50) Playing with what is there

The context for this story is this: as the daughter of Yugoslavian guest workers, this girl was sent in the summer before entering primary school, to Yugoslavia. Without knowing land and language. How was that for her?

“[…] At the beginning of course, I was distracted by all the animals that were there— dogs, cats, cows, horses and goats— and that was all fun for me, but still the poverty… it just was present. My grandmother did not have a fridge, up to that point it had been somethings totally natural to have a fridge; she did not have a bath, when I had to bathe then there was a big plastic tub carried outside for that and water heated up on the oven. I had very long hair, and they did not have a hairdryer, to blow-dry my hair. My mum had to bring one from Germany. Also, they were very poor. The toilet was behind the house, it was a pit toilet. All of that I did not know from Germany. But it was also fascinating, it was amazing. We played throughout the whole night, catching insects, glowworms, letting old shoes swimming in a pond of slurry, riding on a horse, milking cows, so it was very exciting. I grew up there with my two uncles, they were a bit older than me and took care of me. The language I learned then within a few weeks, that went very quick. There was no one there, so you had to learn to speak.”

Do stories always need a moral? If yes, then I would say: of course life is difficult, but it can be beautiful at the same time. It is not like money would not matter, or that poverty is romantic, but beauty and joy can also be found without money.

49) (Life)long learning

„Someone recently told me, when I said that he seemed to enjoy learning new things a lot: ‚It’s one of the primary things I like about being alive‘. For me somehow, that is a beautiful thing to hear so I wanted to share it. 

I like to learn new things myself, and hearing the same from someone else, that made me happy. It doesn’t need to be school book learning— but it can be. The best thing is to realise that I have learned something. Whether it is to master for the first time a turn with a snowboard without falling, ordering in a different language without having to switch back to English or being able to connect the maths from school to the statistics course at university… the conversation reminded me of that joy.

And despite all the complains about having so much to do, whether in school or at university, I actually always liked being a student. Complaining about what is not according to plan is part of the everyday life, at least in my socio-cultural environment. But actually I love how many things we are learning.

The other day, I saw a friend starting a fundraiser, because he could not afford the fees for the first semester of studies, for something he is very passionate about. I contributed to the fundraiser. He seemed surprised, possibly because we were not in contact for a long time. But I always had luck that I had the means to study the subjects I was interested in. And because I could afford it, it is great for me to help someone to do the same, to learn. Even more so, because he had asked for the help to fulfil his dream and was happy to receive support from friends.“

48) Letters to the family

Stories of this kind you can hear more than once, they are an example to me, how family is holding together. This narration is again from someone, who came first as a guest worker to Germany.

“What I have done with the money I earned in Germany? Like I said, my parents were poor and had many children. And I have often sent money home with the mail. I sent a letter and put 10 German Mark, or 20 into it. That was a lot of money in Yugoslavia back then. And it also arrived. And sometimes I gave something to an acquaintance on the way, when I heard that they would go to Yugoslavia for holiday, I would ask if they could take 50 or 100 German Mark with them and give to my parents. When they came from the same town. And that way, one person did something for the other. And when I went myself, I took something with me for the others. You know, I grew up in a very different culture and generation. I always stood behind my parents and siblings, I always gave something and helped, so that the kids could go to school. So simple is that. Also, when I was married, we did it that way. My wife for her family and me for mine. But we always did it equally. Equal amount of money. And with my parents-in-law I got very well along. One is helping, when one can afford it.”

47) Study buddies

“Studying is indeed something quite different than being in school, which is why before I started, I did think a lot about it. And when informing yourself and looking around, you do not only hear the good stuff. I read on an online blog, that students have tried to out rival one another or work against each other. Books were hidden in the library, that other students wouldn’t find them, or wrong answers passed down. That shocked me a bit and made me think, because my school time was marked by mutual aid. I think my A-levels I earned to one third thanks to my classmates.

Luckily, the reality showed me a different picture. For example, we need to submit in maths every week a task, which does take a lot of time. But fortunately, everyone in our study-programme-group seems to have this task. No matter which question we need help with, someone knows the answer or knows someone who could help us, which is why at the end everyone in the group does a good work. And that gives me a little bit the feeling of being back in school. Because of that helping each other, when someone does not know further.”

46) In advance

This narration is from someone, who came first as a guest worker to Germany. Sometimes it is important to get something in advance, to start something new—trust, money, or a calf.

