Tag: sweden

Resurrecting the blog

I sit at home staring across Lake Macquarie; sails in the distance off Coal Point bend to the breeze. Billowing clouds soften a pale blue sky; far away on the southern horizon the colours blend into soft blue grey. Spinnakers in blue and red and black colour the expanse between Toronto on the western shore and Valentine to the east.

It is a year and a week since we walked off our flight from Sweden, one year since we came “home.” After a few months of wandering and wondering we found ourselves a house to rent on the shores of this lovely lake, an expanse of water that covers an area larger than Sydney Harbour. I found a job in a little lakeside community with the unlikely name of Toronto. Just recently Maria too started working in a suburb called Charlestown, between here and central Newcastle.

There are worse places to spend your days. My office at work has huge windows with sweeping views across the water. On Wednesday afternoons there is always a friendly race of grey sailed yachts tacking back and forth across the lake. It is beautiful when I arrive in the mornings while the day is young and fresh. It is even more stunning when the evening sun infuses with life the colours of lake and shore. A few times during the winter months I have witnessed a full moon rising over the lake in the darkness before I have left for home in the evening. Then the lake becomes a magical place.

But for all its wonder, our hearts have not come home. Newcastle is new to us, as is Lake Macquarie, and despite all the beautiful sights around us, we have spent a year struggling to find our feet in a society that feels extremely foreign, and often rather ugly, even for me, the most Australian among us. Missionaries returning home after years abroad often speak of the pain of re-entry, but such pain can await any expatriate returning to his or her land of origin. It can happen to anyone coming “home.” It has happened to us.

We are still in transition. We don’t fit here, not yet, and we wonder sometimes if we ever will. Some days are better than others, but after a year, we still long for our other home, in the cold north. We miss our friends, our town, our jobs, our church… we miss so much. Now as Spring comes to Australia, we find ourselves longing for the colours and chill of autumn in Scandinavia.

I have found it hard to write a blog during the year that is now past. It is hard to write of pain when the decision to come back was ours alone, and we think we should be feeling excitement and joy. We feel vaguely like failures.

Few understand. This sunny southland seems like a promised land to many of our Swedish friends, especially when the Nordic winter seems to drag on and on, the icy winds unwilling to release their grip. We have been there for many winters now and we know well the tedium of the seemingly endless cold. I have longed for Australia many times. So what are we complaining about? Surely we should be just basking in the warmth of the sunny south, not whinging.

For our new friends our complaints and grumbling are not welcome either. If we find things so irritating, why did we come? It is easier to stay silent. It is hard to embrace a city that so many of them think is perfect so many ways. So we can’t gush about how happy we are, because that would be dishonest, but at the same time we can’t whine about our pain and struggle, because people don’t know how to cope with that. So we live in our own little bubble, disconnected in many ways from both the world we left, and the world we have come to.

But I think now that the time has come for me to begin writing again. I like writing. I used to write stuff before the internet, but now I can share my thoughts with anyone who stumbles on this site. It will no doubt be sporadic, but if time for writing eludes me I will post a picture. I named this blog “snapshots and ramblings” after all, so maybe snaps will have to suffice sometimes.

When I write I want to try to be honest, but not too negative. I was talking to Madelene, a Swedish friend and colleague, a week or so back, and she challenged me to think of the good things, the things we can be thankful for. It is not a bad habit to get into, to look for the good, and be thankful. I needed to be reminded.

Perhaps I can begin with some pictures from around here. There is much to lift the spirits as I gaze out from our home, and when I sit in my office doing my job.

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Marmong Point and marina, from the hills behind our home.

 

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Looking south across Lake Macquarie, from Speers Point.
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Autumn

Through the window
Through the window

Saturday morning. Crisp cold autumn. Fog blankets our little corner of Örebro. The sky above is clear but the blue is barely visible through the white mist. The fir trees that line the ridge that is known as Brickeberg, behind the houses of our suburb, and beyond which is forest, are ghostly outlines in the haze. The grass of our garden and the top of the hedge that separates it from the road are white with frost. A birch tree across the road is laden with golden leaves, but further away the world seems to dissolve into grey scale – black and white. The sun is shining somewhere beyond, trying to burn the mist away, pushing its brightness through the white veil, but still beyond reach, out there.

