Sunday, March 14, 2021

The day we immigrated to Sweden

It was summer, which month I know not. But it was summer. Even the year is a blur, though 1983 is a good estimate. My father came back from work at about 2 in the afternoon, and he had a story to tell.

His colleague was immigrating to Sweden. The government there was offering free houses it seemed, something like guaranteed income or secure jobs. The whole family was in the package. Kids in free schools. The deal was a no-brainer. It was rare for my father to be so excited about anything but he spoke and spoke about his colleague and Sweden throughout lunch.

If a child needed any incentive to dream that would be it. And dreamed I did. Sweden! I went to the Larousse 1981 edition and looked up the country. Oh Stockholm! And indeed, there was effervescence in the air, with my mother even jumping on the bandwagon of stories. Really, there was a bubbling atmosphere all over the house.

And my father went for his daily afternoon nap. By the time he woke up, I needed more Sweden ideas.

There was none.

When he woke up, it was as if the whole thing never existed. He no longer spoke of it, not longer said anything. We were still in Beirut, on the 7th floor, with our balcony overlooking the port and the sea. But there was no Sweden.

If I am telling this story, it is because basically everyone in Lebanon wants to go. To quote that poetic title of the late Pierre Bachelet album - "quelque part, toujours ailleurs". "Somewhere, always somewhere else". Not that I blame them - far from it. When I got my first visa to the US, miraculously I was offered an R B2, that was in 1999 - I could have easily worked there. My brother - who was a resident medical doctor there - asked me if I wanted to stay, but I was a very stable government employee, my consulting career was through the roof, I was dealing with international newspapers as a journalist, making money and managing it exceptionally well. Why leave all this?

By 2001 - funnily after my first very long business trip to Sweden (which had a stamp saying I cannot remain in the country after the end of the visa) - I left all this and went from one day to the next to communication and advertising - which included another very long trip to Sweden. Again, my career took off once more, I was making money and managing it well. Why leave all this?

Which brings us to 2021. I can give you all the reasons to leave all this.

Except, now it is too late. No embassy in its right mind would give you a visa. Our money is basically just paper with all the devaluation. People oscillate between rage and despair. They look to insure the basics but even that is not always a given. 

I said it prior that, somewhere and somehow we will get through this, in what shape or form I know not. 

But I will never forget the day we immigrated to Sweden.