Sunday, November 24, 2013

The Feeling of Going...The Feeling of Being Known

I went to a contemporary dance performance tonight called The Feeling of Going (watch the trailerput on by a local dance school and the Malmö Opera.  It was all set to the Icelandic singer Jónsi's (the lead singer from Sigur Rós) album Go.  It was a story of a man growing, learning who he is.  The dancers were incredible, violently leaping, throwing themselves and spinning.  The music haunting, contemplative and inspirational.   And the sets perfectly constructed, largely, with simple birch trees perfectly spaced to add to the performance.

From my brief encounter with Iceland, and my current life in a Nordic country, I was able to see so many elements and influences of these far Northern countries cultures.  The Feeling of Going is a story of a man who is dreaming.  It begins in the first part when you fall asleep but your mind is still running.  The story progresses to the weird chapters of your dreams and in this dream, the man is in a forest, a place of change.  He encounters a blonde siren (blonde, of course), trolls (common in Norse mythology and Scandinavian folklor) and fauns (half-man, half-goat).  The majority of the dance takes place in the forest, a place of high value.
It was all really beautiful and has me thinking about facing yourself and also looking at yourself from different angles as the man in his dream was doing.  I think it is important to be introspective at times and see where we are going, from all angles.  This is when we can see we are alive and have the power to change and grow.

I have also had a weekend of feeling known.  A friend stopped by Saturday evening and I invited her in and ending up making dinner.  I was cooking over the stove and she started to clean up the dishes I'd already made all while we chatted away.  At one point she said, "I changed the lining of your garbage can and started a new compost bag."  Such a simple statement that doesn't seem too impactful, but when she said that I had this feeling of being known.  She's been to my place enough times and knew where I kept the garbage bags and she felt comfortable enough to jump in and help clean.  It was all so simple and natural.

This friend also asked to see my Africa pictures!  No one, besides my mom, has wanted to see all my Africa pictures.  My friend spent 4 hours flipping through my old life, watching my little 30 second camera videos of kids dancing and being silly.  She asked good questions about the effects of that experience for me now.  She started to recognize the people in my pictures and call them by name in other pictures.  She felt free to say she thought one of my favorite children (Mildred) looked like a boy.

When you move to a new place and have to make new friends you realize how long it takes to really know someone (a lifetime).  But you start the process and somewhere along the way, you begin to feel known, understood, cared for.  And those are the moments you suck in your breath and feel so thankful for the human spirit's ability to connect to another human being.  As I go about my day, I hope to continue my feeling of going (learning where to change) and also hold to my feeling of being known.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Redhawks

Notice the Hawk eyes? And the cancer sign is because it's Prostate Cancer Awareness Month (a big deal in Sweden)
I am a cultural sports fan.  Wherever I live, I adopt that area's sports teams and support them with visiting a game here and there and having enough of a general knowledge of them to contribute to conversation. I don't watch them on TV, I don't set my schedule around their playing times and I definitely don't cry when they lose.  But I will join in the spirit of cheering for them at live events.

Along with me charming the weather, I also believe I might be the charm to teams winning.  Just a few examples: I lived in Boston and the Red Sox won the World Series for the first time in 80-some years, I was at the USA vs. Algeria World Cup match and the USA won, I lived in San Francisco and the Giants won the World Serious.  I'm just saying, there may be something special about me.

Last weekend I got a group of friends together to go watch a Malmö Redhawks game.  One thing I knew going into Sweden was that they liked their winter sports and hockey was a staple.  The Redhawks are an ok team and some of their players even get called to the NHL where they skate for the Bruins and other good teams in North America.

There is just something about walking into a stadium and hearing the buzz of people excitedly making bets on which team will win, the smell of concession stand hotdogs rotating in their cases,  seeing the team mascot try to pump peoples enthusiasm up by dancing and making weird jumpy moves.  I feel comfortable in these surroundings.  I'm good with team spirit.  My Scottish friend says this is what he admires about America, that we take such pride in our sports and have such spirit.

