Explorer Mikael Strandberg

Moss Side: 9 life changing months as a home dad

There´s no doubt that our time in Moss Side has been one of the most important one´s in my life. At first, all I felt was uncomfortable dread. Now, 9 months later I have realized how important this time has been and today, I am one of the biggest fans of this marvelous part of our world. It has been quite a journey. There´s no doubt coming straight from Sweden to Moss Side was a shock. I wrote this Christmas letter to friends, when the cold, the visible poverty, the rubbish, eternal rain and the darkness were getting to us in a bad way:

   “Right now I am sitting in the kitchen dressed in thermals, a hat, shoes and my down vest. My wife is doing her final job on the Christmas presents together with the girls upstairs. We are all heading for Scotland over Christmas, a journey we look forward to, thanks to an old desert friend, the very kind and generous Mick and his family who will offer us Scottish highlands and a warm house!
   Our time in Moss Side have been extra ordinary interesting! This is considered one of the most densely populated areas in Europe and where we live, we almost use as much Arabic as English at times. Moss Side also used to be one of the roughest areas of the UK with gang violence, drugs and weapons, but this was kind of terminated 2006. And today they suffer from this reputation very unfairly. But the area is still a landscape of concrete and asphalt, poverty is easy to see as is high unemployment. The house we live in is over a 100 years old, a place where the tired families of cotton workers used to live. Not much has changed since those days. There´s no insulation in the house, it is dark, damp and the cold is penetrating every single part of our life. It has been a very challenging time, but gee, how important for the family to get perspective! And people are really welcoming and great!
   Having said all that, the most important of all is that the girls are enjoying life.  Eva likes her school, it is a catholic one, far stricter than in Sweden, surrounded by fences and locked doors and a major part of her school mates are African or Afro-Caribbean (which of course is great, since that means not one boring second for parents either!) and her English is Mancunian, not always easy to understand….innit! 
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   I have been looking after Dana, who has developed into a very energetic, funny, quite demanding and a very tough little girl. If Eva is a drama queen, Dana is tough as steel and never really complains, cries or moans. Both of them so easy to love! Eva is of course an excellent travel partner and she has joined me for work in London with no problems at all.
   I have to admit it hasn´t been all that easy being home after an extra ordinary year of work in Yakutia and working on the Yemen film, which is pretty much ready to be broadcast internationally, I just need a piece of paper from Yemen….I have to admit it has been demanding, but such is life! The days begin at 6, ends at midnight, since I need to do a few hours of work each day and those are after 8. Having children in the UK, is like the US, not as easy as in Scandinavia. The UK and US are really quite similar, far much tougher than Scandinavia where a lot of emphasis is put on children. 
   Why did we decide to live in Moss Side you might ask? Well, we took this decision for quite a few reasons. First of all, we want the children, and ourselves, to get perspective on our privileged life in Sweden. Secondly for economic reasons. We need to save up for the kids!
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Things changed for the much better after the Edinburgh visit. Mainly because I was getting a lot of new friends from all walks of life. And we were finally well acclimatized. I started to go to the local pub, The Claremont at least once a week and we were getting to know the parents of Eva´s friends at school. I decided to go to all the restaurants and coffee shops which can be found on Claremont Road, but ended up most of the time at one just next to where we live, a Somaliland restaurant named Abu Belquisa. the Father of Belquis. And since my daughter Eva´s second name is Belquis, this was very appropriate! And it is the people of Moss Side which makes it one of the most interesting, livable places on earth!

For me, Moss Side is one of the best integrated societies on earth. Sure, it is far from as good as it can get, it is a poor area with high unemployment and few possibilities, but I have never been to  place where so many different people, religions and cultures can live side by side in relative harmony. Just walking down Claremont you visit many different cultures in a mile. There´s Pakistani, Indian, Bangladeshi, Somali, Somaliland, Afro-Caribbean, African and even a fish and chip shop or two and you come across women dressed in full Islamic dress, but here when they´re on the mobile phone, they speak Mancunian! And, all the hardships apart, the kindness and resilience among the local people is just amazing and a lesson for life.

However, what I like the best…sure there´s definitely racism around of different varieties……is the fact that nobody really judges you. Yes, it´s definitely worse being a visiting scouser than a Swede, since one cannot be placed into the British class system by the whites, but otherwise there´s a place for everyone. Because life is very demanding for most people who live here. We have three Food Banks in Moss Side. They have arrived because people can´t feed themselves. It is that bad. But this is England of today. Enormous gaps between rich and poor in a very distasteful way. I just don´t understand with the 6th richest country on earth can´share its wealth? I just don´t get it!

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Thanks Moss Side for putting me on the right track again! I just got caught up with pretending to enjoy the richer life. Me, a bricklayers son, shouldn´t forget his background.

I just don´t have more time to write about my love to Moss Side. Gotta feed and take care of Dana!

Read about the documentary thoughts I have had during my time in Moss Side here!

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4 comments

  1. I am nearly 83 years old and I lived in Claremont Road during the 2nd World War and I have a great deal of affection for Moss Side. I can’t tell you how happy I am that its fortunes have been turned around in the last years.
    I lived in Switzerland for 33 years so have also experienced a more privileged way of life. I am so glad you have enjoyed your time in Moss Side for varied reasons and I thank you for your great piece. God bless you.

  2. Now if I’m not mistaken the last pic is in Sasa’s? Having lived in Moss Side for almost 8 years I tried that particular takeaway for the first time this week as it was the only place open that would sate my craving for Curry Goat after voting at the Phil Martin Centre. It was delicious of course, I will return!
    That’s an aside, thanks for posting this article and I can’t agree more “…And it is the people of Moss Side which makes it one of the most interesting, livable places on earth!”
    If you know any of our story what started as a pet project in a cupboard is now on its way to being a thriving business. My hope is that within a couple of years we too can help locals into employment and we’ve got a great new side project launching this summer working with local young people. Hope our paths cross soon.

  3. I feel the same way, fellow Moss Sider. Coming to Moss Side marks a significant point in my life too. I hadn’t realised I needed a village until I came to this wonderful transforming historical healing village of open, generous, kind, interesting, welcoming personalities of diverse backgrounds, ages, languages, religions, philosophies. It sounds as if your heart, like mine, now belongs to this village…

  4. I feel the same love for Moss Side but don’t share the sense of pessimism. I question the notion that there are no possibilities here, and that the area is a landscape of concrete and asphalt. Once you start truly living here and get to know our fellow villagers and your eyes demistify so you truly see this place, you note that architectural and living beauty embellish our village and also that there are unlimited possibilities here, it’s just that we all need to work together to realise them for every villager…

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