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Hearing and seeing

Almost got clipped on the head today by a private jet that was taking off from Reykjavík airport [I wish they’d move that damn thing to some out-of-the-way place!] and figured it was probably one of our billionaires going off to do their World Domination thing – or else old Harrison Ford*. This, in turn, got me thinking about that article I linked to the other day and the whole small-country-with-big-country-mentality syndrome. And I thought about this:

“There is a sense of empowerment in Iceland,” says Sigrun Birgisdottir from the Icelandic Society.

“Because the population is so small you feel you can be seen and heard, that you can make a difference. You take that attitude with you wherever you live in the world.”

… and I had to agree.

Most definitely, there are some drawbacks to living in a country with a small population. It can be claustrophobic, cloying, and provincial. However, I would have to say that the benefits far outweigh the drawbacks – at least in Iceland. There is an incredible sense of empowerment here. I don’t think it can be attributed to a single factor, it is probably a bunch of factors that come together, such as the raw energy of the land, the techno-savvy population, the formidable strength of the people gained after centuries of living on the edge of the habitable world… and, of course, growing up with the sense of being both “seen and heard” – which is something very special and which should not be taken for granted.

I experienced this intensely last week. AAH and I were in the Kringlan Mall, and by fluke we found out that there was a dress rehearsal happening next door at the Reykjavík City Theatre for Skrekkur, an annual talent contest for grades 8, 9 and 10 in Reykjavík. The kids – on their own initiative – form a group in each school and make up a skit 5-10 minutes long. They do all the work themselves – script, costumes, set, choreography, live music, etc. and eventually the finals are held at the Reykjavík Theatre, and the school that wins takes home the trophy for that year.

Skrekkur is a huge deal in the social calendars of Reykjavík schools and the kids really give it their all. Winning is a major honour and the group members that bring the trophy home to the school are treated like heroes. Sitting there in the darkened auditorium [we snuck in] I experienced a deep sense of meaning and awe in relation to the whole undertaking. First, there is the incredible creativity and depth exhibited by the kids. I mean, these are not skits about mundane, self-absorbed teenager things like shopping or makeup. They deal with Big Issues – parental neglect, drug abuse, losing one’s [national] identity, grief, insanity, selling out, and more. Predictably they also reflect the society in which we live – a daughter loses her father, a fisherman, to the sea; nature is mutilated in favour of aluminium production; and Iceland’s poetry and ancient stories are silenced in the age of globalization.

Amazing stuff, but what I also found incredible was that these kids were really being listened to – and seen. Every year they are given a forum in which to express themselves, as well as genuine encouragement and support. Under the auspices of the National Youth Council, they are provided with the second-largest theatre in Iceland for their show and buses to take their peers from the different neighbourhoods to the theatre on the relevant evenings [for the semi-finals and finals]. The whole undertaking is broadcast live and is also covered in all the media – print and broadcast. In short, the kids are celebrated, validated and given the message that what they have to say is important and worthwhile. They are seen and heard.

I’m not saying Iceland has found a magic formula for creating well-adjusted, happy individuals – or, for that matter, billionaires. But I certainly approve of the fact that my tax money is being spent in this way – and I’m glad that I decided to raise my child here.

It warmed up a bit, was overcast and there was no wind, despite the storm warning [to be accurate, they warned of a storm offshore – which usually manifests as strong winds along the coast also, but not today]. Wind’s picking up now, though. Perhaps they got their timing wrong. Temps right now 4°C and sunrise was at 10.33 and sunset at 15.57.

* Old Harrison flies up here occasionally to have dinner at Austur Indíafjélagið, check out the nightlife, and such.