Waking Up Into A Dream- My First Day in Sweden

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It was afternoon when I woke up on a brown leather sofa in my grandmother’s living room. I looked around. Above me on the wall was an oil painting of a sunset on the water. Water can be so beautiful but I am terrified of it. To my left was a wall covered in framed family photographs. There was a small photo of my family when there had been only four kids. Close to it was a photo of my mother as a young girl. For the first time I saw my great grandmother, she looked like she had been working when the photo was taken. To my right was a large open window with white curtains that danced in the breeze. It looked out to the back courtyard. I was on the ground floor in an apartment building, in a neighbourhood with lots of other buildings that all looked exactly the same. The soft sounds of the upstairs neighbour’s conversations travelled down to us. It was the month of May and the sun shone brightly, trying to cheer up my gray mood.

‘I am in Sweden’, I kept repeating to myself. I am awake, but it feels like a dream. I left reality behind, this isn’t real. I am not really here. I touched my arm, my face and looked at my feet. I saw that I was whole, but parts of me felt missing.

My grandmother noticed I had woken up and brought me a glass of pear juice. It was delicious. I looked at her. It had been several years since she had visited us in the states. Her hair still black with only a few white strands. Her physique slender from all the walking she does. Her face naturally beautiful as she did not wear make up. I could see that she was my mother’s mother. She then started to point out her things and explain them.¬†She had a large collection of white porcelain pieces displayed in a glass cabinet, all labeled on the bottom with her name and the year she got it. She had bookshelves full of journals that she had faithfully written through the years. I looked out the window again as she kept talking. Her Swedish was easy to understand. My mother’s mother, they spoke similar. Just yesterday I had been home in Ohio. Four airplanes later I was here. The world felt small and I grew restless. I stood up and asked if we could walk. She looked surprised but agreed.

We walked around the block. I was looking for something interesting, something that stood out to be “different”. Something that would make me feel like it was okay to be here because there was something I would have otherwise missed out on. We crossed the road onto a sidewalk that was made of cobblestone. It was pretty to look at, but made my ankles hurt. The greenery was beautiful, the cars that drove past were all nice but the thing that stood out the most wasn’t a thing, it was sound. Everything seemed so quiet. The cars weren’t honking. The dogs weren’t barking. People weren’t shouting. The calmness around me a direct opposite from how I was feeling inside, because inside I was screaming.

We walked back to the apartment and she began to cook dinner. I sat in the living room and called my mom. The phone sounds were different. The smells from the kitchen were foreign to my nose. I had just arrived but I was ready to run. Like an ungrateful spoiled girl, I sat with a bad attitude. Complaining about everything under my breath. Blind to the opportunity around me. Eventually I would learn, but I was a hard egg to break. And with that hardness, some things come too late.

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A Foreign Community, An Extended Family- A True Story

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Many years ago when I lived in Sweden, in my early 2o’s, I had my own apartment in a community made up of foreignors. The buildings were tall, brightly painted with huge numbers so addresses were easy to find. I was number 74 V.2. We were from everywhere. Brazil, Iran, Pakistan, Argentina, Russia, different countries from Africa, America, Poland, Chile, Peru, Iraq, India, and many more. Ironically, technically, I am Swedish. I do not have the stereotypical blonde hair and blue eyes like all my cousins, and I didn’t (still don’t) speak with the same Swedish accent, but I am a Swede. A Swede who seemed to fit better in this international neighbourhood.

Here, I remember especially the women. They’d smile at me and shout out a “hello” in their language as they beat their rugs outside, and I felt they instantly accepted me as one of their own. Sure I’ll pretend a second to be Bolivian! Hola! Okay that was the only one I knew at the time, to the others I just smiled back. These women cooked with open windows and the smell of their food made my mouth water. Where ever I went, there was a woman with children closeby. Be it her own, or her grandchildren, or nieces and nephews, children were everywhere. I was fascinated that all these people from around the world had found their way here.

Across the courtyard from me lived a close friend that I had met and gotten to know. Her family was Assyrian from Iran. I later learned to greet them with a word that sounded like it would be spelled “schlamalockhone”. Her parents didn’t speak much Swedish but it didn’t matter. They were so kind to me! Spending time in their home made me realise how my friends must have felt visiting my family. They only knew English and my family spoke Swedish at home! In time I learned the sounds of their language and when I heard others at bus stops or shops, I always knew if they were speaking their dialect of Assyrian or not and I would greet them with a friendly “schlamalockhone”.

My friend’s mother was such a busy body. From what I observed, she cooked a big pot of food each morning. I can still almost taste her meatballs with buttery rice on the side.Whoever came to the house could have some food and there was always plenty to eat. She then spent the rest of her day helping others. Every day! On days where she was home cleaning, she had the TV on a channel that played her home music. Have you heard of Arabic oldies? I loved it! I became infused by their culture. They easily made me feel like I had more than just friends as neighbours, they were my extended family.

One Christmas I was the only one in my family in Sweden. Christmas Eve was spent with my aunt and cousins and it was wonderful to learn more in depth the Swedish traditions. Christmas day was spent with my Assyrian family. We put on our best dress and went to… I think it was their grandparents home. See the importance of keeping a journal? Memory is so unreliable. So many people were there! And I had no idea what anyone was saying but it was great. More kindness was shown to me. The grandfather said these words, as my friend translated them for me: “Today we understand that you miss your family. Today we will adopt you as one of our own. Feel at home.” He then invited me to bless the big Christmas meal! I was honored! The food was out of this world delicious.

After the meal they all sat around the large living room and sang traditional songs, I had learned some of their dances and joined in on those. It was time for presents but there was so many people I only remember envelopes of money. I watched my friend and her sister open theirs, then I opened mine and we had all gotten the same amount. My heart swelled with gratitude that I was truly accepted that day and I did not feel alone or left out at all. God bless those people for opening their heart and home to me.

I’ll never forget the warm summer nights my friend and I would slowly walk around the footpath that outlined our entire community. We talked for hours. Everything from earth to heaven, our pasts and hopes for the future and probably literally EVERYTHING. Women do have a gift of talking. During our walk, we walked past a soccer field that was right in the middle of the neighbourhood. The older boys playing with the younger ones like little brothers and including them in their game. We walked past whole families who were also out walking, husband, wife and children enjoying the evening stroll. I watched them and thought, I want that one day too! Evening strolls with my family.

Family is always there when we need a friend. Or are friends there when we need family? Either way, this night she was. It was at about 2am, I woke up with an intense pain in my leg. It was a pain that had resulted in a knee injury 3 years before. I went into the kitchen and panicked when I realised I had no painkillers left. This pain would only get worse and it was unbearable. I called her. At 2am she actually answered her phone! She lived at the top of her apartment building and had to come all the way down to open the door for me. In her flat she offered me food and medicine and I simply stayed the night. She was so much more than a friend. She was like a sister. Always there and never upset with me.

I remember talking to her a lot about how much I missed home- Ohio. And it was a hard time for me. But looking back I realise more and more that those years in Sweden had become some of my biggest blessings in life. I cannot thank God enough for the experiences I had, for the life long friendships that were built, for the lessons I would not have otherwise learned. Yes, sometimes trials are blessings in disguise.

And I thank God for my extended family around the world.

xx

(photo credit)