Kofi Gunu

A Great Way to See a Country

The year is 1969, and the place is a little coffee shop at the Oslo Central Station. In the corner sits a young American called William – bushy and bearded. Sitting across from him is an older gentleman; his composed demeanor and a clerical collar around his neck betray his vocation. The priest’s name is Father McSorley. The two had first met at an antiwar prayer service in London. They have had quite an eventful day exploring Oslo – visiting various peace societies in the city, strolling through the University of Oslo, lunching with a New Testament professor. Now they are about to part ways.

“This is a great way to see a country!” gushes William as they sip their tea. “You see as much as a tourist, you have an important subject to talk about with the people you meet, and you learn something of the process of making peace.”

Those words made such an impression on Father McSorley that he would recall them more than three decades later. Thanks to David Maraniss’ biography, First in His Class, we know that that young man would go on to visit Helsinki, Moscow, Prague, Munich – and on to the White House. William, or Bill Clinton as he is more commonly known today, became the 42nd President of the United States.

A great way to see a country. I am hard-pressed to find a better way to describe my experiences so far as a Peace Scholar. Along with enjoying all that this wondrously beautiful country has to offer, I have come to be driven by the larger purpose of learning about peace. In the words of Kim Dae-jung, the 2000 Nobel Peace laureate, “human rights and peace have a sacred ground in Norway,” and the experience of exploring pertinent threats to global stability, in constant contact with a community of people who are at the forefront of the fight to contain those threats, is a deeply satisfying one.

Between attending live concerts at the Opera House and excursions on the Oslo Fjord, my fellow scholars and I found time to visit Jan Egeland, perhaps one of the most famous men in Norway today; he even inspired his very own Ylvis hit-single. Egeland is currently Secretary-General of the Norwegian Refugee Council.  In that capacity, he is responsible for Norway’s largest humanitarian organization with more than 5000 employees in over 25 countries around the world. From Zaatari in Jordan to Dadaab in Kenya, the NRC is working tirelessly to tackle the plight of the more than the 43 million people worldwide forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. Egeland assumed the post in 2013 with a wealth of experience from his time as the UN Undersecretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief and as Norwegian Foreign Minister.

The meeting itself was a tad disappointing. Egeland appeared rushed and preoccupied. He looked like he was going to be boarding a Syria-bound helicopter right after our meeting, while juggling a Skype call with Ban Ki-moon and President Obama. Even then, the “UN Superhero Man” graciously fielded questions from the Peace Scholars and gave us valuable insight into some of the important projects the NRC was involved with. He even told us about the time when, as a mere high school graduate, he had packed up and journeyed to the rainforests of Colombia to live with and assist an indigenous community threatened by the march of modernity. I was truly touched by the altruistic personality the story revealed, and that more than made up for any absence of the warm individual attention I had thought my outsized ego was entitled to.

The Scandinavian summer is the nicest day of the year, natives joke. In my experience, it is a time of wonder and unparalleled beauty. The people are friendly and welcoming, yet quick to venture stereotypes about themselves as cold and reserved. It is a great time to be learning about peace.

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