Wednesday, November 19, 2008

My Lutheran Pilgrimage

The Friday before last, the assistant principal came up to me and asked me if I would mind going to Germany with some religion seminar students and students at the theological school. "Would I mind?" I respond. "Yeah, I'd mind. I'd love to go."

So, the trip left last Wednesday morning at 7 a.m. Thankfully, I was only responsible for four students (see right).

After several hours in the car, we arrived at our first destination, Dresden, which was controversially bombed by the Allies during World War II. Somewhere between 24,000 and 40,000 people were killed. The only place we visited was the Church of our Lady, a Lutheran church that recently reconstructed after it was destroyed only by the fire after the bombing. It is said that each bomb that hit the church bounced off of the roof. While rebuilding the church, they were able to use some of the old stones from the destroyed church. They attempted to recreate the church as close to the original as possible.

We were only in Dresden for about an hour before we had to leave. We rode in a bus for another four hours before arriving at our final destination for the night, Allmanhausen. I don't know the technical term for the place we stayed, but it was a mixture of a youth hostel and a youth center. During the day, the place was used for youth to come and have a place to "hang out." They served very large meals, which was much appreciated. The first night, at 10:30 p.m., we were greeted with a glass of champagne and a plate full of sausages.

The following morning, we woke, had breakfast, and went to the Wartburg Castle. Like many castles, it stood upon a large hill and I imagined Luther riding up to the castle as Knight George, saying, "Well, if they find me here, there is no escape." This idea got me thinking about hiding places in general. Hiding is often the final option. Usually there are not escape routes from the places you escape to.

Not much of the castle was devoted to Luther; however, we did get see his study. It was a small room with nothing but a stove, a desk, a chair, and a picture of Luther as Knight George. I tried to imagine Luther sitting in that chair, translating the Greek Bible into German on that desk. Obviously the desk and the chair are newer than 1521, but something needed to be there. I imagined Luther throwing ink at apparitions of the Devil. One of my favorite pictures of the entire trip was of a drawing in Wittenberg in which Luther is translating the Bible at Wartburg and the Devil, hidden under the desk, is holding up a picture of a pope's hat and a naked woman. Luther looks very sternly at the Devil.

Upon leaving Wartburg Castle, we travel to the Eisenach Luther House and a Bach House. The Luther House in Eisenach was rather unimpressive. The exhibition was small and the tour was short and general. Everything the tour guide told us we already knew. The Bach House, on the other hand, was more impressive. The tour guide played Bach pieces on ancient instruments. So we could relax and hear the music of Bach.

The next day we traveled to Jena to some German seminary students. They took us around the city and told us a bit about Christianity in Germany. I learned that in Germany, there is a religious tax. To declare yourself a Christian, you have to pay a tax to the government. In Germany then, 1/3 of the people are Protestant, 1/3 Catholic, and 1/3 undeclared. Perhaps people do not want to declare a religion just so that they do not have to pay the tax.

In the evening, we traveled to Erfurt, where Luther became an Augustinian monk. At the church there, we heard an interesting story. The place where Luther prostrated himself, taking his vows as a monk ("I will be the best monk that I can") were taken over the grave of a man who was important in sending Jan Hus to be burned at the stake. Before Hus died, he said, "They will roast a goose now, but after a hundred years they will hear a swan sing, and him they will have to endure." Hus means "goose." So a hundred years after Hus was killed, Luther, whom they call the "swan," "sang" his vows as a monk in Erfort.

The following morning we traveled to the site of the 1525 Peasant's Revolt led by Thomas Muntzer. At this site is a panaromic painting of the battle. This painting was very impressive and I wish that I could have taken pictures of the painting but none were allowed to be taken.

In the afternoon, we went to Eisleben, where Luther was born and died. Here, we saw another Luther House. This one was on par with the first as the tour guide didn't seem to excited about her job.

At night, we traveled to our final destination, Wittenberg. An ELCA center exists in Wittenberg that helps people set up tours to see Luther's sites. It was nice to meet people from my country.

The following morning, we attended a church service at the Castle Church, where Luther posted his 95 Theses. The students complained about not being able to understand the whole service because it was in German. My only reply was, "how do you think I feel going to chapel in Slovak?" The Castle Church is the home of Luther and Melanchthon's bodies. After the service, I got to walk out of "The Door" (it's a new door now with the 95 Theses engraved on it).

After church, we had lunch with more German seminary students and saw another Luther House. This Luther House was the best of the three. It had the most artifacts and information. In the evening, we attended an organ concert at the Castle Church.

The following morning, we had a tour of Wittenberg, which included the church where Luther preached. Surprisingly, this church was smaller or seemed less important than the Castle Church. The Castle Church was the church that belonged to the university where Luther taught.

That afternoon we traveled back to Bratislava. I appreciated the trip because I could touch the sites of part of my heritage. I had always been fascinated by Luther ever since I heard about him going crazy in his monastery cell. What was this guy like? Where did he live? What make him the way he was?

As I wandered around these cities, observing Luther's sites and pictures of Luther and cakes with the Luther Cross iced on it, I began to wonder, "What would Luther say about all this?" I have a hard time imagining Luther accepting the fact that statues were created for him and houses made into museums for him. I have a feeling he would say something like, "You're wasting space. I have only done what anyone should have done and did try to do." Perhaps maybe this is what I would just hope that he would say. With that thought in my mind, perhaps I shouldn't be so fascinated by the guy as I am.

All in all, if you want to see Luther's sites, contact the ELCA Wittenberg Center and they will help you.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Stužková

Last Saturday, the half of the fifth-year students celebrated their Stužková. To explain Stužková, we can say it is a mixture of prom, graduation, and parent's night.

The night began around 6:30 p.m. when the students entered into a reception hall in dresses and suits. Each of their names is called and each of them go to receive a green ribbon from their class teacher. This ribbon, I believe, symbolizes hope for the students in passing their exit exams. They are congratulated by their class teacher, the god teacher, and the vice-principal. The class teacher is the teacher who checks their grades and attendance over the five years. The god teacher is something like a god parent, we might say.

Then the select students give speeches to their families and the teachers, and then the class teacher gives a speech, and then a parent gives a speech. Fortunately, I seated myself next to a Slovak colleague who could translate these speeches for me.

After the speeches, the students dance with a parent and then dance with a teacher. We had to dance a waltz, and I had never waltzed before. So, prior to going to the reception hall, I had someone teach me how to waltz in three minutes. I was excited to show off my skills. Nevertheless, when I walk on the dance floor with the student who was supposed to dance with me, she says, "You don't have to waltz. We can just move from side to side." This was a real heart breaker. Imagine me standing up there ready to show off my skills and she tells me to just move from side to side.

