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Clay Houses, Sweden, and South Africa

Dear Harvey,

Spring greetings from northern lands. It is quite special to experience the returning light and warmth, a slow process. It is like I can feel the work being done under the earth, feel the new life pushing through layers of earth, waiting until just the right moment to burst through in beauty and splendour. Each day a new surprise, a new discovery, a newly returned bird twittering, a green leaf, a snowdrop, buds on trees filling in fullness and waiting to burst. The days that are slightly warmer are the special ones for me-people take their time, sit on benches, enjoy the sun, and dare to talk to strangers! There is something in the warmth that melts the Swedish shyness and isolation.

I want to tell you a little of what has been happening since I met you in Israel. I returned to Sweden filled with new courage and energy, inspired by the conference, by the many new friendships, and by yours and Cherie's leadership.

I led a day for Jews and allies. Part of it was a report about the conference in Israel. Two other issues I got people thinking and working on were:

(1) Same ("Sahmee"-national minority, reindeer herders) oppression and Sweden's role in the colonisation of Sameland. I have worked a little with different people on this issue. What comes up is people's separation from the Same and not having been given correct information about them. (People also experience oppression from coming from different parts of Sweden. For example, the people from Norrland in the north are discriminated against when they come south.)

(2) Sweden's so-called neutrality in the Second World War. Much has been written on this topic in the newspaper recently, and the silence is being broken. Anti-Semitism here has been hard to get a grip on-like it does not exist, and yet it does. In a demonstration, an ally discharged about the silence and the feeling of shame and not being able to put a finger on what it was. We continued to work on the Second World War and how Swedes knew what was going on yet chose to be silent, to be neutral, to not rock the boat and become an enemy of Germany. This has been passed down, and I begin to understand the pattern of silence and not doing anything. There were big posters during the war-"en Svensk tiga"-with a picture of a tiger behind bars. "Tiga" means to remain silent, as well as sounding like the word "tiger" in English.

We also worked on reclaiming pride in being Swedish.

I have nearly completed teaching a fundamentals class to eleven young people (fifteen to eighteen years old). I'd gathered together some of my friends, and a few others joined. It has been fun as well as very difficult. It's good to see them breaking through internalised young people's oppression and seeing how much they want each other.

My decision to return to South Africa is slowly being actualised. Since returning from Israel I have been confidently telling people what it is I want to do and putting out my thinking and ideas. You once wrote something about having big dreams and going for them, and about how people long for good thinking and leadership. I am noticing how true this is. My feeling is that my dreams are too big and I cannot realize them, but I have been confidently telling people what it is that I want (as if it is possible). To my complete surprise, they are very enthusiastic and want to be part of my project. The more appreciation I meet, the more I seem to sprout ideas! I've realized that I cannot do this alone and that I do not have to do everything by myself.

I will risk sharing my ideas with you. (The fear and embarrassment is that I may not succeed in making them real, but then I guess I will have learned something and will try again.)

My idea is a project with Swedish and South African youth. The two groups will meet in South Africa. The project will be centred around building a clay building. (I have built clay buildings both in Sweden and South Africa. As a woman, building a house with my hands has been one of my most powerful learning experiences. It is a community process as well as creative and fun. It can be done inexpensively and results in a beautiful building that can last for two hundred years.)

My challenge is to make the groups from each country representative of the different peoples in their lands. I would like a cultural exchange within and between countries-through working and living together and sharing lives, music, dances, and more.

I'm in contact with a folk high school here that is involved in an exchange programme to South Africa: sixteen South Africans are coming here next week to meet up with sixteen Swedes who were in South Africa last year for three months. I have been invited to hold a workshop for them, introducing listening skills. I would like to do an RC fundamentals class if there is interest. This school is also interested in my ideas for a project, and I am hoping we can work together. So things are at their beginning. I will keep you informed.

Harvey, loving thoughts to you. With gratitude for being an inspiration to me.

Later . . . .

It's sometime later, and I must tell you of my latest news. The South Africans I last wrote about have arrived in Sweden to meet up with a group of Swedes. Since their arrival a few weeks ago I have had contact with the whole group. This last weekend I gave an introduction to RC to the group-fifteen black South Africans, twelve white Swedes, and a Palestinian/Finnish woman who lives in Sweden. They are between the ages of twenty and forty, both men and women. We shared listening time and appreciations in small groups. It went really well. At one point, after appreciations, a man came up to me with tears in his eyes and asked if I had noticed the difference in the group since we had started. There was a big change. I had built up a relationship with the group over a few weeks (and with the Swedish group over a few months) so I felt safe and appreciated from the start. It was fun. I begin to notice that I do make a difference in people's lives. I will be doing a follow-up day, and if there is time, I may do a fundamentals class.

Tessa Abramowitz

Last modified: 2020-07-02 14:27:35+00