We swapped hemispheres and left Peru for Europe in July after I had stopped counting my opportunity costs. It had almost been two years since my last visit to my native country. This, combined with everything we’d experienced in the past year or so, contributed to my heightened awareness of place: “Look at those Finnish apples!”; “That Finnish man on that Finnish bus stop”;“I’d forgotten that Finnish road signs are written in that font”…etc. It’s quite tiring, this involuntary mindfulness.
Most of these observations were happy: after Lima, even the Greek crisis feels orderly and reasonably well thought through. When Finnish people were moaning about the cold, I was just happy to breath air that doesn’t leave permanent stains in my lungs. DD was excited about being free to freeze on dozens of beaches without anyone demanding our ID, pedigree or bribes. I managed to run a few kilometres in between many coffee breaks (from doing nothing) and got a new reason to freak out over a lost mobile connection when my cousin and her lovely family introduced us to Geocaching.
So when I was offered a lucrative job in Helsinki my soul was subjected to so much searching you would have mistaken it for an unarmed black man. I knew that somewhere behind the Marimekko curtains, there was a different #Finland from the one I was uploading on Instagram.
Far right and me, with all respect, have never got on that well. Growing up, I always understood that “shit face”, “hottentot” or “whatever-its-name-is” were easier to pronounce than my real name, the meaning of which was also a matter of opinion. (My mum’s.) But being kicked or spat at on top was a bit unnecessary. So in that respect, it’s good to know that these people have grown up to be active participating citizens. The bad news is that we now have a democratically elected far-right populist government.
I’m not that shocked. I’m more surprised that while no-one interfered during my Rosa Parks adaptations on school journeys twenty years ago, now it doesn’t take 48 hours for 15,000 people to turn up to demonstrate, only because an MP has nightmares about multiculturalism and shares that on Facebook.
Even if some, no doubt, were there only because they couldn’t get tickets to the Flow music festival, this was still lots of people in a small country. More than there are inhabitants in the Kauhajoki municipality, four hours north from Helsinki, where another historical event was unfolding: a mixed-race woman in her early 30s fighting a war against 15,000 mosquitos and picking blueberries with her godfather.
Before he was my godfather, overt thirty years ago, he worked in Iraq and smoked a lot. Although his life is less dangerous today, he’s just one of those interesting people. Especially his enviable command of swear words. His second favourite story about me (the first being the confusion caused by me and my cousin deciding to be born on the same day) is when he took me to watch the Kauhajoki samba carnival – which is up there with Rio – in 1998 when Brazil lost to France in the world cup. Apparently, the sight of a strange 15-year-old girl dressed in hot pants raised the carnival spirit of the rising generation of farmers and lumberjacks. (If I ever introduce you to my godfather, pretend that you haven’t heard this already. I do – every year.)
Now you understand the multicultural credentials of my fairy godfather. And not only that: he’s taught me everything I know but haven’t had time to put in practice about feminism and money management. (Too busy falling in love with a Latino and giving up my job to start with.) While I felt my life was so shitty and corny that Paulo Coelho should write about it, he made me see it wasn’t that bad. So when he confessed he could find a racist streak within himself, I thought he deserved what those of us who are in the right are not that willing to grant. A conversation. He didn’t accept that unemployed refugees in remote Finnish towns took their frustration out by kicking grannies. “Not a good idea,” I say. How everyone, regardless of race and ethnicity, should contribute to the economy. “Yup”. Also what bullcrap it was that mother pigs could not be kept inside dens anymore because some city cunt in the government was concerned about their welfare. “Hmm. That’s multiculturalism gone too far,” I said no longer quite sure everyone’s talking about the same thing. There’s a Finnish saying for when people are talking past each other: “one talks about the fence, the other about the fence pickets”.
No, I don’t really know what exactly fence pickets are either, but I guess that’s the point.
I decided then and there that I had nothing to add to the heated multiculturalism debate in Finland. I’m now back in a town called London and – am a management consultant again! “Finally!”, I’m hearing, finally this blog will have some interesting content!
(At least now that I’ve got an iPhone 6 at the courtesy of my work place, there may be some visual improvement. No promises though.)