A room full of love

Many months ago, not very long after we’d arrived in Sweden, I found out about a school that I very much wanted to work at. I was at the time looking for relief teaching work, and sending my CV hither and thither in the hopes of finding something, anything.
I added an extra sentence to the email, and hoped that my enthusiasm if not my experience would attract someone’s notice. It did. I got an interview and soon found myself Englishing at ladies from all ages and backgrounds, coming in every few weeks or so to cover for sick leave or training.
In time I was asked to take over a class for the second half of a term, and then this year I was asked to take a class for a whole term. I obviously said yes to both, having grown to love the school, for opening its doors to me and for what it represented.

Fast forward a little to last Friday. The term is over, the last class has flown past (don’t forget the deadline for logbooks ladies!) and while for some this is a pause before getting back to the books next term, for others it’s the end. Graduation day. This term it includes not only many students, some of whom I have taught, but a teacher who has meant a lot to me.
There were no trucks or sailor hats for these women, but rather a party. It celebrated the ending of term, the beginning of the holidays, what had been achieved, who was leaving and what the school had come to mean to those who were a part of it. And love. A lot of that.

It started with one of the MCs stalking off in a huff. The huffer and huffee were students of mine, I was proud to see, and the huff obviously false. They did a quick costume change and then sashayed back into the room in a suit and a cheerleader outfit to pounding music. From there the party was launched, and the first order of business was to launch ourselves in good order at the smörgåstortor (sandwich cakes) along the sideboard, which had been made by one of the classes. They were all vegan and tastier than I would have thought, given the suspicion I have viewed them with in the past.
As myself and the other teachers and students stuffed ourselves with cake, a stool was set up at the front of the room. A young woman sat on it with a guitar and started to sing. She sang about friendship, surprises, learning and her experiences at the school. As she sang I looked to my left to see two teachers hugging as tears fell down their cheeks, and behind them the principal’s eyes were overflowing. When the song ended the room erupted, cheers rising and tears falling from all parts of the audience of 100 or so women. From that moment, if not before, we were all in it together.

The song for the school

The song for the school

What followed was 2 hours of dancing, poetry, speeches and films, the students and teachers performing to each other in turns.
A group of mostly Somali women did an interpretive song and dance with the theme of water.
The media class played 4 short films, about a feminist taxi making it’s rounds of town, a dreamy short about trans issues, a stop-motion raft almost capsizing and finally a music video for ‘I Will Always Love You.’ They ended the last video with a sing-along of the last chorus, accompanied by the rest of the room and with rainbow flags waving behind them.
‘Jag jävla älska dig’ (I f*****g love you) cried one of the MCs as they sat down. There were many hugs.
Teachers impersonated each other and then famous feminists to huge applause and laughter, the principal at one point upstaging one of the teachers with an uncanny impersonation of her which she didn’t at first clock on to. Marie Curie/the science teacher impressed us all with some flashy test tube tricks, and was followed by speeches from Frida Kahlo, Simone de Bauvoir, Emmeline Pankhurst, Emma Goldman and others.

Audience and bunting

Audience and bunting

One teacher called us cracks in the wall, inheritors of those that had brought down the Berlin Wall, and told us to never give up.
Then a student blew us all away with her story. She went on stage bedecked in bright blue robes and shimmering jewellry, telling us that from the time she was a child she had been by teachers that she couldn’t achieve what she wanted, and told by her mother to keep doing what she needed regardless of what anyone said. In SFI (the free Swedish course all immigrants do) the teacher expressed disbelief that she got the highest marks. No, she said, I will show you that I am more than you think. She switched languages and belted out ‘Still I Rise‘ by Maya Angelou, bringing yet more deafening cheers and tears to the room.
A poem was performed in Farsi and a song sung in Swedish by another student, who lead a group of students and teachers in a singing line, encouraging them all to launch into a second performance with much enthusiasm.
Soon after my class performed their disconnected, collected lines of poetry, and one of them, who had been one of the most nervous of my students took part in an energetic flashmob dance.
The party was now drawing to a close, and before it ended the singer from the beginning was called back onto stage for an encore. There were fewer laughs and tears this time, but at the last line love and applause rocked around the room to calls for it to become the official song of the school.

