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!

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Faroese High Summer

High Summer has come to the Faroe Islands. The yellow buttercups and marsh marigolds have been joined by white clover, purple ragged robin and lacy umbels of angelica. The days are at their longest, the hills at their greenest, the weather at its finest — but keep calm, we’re still talking Faroese standards.

The Faroese version of a "Beach Day" at the G! Festival -- not exactly for the Miami crowd!

The Faroese version of a “Beach Day” at the G! Festival — not exactly for the Miami crowd!

Yesterday the G! Festival began in earnest, my lovely host family finished painting the upstairs and the outside furniture, and Norðragøta was loud with the sounds of seagulls and drunk festival-goers, our house full of guests stuffing themselves on bollar and home-made rhubarb jam, and hundreds of sheep baaaa-ing as they were herded down off of the mountain Tyril to be sheared.

House Painting in the Faroes

Painting houses in the summer weather.

As Jonhedin Herason Trondheim told me at a G! Festival planning meeting, “Yes, our summer is great. And it’s long. But it’s short and we have to fit in festivals, painting our houses, everything!”

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Summer Fun at the G! Festival

Is it any wonder I’m struggling to find time to update my blog?

G! Comes to Gøta

The G! Festival, one of the biggest and most anticipated music festivals in the Faroese summer, takes place each summer in my own home village of Gøta! There’s camping in Norðragøta, a few events in Gøtugjógv and the bulk of the action will happen on the stages of Syðrugøta, just a short walk away.

Preparations for G!

Preparations for G! in Syðrugøta

The main event begins today, but the festival spirit arrived yesterday afternoon with the most eager of the campers, who line up in anticipation of the opening of the camping area, sometimes 6-7 hours early (even though there is plenty of room for everyone!). Some of the groups have camp names, like “Flower Power” (who decorate their tents with flowers) and “The G! Spot” (what a pun). This year, like last year, the first campers on the scene were “Skopunhagen” who entertained other early arrivals with beer contests and quizzes before taking their rightful position at the very front of the line.

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

Herri from Skopunhagen is ready for the Tent Rush at G!

When the gates open, there is a mad rush to select the best spots and pitch your tent as quickly as possible. The frantic, confused efforts made it fairly clear that most of these people had not used their tents before and had also done a fair bit of pre-gaming. But that’s just part of the fun!

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

G! Tent Rush

Residents of Gøta (except for yours truly, who was out in the field getting trampled to bring you these photographs) watched from windows and streets throughout the village, taking their own photos and videos of the “Tent Village” that springs up over the course of an afternoon to join Gøta every year for G!

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta

G! Tent Village in Norðragøta

 

The Missing “Missing” Women of the Faroe Islands

Faroese Population: 48,228

Of Which Male: 24,937

Of Which Female: 23,291

Difference: 1,646

A quick look at current Fareose demographics reveals an oddity — the country is short on women. Though the gender imbalance has fallen from a 2012 high (when there were over 2,000 more men than women in the country), there’s still a striking and problematic discrepancy, especially when you consider that the missing women are mostly in their twenties and thirties, prime ages for dating and having children.

Media coverage and common sense would have you believe that the Faroe Islands is facing an enormous problem in the near future, as fewer women means fewer babies. Population growth could stagnate or reverse if no incentives are made for the women to come home, or if new women aren’t found elsewhere, such as from Thailand or the Philippines. In other places, gender imbalances are also known for leading to all sorts of sociological ills, such as increased violence against women.

A young Thai-Faroese woman attends the Joansøka festival in Vágur, Suðuroy, with her boyfriend and another friend.

A young Thai-Faroese woman attends the Joansøka festival in Vágur, Suðuroy, with her boyfriend and another friend.

But since coming to the Faroes a month ago, I’ve seen none of that. Okay, so I’ve seen a few ethnically Asian women here and there. Mostly beautiful, with very cute children. And maybe they’re the reason that I can buy coconut milk and curry paste in even the smallest Faroese grocery store. If that’s the case, I’m grateful to them. I have a hard time living on meat and potatoes alone, even smothered in tasty Faroese gravy.

Otherwise, though, the country seems to be missing its ‘missing’ women. Everyone knows where they women have gone — Denmark, mostly — but where are the holes they’ve left behind?

I’m just not seeing many schools shuttering for lack of children, restless single men, women left behind by all their friends and desperate to get away. Yes, everyone knows someone who has “gone down” to Denmark to study or work, and most families have at least one member away across the water, but it’s young men they’re missing, too. And most are hoping to come home to the Faroes in due time.

Graduates of the Studentaskúlin (junior college) in Eysturoy gather on the beach in Gøtu as part of their graduation ceremony. This year's graduating class was more than two-thirds female.

Graduates of the Studentaskúlin (junior college) in Eysturoy gather on the beach in Gøtu as part of their graduation ceremony. This year’s graduating class was more than two-thirds female.

Most people I’ve asked about the lack of women know that the issue exists, but in an almost abstract sense. They all know women who have gone abroad, and they understand why — to get certain types of educations, pursue certain careers, to marry foreign men with whom they’ve fallen in love —  but they’re not seeing dramatic effects, and they don’t seem too worried about the future. They don’t believe they’re in a society on the verge of collapse, instead they are optimistic that, despite some problems, things are moving in the right direction.

Take this all “with a grain of salt,” because I still need to do some actual background reporting on this issue, gather statistics and hard facts and talk to the experts. So far, I just have my own observations and those of the many women who have so far made time to talk to me.

