Connect with us


An surprising friendship: A cross-cultural sisterhood in Sweden | Ladies


This single Swedish phrase, which roughly interprets as “regrettably” or “too unhealthy” and at all times follows unhealthy information, encapsulated Irina Davydova’s first yr looking for work after transferring to Sweden from her house nation, Kazakhstan.

Sat within the bustling canteen of a swanky co-working workplace complicated, it’s arduous to imagine that the well mannered, eloquent polyglot confidently making small-talk with the kitchen workers had misplaced all hope of discovering a job simply two years earlier.

In 2019, Irina left a high-flying job as the non-public assistant to the Qatari ambassador in Kazakhstan and moved to Halmstad, a small metropolis on the picturesque southwest coast of Sweden, to reside with a Palestinian-Swedish man she had met on-line. The couple had married just a few months earlier in her house village of Korday, 10km (6.2 miles) from Almaty, the most important metropolis in Kazakhstan.

She had loved her first few weeks in Sweden, enjoyable and attending to know her in-laws, practising their Levantine dialect, which differed from the usual Arabic she had realized at college.

Nonetheless, the romance of summer season quickly light, and the lengthy heat days gave option to the darkish, chilly and gray actuality of Swedish winter. Her husband, who felt the complete weight of financially supporting his complete household, would usually work additional time, and he or she noticed little of the “charming” and “mysterious” man she had fallen in love with.

In the meantime, her in-laws, though they had been welcoming, would typically have visitors over and as speak centred round kinfolk and pals from earlier than their life in Sweden, Irina grew weary of the discussions.

To counter the boredom, she started to interrupt up her weekly grocery buying into day by day outings simply so she may have one thing to do and a chance to make small speak with the cashiers and grocery store workers.

The old city castle in Halmstad
Halmstad, Sweden’s nineteenth largest metropolis, is situated on the mouth of the Nissan River [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Irina, a gifted linguist, already fluent in Russian, Kazakh, Arabic and English, was desperate to embrace Swedish tradition and was wanting ahead to beginning “Swedish for immigrants” (SFI), a free nationwide Swedish language course. However after ready months to start, the COVID-19 pandemic struck and courses had been moved on-line, leaving Irina with no likelihood to satisfy anybody via research.

As a substitute, she threw every thing into getting a job, diligently filling out software types and sending her resume to tons of of corporations for roles starting from a cashier on the grocery store LIDL to translation bureaus, solely to satisfy radio silence or the dreaded, “Tyvärr”.

Research have indicated that folks in Sweden with international names obtain considerably fewer optimistic responses to their job functions than these with usually Swedish names.

These rejections additionally revealed an uncomfortable actuality: Halmstad, like most of Sweden, was a deeply segregated society.

In Andersberg, the neighbourhood the place Irina and her in-laws lived, most residents are of both Arab or Kurdish origin, and Irina stated her makes an attempt to talk with Swedes on the bus cease had often ended with them merely transferring away from her.

The numerous job rejections and chilly shoulders had left Irina jaded, withdrawn and depressed.

“With time, it grew to become tough to satisfy individuals, which could sound unusual, however I acquired used to staying at house, cooking and cleansing,” she stated.

People walk along a bridge over a river
A metropolis divided: “Halmstad is clearly a segregated metropolis the place the river beforehand was some type of indication of ‘unhealthy’ and ‘good’ aspect”, says Irina [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Then, in October 2020, every thing modified. At a women-only networking lunch organised by WOW, a nonprofit organisation that promotes skilled and social inclusion by bringing collectively Swedish employers with ladies who’ve migrated to Sweden and are at present looking for employment, she met Jenny Bänsch Larsson, a gregarious 52-year-old former hotelier who works for WOW, and who she now fondly refers to as her “Swedish mum”.

‘Something for household’

Jenny laughed as she recalled her first impressions of Irina; “she was very quiet, she didn’t smile, and we didn’t join”. She was later assigned as a mentor to assist Irina discover employment, however she admitted to a colleague that she couldn’t “get a grasp of Irina’s character” as she had been so quiet and reluctant to interact in conversations.

