Through the Alternative Spring Break program at SMU, Tiana is tutoring children at the Tuba City Boarding School (in the Navajo Nation) in Arizona. Tiana also has written about her other studies and travels. She spent the spring semester 2006 in Copenhagen, Denmark, with the SMU-in-Copenhagen program. She spent Christmas 2006 visiting the Nazi death camps in Poland and later visited The Czech Republic.
You'll grow a mustache. I'm serious. Eat your lunch, Ashley. I'm worried about you — you didn't eat your breakfast either. Cafeteria food is not known for being scrumptious, but you don't want to grow a mustache. I mean we all have mustaches, mine happens to contrast nicely with my pasty face, but girls with eating disorders grow lanugos all over their skin.
Most middle school girls do not care about having enough body fat keep to their organs healthy. They don't care about the damage to the heart, liver, and kidneys by not eating enough. Swollen joints and anemia will not get their attention. All they care about is boys, and the pursuit of them. So, to me at least it seems more logical to tell them that their hair will fall out and their fingernails will break off. Most guys don't like bald chicks with mustaches who can't grow fingernails.
One of the boys is a "carver." I'm guessing it's something like a "cutter." He uses a staple, knife or whatever to carve designs into his skin. What an unsanitary way to give yourself a tattoo. Why does he do it? Because someone cooler decided that it was cool to do. Why did he do it even after all of the SMU students pleaded with him not to? He doesn't get enough attention.
Remember middle school? What a dreadful place. I don't know a single person who rejoices in the physical changes combined with increased academic and peer pressure.
Write a teacher who touched you a thank you card. Think about yourself in middle school and you will want to get out a phone book. I don't know how they do it. Especially in low income areas. Imagine the inherent awkwardness of middle schoolers combined with classrooms packed with hungry students (some by choice, but some because theirguardians can't afford dinner) who had to wake up at 5am to catch the bus. Imagining it is painful. Seeing it breaks your heart. But knowing that there are students in your own community who go hungry every night is unbearable.
So, then what is my purpose spending Spring Break at the Navajo Nation?Am I going to teach the 8th grade boy who had fallen far behind to read in a week? No. Can I afford to feed and clothe all of the needy children? No. Can I put a stop to girls feeling insecure about their bodies? No. Can I tell you about it? Yes. Can I be forever changed by what I have seen? Yes. Can I show the children love? Absolutely.
Would you rather live in ancient or modern times? The children were asked this questions, and the answers are probably similar to what you might say. Some people wanted to live in modern times because they could not live without technology, while others wanted to live in ancient times to be free from technology. One boy wanted to live in ancient times so that he could be a warrior, and a girl wanted to travel into the past so she would not have to worry about global warming. Issues of health and standards of living were addressed. When asked what they would tell the people of ancient times when traveling back most of the answers were about technology, but one boy said the he would warn the ancient people about the white man.
I can't blame him. Luckily I have not experienced any kind of tension like that, only what you would expect- some of the 7th and 8thgraders are too cool to sit by me (and they really are)... but most of the girls ask me about boys and orthodontia- two topics I am an authority on.
The teachers have it rough- trying to preserve their culture and language while competing with media- all in English. The teachers here, just like all over Texas are stressed about testing and talk about the advantages of standardization as well as the constraints of No Child Left Behind.
After school we listened to a woman talk about the importance of the Yeibechei dance. The Yeibechei is a healing ceremony that invokes the aid of the Holy Ones and the Talking God. It must be done perfectly. Even those who are fluent in Navajo have difficulty with the songs. Nothing is written so memorizing the practices takes many years under the guidance of an elder.
Fueled by peach tea and a bag of candy I volunteered to drive the night shift-from 1am to 5am. The first few miles of my driving shift I couldn't figure out how to turn on the headlights. Dangerous. What a beast of a van. I am accustomed to driving a compact car, so conquering the 12 passenger vehicle took some time.
We arrived in Arizona about 20 hours later. It is supposed to take less time, but MapQuest lies. No complaints- our group got to spend some time at the four corners and driving through Colorado.
After making it to Navajo Nation (it is not called a reservation, because it reminds the people of the pain that they went through) we watched a Yabeche (spelling?) dance. Normally the dance is not during this time of the year, but one of the elders of the tribe is ill, so a unanimous vote made a special exception. Men and women wore masks that represent the first people of the Earth (under their creation story). The men were topless and covered in fire ash. Brrrr! I was cold wearing two shirts and a jacket, so I can't imagine how the dancers felt as they spent hours trying to heal their elder.
Yesterday was spent at the Grand Canyon. Grand can't even begin to describe it. We walked around it all day, but that was not long enough to truly appreciate the natural wonder.
This week I am helping Mrs. Stevens at the boarding school in Tuba City. She teaches the Navajo Language to 7th and 8th graders. Mrs. Stevens told me that whenever she began school she was punished for speaking Navajo (even though she had never been taught English), so she takes great pride in her work.
One of the girls asked me to sit by her at lunch. I was delighted. Unfortunately I sat by her twin sister. They are not friends.
It is going to be a great week!
Tomorrow I will be in Tuba City, Arizona preparing to tutor children at the Navajo Reservation. I cannot think of a more rewarding way to spend my Spring Break.
During orientation for the trip the group leader told us that we need to help the children more than just play with them. He looked right at me when he said it. Rightfully so, but how did he know? I will do my very best to be a grown up. I'm not even going to dress like a hobo one day this week.
