I was traveling in Turkey for the selection of quota refugees. The mother of the interviewed family had to get herself photographed for the cause and her three-month-old baby was left in my care. The child missed the mother, sobbing. A lady from the neighbour grabbed a big scarf, gave two corners of it to my hands and took two corners in her own hands.
We made a cradle for the baby and swang it slowly and carefully. With the lady, we both sang children’s songs taking turns, she in Arab, and me in Finnish. The baby calmed down and a crowd of children and adults from several families gathered around us. It was a magical moment. We didn’t have language in common, but we came together as women and mothers. We were united by the music.
Through my work, I have thought lot about the invigorating impact of culture. As a refugee nurse, I have faced sadness, longing and fear, but also hope. When you are dragged away from your roots and you land in a new, strange country, there’s no underestimating the comfort that an item, taste or piece of music from your homeland can bring to you.
In Finland, the positive effects of culture on the well-being of people have been discussed a lot in recent years. It has been proved that an cultural interest or hobby is closely connected with health, experiences of good life and longevity. Finally the confrontation between traditional forms of culture and sports has abated and everything fits under one term. The well-being is equally brought by attending sport events or by visiting museums, concerts, theatres or dance performances. Or sharing a tasty meal in a good company.
Personally, my relationship with culture and art is passionate. I’m a person with strong emotional reactions. It does not matter whether I’m witnessing a gorgeous art exhibition, dance, theatre or sports performance, I always feel very immersed and involved. I smile, I cry, I support.
I can still recall “When the Robbers Came to Cardamom Town”, my first theatre experience in Kuopio City Theatre. Or the joy of my kindergarten aged daughters when they joined in with others to dance and participate in the Kuopio Dance Festival programme at the Kuopio market square. It has been fascinating to familiarize my first grandchild with the wonders of dance, music and theatre, to see the ever-growing interest and enthusiasm. I really look forward to my second grandchild growing up to experience these feelings of awe.
Photo: Petri Laitinen
For me, the meaning of Women’s Day has changed due to my work. I have long conversations with my patients over the current and traditional gender roles in their families and countries. On the other hand, they want to know about the roles of women and men in Finland. We often ponder whether the womanhood decreases if a woman is strong and involved in a lot. Female presidency is the most astonishing thing for many of my patients.
I have worked with refugees for 28 years and I still find it lovely to encounter my female patients from the “women viewpoint”. Wherever or from whatever circumstances we come from, we all reflect our womanhood rather similarly. What it means to be a wife or a mother? Am I happy with my womanhood, the way that I dress, my hair?
In my office, there is also a permission to dream. My patients often ask me if I’m in my dream job. It’s easy to say yes. When I was a child, I dreamed about having my own flower shop and also had an interest in acting. The best part is hearing about the dreams of children. Once, a little girl with pigtails looked me straight in the eyes and asked: “Can you study to be an astronaut in Finland?” I didn’t cut the wings from her dream.
Text: Leila Savolainen. The author is the first vice-chairperson of the Kuopio Dance Festival board.