HARRODSBURG — Since Pat Baker first went to Norway as a 20-year-old in 1966, she always dreamed of returning to the nation she called home for seven months. So when Baker was finally able to make that return visit earlier this month, there was no way she thought she’d end up in a real-life nightmare.
“The closest thing I can think of to describe the mood of Norway after the tragedy would be our 9/11,” Baker said Friday in her home, two days after returning.
“People were absolutely numb to the point where it didn’t seem real. But it was real even though nobody wanted to believe what just happened.”
Baker was just outside the capital city of Oslo at 10 a.m. July 22, the morning a bomb blast killed eight in Oslo and 68 others were gunned down on the nearby island of Utoeya. Norwegian authorities said Anders Behring Breivik, 32, has confessed to the politically-motivated killing spree.
With the six-hour time difference between Norway and Mercer, it was 10 a.m. when her family and friends in Mercer County found out about the rampage. Baker’s husband, David, was worried when he heard the news.
“I went to the TV and was glued to the screen for the next two days,” said David, who didn’t know for certain his wife was alright for more than 48 hours.
David, his 16-year-old grandson Reiss Baxter, and numerous other family and friends conducted their own searches by calling virtually anyone who might have a clue as to where Pat might be.
“We even called the U.S. Embassy,” said David, who kept telling himself his wife had to be OK.
As it turned out, Pat was 20 miles away in Kongsuinger when she heard of the attacks.
“The friends I was staying with didn’t have the Internet, there was not cell phone tower in that region, and the land-line phone was down, too,” Pat said. It was Reiss who finally made contact with his grandmother.
“Let me tell you, that was a good feeling,” said David. “I knew the odds were great that Pat was unharmed, but till you actually know for certain, it’s a horrible feeling.”
Pat, who taught English in Boyle County schools for 25 years before retiring, remains in a state of mourning for the nation she calls her “adopted homeland.”
“On Saturday morning, we went into the town of Kongsuinger, and the streets were empty,” she said. “And those you did see walking the streets were in such a state of shock, it was as if they were lost.”
One woman who spoke English approached Pat with tears in her eyes.
“She said to me, ‘Poor little Norway. Why poor little Norway?’”
Pat first traveled to Norway 45 years ago on a 4-H exchange program during her junior year at Eastern Kentucky University. The International Farm Youth Exchange program allowed Pat to not just visit, but live in Norway for more than seven months with seven different families, all in different parts of the nation.
“We were called ‘IFYEs,’ and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life,” said Pat, who was accompanied on this month’s trip by her friend, Jane Preston from Danville. “Just one aspect of the Norwegian people that makes them so special is the way they treat not just each other, but people from all over the world.”
“No matter who you ask, not just Jane or me, but anyone that’s been to Norway will tell you just how warn, friendly and caring the Norwegians are,”she continued. “And even after the tragedy, everyone we encountered was as nice as they could be” albeit in something of a state of shock after “7/22” as many in Norway are now calling the tragedy.
Pat spent time with Hilde Hjelt, whom she first met in 1966.
“Hilde was only 10 years old back then, but she and I got along very well and to this day I consider her a very good friend,” she said.
Hjelt is now 55 years old and has children of her own. One of Hjelt’s children, a daughter, lost a friend on 7/22.
“This young woman was shot to death on the island of Utoeya,” said Pat, who needed a moment to gather herself as she talked of the experience.
Asked if she would ever go back to Norway, Pat quickly answered, “Absolutely, yes! In fact, I miss it already. If there’s one thing I think we all learned after our own tragedy of 9/11, it’s that we can’t let one or a few terrorists change the way we live our lives. And no matter where you go in the world, even peaceful Norway, there are going to be some evil people.”
“I don’t’ think I’ll ever get over the fact that such a peace- loving and kind people had to experience such an horrible event,” she continued. “Unfortunately, we have something horrible in common, We had our 9/11, and now Norway has their 7/22. But I’d rather think about all the good things we have in common. And no terrorist can ever take that away from any of us, whether we’re Americans or Norwegians. That’s one thing I’m certain of.”