I'm so excited about this trip. I do not know a lot about the Navajo culture, so this will be a neat way to educate myself. Volunteering can make you selfish. I always feel that no matter how much I give to someone I get so much more in return. And who wouldn't want to perpetuate such gratification?
Aside from tutoring the group is spending a day at the Grand Canyon. The only way that I could enjoy that more is if I had a motorized scooter. Or, a donkey. We are also going to a flea market and to a Navajo Monument & Valley. Mr. James Bilgody is going to share stories and songs with us. Who doesn't like story time? We will also spend time admiring Lita Tallsalt's Navajo Jewelry. Dangerous. I'll hide my wallet that day.
A woman I work with at the bookstore (in Garland, Texas) asked me how my Christmas was. When I told her that I spent my holiday in a death camp, I was expecting for us to return to our lean cuisines in silence until our break ended. Instead she told me her aunt and uncle saved a little Jewish girl's life by hiding her in their home in Holland.
Their house was far enough from the city, and the windows were covered. Even though the risk of getting caught was minimal, the family had to worry about food scarcity. They had a son, so by taking in the little girl they were putting their own child's life at risk. It takes a truly wonderful person to do the right thing in a situation like that.
Whenever a European asks you to go for a walk, make sure that your bladder is empty and your shoe laces are double-knotted. Martin, another friend I made through Denmark's International Study Program gave me a tour of what my feet felt was the entire city of Prague.
Martin kept pointing at buildings. He would tell me that a building was new, only 200 years old, and that such and such famous event involving famous people occurred at the location. When Martin visits me in Texas I will take him to my favorite steak house. I will tell him the building is old, having lasted over 10 years, and is where regular people enjoy eating tasty animals.
He told me that there are three Santa Claus churches in Prague, and that instead of Santa Claus the baby Jesus gives children presents at Christmas. This makes Czech seem backwards, but since Prague has buildings older than the U.S. I have to respect their tradition.
We drank hot wine and ate roasted chestnuts. He asked me if I had ever had hot wine before. I told him yes, of course. He did not knowthat I had been exposed to it only two days prior in Poland.
I could talk to Martin about most things, but did not know what to say when he asked me about my trip to Poland. Since Martin was the first person who asked me why I had chosen to go on such a journey, and he asked me right after it happened I was taken off guard. I came up with several reasons as to why I would give up Christmas with my family to learn about death camps, but none of them were coherent, and they certainly weren't honest. So, I told him the only reason that made sense-that I was crazy and that if I hadn't been before the trip I was now. Martin made an understanding face, nodded his head,and said that Americans usually have a harder time learning about theholocaust because we are exposed to it less.
The people in my group also asked each other and themselves that question a lot. Why weren't we at home sitting under a big tree, participating in ritualistic consumerism? We wanted to learn about the holocaust. We wanted to reach outside ourselves. We wanted to learn why terrible things happen and what we can do to ensure that they never happen again. Maybe that's it. Or maybe we are all crazy.
When you learn about the holocaust in the seventh grade, if you even learn about it at all- it is easy to imagine yourself escaping. You, and your family, and your friends. Well, the friends you really like. It is easy to imagine poll vaulting over the electric fences, or tunneling your way to safetyunderneath them.
It is less easy to imagine such things when you are in the camps. There are two tall electric fences topped in barbed wire surrounding every portion of the camps. I guess there are two in case by some miracle you made it over the first one. I am a very tactile person. As a child I would touch every can, box, and shelf in every aisle of the grocery store. I did not even think about touching the fences. Of course they are not on, but there was a scary picture of a scull and cross bones with some angry German letters written underneath.
Just in case you can imagine yourself making it over both fences there are guard towers closer together then you would think. Since the Nazis were given vacation time for killing those who tried to escape. It is easy to imagine Nazis shooting Jews who dropped something near the fences.
There is grass surrounding the areas near the fences now. There used to not be. Prisoners would eat it. Can you imagine being so hungry that you willingly eat grass? I don't even like resorting to the ten second rule to consume a misplaced cheeto.
It's hard to imagine starving to death. It's even harder to imagine having to detangle naked dead bodies and throw them into ovens. It's even harder to imagine drowning in excrement. It's easier to imagine when you are standing beside the trenches and toilets where such atrocities occurred.
An additional pair of panty hose attached itself to the right side of my body. I thought I felt a little lumpy. At the end of the trip I also discovered that I had neglected to put a sock on my left foot. I guess I didn't realize it because the weight of my panty hose balanced out my lost sock.
I'm a lost sock. I've had great adventures since escaping the dryer, but I do miss its warmth. Poland only thought about snowing today, but it has been cold enough.
Gross-Rosen was our last camp to visit. No one else entered the camp until we left, making it the most personal. The before and after pictures of the people who starved to death had the greatest impact on me.
But I can't talk about that right now. I don't know how to. For now I will tell you to stay away from obscene looking Polish breakfast sausage. And don't order the fish. It will be served with its smiling face still attached to its dry bony body.
Today I am going to Prague. There I will regroup and visit a Czech friend that I made while at the international school in Denmark. And then back to Denmark.
It probably seems strange to most people that I will spend my holiday in transit to another death camp. It seems strange to me, too, but I want to understand or at least try to understand why the holocaust happened. I find it difficult to focus even when I'm at the camps. Which is why it is important for me to be here. For at least a few moments, I am forced to see.
