… and I have not been writing or researching for such a long time. This autumn has been pretty intense. I have had to make some priority changes – mainly focusing on seeing friends and family when I have not been travelling with work. We’ve had a short window of social possibilities in Sweden, which has now sadly closed again as new restrictions due to the pandemic have been launched just in time for Christmas. It’s an understatement to say we feel a bit down about the whole thing.
At Christmas many of us want to spend time with our loved ones. In the year 1899, Dagny had been ill and because of that, she and Robert got permission to go back to Scandinavia to rest. They were stationed in Shensi/Shaanxi at the time, and it took six days just to get to the provincial capital Sian/Xian. Along the way, they met up with another four missionaries, who were also about to go to the coast. The missionaries were all dressed in Chinese attire to not draw too much attention. And according to the rules of the China Inland Mission, men had to wear a long braid.
Before going home, Robert had his braid and his moustache cut off, so that the hair would grow out evenly on his head – he didn’t want to stand out in Scandinavia either. Dagny thought he looked awful without hair and even wrote about it later, when recalling her memories from China. “It was horrific,” she writes. “He looked like a buddhist monk and I only recognized his hands.” After that, Robert bought a Chinese hat and sew his braid into it, so that he could easily look like he still had the long hair when the hat was on. I have written in an earlier post about how this braid once saved his life.
As they were travelling home, they met a lot of hostility. At the time, they didn’t know about the plans of the Chinese empress to get rid of all foreigners in the country. Dagny writes:
“On the road, we met many people with threatening gazes who looked like they wanted to stab us. We didn’t know that the word about the empress’ evil plans against foreigners had started to spread. The next year, 1900, she ordered her people to kill all foreigners. Our little son, who didn’t know about this either, put his small hands together and nodded at our enemies and said “Pingan!” (peace). When he did that, the malevolent expression could disappear and they smiled at the little one and let us continue on our way.”
Dagny, Robert and their son Morris, managed to get on a river boat and could rest a little bit more than during the tiring travel by land.
They finally reached the coast and could get on a ship to Europe. For Dagny, the passage to Europe was a well needed possibility to gain new strength.
One beautiful Sunday morning at 6 o’clock, the little family finally reached Norway and Kristiania (Oslo). Dagny had not seen her mother, father or siblings for eight years. It was three weeks before Christmas and her family had made big arrangements for her homecoming.
In the house, they had lit all the lamps and candles, put flowers in every room and set the breakfast table. Many tears of joy were shed. But they could not stay in Oslo for long. New Year’s was to be in Sweden.
The sleigh ride from the station to Robert’s family home was wonderful, Dagny writes: “The snow surface condition was excellent and the beautiful fir-tree forest was covered in white, and glitsened in the rays of the morning sun. Robert’s father greeted us in the yard, with his head full of silver white hair. Tears of joy fell from our eyes and father hugged Robert and lifted me up in the air. Robert’s mother had gone home to God, but his sister Ida had made everything very nice for us. The table was set with a welcome cake. We fully enjoyed seeing all the snow outside, while sitting at the fireplace, the fire smelling of wonderful birch wood”.
Dagny and Robert stayed in Scandinavia for two years, before travelling back to China. Dagny had by then given birth to two more children – a son and a daughter. And the journey back into China in 1902 would be a much more perilous one.