Saturday, May 29, 2010

Swedish Adventures and Homecoming

These pictures are from the last day in April, when many people in Sweden have community bonfires. The tradition is that the fire is supposed to ward of the cold and snow of winter and bring in springtime. It is some kind of Pagan tradition. It was fun and the fire was so huge. We also visited a viking graveyard. They make large mounds for the vikings instead of burying them underground. The bigger the mound, the more important the person. Apparently with vikings, the only way to go to heaven is to die in battle, otherwise you will be reborn again until you do. I don't have any pictures, unfortunately, but it was a beautiful place, with many mounds of stone and dirt as well as some old walls to a church. I have been learning quite a lot of things about Sweden, though I am not fully aware of it, because these traditions are just a part of life here and not so spectacular to the people around me. It is pretty cool. Sometime I will come back, visit more places, and learn Swedish. I know a few words and phrases, but I have a lot more to learn. I am coming back to the US with Oskar in tow on June 8th. That is so soon, I am having a lot of anxiety. Maybe a relaxing summer at home, lifeguarding and teaching swim lessons, will be nice. I hope to make a few trips to see friends in various places (mostly NC) who I have missed dearly. And of course, I will be glad to see my family again. Over the summer, I will also spend some time planning my next adventure. I have many ideas, but I need to focus on one so I can plan it out in time. Unfortunately, travel is not so easy with all the issues of money and visa requirements. It is such pain, even if you have the best of intentions, for some reason, immigration people I think just want to make things such a problem. Well, we will see how it goes.

Saturday, April 10, 2010


"She was on the beach with her father, and he asked her to go and see what the temperature of the water was like. She was five years old and glad to be able to help. She we the to water's edge and dipped in a toe. 'I put my feet in and it's cold,' she told him. Her father picked her up and carried her down to the water again, and, without any warning, threw her in. She was shocked at first, but then laughed out loud at the trick he'd played. 'How's the water?' asked her father. 'It's lovely,' she replied. 'Right, from now on, whenever you want to find out about something, plunge straight in.' She had quickly forgotten this lesson. She may only have been twenty-one, but she had already nurtured many enthusiasms, which she had abandoned as quickly as she had taken them up. She wasn't afraid of difficulties; what frightened her was being forced to choose one particular path. Choosing a path meant having to miss out on others. She had a whole life to live and she was always thinking that, in the future, she might regret the choices she made now. 'I'm afraid of committing myself,' she thought to herself. She wanted to follow all possible paths and so ended up following none." -Paulo Coelho, Brida

Friday, April 9, 2010

Mora, Sweden

I am staying in Mora for a couple months. It's farther north than where Oskar lives with his dad, so it's colder, and there is still snow everywhere. Today it is really sunny, so the weather is looking more promising. I am staying with Oskar's mom, his sister Stina (17 on April 28th), and his baby sister Lotta (14 months). So far it has been enjoyable getting to play with the baby everyday and help her mom out. I also bought a swim pass so I can go to the pool everyday. I have a library card, too and just finished my first book: Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. It was a pretty good read, and there are 2 more books in the series. I checked out a book on learning Swedish. It comes with a textbook, workbook, and CD. It is really basic stuff, but I think it will help in the long run. Hopefully I can learn a little bit of Swedish from it, so I don't feel totally stupid after spending so much time in this country. I think if you are in a country this long, you have to at least learn a little bit of the language, or else you are just being a bad visitor. I should be getting my resident permit in my passport soon, since I am a temporary resident of Sweden. Sounds exciting. Now it is time to enjoy the sun while I can, after a little swimming of course. I am sure I got some kind of vitamin D deficiency being here for so long. I miss spring in SC, but I hear it's too hot anyway. It will be quite a shock to go back in June.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Witch of Portobello

I’m going in search of the adventure of being alive.

And it’s complicated: why am I not looking for happiness when everyone has taught me that happiness is the only goal worth pursuing?

Why am I going to risk taking a path that no one else is taking? After all, what is happiness?

Love, they tell me. But love doesn’t bring and never has brought happiness.

On the contrary, it's a constant state of anxiety, a battlefield; it's sleepless nights, asking ourselves all the time if we’re doing the right thing. Real love is composed of ecstasy and agony. All right then, peace.

Peace? If we look at the Mother, she’s never at peace. The winter does battle with the summer, the sun and moon never meet, the tiger chases the man, who’s afraid of the dog, who chases the cat, who chases the mouse, who frightens the man.

Money brings happiness. Fine. In that case, everyone who earns enough to have a high standard of living would be able to stop work. But then they’re more troubled than ever, as if they were afraid of losing everything. Money attracts money, that’s true. Poverty might bring unhappiness, but money wont necessarily bring happiness. I spent a lot of my life looking for happiness, now what I want is joy.

Joy is like sex – it begins and ends. I want pleasure. I want to be contended, but happiness? I no longer fall into that trap.

by Paulo Coelho ( “The Witch of Portobello” )

I have read this book about 4 times. I still love it. Everyone should read it. Paulo Coelho is amazing.

Cross Country Skiing

When I got back to Sweden after my trips to Morocco and France, I discovered the wonderful sport of cross country skiing. Needless to say, I mastered it in 2 minutes, and I will be in the next Olympics of course!! Ok, not really. But it is a lot of fun! We went out on the frozen lake in Hjo and I got some pointers on the basics of cross country skiing, then I was off! It is a wonderful full body workout. A few days later, Oskar, his friend Erik (now my friend, too), and I went on the cross country skiing trails in the woods just outside Hjo. We brought snacks and hot chocolate for afterwards. I may have fallen on every downhill, and it may have taken 20 minutes to get up every small uphill, but it was great! We had a wonderful laughter-filled day, even though I got some bruises. I have decided that I need to live somewhere where I can go cross-country skiing a lot in the winter. This could be my second favorite sport now (second to swimming of course). Downhill skiing is something else entirely. I just got back from a three day skiing trip in Sälen. I have a lot of difficulty maneuvering myself with skis on, which ended up in my tripping over a lot of people in line, but that's ok. Though I went on a skiing trip there just after Christmas, I felt like I started over completely in learning. I suppose it didn't take quite as long for me to get used to it, but the second day I had to start getting over my fear again. It's scary going that fast! It's not so bad when it's slower, but once the speed picks up, I feel like I have no control over my skis, and then I am afraid of running into people or into a tree or something. Oh well. We had a great time, and I think I did really well, considering I am pretty much a beginner. Here are some pictures of the slopes and the frozen lake skiing.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Hammam and Last Days in Morocco

I went back to Marrakech to spend a couple more nights. The weather is warmer and sunnier there, so I thought it would be fun to go back. It was a lot of fun. I met a few nice people at the market and we ended up spending the rest of the time together. There was a nice couple from Poland on break from school. They had been to Agadir and Essaouira before spending two nights in Marrakech. Next time, I need to go to these cities. They are beautiful and warm all year round. Marrakech is pretty great, too. The market at night is wonderful, with all the lights and the food cooking. We shopped around a little and I got a couple scarves and a tunic. Then we had some traditional Moroccan soup at one of the food stands. We listened to some good drum music and then after being hassled for money for watching, we decided to call it a night. It is wonderful meeting new people and spending time getting to know them and their culture. I hope one day I will make it to Poland and stay with them. For the last day I had in Morocco, Zineb and I went to hammam. Hammam is almost like a spa or just a bath house. But I felt like it was a spa and I was getting excellent treatment. You go into this room, in your underwear, lay out a mat and rub this brown gooey soap they give you into your skin. Then an old lady comes in and takes this scrub brush (everyone brings their own) and scrubs you: back, side, front, side. She basically is tearing off a couple layers of skin, she scrubs so hard. But it certainly gets you clean. Then you rinse off, wash your hair and such. There are dozens of buckets of warm water all around to use. It is a nice experience. I felt so clean. Afterwards, we went to get our hair dried and manicures. I know, not really a typical Sara thing to do, but it was fun to feel a little pampered. It was a nice way to spend my last day. The hammam is so relaxing and wonderful. It is really too bad they don't have them in the Western parts of the world. My trip to Morocco is over, sadly. However, I know I will come back, and next time I will bring a travel friend so I can feel more free to do all the amazing things there are to do in Morocco (backpacking in the Rif mountains, riding camels in the desert, etc). I am in Paris for one night before I head back to Sweden. I am staying with some old campers from the camp I used to work at (Camp Celo). It's kind of nice knowing people in different countries. It makes finding accommodations a lot easier. Hopefully, I will find a way to continue to stay in Europe (job, work permit, etc), we'll see!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

A Weekend in Marrakech

I have finished my training course in France. I got my certificate and then left for Morocco. I spent all day traveling on various trains and a plane, but finally got here at around 12:30am yesterday morning or Friday night. It was wonderful to see Zineb and her family again. Rahal, her son, is talking now and is as wild and crazy as he was last summer. We spent the day relaxing by the pool and having tea. Later we went to the market. It is a huge and busy place. There are so many sounds and smells, it is unbelievable. There are the cobra tamers, the drummers, cymbals, motorbikes, and at least 7 different languages that you can hear just walking around. The smells are amazing. There are so many spices and people cooking different things. My favorite is the smell of fresh orange juice when we get near to a juice stand. We walked around the market then went to a restaurant on the roof to look over the marketplace and have some pizza. It was a wonderful evening. Tomorrow we will go earlier to the market when it is not so crowded and maybe do some real shopping. There are so many beautiful and colorful things. I love everything here! I am looking forward to spending the next 11 days drinking Moroccan tea, eating Moroccan food, and having fun with my Moroccan family.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Abbaye de Bon Repos

Yesterday afternoon, when Paula and I got back from class and when we were all having tea, Jacques and Cathy invited us to go out and see some of the area. We had been so busy this whole time with school that we have not had a chance to really venture out and see much. I was so exhausted from not sleeping much the night before, I really did not think I could go, but knew that I would regret it if I did not. Turns out, as soon as we started driving, all my weariness disappeared. It was so good to not be stuck inside a classroom or stuck inside doing homework. We stopped by the Abbaye de Bon Repos first. It was a nice old building with a beautiful canal in front of it. It also had an old amphitheater where they put on shows every year. It was so good to walk around and be outside, I found myself skipping and being silly. All the exhaustion went away. No one was meant to sit that long for that many days in a row. Something I intend to change if I ever become a teacher. There was a nice rainbow when we got out of the car. It does not really show up well in the picture. Afterward, we went to see the lake. It is the biggest lake in Brittany. We walked around a bit more and had a great time. We stopped inside a little bar and had hot chocolate next to their fireplace. It was a wonderful day. I am so glad they took us out. It is so much better than sitting around worrying about this program. This morning at 5am Cathy and Jacques 4th grandson was born. His name is Roman. They are very happy and have made a hundred calls. Now they are getting ready for a big lunch with their old teacher friends. They are making rabbit. I think I will try some. Why not? I heard it is like chicken, so it can't be that bad! Tomorrow, we are going swimming again, and if we get our work done, they will take us to see the coast. I am excited for another chance to explore and do something outside of the house and outside of the classroom!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

"Americans have bad pronunciation"

So, I did my last lesson yesterday, since today's had to be canceled. I had 6 students, 4 of them I had seen before and two of them were new. One was more of an intermediate student, but participated in the beginners lesson as well. Instantly, as I introduced myself to him, he had a big problem with my name. "Sara." He kept asking me "What? What are you saying?" Finally, at the start of class, I wrote my name on the board and he figured it out. He continued to mumble something to the lady sitting next to him about the pronunciation. He also said out loud to me about why I pronounce my name like that. I told him it is an American pronunciation. Then I ignored his other comments and moved on with class. After class, he still seemed to have an issue with it. I told him I have heard at least 7 different pronunciations of "Sara" and this is the one that we use in the US. Then he also complained about the way I pronounced "person." Apparently, the British say it "person," but I was saying "perlson" with an "l." (He is also hard of hearing, but apparently it's my fault I put an "l" in "person"). I know I did no such thing. Then he proceeded to tell me how Americans don't have good pronunciation. They have different "a" sounds than the I guess that makes us wrong? Anyway, Paula, Cathy, and I had a little conversation about this person last night together. Cathy is not so fond of him either. Another insult to my American English that came up in the lesson I taught about "verbs" yesterday for the other student, Paula, was the word "dove." Now, I have been a swimming for most of my life. "Dove" and "dive" are words that I used constantly at the pool on a daily basis. But, it does not exist in British or Australian English, so therefore, it must not exist and all and be completely wrong. So, lead trainer Tony says to me, after using the word "dove," "It doesn't exist, you can look it up, but it doesn't exist in English. "Dove" exists, as in the bird, but not as another form of 'dive.'" Well, I tried to be polite and accept it and move on with my lesson, but I will have you know that I DID look it up and it WAS in the dictionary. In fact, it was in several dictionaries and online sites that I found. Yes, it did say it was mainly used in the US as well as Canada, but, Mr. I'm British and Always Right, that does not make it wrong. So, I will continue to happily use the word "dove" however I please. On the plus side, he said he rarely has people do that well on their grammar presentations and said I was a natural teacher and he would be happy to give me a lot of positive feedback as a reference to any job I applied for. So, he's not so bad, but it's his way or the highway in terms of his classroom, even when I am teaching. Some more positive things, I just got my plane ticket to Morocco where I will spend around 10 days with Zineb and her family. I am very excited to see them and excited to go back to Morocco. After that, I will spend one night in Paris before going back to Sweden for three more weeks. I just applied to a French immersion camp and hope to hear back from them soon. I think this job would be perfect for me right now, and I think I am perfect for the job, so I hope I get it! I miss a lot of my friends and family, but I am still having a good time here, even though it's a lot of work. I know in the end it will be worth it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

I am a Teacher!

So far I have done two different English lessons with real French students! Last week I did a beginner's lesson, and today I did an intermediate lesson. My first lesson topic was about going to the movies and today's lesson was cooking. I have enjoyed both of them. What I don't enjoy is the teacher training droning on about all this technical stuff that is no fun at all. I want to have more practice lessons. What is frustrating, and only a tiny bit helpful, is his very picky critiques of how we do our lessons. I mean, some suggestions I can understand and do think are helpful, but others I just think he is being a little too picky. I think my self-evaluations are more helpful than him. Anyway, the other student, who has been a primary school teacher for 20+ years, says I look like a natural teacher. Today, both Jacques and Cathy, the French couple I am staying with, attended my lesson and enjoyed it a lot. Jacques usually never comes to any lessons and I begged him to come to mine. He said he was too embarrassed. He has only been to a couple lessons in the past, so I was sure that no matter what I said, he wouldn't come. But, as I was getting ready, I saw both Cathy and Jacques walk in the door and I was so excited that he had come, all my nerves disappeared! I didn't feel the least bit nervous. No shaking or any worries messing me up. I did worry a little because my timing on the activities did not go exactly as I had hoped, so I am afraid I rushed a little bit. Anyway, altogether both my lessons were successful and enjoyable for me and seemingly enjoyable for the other students. The other intermediate student there was a man named Saidou from Mauritania. That is just north of Senegal so I have been anticipating getting to talk to him a little bit. Since I spent almost four months in Senegal, it was nice to see someone who has been there and lives near there. We did an activity where they were put into pairs and had to make a list of ingredients and share with the class. Then class would then guess what dish it was. His dish ended up being the famous ceebujen. That is the fish and rice dish of Senegal and now I know it is also famous in Mauritania as well. This isn't surprising since the Wolof people can be found in the Gambia and other surrounding countries near Senegal. Ceeb is the wolof word for rice and jen is the word for fish. I believe that u is a form of and. Don't quote me on that, but it does make sense. I am hoping next time I will have a chance to talk to him more about Mauritania and Senegal. I am thinking of returning to Morocco for a couple weeks after the program is done. I don't have any job prospects at the moment and I would rather not stick around here in the middle of the French countryside. Not that it isn't beautiful, but it is winter, and I am in need of a change of scenery. I will be happy to see Zineb and all her family again!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Les Crêpes, Nager, et La Couleur Verte

Crepes, Swimming, and the Color Green! Friday night, Jaques made us crepes for supper. He had a large circle pan without sides. He poured the batter on, then lightly spread it out with a wooden tool. They were huge and super thin. He made buckwheat and sweeter crepes. I had mine with an egg and cheese. He spread the egg out over the crepe the same way he spread the crepes out. It was pretty cool to watch. We decided together that Friday night would be crepe night. I had a go at making a crepe. I did not quite spread it out correctly, and it had a couple holes in it, but I was able to flip it perfectly! At least I have couple more Fridays to practice. I am going to write down the recipe and buy my own crepe pan and tools someday. They are delicious! Leftover with butter and jam they are good, too. I had a dessert crepe with butter and a caramel sauce. Yum! We also had delicious homemade cider. A wonderful meal and evening with my French hosts and Aussie lady. Saturday, I woke up, went downstairs for breakfast and was shocked to see something I have not seen since I left the states. The grass! The color Green! It was amazing. No more fields covered in snow, no more ice to walk on, no more freezing toes! It is beautiful! Today, the sun is shining and the greenery is so wonderful. It has warmed up enough so that I am going to go for a run along the country roads later. It is nice to have some color in the landscape again. Yesterday, we went on an adventure to St Brieuc to go swimming. It was closed when we got there, so we all went out for lunch in order to kill time before going back to the pool. We walked around the streets, first, and looked at different shops and the Saturday market. It was a nice walk, and fun to explore the town a bit. But the best part of the day was jumping into a pool with was perfect in temperature and swimming for 45 minutes. I haven't been in almost a year, since they destroyed the pool at Guilford. It felt really good to be in the water again. They will take me every weekend to go swimming. Between that and an occasional run, I think I am getting back on track with my exercise. It is nice to stay active, especially when class is all day long and you just sit there doing nothing but listening to this guy talk and the Aussie lady ask a million questions. I am sore today, and it feels so great!! Things are going really well. I have gotten used to the Aussie lady and her endless questions and comments, and I don't mind sitting and participating in mindless chit chat at dinner and tea time. (By the way, she calls dinner 'tea'). I know I need my alone time, and I get it through walks, or watching movies, or playing on the internet. My job search continues, though I am confident that at the very least, I can work for a French immersion camp. My experience as a camp counselor and my French abilities will surely easily make me qualified for this job. I am, in fact, over-qualified with the TEFL certificate, because that is not required. I feel pretty good about things. The only thing missing now is playing my violin and contra dancing!! There is some kind of "ball" thing happening today and Jaques dad is playing saxophone with an accordion and drums for the music accompaniment. I may check it out, but I do have a lot of work to do, preparing my lesson plans and activities and sending out emails for jobs. Maybe next time. That is all for now. Not a whole lot goes on around here, in the middle of rural Brittany, but I am enjoying myself.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Sweden: In a Nutshell

I went to Sweden for three weeks over Christmas and New Years before coming to France. So, in a nutshell, this was my trip! I had Christmas with all of Oskar's mom's family. A lot of sitting and listening to Swedish, but there was really good food and people were very nice. It is more north, so it was really cold! But really enjoyable anyway. I got to try out driving a snowmobile which was terrifying/thrilling. Oskar and I drove around in a big field, and yes, I wore a helmet. :) That was the most exciting thing I did there I think. After Mora (the name of the town), we went to a ski resort for three days. Free passes, free rentals, and an amazing time! I have not really been skiing much except a couple church trips when I was in middle school. Basically, I was a beginner and I was terrified. I had a lot of fun though! I was sure I would get frostbite on my fingers since I did not really have ski gloves, but I survived. The view from the top of the slopes is incredible, I wish I had my camera. You could watch the sun going down over the snowy mountains and the light was amazing. You could also see into Norway from where we were. The third day, instead of skiing, we went to a big spa place. It had one room with a huge pool and fancy water slides, it had a place to "surf," and then there was this quiet sauna area with 4 or so different kinds of saunas, jacuzzi, and bar, which had lots of free water :) It was so fun and relaxing on my sore muscles from skiing. I did not want to leave! All in all, a great trip! And mostly free! We headed down south to Hjo, where Oskar lives with his dad and stepmom. He has a really nice house near town. It is just a small walk down to the fancy chocolate shop his dad and stepmom run. One of the last days, we got to hang out in the basement and try all the truffles we wanted. It was amazing. They had a big party for New Years, which was fun and nice to meet a lot of different people from Sweden (and one from Finland). I enjoyed exploring the town, going skating, and freezing my butt off...ok, maybe I didn't really enjoy that part all that much. We got stuck in the snow one night and had a lot of fun digging ourselves out with another of Oskar's friends. So, there is the shortened summary of my trip. I probably forgot stuff that I did, but those are the highlights. I think skiing and the snowmobile were the most exhilarating experiences. But really, it was all so wonderful, and felt like the shortest three weeks of my life. However, I intend to return there after I am finished here in France. I am currently looking for language centers where I may find some work as an English teacher or assistant. I will be applying in the next couple days and hopefully something will work out. Maybe I am being too optimistic? But I have decided to be as diligent as possible and find something. Wish me luck!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

I'm in France now!

So, I started this blog last year when I went to Senegal. Maybe I should keep it up since I have been to three different countries since then? Maybe I have interesting things to say? Ha! We'll see. I left Sweden on Friday, much to my dismay, but will be going back inch'allah in about 5 weeks. I am doing a 4 week training program to teach English as a foreign language. I am in rural Brittany and there is snow everywhere. Not much different than Sweden. Apparently they have not had this much snow in 20 years. Great. Perfect timing. However, I am already used to it so I am not freaking out like everyone else. There is only one other student. A 50 year old lady from Australia. She is the kind of personality that I can only take in small doses. However, we are living in the same place and having class all day together. So, I am learning to deal with it. Today is already better than the other days, which is good. We are staying with a very nice French couple. They have a really nice and modern house. I have my own room and a DVD player so I can watch movies if I want. It is really great. They help me a lot with my French, which is fun and just what I need. When I was in Senegal, I spoke as little as possible to the family I stayed with mainly because they were terrifying. Anyway, they are wonderful people, and their food is amazing. I am going to have to learn some French recipes or something. Tonight the Australian lady basically told me I should make ratatouille cause I mentioned it a few days ago. Should be interesting. Last night they had some friends and their children over for king cake. I got the little figurine, so I wore the crown for the evening. It was delicious cake. There was too much french going on at one time so it was hard to get anything. It's ok. It's a start. So, I will be here for 4 weeks, today is the 3rd day of class. I think it will be an interesting program, and hopefully when the snow clears I can meet people closer to my age! The French couple I am staying with go to a pool twice a week for swim lessons. They said I could come with them on Sunday! Finally, a pool to swim in! And of course, I don't go anywhere without a suit, cap, and goggles. The sun is out today so I will go for a walk and take more pictures that don't look so grim. I guess that is all for now! I miss my family and friends, but the internet is helping, of course. I am generally excited and happy with what I am doing. Graduating early was the best decision I ever made.