Finally, after all the speeches and dances, we got to eat. It was past 8 p.m. The food was delicious. Dinner began with an appetizer: ham and whipped cream. When I think of good appetizers, I think of ham and whipped cream. Then we had soup, followed by chicken and rice. I was satisfied with the meal. I'm not a good person to ask about how good food is though because I'll eat anything.

After dinner was an informal program. The students performed many skits, dances, and songs. A few stood out. First was "Another Brick in the Wall, Pt. 2" by some students. The teachers said to each other, "Well, they don't need no education. So I guess no school on Monday then." The next was eight-person "song" routine in which one person begins the "song" by saying, in Slovak of course, what his job is like and then the next person follows but the first person continues as well. Imagine something like "Twelve Days of Christmas" but each day of Christmas is said at the same time. The best was probably the belly-dance routine. If you cannot see in the above picture, I am wearing a pink tie. I planned on wearing a blue tie, but I encourage by my friends to wear a pink tie. So I did. Nevertheless, a few of the students gave me a hard time about the tie. They said it looked "homosexual." Ironically, not a half-hour later, one of them was belly dancing in girl's clothes. Their dance was rather humorous and I made sure to point out the hypocrisy in what the student said earlier. Perhaps the student have learned something about stereotypes and the neutrality of colors through this experience.

The informal program did not get over until after midnight, when a second dinner was waiting for us outside. The only thing better than dinner is having two dinners. The second dinner was similar to the first, but I didn't mind at all. After the second dinner was the dance which began around 1 a.m. and ended around 5 a.m.

My roommate Larry was able to dance the entire four hours, non-stop; however, I was not this strong. I have to commend the guy. He's 61 years old and danced longer than anyone else, and, to put an exclamation point at the end of the sentence, he did all this dancing after losing his big toenail during the dance. How does that happen?

At around 4 a.m., the DJ said the dance was over. Then the students started a chant which began with "one more song" and continued to "two more songs" and "three more songs" and so on until the DJ continued playing music. He stopped at 5 a.m. I was dead tired. As I looked around the dance floor, I noticed the number of students was doubled by the number of teachers. How does that happen? We're old. They're young.

The dance part was nice because not all of the students danced and I had an opportunity to talk with them. With some of the students, I talked about the differences between prom and Stužková. This was an interesting conversation because one of the students studied in Canada the previous year and then got to experience both of these. From my observation, prom is very individual and Stužková is about the particular class of students as a whole. At Stužková, no one has a date. Their boyfriend or girlfriend might have been invited to sit with their family, but they do not come as a couple.

I finally returned home at 5:40 a.m. The students were very thankful that we stayed with them until the end. My experience with Stužková is not over, however. Two weeks from now, I will get to celebrate with the other class. There's nothing I enjoy more than staying up until 5 a.m. with a bunch of students.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Crazy Professor Lichtenberger Makes A Funny

Yesterday, I conducted a simple vote with my 3rd-year students, who study American Literature, asking them to write down which candidate they would vote for president if they could. As I expected, the majority of the students chose Obama. While talking about the election, I tried to remain neutral, pointing out the good and bad in each candidate. These students tend to develop their own opinions anyway.

Coming into class today, many of them were very excited about the outcome.

"Professor, Barack Obama won," one of the girls exclaimed.

"I am so excited that an African-American will be president," another noted.

Flashback in time. Early this morning, I attended an election party hosted by the American Embassy at a hotel in Bratislava. Unable to sleep, I woke up at 2 a.m. The event began at 9 p.m. the previous night, but I told myself I would attend if I woke up early in the morning. After laying in bed for nearly two hours, trying to decide whether getting up was worth it or not (wee hours are difficult), I crawled out of bed when my cell phone rang with my friends calling to tell me to join the election party. So, tired and a bit frustrated with a lack of sleep, I walked over to the hotel. On a ten-minute walk through the Old Town, I saw a total of three people. And people have dubbed Bratislava "Party-slava." Where do they get this idea from?

My frustation grew when I reached the hotel and approached the sign-in desk. After slowly spelling my last name and repeating it numerous times (as you can imagine, with a last name like "Lichtenberger", this process is expected but still annoying), the hosts told me to pick a button from a box partitioned in two. The buttons said "I support Obama" or "I support McCain."

Not noticing any other buttons, neutral, "Proud to be an American," or "I'm Just Here for the Free Food" buttons, I said, "I'd rather not wear a button, actually," First, I despise buttons; they put holes in clothes. Second, the candidate I supported was my own business.

"But you must wear one so that the security guards know that you are here for the election party," they responded, probably thinking this was a clever way to identify partygoers.

Recalling the time, 4 a.m., and that no one was in the lobby and no one stood between the host desk and the security guards, I desperately desired to defy them: "I think it will be okay if I go without a button and you just wave at them to say that I can enter."

Nevertheless, I decided to play the game. So looking into the box, I asked, "May I at least take both then?" Considering the time and the event ending in two hours and the number of buttons left, I figured they would let me. Not so. Upon taking a button, I walked 20 feet from the desk to the security guards, showed them the button, and put it in my pocket. I'm such a rebel.

I had imagined Obama would win the election; however, sitting in front of the television watching CNN announcing Obama would be the next president and listening to him speak in front of a crowd in Chicago, I began to wonder, "Is this really happening?"

I must be honest. At times, I have a slight affection for '90s rap. Ninety-five percent of the time, I despise the lyrics, the mistreatment of women and the language; however, every once in a while, I recall a song about social or racial injustices that I find particurally important. In one of these songs, an artist says, "We ain't ready to see a black president." Well, ready or not, here he comes.

Back in the classroom, thinking of the events of earlier this morning, I said to the class, "It is really amazing the changes that have occurred in the United States in the last fifty some years from the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement to today. I am pleasantly surprised."

Then, considering the race relations in Slovakia, I announced, "Someday, a gypsy will be president of Slovakia."

Nearly everyone in the class began to smirk and laugh. "A gypsy, president of Slovakia?" They questioned. "You're kidding. Professor, gypsies are different from blacks. They are lazy."

"Yes, this is true: they are different," I replied. "But all the same, someday, a gypsy will be president of Slovakia. Maybe not next year, or in five years, or in ten years, or in fifty years, but, in your lifetime, a gypsy will be president of Slovakia. A similar thing would probably have happened in classrooms in America fifty years ago if you said a black person would be president. So, you remember this day. You remember that crazy Professor Lichtenberger foretold this event years before it happened, and remember that you laughed."

