We have arranged to meet Mārtiņš in the very centre of Bergen, in the Festplassen square. It is the middle of May and the cherry trees by the Lille lungegårdsvannet pond are in full blossom. The square is full of people who have come out to enjoy the very rare sunny day and Martiņš emerges from this throng. Carrying a small wooden bike, he is on the way to pick up his three-year-old son Edvards from kindergarten. Later, the little boy will be recklessly plunging down Bergen’s steep streets on it, requiring Mārtiņš’s complete attention right to the doorstep of their house.
I came to Norway in the summer 2001, so I’ve already been stuck here for 14 years” says Mārtiņš. After graduating from secondary school, Mārtiņš immediately went to southern Norway and enrolled at a folkehøgskole (folk school) near Kristiansand, only later moving to Bergen. At the time Mārtiņš left, moving to another country wasn’t as common as it is today. Mārtiņš remembers that, in the beginning, he tried to get in touch with all the Latvians living in Bergen, but after a while he had to accept that a shared nationality is not always a basis for friendship. Now it has become more common to hear people speaking Latvian on the streets, and Mārtiņš estimates that there could now be as many as 2 000 Latvians living in Bergen.
Mārtiņš lives in Bergen with his family – wife Elīna and two sons. Their calm and delightful personalities attract many people and it seems their social life hasn’t changed pace since the arrival of their second baby. Celebrating the 17th of May, the most important national event in Norway, after the parade several of their local Latvian friends with children gather at their house for dinner. Mārtiņš describes the day: “everyone gets up very early in the morning, has a breakfast especially for the occasion and then goes to see the parade. (..) Everyone is dressed up in national costumes. There is an enormous crowd in the streets, and the noise is tremendous. Personally, I don’t enjoy the occasion that much. I have never really fit in with the celebration, and generally, I prefer to get away from the city”. This time, the special breakfast is served at dinner time, as this best fits the children’s schedule. Everything looks very Norwegian, although the table is decorated with both Latvian and Norwegian flags. Norwegian salmon is served for dinner and three different cakes have been prepared for dessert. Elīna admits that, having two small children, she hasn’t managed to prepare everything so everyone has brought a treat and drinks. The guests frequently touch on the differences between Latvians and Norwegians, but Mārtiņš is reluctant to participate. He appreciates the peacefulness he feels in being part of Norwegian society, something he has never felt entirely when in Latvia. He has aimed to improve his life in Norway, although admits to not being the greatest planner and finding it hard to save up money. He prefers to spend it on travel.
Mārtiņš studied visual communication and obtained a master’s degree from Bergen’s Academy of Art and Design. For several years, he has been working as a teacher of graphic design in a private vocational school. The school offers an alternative to a university degree – a two-year course linked with foreign universities and students can obtain a bachelor’s degree with a top-up year there. Mārtiņš reveals that, thanks to government support for young parents, he will have to work less during the next semester and he has already started to plan his holidays for the following year.
At our first meeting, Mārtiņš and his family take us to Floien, one of Bergen’s seven mountain peaks. Mārtiņš is a mountain-hiking enthusiast and admits that he wants his boys to get used to mountains, as it is such an important part of his life. He has planned to take us on a short hike too, and his wife Elīna warns us to be prepared, as some of their friends who went on hikes with Mārtiņš before, have declined to go again. This time, because of rain and fog, we go on an easy hike. As we reach the highest peak, Mārtiņš admits that he enjoys the wind on the mountain tops because of the feeling of freedom it gives him.
Elīna and Mārtiņš often travel to Latvia in their 1983 Volkswagen van. During their holidays, they have managed to travel all over Europe, as far as Istanbul. A few years ago, Mārtiņš bought another Volkswagen van for his father, and since then both of them disappear into the garage for two weeks during the summer holidays, Elīna laughs. Visiting Latvia recently, Mārtiņš spent most of his time in Baldone with his parents, as he has lost touch with his friends there. Also, the friends of Elīna that they have kept in contact with have all moved abroad, but Elīna’s mother and Mārtiņš’s brother have moved to Bergen. Mārtiņš is teaching his older son that his home is in Baldone, whereas Elīna considers Bergen her home. Mārtiņš relates that to the uncertainty of living in a rented apartment, to which he doesn’t feel as attached as to his parents’ house. Mārtiņš remembers that during one of their last visits, the older boy was crying before leaving the house in the dark for their early flight, saying he wanted to stay in Baldone. Mārtiņš says that he still feels like being between the two countries and has been avoiding questions on the future. “Turns out just like Life in Motion between both countries, and you know what, that’s what I like most – having one foot here and the other over there” he adds.