Lessons from a day without Buses

No buses in Malmö were driving. What was left to do?                                                                              

Image by: Georgina Laskari

Lessons from a day without buses

By: Sana Rehan Butt

December 21st 2021

“Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter”. – Izaak Walton


I walked for over an hour, roughly 6 kms, on the day the buses stopped. The Malmö International Forum on Holocaust Remembrance and Combating Antisemitism – Remember-ReAct – was held on 13 October 2021, in Malmo. But this wasn’t the day I walked 6 km; it was the day before this historic day – the day I met a slightly older, yet graceful Swedish lady named Olivia*.


Skanetrafiken, although informing the residents of Malmo for delayed running of buses due to the Conference, shut down the buses altogether without any warning in the middle of the day, perhaps due to security reasons. What resulted that day was chaos, to put it mildly, as everyone was rushing to find a taxi or some form of transport to go back home after a long day. An unexpected meeting with Olivia was the highlight of this day for me.


I am an international student and I was told by several people how Swedes like to keep to themselves, as they prefer not socializing with others whom they do not know. Fair enough – I would not want to socialize with anyone either if I did not know them well enough. However, so far, I have met friendly Swedes from my time here, from a man who helped me with the directions to the store to the girl who showed me how to buy a bus ticket on the Skanetrafiken app. Olivia, somehow, was different. Firstly, she could only speak Swedish and I only knew English, with just a few words of Swedish, the longest phrase being, “Tack sa mycket” which I breathlessly and gratefully utter to bus drivers when I manage to run and successfully hop on the bus that is about to leave the bus stop.


Olivia and I met at the Malmo Central Station that day, the day the buses stopped running. We both wanted to go towards Limhamn, her because her home was there, and me, because I had to pick up my children from their school which is located there. Sitting for almost an hour at one of the benches at the bus stop, miraculously hoping the buses would start running, we started talking. By “talking”, I mean me in English and her in Swedish. After some time, I could tell she would understand what I was saying, but would only reply in Swedish. It was almost like a one-sided conversation, but one that I quite enjoyed and liked. When we knew for sure the buses wouldn’t run for a long time, Olivia and I decided to walk towards Limhamn.


Now, for someone who is not too used to walking, walking 6 kms and that too in one go, is huge but Olivia made the walking easier and more comfortable. Before walking, she muttered something in Swedish to herself which I didn’t understand at all but when she put a few tissue papers in her shoes, I knew what she was saying to herself: her shoes were brand new and this was the first day she wore them and what a day to choose to wear new shoes! They were cutting her from the front and the back and she was hoping the few tissue papers she put in the shoes would help her with walking. They didn’t. So, we stopped several times during our walk, her because of the shoes and me, well, to regain my breath, every now and then.


What I learnt that day was momentous:


  • You do not need words to understand someone; Olivia communicated in Swedish and I comprehended through her gestures and body language to understand her.


  • To be happy in all situations, even if things do not go the way you plan them. Olivia had a wonderful sense of humor. Although much older than me, she was way younger at heart. Every ten minutes or so, she would stop walking and stand at the edge of the road, hopping from one leg to another with her arms flying up and down, trying to stop the ongoing cars, hoping someone would be generous enough to give us a ride. It’s another story that no one did but we had a quick laugh afterwards.


  • The beauty of Malmo – how a chance encounter with a Swede made me value the diversity and plurality this city offers, that without even knowing a person, we walked for an hour in complete harmony and peace.


It hasn’t been too long since I moved to Malmo but there are so many things that I love about it already and the day the buses stopped will be at the forefront of my cherished memories, all thanks to Olivia!



*Olivia is a fictitious name that I have used for the article as I have not met her again, hence do not have her permission to use her real name.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *