Part one. Reality matters – Of refugees routes and Sicily

Italian navy rescue asylum seekers

June 7, 2014 – Mediterranean Sea / Italy (Massimo Sestini)

I like music, therefore rythm, structure and contrast. Thoughts and questions, ideas. Emotions are neverto be taken apart. I do keep my playlist of romantic music and passion for romantic comedy movies, but deep emotions which are difficult to go through are important as well. I will talk about films, something which in the last months I have been particularly being passionate about. Be it to get to know Sweden a bit more, or to higher skills in a language which I will probably never speak as good as I would like to, to compare places, people, or just because in that strange feeling of feeling moved more and more, I feel comfortable.

I was going through one of the first week of “settling down” in this new city. Time was never enough and everything felt as I was floating on a cloud metres from the ground. I tried to follow every event or social activity hoping I would soon find my favorite places, weekly appointments I would not have missed in the following months. I missed Karlstad a lot, especially the choir and my really good Swedish friend. First from my father and later in a course at university, I got to know about the Italian film named “Lampedusa“. I was late to see it and the last cinema where they were screening it was indeed a very particular one, called Panora. It is a folketsbio – the translation to English is not that difficult as it becomes “cinema of the people/folk” – which (should) mean that the prices are not that high and the films screened are on a different level than than those advised with the only commercial aim. I love this type of cinemas and I have my favourite one in Rome, called Eden, another reason for which I was desperately trying to find something similar here in Malmö. So the first film was a very emotional Italian film, with such a strong Sicilian dialect it was even easier for me to read the Swedish subtitles.

As many of you may know, Lampedusa is a small island in the South of Italy, in the region of Sicily. Way less than 200 km from the Tunisian coast, it has been in the past few years end of one of the roots mostly used by Africans looking for refuge as a way to easily – difficult to write these words, but peculiar criterias are used in order to determine whether one’s choice to cross tens of countries is “easier” than the other one – reach a European country. It starts to be replaced by other routes such as the Balcan route but unfortunately still many are crossing the Mediterranean sea. Lampedusa is known for the hospitality of its inhabitants, not even comparable to the levels of racism that Italians would otherwise reach in other spaces, influenced by different political views, other historical backgrounds, those behaviours that “sea people” (Gente di mare) would not even think about. But it is also famous as a land of first steps into a bureocratic system and carelessness which has been raising deep questions about laws regarding refugees status. The film shows the calm of a Sicilian – let’s say traditional – household, contrasting the struggle of hundreds of people dying and seeing other disappearing in the depth of a water, a nightmare for all of them. the contrast of people playing footballn the same who some nights Before where risking their lives for toxic inhalations, cold or drowning. Racism does not find place in this movie, at least not in a direct way. But if you watch it you will inevitably feel guilty of something you did not directly chose to be, to do. You will realize how our extremely political and economical conception of borders is destroying the world, not talking about the extreme and sometimes useles importance we give to racial and ethnical division . Inevitably, maybe unwilling, but we do. Éuropean Union defines everyone not belonging to that as a not ever “second country Citizen” but a “third country Citizen”. You may not only miss a document, you miss a document from a “civilized country”, and then you miss European citizenship. The more the borders the more the distinction, the more importance is given to difference the less we pay attention to similarities among us.

I admit I liked how the film director mainly focused on the emotional and tragic obstacles faced by these refugees – Italians like highly emotional things, which makes the first point in this post even more valid- even because focusing too much on the concept of racism often makes it loosing its meaning and importance or even developing the fear for it, causing racist behaviors to occur even more. Although, showing how good at the end the emergency is being faced does not lead to a realistic screening of reality. Dublin Convention requires every migrant arriving without documents to have their fingerprints collected by the entrance of an EU country. Scenes in the film where this is done are showed, inevitably convincing those watching that these rules are indeed being followed, that the refugee “crisis” is exclusively originating from the outside, and that a political European catastrophe is not implied in neither the cause of nor the solution process for it.

But everything has pros and cons, good and bad sides, and I do recommend to watch this film.

