My neighborhood, Tensta, and similar neighborhoods tend to get a lot of crap in the media. It’s always bothered me, because I really love this place. I’ve lived here nearly 30 years, and honestly, the only think that’s ever really tempted me to move away from here and the wonderous, spacious balconies I’ve seen in the apartment complex my landlord owns in a nearby (and in many ways similar) neighborhood. Stockholm is my city and Sweden is my country but this place, Tensta, is my real, true home, where my roots have sunk deep into the ground. So I am going to make a habit of telling you all about the thing, places, people, events that make me love Tensta. It’s not meant to be a list of things that only happen here; I don’t care if the things I love are specific or general, common or uncommon, widely enjoyed or widely disliked. It is the amalgamation of all these things together that make this a place I love. But as often, I am explaining myself too much so let’s just get on with it!
Love Tensta #1:
I see two tough-looking dudes in their early 20s as I walk towards the subway. Goattees, hoodies, over-sized brand baseball caps. As I pass by them I hear one of them say: “I like bluebells. They’re pretty.”
Jag gillar blåklockor. Dom är fina!
One of the things I wanted to do on this blog is to teach you guys some Swedish words. And, suitably, I’m starting with the word ordförråd, which is the Swedish word meaning vocabulary (usually in the sense of the range of words a particular person knows, rather than the wider sense of the lexicon of a language). Ord means word and förråd means storage or inventory, like for example a basement storage unit. I’m not sure exactly why, but I tend to associate the term with the concept of a pantry (even though that’s actually called skafferi in Swedish). It’s just a nice image. A little door in your head, behind which all the words you know live on little shelves covered in gingham paper.
So, for this reason these vocabulary posts will be called The Word Pantry. Hopefully you’ll find lots of tasty morsels in it.
During the winter 2015-2016, I volunteered at a refugee center. I was only there about one shift per week, but it had a great impact on me. I got to know some lovely people, got to use my Arabic in a practical way for the first time, but was also painfully reminded of how awful our current system is to those that come here in search of safety and stability. In March, the refugee center was closed and the last of the residents left on a bus late at night. I wrote this that evening, or maybe it was the next morning. It expresses some of all that I felt that night. The English translation is below the Swedish original, though it is not nearly as good and frankly comes off rather flat:
Några Gråter; Sverige Sover
Bussen går på tomgång i mörkret
En sista kram, ett handslag, och så går de ombord med sin oro och sin matsäck
Huttrande volontärer står på trottoaren och vinkar
Vinden tar tårarna
En bil tutar, måste förbi, måste runt, kan inte vänta de extra minuterna som sorgsna farväl behöver
Bussen rullar in i natten, mot norr, mot det okända
Bilen kör hem, hem till tevesoffan, till värmen
Boendet var sekretessbelagt
Hemlighållet för att vår brist på medmänsklighet inte skulle skada dem
En besvärjelse mot den med tändstickorna
En viskning i vinden
Maten smakade skolmatsal, en nostalgitripp för oss, yoghurt för barnen som inte ville äta
Korridorerna ekade, längor av små inte-hem
De av oss som kunde prata, försökte lyssna
Vart tar bussen mina vänner nu?
Målet är otydligt, en stad men ingen postkod, en hägring med suddiga konturer långt borta
Dagis, skola, språklektioner, eller överfulla sovsalar?
Vinden tar frågorna
Gav vi dem inte extra kläder för att vi inte visste om de skulle kunna ta med sig dem på bussen?
Varför vill vi att de ska nöja sig med smulor
som vi aldrig själva skulle stoppa i munnen?
Some (people) are Crying; Sweden Sleeps
The bus idles in the dark
A final hug, a handshake, and they board with their worry and their packed food
Shivering volunteers stand waving on the sidewalk
The wind takes the tears
A car honks, needs to pass, to get around, can’t wait the extra minutes that a sad farewell requires
The bus rolls into the night, northbound, towards the unknown
The car drives home, home to the TV couch, to the warmth
Some are crying
The housing was classified
Kept secret so that our lack of humanity wouldn’t harm them
An incantation against the one with the matches
A whisper in the wind
The food tasted like a school canteen, memory lane for us, yoghurt for the children who don’t want to eat
The hallways echoed, rows of little not-homes
Those of us who could speak, tried to listen
Some are crying
Where is the bus taking my friends now?
The destination is unclear, a city but no postcode, a mirage with blurry edges far away
Daycare, school and language classes, or overcrowded dormitories?
The wind takes the questions
Did we refuse them extra clothes because we didn’t know if they’d be able to take them with them on the bus?
Why do we want them to be content with crumbs
That we would never put into our own mouths?
Some are crying
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