Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Um, Bob? What is my motivation?"

Business first: today I went to school, found an Aldi on the way home (did you hear that the founder of Aldi recently died? It made national news here – they had a five minute program on him) and brought home some tortellini for lunch.

As I was eating, Anna and Victor came home, and Anna sat down to chat with me while I finished. We got to talking about a couple of my classmates from the language school, Alexandra and Marina. Both girls are from Spain (Alexandra und Marina kommt aus Spanien) and both had come to Germany as aupairs. Apparently, Alexandra’s host family decided that she wasn’t a good fit for them, told her this Monday, and had her on a plane back home by Tuesday morning.

Marina’s family lives out in the middle of nowhere, and she has to walk an hour just to get to the train station, at which point it takes her another 45 minutes to an hour to get to the language school. She said that sometimes, she gets a ride to the station, but then she gets to school four hours early for class. And when she goes home after class, her host family has her basically working like a live-in maid, doing all the housework and laundry. They won’t even let her borrow a bike, (which they never use) because it’s too expensive to trust to an aupair. Marina often can’t get her homework done because the family keeps her busy until late at night, and she has to get up at about 5 or 6 in the morning.

To be perfectly honest, I was just a tiny bit livid at this family. Still am. Marina is a really sweet, kind of shy girl with a hysterical sense of humor. And she works hard enough in class that I would judge her to be a hard-worker in general. It infuriates me that this family would take advantage of her like that. She’s thinking of finishing out this course and then either finding a new family, or going home to Spain.

Anyway, Anna and I got to talking about aupairs and what the usual expectations are from families and the motivations behind becoming an aupair. She says that most aupairs (and I can see this at the playground or the store) are from Eastern block countries like the Ukraine and Russia, and they usually come to Germany with the intent of staying here, because it’s really hard to live in their home countries. So, because they don’t want to go back, they’ll bite through whatever crap their host families throw at them, just to stay in Germany. American aupairs are rare, but Anna says that for most English-speaking aupairs, the motivation is one of three things: they’ve got a boyfriend or family roots here, they’re looking for a job or to study in Germany, or they don’t have much money but they want to travel. (Obviously, I fall into that last category. :D)

On the family’s side, Anna explained that she has a unique perspective compared to most host-moms because she was an aupair herself. She wanted someone to help with her kids, sure, but there was also an added desire to have someone who was culturally different enough that there could be a bit of a cultural exchange. “With most families,” she told me, “The desire to have someone you can show your culture to and help experience your country, and the desire for help with the kids is about 5% of the first and 95% of the second. For me, it’s about 40% and 60%.”

So I got to thinking about my motivation for coming – I’m definitely more on the “I have no money but am desperate to travel” end of the spectrum, but there’s also a strong desire to experience something different – it’s like what one of my professors at school told us. He explained that he often had students want to argue with him about his course material because it contradicted with what they grew up thinking. “I don’t want to necessarily convince you that you’re wrong and I’m right,” he told us, “Because I very well could be wrong. But it’s very difficult to evaluate something if you have nothing to compare it to.”

Or it’s like going to the ice-cream shop, and never having had any flavors but vanilla and chocolate before. You’re pretty sure chocolate is your favorite, but you’ve never had any other kind. So how can you know for sure? So for me, I want to experience a lot of “flavors” of things – settings, foods, people, etc – and decide if what I’ve always thought I liked is really what I actually like.

I’ve already discovered that, though I grew up in the country and small towns, I definitely prefer the city. There’s a life to the city that I find stimulating and exciting (and even oddly restful) in a way that small towns and suburbia never have been. On the other hand, though I’ve tried a lot of new foods the past few weeks, I’m pretty certain that pizza is still my all-time fave. :D

I think my motivations are pretty clear-cut. And I’m lucky that, because I just came from four years at a school where I worked for my education, I’m used to a program of working at a job I may or may not like (though I got ridiculously lucky and got a job that I adored) in order to earn the thing I want – in the case of school = my education, and here = living in a foreign country.

