Saturday 15th September
I think the Costa Ricans have gone – and I’ve been a little worried that those envigorating touches of the surreal they provided might have departed my life for ever. I needn’t have worried, because we have choir practices. One’s experience of surreality probably diminishes in proportion to an increasing grasp of language and culture and I’d managed to understand someone telling me why at the beginning of today’s rehearsal we’d be singing ‘for he’s a jolly good fellow’ (in English); the choir master had had a birthday – so it was an explicable but still pleasingly odd occurrence. This was followed not just by the regular stretching and twisting and the nee-naw, noo-naw, bee-bo, bah-bo warm-up scales (should our Choir, do these, Elsa?) but also by a mutual shoulder massage (our Choir?) and then a rendition of ‘My bonny lies over the ocean’, when we had to sit down/stand up at appearances of the word ‘bonny’ and do something I never quite got the hang of in the chorus (I think this is too dangerous for our Choir).
It’s the weekend of the Ordination of Deacons and I along with other members of the Oratio Choir will be singing both this evening (Saturday) and tomorrow for special services. This will be my debut in Swedish colours as a choir member, though a Deddington Deanery Choir sang Anglican Evensong in Växjö Cathedral last year, of course. Churches in Sweden often have several choirs which share the services round and there are at least four at the Cathedral; as far as the Oratorio Choir goes, it’s a matter of the choir director asking whether anyone fancies turning up to sing on the appointed Sunday morning for an activity peripheral, it seems, to the main business of doing big choral works. We’ve got enough for Sunday – not quite sure about tonight!
Choir practices are only fortnightly but the School here can be relied on for sufficient shots of the surreal to tide one over. Coming up on Tuesday is the Kronoberg (that’s our village) Olympics, compulsory, in the nicest possible way, for all. Regular classes have been cancelled and the ‘slightly’ mad idrott lady has been licking her lips. I’m thinking of retiring to my bed with an illness but expect I shall end up doing the stiff-upper-lip-playing-the-game English thing.
Doing daft things for the cause is, of course, a regular avocation for the English clergy (nice not to have a dousing at Barford this year), but evidently not a wholly English preserve. At the Cathedral Open Day last Saturday, the Dean was throwing himself about in goal as manically as any Church of England Curate at a fete. This was consoling for one engaged upon the insanity of doing the Oxfordshire Historic Churches Trust Ride and Stride in a strange and largely indifferent land. I’d bagged most of the churches and chapels in the city and was stopping off at the Cathedral mainly in order to hear its three organs being played together (mildly surreal) before heading off into the country. And into the wind. This was streaming powerfully and occasioned similar behaviour in my nose. But villainous winds and noses aside, all went smoothly on the Ride. My theoretical timings were matched by the reality, the bike behaved itself impeccably, the hills were gentle, it didn’t rain and a total of 27 churches over about 70 miles was achieved. The disappointment was that very few of the churches were open. They didn’t know I was coming, but even so… Thanks and congratulations to all of you who took part in the event. I hope we raised a lot of money and that there was no food left over at Hempton!
There has been some progress on the Swedish. I’ve been translating a Swedish report on a visit to Oxford Diocese last May and finding it most of it readily intelligible. Understanding sermons is getting easier but ordinary conversation is still difficult. All in all, though, I feel reasonably happy with what’s happened language-wise this first month.
And Imran the Somali must be happy to have acquired a friend. To me, the two of them together look as if they are engaged in that staple of exile, plotting the overthrow of one’s homeland’s regime. Indeed, I felt myself ever so slightly threatened when Imran’s friend (I think it’s his glasses that give him the air of a conspiratorial intellectual) asked me why I wasn’t having any of the rice on offer that lunchtime. In my imagination, anyway, my omission was for him a firing-squad offence. I don’t suppose he’ll get the opportunity, though.
My more immediate concern is whether I can do my washing. That was all right in the first block I was in, but we were all evicted from there in favour of unhoused University students (and a bit of cash, I imagine) and I have moved in with a bunch of musicians. They are tunefully exuberant but not entirely house-trained and I don’t quite know what it’s tactful, in this culture, to do with the finished washing that’s currently sitting in the machine.
Friday 6th September
I left you last time with the Swedish Church Grundkurs and the Costa Ricans threatening and they duly broke over my head with a rush of mighty waters. In the SKG was reasonably at home with the lecture on the Bible and managed to make a contribution to the discussion of the large question‘what is it to be human?’ but the body language exercises had me rather flummoxed. We had, at barked commands from the instructor, to walk around expressing different moods trhough posture and gesture, which is difficult when you don’t know the Swedish words for moods. Mirror dancing (reflecting, as it were, your partner’s movements) was a bit easier. This might be adaptable for the sharing of the Peace in our churches. And the Costa Ricans were there too, being translated from Spanish into Swedish, demanding we get into groups (groan!) and deal with knotty issues relating to the Good Samaritan and then, just when we getting somewhere with that, breaking distractingly into a worship song with those cheeky Latin American rhythms. At the end of two days of this I was completely wiped out – new situations, new people and all the time the fumbling attempt to grasp what’s being said – but also delighted to have started on the course. Four more two-day sessions coming up!
