blog

Take me home

Shani works with refugees and immigrants in Denmark towards cultural immersion. She plans exciting activities like biking, organic farming, community cooking etc to make everyone feel like a family. Read on our interview #4 below -

Keshav: You work with refugees and immigrants in Denmark...

Shani: Yes, that’s correct.

Keshav: What do you do for them?

Shani: I’ve worked with immigrants and refugees for years, in different ways. I started out maybe 5 to 6 years ago when I was the head of a biking project for immigrant women, refugee women. And this was meant to teach the people to bike and give them the opportunity to get around, learn about the city, and have the social and the physical benefit of biking. So that was my very first meeting with this group of people and I enjoyed it very much. So, when my project stopped after some years, I started teaching Danish to foreigners and I’ve been doing that for some years. But what I do now is that - at the beginning of last year, I had a lot of ideas about how to teach in a different way, or how to integrate people into the society, and I happened to meet some people who had similar ideas and we got together and we developed these ideas. We think that in order to connect to a place and to feel part of that place, it is very good working with the earth, working in agriculture. The people I met, one is actually a lawyer but now she’s an organic farmer. She’s old. She’s eighty years old, but has a lot of ideas, a lot of energy. The other one was a restaurant owner who has a restaurant which is also a social meeting place that engages in all kinds of debates in the society and tries to involve a lot of people in different activities. Then, there was a third person besides me who had done a lot of small cultural projects. I was the one who wanted to work more with immigrants and refugees. So, we got together and we started to talk about how we could work with these people. When you work the land, or when you work with your hands, it’s a very good way both, to connect to the place and to learn about the climate, the seasons and the people. I live in Denmark, so I live in a cold place where the winter is long and it’s dark. I think it’s very different if you come from India or Syria and other places. So, to get to live in this place in a good way you need to learn about this place and that was our idea, you know, all our songs and stories, a lot of them are about the nature here, which is a bit harsh and unfriendly. We take a certain number of refugees. The politics here is very right wing and conservative and they prefer people not to be integrated. They prefer taking care of people but as little as possible. We tried to put up a frame so we could work with them in the municipality. And they want people to have a job and learn the language, so we said OK if people come and they work on the cause with us, we will help you, and then we can do the work we want to do as well. So far we have engaged with one municipality and we started with four people in the summer and suddenly we had ten people working with us. We really had wonderful experiences, a lot of great meetings while we worked together. What we do is we work on the land, we make ecological products, organic products, we go to different markets, we sell them, and that also gives people a chance to meet other people, and you use whatever Danish they have learnt to teach about the season, the plants, etc. In the winter, we had a small idea about making a course for women, a cooking course, and now we have this hut in a forest, we meet there twice a week for whole day, and we cook; we cook Danish food, we cook seasonal stuff, we’re gonna cook all the food from all over the world, and they are learning about, seasonal stuff, about traditions here, about healthy stuff, health and healthy foods and many things. So, you know, we kind of take the work and we do the teaching of language in connection to what we do. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

Keshav: Fantastic! A lot of things, fantastic!

Shani: Yeah, then of course, when we’re in the forest, some people are cooking, some people are going for a walk in the forest, we do some dancing, we do some gymnastics, we do different things, and some teaching, together. And I think it’s a lot of fun, I think it’s a very good meeting place.

Keshav: Great. Tell me how did you get involved in this idea? What brought you into this?

Shani: I’ve always been very curious about people, and I always really loved traveling and meeting people and then, I did my masters degree in the Middle East Studies. I worked in the Middle East for some years, different political and social work. When I returned to Denmark, working with people from other countries in this place, gives me the touch of the world, you know. It’s very nice to be with people from other perspectives, who can teach me stuff. And I also think it’s very nice for me to kind of convey something that I think is positive about this culture here. Because I think the media here is quite harsh, it’s quite right wing, and a lot of times, people are turning it into a problem that we have all these immigrants coming and blah

...

Shani works with refugees and immigrants in Denmark towards cultural immersion. She plans exciting activities like biking, organic farming, community cooking etc to make everyone feel like a family. Read on our interview #4 below -

Keshav: You work with refugees and immigrants in Denmark...

Shani: Yes, that’s correct.

Keshav: What do you do for them?

