Ég er á lífi. I am alive.
That's the first thing I told friends and family members after I was able to get ahold of them after arriving in my new country. I must apologize for the lack of pictures in this diary, not because I haven´t been taking them, but because I still don´t have internet access on my phone -- only calls. I so wish you could see Esja with me. I´ve seen her many times before -- how can't you, she dominates the skyline across the harbor to the northeast -- but never before wearing a blanket of snow which the clouds dancing around.
It's no wonder why people are often upset whenever there's plans announced to build another tall building that could block this view.
More on how things unfolded follows.
Last diary in the previous series: Í Dag
Diaries in this series: Nýkomin
For those of you who haven´t followed so far, a quick explanation of how I came to this point, of leaving America and moving to Iceland: I fell in love with the country while visiting last summer, began applying for jobs in the country, was pleasantly surprised to find that there was a programmer shortage, and am now on the downhill slope of the arduous process of trying to immigrate. I don´t yet have my atvinnuleyfi or dvalarleyfi, but I was able to come and start working for several weeks while I move into my apartment and start a new life here.
When I went incommunicado -- giving up my cell phone which wouldn't work in Iceland and hopping onto a plane -- I had stayed up all night packing. I came to the airport with what would only be considered a vast amount of baggage for a plane flight but not much for starting a new life. Beyond the more normal things, a lot of space was taken up by my precious, meticulously packaged tropical plants, which I had jumped through hoops to be able to take.
I expect to spend $200 on excess and overweight baggage fees. Everything is right at the limits, but then they find out that my carryon bag is perhaps six centimeters too big. They've never stopped it before, but they do now. Zing -- it has to be checked, another $120. The price for moving keeps ticking up. But I expected that from the beginning.
I zonk out before we take off, and wake as we land in Chicago an hour later. I haul my still massive amount of carryons (four large ones -- that´s bending the rules ;) ) -- to the next gate, catch my connection to New York City, and zonk out similarly. Then it's the carryons again across a much longer distance to the international terminal to a rundown gate -- no outlets, torn seating, tacky 1970s colors, etc. I pass the hours first by working on work for my new job, then by studying Icelandic.
They page me to get my passport and get me my boarding pass, encourage me to get some dinner before we leave, then we board the six hour flight. Some more studying, some more sleep, and we´re coming in for landing at Keflavíkurflugvöllur, where I´m supposed to meet my friend "A.". For those who haven't been to Iceland before, while it's often referred to as the "Reykjavík airport", the international airport is in Keflavík, which is 45 minutes away. So I really hope that I can get my bags and get through customs quickly so she doesn't worry, because that´s a long drive there and back.
We go through passport control. I take out my passport, but keep it out of sight. That navy blue booklet instantly flags you as American, meaning the people behind the counter won´t speak Icelandic with you. I palm it until the last minute.
I get to the baggage claim. The box: as expected. Giant suitcase #1: as expected. Giant suitcase #2: as expected. The checked-carryon: wait, huh? The thing is a giant ball of TSA inspection tape, looking so ridiculous that the person standing next to me laughs as I take it off the belt. Only later will I discover that it is that way because the TSA totally destroyed it when inspecting it, ripping essential fabric that holds it together and losing its zipper. Add more money to the total cost.
My eight large, heavy bags take two carts to haul -- neither of which were designed to be pulled backwards as I'm forced to do in order to move two at once, making me an amusement for other passengers again as I repeatedly crash into walls. I tell the guy behind the counter in customs in Icelandic that I have to declare three bottles of homemade wine and several dozen plants, as stated on the stamped phytosanitary certificate. He stumps me two sentences later; I just can't figure out what he's saying, so I regretfully ask him to repeat it in English. He just wants to be sure that I only have three bottles of wine (they seem a lot more concerned about that than the plants). I switch back to Icelandic and answer the question, then I get waved through -- not even having to take the plants out.
I meet A. in the lobby. We greet each other in Icelandic, but then I only follow about a third of what she says next. I'm hopelessly out of practice. :( I get the gist enough, though, and we take my bags out to load into her SUV in the early morning darkness. It's then a long ride back through the tail end of a snowstorm. As we chat and listen to RÚV 2 on the radio, I work on learning vocabulary words fitting of the drive, such as slys (car accident) and magna úpp hljóð (turning up the volume).
A. asks if we should go to my apartment. I say that I don´t have a key. She asks if we should call to get the key. I tell her my phone doesn't work and so I can't even look up the phone number or the name of the landlord. We instead head back to her apartment where we figure it out and give them a call. The landlord says to come by at noon, so we relax a bit over some tea, coffee, A's beautiful pictures of hiking in Iceland, a massive collection of genealogy old books (some being as old as originals from the 1700s), and two overly-loving cats.
We rent me a car. We try to find a place that sells waterbeds so I can buy one. The one place we found turns out to no longer exist where they say it does. Looks like I have to ship one with my furniture from Iowa.
With just 20 minutes left before the meeting, we decide to check out other furnishings. A. tells me that the cheapest chain in Iceland for such things is Rúmfatalagerinn (literally "Bed-clothes warehouse the", or "The Bedding Warehouse"). We rush through, and my quick observations are that the prices look better than I was expecting, the selection looks good, and I need to return here when I actually have time. I will later make another observation: I need to learn the roads better, because it will ultimately take me a day and a half before I find it again.
