Sep 28, 2014

Loosing Alida

I have dreaded this day. And now it’s here.
I wanted to walk over there today, but my body wasn’t allowing me. I wanted to sit with her at her kitchen table one last time, but I can’t. And maybe she is too tired to sit with me today, she might be.
The storm that swept over here for the last two days has eased out. It’s sunny and kind of nice, and we might even have been sitting outside. The corner west of her front porch is leeward and could be warm even today, late September. That’s where we sat June 2008 when she had called, telling me Värner had died. Värner had just turned 98 and was her husband. He had been fragile for many years, living in a nursing home, and now it was time. Someone called her on the phone asking her if she was alone. No, she said, “I have a friend her.” Or more accurate “I have a pal here”. She is now 97 and I am 58. We are friends and pals.
Alida is my next door neighbor and has been here all my life. All my sons’ lives. All my mother’s life. And a great part of my grandmothers life. Alida is carrying every generation in her body, even the ones before my grandmother. And through the stories she will be carried in generations yet to come. Alida is my anchor. My anchor here at the end of the road. When she for some reason isn’t at the house, I feel like my backbone is gone. And now she will be moving. The time for a nursing home has come. And I don’t know what to do with myself.
There were good reasons believing this would be Alida’s last summer in her home, and my plan was to sit with her in her leeward corner every day. Enjoying her company. Take the few steps to her house, as I have since I was a little girl. Walk our mutual dirt road in the woods. Our road.
Alida’s body is brittle though, and this last year she fell over badly a number of times ending up at the hospital. Every time we were convinced this was the end, she wouldn’t be back, and maybe I wouldn’t see her again. But time after time she has amazed us with rising from the hospital bed, grabbing her stroller, and there she was again, taking her short walk between our houses. Time after time she has made me so happy. Coming back. My delicate anchor.
But a lot of this summer Alida spent in the hospital. And the times in between I have only had a few days when I could do the walk over there. And even when I could do the walk, I couldn’t sit. Only for a few minutes, and a few minutes isn’t enough for 97 and 58-year old pals. 
So there has been a few times in Alida’s leeward corner where I have been standing next to her, leaning on my Nordic Walking sticks. Touching her fine hair. Caressing her soft and tanned cheek. I can’t bend over to give her a hug. But I can hold her close to me. 
- Maria, what would you do if you weren’t in pain, she asked me at one of those occasions. She startled me. I took a deep breath, my eyes teared. They twirled, searching for a fix point.
- Live, I said. I would live. She nodded. I felt dizzy and staggered back home.  
Alida was 91 first time my back crashed really bad. She picked up the mail for me and she came over to visit when I couldn’t. But mostly we have been sitting at her kitchen table having tea and biscuits in the dark winter afternoons going through her obituary collection, talking about life and death. She was a lonely widow and most of her friends long gone, I was grieving my family life. Although she has been my anchor, I know she has felt safe knowing I have been in the house next door.
This last year though, Alida hasn’t been lonely. Last fall her grand daughter Josephine moved in with her baby daughter and two horses. Suddenly there was a lot of life at my next door neighbors again! Josephine has been taking care of Alida in the best way possible and I know Alida has been enjoying every minute of it, feeling very fortunate and loved. But although Josephine would have wanted for Alida to not ever have to move, it finally came to a breaking point where she needs constant attention. And that’s where we are now. At the breaking point.
I have this thing. I need closure, no matter what it is. Weirdly, even bad things. I guess it is a severe form of separation anxiety. And now I have to part from Alida.
Being friends with people in their nineties, you know it can happen any day. All the years I was commuting between Seattle and my Swedish village I was happy every time I got back, finding Värner and Alida still being here. I have a beautiful B&W photo portray of Värner which I shot knowing it needed to be done, I would never have forgiven myself if I hadn’t. 
Summer 2011 I took out my old Rolleiflex and seated Alida in the late evening light for the same purpose. Then of course I have never been able to go in to the dark room for developing those pictures, the film roll is still in my fridge, but I think it is safe there. And the year after I placed Alida in front of my video camera and asked her to tell her story. The story of her life. 
2012 was a crappy summer weather wise. Documenting Alida was my mission, but weeks and months passed, rainy and windy. Finally there was one evening, nice, and the light perfect. Alida and I dressed her in a white blouse and that beautiful red sweater of hers. Her hair was curly from a new perm, and she was tanned as always, her dark complexion, so easily enhanced by the sun. 
She started telling her story, and her eyes, shaded from glaucoma, came to life. Alida has been, and is still a very beautiful woman, glittering from the inside whenever she finds a reason for it. And here was a reason. I am so happy I found that evening. I am so happy her story will be here even when she is not.
Alida will be moving away from her home this week. She will be moving away from my everyday life this week. And I can’t wrap my head around it. I didn’t get to sit with her today, but maybe I will have one more chance before she leaves. I need to be present in the moment. Maybe having a last cup of tea together. I need my closure. We need our closure. The day so long dreaded is here, and I can’t wrap my head around it. My beloved Alida won’t be in the house next to mine anymore, and I don’t know what to do with myself.

