Today I drove to visit some of our Karen friends who live here in Norway. They have been here for four years. As I drove up to the government-funded house they live in, it was snowing. They stuck their heads out of the door as I was parking the car. I was expected. As soon as I entered they did as Karen people always do: Shook my hand, asked me to make myself comfortable and served me food they had made. I got a cup of instant coffee and freshly made spring rolls. While I was eating, they were watching. That is how it is always done in Karen culture.
They sat on a coach that somebody had given them watching me. Behind them was a window with the landscape slowly turning white. My friends were dressed in sweats and fleeces, but looked cold nevertheless. Around in their small apartment were signs of a family still not quite settled. And even more signs of a family not really living in their element. As I looked across the table, as they were observing me taking bites of crispy spring rolls, I imagined them back in their home land—doing laundry by the river, cooking on the floor of their bamboo house, making a tool by the fire at night, hunting for a wild animal that would provide food for days. I found it easy to imagine, and I saw them in the place they belong. In a place where they know who they are and what is expected from them.
How sad for them to live in an apartment in a cold, expensive, efficient and rich country. “We thought it was going to be so nice to come here and experience freedom,” they sighed. “But life here is a lot harder than we thought it would be.” “I kind of want to go back and fight for my people and my land.” “Finding a job here is hard because everybody is so highly educated. We even need to go to school to learn to be cleaners.” “Can you please help us?”
Driving home I was sad. I thought that it is so wrong that people such as my friends had to leave their country in the first place. They did not want to come and live in Norway. They wanted to live in their villages. They wanted to do the things that make life meaningful for them. But a brutal regime, an army that intends to kill the innocent and an uncertain future for them and their kids made them choose to leave.
Tomorrow there will be an election in Burma. “Nothing will change for us,” said my friend. “Except, perhaps, it will get a little worse. No point in even thinking of the elections. It is not for change.” He is right.
I will pray and try to help them the best I can. I will encourage them to try to fit it. But I also want them to keep a fire burning in their hearts for freedom for their nation. I will also tell them to not forget who they are, but to be proud that they belong to a people group known for their gentleness, hospitality, courage, integrity and diligence. They have taught me a lot, and I know they world has a lot to learn from them.