Saturday, February 27, 2010

Weather and me

There is a Norwegian saying "Det fins ikke dårlig vær, bare dårlige klær”. There is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing.

Heck nay. In Norway, there is such a thing as bad weather.

I love Norway. I really do. It is one of the world's most spectacular countries and one of the last great natural frontiers on earth. The bliss of the midnight sun, the beauty of aurora borealis, the greatness of the splendid fjords…and it is my home now. BUT (there's always a but) the weather sucks. Truly and badly.

Weather in Norway is anything but predictable. Rain, snow, sun, and wind in one day can happen many times in a year.

Half a year is winter. Two months up North is in complete darkness. In spite of - or rather due to - having such a long winter, Norwegians never get tired of playing in the snow. Even in late March or early April, Norwegians turn out in droves at the mountains for their final skiing experience of the year. Small wonder they keep on grabbing those gold medals in the Winter Olympics.

The rest of the year is still cold, mostly windy days especially in the West coast and with some un-warm sunny days. While they’re already out in the sun, getting a tan at 15-18 degree Celsius, literally “warm-blooded” people like me are still garbed in winter apparel.

And did I say that they have warm summer years and rainy summer years?

Norwegians have this passionate if not obsessed relationship with the weather. Their reliable and almost magical Bergans rucksack contains any imaginable attire required for any climatic occasion. I bet that is the most visited site in Norway if every single inhabitant in this country consults the weather forecast every hour of the day.

They have definitely mastered the art of clothing to weather any type of weather. Whereas my old poor self is always either underdressed or overdressed.

Where else in the world does one put huge importance on "sun condition" when buying a house? Or where small talk or party conversation revolves around the weather? This goes without saying that pleasantries about the weather always work particularly for the not-so-silver-tongued Norwegians.

I don’t mind the snow. It’s beautiful outside and cozy inside. It’s the slippery & icy roads associated with winter which drive me crazy. I don’t mind the cold either – it’s the length of the cold season that makes me want to catch the very first flight that takes me to anywhere warm!

Well, duh, I can only hope that summer this year will be gloriously sunny. Otherwise, I can just join the hordes of Norwegians vacationing to “syden”. Syden being down south where there’s plenty of sun, sea, cheap booze, hot women (and men?), and great food and wine. Yaay!

Friday, February 19, 2010


How can one even begin to describe the joys and pains of being a first-time mother? I can’t. And I won't even try.

Named after the previous Philippine national bird (and Hindu goddess), Maya was a beautiful newborn baby. Her skin was soft & almost translucent, not wrinkled and no red blotches which are common amongst newborn. With her clear, wide, and alert black eyes (not puffy or bruised), she looked at us as if saying “I’ve been waiting for this moment to come.”

She’s got curly eyelashes and long nose. Her head looked normal, not elongated, even if she was suctioned out by ventouse vacuum.

And a lovely smile. I swear I saw her smile on her first day of this big wide world, but was flatly informed that it was just her passing gas. Oh dear, false alarm.

She has Mongolian spots in her lower back and massive amounts of hair (head, shoulders, and arms!). She passed the APGAR test in flying colors, hated the Hepatitis B shot, and lost 10% of her weight in 3 days (which freaked out all the nurses and midwives).

For the first couple of weeks after birth, all Maya did was feed, burp, sleep, cry, poo, and pass water. And like any exhausted and amateur parents, all we do and think about was sleep, breastfeeding basics, the color of her poo, a million different ways of carrying and soothing her or putting her to sleep, changing nappies endlessly, etc.

But she was brave. We knew she had tummy pains at night but she fought against it like a fierce warrior. Oh, and she burps and poos like a man.

In spite of the out-of-body-experience of birth and sleepless nights, we managed to take her out for a car ride (which she loves) almost every day. She had her first walk in the park on her 8th day. And started accompanying her mama to postnatal yoga sessions from her 3nd week.

The 6th week after her birth saw her improved dramatically. She started sleeping in her own bed in a separate bedroom. Preferred sleeping on her own as opposed to sleeping on her papa or mama’s chest. Doesn’t want to be cuddled, swaddled, or carried anymore before sleeping. Before we know it, she’ll pack her bags and live on her own:-).

She started crying less, smiling more, chatting, and sleeping longer.

In her 3rd-4th month, she traveled to Thailand and Philippines. Rolled from her tummy to back and did the other way around a month later. If she cooed and made small noises before, now she started giggling and doing her dinosaur-like noise -- high enough it could break a glass.

We started weaning Maya when she turned 5 months. Within 3 weeks, she could eat anything and everything we fed her. Mostly ecological baby food. And she started sleeping 10-11 hours at nights.

And just before her 6th month, she started creeping and then crawling a bit.

I may feel unproductive and frustrated sometimes. I may miss the freedom and joy of traveling on a whim. I may be bored out of my mind. And I may long to do the things I used do. But each day is an amazing journey with Maya. She continues to surprise and make me happy in her own ways. At the end of the day, all I need to do is watch her smile or sleeping soundly in bed and I know, it’s all damn worth it.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Pregnancy and Birth in Norway

I now understand why Norway is "almost" a paradise for preggies, young families, and single moms. "Almost" because of the language barrier. Apart from that, every kind of support, be it financially, medically or emotionally, is available for free. There is indeed such a thing as free lunch.

