“You are not your bra size, nor are you the width of your waist, nor are you the slenderness of your calves. You are not your hair color, your skin color, nor are you a shade of lipstick. Your shoe size is of no consequence. You are not defined by the amount of attention you get from males, females, or any combination thereof. You are not the number of sit-ups you can do, nor are you the number of calories in a day. You are not your mustache. You are not the hair on your legs. You are not a little red dress. You are no amalgam of these things. You are the content of your character. You are the ambitions that drive you. You are the goals that you set. You are the things that you laugh at and the words that you say. You are the thoughts you think and the things you wonder. You are beautiful and desirable not for the clique you attend, but for the spark of life within you that compels you to make your life a full and meaningful one. You are beautiful not for the shape of the vessel, but for the volume of the soul it carries.”
This is a blog post that I wrote for the other two blogs that I have been active on while here in Australia. It’s sort of a chronicle of how I feel about my time here and the fact that it’s over very soon.
With only two nights left in this country before I head on a very long journey back to my loved one’s arms, I think it is about time to try and summarize my semester at Flinders.
But how do you paint a fair picture of the beauty of this country so far away from my own, the golden sunsets, the never-ending rolling of the waves, the trees and plants and flowers that look like they are props from Avatar?
How is it possible to explain the amazement you felt when meeting all the fantastic people life threw your way, the wonderfully culturally mixed group of international students sitting in the boat next to you (laughing, sighing, singing, dancing, crying and studying with you) and the friendly, warm Australians with their easy-going attitude and blinding smiles?
How do you put down in a blog post the incredibly meetings with animals that occurred since you arrived on this continent, the roaming sea lions of Kangaroo Island, the proud kangaroos hopping across the road without fear, the shy koalas eating eucalyptus in the trees on campus, the pale pink galahs keeping you company on your morning walk and the persistent millipedes that refuse to live your bathroom floor?
How can you make people understand the importance of the courses studied, the inspirational professors and the input from fellow students from all over the world without showing them the inside of your brain and your mind and explaining that it all grew in Adelaide, in Adelaide your mind improved?
How do you describe five intense months of ups and downs, sunshine and rain, awesomeness and boredom, Vegemite sandwiches and double-coated Timtams, echidnas and red-back spiders, international politics lectures and life lessons?
I don’t know. I just wanted to say thank you. Everything described above will stay in my heart for ever.
Today is the day. Today is the night when the sun won’t set, girls will jump stone fences and lots of herring with chives will be consumed in Swedish garages and tents. It’s Midsummer.
But let’s take it from the beginning. As with all Swedish traditions, there are a couple of given props and rituals, but it also varies from town to town, family to family and from generation to generation. The Midsummer I am about to describe here is the one celebrated by my family, our friends and neighbors for many years, when I used to live in Starrarp, a small village in the Scanian countryside (south Sweden.)
Everything starts quite early with getting dressed. It is always a dilemma as you want to look as pretty and “summery” as possible, but the weather usually let’s you down and when it is raining and 12 degrees warm a white, strapless dress and sandals is not very tempting. It’s all about bringing a bag of extra jackets, knitted sweaters, jeans and socks. Be prepared.
Once the outfit is chosen and the face is makeuped, you would head over to your neighbor’s/friend’s house. (Midsummer, unlike Christmas and Easter, is something you don’t celebrate with family). And the work starts. Everybody has hopefully brought flowers and birch branches. Somebody provides a cross shaped structure and everybody chips in to dress the cross in green leaves and flowers. The finish touch is a blue and yellow ribbon, but that’s really for the anal ones only. Next two big wreaths are prepared and fastened under the arms of the cross. That is the “midsommarstång”, the Midsummer pole, and this is where the action will take place later. From the left over flowers and leaves, girls and women bind their own wreaths to put on your head as a decorative party accessory. (Some buy theirs ready-made from a flower shop, but that’s cheating!)
First lunch, as a reward for the effort put into to the Midsummer pole. Usually we will barbecue something easy, hot-dogs, buns and ketchup tastes great when hiding from the rain. The parties usually take place semi-outdoors. We’re talking garage, tent, barn or similar, even though it is horribly cold. I think this has to do with the fact that many people gather, and the living room just isn’t big enough. Plus, it is a summer party, of course we have to enjoy the summer outside!
When everybody has been fed it is time to start the dancing. As I was growing up we usually were lucky enough to have my friend Andreas’ dad there, he can play any song on his accordion. We do silly dances around the Midsummer pole, accompanied by the tunes of the accordion. There is one song where you are a frog without a tail, another one tells of three little ladies on their way to the market. We also sing about how people dated in the olden golden day, about a carousel and its ticket prices and about grandma’s little crow. Yes, it’s a bit weird, but so much fun!
Afterwards: Time to eat again. Dinner. Traditional Swedish Midsummer food is, at least as far as I’m concerned, meatballs, hot dogs, sour-cream with chives, new potatoes, a pickled herring called matjessill, bread, butter and cheese, sometimes this delicious cake made of sour-cream, dark rye bread and herring.
Yum. My mouth is watering as I write. Very sad to be missing this event this year.
