An unusual train ride
On our way back from Lulea, Elke and I decided to take the night train to Stockholm. This blog is about the people we met in the cabin we shared with 4 others. I really felt, during the journey, that these were people and stories I would never get to meet in Stockholm. It was really interesting and I would highly recommend taking the night train if you want to a get a new perspective of Sweden.. The PhD from Uppsala, The Albanian, The Eritrean-Saudi-Arabian and Tomas (my favorite!) were our co-passengers.
The PhD student from Uppsala – The easiest one to write about. He was already in the cabin when we entered and said Hi and introduced himself to us. It was good that he spoke to us, so I knew that it was okay to talk to strangers in the train (did I tell you I love talking to strangers!)
He was a geeky PhD student from Lulea. Had gone up north to visit his grandfather and his family. Quite a straightforward and nice guy who had a very simple habit of thinking before talking! But really, the other 3 people were the kind of people one wouldn’t usually run into in Stockholm.
The Albanian – When he entered the cabin with his jacket on, he looked large and intimidating. He smelled of tobacco. The kind of person, I assumed, who would be willing to pick a fight. Also the kind of person, I would not want to fight against. Once he removed his jacket though, he looked much smaller. He looked a little frail, like some chunks of muscle, especially around the arms and shoulders, were missing. He told us stories about communist Albania and of the Albanian revolution of 1997. He was quite knowledgeable about history and politics actually. He told of his life in Sweden and the difficultly he was having in finding a permanent job. He told of how he tried travelling on a night train without a ticket and was thrown out in the middle of nowhere when he was caught. It was in the middle of the night, dark and in winter. While he was talking, all of us imagined his plight for a bit and looked outside the window at miles and miles of darkness, snow and forests.
He had to walk back to the station, following the tracks. Upon reaching the station, he tried to alight another train without a ticket but was thrown out again. I do not remember how he finally reached his destination. He also told about how he tried to be a car driver, a mechanic and was always fighting with alcoholism. Some people just have more difficult lives, I felt. His struggle felt very real. Meeting people who fall through the cracks of society is, to me, always inspiring. It almost always wants me to be a better person.
The Eritrean-Saudi Arabian – Sounded and looked very much like a dude. Well dressed, well rounded guy who was Eritrean by birth but was raised in Saudi Arabia. Was living and working up north and was going to settle some business in Stockholm. He values and ideology did not resonate with those of Saudi and he wanted a way out so he used his Eritrean passport as a way into Sweden as a refugee. I don’t know, it just did not sound right to me. He seemed well off and hinted that he had a good life in Saudi. He was often moderating and mediating discussions between us. He seemed like a natural at leading people, someone who knew where he was and what he was doing. Interesting guy for sure!
Tomas – Tomas was transgender from Jokkmokk, a small town in the very north of Sweden. Her story was heartbreaking. Born to an Italian mother in Sweden, Tomas always liked to dress up as woman. When her mother realized this she disowned her. I mean who does that. Imagine being 8 year old kid trying to find your identity, only to be disowned and thrown out of your house by your mother. Tomas told us stories of being bullied in school and of constantly having to change foster homes. She has been finally adopted by a gay couple who live in Jokkmokk. One of her fathers was dismissed from the Sami community (indigenous people of Sweden) because he was gay, so I guess he understood what Tomas was going through. Tomas is just 16. She showed us pictures of her gaining confidence in cross-dressing, her varying hair styles and of her boyfriend from Iran. Honestly, every time she would tell us a sad and painful story of her life, the rest of us would be lost for words, often finding it hard to empathize with her. She would notice this, smile, and show us pictures or tell us a happier story. She was so young, and had already seen so much pain and difficulty in life. I felt like that no one should have to go through all this, you know. Plus she was really sweet, naive and nice, it just felt so unfair. All this while we sit in our cities and applaud how progressive Sweden is when it comes to LGBT rights.
This was definitely not what I had come to expect from Sweden when it came to LGBT rights and more importantly human rights. The gay parades in Stockholm are so much fun and there seems to be a wide consensus that LGBT are treated fairly. So this came as a big surprise to me. I thought was Sweden had made great strides in terms of equality but it felt that rural areas were still left behind. I guess, we still have a long way to go.
The people we met and the stories they told, seemed so very different from the image of Sweden painted by the city life. Not only was it more acceptable to talk on the journey, people were also talking about things that mattered to them rather than just making small talk. It was an unusual train ride, which made me uncomfortable at times, but was definitely worth it and I would love to go for another long train journey soon!