Sweden <--> Ohio: Student

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Juvy: Swedish-style

I visited a prison that manages, almost, to not quite look like a prison.

It's for kids. Boys, specifically between the ages of 13 and 21, who have a cluster of problems (criminal, drug, social, emotionally, and usually educational) and have been removed from their homes by the state.

It's juvy - the alternative is regular adult prison and there are only four of these high-security facilities in the entire country of Sweden.

They were currently housing 25 boys and generally see about 52 boys a year. The maximum stay is 6mo, and starts with 2mo in a lockdown building, graduating to more freedoms as they act accordingly. Prisoners were referred to exclusively as "boys" rather than inmates, clients, prisoners, or students.

I met a few of the boys - they were curious, talkative, sarcastic, clear about their situation and options in life. Most spoke excellent English in addition to Swedish. One guy was obsessed with gangsters and sounded like he wanted to run off to the states "You have gangsters there!".

Stats: After 5 years, 30% of the students have returned to jail, 30% are dead, and 30% are employed. They employ 60 people to serve 24 students.

Job placement, family counseling, free family housing while counseling is being conducted, 150SEK/week allowance, and the inability to force boys to enter treatment are only some of the services offered. Maximum class size is 4 students. The auto class I watched had 2 students and the woodworking class only had 1. 70% of boys at that facility are immigrants (not sure if this is first generation or second generation or both).

The bottom line? They get $500 PER DAY per student from the municipality for rehabbing these guys.

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Monday, April 23, 2007

You know, it feels... dishonest... to read this and have written that.

But maybe that's the point. I still stand by what I wrote, Sweden _is_ an incredibly racist society on every level and has zero awareness or interest in rectifying this state of affairs.

Then I look at us and wonder - how much better are we?

I want to feel virtuous about the fact that we at least have news articles about these things, public awareness is far higher (I feel), and people understand and believe in the concept of institutionalized racism in a way that is inconceivable here. (Even considering that my unscientific 'sample' is heavily biased towards upper middle class white educated liberals and that my grasp of Swedish news media is limited, at best).

But we have poverty in a way they don't here. Does poverty + racism = genocide? Is money the only thing that's keeping Sweden from the same fate? Or is there an ethical component - would Sweden object, were they still poor, to disproportionately rising live birth deaths... among the immigrant population?

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Sunday, April 22, 2007

Stranger places to find resonating descriptions of travel might exist, but this, for me, is the strangest yet. Brian, of the MP3 blog Moistworks talks about travel and I'm jealous:

"I remember feeling caught between the sadness and disgust I felt at the shore's utter ruin, and the sense of wonder, of interest (the sensation I crave most), sparked in me by the tableau-- the Christmas trees lined up like mummified sentinels and a rotted wreath hanging on a raw wooden post; some of the tires so barnacled that only their shape betrayed them, clustered and weirdly beautiful, like archipelagos viewed from a plane. It was as if the debasement of the world renewed my ability to perceive it, which is the ultimate goal of all travel, and even now, several days back into my routine, some part of me is still standing on that windy dune, the malevolent refuse of a construction project looming behind me, they sky violent and bruised, rotted pine at my feet, staring down at those artificial yet glittering skerries, caught between conflicting desires-- for the world to be always transformed, yet somehow preserved."

I've been waffling on posting about my Turkey trip with A (a male friend from the states).

It was good, overall, though exhausting, and in the end I was so tired, emotionally overwhelmed, and burnt out that I have to say I might have hated Istanbul more than a few times before we got on the plane to leave.

I expected that feeling to disappear as I got back into the rhythm of Swedish life (conformity, equality, nature). I thought the exhaustion would improve my feelings retroactively, that a good night's sleep in my own bed, a few meals of knackebrod and muesli and yogurt, and I'd be missing the amazing kabobs, the joyful insanity of taxim, and the delirious contradiction of modern transport among ancient city walls.

I still don't miss it.

It's been two weeks since A and I left and I still don't have an interest to go back anytime w/in the next 5 years (after that, yes). As I think about why, this is what I've come up with:

Turkey is like the USA. Sweden, while it has problems (oh *does* it!), is characterized by far _far_ more equal power relationships between men and woman. This is the closest thing to gender equality I've ever seen (and the best situation I expect to see in my lifetime). Turkey, while having (like us) officially separated church and state, is still a shitty place to be a woman. There are official reports I'm sure, documenting the differences, enumerating the health, economic, and status detriment that your sex has on your life expectancy, general well-being, and access to power.

My firsthand experience of Istanbul was glowingly positive for the first 4 (of 6) days that we were there. At my insistence, A and I told everyone that we were married (when registering for hostels or in casual conversation) and I told people that I was from Vancouver, Canada.

A said he was from Canada a few times, then started telling people he was from Chicago. While I applaud his convictions of honesty and truthfulness and ambassadorship for our depressingly backward country, it wasn't a risk I was willing to take (my rationale went like this: I don't agree with the policies of our country, so I'm not willing to risk my safety on defending our collective reputation).

