Monthly Archives: August 2014

The Sandoy Toilet Paper Crisis

In all of the petty exchanges between Sea Shepherd and the Faroese this summer, the Sandoy Toilet Paper Crisis was probably the biggest and the strangest.

"Sea Shepherd steals on Sandoy" coverage by

“Sea Shepherd steals on Sandoy” coverage by

It all started when the mayor of Sandoy, Brandur Sandoy, posted a sign saying that Sea Shepherd was no longer welcome to use the facilities. He claimed that Sea Shepherd had been misusing the facilities and had stolen toilet paper and other items.

However, I have not read that he had any evidence for these claims. And the way that wrote about the closure made it sound as if it had more to do with opposing the Sea Shepherd organization’s work than about a scarcity of toilet paper.

My translation:

“In addition to using and misusing the hall, they have also stolen toilet paper and other things in the building,” he said.

Brandur Sandoy, who is also a member of parliament, personally thinks that the government has been unbelievably passive on the topic of Sea Shepherd, which he is seizing.

“We win nothing by letting ourselves be oppressed and watch, while Sea Shepherd drives the pods of pilot whales back out to sea, so we can’t get them.”

Brandur Sandoy says, that he plans to do that which is in his power to do in order to show the parliament that the Faroese in the question of Sea Shepherd ought to have been handled otherwise than it has been until now.

(- Umframt at tey bæði hava brúkt og misbrúkt hølini, hava tey eisini stjolið wc-pappír og annað í húsinum, sigur hann. Sjálvur heldur Brandur Sandoy, sum eisini er løgtingslimur í samgongu, at landsstýrið er ótrúliga passivt í málinum um Sea Shepherd, sum hann tekur til. – Vit vinna einki við at lata okkum kúga og hyggja at, meðan Sea Shepherd rekur grindirnar út á hav aftur, so vit ikki fáa fatur í teimum.

 Brandur Sandoy sigur, at hann ætlar at gera tað, hann er mentur, fyri at vísa løgtinginum á, at føroyingar í spurninginum um Sea Shepherd áttu at havt handlað øðrvísi, enn gjørt hevur verið higartil.)


The Toilet Paper Scandal

The Toilet Paper Scandal

In response, the Sea Shepherd land crews on Sandoy denied the claims and said that while there was a shortage of toilet paper in the facility, it had nothing to do with them and they had in fact been bringing their own toilet paper to use there.

The Sea Shepherd members then bought 200 rolls of good toilet paper and tried to give them to the mayor of Sandoy. They claimed the move was a goodwill gesture, but the way Paul Watson wrote about it made it clear that it was intended to humiliate the mayor. He titled the post:

The Great Sandoy Toilet Paper Scandal

Or How to Deal with a Constipated Mayor who is Simply Full of Shit.

Paul Watson then spent several paragraphs mocking the mayor for misspelling the name of the organization on the signs, where it was written “Sea Shepard.” As far as I know, Paul Watson does not speak or read Faroese, but he felt that it was fair game to mock a Faroese person’s spelling in English.

“Amazing that he could not spell Shepherd being that he lives on a group of islands called Faroe and Faroe means “sheep” and there are more sheep than islanders in the entire country. For future reference Mr. Mayor think of Sheep herd and simply drop one “e” to get Shepherd.”

He then wrote that when they tried deliver the paper,

“Mayor Brandur was not very grateful. In fact he was downright grumpy and seemed to be somewhat constipated, which of course was understandable, seeing the hygienic pickle he was in. He locked himself in his office or maybe his bathroom and would not come out, hoping that every one would go away.”


The mayor, Brandur Sandoy, told about the exchange but strangely avoided using the words toilet or paper:

“Yes, they were here in the municipality, but they got the same answer as before — that they are not welcome to use our facilities. That, which they had brought with them, they were asked to take with them again when they left.”

(Jú, tey vóru her í kommununi, men tey fingu sama svar sum áður – at tey ikki eru vælkomin at brúka fasilitetirnar hjá okkum. Tað, sum tey høvdu við sær, vórðu tey biðin um at taka við sær aftur, tá tey fóru.)

The mayor said that the facilities in question were being closed anyway, now that the peak tourism season has ended.


