Thursday, June 27, 2013

A Staring Contest

I have been in Germany for nearly three weeks now.  (Monday evening makes it three weeks exactly!)  I've been adapting to my new surroundings, jet lag, a new language, people, and new schedule.  It has been a bit more exhausting than what I had expected and I apologize for not blogging about my time here sooner.

This last week was a good week for me.  However, I will say, the week before was very difficult, emotionally, physically, and mentally.  For those of you who read my Facebook status update a week ago, I wrote about having a hard day.  For those of you who didn't get a chance to read it, I wrote, "After being here for nearly two weeks, I finally had the 'Ah-Ha!' moment of, 'Toto, I have a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore.' It was a very overwhelming, and exhausting day for me...And to be honest, it was really hard. Here's to hoping that tomorrow is an easier day."

Why was that day so hard for me?  Well, here in Germany, I am an Au Pair...Also known as an overseas nanny.  My job is to help with the children, but also to help teach the children I nanny English.  My job is to speak English all day, everyday, that I am with the children...Which makes it hard to learn German, the first language of the people here.

The day I wrote that status update was the first time I was really "thrown" into German culture.  It was one of my first moments of culture shock.  In the morning, we went to a meeting of young moms and their children, so their children can play together while the moms talk.  When we arrived, I was told that the women there know English.  (But, of course, it's still not their first language and in the small town where we live, there is almost no need to speak English.)  We talked for about five minutes in English.  The rest of the time we spent together was in German.

Coming to Germany, I really only knew one or two words.  Now I know at least 20-25 words...Progress!  But, while that is progress, it's not really enough to follow conversation.  If the conversation is about an airplane (Flugzeug in German...Sounding kind of like "fluke-zoy-k"), I at least know that the topic or that an airplane was involved in the discussion, but that's about it.  I also know the word for "no", which is "nein" - which sounds like the English word "nine".  Knowing the word "no" in German comes in handy with the children, and for knowing when people are answering questions.

We were with the group for a little more than two hours.  Occasionally I would get a summarized version of what was being said, but not the full conversation.  Only hearing a summary of the conversations every 20-30 minutes makes it difficult to partake in the discussion.

After meeting the group from the church, we had lunch plans.  The lady I live with (Anna), her children (Daniel and Markus), and I were going to eat at her in-laws house (her husband, Friedrich, was working).  When we got to the house of her in-laws, I was asked if I spoke either Russian or German.  When Anna told them I only know English, I saw the disappointment spread across the lady's face.

During the lunch, there was some translation, but most of the conversation I missed because of my lack of knowledge with German.  We were there for 2-3 hours.

All of the people I met were really kind and nice, and lunch was delicious.  However, by the end of the day, I was exhausted.  Spending about five hours around the German language was hard for me.

Not knowing what was going on and not being able to communicate made me feel lost and confused.  And even more than that?  It made me feel extremely lonely.  I was excited about the possibility of meeting new people and making new friends.  At home, I usually make new friends with ease.  Making a new friend isn't usually a struggle for me. But at home, there is a common language: English.  For the first time in my life, I've found it to be a challenge to make new friends due to my lack of ability to communicate.

Before coming to Germany, I spent time in Nashville.  I was able to meet with my friends, Josh and Alicia.  They are dear friends of mine and they are missionaries to Japan.  While in Nashville, I was able to connect with them at the Free Will Baptist International Mission office.  This was an unexpected visit, but a VERY welcomed one!  It was a really great surprise for my trip.

When Josh and Alicia were sharing about their time in Japan, they shared about their ministry, relationships, joys, and struggles.  They also shared about language school and how exhausting they found it to be...leaving their brains stretched and worn out, and their desire to just stare at a wall due to their low energy level. 

The day when I was around Germany for about five hours, at one point I caught myself staring at a wall. Feeling a bit lost and confused as German was being spoken all around me...and not understanding a thing, I was extremely overwhelmed. Then, when I realized I was staring at a wall in the middle of it all... I started chuckling to myself...but only in my head - I didn't want to look like "that crazy Crazy, Californian, American who stares at a wall while laughing"...It also made me smile, as I thought of my dear friends and their adventures and my time spent with them.

Knowing about Josh and Alicia's time learning Japanese, I instantly knew (because of their stories) that staring at a wall is a normal event to take place when adapting to a new culture and language.  When I told Alicia about my staring contest with a wall, she told me that it was a sign that my brain was just taking a break.

So, for those wondering why my day was so rough - that is a summary about some of the events that took place.

