I left for Norway carrying a familiar, navy blue booklet inscribed with the golden words “United States of America” on the front cover. Like any other person traveling abroad, this passport would serve as my main proof of identity for the next seven weeks. While in line at the airport, I remember peeking over the shoulders of strangers next to me, curious to see where they were from and what their passports looked like. The man in front of me carried a green passport declaring “Republic of South Africa,” and the woman behind me held a maroon passport which said, “The United Kingdom of Great Britain.”
Being this was my first time outside the United States, it didn’t initially occur to me how strange it is that much of our identities are attached to the nations we come from. The oddity of national identity didn’t quite hit me until I found myself, sitting in a large circle in Lillehammer and at a long cafeteria table in Blindern, introducing and reintroducing myself as “an American.” After a while, I began to wonder what I was even telling people when I said “I am an American”. Likewise, I wondered what people were telling me when they said they were Russian, or South Korean, or German… What information were we actually providing?
I think dialogue has an answer to this question: not much. Dialogue has taught me that when we build empathetic relationships with one another, all other categories–nationality, ethnicity, religion–fade to the background as we see each other for what we are: fellow human beings.
I cannot tell you the nationality or religion or ethnicity of each person I’ve met in Lillehammer and Oslo, but I can tell you about Leda, who loves Sylvia Plath poems as much as I do (if not more), about Billy who plays the guitar beautifully (and humbly), about Anessa who loves to watch movies (including cheesy rom coms from the `90s) and about Misha who lights a candle for peace every evening (last time we spoke, he was on night #903). The list could go on and on, but to sum the summer up, each person here has taught me that by uniting in our humanity, peace is not an abstract concept, but something we can actively work towards.
Here are some of my favorite pictures from Lillehammer, taken by the talented photographer, Елена!