Language cafes, difficult times and us, immigrants

I never thought I would sit in one of these cubicles in Kista library (for non-Swedish speakers, pronounced as Sheesta). They always felt quite… claustrophobic. When you pass by two rows of these cubicles, you can see through the narrow glass slits desks with people sitting at them, looking very confined. Like they are imprisoned, with their laptops, staring into their mobile phones, coats strewn over chairs, scarfs spilling onto the floor.

But I had no other choice. All the desks in the open were occupied. Although there are plenty of chairs, and funny chairs, and idiosyncratic chairs, and hammocks and other things which are supposed to make the library fun and attractive and innovative, to me they seem excruciatingly uncomfortable. I need a desk on which I can place my elbows firmly and type it away at 60 word-per-minute speed.

The large open area by the glass wall opening onto… (parking lot? the wall of the Kista mall? I need to go and have a look) was occupied by Language Cafe. Last time I was sitting there just before it started, and I was quite literally thrown out by the library staff. I had to pack up my stuff at light speed, as the area was flooding with immigrants wishing to practice their Swedish with each other (oh horror!), and the staff were shifting tables and arranging them into some language-cafe-original-shape. My table was being moved as I was trying to pack away my laptop, so I almost had to jump after it to catch up.

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(Don’t get me wrong, I am myself an immigrant and it would do me much good if I could practice my gruesome Swedish with Farnaz from Iran, a primary school teacher, and Zainab from Iraq, a nurse, and Yasir from Pakistan, a software engineer. But the idea of a bunch of us, all dark-haired, stuffed into the corner of the library with free coffee and ginger biscuits, suddenly makes me want to pack up and run for it. Because I would happily listen to their stories, but I would not know what to say.)

So yes, Language Cafe took over, and I had to try one of these cells. It turned out to be much better than I had expected. In fact, it is quite ingenious. First of all, it is QUIET. The silence is almost deafening. Secondly, there is plenty of air (ventilated in) and light (artificial). I faced my claustrophobic self, and I was rewarded for it. I got a chance to charge both my laptop and phone, and to write this post.

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The wall of the cell is covered in scribblings (for search of a better word – cannot call this ‘graffiti’), most of them in Swedish, indicating a school-age contingent. The content of the scribblings ranges from  names (Maryam, Vanessa, Dalia, Tanpong – is it really a name??? – and Vanja) to statements like ‘Kista is shit’ and conversations (It smells here – No it doesn’t – If you are dissatisfied, don’t sit here). There is also a phrase in English: ‘When life puts you through difficult times, don’t say ‘why me’, say ‘try me”, written down twice and circled.

Well, it’s hard not to get philosophical when one reads things like that. Here we are, the clients of Kista library: school kids and immigrants without jobs, biding our time, and looking for some sort of connection. That is, those of us who have come from cultures where human interaction, particularly with strangers, is the norm. Which may make us downcast, if not downright depressed, when immersed in this other climate. But for others of us, it is fully ok, and hence we choose to lock ourselves in a bright-lit cell and write posts of the culture waiting for us outside.

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