Angelica Jularbo is a 48-year old Swedish nurse. She is a single mother of four children and currently works in palliative care in Stockholm. She has experience working with refugees, mostly Syrian, in Sweden. She feels that she lives in a safe place where people talk of the weather, which one cannot change, but that helping people can make a difference. She was refused leave from work to go to the island of Rhodes to volunteer with Syrian refugees arriving by boat, so she quit her job and went there for three weeks.
She worked primarily with children, where families were ‘held’ (she insists on this term) in a meatpacking factory, and prevented from leaving. She says she had to perform surgery with other nurses (usually done by doctors), and describes how she arrived in Greece with her own medical supplies. She had to struggle with officials to have those in danger admitted to hospital, in particular a dehydrated 4-month old baby. They were eventually taken to the hospital under police escort.
She made friends with refugees, many of whom she still knows well and helps in Sweden. She is very empathetic and describes how she saw some of them arrive in paper life vests that were given to them by smugglers, and how those she helped, once released, had to walk for months from Greece to Sweden, catching an occasional bus. She says this to counter the idea of economic freeloaders as she says it is important for Europeans to know what Syrian refugees went through, and that no one would do this unless in great danger.
In Sweden she has a Syrian brother-in-law and already had Syrian friends. She says that what changed her in this experience in Greece was learning to speak up and to fight vehemently for others. Also during this experience, she was stuck by the Syrian refugees’ love of their homeland, the land itself, which has no equivalent term in Swedish. She describes how she feels that she lived in Syria (even though she did not), participating in “the intensity of the refugees’ longing” and “smelling with them” what they describe as emanating from the land, the trees and the souks. She now listens to Arabic music and integrates Arabic words into her daily life (she says “laysh?” to her children). She also loves to eat and cook with her Syrian friends. She observed that Syrian parents reproach their adult children if they are not in daily contact or if they do not live nearby and she does not like this approach.
She says her awareness and ease for coexistence with people of other religions and cultures started when she was growing up and met Jewish children in school. Significantly, she had family role models and comes from a line of altruistic, unconventional, strong women. Her mother was also a philanthropist who taught her altruism (“be good, do good; expect nothing in return”). Angelica describes how she grew up expecting to find interesting strangers visiting when she came home from school. Her mother was a school teacher and volunteered with AIDS patients. The family likens Angelica to her adventurous maternal grandmother, who divorced her ‘lazy’ husband in the 1930s when divorce was rare. When she came to Stockholm from another part of Sweden, she told Angelika (in a similar combination of vulnerable emotion and grit, and a strong sense of home (all Angelika learned during her Syrian refugee experience in Greece): “I walked off my homesickness” to save transport money and start a business “and learned every street in Stockholm.” She decided to travel by boat to Russia once her business gained success.
Angelica also reads widely and seeks out new experiences. She has youthful friends, and fewer friends of her own age because, she says, they often bore her.