The GoGlobal Blog

Month: May 2018

The End

The End

The last time I lived in a building with communal bathrooms and kitchen was my first year at Loyola. I hated it then. I wanted my own space and privacy and I wanted to be able to hide from people I didn’t want to talk to. I knew I would never choose to live in a communal hall like that, but I also didn’t think I’d ever happen to live in one again.

Living communally, however, has been the backbone of my small time in Ghana. It’s made me question why Americans are so bent over backwards about maintaining their privacy, about keeping private spaces walled off from public spaces.

On my first night here, I spent about an hour playing games with the other USAC students who all gathered in the room that would become mine. From the very beginning, I realized that the spaces I occupy here would become shared spaces. Even the things I own here have been shared freely or borrowed indefinitely. I’m an introvert but I’ve become used to never being alone here in Ghana.

On my last night here, I was alone in my room as I packed my things to return home. The rest of the students in my program had left. It struck me that I was the last of us to arrive here, and I was the last one to leave. Now, that loneliness is breaking my heart. I’ll never again walk some few doors down and ask Laura to use her electric kettle, or walk further down the hall and ask Sharne to file my nails; Gerry isn’t here to lend me money for water, Chase isn’t here to open her door for me when I ask her to make me dinner. This community of international students has, in my opinion, become the most essential part to my well-being in Ghana.

Some of the USAC students (not including me) at the wedding of our resident director.

Beyond the doors of the hostel, a similar sense of community is laced in the air that I breathe. Vendors at the Night Market cooperate with little competition. Students preparing for finals share notes and ideas that will help them write their exam. If I don’t know where I’m going or where to find something, I’ll receive help from the first person I ask. Friends are easily made and kept. Everyone is my sister and my brother. And I became a part of these communities from the moment I stepped off the plane in January.

I’m keeping this post short because writing it is making me tear up. I am and will always be infinitely grateful for those I’ve met here who made me see the value of a life lived communally. My heart aches at the distance that will soon separate us. I want Chicago to be closer to Reno and Columbia, Las Cruces and Boston, DC and wherever the hell Sharne lives just so I can get on a train and be at your door. You all helped me become part of a home here, a home in which I feel protected and uplifted and uninhibited – a home whose dynamic would have collapsed as soon as any of acted selfishly.

To my two aunties and the USAC student staff who helped me learn the ropes of life in Ghana, thank you for being patient and kind with a clueless international student like myself. To the countless University of Ghana students who I met and talked with, thank you for answering my questions and letting me enjoy your beautiful country. To my UG professors, some of whom frustrated me, thank you for teaching me about Africa from an African perspective.

Laken and me at our Aunty Abigail’s traditional wedding. Her dress for the ceremony is made of Ghanaian woven fabric called kente.

I will keep all of you in my heart always. You’ve made coming to Ghana the best decision I’ve ever made for myself.

The Truth and Reconcilition Commission

The Truth and Reconcilition Commission

Hello friends.

My time in South Africa is coming to a close (I leave a June 13), so I want to use this entry as a chance to talk about a topic that I find interesting and I’d like to touch on, as it’s an important part of South African history.

I want to talk about the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, the Commission post-apartheid that was employed rather than a trial to deal with both the perpetrators and victims of apartheid. We were lucky enough to speak with Mary Burton, one of the seventeen people elected to be a commissioner, meaning she heard peoples’ stories and decided whether or not to grant amnesty to perpetrators and listen to victims’ stories. The Commission was unique in that it operated under the idea of restorative justice rather than retributive justice, meaning that it had no focus on punishment of perpetrators, but rather forgiveness and truth. The Commission was structured so that survivors and perpetrators alike were eligible to apply to tell their stories. Perpetrators could receive political amnesty and survivors could finally tell their suppressed truths and stories. Some intended for the TRC to help victims cope. The basic premise of the TRC thus was that in exchange for truth, reconciliation and healing would be granted to the families of the victims of apartheid. Indeed, that reconciliation would be granted not only to the victims of apartheid, but to the perpetrators as well. The TRC is often criticized for not being focused enough on punishment and not achieving true justice for victims; however, there is much to be looked at and considered.

I admire the way that Mary Burton spoke about the TRC because she seemed to give a very honest and holistic view. She acknowledged both its successes and failures; gave it the credit it deserved and admitted its failures. My understanding of the TRC in the South African context is one of a committee that had a very difficult job and did it to the best of their ability. I think that they could have done more and I think that people’s’ critiques of the TRC as not being fair enough to the victims and giving them the justice they deserve are valid, but I think that it is almost impossible to judge how they went about this extremely difficult task. Mary highlighted the successes of the TRC in that it did bring some families closure and justice, like a story she told about a family who located their child because of the investigation of the TRC. However, the TRC also had many failures in that it failed to punish all the perpetrators of apartheid and therefore fully acknowledge the harm done to the people. I think that the biggest thing I have learned about the TRC through talking to Mary Burton, reading Desmond Tutu’s No Future Without Forgiveness is that the TRC had an incredibly difficult job and carried it out to the best of their ability based on the circumstances. Yes, they did not bring justice to all families and that is not okay considering the heinous crimes committed during apartheid, and therefore the TRC deserves to be criticized. However, it given the circumstances, it may have been impossible to create a system that was conducive to “perfect” reconciliation.

There is also the question of if the TRC occurred too quickly, if there should have been more of reducing poverty and unemployment rates, and perhaps if there had been more of a focus on this, South Africa would be in a better position today. However, I understand and respect why they wanted to reconcile immediately. Once apartheid ended, Mandela, Tutu, and other leaders had one concentration: moving forward together. This did not involve promoting a country where black South Africans were angry at all white South Africans and refused to live in harmony. This involved focusing on strengthening the country as a whole and forgiving its past, while remembering it so as to not let it happen again in the future. I think that this is a strength of the TRC, because by nature of it being a committee based in reconciliation, it is inherently focused on forgiveness and restoring amicable feelings between two groups. The immediate period after apartheid ended was a very delicate time – is what I get from Tutu and Mary Burton – all of the leaders had to be careful to not focus on revenge but rather a better future. If they concentrated on revenge, the country would fall apart. So, I know that the TRC has many faults and it did not fully properly do its job in restoring justice to all, but at the time, it was perhaps their only and best option.

This question of a how a country moves forward after a period so awful and inhumane has come up before, like in Germany post-Holocaust. In both situations, there is the delicate question of how do we punish those who have committed horrible acts while focusing on keeping our country in tact? It’s a question that no government has mastered. But, considering the time, I think that it is admirable that the leaders did not focus at all on revenge and this is a strength for South Africa in the post-apartheid era. It’s constantly interesting to see how South Africa has been able to move on after apartheid, and forgiveness is a huge part of the country’s aims. It’s very impressive and perhaps something that individuals can apply to their own lives as well.

In other news – about a month ago, the entire country of South Africa’s bus drivers went on strike demanding higher wages. The effect was enormous with thousands of people across the country unable to get to work/school/anywhere because the lack of transport. The social worker at my service site had to leave at 5:45am to arrive at work at 9:30am – that’s how bad the traffic was. Mr. P, our program driver, had to wait much longer for taxis/other form of transport that are typically less efficient to be able to get to where our bus is and pick us up. The bus drivers held firm and refused to cave, ultimately giving their wages a 9% increase. The strike was definitely necessary but I was thrilled to see so many golden arrow buses back on the highway last week and bringing people to work.

As for me, I am leaving for a five-day trip to Namibia tomorrow where I will be camping, seeing sand dunes, and driving through the desert (we’re driving there and flying back)! I’m extremely excited but very stressed as we are in the midst of finals season at school. Not much else is new other than trying to fit in a lot before we leave in just a few weeks. The feature photo for this entry is me in Kirstenbosch Gardens, some lovely gardens behind Table Mountain with fantastic views, after me and my friends had a lovely picnic last Friday. I’ll be back soon with more updates about my time here. x

Learning to Appreciate Life in Switzerland

Learning to Appreciate Life in Switzerland

The first few months of studying abroad were some of the most fast-paced and hectic of my entire life. I was dealing with all the struggles that come with adjusting to a completely new living situation, while also travelling nearly every single weekend. Time never really slowed down and it seemed like as soon as I finished one task I had to move on to the next one.

