On Christmas Eve (Julafton) the state-owned STV channel runs a compilation of classic cartoons. Every year at three p.m. you can catch snippets of classics like Ferdinand the Bull.
I have always loved Ferdinand, how he likes to sit and "smell the flowers". I was interested to read further about it recently. Adapted from a book by Munro Leaf, it was created in 1938 and was Oscar-awarded. The 1936 book itself I find most interesting -- it was viewed by many as "pacifist" and while banned in many places by the "right", received favor from the "left".
If you've never seen this eight-minute cartoon -- Ferdinand the Bull.
Another favourite of mine -- my dad can do a great impression -- is Foghorn Leghorn (1946-1963). As I watch it now I find it amusing that the character voices sound like middle-aged men who've enjoyed one too many whiskies/cigarettes. (That's not the reason my dad does a great impression, however.)
Now all I have to manage is to actually watch a Christmas SVT cartoon special from beginning to end.
I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And thought how, as the day had come,
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along
The unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Till, ringing, singing on its way
The world revolved from night to day,
A voice, a chime,
A chant sublime
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then from each black, accursed mouth
The cannon thundered in the South,
And with the sound
The Carols drowned
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
And in despair I bowed my head;
‘There is no peace on earth,’ I said;
‘For hate is strong,
And mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
It's easy to get trapped in melancholy around Christmas time. I find it challenging here at times; things are based in the same western European Christian tradition that we have North Americanized, and yet so different that it's hard to "feel" Christmas at times.
A friend asked me tonight if I was sad that I wasn't going to be in Canada for Christmas. I answered truthfully that I have avoided thinking about it. What's the point? But the longer I stumbled through my answer the more I felt that painful paper-cut slice of missing my family.
I have this reoccurring thought lately. It will be the second year in who-knows-how-long that my sister and I haven't watched the film White Christmas together. (Admittedly we fast-forward just a few parts -- the romantic fire-side duet being one) but mostly we love that movie and watch it every year.
I have seen clips popping up here and there and decided to cheat -- indulging in just a couple of our favorite dance scenes. Then I found another version, with Run DMC, and just couldn't resist.
It should go without saying that people should be highly critical and always thoughtful when ingesting news.
The state of media makes more difficult for people to even want to stay current -- the downward spiral of the quality and consistency of online/independent journalism, and then the huddling of big media under powerful corporate umbrellas. Often the quality and integrity of journalism in general these days is questionable -- the laziness and the urgency to post online is blatantly obvious, even in simple spelling and grammatical mistakes.
Then along comes an article -- so vague, so unexplored, so lazy -- it's totally refreshing to the reader, who doesn't have to think very hard at all about what kinds of insane things are going on backstage.
A female and male journalist team from Canada and Australia, kidnapped last year in Somalia, are freed this year with the paying of a ransom, hiring of British mercenaries (in the following article called a "British company") and before leaving Mogadishu, a meeting with the president of Somalia himself, who is full of ridiculous, inane comments that are hilarious. Read an example...
I am sorry for the harsh things these two journalists endured -- although they (I assume) would have known the risk for foreigners in Somalia. But the media generated from it is pretty much the worst kind of crap -- soft, boring and lazy -- turning a potentially explosive story into a mushy, short feature story. Localized articles coming out of Australia and Canada contradict one another in basic facts -- for example, who paid the ransom. I could go on. But read for yourself.
There are some things that just get a person excited for Christmas. This is one of them.
This makes me (more than ever) want to get on with planning a trip to northern Sweden and Norway -- see the mountains and fjords, nature reserves, maybe even some caribou. If we were rich we'd stay in the ice hotel, unfortunately that will be an unfulfilled silly wish of mine.
Maybe I will start training for the Santa world games 2010.
Weird dormant jet lag surfaced last night after almost a week; awake from 12 a.m. to 4 a.m., dreaming up all kinds of schemes, planting gardens in my mind.
Something I have noted about our neighborhood. For all the gardening going on, very little food is grown. Even the local market in the square I am unsure of -- farm-fresh looking foods mixed in with oranges from Spain and kiwis from New Zealand. I know our soil isn't the best -- shallow, sandy, stony -- but people produce beautiful flower gardens each year. Last spring I spent so many hours digging and fixing and starting I ran out of energy to till up the ground for the actual vegetable garden. I will not be deterred this spring, even if I have to pay someone to dig for me, seeing that by mid-April I will be 40 weeks pregnant and a whale of a woman.
Last night I was considering greenhouse and chicken coop, but that just going too far too early. Start with the veggies. Check out National Geographic's fun little online guide for tips for house and home. Knowing how energy and resources are wasted on food production makes you want to get your greenhouse and winter lettuce growing immediately. And about that chicken coop!