...Now...Back to my staring contest with a wall...

The Traveling Chick,

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Blind Ignorance

A couple of weeks ago I boarded a plane to head towards Nashville.  During the first plane ride, I slept.  For the second flight, I thought and prayed, "Lord - it's really temping to take another nap.  However, I'd really like to sit next to someone who is deaf.  It'd be great to make a new friend, to have more experience using, and learning, sign language."

Little did I know...God had a bit of humor planned for my day.

A 20-something-year-old man boarded the plane shortly after I did.  I was able to tell straight-away that he was blind, as he used a fold-up stick to walk down the aisle and as a flight attendant helped him find his seat...which was right next to mine.

I thought, "Okay...Not exactly what I meant, but that's okay."

Talking to the man, he shared a little bit about being blind.  From what I gathered, he has been blind all his life.  He told me how people often ask him (once they realize that he's blind) if knows and uses sign language.  He also shared about how awkward people can be about his blindness.

At one point, I said something to the affect of, "It can sometimes be fun being different than what society is use to."  I guess that was the wrong thing to say at first.  Defensively he said, "Different??!?  What do you mean by different?!??"

Oops...I momentarily forgot an important factor - he's blind, and he can't see my face.

Realizing he wasn't able to see my face, I briefly explained that I have a birthmark that covers half of my face.  (To which he said, "That's SO awesome!!!!!!!")  So, I too, have 'fun' stories from people who don't know how to properly react to unique differences.  Little did I know, he was about to become one of those stories himself.

Fascinated by my birthmark, he used his hand and covered his eyes asking, "Is it like an eye mask??"  Then, while covering a cheek, he continued, "Or is it like a two-face?"  I told him, "Umm...I guess it's a two-face."  He then asked, "Oh.  Have people ever called you a 'two-face' before?"  I told him, "Actually, yes.  I was called that once as a child."  His response was, "Really??"  As I reflected back many years, I told him, "Yes.  Honestly, I don't really recall being made fun of much by other children, as I usually struggle with ignorant adults and rude strangers.  However, the one time I remember being made fun of in grade school was being called a two-face in the school cafeteria."  All he could respond to that was, "Oh."  Usually I don't reflect on that memory with people I know, let alone strangers.  He asked, and kept digging, so I shared.

We would discuss different things but he would bring the topic right back to my birthmark.  He would ask, "Do people stare at you all the time?  I bet they do."  I answered, "Yes, they do."

Then the conversation topic changed once again.  I think we went back and forth from "normal" topics to the topic of my birthmark at least four or five times.  By round five, and because of his mean-sounding tone, I was starting to get frustrated and irritated by the man.

Before I knew it, he was right back to the topic of my birthmark as he told me, "I'd much rather be blind than to have a birthmark on my face any day."  Although I decided against it, I almost told him that my birthmark threatens the vision that I have in my left eye, as I use medication to fight going blind on a daily basis.

I wasn't really sure how to react to his statement.  In that moment, I was grateful he couldn't see my reaction - as I'm sure I probably had the expression of shock and confusion.  Baffled by his comment, the thought came to my mind, "How do you know that you'd rather be blind?  You can't even see my face to know what it looks like." (Thank goodness for the ability of having internal dialogue!)

Soon after that thought, I also caught myself thinking, "I'd much rather have a birthmark covering my face than to be blind."

Moments after that thought crossed my mind, I came to a realization.  People, including myself, are comfortable with what they know.  They are comfortable with what they are use to.  For the blind man, being blind is what he knows.  Having half a purple face would be completely new territory that he doesn't understand with a bit of the unknown.  But for me??  I know what it is like to have half of a purple face.

I understand what circumstances are brought by having this different facial feature.  When it comes to people's stares, comments, health, and how it affects my life overall - I get it...Just like the blind understand their blindness, and the deaf understand what it is like to be deaf.

On the flip side?  The idea of being blind scares me.  Becoming blind is a fear of mine as I love seeing the world and the beauty God has created.  Not to mention, fear of not being able to partake in my love for photography.

Overall, the conversation with the man was really awkward.  His attitude and tone were not friendly and came across as quite rude.  While he couldn't physically stare at me, the way he would ask questions and the fact that he would keep bringing my birthmark up (even though we would completely change topics...multiple times) - I felt as though he was staring at me through his words and his comments.

I'm pretty sure that this was one of the weirdest and most uncomfortable conversations I've ever had.

The Travelin' Chick,