Articles in English

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My dear Erin Olivia.

Nú þegar ég les, að landflóttinn frá Íslandi sé að aukast enn á ný, er
kannski rétti tíminn að leyfa ykkur að lesa bréf, sem ég skrifaði frænku
minni í Kanada fyrir nokkrum dögum, en forfeður okkar beggja áttu draum um
betra líf í henni Ameríku. Um aldamótin 1900 flúði fimmtungur íslensku
þjóðarinnar til Kanada.

Erin Olivia Porter heitir frænka mín og vantaði efni í leshring, sem hún
sækir við Winnipeg háskóla. Eitthvað sem tengdist fyrri tímum, sagði hún.

As I sat down to write you this letter, it came to my mind how precarious and incidental life can be. If the two Icelandic brothers, my grandfather and your great-grandfather back in 1907, had been free men and lucky enough to be able to fulfill their dream, we might both have been born in Canada, most likely in Manitoba, and I would be visiting you at week-ends, or meeting you for a cup of coffee at one of the popular bars in Winnipeg.

But fate would not have it that way. Life was tough in Iceland in the 19th century. Most people were utterly poor, lived from hand to mouth, never owned anything but plenty of children – and perhaps a small flock of sheep. There had been natural disasters, volcanic eruptions year after year. The life stock fell and famine raged among the population. There was no future in Iceland. People felt abandoned and hopeless. –

And then somebody told them about America?

In the year 1875 the exodus started. In the end more than one fifth of the Icelandic nation had emigrated to „Nýja Ísland“ as they called it. All those who were strong enough, young and healthy – and had the means to buy the fare, that is – they sailed away from their motherland with a glimpse in their eyes and hope in their hearts.

Our forefathers, your great-grandfather and my grandfather, also had a dream – to leave misery behind and settle with their families in the new unknown country beyond the huge and treacherous ocean.

At the age of thirty my grandfather and grandmother had already brought six children to this world. Three of them had died from disease in infancy. They were so poor that they never could save enough money to pay the fare for five people. Einar, your great-grandfather, on the other hand, still had a small family and somehow managed to find money for the voyage. Then he left Iceland – never to return.

These two brothers loved each other dearly. They missed each other all their lives. They wrote to each other ever so often, told stories of their struggle for a better life – but they never saw each other again.

When I was seventeen I was sent to Canada – like an ambassador – to spend a summer with my family there. I stayed with your grandmother, Helga, in her little house on the shore of Winnipeg Lake. Except for the mosquitos – that loved my pale and delicate skin – I was very happy that summer. Everyone was kind to me, Helga the boss, hardworking and determined, your grandfather, Ken, who always saw the bright side of life and Charles and Ronald , both so sweet and handsome – I loved to take them for a swim in the lake and play ball.

Then we went for a visit to Sigga, Helga´s sister, who was a saleswoman in a big magazine (I can´t remember the name) in Winnipeg. She was a real lady, with a shock of black hair and a narrow waste. Sigga gave me my first bra! I felt so shy to put it on, I had the feeling that everyone was looking at me! Vala, the third sister, was obiously the star of the family, always singing and laughing, with lots of kids and an energetic German husband, who owned both a hotel and a shop.

But the highlight of my summer in Canada was our visit to Einar and Sólveig in Steep Rock. I can still remember their small house by the lake – and the boat, lying on the shore like a humble dog, waiting for the master to give orders. This boat had been Einar´s lifesaver all these years in the new country. The Indians, his neighbors, had taught him how to manipulate and react to weather, ice and big waves. He had been a fisherman – just like my grandfather in Iceland – and sold fish to the people in the neighborhood. He never became rich in the land of opportunities, but never suffered either.

I sat by his side and watched him cry as he talked about his beloved brother whom he had not seen for fifty years. He asked me thousands of questions, just as if he were trying to relive their lives separated from each other. He held my hand all the time and stroked my hair. Oh, how dramatic and tragic all this was – something I have never forgotten.

The brothers had a dream – a dream of a better life in the land of opportunties, America. One left, the other stayed behind. Both were fishermen, and both fought for survival from one day to the next. Life was tough for both of them – both in the motherland and in the new world. Where is the land of opportunities, any how?

But for their descendants new opportunities opened up in the adopted country – and in the old one as well.

Bryndís Schram

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