I love this picture. It reminds me of childhood- my childhood. Even though I wasn't this pretty, I also had this white-blonde hair and I grew up in the south of Sweden, where this picture is taken.
This beach is probably Skanör beach, in the area known as Skanör-Falsterbo at the very south west of Skåne. The light here is incredibly special. I always said to myself that this is my favourite area in Sweden, and if I ever moved back, I'd like to live here.
I moved away from Sweden when I was 20 and 4 months. I graduated from high school at 19 and worked for 10 months, and then I went with a Swedish family to Alicante, Spain, to be their au-pair.
And from then it just went on and on. I went further and further away, but in between the trips and the places, I kept coming home to Sweden. I even tried to live there for periods of time, in the end always failing, through my strong inner desire to move around in the world.
But the day came when I finally settled in Spain. I came here in 2011, to Barcelona, to do a Master Degree in Photojournalism. Less than a year later I moved to Ibiza, and less than 5 weeks into my Ibiza-life, I got pregnant with my first son, Pi. (Who also, by the way, has this white-blonde hair!)
I've now lived in Spain for 5 years and 4 months and it's becoming quite real. I actually live abroad.
It'd not just a temporary stay in a place, or a temporary few years somewhere, before I move on to the next place, or go back to Sweden for a bit.
No- this is my life.
And I am not sure what to make of it anymore.
I always thought of myself as a traveller. Someone that has a gipsy-soul. Who moves. Globetrottes. And I was happy about it. Sometimes sad, that I didn't stop and grow roots, but mostly excited about the next trip. As life got boring and dull and routine-filled in one place, my mind was already on the next plane to the next exciting destination.
I made a board on Pinterest and every time I look at it, I feel a sense of exhilaration. I have been to all these places??? What a life! Amazing! And somehow I miss all of them. I'd like to go back to every single one of them, because truth is, I don't think I was so very present when there, as I was already planning for next stop, next place, next city, next adventure.
Here is my Pinterest happy/sad board if you want to have a look.
Suddenly, like a few weeks ago, I woke up. I woke up, and I realised, that I live abroad. I am an immigrant. An ex-pat. Don't know which term suits me more. Or am I an emigrant? I looked them up, and I could be all of them. They're just definitions of a phenomena which seems more and more widely spread across the globe. People are unsettling and settling, uprooting and then growing new roots elsewhere. Due to politics, economics, war, social circumstances. And because of globalization and the internet, we are mixing ourselves freely with other nationalities. It's all so cosmopolitan.
I always thought it was my choice to move to another place. I thought I was being driven by an inner passion to discover a place that was sunnier, freer, more beautiful, more open.
But I woke up now, and realised that this might not be the case at all.
My family on my mother's side is telling a story worth mentioning.
My mother's aunt, (my grandmother's sister) left Poland in the 70´s and went to Sweden. She has since moved to Florida, back to Sweden, to Poland, back to Sweden, and now finally back to Poland again. She's married to an Italian man who grew up in New York and they met in Florida.
My mother's uncle (my grandmother's brother) left Poland at the same time and went to Chicago. He's married to a Polish woman and they have children and grandchildren who all live in the Polish diaspora in Chicago.
My mother and her cousins were all born in Poland but left for Sweden in their early 20's.
One of her cousin's had her child, Angelica, my cousin, in Sweden, but left for Florida in the 80's. Her mother is now living in Las Vegas and she is back in Sweden, after also living in Chicago for years.
My mother's brother, my uncle, did stay in Poland and had two children, whereof his daughter, Marcelina, moved to France in her early 20's and never looked back. She speaks fluent French and is in a relationship with a French man.
Her brother, Igor, did stay in Poland until recently (he's in his mid 20's) but is now also moving to France. Also their parents are now trying to re-locate to France.
This is a completely normal Polish family. Don't ask me why- I would like to look into it one day- but everyone knows that Polish people do move. A lot. They emigrate and leave their country, and then they spend most of their lives abroad missing Poland, feeling separated from their homeland. Of course many left during the second world war, or the first, or many left because they were Jewish and had the choice of going to Israel or to be gassed to death in a concentration camp. (That's what I ended up then making babies with; a person born to Jewish parents, who left Poland and Hungary, and settled in Israel. Look at that- I just re-married my own roots, thinking I'm so free, inventive and creative! Hah!)Others left because communism fell and they could finally peak out below the iron curtain and it was like "ah... we can go! We can breathe!"
I was once told by a teacher that "I'm one of those children- the products of the masses of Polish women coming to Sweden after the fall of the Communism" and this was said in a very racist tone. Yes, we are many children in Sweden with a Polish mother.
So the whole story I sold myself about being a globetrotter and a traveller might just be good old Polish roots combined with early childhood conditioning.
I have witnessed from the very start not just my mother, but also my grandmother, my mother's aunt and her two daughters, all living in Sweden, being from another country.
We copy our parents, they say. We just do what they do. We simply just copy.
So no wonder that I then in my early 20's felt the urge to leave my country.
Then there's the whole thing about my neighbourhood. You know what they say; it takes a village to raise a child.
The first 7 years of my life were spent in Rosengård, one of the most multicultural areas of the whole country of Sweden, still today. These days its known as more of a ghetto, with a lot of crime. But here I grew up, together with Zlatan Ibrahimovic (no, I'm joking, not together, just parallell lives) and I remember a lot of Polish people from my early childhood, probably because my mother was drawn to other mothers speaking her language.