“I tried several times to get to Germany. What means several times… twice I tried to come through my uncle to Germany. And my father has been forbidding it to me. He told my uncle, he should not get involved but to leave my father’s kids alone. And then my uncle apologized when I returned from the Yugoslavian army…1969. The second time I also tried it through someone I knew. A neighbour. But that did not work out. And the third time I went directly to the employment office and no one knew about it. I went there no my own. I registered there and asked how high the chances were for me, to get to Germany. The man said, very clearly: ‘Hey boy, you are not the only one who wants to go to Germany, there are also people who bribe me with money’. Then I asked what he meant. And he said ‘Well, just give me money for some coffee’. Then I told him that I am willing to give money and he asked me how much. And I asked, what the others would give and he said, ‘there are people that are giving 500 dinar, then there are some that give 1000 or even 2000 dinar’. And then I said ‘Well, if this works, that I can go, then of course I’m also ready to give 2000 dinar’. But I did not work anywhere and had no money. I just lied. ‘I’ll put in your name and if you bring me the money, we can do that’, he said. And then I walked the whole way from the employment office home and went to my aunt. I told her, that there was a problem. I told her that there was a possibility for me to go to Germany, but that I needed to give a man 2000 dinar. And she did ‘Oooh’. She said, ‘I do not have the money for that, the only option that we have is that I sell my calf’. And I told her that if she was helping me and I got to Germany, I would never forget that. Not in my entire life. And then on the next Monday we sold the calf on the cattle market and I gave the money to the man. And he put me on the list on the very first spot. […] And on the whole way home… that was four kilometres by foot, you know, I was so hungry, and I thought ‘I’m so stupid, why did I not get myself some food from that money and then bring the man the rest’ [laughs].”

45) Among Runners

“I find it every single time again impressing, how athletes are helping each other, motivating and supporting one another, without ever having met before. Nevertheless, they are talking together, laughing or provide each other with food and such.

This was the case for me at a running competition, when I had given a little too much and just before the finish simply couldn’t run anymore and had to sit down on the side, because my body just said ‘no’. I did not even had to ask around, when already a young guy with his girlfriend came and gave me a big bottle of Sprite, which was in that moment like a present from god. It was super friendly of them and thanks to their help, I could still finish the competition. Unfortunately, I could not really thank them afterwards.

However, it always shows me how relaxed and helpful people are towards each other at sports events. Especially if you compare it to the everyday life, where people tend to complain about the smallest issues.”

44) Finding humanity in a tent camp

In autumn 2015, Europe experienced the arrival of a previously unknown number of refugees. While this time has caused many debates and created stories, inspiring and disturbing ones, I did not experience it first-hand. I was not in Europe at that time and could only listen to the news and stories. Years later, they are still being told. One I want to share here, the way it was told to me:

In the summer 2015, a big group of refugees were building up a camp in the centre of Brussels in the Maximiliaanpark. He (the storyteller) was approached by a friend and they started helping in the camp. Someone had the idea to create a facebook group and immediately, it started growing. People donated tents, food, clothes, things you would need. The government at that time was not really doing anything at the time. But people stepped in. There was someone working for Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in logistics. And for him it was not a problem to arrange some better tents. That way, they got some bigger and more stable tents, where you could actually stand inside and also larger tents for office space.

“In a couple of days, people flocked into the camp from all over Brussels, and Belgium really, and volunteered together with the refugees for building the camp. We created plan, one guy from a print shop had the possibility to print things on plastic— so we had maps of the camp everywhere, all the signs for where people would go to… all in English, Arabic, French and Dutch. It was actually all quite professionally organised by a bunch of people who have never done this before.”

As time continued, He asked about being the spokesperson for the tent camp. Which was needed to get some support, while the government was not doing their job fast enough, providing refugees with necessary shelter and help and so on.

Then winter was coming and they knew that the camp was going to get too cold, and started looking for other options. They started contacting people around Brussels to take in people from the camp, voluntarily. First came the families with little kids. Later, when more people opened up their doors, single persons who were mainly younger men, were taken as well.

But still, there was a need for a shared communal space. The refugees came from several countries and they needed a space to be among each other, to exchange experiences as well as information.

“So we found, actually across the street from the refugee camp, there was a building that was empty and that was going to be demolished next year. But it was in perfect condition, they just wanted to remove it and build apartments there. So we talked to the owner and the owner was like ‘Sure, you can use that.’ […] and we had a whole building that we could actually use.”

They had a communal space, place for organising and meetings and also storage for things like boxes with clothes. The house they had for about a year, so that gave some time to think further.

The story of this camp continued, but He started to work for a while with MSF, who had problems working with this in Europe unusual situation. Visiting refugee camps all across Europe, He could see the different scenarios and how all the countries have different ways of dealing with the situation and the people. It was a “mind opener”, about governments and people. But after the work with MSF and the intense time with the tent camp, He needed a break.

So, where do you see the humanity in all of that, I ask.

Well, not in governments, in His case.