People, ideas, and time all change in unexpectable ways. My students are just kids (I'm a pretty big kid myself, too) and must be reminded of the nature of life. I can only hope that the outcome of the U.S. election can play an important role for these people, my students and the citizens of this country I am learning about, not because of Obama's policies or popularity or what he will do, or won't do, as president, but because of the barriers that exist between people which are continuing to fall. I try to remember that by no means are race, social, or gender relations perfect now or even in the near future.

Jung developed the theory of Collective Unconscious, the idea that there exists a knowledge that is common to all people. Some would say through this theory that when one person discovers something, it becomes infinitely easier for someone else to discover this same thing. Whether this theory is a reality does not matter. It is similar to something Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, just as injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, a victory over injustice anywhere is a victory over injustice everywhere. Like as a smile is contagious in a crowd, perhaps the development of people is a benevolent infection that crosses oceans.

Be it in five years, ten years, or fifty years, I look forward to the day when I turn on my computer and hear that a gypsy is president of Slovakia. I like to imagine my students having children and telling them about crazy Professor Lichtenberger, his beard, and how he said a whole lot that they didn't quite comprehend then but, after years of consideration, finally understood.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Sedlec Ossuary

Our school had Thursday and Friday of this week off for Fall Break. So, my friends Amy, Jozi, Alicia, and I took a trip to the Czech Republic on Friday. The destination was the Sedlec Ossuary outside of Kutna Hora. My college buddy Josh had somehow discovered this church on the Internet and told me about it. The ossuary contains 40,000 - 70,000 human skeletons artistically arranged. These bones created pyramids, wall decorations, crosses, chalices, a coat of arms, and a chandelier among many things.

Stepping into the ossuary, I could hardly contain myself. "Holy cow, look at all the bones" is all I could say. It was difficult not to laugh. After walking around the ossuary for a few minutes, I no longer saw humor in the situation but a fantastic message. "Death doesn't make any difference," said the handout given to us as we entered.

Walking through this ossuary was different than walking through a cemetery. In a cemetery, one only sees names, and sometimes pictures. In this ossuary, one only sees bones, and absolutely no names. Some of the bones were placed behind glass. These were the skulls of some who fought in the Hussite Wars during the 15th century. The others were undistinguishable.

"Each of these skulls belonged to a person who had a life," Jozi said.

What were their lives like? What was important to them? What were their names? Most of them died of the plague. Other than that, we know nothing. They are the nameless.

Yet, we see something. We see the effects of their actions. In death, we no longer live, but each of our actions and inactions are monumental and eternal. To influence the world, we need not run for president, be a famous writer or celebrity, or invent a new technology that changes the way we live. To influence the world, we need not do anything. We have already influenced and are still influencing the world. Who knows how far-reaching are our actions? We might develop an idea that travels worldwide. We might teach someone something. We might even do something as mundane as raise children effectly. Or we might just do nothing. Even this inaction is action.

Even in these people's deaths, these nameless bones are still communicating this message. But we can take this message further. Though on the outside we appear different, on the inside we are the same. We consider ourselves so different but we are 99.9999% the same. We live through similar experiences but we see ourselves are unreachably different. We're the same species. Isn't that enough?

Though this ossuary might be considered scary. Full of millions of bones, this ossuary might give someone the hibbie-jibbies, especially on Halloween. After walking out of the ossuary, we could only see bones in everything.

Nevertheless, the scary factor was completly outweighed by the message. The entire time I had a verse from Paul in my head: "Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Not death nor life." What an amazing verse to contemplate during this visit.

When we were leaving the ossuary, I told my friends that I did not want to be buried in a casket but wanted my body to be useful for something. Alicia took the seriousness out of me. "Okay, we will just drap your body over a chandelier at the Lyceum." I'm glad someone was a little lighthearted than myself.

Thanks to Josh for recommending this place to me.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Munich Madness

Earlier in October, I went to Oktoberfest in Munich.

I had planned on leaving Bratislava with a friend and then meeting another friend in Munich. However, both of them canceled on me. I questioned whether I should go or not. I decided to go anyway because I had already bought the ticket.

I left Bratislava Friday night and planned on staying in a sleeping car at night. However, I had no place to stay Saturday night. I planned on sleeping at the train station. Two of my friends went to Oktoberfest the year before and said the train station was an acceptable place to sleep. Finding a hostel or hotel in Munich during Oktoberfest is like finding a needle in a haystack. A bit worried and a touch excited, I was planning on bordering my second train when I received a message from a friend who said she had a friend who would let me stay with her Saturday night. What good news!

I arrived Saturday morning at 6:30 and walked around the town for three hours before going to Oktoberfest. After some time, I called my friend's friend, Verena, and we met up at Oktoberfest. We were then fortunate enough to enter a tent. Getting into a tent without a reservation is just as hard as finding a hostel or hotel during Oktoberfest. Inside the tent was one big celebration of singing, dancing, eating, and drinking. Everyone was merry.

Sunday, I walked around town with my hostesses friends. The city was very charming. I enjoyed the city very much except for the large number of people who were still intoxicated at 10 a.m. from the day before.

One of my favorite places was a church in which there was a footprint in one of the tiles. My hostess, Verena, said that this was the footprint of the Devil. I decided to see how big his feet were, and, turns out, we have the same shoe size. Either that or I am the Devil.

After walking around town, I caught a train back to Bratislava. The trip was very exciting and an emotional roller coaster.

For those who were wondering what the Oktoberfest Police Station looked like. Turns out this building is permanent. Everything else at Oktoberfest is taken down except for the police building. So, they use the building for two weeks and it stands there with computers and whatever else they have in a police station for 50 weeks a year.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

My Refrigerator

When I returned to Slovakia, I found a new addition to my apartment: a broken refrigerator! I found not only this, but also the stench of death and mayonnaise engulfing the apartment whenever the door is opened.

For about two weeks, Larry and I attempted to fix the problem on our own. We knew that the whole machine wasn't broken because the freezer still worked. But what do we know about refrigerators? We did have a manual in English, at least. So we told our vice principal who takes care of our numerous problems.

The 'landlord' for the apartment was the first to attempt to fix the refrigerator. She merely looked through the manual for a solution to the problem as if we didn't think about looking at the manual.

Then a week later, two refrigerator repairmen came. After about a half-hour, they said they fixed the refrigerator. Thank the Lord, we said, we can finally buy perishables!

The next morning we wake up to frozen orange juice in the refrigerator. The repairmen turned our refrigerator into another freezer. We attempted to change the temperature, but even on the lowest setting, everything freezes.

The weather here in Bratislava has cooled, so we have a new refrigerator, one that actually works - the windowsill.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My New Classes

This year, I am teaching a new class - 4th year religion. This course doesn't have a title, so I call it, "Biblical and Church History." As you might have figured from my titling of the course, we survey Biblical and Church history. We have one textbook, "Manna and Mercy," which overviews the Biblical story (and has cartoons). Yet, after that, the students have to rely solely upon my lectures for their knowledge. Talk about having to be on my game.