Although I had some terrific experiences and made memories that will last forever within those times, it made me forget to stop and appreciate the simple attractions of living in Switzerland. I was constantly thinking about what I had to do or where I had to visit next, instead of recognizing the value of the present moment. However, the last two weeks have been a complete shift from the rest of the semester, as everything has gradually settled and I’ve been able to take in the beauty of life here.

The increased amount of down time lately has made me realize that Switzerland and Winterthur, the town I live in, has a lot more to offer than I may have originally thought. To start, the weather here has been about 80 degrees every day and I haven’t seen a single cloud the entire time. In the past, my friends and I would always try to go to places that had beaches and warm weather to escape the coldness of Switzerland. Now when I check online, Winterthur often has even better weather than the places I went too or considered visiting.

The town is perfect for spending time in the incredible weather, as it is full of parks, forest trails, and nature areas. Whenever I’m feeling stressed out or if I just want to get some sun, I usually go to one of the parks and sit back while listening to a podcast or some music. No matter which park I go too it is always has an uplifting energy to it, as kids are playing, picnics are happening, and many people are just laying out, like myself. If I do decide to be a little more active during the day and still take advantage of the weather, I can always go on a long walk or hike. Along the various pathways I’m always treated to stunning scenes of the woods or of the vast Swiss countryside and I feel comfort and serenity from all the nature around me.

                 The calm countryside

Clearly, I’ve been loving the recent blue and sunny skies, but my growing fondness for Winterthur doesn’t just end there. The lively atmosphere of the main streets never fails to put me in a good mood, especially as the sound of music from street performers surrounds me.  If I’m lucky, there will even be an outdoor food market in the center of town, where I’ll truly engage with the Swiss culture by buying some locally made cheese. To top it all off, the somewhat small town of 100,000 people has more and arguably better cafés than all of Chicago.Each one is fantastic for sipping on a cappuccino while getting some work done, especially with final exams coming up.  My favorite is still Locanda Trivisano, which I wrote about in one of my first blogs, and I know that I’ll miss their coffee the most when I’m back in America.

Marktgasse, the main street of Winterthur

Even though I haven’t been traveling as much to other countries recently, I’ve still been going on day trips to other cities within Switzerland. All Swiss towns are somewhat similar to each other, but each one has its own unique features that make the short train rides well worth it. Last week I went on two of these quick trips with a friend, one to Basel and another to St. Gallen. Basel, the third-biggest city in Switzerland, is a gorgeous town settled on the Rhein river. Winterthur doesn’t have any body of water, so it was a nice change of pace to be able to sit by the river and take in the wonderful view. The Rhein also had one of the more intriguing attractions I’ve ever seen in a city, a small wooden ferry boat that crosses the river and is pulled by a string. The experience of the ferry trip wasn’t anything life-changing like some other of my touristic adventures have been so far, but it was extremely charming and something you won’t see in any other city in the world.

 

The “Reinfahre”, not exactly a speedboat
                Basel along the river

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

While I could’ve sat along the Rhein river the whole day and never got tired of it, we made sure to see the historic landmarks that the town is also known for. One of them was an impressive and also special cathedral, called the Basel Minster. From the outside, it was remarkable just like most of the cathedrals that I have seen in Europe, however the inside had something I wasn’t expecting at all. Instead of there only being paintings or statues within the cathedral, there were also tombs and graves of well-known Christian figures of the past.  It was especially fascinating to see a grave memorial for Erasmus there, as he was someone I thoroughly studied in my Theology class last semester.

The Basel Minster

 

The memorial for Erasmus

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In addition to the cathedral, the city’s old Rathaus, German for town hall, was another one of my favorites. The building stood out from all of the others, as it had distinctive exterior decorations and a strong red color. The courtyard in the town hall was also extraordinary due to the symbolic figures and stories painted on the walls.

