30 Years

It was in Italy that the Norwegian mission selected a group of 114 Uganda Asians of undetermined nationality. Large families and single people. Eighty of them were at first put up in three hotels in Oslo and 33 in Bergen. The task of receiving and settling the Asians was assigned to the Norwegian Refugee Council, which draws on substantial government funds set aside for this purpose. As well as providing the other necessities, these funds cover care and maintenance and financially support the newly arrived during the initial months when they start working and get established.

At Bergen, the first encounter with a member of the group of Asians settled here may well take place at the desk of the most elegant hotel in town. The employee who, after dinner, hands you your key, does not look Norwegian at all. As a matter of fact, his name is Ashikussin A. He was born in Kampala 21 years ago. He arrived with the rest of the group from Rome on December 1, 1972, with his parents and three sisters. Like his fellow countrymen, Ashikussin took advantage of the two months' acclimatization period imposed on all newcomers by the Norwegian Refugee Council to take an intensive Norwegian language course five hours a day. Since he had experience in the hotel trade - he was head of the reception desk of a hotel in Kampala - he asked for and obtained with the help of the Norwegian Refugee Council this job which suits him perfectly. He is quite aware of the immediate advantages and the possibilities for advancement. He works at night and at present earns 2,200 crowns; but he knows that promotion prospects depend on him. All he has to do is improve his knowledge of Norwegian. English, however, is just as important for his job.

"I really was lucky to be given a chance to use my knowledge and experience", Ashikussin explains. At home, satisfaction and optimism prevail. His father, who is an accountant, has not yet found a job, but Fatima, 24, is working in a chocolate factory and Amatuzohira, 19, in a bank. Shanaze, 17, was admitted to the oldest and most respected secondary school, the Bergen Katedralskole. Shanaze is pretty and cheerful; everybody likes her and the same is true for Harjit and Manjit S., two Asian boys of about the same age. They are of Hindu religion, whilst she is a Moslem: but who makes a distinction here? Among the Asians at Bergen, there are also Sikhs and Catholics.. They all volunteered when the Norwegian mission came to select candidates at the Hotel Villa near Rome. "The only thing I regret is that we couldn't take everybody." says Mr. Wilhelm Boe, secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council.

"We arrived on December 1st; it was raining cats and dogs. Many of the women had nothing but their sari and a pair of sandals to wear; we had to walk in ankle-deep water," says Shanaze. An event which today is recalled with pleasure. Another memory: the snow that eventually started to fall, and first tries on skis. But most of the time it rains in Bergen, just like today.

Together with Mr. Boe, we went to see the A's at home. They have a flat in a modern housing development in one of Bergen's new suburbs. It lies behind a mountain and is linked to the town by a tunnel which seems nearly as long s the one that runs under Mt. Blanc. Above the door there is an inscription in Arabic: a wish of happiness. Inside, a large room with a view over the valley. Three bedrooms and a beautifully equipped kitchen, enough to make the most demanding housewife envious: refrigerator, washing-machine and electric airing cupboard. "It's always raining here," says Mr. Boe, who has known Bergen since his childhood. "The laundry has got to dry somewhere!" As a matter of fact, all the flats here are equipped in the same way.

The rent for the first month is paid by the Norwegian Refugee Council. For the next six months, it will amount to only 400 crowns; only afterwards will the family have to pay the full rent, i.e. 600 crowns. With three salaries in the family, the A's will be quite able to mange. However, after three months of employment, they will have to start paying taxes. This scale is progressive: 35% of the total to start with, and, a year later, the full amount. On the other hand, economically weak families will benefit from the social welfare scheme whereby allowances are paid for every child or aged person who is unable to work.

Mrs. A. serves tea and spicy biscuits. The conversation turns to cooking. Of course, everybody in the family prefers Indian food. "What, you don't like fish pudding?" Mr. Boe pretends to be surprised. "Yes, of course we do: it's very good." replied Ashikussin, "we have it quite often at the hotel canteen. It lacks pepper, though." "I distribute Norwegian receipes," says Mr. Flemming Bjorn Olsen, who is in charge of the integration of Asians in Bergen. "Not really to put them off their traditional dishes, but just to help them to cook cheaper meals."

This, however is not Mr. Olsen's only job. With the help of the municipal welfare office, he looked for and found jobs for the Asians whom the Council and the authorities had decided to resettle at Bergen: two tailors, a car mechanic, two welders who work at the shipyard... Before they could be employed they attended an accelerated vocational training course and proved to be very skilful. "Can you imagine that I haven't yet found a job for an electrician? As if we had too many of them here in Bergen!"

The mechanic is called Jose-Honorato M. He is a bachelor. His mother and sister live in Goa, from where their grandparents had originally emigrated to Uganda. In Uganda, he owned a garage; he organized safaris, too. He works at the Opel garage in Bergen. We met him on the third floor, in the new cars department.

"I check the cars before delivery. As you see, I also polish them. That's just a start. Later on, when I have proved my skills, I'll move on to the repairs department and earn more money." Jose Honorato's problem is that he wants to send some money to his mother and sister. Asked if he wants them to join him in Norway, he answers: "Later on, perhaps, if things work out that way."

Elsewhere in Bergen, a hilly town, like Rome and like Kampala, on the first floor of an old building in the business centre, there is a small tailor's shop. There you can meet the best adapted, the happiest of all the Asians: his name is Chagantal Zina S. Tape measure round his neck, scissors in hand, he practices his peaceful craft which after all, might be called an art. He is about to finish off a regional costume, worn in the Hardanger district. It looks like a hunting dress, with adornments, a yellow waistcoat and a grey and green jacket. Just for fun he tries it on. it suits him beautifully. A true Norwegian. His colleague who is nearly 80 but looks 20 years younger shows him how to dance: lift one leg and slap your thigh.. Mr. S. says he is a happy man. Happy, because he can practise his profession , because his colleagues and boss consider him as a friend; happy also because his wife, daughter and younger son will be arriving from Bombay tomorrow. The elder son who came to Bergen with him, has found a job as well; he works in a hosiery factory. "I am immensely grateful to all those who helped us to come to Norway and get settled here. Hjertelig tak!"