Thursday, August 31, 2006

The Teacher in Me

Yesterday, that’s right, I finally caught up, sort of, I skipped a lot of stories I could’ve told but I’ll get to those later. Yesterday was my first day teaching. I taught colours and it was alright. Today was my second day of teaching and I taught colours again, to a different class and it was a bit more confusing. But isn’t always.

Today started off at the usual time, though a botched travel back from Berlin last night made me considerably more tired than usual and made my fellow trainee Gary, a tad bit sick to his stomach. Okay, well we’re pretty sure it was something he ate, but having to wait two hours for a train back probably didn’t help. What happened was this: we were supposed to meet up with this guy, Olaf, at the train station in Jüterbog at 5:45, but some form of miscommunication happened, and seeing as we had just bought tickets to Berlin, we went anyways and found some happening stores to buy things involving English (books and cd’s, but I only bought a book, Sherlock Holmes). We wondered around the city until everything started to close and made our way to the Hauptbahnhof (train station) where we found out it was 9:45 and that the next train to head to Jüterbog did so at 11:15. But after a moment of confusion we found out that another train went to Jüterbog at 10:15, which was more excellent. Seeing as we hadn’t had dinner we stopped at a fast food place in the train station nestled under a couple of yellow arches. The line was long, but we had time. We order some burgers, but they only had one, so they handed me a number and said they’d bring it out to me. So I waited, and waited, and finally I got my order, but only part of it was cooked so I ate what I could without fear of disease and, seeing as they only spoke German, I didn’t complain. (I don’t know enough words) After that we found our platform and soon realised the time was 10:20, we missed our train. So the next train came at 11:15, an hour later, and around the time I get to bed these days. I know, you’re wondering who this guy is and what he’s done with your Keith and all that, but it’s still me, I just have to get up at 6AM and there isn’t much here to do after 10PM.

Following my usual routine I woke Gary up and got ready for the day by getting dressed and sitting half asleep in a chair for 30 minutes. Around 6:35 I was surprised by a knock at my door, it was Gary informing me that he felt like trash and couldn’t accompany me to work today. He looked pretty sick too. So I got in the car (a stick shift mind you) and drove to work, managing to only stall once backing up. I made it to school and was then informed that I was to teach the 1. Class the colours, just like yesterday. Only yesterday Gary and I did it as a team, and he had all the supplies. So I drew a picture for the kids to colour and got ready to look dumb. It didn’t go too badly, but it also didn’t go off as planned either. But we played some games and I tried to understand the German being spoken and then after breakfast we went outside, where I promptly broke the rules by jumping off something I wasn’t supposed to. In my defence I was dared. Well sort of. Okay so maybe the kid just asked if I could jump off it, but I didn’t know it wasn’t allowed. And maybe I was just happy I understood what the kid said, it was in German, and was over hasty to prove myself. It wasn’t a big deal though, except the teacher might think I’m crazy, but she’d figure that out soon enough anyway. It’s a strength anyway. So after that the teacher asked me about my family and told me about her’s and I got a few normal points back. Then we went back to class where the teacher used me as encouragement by telling the kids that not only did they have to learn German, but that I did as well. So far that’s been her favourite saying, but in a way it’s kind of nice because she said it in a way that said: We understand it’s hard, and we’re here to help and it’s always nice to hear something like that.

I also got free lunch today, and during it got to chew the German fat with some ladies that work in the church and my German instructor. I didn’t say much at first but then I just started talking, or trying to, explaining that I was a Gym teacher last year and how that was fun. I always feel mentally exhausted and a bit dumb after speaking German because it takes a lot of thought. But today after I finished my spiel, one of the ladies said: ‘Du sprechst gut Deustch’ (You speak German well’.) Then my German instructor concurred and added that in a couple of month’s I’ll probably speak it perfectly. Now rather or not they were just being encouraging is debatable, but if Germans are one thing it’s honest and straightforward, so I have to take their word for it. And that, my friends was the best part of my day.

Meinen Ersten Schultag

First off, just as a general observation, the school I work at starts way too early. Like 6AM too early. For those of you that know me, you’ll know I’m not much of a morning person. Secondly, the kids are school are crazy, and generally quite loud. But to the adventure that was my first day of school.

