Oslo changed Wathiq Hossain’s life.
Everyone here has the freedom to just be, uninfluenced by the external factors that hinder you elsewhere. / Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, you’re able to do so much more with your life – you take on more opportunities, you’re more confident, more focused, more sincere. Wathiq Hossain, international student at the Norwegian Academy of Music.
– The responsibility is on you to discover. No one’s going to come over to you with a silver platter, saying: this is Edvard Grieg, this is brown cheese, these are the fjords, this is our culture, ready and decoded. You need to dive out there, into the deep. And find friends.
Late at night sometime in February, Wathiq Hossain is sitting on the subway. He has just arrived in Oslo for the second time in his life. But last time he was not sure of who he was. Conservative. Afraid. Shy.
This time he knows what he has to do, it’s not as if the place is completely unfamiliar. Yet, he cannot quite suppress the nervous pangs of culture shock.
– If I was in Cape Town, I would usually not be taking public transport at all, especially not at night. I was so paranoid, I kept looking over my shoulder.
But he was also fixated with the differences that insisted themselves upon him at every corner.
– This place was so safe, so efficient, so egalitarian. If I took the ride in from the airport in Cape Town, I’d be looking at shacks, people who have to walk for miles for water, and then suddenly find myself in this affluent area that looks just like Europe, he says.
Hossain tried to show his gratitude in the way he was brought up – saluting everyone on the subway, waving his hands, grinning, trying to make the world of strangers a friendly space. He obviously wasn’t acquainted with Norwegian reserve. But he could only be slightly bothered.
And Wathiq Hossain was soon to discover people loved him for it.
In 2008, Wathiq came to Oslo for the first time, as an exchange student. But he wasn’t ready.
– Being exposed to a new world I never knew existed was frightening. You’re very cushioned in the place you grow up. Suddenly, I was in this international scene, constantly exposed to different ideas, psyches, different human beings. Of course, it was intriguing, but it was also too much to handle so soon.
– I went home feeling like I had unfinished business. Now, I can discover this place with different eyes.
Egalitarianism is probably his most important discovery.
– At home, theres a lot of competition, you’re always competing for this prize or scholarship, and you really want to get on the dean merit list. There’s a hierarchy to every social situation, he says. Turns out it’s even customary to refer to your elders as «sir»
– What I noticed here was that it isn’t like that, people are only competing against themselves. You just focus on the best that you’re going to be, and you only compete against that, Wathiq says. His voice is delicate, makes you think he sings the soprano.
The gap between poor and affluent, between prestigious private schools and the rural shacks with leaking roofs and no textbooks, is striking in South Africa. And humbling to Wathiq.
– I feel so honored to be here and study when I think of it.
Oslo is a sanctuary for the 21 year-old. A place to not be distracted.
– Everyone here has the freedom to just be, uninfluenced by the external factors that hinder you elsewhere.
Just how universally felt that statement is, you’ll have to consider for yourself. But it is beyond doubt that Wathiq has had external noise aplenty in his upbringing. And he is not talking about his country now – there are divides, but they are «slooooowly colliding».
– I come from a traditional, muslim home in Cape Town. I went to a middle-class school. A pretty average upbringing.
One of those places where life can be perfectly fine for the placid.
– But I noticed from a very young age that I was different from the traditionalist society I was growing up in. People learn the same values in a conservative society, passing down this repetitive lifestyle. You get a job, you finish school, go to university, get a wife, have three kids, move into a suburban home and buy a car.
Wathiq couldn’t quite fit the mould.
– I didn’t dress the same, I was really eccentric, I loved the arts, took up dance, and in primary school I did ballet. But I was the only guy, so my parents withdrew me.
He felt like a normal person.
– But I knew I wasn’t from the way I was treated and the names I was called.
It might not be too much of a surprise where Wathiq - who preferred hopscotch with his female cousin over football with the chaps, playing around in pink tights and singing along to Whitney Houston - found consolation.
– In adolescence I realized that the reason I didn’t fit into this predominantly muslim society, was probably because I was gay.
– Do you want a coffee or something?
– Oh, no thanks. I’m fasting, he says with a pleasant smile.
Despite the arduous struggle for selfhood Wathiq’s been through, he has no intention of shedding his origins. He observes ramadan, respects his elders.
– I live kind of a double life back home. Maybe my family accepts me too, but I still give them a watered down version.
But Wathiq is not in Oslo to escape it all. He came here in February to finish the last two years of his diploma, but he’s looking to go back at some point.
Mediating two cultures, having a native home and an acquired one, is complex. There are sacrifices to be made in a «sugar-coated» society like ours, too.
– As much as Norwegian culture is really liberal and open and accepting, I think there’s a slight level of conservatism in the way people conduct themselves in public. I’ve had to learn to be more in control, and not have these outbursts, speak loudly, be boisterous.
Conversely, there are things he loves about the culture that housed his «staunch upbringing».
– Put it like this: When in Rome, do as the Romans do, but you still have to maintain who you are and be true to your own identity. South Africans are very bubbly and open to each other and foreigners; it’s a very engaging and friendly society. I cling on to that.
