[Glimpses of people and their stories on the Finnmark Heath, no. 4; English version]
Helge Romsdal at Joatkajávri fjellstue was a man of definite convictions. Politically we often disagreed, whether the issue at hand was the modern Norway that was coddling people and waiting on them hand and foot, or, say, the hot dispute in Kautokeino about the issue of homosexual church ministers. Regardless, the conversations we had in the 1980s and 90s were quite lively.
No, Helge once said, leaning eagerly forward, take the use of public grants for local development, for instance. Time and again they end up in the pockets of the wrong people. People that have no intentions of building for the future. Two–three years, tops, and then it is over. Just look around you! They get financial support for projects that even a ten year-old can see there is no hope for. A couple of years, and then they declare bankruptcy. And sell the equipment afterwards!
(The picture of Helge is reproduced with permission from Brita Turi Romsdal and Lisa Romsdal Kristensen.)
And, you know what? he exclaimed to me one time in the 1990s: I even have a grown daughter who’s got a whole year’s leave of absence – with pay! – in order to study Sami in Kautokeino! Far out, huh? He shook his head, as if it were beyond belief. But I remember that I distinctly heard a double message in his voice, as his pride for his daughter showed through and overshadowed everything else, including his own incredulity.
Helge himself established close ties with Sami life and language. It dated all the way back to his youth, when he (as I wrote in my previous blog post) defied the German evacuation directive for Tverrelvdalen in the autumn of 1944 and fled onto the heath, where he also received help from the mountain Sami. Throughout his adult life Helge spoke Sami at home at the Lodge, both with his first wife Elen Márjá and with his second wife Brita, which also meant that his six daughters grew up with Sami as their first language.
One time Helge said to me that he was by no means certain whether any of his children would take over the management of the Joatka Lodge. It was a beautiful place, wasn’t it– but the income to be weaned from it was rather meager. Why should they settle here, he said almost dejectedly, when they could find better paid jobs elsewhere with their college and Sami education?
As it turns out, however, his son-in-law Steinar and his daughter Lisa have nonetheless taken over.
And when you live today at a place in which very few others would want to spend their lives, history repeats itself: In the episode about the Joatkajávri Lodge from the TV series Der ingen skulle tru at nokon kunne bu (“Where nobody would believe that anybody could live”) that was aired half a year ago on the channel NRK1, it was Lisa and Steinar’s turn to express their doubts whether any of their children would want to manage the Lodge. During the summer season the place is certainly beautiful and inviting, but in winter fairly harsh and inhospitable conditions reign on the heath.
Even towards the end of May, as in the picture above, travel to the town of Alta can be quite cumbersome, not least when the ice grows unsafe, the snow gradually melts, and one has to make the detour across the mountain ridge in the north.
But back to my main subject. No weathercock, Helge. There was an air of sturdy integrity about him. And in certain respects, Helge represented something that I recognized in myself: He was perhaps even more skeptical of what we call “progress” than I am. In Norway we have a well-known fairy-tale that is called “Kjerringa mot strømmen” (“The Shrew Against the Current”), the story of a self-assertive woman who in our own time has acquired very positive connotations. To me Helge was the incarnation of the Man Against the Current, which I will demonstrate in my next blog post.
Against the current – in a literal sense as well. What did he need the electric current from the power company for, he said to me, when he had his own generator? And the possibility of a road all the way to the steps of the Lodge, what good would such a road do? It would merely bring along with it all sorts of scum and vermin. Progress, you say? Are you quite sure of that?