The Motley News


Leave a comment

Walking (against my will) in Europe

(Note: This is not a “feel-good” weight-loss story with before-and-after photos and an inspiring lesson. Nope, this is just the account of a woman who’s been forced to do something she’s has no interest in and begrudgingly feels good for it.)


 

I balked when I heard the suggestion “moving my body around,” possibly outdoors, could make me feel good. It sounds suspiciously like exercise, which I’m usually very suspicious of. Walking/running around Toledo, OH was depressing and demoralizing. It was the same suburban streets where people insisted on spraying their sprinklers on the sidewalk. Plus, I was always “busy.” There was something that I could have/should have been doing instead. I was exact opposite of my husband who grew up roaming and exploring. He’s carried that habit well into adulthood, enjoying a long stroll whenever he can get it.

I am the rock to his rushing stream. You know where to find me, planted solidly in our living room reading, writing, or watching television.

This became a problem when we went to Europe for the first time. While the women of Helsinki gracefully walked the cobblestone streets in stilettos, I begged my husband for more park bench time. My calves and ankles, once dormant, awoke demanding answers. “What are you doing and why are you overexerting us like this??” After our trip, I promised myself to get it together and start walking more frequently in Toledo.

I didn’t.

The next trip was to Ireland and while it sounded romantic to roam the rolling green hills of West Country, my body was like, “Nah, sis. I’m good.” It didn’t change the fact that I still needed to walk where ever we were. From Tully Cross, to Galway, to Dingle, and lastly, to Limerick, your girl was a walking fool. I trudged and marched like I was headed to the gulag, sweating and cursing as I went. After the Ireland trip, I vowed— You know what, let’s just move on.

It wasn’t until we uprooted our lives and moved to Örebro, Sweden, that I knew my life would have to change quickly. We moved here without a car and were not planning on purchasing one. In fact, Noah was quite relieved to never drive again. In this bustling city, the bicycles outnumber the cars and almost everyone walks or jogs. The public transit is everywhere and runs smoothly. In short, Örebro is a transportation utopia.

The first walk Noah and I took, was to the grocery store, located about 10-12 minutes from our apartment. I didn’t enjoy it. We got what we needed for our first night and walked back home with heavy bags. I didn’t enjoy that either. But feeding ourselves is apparently very necessary, so I quickly reconciled with regular jaunts to the grocery. And boy, are they regular. In Toledo, we could load everything we needed in the trunk and not have to see Kroger for a week. Now, we buy what we can carry. I have a feeling this might have long-term benefits.

This post does take a turn for the positive (thank you for sticking with me). It wasn’t until my friend from home begged me to start playing Pokemon Go, that I considered walking for recreation. Originally, she wanted me to download the game and use her log-in for rare Swedish pocket monsters. I said I would consider it. When I got off the phone with her, I downloaded the game. Thank you, Melissa, lol.

And thus began the daily 2 mile walks (on average).

I walked started walking everywhere on the our University campus, hitting up all visible Pokestops and raiding gyms, before volunteering to do the grocery runs by myself. Soon, it became necessary to extend my walks in the downtown area (there are far more Pokespots there). Since downloading the game (and adding a pedometer to my phone), I’ve walked 45 miles. Let me clarify: Since July 9th, I’ve walked 45 miles.

 

How do I feel now that I’ve forced myself to move? A lot better about living in Europe. Before, I was excited to travel, but dreaded getting around. A few days ago, my husband and I went to Götenburg for my birthday and we spent two days exploring the city. Even during Sweden’s strange heatwave, I felt like I needed to climb hills and see what was just around the bend. Noah finally had a exploration partner!

Because my phone battery struggled for most of the trip, I was unable to play Pokemon Go as I had planned. But it didn’t matter so much since I was enjoying the exercise. On my 34th birthday, I walked 6.75 miles. I consider that a gift to myself.

We’re going to Latvia and Estonia in a few days and I’m really excited. Not just because I want to try that famous Latvian honey, but because I’m ready to push myself. I want to see how far I can go. Like I said at the top of this post, this is not a super inspirational weight-loss piece. I have no idea if I’ve actually lost weight (though my calf muscles feel really firm these days), that’s not very important yet. I’m more concerned about getting active and staying active. I don’t want to walk like a senior citizen 30 years before I am one. I want to take advantage of the time I spend in Europe, one uneven cobblestone path at a time.