The Costa Ricans wouldn’t let me alone, though. I thought it was safe to attend an information session on their church (the Lutheran Church of Costa Rica) but found myself forced to become part of a ‘living statue’ representing slavery to money – this following a consideration of the Letter to Philemon. Serious liberation theology- the Swedes are hoping the Costa Ricans will give them a spiritual kick up the backside - but with a smile. Then the next day I was co-opted to watch football with Bishop Melvyn and his mates. Actually, I’ve become quite a mate of his too – couldn’t help it really, what with his fluttering kronor notes around my head in the slavery tableau and us putting away hot dogs and coke together (no, the bubbly kind) at Växjo v. Värnamo (1-1, if you’re interested: disappointing late equaliser from the clearly inferior away team). Anyone for a pilgrimage to Costa Rica?
The high point of the Costa Rican visit was the Mässa in the Cathedral last Sunday, co-celebrated by Bishops Melvyn and Jan-Olof. The text (there were, of course, both Spanish and Swedish versions) had been adapted and the music composed by Swedes and Costa Ricans working together. The whole was entitled GemenskapetsVäg, the Way of Fellowship/Community and it was brilliant, brilliant in conception and execution – a lot of the performers were from the School here and were wonderful. I’m not sure we Anglicans would get away with the radical adaptations of the text of the Mass (eco-theology was writ large across it) but it had me wondering whether this sort of co-operation is something we in Oxford could attempt with Kimberley and Kuruman and ready to forgive the Costa Ricans a lot.
What else? I’ve joined the Oratorio Choir at the Cathedral; we are to do Rutter’s Requiem and a Mass newly-composed by a local musician at All Souls and then part of the Christmas Oratorio in December. I also get to sing in some services t the Cathedral.
Back at the School here, we are, all 200 of us (this is collectivist Sweden, after all), reading a book about a Jewish boy sent to Sweden to escape the Nazis by his parents who were to die in the concentration camps. Somehow this links up with the life of Ingvar Kamprad, the founder of IKEA. It’s not easy going for me, but gripping enough to make the struggle with the language worthwhile. At the introductory session, the point was emphatically made by the Chaplain that this kind of exile is happening for people today, for people coming to Sweden and, indeed, for some of the people attending the School. It was also pointed out that most parliaments in Europe, including Sweden’s, include members representing anti-immigrant parties. This place, though, is very much on the side of its immigrant students with whom it deals so considerately and respectfully. (Imran, the Somali I mentioned last time seems rather more confident now and looked resplendent in his Friday best today.)
The very pleasant but possibly slightly mad lady who instructs us in ‘idrott’ (sport – compulsory; it was canoeing this week) insists that I and an Afghan in my class should teach everybody cricket (‘slightly’ mad?). I don’t think she’s going to let go easily of the idea; she has got me to email Deddington CC about equipment. So Sweden may see the first T20 match between an Anglo-Afghan-Palestinain-Iraqi-Somali side and a Nordic XI. Gemenskapets Väg!
For that to happen I need to survive the Ride and Stride tomorrow. My long journeys in Sweden tend to leave me close to death (by freezing in 2009, by heatstroke in 2010, by logorrhoea in 2011). Drowning is perhaps on the cards – going off the road in the rain and being sucked under in a bog. At least when I’m eventually found a few hundred years on, I’ll be perfectly preserved. I must go and make the sandwiches.
Many blessings on you all. Aaronic, of course, coming from Sweden.
Wednesday 29th August 2012
It’s now (I think) 4 Afghans, 2 Palestinians, 2 Iraqis (2.5 if you count the pregnancy), 1 Tanzanian, 1 Chilean and Old Uncle T; 9 Muslims, 7 males, 2 cricketers. We are not usually all present. Another teacher has appeared, as charming and capable as the other two. Google ‘Berge Svensson’ and click on the link to the Oxford Diocesan website (strange, but true) if you want to know more about this third and get a sense of the place – or maybe I can just say ‘ecological pigs’ and you’ll understand. You can laugh at its leftish idealism but S:t Sigfrids majors on major issues of our time, on the environment and in particular on how we can live together in the face of our racial, cultural and religious differences. I’ve never been so close up to the practicalities of third-world immigration to Europe, and what’s being done here in the cause of integration is impressive and moving. I had a conversation today with a Somali who has been in Sweden for three months and whose Swedish is even more rudimentary than mine. He said, I think, that he hadn’t had time to learn Swahili in Kenya where he’s left his wife (other family members seemed to be elsewhere in East Africa) because he’d come on so quickly to Sweden. Was he going back to Somalia? He smiled ruefully and shrugged his shoulders. What a life! Will it be mended? This place is a good start.
