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.

Advertisements

Changing minds, fika by fika

There are many remarkable things about Sweden, some of which are well known and others not so much. There is of course the high standard of living and the beauty of the country and the ways things around here usually just work. This week I have also found out that it is a country in which politicians, or at least one politician, can be found giving speeches in living rooms spreading a message from person to person, requiring only a donation to a charity as payment.

Oratorical shadows

Oratorical shadows

The day dawned chilly and overcast. My partner and I had returned from a party at 3 that morning and so were somewhat the worse for sleep, but nevertheless managed to rouse ourselves enough to face the cold air and head into town. Others who for whatever reason had voluntarily or involuntarily decided to be up and about at the ungodly hour of 9am on a Sunday also stumbled around the tram station, the fresh breeze waking us up as we stood around and tried not to think of our beds. My partner and I chatted to stay alert, and kept an anxious eye open for our tram, wondering what lay ahead of us at our destination. We had been invited to the event a few weeks since and though we knew the basics had no clear idea of exactly what would unfold.

The first thing, as it turned out, was a house buzzing with smiling and excited people, chatting and saying hi to everyone as they set up the rooms or just wandered around. There was also, excitingly, a wonderful spread of cakes, biscuits and snacks waiting for us to explore, behind a charity jar in which we happily paid for the generosity of our hosts.
Every minute that passed brought more and more people, many of whom swarmed the kitchen, sending us out to take seats and nibble on our treats as we waited. There was a very potent sense of anticipation in the room, though a particularly Swedish one, by which I mean that it hung unobtrusively on people’s words and in their faces, and maintained voices at a steady rumble. When the guest did arrive it was almost difficult to tell, other than a slight flurry of movement and shuffling as people found a place to sit. The crowd, numbering about 60 by this point, were soon settled and then Gudrun began to speak.

Gudrun

Gudrun

She spoke about democracy and power. Every relation concerns power, she said. Equality isn’t an opinion, but something that should flow through all parts of society. We should be united against militarism, and work against conflict.
She spoke for an hour and a half, coaxing and persuading, and filling the whiteboard with scrawls and orating to our living room of 60 as if she was speaking to us all individually. It reminded me of a scene from a film, the name of which I have forgotten, in which speakers hustle from house to house spreading illicit words and stories to rapt audiences, one step ahead of the law. The lawless darkness couldn’t be found this time, but the sense of being part of a movement and listening spellbound to a persuasive speaker most definitely was.

A politician in the living room

A politician in the living room

After the speech we all mingled, some buying books from Gudrun, who sat somewhat appropriately the Christmas tree, and others chatting and eating. My partner and I bade goodbye to friends and went out into the day, trying to articulate our feelings from the morning. The notes I took seem a mess of circles and half-Swedish, half-English sentences whose meanings have been partly lost. The impression that is clear is that while the papers and tv are full of the compromises and back-and-forth of the face of politics, in living rooms and halls around Sweden there is at least one politician who is sharing a fika and a few hours with those who ask, and then waiting as the seeds sprout.

A writerly, womanly week

Today is the first of October, and it certainly seems as though Autumn is creeping up on us. The leaves have started to change colours and fall, and each day is crisper with chill. The sunny weather still makes winter seem a long way off, though knowing that we’ve probably got a month left at most makes each day seem brighter and more necessary to be outside.

A scattering of Autumn leaves

Last week was another home week, in which I sorted through things that needed sorting, did cleaning and in the evenings made delicious dinners with my partner. Then on Friday my personnummer finally arrived and I shot out the door to get my own new Göteborg library card. Plus a bank account, but let’s be frank here about priorities. The ride to the library, though involving a bit of getting lost, was lovely and sunny and after a rummage among the shelves I happily stuffed my bike basket with an assortment of books for my ride home.

This capped off a very pleasant day, in which I also took part in an English Conversation/fika with some lovely ladies I’d met the day before. Perhaps I should introduce them?
The ladies are members of the IWC (International Women’s Club), which has been running for 8 years here in Göteborg and consists of enthusiastic and welcoming women who love fika and chatting, and have created a busy community for those women who have arrived from overseas, or who want to meet those who have. At the first meeting on Thursday I felt like something of a novelty, as it would seem that there hasn’t been an Australian member for some time, and then got pulled into multiple conversations and found out that the worries I’ve had, and the excitements and strange experiences have been shared by others, and these others are there to help. I also met a lovely, friendly American lady who gave me a tonne of advice and has since sent me links to groups and useful information, in addition to putting me into contact with another writerly person who I hope to catch up with soon. From talking with these ladies, and the expats I’ve met via Facebook, there seem to be stages that immigrants go through, that are replicated with small differences from person to person.

Firstly a person arrives, jetlagged from their flight and desperate for somewhere to dump their stuff and settle. Once refreshed they turn and face their surroundings and exclaim at the glistening canals, ordered streets, fairytale forests and genteel people. This then eventually fades into the day by day routine, which is more structured if there’s work or study, though if at first there’s neither there’s a risk of isolation and inertia. Then, if you go looking you find something or make something to keep you busy and find people who nod and tell you they’ve been there, through those stages and that there are more to come and here’s what I wish I knew then, for you now. In a few months perhaps I’ll be one of those ladies, smiling and nodding, advising on glove insulators and expat women’s groups to someone else who’s just arrived, and making them feel a little less lost.

Then on Saturday came an event that I’ve been looking forward to since I found out I was moving to Australia, and which incidentally gave the end of last week a womanly theme. It was the Göteborg Bok Mässan, or Book Fair, in which a very large hall close to our apartment was filled with book sellers, authors doing talks, markets, craft stalls, chefs offering tasting and what seemed like everyone in Sweden. It was also in Swedish, which was probably why I didn’t end up buying any books (shock horror!), and we spent some time wandering around staring wide eyed at the crowds and stalls and holding hands just in case one of us got swept away by a sudden rip in the crowd.

Bok Mässan hordes

So, what, you ask, made this book fair woman themed? You said it was a womanly weekend, and it just sounds literary so far. Well, one of the guests at the fair was an author whose 2011 book I read with great enjoyment and internal fist-pumping and who I’ve followed online and on social media ever since. One of the speakers was Caitlin Moran. As in this Caitlin Moran. And here’s a photo of me with Caitlin Moran. The excitement! Though I sadly missed her main speech due to circumstances I don’t want to rant about, I did get a book signed and the above photo plus watched a shorter speech later. It seems that she is exactly the same person in the flesh as she is on paper; that is funny, passionate, honest and kind. She was completely approachable and friendly and yes this is turning into a bit of a fannish paean. Anyway, she’s awesome and if you mention her name to me any time soon I will likely squee and clap my hands excitedly.

Caitlin Moran being fabulous

The rest of the weekend was a bit more relaxed, as I continued to fight with my cold and we met up with some lovely expats we’d met previously, for lunch at an Iranian restaurant. The company and food were excellent, and after a bit of wandering around the city we headed home and finished off the weekend with some more relaxation.

A most delicious dinner

Since then I’ve been fighting the on-going flu battle and have finally managed to sign up for Swedish classes, which may start in November. It’s a huge relief to have that at least partly sorted, so I know that things are moving. I’ve also been busily looking for work and sending out my CV so fingers crossed something may happen in that area as well. In the meantime my nose is set on the grindstone to prepare for the lessons and new opportunities seem to be looming welcomingly. Hurrah 🙂