Tag Archives: Croatia

For My Croatian Friends

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I played UNO tonight, and thought of you. I taught your rules to the kids I was playing with, as well as the Croatian words for “yellow” and “green.” I couldn’t remember the words for “red” and “blue.”

Playing that card game made me miss you all. All my students. All my friends. The ones I call my “Croatian family.”

I can’t go back to Croatia this year. I get a little heart-broken when I think about that. But you see, English class ends on the day my fiance and I get married. I’m really, really excited about getting married. I wouldn’t move this wedding date for anything. But if I could take the whole summer off and fly to Croatia anyway, I would. But I can’t. Not this year.

I will miss you. I will miss your curiosity, your energy, your eagerness. I will miss the sound of your language, which I was beginning to understand just as I left last summer. I will miss your wildness. I will miss your smiles and the drawings you would leave me on the chalkboard after class.

I will miss drilling vocabulary words. I will miss telling you stories about Jesus.

I will miss listening to you talk about the things that are important to you.

So, remembering all those things you told me you wished for, I wish for you the following:

That you will get to go to America one day. Because you all told me you wanted to do that.

That you will all get to visit Britain one day, because you all wanted to do that, too.

And the one girl who wanted to go to Brazil–I hope you go.

I hope you get the jobs of your dreams. I hope you make friendships that will last forever.

And if I could bring you all over here where I am, if only to make you feel as at home as you’ve made me feel every summer for the last three years, I would. In a second.

And I wish you’d all get to know God in the way I know Him. Because He loves you far more than I ever could.

All the best,

Teacher

How to Earn Gypsy Credentials

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Being a gypsy should be considered a legitimate career choice. By “gypsy” I mean someone who lives minimally and maximally all at once–someone who wanders because the world can’t be left unexplored, but improvises to cover the costs of the road. I’m pursuing professional gypsying as a lifelong career, and I’m trying to get experience in the field however I can. Here are a few tricks I learned in my recent travels.

  1. Live out of a backpack for a day or two.
  2. Use your musical instrument case as a chair.
  3. Be conversant in a language other than your own. You make more friends this way.
  4. Forget to brush your hair. Remember that braids cover a multitude of hair sins.
  5. And forget about makeup. And washing your face. Basically just stop caring about what you look like and enjoy yourself.
  6. Do yoga in public places. Like a hotel hallway.
  7. Accept your BO. I mean, take measures to prevent it, but don’t be disgusted when it happens. We all sweat.   
  8. Read and sing by a river. Alone or in a group.
  9. Wash your clothes in a sink. Line dry.
  10. Sterilize water with a kettle.
  11. Eat what you’re served and be grateful. Even if it’s pickled beets.
  12. Use only one pair of shoes for two weeks.
  13. Sleep on the floor in an airport. Bonus points if you use a scarf as a blanket.
  14. Write. Everything. Down.

Adventures make you do all kinds of unexpected things. I can’t wait to learn more!

 

Hitting the Road

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Our week of teaching is over. I’m tempted to say that it’s all downhill from here, but this is Croatia, where surprises wait around every corner and occasionally point radar guns at you.

Tomorrow we go hiking. Transporting eleven people in a nine passenger van has proven an interesting juggling challenge, but we’ve thrown an extra van into the mix to carry the two extra. Now, if we can just keep from being pulled over to have our papers checked by the friendly neighborhood policija we’ll be in good shape.

I will be glad for the exercise. I’ve not had or made the time to go running or do yoga. I feel like a hippo with gland problems. But tomorrow we;ll be hiking for hours, so I’ve got a lot of exercise to look forward to.

On to sleep, and to peaceful dreams. So long as my alarm gets me up in the morning.

 

Fond Farewells

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A week ago, my AB and I arrived in Croatia. We were tired and hungry, and our hair was really messy and our luggage was somewhere in Belgium.

Now I’m at least five pounds fatter (he’s still as slim as a rail), tired but happy and utterly enchanted by this beautiful country.

There’s a horrible thought lingering in the back of my brain. A thought that’s creeping closer and closer into the foreground: this may be my last year here.

Of course, I say that every year. The first year that I said that because I thought the missions trip was a one-time deal that I was using to figure my life out. I came back anyway. Last year I said I wouldn’t come back because I’d be going to grad school far from home. That changed, so here I am.

