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Gwenda
06-03-07, 13:52
In June '04, I posted an account of a visit of people from my town of Reepham in the UK, to Malš in Northern Sweden. Since then a return visit has been made by the people of Malš to Reepham, and last year another return visit from Reepham to Malš. So far, two quite lengthy reports of this trip have appeared in the last two editions of our Church magazine, as was the case with the first visit. I have chosen some exerpts from the articles which I thought might interest members. Where a row of "dots" appear, I have omitted names of people which would not be of interest to anyone.

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A group of thirteen set off starting our journey at Norwich Airport at 6.15 a.m. to fly to Schiphol. After several hours wait we travelled on to Stockholm. As we had a five hour wait there, a couple of us used the time to travel into Stockholm by a fast train link. The next stage of our long journey was an hour and twenty minutes flight north to Lyksele. The skies cleared as we flew north, giving us views of the landscape of pine forests, studded with lakes and rivers and the occaisonal little wooden house, in dark red wood and ochre yellow. When we landed at the little airport it was approaching 9 p.m. and we were delighted to see our friends and to pile into their cars for the last part of the journey to Malš - about an hour and a half journey north. The sun was still shining brightly as we sped along the deserted roads and we had splendid views of lakes, pine and birch forests, and a herd of about a dozen reindeer crossing the road in front of us. After about an hour, our friends' cars pulled in to a clearing by a lake and, to our surprise, there waiting for us was a further group of our friends who had organised a delightful picnic with hot flasks of coffee and tea and a delicious spread of food. We were also serenaded while we ate by Bjorn on the accordian. The lake sparkled and we had a great time catching up with old friends and watching the sun slowly sink into the lake. However, it did not get dark - this truly is the "land of the midnight sun". We were then taken in separate cars to our various hosts' homes, very tired, but exhilarated by our welcome and the still bright sky.

The next day we were taken to the hill above Malš where the Geomuseum and Exhibition Centre is situated and met up with the rest of our party. This area has facilities for many activities, including numerous winter sports. There are chalets there for holiday accommodation and an excellent campsite. It is a world centre for the mining industry and receives geologists from all over the world. We were also shown around an old house in the centre of Malš that for years was the home and business premises of the town's pharmacist, Gota and his wife Verber. They spent all their life there until they reached their nineties, when they sadly died within a short time of one another. The house and premises had been perfectly preserved and we had a fascinating tour of the old pharmacy, including Gota's workshop. He was a clever inventor of all things mechanical and, equally, Verber was a skilled artist and needlewoman and there were many examples of their craftsmanship including racks of beautifully made clothes.

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To be continued in Part 2 on another "Thread", because this is turning out lengthier than I first thought it would be.

Gwenda
06-03-07, 14:10
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After our tours we met up at the Church House that is really a Community Centre for the town with facilities for communal meals, conferences and social gatherings. There is a playgroup area along with a children's chapel and a suite of offices for the Rector and his team including a music room for the organists. This is funded by a small voluntary tax deduction and most members of the community choose to do this, whether or not they are regular churchgoers. This enables them to use the facilities and Church at any time in their lives. It is certainly a wonderful facility and creates, along with the Church, the heart of the community.

We had an early evening meal of a delicious pasta bake and salad before travelling in several cars to Kristineberg about 20 miles away. This is a mining community and houses a unique underground church. Here we enjoyed a service of keyboard music and singing, by the young female pastor. Our friends had brought along flasks of hot drinks and a variety of homemade cakes that we tucked into after this simple service. We came out into bright sunshine and clear blue skies and looked round the local church, a modern wooden building, typical of the churches here, with beautiful windows and a wonderful feature carving depicting the Good Samaritan. Christer told us this subject may have been chosen to show the importance of this particular parable in such a place as this - isolated, and with long harsh winters. This was demonstrated a while later on our journey back to Malš when Christer's car gave trouble. We had to stop and investigate and without fail, although few and far between, every passer-by on the road stopped to give assistance - car-drivers, a motorcyclist in leathers, even a woman cyclist. In the end an enormous state-of-the-art breakdown truck arrived from Malš and the car was loaded.

The next day was the start of the Swedish Mid-Summer Festivities and we all gathered just outside the town where trestle tables, chairs and a stager had been laid out. Lots of local families were there to enjoy this traditional celebrated which was compered by Britta Stenberg, a journalist on a local paper, who, along with her husband, hosted......... Many people were in traditional Swedish dress and we joined in with the fun and danced round a sort of cross-shaped maypole, all bound with leaves, singing traditional Swedish action songs. Various local people entertained us, including children, and there was a presentation to several local couples who were celebrating their golden weddings.

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To be continued in Part 3

Gwenda
06-03-07, 14:23
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We had a treat in store for the evening. We were all invited to our hostess' summer cabin. Many Swedish people own these lakeside cabins and they tend to be passed down through the family. .......was given the opportunity to drive on this and other occasions and he found it easy and stress free on their almost deserted roads. This is a country of many dirt roads and months of thick snow and ice.

After our journey north, we all had a wonderful meal in a village hall with local people. On mid-summer's eve it is traditional to serve herring in many delicious ways, along with salmon, salads and various crisp-breads, all washed down with a special vodka distilled by Mikheil, one of our hosts, but a Russian living and working in Malš. This was marinated with berries and tasted rather like the French 'Eau de Vie'. Fruit juice was, thankfully, also served!

After our feast we walked the short distance to the lakeside cabin. This was delightful, electricity but no running water. Anneli is a skilled and artistic craftswoman and the cabin was decorated with examples of her work. We enjoyed the traditional strawberry cake - a sort of log shape smothered in cream and fresh strawberries, served with tea and coffee. The cabin was virtually suspended over the lake so it felt like being on the water in a boat. Outside there was a small wooden jetty from which you could fish. We had a jolly evening in these surroundings, chatting and singing, accompanied by Bjorn on the accordian. This experience made us think that this area is very much under-rated as a holiday destination and we would love to make arrangements to spend longer in such a place in the future. We travelled back, still broad daylight at about 11 p.m.

The following day we had been invited to the home of Gerd Brannstrom for lunch - a delicious homemade creamy vegetable soup served with bread flavoured with caraway seeds. The group then departed by cars travelling for about twenty miles. It was an interesting journey going off the main road onto dirt roads. We spotted reindeer in the woods and we also noticed high lookout towers that are used to spot elk for hunting in the winter. Atlthough quite common, we did not see any during our stay, but given the enormous areas of uninhabited forest and lakes they would have been unlikely to stray near the roads.

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To be continued in Part 4.

Gwenda
06-03-07, 14:35
This is the last part, until the end of March, when the next issue of the Church magazine is published.

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Our destination was Frioskberget where a few years ago a group of Christians made and erected a large cross which was placed on the highest point, about 624 metres high in the Malš area. On mid-summer's day an open air service takes place that we were invited to attend. As we neared our destination the terrain became very rough and steep and at one point we had to get out and push the car out of a pothole. We carried on by foot until we reached the final hill, adorned by the cross. It was a most beautiful place, so peacful with a grand view all round of lakes and forests stretching to the horizon without a trace of pollution of any sort. About sixty people took part in the service, all seated around the hill on the grass. A keyboard had been set up so we could have music. It was a joyous spiritual experience in the open air and one we shall always remember. Afterwards we enjoyed our picnics carried up in rucksacks, surrounded by wild flowers.

We continued on by car to the site of an old Sami settlement that had been preserved. There Carl Olaf Sjolund, who spoke perfect English, translated the information which told the story of the Sami group, one of whom was affected by a disease of the pituitary gland causing her to grow abnormally tall. Carl and his wife hosted two of our party in their house a few miles outside Malš town. By profession, he had taught English, but like most men in that part of Sweden was a keen huntsman, sailor and fisherman and learnt to ski at the age of three. We then visited some present-day Sami people whom we had met previously on our winter visit. They welcomed us and we were able to see their reindeer at close quarters. Their coats are a variety of colours and one male in particular had new grown antlers which still retained their velvety coating. Their little girl of two handed round a bowl containing scraps of lean reindeer meat and we were offered strong coffee prepared on an outside fire. It was a great privilege to share a little in their way of life. That evening we all joined together in the Church house for another communal meal, beautifully prepared by volunteers.

To be continued ........ in a few weeks

Gwenda
03-04-07, 00:37
The next day was our final full day in Mala. We all went to the morning Church service on a clear sunny day, such a difference from our winter visit, when there was a blizzard raging outside. The service followed a similar pattern to ours in Reepham, so although most of it was in Swedish we could follow it. Unlike us, the congregation stays seated to sing the hymns.

After this, we had a buffet meal together in the Church House and enjoyed talking with other parishioners. In the afternoon we were invited by Mikheil Nesterenko to look round his place of work in Mala called Geoscience. Both he and his wife Ella are Russian and have been living and working in Mala for two years. They were part of the group that visited Reepham last year and they accommodated one of our party in their one-bedroom flat. Mikheil is a research scientist working on specialised computerised devices, which cn detect obstructions underground, even through dense rocks etc. The equipment was used to assist in the salvage work on Ground Zero. We were shown round the modern factory and he demonstrated the computerised equipment he is involved in. This is exported throughout the world, particularly the Far East and China.

Later on, in the Church House we partook of our final meal with our friends and had an interesting talk on the history and formation of the community of Mala, which dates from the 1700s. A Sami couple dressed in their distinctive native costume talked to us about the Sami way of life and how the two different lifestyles can live happily side by side. This gave rise to an interesting question and answer session.

Although our visit was drawing to a close, Christer had yet another surprise visit for us. He announced that our group had been invited to an important event in the Sami calendar. At mid-summer, a few weeks need to be devoted to the annual marking of the newly-born reindeer and this was about to begin that evening at 11 p.m. This process enables the Sami owners to lay claim to any newly-born young produced by their own stock and has to be carried out before the calves are mature enough to separate from their mothers. We found it to be one of the high points of our time there.

Gwenda
03-04-07, 00:51
This is the final part.

We drove off at about 10.15 pm for the journey of about forty-five minutes. It was a cloudy evening, so visibility was not quite as good as other evenings, but still light. We arrived at a clearing with a large fenced-in compound. There was an animated atmosphere with lots of people of all ages, including babies, toddlers, children and several teenage boys. We were immediately aware of a strange sound continuously filling the air - a low grunting sound tht was the mothers and the calves calling to one another. Inside the compound the reindeer, numbering about four hundred, ran round in a herd in an anti-clockwise direction, which we were told is an instinctive pattern, whilst several men lassoed and captured individual young and cut their ear with their own distinctive mark. Outside the fence youths were practising their skill with lassoes. A young Sami mother nearby spoke to us. With her were her two little boys of three and barely two, also a three-month old baby girl strapped close to her body and she remarked to us that the sound of the reindeer calmed the baby and lulled her to sleep. At one point, her husband came close to his family at the fence holding a young reindeer, which he had lassoed and the two little boys were allowed inside the compound. There the father, in what we felt must be an age-old ritual, cut a piece off the animal's ears and handed the pieces of skin to each of his sons. The animal did not show any discomfort at this, although we were taken aback to witness this scene. Later on, all the teenage boys were allowed into the compound to practise their skills with the ropes. Simon, Christer's foster son, who is a Sami, was delighted when he successfully caught a reindeer and photos were duly taken. Our group was also allowed in to watch, which was an amazing experience, but we felt quite safe as the animals stayed in a tight herd and there was no danger. The reindeer form an important part of the Sami's livelihood and are extremely valuable to them. We were told that about a quarter of the young are lost to predators. Occasionally bears take them at birth or just after, also wolves, but the biggest predators are eagles, which surprised us.

About midnight we left feeling tired but privileged to have been a part of this important gathering, and we still managed about three hours sleep before our departure at 4.30 a.m.

Our hosts all gathered to see us off in a minibus, despite the early hour and we said goodbye to Mala and all our good friends after a memorable visit. We very much hope the fellowship and visits between Mala and Reepham will continue and we look forward to hosting our Swedish friends next year.

Sylvia Rayfield

P.S. Apologies for any typing errors - I have been typing these last two parts late at night and have not checked for errors, I am sorry.