Advertisements


9 Comments

Swedish Sidewalk Etiquette and Black Bodies

. . . It is sometimes advantageous to be unseen, although it is most often rather wearing on the nerves. Then too, you’re constantly being bumped against by those of poor vision. Or again, you often doubt if you really exist. You wonder whether you aren’t simply a phantom in other people’s minds. Say, a figure in a nightmare which the sleeper tries with all his strength to destroy. It’s when you feel like that, out of resentment, you begin to bump people back. . .

—Ralph Ellison Invisible Man (1952)


 

sidewalk

On my walk to the grocery store, I stay to the right side of the path, giving cyclists a wide berth around me. The width of this path is fairly generous, nearly six feet across. There’s enough room for me to remain safe during my ten minute journey. When I spot the jogging man coming towards me, he’s several yards ahead, on my side of this wide path. I have a few seconds to decide what I’ll do, the anxiety actually elevates my heart rate. Stay the course or move aside? The way I reason it, he’s moving much faster than I, speeding downhill while I trudge upward, he has the ability to jog around. At the last second I stand my ground and stay the course.

When he does brush against me, our arms bumping, I continue walking with the knowledge that this is not normal behavior. He doesn’t say “excuse me” or “Ursäkta mig.” He just blow through me as though I’m not there. For the rest of my fuming walk to the store, I realize that this hasn’t been the first time I’ve experienced this. 

Continue reading


4 Comments

Survivor’s Guilt: Black Expats in the Trump Era

survivors guilt

When Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election, I scrolled through the flood of Facebook post’s reading the lamentations of devastated friends who claimed “IT’S TIME TO MOVE TO CANADA!” (Never to Mexico, though. I never saw anyone threaten to move to the popular vacation destination, Mexico). I rolled my eyes and thought: “Y’all ain’t going anywhere.” Because you can’t leave. If your country made a mess, you had to stick around and deal with it.

Then my husband took a teaching job in Sweden. Of all places the places to move after a year and a half of dismal political failures, Sweden and it’s free health care/education was the deus ex machina this black girl needed. At that point, I was like: “Peace, America. It’s been real.”

tiffany.gif

Reenactment of my quick “get away”

But about a month into my new Swedish life, my feelings of relief soon became feelings of guilt when I saw the wave of #livingwhileblack news reports. My survivor’s guilt isn’t born of some explosive tragedy like a terrorist attack or a plane crash. Mine comes from being born in a racist America, where my humanity is questioned at every turn. And since I’ve left my home country, I’ve become terrified of what might happen to the black/brown people I know and love. I feel powerless over here.

Below, I’ve compiled a few screenshots of these disturbing headlines. I eventually had to stop at these because: a) There are just far too many (even in the last month), and b) It’s so damned disheartening.

It’s no secret that White Americans have grown bolder by their new president’s racist rhetoric. They’ve taken his fear-mongering rants, regarding non-whites, and ran wild with it; calling the cops as they go. Black people cannot be in public spaces (or private, for that matter) without some trembling white woman alerting law enforcement. And because these hysteria-driven incidences are occurring so frequently (again, in the past couple of months), it makes black people wonder: “Am I next?”

I look at these news reports and feel sick because I know if I were still living in the United States, it would be a matter of time before the police were called on me for. . . God know’s what, using coupons at a Dollar General?

I recently met some Black American men, at a bar, in my new city. And after we got over the initial shock of “Omg, what on earth brought you here??” we got down to how things were back home. I informed them that things were indeed not good back home, but they didn’t seem particularly bothered by events. They were married to Swedish women and had effectively moved on. One man, Carl, bemoaned local inconveniences like not being able to collect guns or the license that must be paid when buying a television. He even said of Trump: “The guy might be okay, if he’d learn how to talk with some sense.” Needless to say, I felt strangely alone after meeting my kinsmen. They were done with America and the closest they’d come to racism was annoying questions like: “But where in Africa did you come from?”

I’m not saying that racism doesn’t exist in Sweden, in fact, there are far-right/neo-Nazi political parties that are making serious waves right now. But this day-to-day weaponizing of police isn’t taking off here. I’m also not asking you to feel sorry for my situation. I’m fine, I swear I am. I’m certainly not the first black ex-pat to have these feelings.

