Wednesday, December 13, 2006

As you read this, know that I am speaking to you from the future. As I write this it is 12:20PM, I have already worked for 6 hours, and by EST it is 6:20AM. By all means I do apologize for the long wait you have endured. It isn’t that there has been nothing to report, but more that I haven’t really made time to write down anything of significance these days. My time is scattered between sleep, playing games, watching the occasional movie, and reading hundreds of pages about science, Africa, the Earth, and, of course, Harry Potter. Much has happened since you have last read of my adventures. I have had bad days; my hair has been pulled, kids have ignored or even openly defied me, I have felt stupid, and inadequate, I have felt sick, tired and quite ready to give up at times. I’ve had good days; kids have been so excited by my presence that it has taken a whole ten minutes to get them to sit still, I haven developed friendships, felt smart and useful, celebrated thanksgiving and even made plans about my future (though we will see how long term those plans end up being.) All in all an interesting few weeks, that didn’t pass by at all slowly, but looking back they seem to have happened an eternity ago.

Episode 1: The One Where I Kind Of Thought About Putting My Foot In My Mouth, Sort Of, I Guess

Of all the times these past couple of weeks that I have said: “That is going in my blog,” and, yes, I actually have said that a few times now, this is the most memorable time. It was quite a small event really. It was just after Wednesday night Club, which is the church group for kids around 12ish. I work with the Club group every week, though I am not always extremely helpful due to my lack of German skills. My biggest addition to the group is that I usually hang out with the kids after the program ends, before they want to leave. It usually involves playing Fußball. This particular Wednesday was no different, me against two or three of the kids. Most of the time I spend trying to convince the kids to play “Ohne drinnen,” which for any future Trainee potentials, is an important phrase for Fußball, meaning “without spinning.”
The first strange occurrence was the discovery of the church’s drum set, which is in a storage room. This was, however, a predictable discovery seeing as we had just moved the Fussball table into the storage room. Now none of the kids involved was a natural percussionist (too bad George Michael wasn’t there), so I can’t really say that they played the drums, but they did have a bit of fun hitting them and producing loud noises. I tried to inform them of the joys of tempo and rhythm, but I was sort changed on German words about music. Plus they seemed to have more fun being loud. Finally Gary showed up and together we got at least a couple of them back to Fussball for at least a few seconds, but it was hard with the constant, yet still inconsistent cymbal crashes.
By some miracle of science we were able to convince them that playing with a rubber ball was more fun than making noise. This, however, created another problem; they started chucking the ball around inside the building. Being that this wasn’t in the church proper, but just in a building connected with it, it wasn’t so bad, but there were still windows to consider. I mentioned that the kids should play outside, and finally convinced them on the stipulation that I would join them.
It was then that I made a few crucial mistakes. Well, one mistake and one confusion, really. The mistake was to pause and attempt to load a few things into the church’s dishwasher. This made one of the girls involved become a bit impatient, as girls can sometimes become, which lead to a barrage of questions, in German, about why I wasn’t coming outside. Before I could answer that one, she began another line of questioning: “Bin ich so schlimm?” she asked. I didn’t really get what she meant; schlimm translates to ‘bad.’ I searched for a bit of clarity, “Was ist schlimm?” I asked, what is bad. That didn’t help; I was still confused thinking maybe she thought she was bad at Fussball, or that the ball was bad. I wasn’t sure, so I just kept asking and finally realized she was asking if she was bad. As I do in situations where I’ve made an obvious mistake, I laughed. “Oh, you mean are you bad,” I said, laughing, which I guess she took as an answer. She took offense, retaliating by calling me “Du grosse Affe” (A big monkey). I should point out that this is a place where kids regularly flick each other off, call people schiesse, and generally throw around what we would call cuss words like they were pennies. That is to say that this whole time I haven’t once heard a kid refer to anyone as an Affe, which is of course a typical childish insult here in Germany. It was then that I realized that, perhaps, her question may have translated into the following: “Am I that ugly?” Oops…