I saw the gas chambers. Standing in the chambers I could smell the gas. I could see the blue chemical residue of death on the walls. You don't get that reading a history text book. I saw the ovens where the bodies were burned. I saw the huge mound of ashes. You don't think that it is huge until you try to walk around it.
What gets to everyone the most though is the shoes. I saw shoes that filled an entire barrack. Thousands of shoes. Ladies red dress shoes. Casual shoes. Though the shoes that make everyone tear up the most are the children's shoes. Tiny boots that never got to travel far.
Seeing memorial plaques did not get to me until I started calculating the ages of the people who had died. Nine-year-old children. My sister is nine.
Normally I would have tons of photos to share with you. I would force my hand out my glove and brave a few moments of cold for your viewing pleasure. But I just can't do it. I stay in a trance while I'm at the camps.
Today I met another Magda. It makes it more difficult to cope with the holocaust when you hear how it effects people personally, but easier to understand in some ways. Magda's grandfather worked in a death camp. Her grandmother would try to bring food to the prisoners. Of course it is unlikely that they received it. I cried with her. She says that she always cries when she shows people the camp. She's been giving tours for fifteen years.
Today I felt like a small child during her first swim to the deep end of the pool. As I walked down the tunnel at the Belżec extermination camp I was confident- at first. But as I made it towards the end the sorrows of the 500,000 people expressed in the tall concrete walls I began to drown. I was not ready to endure the path taken by people who where beaten and tortured in the tunnel until they met their end in the gas chambers.
On the sides of the tunnel are big jagged dark rocks. It occurred to me that much like the Jews in the camp the rocks do not move unless someone forces them to. They have to endure the harsh weather without any sort of covering.
A concrete fence surrounds the monument signifying the secrecy of the Nazis. But from the road you can still see the rocks covering the hill, showing how hard it must have been to keep such horrors a secret.
Enclosing the rocks is a concrete pathway with all of the names of the communities of people who had been murdered. Rust drips down every letter-the red contrasting with the grey of everything else. As I walked to the top of the monument their was a sizable strip that was nameless. At first I thought that whoever built the monument did not know how to use a ruler. But then it hit me. The empty section existed because there was no one left to kill.
After the considerable amount of time that it took to read all of the names I had to walk back through the tunnel. Through the twisted railroad wires. Through the mounds of dark concrete and past the rocks. The walls got smaller, and the sight of my friends larger. How wonderful-I got to leave. I got to return to my expensive hotel. I got to sleep in a giant bed with fluffy pillows. Even though I got to leave the camp the thought of it cannot escape me. Right now I am trapped inside a Stanley Kubrick film. Seeing terrible things during the day and having to deal with the memories while listening to Christmas music.
Even though there is no snow, everywhere I have been is misty. Droplets cover my glasses making me aware of my glasses, making me remember that Jewish people with glasses had them taken away from them and crushed.
I have only had one shower since I have been here. I know that's gross, but every time I try to take one I think of the gas chambers.
At Chełmno Jews were killed by gas vans. Carbon monoxide from cylinders in the driver's cab would pipe into the van where the Jews were locked. The bodies would then be removed from the van by other Jews, and placed into trenches which Jews had dug. After the Jews had placed the dead into their mass graves they would be shot. In order to try and cover up what had been done at the camp the Nazis had to remove all of the 152,000+ dead bodies from the ground and burn them.
At each camp I go to it is hard to think about the death for too long. I find myself searching for any sign of life. Tiny mushrooms. Grass between the rocks. Animals.
One plague had the first names of some of the people killed. Magdalena was on it. I had dinner with my Polish friend Magda the night before. Even though Magda is not Jewish, in Poland you and your family were killed for even attempting to help a Jewish person. Being in a death camp is sad to begin with, but imagining the ashes being those of your friends is unbearable.
I left my baggage unattended. I know that you aren't supposed to. I can't say that I forgot. There's a message on the loud speaker at the airport urging passengers to report suspicious baggage and persons. But I had to go to the bathroom. When I returned the lady in the chair next to mine let me know that she was just about to report me. I knew that the moral dilemma would take her just long enough to ponder over for me to go to the restroom.
And besides, homeland security had already gone through my baggage. I missed my flight because my name was cut off on my ticket and didn't match my passport. I was already a suspicious person. Though I have to say that the ladies at DFW homeland security are very nice. I told them where they could buy sparkly headbands and bags made out of recycled bottles. They teased me about the large quantity of chocolate that I had, and told me that I might not be allowed to take it on the plane.
Eventually DFW decided that I should be allowed to fly. I sat next to a Heidi, a German girl my age. We both took a sleeping tablet, but I guess that sort of young lady who travels unaccompanied to foreign countries needs more than one pill, because neither one of us got any shut eye. Heidi shared with me her feelings on German guilt and the holocaust. I think that current feelings regarding slavery in the South are similar.
On my flight to Germany the female flight attendant held her arms up, and close to her body-which I have found to be a common practice for those wishing to prevent their limbs from whacking passengers hanging over their seats. The male flight attended held his arms straight up in the air, like he was being busted by the police. This made me laugh so hard that I forgave him for forgetting to bring me peanuts.
A plane later I was in Warszawa trying to catch a taxi. An older Polish man half my size agreed to take me to the train station. After saying train station to each other five or six times he grabbed my luggage. Man he was spry! I wish I knew how to maneuver luggage like that. It cost90złoty for the twenty minute taxi ride to the train station. It only cost 45 złoty for the four and a half hour train ride to Gdańsk.
