Monday, February 12, 2007

To Lapland And Back In Five Days

I wrote this over a year ago but did not publish for some reasons.  It still brings back colourful and fond memories of my hosts - THE SAMI.

My invitation to Finland had been quite simple. It read; 'we the Friends of Sami Art association would like to invite you, Babatunde Kelani to our Skabmagovat - Indigenous Peoples' Film Festival 2007. The festival will take place in Inari, about 1200 north from the Finland capital, Helsinki, from 25th to 29th January. I confess, I have never been this far north of Europe before and I had reasons to be apprehensive. But first, some education.

Who Are the Sami? They are an indigenous people of the North who are over 150,000. Spread through Finland, Norway, Sweden and Russia, they have their own history, language, culture, livelihood, way of life and identity. In spite of great odds, they have built great institutions and as I was to later find out; without fighting a single war. What about my own? The Yorubas estimated at some 35 million, are spread throughout the south western region of Nigeria, parts of West Africa and also in the diaspora including, Brazil, Cuba, Haiti and the United States of America.  Regrettably however, the tribe has very little to show in terms of institutions and cultural establishments. The principal cities, Ife, being the spiritual headquarters and Oyo, the political cannot boast of museum or centres worthy of tourism potentials.  The language and culture of the Yorubas at home is now under threat of extinction faced with the challenges of a fast globalising world. I suspect that mentally, we followed the colonialists after they voluntarily withdrew and decided to leave us alone. We became follow-follow and inherited a permanent colonial hangover.
As my departure day drew near, I started to develop cold feet. I had heard rumours of -30c temperature and I could not imagine how anyone could survive in such inclement weather. Or what would I eat? My imagination took over. How about roasted reindeer? Or penguin pepper soup or grilled bear meat? If I had hoped that I would be denied a visa to prevent my travelling that was shattered into smithereens as the Finnish consulate had been warm, friendly and had issued me a visa that same day.

My travelling is usually preceded by an incredibly busy day which leaves me completely fagged out and just about ready to creep on board of British Airways flight departing Lagos at midnight. Arrival was early in London around 5 a.m. and temperature at 1c. However, there was plenty of time for the 10:20 connection flight to Helsinki. Enough time for the slow and cumbersome security and immigration formalities which is a constant feature at the Heathrow airport in London.

Arriving Helsinki later that afternoon, my observation was that everything was white, caked with snow. The onboard in-flight monitor flashed outside temperature at minus 9c and the PA cracked to life to welcome us but unfortunately there will be bus transportation only to passport control. This meant an early encounter with the snow at -9c; well, better sooner than later.

We finally arrived Ivalo after another one and half hour flight from Helsinki. This could only mean that Finland has a larger land size than Nigeria since it takes about one hour to fly from Lagos to the farthest part of Nigeria. Despite the land mass, the total population of Finland I was to find out is only 5 million people. Now, Ivalo was whiter than Helsinki, I concluded, during our forty minutes ride by car to the village of Inari, both the centre of Sami culture in Finland and the appropriate venue of the festival, with only a short break at a local restaurant to a meal of hot salmon soup.

The highlight of my trip apart from screening the film 'The Narrow Path' was visiting a reindeer farm dressed in what was almost a space suit.  And not many people except the Sami can boast of having fed a live reindeer in a minus 30c and live to tell the story.