28 August 2008

Ógnartími (Terror Time)

In exactly six days I will begin teaching Icelandic 201 at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. I got offered the job five or six months ago when the current teacher, Friðrik Guðmundsson, told the department that he would be graduating and leaving BYU. He recommended me, so that was that. I was already working full-time at BYU and will do this as an evening class (for extra pay), even though it starts at 4pm on MWF and goes till 5:20pm.

To put it mildly, the TERROR HAS BEGUN! I never knew how demanding putting together a course like this was and how many things the teacher was required to think about and prepare. Setting up the syllabus alone was a nightmare, only made easier because Friðrik gave me the framework so I didn't have to start from scratch. I went to teacher orientation and training today, most of which was spent with the four other student instructors who will be teaching Norwegian, Danish and Swedish. The outgoing Swedish teacher is a native, the newly hired one for winter is an RM. The other two teachers who will teach Danish and Norwegian were RMs as well.

We did part of our training together with the French Department since they have so many more students in those classes each semester. I felt uniquely important and yet insignificant in that part of the training. There were 15 French teachers in the room and one lone Icelandic teacher who was experiencing the increasing terror over the minutes and then hours. The Frenchies all use the same textbook with modern pictures, examples and curriculum. For ICLND 201, I have a book that was printed originally in 1949 which has been reprinted several times, but never updated with more appropriate translation exercises or lesson materials. 101 and 102 have a newer text written by four women professors at the University of Iceland, but these students have already gone through all that material. I felt like Cosette in Les Miserables, when she was little and her mother had died and before Jean came and rescued her. Hand-me-down clothes (books) with most all the faces in the room facing conspicuously in a different direction.

I did feel better that there were more 201 students signed up for Icelandic (seven) than for Swedish (five). Hopefully I can keep at least four or five of them for 201 and then into 202.

Friðrik did say that the terror for him did go away after a month or so (oh, great!) but he never went to class feeling completely at ease since it is a big responsibility to teach a class like this at a university level. My wife starts her first semester of her Master's degree program this semester too, so we won't be busy at all....What option do I have but to prepare as well as I can and show the students the passion that I have for Iceland and it's beautiful language?

25 August 2008

Sigur eða ósigur? (Victory or Defeat?)

A friend of mine, Þorbergur Sigurjónsson (pictured at left with his daughter), came to visit me today in my office at BYU. He lives in Utah with his American wife, Amy, and their three daughters, the most recent of whom was just born two months or so ago (this picture is a little older. Jóhannes his brother is also in the picture). He is getting back into BYU to finish up his computer science degree. He took a few semesters off while he was working heavily but now wants to finish up.

Þorbergur always speaks Icelandic to me when he visits or calls (which I really appreciate). Since I had been so involved with the Icelandic Men's Handball team games during the Olympics recently, I asked him what his family back in Iceland and everyone else thought about the team making it to the gold-medal game. He said everyone in the whole country stopped everything to watch the game and cheer on the boys. He said even the Icelandic stock market closed--probably since no one would be trading or paying attention to their stocks during that time anyway. What a great thing to have your whole country behind you as you defeat one opponent after another.

Everyone was heartbroken when the team didn't beat France, but in the end, how could the Icelanders not be happy with the team's performance. They only lost to South Korea early on (a fluke) and to France finally. So in the end, winning the silver is really a "glass is half full" kind of thing instead of the opposite. The head coach Guðmundur Guðmundsson and the team did so well that winning the silver was as exciting as winning the gold for such a small country. And they were a blast to watch. Way to go guys!

18 August 2008

Ólympíuleikar og handbolti (The Olympic Games and Handball)

I'm sure my old missionary friend who I taught in the MTC was just being polite by sending around the email, but now I think I'm hooked. I haven't seen a full hour-long game of European style handball since I was a missionary 23 years ago. And even back then, we never saw a full game of handball since we didn't watch TV or go to sporting events.