It is a long time since I have posted on this blog, almost a year. I have thought so many times about beginning to write again, but the longer it goes the harder it gets. It has been a difficult year for our family with many unwanted challenges, some of which remain unresolved. We still live in Sweden, but we think we will not be here much longer. As time draws on we feel the pull of the great southland, our other home, Australia.

It is a little over nine years since we left that hot dry continent and reestablished our lives here. The plan for a temporary sojourn of a few years did not give us time to achieve our goals. We stayed and stayed and despite a year’s respite in the warmth of those southern climes a few years back we found ourselves returning to this cold and dark but intensely beautiful land. Suddenly we began to feel that we had stayed too long, but we were somehow stuck. Extricating ourselves rom our Swedish life has not come easy, and it is far from accomplished. Sometimes we wonder whether it is smart, or even possible…

Our time here has been good and it has been bad. Which is perhaps a picture of life. We have made decisions that have turned out to be right and others that have turned out to be wrong. We rejoice for the successes and are sad for our failures. There are things that we would change if we could turn back time, but life can only be lived forward and so we can only try to avoid the same mistakes.

It is hard to be a family from two nations, two languages, two cultures. Our children are what are nowadays known as third culture kids. They are entering adulthood now and like us, their parents, wonder where they belong. They are not Swedish, they are not Australian. They belong to a third culture, and that is the identity and heritage we have given to them. They are not alone in this. There are millions of kids around the world who leave childhood and embark on life with the same burden, if that is what it is. They carry that idea of themselves for the rest of their lives. I know how that feels because I am one of them, a third culture kid. Sometimes I rejoice for the wonders that it let me experience. Sometimes I weep.

If things go according to plan this will be our last year in Sweden. It is painful to write that, and yet in some ways is a relief. If I am to post blogs in the months that remain they will be written in that context – of winding up, of closing down, of clearing out the debris of the past years. At present I feel no excitement about moving again, finding a new home, establishing new connections and relationships. But I trust that anticipation and excitement will come. It is a strange time.

I peer through the fog beyond our triple glazed windows. The sky is getting brighter and more colours emerge from the black and grey lines. Autumn has been lovely, with little rain and frequent blue skies. The temperature has slipped slowly down toward zero and frosts have really only arrived in the last week. Gloves and hats are pulled once more from storage and we reluctantly realise that winter is just around the corner. If it rains there will soon be ice on the roads and cycling will assume its winter challenge.

Will there be snow before Christmas this year, I wonder?

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Colours in autumn mist

Australia and Ebola

I read the following statement in an article in an Australian medical newspaper (Medical Observer) this morning:

THE US and Britain have made specific appeals for Australia to send personnel to fight the Ebola epidemic in West Africa, despite the government’s insistence that it won’t send Australians into harm’s way.

That expression, “into harms way,” got me thinking. There is no doubt that the countries of West Africa that have been smitten with this epidemic are dangerous places to go. There is no guarantee of coming home alive. I am reminded of the missionaries of the nineteenth century who packed their belongings in a wooden box that could double as a coffin. Few expected to come home alive, and few did. The missionary call to Africa was a call for life, and in many cases a call to death. West Africa has never been an easy place to be.

Yet for millions of people it is home. Their home has become a place of fear and death. The epidemic that is raging there threatens to destroy the peace. People are frightened and desperate. But they have few resources to respond. It is easy to look down on the local people of Liberia and Sierra Leone as uneducated and ignorant. But they are just like many of us. One of my doctor friends told me the other day of a patient of his who would not go to the USA on holidays because there was Ebola in America! And we live in the highly educated and enlightened country of Sweden. If even people here can be so controlled by fear is it any wonder that Africans who are facing this threat daily can easily be overcome by their anxiety and begin to act irrationally.

“Into harms way” reminded me of a favourite film of mine, Behind Enemy Lines (see the trailer here). There is a wonderful scene on the deck of an aircraft carrier when a US general uses the same expression. He is giving a pep talk to a team he is sending into war torn Yugoslavia to rescue a pilate forced to eject from his fighter plane, behind enemy lines. It is a rousing speech, when he challenges the soldiers to be ready to sacrifice their own safety, even their own lives, to rescue a friend and comrade. (“Gentlemen, I intend to put you in harms’ way. Any man who doesn’t wish to join this mission, step away now!”)

