Friday, February 28, 2014

ISFiT Diaries VIII - Trondheim Trotting

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

River Nidelva. Click by Danish Henry
Kristiansten festning.
Click by Danish Henry 

As usual we meet each other at our focal point – The Studentersamfundet. A bunch of monkeys hop to the city centre, straight to the Tourist Centre housed in a small office selling beautiful Norwegian mementos.  We are guided for a tour of the city’s main attractions. We walk down through the city and find ourselves on River Nidelva, at the Gate of Fortune. Why is it called the Gate of Fortune; I don’t know, however, that is our photo stop. After climbing a steep road, we finally reach a fortress called Kristiansten festning. This old fortress offers an immaculate view of the city with the Nidaros Cathedral and the Harry Potter Building crowning Trondheim’s landscape.

The Gate of Fortune in Trondheim.
Click by Danish Henry
Gloshaugen/The Harry Potter Building.
Click by Danish Henry
Trondheim Torg.
Click by Danish Henry

Later, I go with Megha to Trondheim Torg for shopping. Lesson learned: Do not go with a girl for shopping. Also, I found Norway to be an incredibly expensive country. A chicken burger at MacDonald’s is priced at Pakistani rupees 2500 in Norway, while the same is sold at rupees 500 in Karachi.

Since it was Ash Wednesday, the starting of the Christian fasting season, I went to St Olav’s Kirke, the only Catholic Church in Trondheim, situated right across the Elgeseter Bridge.

St Olav's Kirke in Trondheim.
Click by Danish Henry

In the afternoon, Dr Torgeir drives us to a health facility for exposure to the Norwegian health system. I observed telemedicine taking major role in the Norwegian health system. It was, overall, an educating experience.

ISFiT Diaries VII - The Walk of Peace

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

Source: Google Images

We all converge at Studentersamfundet and by now I could pronounce it aptly. Even though I visited it daily, for 10 days, I still could not decipher its intricate structure that is so confusing to the stranger. Its convoluted corridors appear the same to me.  Outside, I enjoy tantalizing fragrance of food being prepared in Sesam Burgers while we all light our torches. We march. We march for peace, for freedom. We march for justice. We march.

Click by Danish Henry
Guys are suited and booted, while girls have put up the finest dress and the highest heels. Amani aka Peace, a Kenyan was looking beautiful in her Kenyan dress. I saw many Norwegian women in the ‘bunads’. The bunad is a beautiful dress, especially the Bergen variety, I don’t understand why women in Norway don’t prefer wearing the bunads? We take some group photographs and proceed to the Ceremony.

Click by Danish Henry
Source: Google Images

At the Peace Prize Ceremony, the Trondheim Symphony Orchestra’s magnificent performance and striking synchrony reminded me of days when I used to play the Euphonium. The duo of the harpist’s charming maneuvers and the soprano’s spectacular vocals enthralled a global audience. The drums play was stunning. I literally became a fan of their dexterity at drums.

The Student's Peace Prize was awarded to Iran’s Majid Tavakoli.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

ISFiT Diaries VI - Lilya 4-Ever

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

A bruised Lilya is running, rather eluding, bare feet with disturbing heavy rock music in the background. She looks numb, insensitive to the physical dimension of pain, a life so torn apart, it cannot bear the light of life – she dies. She reminded me of a couplet by a prolific Urdu poet (in Urdu).  

lai hayat aye, qaza le chali chale,
na apni khushi aye na apii khushi chale

Life brought me here, let death take me away,
I didn’t come at will, it’s not my will to go.
(Sheikh Ibrahim Zauq)
Theatrical Release Poster of Lilya 4-Ever.
Source: Google Images

Lilya 4-Ever, starring Oksana Akinshina as Lilya, is a 2002 Swedish-Danish crime drama film and is loosely based on the loosely based on the true case of Lithuanian girl Danguolė Rasalaitė. It was screened at the Vår Frue Church. 

It is a story of (in)human(e) trafficking and sexual slavery. A story so sadistic, it presents to us, the dark monsters we’ve become, it reminds that human morality is at its lowest ebb. It boldly exposes that behind all the glitz and glamour, lie the foundations of modern-day slavery. It brings to light our apathy, and that the noise, the distortions of the modern world has deafened us to the cries of Lilya. It questions us, whether Lilya and many other latent Lilyas die in vain? They died because we did nothing, knowing that there are more slaves than has ever been in human history.

One aspect of the story that struck me was Lilya’s betrayal to the lonely Volodya, replicating what her mother has done to her.

The Vår Frue Church in Trondheim.
Source: Google Images
Source: Google Images

In my opinion, the screening of this movie was one important instant in our education. While, we sit and exchange views on human trafficking in our cozy room at Nova Kino with abundant supplies (thanks to ISFiT and Jay), let us not forget our fellow human beings who brave the miseries of life. 

Sunday, February 23, 2014

ISFiT Diaries V - The Day We Skied

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

On our way to the ski resort, I sat with Kristian, one of the workshop leader, who laughs in a way I fail to describe. He inquires about Pakistan’s colonial past and I tell him how the British entered the subcontinent as traders. It seems that he was unaware of this British feat. I also learn a lesson on Nordic history from him.

At the Ski resort, I encounter school children, I call them ‘little angel’, radiating innocence and representing the purest form of life. The garish orange colored apron they wear make them look like oranges. I get a lesson on skiing and borrow Jolly Jay’s professional skis. I ski for the first time in my life and while striking the balance is difficult, skiing is such a wonderful experience. Needless to say, I slip and slide, glide and collide several times – a lesion is learned: Norwegians are born with skis on their feet.

With permission from Chathuraka Kaushalya

I have not dogs, not one, but two for lunch, garnished with mustard sauce and ketchup, along with hot chocolate. I meet the ‘face of ISFiT – the President’ wearing thick specs, delighted to see the result when students from all across the globe descend upon Trondheim –a Guinness World record is created. 

The ISFiT Guinness World Record. Source:

Click by Megha Babbar

Later, I borrow a snowboard, from Yassin, an Egyptian who hails from 6th October City and attaches an Arabic accent to English. Jay holds my hand while I snowboard as if though I’m his child. We end our day with the battles of the balls, mind it, snow balls. Snowballs are bombarded from every direction. Ksenija, a Montenegrin who I would like to visit in Podgorica, pushes snow into my torso.  An aura of happiness surrounds us, as arch rival Megha would say it, an Indian who would never spare a chance at pointing a finger at you-know-who. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

ISFiT Diaries IV - ISFiT Nights

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

The evenings are kicked with dinner and discussion at NTNU (Norwegian University of Science and Technology). Megha, the veggie, never fails to remind me that the food is ‘spice-less’. I immediately suggest her, “when in Norway, do as the Norwegians do”. She doesn’t appear convinced enough to enjoy eating spice-less food. Also, she prefers walking down to Studentersamfendet, passing by, what is called the Harry Potter Building (Gløshaugen).

Photo credit: Fotogjengen, Samfundet
ISFiT evenings are lively and full of fun. We rock and roll, dance and drink, chill and cheer. Every day, a new DJ hits the stereo, high-volume beats pump adrenaline and I witness electrifying moves, exception applies to D for Danladi who doesn’t D for Dance. Danladi Anagi is a promising Ghanaian. Many dance until they ass is kicked out of Studentersamfendet. Ivana aka Lola, a Croatian with a face piercing, has a loud laugh and a contagious energy, is outside at 4 in the morning when she updates her Facebook status. Is there anyone out there, who can party harder than Ivana?  

The Monkey Cartload
Photo credit: Fotogjengen, Samfundet

Photo credit: Ghislaine Assou
One frosty night, we all walk down to Kristian’s place for what is called a pre-party. And on our way, we drop by a store. I roam around the store, comparing prices of the same things to those in Karachi. Alexandrina, a short haired Moldovan, outspoken, her idiosyncrasy being moving her fingers through her hair as she speaks, comments, “Shopping in Norway is like being in a museum, you can only see things”.  At Kristian place, I had one of my best times. The sitting room, with a Scarface poster, was jam packed with alcohol-drinking monkeys. Chris, a heavy voiced Australian wore a punctured tee shirt. We laughed out our lungs at the mimicries. My favorite mimicry was Hector’s, an Argentinean who wears a cap printed in the South African flag and a very close friend of mine. But there was nothing like Jay’s mimicry, which unleashed a torrent of irrepressible laughter.  

The International Chillout Zone is a a comfortable place to sit and drink and eat and fart, for free. I learned about the Indonesia-East Timor conflict from Rajik, an Indonesian, and a proud sponsor of the Smoker’s corner at the monkey business workshop in association with Alex’s wannabe partner Rafi, a Bangladeshi law student, who keenly questions my views on the creation of Bangladesh.   

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

ISFiT Diaries III - The Plenary Sessions

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

The Plenary sessions, held in the oval Storsalen, with its emergency exits at both sides, was listening and questioning leaders from various spheres of life. I write only about two of them.  

John Hope Bryant. Source: Google Images

John Hope Bryant is a silver rights entrepreneur and a financial literacy/poverty eradication activist. He is the show stopper at ISFiT 2013.  He delivers a speech that Studentersamfundet will never forget. His ideas are so loud and clear, his voice so powerful, its appeals to your senses, his call so sincere, it touches the soul, his passion so intense, it penetrates the mind, his spirit on fire, it ignites the spark of change. He starts with “You cannot have a rainbow without having a storm first” and ends with “What kind of bird do you want to be?” he asks. Storsalen is resonated with “The eagle!” in one voice. He blames ‘laziness’ and calls for change, to bent the arc of history for a better tomorrow, drawing reference to Martin Luther King, not once, but many times. He also tells us about ‘cathedral thinking’. He continues and says, “the Ph.ds are good but the Ph.dos are better”. When John finishes, there is silence, Storsalen is illuminated with vibes of appreciation and the Hope is honored with a standing ovation.

Dr Vandana Shiva is an outspoken critic of globalization, eco-feminist, an eloquent advocate of mother nature, and a green campaigner - she is a rock of determination. She speaks of dwindling natural resources, a planet in perish, and reminds us of our moral obligations to mother nature. She speaks of agro-engineering corporations assaulting mother nature’s sacredness. I support her calls for eco-justice. She goes on to speak of dehumanizing inflation and of an economic system that thrives on the poor, with utter disregard for environmental sensitivities. Her cogent vivisection of globalization, delivered in impeccable English, is food for thought. Besides, her elaborate saree and her dotted forehead (called a ‘bindeya’ in Hindi) shuns mono-culture, as propounded by globalization.

Dr Vandana Shiva. Source:

Source: Google Images
I agree with most of what Dr Shiva offered. Climate change, with South Asia being one of the most vulnerable, is a repercussion of the industrial revolution in the West. Moreover, the economic recession of 2008 and the recent Occupy Wall Street Movement revealed the fragility of contemporary capitalism. The prosperity of yesteryears is now empty consumerism. Our mechanical way of life which is not in harmony with nature and rat race for money, have made life a disposable commodity.

Monday, February 17, 2014

ISFiT Diaries II - The ‘(Anti) Monkey Business’ Workshop

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013

The next day, after a hearty Norwegian breakfast, I board Bus # 5 for Studentersamfundet, where all the workshop participants would converge. From there, we walk our way to the venue – Nova Kino.

The Monkey Business Workshop at Novo Kino.
Click by Danish Henry

Vladimir Nizov - My Angel Friend.
Click by Danish Henry
We start our day at the workshop with the ‘check in’. The first day is about knowing and trusting each other. A lesson is refreshed, if there is no trust, there can be no dialogue. We talk about ourselves, our countries, our studies. For the next week or so, we indulge in intense discussions to address pressing issues facing the world. We play trade games, group up to create social campaigns, watch movies, undertake speed debates, to name a few activities. Fortunes hands me my ‘angel friend’ – Vladimir, a Ukrainian law student and a keen learner.

Everyday is a new day at the workshop. No activity is repeated and the element of surprise is retained to keep boredom at bay.  The workshop leaders make sure our energy levels don’t go down, so they have a constant supply of healthy calories, in the form of fruits. And not to forget is the ‘HaHoHe’ – ISFiT’s energizer for the participants. But we have our very own energizer for our workshop leaders, proudly brought to us by the Danladi Anagi of Ghana (read it in the Danladi style). Even though I don’t understand what ‘I do it like this and I do it like that’ is, I still enjoyed it.

The Monkey Business Workshop.
Copyright with Fotogjengen, Samfundet
And there can be no other better way to end the day – check out – a kind of feedback mechanism. I always used to look forward to check outs by Bridget – our Barbie doll from Australia and the most soften spoken person I’ve known. Bridget, do you ever get angry? Valuable contributions to the check out, by conveying us ‘practical information’ is made by Jay, a sexy Norwegian, who rises his brow for emphasis, has helped me each and every time I’ve asked him to.