Irina flashed a figuring out smile as Jenny described their first assembly, including that months of rejection had left her sceptical that they might be capable of discover her work. In reality, she had heard concerning the lunches via SFI eight months earlier, however had chosen to not go. In the long run, a Lebanese classmate satisfied her to offer it a attempt.

She described a gathering of two ladies at two totally different factors of their life. Jenny, a rambunctious lady who had secured monetary safety after promoting a resort she co-owned, and Irina, despondent and disillusioned after a yr of rejections.

Irina recalled Jenny asking her, “What enjoyable issues do you love to do?” to which she responded, “I don’t know”.

Jenny leaned over and held Irina’s hand in hers, “However then once we spoke once more, I realised she was a star, she had the very best grades [from her school and university in Kazakhstan] in every thing and a beautiful persona.”

It was the beginning of a flourishing friendship that, over dozens of on-line conferences and Swedish “fikas” – a practice by which individuals take outing of their day to make small speak over a espresso or a snack, typically within the type of a cinnamon bun – would grow to be an unshakeable bond.

“I’ll depart every thing in a single second if she wants me. You do something for your loved ones,” Jenny stated firmly.

Two women at a beach in Sweden
Irina, left, and Jenny, proper, on the seashore [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

When Jenny was 21, rates of interest had been low and securing a mortgage was easier than it’s right now. Together with a few pals, Jenny snapped up the chance to purchase considered one of Halmstad’s essential resorts. Over greater than 20 years, they turned the constructing, with its elegant red-brick gothic structure distinctive to the northern European cities that lined the outdated Hanseatic buying and selling route, right into a thriving enterprise. When Jenny ultimately offered her share within the resort, she was decided to throw her power into one thing significant.

Outgoing and open to assembly individuals from wherever, two traits which she stated should not usually Swedish, she had lengthy believed within the higher integration of migrants into the office and says she discovered her calling working at WOW.

Whereas guiding Irina via the non-profit’s seven-step programme, it dawned on her that Irina ought to work with them.

Till they may increase sufficient funds to make use of her, Irina volunteered to assist at their workplaces. “The primary three months or so, I simply frolicked with you, did no matter you had been doing,” Irina stated to Jenny, “you all gave me this hope and power. I felt like I used to be one thing once more.”

‘Like meals with out salt’

On November 10, 2020, Irina turned 30. Her husband was working late that day and with no birthday plans, she slipped into her pyjamas and was making ready for an early evening when the doorbell rang.

On the door had been Jenny and several other different ladies, carrying champagne bottles and raring to take her out in town.

“I nonetheless keep in mind your face; you had been so shocked; nobody must be at house on their thirtieth! So we took you out to a restaurant and had such a good time,” Jenny recalled.

In Irina’s two native languages, some expressions describe the significance of friendship; in Kazakh, you possibly can say, “An individual with out a pal is like meals with out salt,” and in Russian, “There isn’t any happiness with out friendship”.

It’s a sentiment that Irina stands by. She will be able to clearly see in hindsight how her lack of companionship throughout her first yr in Sweden left her bereft of confidence and happiness.

A woman shows her mobile phone to the camera
Irina exhibits a video from WOW’s social media web page [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

It wasn’t lengthy earlier than WOW had raised sufficient funds to make use of Irina part-time. She threw herself into the work.

However it was throughout this time that Irina suffered a miscarriage, a deeply traumatic expertise. “I used to be very unhappy, so I opened as much as Jenny, and he or she helped me to understand this isn’t the top,” she stated.

“It’s occurred to me too,” stated Jenny, “it occurs to plenty of ladies, I instructed her you’re going to get via this, however in fact, there have been a number of tears.”

Though the miscarriage was emotionally distressing for Irina and her husband, she says she didn’t really feel he was “there after I wanted him”. “This affected our relationship,” she defined with a resigned tone.

