America The Difficult

I have been back in the United States of America for a little over two months now.  That means I have been out of Europe for a little over two months, enough time to start missing things I’ve left behind; things like universal health care, job security, respectable  and intelligent heads of state, and friends.  I will, of course, make new friends and I have many of them in the US, just not yet in Houston.

It is unlikely that I will see universal health care in my lifetime.  Even though the Affordable Care Act is a big step forward, America is decades behind most other industrialised countries in providing health care for its citizens.

Job security for most Americans is a thing of the past and I even wonder how long this will continue to be the norm in Europe.

As for a respectable head of state, 2020 is not that far away and I am willing to ride the “Oprah for President” wave or any other wave that can put a human being who’s like, really smart in the White House.

When visiting, I had the impression that everything was easy in the US.   “America the beautiful” was also “America the easy”; easy because there are a lot of people to make things work, easy because I know the language, easy because stores are open all the time and easy because, well it is America and look how easy it is to become President…

Since moving back here, I find that not everything is easy.  Yes, there are a lot of people to make things work—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are 158 million of them—but this does not always make things easy.  Take my bank for example.  There are so many people to make things easy that each time I call with a simple question, I get to talk to 3 or 4 of them.  A typical call will go something like this:

Confusing Recorded Automated Answering System (CRAAS):  Thank you for calling XXXX Bank.  Please enter the last four digits of your account number. If you are calling about xxx, please press 1.  If you are calling about yyy, please press 2 (and so on and so forth).  

CRAAS:  Please stay on the line.  A customer service specialist will be with you shortly.  This call is being recorded.

Really bad background music plays for a few minutes…

Customer Service Representative:  Thank you for calling XXXX Bank.  My name is John.  May I know who I am speaking with? (Doesn’t John know never to end a sentence with a preposition?)

Roberta:  My name is Roberta.

John:  May I know your last name? (John didn’t give me his so why should I give him mine?)

Roberta:  Bensky

John:  Thank you Miss Roberta (so why did I give him my last name if he doesn’t use it?)  May I have the last four digits of your account number?

Roberta:  9999 (Didn’t the CRAAS already ask me for this?  What has the CRAAS done with the last four digits of my account number?)

John:  Thank you.  For security purposes, may I send a verification code to your phone now?

Roberta:  Yes.

John:  May I have your telephone number (Don’t they have this information already?)

Roberta:  555-555-5555.

John:  Thank you.  Please know that XXXX Bank does not charge for this service but your telephone carrier may charge for this service.  Do I have your permission to send the verification code to your phone now?

Roberta:  Yes.  (Code arrives and I recite it to John).

John:  Thank you, Miss Roberta.  For security purposes, may I know your mother’s maiden name?

Roberta:  (I tell John my mother’s maiden name, but how old-fashioned is that???)

John:  Thank you, Miss Roberta.  How may I help you today?

Roberta:  I am wondering why I was charged $43.00 for something called “foreign exchange rate fee”?

John:  I do not see this charge on your credit card.

Roberta:  It was charged to my debit card.

John:  I’m afraid I only deal with credit card issues.  I will now transfer you to a customer service representative who specialises in debit card issues.  Please stay on the line.

Roberta’s internal dialogueOMG! WTF?

Really bad background music plays for a few minutes…

John:  Thank you for waiting, Miss Roberta.  I have explained your situation to my colleague, Jane, who will help you.  Thank you for calling XXXX Bank and have a wonderful day.

Roberta’s Internal Dialogue:  Well, it started out wonderful but is rapidly going downhill…

Jane:  Hello.  My name is Jane.  I am here to help you.  May I have your first and last names and your mother’s maiden name?

Roberta’s internal dialogueOMG!  WTF?

I feel it is important to note that (1) this bank HAS MY MONEY; (2) this bank USES MY MONEY WHEN I AM NOT USING IT; (3) this bank MAKES ME PAY TO USE MY MONEY; and (4) a reliable consumer magazine RANKS THIS BANK HIGH ON CUSTOMER SERVICE.

