Published in The Guardian (Lagos) Life Magazine (Sunday, November 16, 2008)
My days in Uppsala are slowly grinding to an end (slightly faster however than the wheels of justice). There are many things I’ll miss about this University Town of about 200,000 residents.
The only thing I’ll be fortunate to miss (very narrowly) will be the worst of winter. It has snowed once, one Friday evening, a few weeks ago. Perhaps it will snow again before I leave. But the dark days are here, nightfall at 4pm, which has not been as disorienting as I’d assumed it’s be. The mind always gets fooled of course, but there is always the clock to give my sense of chronological balance a helpful jolt.
I’ll miss the forty-minute train ride to and from Stockholm for sightseeing – a lot of my time in Stockholm is actually spent no farther than the Central Station, wandering through the intimidating array of magazines stocked at Pressbyran or browsing through paperbacks at the Pocket Shop.
“Sweden is a lovely place with a strong work/life balance culture”
That’s from an email someone sent to me on learning that I was in Sweden.
Many companies (multinationals especially) in Nigeria like to go on and on in a nebulous manner about “work-life balance.” They need to come over to Sweden to see that “work-life balance” is a “life”, not a discussion topic; an “end” and not merely a means to an end.
Alas, three months here will not be enough to convert me to the “Lunch at Noon, Dinner at 5pm” religion.
I don’t look forward very much to returning to the crazy traffic, the noisy generators, the utter impossibility of anonymity (the kind that I have so nicely settled into here). But go back I will, to the life I know best, the one I have spent the longest experiencing.
In the two weeks or so I have my work cut out. Shopping. And more shopping. Or perhaps it will merely be window-shopping.
I have two readings in my last week, one at a gathering of Uppsala poets who meet once a week at the Mission Church, the other at the English Bookstore in Uppsala.
And then there is a last bout of sightseeing to be done.
Tentative plans: A boat trip to the Swedish archipelago, a visit to Swedish furniture giant IKEA, and then to Uppsala’s museums.
Perhaps a night club outing (hoping to God that the songs are in English!). But I know that, on the premise of Newton’s fourth Law of Motion – “White Men Can’t Dance” – I’ll feel far more comfortable flailing my arms and twisting my ankles in a Swedish club than in a Nigerian one.
There will be the list of regrets (hopefully not “highway long”) – I’d have loved to travel more around Sweden, away from the Big Cities and University Cities, to get a feel of rural Swedish Life.
I haven’t yet had a taste of Glögg and aquavit, traditional Swedish liquor.
I had hoped to visit a Volvo factory, but that doesn’t look likely any more.
I keep forgetting that I have been meaning to rent a bike.
The much dreamed about photo-shoot with the Swedish Royal Family doesn’t look too feasible anymore.
I will miss the Chinese Garden, where I spend the occasional afternoon tucking into an inexpensive (by Nigerian standards) buffet, musing on the fact that Chinese restaurants in Lagos are typically elitist establishments, meant as markers and maintainers of class in a society where people like to entrench separateness between themselves and other people on the basis of the expenses they make.
The anonymity is for me the most appealing thing. But it is a strange form of anonymity, a felt (internalised) anonymity – on the basis of skin color alone it is the farthest thing from anonymity; nothing stands out more than the color black in a world of white skins and pristine snow – but unless you are an illegal immigrant there is a feeling that in this strange land no one knows you, there is no one to offer unsolicited advice, no obligatory aso-ebis to buy.
Uppsala I assume is one of those few places left on the face of the earth where a Nigerian can still feel fairly anonymous. You try that in London!
10 years ago