Prenatal check-ups with a personal midwife and doctor, ultrasounds, birth courses, are set at regular periods for free. Any additional medical examinations or treatments can be arranged. For free. In our case, we had an ultrasound examination on a monthly basis because I was discovered to have a myoma.

Delivery and full board stay at the hotel-cum-postnatal ward are also gratis. I cannot emphasise more how important is this because as a first-time mom, going through labour and birth can be such a painful, traumatic and overwhelming experience. One barely have the energy to eat, let alone think about how to foot the bill!

The first few days after birth are spent with the midwives and pediatricians recovering and learning how to breastfeed, bathe the baby, change nappy, and most importantly get to know your tiny little miracle. The baby undergoes a pediatrician's examination, ear test, guthrie test, and in our case, receives Hepatitis B and BCG vaccinations (for high risk group babies).

And of course, paternal benefits are simply awesome. Maternity leave for 56 weeks (inclusive 10 weeks paternity leave) at 80% of your salary or 46 weeks at 100%.

Postnatal check-up 3 months after birth, a home visit by a public health nurse within 2 weeks, and an opportunity to join a local postnatal group are just few of the postnatal support one gets.

Where it lacks the extensive family and social network and support system common among developing countries, Norway compensates it with its unparalleled social welfare system.

Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration (NAV) website

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Letter to the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt

To: H.E Mr. Waguih Hanafi (Ambassador in the Embassy of the Arab Republic of Egypt in Norway)

I have had the pleasure of visiting Egypt last 27 March - 3 April 2009 as a tourist with my Norwegian husband. We were on a chartered tour to Egypt through Apollo travel agency.

I have a Filipino citizenship, living and working in Norway (with valid work/residence permit). Owing to my Filipino citizenship and according to rules and regulations, I applied for and was granted a tourist visa for Egypt by the Egyptian embassy in Oslo.

However, when we arrived in Hurghada (our port of entry), the immigration official at the immigration counter hesitated to grant me entry to the country and had me sent to another officer who in turn detained me for at least an hour. This certain officer only directed his questions to our travel representative (who was there to assist us upon arrival) about the purpose of my visit, how long I'm staying, what am I doing in Norway, what kind of work do I do, etc. I asked the officer (through our travel rep) if anything's wrong and is there a particular reason for detaining me. I insisted I have a valid visa from the Egypt embassy/consulate in Oslo. (Take note that the officer didn't even know where Oslo is. I said it's the capital of Norway). At one point, I was threatened that I would be sent back to my country (again, I don't know for what reason).

Throughout the questioning or detaining period, I was never spoken to by the officer nor I was able to voice out my opinions or questions. And I never really got any answers from the immigration officers who dealt with our situation on our arrival. All I got from our travel agent is that "Asians need an extra high security clearance before entering the country and I should have gotten a high security pass of some sort".

I have been to more than 20 countries both for work and pleasure but I never heard of such thing and I have checked relevant websites about travel to Egypt beforehand but there's no mention about extra security pass for certain country citizens to enter Egypt. Besides, your embassy in Oslo should have informed me about this or refused to grant me a visa under this circumstance.

In this regard, I have three questions which I hope you will grant me answers to:

1. Is it true and correct that we (Asians in general or Filipinos in particular) need a special clearance to enter Egypt and has there had been many cases that visitors were refused entry to the country even with valid visa/permit? Having this information will make me and others better prepared if faced such situation, when we travel to Egypt.

2. If there is such a rule, why did the embassy fail to inform me about this when issuing my visa? For me and my husband, the episode was perceived to be both dangerous and threatening. Our major fear was that I would be sent to a detainment facility, which could be dangerous to both me and the child that I am bearing. Had we known about this, we would not have taken the risk of traveling to Egypt.

3. If there is no such rule and the visa issued by the embassy was valid for me to travel to Egypt, will you take any actions in regards to finding out why this happened? And will people who are granted visa to Egypt by you, be warned that even with a valid visa one may be stopped and experience deportation at the border and/or dangerous situations with the border officials?

I would also like to point out that this sort of "incomprehensible action (of initially refusing entry without any reasons) which borders on harassment" should not be tolerated. I had a valid visa and I have rights to speak and be heard of.

Thank you for your kind attention on this matter and hoping to hear from you at your earliest convenience.

Yours sincerely,

Maria Majella Rio

Thursday, November 27, 2008

The falling autumn leaves

The charm and attributes of the autumn season are often embodied in countless poems, songs, and films made throughout history. Melancholy, sorrow, and death are often associated with autumn. Almost daily showers, chilly wind, and grey skies inescapably dampen our mood. Yet, it also speaks and smells of nature's bounties. Think of grape harvests, apple pies, wild mushrooms, fat seafood, and game meat. It is also all about vivid and vibrant colours of the leaves - the lovely autumn foliage.

For many Norwegians, it's the time to light candles, have a drink of wine, and keep the hearth warm. Some go salmon fishing and moose hunting. Others go berry and mushroom picking.

This autumn, my husband and I went mushroom hunting in Rogaland Arboret, had a delightful weekend trip to the cabin in Myrdal, picked loads of blueberries lingonberries, ate a traditional and unique dish called "smalahove" in Voss, made an autumn dish "fårikål" or lamb in cabbage at home, had regular pancakes and waffles in the weekends, and truly enjoyed our seafood dinners on Fridays.

Birds have migrated. Animals are soon to go into hibernation. The bright autumn colours are long gone. Autumn has almost left us and winter has arrived at our doorstep. Once again, we are reminded of the brevity of life when seasons change.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Small and Big Perks

Labeled as the "Oil Capital" of Norway, Stavanger is home to many big oil companies. In fact, it just recently hosted perhaps the biggest energy forum/trade show within the energy sector - ONS 2008. Like many other foreigners, I'm now also working within the oil industry, after much deliberation.

With a development background and thinking all along that I'm best suited in an NGO and non-profit organisation, never in my dreams would I have thought of working at a private company. Let alone working at a huge oil corporation.

I was to learn later that it could be truly exciting and stimulating. Whether I admit it or not, I enjoy the freedom of doing things independently - no sleepless nights worrying about project budgets, no donors watching our backs, no headaches thinking when is the next pay day (if paid after all!), and no administrative and bureaucratic pains.

With my current employer, big perks speak loud -- comprehensive health insurance, competitive salary, career progression opportunities, travels, full maternity leave, computer and mobile phone, etc.

However, small perks even speak louder. Flex-time (home office days), 5-week holidays, daily supply of fruits, endless supply of tea and coffee, subsidised cafeteria with diverse menu every week, yoga classes, discounted gym memberships, access to seaside and mountain cabins, etc. These are the simple things that matter most. And I appreciate that my company offers these benefits.

And of course, there are the intangible elements. The encouragement, appreciation, and recognition given. Learning and training opportunities. Interesting people. Company values.

Since I entered the company six months ago, I've witnessed the company donating to various organisations, hosting concerts and seminars, organising "run for fun" and social activities, while making business deals across the globe.

I would be naive to say that there is no office politics and that people completely trust each other. Of course there's room for improvement in regards to teamwork and departmental cooperation. The company could be better in managing people and money. Occasionally, competition between colleagues can be stifling. These are the times I wish I was back in the non-profit organisation with a cause -- there where people hold strong principles and they make the best of available resources to deliver services to the people they serve for. There where creativity, integrity, sincerity, and passion are needed to survive. There where huge salaries and other personal benefits sometimes become meaningless when lives are at stake. There where you get real satisfaction for doing something good for the society, for the world.

At the end of the day, I can only hope for the best. I would like to believe that my company leaders do care for the environment. That the company sincerely believes in its values and its people. That it seriously thinks that we are not only part of the problem but also part of the solution. That we continue to meet the world's energy demands in a sustainable manner, with the least carbon footprint, and give back to the society and world at large.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Stavanger: 2008 European Capital of Culture

The first week I moved to Stavanger, the wine festival was well underway. More than 10 fine dining restaurants participated and offered selected wines alongside mouthwatering dishes using the finest ingredients.

I saw myself wandering around Stavanger town looking at old buildings and visiting old shops after working hours and during weekends in my next few weeks.

Then came the highly profiled and oldest festival in Stavanger - Mai Jazz - which had been up and running for 20 years! For one week in May, several jazz concerts were held at various locations, from cathedrals to theater spaces, by local and international jazz musicians. I had the pleasure of witnessing a wonderful performance at St. Petri kirke by a local musician named Randi Tytingvåg. Her voice was powerful yet sweet & personal, "brilliant from start to end", according to a local newspaper. Meanwhile, a night with Hovedøen Social Club at Hall Toll was exciting & intriguing - it's salsa with Norwegian lyrics!

This year, Stavanger also boasts of culinary festivals; Bocuse d’Or Europe which features competing chefs armed with their culinary creations, and Gladmat (Food Festival) which brings together local produce, farmers, food enthusiasts, and cooks. These events certainly promise gastronomic delights.

And of course, there is an endless list of art exhibitions, concerts, and cultural performances in and around Stavanger. Every corner holds a surprise, every weekend is a delight. Fun-filled family day, Saturday afternoon concert in the park hosted by StatoilHydro, memories-filled family campers exhibition, local brass band competition, fanstastic dance performance by Inbal Pinto, wildlife photo exhibition by Steve Bloom...the list goes on and on.

From the wooden white houses in the old part of town to the vibrant cultural scene, from the fish market to the funky 23 iron figures scattered across town, from the accessible fjords to the lively nightlife, from the bustling port to the serene parks, it's a wonderful time to be in Stavanger. No stormy weather or strong wind can shatter the spirits of the international and local people living in Stavanger.