Sep 21, 2014

Swedish governing in historic limbo/ part 2

No, I didn’t wake up Monday after the 2014 election breathing more easily. I did not.

It's raining tonight and the wind is picking up, they say a storm i coming. After weeks of late summer sun and summer temperatures the evening is suddenly darker and fall is arriving this very moment. It seems appropriate, considering.
Politically this last week has been the most chaotic and unpredictable one in Swedish history for about 40 years. I won’t, and can’t (who knows what’s going on behind the curtains of the political stage?) outline the details, but here is a general overview.
So, we went to bed late Sunday night thinking we would wake up with a red/green minority government. Not ideal. Now, personally I am red/green, so as far as that I was happy, but the idea of the social conservative racist party Sverigedemokraterna as the balance of power was horrifying to anyone in Sweden except for the 13% (!) who voted for them. 
Monday came though with a very unexpected turn as Stefan Lövén, the leader of the Social Democrats (about 30% of the Swedish vote) immediately shut the door to govern with the Left Party! Miljöpartiet, the Swedish green party, was invited for discussions, but the Left Party was left in the cold.
Instead he wanted to talk to the middle parties Centerpartiet and Folkpartiet for support. His idea for governing is the Social Democrats and the green party as a minority government with support from the middle parties. But as the middle parties up until Sunday (actually still as the new government is far from all set yet) have governed with the right and the christian democrats in The Alliance, they aren’t interested talking to Stefan Lövén. At least this was the situation on Thursday.
And in the middle of all this Sverigedemokraterna who as the third (!) biggest party now will hold the second vice Speaker post in the parliament, and who no one wants to talk to.
And would there be the possibility of the Social Democrats in bed with the right wing???!
I am confused, concerned and deeply worried.
I was hoping for a clear red/green government bringing back Sweden to being the country where we take care of each other. Bringing back the foundation of the strongest Swedish brand. I sure can understand the left party feeling deceived: them, the green party and the Social Democrats standing side by side all through the election campaign, against The Alliance. Even I feel betrayed! 
A couple of days before the election Trouble 2 posted on Facebook: I wish the election was over, I can’t take much more. I want so badly everything changing for the better. I want so badly Sweden to be okay.
I couldn’t agree more.
Better meaning a country where there is room and life for everyone, ethnicity, unemployed, religion, sick, gender, unfortunate, young and old, strong and fragile. That’s what we were hoping for. That’s what we were wishing for Sunday evening a week ago.
No one could have predicted that nothing would be okay the morning after. And that nationalistic, social conservative and no doubt about it racist values are spreading like malignant cancer across our country. No, Sweden is not okay.

