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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Swedish For Immigrants – Week 2



Holy Moley!

The teacher is teaching in Swedish. I thought I was here to learn Swedish! There are four class levels of instruction: A, B, C & D. They have put me in the B class. I suspect this is because I listed my degrees on the application papers, fourteen months ago. Did they think an MS in education meant I had a Swedish vocabulary? I have made some progress today, moving from humiliation to laughter. It’s getting ridiculous. She calls on me asking questions in Swedish. I have no idea what the question is, let alone the answer – though I do know some of the answers, if I knew what the question was. Teacher gives me a look that says, “How can you possibly not understand.”

Last week I answered, “I do not speak Swedish, that is why I’m here.” Said that twice, no reason to say it again. It got funny after a while today. Laughter is a great survival tool. My Somali classmates are getting a kick out of it and have become very friendly and helpful. They are doing all they can to help me understand, sometimes whispering the answer. Unfortunately they speak almost no English. I suspect they have all gone though the ‘A’ class and have a fairly good beginning Swedish vocabulary. At least I seem to be making some Somali friends. One of the two girls in class (from Gambia) speaks good English, but is having almost as much trouble as I am. I could probably transfer to the ‘A’ class, but assume that would be 95% Somali students and questions asked in Arabic. Nothing is easy.

The most concrete thing I’ve learned today: There is no ‘W’ in the Swedish alphabet.

Some good news: It has finally started to rain and the forest fires seem to be under control at last. Helicopters and planes loaned to Sweden from Italy, and Norway, have been sent home. Russia offered to send an enormous water plane last week, but it was refused.

Republicans here have decided such equipment is not needed in Sweden, and have made cutbacks in numerous other essential areas, such as fire fighters and police. Sounds just like the Republicans in the U.S. There thirty forest fires burning in California, Oregon, and other states, all of which are running out of money needed to fight the fires. The Republicans have refused to grant more funds and have now gone on vacation.

“As it is in Rome, it is in Athens also.” Canto the elder.

U.S Fire

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Jorge Amado – Brazil

AMADOI’m trying to get away from listing birthdays, but can’t resist listing that of Jorge Amado, a world class master. Brazilians call him the Pelé of the written word. If you haven’t read Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands (1966) you owe it to yourself to do so. Also, The Two Deaths of Quincas Wateryell. Both are hilarious and brilliant. My all time favorite is, The Swallow and the Tomcat, one of the most beautiful, poignant, short stories ever penned.
Amado’s casts of characters include both poor and the rich, black Brazilians and mixed race. His novels are populated by fishermen, street children, caretakers, prostitutes, immigrants, working men and women – and those who exploited them. His 32 books have sold millions of copies in 40 languages.

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