Well. Life is a journey, isn't it? And like a box of chocolate. You never know what you're gonna get. I never seem to get on beforehand what life is gonna throw at me. Somehow I'm often the most surprised at what happens, while others might have seen it coming a long time.
A year ago I was writing my thesis in Hawaii, living in my apartment there, hoping that new doors would open into North Korea, hoping to continue working with NT2 (Northern tribe 2), which I helped create (a gathering/network for workers in NK). I was regularly checking out schools and living accommodation in South Korea, planning on finishing my thesis in December 2015 and moving to South Korea in end of February 2016 to start full time Korean studies. I realized that if I really was gonna be effective, I would have to learn Korean. Since my first time visit there in 1997, this was something I'd been dodging, and it had been a process to accept that I would have to learn a horribly hard language and spend enormous effort doing so. I had finally caved in, even found a church there I really liked being in. I contemplated whether to live with the children at the orphanage I had researched or in dorms as a student. I even thought that if I ever married, he'd have to be Korean American or something, and have the same vision as me, to work for North Korea. If not, I was prepared to live as a single. Nothing could come before, and it excited and scared me that I was so dedicated that I was willing to put that before having my own family.
So I had people following me from many countries in the world. My church in Norway and friends financially supported the NK gathering we held and my travel to China and NK, half the readers of my blog were Americans, and some Koreans, Russians, some from Canada, Czech Republic, India, France, Ukraine and other random countries. Now most my readers are Norwegian, so many that I've contemplated not blogging in English any more. I sent out regular newsletters, attaching pictures and stories about what was going on on a deeper level than I could reveal on the blog and other social media. Friends, family, church, and others were thinking of me, praying for me, supporting me and most of all believing in me.
But things don't always go the way you expect, right? I didn't finish my thesis in December, and then not in January either. I was asked if I really thought moving to South Korea alone was a good idea, and since I hadn't found anyone to go with me, I saw their point. Then no door opened to continue working with the author/producer/artist Morten Traavik (who opened doors into NK for me) and I didn't have capacity to continue working with NT2 added to my studies. I realized full time Korean studies might not be realistic, and that even though I wanted to, moving there would be too hard for me. Other work relationships ended, and door after door closed on me.
I saw my dream vanish before my eyes, and all I had put so much time, effort and heart into fell apart. I thought of the children at the orphanage that I had promised to come back to. How many others, like me, had given that promise, and then never returned?
After a while I accepted reality, and allowed myself to let go of North Korea. I emptied my hands of all my plans, and focused on re-entry to Norway and finishing my studies. Maybe something else will come along some day, I hoped.
And then something did, much sooner than I expected, and much better. In my new job working for persecuted authors (mainly one from Syria), I get to do the same kind of things I used to, just with pay 💰! And all I've seen and learnt these years living in Hawaii and South Korea now seem to have been preparation for this.
It might take time to adjust and embrace it all. I might still dream about North Korea and keep the country and its people in my heart. One day I might visit the orphanage again, to not be the one who never came back. And maybe I can still make people aware of what I've seen and heard. I can still pray. I can still hope.
The journey took a different route than I expected. I suppose that's just life.
Normal, daily life in Pyongyang, North Korea. Young and old gather around a kiosk selling ice cream and snacks.
North Korea by night, in between South Korea (who lights up like a Christmas tree) and China, only one light is shining - in the capital city.
Photo credit: World at night
So in this chaotic season of my life, going for walks and crocheting have been a lifesaver!
Mohammad Habeeb, author-in-residence from Syria, arrived in Norway one year ago. I'm honored to work with and for him.