War on the horizon. Chickpeas, peanut butter, and wine in the cupboard.
The headline pops up on my phone, white letters in a red rectangle: fare for atomkrig …A forecast for nuclear war, like a weather warning, like the category two hurricane they gave us a two-day notice of last month.
Another headline tells me there are 128 fallout shelters on the island. Shows me a map of where they are. None are very close.
Headline: In case of nuclear fallout, don’t leave your house. Here’s a map showing where to hunker down inside your home. Those with three-story houses should remain on the second floor. Not too close to the fallout on the ground. Not too close to the fallout on the roof.
Another headline says the fallout shelters around the country are full of old bikes and water heaters and rubber tires and whatnot, so people have started clearing them out. The news camera moves through one of the now available spaces. It’s an open, rusty foundation. Nothing like the fallout shelters we had in my hometown of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, Atomic City USA.
In Oak Ridge, we learned how to build and stock a fallout shelter while kids in other states learned how to turn a magnet into a battery or make a kite. Our city shelters had bunk beds, blankets, and boxes full of provisions. Canned goods. Bottled water. Powdered milk. Radios. Batteries. Raincoats to protect you from radioactive fallout if you ventured out before the all-clear signal sounded. Or if the all-clear never sounded and your three-month supply of goods ran out. I know all about these fallout shelters because I was one of the kids who broke in and stole the candy.
I worried a bit about there being no candy when the Reds came, but by and large, even in Oak Ridge, my generation never believed we’d see a wide-scale war. It was my mother’s post-WWII generation that warned the Reds Were Coming. WWI had shell-shocked my grandmother’s generation. My post-Vietnam generation marched for nuclear disarmament simply because it was a waste of money. We didn’t believe either superpower was stupid enough to start a nuclear war, so why spend money on it? How naive we were. Putin was already in the world. A kid, like us, but still. No one had heard of him. Or Lukashenko. Or Trump. But still. The insanity among world leaders is linked and long-rooted. It doesn’t come out of the blue. Though when Norway, home of the Nobel Peace Prize, is suddenly and surrealistically preparing for war, it does seem both out of the blue and absurd.
Headline: there are enough iodine tablets for all the schoolchildren, but a run on iodine has left the pharmacies empty. To those who bought iodine supplements: they won’t prevent your body from soaking up radioactivity, but take them anyway, for good health. In case of nuclear war, stay inside.
It was the same warning they gave for hurricane Gyda: stay inside.
Food prices rose twenty percent last week. Electricity is ninety times more expensive per kilowatt-hour than last winter. Ninety times. Gasoline is about fifteen dollars a gallon, but we are lucky to have an electric car and not need it. What do we need? Iodine, maybe. There’s hope it will be back on the pharmacy shelf before the need for it is realized. We thought about what we might need in a crisis and stocked up on the essentials this week. Prices are bound to rise shortly. They’re bound to skyrocket. Peanut butter, our daily staple, is still the price it’s been, about six dollars a jar, so we bought eighteen. Chickpeas are cheap, about a dollar-fifty a can, and one can make a whole meal plus dessert from the brine. We bought twenty. A cup of red wine each evening for two people equals how many three-liter boxes of wine? Not sure. We didn’t try to do the math. We bought five.
We have a three-story house, and the kitchen and bedroom are on the second floor, so we are set. I wonder what we’ll do with the dogs. The cats can stay indoors with their cat boxes. The dogs have one big dog box outdoors. I think about this. I lie awake at night and worry. If we let them out, even with their doggy raincoats, we can’t let them back in. I lie awake at night figuring out how to convert our newly renovated washroom into a dog litter box. I shouldn’t be thinking about this. They are dogs. And there’s a war. Will it reach us? It depends on how soon Putin loses his grip on reality. And which direction the wind blows, if there is radioactive fallout. Norway could see retaliation from Russia for sending weapons to Ukraine along with the EU. Norway is not in the EU. It is in NATO, one of the five NATO countries bordering a very paranoid Russian leader who has not read the paperwork that says NATO is a defense alliance.
I suppose all military calls itself defense. I wore a pacifist symbol, a broken machine gun, when I was a youth. It had to do with the bible verse about turning swords into plowshares and lions lying down with lambs. I was anti-military. Now I don’t know what to think, except my heart breaks for those Ukrainian men staying behind as their families cross the border into Poland. I want them to succeed. They have so much faith in what they are defending. I don’t know what it’s like to love one’s country like that. I’m of the uprooted, new-immigrant, new world.
I still believe peace is the means and the end. And I’m hopeful. Norway has always been on friendly terms with Russia. We are the home of the Nobel Peace Prize, after all. After joining NATO in 1949, Norway passed a law never to send weapons to a country at war. During the first week of the war, we sent Ukraine helmets and bullet-proof vests and flashlights in that spirit. Staying alive is more important than killing in war. A day later, the Norwegian parliament voted to send weapons in fairly unilateral agreement from the far-right to the far-left. Tanks. Shoulder held ground to air missile launchers.
The world stands by, watching 2.8 million refugees flee Ukraine within a fortnight. Norway has opened its borders. The politicians who staked their political career on denying Syrian refugees entry and expelling Southasian immigrants are all open-armed about Ukraine. No one brings up the discrepancy. No one is bickering about politics. It seems the world is united in Ukraine’s cause. Like it was against Covid. It’s quite unusual. It feels almost hopeful.
Yesterday, a ninety-two-year-old kerchiefed Ukrainian babushka arrived on the island to live with a great-grandchild. The local news followed the bus from Bergen that went to Poland to bring her and seventy others back. Ermak Zoia arrived at our island by ferry. She was smiling. She was angelic. I watched her with growing wonder. This woman lived through WWII and the rise and fall of the iron curtain. She witnessed nearly a century of war, but her face shows only beatitude, the rapture of being alive. My god. I want to put Ermak Zoia’s countenance on a flag and declare her ruler of the world. I’m sure if those maniacal men, those boys at their war games, were under her charge, they’d be ashamed. And we’d all be smiling.