Read: The Green Guide
I am waiting for my chicken noodle soup to heat and trying to avoid thinking of the rumbling grumbling hunger in my belly. Munching on crackers to take the edge off. Sitting on our hideously uncomfortable kitchen chair--Ikea computer desk combination and twisting constantly to stretch away lower back pain. A fine Tuesday midday!
Since summer I have been swept up and driven by things out of my control. Just now I am starting to feel as if I have set down somewhere solid and feeling more "together" and capable. But with things as they are: new things, primal things, emotional things, strange things, maternal things, when I cannot help this strange ancient transformation, when one moment I feel insane and the next so practical.
Now I try to absorb Swedish and prepare for a trip to Calgary next week. I drink tea that leaves a skim on my teeth and contemplate the rich smells of fall -- farm, leaves, wet, and woodsmoke. Listen to music and think about homemade soup.
Was walking to catch the bus yesterday morning, a surprising chilly morning. With all the delicious smells in the air -- earth, forest, fern, wet and wood smoke-- I got to thinking about this particular sense. I wonder if smells are as sharp and tangible to others? I can't think of another sense that can transport me so quickly through time, to a particular person, or give such raw, childish joy.
I did grow up "smelling things": my family could identify the owner of an article of clothing left behind at our house simply by smelling it. "Oh, this jacket belongs to that family." Strange, but very practical skill. Even today people's homes carry an identifiable smell that, if I have known them for some time, I recognize. Even if they have moved to a new country, they still smell the same! (But, when I married and we had our own place, my brother pointed out that I no longer smelled like a Busenius, but that we now had our own "Aspegren" smell.)
The smell of nasturtiums always makes me think of crouching over my mom's flower bed as a child, diligently picking orange blossoms. Rice pudding and fresh bread, of my mom. The wet forest smell that comes here in Holsbybrunn always transports me to the hidden jewel of the British Columbia leg of the Trans-Canada Highway, The Enchanted Forest. Without fail that wet forest makes me think, "enchanted forest." The scented skin of a plum or an apple, freshly picked, I associate with my grandfather. Cut grass of summer evenings going to bed too early while my parents finished up the yard work. The first tinges of wood smoke in the air always make me think of Bosnia and El Salvador and cooking fires. Comfort clothing softener instantly reminds of the deliciousness of Martin's smell when we were dating. (He still smells good, for the record, but different.)
I suppose it can be like this for most people, the richness of smell, but it seems we've forgotten how to breathe deeply and slowly. Something about being adults and busy and such, maybe we forget to enjoy breathing.
Recently my neighbors took me out to an "old church day" in the neighboring village, Alseda. Alseda is a small collection of old houses, a tea house, classic white-washed stone church, and farms, cut straight through the middle by the two-lane highway that has grown uncomfortably busy with DHL trucks and longhauls coming from the east coast. The church, a beautiful bright-white structure built in the 1700s, (so newish, relatively speaking) has green wooden pews and the most incredible acoustics. One can whisper on the far side of the dome, and another can hear that whisper bouncing up and dropping down like a ghost's or something from a psychotic episode. The all-seeing eye is painted in gold about the alter.
On this particular day, people were coming to church by horse and buggy, just as in the old days. Most of the folks driving buggies and wagons were as old as the contraptions they steered. Gaunt, bowed men in frock coats and bowlers, ladies in skirts and veiled hats. Most of the wagons had rubber tires, and they slowed traffic to a jam on the highway before they pulled into the church stable yard.
The yard was full of nostalgia. A regiment of the Swedish mounted calvary rode in, and everyone was busy unsaddling horses and unhitching wagons and getting the horses settled in the stable. The stable itself, my neighbor estimated, was about 200 years old, and entertaining to watch people do as others had done hundreds of years before.
The church bells began pealing before all the unsaddling and rubbing down was finished, everyone rushing to leave the horses stamping in their stalls and find a seat before the droning, calming voice of the Lutheran priest began. A very interesting morning.
Some things to love:
The smell of the skin of a plum, just ripened. A small child's hand in yours. August sunshine accompanied by a cool autumn breeze. Warm homemade bread and honey. The warmth of a down comforter and a quilt on top of that. The fragrance of apple season and the deliciousness of sniffing an apple ripening on the tree, then picking it, and biting into it. Pulling weeds. The warmth of touch from someone who loves you -- or simply cares how you are doing at that moment. The crispy skin of oven roasted chicken.
