Monday, February 18, 2008
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
Next is Ivan, a.k.a. Crocodile Dundee, who said that all students at the Lyceum should wear this outfit so that no one makes fun of anyone else.
And here we have Ada wearing a dress over regular clothes. I'm not quite sure why she was wearing this, but another teacher, Kendra, looked at pictures and liked her outfit, saying she would actually wear that. Strange people.
Last but not least is yours truly. I told my students that in the future, headbands will become more popular, especially with dress clothes. Strangely, I'm wearing a headband as we speak. Notice the beard-tie. That will definitely be a hit in the future.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
I have had some bad experiences moving people in, mostly just my sister whom I moved in on a Friday and she moved out the next week. But that's another story for another day. I have to say that if every moving in experience could be as good as this experience, I would do it every weekend.
I arrived at Petra's new apartment building, an eight-story (nine in America...they call the 2nd floor the first floor) communist style building around numerous other communist style buildings. For those who don't know, a communist style building is an extremely large slab of concrete. Petra lives on the top floor. When I arrived, her grandfather was just beginning to put boxes on a dolly. Thankfully, the apartment has a small elevator, so some objects could fit in the elevator, but others, like the pieces of her bed, had to be carried up to the top.
Petra understand English quite well, so it was no trouble moving her belongings at first. Then other movers arrived with more furniture. She had a total of three vans. Her sister was moving in, too, so it wasn't too much, and the apartment had absolutely nothing in it except a tub and a toilet.
So I had to take pieces of her bed up the stairs with Slovaks who understand very little English. They couldn't understand me and I couldn't understand them. But we all understand the goal -getting up the stairs. The bed made it to the top without getting too many scratches on it.
I got to spend some quality time in the elevator with a little Slovak boy, Philip. He is 10 years old. He seemed to think it was very cool that I was American (and that I had an awesome beard). He kept asking me questions in Slovak, but it was hard to answer, so I just said what I knew - my age, where I live, where I teach, where I am from. I tried to ask him a few questions in English but the only one he knew the answer to was "how old are you?" Riding the elevator was quite fun with him. I had no idea what to say to him and he had no idea what to say to me.
While moving Petra's belongings in, I felt as useless a little Philip. He was the elevator operator. All I could do was carry. I obeyed no orders. I was all braun and no brains. I wished I could take some of his knowledge of Slovak in exchange for some of my muscles (no worries, there's plenty to go around).
After a few hours, Petra's grandmother brought out some food. Rezen (pork in potato batter), pickles, bread, and sweet rolls were among the choices. Also available was mineral water. I would prefer regular water, but they are big on mineral water here.
After eating, Petra's grandfather opened up a bag and pulled out a flask. I knew what this was - Slivovica (plum brandy). When someone offers you Slivoviva, you drink Slivovica. That's basically how it goes. Drinking Slivovica is like swallowing a heater and the worst cough syrup you could ever think of. After you drink it, you could walk outside in -50 in gym shorts and a t-shirt. I drank one and then he offered me another. I wanted to say, "Come on now, none of that," but I didn't want to be rude and reject him. So I respectfully drank it and said to Petra, "No more Slivovica, please." And she said he had none left anyway. The Lord lives.
After the Slivovica, I stood around for a while and there wasn't much for me to do, so Petra said I could go home if I wanted. Feeling that there wasn't much for me to do, I decided to leave.
As I walked to the bus stop, I kept laughing at how crazy it was to help Petra move in when I understood nothing that was going on. This is the summary of my experience here. When I got to the bus stop, one of Petra's friends who was helping her move in was there. We didn't speak at all while we were moving her in because we didn't understand each other.
Nevertheless, I have to say, on the bus, I had the best conversation with someone who couldn't understand my language and vice-versa. We tried to explain to each other in both languages, whichever would work, our names, what we did in Bratislava, where we lived, our ages, and such seemingly trivial things. His name is Jan (John), he is my age and he goes to a seminary in Bratislava. Just before my bus stop, I said to him in Slovak, "I don't understand Slovak and you don't understand English." He said, "Yes, but I really enjoy the conversation" in English, I believe. He obviously knew more English than he gave on to, but that matters little.
As the bus pulled to my stop, I said, "Nice to meet you," in English, forgetting how to say it in Slovak, and got off the bus. As I was walking back to my apartment, I laughed for a moment thinking about how crazy our conversation was and how hard it was to understand anything, then I smiled and thought, "This is why I'm here."
I'm not just here to teach English to students at a high school. I'm here to build relationships with others, whether we understand each other's language or not. I'm here to help understand other people, whether I understand what they're saying or not.
Verbal language only conveys so much. Someone might tell me they are sad or happy but I never really understand until I see tears rolling down their face or a smile pass across their face. Jan and I's conversation wasn't just about what our ages were and what we did and where we lived, it was about understanding each other as human beings. We were conversing about something deeper than words. Whether we understood each other's language or not, I couldn't truly explain what I'm doing here. Only through seeing what's behind my words can a person see what anyone is doing.
I hope that Jan understood this after our conversation. I hope that as you read this, you understand what I mean. As T.S. Eliot wrote:
Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,
Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,
Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,
Will not stay still." - Four Quartets
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
Later, a student asked a question about problems in the economic and in the housing market. The ambassador answered his question by saying there's absolutely nothing wrong with the economy and if there is a problem in the housing market, we will fix it. "We will fix it," he said. "We always have and we always will."
At the end of his speech, a student gave him a bonquet and a bag of Lyceum attire. He looks into the bag, pulls out the t-shirt and says, "Oh great, another t-shirt I can add to the 200 I already have." I learned to be grateful when I was about 13 even for gifts that I didn't want.
A number of students spoke with him afterward about U.S. policies and the war and potential problems in the future. As the next class was about to begin, I make sure to thank him for coming (Me being grateful for gifts that I didn't necessarily want).
After a few of my classes, students who were at the presentation came up to me and asked me what I thought of the ambassador. I put the question on them. "Well, I don't really like him," said one student. "He was quite rude," said another. "I thought you did a better job explaining the candidates and the election, professor," said another.
I was quite proud of my students and our students in general. My students are interested students. If I don't tell them about something, they want to know about it. They wanted to know the difference between a caucus and a primary and everything about the candidates. My students are informed. They can speak at length about the reasons for the United States to leave Iraq and the reasons for the United States to stay in Iraq. They know about something that doesn't even directly concern them. How often can we say that about things happening in other countries?
Throughout the day, I did a good deal of thinking about how often something like this happens. How often does someone misrepresent the United States? How many people are influenced by misrepresentations? Many people will base their judgment on the entire country but just one encounter with one individual. The ambassador might have just had a bad day. We cannot know.
So, at the end of the day, I realized that we are all ambassadors. At each moment, we represent not only ourselves, but also our country, our beliefs, our families, and humanity.
Unfortunately, we make judgments. We try not to, but we do. We judge a person at first glance. As judgees, we must attempt to present ourselves always at our best. As judges, we must attempt to let people be dynamic, changing people.
If and when I see the ambassador again, I will try to give him a clean slate.
Monday, February 4, 2008
We hiked around for about 4 or 5 hours. It was a nice easy hike for the first 2 and a half hours. Then the hike went somewhere I didn't want to go.