Stovner Potato

· Childhood,Oslo,Stovner

"It's better to be from the countryside than where you are from," one of the boys from Oslo-West in my High School French-class said, flaunting his expensive watch with a handwrist shake before dragging his fingers through his hair. He laughed out loud while I leaned back, looked out the window and thought wow, what an incredibly embarrasing way to be an idiot. Our art history teacher was just cute in her ignorance when she with her sharp voice told us 'now you dance-girls have to start using your head and not just your legs.' Those dance-girls are today amongst Norway's most promising artists, as well as nurses, doctors, researchers and highly skilled professionals in different fields. And then you have me, the one who became Muslim, an orthodox even, seen as onlyyy that, at its best, who ofcourse left in jahiliya haram creativity-outcomes. The ocean of halal ones is huuge.

Through his comment, the boy expressed 'The divided Oslo' between the 'privileged' West and the 'troubled' East, that I hadn't realized the depth of. In that moment I understood the blessing of growing up at the eastern side, in a neighbourhood like mine, Tante Ulrikkes vei, a place where the whole world gathers in the same rows of tall appartment buildings, playgrounds, footballcourts, forests, schools and shopping malls. A rescue from a sickening narrow-minded view of life, place and people. From that day I no longer introduced myself as being from Oslo; I was from STOVNER in Oslo, a Stovner Potato, and yes, from a MUNICIPALITY OWNED APPARTMENT with only TWO bedrooms, in third floor. And don't pity me. My mother's and stepfather's tight economy first and foremost teached me thankfulness for what I had, and the golden rule to never ever use money I didn't have.

How going to a Oslo West High School made me aware of specific types of blessings in my life, in our ways of being youth, with bycycling, movie-watching and basketball in the school yard until nine o'clock at the latest, completely free from alcohol. Innocent and healthy. My new classmates told me that where they were from, it was already before high school normal to party, to drink and use drugs. I heard bragging of having parents who left 15000 kroner (1500 dollars) at the kitchen table for them to enjoy the weekend partying before they left to Paris for a two-day stay. I try not to caricature and exaggerate the differences between east and west of Oslo, but what I saw myself, and heard directly from some of its inhabitants, I found again in research literature on alcohol and youth culture during my (neverending) studies. Research show that the use of alcohol and drugs are higher in Oslo West than the East. That is why also many of the drugdealers come from that side, and who more easily slip under the radar as it's mainly on the East side the police are patroling. The researchers, or the newspaper, make a statement out of this 'strange' fact through the chosen headline 'They have privileged backgrounds and come from Oslo West. Still they sell drugs' (My translation). Like, who would think that of high class' youth. Another researcher expresses the same wonder in another article: "It can seem to be a paradox. They are surrounded by strong recourses, they seldom have social problems. Still they use illegal drugs' (My translation). Well. Our conclusions depend on where we search, the questions we ask. Who we ask. With what intention and focus we start out with. What type of research funds we've got. How intellectually, politically and culturally open we are, or how spacious the room is, for our explorations. The academic freedom has always been under threat, hasn't it, a topic I look forward to write about in more detail.

The Oslo divide is not a new phenomena, but 'new' is the increasing non-western immigrant population at its eastern side, amongst them many Muslims. The 'white flight' therefrom has been a public topic for several years. In 2023, a researcher highlighted in a newspaper that the family relocations we witness are a result of both structure and voluntary choices: Social inequality, class and culture all matters, especially the latter, he writes, like traditions, norms, values, types of upbringing, religion and lifestyle. Norwegian ethnic families also move to neighbourhoods where they find more people like themselves. Andersen concludes with an interesting and recognisable remark, that research show that meeting places meant to bring people together across differences

'..often become a source of conflict and not necessarily community, partly because the residents have different ideas about what is appropriate use.' He continues: 'The public arenas were often arenas for value conflicts more than a place where communities were formed. It is actually not given that segregation problems can be solved through measures ... In fact, measures can have unintended side effects, such as policy measures for "better mixing" ... causing those who can afford it, to leave the "measure area" ' (My translation).