Garden potatoes boiled in their skins with butter and herbs. A husband's chest to cry on. Working in the sunshine. A mother's voice. Strawberries and cream icecream, with no unrecognizable ingredients. "Honey chewing gum" -- fresh honey still in the honeycomb. Eating straight out of the garden. A letter from a friend. Serving another in anticipation of his or her delight. Telling the truth. Putting yourself out on a limb. Short fingernails.
Stamps that don't have to be licked. A house full of colour. The smell of fresh laundry. Sleeping outside in the afternoon. Someone looking into your eyes, asking "How. Are. You?" Jumping off a dock into a cold, cold lake. A friend to confess your heart to. A job well done. Herbs straight from the garden. Being read like an open book. Understanding another language. Homemade applesauce. Transplanting perennials. Mango-scented body wash. The soft keys of an old piano. A feel-good book. Singing a spontaneous song with someone you love.
Tonight I went to a party. Martin was out of town refereeing a innebandy tournament. So I was going alone, and he would arrive later. It was raining and I was riding a bicycle. I was laughing.
Already unfashionably late. Going alone to party of Swedes where I may know (2) people. Riding our old Norwegian-made bicycle, with a seat and a bar so high I have to stretch to reach the pedals and if I slip (raining and I chose to wear loafers) I may never bear children. I have a house plant (the housewarming gift) flying in a plastic bag from the right handle bar, a bag of chips over my shoulder, and a plastic container of French onion dip strapped to the book rack behind me. Racing in the rain on thin tires, through the forest, trying to figure the best way through the village to reduce my lateness.
I started out grumpy -- going to a party alone without Martin on a bicycle in the rain. Then it just got -- funny. Then, enjoyable. One more moment in my funny little village life.
Our neighbor is pushing his sputtering choking lawnmower up and down the lawn. He's racing a pressing rain squall, the trees are bending under the wind and dark clouds pinch out the sun. The horse at the end of the garden responds to it with his own vocal raucous.
I can't believe it myself, but I sanctioned and oversaw the cutting down of a large old cherry tree in our yard last night. It was majestic, gray-barked and lichened, but it leaned in a intimate way toward our house, right over the kitchen, and pushed out the growth of the aspens beside it. And cherry trees make such a mess. Molting in the spring, dropping dark, purple-exploding cherries in the summer, and leaves in the fall. The tree is tall, so old and big, that we can't even harvest it's fruit before it splatters on our deck or heads or wherever. So, the cherry tree had to die. Isn't this the power of our lordship over nature? We can grow and kill it as we please. And so the cherry tree is now cherry wood, and after been sawn and chopped and split and dried, will heat our house one winter.
And we harvested the last of the cherries, so ripe and soft that they turned the eaters mouth purple-black, staining teeth, tongue, and lips. Martin was so happy to have the tree cut down and eat the cherries, his mouth an up-turned, purple-lipped grin, he looked the Joker, gloating over some mayhem and mischief.
This morning the sunshine was streaming in the east windows, heating my cereal milk as I ate, beckoning to come and make the most of a summer day. We are back in our tranquil little blue house after five days in Prague, Czech Republic.
The pulse of a city is at the same appealing and repelling -- after a bit in the countryside the thrum and vibrancy of a dense human population is drawing. It's music, sirens, murmurings and thumpings, the art, magnificent architecture, and appetites for all kinds of food. People watching. Subway riding. Shop perusing. Accompanied by the sharp smack of sewage stench, broken human beings, twisted and blatant sexual "entertainment", dismal dirty corners filled with garbage and poorly executed graffiti.
My ears have become accustomed to the thick silence of little Holsbybrunn, but at moments it almost feels as if I am going crazy -- the loudest thing the ringing in my ears. But the screech and howl of Communist-era trains shooting by one another was almost too much to bear. (Martin covered his ears, but he's lived sanscity longer than I.) All possible windows of the train were down to combat the stifling July heat and the pervading, rank smell of urine.
We spent four days in the city and one day traveling about 35 kilometers outside of Prague to a smaller village and 14th century castle built by a former Czech king and Roman emperor. We walked up into the surrounding hills and nature reserve to find "little America", a 100 metre canyon with a lake at it's bottom. We passed by large poppy fields with their blue-gray-green bulbs and crumbling cement and wood houses of the bygone peasantry. Fields of yellow grain and shiny-leafed corn.
But the city life -- Czech pub food, gorgeous clothes, spires and steeples of 1,000 years of art and design, river boats, pink/blue/orange flats, warm cobblestone and beautiful light polution, has it's appeal for a few days.
I should be cleaning the house. My parents and grandmother arrive tomorrow and there are still beds to be made, floors to be done, etc. etc. Not that it really matters. They won't see how clean everything is but will just be glad to be here. But by instinct or by tutelage, I need it to be clean. That's what you do for guests. And who wants to sleep in a place with dirty floors and dead flies on the windowsills? ( I make our house sound filthy, but really, we get a lot of dead bugs on the window sills because people don't use screens here. The doors and windows are hinged on the outside, and open out, so screens are impossible.) (This also makes it quite comical opening doors, for along time I always pulled the wrong way, even in my own house.)
But I am putting it off and sitting here, typing in kitchen, looking out at the dull, drab sky and wondering what the weather will be like when my parents are here. This is my grandmother's first and maybe last trip-of-a-lifetime, and the weather needs to be good. At least a little good.
Our freezer is full of delicious vanilla buns (a sweetbread pastry made with vanilla, butter and sprinkled with crunchy sugar) and yogurt bread (all thanks to my super-woman mother-in-law!) Martin and I will be sleeping in our little guest-cottage which will be fun. Sleeping in your own garden can offer a new perspective.
We will have a full schedule: a trip to Cracow, Poland, an antiques road-trip, family dinners, a trip to the east coast to see the famous Baltic beaches and the royal summer house, shopping, berry picking, and any other number of things depending on what energy we have left. We also just need to relax and be together, drink tea and catch up on one year apart. It will be impossibly short, and it will crush me to say goodbye. Life is so short. Bittersweet. But I will savour the sweetness for every moment, and try to have a child's mentality and forget the impending goodbye. They will be here for my birthday, after all, so what more can I ask?
1 : the sum of the qualities and potentialities genetically derived from one's ancestors
2 : the transmission of traits from ancestor to descendant through the molecular mechanism lying primarily in the DNA or RNA of the genes
It's been steamy hot, high temperatures and high per cent humidity. I dressed to go out to work one morning in the garden. In a short while of pulling weeds and turning earth I was sticky sweaty and irritable with the flies that left the horse barn to come and fly about my face. I returned to the house to dig up the shorts I found in the "throw away pile" (when people throw away good useful clothes because they can't jam them into their suitcases).
Marching out of the house to do weed battle once again, I had an amusing realization. I have turned into my mother.
Not so much physically -- the Busenius side (my father's) is by far dominant in that regard -- though when we are together there would be no doubt we are mother and daughter. For the likeness I am referring to, a "transmission of trait", seems quite nebulous.
As I was walking towards the flower beds, I laughed aloud as if someone placed a mirror before me. I could see my mother in the garden working: Running shoes (you can't heft a spade properly with sandals), socks, shorts, tank top. Muscular legs, bug-bitten (with a slight allergic reaction to each bite), broad straight shoulders with a slight hunch at the back of the neck (this goes back to my grandmother). Dirty hands (I can't recall her working with gloves) and a deep, almost effortless summer tan. Strong of back, strong of will. She is a workhorse, and there's no insult in saying that because I am, too. She keeps a beautiful garden and neglects the houseplants. (My houseplants are often brown at the edges, although I can't claim the years of hard work she's put into her garden.)
Martin said recently that I had a "farmer tan", a working tan, I guess, that leaves various tank-top lines, belly and upper thighs pale, white, or at least shades lighter than the shoulders, forearms, face and knees. I am ashamed to admit, when I was young, I was a bit embarrassed about my mom's working tan. We lived in the "California of Canada" (I say this oozing sarcasm and irony) where it was body beautiful all summer. I didn't realize as a child that real people didn't have perfect bikini tans, because real people have to work and raise children and do things besides lay in the sand or drive around in a speedboat. I just remember being slightly embarrassed that my mom's tan ended where her gardening shorts did. Now I look back with admiration that she didn't bow to the preening facade of others, and was simply her natural self. This I guess I take after, too. I haven't worn much makeup, or any, really, in years.
Now I guess I start to sound full of that opposite kind of vanity--looking down on the vain. I am describing what went through my mind as I was walking down to resume weeding.
I began to think of other things of heredity or family culture. My brother and I use the word "interesting" as a variable tool of conversation. "Interesting" (you are stupid) "interesting" (that's really interesting) "interesting" (I am actually not listening to you) "interesting" (I am bored)... the list goes on. As a family we have violent tendencies, not cruel but sometimes brutal. We laugh in the same explosive raucousness, doubling over if we really get going. We are strong, able, athletic, with that thick softening that can belie toughness. My brother, sister, and I are throwbacks to our Slavic roots -- born blond, dark-eyed, darker-skinned.
