Then I tried opening a window upstairs. Once open, it locked and I had to ask Mats for help closing it. I was starting to feel frustrated. And helpless.
It took us a few nights and referencing the manual to figure out how to run the dishwasher. And the washer and dryer. Then the dryer stopped working.
But the final banana peel that broke the camel's back was the garbage. Wanting to execute a simple domestic task independently, I donned three layers of clothing, gathered up the three bags, and headed to the little garbage shed which houses the bins for our complex. At first I couldn't open the door, but finally managed to clear the excess ice and get it open. Once inside I couldn’t understand the writing on the cans, or which ones were for what type of garbage (household trash, food scraps, etc.) One said something about toothbrushes, diapers and shoes. I didn’t understand.
I figured it out by opening each bin, but at this point, I lost it and went home to cry. I wanted to tap my shoes and head home - back where I could read the signs. And where I knew how to dispose our trash. And all our recycling went in the same bin.
It lasted a few days: feeling blue, missing friends and my old home. The day before Christmas Eve, Mats suggested I go to town. "I think it will be good for you," he said. I looked doubtful. "What about the snow storm?" I asked. He said it wasn't a storm, just snow. So off I trudged to the bus stop and rode 15 minutes into town, solo for the first time.
I browsed stores with glowing candles and gingerbread hearts hanging in the windows. Everyone was doing final holiday shopping, the excitement contagious. I bought halibut from the fish market for our Christmas dinner. I visited the Lund cathedral, one of my favorite places on earth, and watched the prayer candles burn in the globe-shaped candelabra.
Tired, but satisfied from my little adventure downtown, I was making my way to the bus station when I realized I’d forgotten lemons and limes. Looking for a store, I saw a 7-11 on the corner. I don’t know which was more surprising – the fact that they have corner 7-11s here, or its decent produce section.
I joked with the cashier that I was speaking Swenglish as I said, "tre lemons" and "fyra limes." He laughed, and switched effortlessly to English, just as all the other cashiers had done that day. I said God Jul and turned to leave, but an old woman in line blocked my path, grinning so I could see a missing front tooth. "Merry Christmas!" she gushed with a heavy accent, "Happy New Year!" She smiled at me, a foreigner in her country.
We never know how much something we say, or do, can affect another person. This woman, an angel for the day, made me feel welcomed. And glad to be here.