Monday, August 14, 2006

Church; Eritrean style

On Sunday we went with our friend Egmont Mika to visit the church in Stockholm that he pastors. These people asked Egmont to be their pastor about 18 months ago, about two years after he began teaching sessions for them on an irregular basis. They are different from most Swedes in that all are from Eritrea, a small country just above the Horn of Africa.

Their meetings are in Tigrinya and, with Egmont as pastor, Swedish. The worship was mostly in Tigrinya. Egmont preached in Swedish and his talk was simultaneously interpreted into Tigrinya. Most of the people -- refugees from years of fighting in the area -- also now understand and speak Swedish, but the language of the heart is always that learned from mother and father. Some of them spoke English. Two interpreted for us, although I found I was able to understand most of the Swedish.

We did not expect ululation as part of the worship, but it erupted many times during the singing, especially from the women. Ululation is common in Arabic countries, and perhaps this is an import from across the Red Sea. The people are a lighter brown than Africans coming from the west and south. Their facial features show a mix of other races. Their language shares roots with Arabic, Hebrew and Amharic.

During the sermon, Egmont laid out the vision that the Lord has shown him for this congregation: Jesus to Eritreans in Sweden, Europe and Eritrea. Primary vision components will be preaching, teaching, equipping and sending.

After the meeting, we went to the home of one of the members where we ate traditional Eritrean fare. The foundation of the food is pancake-like injera. These are laid on the plate and meats and vegetables laid on top. Food is eaten using torn pieces of a second piece of injera as a utensil. The food was actually quite good. We have eaten it before and approached it with relish again.

We found real kinship with these people. But it's no surprise: whatever their color or language or customs, we have found kinship with the followers of Jesus wherever we have met them on the earth.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Swimming in Scandinavia

Scandinavians love to be outdoors. This is expressed in outdoor cafes, eating in the backyard under the trees, hiking, camping, boating, swimming, and more.

Swimming opens up questions about how much of the body to expose. Different cultures have different mores, of course. In some cultures, very little of the woman's body is exposed outside her home. In others, near nudity is the norm. No one seems to care too much about men's bodies.

Scandinavians appear to be quite casual about this. When it came time to changing to swimming clothes, we observed people just simply wrapping a towel around themselves and making the change. The little people just peeled their clothes off and ran off to swim without the encumbrance of any kind of clothing. I have one memory of one little blond-haired four year old doll looking back at me as she walked along the dock wearing a happy smile, googles and nothing else.

I didn't have a big enough towel, so I just went a short ways into the bushes and affected the appropriate changes in attire. No one seems to pay any attention to these goings on, or what others are wearing or not wearing. Underwear in these settings seems to count almost as much as normal outer wear.

Scandinavia seems to have a reputation as a sex-crazed part of the world. While we have lived in the bubble of the church, for the most part, we have never really seen that. What we have seen is a society that is quite a bit more at ease about their bodies than we Americans. Of course, we Americans look like libertines to some cultures.

People often leave their shades open, even after dark, for example. No one seems to look. It just doesn't seem to be interesting, and it is probably considered rude to look. I think that's key to much of this: what we are doing or wearing is our business, and it is not polite to intrude into our personal space by staring.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Learning to speak a new language

Sometimes I marvel at the complexities of language. Until I began to learn Swedish, I didn't think about this. Most of us talk and listen without thinking about it. It's almost like breathing.

But consider this: to speak a language, one must master hundreds of thousands of actions. They include: vocabulary, word forms (e.g. sing, sang, sung), pronunciation, stress, sentence melody, word order in sentence, how to use prepositions, the way people talk, and more.

It's not enough to know vocabulary. One can't go far without a vocabulary of at least a few thousand words, but even a huge vocabulary doesn't help if the hearer doesn't understand the word because it is pronounced wrongly. Word order it is possible get by without usage perfect (you understood this?), and placing the wrong preposition under the sentence (and that?) is understandable, but marks one as a beginner.

Today, I understand much of what I read, and snippets of general conversation. When people speak directly to me, I can usually understand and respond effectively. But in the absence of regular training learning is a long process.

Talking is a somewhat separate process from listening. I have found it really helpful on this trip to talk a lot. I don't get any practice at this in Alaska. Listening is easier....I can use the Internet.

It was interesting when we were in Norway last week to be able to speak in Swedish to an older Norwegian who knows little or no English. The languages are similar enough to be able to pull this off. Our talk was mainly about the weather and family, but it worked.

More in this blog on this topic here and here.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Tunnel masters

Norwegians are real tunnel masters. In our travel from Oslo to Bømlo, we passed through a number of them, some short, others quite long. Some shorten travel through the mountains, others pass under fjords. On an earlier trip we went through a 25 km tunnel east of Bergen.

One of the most interesting was Bømlafjordtunnellen connecting the island municipality of Bømlo with the mainland. It is 7.5 km (4.7 mi) long and over 850 feet deep. There are three lanes allowing passing on the uphill climbs. It is well ventilated and well lit, with numerous safety areas.

The tunnels were paid by the nation's new oil money, and are now paid down by tolls our friends here report. We paid 85 NOK (about $14 USD) at a toll plaza.

Two large suspension bridges connect the rest of the major island groups. At the tops of the uprights are huge Viking helmets. The effectd is visually stunning.

We head south today, and I'm sure we'll pass through even more of these tunnels.