It has been predicted that there's going to be Northern Lights in Levi soon. So take a look skywards! Prediction provided by Sunsää.
Lapland is filled with stories of wonder. One such story is the extraordinary life of entrepreneur Raiski Palosaari.
The September air is warm but crisp up high at the Levi fell. Underneath us white fog blankets the woods, lakes and houses softly in a tender hold. It is as if watching the clouds from above, from the sky.
But we didn’t come here to sit and chat. Raiski Palosaari is already handing out Nordic walking poles from the back of a van. She is a sprightly woman in her sixties with the strength and resilience to match those half her age.
It’s time to walk up to the summit with Raiski.
Raiski is a former youth worker who ended up as an entrepreneur in nature tourism in the 1990s. It happened naturally as she often led people up the fell: rst the youngsters who she worked with.
“I quickly noticed their self-esteem soaring when hiking in the nature. And I, too, enjoyed it”, Raiski says.
Then came relatives and friends. They, too, wanted to go on these excursions. And then pretty much everyone else. More than the work itself, it’s the group of people Raiski has brought today that can tell about her.
Raiski’s former employee Eve Manninen, living in Tampere, central Finland, had such a longing for Lapland that she came to visit. Because one is always welcome to visit and to feel at home at Raiski’s. Laura Ruuskanen worked for Raiski for years but allergies forced her to switch to indoor work. But without Raiski, she would have never ended up living in Levi.
Then there is Sylvia Wilson, wilderness guide in training, who moved to Levi a few years ago.
“It’s ten o’clock. Let’s get going, welcome!” Sylvia says in Finnish.
"When I succeed in life, Iplan on making wonderful things to those who suffer."
In order to understand why a 21-year-old from Namibia, wearing a beanie advertising the nature excursion company Lapin Luontoelämys, is telling about the Northern Lights, one must learn to know the story of Raiski Palosaari.
You receive by giving
You receive by giving. That’s the essence of Raiski’s life.
When Raiski was 12 years old, her father passed away. That brought an enormous shock and grief. Raiski had always been daddy’s girl.
Luckily Raiski had her mother as well as other caring adults in her life: Godmother, a bubbly Karelian woman who, in addition of having a daughter of her own, helped raise Raiski, too. Her first ever summer job brought Aarne and Laila to her life and they became like foster parents to her. After graduation, in 1976, Raiski moved to Kittilä to work. The local church parish worker and his wife took her in.
“The way they cared for me has meant so much to me. When you have been looked after as I was I needed to continue to set the example and pass it forward”, Raiski says.
And let us not forget the mother-in-law who always welcomed everyone into her home. Raiski started thinking about whether she, too, could make her home such a place.
Why wouldn’t she? She had three children all grown up and a flock of “foster children”. Young people who, for different reason, had ended up living with her.
“First there was Artsi”, Raiski starts to reminisce.
They all had a similar story: they were looking for a direction in life, ending up talking with the Palosaari family and somehow finding themselves staying until figuring out what to do in life. Like Oras, a friend of Raiski’s daughter, who came for a sleepover but stayed for a year.
“These young people have given me so much”, Raiski says. One such example was at the turn of the millennium when Raiski’s marriage ended in divorce.
“It was the children and the youth work in Kittilä that saved me. One of the children said to me I’m so happy you didn’t leave. That felt wonderful.”
We have reached the top of the Levi fell. The fog has settled in and made itself at home further down but up here the sunshine is beautiful.
“I did this for you. This is my magic”, Sylvia says pointing at the billowing white clouds.
Raiski is smiling, beaming with pride like a mother when her child is shining.
Trip to Namibia
Raiski’s trip to Namibia was a bit of a coincidence. Since she knew people who had gone there and it was, after all, her 60th birthday so she figured why not.
One night the group went to an African event where they would be taught how to cook and eat African porridge. The instructor was the eloquent Sylvia Wilson who had been taken in by the Finnish missionaries when she was 17.
At first, the severe winter took its toll on Sylvia Wilson. "But the landscape here is at its most beautiful when all is covered in snow and ice."
After the cooking performance, a teacher in the group, was praising Sylvia saying she would make a great teacher. Raiski, always being the cheeky one, stated that actually Sylvia would be an excellent wilderness guide in Lapland.
Sylvia looked Raiski in the eyes.
“That’s where I want to go”, she said.
Raiski realised immediately the girl meant it.
During the next couple of weeks Raiski and Sylvia got to know each other. Raiski had tears in her eyes as she listened to Sylvia’s story: Her parents died when she was seven. Sylvia and her brother ended up living with their uncle’s family. Sylvia still has the scars on her legs and an injury in her eye. Both the uncle and his wife would beat them. They were not fed or given clothes like the family’s own children were. They were always cast aside. Sylvia’s brother quit school to be able to search for food for his sister.
Yet Sylvia would smile and have a joke prepared every time she saw Raiski.
“There's my boss!” she would yell across the yard.
“There's my guide!” Raiski would answer.
Sylvia’s Finnish foster parents told they cannot afford an education for Sylvia. They asked if Raiski could help.
Of course she could. As soon as Raiski got home she started working on getting Sylvia an apprenticeship for the wilderness guide training. Sylvia arrived in the middle of snow and frost in November 2014.
“I saw that Sylvia is a gem of a human being, and I was lucky to have her by my side for a while. I felt a huge responsibility not to let anything harm her”, Raiski tells.
“Nowadays she is as precious as my own daughters.”
"Be brave and be kind"
On the way down we stop to have a break at a kota, traditional tepee-like dwelling. This one was called Lammaskuru. Soon the campfire crackles and the smoke is rising through the hole in the roof out to the sky.
Raiski, Eve and Laura let Sylvia act as the hostess since she is on head guide duty today. She hands out roasting forks for our sausages along with the traditional local kuksa coffee mugs and cinnamon rolls. All this while telling stories about the history of Lapland. Occasionally she fumbles on her words and switches to English.
“You do remember, Sylvia, that your Finnish is perfect, don’t you”, Raiski says.
As we walk from the kota to the car Sylvia says she does not have the words to tell how grateful she is to Raiski.
“She is my mother, my best friend, my hero and my soul mate.”
Raiski and Sylvia never tire of the scenery. The view from the fell is always different.
For Sylvia it was incredible that Raiski wanted her to lead the same life as all the other children and included her in every aspect of life. Raiski sent her to Spain to travel, organised eye surgeries, taught her to drive and bought her an iPhone so she could stay in touch with her family and friends. And nagged her for being messy or lazy – in fact encouraged Sylvia to express her negative emotions. Once, during an argument, Sylvia yelled that she hates Raiski. Raiski was delighted that finally Sylvia trusted her.
Sylvia says she wants to leave her old life behind, to forgive and to concentrate on the future.
“Paying it forward is like a chain of good deeds. When you help others and are kind to them, the chain keeps moving.”
That is why she has sent money for Christmas also to the aunt in Namibia who hit her and spat on her.
“When I succeed in life, I plan on making wonderful things to those who suffer. I’ll organise electricity for communities in Africa, arrange pure water and build better houses”, Sylvia tells us.
This is her way of honouring Raiski.
“My mother also always said be brave and be kind.”
Now Sylvia is in a place where everyone lives according to those principles, too.
Paying it forward