Behind the joy of Christmas

The other day I was asked to explain Christmas to someone who didn’t celebrate it. A question more complex than one would think.
Christmas is so complicated. I reckon most people would say that it’s ultimately about family. What was once a Christian holiday to commemorate the birth of Jesus, is nowadays merely a celebration of capitalism, recognized by food, lights, gifts, mulled wine, decorated trees, and god-awful sweaters. Eating until you nearly burst, tacky movies with biblical undertones and snow-covered landscapes outside the windows (unless you’re from the south of Sweden, where we haven’t seen a white Christmas since long before Greta was born…). When one puts it that way, it does sound like a truly jolly and cozy time of the year. And for those who don’t celebrate it, I suppose it’s easy to see nothing but the festive side of things. But the twinkling lights sometimes cast long shadows. For a lot of people, Christmas is a painful reminder of what they don’t have.

When I was young, the Christmas holidays were one of my favorite times of the year. It still is, but back then it was an escape from everything I didn’t know how to handle. The eccentric kid that was me found it difficult to fit in at school. I struggled to find a way to be that others would accept, and the holidays were a break from all of that. At home, I always felt safe, since it was the only place back then where I didn’t have to pretend. I’m very grateful for that today. Especially since I now know that for a lot of other people, it was the other way around. For some people, being in school was when they felt the safest. For them, Christmas meant something entirely different than sitting around a decorated tree, singing carols, and sharing gifts. We seldom know what goes on behind closed doors, and that’s why Christmas is a difficult time for so many people.

A lot of people would say Christmas is one of the most stressful times of the year. For some, that stress is about time. Finding the time to decorate, cook, organize and buy presents while balancing all other chores of everyday life is not as easily accomplished as it sounds. Many people, and safe to say mostly women, take it upon themselves to bear the burden of creating a successful Christmas for the rest of the family. A dated division of duties one might think, but nonetheless, still a reality in many households. I wonder how many families would be left with anything even noteworthy of a celebration if the lady of the house decided to take a leave of absence a day or two before Christmas? It’s not rare to hear stories of people who barely sat down during entire family gatherings. For them, Christmas is a marathon. It’s almost funny how a stress-free and enjoyable Christmas holiday for one person almost always comes at the expense of another person having the exact opposite experience.

Christmas is often financially straining. Regardless of your income, it is an expensive time of the year. Those who feel obligated to not only buy but also pick out personalized tokens of appreciation for their friends and family have all felt this. Some people seem to think that Christmas is all about the exchange of gifts, and yes, particularly amongst kids this is true. Maybe that’s why a lot of adults decide to only spoil the kids and not themselves? Christmas can be expensive, and for that reason, many people feel like they cannot afford to make anything out of it. Because behind the stress and pressure, lay the expectations and fear of disappointments. When Christmas is reduced to only being about buying presents for one another, this is inevitable. Even now as I’m writing this, I find myself thinking what an askew culture this is. Yet I’m a part of it. As you grow up, Christmas ceases to be a time to get the things you cannot afford, which is a relief. Then again, even if it’s only about finding something personal for someone you love, this is also a stress factor. If a gift is bought for the sole purpose of conveying a message of how well you know someone, what’s then at stake?

That Christmas is also a holiday for drinking goes without saying. As so many people don’t know how to cope with it all, they resort to alcohol instead. A massive culprit to why not everyone has fond childhood memories of Christmas. For a lot of people, Christmas wasn’t a time when they could fully enjoy being kids; it was a time when they had to grow up. And left behind all of them; the kids happy to get a break from school, the kids dreading one, the kids disappointed over the gifts they didn’t receive, the parents guilt-struck because they couldn’t afford said gifts, the anxious mothers who said they’d “take care of it all, the people drinking too much, the people not drinking to care of the former, and the ones who fall victim to when others crack, are the lonely people who might not have any family at all.

For some people, Christmas isn’t stressful because they have a family to provide for, but simply because they don’t. It the shadow of perfectly filtered realities on social media, many people are reminded that maybe they don’t have a partner, maybe not any of their parents, maybe not all of their siblings, maybe not all of their friends, maybe not all of their kids, or maybe they never had any kids. Even if they have a family, perhaps they don’t like them. So many people don’t. For some people, Christmas is the most heart-breaking time of the year. And one should contemplate that now and then. Even if it is the season of love, love is rarely as simple as we wish it was.

Merry Christmas everyone 🤍

A thought to Afghanistan

It’s not in my place or interest to educate on this topic. Anyone with access to an Instagram account also has access to education, hence a lack of the latter is a personal choice. However, I do want to share a story of something that happened to me a few years back, to perhaps shed some light on the dire situation in Afghanistan, which has caught all of our attention over the last few days. You could say that it has got absolutely nothing to do with the dramatic scenes currently unfolding in a turmoil-ridden Kabul, and at the same time, you could say that it has got everything to do with it. At least as far as the perspective of an outsider goes. For someone who wants to understand, contribute and in any way make the tiniest of difference for these people in need, but at the same time can’t feel like this is all happening in a country far, far away, with a culture so vastly different and to a people with whom there’s little in common? Someone who might skip sharing content, who doesn’t make a donation, or take the time to fully comprehend the why’s and what for. They’re not bad people, they just feel detached. If I hadn’t lived abroad for so long, I probably would have felt like that.