James Baldwin kept America in the back of his mind while living in Paris or visiting Leukerbad. He compared #livingwhileblack in both Europe and America and found some similarities, but he also found some freedoms. His day-to-day wasn’t hindered by fearful white women on cellphones. Being in a land with no apparent “whites-only” signs allowed him the freedom to be thoughtful and critical of racism in America (again, not to say that France didn’t have their own problems i.e: Algerians).

74cc42427fc53e1def4f84d371757d29

It’s my hope to acquire Baldwin’s astute observations regarding my own homeland. America, regardless of her deep flaws, is still my country. My blue passport is proof of my citizenship and in it, reads: “Place of Birth: Arkansas, U.S.A.” Little Rock, to be exact. I come from strong people, from the deep South, who saw my leaving America as a good thing. I want to keep writing my observations for them.

Lastly, I want it to be known that I wrote this piece in response to a Facebook post I recently read (I’ve bolded the last sentence):

How many of you live in a different country other than the US. I know everywhere its some type of “issue,” with being a dark skin black woman. Yet, I’m curious to know what are your experiences as a black woman in a different country? I know this is a loaded question. I WILL read each response. I ask because I’m thinking of what my life could be if I decide to leave the US. Thank you so much

The location, where black women could escape to, was not settled in the long comment thread that followed. EVERY COUNTRY had its issues, even Canada. The point was: Black women are looking for a way out. They are seriously considering leaving everything they know for some goddamn peace and quiet. America has reached a critical juncture where the marginalized are openly abused, kids are in cages, and white people are frightened of little black children selling lemonade.

Who wouldn’t want to escape?


Leave a comment

The Phone to Nowhere: Swedish Frustration Stage

There is a phone, next to our bathroom, that has puzzled me for the first month living here. It doesn’t have buttons or a dial tone.

phone531889706.jpg

The Phone in Question

I’ve checked it a few times and marveled over its uselessness, wondering what kind of game our apartment building was playing with us. After a month, it dawned on me that the phone could be a way to buzz down to the front door of our building. I haven’t tested the theory, but I’m certain that’s what it has to be. In short, the phone is a metaphor for all of the tiny Swedish bullshit that I should just know.

I realize that I don’t know every tiny culture difference. I realize that it’s pissing me off. Like the phone situation, I feel like Sweden constantly playing with me. This is commonly known as the Frustration Stage of Culture Shock.

Culture Shock Diagram_1_0.png

World Relief Durham lists my stage as the “Rejection Phase”

Noah and I felt the Honeymoon Phase for the first two weeks of living here. Which wasn’t a surprise, because that’s about how long most of our vacations last. Two years ago, we spent a couple of weeks in both Helsinki and Tallinn, just enough time for us to bask in European charm, fall in love with each city’s quirks, all that shit. Last year, we spent nearly a month in Ireland and were ready to cast everything aside to become sheep herders.

This time it’s different. We live here now. The time for enjoying the European sidewalks and quiet parks is taking a backseat to the many mounting frustrations that plague me daily. Just so I can bitch about this and then let it go, I’m going to write a list of things that I’m struggling with. Understand that Noah and I knew that the Frustration Stage was coming; we tried to prepare for it as best as we could. We know that we’ll get over this, look back, and laugh at how rough it was. . . but I need a good whinge right now.

  • Being recognized as an actual person in Sweden: I don’t think I fully understood the importance of the personnummer before coming here. It’s the Swedish social security number and you need it FOR EVERYTHING. What’s more, you really need a personnummer to get a Swedish ID card. Here are the simple steps in order to secure your own Swedish personnummer:
    • Go to the Immigration office to get your biometrics recorded. Photo, fingerprints, and signature (it obviously helps to have work permits like we did).
    • Wait about two weeks to receive a Permanent Resident Card.
    • Take your Permanent Resident Card to your local tax office, fill out an application for your p.nummer.
    • Wait about a month to receive your number in the mail (you’re not done yet)!
    • Book an appointment apply for a Swedish ID card (pay $40 in advance).
    • Return to your local tax office with p.nummer and payment receipt in hand
    • Wait about two weeks for a mail notification to return to your local tax office to pick up Swedish ID card!

 

(Note: Noah and I are extremely lucky that this process has not taken as long as the average immigrant. We have had help from a relocation office. We also know that in the current U.S. political climate, we have absolutely nothing to complain about.)

