Early this morning, the Pearl Seaways cruiseship docked in at Oslo. N and I were pretty keen to start the second leg of our Denmark-Norway trip.
Since we got on to the ferry, N has been wondering about whether to convert our dollars into Norwegian Krones (NOK) or wait till we reach Oslo. In a sagely wife moment, I decided that wait made sense. The bureau de change exchange rate sucks, so N didn’t grumble much. Well, we could always exchange it after we disembark. Words that I did not realise would come to bite me in the back.
We disembarked, finished the mandatory immigration check and uhhh…we were outside the terminal. To get to our Air BnB apartment, we had to get to the City Centre and then take another bus. A taxi driver assured me we could get tickets for the bus on the bus itself…but ahemmm..we had Danish kroners and dollars and euros and pound but no NOK!
Bus no 60 draws up and the passengers board. I step up and hesitantly check- Can I buy two tickets please?
Sure, he says.
Can I please use my card or pay by Euro or Danish Kroner or dollar??? (Highly hopeful and laughable even to my ears)
No, Im sorry..I can only accept NOK
Uhhh…oh no..thank you anyways..we dont have any money. We’ll figure it out.
He looks and asks me in Urdu..where do you want to go?
N hops into the conversation and shows him the address and says but first we need to exchange money.
He smiles, tells us not to get off the bus..and gives us directions to the nearest currency exchange from the point, where he promised to drop us. And in the ten minutes that he took to drop us, I learnt about Mohammad Afzal, the bus driver from Gujarat, Pakistan. His story has been pieced together from the conversation that happened in Urdu as he drove:
He arrived here with his wife and kids..the youngest one was five then..from Gujarat in Pakistan. It wasn’t the easiest of moves he says. But we managed. Today, sixteen years later.. he is a Norwegian, his sons settled here too. And we bond over the Urdu saying…himmat-e-mardaan toh madad-e-khuda. (God helps the brave).
There are about 20 members of his extended family here. There is a community. A good life built from literally nothing.
Do you like cricket, we ask. No Indian-Pakistani conversation can move forward without that mandatory question. No, he says. I like to walk, go to the mosque and then the rest of the time is spent working or with the family. I am.blessed with a good family he says.
Does he go back to Pakistan? Yes, he says..once a year for sure..sometimes twice. His aged parents live there. Moreover like last year, when his daughter got married, he says half the plane was filled by his family members going home for the wedding!
This year though, his leave will be spent going on the Hajj with his wife. Its easier to get a permit from Norway unlike from Pakistan and India he says.
And as he turned the bus towards the town centre, he points out to the currency exchange.. gives me a few tips on travelling in Oslo too.
As I thank him, I tell him how touched we are that he offered help. I take people to their destinations. You are my people. Im happy to help.
Mohammed Afzal from Gujarat in Pakistan considered N and me as one of his own. We speak the same languages, we have shared history but a political line now dictates our patriotism and allegiance.
But when politics is kept aside, the Mohammed Afzals of the world are the friends that lend you a helping hand when you could do with one.
Thank you travel gods for sending him our way this morning. He did us a good turn and someday we hope to do someone else a good turn. If there were more such favours traded, there would perhaps be a little less hate and more empathy for each other?
And thank you, Mohammed Afzal of Oslo Ruter# Norway and Gujarat, Pakistan. Your good samaritan deed will remain a big debt of gratitude in this wo-mad’s heart!