I was 20 when I took the ferry from southern Spain to the northern coast of Morocco with a friend of mine. We wanted to see something more than Europe, this was the first time I was outside the Western world, and I was amazed with some things that I experienced. You could get treated to a cup of tea by someone you didn’t know. People with very little money invited you to eat with them. Or gave you a ride if you didn’t find your way and was lost, as I usually was.
When I started travelling I was a student, and when inviting friends for dinner in my small dormatory kitchen I used to calculate how much the food costed and make everyone contribute with a few kronor, and they did the same with me. At the same time my travels and field work in the Middle East brought me to very poor houses, of the kind you will never find in Sweden, and I would be treated like one in the family, invited to stay for dinner and sometimes also to stay overnight, with no expectations on pitching in for anything. The clash made me reconsider my own society.
Sure, the collective culture has it’s disadvantages. My independency has several times covered for others during my stays in the Middle East – in the flats I have rented I have hosted girls that had no freedom or girls that were afraid to go home, couples that had nowhere to meet – as a European the common rules that a woman can’t stay on her own doesn’t apply, and the neighbours don’t ask who I bring to the house (and well if they gossip, I don’t care).
But who do I call when I need help to dye my hair? Not my Swedish girlfriends, cause I would feel I’d be taking their time, or that I would have to give them something in return. I’d call my Arab girlfriends, or the Iranian or Turkish ones. They would come over with their brushes in a blink even if it’s late at night. I’m glad I took that ferry years ago, that I decided I wanted to learn something new. Otherwise I would still be that person asking everyone at the table to bring out their purses after the meal. I’d maybe even ask you to bring your own sleeping bag or blankets if you came to spend the night in my house.
Photo: Copyright Sweden and the Middle East Blog