This used to be my snack box when I started at the Maternelle of the Ecole de Jeanne d’Arc, in Marseille, as a three-year-old, sometime in September 1986. I know this because the teachers gave each of us kids a special sign before we learned to write and read our names. The sign helped us to recognize our own things among the belongings of 40 or 50 other children. My sign was still visible on the cover of this box up until a few years ago when it finally faded out with time and constant washing.
Over 25 years ago my mother filled this box every morning with apple wedges, a voileipä and Petit Ecolier -cookies that I would eat at snack time with my fellow kindergarden pupils in the school’s yard under a platanus and the Mediterranean sun (Mom, I’ve never thanked you for the snacks, so thank you!). By then I wasn’t called Miikka but Mica (and my family name most certainly wasn’t Pörsti but Poersht or something like that) and I was the only child with blue eyes and parents that spoke to him in a strange language.
By now, Mica is gone and I often wonder what ever happened to him. He and his friends couldn’t come to live with me in Finland a few years later when we turned ten and our family moved back. Although the colour of Mica’s eyes were OK and typical here, he felt just a bit too weird and different to stay with his perhaps slight French accent and different mental scenery. Everything he he knew was from a different world and somehow many, many people didn’t want to hear from it at all. Many kids said it wasn’t true that he hadn’t grown up here and for some reason coming from abroad created aggressive reactions in some people – both adults and children.
In Finland he was simply too much of a stranger – as at that time, in order to be different here, it sufficed that somebody didn‘t know the rules of ice hockey or who Rölli was. Sorry for the exaggeration, but I’m sure you get my point. Today, I often wonder about those who came in or out after Mica and are stranger than him: actual, not hidden immigrants and others who are so easily hated for what they just are by birth or as the outcome of sad circumstances.
But I think Mica just went on hiding. I often have the feeling that he comes back to say hi when I sleep or I‘m tired. He’s always ten and he still counts in French and reads Tintins in the language Hergé wrote them in. He tells me what we used to do when we were kids and how Rémi B. and all the other people we knew are doing back in Marseille, back in time.
This morning, I put my lunch into my red box, as I often do, before going to work. Call me unecological, but as a former missionary kid I thank God for plastic as I don’t know who else to thank for this material that outlasts memories, tears, hellos and goodbyes. Call me sentimental, but for a person whose childhood’s scenes and cast has been wiped off and rewritten so many times as mine, a simple, durable plastic lunch box may become a priceless, personal artifact.
Roots, memories, personal feelings, identity and the public recognition of these elements are crucial in order to survive for all of us, perhaps especially for minority groups – be they hidden, unrecognized, public, strange, difficult to grasp or unpleasant in the eyes of others. None of us can choose where we are born and what we are as a person. Some of us can’t even choose where we grow up, live, how we are treated and what we become.
I wish you all a very happy week on this national Sami people’s day because the celebration of a minority should be a real party for us all. And I hope for the many silent, screaming, weird, singing, disappointed, fanatic or mumbling voices we’ve heard during the past couple of weeks in Finland prior to the presidential election to be taken in account by all of us in the future – not just the voices we recognize, understand, like or approve. There is a message and a desire for a better world behind every statement, no matter how we label the person making it – be he or she fanatic, gay, straight, conservative, demonic, immigrant, humane, patriotic, ignorant or liberal.
PS. Samis? Who are they? Find out here.
Voileipä? What’s that? Oh, that’s a sandwich in Finnish, although we usually don’t put another slice of bread on top of the other as a cover as, i.e., the French and the Beninese do.