Trip Start Dec 16, 2007
Trip End Jan 11, 2008

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Monday, December 31, 2007

Last night we stayed up late talking to Klo Gay and Margaret as well as their niece Elsa who came by. Elsa lives in a different apartment less than 100 feet away.

On Skype we contacted Elsa's parents who have now moved to Norway from a refugee camp in Thailand and are in the same program as the Doh's. Elsa's father is Klo Htoo Doh and her mother's name is Monday. With a webcam we talked with and saw them in Norway. I became better acquainted with Klo Htoo. Elsa's mother Monday is a member of the United Church of God. Beverly and I plan to visit them in the town of Gaile, Norway which is situated between Oslo and Bergen. Also Elsa's sisters Cherry Bell, Silver Bell, Anita and brother Nehemiah have or are moving to Norway.

Elsa will be getting married this summer in Norway. Her husband-to-be will be emigrating from Thailand in February.

In the morning we made coffee and snacked and talked and talked. Klo Gay had to go to work at the carpet weaving factory where both he and Margaret now work. He was not able to get off work today.

We learned more about how the Doh's are acclamating to life in Finland. I marvel how well they do as it is so cold and dark and the language is a challenge. So so different from the equatorial climate they came from in Thailand! But, freedom anad opportunity was the choice they made over living as refugees in the Merimoo camp in Thailand..

All of them are keenly aware what is happening politically back in Burma. They showed us YouTube clips of some of the demonstrations in Yangon, Burma back in September. There is hope that the repression of the Burmese over ethnic groups such as the Karen and Kachin will be loosed and that there will be peace. The civil war (or "Revolution" as they call it) started when the British pulled out. War has continued since 1949. More than a million people have been killed. Many atrocities have been committed. Many people have ended up in refugee camps. Also, in 1995, some of the Karen decided to stop fighting and live under Burmese control. It's all been a big mess that has brought on terrible heartache. The stories are hard to listen to at times. I sympathize as I know I was the product of refugee parents from World War II. As I mentioned in a blog entry from a previous trip in 2006, Margaret's father was a general in the Karen Revolutionary Army. Her mother is still alive and lives with Margaret's sister and her husband in North Carolina. Her mother was just baptized December 22, 2007 in North Carolina.

This past fall the Doh's were to come to Estonia for the Feast of Tabernacles. We had planned this almost a year in advance. It would not have been a particularly long trip that involved a train ride to Helsinki, a ferry to Tallinn and then a bus to Tartu. We were waiting for them in Tartu -- but they didn't come and we were very concerned. We found that Estonia required a VISA from them becuase of their refugee status. Something was overlooked and they were denied on board the ferry after they had gotten to Helsinki. It won't happen again since both Finland and Estonia are under the Schengen agreement and no identification documents are needed. We really missed not having them with us.... It would have been such a wonderful experience for them who are so isolated to be with so many others.

Margaret expressed appreciation for sermons and literature sent to them from the Church. Some of our brethren, notably Reggie Warren in Ohio, are in contact with them and they appreciate being remembered.

They told us how much they appreciated our trips to visit them in the past two years. I told them about Paul Spenser's sermon at the Feast of Tabernacles in Estonia this past fall when he cited Acts 15:36 which reads " Then after some days Paul said to Barnabas, "Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord, and see how they are doing." They really appreciated people checking up and seeing how they are doing.

We made certain that they had everything they needed. I admire them for working hard and becoming self-sustaining in Finland. In the program they are they need to study the Finnish language six hours a day for two years before getting work. That period is coming to an end and they are getting their first jobs at the carpet factory.

Elsa wants to become a nurse. She has really picked up well on the Finnish language and social services has hired her to help with translation between Karen and Finnish.

We talked until lunch-time. Margaret prepared a tasty Thai meal. We are ready to part and move on to Sweden. We checked the computer that showed that there will be an all-night train leaving from Luela, Sweden both at 5 pm and 9 pm.

The Doh's asked a Karen neighbor whose name is MA to take us to the bus station. We have to take two buses first to Tornio, then to Luela. We find that they will get us there just in time. The total distance is about 120 miles before the 14 hour train ride to Stockholm. The sun is beginning to set at 12:50 pm. It's weird. Ultra short day. An eerie twilight lingers.

The Finnish bus driver from the Kemi station is very chatty with us. He tells us about all the Russsians who are coming to visit Finland to go skiing and to stay in spa hotels. He mentions that they like the Russians as long as they don't bring their armies! He said that there are lots of rich Russians come never ask about how much their bill would be. They are loaded.

At Tornio we transfer to Otepaa, Sweden by taxi. I remember this bus station well from my previous trip this past summer with Bruce Anderson. Here, Bruce was trying out one of the few Finnish words he knew which was "husika." This he learned from a American/Finnish UCG member Ralph Mayer. The word means "bathroom." So, Bruce asked for the husika. I'm not sure exactly how the lady at the modern convenience store reacted, but she was puzzled, then amused. Bruce learned that the finer definition of husika was "outhouse." So, Bruce was asking for the outhouse. Hmm...

Here we had another experience. A group of people looking like gypsies were asking the same question we had: how to get across to Sweden so we could continue on the Lulea and the train to Stockholm. There was no shuttle for two hours. So, I thought we'd order a taxi and split the cost. But, we found out that there were five of them having strange heavy-looking duffel bags. There were four men and one woman. I felt sorry for them. We asked for a bigger taxi. I asked who these people were and they said that they were Albanians! Albania is one country where I think the State Department still warns you not to visit. I told them that they were the first Albanians I had ever met. They told me that we were the first Americans they had met. Anyway, we asked the cab driver how much this would cost. He said about $13. Fair enough for seven people. But, when we got to Otepaa about one kilometer away the fare was double. "What's the deal?" "There's too many of you" he replied. They were really rough. I asked them what they were doing in Sweden and they said that they were going to Stockholm to visit "friends." Sure a strange route, but I thought I'd better not ask any more questions.

The bus for Lulea was just leaving and we felt fortunate to be doing so well time-wise. Two hours and twenty minutes later we pulled into Lulea.

Here's where things began to break down. Bev and I walked over to the Luela train station across the street. It was lifeless. A few girls were lying on benches for some reason. Where was our 5 pm train? The girls said there were no more trains for the day. On the notice board there was only a notation of a train coming in in a few hours from Narvik and Korunna, Sweden. Nothing going out! Back to the bus station. Even here the ticket window is closed. All this time the Albanians are following us around because they, too, want to get to Stockholm. I ask the clerk at the convenience store about trains to Stockholm. He says, don't you know it's New Year's Eve? There are no trains today. "Oh great!" Another train derailment on this trip! The man further encouragingly tells us that most of the hotels are closed, too, but that I could walk down about of a kilometer and see if the Quality Inn was open. I asked Bev to stay put and that I'd see what I could find. I heard the Albanians asking for an embassy.

I walked like crazy towards the Quality Inn and sure enough it was open and welcoming. Then I walked back to get Bev with the suitcases. She told me that the Albanians had vanished. I was hoping that they were OK. A cab took us back to the Quality Hotel and drove here and there and charged us $16 for the mile trip, but I was glad to just salvage our situation.

We called Paul and Kira Spenser to tell them the news and decide what to do next. We're not even sure if there will be trains on New Year's Day. The schedules are somewhat ambiguous about which days the trains DON'T run, but it's in Swedish and it may say that, but I don't understand it.

We find that it will be best to fly down January 1 to Stockholm and really not bad fare-wise. I'm always under-budget on these trips because of styaing with so many people. It will be one hour and 20 minute trip south to Stockholm versus 14 hours and will help us stay on track (sorry about that word). From Stockholm we will still need to take a two hour train ride to Mjolby where the Spenser's live.

Bev and I went to a Thai Restaurant which we saw open. Most everything else is closed. So, it's been a Thai, Albanian,

I'm finishing this writing at midnight hearing the new year being welcomed in with fireworks over the lake here in Lulea.

Travel Tip #38
If you see Albanians traveling with suspicious duffel bags, do not get excitied about meeting new people.

Travel Tip #52
Don't travel in Scandinavia on New Year's eve no matter what the schedule says. Everything is shut down and so will you. Stay WITH a friend that night and not be GOING to a friend that day.
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erscholz on

That's NO Way to Spend New Years!

Even though we don't celebrate New Years, it seems that we can't escape from it. I'm sorry you and Bev had such difficulty with the train not running. Bev is brave to stay at the train station with a bunch of Albanians and sleeping [hung over / passed out - maybe] people.

When all of your choices are 'bad', you still have to choose!

Hope the rest of the trip goes better!

We have had over 30 inches of 'global warming' fall here in Massachusetts in December, compared to 0.6 inches for the same month last year. Call me cynical, but I don't FEEL warmer, and it doesn't sound warmer where you are, either.

Marty is in Austin with our kids and grandkids. She is not a fan of cold weather, and would not have been fun to have along on your present trip :).


Dick Scholz :)

krikketgirl on

Better Late Than Never
Awww, rough luck! Chris was reading bits of this to Ruth and me while we played Scrabble. Glad things turned out okay!

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