There was a time in my life when I came closer to committing suicide than any other time. I lived in one of Stockholm’s suburbs—a dilapidated, insipid, grey area built in the 60’s when the Swedish government decided to build one million flats in the shortest possible time. At that time, its inhabitants had been young, hard-working people who looked to the future. Thirty years later the situation was the opposite. The inhabitants of the suburb had become immigrants and refugees who had fled wars and poverty, only to find themselves in a strange country, dumped in a place where they were going to vegetate and wither until the very end of their lives.
It was a world within itself. You could buy anything you liked: women from East Europe, guns and hand grenades from the Balkans, drugs from Afghanistan, smuggled alcohol from Germany and Denmark or expensive watches and other goods stolen from
thehomes in theWest Europe. Here the Swedish laws did not exist and the police were looked at with suspicion and hatred. Young people openly smoked hashish and idealized criminals, who drove around in flashy cars and wore finger-thick gold chains around their necks. If you walked the streets, you had an impression you were in the Middle East or Africa. Women of West African origin wore colourful caftans, large head wraps and long robes, while those from the Middle East and Somalia never left their homes without a hijab or burqa. Dozens of boisterous children followed in their wake. Old Arab and Asian men dressed in their jellabiyas, thawbs and shalwar kameez sat on the banks day after day, fingering their prayer beads and staring vacuously in the distance. They probably asked themselves what kind of a strange world they had come to at the end of their lives.
There was nothing to do for young men, especially during the summer holidays, so when they did not consume drugs or alcohol, they amused themselves by torching cars, vandalising playgrounds, smashing windows, pelting the firefighters, paramedics and police with stones and bricks, and sometimes they beat an innocent Swede if he happened to be around.
I had a nice, sunny flat, which was in good condition, but my neighbours seemed to be people who had never before lived in a proper accommodation and thus never learnt how to behave like civilized human beings. They slammed the doors violently; they hammered nails at 3 a.m., they quarrelled until late in the night and they listened to music at such high volume that my crockery, cutlery and glasses jingled and I could not hear my own radio. Of course, I could have lodged a complaint, but I already knew that the authorities would not lift a finger. They had given up on the ghettos years ago and did not want to waste their resources and time on
thepeople whose fate was sealed.
In those difficult moments, I often thought about my home in Bosnia and the beautiful years before the war broke out. I understood that compared with my current situation I had spent my childhood and youth in paradise. What other way could I think about my orchard with dozens of fruit trees in bloom, our garden with bright flowers, which scent wafted into my room, and the birds which twittered from sunrise until sundown? How could I forget my friendly neighbours who wished me good morning, chatted with me every day and treated me with freshly made pastries and cakes as if I were their own child? Such kindness and friendliness would be looked at with suspicion in this country, where people prefer to maintain their distance keep interpersonal contacts to a minimum.
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