Why can’t banks be more like Lexus dealerships? (see Buying a Car in Texas – Part III (finale))

 

 

 

 

 

Buying a Car in Texas – Part III (finale)

The Good News

I bought a car  Yes, I did it.  I bought a car…an SUV…a Lexus.  I wasn’t planning to buy a Lexus.  I was planning to buy a Honda or a Toyota.  I gave Honda their chance.  I gave Toyota their chance.  Neither of them won me over…neither of them came even close.  In the end, Lexus won me over with a quality product, professional sales people, solid pricing and cars that, according to my “car therapist/brother-in-law” Phil and my friend Marsha, last a very, very long time.   I would venture a guess that there are far fewer Lexus vehicles in landfills than Toyotas or Hondas.

img_6296.jpgHere are some of the reasons I bought a “pre-owned” 2013 Lexus RX350:

  1. Lexus listens to its customers.  When I told the salesperson Stefanie my budget, she presented me with three options that were within my budget…not even slightly over my budget.  Lexus knows how to listen to its customers.
  2. Lexus knows what people like.  When I drove the RX350, the first thought that came to mind was “I feel as if I am driving on a cloud”.  I had never driven on a cloud before.  It is nice to drive on a cloud.  I think everyone should drive on a cloud.
  3. Lexus cares about its products.  The car was spotless, had new tires, new brake pads, and comes with a full 2-year warranty that covers EVERYTHING.  Stefanie also informed me that the car comes with free car washes forever and free oil changes.  When I asked her if the car also comes with a unicorn, she smiled and, after only a slight hesitation, said “yes, and fairies too”.  For a moment, I actually believed her.
  4. Lexus cares about its customer’s backs.  Their seats have fully adjustable lumbar support.  It is nice to have lumbar support.  My back is happier with lumbar support.  I think everyone should have lumbar support.
  5. Lexus knows how to take care of its customers when they wait.  While I was waiting for the financing paperwork to be completed, Stefanie ushered me to the on-site coffee bar where a barista took my order (a double cortado), prepared it on a genuine La Marazocco machine and offered me a full-sized whole-grain muffin.  There was no charge.  I know, I know, the cost of these services is built in to the car pricing.  I don’t care.  I like having a great coffee and a healthy muffin while I am waiting for financing.  I think everyone should have a great coffee and a healthy muffin while waiting for financing.
  6. Lexus gets financing for the customers.  Honda turned me down.  Six banks have turned me down.  Toyota got me financing but it took 3 days.  Lexus got me financing in an hour.
  7. Lexus bathrooms are decorated with oil paintings.  I know, this is not at all important when buying a car and probably does not affect performance.  But how could I not mention it here?
  8. Lexus knows how to treat its customers.  Stefanie, Christy (the financing person), and Chris (the technician who “trained” me on the use of my new vehicle) are all adult human beings and they treat their customers like adult human beings.  They do their job and they do it well.  Lexus knows how to treat its customers.

I have been driving my new (for me) pre-owned vehicle for several days now.  I am happy.  I think everyone should be happy.  I think everyone should drive a Lexus.

The Bad News

Trump is still President and I spent a sleepless night worrying about getting health care coverage by 1 January 2018 because of my decision to settle in Houston rather than in Austin.  In the end, I think it will work out.  But I am not used to worrying about such things and, for a civilised country, it is disheartening that I or anyone else should have to worry about such things.  The Affordable Care Act is a blessing (thank you, President Obama) but there are still some hoops to jump through to get it working for me as an unemployed individual moving back to the US after 26 years.  I’ll write about that another time.

*  * *

For now, I will sign off with wishes for a peaceful and meaningful holiday.  May you find oil paintings in all public bathrooms you happen to visit and may all your journeys be on a cloud.

cloud_9

 

Saturday Morning Musings

Saturday 9 December

7:30 a.m.:  Coffee in bed, browsing the internet for cars (yes, I’m still looking but have survived surprisingly well without one so far).

8:50 a.m.:  Breakfast at Cenote, “East Austin’s Neighborhood Patio Cafe” while waiting for the local branch of the Austin Public Library to open at 10.00.  I will pick up two books I had reserved:  Getting Started in Consulting and The Gates of the Alamo.  A book for the future and a book about the past.