Now this probably quite boring, I realize. But having spent a year apart from blood family these things come up clearer and with more importance -- more draw, maybe the desire for connection. My trip to Bosnia in the spring made me think of these things, too, being surrounded by people that looked like my brothers. I guess it's always easier to see who you are like when you aren't with them.
It's morning and I debated staying in bed to avoid the inevitable: an empty house. Not that I don't enjoy being alone, but today, the first day my brother wasn't around after a month, seemed so painfully quiet and sad. I did get up, and push aside thoughts with laundry and cleaning, but... I seem to get headaches when I stuff emotions or stress. Quite severe headaches, which I find interesting. A physical rebellion against an unhealthy practice of emotion-stuffing... It seems today even Sweden is mourning his departure -- after over a week of solid 20-30 degree days and sunshine, the clouds cover and the insects come out to feast.
I suppose most siblings love one another, more or less, in that inexplicable relationship of siblinghood. Jordan and I must be on the more side, because even after a month of hanging about one another almost every waking minute, I wasn't ready to say goodbye. (It's possible he was but I didn't ask.) As we've worked together on the deck, relaxed, conversed, cooked and laughed often, I have felt the burden of time, marching continually towards the goodbye at the Nassjö train station. This goodbye -- moreso than the last, when we were heading off to Sweden with the future before us -- felt so... permanent. A spoonful of the medicine I chose to drink, inevitable goodbyes. I thought about culture shock, I thought about homesickness and missing family and friends, I thought about long distances and expensive travel, but I never thought of how it will be to say goodbye again and again, with a finality of not knowing when we will see one another, that life will continue on different parts of the world separately.
But how grateful am I to share life together for a month. To see my familial ties and shared characteristics in a new way. Even to simply physically look like someone! Having him here was some moments like having a host of others here as well. His strong Slavic features so like mine, his stand-up hair like Uncle Tim's, the crinkles around his eyes when he smiles, so like our mother. How he spoke and gave instructions so like our father. And in all of that he is completely his own, which is wonderful and fascinating. How we carry the traits of our parents and grandparents and remain completely individual is really quite remarkable.
I have thought of my mother in the past weeks, how grieved she was to say goodbye the last, in the sterile airport hallway, as we wept before the voyeurism of other travelers queuing for security. I had the youthful naivete of adventure and future to buoy me. She knew something deeper, more significant was taking place than I had yet to understand and am just now realizing...
Things can't simply be undone or redone as we fancy. And we know this, but live subconsciously as it's possible, that if I should need to reverse my decision to move and return to the good of things as they once were, I could. (But not sacrificing the good of things as they are now, or lessons learned, or treasures appreciated.)
In the last weeks I came to a moment of clarity. All the change and uncertainty we experience, not just beginning uncertainty, getting all you thought you dreamt of, but end uncertainty; the hopelessness of the weakness, limitation, and shortness of human life, getting old, getting poor, getting lonely, disappointed or heartbroken. In that, the only consistent goodness, the only unchangingness is God. Always the same in character and in relationship. Not impeded by time or distance. Always the I am. I am past, I am future, I am present. This is hope and solace.
It's 10 p.m. and the evening has cooled and paled, the sky the gray-blue color it stays all night. Midsummer in Sweden is close to magical -- for me, anyways. Short, never-dark nights. Four a.m. sunrises. A racket of birds, smaller ones shrieking and dive-bombing a crow skulking about their nest. Wild lupine everywhere, purple and pink mostly. Green -- rich, bright, bold or dark -- so much lush growth the air is thick and fragrant with it in the morning.
Not everything is perfect mid-summer. The biting midges are horrible little things, near-invisible as they saw into you and leave red welts. My brother has 60 such welts on one leg. I watched him count them. You can feel them on you but are helpless to fight them off, as they are so small they sneak under clothing and under hair lines. Jordan said: "For such small things they are heavy walkers." I laughed.
We spent the eve of midsummer in traditional fashion. With family, attended the midsummer celebration and dancing around a pole and wreaths of wild flowers and forest greens. Ate delicious "classic midsummer" torte of cake, custard, cream and whole strawberries, an offering of my mother-in-law Lisbeth.
The evening of mid-summer I won't quickly forget. A rain storm passed, Martin, Jordan, two German friends and I arrived at the edge of a lake -- fog at its edges, still and silent until we arrive. We build a good, hot fire, drank hot chocolate and sent off a considerable amount of fireworks. (Jordan had a near miss with a rather large firework, unstable and ill-fired, turned 180 and torpedoed him directly in the leg. He jumped and ran as we shouted in fear; all's well that ends well. His leg is still attached.)
