Inspired by recent events, E&M‘s Katarina Poensgen recounts a tough journey she undertook as a nine-year-old in the wilds of Norway.
As the powerful images of refugee families making the perilous journey across Eastern Europe reached our screens earlier this year, we at E&M were inspired. For the adults, the look of anguish on their faces is easy to discern. But what of the children? Surely scarred by images that we in Europe thankfully never saw during our upbringing, what do they make of this sudden upheaval?
We asked our long-time contributor Katarina Poensgen to describe a memorable yet strenuous journey from her past. The intention is in no way to compare or to relativise, but rather try to get into the heads of the children involved.
Ever thought of a challenging trip you have been dragged to by your parents when you were a child? Perhaps you later questioned whether you had to go because you wanted to make your family happy or because it would be an experience that was actually done for your sake. I have thought of this whenever I look back on my own personal testing journey.
It was a cold and snowy day in March when I was at the winter cabin with my father and grandmother, preparing for a five-hour long skiing trip in the mountains – which I thought was quite a lot at nine years old. Without a TV in our cabin that was located high in the Norwegian mountains, and having to melt snow to wash and cook food with, my first naïve thoughts were that this would be a refreshing and exciting trip, with a great excuse to drink hot chocolate all day. Besides, I was pretty good at cross-country skiing too, so why not?
But it sure as hell was not that easy. First of all, planning the trip takes forever. Not only do you have to decide the right waxing for your skis, but also what to wear. A cold breezy wind combined with stinging sun forces you to choose between sunscreen and cold cream, pick a certain type of gloves that are not too warm but also not too thin, scarves or buff, sunglasses, etcetera, etcetera. Secondly, my expectations of having my grandmother on the trip would slow things down a little proved to be wrong. She insisted that we should not hang up for her sake but keep a pretty quick pace the whole way, which was not really any trouble for her as she demonstrated to be in tip-top shape throughout the skiing trip. Her persistence combined with her cheeriness, motivation and physical strength gave her the powers of Hercules throughout the trip, which still both startle and provokes admiration in me today.
We eventually got ready and headed north. It started out as a beautiful wintery day, with weak sun, slightly windy and dry snow; all a simple Norwegian could ever wish for. We started off going at a normal pace for ten minutes before it started getting quite windy and we experienced a lot of resistance that nearly had me turn back to the cabin. But not wanting to disappoint, I kept my mouth shut and tried to think of pleasant things. Like summer.
We had been going pretty much straight forward so far, but now it started to get tough. Waiting for us: upward hills as far as the eye could see. In addition it was slightly slippery with some ice under the snow, with the wind stinging my face and neck and the sun getting increasingly stronger which made us sweaty and tired.
To my relief we took a couple of breaks now and then, with a classic Norwegian packed lunch: some slices of bread with cheese, a cold chocolate and water. The hot chocolate was a prize for when we reached the top.
As we moved upwards, the sun still blinding us and the wind howling everywhere, we started to look down on the view: and it was spectacular. Little brown and red cabins were scattered around a white blanket of snow, with green trees lying thick around them. There were grandiose hills everywhere, with ski slopes, Norwegian spruces and frozen waterfalls. It made the trip up the mountain a lot easier, and even made my grandmother and father slowed down a little to appreciate it.
Then we reached the top of the mountain, our goal. There waited an even more spectacular view for us, as we could see a lot more of the area from different angles. But furthermore I felt light, relieved and happy to be there, having accomplished something challenging.
What is going through a child’s mind on such trips? What about other ones that are dragged on longer and more exhausting journeys by their families? Would the feeling of achievement at the end of the trip be sufficient for the child to understand why it was forced to go? Looking back on it now, my skiing adventure was a good trip that I overall actually enjoyed, even though I did not appreciate the physical effort then. But I saw beautiful nature and spent some quality time with my family – all of these memories (kind of) blurs out my thoughts of weariness. Yes I was tired, but also happy, safe and a lot more motivated.
I also knew that, once I reached the top, what waited me next was a cup of hot chocolate and a warm living room in our cabin. It is funny how the promise of something as simple as hot chocolate could be the sole motivation for a child. I suspect the motivation for the adults’ was to be good role models by seeming cheery and motivated all the time. Or maybe for some the most important part of going on these cross-country skiing trips is to uphold up a classic Norwegian tradition.
Today, over ten years later, I can clearly remember this experience. Perhaps because that was my first real accomplishment that I felt really proud of, or that I spent some time with my family – or maybe just I looked so much forward boasting about it to my friends and other sisters.
At that time it had at first felt like another horrible trip “the grown ups” forced me to take part in. But now I realise that they did not only drag me along because I was too young staying home alone – they wanted me to have a great experience, a memory I would look back on and be proud of.
As my grandmother died a few years ago, this journey has an even more special place in my heart. Now I go on these kinds of trips all the time, with my dad and youngest sister, having a great time and enjoying our time together. Still, I think the main reason for my trip was to show that some things are worth walking miles for.