9:57 a.m.:  At the door of the Terrazas Branch of the Austin Public Library, I am impressed to see a small group of young men waiting with me.

10:00 a.m.:  The sliding door opens.  The group of young men rush past me and head directly to the restroom.  They live on the streets of Austin and the restroom is a place where they can attend to their needs in privacy and with dignity.  I have traveled throughout the developed and developing world and I have seen people living on the streets of Bangalore, Oslo, Colombo, Paris…still, the sight of them in one of the world’s richest countries depresses me.  It is heartening to observe the library staff who are kind and polite to everyone who enters the doors here.

Houston?  Why Not?

It has now been a few weeks since I came to Austin and I’ve just returned from a week visiting friends in Washington.  I have now decided to settle down in Houston rather than in Austin.  After years of visiting my parents in Houston and thinking “I could never live here”, I have to come realize that I could actually live here/there.  Here are some salient facts about my soon-to-be new home:

  1. Houston is the most ethnically diverse metropolitan area in the United States.
  2. Houston’s economy is larger than that of Norway and Sweden.  In fact, only 21 countries in the world have a GDP larger than Houston.  Houston is home to 26 Fortune 500 companies, many of which are in the oil and gas industry and thousands of people are  employed by the Port of Houston, NASA and the Texas Medical Center.
  3. Residents of Houston eat out more times a week than in any other city in America
  4. Houston is one of America’s “fattest cities” with an estimated 34% of the population classified as overweight (see 3 above)
  5. Houston has one of the best culinary scenes in the country (more than 10,000 restaurants representing more than 70 countries and regions of America) (see 3 and 4 above)
  6. It is home to the largest medical center in the world with 54 medicine-related institutions situation on 1,000 acres of land with an average of 7.2 million visits per year.  There are more heart surgeries performed in the Texas Medical Center than anywhere else in the world (see 3, 4 and 5 above)
  7. Houston is the fourth most populous city in the nation with 2.3 million residents (add one more in a few weeks’ time)
  8. Houston has the third largest number of languages spoken in the US surpassed only by New York and Los Angeles
  9. The first traditional Hindu Mandir in the US was built in Houston.. The BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir was assembled like a puzzle. Consisting of 33,000 pieces of Italian marble and Turkish limestone, the temple was carved by hand and took 28 months to build.
  10. The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is one of the biggest rodeoNutella Ballss in the world, attracting 2.5 million attendees each year.  It is also known for serving foods like deep-fried Nutella Balls and fried Twinkies (see 3, 4, 5 and 6 above).
  11. Beyoncé is from Houston.

As I move into my 57th year on this earth, I have come to know a bit about myself and a bit about life.  Here is what I am pretty sure of this Saturday morning:

  1. I can change my mind whenever I want to and no one will die because I did.
  2. There is no perfect place to live but there are places that feel good, especially those where family and friends are close by.
  3. Living close to a green space where I can run has become a priority for me in my search for an apartment…that would not have even entered my mind 7 years ago.
  4. Living in a State where it is legal for licensed permit holders to carry a gun openly causes me more concern than if I lived in a State that did not allow this.
  5. Buying a car is a horrible experience…it just is…there is no way around it.
  6. Buying a bike is a pleasant experience…I want to buy one every day.

 

 

Buying a Car in Texas: Part II (or how not to buy a car in Texas)

I write this from the outdoor patio of Clark’s Oyster Bar where I have treated myself to a most perfect meal of lobster roll, slivered fries with rosemary and homemade sweet and sour cucumbers, all washed down with a glass of crisp Muscadet and topped off with a perfectly pressed espresso.  I really needed a treat today and I could not have found a better one.

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Solace at Clark’s Oyster Bar

If you are following from “Buying a Car in Texas: Part I“, you will know that I had settled on purchasing a somewhat sensible compact SUV with excellent safety features and a quiet ride. According to Consumer Reports, one of America’s most reliable sources of product testing and ratings, I should buy a Honda CR-V or a Toyota RAV4.   Armed with this in-depth online knowledge, I set out to buy one of those.