It began at 6AM, on a Monday. Now, I’m not particularly partial to Mondays because they come right after my favourite day (Sunday, genau). But even the extreme tiredness and crappy ‘80’s music issuing from my alarm clock couldn’t complete mask my excitement. You see it was my first day of school, my first day of work in my new job. There was a lot of anticipation to be had. We rolled up into the school around 7:15 and found our way to the Teacher’s Lounge. For any of you wondering what a real Teacher’s Lounge is like, well, I’m going to leave you hanging because my teacher’s lounge is pretty plain. It does have a copier, though. I can tell you’re pretty jealous at this point, so I won’t go into further detail. We spent the first period in the 2. Class, listening to kids tell about their awesome summer breaks (most of them went to some cool European country). Since they told about them in German, and because kids have a propensity to both mumble and talk really quickly, I didn’t understand a lot of their summer breaks. But I remember one kid just said he spent the whole summer playing computer games, though I’m pretty sure that wasn’t all he did, he just took the easy way out. But at least I understood everything he said. Then Gary left and I was alone, not really knowing where to go next because I was never told. Teachers and children began giving me commands in German, rapid fire style, but I didn’t have enough time to translate it all, so I just stumbled into the classroom next door. It so happens that the class next door was learning English. Being an expert in English my services were quite well appreciated. It was the first and only time I felt relatively useful during the entire day. After that the kids and teachers had breakfast break. So I stole away to the heavenly lounge (Sorry) and also stole a cuppa joe. Okay it was free and one of the teacher said I could have it, but still, I had coffee. I made my way to some other classes where I listened patiently to every fifth word that was said. Most of the other four I didn’t really understand, but I got the basic idea most of the time. Finally it was time for Lunch and I found my makeshift boss, the schools English Lehere Frau Wilke, and she said I could go. Now apparently I’m not too good at masking my emotions, or the Germans are particularly good at reading them, but Frau Wilke noted a slight tinge of confusion. Problem was that Gary had left on a mission to his workplace, Kindergarten, and I was stuck in Blönsdorf, which is a good hour away by bike. Frau Wilke asked how I was going to get home and I said half-heartedly that I’d probably walk. ‘No, no, no’ she said, ‘you’ll take the bus.’ Several other teachers agreed. More confusion on my part, because by bus they meant school bus, but here the school bus is a city bus and costs a bit to ride. ‘We’ll talk to the driver, you won’t have to pay’ Frau Wilke assured me. A few moments later I found myself crowded with the other children (based on my German skillz, I’m around a 2nd grader) in a somewhat organized crowd, waiting for the bus. The kids ran around like a herd of angry goats and were twice as loud. I had just gotten into a good thought pattern when I heard a series of high pitched squeals, which always signals a freaked out child. Upon turning towards the squeal I saw the source, a blond haired boy who had a rather large earring. No wait, that’s right, it was a yellow jacket (or Vespa in German). A teacher rushed to his aid, though, in the process of trying, caused the bee to sing the child in the ear, and hang there from it’s stinger for a moment in mid air. As you can imagine this served to make the squealing worse. But later this was remedied by placing an apple slice on the child’s ear, though I’m not sure how that helped. Then my bus came and I was soon crowded in a small space with a bunch of kids, all asking what my name was and where I lived, and all asking me in German. Luckily, due to rigorous study, I was able to at least answer those questions in kind.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Home Sweet Lonely Home

I forgot to mention the best part about the town I lived in with my host family. It was called Gräfendorf, which sounds a lot like Gryffindor, which is of course the house of Harry Potter. After a week of quick German learning, based on necessity (I still wouldn’t say I know German, but I’ve come a long way), I finally moved to my more permanent residence, my apartment. It’s really quite nice for a one roomer. It’s got a lot of space which at first made it seem lonely, but I’m getting used to it. Though I sometimes find myself wishing I was back in The Convent in Louisville with my 6 housemates, I balance this though by reminding myself that I am in Germany. I finally got to unpack and wear something other than the 5 sets of clothes I left out of compression bags. I am still in dire need of winter clothing, as I’m reminded with increasing regularity that it gets really cold here in the winter. It was hard at first to be alone in the apartment as I had grown rather attached to my host family, but after a few days and the start of my job things got better. I suppose the most inconvenient thing about my apartment is the lack of an oven. There is one available to use at the church, a pretty good one, but it’s a five minute walk to get there. Also, I need to replace the light bulb in the bathroom, but other than that, it’s a really nice place. The first few days were spent exploring the novelty of the apartments and finding stuff left behind by former Intermennoites, one being a bible from a 1971-72 trainee, though I’m sure it was originally sent elsewhere, it was still neat to find. Other necessities included a sleeping bag, travel pillow, Hertha BSC cap (the Berlin Bundesliga team), and a cool German flag pillow. And though admittedly I was a bit lonely, it was good to be home.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

