Last week was really busy for me, at work and also because I had to attend some late night Christmas parties, meaning I did not sleep enough. By the time I was heading home on Friday, was feeling really exhausted, had one plan in mind to have a very restful weekend, totally indoors.
Saturday, I wake up at midday only to be informed of this date at night. I listen carefully as my housemate explains why we would be leaving the house at 10.30pm to attend to some night police duties. You rarely find me out at night unless I am on assignments or attending some late night Christmas parties in Norway.
It sounds exciting, so I decide to take an afternoon nap so as to be able to stay awake at night. I am watching the weather from my bedroom window and all I see is more and more snow falling. By 8pm, the snow is still falling and the temperatures are as low as -16. I shower ready for the tour. I am definitely overdressed, looking really big and feeling heavy, in addition to my gloves and two head gears. At exactly 10.30pm, one of our friends calls and says he is outside waiting. (He is 54 years, a family man and a father of three.) Once a journalist, always a journalist, I reach for my pen, notebook and my camera ready for action. But still, I really do not know what awaits me, so I decide to ask him. “Tell me about this, where and what exactly are we going to do ? ”
“We are going for what we call Natte Ravnene (Night Ravens), which is a duty performed by Norwegians at night in conjunction with the police so as to prevent violence and criminal acts that are mostly bound to happen especially when people get drunk. So older people, watch over the youths in city centers and in case of any violence, they inform the police.” He said, but I am still puzzled by this. I am just wondering, why would a man leave his bed at night and watch over drunk men and women. My questions are many but I decide to reserve them and open my eyes and ears ans see how it goes.
“We do this every Saturday night because many Norwegians drink themselves foolishly on weekends and at times we need to watch over them, most of them are just our boys and girls, young people heading for clubs to enjoy themselves and think drinking is all the fun on this world. As volunteers we meet at 11pm at Hotel Norge (right at the City Centre) before we disperse in different directions. It is done in almost all places in Norway.” For me, this is a new concept altogether. It is getting colder and I can feel my hands starting to freeze as we head to Hotel Norge, taking our steps on the snowy roads. When we finally get to the Hotel lounge, we meet 8 other volunteers and we join them for coffee as we register on one of the forms available.
I gather we are waiting for the police to flag us off. At exactly 11pm, three policemen come in and join us for instructions. I am excited to see a Norwegian police at a zero distance, been looking for such an opportunity, since I rarely see any. They are fully dressed in their duty uniforms and they all look very masculine and tall, I guess over 6.3 feet. I later manage to talk to one who later confesses that Norwegian police are very tall and actually back in the early 90´s you had to be over 6 feet to qualify to be one. They give us like 10 minutes instructions, done in Norsk so I gather nothing. Before they are done, one of the police takes the registration form and randomly picks on two names and calls them out aloud. One of the name happens to be ´Patience´ but it is obviously I have no idea why my name is being mentioned. My friend leans towards me and tells me that I have won myself a prize but they will give me an envelope to see what prize it is. I definitely don´t believe him because I have no idea what is going on as I slowly sip away my coffee. I am later handed a white envelope in which we all peruse and we realise it is a 4 persons return ticket to Denmark by Cruise Ship. I will gather my friends and sponsor them for a trip to Denmark, early next year.
They are done giving instructions, we are grouped into threes and now I am told the next step is to head to the police station so as to pick the Natte Ravnene jackets, which have reflectors similar to those of the police. At the police station, we select our sizes and off we go. I am told we will position ourselves strategically outside the clubs and we will be walking around just to watch over any violence and if need be, we inform the police. At 12am, it´s getting colder and I am really freezing but I try as much to maintain my calm. Afer all this is a voluntary work, no one forced me out of the house at this hour, I reflect on my own. So I keep myself busy window shopping on the various closed shops along the streets as I watch the other side of Norwegians at night.
A normal day in Kristiansand, looks like a holiday in Kenya. Kristiansand, being the fifth largest municipality in Norway has a population of about 80,000 people. So at any moment, the place is somehow deserted, but at night the place looks really busy. Norwegians dressed in party clothes, many bare legs trembling in the cold. Mini skirts fashion, even in winter, in Kenya we call it ´freeze and shine´. Some in high heels and I really feel for them as they struggle to walk on the snow. Several police cars are on night patrol and are parked outside the entertainment joints.