 

In preparation, I researched things like “what to look for in a car”, “how to negotiate the price of a car”, “what to consider when test driving a car” and “Austin’s best Tex-Mex restaurants” (that last one because I am always looking for a good Tex-Mex restaurant).  I had a checklist and a budget, both of which provided a useful baseline from which to measure how far away from them I would move in the end.   It was time to venture out into the oh-so-treacherous world of car dealerships.

My first dealership was nice enough but we did not see eye-to-eye on anything.  Clearly, our astrological signs were totally incompatible.  Although we gave it a good try, it just was not meant to be.  We parted friends but I do not expect we will see each other again.

My second dealership tried to meet my needs on several levels and I started to believe there might be a future for us.  However, a second date of mind-numbing boredom led me to the realization that we do not share the same values or approach to relationships.  I decided that a clean break was best for us both and I walked out, not looking back.

I met my third dealership online.  After exchanging a few pleasantries, we agreed to meet the next day.  My more modest expectations resulted in a few successful test drives.  I was impressed that he allowed me to drive the vehicles on my own.  He was not clingy and I liked that he valued my independence.  We were able to discuss openly our expectations of the relationship upon which we were embarking and we shared past mistakes, without judgement.  There was just the sticky issue of the dowry.  I left our first date feeling confident he would be able to propose something acceptable.  He promised I would hear from him the next day.

Alas, there has been no word from him: no email, no text message, no phone call.   I have, of course, considered the possibility that he got run over on his way to work or that he contracted a rare Texas flu that has resulted in total amnesia.  Most likely he is already in a relationship with another make or model.  Crushed, I sought solace in the arms of Clark’s Oyster Bar.  At least Clark did not let me down.

There has been one bright spot in this oh-so-treacherous world of car dealerships:  I had a solid and supportive shoulder to cry on in the form of my brother-in-law, Phil in Winnipeg.  Phil was at the receiving end of several frantic phone calls from dealership parking lots and more than a few text messages (my sister Carolyn played an integral role in facilitating these sessions).  Had it not been for his sound advice and calming words of wisdom, I would have abandoned all hope.

Yet, I knew there had to be someone out there for me…and I think I’ve found him.

Ray at Bicycle Sports Shop has introduced me to the pleasures of Specialized pedal-assisted bicycles.  In a city famous for its hills, I found it impossible to resist such temptation.   Ray and I spent two amazing hours together riding up and down hills, he a steady companion at my side showing me not only how to keep a steady course but also encouraging me to shift gears every now and then and, most importantly, to enjoy the ride.  I think Ray and I definitely have a future together…

 

 

 

Buying a Car in Texas: Part I

I’m pretty sure I bought a car yesterday.

I chose to relocate to Austin, Texas for many reasons, including the fact that I thought it might be a more walkable city than Houston, where my parents reside.  Having lived in European cities for the past 26 years, I have gotten used to walking, even as a means of transportation.  Putting one foot in front of the other has gotten me to work, to friends’ houses, to restaurants, to cinemas and, sometimes, from one part of a forest to another simply for pleasure.

I knew I would do more driving in Texas, a State with a population of 27.8 million people and 22 million cars.  Compare this to Norway’s 5 million people and 2.6 million cars.  I knew I needed a car. And, having lived in energy-conscious European countries who not only signed the Paris Agreement on Climate Change but also intend to honor it, I had decided to buy a long-range electric or at least a hybrid car.  At least this was my plan…

For the past two weeks, I have been driving a rental car, an SUV.  It is big.  It is really big.  And I kind of like it.  I like the height of the SUV:  it has the advantage of allowing me to see what is happening ahead of me on the crazy Texas highways.  It also has the disadvantage of allowing me to see what is happening ahead of me on the crazy Texas highways.

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Houston’s Katy Freeway

Although I have owned a car since I began to drive at age 16, I have not driven much these past years (ref. the paragraph about walking above).  When I sold my 1994 Saab 900S to my neighbor in Oslo, it had only been driven 218,000 kilometers (135,000 miles)…that’s about 9,500 km (6,000 miles) per year.

And, since I have not driven much these past years, I had forgotten some of the few but significant pleasures of driving on highways in the US.  On a recent drive from Austin to Houston for Thanksgiving, nearby motorists might have noticed me careening along at the speed limit of 75 mph (120 kph), singing along with the powerful vocals of Robert Plant to Stairway to Heaven blaring through the bluetooth speakers in my big SUV.  It was as if Robert himself was sitting next to me, and I liked it and I’m pretty sure he did too.

Now, rather than looking for a long-range electric or hybrid car, I have decided upon a somewhat sensible compact SUV with excellent safety features (airbags all over the place) and a quiet ride; this, to ensure that my duets with Robert are not dulled by highway noise and that we both enjoy a comfortable and safe ride together.

See also Buying a Car in Texas: Part IIrobert-in-texas (1)

 

Back in the US

I have cried twice these past two weeks since I moved back to the US:  the first time was when I found out that I would not be able to get a bank loan to buy a place to live because I do not have a job after the end of the year, and a second time when I found out I have to establish residency in Texas before I can get a Texas driver’s license and that it takes a year to become a resident of Texas.  Other than that, my reintegration has been a breeze.

Having lived outside of the US for 26 years now, I seem to have forgotten how to live in the US.  I am American, born in Dallas, Texas (doesn’t get more American than that…except perhaps if I had personally sailed in from England on the Mayflower in 1620).  I like root beer and Twizzlers.  I grew up watching My Three Sons and The Brady Bunch.  I have a social security number, the equivalent of a European national identity number…all things that define “American”.  But I don’t have a credit rating and, without, that, I might as well be from another planet, such as Europe.

I don’t know how to purchase real estate or how to buy a car here.  I don’t know which laundry detergent is best or what to wear when it is 60 degrees outside (seems hot, but it isn’t).  I forget that when an ironing board is priced at $17.97 I really have to pay $19.09 after the sales tax has been added.  I forgot how annoying it is to have to figure out how much to tip a server in a restaurant because they are not paid a decent wage at the outset.

But I have also forgotten how nice people can be here.  When turning the corner in a supermarket aisle, the person doing the same thing from the other side apologized profusely…for being there… for being in my way…for being.  Compared to Norway, where people never excuse themselves for fear of intruding in another person’s space, or France where people get angry because you are in their space and it is their space and why are you in it in the first place?, I find this surprisingly pleasant.

I went to the Yeti flagship store in Austin to buy one of their famous tumblers and the guy at the checkout asked me “So, what did you do today?” and, when I answered, it actually turned into a conversation…and the conversation was interesting.  I liked that.

I have been invited to lunch by a total stranger with whom I have had one email exchange.  She is a realtor I had contacted about purchasing an apartment.  When I told her that I could no longer consider buying since no one will lend me money to do so, she responded with a lunch invitation to a place outside of Austin…on a lake…

I do not know many people in Austin yet.  I like eating at restaurants.  This means that I eat alone at restaurants.  The average restaurant in the US caters to families, couples, people eating alone, polar bears, aardvarks…in fact, they cater to just about anyone (at least since the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act that made segregation in public places such as restaurants and lunch counters illegal).   It is easy to eat a very good meal for a very reasonable price, alone and comfortably.   I can highly recommend the tamale cakes at The Shady Grove.  Tamale cakes are an amazing combination of fried masa, pulled pork, queso, green chili sauce and pico de gallo (all staples of Tex-Mex cuisine).  I’m sure the tamale cakes taste just fine when dining with others but I think they must be even even more delicious when dining alone…especially when washed down with a Houston-brewed Weisse Versa beer (how could I possibly resist ordering that?).  The tamale cakes and the beer came to $17.00 (NOK 140)…plus tax…plus tip.

 

 

 

 

What do running on ice in the dark and a Rwandan restaurant have in common?

Me…and Tromsø (pronounced “Troomsuh”).  This is where Hans Einar and I spent the weekend from 3-5 January 2014.

About Tromsø

Tromsø is a group of islands located here, 350 km north of the Arctic Circle.  I live south of Oslo, about 1,200 km south of the Arctic Circle.  So Tromsø is far away.