I fancy myself as a low maintenance sort of woman, but this belief was tested on the train to Gdańsk. The restroom scared me. And for the longest time I did not realize that you could just go inside of a cabin and claim a seat. So I sat blocking half of the hallway. A man came out into the hallway and randomly touched himself. Another man saw how uncomfortable I was and told me to get inside his cabin. With great reluctance I was relocated. I remained coiled around my backpack inside the tiny cabin of strangers for the majority of the trip. Even though the train was at night I did not sleep because unlike in Denmark where stops are announced and clearly labeled, you just have to know in Poland where to get off. And since I speak barely any Polish this was quite a task.
After getting off the train I was willing to pay any price to get to my hotel. It was 5 a.m., and I wanted at least three good hours of sleep. I paid the cab driver a generous amount to drive me around for a good while. I had a good laugh when I opened the curtains in my hotel room and saw the train station right outside it.
When I told my little sister that I was going to Poland for Christmas she made the saddest face possible. I was touched when the sadness remained after I reminded her that she would still be getting gifts from me. Learning about the holocaust over winter break is going to be difficult. But now that I'm finally here I'm ready. Or at least I'm going to continue to tell myself that I am.
|View Tiana's photos|
My red blouse matched the terror alert. I flew to Ohio the day
that the extra airport security began. No one thought that the
announcements included them-Oh, no, not my shampoo, deodorant,
toothpaste, lipstick, hair gel, etc.... You mean the rules apply to
me? Aside from the additional airport time my trip went well.
Columbus is certainly not as exotic as Copenhagen, but any sort of
travel is my hearts desire.
Learning about torture, rape, and other ungodly abuses of human rights was how I spent my last free summer before my final year of being a grown up next year. But what an important Amnesty International Conference it was. In my spare time I lounged around at Kafe Kerouac, and met up with Ben for lunch. It was nice to meet Ben in person-he used to edit the SMU Adventure blogs before taking a job in Ohio-and while it may not have been by choice, he knew all my tales.
Today is the first day of my last year of school. It's officially strange to be back.
We’ll always have
The airport is a magical place — filled with those leaving for a new adventure, and those just returning from one bursting with stories. Nowhere else can you find a larger group of people laughing, crying, embracing, sleeping, and waiting. Waiting for planes, waiting to check baggage, waiting to make it through the security checks, waiting to pick up baggage, waiting to pick up people.
Rookies at the airport are easily spotted-they don't know that you have to get on an air train, tram, walkway, or loop around three corners to get to their gate. They don't have their identification handy for the multiple checks. My first pre-take-off experience was no different. On top of being completely and apparently lost I would gasp every time I saw a sign that said "toilet." I was delightfully surprised to find that the room was complete with toilets, stalls, sinks, soap, and whisper quiet hand dryers. I'm glad I got over the term toilet, because most Europeans use it in reference to the bathroom, and will give you a lost look if you ask for the location of the restroom. They've never heard of the term before, and the less than classy term in most places is WC or water closet.
The security check is the worst part though. I don't think I've been closer to a stranger than the guard in Terminal 3 at the Moscow airport. She knows how much lint is contained in the pockets of all passing passengers.
Return and readjustment
Abundant advertisements and the predominant use of English...with Texas accents – I am experiencing sensory overload. It's nice to be able to understand what's going on, but I miss the throat disease known as the Danish language. No longer will I be reminded to not leave my bags (baggacia?) unattended at the København H stop on the green B line. I feel like I just woke up. Having an 8-hour time difference can cause some serious jet lag. My flight home was nice, though. The two seats next to me were empty, and I made sure that they didn't go to waste.
When I walk into my living room at an ungodly hour Bjørn and crew are no longer there to greet me with a big howdy. My air conditioner here is also consistently noisy, and may be easier to tune out – it doesn't talk back. I miss the people. Though not having to walk through food in order to make food, and scrape the green and blue mold out of a pot before using it, is a nice change.
It's a people thing
My friends asked me about Denmark. They don't understand how I could be so happy in such a small country with very little to do. They don't get it. You don't get it unless you've been there. Denmark is not about being constantly entertained. It's about showing up – on time – without an agenda to enjoy someone else's company over a cup of tea. It's about still being able to laugh at yourself when you get on the wrong bus, wind up in the country, walk in the rain for hours back to a real bus stop – one with a bench and not just a sign, and then wait another hour for the right bus – which I did my last week there. The people, like here in Texas, are what make the country so special.
Denmark is no longer the desolate gray land that welcomed me with its cold arms four months ago. No longer do the Danes have to break icicles off of their faces when cracking a smile. Now that it is pleasant I am leaving. Today is the last day that I will write to you from Denmark. Thanks for reading -- I will continue to update, just not as frequently.
My last meeting with the scouts was filled with dangerous fun -- watching the children light different kinds of fires. Saying goodbye to the scouts was hard. Some of them spoke English to me, some of them do not speak to me at all -- all of them giggle at me. Some of them promised to write -- all of them took my candy and gave me a hug.
Last week a riot broke out outside my school. Some "punks" were mad because a church group purchased the building that they were squatting in and kicked them out.
Legoland was a blast. The signs outside the rides say "mainly for children." That did not stop me -- with my knees folded into my chest I pretended to be on a safari in the plastic animal kingdom. I have never seen the real Statue of Liberty, but the one made out of Legos is mighty impressive.