It was a few years back, and I was operating a flight to somewhere in Pakistan. I can’t be too sure of exactly when it was, but I remember it was during the time when we all carried flag pins on our uniforms to showcase our nationalities. The flight was filled to the last seat, which, as all of my colleagues would know, means that it was a chock-a-block operation. The cabin was filled with seemingly identical-looking men, all wearing the same Shalwar kameez, the male dress to popular in the Indian subcontinent. The short flying time dictated the meal service, hence there was no time beyond giving out meals and collecting them shortly afterward. At one point, I’m bending down to reach inside the cart for some extra trays. In the corner of my eye, I notice how a man, sitting by the aisle, studies me curiously. He leans in, and I realize that he’s trying to get a closer look at the tiny flag pin on my chest. As I hand him his tray, this slenderly built man in a blue dress, with whom you’d think a Swedish boy from a small town would have nothing in common, says in broken Swedish: “You are from Sweden?”. I can still remember how I instantly felt how my eyes tearing up, and my spontaneous response was “I am! Are you as well?”. He went on to tell me how he, although originally from Pakistan, had immigrated to Sweden a few years back, and how he lived in a city not far from my hometown. Upon hearing all of this I remember how I wiped my eyes on my sleeve. We didn’t have the time to talk much more, but it struck how curious it is that one moment you’re flying over a country, surrounded by people who don’t look like you, and probably never felt any further away from where you’re from, and then, only an instant later, you feel like you’re home. It was a visceral before and after moment to experience that what truly matters and unites us the most, is seldom seen from the outside. As we get hinged on the idea that what you see is what you get, we overlook so much of what is important. And for that reason, I’ve thought about this moment many times throughout the years whenever I’ve needed to remind myself of that.

Over the last few days, I’ve read, listened to, and watched as much information as I’ve been able to process. I’ve donated money and told others to do the same. I’ve shared information and encouraged others to do the same. I’ve thought about the Afghan people. The women and the children, and their future. And none of it feels like a lot. Honestly, I don’t think it is a lot. But that’s precisely my point; it doesn’t have to be a lot. It’s all our tiny efforts that will make the entire difference in the end. It’s so easy to feel like you’re completely powerless to contribute any form of change to these people, yet it’s us who have all the power. Not everyone has access to education, but if you do, please inform yourself. Not everyone can afford to make donations, but if you do, please donate. Not everyone can have access to channels to influence others, but if you do, please keep sharing the information.

Perhaps this story doesn’t have anything to do with what’s going on in Afghanistan. Perhaps it has everything to do with it? If we agree that we all have more in common than we might think, then maybe a helping hand will be easier to extend, than if we think that we have nothing in common at all. Realizing and practicing that philosophy, is a lot.

What’s really feminine or masculine?

Lately, I’ve been pondering the topic of genders and gender roles. Above all, I’ve asked myself what being feminine versus being masculine truly entails? The more I contemplate and the more I twist and turn the meanings of these notions, the more they seem to lose their meaning. Because in addition to valuing and judging ourselves and the people around us, they don’t really add any value at all. The only thing they do is determining how well we live up to expectations of how we should be and act. Expectations that simultaneously feel dated in a modern society. Let me paint you a picture. To point out that a woman is feminine is basically another way of saying that she’s doing it « right ». To point out that a man is not masculine is basically another way of saying that he’s doing it « wrong ». And vice versa of course. But what is right and wrong when most personality traits are so closely linked to a certain gender that the intrinsic value becomes secondary? If a woman is conspicuously muscular, she’s considered masculine rather than strong. If a man uses make-up to enhance the way he looks, that vanity is considered feminine rather than self-aware. If a woman has excessive (or just normal…) body hair, it’s considered manly. If a man has little or no body hair at all, it’s considered womanly. Everything we are, do, and know becomes secondary if our gender is wrong. And when we evaluate like that, everything loses its value. With this in mind, I’ve begun to remind myself not to describe people or the things they do as female, male, feminine, or masculine. Somehow, these notions only spark exclusion. In our often so mad world, almost everything is part of a simplified two-degree scale. Everything is a binary construction; educated or uneducated, fit or unfit, masculine or feminine, etc. Every grey zone in between these stark opposites requires some form of explanation, and the only thing that explains is that perhaps it’s not so strange that a lot of people struggle with mental health. How can we all be expected to fit in, if there are just two sizes of everything? If everything revolves around how well we live up to ideals created to be unreachable, is it any wonder? Sure, grievances and inadequacy are what feed a capitalist society, but let’s save that discussion for another text. Here I’d mainly like to establish two things; it might be exhausting to question, but it’s lethal not to do it.

What is feminine? What is masculine? For starters, I think some rephrasing is in order. What is considered womanly? What is considered manly? Out of curiosity, I’ve asked some people what they think. The responses have varied a little, but in general, most of them have concerned the very same thing, namely superficiality. A friend of mine told me she feels like a woman whenever she’s had time to do her make-up properly, gets an opportunity to wear high heels, put on a fancy dress, and well, make herself feel « beautiful » basically. Although it can sound parodic in this discussion, the fact is that almost everyone I asked told the same story. Some couldn’t come up with any answer at all, and that is of course an answer in itself. Because it’s not until we bring certain structures into question, that we realize how little sense they make. If we were to say that using make-up is a feminine thing to do, is it then masculine not to do it? Is something non-feminine synonymous with something manly? If being muscular is a masculine thing, does that mean it’s also non-feminine? What if a man is not muscular, does that make him feminine? Again, what is right and wrong when the way we assess one another is so askew? Must there be only a right and a wrong? Could a muscular person not just be strong? Could a person using make-up not just be self-aware? Why should one gender “need” the aid of make-up to be considered complete, when the other doesn’t? Of course, there are differences between men and women, and the point here isn’t to erase all of those, but if we’re being honest, we have to admit that the vast part of the real differences is biological. All other differences we’ve come up with ourselves. I, personally, have no urge to start wearing skirts, but if we’re simply being logical, skirts do look a lot more comfortable than pants do. And I’m sure just about any woman would have loved not to « have to » wear make-up, without that being a form of a statement. Despite the lack of logic in these divisions, the time we live in has taught us that these are rules to be followed. Women should wear make-up, and men shouldn’t. Women should keep their legs together, literally and figuratively, while men can be as promiscuous as they wish. Women should keep silent, while men should be heard. To be respected, women need to go through a lot of fuss, whereas men basically only have to exist to attain the same thing.