There are a lot of things I don’t like about this job. I don’t like being so confused and awkward all the time because I’m not exactly sure what people are talking about, I don’t like not having my friends and family close, etc. But the good things are far outweighing the bad at this point, and make it worth it. Anna warns that as the year goes on, I may start wondering just what the heck I’m doing here, and that by the time I go home I’ll be more than ready. And maybe she’s right – she was in this boat before me, after all, so she knows. But for now, I’m doing a job I like in a country I’m learning to understand and preparing myself for a future doing what I love.

Not a bad motivation, I suppose.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Clock Tower Begins

Ah…today…today… What happened today?

Gah. This is why I should do my blogging during my afternoon break, rather than at night. I forget everything I meant to say in the midst of diapers, bottles, and games of “count-to-three-and-then-throw-me-in-the-air-and-say-wheeee.” :D

Substitute again today – this time it wasn’t quite as interesting, but still a productive day. Mmm…raining when I left, so no exploring… Oh, but on the way home I spotted a craft store I hadn’t noticed before, even though I walk by it every day. :P They had pretty good prices on yarn, so I think I’ll buy some soon and do some crocheting.

I guess my big news for the day is that I finally started seriously writing again. Not sure how long the drive will last, but I was reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and just felt so inspired – I love Rowling’s descriptions of places and people, just look at the first chapter and how she describes the Dursleys. Brilliant – and so I sat down and started work on the sequel to my middle-grade novel The Whispering Gallery. I finished the first draft of TWG last year, and hadn’t quite managed to get going on the sequel (tentatively titled The Clock Tower.) I’m not exactly sure why, but whatever I did just didn’t seem right. I’m still not completely happy with the beginning, but I’ve got a chapter and a half done, and I’m projecting about 12 chapters. So we’ll see how far this goes.

As a motivation for myself, I’m posting the story chapter by chapter on a site called Apricot Pie. I posted The Whispering Gallery chapter-by-chapter on Facebook, but the format isn’t really friendly to fiction, so I’m doing The Clock Tower on AP instead. I used to post there all the time when I was in high-school – in fact, AP is responsible in large part for most of my completed projects. I never would have finished my first “good” novel, The Tale of Ander Collins without the feedback I got from there. It’ll be good to go back – though I’m older than most of the other writers there. Then again, the age group that tends to write stuff for AP is the age group that I want to write for, so I guess it’s the perfect test market!

It’s Wednesday, and I was supposed to try and get to a women’s Bible study group tonight, but didn’t. Mainly because it’s (comparatively) really far from here – about an hour and a half walking. I wouldn’t mind the going, but it starts pretty late and I’d still have to walk back, putting me home at 10-11 at night. I may see on Sunday if there’s anyone driving that way who could pick me up, but if not there’s a Reformed church around the corner that may have some sort of Wednesday night service or something too. We’ll see.

Honestly, by the end of the day, I’m always too tired to want to do much of anything. Anna keeps telling me that if I want to go out to a movie or shopping in the evening or anything to do so, but I’m pretty content to put the kids to bed, eat a bite of dinner, and then write or read for an hour or so before bed. I think I have the healthiest schedule and lifestyle right now that I’ve ever had – there’s almost no sugar in my diet, I’m walking 4-5 miles a day (depending on whether I explore or not), I’m in bed by 10 every night and up by 7 the next morning… I feel pretty good. :D

Anyway, that’s my day. Sorry it was a boring entry, but I’m actually kind of distracted by getting back to The Clock Tower. Maybe I can finish chapter two before bed.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Two Buttons

Absolutely nothing of interest happened yesterday. I was tired and sleepy all day and went to bed early. :D

My city, as seen from the eastern end. The roundish red spire off to the right of the main cluster is the Dom, and I live smack dab in the middle of all those skyscrapers.

