Thursday, April 30, 2009

Witch Burning!

Tonight is the night when winter witches are thrown onto massive bonfires to burn and welcome in the freshness of Spring. I'm really hoping to have a chance to take part in this fascinating cultural celebration, but I'm not sure how it'll work out because we've been having a massive thunder storm today which isn't very promising for an outdoor festival. At the moment, however, the sky is blue and full of sunshine, so maybe there is hope yet.
This is the beginning of a three day weekend. I'm quite excited about that. So nice to have a little extra time off as the school year is coming to a close and everyone (students and teachers alike) are getting burned out. It's harder and harder to fill classrooms, and to feel spunky and motivated in front of them. Only two months left, and then I'll be home for a busy summer tour. Time really does move quickly at this time of year.
I wanted to make a small amendment to my last post. I think one of the important things for me to remember, besides being loving to the people outside the church, is to continue loving those inside the church with whom I differ so greatly. I think it is easy for me to condemn the things that I see as faults in the system, and hold them against the people who are involved. What we really need is a greater sense of unity among believers as well. An ability to accept that our goal is to be more like Christ in this dark world, rather than obsessing over small doctrinal differences.
Okay, it's class time so I'd best away. Blessings to you all for May Day!

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

"Blue Like Jazz"

Just finished a pretty much fabulous book. It was so interesting to hear someone else talking about so many of the things I often ponder about the state of religiosity in American Christianity. So many times I would read something and think, did he somehow pull that thought out of my mind, or overhear some conversation I once had. I'm not saying I could exactly identify with everything he said, but so much of it rang true.
I often get so frustrated with the way so many people seem to think that being Christian means the same thing as being Republican, for instance. Or how the word tolerance has been shifted to mean accepting sin as being appropriate, rather than meaning to love people despite their sins. I've often ranted to people about how sad it makes me to hear people who love Jesus say horrible things about people because of their lifestyle changes. Rather than wanting to love them and encourage them to change through positive relationships, they merely talk about how sick and wrong the things they do are. I'm not saying we should condone their sin, but look at the people Jesus went out and loved. The prostitutes, the tax collectors, the people that modern religious Jewish society looked down on. But how often do we find churches just preaching against the horrors of homosexuality and liberalism, rather than talking about how sad it is that there are so many poor, sad, desperate people living hollow lives without Christ.
All this to say, I highly recommend reading this book. I was particularly drawn to the way he spoke of our need to reach out and love people. The importance of really seeing Jesus in the least of these, rather than turning our back on them because they seem too dirty to touch.
I've been in dialog recently with several people about the state of racial issues here in the Czech Republic. As an outsider, it is much easier for me to look on the different groups of people here as being all the same. I don't have generations of ill will built up in my system. So it makes it easier for me to be impartial in my views. I can understand how people would experience some bitterness if their business was undercut by the lower prices that the Vietnamese can offer. I can also see how the way the Roma seem uninterested in holding down jobs could lead to frustration amongst the hard working Czechs. But we have been called to love. (sigh) Many of the people here say that their opinions, especially of the Roma, are due to their behavior more than the color of their skin. At the same time, every time they see that darker skin they automatically become suspicious. Smells rather like racism to me. It's difficult to know how to combat these situations, or how to encourage positive discussions on the topic when these sentiments are so ingrained in the people here, but I hope that in some small way I can inspire people to be more sympathetic, more understanding of the people in need around them. I'm not saying that bad things haven't been done on both sides, I'm just saying that any time we lump people into mass categories we run the risk of condemning ourselves to the atrocities of the past that led to things like the Holocaust.
Okay, enough being really profound for the moment. Maybe the dreary rainy weather is responsible. I just hope people in the church will be able to remember things like the wise idiom that we should truly try to love the sinner and hate the sin, rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater...