Each 4th year student has to take this course, so I have four classes of 14-18 students each. I taught some of these students the previous year, so I am excited to teach them again. In fact, most are excited to have me as a teacher again. (The student who looked as if my every word was hurting her does not fall into this category). Even the student with whom I butted heads most of the time last year said, "I am glad to be having class with my favorite professor." He either learned one of two things. One - butter up your teacher. Two - I'm the best teacher this side of the Danube. I believe he learned the former.

I also teach two groups a course in American Literature. One of these groups only has seven students. At first, I was worried we would have many long classes where no one says anything, but, in fact, they participate and listen very well.

The final course I teach is English conversation to a younger group of students. They were rather shocked that we can only speak English in the class.

My schedule so far has been very polar. Monday, I had five classes. Tuesday, I had three. Today, I had four. Tomorrow, I have two. Friday, I have six. Tuesdays and Thursdays are nice, but Friday won't be fun starting at 7 a.m. Nevertheless, the schedule is bound to change. It always does. In Slovakia, I have learned not to get too familiar with anything.

So, those are my new classes.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

An Eventful Evening

Sunday evening a bunch of us went to visit our friend Zuzka who lives in another village about 45 minutes away by bus. The majority of the evening was low-key, relaxing, and fun. We grilled out, walked to the Danube, and watched the sunset.

All was fun until the ride home. Two Slovaks drove to Zuzka's house, so they offered to take us home. I rode with Jan, the driver, Jon and Maika, who had been in Slovakia for only a week now. This sounded great until about 5 minutes from our apartment.

We saw a police car motioning cars to pull over to the side of the road. There was already one car in front of us that was stopped. The policeman walked over to the driver's side window and asked for the driver's papers. Jan gave him his papers. Then the policeman administered a breathalyzer. (Slovakia has a zero-tolerance policy for drinking and driving) I began to get worried after the first time Jan took the test and the policeman made him take it again. I was sure that he hadn't been drinking and worried that something was wrong. It took him three tries before the test was complete. He passed.

All was well except the policeman said Jan was missing a certain paper and said it would cost 2000 crowns (100 dollars). This must be paid on the spot. Jan said he didn't have that much money, so the policeman said 500 crowns would be enough. Jan didn't have that much either, but the rest of us in the car pitched in to help.

After the policeman left, we all suspected it was bribe money.

Okay, we figure, that's over, let's just go home. So Jan tries to start the car, but no luck. He tries again and again and again. No go. So the policeman comes over. "Good," we think. "He is going to help us." Not quite. Jan tells him what is wrong and the policeman walks away, gets in his car, and drives away.

Then the conversation Jan and I were having before we were pulled over popped into my mind. Somehow we got onto the topic of the main things wrong with Slovakia. Jan said there were three things: education (this may be wrong but that's not the point), health care, and the judicial system. Oh the irony, I thought.

So, everyone except Jan gets out of the car to push the car, hoping that this will help the car start. We were running and pushing as fast as we could, but again no luck. Finally, we found a side street and a parking spot. Jan said he would have his dad get it towed in the morning.

As we were walking back to our respective apartments, I said to Maika, "You know we set this whole thing up just to scare you." Things seemed to work as if they were set up, but we surely didn't set them up. Strange how events happen in relationship to one another. What are the chances that we get randomly pulled over, Jan doesn't have the correct papers, the policeman bribes Jan, Jan's car won't start, the policeman won't help so we have to push it? Any of these events could have happened differently on any given day. Well, Sunday night, the odds didn't matter.

Thus Begins Another Year

Well, I took the summer off from blogging, but now I am back in Slovakia, ready for another year.

I left last Thursday afternoon from Lansing, MI, and I arrived 18 hours later on Friday afternoon. I didn't sleep much on the plane but was out for about a half away. I considered this an accomplishment. Nine hours is a long time to be on one plane if you can't sleep. I flew United and was disappointed in their movie selection. United is a little behind other airline companies as far as technology for movies is concerned. I had a screen to myself, but I could not start and stop the films as I have been able to on other airlines. Oh well, at least they fed me twice.

This past weekend was spent settling back in and meeting up with old friends and making new friends. School begins next week but this week is teacher's planning week. I am excited to see the students again and get back into the classroom.

Friday, June 27, 2008

School's Out!

Today was the last day of school. Classes haven't been taught since Monday, but the students still had to come to meet with their class teachers, clean classrooms, and play sports in the gym.

One of my students came up to me a few days ago with a bar of chocolate.

"I just wanted to thank you for learning us this year," she said.

"It's teaching," I responded.

"Whatever," she replied. "I just wanted to thank you. That is all."

Slovaks have trouble with the different between teach/learn because their word is the same, only when they want to use learn, they add a reflective.

Though I was first slightly disappointed that she forgot the difference between teach/learn, I realized that even though she made a grammar mistake, she was still speaking truth. I learned my students very well this year. Better put, I learned about my students. Or, I learned from my students. Also, I learned with my students. The prepositions can continue.

Grammar mistakes happen. I even find myself making more grammar mistakes, or at least catching them, here than when I was in the States.

Thank you's do not always happen, but, when they do, they make a world of difference. So, whoever you are, thank you for reading my blog this year and thinking about me and praying for me. Stay tuned for more updates.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Grilling Out


One of my favorite activities here in Bratislava is going to Josh's flat where there is a terrace. On the terrace is a grill. Now that the weather is very warm. Grilling out is a great option any night.

We grilled out twice last week. Once the began raining just as we started eating, so our little picnic had to move inside. The second time is what is now known as "The Caveman Night."

Jozi , Amy, and I were at the store and I was looking at meat when I saw that there was a pile of turkey legs available. I took one look at them and said we had to buy them. So we did.

As you can see in the picture, we didn't have a bag for our turkey legs, so we put them in our pockets. You have to pay for bags sometimes here.

We bought 3 legs - one for Josh, Jozi, and myself. When we arrived at Josh's, Jozi, Amy, and I began a caveman chat. We then put the meat on the grill. It was around 8 o'clock.


An hour and a half later I was rather hungry and demanded we finally eat the legs. Unfortunately, the legs were so thick that it wasn't even cooked yet.


A little while later I took a bite out of one of them and it was finally cooked. Nearly two hours later.


I had never eaten a whole turkey leg before, and now that I have completed the task, I would like to try to eat a whole turkey. Maybe I should start with a chicken.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The End is Near!!!