Episode 2: Schlecten Tagesbuch Tagen

So if you just read Episode one, then I can give you a little German lesson. Well, okay it isn’t so much a lesson as a translation. This episode is titled: Bad Diary Days. So now you know two German words for bad. Though it seems, in most situations that schlimm is a bit stronger, but I could, of course, be wrong. I guess that isn’t really the point.
I remember one particular day last week being singularly bad. (Once you get over how clever that sentence is you can continue…go ahead and take a minute.) I was tired, and cranky, and most likely a sixth grader made fun of me. (Which they, of late, have stopped doing.) I can’t remember specifics because it was one of those days you just sort of block out of history. Well, I do remember there was no coffee. I also remember that while I was waiting for the bus some kids stole my Mütze (which in English is known as: A cap, a stocking cap, a beanie, a skullcap, or a toboggan), which happens pretty much everyday, but it just made things worse. Then, if the day followed suit with most other days, a kid jumped on, or punched or kicked me. Maybe even all at once. Such is the hazard of raus blieben (staying outside). At any moment outside the walls of the school I am no longer considered in any way a teacher, and really at any moment inside the walls I am only ¼ teacher and ¾ student.
I was at a low point. I remember feeling kind of stupid and pointless. Here I was, working at a school full of kids who didn’t even listen to me, and who might just be better off without me. Negative thoughts abounded. That is how the bus found me. I found a seat next to one of my favorites (who I internally refer to as ‘Little Rachel’ after a good friend I had in college, Rachel Wingo) whose name is Alica (pronounce Alisa). We started talking, in German. It was a conversation limited by both my German, and the fact that she is in 2nd grade. She told me about how one of my other favorites, Lukas, who is in her class, was always asking when I was coming to teach English. It seems he was a big fan of mine. (One of the oddest things is that the class he is in is my most difficult, yet it contains a lot of the kids I refer to as favorites…) Just before her stop, Alica also said: “Ich will nicht aussteigen,” (I don’t want to get off the bus). In other words she was a fan of mine as well. It was a great reminder of my importance here, reminders like that usually happen when I start feeling bad. Every day since then Alica has asked me to sit with her on the bus, but so far the buses have been too full to choose seats.

Episode 3: The One Where We Cooked Our Goose

For the turkey day festivities I decided, after much internal debate, to make the journey to Karlsruhe in the west of Deutschland to join a few fellow Intermennonites (You should look into doing Intermenno, it is a great program…) for a celebration.
I first traveled to Giessen, which turned out to be a pretty decently sized city, where I hung out with Mattias, we had a jam session with guitar and djimbé which was a lot of fun. We stayed up pretty late, even when compared to my former 2AM standard, (well, I think we ended up going to bed about 3AM…) but really late compared to my new 10-11PM standard. We planned to sleep in until 11AM, but I woke up about 8AM and by 9AM I couldn’t even lay around anymore.
We walked to the Lidl across the street and got some eggs, bread and bacon. Well, it wasn’t bacon so much as two chunks of bacon looking meat. I figured we could slice them down and make them into at least something baconesque. No dice. Es geht nicht. Eventually I gave up and threw one of the whole chunks on the pan. It didn’t taste the best really, so it was a bad idea. We also made some eggs in a basket, which were quite good. Then we headed off in the direction of Karlsruhe. It was a decent road trip, complete with GPS (The GPS was at best a genius and at worst great for making circles). We had a good conversation and stopped in Wintersheim to pick up Josh and tour the Winery (home of my top secret Wine-Man Wine-cellar). The dogs at that place are evil geniuses, or at least bullies. They can punch pretty hard when they feel like it too.
Then we jumped in the van and headed to Karlsruhe. We got to our destination and found a playground but none of our peoples. I tried out the slide. It worked, and also happened to be wet. Hurrah. (Sarcasm). After we were found, we went on a shopping trip that made up in sheer determination and spontaneity what it was lacking in organization. We discussed the prospect of a proper Thanksgiving meal, traditionally a turkey. Now, they have turkeys in Germany, but they are quite small to be trusted. In Giessen, Mattias and I thought it would be cool to make a duck for the occasion. In the end we decided on a Goose, which is mentioned in Sherlock Holmes as being a traditional Christmasy type dish. It turned out to be a good meal, though it was off to a slow start when we got up at 9 to start cooking it, which really involved looking on the internet for a recipe for a good hour before finally deciding on the first one we found. Also included in the meal were mashed potatoes, corn and sweet potatoes. It was a good meal and great times. Then John, Josh, Mattias and I woke up at 6AM and crammed into a van for the beginning of my long journey home.

Episode 4: Hilfe, Die Herdmanns Kommen

Recently Gary and I were given free tickets to a play that one of our adult English students was featured in. The tickets were a gift given to us as payment for food we made for our English class to help along our lesson on “Food.” It also worked out well as a sort of Christmas/end of the year party. It turned out well. December in Germany is a busy month. We have had more than one thing to do each weekend this month, and there have only been two. Advent is an important time here, and they celebrate each Advent week. So on the night of the play, not only was the church doing something, there was also a celebration in Graefendorf, where my former host family lives. We already were committed to the church function, which was fun, but it would’ve been interesting to see the festivities. That night, however, we went to the play, and sat next to our good friends the Familie Hanneman. The play was based on the book, ‘The Best Christmas Pageant Ever,’ which I have actually read. The most amazing part of the play was that I actually understood what was going on, and most of what as being said, even though it was in German. I am starting to understand the TV and everything. Well most of the time at least. It was a good play, our student, who is also the Deputy Mayor of Nidergoersdorf (where we live), was dressed as a punk teenage kid, and it was pretty hilarious. It still takes a lot of work and concentration to understand things, but it is getting better. The most memorable part of the whole play was when one of the characters shouted out “BATMAN” and everyone started dancing to the beat of a strobe light. The kids at school like to quote that part, and then get excited when I not only have seen the play, but that I also know who Batman is.