My friends from Saudi Arabia, Indonesia and Uganda were excited for their first hockey game!
My group of friends and I were a bit early
After each goal, the fans would pull this tarp with a Redhawk over their heads and shake it
We slaughtered the other team
It was a game full of excitement to say the least.  The Malmö Redhawks made 2 goals in the first 5 minutes causing the fans to go crazy jumping and hooting.  I commented to a friend that I was surprised a fight hadn't broke out on the ice yet and he said, "Swedes don't fight.  You won't see any fighting at a Swedish hockey game."  And there wasn't.  They skated well, worked as a team, and played good hockey.  At one point a player tripped and flew through the air at the moment another player fell.  The one player got a skate to the head and the game was postponed as an ambulance was called in.  It was pretty scary and not pleasant to watch.  But the player is fine, nothing serious, it just looked pretty awful.  The game resumed and my group of friends and I became Redhawks fans.

It's nice that tickets are relatively cheap.  And it's an entertaining activity that gets you out with friends.  It was my first Redhawks game but I don't think it'll be my last.  We won! 6 -3. So maybe my commitment to the team will mean they'll win their season.  We shall see.

Thursday, November 21, 2013


Spex is traditional student theater in Sweden.  They started in the 1800's as parodies of the classic dramas in Greek and Latin that university students studied.  I had the opportunity to see a Spex last weekend.  One of my classmates was involved and since I had been told I needed to see 1 Spex in my life as a student in Sweden, I knew this was the perfect time to see it.

This particular Spex was about Cupid's lack of ability to shoot his arrow at the right people.  It was all in Swedish but because my friends and I were attending, they'd written brief explanations of each scene in English for us.  Even without knowing exactly what was being said it was funny and ridiculous.  There was lots of singing and dancing and it was fun to see my friend in that context.  While learning about case-cohort studies I never knew Natasha could sing so well.

She was a Bond Girl for Achilles who was a secret agent 
Overall, lots of ridiculousness 
We sat in the front row so we could catch all the action, not knowing it was semi-interactive theater.  The actors look to the front row to gage how funny they are and often leaned down to point a finger at us or get in our faces to make everyone else laugh.  When the intermission came my friend explained this to us and we realized we were the worst people to sit in the front row since we were not laughing that hard at the jokes (since they were in Swedish and we didn't catch them). 

In Spex the audience also controls how long and in what capacity the play moves along.  After a song and dance number, if the audience really liked it they would keep clapping until the actors were forced to do it again, but with different words and actions building upon the last performance.  This could go on for several renditions. Audience members could also call out commands making the actors have to change their voice level, standing or sitting position, or even do the scene in a different language.  It was very interesting and I realized the actors had to have VERY high energy to keep going and switch with the whims of the crowd.  It is not something I would be good at.  But, again, it was really fun to see my friend in that setting.  She did a great job.

Spex, check.  One more wonderful experience to check off my list of things to do and learn about while living in Sweden.  On to the next . . . 

Thursday, November 14, 2013


I'm learning time at SFI
I have shared this story with a few people but it seems like a good story for the blog too.  You see, my attempts to learn Swedish are laughable at best.  I have the hardest time hearing the break in words and getting my mouth to make the correct sounds.  Lately, we have to go around and say a few sentences about ourselves like our names, ages, where we are from, what we do for work, etc.  The basics.  Well, the first time we learned how to talk about our professions there was slight miscommunication.

Everyone in my class cleans for a living.  It's much like any country in that immigrants do the manual labor jobs.  When my teacher asked me what I did I said I was going to school for public health.  There isn't really a translation for public health that everyone would understand.  My teacher asked me to explain it more.  So I said I did research.  She looked like she understood a little more.  Then she leaned over the table and pretended to look into a microscope.  I said it was kind of like that but more like I write reports for health or medicine.  Then she started to pretend to sort pills and pop them in her mouth.  Laughing, I said, "nei, nei, I study things like diabetes."  I was searching for anything that would make sense.  Well, this led to her getting very excited because she now understood: I'm a doctor.  Everyone leaned in and was very impressed.  How did I get to move to Sweden and get such a good job as a doctor without speaking Swedish?  I tried correcting her again but there was a clear lack of understanding between us.  I finally just went with it.  Now, 7 people in Sweden think I'm a doctor.  I hope no one has a medical emergency during SFI.

On the side of truthfulness, I'm in the Social Medicine and Global Health department so I guess it's not so far to say I'm a doctor.  Right?

