POSTCARD FROM FINLAND
Expanded version published in the Guardian Life magazine (Sunday, November 2, 2008)
I arrived Helsinki’s Vantaa airport at 3pm on Friday, 24th October eager to see how the country would differentiate itself from its Scandinavian neighbours.
Nokia. Sauna. Guns. Ice hockey. Crayfish. Vodka. Reindeer meat.
What do the above all share in common?
I think it’s fair to say that there is no mobilephone-owning Nigerian who does not currently own – or has not at one time or the other owned – a Nokia phone. It’s always seemed that there are two kinds of mobile phones: Nokia, and The Rest. Many are the jokes about the durability of the Nokia phone, so that if you see any Nigerian who’s owned the same phone for a few years, it’s more likely than not to be a Nokia. (It doesn’t seem to occur to Nokia that manufacturing phones that last for eternity is a bad way to do business. How will people buy new phones if the old ones don’t go kaput?)
The Finns are mighty proud of their Nokia. You can’t blame them. If you’re a country of five million people (a third of Lagos State), yet own such a global brand like Nokia (it is the world’s largest manufacturer of mobile phones, and a major pillar of the Finnish economy; in Business Week’s 2008 ranking of the ‘Best Global Brands’, it is Number 5), you are entitled to be super-proud, arrogant even.
Think how nice it’d be if Nigeria had even one “Nokia” of its own. I keep arguing that while it’s good to have super-banks, and Super Eagles, Nigeria will not become a great economic power (i.e. Vision 2020) without becoming a visible player on the global technological field. The road to Vision 2020 is not paved with good intentions, and it is certainly not paved with Chinese generators and Korean automobiles.
‘Nokia’ is originally the name of a town in Western Finland, and the original Nokia Company was a wood-pulp mill established in 1865, which later merged a rubber factory. (Today there are still Wellington boots in Finland known as “Nokia boots.”)
I have been taking lessons in Finnish history since I arrived. It's all so colourful and varied that I want to learn more, and write about it. Finland appears to be caught between the devil and the deep blue sea – one is Russia, the other is Sweden (Don't ask me which is which, I don't know), and both once fought a bloody battle over Finland.
Brief History Lesson: Finland used to be a part of Sweden. The Russians eyed it, and wanted it. Russia and Sweden fought over it (1808 – 1809). Russia won, and Finland became Russian territory. (Apparently the Finns got greater autonomy under Russia than under 'brotherly' Sweden). The Russian Revolution (1917) freed Finland to emerge as a nation on its own.
In the past I have had cause to complain about Language. And Food. And Food. And Currency Confusions.
Now, let me add something else to the Gripe List.
At 4a.m. on Sunday the 26th of October the Finns altered Time. One hour backwards.
My brilliant conclusion was this: "This time machine business is beginning to get annoying." Arriving Finland from Sweden on Friday, time changed (Sweden is one hour behind Finland). I left Stockholm at 1pm, on a one-hour flight and landed in Helsinki at 3pm local time, losing one hour for flying a mere one hour.
Now just as I was settling down here I was being told we had to reverse the earlier decision. As though some Cosmic Powers could not make up their minds on what they wanted the Time to be.
I was going to insist on not changing any Time. At a point I was trapped between three different Time 'Zones'. My laptop bore my Nigerian Time. My phone bore Swedish Time. And my hotel room clock bore Finnish Time.
My conclusion: The Portrait of Time as an unsettling Trinity.
10 years ago