Now I can’t go back because my graduate assistant contract lasts for twelve months and I get ten days off all year. So maybe if I don’t get sick or need to have emergency surgery or don’t celebrate Christmas, I could go back. But only if.

My grad program lasts two years. So for two years, no Croatia for me. My students will grow up and leave town. My students I taught when I first came will be in college. And when I’m done with grad school, I have no idea where I’ll be or what I’ll be doing. Well, I have an idea, but I don’t know if I’ll be able to do that and go teach English in Croatia at the same time. Money doesn’t grow on trees.

My fear is that returning to Croatia becomes one of those things I hope I’ll be able to do every year, but year after year will roll by without giving me a chance to return.

But I know if God wants me back, He’ll send me back. If not, He’ll find something else for me to do.

But a slice of my heart will always be here, in that little classroom in the school on the top of the hill.  

Sounds

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I hear the frogs quacking in the river.

I hear cars whooshing by on the narrow roads below my window.

I hear the television chattering in the room next door.

I hear the mosquito trying to latch itself to my ear.

I hear the Islamic call to prayer, its eerie undulations rippling over the river from Bosnia.

I hear the creaks and groans of this old hotel, the doors opening and closing.

I hear the crickets calling.

I hear the steady rise and fall of my breathing, the erratic tapping of my fingers on the keyboard, and the gentle breeze stirring the gauzy curtains that separate my private room from the provincial world outside.

I hear my dreams calling me to sleep.

How I Am

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You ask how I am?

Well-fed. Today I had meatloaf and Spanish rice for lunch. The meatloaf had whole eggs baked into it, as if beef didn’t have enough protein. There was a side dish of what I call Croatian cole slaw, with is essentially shredded cabbage with vinegar poured on it. It was delicious, and there was even a real vegetable involved.

Healthy. Despite the lack of fresh veggies (for the most part, anyway), I have stayed active and I’m drinking plenty of water. I’m avoiding tap water for the time being, since there was flooding recently and you just shouldn’t trust the water when these tings happen. However, the floods have subsided, so I feel okay with washing my face and brushing my teeth with tap water. I buy 1.5 liter containers of water from the corner store for drinking and tea making (since I wised up and brought a kettle and a mug this year). So far I have not died of dysentery.

Cold. I never thought I’d say that during a summer trip to Croatia, but it’s just downright chilly outside. It’s rained every day that we’ve been in the village, which keeps the temperatures down. I thought we’d be lucky for weather in the 70s, but it’s dropped as low as 65 degrees so far. Honestly, the one year I didn’t bring a jacket or an umbrella…

Content. I’m in my favorite little village in the world with my dear friend. I feel foolish asking for anything more.

And apparently rather tired. I put my head on the pillow after lunch thinking I’d close my eyes for a little snooze before writing a blog post and working on lesson plan stuff. I passed out for two hours and missed the van taking us to the other town. I don’t teach there, so that’s okay. Four of us teachers remained behind, so I’m sure we’ll think of something to do.

So that is how I am. God has been good to us. The last piece of lost luggage arrived today (did I mention our whole team got their luggage late?), we have good students, and we are having a blast.

All Grown Up

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My first thought when they entered the room was “Oh, thank goodness, they’re back.” Three students I’d taught the year before who brought a friend who’s the sister of a girl I taught last year. I like teaching familiar faces. For selfish reasons, mostly. I don’t have to learn their learning styles because I already have. And I love teaching familiar faces. They’re delightful girls, and I’ve carried them in my heart for over a year now.

My second thought was, “Heavens. They grew.”

One grew about three inches and has long hair and braces. Another who was short and chubby a year ago is almost as tall as I am and slender. They’re all taller—they’re in that stage where they don’t really know what to do with their feet and are going to start looking worriedly into mirrors more often. Not that they need to. They haven’t stopped being beautiful. But their beauty is definitely changing.

The boys. I didn’t teach these boys, but I’d stand in last year when I was needed. The chunkiest one with the squeakiest voice is now looking down at me and his voice has dropped with his gaze. The other two, on the other hand, look exactly the same. A little taller, maybe, but their voices are just the same and still look small and boyish. Boys’ tendency to bloom late is perhaps one of the cruelest twists of pubescent fate, but I know that they’ll turn into men eventually.

No matter how they look or how old they get, they’re all lovely to me. They are precious in His sight, and so they are precious in mine.