Sailing can be smooth, or in my experience bumpier than taking a trip down the Rockies in a cardboard box. I went with a friend and her host family to their summer house on the beach. While sailing we passed through Kerteminde, a little seaside town where Van Gogh briefly lived.
Last week at Danish scouts the children built structures that could hold a pot and cook food out of wood and rope. This week the kids sharpened their skills with tools by sharpening sticks and chopping wood. We also stood around in a circle stomping on the ground until the worms popped out to say hello. Really they thought that it was raining, and were afraid of drowning, but it is just nicer to think of them as friends... Especially when you are being chased around the forest by a little boy holding one.
Bornholm has the best strawberries. I bought a bunch and not a single one was sour or discolored. I think that I will have to go back there one day just to eat some more. Bornholm is the only place in Denmark that isn't completely flat. While on the tiny island this weekend I biked about 40 kilometers a day. I was confident in my biking abilities after my trip to Sweden-a little too confident... I drove smack into a sturdy red post office box. Luckily I caught my bike's fall, and only the gear shift gauge and my left knee were scraped.
Never believe anyone who tells you that the Danes are shy. Bornholm's traditional villages are home to some of the friendliest people that I've met in Europe. I went to an ice cream store just as it was closing with a few of my friends. I thought that the shop owner would hurry us or just flat out refuse to serve us. Instead he sat down with us while we quickly consumed our delicious treats, and then with the help of his best scooper gave us a free salsa dancing lesson.
Tivoli is amazing. It's like a micro-garden-version of Six Flags. There's cotton candy (or cotton fluff as the Danes call it), and you can even buy a burger in the Chinese section. There are flowers in lights in every nook and cranny of the amusement park. The rides made me a little sick. My steel stomach, which once endured the Texas Giant without a problem, turned into tin foil on the Tivoli carousel. I feel old.
I have biker's butt and canoer's elbow. I spent the weekend in Kullaberg, Sweden; biking through Kullen and canoeing on the Ronneå. All of the fresh air cleared out the remaining 10 lbs. of Moscow from my lungs.
Never wear jeans when bike riding long distances. If it rains your pants will mold to your skin and weigh you down. I haven't been on a bicycle in about nine years. I decided to practice before my trip. I rented one of the city bicycles for 20 kroner (about 3 bucks). The seat wouldn't lower, so every time I tried to climb on top of it I fell over. Luckily my problem was just the seat, and I relearned how to ride a bike instantly. Now I can honestly say "It's like riding a bike."
Last time I was at Danish Scouts a fight broke out. Not the usual pine cone throwing/stick poking, a verbal fight. It ended with one of the girls shouting "Your mother carried you in her tummy for three months for nothing." The woods fell silent. I spoke to the International Educator's Workshop about my volunteering experience. They asked me how volunteering would shape my career choices and my life in general. I said that I wanted to live in the forest and play games. Maybe not, but I am going to miss those kids.
At International Career night a panelist told my group that studying and living abroad will forever change us, and that because of our experiences we will have trouble relating to our friends and family back home. I disagree with the last part of his statement- I think that being in a foreign country for so long humbles you and makes you more understanding.
I live with pirates. OK, maybe they are historic pirates - Vikings - but we had a pirate themed party. Home made eye patches were abundant, and the duct tape covered cardboard swords once in the hands of brave scallywags are now just litter. No one likes to put away their toys when done playing, especially my kollegium mates.
This weekend a group of my friends came to visit me. I felt like I was at the UN. I doubt that the UN members sit around laughing and eating cheap pasta, but it was pretty special to have college students from seven different nations enjoying each other's company. It's funny how different we are, but how many things we share. Hwa-Jung, my Korean friend says that I look like the cookie monster when I eat. I think that we can all agree with that.
Of course a lot gets lost in translation. My friend Martin from the Czech Republic used a Czech phrase on me and told me that I was out of the (fish) bowl. I thought he said bowel. I'm sure both statements are true at times.
Jessica's host mom is the perfect hostess. When she serves Asian food it is made in a wok and eaten off china dishes purchased in China. Crème Brule is made on the spot using a blow torch. It is a real treat to eat dinner with a Danish family.
Last week I went to Sweden for a business presentation on how waste reduction can positively impact company profitability. Interesting, but not probably quite as exciting as my trip there this weekend for canoeing and biking will be.
The street maintenance in Russia is extremely professional. I watched a "crew member" run out into traffic to drag back a cigarette using a broom that I have only formerly seen clasped in the hands of Halloween witches. You would think that with such a dedicated labor force the streets of St. Petersburg would sparkle, but the whole city rests behind a thick layer of filth. All of this dirt is from pollution, which makes me sick. There are few things that render me speechless, pollution is one of them. Not that I could speak to anyone anyway, but I guess the old cliché about not knowing the value of something until you lose it is true.
One place where not having a voice is a good thing is the market. Normally I would just accept a price or walk away briskly (vendors will chase you down), but today I just stood at the tent shaking my head at people while whispering crackles. Maybe they felt sorry for maybe, or maybe they like the Godfather, regardless I got good deals.
The Hermitage (hermit's dwelling) museum takes over 9 hours to walk through properly. I had only 3, but got to see highlights. Fantastic!
The day that I arrived here a man was killed because of his race. Yesterday I went to a protest led by the Putin youth in his honor and against racism. I jumped over a barricade to take pictures, but only snapped a few for fear of being fined/arrested. The cops here like to threaten American tourists for bribes, but not having a press pass could have given them a legitimate reason to punish me.
