Today (Jan. 6th) marks the beginning of Core Course Week. DIS has a system where each student registers for a “core course” around which the study tours revolve around, mine being Gender, Sexuality, and Equality in Scandinavia. The core courses are, in that way, given a little bit of extra attention. During Core Course Week, we have various trips, events, and a short 3-4 day study tour where we focus just on our core class. The rest of the classes take a break.
For day 1, we begin with a screening of Fucking Åmål, a Swedish film about two girls uncovering their sexualities in a small town of Åmål, Sweden, where queerness and homosexuality aren’t quite accepted as “normal.” I don’t want to spoil the film, but I really enjoyed it and you’ll have to watch it for yourself! (The English title is Show Me Love.)
We then take the Tunelbana (subway) to Livstycket, a non-profit organization in Tensta started by Birgitta Notlöf with a mission to help immigrant women “break their isolation, learn the Swedish language and become self-sufficient.” Birgitta does this through the act of textile work. While drawing prints, creating the textiles, and sewing them into finished products, the immigrant women learn to converse in Swedish and gain skills that make them a part of a workplace.
The Livstycket space is a mix of a classroom, a large, open work space, a boutique, and few offices. The open work space splits into two sections: one for a few tables with sewing machines on each and another with a long table where their patterns are printed onto reams and reams of fabric. The long table transitions from textile prints to final products on the boutique side of the floor. There are tote bags, cheese plates, coasters, journals, aprons, dresses, lampshades, and more, all made from the hand-designed and hand-printed fabrics. The items are available in the boutique as well as in showrooms when Livstycket holds exhibitions around Europe every now and then.
Birgitta shows us samples of prints they have created, each one with a beautiful and unforgettable story behind them. One bright yellow print, in particular, brings actual tears to my eyes. The print has bags of all different sizes and shapes, from purses to duffel bags to suitcases. Each one is the drawn representation of the single bag that each woman carried with her outside of their home country, to find refuge in Sweden. Many of these women come from countries like Somalia, Ukraine, and Syria, places where civil conflict and war have erupted. Everyday bombings and violence had left these women without a home and safety. As Birgitta puts it, “you don’t choose to become a refugee.” Some of these women had to leave their country without drawing suspicion to the fact that they were emigrating, as opposed to going on a simple trip or travel hence, the one bag rule.
We are introduced to a group of six to seven women who are students/workers/participants at Livstycket. As the first woman on the right begins to introduce herself to us, carefully practicing the Swedish she’s been getting used to, something about her voice and posture immediately reminds of my grandmother. They all do. The women all look to be at least in their middle ages, if not older, and they have nothing but warmth and excitement in their eyes, to share their work with us. It’s clear that they are very proud of the work they have done, and they should be! I can feel the respect and awe emanating from my peers around me; what these women have done is simply amazing.
Still blown away by the work that Livstycket has achieved, we each pick up a notebook and flag or two, in efforts to support this awesome organization. Postcards with the yellow bag print are available in stacks, free for anyone to take. I pick up a few, in hopes that I’ll share the story with family and friends back home and extend Livstycket’s work across the Atlantic. I’ve already taped one to my wall and it serves as a reminder of not the terrible experiences and hardships that these women and countless other refugees have undergone, but as a reminder for the amazing, human empathy and compassion that results in unforgettable progress.
On Thursday, my core course will head up to Uppsala, Sweden for a 4-day study tour. I believe we’re mostly attending talks or events at Uppsala University, as well as exploring the area during the small breaks that we have. (I’ve been told that Uppsala is quite a bit of a college town.) Needless to say, I’m excited for what the rest of this week will bring.