This military connection made me think of the Australian government’s willingness to send soldiers to fight in distant wars, the most recent being the struggle against ISIS. Why is the government so ready to send weapons and military aid to fight against the evil of ISIS which is conceivably a much harder battle to win than the battle against Ebola? But content to wait for the Ebola threat to reach our shores before we act?

There are people willing to go, Australians as well as many others. But they fear for their safety. They need to go knowing they have the support of the Australian people and the Australian government, knowing that they won’t be abandoned.

Today I signed a petition calling on the Australian government to commit money and medical resources to the battle against Ebola. Maybe that is odd for me, since I live in Sweden. Sweden has committed lots of money, more than Australia if I understand correctly. The subject is discussed daily in the medical and general press here. Volunteers are not exactly pouring out of the woodwork, but they are coming, and they are celebrated as heroes, as they should be. But I am Australian and proud of that fact, even if I live on the other side of the world right now. I don’t want people to think that my country, with far more resources than Sweden, is sitting on its hands. I want to see us as Australians responding to this threat with the same commitment and enthusiasm that we have committed to so many other worthy causes over the years. Why should we wait for Ebola to come to the Asia Pacific? There is a battle to be won now, a pre-emptive strike that we need to launch.

You can sign the same petition on the Get Up website here.

Christian solidarity in Örebro

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The events in Iraq over recent weeks have shocked the world and cries out for action, for response, but it is easy to feel helpless as we observe from a distance the slaughter of innocents, Christians, Muslims and Yazidis. We look to our governments to react but in Sweden at least there has been a noticeable lack of comment at a government level. In the last day a few headlines have caught my attention, amongst others an article about the deportation of a Yazidi man, an asylum seeker who the Immigration Department has decided to send back to Iraq because they have assessed the situation there to not be of sufficient threat to his safety, and because they believe there are adequate safe havens in Iraqi refugee camps (see http://www.svt.se/nyheter/varlden/migrationsverket-fortsatter-att-utvisa-yazidier). This seems extraordinary in light of the constant reports in the media of the aim of ISIS to wipe out this people group, effective genocide. One wonders just how dangerous it needs to be in a country to justify asylum in Sweden. The Swedish government has said that they will respond to the crisis with humanitarian aid (though I am not aware of any forthcoming yet), but they have no intention of getting involved militarily. The Kurdish forces that seem to represent the only significant military resistance on the ground in Iraq need arms, but despite the fact that weapons represent a major export in Sweden there appears no intention of Sweden to even provide this kind of assistance, let alone actual troops.

DSC_5543Örebro is home to thousands of Assyrian Christians, families who have fled from their various homelands in Turkey and Syria. They speak a language close to Aramaic, the native tongue of Jesus. They are, unlike many Westerners, proudly Christian, and unashamed of their allegiance to the Syrian Orthodox Church in this country where it is regarded as somewhat inappropriate to speak publicly about personal faith. These Assyrian Christians have a heritage of persecution and genocide. The events of 1915 are still fresh in the minds of many even if they happened long before contemporary Assyrians were born. The Assyrian community in Sweden has been shocked by the events unfolding in Iraq in the last few weeks. Although many Swedes (and not just Swedes, but Westerners in general) seem to find it relatively easy to turn a blind eye, possibly even to think things can’t be as bad as the media is making out (think of the reaction of the Immigration Department), Assyrian Christians have no illusions about just how bad things can be. They are acutely aware that if ISIS means to wipe out Christians (not to mention Yazidis and even Muslims of other persuasions) then they will do it if no-one stops them. They are also acutely aware that the ambitions of ISIS are not limited to Syria and Iraq, but to the whole Muslim world and beyond.

