Oslo Journal, Part IV

Julia Ormond in 2010


Editor’s Note: The Oslo Freedom Forum, an annual human-rights conference, took place last week, in the Norwegian capital. The previous parts of Jay Nordlinger’s journal are at the following links: I, II, and III.

Outside the Grand Hotel, I see a bunch of pre-schoolers, being led around in ropes, according to the modern fashion. Do you know what I mean? They are corralled together with these benevolent leashes. About three adults tend them. One woman (I assume a woman), leading a little blond boy, is in full burqa: face covered. If the boy wanted to look up to see her, he could not. She is just a black lump.

Is this a heartwarming expression of multiculturalism? Of a better, more interesting, more diverse Europe? Or is it a little creepy? Or a lot creepy?

In the asking of these questions, have I committed a hate crime? Come and get me, copper.

At the podium in the Christiania Theatre is Somaly Mam. She is a Cambodian who, as a child, was sold into sexual slavery. The way she puts it is, “I was not lucky to have good parents.” She was sold to a brothel, where, as she says, she was “raped every single day.” Her testimony is, of course, unbearable.

She is now helping to “empower victims to be survivors” and to “empower survivors to be part of solutions.”

Jean-Robert Cadet is another former slave. A Haitian, he was sent off to serve a family not his own when he was four. The way his masters-to-be put it was, “We need a child for the house.”

Let me relate some of his testimony, in close paraphrase:

“We would call everyone in the house, including babies, Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle. We walked the family’s children to and from school, but we were not allowed to go to school. We set the table for meals, but were not allowed to eat what we were serving. We answered when called, but were forbidden to speak until spoken to.”

He says — this may be tough for some to swallow — that “colonial slaves were better off.” Why? “Because there was a community of slaves. Children received parental love and lived their childhood without inordinate fear. Children of slaves knew they were inferior, but not to those who were black like themselves. Like most children, they were disciplined by their parents, but they were not abused. They could be childlike and noisy, instead of silent and invisible.”

Almost all of the Freedom Forum testifiers make an impression on me. But some more than others. Almost every sentence Jean-Robert Cadet speaks is indelible: “We would call everyone in the house, including babies, Monsieur, Madame, or Mademoiselle.”

It’s the “including babies” that kills you. And you know it’s true.

Urmila Chaudhary was a slave in Nepal. “I never knew my age for sure.” Slaves like her were not allowed to make direct eye contact with the people for whom they were working.

That is just a detail, among many.

Kimmie Weeks is a Liberian-born activist for children, a man who has long lived and worked in the United States. He was a refugee once, deathly ill. Nine years old.

“Someone felt my pulse. ‘He’s dead,’ he said. They wrapped me up in the cloth I was lying on and discarded my body on a heap of dead bodies. So, I was left for dead.”

Weeks says, “Stop bitching and start a global revolution.” I think of a bumper sticker we once saw in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel in rural Virginia. It said, “KWICHERBITCHIN.” Possibly my favorite bumper sticker ever.