Renewing ties with our Nordic neighbors

January 26, 2010

By Warren Kagarise

Issaquah visitor Joan Probala returns from  Norway with hopes to revive sister-city bond

Longtime Issaquah resident Joan Probala (right) addresses dignitaries during a November trip to Sunndal, Norway, a sister city to Issaquah. Contributed by Joan ProbAla

Longtime Issaquah resident Joan Probala traveled to Sunndal, Norway, in November to discuss the dormant sister-city relationship between Issaquah and the Norwegian town.

Dignitaries from both cities established the relationship in 1991, although the connection has waned in recent years. In the meantime, Issaquah and Chefchaouen, Morocco, started a sister-city relationship in 2007.

Issaquah City Council members hope to revive and strengthen the relationship between the city and Sunndal. Probala, a member of the city Sister Cities Commission, met with Sunndal leaders, sampled reindeer and talked about how to strengthen the bond between Issaquah and the small, quaint city on a fjord.

What reaction did Sunndal residents have to the first visitor from Issaquah in several years?

I may have been the first visitor to Sunndal in a long time, but many of the people I met, from the mayor to several council members to the newspaper reporter to my private guide have spent time in Issaquah. I was surprised and delighted that we were able to talk about their great memories and desires to return to our city. I was treated like a family member to the extent that I truly felt that we had already taken a big step in creating a lasting relationship between cities and individuals.

How committed are Sunndal residents to renewing and strengthening the sister-city relationship?

The city of Sunndal has always been committed to a sister-city relationship. A commission was formed years ago and a workable plan was created, but there was no organization on our side for them to interface with. Their setup was unique in that specialists were drafted from 10 areas believed to correspond to areas of similar interests to Issaquah. They included the environment, schools, media, sports, culture and business. Although Issaquah has grown much larger than Sunndal, these cities can still complement each other — besides the obvious connections, such as fish, Sunndal has one of the largest aluminum plants, which gives them international ties that we can profit from.

During the visit, Probala toured the quaint streetscapes with Sunndal officials and worked to strengthen ties with the city.

What message did you deliver from Issaquah residents to their counterparts in Norway?

First of all, I delivered a warm greeting from the city of Issaquah and the Sister Cities Commission. I explained our success with Chefchaouen and that we were now ready and excited to build a relationship with Sunndal. The Issaquah City Council has placed a priority on developing a connection to Sunndal and I was pleased to be the one who spearheaded this effort.

What is the next step toward re-establishing the sister-city relationship?

The next step is for both commissions to coordinate a plan on what they want to accomplish and to set a schedule to accomplish everything on that plan. I have asked Sunndal to make a list of their top three specific areas to work on and hopefully our commission will do the same, so that we have a real basis to form a relationship. Communication will be the key to our success.

Last but not least, how did you spend your time in Sunndal?

Regrettably, I was only able to spend two days in Sunndal. After my flight from Stavanger to Molde, I was picked up at the airport and chauffeured the one and a half hours to Sunndal. I was entertained in a private home to get a real feel for the lifestyles of the residents, and then whisked off to dinner with the mayor and several others who had been involved in the original attempt to create a sister-city relationship.

Norway is one of the only countries where you can find reindeer herds and, in an attempt to make my visit special, we were served reindeer meat for dinner. The next morning, I addressed the City Council and then listened to their excitement about future possibilities. I got to see the city at work and noticed some similarities between how the two cities are run.

Next came a private walking tour of the city, then off for a drive up the mountains to enjoy some spectacular scenery. At the end of the day, there were hugs and good wishes, and a real feeling that things were going to work out this time.

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