The lessons are most enjoyable – we get History and Society as well as a lot of Swedish Language – though the long periods of time concentrating on Swedish are taxing. It’s good to be able to clear one’s head of the fogginess occasioned by considering too closely noun classes and adjectival agreement by getting out and enjoying the very beautiful countryside. Summer is hanging on, though I got a soaking on my first major expedition on the bike. I’m becoming more affectionate towards this machine which has seen better days (having fallen off the back of a lorry) and which will never reach again the dizzy heights of performance of its youth. I need to remember that the cycle lanes of Växjö are not a racetrack and to ‘ta det lungt’ as the Swedes say. I am in training as you know, for the Ride and Stride on September 8th. Swedish national football shirts are being knocked down in the shops post-Euros so I’ve bought one for the occasion – Barford wanted lycra, but there are limits! I tentatively inquired whether any Swedish Church people might like to accompany me a little of the way, but they had clearly heard rumours of the R&S and my designs upon them and have furnished themselves with the perfect excuse: they are all going off to a Church conference in Malmö. So it looks as if it will just be me. I did the Round Växjö cycle path a couple of days ago – about 25 miles - without too much difficulty, though it was extremely gratifying to cool off in the lake afterwards.
Tomorrow, by way of a change, I am going to attend the first day of Svenska Kyrkans Grundkurs, an introduction to the Swedish Church for those engaged or about to be engaged in its activities. This is essentially a distance learning course, but there are ten two-day gatherings a year. It’s in theory a great bonus for me that this course should be held here and I can attend, but whether I shall understand much is yet to be revealed. And on Sunday it’s Costa Ricans (anotherVäxjö link Diocese) in the Cathedral.
Jag hoppas att allt går bra med dig och dina.
22nd August 2012
So here I am, ensconced in a pleasant, if fairly basic, student room; I don’t think I expected the basin. It’s one of eight rooms in a one-storey accommodation block, itself one of several which make up ‘internatet’, the compound which we seventy boarders at S:t Sigfrids folkhogskola live. There are only in fact six of us in my block, which relieves the pressure on the shared facilities (two loos, two showers and a kitchen). My fellow occupants are three Swedes and two Afghans, two of the Swedes being on the elite music course, the other on a course to do with nature (in the woods and lakes sense, I think). The Afghans are doing the basic Swedish course, though their spoken Swedish is much superior to mine - I’m on the so-called ‘advanced’ Swedish course. In my class there were at the last count a total of eight – some others seem to have gone AWOL but may reappear - three (other) Afghans, two Palestinians, one Iraqi, one Chilean and old Uncle Tom Cobley – me. Or maybe great-uncle - all of the thirteen just mentioned as well as all of the rest of the students seem to be at least thirty years younger than me, which surprised me; I thought quite a lot of folk high school students were rather more adult adults. Apparently things have changed in recent years.
Many of the students at S:t Sigfrids (there are just under 200, the majority living off campus) have missed out educationally and are now being given another chance. That’s the case in different ways both for the foreign refugees and for those native Swedes who are here after having dropped out or otherwise lost their way. So the staff at the school have a big pastoral as well as educational task which they can take on effectively because the staff-student ratio is very high, S:t Sigfrids having about twenty teachers. I’ve already personally felt the benefit of some most considerate attentiveness from the staff, who couldn’t have been more helpful.
The school day runs from 8.30 to 3.00. For most of this period I’m having Swedish coming at me full on, not only in the formal lessons but in the breaks. It comes in many different pronunciations and this not just from the non-natives – Sweden has a lot of dialects and I’m only used to the Stockholm one. It also comes rather fast much of the time, especially outside the classroom, so I’m struggling in the informal situations. My stumbling Swedish, when I’ve understood enough to give a reply, is an embarrassment. I’m pleased to say that I can make sense of most of what our two teachers say in class and the total immersion should see things improve.
After school, we are pretty much free, though there’s a certain amount of homework and I like to do some extra reading in Swedish. But there’s plenty of time for exploring the area, which I’m doing by boot and newly-acquired bike. The school is set in classically beautiful Swedish countryside – mixed woodland, pasture and lakes. The view from the back of our block is superb and includes the lakeside ruins of the castle of the bishops of Vaxjo. And the weather is still summery. I hope it will be reasonably clement when I do the OHCT Ride and Stride, Swedish leg (sponsorship money to OHCT and Barford – NB Barfordians particularly).
St Sigfrids is run by Vaxjo diocese and functions also as a centre for diocesan meetings. Part of my purpose in being here is to make or refresh contacts with Swedish Church people and I’ve begun on that. I think I shall be at least observing, if not taking part in, a conference here in November on ‘Till Tro’, the Swedish adaptation of Oxford’s Living Faith and I have already been invited in these early days to a couple of other events. (I shall try to get up to Jonkoping one weekend to say hello to the Sofiakyrkan lot.)
So, despite my current linguistic incapacity and though it will be a long haul before I can say, if I ever can, ‘mission accomplished’, I’m feeling quite cheery, though a long way from home – and I hope you are feeling cheery for having me off your backs!