At 12.30am, my hands are completely frozen and very painful and I ask if I could go back home. My colleagues tell me we will finish at 3am and encourage me to keep on. One of them volunteers to take me back to the hotel so that I could warm my hands by pouring on them some hot water. We finally get to the washroom and on reaching there I cried. I did not know it gets this painful. As I tried to adjust the water, the painful it got and the longer it took to have them relax. Guess all my finger nerves were frozen. It took me about 10 minutes to have them relax. I am so missing my bed and wish I could sneak out and go back home. I decide to go and stay at the main stand. Here, I meet one of the women shouting, “Coffee or Cocoa” and some Norwegian words which she later explains it means “Coffee or Cocoa for free.” I ask what is the essence of all this?
“As we earlier explained, Night Raven is a humanitarian grass-roots movement which aims at preventing violence and damages in our towns and cities. Night Ravens will keep clear heads in situations where others are not thinking clearly. Night Ravens are visible and available for supporting people in the local community. During winter time, we offer these young ones coffee or cocoa and even these buns you see here for free just to take care of them. As you can see, most of them especially the ladies are scantily dressed and they are definitely freezing. So we assist them to keep warm.”
This woman is 48 years old, i am sure she has an apartment of her own and a warm bed to match. Here she is, freezing and shouting coffee or cocoa, this can only be done in Norway. I imagine my mum leaving her bed at night to look after some youngsters! You can be assured this will be a dream come true in a Kenyan setting. Only the police can manage such kind of work, after all they will be paid for it. So I join in shouting, coffee or cocoa, and I really do, as I occasionally look at my watch, because not only am I sleepy, it is damn cold and my body is freezing. At 1.30am, I am told we need to go for soup so we head to the hotel where we get a plate of soup and a bun before we head for our second and last round. I do my last round and finally go to the coffee stand.
“Gosh it is too cold, I can´t feel my face and even my ears.” I remark. “Don´t worry, you still have them, I can see them, they are still yours, no one has taken them away” jokes a norwegian friend. At 2.00am the city becomes chaotic, with loud Norwegians, shouting from all corners, left, right center. They are no longer cold, the shyness has gone with the wind. I am informed, most clubs close at 2.30am, but as from 2am, no more selling of alcohol so that´s the reason I see Norwegians flocking out of the clubs in large numbers. Taxis, both illegal and legal, swarms around the streets. Police Sirens can also be heard once in a while. Employees of the day open kiosks are working overtime to meet the nocturnal customers. It goes into sausages, kebabs and burgers tonight. Many stager as they make their way to the bust station. Two by two they struggle as they get taxis back home.
One lady comes shouting, “Can I get coffee?” I attend to her and she is happy, so we start a little chat. Just like many of the ladies, she is dressed in a mini skirt and I ask her if she is could be freezing. “ I am so drunk, I don´t even notice it is freezing cold. I can´t even feel my legs, so who cares.” She shouts as she struggles to make her way towards the wall so as to give herself some support. She calls me and asks me how long have I been in Norway. I respond to her questions and she answers back shouting that she has only lived in Norway for 19 years. “Ok, how old are you? And where do you come from?” I ask? I come from Norway and have lived in Norway all my life, that means I am only 19, stupid and loving my beer. I was born alone and I am alone, can’t you see?” Of course I agree with her. (At the back of my mind, I remember the concept -(Agree with me now, it will save us our precious time).
She finishes her coffee and stagers away to get a taxi home. On the sidewalk, another one is trying to stay upright. It seems not easy. She falls several times in the slush. High-heeled boots were maybe not tonight’s recommended footwear. She is not alone. Ice and snow on the pavement, in addition to the high level of alcohol in the blood, does not work well together, so it is said! The police are all over and we start to pack our coffee and cocoa back to the hotel so that we can also leave and go home. I am disappointed I didn’t see any form of violence. I ask, “Couldn´t we have made some of them fight so that it could have been worth our night of freezing?” The rest burst into laughter and I stop it there. But I reflect, in my journalism class I was taught, as a reporter, if you are sent to the field, you have to come back with a story, you have to. I can´t wait to bond with my bed. Shortly before 3am, we all assemble and we are thanked for a job well done.
This is what I gathered about the Night Ravens. They are not B-police or security guards, and have no authority. Night Ravens are not judgemental and treat everyone with respect. It is founded on the following aims:
• We will make the local community streets, roads and areas safer for all age groups.
• We will decrease the problems related to drug/alcohol abuse and damages.
• We will be a part of developing a natural contact between children/young people and passive/sober adults.
• We will increase awareness that notifying authorities about criminal actions is the correct thing.
The Night Ravens act to strengthen social networks. Passive, sober adults who bring normality and stability in uneasy and unstable situations. Night Ravens will not get physically involved in situations, but will contact the police. They will stay in the background and assist police if required. The Night Raven has no more authority than any other adult Norwegian citizen.
I am happy it was an experience, which you can be assured I will never engage in, not again.
Merry Christmas and a fruitful new year!!