When does one feel at home living somewhere new? The question surely yields as many answers as there are people who’ve ever found themselves trying to capture the essence of home, once it outgrows the notion of being tied to a single house. I’ll explore some of the ways I’ve started to find a home in Gothenburg.
Maybe moving countries makes you want to explore the meaning of life more. Whatever it is, I associate moving to Sweden with making more time to read than usual. However little Gothenburg itself may have to do with the bookworm effect, I’ve found reading to be grounding and offer welcome reflection time. Here are five recent highlights/recommendations:
- Always another Country by Sisonke Msimang: This candid memoire intricately and unapologetically explores the state of flux and introspection that comes with searching for belonging, treasuring family ties and being relentlessly rejected or sidelined or questioned for being different.
- When they call you a terrorist by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and Asha Bandele: A memoir from one of the three Black Lives Matters incubators (Patrisse). Reading of the lived experience of her family holding on to love in the face of socially accepted brutality against black lives enriched my appreciation for the courage and determination that lies behind the rise and rise of the movement.
- Adults in the Room by Yanis Varoufakis : The left-aligned Greek Finance minister who determinedly attempted to guide Greece—and the rest of Europe—out of the financial crisis onto more solid ground has created an illuminating, if depressing, account of his months in office. My hazy image of the EU’s finance’s being controlled by competent, if misguided and overworked, representatives was replaced by far less appetising fare by the time I finished.
- The Bright Hour by Nina Riggs: I love how Riggs, diagnosed with cancer, chose to use her writerly talent to reflect on life. This at times light-hearted and at times profound read has a knack for making you think about how life’s big questions are intimately connected to its fleeting moments.
- She Said by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey: : Do you want some insight into how two courageous women journalists, with the backing of their editors, worked tirelessly for months to expose the history of Harvy Weinstein’s sexual harassment? Read this, especially if you want to understand more about careful, thorough journalistic process.
Although my classes are in English, Swedish is definitely the default language on the street, in the supermarket, filling in forms, etc. There’s something reassuring about the days when you understand the person explaining where the train platform is or reading out the menu in Swedish that bit better than you did the last week or the last month. I enjoy the challenge of having a new language to sink my teeth into, even if I occasionally wish I could insert an AI chip with an expansive vocabulary, excellent grammar and an intuitive understanding of Swedish PUN’s into my cerebral cortex.
For me, one of the main drivers to keep, erm, chipping away at it, has been access to information. There are Swedish public lectures and the like, and the national TV and radio naturally broadcast in Swedish too. Finally, one artist I’m devouring at the moment, who’s also teaching me plenty of Swedish, is folk band Triakel. Here’s one beautiful if morbid song for the days when phony people taking advantage of your friends are too much to bear. Being a folk band, I promise they sing about life’s lighter side too…
My course is set up in such a way that all 23 of us Masters of Investigative Journalism students take all our classes together. You know, a bit like moving through subjects in intermediate, where you stayed with the same group of people. We also have a lot of group assignments. On the whole, I like this arrangement a lot, mainly because I have a lot of time for many of my fellow baby investigative journos, so the fact that it’s comparatively easy to hang out after class or whatnot is wonderful. As a blind person, this set-up also has distinct advantages. If it weren’t for the fact that we do many assignments in groups, I’d have to go out of my way more often to have someone, say, download some images for me, or check that my powerpoint *looks* legible, etc. But this way, those visual details fall into the natural division of tasks within the group
On another practical note, I appreciate that, if I suspect I’m missing important visual contextual info, I can actually call out in class and ask for a clarification. Obviously that’s not something I love doing, but being in a small room of people who know me (as opposed to a lecture theatre) makes it infinitely easier.
Another community which I’m fortunate to be finding is that of fellow blind people in Sweden. I’m particularly impressed by the strength and organisational skills of Unga med Synnedsetting (Youth with a Vision Impairment), which is a well-established organisation which arranges conferences and activities for its members around the country. Also, attending your first US activity is free. Soooo guess what I got to do for free in December:
- Stay at a hotel close to Gothenburg and devour its all-you-can-eat breakfast (hello 2x free Swedish pancakes, creamy porridge and hot chocolate)
Get entrance to Lyceberg, which is a kind of theme park and markets cross, which decs itself out for the season at hand (Christmas counts as a season at Lyceberg. So does Halloween).
- Dig into a burger at Max for lunch — a most beloved of Swedish burger chains which I had not yet tried, replete with the length of queue you’d expect, but worth the wait.
- Go on rides (not free, but fairly cheap), including a thrill-inducing wooden roller coaster, and another, a spinning extravaganza.
- Dig into a julbord (“Christmas table”, in the sense of “all the (Swedish) food on the Christmas table, which you can actually eat in December before Christmas has arrived). I didn’t itemise what I was devouring very carefully, but I’m pretty sure I had some sil (herring) and potato, some excellent smoked salmon, some beetroot salad (also traditional), and some vegan meat-without-the-meat balls.
Do homes move?
I did most of my growing up in New Zealand. Most of my going to school, swimming, getting embedded in music, learning Spanish, going to the beach and folk festival in summer, listening to my favourite bird the tui, staying at rustic Air Bnbs, becoming a campaigner and giving Auckland Uni’s anti-fossil-fuel-divestment administration some grief in the process, getting my first role as a journalist. I could go on. Aotearoa is a home, a place where many of my roots are buried deep.
When I left the country in August, I knew my parents would be moving, of all coincidental places, to the north of Norway, where my father received a job offer. They’ve now sold the house that I thought of as “home base” since I was 15. I walked around it on my last day in NZ and said goodbye out loud to all of its rooms. The house had not been the same since the end of May, anyway, when we had to put to sleep our 15-year-old canine family member and most affectionate companion. A kind of movable home still lives in our family gatherings, though. The last one was in Ireland over Christmas.
Now, I’m back in Sweden, but tomorrow I move house! I’ll be in Gothenburg proper this time, far closer to my classes. And I will wonder, once again, when does one feel at home living somewhere new?