The Basel Rathaus
The walls of the Rathaus Courtyard

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The other trip of the week was to St. Gallen, a smaller town than Basel and one with less touristic appeal. However, the one main attraction that it did have was one of my personal favorites while being abroad. Surprisingly, it wasn’t a beach, a restaurant, or even a museum, instead I was infatuated with the Abbey Library of Saint Gall. This wasn’t just any old library, it is one of the most important monastic libraries in the world and it dates all the way back to the 8th century. The Benedictine Abbey contains one of the most extensive collections of vital writings, with over 150,000 pieces of work stretching over the last 12 centuries. If that wasn’t already enthralling enough, the interior design of the library was mind-blowing. There were exquisite wooden balconies and bookshelves and the ceilings had intricate and dazzling paintings. For the hour that I was in there I felt like I had travelled back in time and I was a monk on a quest for sacred knowledge.

A picture of the also wonderful Abbey Cathedral, since pictures weren’t allowed in the library (look it up online!)

I understand now that Basel and St. Gallen may not have the notoriety of the past cities I’ve been too like Barcelona, but that doesn’t mean that the trips were any less valuable. Discovering a new place is all about what you do to engage with that city, and not about the ratings on Trip Advisor.

 

But for now I’m back in Winterthur, blogging in the corner of a small café as I finish the last sips of another tasty coffee. Simple moments like these don’t seem that spectacular, but I also know that sometime in the future I’ll wish that I could be back here again. So, it’s up to me to appreciate every moment of my life here in Switzerland.

 

Radek

 

Visit to Robben Island

Visit to Robben Island

Hello friends. Long time, no talk. Lots has happened since my last post.

First of all, my body is very sore as I am writing this as on this past weekend, I completed the “three peaks challenge,” in which I climbed the three “main” mountains here in Cape Town (Devil’s Peak, Table Mountain, and Lion’s Head) in one day. It took about eleven hours and was very physically taxing but definitely worth it!

Since I last wrote – notably – I went on visit to Robben Island (where Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years, along with many other political prisoners during apartheid), went shark cage diving, and travelled to Johannesburg. I have much to tell you about interesting guest speakers we’ve had in our classes, people we’ve met, our trip to Johannesburg and other activities but in this entry, I’d like to focus on our visit to Robben Island.

Visiting Robben Island is a valuable and informative experience that everyone should partake in if they go to South Africa. As I mentioned, it is where Mandela was for the majority of his imprisonment, and a imprisoned many political prisoners during apartheid, like Robert Sobukwe, the first president of the Pan-African Congress (PAC), a prominent breakaway movement from Mandela’s party, the African Nationalist Congress (ANC). The experience of visiting the island is very unique. All of the tour guides are former prisoners of the island, meaning that they’ve chosen to stay on the place filled with horrible memories and which serves of a constant reminder of a system that once oppressed them so violently. It is incredible that they are willing and able to do this, and makes the visitors’ experience much more valuable and impactful. We first took a boat out to the island – we’ve been meant to go a couple of time before this, but trips often get canceled because the boats can’t sail due to bad weather, wind, et cetera. Once we got to the island, we waited to take a bus to enter the prison, where we met our tour guide.

Our tour guide told us that he was imprisoned for acts of terrorism and sabotage, but did not tell us the specifics. He then explained to us the categorization process that was used to classify the prisoners. People were either White, Indian, Coloured, or Black. He talked about the difference in food that was given to different groups of people, but he also said that even though people were given different food they all shared it together whenever possible. He told to us that the room we were in was a general population block that housed roughly fifty prisoners. The room would have been extremely packed had fifty bunk beds and fifty men been in there. We left the room and walked through the prison to an open area outside. There were pictures showing what it looked like during the apartheid era, including staged propaganda pictures of the prisoners that were circulated to make it look like they were treated humanely, which was not the case. Here, our tour guide told us about the many political prisoners who had gone missing during their time on Robben Island and how their bodies had just been found in 2013 in a graveyard in Bellville (in Cape Town) that was strictly reserved for white people only. This was very shocking and showed us how the effects of apartheid are still very much alive today.

Next, we went back inside the prison into a block of individual cells. This is where we got to see Mandela’s cell (pictured). You can see how small it was, with only a cot, table, and trash can. It was obviously very powerful to see how small the cells were, that these people had to live in for so long, but honestly, I think that regardless of how much you learn about life in the prison, it’s ultimately impossible to internalize their experience being there.

Mandela’s cell.
Mandela’s cell.

