My colleagues drove me around the Stockholm county in my desperate attempts to find accommodation. No, the state doesn’t offer refugees any equity in housing.
Finally, I found a place to share with a French housemate, through common friends, and was hosting a small house warming party. One of my colleagues, still wearing a tracking device on his ankle and a criminology B.A in his credentials from his prison time, shows up to my party. A Swede, I barely know, looking like Meryl Streep showed up with flowers and an A4 paper with my name on it, encircled with a heart and surrounded by stars. With a bunch of soulful people, I marked my first 6 months in the country.
My housemate and I used to joke about casual racism in Sweden. She’d tell me, being a black French woman, ‘’Ola, if I don’t smile in winter to show my white teeth, the driver wouldn’t stop, they wouldn’t see me!’’ We laughed.
My contract with the French housemate ran out and we looked for long term housing opportunities. I answered to endless housing ads on Blocket. My full name was of no help. My first name happens to be a male name in Sweden, my last name sounds Muslim. I was advised by other immigrants to change my name: ‘’It will make it easier. With your fair skin, you can maybe pass as southern European’’. I refused, my name is Ola Saleh. Who would give up the confusions, the laughs, the ice it breaks, and the racism it exposes, to “pass”?
I heard about a shared house on a close by island through a friend of a friend, I went for it. I got vouched for, and I was offered a place. One of the housemates at this beautiful house (he’s now my partner), was worried one of his grocery shopping choices could be offensive and told the others: ‘’I hope she doesn’t mind the party sized platter of pork I have in the fridge’’. It turned out I ate more pork than anyone else in the house.
This is the second blog out of four by Ola Saleh addressing the theme of change, drawing from her experiences and encounters as a refugee in Sweden.
The Ex:es: Former Neo-Nazi and Ex-Criminal Friends
A Jewish Guest
All Hearts Can Change
Ola Salehs best friend is a former neo-nazi. As an Arab with Islamic background she accidentally found the meaning of home between a Palestinian host and a Jewish guest.
She has extensive experience in programme design, management, mediation and leadership in conflict and post-conflict contexts. She works as the peacebuilding advisor at the Kvinna till Kvinna foundation in Sweden. She came to Sweden as a refugee in 2013.