Saying out loud that you’re proud of being a woman, a gay, a lesbian, a transgender, etc. is still considered to be activism in this day and age. Everything that falls outside the tiny, cramped framework of being a heterosexual cisgender (preferably male), comes with a struggle. So what is implied in a statement like that, is that your reality is not an easy one, but that you carry on nonetheless. That pride is linked to the social struggle, and not to biology. A woman who says she’s proud of being a woman doesn’t say so because she’s got two breasts. She does it because she knows she has to work harder, and she does it. And that’s both inspirational, touching, and admirable. But should it have to be like that? The truth is that in a wonderful world, the answer is no. There wouldn’t be a reason to exclaim that you’re proud of your gender or your sexual orientation. But the fact that certain people’s realities are still unthinkable for others, is the reason we haven’t gotten any further. Nevertheless, I often think that I feel to be different and to be a part of a big minority. It’s made me a richer human being, to be in a position where you often look up instead of looking down. I believe the reason why this community is such a privilege to be a part of, is the abundance of love. There is a pent-up need for unconditional love and acceptance, simply because it is so scarce in the world beyond. Here, the love is so uniquely concentrated, simply because it’s not given room to spread out freely in a world that doesn’t embrace difference. That form of unbridled acceptance people give to one another, I believe to be a prerogative for all peripheral groups in society. And those who aren’t different like that will never get to experience the same form of love. Why? Because in the big world, there is no need for small rooms with lots of acceptance, because it’s already everywhere. Whenever I think of it like that, I feel a little sorry for « normal » people. I suppose the price you pay to take acceptance for granted wherever you go, is to be a little blind.

The other week, I was at the beach with some friends of mine and their kids. On one occasion, one of them told me « Be a man a just jump in the water, Adam! ». It was said as a joke, and I wasn’t perturbed at all, but it still struck me how little I miss being so young that I hadn’t yet begun reflecting upon the meaning of my words. It was one of those moments when it felt pretty great not to be young-young anymore. Regardless of how much I can miss the naivety and invincibility that marked being a teenager and a young adult, they’ve got nothing against being able to say « In that case, I guess I’m something else than a ‘man’ « and mean it. Yes, I sometimes miss the tempo from the past, but the serenity and insights of the present are priceless.


Det här med kvinnligt och manligt?

Under den senaste tiden har jag tänkt mycket på det här med kön och könsroller. Framför allt över vad det är som är kvinnligt och vad som är manligt? Ju mer jag nöter, prövar och låter dessa begrepp och det dem står för cirkulera runt i min tankeverksamhet, desto skevare framstår dem. För utöver att värdera oss själva och andra genom hur kvinnliga, okvinnliga, manliga eller omanliga vi är, så tillför de ju inget värde alls. Det enda de tjänar till, är att vi avgöra hur väl vi lever upp till förväntningar ställda på oss, som samtidigt känns daterade i ett modernt samhälle. Att påpeka att ett kvinna är kvinnlig, är ett annat sätt att säga att hon gör « rätt ». Att påpeka att en man är omanlig, är ett annat sätt att säga att han gör « fel ». Och vice versa såklart. Men vad är egentligen rätt och fel när nästan alla egenskaper en människa kan besitta är så starkt könskodade att deras egenvärde kommer i andra hand? Är en man väldigt mån om sitt yttre betraktas det som omanligt istället för självmedvetet. Är en kvinna iögonfallande muskulös betraktas det som okvinnligt snarare än stark. Har en kvinna kraftig kroppsbehåring anses det som okvinnligt. Har en man lite kroppsbehåring anses som omanligt. Allt det vi är, gör och kan blir sekundärt ifall vårt kön är fel. Och när vi värderar på det sättet, då tappar allt sitt värde. Med det i åtanke, har jag börjat påminna mig själv att sluta använda orden kvinnlig, manlig, feminin och maskulin. Det känns som att de bara bidrar till exklusion. I vår ofta så rubbade värld tillhör de allra flesta epitet en förenklad tvågradig skala. Allt är en binär konstruktion; utbildad eller outbildad, vältränad eller otränad, manlig eller kvinnlig etc. Alla gråzoner mellan dessa motpoler kräver förklaringar, och det enda som just det förklarar, är att det kanske inte är så märkligt att så många kämpar med psykisk ohälsa. Om allt kretsar kring hur väl vi lever upp till ideal som skapats för att inte kunna uppnås, är det då verkligen så konstigt? Visst, missnöjet och otillräckligheten är det som bär upp ett kapitalistiskt samhällssystem, men det är en annan text. I den här vill jag mest konstatera två saker; att det må vara tröttsamt att ifrågasätta, men att det är livsfarligt att inte göra det.

