Sunday, December 16, 2007

Savoring the moment...

So don't ask me how in the world this has happened, but somehow I"m sitting in my living room and I'm online. I've tried to work with the random airport connections that show up on my computer a ton of times, and suddenly today it decided to work. It's like God is trying to tell me something. Maybe, just maybe, there can be highs...
Let me say first that this past week has honestly been the worst week of my time here. It was mostly stupid things, but I was feeling endlessly frustrated and like nothing was worth my time. I don't know why it was so awful, but it just was.
Then came the weekend. Ah the weekend. This weekend has been seriously incredible. It has more than made up for all the misery of the week. First of all after work on Friday my friend Nicole came and hung out with me. We just wandered around Cheb and had a great time. Naomi joined us for dinner and then we parted ways with Nicole and went to our Christmas party. Tammy was sick and wasn't able to come, but other than that it couldn't have been better.
A lot of students came and I was feeling good and brave and circled the tables like I knew what I was doing. It was so nice to just get to know them all better in a more relaxed setting. Then they performed their songs, which was also a lot of fun. In the middle of the students Naomi and I put on our own little show. We sang Silent Night in Czech and it was a HUGE success. Funny, because we started too high and my voice was all over the place in annoying ways, but the students LOVED it! We're talking they clapped and clapped and clapped and asked for an encore. Fortunately we had also planned a short poem, so we were able to give the people what they wanted. It was really great. Afterwards several of my students kept gushing over how great it was when we sang. They said it was all they would be talking about in class on Monday. So sweet. I kept moving around and visiting with different groups and then I got to be made a spectacle of when one of them decided we should dance. It was a rather unique experience, but again the people said they enjoyed it.
(wow, I just got to talk to Janet on Skype here in my own little flat! Way too cool!)
After the main party I went with a group students to another place and we hung out there and talked and played fusball (I really don't know how to spell that!) until about 2:30! I got home about 2:45 and was in bed by about 3.
At 8 my eyes popped open and I knew that it was time for me to get at the day since there was so much to be done. I got ready for the day and hurried out as soon as I could. On my walk to the train station I got a text from my friend Crystal telling me she'd forgotten her passport and had to go back to Sokolov, meaning we would have to take the next train two hours later.
I met Crystal at the train station around noon and we walked to the international ticketing office. As we headed over I recognized this random guy from Germany who had come to Winfield for 3 days on holiday to practice his English. I'd just had him in class Friday morning, and talked to him a little at the Christmas party. He asked where we were headed, and when we said we were going to Nurnburg he said he was on his way home to Stuttgart and asked if we would like to ride in a car. How could we possibly pass up the option for a free ride in a BMW??? So of course we took him up on it, and away we went on a fascinating drive through Germany. Not knowing him very well, it was a little difficult to come up with conversation for an hour and a half, but we managed, and it was all quite nice. We also had the experience of going about 200km/hour on the autobahn. Pretty sure I've never gone that fast before. Good times.
We arrived in Nurnburg around 2 and had a great time just randomly wandering around the Christkindle Markt, after having a nice (and rather expensive) lunch at Burger King. We were commenting on all the English we were hearing, and how amazing it is how we overcompensate when we hear English. At this point it has become so rare, that we can recognize the dulcet tones of our native tongue from some considerable distance. And then, out of nowhere, I heard my name. Much to my surprise, I turned around and there were 4 of our teachers from Slovakia! Of all the crazy things! We couldn't have planned it to work out so well. We wandered around with them for a while, which was also really nice. Then we continued through the market where we had a great time looking at all the ornaments and Christmas food, and of course the frightening prune dolls. Don't even ask!
It was incredibly cold, and by about 5:30 we were ready to curl up someplace nice and warm. We found a Starbucks, and felt as though we'd stumbled upon a little piece of Heaven for sure. It was so nice to enter the familiar surroundings, and breathe in the happy smell of coffee from home. We both sipped on Creme Brulee Latte's and just enjoyed the beauty of the moment. We discussed plans for the future, and the deep things of life. Coffee tends to make us wax philosophical just a bit. Then it was off to find der Bahnhof.
I must confess my German is lacking, but we did decently well, all things considered. We both got over any fears we may have had about approaching strangers, and managed to book a couple tickets back the Cheb. Getting on the train was a bit baffling. Here in Czech there are always conductors wandering the platforms that you can ask if you're in the right place, but it wasn't so easy to find help. In the end we just climbed on what we were certain had to be the right train. A guy got on after us and with my rather pathetic German we were able to verify that we were in the right place.
It was the last train to Marktredwitz of the evening, and it was quite packed. In the end we squeezed into an already full passageway and did our best not to melt. Let's just say we had to put up with all kinds of temperature changes today. The guy who had helped us when we first got on found us again, and after several minutes let us know he wasn't actually German either, and spoke decent English. It was fortuitous because a few minutes later a conductor came to inform us that the train would be splitting in two. At the moment we were on the portion going the wrong direction, so the guy helped us switch to the right half of the train.
We ended up standing almost the entire way, but got to sit the last ten minutes into Marktredwitz where we changed trains and got on the train to Cheb. What a day of excitement for sure.
Once in Cheb we thought for certain the day would come to a quite close. I sat with Crystal in the station until her train from Sokolov was meant to depart, and then headed back to Skalka. I'd been having partial phone calls with Janet on the train, so when my phone rang, and then died, a few minutes later I figured it was just her trying to call again. Several minutes later I started hearing the text sound. I decided to just walk really quickly so I could find out what was going on.
Once home I pulled out my phone, only to discover that the train had not taken Crystal home, but had instead decided not to run at all. So I had to walk back to town to rescue Crystal. Tammy had come down to meet her, but since she'd been puking earlier in the weekend we didn't want to risk Crystal staying with her.
By the time we got back to my flat we were both cold and hungry. We munched on cheesy pretzel sticks dipped in ranch and let our bodies slowly thaw. I'd been carrying these cheese sticks as well as a coke, mandarins, and two twix bars around all day, and just never got around to eating them since none of our travels provided us with a comfy moment to eat. We then spent several hours curled up on my bed talking about any and every thing. At long last around 1 AM we decided to call it a day and curled up for a little sleep, a little slumber.
All in all it was a pretty crazy and amazing weekend. After my lousy week, it was really a blessing. And now I just hope this posts and that I really can have internet here in my flat!
There will be photos to come, but right now this connection is pretty slow and I don't want to risk it in anyway, so this'll have to do for now.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