Tonight I am taking the train to Moscow!
Have you ever seen "Panic Room?" Me neither, but I am guessing that my day in France was a really gross version of that movie.
In town there is a self cleaning restroom with buttons just like a stoplight. I decided to enter the room when the yellow button was lit, as I assumed that it meant to hurry up just like when driving. Immediately the room turned pitch black and water poured down from the ceiling. It took me a good while to find the emergency button that opens the door.
While playing cards I forgot to tighten the cap on my water bottle completely, which resulted in a giant puddle in the center of my comforter. Today has been truly aqua-tastic.
Outside the public facilities it is also damp. I did not even attempt to go skiing today, because when it rains the mountain turns into a giant downward slopping ice skating rink. No thank you, I will stay inside. This is probably for the better anyhow seeing as I only have one economy sized sunscreen tube to coat on my pasty skin for the remainder of the week.
I like my roommate. We talk about everything from high school marching band to which dinosaurs we would be if we lived in prehistoric times. She snores boisterously though. I have no idea how such forte sounds come out of such a pianissimo body. Whenever she snores I wake up, and then I have to go to the restroom... which leads to panic room situations. I like that I am getting to know so many people that I would not have if we hadn't been assigned to each other randomly.
I went to the black market and the Pacifists' Museum in Poland. The black market was inside of a run down soccer stadium. I bought a pin for a friend for 40 Złoty. I did not even try to bargain with the guy, and he felt so guilty about ripping me off that he gave me another pin and a key chain for free. The Pacifists' Museum was an even bigger rip off, as there was only one kimono and a few pots shoved into a tiny room... but the atmosphere was very soothing. In Poland I also saw a ballet by Isadora Duncan. I did not know that scarf dancing could be so intense- when I think of boogie fever combined with fabric I picture the circus or a renaissance festival.
I write to you now from Berlin. I dined today at the restaurant inside the Television tower. The Checkpoint Charlie Museum is very educational, and a walk to what remains of the Berlin wall heightened my experience. A trip to the Bauhaus Museum made me miss my car, and getting on the wrong train three times made me miss my car even more. Unlike the trains in Copenhagen the schedule is not clearly posted, and less people in Germany speak English which makes it hard to get around. I was almost starting to forget how charming Copenhagen is. Of course when I get lost I see things that I probably never would have before.
Traveling has been great so far! This will surely be the best Spring Break of my entire life.
Accounts of me being awkward:
My hair hurts. There are few things more sickening than the smell of burning hair. It caught on fire last night. I used to think that it was silly for dorms to ban candles... now I understand that I am a fire hazard. Two Danish girls helped me brush it out, and they tell me it is not noticeable.
The day before I woke up in Fotex with a frozen sausage on my forehead. I was so hungry that I passed out. Yes, I am eating, but the previous night I did not make it to the grocery store in time to get food, and of course restaurants and hot dog stands also close early here. I tried to microwave corn. Apparently it won’t cook that way unless it is covered in saran wrap. I do not think that I can cook carrots anymore-it makes me sad to watch their nutritious orange juices boil away. Danes are so healthy-grocery stores charge more for wheat bread than white.
I met my visiting family. I might not get to see them again-they travel a lot. Arne, the dad, is a political celebrity in Denmark. He has written three books, and is working on a fourth on Jewish humor. He is quite a character. There was conversation in Danish, and singing in Hebrew, but even though I had no idea what was going on I still had a good time. I only made one major mistake. I tried to take their picture, which normally would be fine were it not Shabat. I did not know that it was not appropriate. I thought that everyone was just camera shy. I am a really bold photographer. Normally zipping my tiny casio inside its case is inaudible, but at that shameful moment it was louder than a chainsaw in a library. The family gave an interesting perspective on the cartoon crisis and their personal experience with being religious in Denmark.
Today I felt like Chuck Norris, minus the beard and awesome roundhouse-kicking ability.
It was my first real snowball fight. And just like in a Chuck Norris movie it was me against 30 people. The other scout leaders sat inside the warm cabin sipping coffee and laughing at me. They knew better. They knew that whenever fresh snow hit the ground it was the best for throwing. Gutter, the head master told the kids that I had never been in a snowball fight before and that they should properly educate me. They were astonished that someone could grow up without learning how to properly pack a snowball, but this didn't prevent them from being brutal.
I had at least two scouts hanging from each limb. Kildre – the Danish word for tickle – was shouted from every war-hungry mouth. The emphasis was on the kill part of the word, and for a minute I thought I might just die. I slipped on an icy patch and the kids had no mercy. As I wallowed around mounds of snow I began to bury myself. The scouts were eager to assist, and took the opportunity to throw snow down the back of my jacket. I made sure to snowball at least every kid once before retreating to the cabin.
While I definitely miss the warmth of Texas, I have to admit that having hundreds of snowballs hurled at me was great fun.
A man in the road blocked my way home. He was passed out on the ground with beer cans and bad smells circling his body. A small woman, about my size, poked him and he came to. She effortlessly lifted him up and placed him on a nearby bench, zipped up his jacket, dusted him off and went on her way. I am both touched and alarmed by such humanity.
At the ARoS Museum or Art, I viewed an exhibit by the artist Michael Kvium. I think I had my first real case of culture shock. If I had had any food in my belly then the grotesque images would have forced it outward. The paintings actually made me sick. Kvium says that there are so many horrible actions and characteristics of people that go un-noticed. So, his work is geared towards making us see the inner ugly. I think Kvium is wrong. I think it's easy to see the bad side of people. To blame society, to let the good go unnoticed. It's easy to say bad things about hobos; it's hard to hoist them up.