Past midnight we psyched each other up to go for a swim. Admittedly I didn't swim much, the cold was shocking but moreso in the dimness and calmness I could only think of swimming with the 10+ kilo pike we were fishing for the week before. Those double rows of teeth and I thought of them paddling for the ladder on the dock.
After midsummer I gave Martin his first haircut. My first time cutting someone's hair. Our marriage withstood the pressure, thank goodness. I gave him a bit of a mullet, I think. And I like it. Maybe its my red-neck roots showing through.
Overlooking a twilight garden on the eve of Swedish midsummer. Listening to my brother sing and play Ben Harper's waiting on angels, wondering how he got so darn good in just a year. The bun of wet hair, fresh from the shower, soaks the back of my t-shirt and I think of my father saying "my back is cold -- it's damp". I hate a cold back. I mowed the lawn tonight and the smell of fresh-cut grass was too appealing. I threw the bathroom window open and showered with the coolness of evening air, overlooking my handiwork. Grateful and amazed with this place; here I can shower with a wide open window and not a soul about. It's the same feeling as when I am hanging our laundry to dry, bras and panties and boxers, looking over to see my neighbors' skivvies blowing in the breeze and I love this place.
It's becoming humorous -- almost -- how sporadically I post. My conclusion is that although I enjoy writing I have never, ever been diligent with writing in journals. If I ever have written in a journal, when I go back to read the few entries I managed, I am mildly embarrassed.
It's a Friday on a week of rain, rain, rain, following a previous week of rain. In the not-raining moments, my brother and I, (Jordan is here for the month of June) have managed to dig and pour concrete pilings for a deck we are planning to build. We have the wood purchased and a plan in place, so as the rain stops we are ready to rock. It's going to be a beaut of a deck once finished.
Jordan has been here for just about two weeks now, and at times I feel like a kid on summer holidays, kicking back with "nothing to do". The first day he was here was unseasonably hot, and we walked through the forest to a nearby lake to scope fishing spots, then to the river in our village, where we sat on the little dock with our feet in the water. We watched for surfacing trout and my joy was unspeakable... He is sleeping in our "new" little guesthouse -- a one-room cedar-lined cottage in our back garden. We bought it and had it craned from it's former location to our place (quite the drama in our quiet little village), and worked like the Dickens to get it painted and spruced up for habitation. It's simple -- it will have electricity, but no running water -- but it's an extra room and a cute, fun little place to use in the summer. All are welcome, and we will gladly give you our bedroom and move out to the guesthouse if you prefer to sleep nearer the toilet. Although if you are a dude feel free to tinkle out back by the barn. We are country folk now, after all.
With the passing of spring to early summer school ended. It was difficult to say goodbye to friends and good to start a new chapter. The school environment was too closed for me, too cloistered. It's difficult to explain in a short way. It was a good and helpful thing to do my first year in Sweden, and was a safe cushion on which to bounce when struggling with language and loneliness and other things. Looking back I can also see God's intention to drive me to a place where I would see him and myself in a eye-opening way. I also did meet some wonderful people. Many have returned to their homes now. Although few will live close to me, some will only be as far as a short plane ride to Germany, and that gives me comfort.
These days, I am enjoying spending time with my brother, then in July my parents and grandma will visit for two weeks. We will be going for a few days to Kracow, Poland. (My great-grandmother was born in Poland, and my Dad is our in-house WWII expert, so visiting Auschwitz will be gripping.) We are staying in a hostel which I hope will be an interesting, fun adventure. (I don't know how many people cart their visiting grandmothers off to unknown hostels, but hey!)
After my parents leave, which I can't bear to think of, Martin and I are going to go to Prague for a short getaway together. It's one of my "dream" cities meaning there are only a couple of cities in the world I actually desire to go to. Prague being one. St. Petersburg being the other. (And if I was lucky enough to visit some dear friends -- Seoul, Korea. Hyon Joo and Jihae; it's been too long.)
The rain has stopped and the trees are drip-dripping. Possible we can get some work done today. Although it's good be sitting inside with my brother, drinking tea, reading and discussing the six months of National Geographics my mom packed in his suitcase.
And the forest smells unbelievably delicious after rain.
He is good, all the time.
With my Western mindset, grown in an age of multiculturalism and professed tolerance of all religions and ethnicities, it was a new experience to be in a European community of only one ethnicity and religion.
Gorazde, a small city in eastern Bosnia, is almost completely Bosniak (Bosnian Muslim). A five minute drive up the highway, you pass a Serbian Orthodox graveyard, and you are in "new Gorazde", a Serbian Orthodox community. Sometimes (but not always) you could determine what kind of community you were in by the graveyards -- elaborate, flower-and-candle festooned black marble Orthodox graveyards, and simple, white pointed spires in a Muslim graveyard. It is a tragedy that in some way graveyards are a visible definition of Bosnian cultural boundaries.