Vad är kvinnligt? Vad är manligt? Till och börja med tror jag att en omformulering är på sin plats. Vad anses kvinnligt? Vad anses manligt? Av nyfikenhet så har jag frågat runt lite på senaste tiden. Svaren har varierat något, men i stort sett kretsat kring samma grundpelare, nämligen ytligheter. En vän sade att hon kände sig kvinnlig när hon tagit sig tid att sminka sig ordentligt, fick möjlighet att ha på sig höga klackar, gärna korta kjolar och ja, fick känna sig « vacker » helt enkelt. Det kan nästan låta parodiskt i sammanhanget, men sanningen är det var ungefär samma svar jag fick ifrån alla jag frågade. Kloka, självsäkra kvinnor som jag ser upp till. Vissa kunde dock inte svara alls, och bara det är ju ett svar i sig självt. Det är ju först när vi rent praktiskt ifrågasätter vissa strukturer, som vi inser hur andefattiga de är. Om vi säger att sminka sig är kvinnligt, är det då okvinnligt att inte göra det? Är okvinnligt synonymt med manligt? Om det är manligt att vara muskulös, är det då okvinnligt att vara det? Är det kvinnligt att vara muskulös? Är en man omanlig om han inte är det? Igen, vad är rätt och fel när bedömningssystemet är så skevt? Måste det finns ett rätt och ett fel? Kan inte en person som är fysisk stark bara få vara stark? Kan inte en person som sminkar sig bara få vara självmedveten? Visst är det skillnad på att vara man och kvinna, och visst ska dessa inte suddas ut, men ska vi vara helt ärliga, så är lejonparten av alla reella skiljelinjer biologiska. Alla andra skillnader har vi själva hittat på. Jag personligen har inget behov av att klä mig i kjol, men rent logiskt, visst verkar det mer bekvämt än byxor? Och vilken kvinna som helst hade säkert tyckt att det vore skönt att aldrig behöva sminka sig, utan att det skulle behöva vara ett statement? Men trots det ologiska i denna uppdelning, så har tiden vi lever i lärt oss något annat. Kvinnor skall sminka sig, medan män inte skall göra det. Kvinnor skall hålla ihop benen, både bildligt och figurativt, medan män kan vara hur promiskuösa de vill. Kvinnor skall vara lågmälda och svala, medan män gärna skall höras. Kvinnor skall ofta kämpa för sin fullständighet, medan män ofta är fullständiga bara genom att finnas till.

Att säga att man är stolt över att vara kvinna, bög, lesbisk, transsexuell är fortfarande betraktat som aktivism. Allt det som faller utanför normen heterosexuell cisperson, för ju med sig en kamp. Det som är underförstått i ett sådant uttalande är att ens verklighet inte är enkel, men att man kämpar vidare ändå. Stoltheten är kopplad till den sociala kampen, och inte biologin. En kvinna är ju inte stolt över att vara kvinna för att hon tilldelats två bröst? Och visst är det fint, vackert, inspirerande, rörande och allt det där. Men att det skall behöva vara så? Sanningen är ju den att i en underbar värld så är svaret nej. Det skulle inte finns någon värdering i att säga att man är stolt över sitt kön eller sin sexuella läggning. Att en persons verklighet fortfarande är en otänkbar verklighet för en annan är anledningen till att vi inte kommit längre. Samtidigt ä jag glad för att leva i en tid där t.ex. hen är ett pronomen och inte en felstavning. Och jag är ännu gladare över att, som homosexuell man, få vara del av en stor minoritet. Det har gjort mig till en rikare människa att få se upp istället för att se ner. Anledningen till att just det communityn, liksom många andra för minoriteter i samhället, är så fantastiskt att få vara en del utav är ju överflödet av kärlek. Och att det är så, det beror ju på att det finns ett så stort behov att kompensera för den brist på kärlek och acceptens som råder i övriga samhället. Allt det är, är ju bara ett resultat av en polariserad värld med hårda lagar, kompromisslösa övertygelser och stängda hjärtan. I en underbar värld skulle det förstås inte behöva vara så. Kärleken finns här koncentrerad, eftersom den inte ges plats att späs ut i den heteronormativa världen. Just den typen av ohämmad acceptans tror jag är ett slags prerogativ för samhällets perifera grupper. Och just det överdådet av kärlek kommer de som ligger allra närmast samhällets normer aldrig få uppleva, då den inte existerar där. När jag tänker på det, då tycker jag lite synd om « vanliga » människor. På något sätt så är priset av att kunna ta acceptans för given att vara lite blind.

Häromveckan var jag på stranden med en stor del av släkten, och däribland en hop fantastiska ungdomar som jag vet får fina värderingar hemifrån. Vid ett tillfälle utbrast en av dem « Va en man och hoppa i » till mig. Sagt på skämt, men jag hann ändå slås av tanken över hur jag inte saknar att vara så ung att jag inte ännu insett betydelsen av mina ord. För mig var det ett sådant ögonblick då det känns som allra bäst att inte vara purung längre. Oavsett hur mycket jag ibland kan sakna naiviteten och odödligheten som präglande hela tonåren och dem tidiga vuxenåren, så är det ingenting mot känslan av kunna säga, « då får jag väl va något annat än en man då », och även mena det. Ja, jag kan sakna farten från förr, men ron och insikterna idag är mer värda.


Beyond prejudices in Uzbekistan

I genuinely don’t know what I expected before coming here, and yet I have a sensation of having been proven wrong. Perhaps the most difficult part of this trip is to write about it without sounding like I’m being fictitious and making things up. Because there are aspects to life you never really come across anywhere but the places that are a bit off the normal grid. And Uzbekistan is of course no exception. This showed from basically the moment we stepped foot on Uzbek soil. Actually, it started before that. Upon making our booking for a hotel, we were informed to bring a marriage certificate to show at the hotel… what else could be expected in such a stronghold of tradition? In lack of said certificate, we decided to cross that bridge when we got there. Or sleep under it if it came to that. Luckily, this was never necessary, even though there was a point when there seemed to be no hotel at all.

Our trip started like you’d think it would. The driver who came to pick us up from the airport informed us that “unfortunately” our booked hotel was fully booked (?) but “fortunately”, he knew someone who knew someone who runs another hotel, and we could stay there for “almost” the same price. Well, it’s just not the kind of mishap you want to encounter in the middle of the night in a country where next to no one speaks English. There are moments in life when you should just close your eyes and say “yes”, but this didn’t feel like one of them, so with a little persistency, we did make it to our intended hotel in the end. If we dodged a bullet or not we’ll never know, but some of the ”furniture” in the lobby were literally bales of hay covered with blankets. I don’t know if that’s standard for a boutique hotel in Uzbekistan?