What happened on Day 5? I told someone (a hostel-worker guy we'd been friendly with several times and were having enjoyable conversation with) that A and I weren't married.

Bad move. An hour later, we're on our second cup of free coffee, we've just seen the (private, guests not allowed) rooftop view of Istanbul including glorious view of the Blue Mosque and the nightlife of Sultanamet. Not bad, right? I'd also pried my hand off of a hostel bannister where it was crushed in an attempt to sneek a kiss while A's back was turned (don't worry folks, this was a "polite" attempt and it was foiled). As we exited this fine establishment, I got desperate hand-grabbing, promises of rides home before our plane ride the next morning, and more offers of free drinks (maybe alcoholic ones this time). Charming, huh?

I was glad I was as tired, exhausted, and dead sober as I was that evening, because I can say it wouldn't have been particularly safe to be anything else. I also feel I got the polite treatment (no, I'm serious, this really felt like the local concept of polite) because I was a tourist and in a progressive, tourist-friendly, liberal section of the city (and dealing with someone self-described as liberal, educated, and whose job and livelihood was dealing with tourists). I can't imagine if I were poor, drunk, non-western or less-assertive.

A and I walked home quickly, staying with well-traveled and well-lit public streets -- and I thought about the absence of this feeling: this fear, of bodily harm, of lack of self-ownership, of rape, that I've been "missing" for the last four months. It's subtle, but I feel no fear walking home alone across a dark campus late at night, even drunk, here in Sweden. I'm perfectly comfortable sitting in a remote, basement room of a building I don't live in, stark-naked, all alone, late at night. (It's the campus sauna, in case you're curious.)

The contrast is in how familiar that feeling was, how expected, how normal, and how unsurprising - I'm "used to" the high-alert super-paranoid expectation of someday dropping my guard in exactly the wrong circumstances and suffering the "consequences", as we call them, of being drunk, wearing a skirt, having breasts, staying out late at night... and being female.

So do I want to come home? No, not particularly. I don't miss that feeling and I don't miss the lack of autonomy, or being treated like public property... or dirt. It's a feeling advanced education, a powerful job, money, investment portfolios or other markers of success can't eliminate.

Had a long conversation with another female American exchange student last night. We traded experiences and observations of the shocking-to-us gender equality, and our own responses to the occasional reminders of the constant fear we live in in the states.

We also bitched about the conformity, the culture-wide racism and frustrating same-ness... and how much we miss the diversity, relatively quick acceptance of immigrants, and widespread personal expression back home in the states.

It's not perfect here, but I expect to miss it for a long time.

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"American pets are just the canaries in the coal mine on this, folks. If we don't demand an end to the FDA protecting the food industry's profits instead of the American people, if we don't demand to know where the components of our food are coming from, soon it'll be American children hooked up to tubes and wires in hospitals, victim to organ failures for what seems to be no reason at all." -BAB, on recalls

I can't claim I was particularly up-in-arms about the pet food recalls - I've been watching em, sure, but not closely, and only as a noteworthy but ultimately boring (disgustingly 'more of the same') news item.

Until this quote, above, from Brilliant At Breakfast.

I can't say I have much to add - she makes a brilliant and much needed point (and for me, epitomizes what I think of as "good journalism") and raises points for a discussion I don't expect that we'll ever have, in this (American) culture, but badly need to be having.

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Sunday, April 08, 2007

I am home, temporarily, also alone, also temporarily (Anthony joins me from Stockholm tomorrow). We're here (Vaxjo) for I think 36h? before heading off to Copenhagen for a long day trip (noodles, aquarium, Anthony's pick of destinations).

The next day Anthony leaves Vaxjo for Stockholm, spends the night in an incomparable City Backpackers room (they're gorgeous, safe, and fill quickly), and flies back to the states the next morning. After that, I write papers (4, I think?), study Swedish, do math homework and take a math exam and a (brutal, much feared) Swedish Final Exam. Some other stuff happens after that, and there are more classes, but I can't remember anything past that Swedish Exam right now.

I am exhausted, I have a cough (what, 3 weeks now?), though it's much improved after returning to comparatively-non-smoking Sweden after smoking-is-mandatory Turkey, and I had a wonderful time. It was weird, it was fun, it was aggravating, it was exhilarating. My feet hurt and I have blisters on my blisters. I have annoying tendencies to over or under pack and am working on that. Also, from the lack of stretching, I'm a hobbling granny in the mornings when I wake up - the next 2 days will be painful as I stretch as many times a day as I can, but after that I should be good to go for a day of walking around Copenhagen.

I will post (countless) pictures soon, with commentary, in my flickr acct.

I had many many many public health questions while traveling and some will require some googling to answer - those posts will be slower to write, but will include actual on-topic content!