Substitute teacher at the language school today – we have Beatte Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and Marie on Thursday and Friday, but Beatte was apparently ill, so today we had a woman who originally hails from Turkey. I don’t think she quite realized our level of comprehension (or lack thereof) and we barely managed to follow along with the lesson. I say “we,” but there were two or three who seemed to completely be at ease with her rapid-fire speech, and then a few who were completely lost. The poor guy next to me, Santosh, comes with his wife Jeena from Nepal. All throughout the class I could periodically hear him muttering, “Confused. So very, very confused.”

I actually enjoyed it, though. It was hard, sure, but it made the day pass much faster, having to pay attention to every word, inflection and hand-or-face gesture to keep up with what was happening. And I think that, if we had this daily, we might progress faster – but it would be much, much harder.

After class, I had originally intended to just come home, but there was enough low-level adrenaline running through my system that I ended up walking way out of my way to explore. I crossed the river to the southern bank and wandered along that until I came to this church (they were doing a lot of construction and I couldn’t see any of the signs telling me what the name of it was), and then back across the river on a footbridge covered in love locks. Couples get their name engraved on a padlock and then lock it onto the bridge and either keep the key or throw it into the water. It’s somewhat romantic, but the trend is apparently causing some trouble for bridge maintenance, and one of the most popular bridges (in France, I think?) recently had to go and cut off all the locks because the weight was too much for the bridge.

I also went back to the old city and took a picture of these guys for you: they hold up a bridge/building/thing crossing the street, and their fellows on the other side seem to be looking down the road in either direction, watching for danger – but these two, I swear, are going, “Man, what are we doing?” and “Dude, I have absolutely no clue, but I can’t move.”

It poured this afternoon – Anna says she’s never seen such a stormy summer – so no playground. But we came home and goofed off and played and generally had a good time until the bitties went to bed. And now I’m writing this, so – yup. That’s my day.

I feel like there are a lot of other things I should be writing – thoughts, impressions, weird stories, people I’ve seen (like this guy yesterday who was walking a pair of dogs that looked like the perfect half-and-half mix of a Husky and a Greyhound. The build of the Greyhound with the markings and long hair of the Husky. Beautiful.) Or telling you random facts, like that most of the tourists here are from Asia (seriously – massive groups of them that don’t seem to understand that you cannot simply stand blocking an entire walkway in a busy city district) or that the German fashion style for women is all about legs – wear leggings or skinny jeans plus flats – and loose, billowy blouses. Or that German kids call all emergency vehicles (but especially fire trucks) “Ta-too-ta-ta” because of the sound of the siren. There are so many little things that I don’t think to write about because they don’t seem noteworthy – but they’re the interesting bits of everyday life, not the blank facts of when I went where to do what. I’ll try to be better in the future about having those in here.

Here’s a random info-bit for tonight: German toilets do not have handles to flush. Instead, there are two buttons (usually, though some older toilets only have one) on the top of the toilet or attached to the wall behind. One button is bigger than the other – it flushes more. I’ll let you figure out the rest for yourself. :D

In other news: a) I’ve lost almost 13 pounds since I came here, thanks to all the walking I do (hallelujah!) and b) I found a Pizza Hut today. Good thing it’s pretty expensive, or I’d get those 13 pounds right back. LOL!

Goodnight, all!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

An Excellent Day

I am so exhausted. It’s a good exhausted, mostly, but it’s far more mental and spiritual than physical.
I spent the day at church, and after the service witnessed a lengthy (but remarkably peaceful) business meeting regarding offering church asylum to a member who was being threatened with deportation to his home country, where he had fled persecution by extremists, (and, in case you were wondering, the church voted unanimously to offer him asylum, which means he’ll have to live in the church and be unable to leave the church grounds for six months, at which point he can be reconsidered for a visa).

After the meeting, I rode out to the house of the couple who were hosting the BBQ with another couple. It was a generally fun afternoon – though, here in Germany, barbequing apparently has nothing to do with barbeque sauce or spices, just generally with cooking outdoors – but very stressful on the mind. The people were all very nice, but there were a lot of awkward silences when no one had anything to say and forced conversation – I think we talked about cats more than anything else. It was the one common denominator; everyone either had a cat or at least a cat story. Kind of funny to think about, actually. :D

I don’t know – I mean, I really like these people, but I feel very disconnected. These aren’t really the sort of friends I would make in ordinary circumstances – other than cats, the only thing we really have in common is the church we all attend. Which is important, but… Yeah, I don’t know. I guess what I’m trying to convey is that I miss my nerdy friends with whom conversation is so easy. It’s one thing to share a language (and that was a nice thing, everyone there spoke English all day as it was the one language we all shared) and another thing to share that connection that makes people really able to understand each other.

I’m tired today – and I’m not complaining, trust me. I really did have a great time, and I’m so grateful to God for putting this church and these people here as a connecting point. But I do have to admit that, in spite of being surrounded by people, I was rather lonely today. It will get better as I learn the language and get to know people better, I know. Today was a somewhat uncomfortable baby step, but it was a step in the right direction. Connections being made, bridges being built and all that.

At the same time, I’m very thankful that a) I’m pretty content with entertaining myself most days, what with my books or writing or whatever (I have read almost eight books in two weeks. Score!) and b) for the Internet, with which I can contact my family and my friends – I don’t know if I could have done this in the days before Internet. So thank God for that!

So that’s my day – long, a little lonely, but overall good and blessed. As a very wise woman used to tell me, today was an excellent day because I am walking in the blessings of the most high God. And that makes every day excellent, whether it was good by my standards or not. :D True wisdom, right there.

And that’s all for today. Good night, all! I go to prepare for The Monday.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Of Flea Markets and Soy Beans

Short entry for a very long day – but pictures! So be happy. :D 

Today we slept in a bit (until almost eight) and, after breakfast, we went for a long walk to the flea market on the south bank of the river.

Now, I don’t know how many of you go garage-sale shopping or flea-market hopping very often, but it’s a regular summer hobby for my family. I felt prepared – I mean, I knew it was going to be big, but I wasn’t even close to expecting the enormity of the thing. Thousands of people, hundreds of stalls, selling everything from new wallets to old books to weird paintings to crappy tools to toys to shoes and literally everything in the middle. The market stretched at least 20 blocks – and that was when I ran out of time and had to head back. I saw maybe 60% of what was there, and when I say “saw” I mean “glanced briefly over before hurrying on.” It’s definitely a haggling operation, with prices starting out absurdly high before people talk down the sellers to something reasonable. Or just walk away. :D
This guy had like, thirty typewriters to sell. I may have drooled.

I didn’t find anything, but now that I know the extent of what is available, I’m not buying anything new again, clothes-wise. Not when I can get all sorts of unusual, vintage-or-just-weird clothes from these old ladies and only pay a Euro for them.

My lunch. Quite yum-some. :D
After the flea market we stopped for lunch and I had Japanese cuisine for the first time. It wasn’t bad – a bit heavy on the soy-sauce for me, but I discovered that boiled (?) and salted soy beans are a delicious snack and I’ll have to remember that for future reference.

Then we went home for a nap, followed by a thunderstorm and a mud-larking expedition in the park. What is so irresistible to children about mud-puddles I do not claim to understand (unfortunately, it turns out I have grown up a little bit) but we came home dripping mud and very, very happy.

So that was today. Tomorrow I go to church, and I have been invited to a barbeque with some of the younger couples there, so we’ll see how that goes. I’m still very awkward around new people, and my extroverted tendencies are being starved by my painful self-consciousness, but this is a step in the right direction. And now, off to read for a bit – I’m finishing up the Artemis Fowl saga on recommendation from a friend, and very much enjoying it.

Good night!