Swedish For Immigrants – 4 Cultural Insights


I am one! Weird . . . this strange feeling . . . But by learning Swedish, I’ll feel less a stranger. Must be so much easier for me than the Somalis, or the students who have come from Syria, and Vietnam. I hope to learn some of their stories, flights of passage to a world so different than their own. Three more have started class today. They come from Mogadishu, in Somalia, Palestine, and Syria, places we see getting blown to hell on television every night. God, what must that be like? Do they miss home? So many different customs, language, dress. At least they will not be alone. 2000 come through Sweden’s front door every month, more through the back door, via Germany. The total number’s over 50,000 now.
Things European aren’t so different from American experience, but there are differences, and I will always be, “A stranger, in a strange land.” Lao Tzu was first to use that term in his, I Ching – 550 BC.

The Wanderer – “When a man is a wanderer and stranger, he should not be gruff or over bearing. He has no large circle of acquaintance, therefore he should not give himself airs. He must be cautious and reserved; in this way he protects himself from evil. If he is obliging towards others, he wins success.”           Always good advice in the I Ching.



The Somali girls, I should say women . . . they all seem so young. We only see their faces, all the rest is covered, head to toe. Their outfits all the same, except for colored patterns, and designs, some of them stunningly beautiful . . . all wearing exactly the same dress. It’s not a dress, of course; they’re called jibabs.

Jibab 2

They cover the entire body, except for head and hands. Heads are covered by a scarf, called a shash. Men dress the same as they do here. This is a noticeably different culture. I wonder what they think of Swedish winters. Somalia’s average temperature stays in the upper eighties, not much rain, but they seem happy here, perhaps relived to have escaped their homeland. Sweden’s probably the best deal any immigrant can get. Good health care, money for housing, and extra money for each child. Average birth rate for women in Somalia is 6.17. Only 2% live past 65. A man can have four wives if he is able to support them.
Students get paid for coming to class. Those with good attendance receive a check at the end of the month. The money comes from the Swedish steel industry, with the purpose of making immigrants employable . . . as soon as possible. Four hours a day, five days a week. Intense. A classmate asked if there were holidays this morning.
“There are no holidays,” she was told. “Only homework days.”

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Contemplations – 1

Contemplations – 1


I long ago labeled this blog: Fiction, Poetry, and Contemplations, but have not posted many contemplations. Too dangerous perhaps. I Googled the word: A transitive verb, “to think about something as a possible course of action.”
Contemplation. A powerful word . . . or thing. I’ve always thought of contemplation as a sort of meditation, requiring peace and quiet. And I think that’s true. When you turn off the cell phone, and TV, and radio . . . you’re more likely to think, perhaps a bit more introspectively. But we’re always thinking, and our thoughts inevitably morph into choices. Large and small: First thought of the day: Should I get up? A question.

Questions, an essential part of contemplation. Do they always come first? The mothers of thought? A Buddhist abbot asked:
“What are the first words of wisdom?”
Correct answer: “I don’t know.”
That is a good one. I suspect some kind of question lies at the beginning of consciousness. The first primordial thought, the first thought. Of being aware of self? Perhaps asking, “Where the hell am I?” Must be something like that. I’m still asking the same question after 76 years.  Not many of us have been born with answers. Answers need to be found. Questions come on their own, without asking. Even without words, the questions come.

So . . . It seems reasonable to name these posts, Contemplations, although the word sounds a bit pretentious . . . learned. I am neither. These are only random thoughts . . . unplanned.

Enough. I get bored when people talk about what they are going to talk about.

I’ve been spotting writing tips, and insights that show up and Facebook, and on blogs. Small bits of wisdom – blurbs. One most often seen this last week has been: “First drafts are shit.”

Hemingway - Shit

These insights are quoted from successful writers: Hemingway, Huruki Marumkami . . . Natalie Goldberg. I believe these words apply to most of us, except a lucky few writers who can just sit down and knock it out. I suspect Kerouac was one of these, and Charles Bukowski . . . Whatever.
For most of us the first draft is a question that requires some thought. You crank of ten or fifteen thousand words, then read it two days later and it’s shit. It really is. How do we ever know, for certain? The artist’s dilemma. A motivational speaker told his audience, “To be successful, an artist must possess ‘dumb determination’ – an unfounded belief in self, beyond the reach of critics and naysayers.
But what if you’re wrong? Time spent, hours wasted? Maybe . . . maybe not. Writing’s become as popular as yoga was in the mid sixties. Seems like everyone is doing it, and are self published. E-books, digital productions. A few people on Linkedin described their writing as, a hobby. Nothing wrong with that, a thing to occupy time. Writing can sure do that. And it’s so much easier now . . . computers . . . spell-check. It’s no problem making changes, cuts and pastes, no ribbons! Anything you want to know is but a moment off on Google. I look at photos of old writers pounding away on Underwood uprights that imprinted on paper! The IBM Selectric was a magnificent improvement, wonderful machine – no keys, and a correction ribbon. Obsoleted by computers. I’ll say more about Selectics later, but the next installment’s subject will be paper . . . I think.

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Swedish For Immigrants – Week 3 – The Benifits of Class

The Benefits of Class

TEST Week 3

One of 4 pages.


This is the end of my third week of my language class, and things have taken a nice turn. I got a good grade on a test, what would amount to a solid ‘B’ in American schools, and my mistakes were typos! I misspelled August (Augusti) by leaving out the ‘u’, and answered a sequence of months question by listing November in front of Oktober. Duh! I’ve never been able to proofread my own work. I have an editor in India who does that for me now. Months are not capitalized here.