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Most tourists visit Tromsø to view the northern lights in winter.  This is, in fact, the only way to see light in Tromsø in the winter, since there is no actual daylight.  Here is what the Weather Channel shows for sunrise and sunset times in Tromsø in early January:

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I did not go to Tromsø to see the northern lights, although I had hoped I would catch a glimpse of them.   No, I went to Tromsø to run a half-marathon…in the dark…on snow and ice.

The Polar Night Half-Marathon is in its 11th year of operation.  In addition to the 21k run, there are 10k and 5k runs (for the wimps!).  This year, 1,117 brave souls were, like me, inspired to run in this exotic destination.  I know, Hawaii is also exotic (and warm and sunny), but that is for another time.

As with the three other half-marathons I have run, Hans Einar accompanied me to show his support.  This he does well, especially on race day when I am jittery and I wonder if there is something wrong with me and he reminds me that I get this way each and every time I run a race.  He is also one of the last ones waiting at the finish line to see me cross over after most of the runners have completed the race and are already having a beer to celebrate.  And, he yells out “heia, heia” with as much enthusiasm and pride as if I were first over the finish line and, because of him, I feel as if I am.

Hans Einar and a polar bear at the Polar Museum.

Hans Einar and a polar bear at the Polar Museum.

The day before the race, we did a bit of tourism, visiting the very interesting Polar Museum that traced the polar expeditions of Roald Amundsen and Fridtjof Nanson.  We also visited “the world’s most northern aquarium”, the architecturally exquisite Polaria, where we stood for a long time watching two adorable bearded seals pop out of their open arctic aquarium to display themselves for us (there was no one else around so we had them to ourselves).

Polaria_Tromsø

Polaria – photo taken in a month with light!

Race Day

Getting ready at the hotel.

Getting ready at the hotel.

Saturday, 5 January 2104, 14:40

With woollen underwear, my favourite running jacket, my iPhone with a John Grisham audiobook queued up, plenty of energy gels and spikes on my shoes, I set off to join the other runners for a 15-minute warm-up provided by one of the local gym chains.  As Hans Einar and I approached the start area, I heard the end of O Fortuna from Carmina Burana blasting from the loudspeakers and felt a rush of adrenaline.  I wonder if Carl Orff had Halbmarathon-Läufer in mind when he wrote his musical composition.   It did the trick for me!

Pre-race ambiance...yes, the photos are dark but so was everything!

Pre-race ambiance…yes, the photos are dark but so was everything!

The ambiance

The ambiance

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Checking my spikes…

At 14:59 the countdown began, we runners lined up behind the start line and, “five, four three, two one”, we were off, through the centre of Tromsø along streets lined with well-wishers (northern Norwegians are known for being particularly hospitable).  In no time, we were out of town and on our way to the airport and the 10.5k turnaround.  The entire route was lit by candles and there was a strong contingent of race volunteers who made me feel VERY important since they stopped traffic just so I could cross the road (well, I guess they did it for all the runners but I pretended they did it just for me).

As with all my running, I use Jeff Galloway’s interval method of walk-run and I had set my handy interval timer to a 40:30 ratio (40 seconds of running followed by 30 seconds of walking).  This method has really worked for me so there was no question that I would use it in Tromsø.

Jeff is an American marathon runner (he participated in the 1972 Munich Olympics) and his walk-run method is very popular in the US.  But I have yet to find another runner in any of the half-marathons I have run who uses an interval timer.  The timer vibrates and beeps when it is time to switch intervals.  I have often felt embarrassed by the beeps and the stops and starts, as I pass others on my run interval only to have them pass me on my walk interval.  In the end, I usually end up leaving behind 5 or 6 of those runners since they run out of steam before I do, thanks to the walk breaks.  I have gotten used to the beeps and the embarrassment but I am still acutely aware that my beeper noises and starts and stops may annoy some runners.

Around the 3k mark, I had stopped to adjust my spikes and was aware of a presence behind me that had also stopped.  I turned around to see a couple who had, in fact, stopped behind me.  Kristie said “we’re stealing your intervals” in a very American English and I responded “you’re very welcome to them!” and we proceeded to run the rest of the race together.