  • Signing up for a bank account is a headache: Sweden recognizes that the United States has it’s issues with tax evasion and fraud, so everything must be checked and then double-checked. I get it. But we won’t have full bank services until we get Swedish ID cards. Our current account is a very temporary “fictive” place to put Noah’s salary. It was explained to me a few times, but I’m still unsure what “fictive” means in regards to our money. Also, we have to pay for the pleasure of a debit card.
  • The grocery store is stressful: This sounds lame, but everyone seems to know where they’re going and there is no idle strolling through the bread aisle. Every time I got to my local Maxi ICA, I feel like I’m competing in Supermarket Sweep. Shoppers do not say “excuse me” (ursakt mig) when they move around you, which is hard for me to get used to. I end up shopping so quickly that I always forget something.

SYK.gif

  • Making an appointment to do laundry: Swedes love to form an orderly line and my apartment building’s laundry facilities are no different. We’re lucky to finally have laundry services so close to us (no more coin-op laundromats!), but the appointment system is divided into two hour blocks. For example, if you need to use a washing machine, you have a full two hours. Why so long? Because the machine is so small. Like, 3×3′ small. There are two washers and two dryers, so we have to plan ahead. Don’t plan your dryer time at the same as your washer time because you are literally locked into those times. The doors lock if you accidentally spill into someone else’s time and they’ll have to unlock the machine for you.
  • State monopoly on alcohol: If you come from the Southern Bible Belt or Utah, you already know about restrictions on alcohol purchases. Even in Ohio, hard liquors were only sold in state-ran stores and open at certain times. In Sweden, this monopoly is call Systembolaget, it’s regulated by the nation’s government, and ALL alcohol over 3.5 abv. is sold there. Nowhere else. These stores usually close at 7 pm, Monday thru Friday and completely closed on weekend’s, so plan ahead.
  • Everything is expensive: Food, alcohol, clothing, and electronics are all expensive. All I can say is: Taxes. If you want a socialist country to give you universal health care, free education, and dependable infrastructure, you gotta pay for it.
  • The sun won’t go down: It’s summer time and the it still looks like dusk at 1 a.m. The sun “comes up” (I guess) at 2 a.m. On the flip-side, the sun will hardly be out during winter, so. . .

So that’s the short-ish list of things that have been bugging me. These complaints are just the growing pains of being in a different place and learning life all over again. I have to come to grips with not being the same Charish anymore. These complaint are also not life-shattering abuses. I’m not being oppressed, I’m just being pushed out of my comfort zone. Which is the beautiful thing about travel: It forces you to see the world in a different way.

Like the “Phone to Nowhere,” these things will eventually be sorted out. We’ll eventually get past the Frustration Stage and onto something a little less irritating. And when that happens, I’ll have fun and happy things to report on.

Until then, I’m going to grouse a little.


1 Comment

My First Swedish Apartment

If I ever lamented the fact that I never had the “university experience” of living in a dorm, getting coffee in my building, etc., I can relax now. I’m 33 years old and I’m living in a shoe-box apartment with my husband. It’s a completely new start.

As we wheeled four suitcases, and three carry-on bags into our apartment, Noah’s colleagues were supportive and perhaps a little anxious about our first impressions. We knew it would be small, but my god. . . In three easy strides from the front door, you’ve passed the bathroom, dining table, master bedroom and now you’re standing in the kitchen? The only thing after those three strides is the “living room” and the guest bedroom.

I can safely say that I’m now living in a dorm with my best friend.

We murmured our amazement, which I hope didn’t sound like shock to my husband’s new co-workers. It was actually relief and awe. I was still getting used to the idea of living in another country for the long haul. The apartment would easily figure into that.

It has no air-conditioning, but plenty of windows. It’s small, but the excessive white and spartan Ikea furnishings make it spacious. There is no television, but we have two laptops and Wi-Fi for Netflix. The kitchenette is about 8 feet across, it comes fully equipped with a fridge/freezer, sink basin/drying rack, and stove/oven. Oh yes, and of course, a microwave. Small (very small) blessings.


Later that evening, after a quick trip to the nearby grocery store, we watched Arrested Development on the laptop and drinking whiskey. Below us, we could hear the laughter and chatter from the students. Around 10 p.m. the sun finally set on our first night in Orebro, Sweden. Our new home.