Monday, November 11, 2013

The other part

My mom thinks my life is nothing but exploration, fika and other social activities.  She has gleamed this life from my blog.  So, I thought I'd set the record straight.  Sometimes, like this past weekend, I can be found in my apartment gazing outside with longing as I spend the ENTIRE day struggled to read, comprehend and apply the course literature.  I'm currently taking an Epidemiology course that is proving to be quite similar to my SFI class.  It's a new language for me.  I feel like everyone else is somehow "getting" it and I'm still struggling to find any commonalities I can cling to and use as a base for understanding.  Why did an English Lit major ever think switching to a science/math field would be a logical thing to do?

Since I am spending so much of my time sitting and staring at computer screens, I also am becoming concerned with my posture and overall health.  All those ergonomics talks back in San Francisco are haunting me.  So I've set up a standing station for myself.  When I just have reading to do, I stand in my kitchen and read.  When I have questions and essays to do, I use my desk but set time limits for myself and get up at regular intervals, do some stretches, walk around my apartment, then try to sit and remain straight backed as I continue my work.

This class has started out a little less frenzied than my last class but it is still demanding in the quantity of work.  I foresee many days and weekends locked in this apartment studying.  But don't worry Mom, I'll get those adventures, fika and social events in too.

My standing station.
It was a rainy weekend.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Julkäppar and changing seasons

We don't have Halloween or Thanksgiving here.  What I am used to having as natural markers to designate the changing seasons and holidays does not happen "naturally" in Sweden.  Just before Halloween I looked up and Christmas lights were strung across the street.  Now it seems every window display is done in red and white and the stores are full of Julkäppar (peppermint sticks/candy canes), wreaths, candles and Santa hats. The city picked their St. Lucia for St. Lucia Day (December 13) a few weeks ago.  But none of it seems right to me.  We still have brilliant blue sky's, the temperatures remain in the 50's and we still have 9 - 9.5 hours of daylight.  I didn't see children dressed up in character roaming the streets for Halloween, no one is making plans for who will bring the pumpkin pie on November 28th and no stores are advertising "Black Friday" sales or hours.  We've just gone straight to Christmas.  Since October.

This isn't my first experience with Christmas in another country and just like those other times, I have to get my head wrapped around the differences.  I love Christmas and am so excited to experience St. Lucia Day, the Christmas Markets and go to Glögg (a mulled wine) parties and eat pepparkakor (ginger snaps).  It just seems too early.

Maybe I need to just embrace Christmas and not have any perimeters on when the season has to start.  I can chalk it up to another culture, other rules.  So far I'm liking it not snowing and it not being too cold. The store displays are beautiful, flickering candles in apartment windows are warm and inviting, and the smell of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves is always welcome.  I guess I'll give it a try.  God Jul! (Merry Christmas)

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

County Fairs and perceptions

My friend from Korea sent me this video today and asked, "This isn't real, is it?  It must be a Hollywood thing."  How she found it buried in the New York Times, I'm not sure.

The accents!  How do I explain this strange place I come from?  Though, this does have me dreaming of cheese curds.

I was slightly overjoyed to hear my family and friends in Minnesota woke to a blanket of snow this morning.  I live in Sweden and we don't have any snow in sight.  Just saying the reality of Sweden is not living up to its reputation and I am happy about this:)  Enjoy the snow friends!

Monday, November 4, 2013


Swedish For Immigrants (SFI pronounced SFeeeee) is a free service provided to most immigrants.  We are entitled, by law, to Swedish language classes.  They even try to incentivize it and if you pass all the levels you get a cash prize.  In order to get a job in Sweden you must speak Swedish.  Now, I don't have any aspirations to work in Sweden but I'm always hearing how knowing more languages will enhance your resume. Since Luganda has really brought the big ones, like the UN, knocking at my door I thought another language only spoken by 9 million people in the world could be advantageous (please catch the extreme sarcasm in this sentence). More than anything, I thought SFI could be an interesting place to meet more people and learn the basic beginnings of Swedish which can help in my everyday greetings.

The invitation letter is in Swedish! Don't they know I don't know Swedish?  This is why I am taking the class!
So I signed up and got my assigned place and went 2 weeks ago.  My class is in an immigrant neighborhood known for its crime and racial/religious tension.  Perhaps oddly, I am finding some kind of relief walking those streets to class.  It's more "real life" to me than my safe neighborhood.  Twisted?  Maybe.  And keep in mind this is Sweden so I am still very safe.

