February may be the shortest month of the year, but it made up for that by being packed wall-to-wall with news. Kicking things off was an incident that took place in the bustling metropolis of Kópavogur, where officials finally found a way to close the gender wage gap. In response to a complaint from a woman working for Kópavogur that her pay was lower than that of a man doing the same job, the town lowered the salary of the man in question. Surprisingly, the gesture was not appreciated: not by the woman who filed the complaint, nor Minister of Welfare Eygló Harðardóttir. There’s just no pleasing some people.
Religion in Iceland made international headlines, too, and for positive reasons: Iceland’s pagans will soon get their own Ásatrú temple to the Norse Gods. There, they will be able to practice the worship of Óðinn, Freyja and Þór in relative peace and comfort, as the temple is to be located by the Öskjuhlíð hill, upon which Perlan rests.
Pretty soon that old joke about what you do if you’re lost in an Icelandic forest* will seem even more tired and antiquated, as it looks like birch forests are returning to Iceland. That’s right: the Icelandic Forest Service has determined that 130 square kilometres of birch forest has grown in Iceland over the past 25 years alone. That’s about 1.5% of the country, which is nothing to sneeze at, but still a long way to go to reach 25%, i.e., the amount of land covered in trees at the time of the Settlement. Patience, trees take time to grow!
In less happy news, Strætó made headlines by losing a disabled passenger in a transport van for about seven hours. The worried parents of the passenger, while relieved to get their child back safe and sound, were nonetheless appalled that she was lost in the first place. In fairness, Strætó did issue a public apology for the incident, expressing deep regret and promising to get to the bottom of what caused this to happen. And then they raised fares from 350 ISK to 400 ISK. Nice.
If you were worried that foreign relations between Iceland and Bhutan have been at a standstill (and honestly, who hasn’t been worried about that?), good news: President of Iceland Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson has called for closer cooperation between the two countries. Specifically, the President correctly points out that climate change is causing glaciers around the world to retreat, and Iceland and Bhutan are two countries affected by this phenomenon. How this call to action will translate into actual action remains to be seen.
In one of the better examples of IRL trolling, with a social commentary point, atheist society Vantrú announced that they were going to register every single Icelander into the group. Those Icelanders who did not want to be in Vantrú were instructed to “deregister” themselves if they wanted out. The story sparked howls of outrage or laughter across social media, though it quickly came to light to be a hoax. Vantrú were simply satirising the way most Icelanders end up registered in the National Church. Well played, Vantrú.
At long last, our national nightmare is over. The Holuhraun eruption has come to an end. Probably. At least, it appears to be more or less petered out at this point. As has been the case during countless volcanic eruptions before, there were no deaths nor injuries, although many were subject to noxious sulphur dioxide emissions, and overexposure to photos of spraying lava. At last, we can close that chapter.
If you’re a tourist, we just want to say, on behalf of the entire country of Iceland: thank you. Why? Because you have helped make tourism Iceland’s largest single industry. That’s right, tourists. You even beat out fishing—our bread and butter for decades. You made us enough money to give every man, woman and child in Iceland over 1 million ISK. Tourism will surely be the new basket into which we put all of our eggs, forever. Again, thank you.
*(Stand up. GET IT?!)