Friday, April 24, 2009

Spring has sprung

It always seems to take a little longer for Spring to make it's way to Cheb. We're a bit closer to the hills than other parts of the country or something. When we were in Prague last weekend the trees were filling out nicely with leaves, flowers were in full bloom, some to the point of littering the ground with petals. But in Cheb, signs were only just beginning to show through. Now,however, it seems that Spring has long last decided to take control of this place as well.
After several days of loveliness, a chill swept in over the past couple days, but it seems to be clearing off, and today I was able to wander down by the river and take in the wonder of Spring. I wish I could really capture the sound of the birds in the trees, the smell of the I put a picture of them up at the end of my last post if you want to see my images of them as well, but that does nothing to really capture the heady scent that floats on the icy wind. My Czech teacher was saying to me on Tuesday that she has noticed that the blooming of this flower is always in conjunction with a cold wind. She seems to be right.
Today we had a woman come and speak to the students about her job as a diplomat in the Middle East, as well as her current job as a member of the European Union. She told us some really fascinating stories about her life and the countries that she's had a chance to work in. She was the first female diplomat in one country, and they were so confused about her that they didn't even know how to address her. For about four years she was known as Mr. Jana. When she and her family were going on a road trip she was not allowed to drive. At the Saudi border, when they handed over their passports, it took 6 hours for the Saudi's to make sense of the fact that she was the diplomat and her husband was the driver. What a life. She showed a lot of concern about Obama's lack of experience with Middle Eastern politics, especially in regards to Iran. But she seemed pleased that he wants to work with the Czechs as he said in his speech a couple weeks ago in Prague. The students seemed to at least be relatively interested, except Henry who fell asleep. Not unusual for Henry.
I have a fairly low key weekend stretching out before me. I'm hoping the weather will continue to get better, as promised, so I can enjoy some time in the sun once again. Trying to get a little color and life back into my skin. It's been a long cold white winter. Then Sunday I'm going on another walk with Yara. Wonder what stories he'll tell me this time...

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

More about that weekend...

After dinner the four of us headed up to Wenceslas Square. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed scoping out bad fashion (ah Beige Boy, thou art so 80s) and chatting until Ben and Sarah had to return to their elderly hosts and pots of tea. Laura and I proceeded back down through Old Town where we were magically greeted by the dulcet tones of two violins playing Canon in D. It was so lovely we were transfixed. Of course we had to avoid one of the many couples who saw fit to be all over each other in the midst of the music, but it was still an enjoyable experience. Laura made a wedding purchase, then we meandered on to the always amazing Charles Bridge.
I can't recall of this saying was brought up my year at training, but when Laura learned the term "No-mantic" she grasped onto it tightly with both hands and made it her own. So as we strolled arm in arm, and rested against the bit of space that wasn't under construction, looking out into the starry night, the sound of yet another violinist in our ears, we drank in the beauty of all that is good and true and pure and lovely. It is good to be able to really take in these exquisite moments, even when all the circumstances do not seem ideal. Together we stood until the man had to stop his playing and the crowd around him dissipated. We took a tram back to Nad Aleji and there learned that Rick Steves, writer of travel guide books and very cheezy host of a PBS travel show is, in fact, a pot head. And not just an occasional quite pot smoker, but a full time responsible pot use spokesperson. Random. Yes. Random.
Sunday the weather returned to being lovely and fair. Laura and I met up with Ben and Sarah in front of the Mucha museum. I've long appreciated the art of Mucha (ever since Becky Lee gave me a poster of his for high school graduation) but today I learned a lot more about the man behind the art. He was a pretty fascinating character, and had a deep love for his people. His great dream was to paint the Slavic Epic, a series of paintings that would tell the woes and triumphs of the Slavic people. Unfortunately, he died before he could complete it. The one good thing about that was that he missed out on seeing the creation of the USSR, not exactly the brilliant joining of the Slavic nations of which he dreamed.
We wandered around and enjoyed the art work. I got a couple little things that cost far too much, and then we returned to the Municipal Building with freshly Mucha-fied eyes.

Then it was time for Ben and Sarah to depart. I'm so glad I was able to spend a little more time with them seeing as how I don't know when it will happen again.
Laura and I decided to allow ourselves some time to just enjoy being in Prague. Quite honestly, we're sure the people who are living there have no concept of just how much they have. Not only is the place teeming with culture and all sorts of things to see and do, any time you need something, or have a craving for an American experience, those are there readily to be had as well. We ate at Subway as though it was just a normal thing that normal people can do. It was so nice. We wandered the Easter markets where I picked up a really spectacular three paneled painting. Then we went, wonder of all wonders, to Starbucks. Seriously, they just can't appreciate it enough.
The day was so nice that I was able to order my Grande Caramel Frappacino. Oh the wonder of it all. I can't even describe the enormous amount of pleasure I derived from the first sip. In my mind's eye I could see so many locations around the world wherein I have also had this experience. So many memories of emotions and days. It truly was a wonder. And we had this view out the window.

