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Røed

One of my earliest memories was a commercial on television when I was age three. Every time this ad came on TV, I would run out of the room scared, terrified that death was coming my way. This commercial was designed to frighten a whole generation and warn of a new apocalypse coming across the oceans to affect everyone. The fear that this commercial produced over me would linger for the decades that followed and finally lead to me making a pilgrimage to a small Norwegian village.

An hour south by train from Oslo is the small seaside village of Borre. It's most famous for the Borre Mounds, the most extensive collection of Viking kings graves in Scandinavia. 7 large mounds still remain scattered along the coast. Underneath the tonnage of earth lay the remains of Viking kings along with the most important possession they owned, their boat, the symbol of their power, that they used to cross the vast oceans to conquer and intimidate people from across the seas, bringing death and taking their windfall.

A few hundred metres up the hill from these ancient monuments is the village church with its small, understated graveyard, where Arne Røed is buried. Arne Røed was born into the post-war period in 1946, a new generation for a new Norway. His childhood was modest, living a simple existence in his small village. But adventure called in his youth, and doing what many of his ancestors did, he went to sea at age 15, joined the merchant navy, becoming a kitchen hand on a freight ship. His first trip was a 10-month journey along the coast of West Africa, stopping along the way in Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Senegal and Cameroon. Arne took part in sailors' traditional actives, spending his meagre pay on the local sex workers and resulting in having to be treated for Gonorrhea along the way. During the next four years, Arne would travel to Asia and throughout the Caribbean.

In the mid-60s and permanently back in Norway and reaching adulthood, he did what was expected of him by society and married a young Borre girl called Solveig. He gave up life at sea and became a long haul trucker travelling throughout Europe, where the visits to sex workers continued. Arne and Solveig would eventually have three daughters, with the youngest Bente born in 1967. In 1968 he became mysteriously sick, beginning with shortness of breath and general tiredness, with symptoms advancing to headaches, sore throat, swollen lymph nodes, muscle pain and rashes.

Arne recovered from the treatment he received, but different illnesses kept arriving in the years that followed, including cancers that had never been seen in a male in his twenties, which baffled the medical community. More alarming was that his wife Solveig started showing similar symptoms, then eventually, his youngest daughter also fell ill. Then in January 1976, his 8-year-old daughter died. A few months later, Arne died, buried together in the same plot in the churchyard near the Viking burial grounds. With Solveig joining them not long after. Trauma and mystery followed for the family and the small community. The pathologist conducting the autopsy couldn't determine the reasons for their deaths.

Seven-year later, in 1983, a young man was admitted to the National Hospital in Oslo, with symptoms similar to the ones in the new tragedy that was taking hold in North America. AIDS had officially arrived in Norway. Years later, persevered tissue samples taken from the Røed family were re-tested on the newly developed AIDS test, with all three testing positive. Making the Viking descendant sailors' family the first confirmed people in Europe to die of AIDS.

2020