(Post 1 of 5)
Helge Hovland is the first person I met when I arrived in Longyearbyen. He was driving a bus.
He came to Svalbard when he was six years old, and he knows everyone. He says that he likes to stay behind the scenes, but he has introduced us to more people than I can count.
Helge remembers when Longyearbyen was a company town, before the tourists and the scientists arrrived. In his twenties, he left home to train as a helicopter pilot in Florida. He got his license in the States but never worked in the job he had dreamed about as a boy. “Now,” he says, “my goal in life is to do as little as possible. I always start with ‘no.’ If you start out a little bit idealistic, you will see that nothing counts and you give up.” Helge is quick to denounce the way the town is changing, but his smile comes back when he talks about the land beyond the town. “The nature is amazing,” he says. He takes out his phone and flips to a picture of the sun shining over the sea. “This is what I love about Svalbard. Nice weather. 2a.m. Sun. ”
We chose Helge to start a chain of introductions that would help us understand this place a little better. And that’s how we ended up in a shop full of stuffed polar bears. Check out the next post.