My Dream Come True

Before I left for Germany, I had a dream where I arrived at my host family’s house only to learn that they didn’t speak German, only English. Well it turns out that that was quite a silly dream, because after hauling around 100 pounds of my clothes around all of Germany, I arrived in Jüterbog via a train from Berlin. I hopped of the train, which was quite a feat considering the weight I was carrying (all in a day’s work for Recycle Man, sorry, I couldn’t resist…I tried), to meet my boss, the preacher I would be working with, and my host family. After hasty German introductions which I wrote off as a formality, we carted our things to the cars to head to the family’s houses for a week. I had just settled in the back seat and put my seatbelt on when my host mother asked me a question. I didn’t hear her well so I asked her to repeat it, to which she gave a puzzled look. It was then that I realized that instead of only speaking English, my host family only spoke German.

Part Two: Training Daze

So it’s 8AM in Elspeet and even though we ate twice on the plane, I’m starving. Luckily the first place we all head is to breakfast. Determined to make new friends I decided to sit at a mostly empty table and see who joins me. Breakfast starts after a brief speech about how great it is we all made it this far without losing anyone or any luggage, which is pretty significant considering the amount of people and luggage involved. I wolfed down breakfast pretty fast considering I’m a notoriously slow eater. Then came a horrible surprise, in the form of an after breakfast speech. It came from Johannes, a jolly man with one of the most amazing beards I have seen in person (and most people agree he is a striking resemblance to Menno Simons). He said “For the next two hours you may go to your rooms and do what you wish, sleep, etc. but after that there will be no sleeping until bed time.” Me and my roommate, John E. (from before) decided to stay up the entire day, which, at the time, didn’t seem like too bad an idea. The entire day was marked with the haze of sleep deprivation. The most memorable moment was when all the trainees were sitting in the hall outside their respective rooms, enjoying what was probably the oddest conversation ever, though I don’t really recall what we talked about. I do remember at one point we tried to figure out how the fire hose in the hall worked, and if it would cause an alarm to go off if we used it. We needed the fire hose to help wake up Gary, who is in Altes Lager with me now, who was laying face down on the floor and mumbling about wanting to sleep. After dinner that night I realized that every time I ate, I would get a stomach ache for a few hours, and then get really hungry again. It was a bit uncomfortable, but I wasn’t sick, so I just chalked it up to something to do with time zones or eating schedules (it was). We got a few brief and simple German lessons, and one most humbling scavenger hunt. We were given a list of German words and asked to find them, apparently my group was the only group under the impression that we weren’t to use a German dictionary (My group was: Me, Matthias, Gary and Rachel, who wasn’t allowed to help because she was in the program last year and knows German). A brief scan of the list told us that between the 3.5 of us, we only really knew about 4 of the 12 words. We made some wild guesses and were wrong on most of the others, but we figured, hey, maybe no one else really knew what they were doing. Of course if I could go back and do it now, I would conquer, but, as it was, my group was the only one to not find all 12 items; though we did prove the most entertaining group. A little later we broke in to groups again, and it was Me, Matthias and Gary again. We had to make a skit to explain German culture rules on recycling, which are quite complicated, and served to scare me away from throwing anything away until just a few days ago. In our skit I played the clever and debonair hero: Recycle Man, and explained to an otherwise ignorant Matthias (playing Ignorant Citizen No. 1) the merits of the Pfund, with a little help from Gary who played the Pfund Machine. The Pfand is a system where you pay about 25 cents extra for bottles and get it back for bringing the bottles to be recycled/reused. It proved quite entertaining. At dinner that night it was announced there would be a talent show, for which I volunteered, along with Rachel, to be the Emcee. Based on some part of the conversation on the first day, we had already decided that I should do a little “preaching” in a style inspired by southern churches and a little inspiration from a Evangelistic church I visited in Louisville. We took a good while planning it, and on the night of the talent show I was considerably nervous, but once I broke into my stride, most people found it quite funny, or at least the ones I heard laughing did. From then on I had earned the nickname “Reverend.” Sadly the next morning we left our temporary home in The Netherlands, which was quite nice and relaxing, and boarded a bus to Germany (well us Germany folks anyhow). We all got a few more hours to hang out at the train station before the train got there, then we threw our bags on and found seats. Me and Gary got off at the second stop and said our goodbyes. Then we lugged our heavy luggage around the train station in order to find the proper train. Once aboard it was around a 6 hour ride to Berlin. The conversation was lacking for a good portion of it. I always find it harder to say something when I have to. But after a couple hours Gary and I got into a good conversation, which lasted a good while until a German poked his head into the car and said something in German. “Sprechen Sie Englisch?” I managed to ask. He repeated in English his question of rather there were free seats in our cabin. I said yes, and he and two friends joined us, making our cabin hot and crowded. They then proceeded to have a conversation in German that lasted all the way until Berlin. Gary and I were uncomfortable and for some reason, a bit afraid to say anything, not even in a whisper. The Berlin train station is huge, and, in case you ever go there, I’ll give you a tip; the bathrooms cost 80 cents to use. Yea, I found that out the hard way. Luckily a friend of Gary’s happened to be in Berlin and at the Train station, and she guided us through the station to the train we had to catch. The train was to Jüterbog, a city 45 minutes south of Berlin. We got on the train with our heavy bags and began the trip to our final home: Altes Lager, Germany