Tashkent is an unusual capital. Whenever I find myself in a new place for the first time, I always try to imagine that if I were to wake up here with no idea of where I was, what elements would tell me I’m not at home anymore? This has opened my eyes to details I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. At first glance, it seems like globalization has completely bypassed this city. And I’m not only saying that due to the absence of western signs and logos. The city somehow feels both small and grand at the same time. It’s something with the scarcity of skyscrapers and towering buildings and the impressive remnants of the Soviet era that does it. The buildings are tiny, but the many avenues are wide. The streets are lined with oak and chestnut trees shadowing over the broad sidewalks, which makes it a pleasant city to discover by foot, even under the sweltering sun. Immense parks are laid out everywhere, and an elaborate irrigation system keeps the city green. Even though it’s only spring, it almost feels like the air stands still during most parts of the day. The heat soars to a merciless 60 degrees during the peak of summer. For this very reason, we are told, the most expensive apartments to buy are always the ones on the lowest floors as they withstand the heat the best. Many of the old Soviet buildings are dilapidated, but still captivating in what they represent; the contrast between the awesome exteriors and the stark realities that lived behind them. The cousin of a friend takes us around one morning, and she was not equally impressed. “Inside, they all look like prisons”. That’s not a coincidence, apparently, the same architecture also designed many Soviet prisons. The markets and bazaar are a dream for an overseas visitor, with price levels for the locals. The cousin points to a table of Channel bags and Louise Vuiton wallets and says: “Here you see what’s left of the Great Silk Road”.

The metro is an attraction in itself. It’s quite a contrast to descend from the occasional disarray above ground into the art exhibition every metro station holds. The platforms are marbled and dotted with ornamented columns, all lit up by chandeliers. It was prohibited to take photos in the metro until recently, but as the country is becoming more open, this has changed. And it’s good that it’s working so well because the traffic is not for the fainthearted. I barely know where to begin to explain why not… The white markings dividing the lanes are faded beyond recognition on many roads, basically turning them into massive single lanes. Here and there are opening in the center barrier to allow drivers to do a u-turn in the opposite direction, however, since 3 or 4 cars normally try to do it at the same time, this isn’t always ideal. Of course, there are no red lights. And seatbelts in the cars? Forget it. At one point I exclaimed: “They really should put up signs for these speeds bumps!”, and the reply was: “That’s not a speed bump, it’s just the road”. There is also some uncertainty whether being a taxi driver in Uzbekistan is an actual profession, or if it just means that you access a car?

However, the biggest reward of coming here has been the people we’ve met. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been meet with kindness and curiosity. And something as rare as genuine interest. Even if very few people speak English, they’ve wanted to know who are and why we decided to come here. It’s been a reminder that language is just one of many ways to communicate. This kind of treatment you’d never get in a place that sees a lot of tourists, which is an appeal in itself. One evening we had the privilege of being invited to our mutual friend’s mother’s birthday party. Anyone can book a plane ticket and go wherever they want to go, but you need an invitation to take part in someone else’s culture, and that’s what makes it so special. And it was special. I could go into detail about all the home-cooked food, the (of course) home-brewed beer, or the many vodka shots (not sure if home-brewed), but my strongest memory will be of something else entirely. Something that caught me by surprise. And that was the intimate bond all of these people seemed to share. Even if I met them all for the first time and had difficulty communicating with the majority of them, it was obvious how close they all were. They had shared and followed each other’s lives and milestones, and this showed in subtle things like how gently they laid hands on one another, how they bickered, and how they laughed like you can only do with people you truly know. I sometimes wish I could switch off my brain and just enjoy myself at the moment instead of analyzing my surroundings, but it felt like such a privilege to have been invited into such a tight-knit group. Whenever someone called it a night, the entire entourage stood up to walk them out and wave them off, and I’ve never seen anything like that. Standing right there, on a dirt road far out in the Uzbek countryside, with cows lowing in the background and Russian classics blaring from a stereo, it made me think of what an immense contrast it all is between this reality and the one I come from, in a western society.

So often we sit there on our high horses claiming to be so progressive and open-minded, but when did you attend a party the last time when all 20 guests came out to wave you off? It’s difficult not to wonder where the middle ground is between tradition and progression? Where do we find the balance of the tradition of sticking together while keeping our hearts open enough to accept everyone for who they were born to be, what choices they make, and the opinions they hold? I know people who sacrificed their families to be able to be themselves. I know people who sacrificed being themselves to have their family. What’s the bigger price to pay? Of course, in a perfect world, you shouldn’t have to pay at all. We all have so much to learn from each other, which is why meetings between cultures are so important.


Det var ett tag sedan jag skrev någonting. Kanske beror det på den märkliga tid vi lever i just nu. Vissa dagar vaknar man upp orkeslös medan man aldrig vill att andra ta slut, och vad som händer däremellan är svårt att säga helt säkert. Det händer så lite och samtidigt räcker inte tiden till, och det är, en märklig tid. Åtminstone för mig, just nu. Jag har funderat mycket över ensamheten vi alla ställts inför under den gångna året. Hur livsviktig den varit för många, som kanske aldrig förr suttit ned med bara sig själva som sällskap. Som kanske aldrig tagit sig tiden att reflektera över varken sig själva eller sina relationer. Och kanske mest av allt, hur plågsam den varit för de som inte haft någon att möta i hopplösheten.

När jag kom tillbaka till Dubai efter närmare sex månader i Sverige, var jag inte förberedd på den nya verklighet som väntade på mig här. Att många av mina nära vänner flyttat härifrån efter att ha blivit varslade i min frånvaro var ingen överraskning. Det var det inte heller att flytta in i en ny lägenhet, och att för första gången på flera år bo helt själv. Allt det där var jag förberedd på. Det jag inte såg komma, det var när jag kom på mig själv att behöva tänka efter vem jag skulle ringa först, ifall allting skulle gå åt skogen en dag. Det faktumet, att det inte längre var självklart till vem eller vilka jag skulle vända mig till, grep tag i mig med full kraft. Att efter sju år på samma plats behöva tänka efter vem jag skulle kunna vända mig till kändes som ett nästan ogreppbart personligt misslyckande.

