January 17th proved to be something of a roller-coaster ride for our group. We had a few items on the schedule: a quick trip to finalize travel visas at the Migrationsverket (the Migration Board, abbreviated as MV), a return to Umeå University for a lazy stroll, a trip to the Västerbotten History museum, and finally a public cafe in which we would introduce ourselves to curious Swedes from the area. None of which would seem to pose any sort of trouble; hell, we were going to a Swedish bureaucratic building for our first trip, how tame is that?
Well it turns out that even mundane and soul degrading experiences with a monolithic government organization can be cool in a foreign country, especially when some people aren’t too happy with said organization. Waking to jet black skies, we took a bus to MV. As we strolled up to the MV entrance, prompt and proper at the opening time of 9 am, we found a rather surreal scene. A panicked alarm above the door beeped on and off. Angry black letters spelled out “Era avslag dödar.” Most surprising of all were the blood stains. The vandal had splattered convincing red paint all over the building’s facade, so at first sight I actually thought we took a wrong turn to some hokey haunted house. Luckily a security officer came and turned off the alarm, and we went through MV without any trouble. Now to contextualize this protest: while many seek asylum in Sweden, not all get it. The words mean “Your policies/decisions kill.” Essentially, by refusing refugees from war-torn nations, Sweden was in effect “killing” these individuals. Regardless of how you feel about the protest (I find it more than a tad melodramatic), it was interesting to get an intimate view with an important issue in Sweden, as well as see how angry Swedes express their political unrest.
Finishing up at the MV, we returned to Umeå U by bus. Okay so this part of the trip went as expected. It was our second time at the University, and we had free time to wander around, eat lunch, and just take it easy.
After lunch, we began our walk to the Västerbotten museum, which lasted for about 10 minutes or so. I noticed that my clothing may not be sufficient for sustained activity outside, but hey, at least the museum would be indoors right? Plus, this was a history museum, I would be in my element. All I knew was that we were going to learn about regional and Sami history, two subjects I knew little about, and was eager to increase my knowledge in. Upon meeting our delightful tour guide, she gleefully informed us that this was an outdoor museum. Yes, for may years now the museum had been collecting historic houses from the region, including some Sami buildings. Our only respite was a brief look at the Ski Museum, where we saw the world’s oldest ski. Then we ventured back out into the cold, and already the sun was beginning to set. Moving from building to building my historic interest was the only thing that distracted me from the dropping temperature. We had not even begun to look at the Sami buildings, our main attraction, and my teeth had begun to chatter. With a chorus of angels (as far as my memory can recall) our guide announced that, lo, we would be going into a Sami hut with a fire, coffee, and reindeer meat. We huddled our frigid bodies around the fire and gulped down authentic Sami coffee, which has reindeer jerky in it to give it some protein and flavor, which allowed us to take part in a relaxing ritual that thousands of Sami have enjoyed for centuries. This was living history, even experiencing the same tactile sensations and emotions as those in the past did- what more can a historian ask for? Suddenly, all that damn cold seemed like no big deal. The gorgeous sunset helped too.
We struck off on foot again to return to the hostel in a 15-20 minute march. Sure I was cold, but I was determined, and we Bealkes are a stubborn bunch (makes dinner time conversations into veritable wars of will I tell you), so I overcame my physical pain and got myself back into the blissful heat of the hostel. The public cafe, arranged by our lovely host Professor Krister Stoor, was still a few hours away, so I had some time to relax and content myself with the fact that we would be riding the bus to the cafe. Well you see buses don’t wait for you, so the certainty of that fact turned to be quite relative when we missed our ride. As the next bus would not get us there on time, our only option was to walk. Luckily for me I had dressed warmly and was up for a little adventure. We kept up a brisk pace and actually returned to the premises of the Museum, where the cafe was located. I suppose my hurry was a little unnecessary as only two people, besides Professor Stoor and the employees of the cafe, showed up, and they were a half hour late. But as Professor Brammer said “There are no bad audiences, only bad performers.” So we did our bit, introduced ourselves, our college, and why we were studying in Sweden. We gave a good show, and informed at least some people about ourselves. After our long day, we had to walk back to the hostel for some hard earned rest. I slept well that night, satisfied with today’s trials, triumphs, and tribulations.