After which the principal tore up her prepared speech, declaring that nothing she could have prepared could possibly follow what had come before. She told us that this day, these experiences, were knots that we would tie on the pack that we all carried with us, strengthening it and marking a stage of our journey. Then we all joined together to clean up the room and the stage became a dance floor, Persian dance music thumping away as teachers and students twirled in a circle, taking turns shimmying in the centre. A woman in a wheelchair got an especially big applause as she was pulled on, and a few more eyes were full yet again.

The dance floor getting underway

The dance floor getting underway

I got hugs and flowers, thanking the teacher who was leaving who had first called me in and being thanked by a student for speaking up for her. I left hoping to be able to keep the feeling of the day intact. Perhaps by writing it down I’ll keep it alive, so that even if I never visit the community again, the feeling of love will never fade.

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Sending music into the night

I get the impression that my antipodean friends and family believe that a Swedish winter consists entirely of cold, darkness, dreariness and staring mournfully out of the window in between chugging down beer and eating potatoes to drive away the misery. I want to make it clear, here and now, that this is not entirely true.
Yes, the vitamin D deficiency gets us down sometimes and comfort food is tempting (oh wedges and mash, what would I do without you?), but those of us who choose to live up here find ways to cope and sometimes even drive away the darkness.

Way back in November, all of four months ago now, we were invited to a concert across town in Majorna. We were unclear as to what sort of music there would be, but trusted the inviter’s taste enough to assume it would be interesting. After passing rooms full of billiards, young men smoking on the street and closed nail-art shops we found an obscure door and were within seconds enveloped in warmth and the smell of incense. The concert had already started, so after hanging up our thick layers of jackets, beanies, scarves and mittens we shuffled and apologised our way to the corner where our friends had already taken up position.

The band

The band

On the stage was a band of six men, a guitarist, two drummers, a cellist, a saxophonist and a bassist who treated us to cross-cultural melodies that I couldn’t begin to guess at the origin of. They seemed to twine from the east to west, and probably north and south too, and had all of the feet in the house tapping along. A lady from India then joined them, singing traditional songs in a style I’d never heard before being joined by an Iranian woman whose presence took up the whole venue. She was amazing, and managed to provoke the room into breaking into a veritable orgy of dancing. Fellow audience members who had seemed typically reserved and quiet were bursting all over the stage, a long line and then circle of dancers twisting around along with the music. Or in the case of some people, along with the music in their heads which seemed to have a different tune. Being Australian, and therefore reserved in a different way, we sat and watched and sipped our wine, as I at least tried to ignore the itch in my feet.

Once started the dancing can't stop

Once started the dancing can’t stop

We followed the concert with a few drinks at a local pub, claiming paintings of vintage aircraft, dancing, guessing the names of songs and staying until closing time.

When the year had turned and we’d returned and mostly recovered from the excitement of Jul and visitors, another celebration arrived. This time is was a housewarming at the home of a good friend of mine. We turned up late, due to getting a little bit lost, and arrived to find an apartment full of Swedes, warmth and talking. We bobbed around between rooms, chatting and listening, and finally found a space in the living room to enjoy our dinner. I had seen on the invitation that guests were invited to bring their instruments, as the girlfriend of my friend is very heavily involved in music, and it seemed as though most of the others who had come to the party were as well.
As the night drew on we became the slightly stunned but gleeful audience of a sudden orchestra of violinists. A guitar and banjo joined in at various times, plus little people dancing among the legs and chairs, but for the most part violins were coaxed into life, belting out folk music and dances. They all seemed to be speaking a language I couldn’t understand, switching between styles and songs with cues I couldn’t hear or see. At the high point, there were 7 violins playing at one time, and I’d guess about 9 in total passed in and out of the apartment. Though I can play music to an extent, these people had the ability to play in the other sense of the word, in the same way that I sometimes like to do with words – throwing them around to make patterns and for sheer enjoyment.
We left late, or early, with the music following us down the street.

Keeping away the cold

Keeping away the cold

So my advice, if you want to take it, is if you are feeling cold and miserable on a winter’s night, follow an invitation for a night of talking and music. Even if you don’t bring your own violin, you can sit amid the music and forget the cold.