Garður, the town on the northernmost tip of the Reykjanes Peninsula is a curious place. At first sight, it looks nondescript and lacking in natural wonders. But, don't be fooled. This is where the boundary between land and sea gets a bit blurred; where you can sit by the shoreline with the wind in your hair and the raging ocean at your feet; where you find the most amazing Northern Lights and the most glorious sunsets. Here is where the politician Oddný Harðardóttir MP, was born and raised. Here is where she still lives and has raised her own children. But why? "Well, when my mother died years ago, my sisters and I just couldn't envision selling her house," says Oddný. "After finishing my University degree I was a teacher in North Iceland. My plans were never to move back to Garður. But, I did. I moved into my mother's house, and I still live there. The decisive factor in my life was 80 square meters of concrete."
An isolated place
Oddný says life in Garður has changed quite a bit since then. "When I was growing up, Garður was an isolated place, but as children we were not bothered by that. The local Housewives' Club provided recreation and pastime for us, children. Then we had the Children's Guild where we were assigned roles and responsibilities. I was their chaplain.
It wasn't just Garður that was different. We were living in a different world. The school and the music school (in the nearby town of Keflavík) were at the centre of our world. There were no curfews at night. During summer, we would play all kinds of ball games. During winter, we would play in the snow and go skating on the pond. We would stay out as long as we liked, or until we got tired. Then we would head home and go to sleep. Garður was our whole world, and we had no need to go anywhere else. There was hardly any communication with the outside world. When I started college in Reykjavík at the age of sixteen, I didn't know the city at all. I never knew whether to turn left or right when leaving a shop on Laugavegur, the main shopping street.”
We felt safe
“My mother worked in the local fish factory. All my friends' mothers worked there. After school, we would go directly to the factory to see our mothers. Soon we were given odd jobs and tasks at the factory. I was eleven when I started to do a bit of work there. It was by no means child slavery. We really wanted to work there. We felt safe there.
Times have changed, especially as access to education is concerned. There is more interconnection between the towns of the Reykjanes Peninsula, which is fortunate. There is often quite a lot of bullying in smaller communities like Garður. I used to say it was crazy raising children in such a small community. There is more diversity in larger communities. Garður, for example, is a soccer community. If you don't play soccer, you are isolated. One of my daughters played soccer, and she was fine with endless parades of friends. The other one did music and gymnastics, a bit more solitary recreations. She didn't start to bloom until she moved on to college in our neighborhood town, Keflavík.”
Cure for restlessness
“Still, my roots are in Garður. My parents were born and raised there, as well as my grandparents. When I visit the churchyard, I can track my family decades, almost centuries back.
Whenever I spot my village returning home from work I start to breath easily. The funny thing, though, is that I have never worked there, apart from three years when I was their mayor. To me, the area by the lighthouses is the most precious place on earth. When my head is whirling, it is the perfect place to sit down on the shore or sheltered by the old lighthouse. Simply sit there and breath until my mind is at ease. It is perfect."
Oddný was mayor from 2006 until 2009 when she became a member of parliament. Her party was working towards improving the environment and creating a healthier community for children and teenagers. She didn't quite see her dreams come true. During the election a year after she left as a mayor, the Independent party returned as the local government majority – with quite a different agenda.
The cultural town
Still, Oddný loves her hometown and the vast extracurricular activities it offers. "We have an unbelievable number of clubs. The Lions Club, the Kiwanis Club, the Women's League, quite some choirs and the Soccer Club for most age groups. The Women's League is especially robust. It has one hundred members, which is quite a lot in such a small community. In fact, it is one of the oldest Women's League in Iceland.
We claim to be the Reykjanes Peninsula's cultural town. It developed through farmers who were also fishermen. They were proud owners of their land. The vicarage for the whole area was in Garður. Early on the vicar, Sigurður Sívertsson built an elementary school here. It is the third oldest school in Iceland. He was a great promoter of education, and when people couldn't afford to pay for their children's education, he simply gave them the money."
Different kind of beauty
One doesn't often hear people praise Garður for its natural beauty. Some even claim it is ugly. Oddný doesn't agree. "We have this most beautiful coastline with the foreland where the lighthouses are located. Then we have a vast and wonderful moors. True, we do not have mountains and waterfalls, but we have an amazing birdlife. Every year we have Icelandic and foreign bird watchers flocking our town to observe the birds in their natural habitat – up close on the trenches.
When we expanded the school a few years back, we were mindful of its uniqueness. We added a biology room with direct access to the trenches to make it easy for the kids to observe the birds and other fauna, i.e. the insect live. We wanted them to take notice of this biosphere and learn to understand it. When I was growing up, it was just there. Fortunately, it is still there."