Today we joined the Assyrian church (St Marias kyrka) in a march in central Örebro to demonstrate solidarity with the threatened peoples of Iraq and opposition to the ISIS terrorists. The march was a quiet affair – indeed it was meant to be silent, symbolising the response of the Swedish government to the crisis, the seeming reluctance of people in power in Sweden to denounce ISIS. It was a privilege to walk with thousands of Assyrians through the streets of our city. Most of the churches of Örebro joined in, and even some secularists – the Humanism Society – supported the initiative. At the end of the march we gathered in Olof Palmes Torg to listen to various speakers, from both the Swedish Christian communities and the Assyrian Christian community (as well as a few politicians). We were reminded that what is happening in Iraq at the moment represents the plans of a very powerful group of terrorists to eradicate ancient Eastern Christianity from the earth. Many see this church as the cradle of Christianity, even as the cradle of what we know as Western civilisation. It was sobering to reflect on the events unfolding in the world today.

At the end we walked back to the car and crossed the big square in town, Stortorget, where various political groups were speaking on their soapboxes. There is an election in Sweden in a few weeks time and the political parties of the nation are presenting their visions for a better Sweden to the populace. There have been signs around town advertising the rallying cries of various party representatives. These vary from the usual things such as job creation and school reforms to some which are blatantly ridiculous. Perhaps the most embarrassing is the picture of an aspiring politician with the words beneath, “Scrap TV fees.” In the context of the times we are living in can there be anything more trivial?

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Blue mountains

West of Sydney are the Blue Mountains, spectacular and of major significance in the history and development of European colonisation of NSW. West of Örebro there is a range of low lying hills which is also sometimes called den blåa bergen – the blue mountains – which is of significance in the history and development of Sweden in the 18th and 19th centuries. For Australia the Blue Mountains represented a barrier to westward expansion from the sea, where the colony of Port Jackson had been founded. For Sweden, the blue mountains, being part of Bergslagen, represented rich deposits of iron ore which were of a major source of wealth if only it could be got out of the ground.

But nowadays Örebro’s blue mountains are mainly a recreational area, and yesterday morning in the crisp Spring sunshine I went for a few hours hike up into the hills, in the area around Klockahammar and Lockhyttan, up to one of the most spectacular viewpoints, a rocky outcrop called Rusakulan. I parked the car at Blankhult, where there is a stuga (lodge) for vandrare (hikers) and headed northward along Berglagsleden (the Bergslag trail). The track, mostly dry but in some places muddy, first skirted around a wooded rise, among birches just bursting into leaf. The sun was warm on my shoulders and although the temperature was not more than 5 or 6 degrees I was soon unzipping my cotton jacket to cool down. 

The gatekeeper
The gatekeeper

A wooden sculpture appeared ahead, vaguely menacing, an image of a woodcutter strategically placed where the trail suddenly dropped steeply down, down into a darkly forested gully, the so called Trolldalen (troll hollow). I read the plaque nailed on the tree stump on which he stood – “Portvakten” – the gatekeeper. I descended the trail, into the forest glade, glimpsing a tiny lake through the trees to my left, and at the bottom crossed a rough bridge of birch trunks over a crystal clear beck. There was not a troll in sight. The lake, I discovered, was one of many dams built some time in the far past to provide a steady water supply for the forest industry surrounding the getting of iron.

The track then climbed through darker woods of towering firs and pines. The forest floor was soft with moss, the track mostly dry, as I hopped over roots and rocks, winding between the endless trees. Another lake appeared on my right – Stora Klockahyttesjön – the water glittering in the morning light. A sign marked the location of a former kolbotten (coal bottom) where once men worked to produce charcoal for the smelting of iron. There were thousands of these dotted throughout Bergslagen at one time in history, when the processing of iron ore required vast quantities of fuel. I tried to imagine the life of a charcoal burner, living out here in the forest, cutting wood, living in a little hut with maybe one companion. These men were crofters – they paid the rent for their croft in charcoal – so this was an important part of their daily existence, but by no means the focus of their lives, which was to produce enough food for their families. The old wooden houses – “torp” – of the crofters are still to be seen all through Kilsbergen, which is the name by which the blue mountains are known here outside Örebro. 

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Trolldalen

Eventually I found the steep winding track up to Rusakulan and climbed panting up and out of the trees to the rocky top. I had not passed another human on the way, but there on the top were two men who had come up by another way, on motorbikes. One of them recognised me – it seemed odd to be greeted by name out there in the middle of the wilderness – and we chatted idly as we gazed out over the vast landscape of the Närke plain. In the distance we could see Örebro and the big lake of Hjälmaren, but closer we spotted the spire of Närkes Kil’s mediaeval village church. Tysslingen lake also glinted in the sun, and all around the fields lay brown and ready for the growing season ahead – a tractor was ploughing with a cloud of dust behind.

I descended the stony knoll on the other side and came eventually back to the track I had come on. Back through the forest and the troll gully, across the whispering beck. Past the gatekeeper I took a different route, upwards over higher country where the forest had been cleared and the land was covered with stumps and new growth. Clusters of tiny white flowers – vitsippor – quivered in the gentle breeze, one of the “signs of spring.” Some old towering pine trees had been left, standing lonely in the barren landscape. I found myself thinking of “lone pines” and battlefields of WW1. It was Anzac Day after all, though no Swedes I had asked knew what that was. I descended to where the car was parked and drove back into town, refreshed and energised by my few hours in the blue hills.

Rusakulan
Rusakulan

In Sweden remembering ANZAC

Date: 25 April 2014 05:47
Location: Örebro, Sweden
Weather: -2° Mostly Sunny

The sun is just creeping over the horizon here in the far north; another glorious Spring day of blue skies and birdsong breaks forth. In Turkey, barely four hours away by plane, its an hour later, 6.45 am, and the sun has already risen there too. I think of the thousands of my countrymen (and women) who are gathered at Gallipoli this morning for the dawn service, commemorating the men who fought and died there in 1915 during the ill-fated ANZAC campaign. The 25th April is indelibly etched into my consciousness, as it is for all Australians, as a day to remember those young men who sailed off to a distant war, a war which was so vitally important to that whole generation of Australians though it feels odd to us in our day, a war which dragged the world from idealism and naivety into the modern age, a war that ended so many young lives full of promise, and changed others forever.

I just read a blog by an Australian family history enthusiast (cassmob). It is entitled entitled “Two brothers go to war”  and tells the story of Les and Fred Fisher (sons of Martin Fischer), who were cousins of my great grandfather, Charles Holdorf (son of Caroline Fischer), who also served with the Australian Army in the Great War. Living, as I do now, closer to Germany than Australia, I have found myself wondering lately about other, at present unknown, relatives who were likely serving in the same war but on the other side, since the Holdorfs and the Fishers came from German stock, immigrants to Australia in the 1850s.

1915 seems a long time in the past, and the blood soaked beaches of Gallipoli seem a long way away from our peaceful home in Scandinavia. The Spring this year is beautiful. Yesterday when I woke I walked into our sun drenched dining room for breakfast and thought to myself, days like this make me glad to be alive.

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Back to Loka

One of the houses at Loka Brunn, with the yellow house “Finnhyttan” behind.

I’m here for the second time this year, but this time at a two day diabetes conference. It’s still winter, the snow is deep, the air crisp and icy, but the days are thankfully getting longer. Its evening and I am sitting in my room, one of 150 (Loka Brunn can house up to 300 guests) hotel rooms in the scattered buildings of this old spa resort. The building that contains my room bears the name Finnhyttan, and is a big old yellow wooden house dating back to the 19th century. But the history of Loka Brunn goes much further back, at least to the 1600s. Even in mediaeval times the springs of Loka were a much appreciated resting place for pilgrims travelling to the holy shrine of St Olaf in Nidaros Cathedral in Trondheim, the most important pilgrimage site in Northern Europe.

Loka really took off as as a health spa in the 1760s, when the king of Sweden, Adolf Fredrik, came to drink the waters. The king had long suffered from migraines which were cured after a two week stay at Loka following a prescription of 4-6 liters intake of spring water per day, as well as mud baths and cold water bathing. Massage was added later as part of the standard treatment regime.

The area grew into a little colony of houses during the 18th and 19th centuries, and new buildings were added throughout the twentieth, so that there are now over 50 buildings her, one of which is the spa centre or “Water Salon”. Although contemporary medical treatment is far removed from the treatments of the 1600s, Loka is still linked closely with health care through its use by the Örebro Health Authority for conferences and educational events, like the conference which I am currently attending.

And there are the added attractions of a relaxing spa or massage in the evening, and an excellent restaurant which serves gourmet meals, to look forward to after a long day of lectures and discussion.