Diaries in this series: Iceland Calls :: The Icelandic Language :: Tvær Vikur Til Reykjavíkur :: Reykjavík, A City of Lights :: Reykjavík, A City of Drizzle and Dancing Clouds :: Reykjavík, A City of Cats and Gods :: Reykjavík, A City of a Storied Tongue :: Reykjavík, A City of Yuletide :: Reykjavík, A City of Hope :: Frá Reykjavík, Til Hjartans Heimveldisins :: Doldrums and Storms :: Til Kaliforníu, Til Iowa, Til Íslands
The "Little Move" should be next Thursday.
It's been over a month since I hit the doldrums in my preparations to move to Iceland, but now the wind is back in my sails. And I'm proud to say, having just returned from a respite in California, far from my packed home in Iowa, that I have a schedule for Flutningsdagur, the day for the "Little Move" til klakans: next Thursday, 23 feb.
At the end of December, I was in an endless wait with the FBI for my criminal record. Going through a divorce. With problems with my company. And since then, more problems.
I have two types of "children" in my family: my parrot, Malcolm, and my tropical plants (everything from cacao to rollinia). And both of these need special permission to bring in to Iceland. I began the research on getting the permits long ago, but it was moving slowly -- partly due to me not always having the time to follow up and keep things moving.
One of the big challenges at first was that of the kennitala -- the Icelandic social security number, required on all such forms. Kennitölur are an interesting take on a national ID system. In the US, a person's social security number is a secret, almost like a passcode. A kennitala is the epitome of openness. They are comprised of a combination of the person's birthdate, a couple random numbers, and a check digit. Far from being a secret, you can go online and look up anyone's kennitala. It's used for almost everything, from buying concert tickets to renting a video. But this openness is it's greatest security feature. Everyone knows that simply knowing a kennitala isn't enough to prove a person's identity, so just having it doesn't enable identity theft. Whenever you (or anyone else) does anything with your kennitala, you get mailed about it. And if the mailing address gets changed, you find out, too.
But I don't have one.
At first, I try getting bounced back and forth between different departments on how to get one, before basically getting told I had no option but to wait until my atvinnuleyfi and dvalarleyfi (work and residence permits) become valid. But that's the rub -- when they're valid, I'm moving, and wouldn't have time to get import permits then. I decide to present this dilemma to Matvælastofnun, the Icelandic food and veternary authority. They tell me that they're aware of this catch-22, and not to worry about not being able to fill that out. I'm directed along two parallel paths: one for the parrot and one for the plants.
(Above: A mature Jaboticaba. A young sapling is one of my many exotic tropicals I'm trying to bring with to Iceland.)
The plants path proceeds faster. I'm given a whole list of things to do, and told by the Icelandic side that it's okay that I'm not a nursery or other professional grower. But the US inspector I'm talking with has all sorts of concerns. First off, he thinks that I'm talking with the wrong department and wrong people, and doesn't seem to care what I'm told because the Icelandic side isn't who their contact is listed as. And second, he thinks it's a problem that I'm not a registered grow op, an organization under "phytosanitary control" certification.
His first concern turns out to be erroneous. Iceland changed department names and heads in the past few years, and the information had simply not propagated well through official channels. His second concern, however, leads to a crushing response from the Icelandic side: yes, I need to be under phytosanitary control to import my precious plants. And despite my pleas, no exception is to be granted.
I'm crushed, but not nearly by as much as what follows. My aunt, who just in November had been diagnosed with a resurgence of breast cancer (but told she had another five years) passes away in just a couple short months. She was only in her 50s. I'm still not able to deal with thinking about it without tearing up. Of all my aunts and uncles, she was the one I was closest to, who was most like me. She too once tried (but ultimately failed) to move to another country. She travelled the world -- crewing a sailing boat in Oceania for months, backpacking across Europe, etc, and would have loved to see Iceland. I'm told that one of her last things she told anyone while still conscious was that she wasn't ready to go yet.