We then left the prison and got onto another bus to see around the island. One very interesting thing that we got to see was the quarry where they worked. In the quarry, there was a cave (pictured). The prisoners would regularly eat lunch and converse in that cave because the sun’s heat was too unbearable. Our tour guide detailed how important the conversations in the cave were by telling us how it was the only spot that they could speak freely without any fear of being recorded secretly. This is pretty cool as it was where the first meetings of the new government met, even before they left prison.

Cave.

In the lime quarry, there was a pile of rocks that were neatly stacked near the cave (pictured below). Our tour guide explained to us how it was created in 1995 after Apartheid had ended and Mandela was president. Mandela and all the political prisoners that were still alive had gone back to Robben Island to celebrate their freedom and remember all the injustices of the past. Mandela had laid the first rock down and the rest of the former prisoners followed, creating this pile of rocks of all different colors, shapes, and sizes. The pile symbolized the diversity of the country and the coming together of all the people within Robben Island as well as the greater South Africa. This symbolic act showed the forgiveness that was in the hearts of these people who had been so unjustly and inhumanly treated.

Throughout our visit, a few of us kept having this conversation about how these men were able to come back to Robben Island, a place that had been such a painful part of their lives, to work as tour guides. Every day they were forced to relive a moment in their lives that I am sure they wanted to forget. Someone actually asked our second tour guide if it was more therapeutic or traumatic for him to come back to the island. He said that it was definitely more traumatic for him because every day he was forced to relive his worst experiences. The tour guides were given no therapy or counseling when they were asked to come back and that has not changed over the years. It’s amazing that they still willingingly come back everyday and tell their experience to visitors. Obviously this cannot be the case always as many of the former prisoners are older and as time goes on, there will have to be new tour guides, so I feel privileged that I was able to get this experience.

I’ll be back soon with more about our trip to Johannesburg and more fun, educational, and interesting things! See you soon. x

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

May Their Souls Rest in Perfect Peace

Last weekend, I left Accra for the first time in a while to go to Cape Coast, a mid-size city some 150 kilometers west of the capital. Cape Coast is known to many Africans and oburonis alike for its role in the trans-Atlantic slave trade, but aside from that I found it to be a bright, lively town of merchants and fisherfolk happy to see visitors.

On the rocky shore of the ocean is situated a massive castle, covered in white lime to reflect the hot sun, but weathered from years of salty spray. Hawkers, painters, vendors and their booths line the street leading up to the compound’s entrance. Akwaaba resounds from their mouths at the sight of foreigners. A tour of the property was 40 Ghana cedis for a non-Ghanaian student like myself. The price for a Ghana resident was significantly lower – around 15 cedis for an adult pass. Three of my friends and I joined a tour that had just gotten started. The group was 90% white people. It was the most white people I’ve seen here in one place outside of UG’s campus.

Our tour guide was a young man named Frances who studies at the University of Cape Coast, one of Ghana’s most highly ranked universities. We joined him and the group in the castle courtyard facing the ocean, the parapet lined with rusted black cannons and piles of mortar shells. I squinted as the sun bounced off the whitewashed walls and as mist from the waves blew into my eyes.

Courtyard of Cape Coast Castle. 

Frances spoke with an exacted rhythm and tone that told me he’s done this dozens, maybe hundreds of times before. I followed him practically on his heels as he led us through the courtyard and toward a dungeon entrance. He invited us to put our heads into a 3×3 hole in the wall with a crumbled staircase that led to a dark tunnel. It smelled like must and salt and faintly of ghosts.

If you, dear reader, know nothing of the slave castles that are littered across the “Slave Coast” of Africa, I beg that you soon learn.

Established by the British, the Dutch, the Portuguese, the French, these castles served many purposes for the growing imperial economies of the fifteenth through nineteenth centuries. They housed the European merchant leaders and, later, colonial administrators who supervised imports and exports from major towns along the Gulf of Guinea – Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire; Lome in Togo; Lagos in Nigeria; Takoradi, Accra, and Cape Coast in the Gold Coast. In exchange for the promise of European trade, the land to build these structures was sold by the African leaders whose people had lived there for generations. They were designed as commercial hubs, defensible forts, and corrals for the human livestock around which trade boomed.

Scale model of Cape Coast Castle.

