Friday, January 13, 2017

Meeting someone with a truly different background

We had dinner yesterday with the mother of a friend of ours, I'll call her Amy. Amy is from East Africa, and is maybe 5 or 10 years older than I am. It's been a very long time since I've spoken with someone at length who has had a really distinct background from mine, and it was a pleasure to spend time with her. She told some very interesting stories about her life in Africa, and her move about 7 years ago to Sweden, as a refugee.

First of all - she grew up in an agricultural village. She had to go to the river daily for water, carrying the water on her head in a clay jar. If she met a man, she had to bow to him (I didn't quite get how that could happen without the jar falling down, but apparently it's possible). She also had to wait until she could no longer hear the man's footsteps before she could start walking again.

Men in general were treated like kings, and acted like them. She had to ask her husband, who was known as a kindly man, for permission to go anywhere, including the market. She was extremely lucky in that she got an education, almost no girls her age did. Because she had three daughters, who were only "half children" (compared to sons), she had to always be concerned about being replaced with another wife. She was taught to kneel or curtsy to teachers or elders, or to greet guests.

Growing up in her village, animals were a constant danger. Five of her relatives were killed by animals. She has a hatred of wild animals to this day, especially snakes, which she hates particularly. A spitting cobra snake once spit in her eye and blinded her, but luckily with special herbal preparations she avoided being blinded permanently, which is a grave danger with spitting cobras. Amy loved her grandmother, and would walk a lonely path to her hut, always carrying a stick and rocks in case there were animals. She remembers with fondness evenings around  the campfire, where elders would tell stories, usually instructional stories involving animals, those were especially good times.

Moving to Sweden in her late 40's or early 50's was a massive adjustment in everything imaginable. When I asked what Sweden was like, the first word she said was "lonely". It was very difficult to adjust and to learn Swedish. There's much less social life for her there. She said it was like starting again in life.


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