Spring was everywhere to be seen. On our way to the train station I just had to stop for this little tulip moment.

And even Cheb has a little springtime offering for you all.

And now I must away as it is time for class once more.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Pretty Much a Perfect Prague Weekend

This past weekend I went to Prague for a CA meeting. The weather, which had been fantastic leading up to this weekend, took a dramatic turn for the worse on Friday. Suddenly I was back to wearing thick socks, two coats and a scarf! Not exactly happy Sarah things. Especially not when I know that the weather in Hong Kong is pleasantly in the 80s...sigh...The one good thing was that this made me more satisfied to sit for hours on end in a meeting on a Saturday. It can be excessively hard to get myself to hold still for that long when the weather is nice.
Laura and I arrived safely on Friday evening, and were met by our friend and co-CA David. It was a real relief that he picked us up seeing as how the trams decided to malfunction and we'd have been a bit lost using only metros and buses. As it was, everything went smoothly, and we spent a relaxing evening at Nad Aleji reading about the make love not war philosophies of the Bonobo monkey as described in National Geographic. Good times :)
On Saturday, after the meeting, Laura and I headed out to meet up with Ben and Sarah (my friends who are living in Berlin) for the rest of the afternoon. It was really nice to be able to see them again. This was Ben's first time in Prague, and it had been a long time since Sarah last visited as well. We wandered around the Easter market in Old Town Square, then found our way in to the Tyn Church. Sarah cleverly discovered that, if you follow the signs to the WC, you can eventually get to the entrance of the church. It isn't marked in any other way. So bizarre. Anyhow, we checked it out, and were fascinated by how buildings had been built up so haphazardly around it that they actually had to carve out space for a little decorative face by the entry way to be seen. Bizarre how people would just tack on a building over an ancient church. This church has had quite a history as well. Originally Catholic, it switched over to Protestant for a couple of centuries after the Hussite movement, but has now returned to being Catholic. We were amused by all the signs forbidding pretty much everything from photos, to noise, to entry and exit in numerous places. We also appreciated a figure on the wall who seriously had to have been Gandalf the Gray.
Our next stop was Prague's Municipal House. It was designed by Mucha and is a fabulous Art Nouveau building. It was near here that I finally managed to get a picture of myself with Ben and Sarah thanks to the presence of Laura :)

Evening had crept up on us, and we decided to go out for dinner. We went to Modra Zahrada (The Blue Garden) which is a nice little Italian place near Wenceslas Square. It's always such a change to go out to eat in Prague. While in Cheb the waiters always speak in Czech, with maybe a little German mixed in, in Prague they automatically speak to you in English. It makes it really difficult to do anything but respond in English to them. I've discovered, however, that I'm far more accustomed to asking for certain things in Czech by this point. I mean, how often do I go out to nice restaurants in the US? Almost never! So when it came time to ask for a box for my pizza, I automatically asked in Czech. It took the waiter by surprise, so I had to say it twice. After that, I'd made a friend. He kept coming back and asking me things in Czech. He asked if I wanted another drink, and asked me how we would pay the bill. I was really glad that I was able to use my Czech and not just look stupid. When we left he and I shared several Na Shledanos. I knew I'd somehow succeeded.
In contrast with that, today I went with Jarmila to make presentations about Winfield. The plan was that she would talk to the students in Czech and then I'd say a thing or two in English if the students could understand at all. Unfortunately, we went to a couple of German classes that didn't really know any English. After my very short introduction of myself in one of these classes this girl looked at Jarmila and said something to the effect of, "this girl's been here for two years and she still doesn't speak any Czech?" I was pretty irritated because I did actually understand what she had said, but I just left it for Jarmila to say that I do speak some Czech. At least the nice waiter in Prague appreciated it. I'm FAR from even being vaguely conversational, but I'm not totally helpless.
Well, speaking of my Czech skills, it's about time for me to go to Czech class, so I'll have to leave the rest of the Prague update for later.

Friday, April 17, 2009

Back to Prague...this time in the rain...

It seems that our glorious weather was, indeed, to good to hold onto. The rain has come back today. Heavy. Dark. Cold. Can't say I'm all together thrilled. I know that "April showers bring May flowers" but couldn't the rain just come like a mystery in the night? I mean, I'd be TOTALLY cool with that!
I've got another meeting in Prague tomorrow. I guess the weather is actually beneficial for that. It feels a lot better to sit in a meeting for 5 hours in the rain than it does when things are bright and beautiful outside. I'm also planning to meet up with Ben and Sarah who will be in Prague for the weekend as well. I'm excited to see them again. And this time we'll be in a city that I know a thing or two about.
I think my stomach has finally gone back to normal now. Or at least close enough that I was able to eat regular lunch food today. Maybe it was more than being sun sick, but whatever the cause it sure wasn't fun.
Life proceeds and I do my best to move along with it.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Easter Weekend With the Wendels!

Gotta love alliteration! And spell check! I mean, I actually used to know how to spell words. Now I just have to make a close guess, and it'll let me know if I'm good to go or not. How could you not just adore a system like that. Except for those times when it decides that the word you want simply does not exist, even though you know for sure it does. Or when it just doesn't accept wordsmithery! It's an ART FORM people! Get with the program!
Well, my weekend was wonderful, up until Sunday night when I decided to puke my guts out. Just for kicks! The crazy thing is, I really used to throw up all the time. In fact, I think I might have kind of liked it. I at least prided myself on the fact that, if I wanted to be bulimic I could be. I had an automatic gag reflex that just couldn't tolerate things like powdered milk or beans. But this time around I found myself dreading each retching experience. So on Monday, rather than going to the zoo, or being beaten with whips for eggs (bizarre Czech tradition)
I slept until noon, then took the train home to sleep some more.
But you didn't tune in for the Sarah sickness patrol, so I'll talk up the weekend a bit. I had a GREAT time with the Wendel family! They really are amazing. The weather was perfect, and I spent ages running around with the kids in the back yard. I hadn't run so much in ages.
On Saturday we went to seriously the MOST ghetto "petting zoo" and park. You couldn't actually pet any of the animals. Basically there were just a lot of birds and some random animals in a pen like wild boars, sheep and goats. The playground was made up of wooden equipment that was falling apart due to time and the elements. Boards were missing from the merry-go-round, one teeter totter had only half a seat and the other only one handle bar (this meant I spent a lot of time being the other half of the teeter totter team using my arms and getting quite a work out!). But the kids managed to have a good time anyway. We think they're already acclimating to the slower pace of Czech life.

Before we left, the girls got to picking flowers. Erica handed me this little offering. So sweet!

On Sunday we went to the Easter service at their church. It wasn't quite a classic sunrise service or anything. But it was at least in English. After church we came home and the kids took naps. I was reminded of all those times as a child that I would whine and complain that Mom and Dad wanted to take naps before the egg hunt! But even Claire declared, "I'm actually feeling a little sleepy." Which was a HUGE concession coming from her!
The glorious weather beckoned to me, and I succumbed willingly. I helped sticker the eggs for the appropriate children, and then sat and drank in the sun. When the kids woke up the party just kept going.

After the squeals and thrills of the egg hunt, we moved on to a little egg dying. It was a bit difficult to get everything to go smoothly, but we managed to get some decent eggs out of it, and I think the kids mostly had fun. Erica was super into it at least. She did the most. Claire just kept dropping them, and Elisha was more excited about freezing himself in the sprinkler.

In between there was also some bubble blowing. I really loved this picture of Erica. She's such a sweetie.

Unfortunately, just as the overly helpful Czech neighbors warned, I think the heat got the better of me. I managed to be all right until bed time, but the whole night was consumed with un-consumption. All in all, however, it was a great weekend. It was so nice to get to talk with Cari as well. I feel so blessed to have her here, and hope I'll be able to head that way next year as well. It's like a little slice of home only 4 hours away. And this time...there was a key for the bathroom...very useful!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

A Walk with Yara

Last Sunday I went on a rather interesting little excursion. One of my students, Yara, invited me out for lunch and a walk that would possibly require a passport. Yara, a 65 year old Czech grandfather, has been a student at Winfield for about 6 years or so. He's a bit of a monument there, and picks and chooses the classes he wants to attend. Currently he's in my daily class as well as one of my evening classes, so I see him on a pretty regular basis.
I was a little apprehensive about a whole afternoon with him. He's a bit on the deaf side, and awkward conversations aren't always my cup of tea. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the afternoon. He kept up conversation, much of it centered around all the reasons I should come back for another year as well as a nice smattering of stories about his younger years, and we got to see some really beautiful countryside.
After lunch we took a bus to the Czech border and from there we started walking. He filled me in on stories about life during Communism. There was a time when a steady flow of traffic was attempting to leave East Germany through Czech. Long lines of cars were parked at the border, and impatient travelers would just abandon them there and continue on foot, leaving stranded Trabant's in their wake. He also told me about hours spent in border controls which are now just empty buildings.
We paused at this monument near the border, written in Czech and German. The words of Ghandi speak against unnatural borders set up by man, and how they are not able to stop the human spirit.

We continued into the town of Schirnding where I was captivated by this statue. I was just going to take a picture of the statue alone, but Yara insisted that I be in the picture so my Mom could see me :)

We headed through the countryside and I was a bit befuddled by all the benches that looked out at...well...nothing. Yara explained to me that after the war, many Germans how had been living in Czech were sent back to Germany. Most of them just moved right over the border and they set up these benches so they could look back at the land they came from. So sad really. All that longing for something that appears so easily within reach. I can understand that really. Sometimes trying to follow God leaves me looking out at the world around me in search of my home...
Anyhow, we continued on to Hohenburg where there is a nice castle, home to a lovely stork nest. We weren't able to go inside, but we did wander around it a bit. The storks weren't home either unfortunately. At Winfield we now how a happy little couple all cozy in their nest so that's nice. The castle was nice to see though.

During Communism the Czech were forbidden to go near the border. Many villages were completely destroyed to keep them away. A large fence was built around the country, and guard towers and control stations were built up everywhere. The Germans, on the other hand, were still allowed to be quite near the border as is evidenced by this German house, in a cute little outcropping of cottages, that is nestled right up again the plastic border marker.

From there we walked back up into Czech. We climbed a hill and were able to look back over to the castle.

I don't think it took long for Yara to question why he had decided to go on such a long walk with me. He pointed out a couple times how fast I walk. What can I say. I told him about the hike up Victoria Peak with Dad and Gene. Poor Gene thought he was going to die, and was certain Dad had lied on his birth certificate and was really ten years younger than himself, rather than ten years older :) Of course Dad later confessed that, had Gene not been there asking for a break every five minutes or so, he might actually have gotten tired and had to take a break himself, but as it was he never even got winded. At least Gene made good, and kept us entertained with stories every time we stopped :)
We continued along to the small town of Liba. In all Yara estimated we walked about 15 Km, and I think it's pretty much true. It was a good walk. In Liba we came to another lovely castle view. This one is under a lot of construction, but when they finish it off I think it will be really lovely.

We caught the bus in Liba and headed back to Cheb. It was quite the little outing, and it was nice to be back.
In other news, just thought I'd add in this little picture of my new hair. My hair doesn't take dye very well, so I'm sure it'll soon fade, and I'll never be able to style it like this again, but it was fun for the day, and it's still pretty fiery just now :)

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Life and all it's changes

No, this isn't an April Fools joke, I really have decided to stay in Czech for another year. I'll be writing a newsletter soon, and hopefully will be able to shed more light on this decision, but I honestly feel that this plan is from God and not from me. I really wanted to go home. In truth, I think I started planning to go home shortly after I returned. Having all new students and various other situations that were contrary to my expectations, I felt like I was done and would soon be ready to head back to the welcoming arms of my family. I made the decision to return home with confidence.
Then, over the past month, I've been having second thoughts. I didn't doubt that going home would be wonderful, but I began to doubt my motives. I began to see ways in which I could still be used here. Try as I might to settle in to happy thoughts of returning home, I just kept thinking of the prospect of one more year.
It wasn't easy to make this choice - even more difficult to tell my family - but now it is done. I will still be home this summer, and I'm really looking forward to that, but I will remain busy. I'll be getting a new teammate, and will therefore have to spend some time in LA once again. I'll also have to raise more support. Because I changed my mind, I won't be a CA next year, which means I have to pay more to remain part of the organization.
Please keep me in your prayers as I begin looking for flights home, and for various trips I'll need to take this summer (including one for my roommates wedding!). I'm curious to see what God will reveal in this next year, and what He has for me here as I continue trying to serve Him. Thanks to those of you who continue to love and support me, and to read the ramblings of my mind.