There was little I could find to read about Gorazde before visiting the area, but once there I learned that the region and community has a past written in war and hatred, and that it's past irreparably shapes what Gorazde is to this moment. The following explanations are over simple, and probably stupid to someone who really knows Bosnian history, but as it's impossible to explain Bosnia today without explaining Bosnia of 15 years ago, I will do my best.
Before the war of the 1990s, eastern Bosnia was religious and ethnically mixed. Farmers and city dwellers, Serb and Bosniak, lived beside each other in the religious no-man's-land of Communist Yugoslavia. Upon the collapse of that system, and the beginnings of war (I won't even try to explain all the evil politics behind it) Serbian forces began a systematic "cleansing" of eastern Bosnia, forcing Bosniaks out of their homes and either killing them or pushing them towards central Bosnia, where they attempted to reach UN-designated "safe" zones. Gorazde was one of these "safe zones", the only zone that did not fall to Serbian forces during the war.
The result is that Gorazde literally became an island of refuge, filled with Bosniak refugees. Today, in a sense, those lines are still drawn -- Gorazde is almost purely Bosniak and the surrounding area almost purely Serbian. (A strange paradox is that foreign Islamic nations like Saudi Arabia and Iran are putting money into Bosnia and building large new mosques, the spires of which can been seeing shining even in Serbian towns.)
Passing from one town to the other, you don't have to imagine the drawn lines of war. On one side of the line men who were part of the Serbian army are called death-deserving murderers, on the other honoured war heroes. In between is a space of a few kilometres.
Better than my editorializing on this difference is a chilling illustration of two infamous bridges. One bridge is an ancient UNESCO world heritage bridge in the town of Visegrad, about 35 kilometres down river from Gorazde. The other is the concrete and steel walking bridge joining the two sides of Gorazde, which sits in a mountain valley.
One, beautiful and ancient, with a chilling, bloody history. The other, chipped and graffiti-covered, a tragic necessity and refuge.
The bridge spans the heart of Gorazde, linking two sides of the community over the broad Drina river. On one side many essential services; the only public hospital, schools, grocery stores. On the other, stores and many homes. During the war Serbian forces beseized Gorazde on the surrounding mountain tops. They laid landmines in the hills, set up outposts and gun turrets, made forays into the city, they cut off food supplies and roads in or out, but never fully occupied the city. They did, however, control the city in a way that made the UN safe zone far from safe. From the surrounding hills and outposts, soldiers and snipers would shoot at homes and people, at random and seemingly for sport. You could be shot and killed walking to the grocery store or school, and no age or sex exempted you. People were shot and killed collecting water or trying to eke food from their gardens, walking to school or scurrying from house to house. The results was people who lived buried in their houses, gardening at night, venturing out only as neccessary.
A favoured target area was the bridge over the Drina, where people were completely exposed. So constructed under the steel belly of the bridge was a small cable and wood suspension bridge, tucked up underneath so far that an adult must duck his or her head at each steel girder. On this bridge our host family mother, Amila, and her husband, Fikret, made their way to school and work, huddled over, racing across, fearing the crack of a sniper shot at any moment.
The walking bridge still hangs there today, limp and unused, the wooden slats unsafe to cross. Amila and Fikret tell their 10-year-old son Almin about the war, the bridge, and it's terrors. But I can see that the bridge holds some kind of mystery for Almin, a young boy raised on Grand Theft Auto and military computer games. Thankfully he never experienced the horror of the war just a few short years before he was born.
About thirty-five kilometres upriver stands another bridge, spanning another valley in the town of Visegrad. This one is stone construction, built long ago by the occupying Ottoman Empire. It is a thing of ancient man-made beauty; it's stone arches spanning the emerald green Drina. It is also the site of the murder of thousands of Bosniaks. Ethnic cleansing took place here on a scale unbelievable. Serbian soldiers and local militia men would come to a Bosniak home and tell them they had 10 minutes to leave or they would be killed. The stories are unimaginable, as one dear elderly grandmother shared with me and our leader Michal over sweet coffee and cake.
Many women and children were sent fleeing through the formidable mountains back towards Gorazde. Hundreds of people were locked up in homes and the houses set on fire. Others shot point-blank on their doorsteps. Thousands of men and boys were separated from their families and murdered. This grandmother told us how men were taken to the centre of the bridge, forced to stand or kneel on the parapet, while the murderer crossed himself in the name of the *father, son, and holy spirit* and slit the persons throat, then throwing them from the bridge.