Days until I get 21 two-thousand word research papers: 1 (I hope I will be receiving 21)

Days until half of my students leave for Paris: 2

Days until I get to see another doctor for my shoulder: 3 (I hope at the most)

Days until grades are due: 11

Days until I meet Jon Covel: 11

[Jon Covel is a American who will be teaching here next year and he taught here last year and everyone seems to love him. He is around 30, plays guitar and baseball, among other things, and everyone says that we will get along very well next year. I have already appointed him to the position of "new best friend" even before meeting him. We'll see if we get along or not. (Having younger guys here is pivital. The closest American male this year is Josh, and he is 30, and he is leaving this year. So I have to replace him)]

Days until no more teaching: 12

(Notice how grades are due before we are done teaching. So I suppose that means there will be no real teaching going on)

Days left until no more school: 19

Days until I leave for Croatia: 23

(I'm going to Croatia for 5 days from July 1 - 5. I will be staying in Dubrovnik on the beach. It will be glorious)

Days until I arrive back in Lansing, MI: 30

Days until I return to Bratislava: 83

Before I know it, summer will be here, and then before I know it, summer will be gone.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Low Tatras





Two weekends ago, a group of us went to the Low Tatras, which are in the middle of the country. We arrived Friday evening at the penzion and went hiking Saturday morning.








The penzion was poor. They advertised a hot tub, but then said it cost 100 SKK to enter for 1/2 hour and only two people could enter at a time. They also had a breakfast for 120 SKK, which was very Slovak - meat and bread. I suppose I should have been thankful it wasn't hot dogs. There was no common area and terrible water pressure.






Nevertheless, the hike was fantastic. We hiked to the top of a mountain, walked along its ridge and then ate lunch at a cottage at the very top. After eating, we walked for about an hour, and then it started to rain and hail, so a group hiked down and another kept going.






The hike down was dangerous because of the rain and snow on the ground. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but I came close to slipping a few times.



The hike was a good opportunity for me to get to know my friends better. I had a great conversation with a Slovak Juro about communism. We got on the topic because I asked him how the path we were walking along was made. The path was simply amazing. It was made out of large rocks that had to weigh 50 pounds each. I thought it must have taken years to build the path. He said he didn't know when or how it was made, but that it was made under the communist era.
I then asked him what his family says about communism. He said he couldn't remember much because he was only five when the Velvet Revolution occurred. He said his grandparents thought communism was better but his parents disagreed. His grandparents liked communism because everyone had a job and security.
Later, he asked me what people in the United States thought about it. I said that people were scared that communism would take over country after country and eventually come to the United States. He thought this was hilarious. He had never heard of this worry.
Soon we got onto the topic of governments in general and decided that every form of country has its pros and cons and that all governments can become corrupt.
I concluded that perhaps we merely fear what we don't know or don't understand.
The mountaintop was so peaceful. We touched the clouds. The view above villages and valleys makes you want to listen to people and try to understand them.
Nevertheless, we always come down those mountains. Sometimes it's easy to remember what it's like atop a mountain. Sometimes not so much.

Rotator Cuffed

Two months ago, I went to the doctor's with my friend Jozi to have a doctor check out my rotator cuff. It had been hurting for about a month and a half, and it was clear that resting was not going to help it. (Side note for those who are asking why I waited a month and a half: remember this is coming from the same guy who walked on a broken ankle for over two weeks. Then again that broken ankle actually started healing, and in the right way.)

So, the doctor moves my arm a little this each way to test the pain and decides to give me some medication. I went in with the intention of getting an x-ray to really see how it was. Not today though.

Three weeks later when I ran out of the medication, I asked the assistant principal if I could take a student with me to go to the doctor's because Jozi was in Austria that week. She let me pick which student I wanted to take. I picked Andrej, the baseball player who took full responsibility for my injury because it came while playing baseball and said he would do anything to help me.

The next day I arrived at school and the assistant principal found Andrej and told him he was to accompany me. Andrej approached me with a smile, glad to help me. Then he said, "Professor, you should have told me yesterday that I was going to take you to the doctor's. I stayed up until 2 a.m. doing my homework. I could have been relaxing." I replied, "Now I'm especially glad you didn't know."

We arrived at the doctor's office and I received an x-ray quicker than I imagined. We were only there for an hour. That is lightning speed here. We then took the x-rays to a specialist (though I question how special this doctor really was). We waited for an hour and a half to see him. Andrej and I talked about baseball, the Lyceum, and his future. It was a good opportunity to hear his opinions about various subjects.

Around 10:30 a.m., the doctor called us in. After looking at the x-rays for a moment and moving my arm around a little, he said he would give me an injection.

Not an injection, I said to myself.

For those who don't know, my family has a terrible allergy toward injections. We have been known to pass out from time to time.

If he told me he was going to give me an injection and then just gave it to me, it would be no problem. Nevertheless, he waited about ten minutes, giving me ample time to psych myself up for the needle.

When the doctor was about to inject the medicine (cortisone, I believe. I didn't find out) into my shoulder, Andrej said, "Just look at me, professor." I looked at Andrej and, a minute later, I felt a needle the size of a ruler enter my shoulder. I felt it go through every single tissue and muscle.

After the needle exited my body, I tried to stand failingly. Then the doctor told me to lie down. Then they lifted up my legs, and he pushed him hand into my forehead. I thought he was just checking my temperature. A few minutes later, Andrej finally said, "He wants you to try to push his hand." Thanks for the help finally, Andrej, I wanted to say.

After lying for about fifteen minutes, I could finally stand. Then the doctor told me to buy a sling, a 20 crown (1 dollar) investment, which turned out to look like a towel of guaze. I was told to return the next day for a check-up.

I wore the sling the rest of the day and returned the following morning. The doctor told me to rest that weekend and Monday I would feel like Spiderman. He said I could return on Monday if I wanted, but it wasn't necessary. He said the shoulder would heal now and he gave no further instructions.

Monday, came and I was still Peter Parker pre-spiderbite stage.

I have searched the Internet for the cure for my ailment. I have found numerous rotator cuff stretching exercises and helpful tips. The shoulder has improved; however, the progress is slow. It has been nearly three weeks. If it continues for another week, I will return to the doctor's.

Through this experience, I have learned one thing, and re-learned another. I re-learned that going to the doctor's in a foreign country is terrible. Some things are not translated and expectations are not always the same. I learned that x-rays make excellent wall decorations.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

A Sad Day at the Lyceum

Around 11 a.m. last Tuesday one of the 2nd year students, Kristina jumped out of a 4th floor window of the school. The autopsy discovered that she died on impact.

She was recently taken out of her classroom by the class teacher who talked to her about her absences before she asked to use the toilet. She then went to her dorm room and jumped off of the balcony. It may have been at least ten minutes until someone approached Kristina, lying on the concrete. Again, she fell right in front of the school, where the lady at the front desk must have seen her. She must have called an ambulance and then locked the doors from both sides going toward the front door. We do not know if she told anyone in the school about what happened. A few minutes later, an American pastor David attempted CPR on the girl as he saw a group of Slovak teachers in a circle. Someone took over after him and then the ambulance came and they put a white sheet over her.