This legacy was in the air that I breathed as I stepped under an arch leading to the female slave dungeons. Like before, I was met with the smell of old dirt, wet rock, and thousands of ghosts spread out across two small chambers. Our wise guide explained how young adult women were kept in these rooms for weeks or months at a time, in total darkness with no air, surrounded by hundreds of their sisters.

Across the castle were the male dungeons, made up of three chambers, deeper underground. Frances bent over and placed his hand against the wall about a foot off the ground where there was a deep stain in the rock. Here, he said, was how deep in shit and vomit hundreds of men had to stand and sleep and eat.

On the south side of the chamber were about a hundred small sculptures of men’s faces carved into stone. Many of them were grimacing, or had their mouths open in shock, or simply looked broken – literally and metaphorically. Frances suddenly asked us to look at the faces. Did they look familiar? Whose faces did we see?

A sculpture similar to those found in the male dungeons.

“You might see my face,” he said, as he looked up from the sculptures directly into my eyes.

Whose ghosts were down there? Was it his family? Was it the father of any of the Black Americans I knew back home? People I graduated high school with? These ghosts came from Ghana, sure, but also from Nigeria, and from Benin, and Burkina Faso – maybe even further inland from Mali, or Sudan, or the Congo.

I blinked tears away as I broke eye contact with Frances and with the hundreds of men who stared at me from the dark floor of the chamber.

Upstairs, we faced a huge wooden door painted black with a plaque above reading “Door of No Return.” It was this door which led to the water, where small boats would shuttle captives out to the ships anchored offshore. Countless bodies passed through this door, never to step foot on their mother soil again. Of the twenty million who were led through this door and doors like it across the Slave Coast, only fifteen million survived to see the New World where they would be enslaved (N.B. below).

Five million ghosts, not counting those who died on the march from the inland to the coast, those who died in these dungeons, or those who died on plantations in the Americas. Five million dead not counting their descendants who didn’t survive convict leasing in the coal mines, or the Jim Crow South, or the prison-industrial system of today.

I felt all these souls as I left the castle. My skin, white as the walls that were beaten by the waves, crawled.

View of the coast and the Gulf of Guinea from the Door of No Return.

Examining my position as an American who has inadvertently benefited from the stolen labor of these bodies, I am humbled, humiliated, and somber. I am privileged enough to know where my ancestors came from. I know the names given to them at birth by their people. My ancestors were not doomed to a fate such as this – snatched from their homes, forced to walk hundreds of kilometers to be shipped thousands more kilometers across the sea, and given names foreign to their tongues. Of all the benefits I reap from the color of my skin, this is perhaps the most heart-wrenching. To my Black American sisters and brothers back home, I weep with you at the number of souls lost to the slave trade.

But more importantly, I will fight with you to get back what was stolen, to hold accountable those who devalue your lives and your labor to this day. Africans and oburonis alike – we, the living – vow to uphold this.

The exterior of the Door of No Return, relabeled the Door of Return for those of the African Diaspora who return through the archway.

N.B. There is much disagreement on the exact number of people captured from Africa and brought to the Americas, due to inadequate primary materials from the slave traders. Twenty million captives is generally the lowest estimate. Most agree, however, that of the millions who embarked on the Middle Passage, anywhere from 10-20% of them died on the journey. For more information on the particular controversies surrounding the historiography of the trans-Atlantic slave trade, see Walter Rodney, How Europe Underdeveloped Africa (Panaf Publishing: Abuja) 2009 ed., especially pp. 108-120.

For further reading on the African Diaspora, especially from a Ghanaian-“American” perspective, I highly recommend Yaa Gyasi’s debut novel Homegoing (Knopf: New York, 2016).

Additionally, the literature of Ta Nehesi-Coates and James Baldwin provide insights on the contemporary experiences of Black men in America as they have been shaped by America’s legacy of institutionalized racism.

Madrid to Mallorca

Madrid to Mallorca

Time is running out, and finals are fast approaching. Earlier in the semester a couple of friends and I decided to book a trip for the long weekend before finals week to the island of Palma, Mallorca.

I’m not sure if it was because I know my days are numbered now, but this trip was by far my favorite. I arrived with only two expectations: laying on the beach every day for the whole trip, and leaving with a heavy tan.