When I arrive at her house, there's a huge dumpster outside, loaded to the brim with her things. Inside, while some areas are torn-through, some areas are little touched. In the kitchen, freshly-washed dishes sit out on the counter, waiting to be put up into the cupboards. Dishes that I know people are itching to throw into the trash, along with nearly everything else she owns. I grab them up and take huge flack for taking all of these "used" things from her house, when I could just get new ones for the shipping cost. I don't care. I try to take whatever little 'treasures' she's collected from around the world, only to find out at the last minute that I totally missed her huge collection of beautiful sea shells. When hearing that they're just going to get trashed, I make my other aunt promise me she'll save them for me, and promise to pay labor and shipping costs to get them to me if needed. I may not be able to bring my aunt with me to Iceland, but at least I'll have some things with me there to remember her by.
But a wave of good things transpires. First off, after a lot of back and forth, I not only get permission to import my parrot (conditional on a series of health exams), but permission to have his four-week quarantine conducted in my apartment in Kópavogur, with me. Parrots are very social animals, and he gets lonely being without me for even a day; he'd go crazy without me for four weeks (and drive his caretakers crazy with cries of "Karen? Karen! Come here! Karen?!?").
(Above: Kópavogur. The walk to work runs along the shoreline, up over wooded Öskjuhlíð, and down to Reykjavíkurflugvöllur)
Secondly, my criminal background check finally comes back from the FBI. And those magical words, "NO ARREST RECORD", are exactly what the Útlendingastofnun will want to see. I spend another $38 express-mailing it to my boss in Iceland. Now he can bring it to them and ask them when they think I'll be able to come!
Third, out of nowhere, the plant situation totally turns around. The US side tells me that they've discussed it, and they think that they'll be able to classify me as a registered grower and I can get the inspection. Huzzah! I set the date: 17 febrúar. That means I'll need them all to be in a soilless mixture by that date (several minutes time per plant) and to have imported them to Iceland by 19 mars. I begin shopping around to neighbors and friends to find homes good homes for some of my surplus plants -- and in the process find out that a man just down the street has spent nearly a year in Iceland, due to connections with Háskóli Íslands (the University of Iceland). Neat. :)
(Above: Háskóli Íslands)
Then comes the work, work, work. Having redoubled my efforts for the move, I push getting the house ready into overdrive. I try to have my former spouse over nearly every day, one room of the house at a time, until she finally declares what is hers and what isn't. Having gone through every room doesn't keep her from continually revisiting the subject, and she often gets mad to find out that after she declared a room "done" that when she later changes her mind, she finds everything in it packed. But eventually the fact that the house is really getting packed and sold in short order seems to sink in, and we seem to reach a good understanding and a good split. Bit by bit our finances separate as well. With my parents promising to fix up the house for resale, even in this down market, I may make a small profit on my house.
To get the place ready for repairs, though (walls, floors, the works), I need everything packed and staged in the garage and elsewhere. A couple friends (at least one who is a fellow Kossack) helps one weekend with the large furniture. My mother, and later a couple local friends, help out some more. I work myself to exhaustion over and over (while still doing my job), and finally, with zero days to spare before I'm supposed to leave the house, the last box is packed and only the plants, some random trash, and my housesitter's things remain. Everything I own now fills up the garage stacked like Tetris pieces, plus a bit of area in the basement. Scratched, cut, and bruised all over, I get a modicum of sleep on my air mattress before I have to catch a plane to California to see my cousins for the last time before I move overseas, knowing that when I get back, I'll still have to move what remains inside (my temporary sleeping space, my temporary office space, food, plants, and the indoor boxes) over and over as the repair people need it.
I relax the heck out of myself in California -- well, as relaxed as you can be while still working full time plus trying to tie together all of the loose ends over the internet. I spend lots of time with my cousins who live out there; who knows when I'll next get to see them. I come back and spend each day rushing to try to beat the painting crew to get rooms cleared and boxes moved before they decide to just go home because they can't work on the areas that they want. I prep the rest of my plants for inspection or being given away. I haul away trash, books, the works. And I pack one of my suitcases for Iceland. And in good time I'll need to pack the other, because I hear back from my boss: it's my choice as to whether to come now (and delay the Big Move) or to come now for three weeks, then back to the US, then back to Iceland again.
I choose to come now. Early tomorrow morning, I should have a ticket booked for next Thursday: what I refer to as "The Little Move". I'll be taking with as much as a person can physically take onto a plane -- two max-sized, max-weight suitcases of household goods and plants, one max-sized carryon of the same, and all the stuff and clothes I can fit onto my person or in my max-sized laptop case. This will be what I shall live off of until I can get settled in my (empty) apartment, in my new land (more on that soon).
But until that day, more and more and more work.