Leave a comment

The Things We Carried (to Sweden)

How did we convert three floors of townhouse space into the four suitcases?

airport with Kate

Our friend, Kate, sending us off at the airport!

Our possessions have always stressed me out. The clutter in our apt/townhouse was spread over two floors and a basement, mostly out of sight and out of mind. But occasionally, in the back of my mind, a small voice whispered: “Psst! You’ve got far too much shit.”

It was impossible to ignore that voice when we got the news about Noah’s job opportunity in Sweden. With three to four months away from our official departure, our home felt like a constant combination of DEFCON 1 and hopeless malaise. When we learned about the high cost of international cargo shipping, we needed a much cheaper option of getting our belongings to Sweden. Noah suggested that we get four of the largest suitcases we could find and makes some hard decisions.

“Hard” decisions were actually painful and somewhat traumatizing. Between the two of us, books are probably the most prized possessions we own. And let me tell you, two academics know how to put away some books. I don’t know just how many we gave away (many plastic tubs and boxes full), but I can say that we only took about 20 texts with us.

Picking clothes turned out to be difficult as well. For me, I had plenty of items hanging in the back of the closet or stuffed in a bottom drawer. But If I hadn’t worn them in the last 8 months, there wasn’t any use in keeping them. Luckily, we arrived during Sweden’s unseasonably warm spring. We can buy winter coats and sweaters here; hopefully at discounted prices.

Hair and make-up was the last thing I thought about, when it probably should have been the first. I don’t know how well Sweden accommodates darker shades of foundation and concealer. Could I find a MAC counter or Sephora in my town? How long could I make my products last? I can’t answer those questions yet; I still need to do my research. As for black hair-care products, I knew not to depend on chance. I can probably find coconut oil in the supermarket, but what about a green tub of ECO-STYLER?? I pack the necessities, even though they were weighing down my suitcase: Marley-braiding hair, flat-iron, sponge-rollers, end-paper, bobby-pins, hair-ties, and oh my god, Blue Magic. . . don’t ask.

Everything else had to stay. Furniture and appliances were given away or left at the curb (for unlimited refuse week), smaller, boxed items were donated to Goodwill, the car was sold, and the rest went to the dump. I was putting things in garbage bags like a madwoman. We threw out so much stuff that it really bummed me out. After awhile, Noah and I had to asked ourselves why we had schlepped this much in the first place. We knew that we were both pack-rats, but this was a wake up call. It wasn’t hoarder status, but it was almost just as overwhelming. With our lives being disassembled and carried overseas, we had to rethink our priorities. What was truly important?

Honestly, I’m surprised I didn’t cry anymore than I thought I would. This kind of stress breaks me down rather quickly, but I’ve managed to remain pretty stoic. The only explanation I can think of is that I had Noah and there wasn’t time for the both of us to have meltdowns. I also believe that part of my strength came from assuring my loved-ones that we knew what were doing! Their concern for our well-being prompted me to convince them and myself that everything was going to be A-OKAY. Sometimes you have to fake it make it.

In the end, the four bags were a blessing in disguise. Stressful as it was, we really needed to be reminded that our possessions were just things. It is very possible to start over and rebuild. We’re now lighter, more mobile. . . free to roam. As I look around our tiny apartment, I know that we have exactly what we need. We are now what the Swedes call: Lagom.

 

Lagom3-e1521612987921-1024x412

 


Leave a comment

A Black Girl in Sweden

My husband and I have done something fairly reckless. We pulled up stakes and left America for a new job opportunity. . . In Örebro, Sweden. Noah is teaching at city’s university as their new Rhetoric professor while I plan to write full-time.

Toledo, Ohio is in our rear-view mirror as a closed chapter. My days of teaching Freshman Composition have also come to a close. From now on, I’d really like to spend my days writing more blog posts and editing my NANOWRIMO novel (possibly publish it this summer/fall). Not working will be strange, but I believe I’ll have more opportunities for adventure and fulfillment elsewhere. Exploration in Örebro will be easier when everyone walks, bikes, and ride buses.

So as I acclimate to a new land, my blog posts will probably be more frequent and revolve around my traveling experience as a black American woman in Sweden. While I understand my husband and I probably left the United States at a perfect time, there will also be challenges regarding race and nationality here in Sweden. I will report on those as well.

All in all, your girl is a unemployed, non-Swedish speaking wanderer. Please wish her luck, lol!