Fastelavn is like Halloween with a piñata. In earlier days it was a period of fasting, but now it is marked by a carnival air and fun and games.
Parents are awakened by the children waving specially decorated birch branches - "Fastelavnsris". The youngsters later dress in a variety of disguises and go singing from door to door with their collecting cups into which the grown-ups can drop a coin or two, if they feel like it. The money is usually converted into a bag of sweets. One of the games on "Fastelavn" is called "knocking the cat out of the barrel" and it is done every year in Danish schools and homes. All the children - in disguise of course - line up and in turn hit a barrel with a wooden club. The barrel is hanging from the ceiling or a tree and it usually has a drawing of a black cat on its side. The child who "knocks the cat out of the barrel" (makes the last bit of the barrel fall to the ground) is made "king" - this could both be a girl or a boy. The "king" then choses a "queen". They are given golden (paper) crowns and they rule for the day.
There was a protest at the bus station: Danish Neo-Nazis vs. Offended Muslims. There were twice as many cops as protestors. And since it's cold in Denmark, the police looked like a bomb squad - covered from head to toe. It was the only protest that I had seen, but I didn't feel threatened.
The Danes are not used to seeing their flag burned or threats made on their country. They are very nationalistic, and take it personally. Of course this whole dispute has never been about cartoons - it's about immigration and attitudes towards it.
Today 400 people lost their jobs, and I knew about it before they did. My Doing Business in the EU instructor is an executive at Carlsberg brewery, and had to cancel class today to let everyone know that sales were down... really down. He looked so sad. It's upsetting that one of Copenhagen's landmarks is closing its doors. Less than a month ago I took a tour of Carlsberg!
I do really like how all of my instructors here have real world experience. Not having to do research or get published allows teachers to give their students the most current information about their industry.
I started volunteering for the Danish Scouts. Things are more fun in story form...
[Tiana tries to collect the kids on the iced over parking lot for the scout meeting. The task proves to be more difficult than herding cats and she falls backwards. A 10-year-old girl approaches her.]
Girl Scout: Do they celebrate Valentine's Day in America?
Tiana: Well, most people do, but I don't have a boyfriend (long pause). All the women in my family sent me cards and my mom mailed me some chocolate.
Girl Scout: I have a boyfriend.
Tiana: I bet you do, you are a precious treasure. Now could you go ask about eight of your friends to help pry me up before my booty freezes to the ground?
Girl Scout: [Giggles] Yeah.
[Tiana takes slow, calculated steps towards the door. A boy scout starts yelling at her.]
Boy Scout: I'm suspicious of you.
Tiana: And why's that?
Boy Scout: Because I don't know where you're from.
Tiana: I'm from Texas.
Boy Scout: I don't know where that is. Texas - it doesn't sound good.
Tiana: Oh, but it is! [Peers down at him over her glasses]
Boy Scout: [mocks Tiana's glare and crosses his arms]
The kids are really great. I am going camping with them in March! Too much fun!
30 years from now, how do you feel your adventure will have impacted your life?
I think that I will always use Danmark as a reference point-in conversations I can actually tell people how the Danes do it. Living here is an unforgettable experience. In 30 years I will probably still be eating inside out sandwiches and subscribing to wind powered energy.
Below is information on my new visiting family as written by them. I am very excited! My previous family's dog thought I was a tasty sausage. (I'm not by the way) No hard feelings - I wish them the best, and hope that they find someone who enjoys the company of their dog as much as they do! I hope to meet soon with my new family - Arne and Nina!
Presenting Arne and Nina Melchior.
We are an elderly couple living very central in Copenhagen, close to the Central Railway station (Hovedbanegården) and the Subway station Vesterport, so we are easy to reach.
Arne is a former Member of Parliament and has been part of several governments as Minister of Transport, Communication and Public works and Tourism.
Nina has been a scientist in a pharmaceutical company (Leo Pharma) active in research and development.
Our family lives partly in Copenhagen, Oslo (Norway) and in Israel. There are three sons and seven grandchildren in all. The larger part of the family is though very big and lives in Israel, and we love to see them for family events.
We live a traditional Jewish life, keeping kosher, not driving on Shabat, observing Jewish Holidays. We usually visit Synagogues run the Orthodox way, but on journeys we also like to visit Conservative and even Reform Synagogues, so we consider us open-minded.
We like to call us Observing Jews. The very Orthodox will call us Liberal, and the Liberal will call us Orthodox, so we are very happy with our Jewish life.
Happy Single's Awareness Day! In Denmark there are almost as many flower stands and chocolate boxes covering the streets and shop windows as there are in the states. For all of you unattached Eve Ensler fans today is far more meaningful than heart shaped cards and wishes for love. I'll certainly be consuming my fair share of chocolate, as I already do daily. Danish chocolate is tasty
Scary hobo count is up to three. The first homeless man that confronted me asked me if I spoke English. Of course I speak English! Most everyone in Denmark does. But I responded with, “Yes,” and confirmed my Americanism. He then told me to give him some money. I bet he has more money than I do. Denmark takes care of their poor people, and there is really no reason to be a beggar. The second hobo (I say hobo because they look like hobos, but if they wanted housing Denmark would give it to them) clothes-lined me. That's right; I was knocked in the head by a hobo. Another reason why I say hobo is because no one in Denmark except the hoboesque people has beards (excluding tourists). Anyway, I think the man's arm permanently sticks out and up, and I don't think that he meant to whack me. Maybe he did, maybe the first hobo was his friend and they were mad at me. The third hobo was just really drunk, and slung beer at everybody on the train, while using his free hand to wave the peace sign at us. What a diplomat. I am glad that Dallas is building a homeless shelter. After being saturated in cheap beer and conked on the head my belief that society should take care of its mentally unwell only increased. And don't have any worries, I feel safe on the train as I do everywhere else in Denmark. I just need to be more aware of flailing limbs and the beer bottles attached to them.
