When I grew up in Denmark during the 90’s my home was next to an older building which was used as a care facility for young people with Down’s Syndrome and similar illnesses. We saw them daily on the bus going to and from their work, they were lovely people. Friendly but not very talkative as they had a hard time relating to the world and didn’t expect people to understand them. We tried but we were thankful for having them in our neighborhood, they were good people and never caused any problems. I especially remember one young couple who lived in different care facilities, she would come to the bus stop to pick him up regularly and to send him back home. All love should be as pure and unencumbered as what those two shared.
When it came time to build new facilities for them, the building was briefly used to host Somalians who had been granted asylum but needed homes of their own. When they first moved in they made the best show of being part of the community I’ve ever seen. They came here with nothing and yet they invited us all to the rundown building they called home for a party. They made us their native foods and tried to talk to us about what their lives were like. The whole community showed up and we learned a lot about our new neighbors, even if we didn’t immediately take to their foods.
Sure they had problems fitting in, e.g. it had to be explained to them that piling garbage against our shared hedge was not appropriate and that we had people who pick that up regularly instead. Few things smell like rotting milk in your garden during summer but it happened once and never again. Likewise that pouring used cooking oil into the sink was not a great way to dispose of it, but nothing a plumber couldn’t fix. No harm was intended by anyone and no offense was meant nor taken.
The families didn’t stay long, for one thing the house was no longer a nice place to live and they deserved better. I hope they found it and should one of them read this, thank you for the lovely food. I have since learnt to appreciate more ethnic cooking, which enriches my life. Like most danes the path to, not just my heart but a great many other things, goes past a plate of food.
When the city started talking about tearing down the building and making a facility to house criminally insane young people in our neighborhood… that was the only time our community ever balked. We liked our lovable special needs people and our foreigners, but we were not comfortable with what this might present in a neighborhood which was known to be peaceful and safe, with good schools and plenty of nature. Maybe we should have been open to the idea but it did not feel like the best place to put what would essentially be a jail with doctors. Plans changed and they built a new care facility for special needs people instead.
To my joy the last time I visited my parents home in Denmark I realized that not only were the two love birds still together but now they both lived in the new facility. She still takes him to the bus, sends him off to work with a kiss and greets him when he comes home with tales of how much she missed him and vice versa.
I feel fortunate for having been exposed to such diversity in my childhood, and yes, it was such a hellish thing growing up under a democratic socialist government which forced this to happen… it really was.