I mörka stunder kan jag fortfarande snudda vid dem tankarna. Där och då så tappar jag helhetsperspektivet, och jag glömmer för en stund att Dubai är en av världens mest förgängliga platser. En knutpunkt dit människor söker sig för en kort stund och sedan lämnar igen. Jag glömmer att flera av mina närmsta vänner har jag träffat just här, och istället stirrar jag mig blind på att de inte längre befinner sig här, oavsett hur nära vi står varandra. Just den här typen av tunnelseende tror jag är så symptomatisk för tiden vi befinner oss i. Att vi liksom tappar rim och reson och i dess frånvaro istället omsluts av en tomhet som är svår att fånga i ord. Och jag vet inte vad jag skulle tagit mig till ifall jag inte hade dem jag har att spegla dessa tankar med, när de ibland känns lite för tunga att bära själv. Det som både är lustigt och sorgligt på samma gång, är att vi ju alla bär nästan exakt samma tankar. Vissa har lättare för att prata om det än andra, och så är det väl med det mesta i världen. Det farliga ligger inte i mörka tankar, utan i att inte låtsas om dem. Men när vi möts i svåra samtal blir oftast verkligheten lite lättare. Då känns avstånd, tidszoner och livspussel som världsliga problem.

Ensamhet är egentligen inte något som skrämmer mig. Även om jag, som vilket ensambarn som helst, ständigt försöker kompensera för en gemenskap som inte kom till mig gratis, så har jag som oftast en god inställning till egentid. Det har jag min introversion att tacka för. Alla introverta kan sätta sig in i hur dränerande ett rum fullt av människor kan kännas, liksom hur det är i stunder för sig själv som energidepåerna fylls upp igen. Jag känner mig rik som inte skyr att umgås med mig själv, och på många sätt har det varit en livboj under dem senaste tolv månaderna. Därför har jag svårt att föreställa mig hur de som inte klarar av det, har klarat sig. Att få vara en introvert människa är utan tvekan mitt starkaste vapen i världen. 

Även om det ibland innebär att mina tankar skenar åt olika håll, så bidrar den konstanta tankeverksamheten till att jag ofta kan dra mina egna slutsatser, och det är en frihetskänsla. På samma sätt är det också en slags frihet att inte vara purung längre. Visst, fortfarande ung, såklart, men tillräckligt gammal för att ha hunnit gå på ett par törnar och insett att det på något sätt gått bra ändå. Mycket av det man tror är livsavgörande är ju ofta övergående, och att stormar har bedarrat förut känns som en betryggande påminnelse i stunder när vinden viner genom livet. 

Apropå åldrandet så formulerande sig en vän till mig nyligen på ett sätt som jag upplevde fint. Jag kan inte citera ord för ord, men det hon sade var ”att är det inte så, att nu när vi är lite äldre så har vi kommit fram till, lite mer åtminstone, vad det är vi tycker om och var vi får vår energi ifrån. Därför söker vi oss inte längre till andra för att leda oss rätt, då vi inte är vilsna på samma sätt. Och de vi bjuder in i våra liv, oavsett om det är vänner eller partners, behöver bara tillföra mer positiv energi, och något annat finns det varken behov för eller plats till”. Jag tror det ligger någonting i det, och kanske förklarar det varför det också bara blir svårare och svårare att hitta människor man vill släppa in. Vi vet alla hur det känns att ibland ge utan att få tillbaka, och just när det handlar om energier, så är det väl så att det finns lika många som osjälviskt ger, än osjälviskt tar. Jag tycker att det finns en tydlig sorgkant i den insikten utan att för den sakens skull vara svartsynt. Vi behöver inte så många som vi tror, och det tycker jag det finns en styrka i. Därtill så anser jag att det är viktigt att vara försiktig med sina energier, och att ha blivit åtminstone lite bättre på vem jag ska dela dem med har gjort mig till en rikare människa.

A silent thought in a world of noise

The most beautiful thing a person could ever have is a voice. Funnily enough, having one has little to do with actual speaking. Articulation is as much a strength as silence is, and if you master both you can ascend to the top of the world. But if you were to forget one of them, you’re out on a limb. Because people will tire to listen to someone who never stops talking. And no one can hear your words unless you speak them.

During the last few months back home I’ve come to realize how common it is for people to have forgotten. Either to stop talking or to start doing it. I don’t know which is worse, because you forfeit your voice in both ways. I just know I fear ever being led to think that my voice should always be the loudest.

A Swedish idiom says empty barrels make the most noise. There might be something to it. Because when the telling of one’s own experiences always comes before the listening of somebody else’s, you display what you consider the most important. And it’s precisely at that point when you believe you have more to teach than to be taught, that you’re in peril.

I wonder if most of us are just trying to make ourselves heard in a deafening world? Is there a fear that a moment of quietude would consume us alive? Would our entire existence cease simply because we allowed our own perception of it to not always come first? The incessant jabbering of people so persuaded by their own relevancy has swallowed the voices of people doubting their own for centuries. It’s a different kind of pandemic to which there is no vaccine 90 % effective looming.

Moving to Dubai was in many ways like stepping into Narnia . Regardless of how many years go by in that enchanted world, time always seems to have stood still each time I retrace my steps back here. And if it has, maybe it explains it all. Maybe the need for constant assertion comes from being trapped in time. If life has come to revolve in circles, perhaps the noise is a sedative to persevere. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve begun to feel the void of my circle in Dubai. Because beyond the polished surface of a shallow world where everything and everyone is exchangeable, are people with minds more open than anywhere else I’ve known. In a melting pot of every flavor in any sense, this world has to offer, you cannot survive without a mind willing to sometime be wrong, eager to learn and humble to teach. That’s the people I chose. And I suppose that’s why we have survived for so long.

