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On Coming To Sweden

By Abdi-Noor Mohamed
Friday, February 15, 2008


Right after setting foot on Swedish soil that cold morning of November 18 2007, I have noticed two things: Cold weather and peace. Thanks to the head of the Swedish Forum For Human Rights, Mr. Leif Ericsson and some Somali friends who immediately whisked me into a car before I froze. As I balanced myself on the front seat of the vehicle, I heard an unfamiliar sound of “Seat Belt, please”. That was the first instruction I received within a space of thirty minutes after disembarking from the plane and as I fastened the belt my mind slipped into shadows of unknown retreats. The freshly triggered thoughts took me back to Somalia where seat belt was long forgotten and people drove any side of the road in utter disregard of the traffic rules. Coming from a war-torn nation like Somalia to a country where peace is abundant, I try to make reasonable comparisons about the two situations to best of my observations.

Weather and Climate

In Somalia, winter is the season of clear skies and high temperatures whereas in Sweden temperatures fall below zero and the sky has little chance to breathe as dark clouds sweep across. I was surprised to see darkness falling upon us shortly after 16:00 PM, making the night much longer than the day. Back home the difference was not that big and prayer times never posed any confusion. If you are a Moslem asylum seeker in Sweden you should get hold of an updated prayer schedule and let it stay under your pillow lest you mix up things or get astray in the inseparable pathways of time variations.

In Sweden’s winter, the sun would make a short rise early in the morning and suddenly melts away in the waiting jaws of a distant horizon. Sometimes it dies out before it is born despite continuous attempts to rip the sky apart with the arrows of a fading glory. In Somalia the sun gives a lovely baby smile too early in the morning and later strikes at full swing with an inexorable glow that force people to escape from the scorching heat.

 In Sweden, well before daybreak and sometimes during the day, flakes of snow start falling like droplets of a white paint. But snow does not come down in huge quantities and as regularly as it used to be a quarter of a century ago due to dramatic changes on the behavior of global climate. "If you had come to Sweden 25 years ago" said a friend of mine "you would have seen snow almost knee deep" The pattern of climatic changes is clearly visible in the sky which sometimes expands within its margins and shrinks along its edges at other times while clouds clash to cancel out  each other like two civilizations.  

I have noticed that one must be careful walking on the wet roads that glisten with the ever-shining lights of the vehicles. Day and night vehicles are supposed to keep their lights on. On a clean slippery road I have once lost control over,  though not fell down. From the desert to the snow, I thought there was a need for better adjustment. “Like cars fitted with winter tires, you need winter feet fitted within your feet”. I almost confided to myself.

As winter has stripped the trees naked, I saw some trees giving resistance to the seemingly irresistible seasonal changes, never yielding to the December pressure and it was this resilience that has rekindled some of my dormant thoughts of the past. Their stern determination reminded me how people struggled (and still struggling) for life in Mogadishu amid threats, wheezing bullets and bombardments. .

I was barely three weeks in Sweden when the whole nation burst into lights of delight. Sweden started to shine from corner to corner as a sign of a welcome to the then approaching Christmas and New Year celebrations. In Somalia we have this kind of animated spirit during the time we prepare for traditional festivals, especially the ritual gatherings of Dab shidka and that of Istunka in Afgooye.

People And Transport

“In Sweden”, said Elisabeth Tingdal a Swedish journalist in Götenborg “ Do not raise your voice if not necessary and do what you think is right but be punctual”. In the book: The Swedish Code, written by three women (Ula, Marie and Silvia) the importance of punctuality in Sweden has been highlighted. Tardiness is one major thing that can irritate a Swede but comparing this to Somalia, we see that Time- keeping is not a priority for many of us though a Moslem should be much more time conscious than a non-Moslem. I wonder if I am beginning to learn the basic rules of Islam in a land widely believed to be wallowing in the depths of spiritual emptiness. 

The Swedish Code mentions that people in this country are law-abiding citizens who take up an issue with something that might be regarded as minor in other European countries. According to the book which views things from a perspective of personal experience, a lie can lead to serious consequences if someone is caught in the thick of it. This is in sharp contrast with the situation I have come from where telling the truth is as risky as swimming in a sea infested with sharks.

From political standpoint, Somali people especially journalists end up in police cells for the sole reason of telling the truth. Politicians feed people with tons of lies and make radio addresses or speeches that only supply fear to the hearts of their followers. The more a leader is a liar, the better chances he has to cling in the aprons of power.  If this is the nature and true color of our today’s leadership what will you expect from people who were subjected to respect those leaders. To straighten our society and re-institute their moral fabric we should take into consideration the need to get the right leaders.  

In strolling the Swedish towns and cities, one would hear sounds of European identity at the transport, sports and entertainment centers.  Sweden is a quiet nation as I have noted the few months I have been here. Talking inside a bus, which is generally acceptable in Somalia is not a habit here. Hardly do people talk while commuting and if you are a Somali like me who hasn’t got enough time to make necessary adjustments, the nippy silence would remind a day you had paid a visit to a graveyard. But beneath the surface of silence there lies a fortune of peace. At least you are sure that gunmen shall not attack your bus nor would a bomb explode at the roadside.  

Books and Internet

 As I was not getting access to Internet I have undergone a temporary intellectual blackout until I visited Sandareds School Library in a village near my refugee camp around Hultafors area. I was at the brink of desperation before this Library offered me a chance to put my seemingly derailed literary train back to the railway of light and knowledge. Books are my friends, they are my companions that rush to my rescue when loneliness touches, denying me to lean like an old tower gazing upon the ocean into which it will sink. They hold me high when spirits plummet salvaging me from tumbling like a marble statue of a fallen dictator which peers upon the sands of defeat into which it will hug. Books link me up to the world, reuniting me with myself like a thread and its lost beads. They are my window of hope through which I gawk into the inner functions of life.

Fumbling for a pen from one of my many but practically thin pockets, I managed to write few words to the librarian in request of getting access to her library, saying: Dear Librarian I am a writer from Africa who can’t live without books. Without books I lose my sense of direction just like a sailor without a compass who happened to be cruising in a foggy lake. Without a book I feel like a nomad who has lost his weather instincts, feeling obsessed with where the rain will fall next. Without a book I feel starved in the mind with an air of pain steering in my heart. When I finished I left the paper on her desk, right in front of her eyes but went back to my seat and waited for a positive response.

In reading my words, Marlena’s eyes sparked off a flash of sympathetic understanding and allowed me to use the library Internet free of charge.  Out of joy I volunteered teaching services to Sandareds school to pay back some of what I have been provided for. There I met with students (one of them was a Somali named Ahmed) who have shown deep interest in Somalia and its vast natural resources but unable to understand why people flee.


I offered them a chance to ask me anything they wish to know about Somalia,  hoping that they will ask easy questions given their scant knowledge about my nation. Things havr gone the way I predicted them with the exception of one student who asked: “Teacher, why can’t the Somalis solve their own problems?”.  This question has made me speechless and left a hole in my heart. I answered it with a cry without tears. I knew nothing else to do.

Abdi-Noor Mohamed
Writer and film maker
Lindesberg, Sweden
n[email protected]

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