 

 

Näktergalen mentorsverksamhet – The Nightingale program

Definitely one of the most valuable and satisfying experiences I have decided to put myself into during this first semester at Malmö university, is that of being mentor for a girl as part of the Nightingale program. In Swedish “Näktergalen” the idea of a network of children between 8 and 12 years and university students was actualy started in the city of Malmö in 1997. I wonder if any other city would have given such a chance for a program like this to develop, taking in mind the high level of cultures present here and the social issue which came forward as a theme to be faced following an innovative path. But what is the Nightingale program about?

Basically, applications are received from a bunch of university students who want to dedicate 2-3 hours of a day in the week to a child, doing daily activities, such as getting around in the city, talking, watching a film, baking etc. On the other side, children between the age of 8 and 12 attending different primary schools send their applications, looking forward to meet their mentor, someone who will be a friendly, adult, and fun person to be with. Both of them will send their applications with their interests, motivations, and a photo, and other thing which may be relevant and useful when it comes to the matching. As a mentor, one will have an introduction course on what it means and implies to take part in the program, and then visit the school to meet the teachers and get to know where the class of your child is – since you will mostly pick your “mentor child” from school.

Neither kids nor mentors get to know each other if not on the starting day, which in the case of Malmö university was yesterday. After I “was found” by my mentor child looking for the number I was holding, we went around for a quiz walk – in Swedish “tips promenad” really characteristic of the Swedish culture – to get to know each other a bit more. Later on mentors, children and parents met each other to learn a bit more about, at the end, everything about it. Which days are best to meet, contact details, allergies and other “adult stuff”, while of course eating a fika and getting coffee.

What the program is not about. It has nothing to do with working as a baby sitter. The mentoring is voluntary and meeting times are decided together with the child and the parents, taking in mind the load everyone has because of university study and work, as well as personal needs and other planning issues. It is just about meeting once a week for 2 to 3 hours each and it is definitely something that, if you want, you can make as part of your routine with no problems. There is completely aknowledgement about the meeting time and nor of the parts are supposed to feel stressed about finding time to meet, otherwise the all meaning of the program would disappear. Although, the point of the program is to care about the other, for both the student and the child to be responsible and flexible and to be open to learn from the other and teach the other things. In some way one of the meanings of the process is to learn to teach to and learn from the other and stay with the other. Recognizing someone’s values as well as encouraging them, engaging themselves in something you would not think you would otherwise do.

The Nightingale program is part of the variety of programs available at different universities and schools in Europe, especially in the Scandinavian countries, plus in Uganda. It is reaching more and more popularity through years. When I was in London one month ago, visiting the office of “The Challenge” which “raises awareness of the social and economic risks associated with social segregation”, we talked about their interest in starting to be part of this mentoring program, so the network is continuously is growing.

Of student associations and happy phonetics

After some hectic moments since I arrived in Malmö, I can finally say I am on the right path for a bunch of good moments during my stay in this city. Taking in count that after I stepped to Sweden as exchange student it took almost more than a year to go through and overcome a struggling culture shock, I am more than happy to see that after two months I start to feel at home here in Malmö.
The variety of student associations at the university of Malmö gives you a way to develop your interests and get to know new ones as well as a lot of people around, and most important it gives you the chance to feel at home easier and faster. The UF Malmö – Utrikespolitiska föreningen/Foreign affairs – association arranges lectures and debates every week. Among the others, in the last two days we had the chance to see the US presidential debate in a lecture room, followed by a debate seeing politicians from both democratic and republican side as participants. I saw the first debate on my own and still need to see the following two, but seeing the last one sitting together with a lot of students from the Global Political Studies department, interested and at the same time confused about the level of many of the discussions in the debate, gives you a totally different feeling.
Another association is MASK – Malmö studentkör – which started to rehearse again after a long break last year.
Sweds like to schedule and to see things well organized, so some of the things you will never be able to escape if you take part in a student association at a Swedish university, will be:

  • a membership fee, which can be within a range of 20 to 200 kr – 2 euros to 20 euros more or less
  • a meeting, in the start of the semester where board members have to be decided and decisions about a variety of things need to be taken. It can take up to hours – as it happened in the choir I previously sang, or a few minutesas it was this week in the MASK.
  • fika – happily pronounced fee-ka, is not just part of whatever meeting or social activity you will take part in Sweden, it is a basis in the Swedish cultural iceberg. Funny or not, some days ago I was talking with some Germans about the thing that in Sweden you need a special word and activity to be social, which – at least from a not Nordic prospective – is a bit sad. On my side, I do love it. The “fika thing” is as informal way to get to know each other or gather with a friend, which can be similar to “having a coffee” in Italy or “going out for a pizza”, with the difference of the basic need of sugar and coffeine you definitely appreciate in dark times, a part from the social part. Therefore assimilation of the Swedish culture is made way easier that other ones just thanks to this: coffee or tee, fruit and some sweet thing, most of the times offered in different occasions or brought by some members of an association. You can decide to take your own, or the choir decide that everyday a voice in the choir need to bring it.
  • a sittning – a word which actually relates to a party you will participate mostly sitting, but of course is not, or at least not totally. Organized to get to know each other, as an international participant I appreciate these events a lot, since I learn to see how outgoing and talkative many start to be in when they are in a party mood.
  • a weekend of meetings and partying. Board members or members of an association usually reunite for a weekend where to know each other better, organize things and party. In two weeks we will have a cottage weekend with the choir, staying two nights, taking saunas and excercising songs for the coming winter concert.

The city is full of events going on, especially if you have an interest deeply related to culture and language issues, as I do. An Arabic bookshop is opening next week, a film screening and a debate are taking place tonight at Garaget, part of the city libraries network, and national day celebrations of different countries are often held, and English in already “the new Swedish” in a city regarded as not part of Sweden by everyone in this country.

Sapore di vento

Qui al sud del nord le giornate si accorciano come di programma. Ma sopravvissuta ad ormai ben due inverni trascorsi nel Värmland, sempre a sud ma un po’ più su in questo nord interminabile, il buio non mi fa paura, o almeno, non per ora. Per la prima volta nella mia lunghissima vita, questo pomeriggio cercando di dirigermi verso l’università insieme ad altri ragazzi di corso, mi sono trovata a camminare con il torso a 90° cercando di affrontare il vento fortissimo, che ancora si muove tra le foglie degli ippocastani sulla via del mio appartamento, e fa tremare i vetri. Per non parlare di come debba essere stato buffo vedermi pedalare sulla mia bici rimanendo però inevitabilmente ferma, con qualche spostamento laterale sempre dovuto al vento multi direzionale.

Ieri sono stata a un colloquio di lavoro, incontrando una delle tante persone che pensa che io sia norvegese sentendo la cantilena ondeggiante che il mio svedese assume. Comunque, a quanto pare è andato bene, e tra una settimana avrò un corso di introduzione, e se tutto va bene potrei iniziare a lavorare da sabato prossimo.

La nostalgia dell’Italia, stranamente, si fa sentire in modo maggiore mano a mano che il tempo trascorso all’estero aumenta, e confidando nella mia capacità di non cambiare idea e decidere di fare mille cose in una sola estate – si magari! – la prossima estate sarà il momento di trascorrerla completamente in Italia. Insomma, dopo tre anni, sarebbero i miei primi due mesi e mezzo nella penisola del sole, sto ritorno s´ha da fa!

Per quanto riguarda la mia voglia e capacità di scrivere, soprattutto in italiano ed in modo ordinato, devo ammettere che sono in un periodo che sento di definite “crisi linguistica”. Troppi pensieri e troppo esercizio ogni giorno in tutte e tre le lingue. Anzi, il fatto di utilizzare poco l’italiano ha creato in me una specie di crisi di identità, ma soprattutto grammaticale, che per me che sono sempre stata veloce a scrivere e ho amato bloggare per mesi quasi senza sosta, è un segnale un po’ demoralizzante. Ma sicuramente lessico e ispirazione torneranno presto, almeno quando alcuni dei problemi maggiori saranno stati risolti. Per ora vi lascio con una delle perle di saggezza dell’alternativo professore del mio corso: “I am not overweight, I am just underlenght!”