Above the Visegrad bridge, set back little way up on a hill, sits an Orthodox church, it's black cross on the steeple clearly visible from the bridge, it's windows providing a clear view of the horror and tragedy done here by people in the name of religion and/or ethnicity.
These are the lines drawn. The bridges that represent not union but suffering. Evil, clothed in religion, ruining lives and dividing communities. The war remains fresh, the wounds seeping. The next generation (younger than myself, even) are more objective, searching for better answers, less fundamental in their faith, but still the lines remain.
"Hvala" is Bosnian for "thank you". This word I used most frequently in this coffee-drinking, hospitality-based social culture. for some reason when the Bosnian words I did know escaped me, I reverted to Swedish. I received some odd looks when I spoke a bit of Swedish before realizing what I was doing.
There are many questions to answer. And what is the simplest way, I do not know. But as a wise team-mate of mine said, it's best to start at the beginning. So I will post some of the basics about the city of Gorazde, (pictured) and then maybe some more personal stuff later on.
Once again, I have been chastised for writing so little. And I deserve it, for someone who claims to love writing I hardly do enough of it.
When this much time has passed it's hard to extract a clear thought from my brain-scramble. I am starting to like lists more and more, and therefore will begin a random list of thoughts and experiences from the past while.
- The Ingrate. Whether it's the change of surrounding, or the breathing space from things that previously saturated my life and thoughts, I feel as though I have the clearest perspective I have had in some time, maybe ever. I am learning things that I wished I already knew. Gratitude. Humility. Self-control. Now if it were possible for me to simply learn something and never again return to ways of old, wouldn't that be wonderful? Not so. It seems I can even learn something and unlearn it in the same thought, having never translated learning to action or obedience.
- What Kind of Christian Am I? Swimming my way through a school project and Bibles and books, and realizing more and more I am the sorriest excuse of a Christian there ever was. My reasons for thinking this are many and long for elaborating here, but an illustration could do: Bill Murray, as a neurotic obsessive compulsive in What About Bob?, eventually succeeds in driving his psychiatrist and mentor insane while in "baby step" therapy. I have a billion baby steps ahead of me, and thank God he is a patient, willing, and never-irritable guide. Because I think I would drive myself insane.
- Stockholm. Martin and I spent a few days in the Swedish capital, spending our nights in an old hotel of vaulted ceilings and white French doors, the city bustle sneaking in through the old wood. We walked, spent a lot of time talking, some eating, reading, watching, touring, and hardly any shopping. The city seemed filled with more tourists than Swedes -- and in the old town, more rich Russians than anyone. From Holsbybrunn to Stockholm felt like stepping, or falling, on a 50 km/h treadmill from a dead-standstill. It stirred up strange feelings and meaningful conversations, along with sensory overload... The electronic rattle of crosswalks, honking, boom of the bass in nightclubs, the flash of digital billboards, slick, uneven cobblestones, the babble of languages more foreign than Swedish, long nails, fur, and bleach-blond heads, hurrying up to wait, juggling multiple cellphones, mostly manufactured beauty and mostly meaningless contact.
- An Ugly Girl? I have been spending some thought on what a healthy Christian worldview means, how I could live a "simpler" life. Also thinking about our collective insecurity in the Western world -- the way we look. I was recently amazed to hear that hair care products is a multi-billion dollar industry. Enough to eliminate the debt of at least a few developing countries. I don't know why I hadn't before considered how much money goes into hair care, but there it was. Interestingly, the average North American woman apparently has at least five unused hair care products sitting around her bathroom. And yet, an overwhelming majority of women are very insecure about their looks. The majority of girls I attend school with this year have admitted their insecurities with their looks. And these would be some of the more solid, mature girls I have met of the 18-25 range. It's so incredibly sad! Here we are, with a faith that a living God created us in his image, with a creed that says "it's the heart that matters," and yet we are insecure! We care about breasts and butts and 'cankles' and grey hair. I am right there in it, and yet it frustrates and befuddles me.
- On Loving Your Husband. It's 11 p.m. on a Thursday night, and Martin is bringing cheeseburgers from McDonalds. It's a taste of familiarity I cannot turn down, and I love him for it. For many other things too, and these days, the feelings of love are more present than ever. This is a nice thing, a wonderful thing. It makes me happy. Not only for cheeseburgers, but his sweet face on the pillow, or the gleam in his eye after reffing a good game of innebandy, or that strange weird smile when he is telling me bad news. Definitely enjoying marriage.