Perhaps it’s not at all a Swedish phenomenon.

Perhaps it’s a global matter.

Yet it has become something I so strongly link to coming back home, and at the same, one of the more cogent reasons for why it cannot be my permanent one just yet.

I’d forgotten the stillness in Sweden

The stillness allows you to hear drips of dew as they find their way, falling through dense foliage. A thin veil of mist lingers over the lawn, faintly glinting in the first, gentle rays of the sun. Chirruping carries from every corner of the garden, forming a choir of voices attempting to breach one another. Life in the countryside is different from the melting pot of a city I normally live in. Perhaps a bit slower, but for that matter not necessarily less eventful. It’s simply a question of things being different. Of different activities, different sounds, and different silences. Silences I wonder if I might have forgotten what they sound like.

Maybe because silence is always relative in the Middle East. Amid the constant blare of Dubai’s growing pains, noise cannot be escaped. In a city reaching for the sky, the hammering from nearby construction is always present. The sounds become the pulse of the city, and eventually, you barely notice it. Even if the hustle and bustle of the street carry through walls void of isolation, alongside a heat so inhumane the air-conditioning must be on during all hours of the day. A subtle humming you come across in every house, in every apartment, and at the same time, you’ve forgotten what the wind sounds like.

Sometimes, I feel as if I don’t know what to do with this kind of silence anymore. To think that somewhere along the lines of the last few years rapid pace, I’ve neglected and allowed for this form of quietude to consign to oblivion, is difficult to grasp. At the same time, I suppose it happens so easily. That whilst living a life constantly on the go, you make a norm out of compromising almost everything. People you hold dear, but barely make time to see. Plans you set aside for ideas born in spurs of moments. Noise you’ve forgotten how to switch off, and instead learned to live with. Social gatherings you physically attend to, without really being present. Stressed by the demand of being in several places simultaneously, jaded by the impossibility of the same. Eyes that always wonder and ears that hear, but don’t listen. Life itself, which so often takes place right in front of you, in the person sitting there, but whose rightful attention is rather given to a screen. And the faster life spins, the easier it gets. The easier it gets to overlook more and more what’s actually important.

In wake of everything that’s happened this year, there’s an opportunity for most of us to re-evaluate. Perhaps it all comes down to simply shifting one’s focus, in order to accomplish change. I believe it’s one thing to look up at what you’ve got, and a whole other to see it’s value. And maybe that’s just it, it’s the thoughtlessness that we find ourselves missing in the new normal, a normal that rightfully demands thoughtfulness. It was so easy to simply exist and tell yourself that you lived loud and clear, instead of actually doing just that. To not make the time, despite there being plenty of it. For whatever was important. Not simple, but necessary. So so necessary.
The steam of the coffee rise in the brisk morning. A tractor thunders by on the road outside and interrupts the silence for a moment. And just precisely here, somewhere in between the bustle of a big city far away, and the serenity of a life lived on the fringe of fields and forests, it feels good to sit down and reflect for a moment. A rare luxury to be reunited for some time, with the country I left behind seven years ago. Time to run, walk, saunter, or to stand perfectly still instead of roving around. Time to ask questions, and listen to the replies. Time to re-do, and maybe, do better? Time to think, ponder, and allow for thoughts to mature. All the time in the world. Time to slowly allow for all the powerlessness of this year to dissipate, and make way for something new.

Lingering in a waiting room

I suppose all of us knew that massive cuts were inevitable at some stage. Still, the absence of news directly pertaining to us in the days, weeks, and months that have gone by since operations came to a halt, have some days felt like sheer despair, and some days like nothing but an emotional vacuum of not knowing. I’m sure several of you can relate to this.

I believe it’s safe to claim that even if we came here for one year, three years, or even longer, Dubai was always just a form of waiting room ahead of something else. An interlude for what was always supposed to come next. It doesn’t matter if it was just a chance to see the world before committing to family life, or a professional stopover before pursuing a career within your field of education, or the last adventure before moving back home to open up your own enterprise. Maybe coming here was an escape from something. Maybe coming here was an escape towards something. We all have had such different reasons for ending up here, and hearing all about them has for me personally always been a favorite topic of conversations sitting on the jumpseat.

Yes, Dubai was always just a waiting room, but perhaps down the years some of us simply forgot that it was. Perhaps that’s also why everything that’s happening around us right now is much harder to deal with than we ever thought that it would. For me, I’ve gotten so accustomed to seeing people come and go in and out of my life that I have sometimes asked myself what good does it really do to a person to live like that. To constantly have to invite perfect strangers into your life, get attached to them, and then with or without warning suddenly having to wave them off to new adventures. It’s a way of living that doesn’t compare to much else.

I can’t think of another place where the rotation of people is so high, and I also don’t think it’s normal. But, nonetheless, it’s a lifestyle we’ve adjusted to, and somehow we’ve made it work for us. I know I also speak for everyone reading this that we all have friends we would never have found, wouldn’t it have been for these extreme circumstances in which we are each other’s survival. Maybe some would say that relationships here are more disposable in certain ways than back home, wherever that is, but maybe they also have another form of depth, simply because they’ve had to. When you don’t have your family around you need to create one, and even if it’s not the same, we know that our support systems down here are what has saved us through the lows and cheered us on through the highs.

Regardless if you received the notice to leave or not, we’re at a stage where all of us already know someone that will be leaving Dubai in the weeks to come. In one way or another, we’ve all been touched by ongoing events, and for many of us, the feeling of loss is insurmountable. Beyond the loss of income and sense of meaninglessness in a time of global strife, lives are uprooted irrespective if you stay or if you go. The ones who get to stay have little insight into what our work will be like once we return to it, and I think the one thing we all have in common is that we have to start over in one way. A new job, a new house, or new friends. I do not know what is worse, or most important, or most acute. I guess it’s different for everybody, and that’s perfectly fine.