I got an email on Wednesday last week (Aug 13th) from Eric Tuttle who served a mission in Iceland from 1987-1989. He is an architect in Salt Lake City now and has a website for his business at etuttle.net. The email was sent to me and a bunch of other RM's who served in Iceland. The gist of the email was that the Icelandic mens handball team had just beaten the world champions (their second game and second win) and that if we were interested, we could watch a replay of the match at http://www.nbcolympics.com/video/share.html?videoid=1118451. Well, I watched the match against the Germans, then went back and watched the first game they played against the Russians where they beat them too. Well, once I had watched those two games I really was hooked. So this is the standing for the mens handball team from Iceland:

Russia vs. Iceland = 31-33
Germany vs. Iceland = 29-33
South Korea vs. Iceland = 22-21
Denmark vs. Iceland = 32-32 (both teams advance)
Egypt vs. Iceland = 32-32 (Egypt had to beat Iceland to advance and didn't)
Poland vs. Iceland = scheduled

The game between Poland and Iceland will be played at 12:15am Wednesday morning (tomorrow). If you are reading this late, you already know the score. We hope Iceland can go all the way. You can hear their coach calling the whole game from the sidelines saying, "strákar!" which is the word for "boys."

Fun to watch, but since it is not a sport played in the U.S., hard to watch in the U.S. unless you get all the cable channels. "Áfram, strákar!"

15 August 2008

Nokkrar Staðreyndir (A Few Facts)

In size, Iceland claims about 40,000 square miles of land. In comparison, that is less that half the size of Utah which claims almost 85,000 square miles of land. Iceland can only boast one land mammal, the Arctic Fox. Six different seal species have been seen around the island, but only the common seal and the grey seal breed all around the country. Twenty-three individual species of whales have been seen in Icelandic waters.

A number of Irish monks wrote of a land called Thule in the 8th and 9th centuries, before Norsemen came to permanently inhabit it. Ari Þorgilsson the Learned, Iceland’s first historian, said that the Irish monks who first were in the land went away eventually because they did not want to live with heathans.

The Faroe Island were discovered and settled before Iceland. Since the Norseman of that day had no compass to sail by, it is not suprising that eventually someone would miss the Faroes when traveling from Norway and then arrive at Iceland. Both versions of Landnámabók or The Book of Settlements agree that the name Iceland came from a disappointed Norwegian named Flóki who made the first attempt to settle the island but lost all his livestock during a very hard winter. Both versions also agree that Iceland was discovered and settled by Norsemen in consequence of their insatiable lust for travel among the Scandinavians during the Viking Age.

Ingólfur Arnarson is named in the Book of Settlements as the first to leave for Iceland and set up a permanent settlement there. He did so in what is now called Reykjavík, the capital. Ari states that Iceland was settled first in 870 A.D. whereas the Book of Settlements states that it was settled first in 874. Recent studies of the Greenland ice cap have settled the matter that Iceland was likely settled just a few years previous to these dates. Icelandic settlement scholars mostly agree that the original number of settlers was around 10,000.

The most common reason for leaving Norway at that time was the aggressive nature of the Norwegian King, Harald Fairhair. Harald inherited a kingdom in eastern Norway but moved to unite all Norway under his rule. He did so with a firm hand and once accomplished, many of the lesser nobles left Norway out of self-preservation and not wanting to be subject to the whims of the new king of all of Norway. Those who had opposed his attempts at taking over all of Norway were then "black listed" in essence and could not be assured of their safety. Egill's Saga is one of the best of the sagas which discusses this tumultuous time in Norway and the lives and events leading these noblemen to Iceland, away from the tempermental King Harald.

11 August 2008

Íslenskur trúboði á Íslandi (An Icelandic missionary in Iceland)

I don't know exactly how many years ago it was, maybe five or six, but I remember when it was normal to go up to Salt Lake City in early April and October of each year to help with the translation of General Conference for the Icelanders. There was one or two people who were over the process of keeping the RM's who were still around on a list and calling on them when conference was getting close to help out. I was on that list since I planned to stay in the area and still had contact with those who were putting everything together. During a few of those years there was not an Icelander around to help us with the process. During other years Þorbergur Sigurjónsson and Friðrik Guðmundsson were at BYU and able to keep the group of us organized.

I remember starting out as a translator in the basement of the old tabernacle on Temple Square. Then, once the Conference Center was complete, we moved over there to a beautiful facility above the main floor in the north-west corner of the building.