Kristie and Ricardo had flown in from Seattle for this race and are both devout followers of Jeff’s walk-run method.  Kristie’s timer had frozen at the start of the race (pun not intended) and when I had passed them on my run interval, Kristie had recognised the timer beep and they proceeded to discreetly follow my intervals, staying behind me so as not to reveal themselves.  But when I had stopped, Kristie decided to tell me what they were doing.  From that point on, we ran together, talking a bit, stopping once or twice to take photos and, in general enjoying ourselves despite the physical challenges of running on ice in the dark for 21k.

Around the 15k mark, we ran up to another participant who was walking and eating a banana.  I said “hello” to him and mentioned what a great idea it was to have brought along a banana.   Jet (a local resident originally from the Philippines) told us that he had not brought bananas with him.  He had, in fact, run out of steam and had stopped in at a grocery store (one of only a few along the way) to get a banana to boost his energy.  Having no money, he had asked the grocer if he could have a banana with a promise to return and pay later.  The grocer gave him two bananas.  Ricardo offered him an energy gel which he gratefully took and Kristie, Ricardo and I resumed our intervals.

This was the first time I had actually run with anyone, since running has been a cherished solitary activity for me.  But I must admit that I enjoyed this run so much more thanks to Kristie and Ricardo.  We pushed each other, kept up a good pace and crossed the finish line together, with our arms raised in triumph.  I’ll save the Grisham audiobook for another time.

We met Jet again at the race end.  He came in slightly ahead of us so the bananas and Ricardo’s energy gel had helped.  Hans Einar took this photo of us, blissfully exhausted and so very proud.

Kristie, me, Ricardo and Jet

Kristie, me, Ricardo and Jet

African Oasis

Now, about that Rwandan restaurant.  As with any trip, I spend time researching the destination and especially its culinary possibilities.  I had discovered an unusual option for Tromsø on TripAdvisor; an African restaurant that had many positive reviews.  In keeping with my theme of the exotic, Hans Einar and I celebrated my victory with dinner at Afrika Oase.  Rose, the owner, is from Rwanda.  She explained to us that she was living in Luxembourg when she was offered a grant by the Norwegian government’s “innovation group” to move to Tromsø and open an African restaurant.  Norway is trying hard to internationalise and Tromsø has a large university full of international students and faculty who need to be fed.  Rose imports most of her products directly from Africa but has had also struck a deal with a few nearby farmers to raise goats for meat for her restaurant (instead of just for the brown goat cheese so cherished by Norwegians).

We ate near an open fireplace (which Hans Einar stoked every now and then since he is a master fire-builder).  I spoke French with Rose and told her about my trips to Rwanda and we discussed a bit of politics (but not too much).  We had an absolutely delicious meal of marinated goat kebabs and antelope, one of which was served with a blueberry chutney and the other with a red onion and chili chutney, friend plantains and a melon and cabbage salad.  Rose gave us a taste of every single juice on the menu (I especially enjoyed the ginger and hibiscus juices, Hans Einar loved the mango and baobab juices).  Hans Einar washed his goat kebabs down with a German white beer and I chased down my antelope (pun intended!) with a glass of red wine from Fairview, a South African winery I had visited back in 2001.  It was a wonderful way to revive my tired body.

The Day After

Because I train quite regularly, I don’t get really sore after running.  I have some small aches and pains but nothing dramatic.  Tromsø’s Polar Night Half-Marathon did a number on my feet though and I spent a few hours in the middle of the night massaging them.  While I enjoyed the race, my feet did not have such a good time.  Hans Einar and I roughly calculated the number of times my feet would have struck the hard ice…we ended up at around 39,600 strikes…OUCH!

We met up with Kristie and Ricardo the next day for a celebratory lunch that included a few of the local Mack dark beers from “the world’s northernmost brewery”.  I really liked Kristie and Ricardo and hope to maintain some contact.  Who knows, I may run into/behind/in front of them at another race in some other (warmer?) exotic destination.

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The day after

Tromsø is a dramatically beautiful place and well worth a visit.  The Polar Night Marathon organisers also run a Midnight Sun Marathon in Tromsø on 21 June each year…when the sun never sets.  Time to start training now?

Crescent moon over Tromsø

Crescent moon over Tromsø