I learned about the event from students who were told to return to their classes. All I was told was that a student committed suicide. I hadn't a clue what to do with them. I knew just as little about why these things happen as they do. This was an unteachable moment. I just let them do the thing that I would want to do in their situation, speak with each other in their language about whatever their hearts desired.

After police arrived and filed their report, the students were allowed to leave out of the back door. Kristina's body laid helplessly and hopelessly alone with a white sheet over it while photographers flashed their cameras and journalists interviewed random passersby for nearly three hours before the coroner arrived.

That afternoon we had a two-hour staff meeting. The teachers discussed her family life, possible motives, and a chapel service the next day. I wanted to tell the other teachers that we should leave why Kristina may have committed suicide to the police and let us focus on what we can do. We could not change the fact that a young girl was dead, but we could focus our energy on those students who are suffering and how to be there for them.

The next day was the chapel memorial service. Students spoke about Kristina and people sang songs of comfort for the students. The news on TV and on paper still spoke about Kristina that day and the next and the next.

Kristina was not my student. I substituted her class three times but had minimal interaction with her. A cross and candles have been placed around the spot where she fell. Students frequently come and light a candle and sit for a moment. A picture display of her is on the second floor along with a book for people to write in.

So many questions still remain. What was the lady at the front desk doing for ten minutes while Kristina lay on the concrete? Is there an emergency plan for the school? Which teachers in the school knows CPR? Why is the director infrequently in school in the mornings? Why is there no emergency kit available? These are the logistic questions.

My students have been asking a few different questions. What could I have done? Why did she jump? Why would anyone do this? Did I not show that I cared about her? These are the natural questions. These are the questions I do not have the answers to.

I ask that you kept the Lyceum in your prayers, for healing, guidance, and peace.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Krakow


May 8th through the 12th we had a 5-day weekend. So a couple friends of mine - Kendra and Alison - decided to go to Krakow, Poland.

We left Thursday, May 8 at 8 a.m. and planned to arrive around 5 p.m. in Krakow. Our journey began in Bratislava, then we took a train to Breclav, Czech Republic, then another train to Katowice, Poland, then another train to Krakow.

We had an hour and a half layover in Breclav, the highlight being the statue of a head.

In Katowice, we had another layover, so we walked around the city and the girls had a cup of coffee. The train station in Katowice is rather confusing as we found out on Sunday. We nearly missed our train going to Krakow because the platforms did not say which direction was which.

Finally around 5 p.m. we arrived in Krakow. We miraciously found our hostel without getting lost. This is a huge improvement for me. The hostel was called "Mama's Hostel" and, naturally, staying at this establishment called for some "Yo mama" jokes.


That evening, we walked around the Old Town, attempted to see the castle, and found ourselves in an dark, empty church with violins practicing in the backroom. The Old Town was an old town. They are hard to describe - open squares, lots of people, historical buildings. In the church, a radius was on display in a glass box. I could not figure out whose radius this was, but I had never seen a relic before, so this was rather exciting.




The next morning we took a bus outside Krakow to the famous salt mines. We saw many brochures for tours of the salt mines and rides to and from the site. These brochures made it seem as if it was difficult to find on your own. Nevertheless, we found a public bus that took us to the mines and paid for a tour in person and saved $25. So, a word of advice: brochures make trips seem difficult on your own, but they aren't.

Upon arriving at the 700-year-old salt mines, we had to walk down 378 steps. The most fascinating thing about the salt mine was the chapels and cathedral. Miners (the guide said on their free time, which I am skeptical about) carved out an extravagant cathedral with a replica of Da Vinci's Last Supper and a salt statue of Pope John Paul II. Though I am not sure how often this cathedral holds mass, weddings take place here frequently. Also, 100 meters below the Earth's surface was a bar and restaurant. Just before leaving the mine, I decided to taste the salt by licking the walls. Yup, it was salty.

The previous night, I did not sleep well because some girls that were staying in our room thought turning on the light and using their outside voices was acceptable. I hoped to sleep before this night; however, around 4 a.m., I realized this would not happen. We stayed in an eight-person dorm, and we occupied three of the beds. Five other people would go out just as we were going to bed and each would return on the hour starting at 1 a.m. Each person would take at least thirty minutes to stop walking around the room, turning on the light, and walking around the room.
The next morning, tired from a night of annoying college girls coming and going in the wee hours of the morning, we took a bus to Auschwitz.

We saw Auschwitz I first where we received an English tour. The guide took us into different buildings to show us artifacts and where people were shot, hanged, and imprisoned. Though I enjoyed hearing stories from the guide, I wished we had more time to look at displays. In one of the buildings, there are displays of suitcases, shoes, kitchen utensils, glasses, and the like that were left by prisoners. I wanted to stay at look at the suitcases and shoes for a few minutes, but the tour guide merely said, "And here's the suitcases. And in the next room you'll find the shoes." I understand that the tour guide had a schedule, but people want to stop for a few minutes to look at thousands of shoes. In Auschwitz I, we got to walk through a gas chamber. The gas chamber looked nothing more than an empty room with burners just outside the room.

After the tour of Auschwitz I, the tour guide took us to Auschwitz II - Birkenau. Birkenau is where most of the prisoners were sent and then selected for extermination or to work. Two train tracks go into Birkenau, and in between these two tracks is where the selection took place. Then those selected for extermination move directly to the gas chamber. The gas chambers were exploded by the Nazis before fleeing. So all that is left is ruins.


The sheer size of Birkenau makes your jaw drop. My roommate Larry likes to say that Auschwitz I looks like a small college campus, but Birkenau goes as far as the eye can see. If you can see in the picture, each chimney was part of a building. The camp is split in two. The side that I was on must have been at least 15-20 chimneys by 15-20 chimneys. Each of those chimneys could have been where prisoners lived, lavatories, or workplaces. The buildings were poorly built so any heat that came from the chimney soon left. The tour guide said that 400 people could live in one building alone. She said that 8-12 people would sleep on one row of a bunk. They would all have to lay the same way. If privacy wasn't taken in the living conditions, the lavatories surely took those away. The building with toilets had three rows of holes. Holes were on each side of something that might be called a bench. When using the restroom, which only happened twice a day, you would be back to back with another prisoner. I cannot even begin to imagine what living in Birkenau must have been like.

After the tour was over, we returned to Auschwitz I, which is 3 km away from Birkenau, and we went into one of the museums. There is an exhibit on each country, or group of people, that was sent to Auschwitz. We went to the Roma/Gypsy exhibit. Many people still have very strong prejudices against the Roma.