A ‘B’ in class was a real upper for me. I was surprised how good it made me feel, a very welcome shot of self confidence. I can do this! At the very least I will come out knowing more than when I went in, and there are other benefits. I’ve learned a bit of Swedish from my wife’s family, basics like: hello, goodbye, and thank you – things like that. Enough to get by. But there’s a glass wall that keeps me not completely in the picture.I can sometimes grasp a basic understanding of surrounding conversations. There are English inserts for my benefit re: what is going on, sans details – which is where the devil hides.

The Swedes speak English and respond in kind when addressed in that fashion, but soon shift back into their native tongue with other Swedes involved in the discussion. My wife speaks Swedish on the phone. She could be selling the cats, or buying a horse. I would never know. One feels, and is, a bit left out of things.

This language class, four hours a day, has been an unexpected and unique experience. This third week found me unembarrassed by mistakes. They’ve become humorous. We are all making mistakes, and having a pretty good time of it. The Somalis are fun, and friendly – curious. They ask how old I am, and pat me on the back, perhaps as a congratulation for having lived so long. Their English is shaky and I often have to ask them to repeat what they have said, but they are helpful, sometimes whispering an answer when the teacher calls on me. Teacher is speaking more English now, and I am feeling comfortable with her.

Learning with ten other students has been such a different trip from going it alone. There is a wonderful feeling of support, and I find myself looking forward to the next class. Using even the limited vocabulary I’ve picked up has put me in a closer relationship with anyone I’m talking to. A door in the glass wall has begun to open. It feels great to have a bit more understanding, and some words at my command, to be a part of the conversation, instead of an observer looking in from the outside.

And there are other benefits. More later.

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A Yoga Guru Dies

Do not try this at home!

Yoga 1


Yoga 2

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Swedish For Immigrants – Week 1

PPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPPI’ve started my Swedish For Immigrants class. There are ten of us. One from Vietnam, One from Gambia. The rest from Somalia. Teacher is not in love with me I fear. I do not fit her definition of a student. I’m too white, and too old. A problem. I waited fourteen months to get into this class. I was constantly deferred as being someone who did not need to find a job. Ageism in Sweden. Who would have thought.
It’s kind of scary. I am old, and have an iffy short term memory . . . was never good at learning languages, or math. It’s so embarrassing to be noticeably slower than others in the pack. My classmates are friendly, and create a happy sort of ambiance. The Somalis seem to already know some basic Swedish. They are all men, and go off together on our breaks, where they talk Somali to each other. I wish I could hang with them but doubt I would fit in, not speaking their language and a good fifty years older.
The Gambia student is a woman, also very nice, speaks good English. The only other girl is Vietnamese. We took a short quiz to determine where we were at scholastically, basic math and months, anatomy – body parts: arms, legs and such in Swedish. I got about half of them right. The tests were scored and discussed in a one-to-one interview. Teacher congratulated my ability to add and subtract. We were given a class list, times and dates, in Swedish.
I misread Friday’s schedule and was dismissed an hour earlier than expected, with no ride home – wife had the car. I wondered around the school and found a nice little library. Libraries, (bibliotechs) always feel like home to me, oasis’s in the swirl of life. I always carry book in case of moments like these, and sat in a comfortable chair, gazing lustfully at the shelves of books surrounding me, longing to be able to read Swedish . . . newspapers, books, and magazines – to have that knowledge.

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Berlin Wall

On this day in 1961 construction of the Berlin Wall began. Germany had been divided up by British, French, Soviet, and American occupying forces. The city of Berlin lay completely within Soviet territory, but it was divided. Soviet forces controlled the eastern part of the city and the country, and they were increasingly concerned about locking it down against the democratic West. The border was porous after the war, and millions of East Germans emigrated west in search of greater opportunities. By 1961, they were leaving at a rate of a thousand per day.

In the early hours of the morning, East German soldiers quietly began laying down barbed wire that was eventually replaced by a six-foot block wall, which the East German authorities called an “Anti-Fascist Protection Rampart.” Nine years later, the wall was raised to 10 feet, but people still tried to escape. Finally, in 1989, with the end of the Cold War, East and West Berlin residents gathered on either side of the wall and began chipping away at it, knocking off blocks with sledgehammers and climbing back and forth over it. The wall was formally dismantled, and Germany reunified, in 1990.

Wall ONEPhotos taken at Berlin Wall. 20 Year Anniversary of the Fall – 2011

The Wall

They only stand a while
contrived to separate
describing boundaries
built of stone and concrete . . . still
none last forever.

In the meantime
they are unimaginary
and expensive
casting pain and want
both sides
what reason?
who decides?

Berlin’s wall
stood twenty-eight long years
more than one hundred lost their lives
attempting crossing
one side to the other.

Tumbled now
fractured remains have become souvenirs
people buy chunks of it in shops
at Checkpoint Charlie
where a section has been left to stand
a grim memorial – tourist attraction
clothed in spray-paint artwork over time
passers-by names and comments.

These remaining sections have been whitewashed
re-grafittied by professionals
fine-artists born on either side
in celebration of its fall
their concrete canvases
fenced off with hog wire
to keep amateurs away

Brilliant images evoke remembrance of a wall that was
others remain
beyond the reach of common sight and unencumbered
by the weight of mass
the walls of class, and race
between the rich and poor
some built around ourselves
our neighbors

Some who dare, protest
attempt a crossing
as most wait impatiently for them to fall
knowing their inbred failure:
reason for existence
and high maintenance
the cost.

WALL 2                        Poem published: Barely South Review – Boundaries Issue 2011


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