66°12' 97” N
The Western fjords of Iceland have in recent years seen a dramatic decrease in population. A combination of factors has contributed to this development. Among the factors are the shifting of fishing quotas to other regions, a growing supply of highpaying job opportunities in the capital Reykjavik, and general changes in thefabric of Icelandic society.
Alongside thisexodus however, Iceland has seen an influx of immigrants, most of them from Poland to the many fishing villages that would have otherwise most likely beendoomed. While two thirds of Icelanders now live in the capital and itssurrounding towns, most of the polish immigrants have made their lives in theremote fishing villages and now make up almost half of the population in thoseareas and in some places more than half of the working population, as theIcelandic population grows older while young Icelanders tend to leave theirhomes. The prospects of better jobs and higher education lure them to Reykjavikand the Icelandic governments efforts to reverse this process have as of yetbeen fruitless.
For the Poleshowever, life in the Western fjords is good, compared to the unemployment andsocial problems they faced in their old country after the collapse of communismin Eastern Europe. Work pays reasonably well, again compared to polishstandards, and housing is cheap. And life is steadily getting better as moreand more Poles settle in the villages and communities flourish in this barrenand hostile natural environment, where the sun hides for five months a year.
Anna came toIceland on the 6th of March 1998 and Jarek in September the sameyear. Life is quite different in the Icelandic fishing village of Sudureyrithan back home in Poland where Anna studied Economics and Jarek grew up on afarm. They met in Suðureyri and soon started living together. Anna and Jareknow have two boys, Pawel and Piotr. The family has assimilated well intoIcelandic society and everyone in the family, apart from the three-week-oldPiotr, now speaks Icelandic.
It’s 5 pm and most workers are heading home as the twilight covers Suðureyri. The Sun does not come out for four months a year. Due south of Suðureyri, mount Spillir (Spoiler), earns its rugged name by blocking out the noon sun from October to January. Every January, the people of the Western fjords celebrate the emergence of the sun from behind the steep mountains that hide it from view. Winter depression is a common ailment in the Western fjords, but Anna and Jarek say they have adjusted quite well to the darkness. No doubt the growing community of polish immigrant fosters resilience and optimism, while the indigenous Icelandic people watch generations leave their homes.
Famely father Jaroslaw (called Jarek) Jambrzycki takes a short break for coffee and a cigarette after baiting his first bale of the morning. It takes Jarek about one hour to bait the 500 hooks on the line. The bales are then taken to sea on the long line boats. No one else has yet shown up for work, as the hours are very flexible when you get paid by the bale.
There has been plenty of work lately, the weather has been very good and Jarek has worked six days a week for the last two months. But when the weather is bad and the long line boats stay in, there is no need for his skills. Work in the fishing industry depends greatly on the weather, which in Iceland is very unpredictable and fickle.
Of the 300 inhabitants of Suðureyri, only 180 are of Icelandic origin. 60 inhabitants are Polish immigrants and 60 of various other nationalities. When Anna arrived in Suðureyri in 1998, there were only 5 to 10 Poles in Suðureyri. Thirty of the local Poles work in the Icelandic Saga processing plant.
Steel and knife are my symbol, the symbolof the traveling worker, sang Icelandic song poet Bubbi Morthens in the hay dayof the Icelandic fishing towns. Gutting, cleaning, beheading, and filletingfish are among the daily chores of fish processing plant workers. The frozenend product is shipped to the UK and sold in Sainsbury among others.
Anna is on maternity leave from the fishprocessing plant. Her work apron awaits her return, as it hangs alongside itscomrades.
While her husband and elder son are outworking and playing, Anna stays home and takes care of the latest addition tothe little family. His name is Piotr (Peter) and he is only three weeks old.Jareks flexible hours come in quite handy as he can come home and watch overPiotr awhile Anna shops for groceries and runs errands.
Family photos, vacation memories and apicture of Pawel in his local Krakow folk dancing costume adorn the living roomwall in the family home on Sætún.
Every Saturday Pawel goes to a nearby townto take part in a Polish folk-dance rehearsal. A decade ago, when Anna andJarek first came to Iceland. The polish community was so small that no culturalactivities were available. Now, the community has flourished, cultural life isgrowing and there is even polish food sold at the gas station.
While the Icelandic national church isevangelistic protestant, a vast majority of polish immigrants are Catholics.Every Sunday, the pious family fulfills its spiritual needs in a small catholicchurch in Ísafjörður, the hub town of the western fjords. This is in starkcontrast to the indigenous religious culture, as most Icelanders rarely go tochurch except for weddings, funerals, confirmations, and Christmas.
At 11 am Pawel has been in the kindergarten for three hours and still has four to go. Even this late in the morning thestreet must be lit up as the darkness has not yet lifted. Pawel says he onlyplays with action figures that fight, but he and Kristofer, also from Poland,are playing on the boat in the kindergartens garden. Half of the 20 childrenthat stay in the kindergarten have at least one foreign parent.
Jarek marches to work in the 8 am darknessafter dropping his five-year-old son Pawel off at the kindergarten. In thesmall town of Suðureyri, located in the remote, isolated, and terrible Westernfjords of Iceland, everything is walking distance.