The next 7 years were spent in a very homogenically Swedish little town, but hey ho, of course I ended up with a best friend who was half-Spanish, Elena Aranda, and neighbors who were gipsies (Lakatos was their name, and they lived way too many people crammed into that house)but in school I was considered "a foreigner" together with my cousin Peter, because our mothers had an accent. I have a memory of Elena, who entered our class only later, at around age 10, being really upset that her father had such a strong accent, and not wanting him to attend school events. She was embarrassed about her father being a foreigner.
When I was 12, we moved to Norra Fäladen in Lund, the university town in the south of Sweden. My first day at school went like this:
At the break, outside of the classroom, all the girls made a half circle around me. The toughest one, Morena, asked me loudly "so where are you from??" and I answered "Malmö".
And then she insisted, and said "but were are you from???" and I felt the usual shame coming over me, instilled in me from the last 7 years of being "the foreigner" but I got so scared from her question that I just blurted it out... I'm half Polish.
And it was like a wave of acceptance went through that half circle of girls, and I understood the weirdest thing: I had gotten accepted because I had a foreign parent.
She then continued to tell me where they were from:
Morena had parents from Brazil
Ailham had a parent from Thailand
Hulda had parents from Iceland
Caroline had a parent from Nigeria
Andrea had parents from Chile
And the rest of my school years were spent at this school which had no less than 63 nationalities, which were all celebrated. At the beginning of the 90's the masses arrived from former Yugoslavia and the South American masses had already arrived 10-15 years earlier, and those were huge communities. Soon arrived people from Afghanistan and Iraq and Kurdistan, and we were like a microcosm of children with parents from all over the world, and we all got to taste each other's parents food, music, interior decorations, religions and customs, and it all was so NORMAL FOR US! It was normal that there was a man that couldn't walk and had fits and vomited on the bus because of the huge traumas he had experienced in Afghanistan. We helped him when he needed it. It was normal that some homes smelled of African food and were decorated totally differently from anything else. It was normal that we went to birthday parties were 90% were speaking Icelandic and eating dried hang meat.
My first love was half Argentinian and half Uruguayan, his father having escaped being shot for his political views.
From the inside all through to the outside I was raised in environments where people had left their native land and settled elsewhere. Never without any trauma, and never entirely happily, but still, settled.
So I just went on to do the same thing, not realising that I'm only copying all the people I've grown up with.
The funny thing however, is that Sweden is not the classic country that you have to leave. It's a stable country, rich, good social system, everyone is good and safe, school is good and also free, health care fantastic... why would you leave?
Yes... why would I leave?
One of the things that made me wake up and ask this question is that my oldest son Pi now has started the local, public school here in Ibiza. He's only 3. But here they start the public system at this age, 3-6 is the pre-school, housed int he same building as the "real school" and with a strict schedule, and 23 kids to one teacher, rather poor facilities, and the worst part: they speak only Catalan.
Catalan is the local language in the state of Baleares, although Spanish is the official language of the country.
So everyone speaks Spanish, but Catalan is a rather small language, and its users are holding onto it for dear life. During the regime of Franco they were forbidden to use their language.
The fact that they speak only Catalan in the meetings and send out information to the parents in only Catalan, makes me feel frustrated, locked out, angry and upset. I do speak Spanish, and so do they, and so does Pi, but they have to use this minority language in a way that blocks us out of their system.
Pi will learn I guess, he will never use the language except for in school, it will be like a dead language only from the books.
This aside, even if the education was in Spanish, it is a culture that is not "mine."
He will read books that I have no connection to, stories for kids that I don't know. He will be singing songs that I have no relation to, that don't connect my childhood through his. He will be playing games that I have never heard of.
Already when he speaks Spanish, I feel something very strange deep inside me- I feel that we are disconnected. He's already speaking with a local fluid accent, so much better than me, and it makes me feel like I'm the foreigner and he is the local.
When he comes home with games and books that I don't recognize, I long for connecting my childhood with his.
When he wants to watch videos on YouTube I prefer that he watches Astrid Lindgren stories that I know from my childhood, but he prefers others.
We are disconnected. Through culture and language, we are disconnected, and I am the foreigner.
I am the foreigner BY CHOICE.
It makes me think of all those parents of all those 63 nationalities in my school in Lund, and how all of them must have felt. Did they feel it, too? How did Elena's father feel when she spoke fluent Swedish, refused to speak Spanish with him, and told him not to go to the school events because he had an accent??
I definitely have an accent, and so does Pi's father. And I always will have.
On the other hand, Pi will always be a foreigner, too. He has white blonde hair, a different name, and parents from other places.
Will that make him want to move, too?
I don't know what I am doing anymore. I don't know why I am a foreigner. I am amongst my kind: humans on this planet; but since my child started school, I feel wrong. Like I'm not part of THEM. I don't understand what they're saying. And they get annoyed when we don't understand. And when it takes me a while to explain myself, they start filling in my words, because they don't have patience to listen to me. Is that how my mother felt? Did she feel disconnected, like a foreigner? Is that how my friends' parents felt? Disconnected from their own children?
I don't like that he's already in school, I hear myself repeating "in Sweden they start school only at 7!"- I am comparing this place to my native country. Just like I heard my mother doing all my childhood. She as always saying things were better in Poland.
And then I think of all of those hundreds of thousands of people that have arrived in Sweden in the last couple of years- who fled and escaped their native countries in order to make a better future for their children. How on earth must THEY be feeling?? They left because they had no other choice! (...and now a little voice inside me says that maybe you also had no choice... this is what you were shown in life.. conditioned to do.. you're just copying all of them!)
I feel sad and disconnected from myself, from my child, from my homeland.
The way they all felt.
And those who return home, will always have their heart broken. Because we divide.