Not only were my expectations met, but they were surpassed. I made friends with other guests at my hostel and we tanned on the beach and went on adventures for the three days there. I went cliff diving for the first time, visited a palace, took a picturesque train ride to the other side of the island, and partied with people I just met! It seems like a dream, how perfect the trip was. It made me realize that talking to people who didn’t come on the trip can add to your plans, not take away from them.

Of course, I was afraid to do a lot of what I’ve done, but I’ve also conquered a lot of those fears now. I’m terrified of heights, so cliff diving seemed ridiculous to me, but I went anyways. I still have no idea how I mustered up the courage to jump, but I did, and even though I landed wrong I’d do it again any day. You don’t have to do anything as extreme as cliff diving, but you should do things that push you out of your comfort zone.

The last night I was there I got to see the sun set over the mountains and the ocean, while thinking about my study abroad experience. As often as it is repeated, I really do believe you have to go into all of it with zero expectations, ready to change plans again and again, and be open to new experiences. My time studying abroad wouldn’t be as amazing as it is without trying new things.

    

Walpurgis (Valborg) night

Walpurgis (Valborg) night

April 30th (trettionde fjärde) marks, from what I believe, one of the two major holidays in Sweden. It is called Walpurgis Night or Valborg night/festival. Walpurgis Night entails dancing, drinking, bonfires, and maybe an occasional accordion player. The celebrations are in honor of St. Walpurga who was a missionary, converting pagan affiliated Germans to Christianity during the 700s. She took over as abbess of the double monastery of Heidenheim am Hahnenkamm in Bavaria.

May 1st (forstä femte) marks a day off of work for most Swedes and doubles as International Worker’s Day. This is also commonly known as May Day. Protesters occupied some streets of downtown Jönköping. My friend went and said they were from the far left and far right parties of the Swedish political spectrum.


I was in my Swedish language course when my friend asked if I was going to the Valborg festival in Jönköping. I completely forgot tonight and tomorrow were holidays. Usually, if I head to the city I plan to spend the whole day there. I absolutely love commutes (I know fight me) but I do not like to commute back home after commuting to my destination not long before. For this instance, I had my school bag and was not prepared to be outside all day and run around from apartment to apartment. Students at my uni were partying on the “quad” and then going apartment hopping until the clubs at night. I bit the bullet and went home with the intention of coming back to the city later to ride my new beautiful 1970ish bike around with a friend.

Actual is rarely similar to what is predicted. Pass that down to your kids, friends. My inside source told me that the bonfire was not happening in Jönköping, but in a town between the area I live in, Tenhult, and the city. Peep my earlier post about Huskvarna. My legs were eager to get turning so my house mate, Vivek (peep my 2nd post), and I went off to Huskvarna. We met up with two of his friends, and thats when the adventure began.

Vivek and i saw the flames a-blazing from the train. After 20 minutes finding a meeting place with his friends, the flames and smoke disappeared. We asked locals where to find the bonfire (yes, Swedish people do talk and actually love to help out. Do not believe everything on the Internet). We climbed, and rode, the paved hills of Huskvarna until we hit the stairway to heaven. Unfortunately, my rusty stallion became obsolete here. We walked up maybe 200 steps until we arrived at our destination. There was an aging boy/girl scout building on the left, the embers of the once beautiful flames straight ahead, and about 5 booths lining the dirt path up the hill to the right. It was 9pm. This is the point where I make another crucial point about Swedish society. Everything, except bars and clubs, close around 6pm so be prepared. The journey back was also quite the adventure. The rain picked back up and we missed our train by 5 minutes. The next train got delayed 45 minutes so we had to wait an hour and a half at the station, since everything was closed.

Alas, it was not a bad experience. The fire was still hot when we got there. The rain was not too bad. The booths had candy, a lottery, and cotton candy. The scouts’ building had a homemade desert feast benefiting the scouts. The remaining people were still smiling, and running so that was great to see. Vivek told me a lot about his religion. About the various gods and also how most families have a temple just for them. I also had time to listen to a nutrition podcast that I left a while ago. And play a really cool game on my phone.

When one door closes, another one opens. For lack of better phrases I am going to stick with that one.