After walking around the exhibit, I saw a guestbook, which I couldn't help but to look at. I couldn't believe the things that were written in the guestbook. I flipped a few pages and the first thing I noticed was a "Good Night White Pride" sticker. I have seen these stickers around Slovakia and Czech Republic. The first thing it made me think of was "To Kill a Mockingbird" which we recently read in class. In the book, Atticus Finch says that it is wrong to hate anyone, even Hitler. I found the hatred and damnation of Hitler and the Nazis all over the guestbook. I flipped a few more pages and found a comment about something the Chinese did to the Japanese. Then I looked below that comment and saw someone ridiculing the person who wrote that comment because the Japanese did something else to the Chinese. A few more pages and I found another comment about how one would think the Jews in Israel wouldn't persecute the Palestinians after all that happened. In between, I kept seeing this phrase: "Never again." Sadly, millions of people were killed during WWII and it has happened again and again and again. When will the suffering and hatred end? Will it end?
Leaving Auschwitz, I wondered what I was supposed to take away from this experience. Was there anything to learn at Auschwitz except for the fact that hatred and suffering exists? I wanted to read a hopeful "Never again" but all I saw was a delusional "Never again." How do we make hatred never happen again?
I had been listening to this song by Michigan's own Sufjan Stevens called "John Wayne Gacy, Jr" about the notorious serial killer. After telling Gacy's story, Stevens notes, "And in my best behavior / I am really just like him / Look beneath the floor boards /For the secrets I have hid." Stevens, speaking metaphorically, has spoken truthfully. Though most of us have never done anything to get us put in jail for a lifetime, we have all committed acts that we would rather hide and have had thoughts we wish we had not.
So perhaps it's not about what happened over sixty year ago, but what we are doing now. Maybe what I am supposed to have learned from Auschwitz is that I must attempt not only say "Never again" but also impliment "Never again" in my life in my small and large actions. I guess it all goes back to the whole log in the eye thing.
The next day we began our adventure home at noon. Planning to take the same route home, we had a three minute layover in Katowice and missed our connection. We had to wait two hours for another train that could take us to Bratislava. This train, however, went through Bratislava. We arrived at our second destination a half hour late and boarded a train at around 8. After stopping a few times for thirty minutes at random towns, we realized we would not make it home before midnight. When we arrived back in Bratislava, we didn't care what time it was. We were just glad to be back. It was 12:40 when I arrived home. A trip that was supposed to take eight hours took over 12.
A big thanks to Kendra for the pictures.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Update Coming

I apologize blogger friends for the lack of updates. Two weeks ago, we had a holiday and I went to Krakow, then we had a rather unfortunate week of school and I found my arm in a sling.



When I sling off the sling, I hope to speak in detail. The sling should be off this week.



Hope all is well with you whoever you are and wherever you are.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Budapest - Two Great Cities - One Great Place


This past weekend, I travelled with three friends, Sonja, Rado, and Alison, to Budapest, Hungary. We left Bratislava Friday after school and took the 2 1/2 hour train ride to Budapest. When we arrived, we attempted to find our hostel. After wandering around the city for about an hour, we found the hostel. Figuring here would be where we would put our bags down, we let out a sigh of relief. First day = no problems. So they thought. Nevertheless, they were not aware of my travelling curse.


We walked into the hostel and the receptionist said, "Sorry two groups of people booked the same room. There is no room here for you."


"What do you mean?" We asked. "We have the confirmation e-mail in our bag."
"Someone must have booked the hostel 5 minutes before you did. This doesn't happen often but it does happen."


I laughed quietly and then asked when he found out about this problem.


"When I came in to work this morning," he responded.


"And why didn't you communicate this problem with us?" I asked.


"Usually we do, but today was a busy day."


Yeah, another busy day at the hostel. I'm not sure what that means. I wanted to ask, "You were too busy to send us an e-mail or phone us?" But I figured I would get nowhere, so I sat down and just laughed and told my friends of the curse.


The hostel receptionist was nice enough to at least find another hostel for us. Yet the problem with this hostel was that it was above the city and the only directions we had was, "Go up the hill and you'll find it."



Nevertheless, we did have an amazing view of the city. For those who do not know, Budapest is made up of two cities: Buda and Pest. Buda is on the west side of the Danube and Pest on the east. Buda is the hilly, beautiful side, and Pest is the side of buildings upon buildings.


Saturday morning we woke and made our way to the market where we ate some fresh Hungarian food and enjoyed some freshly squeezed orange juice. It definitely beat Minute Maid.



Afterwards, we walked up the castle hill to catch another view of the city. I never get tired of looking at castles.





















After crossing back into Pest, we found a number of shoes just laying by the riverside. Sonja explained that these are supposed to represent those who were taken during the Holocaust.



Hungary is known for its' spas. We all brought swimsuits and made our way to one of the famous spas in Buda. We sat in a pool of warm water for nearly two hours. During that time I remembered that my family (except my mother) was running in the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon. Their bodies were tired and worn. Mine was relaxed to the max. I'd prefer the spa to the run.


That evening I realized why they called the country Hungry. We went to a Hungarian restaurant and the waiter and waitress pestered for about ten minutes about what we wanted to eat. We ordered soups and a meal. The soups took 30 minutes to arrive and after that the meal took 45 minutes. Sitting at the table, waiting for our food, we realized anyone who visited the country must have continuously been saying, "I am so hungry!" It's true. Look it up on Wikipedia. Nevertheless the food was delicious and we even had live music. A violinist even placed his violin right next to my ear, thinking it might please me. Little did he know.


Sunday morning we walked around the city and found Heroes Square. Heroes Square is something like a mini St. Peter's Square.









Then we found a park where a festival was going on. At the festival, I found three things worth noting. The first is a t-shirt a woman was wearing. This woman's shirt should say, "Help me, I don't know my masculine and feminine forms of words very well!"





The second was the American hot dog stand. I love hot dogs but never in my life will I buy a hot dog in Europe. In Slovakia they call them "parky" and they are just about the most disgusting thing I've ever eaten. During our training this last fall, we were each served four on our plates for breakfast. This was the only meal I did not eat all of. Anyway, the American hot dog stand had an interesting umbrella. What flag is that next to the U.S.A. flag? Yes, the Civil War is over, and the South lost.