I'm spennt (anxious/excited) as we turn onto my street, Hjallabrekka (it just rolls off the tongue: HYAT-lah-Brek-kah) We meet the landlord -- a nice lady with an old dog named Bassi ("bass", as in music). I squee as I discover that the entrance to my apartment is... wait for it... a two-story greenhouse. ;) Every time I enter my apartment I walk past a grape vine through a room that smells like freshly-cut flowers. Það er bara of flott.
The apartment seems almost new. If it wasn't for a few burned-out lightbulbs, I would have guessed new. Wood floors (or at least something that looks like it) everywhere. A great south-facing window for my plants. Radiator heating, as is standard in most of Iceland, using hot water from the geothermal power plants. Tons of closet space. One bed, one bath, all rooms pretty sizeable. To this day I haven't figured out what to do with the living room, since I don't want to buy too much furniture that I might just have to give up when I move to a house in Iceland.
Although I should add, this apartment is so nice, it´s tempting just to stay.
All of my things become floor sprawl. I slowly rescue my plants, bit by bit. I have no extra pots to replant them in and no vermiculite. Heck, I don´t even know the word for vermiculite and don't have a clue what sort of place would sell it. But I try. My best bet is a place I already visited: Húsasmiðján / Blómaval, a sort of Menards-like hardware store / garden center combination. No such luck, athough I start off my collection of 220-volt appliances with a toaster oven, microwave, and waffle maker while I'm there, as well as miscellaneous things I couldn't bring with like a minimal set of dishes and cookware. Add a few hundred dollars to the list.
I head to Kringlan (a Reykjavík mall) to get my phone a sim card. I walk in and try (but fail) to keep the conversation in Icelandic. I'm told that sorry, my phone (which I had thought was unlocked) was, in fact, locked, and couldn't take a sim card. Yeay. Fun. That's a serious mood dampener, because it's an expensive phone and phones are far more expensive in Iceland. And I'm without net access or even a way to tell my parents I'm okay.
Shopping for food partially cheers me up, because I'm now surrounded by all the foods I miss when I'm in America. Some are neat just because they're different -- the same general types of food but different brands and different flavor combinations than you can get in the US. Some, however, are just downright awesome on their own accord. I swear, caramel-nut súrmjólk is the nectar of the gods. Stocking up a whole kitchen: add another few hundred dollars.
I drive around looking for Rúmfatalagerinn. No luck. I return home with a cell phone graciously loaned from A. and begin a hour-plus game of altering between phone calls to the US and pulling my hair out trying to figure out what to do, before I finally manage to unlock my phone (add some additional costs). Great, but still no sim card, so it's still useless.
I work on unpacking the house and all the purchased goods (as well as cleaning up the mess I make in the process) until 3 AM when I'm both too tired to do any more and I'm done. I fall asleep on my airbed.
The next day I head out first to try to get new sim card. The good news: one, the phone is unlocked, and two, I was able to buy it almost entirely in Icelandic (as I leave, I tell the girl, takk fyrir að reyna að tala bara íslensku við mig.. ) The bad news: voice works but data doesn't. They have a technician supposedly trying to fix the problem. Half a day later and it still doesn't work. I plan to return as soon as I can to see if there's anything else they can do.
I spend most of the day driving around between stores (hoping to run into Rúmfatalagerinn again, but also just trying to figure out what is what, what is where, and how to get from A to B). I notice that there's a restaurant near my house called "American Style". I so have to eat there some time for the irony value.
Anything that looks like a big store or chain, I stop at to see what it´s like. I find ELKO, which is like a Best Buy. I stop at Smáralind, a big mall, and find your usual collection of mall stores. I take note of Debenham's, a big department store. I find Byko and actually stop inside, because it's a huge hardware store with a garden center, bigger than Húsasmiðján. But their place that sells insulation is closed until Monday (to ask about it and try to keep the conversation in Icelandic, I had to prepare in advance by looking up the word einangrun (insulation); I failed to find the word for vermiculite). Well, dang. I still walk out with plant pots, CFLs, and about $50 worth of other needed miscellany.
I call A., and we meet right before she has to go in for her night shift. She gives me a key to her apartment so I can use her computer (which is what is happening right now to type this), then offers to take me on a quick tour of her work to see what she does. This being Iceland, that involves geothermal heat ;) In particular, she supervises the flows of hot and cold water to make sure that both get to people's houses, at the right temperatures, and the tanks stay full -- every step of the way from each producing well to where treated wastewater ends up back in the sea. Due to it being a technical subject, much of what she says is in English, but I keep my responses in Icelandic and she switches back to Icelandic for the easier stuff. I'll get this language yet ;)
I go back to A.'s place and work on catching up on everything-net -- that is, when her cats aren't walking on the keyboard. And so we are now to current time -- 1:50 AM, time to say goodbye and drive across town to my little place at Hjallabrekku. :) Vertu sæl, Kossacks, og bless bless.
(Postscript: I don't know when I'll write next. This obviously takes a lot of time, which I could be dedicating to other things like settling in, socializing, exploring, and language study. And perhaps more important to me, all of this talking in English is just the opposite of what I want to be doing, whereas I've been trying to train myself to think in Icelandic wherever possible. So it may be a while. But I wanted to let you all know I´m okay and doing well up here in this amazing and beautiful country, nestled right beneath the arctic circle. I'll try to answer comments tomorrow, though, if I get a chance)