Shani: I’ve worked with immigrants and refugees for years, in different ways. I started out maybe 5 to 6 years ago when I was the head of a biking project for immigrant women, refugee women. And this was meant to teach the people to bike and give them the opportunity to get around, learn about the city, and have the social and the physical benefit of biking. So that was my very first meeting with this group of people and I enjoyed it very much. So, when my project stopped after some years, I started teaching Danish to foreigners and I’ve been doing that for some years. But what I do now is that - at the beginning of last year, I had a lot of ideas about how to teach in a different way, or how to integrate people into the society, and I happened to meet some people who had similar ideas and we got together and we developed these ideas. We think that in order to connect to a place and to feel part of that place, it is very good working with the earth, working in agriculture. The people I met, one is actually a lawyer but now she’s an organic farmer. She’s old. She’s eighty years old, but has a lot of ideas, a lot of energy. The other one was a restaurant owner who has a restaurant which is also a social meeting place that engages in all kinds of debates in the society and tries to involve a lot of people in different activities. Then, there was a third person besides me who had done a lot of small cultural projects. I was the one who wanted to work more with immigrants and refugees. So, we got together and we started to talk about how we could work with these people. When you work the land, or when you work with your hands, it’s a very good way both, to connect to the place and to learn about the climate, the seasons and the people. I live in Denmark, so I live in a cold place where the winter is long and it’s dark. I think it’s very different if you come from India or Syria and other places. So, to get to live in this place in a good way you need to learn about this place and that was our idea, you know, all our songs and stories, a lot of them are about the nature here, which is a bit harsh and unfriendly. We take a certain number of refugees. The politics here is very right wing and conservative and they prefer people not to be integrated. They prefer taking care of people but as little as possible. We tried to put up a frame so we could work with them in the municipality. And they want people to have a job and learn the language, so we said OK if people come and they work on the cause with us, we will help you, and then we can do the work we want to do as well. So far we have engaged with one municipality and we started with four people in the summer and suddenly we had ten people working with us. We really had wonderful experiences, a lot of great meetings while we worked together. What we do is we work on the land, we make ecological products, organic products, we go to different markets, we sell them, and that also gives people a chance to meet other people, and you use whatever Danish they have learnt to teach about the season, the plants, etc. In the winter, we had a small idea about making a course for women, a cooking course, and now we have this hut in a forest, we meet there twice a week for whole day, and we cook; we cook Danish food, we cook seasonal stuff, we’re gonna cook all the food from all over the world, and they are learning about, seasonal stuff, about traditions here, about healthy stuff, health and healthy foods and many things. So, you know, we kind of take the work and we do the teaching of language in connection to what we do. So that’s what I’m doing right now.

Keshav: Fantastic! A lot of things, fantastic!

Shani: Yeah, then of course, when we’re in the forest, some people are cooking, some people are going for a walk in the forest, we do some dancing, we do some gymnastics, we do different things, and some teaching, together. And I think it’s a lot of fun, I think it’s a very good meeting place.

Keshav: Great. Tell me how did you get involved in this idea? What brought you into this?

Shani: I’ve always been very curious about people, and I always really loved traveling and meeting people and then, I did my masters degree in the Middle East Studies. I worked in the Middle East for some years, different political and social work. When I returned to Denmark, working with people from other countries in this place, gives me the touch of the world, you know. It’s very nice to be with people from other perspectives, who can teach me stuff. And I also think it’s very nice for me to kind of convey something that I think is positive about this culture here. Because I think the media here is quite harsh, it’s quite right wing, and a lot of times, people are turning it into a problem that we have all these immigrants coming and blah blah blah, but actually, I see this as a really great resource, I prefer this place to be much more mixed, because it’s such a gift, we have people who think differently living together.

Keshav: Great! And recently, as immigration, especially in Europe, has been a big issue of political debate, how do you think the problem has increased or has it changed in the last few years?

Shani: If I look at it generally over a long period of time, then, of course, I mean, we are quite a homogeneous society, but since the fifties we had the first immigrants coming. And of course there’s a bit of difference between immigrating and people coming here as refugees. If you’re an immigrant, you probably have a job already before you come here and you have made a choice, it can be for different reasons why you come, but you have made a choice to move. But I think the problem is that for many years we have not been good enough to, to create a meeting space in our society. So that means that you might come from Turkey, or from Pakistan and you might establish a life in this place, but you’re only surrounded by people speaking your own language, and you don’t have too much contact with Danish people. And then of course, you have people here who get afraid of what they don’t understand or they don’t know. It’s usually the ones who are in least contact with immigrants or refugees, who are most afraid, who mostly have ideas what these weird people are about. So I think that this issue of living in parallel groups has been there for a long time, but I think recently, this fear has become more and more present with people, and then you have politicians who speak more and more about it, and they turn it into a problem - they seek all things that are problematic. But what I like to do in this, is to create that bridge between the people to translate the cultural codes. But of course, if you’re gonna meet people, you need to be open to the other one. If you are not open to the other one, you cannot meet. I think that’s the whole issue. So, if you ask me if the problem is bigger or smaller today, I don’t think it’s bigger, I just think we talk about it in a different way.

Keshav: Maybe that’s because a lot of unwanted activities that have been happening, a lot of recent terrorist attacks have been ascribed to immigrants or refugees who have made Europe their home. Does that or doesn’t that scare you when you go and meet them?

Shani: You do have people that are radicalized, but I think in general, the ones I’ve met- I don’t know, I’ve never met people I was scared of. Sometimes when you talk about cultural issues, there are things that I don’t understand, or they are very foreign to the way I would do them. But I think as long as we start talking about it, you understand more of what the things are about. When you don’t have anyone to ask about these things, then everything is a mystery, but then when you start having a dialogue with somebody, you understand that they are human beings, and of course, other things make sense in a different society. So I must say I don’t feel threatened.

Keshav: Build a general profile of the people you are currently working with.

