What you need to know:
- As I settled in the large aircraft headed for Kenya, I could immediately tell that I was not the same person who boarded that aircraft a week earlier.
- The experiences had no doubt transformed me professionally.
- Surprise! surprise! In Sweden, you do not have to hide your phone; no one will snatch it.
Until last week, nothing could have convinced me that hearing someone speak in Kiswahili could be therapy. After a week in Sweden, however, seeing billboards and TV headlines written in a language I couldn’t read, the voice of a cabin crew announcer saying in their characteristic genial tone… “Tumeanza safari kutoka uwanja wa ndege wa Frankfurt kuelekea Nairobi, uwanja wa ndege wa Jomo Kenyatta…” made me want to stand up and dance – it was music to my ears.
As I settled in my 18A seat in the premium economy cabin of the large aircraft with a sitting capacity of 255 passengers, I could immediately tell that I was not the same person who boarded that aircraft a week earlier on my first trip out of Africa. I felt bolder, less frazzled, and more measured! The experiences of attending and networking at a global conference, interacting with senior journalists from across the world, and speaking on a panel had no doubt transformed me professionally.
As good luck would have it, the passenger next to me was a Tanzanian. It did not matter that I find the Tanzanian version of Kiswahili complicated. On that nine-hour flight, I was determined to only speak to my neighbour in Kiswahili – wrong tenses and all.
Here are some of my diary entries:
Entry 1 – September 19, 2023
Location: Frankfurt Airport, between 8 am and 9:30 am
The airport in Frankfurt is huge and intimidating, especially if it is your first time. I had a two-hour layover, before connecting to Gothenburg, in Sweden. All my attention was focused on the long queue that led to my boarding gate when I heard someone call my name. In Frankfurt? That could only be Kate, the coordinator from the organisation that invited me to Sweden. I hugged her excitedly. She said it was easy for her to identify me because I sent her a selfie before taking off from Nairobi.
1. Adjust your clock to local time – if your phone doesn’t do that automatically. To be double sure, Google “current time in (city where you are)”. Germany is one hour behind Kenya and had I not been conscious of time, I would have confused my boarding time.
2. I also noticed that it takes at least an hour to walk from the plane, through the duty-free shops, and all the other shops and restaurants in the airport, past the passport control to the boarding gate. If you are travelling, be very conscious of time.
Entry 2 – September 20, 2023
Location: Gothenburg, outside the Swedish Exhibition Centre; between 9am and 10am
Gothenburg feels safe.
Guess what guys? In Sweden, traffic lights actually work – vehicles stop for people to cross the road! There is also a dedicated cycling path and, surprise! surprise! You do not have to hide your phone; no one will snatch it.
The streets were spotless and clean, with very low human traffic, except for the occasional cyclist or someone walking their dog.
Eventually, I got to the conference location. It was cold and chilly. There was a long queue getting in (because more than 2,000 people in one location for a conference is a lot). But what surprised me most was the fact that I was standing next to so many white people who were not speaking in English! Guys, tulichezwa! Ngugi wa Thiong’o’s suggestion that we write in our mother tongues suddenly makes sense, lol!
Lesson: Kiswahili is beautiful.
Entry 3 – September 20, 2023
Location: Gothenburg, the Swedish Exhibition Centre; between 12pm and 1pm
Apart from coffee machines and tea stations everywhere in the expansive conference venue, lunch was also provided.
I was excited to eat Swedish food. But when I got my pack of food, it was cold. I turned around, and there was no microwave – in fact, the person who picked his food after me was already eating! Cold food? Remember I said it was chilly right? I had been to the bathroom and the water to wash hands was warm, so it meant they understood the concept of heat. Why did they serve cold food? That was my biggest culture shock.
However, by the third day, the food tasted nice – I couldn’t decide whether it had grown tastier or I had just completed my adjustment process.
Lesson: In a new environment, give yourself time and grace to adjust. This does not even begin to scratch the surface of my experience in Sweden. But hopefully, provides a good view of Daisy’s World in Sweden, right?
The writer is the research & impact editor, NMG ([email protected])