There are interesting anecdotes I’ll like to share.  
  1.   A photograph of an Afro child with a Kalashnikov collects condemnation from all participants, except Bao, a lad from Vietnam, who affirms, in his unique style ‘that child soldiers are a source of national (Vietnamese) pride’. I was startled, ‘Bao is like wow’. I admire his ingenuity.
  2.  We were divided into groups and asked to formulate organizations and their dynamics. My group created a campaign called ‘Be the Change’. Pointing out the demand and supply principle of economics, we suggest not to buy porn, thereby discouraging and financially starving the porn industry. Vladimir, a law student from Ukraine rightly pointed out, ‘even if you do not find the porno, the porno will find you.’

From L to R: Sofie Andelic, Kristian Hoff, Susanne Sandell, Thea Emilie Forsen
& Jorund Johansen - our workshop leaders.
With permission from Sofie Andelic.
I must appreciate all workshop leaders for all their extraordinary efforts, reaching the workshop before we did, for listening to our trivial questions and for things known to workshop mates. ISFiT is incomplete without them.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

ISFiT Diaries I - to the land of the fjords

Recollections from the International Students’ Festival in Trondheim 2013


‘Wow! I’m going to Norway’, I exclaimed, springing out my chair as I see my invitation for ISFiT 2013 (International Students’ Festival in Trondheim My shopping for ISFiT is focused on buying warm clothes as 15 – 20 C° is winter in Karachi. The departure day is packed with things-to-do. I listen to a ‘do-not’ list from my parents and off I go to embark on an incredible journey. In the aircraft, I am greeted with a plastic smile and packaged food. I rush to my connecting flight which is 60 minutes away in an airport spread over a large area. And after 6 hour of hanging up in the air, I can enjoy the panoramic view of the Norwegian landscape, which is white, peppered with green, as seen from the realm of my seat. At the Oslo airport, I’m welcomed by a bright faced damsel, holding high the Norwegian flag. Another ISFiT volunteer looks tired. Out of curiosity, I leave the airport premises and experience, for the first time, snow. My first impression of the freezing temperature outside is “How do Norwegians survive?”  Initially, waiting at the airport looked boring, but interesting interactions with fellow ISFiTers made the waiting fruitful. At the airport, it is nice to see a couple of women wearing the ‘shalwar kameez’ – the Pakistani national dress for women’. Time elapsed, and we finally board our buses at midnight, bound for the north.

We reach Trondheim early morning. Trondheim is draped in snow and dressed in scarves to welcome the inhabitants of the earth. We are driven to the red fort, a patch of Trondheim that is the epicenter of the world largest student’s festival called the ‘Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem’ (The Student’s Society in Trondheim). Later, I’m tagged with the ISFiT bracelet, initially serving as identification and for access to Trondheim bus network. Days later, there would be a paradigm shift in how I see the ISFiT bracelet. By now, I’m tired and my face is smeared with sebum. I meet my workshop leaders and fellow workshop mates as they pour in and leave with their host, simultaneously. We introduce ourselves and we play Uno.

Studentersamfundet i Trondhjem Source: Google Images

My Host

The ISFiT Bracelet. Click by Danish Henry
I meet my Norwegian host in the evening. My host is a gentleman in his 50s. He drives us to the suburbs where he lives. After brief introductions, I learn that my host is a medical doctor. Co-incidentally, my fellow ISFiTer Pasteur from Bujumbura, is a final year med student and a part of the dialogue group. So, we have a medical fraternity, brought together by ISFiT.  Also, I am informed that the home has a pet - Marco. As we enter, I am thoroughly sniffed and investigated by Marco’s olfactory sense. Dr Torgeir (my host) instructs us to untie our shoes at the entrance, as shoes worn outside are not bought to the insides in Norway. That night, Dr Torgeir cooks for us, Salmon fish and an interesting discussion ensues at the dining table. I was ashonished to learn that Dr Torgeir is very well informed about Pakistan. After more than 48 hours, I see a bed, the rest is understood.

My host Dr Torgeir and his agile dog Marco. Click by Pasteur Mberimbere

Dr Torgeir was kind enough to open, not only his home for us, but his heart as well. He cared for us, inquired whether we had any problems, and asked us about our day’s activities. I was always uncomfortable with him doing the cooking and arranging the table for us as it not customary in Pakistan for elders to work while the young sit back. It is kind of disrespecting the elders. He also educated us by getting us glimpses of the Norwegian health system and sponsored for me and Pasteur, ticket to the Jonas Alaska concert.

PS: The International Students' Festival in Trondheim is the world's largest students' festival and is held biennially. It was held from February 7 through 17, 2013 in Trondheim, Norway.