Sep 14, 2014

Swedish governing in historic limbo

My eyes teared while Marianne read my name and Margareta slipped the three envelopes in the boxes at my neighborhood polling station in the village next to mine. I don’t think I have ever been moved while voting, but the election 2014 feels more important than anyone before in my life. September 14 2014, en election to look forward to and dare.
I will try to explain. Let’s start with a brief, general and imprecise information about the Swedish parliament and government: 
There are eight parties in the parliament: Moderaterna (the party most to the right), Folkpartiet, Kristdemokraterna (the Christian Democrats) and Centerpartiet, those are what we call the middle parties. There are also of course Socialdemokraterna (the Social Democrats), Miljöpartiet (the Swedish green party), Vänsterpartiet (the Left party), and Sverigedemokraterna (a nationalistic, social conservative and no doubt about it racist party).
Historically Sweden hasn’t been a country of block politics. But for the election 2006 Moderaterna and the three middle parties formed an alliance and won the election. They managed to stay in government even after 2010, (first time ever without the Social Democrats outside government for eight years) and the political scene in Sweden may now be cemented in two blocks, The Alliance and The Red/Green. It feels a bit like the U.S, and I don’t think it’s serving us well.
The election 2010 became a watershed in Swedish politics. Most of the Swedish people were in some kind of shock when Sverigedemokraterna managed to get 5,7% of the Swedish vote passing the 4% limit for entrance to the parliament. All our Nordic neighbors as well as most of Europe were already dealing with nationalistic and racist parties, Sweden was pretty much the last stronghold when it came to these issues, and we never thought it would come to this. But it did. We did. As if The Alliance governing wasn’t a problem big enough.
Sweden is a tiny little country in the world. Asking foreigners what they know about Sweden the answer is usually ABBA and IKEA. It used to be Volvo too, and even SAAB, but those days are gone. And Björn Borg is more or less forgotten. But there is one more brand, and it seems to be the strongest one: Sweden is the country where we are taking care of each other. Well, I have news for you: not so much anymore.
These last eight years The Alliance has decreased the taxes in Sweden more than we can see anywhere in the western world. What pays healthcare, schools, sick leave, unemployment periods, parental leave and infra structure? All those things people around the world envy us and look up to us for? Surprise surprise: taxes!! Actually there is one more thing Sweden is known for, our high taxes, but I can tell you there aren’t as high anymore (especially not for those with high income), and a lot of us have been proud to pay those taxes because we have been proud of living in a country where solidarity is the key word to a good society.
Solidarity? It’s eight years since anyone mentioned that word in Swedish government. Eight years of disassembling and dismantling our strongest brand. And transforming everyone with any kind of flaw or bad luck which makes it not possible to be a strong worker contributing to the GDP (BNP) to parasites in political terms. And it’s even worse. Because you aren’t even allowed to be a parasite. When you have hit the bottom you get kicked out of the state security systems (health care and unemployment insurances) without a penny and you find out there is one more bottom. 
The Swedish finances are good, in fact they are great! Our Minister of Treasury Anders Borg has numerous times been picked as the most successful financial politician internationally, but the number of people on welfare in Sweden is constantly increasing and the powerlessness and impotency among them who aren’t as strong as The Alliance requires is a wet blanket chilling shivering souls trapped in grey misty fog.
Sweden has become a country which I don’t recognize. And what’s most scary is the increasing popularity of Sverigedemokraterna. The last polls show they will get about 9,5% of the Swedish vote today, which is horrifying numbers. Sverigedemokraterna might be the third biggest party in Sweden which until now has been unthinkable.
There is one more player in the game in the 2014 election though. Feministiskt initiativ (the feminist party) sailed up for the EU election in May and managed to take a seat within the Union. They have done a strong campaign this summer and fall, so will they take a seat even in the Swedish parliament? We will soon know.