Pfoh, familiar. I prefer organic integration over those constructed activities meant for 'integrating' people like us. I often find them either pitying (Is your husband kind with you? You know you are a freee woman in Norway, show your beautiful hair!), disciplining (you should act Norwegian when you live in Norway, and let your children be children!), exotifying (the embarrasing wooowwwww-factor reply for everything I say or do) or/and alienating (refusing to see our similarities, making me a complete stranger to themselves and to my homeland). Constructed integration efforts often feel excluding and oppressive, discomforting, especially if the chosen activities for the event transgress our beliefs (like Christmas rituals), principles (expectations of bying and selling lots or contributing to bottles of wine as gifts to teachers or collegues), or lifestyle (disco, alcohol consumption). Further, what you get at these integration events is often not informed about in advance, so you find haram enforced upon you or your children during their schoolday. You then find yourself trying to figure out if you are going to take a stand or let it go, out of duty, due to others expections like showing gratitude and pleasure, to prove you are a smooth person a not-difficult-at-all parent. You then either find yourself stamping on yourself, over and over again, or you take a stand, always, and get drained of time, energy, hope and life itself. What type of life is that, always on the barricades. Never really enjoying. To have self confidence as a mother lion comes with a price. It is exhausting to be a place where every fragment of your existence as a Muslim is problematized in the public 'conversations wherever you go.' Many manage to just don't care. Others are more sensitive, taking eveeeryyything into their soul. Somehow I survived those 15 + years without comprising myself to loss, and without getting completely burned out, but I can recall especially three situations that really shaked my 'izzah, hope and belonging, to that degree that they eventually became those three steps I needed to admit that everything has its limits, and to finally get up and out. I was blessed with the opportunity to be abroad as part of my studies. Being abroad gave me that necessary distance to be able to keep a critical gaze at state policies towards minority youth. It also put me in a post-exit phase of healing and detoxing, sensing a piercing liberation. Like I am truuuulyyyyy in charge of my own life, my family and my home. The future is more open than ever before, and it's absolutely thrilling.

So, is doing the same, valuing the same, looking the same and living the same way a prerequisit for creating a functionable community? That is not my experience. How I enjoyed the mix of people at Stovner, all the action. So what if I started to speak my mother tongue with accent. That I feel out of place in events with only white people like myself. That I not at all 'feel Norwegian.' I remember during primary school, how a teacher demanded the minority youth in my class to say they are Norwegians. 'NO, I'm CROATIAN!!!' - one of the boys repaeated, tired of her nagging. I understand him. One of my favorite political philosophers, Iris Marion Young, elaborates on the oppressive and assimilating sides of homogeinity as an ideal, and suggests that we replace it in her book The Politics of Difference:

As a normative ideal, city life instantiates social relations of difference without exclusion. Different groups dwell in the city alongside one another, of necessity interacting in city spaces. If city politics is to be democratic and not dominated by the point of view of one group, it must be a politics that takes account of and provides voice for the different groups that dwell together in the city without forming a community. City life as an openness to unassimilated otherness, however, represents only an unrealized social ideal. Many social injustices exist in today’s cities. (Young 2011, p. 227)

Openness to unassimilated otherness. I love it. Young believes this correlates with people's experience-based knowledge of urban life, 'the being together of strangers,' with social differentiation and variation (p. 238-239). In the Norwegian context, that openness is frightening. Every effort in the direction Young points to, is shut down as anti-integration activism, a pathway to increased segregation, and therefore 'dangerous', transforming Norway to ''Swedish Conditions,' to 'society collaps!' Like that is what automatically happens if you 'loose control' over the minority population. Charming, how high they think of us. If we get too many, too united, too strong, too aware, too difficult to control. Dr Yasir Qadhi is not a scholar that I take my Islamic knowledge from, but he has a spot-on commentary about the main challenges that the Muslim Ummah faces in Scandinavia. A must-listen if this post triggered attention and curiosity.

Some parents have reacted in the media over the moral panics concerning the Norwegian ethnic minority they belong to at Oslo East. They see the portration as creepy, and taken out of proportion. It has never crossed their minds to move from Oslo East (my translation). And me, I can't even imagine having my childhood another place in Norway than Stovner. Wollah