Fifteen years ago, a young immigrant father from Pakistan took his seven year old son, Hamza, to see the beautiful old buildings of the University of Oslo, saying he could one day be a student there. They did not see the inside of the buildings, the famous aula, the main auditorium, with murals by Edvard Munch, which I wrote about in a recent article. On that bright crisp autumn day, just after the school year had started, and Hassan had collected Hamza from Bolteløkka Skole nearby, they were just outside the university building, so they couldn’t see the famous mural, the “Sun” and those on the side walls about a boy learning from an old man, probably his father or grandfather, who seemed to be telling stories; and the woman, doing laundry at the river bank and at the same time teaching children.
It was eight or nine years since Hassan had arrived in the new land, from sunny Gujrat in Pakistan, to more wintery Norway, inhabited mostly by Norwegians, modest and ordinary people, working hard and not quite realizing how wealthy the land had become after they had struck oil resources off the long, windy coast. Hassan had found a job as a worker in a factory in Oslo, and rented an old apartment near Bislett, thanks to a Pakistani friend who was running a corner shop there. A few years later, Hassan brought his wife and two daughters to Oslo. He learned Norwegian faster than most Pakistanis, even his wife did, since she had been trained as a primary school teacher in Pakistan before they came and she knew that education was important anywhere in the world. She and her husband had spoken about that many times at home, and their girls were already star students at school.
A few weeks ago, Hamsa was interviewed on a Norwegian TV channel and he told this story. He said he had now actually become a student at the university, studying law in those very buildings that his father had shown him those many years ago. Becoming moved by the story himself, he said that all was good and fine. The only thing he was sad about was that his father could not see him now. He had passed away when Hamza was at secondary school, having suffered from diabetes and heart problems, working till the day before he passed. But he had seen his two daughters, Hamza’s elder sisters enter university, one even graduating as a doctor, and the other pursuing her higher degree in nutrition studies.
“You know, girls often do better than boys at exams, so they both managed to get through the needle’s eye and get admission in those most prestigious studies. I got into law”, he said. “But that was also to honour my father, because I will always remember that autumn day when he showed me the old University of Oslo buildings.”
“Later, I have several times seen the murals inside the university aula, indeed the one of the old man and the woman teaching eager young children. My father was a bit like that – and my mother, too. She is still alive and has become a social worker in Oslo.”
“I wonder what my father would have liked to do, if he had had the opportunity, like young Norwegians have today, immigrants or indigenous citizens. I never knew. Somehow, I never asked. He was always caring for his family, telling us to do our best at school, keep friends from Pakistan and Norway, keep our own religious faith, but respect all, especially the Norwegians, since he had come to love his new homeland. But most of the time it was just work and work again, day out and day in. His job was also taxing, first in the factory and later as a storekeeper in a supermarket.”
Hassan was asked if he thought his father had had a good life. “Yes”, he said. “But would it have been better if he had not immigrated, just remained in Gujrat?” Hamid asked, adding that few Norwegians would ever think of asking that question, or Pakistanis in Pakistan, believing that Norway is so good.
“For my father, though, maybe it would have been better to stay in Pakistan. And I believe he would have done well there, too. But he wanted a life with more opportunities for his children, and then Norway was a lucky choice.”
“When my father first came to Norway, he had thought he would stay for some years, save some money and go back and build a good house in Gujrat. But then he discovered the possibilities everyone has in Norway, so he took his whole family over to Norway. Yes, I am born here, and we are all Norwegians now”, said Hamza.
“I think I have become more Norwegian than my sisters, although they can also be pretty ‘outrageous’. I couldn’t think of living anywhere else, at least not just now, and certainly not before I have completed my law degree. Last year, I had the opportunity to spend a semester in the UK. That was great, but I was also glad to come home to Bislett again, looking after mum and sisters. I have also visited Pakistan several times, but I don’t think I would like to move there, just stay for some time perhaps. I hope my sisters also find partners in Norway, Pakistani-Norwegians or someone who want to live here. This is our life land now”, said Hamza.
Today, my column has been about a Pakistani-Norwegian family, immigrants from Pakistan. Interestingly, the story would not be entirely different if it were about Norwegians moving to the capital or another large city or industrial workplace from rural Norway, from an island off the West Coast, a mountain village in Eastern Norway, or a Sami settlement on the mighty plateau of Finnmark County in North Norway. True, they would have had the Norwegian language, history and school knowledge with them. Yet, they would in many ways also be strangers and indeed newcomers to the city life, often with others being better educated, wealthier, and mundane people. They, too, like Pakistani immigrants would feel that many of their values, including respect for religion, were taken better care of in the village than in the fast moving city, at least as judged at surface. But then, city folks, rural Norwegians and Pakistani immigrants aren’t really that different. They also appreciate the opportunities and life in their new cities and land, carrying with them memories from home, just as Hamza’s father did.
There is one more thing we should note, namely that the cities and the wealthy lands get stronger thanks to immigration from rural areas, and from and abroad. Sometimes, the sending areas get drained when many of their good people leave. But sadly that is not for them to alter; that has to do with politics at a different level, but also, to some extent, people’s attitudes. Immigration is often good, but not always.
Finally, thank you to the Pakistani immigrants who have come to Norway, from Gujrat and elsewhere, and for their contributions to their new land. Thank you for living by example, showing other immigrants and Norwegians alike how good people are indeed good people, whoever and wherever they are.
The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.