Shani: The group we have now, the women that we work with, they are ten women. Most of them are from Syria. Then we have an Afghani-Indian woman, another woman from Iran, and one who’s gonna come from Somalia. The amount of time they have been in Denmark is quite varied. We have some people who have been here for half a year, which means that they just landed in this situation and this place. And we also have some people who have been here for up to four years or something like that. Luckily the ones that we are now with, have their families here, meaning at least husbands or maybe kids are here, but still, you know, have a brother who’s there, parents who are there, so it is quite a hard situation for them since they have some family all over the world now, and a home that they will not be able to return to at least for the next many years.

Keshav: Have they made Denmark their home yet, or they are just killing time until things get better in their countries and then they go back?

Shani: For me it’s quite logical that you long to go back, you know, you’ve had a life, and you had something that was really established, and you had your sister there and your brother there and you parents or whoever, your friends, and then you are shattered all over the world. So, for me, it was logical that anyone would want to return home to what they know. But when we started working with them, I realized that the other people in our group were very surprised, they ask “Why would they want to go home?” Of course, they would want to go home, it’s not so strange. But I think if you read about Syria, or you see movies about it, or you hear stuff, the possibility that these people would be home in five years is very little, unfortunately. And that’s why we try to tell people to establish a good relation wherever they are and they are enriching us and we are trying to enrich them, yeah.

Keshav: When you say that the government is not really welcoming these refugees, where does that leave you? Do you think of yourself as being against the government, helping out these refugees, or you think because the government can’t do this thing, you help them by doing it yourself?

Shani: We work in cooperation not with the government, but with the local authorities. The citizens are placed in an area, a local municipality. Of course we are working with something that is established at this point. And then, on the other hand, I think it’s very nice to have created something by ourselves where we do the things that we think are good for people. It’s good to have a social network, it’s good to have a place where you come couple of times a week, where you participate in something that is meaningful, where you learn things. You don’t learn extra things, you learn things that you need to know for your life, and also, every time we go for a walk in the forest, every time we do gymnastics, I think it’s also part of a healing for people.

Keshav: So you said it’s the winter time in Denmark right now because it’s very cold and dark outside, you gather all the women and you go to forest and you cook there. That sounds like the beginning of a scary movie...

Shani: Hahaha. We are in a hut, it’s very scenic, and it’s very beautiful there. We have the fire place, we have a kitchen, and we have a woman who’s a professional cook.

Keshav: Okay.

Shani: I’m sure if an Indian guy would come to Denmark, he would think “Okay this is horrible, I’m gonna stay inside all the time because it’s not nice”, but if you want to live in a place like this, and if you want to have a good life here, you need to get on clothes and get out in the forest, because it lifts your spirit and it’s also very beautiful. So this is the whole point, even if it’s winter, it’s still nice to have a coffee outside in the cold. Sometimes we make fire outside and we bake pancakes on the fire.

Keshav: I heard that you used to enjoy being a clown, is that correct?

Shani: Yeah

Keshav: Tell me about that.

Shani: I still enjoy it very much. Yeah, the clown thing is something I’ve dreamt about for years, and I still dream about it. And I think it’s the same thing that interests me with clown - You can meet people.

Keshav:  It’s like another personality you can don, right?

Shani: Yeah. If you put on the red nose, you have a difference entrance into people, and yeah, all kinds of people. The clown doesn’t know any boundaries between high and low, and old and young. And this is what I love about the clown. For years, I’ve enjoyed watching theatre with clowns and other things, and then I’ve done some theater work myself. I had the chance in November to go on a clown trip with some very experienced and some less experienced clowns to Russia, to go to hospitals and orphanages and stuff, and that was a really great experience. To try to see how to create magic, how can you meet people when you are clown - you can meet them in a different way than when I’m a normal person and I have my normal clothes on. As soon as I put on the nose, and I look different and people are open in a different way.

Keshav: Fantastic!

Shani: Yeah, it is really fantastic. I hope everyone would put on the clown nose sometime.

Keshav: Imagine, God forbid, but something were to happen in Denmark, and it’s no more a healthy country to live in and you had to escape to some other country as a refugee yourself, where would you go? Now I know you’d like to come to India to meet me, but still I would like to ask you!

Shani: When you’re not put in that situation you can be fascinated by many places, you know, I have a long long list of places I want to see, and India is definitely one of them. And at the same time, when I sit here in Denmark I would have no idea how it is to live in Somalia, or Syria, or India. So, I don’t know!

Keshav: One last question. If you had to say anything to anybody who might be reading, watching or listening to your interview, what would it be?

Shani: Maybe one of the things that has always driven me in my life is meeting people, and I think if we want to meet the world, we need to understand that we’re all the same. If we can put ourselves in other people’s place, then we have a great chance to meet and to understand each other, and I think for me, that’s a really basic value, and I hope other people are doing that.

Keshav: Fantastic! It’s been a real pleasure talking to you.

Shani: Thanks so much. Thank you for listening.

 

 

 

 

Find out more about Shani’s work at www.naerogfjern.org

Please login to see more updates on our recent interviews

Leave A Comment