plans have changed radically – in July she returns to Latvia to start a new stage of life. Even though Ieva is definitely getting ‘itchy feet’ (how Ieva’s love of adventure is defined by one of her friends), at this point she is letting her other values lead her: “I have enjoyed so many things, I have been wandering around … maybe it’s time to settle down, have a family, I am a family person after all,” she says.
But there were also other factors that made her doubt the choices she had made. She had spent the previous winter in Tromsø, working at an active tourism centre which organises sledding expeditions with huskies. How could I consider myself an inhabitant of the Arctic Circle if I had never spent a winter here, she thought. Even though it was a great experience in so many ways, especially going on a five-day husky sledding expedition, she came to the conclusion that the polar night is quite difficult to endure.
Over the years, Ieva has become very close to her employer’s family. She believes this is the result of her Latvian capacity for work and enthusiasm which have been appreciated and rewarded with great trust and friendship. The family has even visited Ieva in Riga. If not for her, they would never have even considered spending their holiday in Latvia, they would have gone to Thailand or some other warm and exotic place. Incidentally, at the campus reception, one can buy traditional Norwegian sweaters, knitted by Ieva’s mother. The good relationship with her employers and her love for northern nature have been the reasons why Ieva has returned here again and again.
In one of our conversations, shortly before our departure, Ieva tells us that even though she feels herself rather a ‘citizen of the world’, Latvia is still her home. “The more you are away, the more you appreciate your home country” she says. Then I ask her if she were ready to spend a whole year or even more in one country? She replies: “Well, that would be at home then, and home is Latvia. Yet I am a little concerned that it might be difficult. Because I am so used to being on the move, I don’t know how it will be, not to wander around. But if there is one place I will stay, it will be Latvia.”