Anyways. Another VERY important component of a proper Midsummer celebration is the shot, snaps. Different kinds with different degrees of tastiness are offered, everyone usually bring a bottle and then we all share. In Sweden we also like to sing a short song before you take the shot. (Not only shots, there are wine songs and liqeur songs and beer songs as well.) The lyrics to these songs are usually very old, not always understandable and often quite dirty.
After a couple of hours of eating and drinking and singing and shotting, it’s time for dessert. Strawberries is a given, some prefer it with cream, some with ice-cream. This is usually the first time in the year when we get to enjoy the expensive, but so delicious, Swedish strawberries. They taste like life, light and summer, all wrapped in a sweet little berry. Mmm.
When I was little it was after dessert, when it starts to become a little bit darker, that my dad and some of the other dads, would come play with us. Crazy games of hiding, catching and then rescuing your friends as you stand in a bush with your heart beating with excitement and a tiny pinch of fear. Loved it. The older kids looking after the smaller ones as the dads return to the snaps. And then, the midnight tradition of, in silence, jumping over seven stone fences, picking seven kinds of flowers and then placing these under your pillow. It will make you dream of your future husband! (Depending on how much snaps you had, you might not dream anything at all.)
And then, back to the party. Back to the bright summer night, friends gathered around a table, covered in blankets and those knitted sweaters mentioned earlier are now on. Candles are lit. Someone might be playing the guitar if your lucky. On stereo songs that everybody hates, but which simply belong to Swedish summer. (Gyllene Tider and Tomas Ledin.)
It is quite, still, beautiful. A feeling of peace will spread in your body and you will sit there and talk to your friends until the sun gets brighter again. And Midsummer will be over.
Pictures from arla.se and wikipedia.net.
This is a post that I wrote for the Border Crossings blog last week. I can’t remember if I published it here already so apologies if that’s the case. If not, enjoy!
The Migration Museum is a place full of stories, of survivors, of split-up families, of poor people, of desperate people, of people accepting Australia as their new homeland.
Alessandro and I have spent five days in the air-conditioned offices of the Migration Museum in Adelaide, researching families, objects and fates in the old police barracks, now home to three curators and a lot of volunteers. It has been time-consuming, and boring at times, but the stories that people have shared and are now saved in the digitalized archives are incredible.
I read about a family who saved money for two years so that the husband could go over to Australia from Greece in the end of 1930s. The plan was for him to get a job in the country of possibilities and then send money home for his wife and 9-month old son to join him. History wanted something different. As his wife decided to stay till 1939 to look after her mum, World War II broke out and prevented her and her baby from going anywhere. It would take another 11 years until they could finally board a ship and head to Adelaide where her husband was waiting, in a newly purchase housed. The little son, soon to be a teenager by that time, must have been anxious to finally get to know his father at the age of 12.
It is very hard for me to understand what it must have been like to pack up all you belongings, grab your family and head for the unknown, a world so far away that back in the 1800s it took three months for the ships from Europe to get here. The very first emigrants had no idea what they were in for, they could not Google Australia before they left, and they had usually not heard anything about it.
People were struggling with money, with the language, with getting a job and with the fact that they only owned what had fit into a wooden suitcase. Most of them managed though. They survived the initial tough times in the migration hostels, they found work, they saved money and they bought the house they always dreamed of. And although many never really felt Australian, when they could afford to visit their old hometowns, they did not really feel at home there either anymore.
I am secretly thankful that my friends and family are only a Skype call away.
Homesickness is a vicious disease that can strike at any moment, without any symptoms or premonitions. Homesickness is like a virus, a feeling in your chest that something is wrong, a condition that is impossible for outsiders to detect. Homesickness will attack the weak and the strong alike; it may be caused by a text message, a mentioning of a friend’s name or a song on the radio that you used to hear with someone from back home. Homesickness makes you cry in your sleep; it turns laughter into half-hearted smiles, and it puts a layer of heavy, gray dust on everything that you used to enjoy.
Luckily, I am not homesick. After spending more than four years in the US and in Germany away from my Swedish family, I am used to not seeing the parents, siblings and friends that I grew up with. After spending 1,5 years in a long-distance relationship with my boyfriend in Germany, I am also used to not seeing him everyday. The homesickness that I don’t have is more a longing for people who know me inside and out. I love my new friends here, but there is something special about people with whom you share a history, a past and a bag full of unexplainable memories. The homesickness that I don’t have is controlled. It is an undeveloped seed in my stomach that I choose not to acknowledge, something that instead will visualize itself as a strong urge to speak Swedish, to laugh at an insider joke, to hear my man’s reassuring voice.
And if I quickly manage to fulfill that need with a Skype call, an SMS or a quick look at my picture album from home, my homesickness stays quiet and still. That tells me that I am in the right place, at the right time. Fate wanted me to be here, and I intend to make the best of the 92 days that are left.
Just wanted to let people know that if Google Translate is being a pain in your tushies, I also blog over here: http://blogg.mah.se/bordercrossings/blog/ in English. That blog is used by the students who like me are on a Border Crossing’s scholarship, and the blog is a bit more serious and impersonal. But a good option if you think I am too silly over here. Plus, the other students blogging there from Australia are really interesting too, so you might find that nice as well. Just a tip! Nobody is forcing you to do stuff you don’t wanna do!