St Mikolaš Day

So today is a bit of an event here in the Czech Republic. On this day the jolly old saint strolls about the streets with and Angel and a Demon. Children flock to them, some with excitement, others with tears in their eyes, to have their goodness or evil rewarded. For good little children, especially those who manage to stammer out a Christmas poem, or quaver through a Christmas song, a gift awaits them in the hands of the Angel. For those who haven't quite managed to keep themselves under control for the past year, and who fail to perform, a potato or coal is delivered to them by the Demon. I haven't done all the research, and none of my students have really managed to give me a full history of the day, but I find it rather fascinating.
Just now I went to the grocery store downstairs and watched as the children lined up around the highly decorated trio. There were children in tears, especially one little boy of about 8. He seemed aware of his own depravity. Something we could probably all learn from. Others bore giant grins, certain that something pleasant would soon be delivered to them. What an interesting commentary on life. It seems that so often, as we grow older, we lose the fear of our failings and the joy of our strengths. We manage to pass them off as part of life, forgetting to measure them up as the days go by. These children, however, are very aware of how they have been living. Just something to make us all think a bit.
Apparently I missed out on the excitement of the morning when three of our students dressed up and performed this ritual with the students. Sometimes I do miss out a bit on not being here every morning, but I really can't complain as I do enjoy having those days to sleep in.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

December so soon

Hard to believe that it is already December. A good reminder that I need to get packages in the mail if I want them to arrive by Christmas. Things are going quite well here. I'm keeping busy as always, and doing my best to remain focused. I had my second experience in a Czech home this week. That was really exciting. We went over to the house of another one of the teachers and his girlfriend who also used to teach here. Their flat is really nice. They live in the top of an old building, and have completely remodeled it themselves. It's a really nice place. We had a nice dinner, and after several glasses of Cola I remembered that it is common for them to just fill your glass whenever you run out, so I made sure to leave a swallow or two at the bottom so I wouldn't totally drink them out of Coke.:)
I also met another English teacher in Cheb this weekend. She is here independently from Canada and is teaching at a gymnasium (which is like a high school). She went with Tammy and me to Karlovy Vary yesterday and we had a nice time just wandering around the city and shopping. There was also that exciting opportunity to go to McDonalds. I really can't put in to words how much I enjoy going to McDonalds overseas. It's so strange because I really never eat there at home. Ah well. It was extra good in my way of looking at things.
Today we had our first house guests as well. A couple of the guys from our church came over for a taco dinner. I was a bit of a Mary, just showing one of them pictures of Hong Kong while Tammy and Naomi made lunch, but I did the dishes so it worked out in the end. It was nice to have guests (even if it did mean some extra cleaning) and gave us an opportunity to hang out with people besides ourselves, which is always welcome.
Next weekend we're having some of the teachers from Prague come out to experience West Bo. I'm really looking forward to that as well. We'll be taking them out to Loket so we can go to the big Christmas Market there. I'll definitely have some new pictures to post next week.
Please keep us in your prayers as the days are getting shorter and darker all the time. The gloomy weather tends to put a damper on my spirits, and I really don't want that to be the case. We're also all getting to the point where life has become routine. It's no longer this big rush or excitement that we live in Europe. We're just here in Cheb, day in and day out, making lesson plans and trying to figure out how to help our students understand our language. It can be difficult to communicate with the people in stores and restaurants, and I find myself longing for things to just make sense easily, and to be able to know what to do from day to day.
Oh, one other thing I forgot to mention. Friday afternoon Naomi and I both joined Tammy at the local orphanage. I don't really understand the system here. Tammy doesn't really know either, but a lot of them have families that they visit on occasion, so I think most of them are not up for adoption or anything. I don't really get it, but it was a lot of fun. We were playing with a group of younger kids that ranged in age from about 2 or 3 to probably 7 or 8. I always enjoy hanging out with little ones, and they didn't seem to mind not being able to understand us. They just openly ran to us and were happy for every ounce of attention, sitting on our laps and climbing on our laps as though this was the most natural thing in the world though they'd never seen me in their lives.
I must confess it is often difficult for me to decipher exactly what my "mission" here is. For now I'm just trying to love the people that I come into contact with, and to teach to the best of my abilities.