Last summer Lior and I were going around town, taking some pictures for the blog, when I sat down next to a nice old woman in the park. “Is it OK that you will be in our picture?” I asked her. “No problem” She said and started talking to another woman who had just arrived.
About a month later I walked through the same little park. It had just stopped raining, and an old woman was drying a bench with a newspaper. It wasn't until we sat down for a cup of coffee that I recognized her.
During the summer time Carin sits a lot at Mariatorget. She has lived most of her life in the neighbourhood and knows a lot of people. She likes talking. To the people she knows, like the woman that summer day, and to strangers. Before I could ask her questions she told me her life story, which, according to Carin, is very important.
Born in a little town about three hundred kilometres West of Stockholm, Carin soon moved to Linköping, where her father got a job as a priest. She hated it, because she had to go to a special school for girls, which was mostly designed for learning household chores over stimulating ones intellect. And stimulating her intellect was something Carin likes most.
When her dad got a new job at a little church at that same square Carin sits today, she was really excited. She had just finished the school for girls and was able to get into Uppsala University, where she studied political science and, because of her father, theology. At that time she commuted between Stockholm and Uppsala. These days, she doesn't want to leave the neighbourhood where she has her family and friends.
In the years after her Studies Carin worked at Uppsala University as a lecturer on International Politics, a journalist reporting from Zambia, where she met President Kenneth Kaunda, wrote several books and found the time to teach at elementary school. After all the dazzling stories she told me I didn't know if the old age got to her or she was telling the truth.
We started talking about Stockholm and how it had changed during the years. When she first came here many of the suburbs were not yet constructed. Södermalm, now a highly gentrified part of town, was a place for the poor.
According to Carin Stockholm’s biggest problem today is that we don’t see people as one group. Many immigrants and poor people live in the suburbs, where there is not much to do for the people and not much resources are going to. Södermalm is the only place in the inner city where you still find some kind of diversity, and she loves watching this diversity from her bench in the park.
“Even though it seems like Stockholm and its people are sophisticated, we are really not” she says, “We are inexperienced with the world and different cultures. We travel, but we don’t have many relatives living abroad giving us deeper insights”. Despite this inexperience she feels that Stockholmers have become less afraid of foreigners, “and that’s a good thing”.
“Our little village has become a little town, and it’s multicultural”. I asked her why it is a good thing. “Because it’s a natural Geography and history lesson to people. When thinking about the children they are being confronted with different religions and cultures, learning different ways to think. They become more open-minded. Some go to a mosque, others to a synagogue, and the father of another writes books about why god doesn’t exists. Everybody can do what he wants here, and with pleasure I notice that Stockholm has become a more open city”.
The water in Stockholm symbolises this openness to her. Historically It’s the water that connected Stockholm to other parts of the world. They also form wide open spaces in the city. She loves being on a boat, sailing through the city, but mostly being out in the archipelago. Not at the touristic places, but where people still live. She loves it even more than sitting on her bench in the park.
“So, do you think Stockholm has developed for the better in all these years you have lived here?” I asked her. She thinks so. “I see so many people with dogs. You don’t have a dog if you don’t have the money, time, and will to get a nice family live. I think dogs are a symbol that a city is doing well. I see many dogs here and I think to myself: ‘it’s alright here’”.
Happy that I have talked to someone way more positive to foreigners than Robin, there was just one more thing to check. I googled her name and found all these publications she told me about. She is still sharp-minded.