Things that I have learned while in Denmark:
1. Jam sandwiches are not a to-go snack.
2. It is possible to ride a bicycle wearing high heel shoes through the snow while drinking and talking on a cell phone.
3. Not all of Europe dislikes America/Americans.
4. You can survive without having access to a 24/7 grocery store.
5. Only buy the amount of food that you think you can carry home.
6. "I fart" in Danish means that the elevator is working.
7. Mayonnaise on french fries is pretty tasty.
8. Ketchup on pasta is not so tasty.
8. When the train stops, an announcement comes on, and everyone leaves the train, then the train is broken.
9. There's no such thing as harsh weather, just improperly dressed people.
10. It is possible to survive without a cell phone.
11. It is possible to survive without a car.
12. It is possible to survive in a foreign country without being surrounded by friends or family. Or for that matter even knowing anyone before departure.
13. Not everyone understands the majesty of peanut butter.
14. When it's cold your glasses can fog over.
15. Everyday is a new adventure.
DIS letter: The Danish - Middle East situation
An international dispute over European newspaper cartoons deemed blasphemous by members of the Muslim community has over the last days gained momentum. The cartoons first appeared in a Danish newspaper in September 2005 and have since been reprinted in France, Germany, Italy, Switzerland, Spain and Norway. BBC in Britain televised them on Thursday, February 2, 2006.
A number of countries on the Arab peninsula and outside has begun to boycott Danish goods. Demonstrations in the streets of many countries in the Islamic world and in countries with large Islamic minorities has focused on a number of European countries, but primarily on Denmark. The Danish flag and images of the Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen have been burned during demonstrations and Danish embassies have been attacked. Read More...
I don't know how to cook. No, I'm not being modest. My ignorance is more painful than the hot grease that I spill on myself.
I bought a bag of frozen fries. Easy enough, right? Well, I figure that you fry fries, so I pour them onto a skillet with a bunch of vegetable oil. I actually got upset when that didn't turn out right, and threw it all in the microwave. Who knew that you only fried fresh fries?
Pasta? Forgedaboutit. Half of it sticks to the bottom (no matter how much I stir) and the other half floats on top, never really cooking. Straining it leaves behind sticky remains that ooze towards every possible hard-to-clean surface. I've killed the pasta.
My friend Bijørn cooks for me sometimes. He tells me that he loves to cook. Great, I love to eat! And it is apparent that he eats well. All Danish people know how to cook. Me? As long as there are Bijørns in the world, I'll never have to learn. Thank goodness!
On the train a man in a sharp uniform and hat approaches...
Tiana: (moves giant bag from seat so the man can sit down)
Officer: (stands there)
T: (thinks about how she's not that big of a girl, and the man surely has room enough to sit down, and is offended)
O: (looks disgruntled and walks over to another seat)
T: (feeling stupid, removes her train pass from her wallet and shows the officer)
O: (continues his duties)
I try to not stand out (more than I already do with my loud “Texas flag” bag, and my even louder mouth). I try to ride the trains like the Danes do, facing forward and in complete silence. But situations like these make me realize that I am a silly American, and I could get into real trouble unless everyone understands that.
Yesterday I went on a tour of Fredericksburg Castle. On the outside the castle looks fierce with its moat. (Well, kind of fierce... the moat was frozen over. Maybe it's a booby trap, because unsuspecting enemies could fall through the thin ice.) Inside, every corner is filled with beautiful paintings, sculptures, furniture, moldings, and history. I have a crick in my neck from looking at all of the art on the ceiling. Our tour guide talked about how uninterested the artists were in creating most of the pieces. I am glad they were hungry and sold out. I thoroughly enjoyed the castle.
I am in København! And it's cold! My kollegium (a classier, more independent version of a dorm) is very nice. I have my own room and bathroom. I will include pictures once I figure out how to use my camera.
The trip over here was not bad. (If you ever decide to come this way I would not recommend Lufthansa. There is not much leg room on the plane and you do not have your own TV screen.) I had a very colorful 9 hour trip. The woman on my left was Middle Eastern and the serviceman to my right is serving in Iraq. Interesting conversation, but I was definitely the cheese in that awkward sandwich.
One of the boys in my kollegium felt sorry for me because I don't know how to cook (as he witnessed me crunching on a box of cereal throughout the day), and prepared and shared a lovely pot roast with me for dinner… tasty! Though I'm not going to enjoy meal preparation, it is nice to be able to just walk into the living room and have instant Danish friends.
The train ride to school is not bad. Today I came over during rush hour - bad idea. The whole way over my face was planted in a rather large man's armpit, and I had my hand trapped behind some random man, but could not move it for fear he would think that I was being fresh.
Most people here speak English better than I do, which is good because all of the signs are in Danish and so when I'm lost I can just walk right up to the Danes and plea for help.