There are 6 others in my class: 1 Bulgarian, 1 Serbian, and 4 Syrians.  No one speaks English.  My teacher is from Spain and has been living in Sweden for 20 years.  She also does not speak English.  It is very interesting learning Swedish without any translation.  It would be impossible with the mix of people in my class but I still wish my teacher would help me out once in a while.  We have colored worksheets, the teacher has conversations with us that I can't follow, and sometimes we go on the computer doing listening and matching exercises.

Language has never been my thing.  I'm terrible at hearing sounds and memorizing vocabulary and grammar is always a challenge.  My motivations for learning Swedish are pretty low so the reality of me sticking with this program is not too high.  I'm o.k. with that.  While my next masters class hasn't gotten too intense yet and I am enjoying walking through Rosengård, I will go to SFI and see what I can learn.  So far it's brought some great laughter and new friendships.

On the first day I had to fill out an information card and I had to write down an emergency contact.  That's such a strange thing when you are new somewhere.  Who do you put down?  I ended up putting my friend Youngim from my masters course and I texted her this update to which she said, "Sure, no problem.  If you die I will wait for the call from SFI." She makes me laugh so much sometimes.  A few days after that I had a headache at school.  I went home and got a text from her asking how I was feeling.  I told her I was resting and going to be fine. I thanked her for her concern.  She replied, "After all im ur emergency contact :-)" While I didn't meet Youngim at SFI, in a way SFI is bringing us closer together. (I should also mention that Youngim met her husband at English language school so she's also my inspiration for meeting someone at SFI. There's hope!)

My Swedish is getting so good that when they sent me this message before the 2nd class
I already knew it was telling me classes were canceled because of a storm.
But seriously, why do they write in Swedish?! I'm in the course for a reason.
At SFI we are encouraged to go home and watch Swedish TV, listen to Swedish music and practice speaking with Swedes.  When my teacher found out I was American she told me I should watch the show Allt for Sverige, a reality TV show about 10 Americans who came to Sweden to discover their roots.  Now, I thought reality TV in the States was ridiculous, combining Swedish TV with Americans is just too much for me.  I mean come on, there is a woman who thinks she's Swedish royalty and has been slaving away in Texas. Where do they find these people!  One woman even gets down and kisses the ground in the airport!  Also, take note they brought them to Sweden in the summer.  When it is warm, sunny and the most beautiful.  The only redeeming quality for me is that it's in Swedish and English. But I don't think I will really be learning much Swedish from watching this show.


Well, it's Monday and I'm off to SFI. Adjö!

Saturday, November 2, 2013


The clouds hung over but they didn't let any rain out.  Beautiful, nonetheless.
This past week has been a long intense week of studying.  I had an end-of-course written exam on Thursday.  It was a very long test (4 hours!) and I am happy to have it over.  A few friends and I decided to skip town when it was over to celebrate finishing and see another part of Sweden.  We took the train from the West Coast and went to visit Kristianstad on the East Coast of Southern Sweden (1 hour away).

People looked at us like we were crazy when we said we were going to Kristianstad. "Why?" Was the common question.  It isn't exactly known for being anything special.  And in reality, everything we did there we could have done here.  But it was so nice to do it somewhere else.  The train ride had a pleasant rhythmic comfort that fostered good conversation, we had fika (gotta have it at least once a day), walked the pedestrian street (every town has one), visited the local museum (textiles and video games?), had a big parsley salad for lunch (Sweden hasn't discovered kale yet) and biked out into the countryside to a big lake.
Heliga Trefladighetskyrkan, a church commissioned by the Danish King Christian IV is one of his 
most famous and beautiful building accomplishments. (Southern Sweden used to be part of Denmark)
We saw tons of children out dressed as ghosts (or Saints?) for All Saints Day.
An old railroad bridge across the canal
Fika break with a bike map of the area
Local museum had a sensor rigged pig, named Matilda, that made noises when you "touched it lovingly."
The museum also had an exhibit on video games throughout the years.
Seattle, SF, I would get, but Kristianstad? Weird.
Biking through the countryside to Hammarsjön Lake
Hammarsjön Lake, very reminiscent of a MN scene
Resting along the lake to take it all in
Again, it was a really great day of being with friends, meandering through a new town and enjoying life in Sweden.  I couldn't have asked for a better end of my week.