Last, and saddest, was this fake car accident and a wooden person we found by the car. This wooden man was wearing a sweatshirt that looks much like a shirt my roommate Larry owns. This was a rather sad sight. Poor Larry. Fortunately, when I returned to the apartment. Larry was still alive! and wearing this shirt (not really but it would have been funny).
Budapest is said to be one of the most beautiful cities in the world, and I will have to agree. On my top ten list of most beautiful cities, Budapest falls within the top ten. I only have about 7 cities on my top ten list, though. Seriously though, I did enjoy Budapest more than most cities, even Prague, especially because it wasn't as touristy as cities can become.
That's all for now. Thanks for reading. Thanks to Alison for the pictures.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

The H-Block

While I was waiting for my students to arrive to play soccer this afternoon, I was observing the wonderful communist housing units. In front of me stood a row of twelve large H-blocks. I call them H-blocks because simply they look like H's. An example of the H-block from Petrzalka is at right. For those who do not know, Petrzalka is something like a suburb of Bratislava. It is not a suburb in the sense of American Suburbia. It is nearly the opposite of what we normally think of as a suburb. Though, like an American suburb, the housing is all the same.

One of the major complaints against communism is that making everything the same creates a bland life. Nevertheless, the beauty of the H-block is that they are versatile. Like Legos, you can build upon them, creating them to be the exact size that you want them to be. The dimensions of a base H-block is something like 100 by 100 by 100. If you want a larger building, you just add another H-block to it. That my friends is diversity.
Still think communist housing is bland? The H-block is versatile in color as well. Collect all sixteen. In any given row of H-blocks, you can find a dozen different colored H-blocks. This afternoon I noticed light green, peach, pink, light blue, yellow, and grey H-blocks. That my friends is diversity.
Though I love poking fun at the H-blocks, I try to remember their purpose: housing a large number of people at a relatively low price but still lasting for many years. In the United States, how much different are our houses? You either have the front door to the right of the house or to the left. You either have the garage attached to the house and to the left or the right, have it detached, or have no garage.
I have oversimplified our housing in the United States as I have with that in Bratislava.
I imagine we want unique houses and buildings to represent our unique natures. We acknowledge that we all are different from one another. If I lived under communism, I would have been dying to show myself and my life different from others in whatever way possible. Nevertheless, we are no more the uniqueness of the houses than we are the clothes we wear.
Though I wish all of Bratislava was as beautiful as Old Town, I still enjoy looking at a lovely row of differently colored and shaped, sometimes tagged, H-blocks.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Bratislava for Everyone

This weekend is public-free weekend. Museums, buses, and the zoo is all free for everyone.

I spent Saturday walking around the Bratislava Zoo. The zoo is rather pathetic. The animals aren't cared for very well. The cages are small and uninteresting. I felt bad for the monkeys, my favorite animals to watch, because they had few fun things to play with. They could run up a little branch and back down and then go into their little man-made cave, but that was it. I suppose I enjoy monkeys and apes so much because they remind me of me. One of the monkeys was even eating the kind of green apples that I like to eat. Cool monkeys.

One of the highlights of the afternoon was watching a little kid poop in a portable potty trainer in the middle of a crowd. We were watching some people dance a Folk dance and in the middle of the crowd, these parents pull out a plastic bag and a little toilet seat. I couldn't believe it. In the middle of a hundred people. Who does that? The parents could have easily taken their kid off the path a little for the kid to do his business. It is a regular thing here to see a kid peeing on a tree next to the sidewalk. Absolutely crazy.

That's all for now.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

The Much Anticipated Story of the Metro Mess

Last Thursday evening, after leaving Wencelsas Square in Prague, my parents and I entered the Metro. Metro systems are rather helpful because they greatly improve transportation. However, as one can imagine, downsides exist as well.

The time was around 5 p.m. The Metro was crowded. I was standing in front of the door. My mother was standing a few people away from my father. My father was around four other men. All of a sudden, my dad says, "Someone just took my wallet." The wallet was in his front pocket and someone just reached it. Those theives are good at what they do. Not knowing what to do, I just look at the other men around him. How can we know which one took it? "Someone just took my wallet," my dad said again.

"Well, I don't know what to do, dad," I responded. In my training, they never taught us how to react in situations like these. None of us really knew what to do. What was there to do? How could we accuse anyone? First, we didn't speak the same language. Second, once the wallet is in someone else's possession, how can anyone get it back? Surely, they would not give it back.

Puzzled, the doors of the Metro opened, and the pickpocketer surely walked out of the doors, as we did as well.

While my parents talking about the situation, I merely said, "Well, let's find a phone booth and cancel the credit cards." Fortunately, my mom had the numbers for the credit card companies and we used my credit card to call these companies. However, eventually the phone booth stopped letting us use my credit card to make calls. Remembering that a key to the hostel was also in the wallet, we quickly traveled to hostel to change keys. The owner of the hostel was very considerate. He let us use a computer to send a few e-mails out to family to help us with the situation.

Also in the wallet was his driver's license. We worried that he might need two forms of identification to board the plane. Soon we discovered that a passport that was all that was necessary.

Around 7:30, we decided we should file a police report, just in case the wallet might turn out. Who would have thought we'd end up in a police station in Prague? Fortuntely, a woman at the police station spoke English and helped us in the process. Nevertheless, filing the police report took an hour and a half.

While in the police station, I decided I didn't even care about the dollars and crowns; it was just money. It was the process that we had to go through. We spent the whole evening cancelling credit cards and reassuring ourselves that they could get back to the United States.

A stolen wallet can surely ruin a trip. My parents were entirely vulnerable; they had no money, no credit cards, in a country where they couldn't speak the language, 6000 miles from home. The problem of no money or credit cards posed a problem when they missed their flight in Amsterdam because their flight was delayed. They had to spend the night in Amsterdam with hardly a dollar in their pocket. Fortunately, the airline gave them vouchers for a hotel and for dinner.

My parents reacted rather calmly considering the situation. What do you do when everything you've relied upon - your money, your credit cards, your identification - is gone? You still have have another day and night still left in the city. You haven't seen your son in seven months? What do you do? How do you react?

You can curse the city and the people within it. You can replay the moment over and over again, wondering what you should have done. You can guilt the other person. These are usually ways we react - whenever are wallet is stolen or whether it's raining outside.

With another day still ahead of us, I decided the only thing to do was admit that it happened and move on. Prague is more than pickpocketers. The city can be a beautiful city and likewise with the trip if we want it to be. There are worse things in the city than pickpocketers. We only need to open our eyes to find something wrong with a place or a person.

I decided that it can rain cats and dogs. We can get lost in the city. We can manage to not find our way to anything we want to see. We can run out of money. We can book the hostel for the wrong night (as I did in Siena with my brother). Pickpocketers can steal my dad's wallet, mine, and my mother's purse. But, they cannot pickpocket my day or my trip. These are things that none can take from me; only I can take it from myself.

I leave you with a picture of my parents who did not let a stolen wallet steal their trip.