Day Eighteen

tv interview

P1040249

I find the television station office on the second floor. The office design is warehouse-esque. I meet a young woman who struggles with the coffee maker and I am sorry I said yes when she asked if I wanted any. “I don’t drink coffee” she says as she plays with the filter. We wait for the cameraman who took the bus. They looked like they are from the same grade. We walk across the street to a coffee shop. “It’s like our second office. We go here for lunch so its okay.” We find a table, the lights are set up, I am wired, and we begin.

This is day 18 and I am beginning to slow down. Thoughts that came quickly now yawn and pause before emerging. I imagine I look like I am talking in slow motion. I try to look sincere, because behind this blanket of fatigue, I am very excited for Iceland and the amazing  work they are doing. I am also falling more in-love with the culture and what has appeared to me as a welcoming, accepting warmth. As we finish and we walk out, the cold air wakens me and the thoughts stir a little.

I walk up the steep hill, looking back occasionally to see the valley of lights. Groups of preschool children with neon yellow vests pass me. They hold each others’ hands and are led by women wrapped in down coats.

It is dark, but there is a lighter shade of blue on the horizon. It is almost 10am. I meet with my main contact for the Akureyri meetings. She heads the Sport, Leisure and Human Rights Department. Human Rights department? Did I say I’m falling in-love? She shows me around the building. A crafts-person’s paradise: weaving supplies, pottery, wood working. “I think maybe the families will want to come here”. I think I want to come here.  We meet with others who work here. They ask questions, we laugh, they are excited and curious.

Now to the University. On top of a hill it looks down across the valley. The building is more windows than walls. We gather, I present, they ask questions. Then a smaller gathering.  Then to another room with more faculty. Here the discussion is a gentle stream of Icelandic culture, funny stories, quirky things about every culture, and a pondering of how the university can work with the town. “We have experts here who can help. We just need to figure out how to do that.”

Then to meet a Moroccan man who knows …I forget how many languages because he knows so many. He knows Arabic and that has become a very scarce commodity. He is Sunni Muslim and his wife wears the hijab. I am thrilled. I ask him if he can help us all understand what might become issues between the two cultures. He looks hesitant. I pepper him with questions and he obliges. He begins to add his own thoughts, and remembers what his arrival was like.We talk some more until it is time.

We are in a four-hour training with the Red Cross. One of the professors I met earlier sits next to me and interprets. There is a slide show and the Red Cross are presenting concepts I teach in my social work course: family systems, trauma, communication.

Then my new Moroccan friend speaks and talks about Syrian culture and Islam. The audience, volunteer families who will be welcoming the refugee families, have few questions. I ask more. And more. I try to ask questions that they might have in time, or they are too timid to ask now. I ask about gender roles and how that will be experienced in this land where gender equality is sought. “That is not Islam. That is some Mid-eastern male sexism.” What do you advise the families do if they see something that feels that it affects the woman’s human rights? “You tell him that a good Muslim doesn’t do that. ” I laugh and gesture my hands to my chest. Me? I would say that to him? We all laugh. “Yes, you do”.

I stand up and speak. I tell them about trauma, torture, the lasting effects of losing trust in humanity. A man raises his hand and says, “How are we to understand this when we have never experienced war?”. Never have experienced war. I have never experienced war, but my country is involved in many wars and conflicts around the world. War is part of my national history. In fact, when looking back on my history class, that was my history class: a cataloging of wars. Never have experienced war, this country with no army. “They seem so young and naive to me” said a foreign-born woman I met sometime this week.

It is snowing when I am dropped off at my hotel. “I’ll see you in the morning.”

About ndubus

Assistant Professor of Social Work, San Jose State University, USA
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