“No, no, I don’t see it,” says Bára Joensen, a mother of three who lives in Norðragøta. “The only thing is that some are getting foreign women. But I haven’t really noticed that there are more men.”

Jóna Venned walks with a friend outside of the SMS shopping center in Tórshavn. Jóna has been abroad to work in Switzerland and travel and visit friends in several other countries. She will leave next year to study in Denmark, but plans to move back home to the Faroe Islands afterward.

Jóna Venned walks with a friend outside of the SMS shopping center in Tórshavn. Jóna has been abroad to work in Switzerland and travel and visit friends in several other countries. She will leave next year to study in Denmark, but plans to move back home to the Faroe Islands afterward.

“I think the circumstances have changed and it is a lot easier to be a woman in the Faroe Islands compared to what it has been. It is kind of conservative, it has always been conservative,” says Jóna Venned, a 24-year-old from Tórshavn. She says the society is continuing to move towards greater equality in homes and workplaces, and that there is also an effort underway to make it easier for single parents to live in the Faroes.

The Halfway Point / By the Numbers

Time for just a quick update:

I’m about halfway through my Faroese summer, and nowhere near ready to leave. Right now, I’m wandering around in a bit of a midsummer haze. My days and nights are flipped almost completely upside down. I can’t remember the last time I went to bed before 4 am or got up before noon… I think it’s been a week. Mostly to break the cycle, I’ve planned a trip to Tórshavn and Nólsoy tomorrow, so I have to get up in time to take the 8 am bus.

I think it’s time to say I’ve learned what I’ve needed to learn and met the people I’ve needed to meet in order to really do the bulk of my work here. Of course I could still keep learning and practicing and preparing forever, but the halfway point is a good time to wake up and realize that I need to really get started on serious formal interviews, writing, and such.

In three weeks, things are going to start getting really crazy here. My last few weeks in the Faroe Islands are going to see the G! Festival in my home village, the Ólavsøka national day and festival in Tórshavn, and my best friend here taking off work for a few weeks so that we can travel around and see as much of the country as possible. So I’m going to try to get some of the work done now, before the summer really lights on fire…

Foggy Sunrise

Here’s what my halfway point looks like, by the numbers:

Days spent in the Faroes: 34
Days left in the Faroes: 39

Photos taken: 8,814

Faroese words I know: 2,000+ (ability to speak badly, unlocked!)
Manual gears acquainted with: 5 (ability to drive badly, unlocked!)

Faroe Islands Visited: 9
Vágar, Streymoy, Eysturoy, Borðoy, Viðoy, Kunoy, Kalsoy, Suðuroy, Koltur

Faroe Islands Unvisited: 9
Nólsoy, Hestur, Sandoy, Svínoy, Fugloy, Mykines (plan to visit)
Skúvoy, Stóra og Lítla Dímun (maybe not this time)

Blog posts published: 12
Blog drafts sitting in the edit queue: 8 (!)

Formal interviews conducted and recorded: 4
Formal interviews planned for the coming week: 4

Cups of tea consumed: 69+
Containers of garlic cheese consumed: 7
Bags of “chokoflager” cookies consumed: 4

Potatoes peeled in the correct Faroese style: < 2
Potatoes peeled in Miranda’s roughshod redneck style:  > 15
Potatoes eaten unpeeled: > 15

Hours spent watching Dagur og Vika, reading Portal.fo and listening to Útvarp Føroya: 20+
Words in the “Comprehensive Faroese Vocabulary” Memrise course I’m helping create: 1,107

Faroese (and fellow Faroe-phile) Facebook friends: 58
Times mistaken for a Sea Shepherd Spy: 3+

New Definition of “Good Weather”: 10°C/50°F (and not rainy or foggy)
New Definition of “Hot Summer Weather”: 15.5°C/60°F (and maybe some sun)
New Definition of “Grass Green”: #00FF00
New Definition of “Large”: 500-inhabitant villages
New Definition of “Busy”: 8 cars in a parking lot

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“We are not anti-Faroese” — GrindStop Logo Changed

Sea Shepherd has officially changed its Operation GrindStop 2014 logo.

Original Grindstop Logo

Original Grindstop Logo

The former logo, which bore the image of the Faroese flag, or Merkið, was criticized by Faroese for desecrating the image of their flag. Using Merkið in this manner is also illegal under Faroese law.

The new GrindStop logo

New GrindStop logo

The new logo represents a significant change. It now features bloody seas under the islet of Tindhólmur. References to the Faroese flag have been removed.

In an update to their Facebook page, Sea Shepherd writes, “The new campaign logo shows that we are not anti-Faroese, but we are opposed to and will remain present in the Faroe Islands to prevent the brutal slaughter of cetaceans.”

At a press conference in the Faroe Islands, they said that they made the decision to redesign the logo based on conversations with their supporters in the Faroe Islands. No mention was made of any legal concerns.

An article on the Faroese website aktuelt.fo quoted Sea Shepherd leader Scott West as saying, “We have listened to the Faroese people — we understand, that the flag is sacred for the Faroese, so we made a mistake using it in this year’s campaign logo.” (Vit hava lurtað eftir, hvat føroyingar siga – vit skilja, at flaggið er heilagt fyri føroyingar, tí var tað eitt mistak av okkum at brúka Merkið í búmerkinum fyri kampanjuna í ár.)