It’s 7.57 PM. In 3 minutes Swedish National Television will announce the first numbers from the election today, the poll station analysis, pointing out the direction for the next four years. I am so nervous I feel sick. If we don’t have a new government tomorrow I don’t know what I will do with myself.
And there it is! It is giving me mixed feelings. Really. For now it looks like there will be a change of government and Feministiskt initiativ is right on the verge of making it! But Sverigedemokraterna has 10,5% of the Swedish vote and will be the third biggest party in parliament and my stomach is cramping of discomfort.
I have always voted with my heart, never played safe or strategically. Up until today. My heart would have gone with the feminist party. But I am one of those who are not strong enough for The Alliance. I will be kicked out of the health care insurance next summer. To me a change of government was the most important mission and I gave my vote to Miljöpartiet, the green party, hoping to help them be third biggest party. They would have needed many many more votes though. And playing safe isn’t my true nature. But. It looks like we will have a new government tomorrow!
9.57 PM. The first prognosis is announced. Yes, still a new government, but the feminist party is below 4% and the populistic racist Sverigedeomkraterna 13%. This is not good. This is so bad. A populistic racist party having 13% of the Swedish vote. This is horrifying.
Socialdemokraterna, the green and the left party won’t have a majority. The social conservative racist party Sverigedemokraterna will have the balance of power. It won’t be an easy task to govern the country known in the world for ABBA, IKEA and taking care of each other.
10.43 PM. Jimmie Åkesson, the leader of Sverigedekokraterna makes his speech. The party has hijacked the blue and yellow Swedish flag, waving it, making it filthy. I am feeling a heavy weight over my chest, the trace of panic.
00.00 Stefan Lövén, the leader of the Social Democrats finally makes his entrance, declaring that he will take on the assignment of forming the new government, reaching out to every party except the right party and Sverigedemokraterna, and making it very clear that he will have nothing what so ever with the latter to do. And for the first time since 2006 I hear the word solidarity. Thank you!!
It was Trouble 1 and Fay who picked me up for going to our poll station facing the little lake at the village next to mine this beautiful sunny warm afternoon. We barely found parking and it was a line to the voting booths. I was greeted by Trouble 2’s friend from primary school Rickard working in the election. Marianne and Margareta taking my vote are sisters from my village, they didn’t need to see my ID. The room was full of people who I know or recognize from my life here. I was taken by the moment. By everyone doing the drive, showing up, believing their vote being important, wanting to have a say in how their country being governed the next four years. At least 86% of the Swedish people made their voice heard in the 2014 election.
I was dreaming of being able to wake up tomorrow morning breathing more easily. I am relieved that The Alliance is done governing. And I am so happy and grateful to find solidarity in the governing vocabulary again. But I am not breathing easily. I am not.

Sep 7, 2014

A home for little girls

Little girls playing on the back yard!
Fall ten years ago my sister and I started looking at our childhood home with different eyes, knowing it wouldn’t be there that much longer. The summer after it was all empty and we locked the front door one last time. 
Our parents passed away only five months apart from each other. Winter 2005 my sister and I emptied the red brick house our dad built behind the elementary school 1961, 44 years of life put into boxes, shared with family and friends, transported to antique stores and second hand, or simply dumped in the garbage.
The house wasn’t charming but functional and nice, no, it was the garden which made the place special. Both our parents were interested in gardening, but it was our father’s lifeblood. Most of his afternoons and evenings were spent working in the garden and my sister and I had lovely lawns for badminton, cart wheeling, somersaults, high jumping, tanning and running around with our friends.
The old couple which bought the house didn’t agree with the three big linden our dad planted at the front yard in the sixties. The trees that made the place look special although the red brick house looked like nothing really. They cut down the lindens, and we felt that’s when our parents souls left the house.
Every first weekend in September my choir Kammarkören Sångkraft (Sångkraft Chamber Choir) does a full weekend rehearsing the fall concert program. This year the weekend happened in Nordmaling 45 minutes south of Umeå, the small town where I grew up. Riding down there yesterday I knew we would be rehearsing at the school and I was slightly prepared for a trip down memory lane. I wasn’t prepared though for having my childhood home as a view above the Rachmaninoff sheet music in my hands.
Yesterday was a beautiful sunny and warm day, summer came back for a surprise visit this week. The room where we were rehearsing was as sunny and warm as the day, the choir in a good and joyful mood. A full day of sitting singing is way too much for my body, but my soul and my brain really needed it. 
To give it a chance I brought a special chair and a folding bed where I could lie down if necessary. And thanks to all my good friends and colleagues in the choir helping me out with driving me, carrying all my stuff, unfolding and folding chair and music-stand, putting all the pillows where I needed them, helping me to the bath room, finding the elevator, and simply being there for me I could actually do it. And oh how I enjoyed it!
Looking up from Rachmaninoff I am watching my childhood home through the window right in front of me. The lindens and the picket fence gone. I know the old couple isn’t there any more but I don’t know who lives there now. There is a car in front of the garage though. And a bicycle parked next to it. The front door is open. And is that a swing at the back yard? I am not sure, it might be at the neighbors.
And that’s when I see them. Only partly, but they are definitely there. Children playing at the back yard! I think they are girls, there are little girls jumping on my dads lawn, on me and my sister’s green somersault lawn!
In the process of cleaning out our childhood and putting it to rest we were wishing for new children moving in. The red brick house was a good place for a family, a good place for children. We later grieved the cut down linden and were grateful our parents didn’t have to experience that transformation.
My parents married September 4 1954. 60 years later there are little girls playing in the garden they made for themselves and their daughters. It makes me very happy.