I am one! Weird . . . this strange feeling . . . But by learning Swedish, I’ll feel less a stranger. Must be so much easier for me than the Somalis, or the students who have come from Syria, and Vietnam. I hope to learn some of their stories, flights of passage to a world so different than their own. Three more have started class today. They come from Mogadishu, in Somalia, Palestine, and Syria, places we see getting blown to hell on television every night. God, what must that be like? Do they miss home? So many different customs, language, dress. At least they will not be alone. 2000 come through Sweden’s front door every month, more through the back door, via Germany. The total number’s over 50,000 now.
Things European aren’t so different from American experience, but there are differences, and I will always be, “A stranger, in a strange land.” Lao Tzu was first to use that term in his, I Ching – 550 BC.
The Wanderer – “When a man is a wanderer and stranger, he should not be gruff or over bearing. He has no large circle of acquaintance, therefore he should not give himself airs. He must be cautious and reserved; in this way he protects himself from evil. If he is obliging towards others, he wins success.” Always good advice in the I Ching.
The Somali girls, I should say women . . . they all seem so young. We only see their faces, all the rest is covered, head to toe. Their outfits all the same, except for colored patterns, and designs, some of them stunningly beautiful . . . all wearing exactly the same dress. It’s not a dress, of course; they’re called jibabs.
They cover the entire body, except for head and hands. Heads are covered by a scarf, called a shash. Men dress the same as they do here. This is a noticeably different culture. I wonder what they think of Swedish winters. Somalia’s average temperature stays in the upper eighties, not much rain, but they seem happy here, perhaps relived to have escaped their homeland. Sweden’s probably the best deal any immigrant can get. Good health care, money for housing, and extra money for each child. Average birth rate for women in Somalia is 6.17. Only 2% live past 65. A man can have four wives if he is able to support them.
Students get paid for coming to class. Those with good attendance receive a check at the end of the month. The money comes from the Swedish steel industry, with the purpose of making immigrants employable . . . as soon as possible. Four hours a day, five days a week. Intense. A classmate asked if there were holidays this morning.
“There are no holidays,” she was told. “Only homework days.”