“When it comes to the people, I feel so many people change. For instance, in Brussels: you had people who live in the neighbourhood who just come and see. You have those people, when there  is an accident, they actually go and look. That was the same thing in Brussels, you had those disaster tourists. And they came. But because of the friendliness of the atmosphere, there was no hostility or whatsoever. Yeah, there were some fights once in a while, but in general no hostility. You had people making music, kids running around in the whole place, it was a good atmosphere. So those people actually stayed. And they started volunteering. Not all of them, but it was super nice to see. You have people who live quite segregated in Brussels, and they come and see, they see the kids, and all over sudden you get the question ‘Can I volunteer in the kitchen?’ — And I’m saying “Yeah, that here is the person dealing with the kitchen, so there you go.’ It’s a rolling effect. And that doesn’t go for everyone, but I do think that is where you find the humanity. You know how disarming a smile can be?”

[…]

“I think you always have to look at it from the positive way. Because if not, you get pretty devastated. If I wouldn’t see my friends in Palestine cope with the situation there and how they have dealt with the torture and so on… If I was just listening to the torture stories, I would be devastated. But I listen to the other side of the story too. That is the resistance, the strength that they have, to go on. And that is something so powerful, […] You listen to those stories and then you go like ‘this is also part of humanity!’ You can see it everywhere.”

And this is the essence of what these stories are about. Humans cause a lot of destruction. But there is also a lot of love and care, and this should also be shown.

“The world is full of these stories.”

43) A ticket at Christmas

“In the week before Christmas, I wanted to go by bus to a friend. But I had forgotten, that you can pay in the bus only by cash, and I only had my card with me. I still had 10 minutes time until the bus would start and wanted to go to the next ATM, when a young man behind me asked: ‘How much does it cost?’ 4,50 € and he gave me a 5 € note. It is Christmas time.”

Of course, it would be great if people were always so kind and empathetic, as in the Christmas time. But it does not make this gesture smaller and maybe every year are people doing a start at Christmas.

42) Books and Hate

This story is a bit different than the usual ones. It is a speech that was written in the name of a group of people as response to some islamophobic incidences (including burning of Koran books) in Sweden in summer. They are describing what to fight against. This purpose is giving them quite clear words, about the awareness that hate as a response to fear is not a good solution. The message counts in other places and for other types of hatred the same.

“The Crime Prevention Council reports that ‘In recent years there is an increased reporting of Islamophobic hate propaganda and Islamophobic hate crimes taking place in Sweden and around Europe’. Islamophobia can take various forms such as propaganda, social and economic discrimination, threats, harassment and incitement against ethnic groups. In recent years, we have also had a number of examples of vandalism of mosques and burning of the Koran.

What has happened the last time is more than an isolated event – more than the burning of the Koran or attacks on mosques. The incidences are part of a more comprehensive effort to divide our society and create polarisation between different groups. The purpose is to create a ‘We and Them’ who do not stick together, who are not equally valuable and who can not live together.

History has shown what such polarisation and demonisation can lead to. This is not the first time that books are burning in Europe and as Henrik Heine said, ‘where you burn books you end up burning people too’. We have seen this during World War II when Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and dissidents were placed in concentration camps under Nazism. And we know what the ongoing polarisation can lead to, such as in China, where the Uighur ethnic group is oppressed and forcibly placed in various retraining and labor camps. It has also led to the terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011 with more than 70 victims, the terrorist attack in Stockholm in 2017 with 5 victims, including an 11-year-old girl, and the terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch in 2019 with 50 victims.

Islamophobia, Afrophobia, Antisemitism and other types of hatred create a fragmented society characterised by violence and abuse. One can also note that Sweden’s problems can not be solved with Islamophobia. Islamophobia can not be solved with riots either. Because the riot will only destroy our properties and our society. And it will only be used to spread Islamophobia.

It is often said that Sweden has major problems with crime, racism, sexism, discrimination, segregation and other types of extremism. Yes! These problems need to be discussed! And these problems need to be addressed! But they can NOT be tackled with hatred – whether it is Islamophobia or something else! And they can absolutely not be solved by force or riot!

A better Sweden demands that we all deal with these problems and examine their social, economic, political, legal and intellectual causes. This requires extensive cooperation between individuals and organisations, including politicians and civil society actors, economists and lawmakers, academics and journalists. Then we must find appropriate measures to combat Islamophobia and other hateful ideologies that divide our society.

A better Sweden demands that we go from words to action but also from hatred to solidarity and that is why we stand here today.”

41) A new place, a new do-gooder

Moving, again. Again a new town, new ways, a new country. New customs, a new daily routine. New people, a new social environment. Different weather, different food. A new flat, that I will get used to. And in the current situation, first and foremost: two weeks of quarantine, two weeks alone with my thoughts. All chosen by myself and first-world-problems. But upon arrival, there is still always a bit of melancholy and desire for the home and the familiar.

What is the best that can happen to me in such a situation? When a new classmate, who does not even know me yet, in a jolly mood, light-hearted and uncomplicated approaches me and offers her help, with whatever I potentially could use some help for. She, who picks me up late in the evening, without the need of asking her, from the train station and walks me to my new place. Not only because of the logistics, but more for morality that was a great support. And maybe, it is the begin of a friendship.