He invented a metaphor for his way of negotiating the two lives.
– I’m the sponge; I’m sucking up as much as I can from Norwegian culture trying to see what I like. It’s up to you as an individual to choose what impulses you want from the world. It’s a dialogue. Everybody’s able to choose what they love and not about their homeland – then scour and find what impulses they want to pick up. Find where to be creative.
A little over a month ago Wathiq is sitting in front of his computer, his finger hovering over the post button for a Facebook album, extended in hesitation.
It was a matter of creative expression rather than gender-bending. But he’d decided with a good friend to borrow a wig, clash on some foundation, and walk the streets of Oslo in drag during Gay Pride.
– Do I really want to share this part of me with people, this creative side of me? Wathiq thought. He is liberated, but not naïve.
– I know the stigma attached, I know my background, I know how people are going to react. I know people who are really close friends of mine, but who don’t quite get the whole thing.
– This is like sketching to me, seeing my body as a canvas now and then. I come from this society where you’re brought up from this mould, and suddenly I can just be, just be interesting, and not feel as though you have to live up to expectation the whole time. This is the new me. It’s taken me 21 years to get to this point, so I’m going to embrace this.
After about a minute, he lets his finger drop and press «post».
– It was a way of letting go for me, I was able to let go of all this inner tension that was in me for so long, and I can tell you, now it is. All. Gone. I was this contained creative soul for so long. So why not take it to the extreme for once? I’ve been part of the other extreme for so long –being restricted, being contained, being supressed. So I decided to turn 180 degress and bring the volume knob waaay to the other side.
Once again, the solemn realities of where he comes from factored into the decision.
– A few weeks ago, a few lesbians were killed in Cape Town. Gays are being beat up when they’re not in drag, I can’t imagine what would happen if they went in drag – although a few brave souls take the risk. It makes life so much easier to be in a place where you can just be yourself.
The drag show hasn’t been met with exclusively positive responses in Norway, either. But Wathiq chooses to ignore the negative voices. Because it won’t change his conclusion.
– I’ve never felt happier than I have in Oslo. I can live my life here, and be comfortable about who I am. Once you’re comfortable in your own skin, you’re able to do so much more with your life – you take on more opportunities, you’re more confident, more focused, more sincere.
And when he goes home this December, he might even come out to his family.
– I’m gaining so much courage here. I’m so glad I gave myself a second chance to see what I didn’t see back when.
firstname.lastname@example.orgEmil Flatø • Skjalg Bøhmer Vold (foto)
- Norwegians might not be that open at first, you notice that everywhere you go. There is not a lot of social interaction with strangers. I try to tone myself down and introduce myself on a micro-level, without the big hoo-haa. My other trick has been networking, forming a spider web of friends from vorspiels, nachspiels and the likes.
- Once you do open up to people, they open up to you. I try find a way of invading people’s personal space without offending them. People actually latch on to you then. So if you’re from an open culture, don’t be put of by Norwegian reserve – Norwegians are usually open on the inside, they just need to discover it.
- Another way to make friends is after midnight, people are usually friendlier after a couple of drinks. Maybe not the best way to make long-term friendships, though; they probably won’t remember you the next day.
- Don’t get bogged down in the international student scene. It’s great, it’s fantastic, and I think people need to find other international students and people from their home countries. But especially if you live in Sogn or another SiO-house, people tend to meander around in an exclusively international scene. It really is our responsibility to branch out, they’re not going to come running after you.
- You have to deal with so much coming to a new place, it’s not easy, there are ups and downs, moments when you want to go home. If you’re going to deal with all that, you need to make sure you have inner peace.
10 siste saker i magasin
Ikke la deg skremme av popquiz-traverne på Skuret. De lar seg fort vippe av pinnen.
Oscar Wilde overbeviste Per Fugelli om at man må lyve for å snakke sant.
Kristin Halvorsen mener kunnskapskapitalen er det viktigste vi har. Bråker du med dem hun har ansvar for, kan det hende hun tar fram hagesaksa.
Studentene strømmer til «uvitenskapelige» utdanninger. Men ingen kan si at behandlingen ikke virker.
Nakenhet er noe vi forbinder med tabu og kroppen noe vi helst dekker til. Hvem er skyld i sjenansen, og har den en funksjon?
Quizen i Bokcaféen er ikke dårlig, men det er dørgende kjedelig å delta.
Vi har vært med på filmsett med framtidas filmskapere. Hvor er norsk film på vei?
Det fins to ting som flytter Simen Sætres navn fra byline til overskrift: bøker og bråk. Men det han egentlig trenger er arbeidsro til å skrive.
OPP Finans Forbrukslån OPP Finans anbefaler deg å være forsiktig med bruk av kredittkort og forbrukslån. Eff.rente 17%, 65.000kr o/5 år, etabl.geb. 825kr, totalt: 94.478kr
- Quiz for kids
- Å gjøre seg stor
- Kjært navn har mange barn
- O skjebne
- Som en møll mot rampelyset
- På jussbussen