While he still lived in Latvia, Roberts spent 10 years managing a department of the police, and coming to work every day in a jacket. At one point, he started feeling a need for change – at work he often seemed to get stuck in the process, never seeing results. He had never lived outside Latvia and thought it would be an interesting experience. Starting with the countries he didn’t want to live in, Roberts created a shortlist of potential destinations – Canada, New Zealand or Scandinavia. Nature was a decisive factor – Roberts knew he wanted to live somewhere beautiful. At that time – in 2009 – an ex-colleague of his was already working in Norway as a postman, and invited Roberts to join him – there was a job waiting, and Norway was a comfortable, pleasant place to live. Now, having spent five years in the south of Norway, Roberts agrees – once you get to know the system, life here is comfortable. Norwegians themselves are nice, if a little reserved – very polite people who respect each other and spend a lot of time in nature. Distinct northerners by mentality – just like Latvians. During his first year here, it did take some time to understand how to deal with everyday things – where to shop affordably, how the bureaucratic system works, the basics of the language.
Roberts lives a few hours away from Oslo. He rents his own, small house, part of a larger rural property in a picturesque location with views over the mountains where Roberts takes us hiking. There is a terrace of his own for enjoying a morning coffee and cigarette; cats and ducks wander around the yard. Roberts has furnished his home by visiting local flea markets, where all daily necessities can be bought cheaply – dishes, furniture, books and records. Roberts’s hobby and an important part of his life is beekeeping, which he began while living in Norway. After taking a course at the local Beekeeping Society, he has now set up his own beehives in several nearby locations. This is his first year as a beekeeper, and he currently earns a wage in other, casual jobs, for example, at a zinc-galvanizing plant. Roberts is committed to devoting the next few years to his bees and honey, in time turning it into a source of income. He can talk for hours about the structure and inner psychology of beehives. Beekeeping is also a suitable occupation for Roberts since it lets him spend a lot of time on his own and outdoors. He hasn’t really sought out new friends here, instead enjoying peace and relative anonymity. Some good acquaintances have come from the beekeeping and active tourism societies he is a part of – friendly people who are always ready to give some professional advice. He also keeps in contact with Latvian colleagues, other postmen from his first years in Norway. Roberts’s sister Eliza and her partner Henriks live nearby – on his recommendation, a few years ago they also decided to spend some time here. They meet up often, and the presence of close family reinforces the feeling of home. Henriks also helps a lot with the bees – now, at the end of the summer, they must move the beehives from the forest raspberry plantations to the heather fields.
During our visit, Roberts serves familiar, Latvian home-cooked dishes – meatball and sorrel soups, new potatoes with dill, fresh salad. Not far from his home is an ecological collective farm – by working there 20 hours a year, members of the collective can supply themselves with fresh vegetables, eggs, flour and other products. It’s important to Roberts that healthy, ecological food is easily accessible. He made the choice to move from the small town in Norway where he worked as a postman further into the country, wanting to be closer to nature and spend more time outdoors. Every day, he goes on long walks, tends to his beehives, often hikes in the mountains and in winter, cross-country skis through nearby forests. All this is a far cry from his former life in Riga – Roberts grew up in the urban suburb of Ziepniekkalns. Now he admits that the hustle and bustle of city life – crowds of people, cars, and sitting in traffic – makes him physically tired.
“Living here, I hope I’ve become calmer, less temperamental. Maybe that’s also due to growing older and more mature. It seems like I was tenser when I lived in Riga, compared to here, in the countryside. The rhythm of my daily life is certainly very different – much more time outdoors, fresh air, walks and skiing.”
Roberts goes back to Latvia at least a couple of times a year – to spend time with his closest friends and mother, as well as take care of practical things like dentist appointments and buying car spare parts, which are still too expensive for him in Norway. As he lives near the airport, the trip only takes him a few hours – less time than commuting to Riga from some towns in Latvia, like Liepaja and Daugavpils. Roberts does not rule out the idea of returning to Latvia someday and setting up his beehives there, but just as well, he admits he might like to travel further – to Asia, for example, with its very different, untamed bee species.
“I think that the beauty of this century is mobility – the chance to move and travel relatively freely – at least for us, the lucky ones in Europe. Within Europe it’s comparatively easy, especially when you already have an understanding of everyday life in both places – moving definitely doesn’t scare me anymore”.
The bookshelves in Roberts’ home contain both Latvian and Norwegian literature, as well as beekeeping magazines. The two suitcases of books in Latvian that he took with him on his first trip to Norway proved unnecessary – in just a few months, after taking some language courses, he started to practice reading in Norwegian.
“I feel very much at home in Norway. But when I go to Riga, it also feels like returning home. I must say that moving has not taken anything away from me, but rather given me an additional home.”