Minor Update:

In a letter to Oyggja Tíðindi where he argued that even bad publicity for the Faroe Islands is better than no publicity, Ingi M. Helmsdal wrote the following:

"An Interesting Toilet Paper"

“An Interesting Toilet Paper”

“Shortly after there was a grind on Sandoy, and the police sent many helicopters and officers to support the grindadráp, but truthfully also to search for the vanished toilet paper roll, and we have heard, that a diver found this roll on the bottom of the sea, unused. The foreigners undoubtedly felt threatened, and therefore they threw the toilet paper in the sea without using it. Today it is quite valuable, and could doubtlessly be resold abroad.”

(Stutt eftir var grind á Sandi, og løgreglan sendi fleiri tyrlur og løgreglufólk fyri at stuðla grindadrápinum, men sanniliga eisini fyri at leita eftir horvnu WC-rulluni, og vit hava hoyrt, at ein kavari fann hesa rullu á havsins botni, óbrúkta. Tey fremmandu hava ivaleyst følt seg hótt, og tí hava tey blakað WC-rulluna til havs, uttan at brúka hana. Í dag er hon sera nógv verd, og kann ivaleyst seljast fyri mill. Uttanlands.)


When it becomes very difficult to separate truth and satire, you know a situation that started out silly has really gotten ridiculous.

From Island to Island

Not content with visiting 16 islands and an islet in the Faroes, I planned a long way home, postponing my return to the mainland by two weeks and stops on the islands of Amager and Zealand (Denmark), Great Britain (England and Wales), The Isle of Man, and Ireland. Just as I had done on my way in through Norway, I kept my eyes and ears open for traces of the Faroe Islands in its neighboring countries.

First Stop: Denmark

Copenhagen Faroe Islands

The Faroe Islands are part of the Kingdom of Denmark, and Faroe Islanders often joke that Copenhagen is the largest Faroese city, since the population of ethnic Faroese there is higher than that of Tórshavn. Logically, then, I expected it to be easy to find the Faroese here. And it was… and wasn’t.

First, I tried to find some Faroese people. This task was much harder than I’d anticipated, because so many of the Faroese residents of Copenhagen were on summer holiday at the time — in fact, most of them were visiting their family back home on the islands!

Still, I found myself joined by a whole Atlantic Airways flight of islanders going the other way — and I even knew many of them personally. And so I had the surreal experience of traveling, for however short a time, with Faroese people and speaking with them in Faroese while the Danes carried on around us, not understanding more than a word here or there. It was an oddly cozy feeling.

Through the wonders of the internet and multi-degree connectivity, I’d also managed to track down two Faroese women currently residing in the city – Heidi and Krista. Heidi invited me to temunn and breakfast at her home, and gave me insight into how she has carried her Faroese identity while living and, to a large degree, assimilating into Danish society. Krista and I spent two fun evenings together while we chatted about her own life and plans. Krista has been in Copenhagen for a far shorter time than Heidi, spends most of her time with the Faroese people living there, and plans to return to the Faroe Islands as soon after getting more work experience in Denmark.

It was also fashion week, and among the other big names being interviewed live and broadcast on a big screen in the city center, I saw a name and a face that was by this time familiar: Barbara í Gongini, a famous Faroese designer.

Aside from the Faroese themselves, there was little in Copenhagen to remind me of the Faroe Islands. The land was flat, the buildings tall, the streets busy, the sky startlingly big and blue after spending time in the misty Faroese mountains. Oh, and it was hot. I broke out pieces of my wardrobe that hadn’t seen the light of day since I’d packed them optimistically into my suitcase in May.

Faroese House Copenhagen

The Faroese House in Copenhagen

I made a map of Faroese places and things I might be able to see in the city. There was The Faroese House, a cultural meeting place and cafe; it was closed for the summer holidays. The “Faroese student ghetto” of Øresundskollegiet was likewise empty for the season. I found nothing Faroese in the Danish National Museum, which returned most such artifacts to the National Museum of the Faroe Islands several years ago. A search for Faroese restaurants, or even a restaurant serving Faroese ingredients, revealed only that Tórshavn’s beloved sushi restaurant, Etika, had tried in 2010 to establish a Copenhagen branch; despite some good initial reviews, it had not even lasted a season.

