My Life – and welcome to it.
Monday: Phase two Swedish classes have begun. Wife had to have the car today. I took the bus. Should have been easy. Bus stop is in walking distance, and I’ve rode the bus to school before. Surprise. The bus stop shelter’s gone. There’s nothing left, no signs. The city has been messing with the streets, last chance before the snow falls I suppose. Had no idea if the bus still stopped in the same place, so started walking north to where I thought there was bus stop shelter. Half way there I saw the bus, now coming toward me – right on time. I started waving franticly, and by some minor miracle it stopped. The doors hissed open for me. Benefit of looking old? It’s just a fifteen minute ride to school.
There are ten other students in my ‘Slow’ class. All of them seem to be learning faster than myself. Most of them still fresh off the boat. Perhaps an advantage of youth, their memories not full yet. We started today’s class by telling our names, then each student repeated the names of the others aloud. I can remember a new name for about ten seconds, on a good day. I tend to berate myself for getting old age short-term memory problems, but in truth it was the same for me when I was twenty. Others in class seem to have no problem with it: Fahan, Nader, Nimca, Nura, Amina, Anab, Sanaa, Yusrqa, Sajidah, Abdullahi. Maybe they already knew each other – probably some did. At least I know my limitations and had written the names down as we introduced ourselves.
Tuesday: was easy, sort of. Practicing the alphabet – alfabetet. At last something I am vaguely familiar with, except a lot of the letters sound different, and ‘W’ is missing, they use ‘V’s instead. Ӧ and Ӓ are still a problem, seem to sound about the same. I have three teachers now, each one refusing to speak English. “We don’t speak Arabic, and we don’t speak English,” one of them told me. It’s for damn sure none of them speak Arabic, but seems like they could give me a boost with a couple English words now and then. I’m sure their way of teaching makes sense in the long run. I’m a round peg trying to fit a square hole. The new classes are being taught in three different classrooms, one for writing, one for listening, and one for conversation. So many words . . . so little time. Test coming Friday.
Friday: Bombed out on Swedish language test this morning. No surprise. As usual I had, at best, an 85% understanding of what the test would be about, 15% was a surprise. The Ӓs & Ӧs remained beyond my grasp. After ninety minutes listing to them pronounced on a computer program I still can’t seem to hear the subtle difference. Test teachers read the Swedish alphabet aloud. We were to write them down. I probably got 60% of the more familiar characters right, but was surprised by a page of diphthong-ish sounds, pö, py, sy, etc. They’d been sounded out and practiced in class for ten or fifteen minutes earlier in the week. I hadn’t paid that much attention after, so much else I’m struggling with.
It feels bad to fail these tests, and I feel bad about feeling bad, which doesn’t help. This was a big test, in a room I’d never been inside before, a modest auditorium decorated with photos and memorabilia of a famous opera singer, Jussi Björlilng, born in this small town.
There were better than a hundred of us seated for the test, from Africa and Syria, and Vietnam . . . just one American, yours truly. I think most who took this test will pass. Some will excel. Somali women in my class seem to speak Swedish pretty well, and have discussions with the teachers. Why are they here? To learn writing skills, I suppose. The Alphabet must be a quantum leap away from what they have grown up with.
Why am I here?
We had a half hour break time between two test sessions. Students gathered in small groups at tables and couches in a lounge area that has microwaves, and candy and coffee machines. There are Somali groups, and Syrian groups. Vietnamese have occupied a couch. I’m envious of students hanging with their homeys. I feel so damn out of it sometimes–the only American within a quarter mile.
I’ve been missing America, the things I knew, familiarity of places and ways, a cognitive map constructed over years. Feel like a blind man in a labyrinth. America, that land of affluence and things obtainable, now less than years before, I guess, but still a damn good place to live, perhaps the best. A house of cards that defies gravity, survives financial earthquakes. Working class lose jobs and homes as money changes hands. Life tangos on, dance of diversions, ISIS, and Ebola . . . wars, assassinations and beheadings. Life on earth.
They think there’s been a Russian submarine submerged somewhere in Swedish waters. Navy searched for it this last week, and planned to force it to the surface, but they’ve given up now. “Russian underwater operation . . . plausible,” they say. I love one of the ships they have been looking for it with – HMS Visby, weird design. A stealth ship.
It was not the first time this has happened. It’s a game that Russia plays. I have observed a sense of vague uneasiness, a Swedish gestalt of things and thought quite new to me.
There’s nothing like it in the States. No worries Canada might jump us, or the Mexicans attack. But here, potential enemy is right next door, a big one who is still pissed off about wars fought a couple hundred years ago. There’s talk of Sweden beefing up its military, but it’s complicated. Russia supplies fuel to warm the Swedish winters . . . gasoline for cars.
Nothing is simple anymore, perhaps it never was. We didn’t know so much knew before these days of television, internet, and cell phones. Not sure what we really know today . . . what we are told–as always. Thoughts is passing as I waited in the lounge for session two.
“Sit here.” I’m taken by surprise. A young Somali girl has invites me to a place beside her on a hallway couch. We make awkward small talk. All my classmates are polite and friendly. Some of the Somali women have been looking after me.
“Time to go class.” They pull me from a book I’ve lost myself in, pointing to the proper room. We change classrooms every hour to be with different teachers. They are worried the ‘old man’ might lose his way. I’m happy for their help. Another benefit of age? I am by far the oldest person here. I’ve met one student in his forties, most are still in their late twenties, and I’ve learned my teacher’s father is years younger than myself.
What am I doing here?