Friday, August 18, 2006

Sounds Of Settling

Sorry this is long awaited, I haven’t had time really to write, I’m using a group computer and well the internet costs money here, everywhere, so. Anyway Part 1 of a continuing saga in 3…2….1 After about 5 awesome, albeit a bit sad, goodbye parties I finally packed a year of my life into my trusty Subaru and set a course for another farewell, Asheville NC, home of my Alma Mater, Mars Hill College. After a brief stay at the Hotel Bailey, I headed to VA and my parents house, where they bought me a few going away presents, and I packed another, less prepared year into two 50 pound suitcases. The next morning I said goodbye to my twin brother (Hey LUC, did you know I have a twin?) and headed with my parents to Indiana. It was quite an enjoyable time to spend with my folks. We took it slow, stopping to eat, and we had a good time listening to a John Grisham novel on tape. All in all one of the best times I’ve had with my parents, and there hasn’t been a lack of good times with them, so that’s saying something. In IN I met up with my pal and co traveller, John E, and his parents. Had a lot of fun hanging with John while he packed and said so long to friends and family. I also got to enjoy the Swiss Days Parade, which was pretty dang cool. Then we loaded up a van with 4 fifty pound cases and headed to Toronto Canada, where we would fly out of the next day. Hung out for a few minutes in the Canadian WalMart and took in some enjoyable Canadian Television (Their Version of the Today Show is fantastic). Then we headed to the airport. We got there about 3 hours early and sat around until we realized that the baggage check line was getting pretty long, so we hopped in. One of the stewardesses gave my carry on a funny look and, as I put it on the scale, with a look that told me she had already decided it weighed too much, she kindly reminded me that, if my bag were to fall on someone’s head, it would kill them. So I took the laptop out and weighed it again, and it was under the weight limit (8 lbs.) but it was too late, she had given up on my bag. So I found another lady with approval stickers and told her I needed one, and without further question she handed one over, no problem. After that me and John made it to the proper terminal and looked for a minute for people our age. We found two, one of them being Gary, who is now with me in Altes Lager. Me and John looked around and guessed about other people in our program, finally finding another group of them. As we merged into one, John and I decided that this one person we saw was definitely the last person in the Intermenno Posse. So we walked up to him and asked “Are you Mattias?” to which he responded “How’d you know?” So we finally we all together, and boarded the cramped plane which took us on an 8 hour time travel to end up in Amsterdam around 8AM, meaning we missed pretty much an entire day. We then found the appropriate people and boarded a bus for Elspeet, The Netherlands, about an hour away, where we would begin our Intermenno Training Session, but that, of course, is another story.
Total Travel time so far: 36 hours