I took a walking tour of Copenhagen, which started outside the City Hall. Our guide proudly told us that the polar bears on the hall’s roof were there to represent Greenland, a Danish territory. As we started walking, I asked her to please point out to me if we passed anything related to the Faroe Islands.

She answered shortly: “No. There’s nothing about the Faroe Islands.”

“Okay,” I began, “Thanks anyw — ”

“In fact,” she continued, “I don’t really know anything about the Faroe Islands. At all.”

Most of the Danes I met were not so abrupt. Still, if my summer plans came up, most didn’t comment at all. Some said it was interesting in a tone that told me they thought it was anything but. There were exceptions. I met another journalist who had been living in Greenland, and we were eager to hear about each other’s work. And one young woman excitedly asked me if I was Faroese — she had spent time in the Faroe Islands, and recognized my sweater.

On the whole, the Danes just didn’t show anywhere near the interest that the Norwegians had back in Bergen, which I found a little bit strange considering the relationship between the two nations.

Second Stop: Great Britain

Cotswolds Islands

I was one degree and ten minutes away from a Faroese man in Oxford. They get around, I’m finding. I met a Cuban man in my hostel, and when he heard why I was in Europe, he threw up his hands in astonishment. “Seriously?” he asked, “I just found out about that place ten minutes ago! I was talking to this awesome Faroese guy at my conference. This is too weird.”

The British occupied the Faroe Islands during World War II and left behind an airport, a strong tea-drinking tradition and Cadbury chocolate. But the cultural exchange was mostly unilateral, and the rest of my connections to the Faroe Islands on Great Britain were comparative. The apologies the locals made for the changeable weather made me smile that one-upping smile. The sea felt so warm. The houses and gardens looked so fine and pretty, even in the small villages of the Cotswalds and the mountains of Wales. The land just seemed so safe, protected, and fertile compared to what I had come from.

A language geek as ever, Welsh fascinated me. I saw more of it than I expected to — just about everything written was bilingual — but I didn’t hear any of it until I reached northern Wales, where I was happy to hear it spoken much more, and by all generations, in Caernarfon. The scarcity still made me a little bit sad. There, I thought, but for the grace of a thousand kilometers of salt water, or some truly commendable island obstinacy, goes Faroese.

Third Stop: The Isle of Man

Isle of Man Faroe Islands

I stayed with a family in the Isle of Man who positively astonished me with their knowledge of the Faroes. They asked me intelligent questions about the political system, showed me an old book with photographs of artist Tróndur Patursson harpooning a whale, and expressed avid concern for the puffin colonies on Mykines.

Now, this family was most likely exceptional in this regard: not only especially intellectually curious but specifically about topics that would pull the Faroe Islands into their view. The two island nations are, after all, linked by many obvious political and cultural parallels, varying degrees of Norse heritage, and, especially intriguing to my host’s father (a part-time ornithologist) large populations of sea birds.

The Isle of Man is much bigger than any of the Faroe Islands, and it’s only the one. It was hard for me to buy, comparatively, the word “isolated” describing any of the Manx settlements. The people of Man have a few towns that could reasonably be called cities, albeit small ones, with multiple pubs and Chinese and Indian carry-outs… and lovely, brooding castles. They’ve also got much larger expanses of flat, fertile land as well as trees and forests. Despite some resistance, English has almost completely overtaken their Manx language.

But when I stood on the shore, the strength of the wind took me by surprise and the crashing surf revealed the fury of the full force of the Atlantic, even on a mild and sunny day. And I thought, yes, these islands are close cousins, after all.

Fourth Stop: Ireland

Ireland Faroe Islands

Once I read a long scholarly article that promised to examine the historic cultural relationship between Ireland and the Faroe Islands. It basically concluded there wasn’t any… and wasn’t that strange? Okay. So I didn’t spend much time looking in that direction.

Irish Gaelic, which seems to be doing okay, gave me yet another reminder of how amazing Faroese is doing for such a small language. For my next visit to Ireland, I think I better head to the Aran Islands, which I was able to glimpse not too far off the coast of the Burren. They’re as Gaelic as Gaelic comes, everyone says — that little bit of saltwater separation having a powerful preservative effect.

The Irish landscape was broader and flatter and more forested than the Faroese, once again (it doesn’t take much.) To give credit where it’s due, I experienced more changeable weather in Ireland than anywhere else I’ve ever visited, including the Faroes. So many of these Northern European countries tell the same jokes — “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes.” But only in Ireland did I really experience, within the hour, sunshine turn to black skies and driving rain and back again.

The Cliffs of Moher, apparently Ireland’s second most visited tourist attraction, were lovely. But I’d seen just as good in the Faroes and not had to share them with hundreds of Chinese and Midwestern American tourists. And the Irish are going around claiming they have the highest sea cliffs in Europe. You can Google it and see.

“As high as the Cliffs of Moher (217m) are,” our guide said proudly, “they are not the highest in Ireland! For that, you’ll have to go to Sliabh Liag (601m), which are the highest sea cliffs in all of Europe!”

Now, I happen to know that the Faroese Cape Enniberg, which also claims that lofty title (they discount Norway’s Hornelen for not being vertical enough for proper cliffs) rises 750 meters above the sea. When I questioned the guide on the matter while the rest of the bus was going to the bathroom, he sort of deflated.

“Maybe my facts are wrong,” I offered. “I’m not very good at remembering numbers.”

“No, no, you’re probably right,” he said. “This is just what we learned in school…”

I doubt he’ll change his rehearsed speech on the matter. After all, how often is someone going to know enough about some little nowhere islands to call him on it?

180° – Reflections from Half a World Away

My summer in the Faroe Islands is over, but much remains to be done. I left the Faroe Islands a few weeks ago, and after detouring in Denmark, England, Wales, Man, and Ireland on the way home, I’m finally back in Missouri.

There’s still a lot of summer left here — and here, summer means the concrete’s so hot you can watch your footprints disappear in seconds, sweating is natural and welcome, and the lake water’s so still and warm, you can almost fall asleep in it, lying on your back beneath the stars on a sultry dark night.

Summer in Missouri -- what's always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

Summer in Missouri — what’s always been familiar suddenly feels unfamiliar.

It’s been a strange transition.

I was able to readjust to some aspects of life off the islands (trees, large buildings, busy roads…) along the way, but it still hit me surprisingly hard to look out of the window of my Chicago – St. Louis flight at endless, hazy blue and realize that it wasn’t the billowing sea I was looking at, but land… an unimaginable amount of solid land.

And then there was the moment I stepped out of the airport — still clad in jeans, wool socks, hiking boots and a long-sleeved shirt (though I had taken my heavy sweater off moments earlier) — and into what felt like a solid wall of heat and humidity. I found myself gasping for breath. The heat index on my first day back reached nearly 42 C.

In quiet moments, I’ve felt a strange longing for the cold blue fog of so many summer nights in Gøta.

And this from the girl who, just a few months ago, had a secret fear of falling off the islands — so unused to the lack of a whole continent as a cradle. The girl who once saw a photo of Greenlandic children wearing thick sweaters in July and swore, shivering, that she’d never live in such a terrible place. The girl whose only reference point, the first time she was enveloped by a rush of bright summer mists, was the cinematic white-out that signals entrance into some other, higher dimension.

Summer in the Faroes -- an experience I would never have imagined.

Summer in the Faroes — an experience I would never have imagined.

I guess I’ve come 180 degrees… and back again.

Though I’ve now left the Faroes behind me physically, I doubt I’ll ever get them out of my mind or my heart. I certainly hope to maintain a lifelong connection with the nation and with the wonderful Faroese people who welcomed me into their homes and lives.

More immediately and concretely, I am not yet finished with the project that took me to the Faroes this summer. I had more I wanted to see, do, process and share than I could ever have accomplished during my short stay. So as the summer progressed, I made the executive decision to focus on the first two.

Over the next few months, I will be editing photos, transcribing interviews, thinking, and writing, writing, writing. Rather than being the end of my Land of Maybe blog, my homecoming is closer to a beginning. So please stay tuned — there’s so much I can’t wait to share with you!