Letter from Iceland
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Here I am again again writing to you on a very slow computer from the middle of Iceland, in Kerlingarfjoll on the Kjolur Road, a gravel road on the south - north route. (you can google it) between two glaciers Hofskjokull and Langjokull.
So now you have got my bearings I tell you a bit about the camp and the work. Our boss is about as communicative as the glaciers looking down on us. Polite words like 'please' or 'could you ' seem to be even more rare to Icelanders than for Germans. Our work here is very diverse, anything that is necessary, like painting, cleaning, trail maintenance. I was terrified of falling off having a corrugated roof shed and refuse to do the second coat. Clearing up rubbish in the surrounding is easy as there is remarkable little. Only in the old days the farmers use to dump everything in a whole like in Ireland. My favourite job is restoring the trails and marking new ones. When you have been going over the mountains for years there is something exciting about designing a path that is safe to use and stops people falling into a precipice, it gives you the sort of Catcher in the Rye feeling. The other day I served as a guinea pig as I sank into the ground near a hot spring and burnt my foot. So now they rerouted the path. In case you ever walk in Iceland do not step on ground that looks like wet cement! As a result of my injury I was bound to work on the camp site yesterday. That meant cleaning the toilets (!) doing tons of washing, making beds in the huts, making chips for the restaurant. The good thing was that I got a chance to talk to the young Icelanders working here. They are much more communicative than the older ones. So you find out a lot about society and politics.
In our work camp group there is not a single Icelander unfortunately. It is as usual a very diverse group. You seem to get the same prototypes , a typical range of characters as everywhere.
On the first day we did this game where we had to add an adjective to our name staring with the same letter. So our camp leader from Estonia, Kerly, called herself 'Charismatic'. I actually found her a bit of a control freak, so all I could think of was 'Angry Almut' , but I blaimed it on the flies. Then there is 'Youthful Yoshi' , who is actually the oldest after me, 32 years. Japanese American, artist and garden designer, so good on trail work and teaching everybody how to knit. Another hybrid American is 'Clumsy Katie' who is exactly that. So insecure that she makes up for it with endless chatter, though very well educated, the typical high achiever immigrant child. her parents are Chinese Indonesian. Then there is 'Conscientious Cooper', a Mexican with an absent Irish father. Very charming, so he is forgiven for always managing to dodge doing the dishes. But he is on an environmental mission teaching us all about recycling, reduce,reuse. The other male is 'powerful Patrick', a gay music student from Austria who helps everybody to pluck their eyebrows. The smallest and frailest looking one is 'Sexy Suk Chong', South Korean, also fond of my Whisky. So all seven of us are house in one of the mountain huts which leaves little privacy. But at least you can escape. We are surrounded by easily accessible hills and you can walk right through the night, as the sun sets at midnight and rises again at 2. An Irish monk wrote from here in the 9th century that is was bright enough at night to pick the lice of a man's shirt. Luckily we have not had to do that. There are thermal springs around here where you can take a soak. In Reykjavik there are 16 of them, the main place for socialising, like a pub. No chlorine, a woman watches that you take a thorough, naked shower.
The mountains are totally bare, like in Mongolia, so there are no trees or bushes or ditches stopping you. Only the occasional stream. There is very little fauna and flora. So you get really excited when you see a bird or even a bumble bee. I identified some of the same wild flowers as in Ireland;Sea Pink, bog cotton, milk maids tale, even some rare wild orchids, and some other pink and white tiny plants clinging onto the rock for dear life.When you land in Reykjavik you are greeted by a carped of lavender blue lupins, the last thing you expect after all the volcano stories. It is good to get to know another side of this country. It seems a place for rebels and exiles ever since Norwegians disagreeing with the King settled here in the 9th century after the Irish monks had passed through here leaving some Gaelic place names. They established the first parliament in 930 AD, which they managed to stop working two years ago at the bank crisis with the noise of a 'Pot and Pan' revolution, mainly carried by middle class people. The present Prime Minister is an openly gay woman. The Icelanders seem to be so tolerant that purely gay bars don't survive. The Parliament has 40% women representatives. Also in the old Sagas from the 12th century the women play an important role, scheming in the back ground while the men are banging their heads in. By the way - the mayor of Reykjavic is a comedian.
They have great respect for the 'hidden people', elfs and trolls. In the middle of the town is a big boulder that kept breaking all machinery. So they just left it there. They also take their language seriously. On the Icelandic Air plane the head rest were teaching Icelandic phrases , like 'God Nott , (god night), has a soft cuddly sound'. Sorry I have to finish up now, people are waiting to get at the computer. I hope you all are enjoying the summer.
Almut Schlepper, Summer 2010