I won’t say something about when a door closes another one opens. Several people before me have articulated this in better, more heart-warming ways than I’d never been able to do. But I will say this, it’s not always a bad thing to have certain decisions made for you as opposed to by you. To be forced to think in ways you’d never have had the courage while it was still an option, not the option, is probably what has worked the most miracles in any time of hardship.

I wish I knew when, but it will.

En pandemi som inte är över om fyra månader

Även om jag alltid försöker hålla mig någorlunda à jour med vad som sker i världen har jag aldrig haft samma rutin av att gå in på svenska nyhetssajter som jag haft under dem senaste tre månaderna. Det har blivit en av alla mina nya rutiner att gå in på både Aftonbladet, Expressen, DN och diverse andra mer regionala källor säkert fyra-fem gånger om dagen. Med allt som sker känns det ibland som att man konstant håller andan inför nästa katastrof, och just nu är det som att de avlöser varandra. Nu har vi dessutom kommit till en fas där om vi inte själva på något sätt blivit drabbade av Covid-19, så känner vi någon som har det.

Kanske känner vi inte någon som faktiskt insjuknat i viruset, men det var ju å andra sidan aldrig heller den största faran med hela pandemin. Det tror jag inte någon, varken amatörmässigt eller proffesionellt kunnig inom epidemiologi någonsin påstått. Faran var ju alltid effekten kraven på social distansering skulle ha, och nu har fått, på samhället och de som bär upp det. Vi läser varje dag om nya företag som tvingats sätta en spik i dörren och ansöka om konkurs. Och det är ju inte små verksamheter som faller. Om något är det väl de som faktiskt har en chans att ta sig igenom det här, medan jättarna dukar under en efter en. Och det är bara dem första effekterna. Vad förlusten av livsuppehälle, brist på socialt umgänge och frisk luft kommer att kosta folkhälsan, det vet inte. Rättelse, HUR mycket det kommer att kosta, det vet inte. Tillåts man att sia fritt så är det kanske anledning till att Sveriges kontroversiella strategi mot Covid-19 i det långa loppet inte kommer visa sig vara helt fel. Konsekvenserna måste mätas i andra parametrar än bara dödsfall. Men det är ett annat inlägg, för det här ska handla om något annat.

Det ska handla om att huvudnyheten i samtliga svenska medier jag klickade in mig på imorse handlade om Paolo Robertos första tv-intervju, bara timmarna efter att han gripits för att ha köpt sex. Jag tryckte spontant igång intervjun men stängde av den lika snabbt igen, och jag vet inte vad som lämnade sämst smak i munnen. Faktumet att Paolo Robertos ljusskygga kvinnosyn blir huvudnyhet i en tid där världen brinner, eller det faktum att händelsen antagligen inte skulle blivit en nyhet överhuvudtaget hade den inte involverat en offentlig person? För det här är en pandemi så djupt förankrad och globalt accepterad att inom loppet av tolv timmar ges en man som de facto köpt en annan människa, medialt utrymme på bästa sändningstid för att “tala ut”. Paolo får sitta lite medfaret klädd och berätta om hålet han har i sin själ som han aldrig kan fylla. Om lyckan han egentligen upplever men aldrig tillåter sig själv att känna. Och såklart, för att poängtera att det var första gången han köpt sex. För det är det ju alltid när vi tagits på bar gärning med något vi inte borde ha gjort, eller hur?

Jag har varit arg hela dagen. Arg och uppgiven. Uppgiven för att världen var trasig långt innan 2020, och att idag bara var ännu en påminnelse om det. Arg över att till skillnad från ett coronavirus så är pandemin kallad misogyni fullt synlig. Det är vi som väljer att inte se den. Vi låter den finnas och uppmuntrar dess spridning, trots att den skördat fler offer än Covid-19 eller någon annan medicinsk pandemi någon har gjort eller kommer göra. Och så länge som förövaren får komma till tals, offentlig person eller inte, innan offret, så är vi inte ens i närheten av något vaccin. För vad vet vi egentligen om offret i den här saken? En kvinna ifrån “ett fattigt europeiskt land”. Bristen på information om alltifrån ålder, nationalitet, historia till hennes version av det som skett talar sitt egna tydliga språk, det har inget värde. Var hon ett offer för trafficking? Var hon här av “fri” vilja? Inte för att fri vilja har något att göra med att sälja sin kropp. Det är frågor vi får ställa oss själva medan Paolo förklarar att det inte handlade om henne, utan om honom. Det kanske är det ändå han haft rätt i. Problemet är inte henne. Problemet är honom. Både som individ och som struktur.

Det som svider allra mest, det är att Sverige ändå är ett av världens mest jämställda länder, där sådant här pågår allra minst. Och att vi ändå inte är bättre än så här. Och det svider varje gång jag blir tillfrågad om hur “det är” i Sverige, av människor ifrån helt andra kulturer, bakgrunder och verkligheter. Med blida ögon ser de framför sig lägenheter med IKEA-möbler och betald föräldraledighet. A-kassa och yttrandefrihet. Fri utbildning och fri sjukvård. Allemansrätt och snö. Och jag håller med men kan inte hålla mig för att hålla upp en brasklapp om Jantelagen och patriarkalt förtryck, och så ofta faller det för döva öron. För någon som bara vill kunna försörja sin familj utan en konstant oro över att få det att gå ihop, de ger oftast blanka fan i både passiv missunnsamhet och oönskade tjuvnyp. Det kommer alltid finnas de som önskar att de hade våra problem. Jag hoppas bara att vi inte tillåter det att sluta bekämpa dem.

Världen ser antagligen likadan ut imorgon som idag, men vi kan alla göra något.