“My husband’s household had been mechanically by his aspect, however I used to be right here alone; he was surrounded by kinfolk.”

Irina understood that her husband was additionally underneath an unlimited quantity of economic stress. “Sweden will not be low cost, and when he arrived right here [from Syria, where his family had moved when he was young] he couldn’t discover a job correspondent to his stage of training, so he took no matter he may discover and needed to work lots to earn sufficient to assist his household,” she stated. Earlier than Irina moved to Sweden, he had rented a bigger, costlier flat to accommodate her and was obliged to indicate the Swedish migration workplace that he had surplus monetary funds to assist Irina for her to be allowed to remain within the nation.

Central Halmstad
Central Halmstad [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

Neither Irina nor her husband had anticipated their new life collectively to be so tough, and the connection encountered issues. Out of respect for her husband and his household, and since Halmstad is a small metropolis the place individuals speak, Irina didn’t need to disclose additional particulars.

However throughout Irina’s troubles, Jenny took her to considered one of Halmstad’s widespread windswept sandy seashores looking over the North Sea, and solely a five-minute bike journey from her house in Andersberg.

“Are you able to imagine I didn’t even know there was a seashore close to me after a complete yr?” Irina requested. “I used to be actually in a bubble.”

For Jenny, spending time with Irina was additionally a welcome alternative to find out about a brand new tradition. She highlighted the truth that Irina at all times tries to financially assist her dad and mom and the way individuals in Kazakhstan fortunately reside with and take care of their older kinfolk as a very lovely side of Kazakh tradition. These household values are one thing that Jenny explains should not so prevalent in Sweden, the place the state offers house nursing look after the aged.

Alternatively, Irina has embraced the Swedish festive traditions, spending Christmas with Jenny’s household. Irina’s eyes lit up as she recalled the Julbord. This conventional seven-course Swedish Christmas feast typically consists of dried whitefish, ham, hot-dog-type sausages and a choice of cheeses. It was an expertise that drew Irina nearer to Jenny but in addition to Jenny’s mom, who she now refers to as her Swedish grandmother.

Jenny is unwavering in her perception that studying about one another’s cultures is important to raised integration and is the driving precept behind their networking occasions – that are attended by an excellent break up of Swedish ladies and ladies of immigrant backgrounds.

Three women sit at a table having lunch in Sweden
A WOW networking lunch in Stockholm [Nils Adler/Al Jazeera]

The lunches will often give attention to a topic that individuals will talk about in energetic breakout periods. Irina stated in these areas, Swedes who should not used to spontaneous interactions with strangers are extra “emotionally ready” to socialize with individuals from totally different backgrounds.

“It is extremely vital to interrupt the limitations – you will have so many examples like Irina and me – whenever you meet somebody, then issues start to occur,” Jenny says.

A parallel society

Irina was not alone in her battle to seek out work in Sweden. Jenny stated that she met many ladies who felt rejected and disillusioned by the Swedish employment system.

“The issue is similar for everybody; we will have a lady who has fled battle and solely accomplished six years of college or a lady with two levels from a college in Japan; it’s the similar battle. How can or not it’s that tough in Sweden?” she stated in an exasperated tone.

Irina defined that fixed rejection can depart ladies in a spiral of self-doubt and a sense that they don’t seem to be part of mainstream society: “I assumed, what’s incorrect with me? I can’t give something to this world. I’m nugatory. Generally I’d lie in mattress at 3am awake with no power and no optimistic vibes.”

Jenny nodded in settlement. “All of us want power from somebody to really feel accepted; who can let you know, you are able to do this!”

4 months into her part-time work, an IT firm headhunted Irina and supplied her a part-time job. Then, in the summertime of 2022, they poached her for good, providing a full-time contract. “In fact, I’m so proud she has this job, however I miss her,” Jenny stated as she pulled Irina in for a hug.

This text is a part of a collection, Surprising Friendships, telling the tales of friendships solid in unlikely circumstances.

Supply hyperlink

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *