17 May 2008

Íslensk Æfing (Icelandic Practice)

Ég borða (yeg bore-the)-I eat.
Ég sef (sev)-I sleep.
Ég fer (fair)-I go
Ég kem (kem)-I come
Ég sé (sye)-I see
Ég byrja (beer-ya)-I begin
Ég hætti (high-tee)-I stop
Ég mun (moon)-I will
Ég skal (the “a” like in fall)-I shall
Ég elska (el-skuh)-I love
Ég þarf (tharv)-I need
Ég get (get)-I can
Ég hátta (how-tuh)-I get ready for bed
Ég vek (vek)-I wake up
Ég lifi (liv-ee)-I live
Ég skil (skil)-I understand
Ég geri (Gary)-I do/make
Ég finn (fin)-I feel/find
Ég vil (i like in ill)-I want/will
Ég hugsa (hoog-sa)-I think

Bara nokkra íslensku til að æfa ykkur.
Just a little Icelandic to keep you in practice.

16 May 2008

The Best "Falls"

Which of these is the best "fall"?

Skogarfoss in southern Iceland?
Near Mount Timpanogos in Utah?
Holly, my daughter. A year ago. Her first time skating?

15 May 2008

Tilfinningavekjandi Myndir (Emotion-causing Pictures)

Why is it that some pictures cause such strong feelings or emotions when we look at them? Is it because our minds and heart can do such a good job of "filling in the blanks" when a really powerful picture is taken and we place ourselves there?

This first picture looks like it could have been taken with black and white film. It wasn't though. For me it is extremely easy to imagine being there. The mist. The wind. The freezing water and air. The desire to take it all in, while at the same time wanting to head for shelter. This picture was taken on the southern coast of Iceland a few years ago. The original Vikings would be out in open boats on the open seas in weather like this and not think anything of it.

I've been reading Egill's Saga recently (for the first time ever). I am about one third through it and am amazed at how the elements didn't frighten them like it might you and me out on the open sea, or even close to land like in this picture. That they sailed in open boats too amazes me.

I spent my early years from age 6 to 12 in Tallahassee, Florida. My father had a friend who we went to church with who regularly went deep sea fishing in the Gulf of Mexico. He took us along on occasion. We would leave at 5am and head out to sea three or four miles. Then we would trawl for King Mackerel or Hardtails. I thought seeing the fish come in on the lines was cool as a young kid, but the sea scared me to death. And then to be seasick often on top of that. And the Gulf of Mexico waters were warm! These Norwegian/Icelandic vikings must really have been tough.

I think I would want to stay in an area like this last picture from the Westmann Islands just off the south coast of Iceland. This picture evokes a lot of emotion for me as well. Imagine that being your backyard....

14 May 2008

Gömul bréf (old letters)

My full time job at BYU is as the Director of the International Admissions Office for the undergraduate students. I love my work and enjoy getting to know so many international students day in and day out. But because I was a missionary in Iceland, I get to use my experience in Iceland and the Icelandic I learned there in unexpected ways. One of the things I get to do with the language is to, on occasion, translate old Icelandic letters and journals into English for different people. The last two days I have been translating an old letter that was written in 1888 in Spanish Fork, Utah. The author had immigrated to Utah and wrote it to a friend who was still back in Iceland.

Between the years 1853 and 1914 there were a number of waves of immigrants who left Iceland and headed to Utah. Most were Mormons who had joined the Mormon faith in Iceland but wanted to gather with the other Mormons in Utah. They were also often eager to leave behind the hard life they were experiencing both physically and spiritually in Iceland in those days. Once they got to Utah and experienced what seemed to be in all ways a better life, they would send letters to family members and friends who were still in Iceland to tell them about it. They would spend most of their words in these letters telling their families back home how much wheat they raised or how many sheep they had and what price they were getting for both. The page of the letter I have put in this entry is one of a four page letter talking about how much the writer earned shearing sheep and how much wheat he was given in payment. He talks about the number of Icelanders who built homes that year and about how hard it was to not be able to understand everything that was heard in church because the Icelanders of that day didn't understand English as well as they do today.

I never considered myself one who really had an interest in History, per se. But as I've become involved with these letters, journals and newspaper articles from the mid- to late- 1800's, I find that I really do like history, at least the history of this people in this part of the world. Most of us don't spend much (if any) time thinking about the cost of wheat or how much we would get for the wool from a newly shorn sheep, but these were big deals to these folks and many others of that day. Their spelling and sentances were a bit different from today. They would write the words "fyrir" and "gefa" for example as "firir" and "giefa."

The most interesting statements or sentances in these old letters for me are ones that say things like, “Ifir höfuð lifum við nu mikið goðu og rólegu lífi á okkar ei in plássi. Höfum nog að borða, drekka og brenna.” Or in English, "Overall we now live a very good and peaceful life in our own space. We have enough to eat, drink and burn." The measuring stick for a good and peaceful life was often, "Do I have enough sheep, a few good horses, a full crop of thickly growing wheat, a place to live out of the elements, a place to worship with others of ones faith and a healthy family?" All other considerations were secondary. No phones, computers, iPods or day planners.

There is something to be said about living simply with an eye focused on the things that really matter. Too bad that the act of living simply has now become for most a lost art--one that many people no longer seem to be concerned about discovering.

12 May 2008

Trúboðaskór (Missionary shoes)

Back in 1984 when I went into the MTC, I remember thinking how cool my missionary shoes were. I thought they would last forever they seemed to be so well built. This picture shows pretty much what they looked like at the beginning of my mission. The sole was about 3/4 of an inch thick (it seemed) and looked like it could last even through an entire two-year mission in Iceland. I ended up being mostly right. They did last my whole mission and I could have worn them home. The missionaries of my day had a tradition though. Sometime in the last week or two of our time in Iceland we would take the bus down to one of the nearby rocky beaches with two pairs of shoes. We would wear our old worn out shoes to the beach and then change into the pair we would go home in once we had arrived at the beach. Then after a bit of nostalgia-filled expressions of shoe appreciation, we would tie the shoelaces together of the faithful pair and chuck them out into the ocean.

We thought doing so was an appropriate rite of passage, one that all missionaries there should go through. Maybe I would not do the same thing today, being the environmentally conscious fellow that I am now, but there was something very satisfying about sending those shoes to the cold Icelandic depths. In a way it was tangible evidence that we would soon be able to leave the cold behind and rejoin lives that were somewhat distantly remembered by that time but were dearly missed. It was also a physical act that allowed each of us to symbolically and in reality leave the pain and hardship of the past two years and start another life, one that focused a bit more on each of us as individuals after two years of the opposite. I remember the beach being very rocky that day, as most Icelandic beaches are, and the water and constant wind very cold.

I wonder where those shoes are today 22 years later....

01 May 2008

Næðingur frá fortíðinni (Blast from the past)

Okay, so the translation leaves something to be desired. The one disadvantage of not having Icelandic be my native language is that when I want to translate a unique English colloquialism like this one, doing so ends up proving quite difficult. The Icelandic-English dictionaries out today are better than we ever had on my mission. They provide tons of common phrases using many of the individual words in the dictionary. This helps a lot when we are trying to know the proper ways to express these unique phrases. I am happy to know though that even advanced speakers of their second language often do not understand these unique phrases which do not translate word-for-word.

I got a very cool picture in an email today from a returned missionary who served in Iceland named Rob Mikkelsen. He was there from 1976-

1978, about seven years before me. I've attached it here. This is a picture of Gerhard Guðnason the day he was baptized in the summer of 1978. He has German and Icelandic roots. The missionaries in the picture from left to right are Doug Brinton, Jerry Ohrn, (Gerhard), Rob Mikkelsen, David Knechtel and Kevin Barton. I don't know the whole story behind Gerhard's conversion to the Church back then, but I know that every one of these missionaries was very happy that day. They are even happier today because 30 years later, Gerhard is still active. I saw and spoke with him two months ago on my trip and he is doing well. It is people like Gerhard who help to keep things stable in the Church in a land, like so many others, where people come and go spiritually. Golden for these missionaries and all who have known him since.