In my third or four go-around doing this, I showed up to my particular session of conference and met up with some of the other RM's who would be helping out. I saw this one elder who I didn't recognize and didn't hear his name right off. He was speaking Icelandic to one of the two natives there and my mouth fell open. I said to myself, "wow, this guy's Icelandic is perfect. He is gifted and probably just barely home from his mission." I'd never seen him before, not even a picture of him so I was curious. Well I asked Friðrik, I think, who he was and he told me that he wasn't just an RM but an Icelander who was baptized after I left my mission. No wonder I didn't know him. His name was Kristján Mathiesen and had served his mission mostly in Bristol, England.

I learned a bit about his story that night and then a bunch more later on. He, it turns out, is the only Icelander to my knowledge who has ever served part of his regular mission in his home country, Iceland. He served his last three months in Iceland because of either the death or illness of one of his parents. That is why he is in this picture with the other missionaries of his day back in early 1993. He is the 2nd from the left on the bottom row. An interesting three months that must have been.

Kristján married Sóley Ólafsdóttir whose family are all faithful members of the Church. It is very difficult for LDS Icelanders to find spouses who are also LDS Icelanders, but in Kristján's case, he found a great one; one who was a favorite of all the missionaries since she was so happy and helped us patiently with our Icelandic. She was seven when I arrived in Iceland. Now the two of them have three kids of their own, the oldest of whom, Daníel, just became a deacon.

09 August 2008

Fyrr 1975 (Before 1975)

I was speaking with Hera Toutai recently, an Icelander who I knew when I was a missionary in Iceland and who I stay in contact with. Her husband, Henele, is Tongan, hence the last name. She told me an interesting story about a Mormon American living in Iceland before the mission got formally started in 1975.

It was actually nearer the end of 1975 that the mission started in Iceland. Byron and Melva Geslison came to start things off at that time, but they didn't just hop on a plane and then go right to work without speaking to anyone in Iceland about what they would be getting themselves into. Byron found out that there was an LDS American man there named Payne who was teaching Sociology at the University of Iceland as a guest professor for a period of time. Byron called Payne on a number of occasions and they discussed the cost of housing, possible receptivity of the Icelanders to the Church, etc. Housing was very expensive, so the Paynes agreed to allow the Geslisons to share their apartment when they arrived until they could find something of their own or until the Paynes left Iceland. Byron mentioned in an interview with Fred Woods for his book, Fire on Ice, that the boys had slept of the floor during that time with their coats over them.

Time went by and Bro. Payne's assignment at the University came to an end without the Geslisons having found a better apartment for themselves and the twins. It was hoped that the Geslisons would be able to take over the Payne's apartment, but for some reason they were not allowed to do so. One of the few Icelandic members on the island at the time was Þorsteinn Jónsson. Þorsteinn felt so bad for the Geslisons that he agreed to let them stay in his apartment for a time and he went and moved onto his boat (he was a seaman) until they were able to find another apartment. I lived with Þorsteinn in his apartment for about a year and a half of my mission back in the mid-eighties. He always let missionaries share his apartment. A true Latter-day Saint. I gained a lot from my relationship with Þorsteinn.

Hera told me that the Paynes were the first to help her understand some of basic principles of the gospel at the age of 12 when she was sure she was not going to heaven. The Paynes were set apart as special missionaries to the Icelanders by a General Authority. She her comment on this blog on 17 Jul 2008.

Þorsteinn, the Paynes, the Geslisons, Hera, Sveinbjörg and others. All willing pioneers in that far away tiny land.

04 August 2008

Trúboðadagbækur mínar (My missionary Journals)

My wife and I have moved seven times in the 20 years we've been married. The reason for some of the moves was because of school, other times we just didn't have enough room for our growing family.

Sometime after our last move to Orem, Utah, I lost track of my mission journals. I had been wanting for some time to find them and remember things I did and saw and heard since I would be writing some of the stuff in this blog. I found them today....

10Jan1986: "I can't figure people out sometimes. We taught--or should I say tried to teach--another man but he just sat and watched TV. He fed us cookies and milk but hadn't read any in the BofM. I'd sure like to find someone out there who was pure in heart and who was trying to really follow the Lord...The Church is true even if no one ever listens to us."

It seems lots of my entries were like this, having a hard time understanding why people didn't understand or grasp onto our message. But that is what made the other days when people did hear and accept our message so great!