Home Sweet Hotel

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My AB and I have settled into the Hotel. He has a room facing the main road, and I have a room facing the river. As I type, I am listening to the confusing sound of frogs quacking. Yes, frogs quack in Croatia.

We really have it made as a team. We don’t sleep on the floor in some beleaguered pastor’s living room for a week. No, we sleep in a hotel. The nicest joint in town, in fact. We are served breakfast and a huge lunch which holds us over until the next day (at least in theory). We get comfy beds with clean linens, hot showers, and plenty of room to spread out and settle in.

Of course, this is Croatia, and as wonderful as this country is, there are a few quirks to the Hotel that you won’t see in America. Of course, the fact that it wouldn’t happen in America doesn’t mean it’s bad.

There’s no air conditioning. Well, there is air conditioning—an open window, an electric fan, and many prayers for rain. But not the instant gratification kind of air conditioning.

The food is delicious, authentic, and hearty. But the Hotel is not an American restaurant. You don’t order from a menu. You eat what they bring you or do without. I and my intestines would prefer a large salad after eating nothing but white bread for breakfast for the last few days, but I’ll inevitably receive some variation on a theme of pork, potatoes, and bread.

The hot showers are always piping hot. In a country where all the water is heated in water tanks on the roof, finding somewhere where the water is always hot is a pleasant rarity. The trouble is, since the water tanks are on top of the roof, the water is always hot. You have to wait for cold water in the hot days. Tap water is hot. Shower water is hot. If you’ve over heated to the point of wanting an ice cold shower, you’ll just have to wait about fifteen to thirty minutes for the cold water. The shower is narrow and enclosed by frosty glass doors on a track. There will always be a puddle on the floor outside your shower afterwards. And spiders inside the shower that will require clever and swift eradication.

But it’s a nice place. The service is great, the scenery is great, the location is ideal (five minutes from the school and five steps from the river), and it gives us all and ideal place to rest when we’re not teaching and prep for lessons together as a team.

I’d give is five stars just for that.

Hit the Ground Running

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So we slept. We ate. I went to bed at nine and slept until 8, which is the most sleep I’ve gotten since I graduated college. I honestly feel like I could go back for a nap.

Since our luggage is still in limbo, I slept in borrowed pajamas and smell like someone else’s body wash. But no one else on the team has their luggage yet, so we’re all in the same boat.

Today we discuss lessons plans and let the police know that we’re living here for a while. Actually, I’m not sure what the day will hold, but that’s the way things go while I’m here. Business as usual.

We start teaching on Monday. Come hail or high water, both of which are completely possible.

Two Drifters

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I leave for Croatia tomorrow.

All—I repeat all—of my support came in. All of my support, and a little over. The Lord has provided everything I need for the trip, plus a little extra.

The thing about this year’s teaching excursion is that I’m not going alone. I’m taking my adventure buddy with me (he will have a suitable pseudonym as soon as I can come up with one). Having his company on this trip will be awesome because A) traveling abroad alone is lamesauce and B) he’s the awesomest human I know.

Funny story about that—I intended to bring four people with me this year. Three had expressed serious interest in joining the Croatia TEFL team, and were taking steps to come along. I asked AB to come with me (kind of on a whim, kind of not), and he said yes. Woo!

But three of the four I recruited decided not to come. One girl discovered that the Lord wanted her in a camp ministry this summer instead, another needed to complete the internship required for her major, and the third—well, I’m not really sure where he got off to. So that left me and my AB.

Tomorrow, we’re off to see the world. Well, not the world. Just Croatia. But we figure that’s a pretty good start.

Over the next two weeks, I’ll be chronicling our travels from airports and our cozy hotel in the town where we’re teaching. I’ll add the disclaimer that I may not have internet access every day, so I may break my post-a-day goal during our travels. But I’ll write every day, I promise.

 

 

P.S.: (In case you’re curious, my Adventure Buddy blogs here. His writing is all kinds of awesome, so you should drop everything you’re doing and go check it out. If nothing else, at least scroll through to find his poems. Seriously. Do this thing.)

A Little Help

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I return to Croatia in less than a month.

I’ve made such good friends over there. I count my students (and our translators) as my friends.

But they are friends in need. I hope to return and resume my role as conversational English coach. I hope also to build on the connections I’ve made in the past and reaffirm the truth of the Gospel in their minds in the hopes it will reach their hearts.

For those of you who don’t know, for the last several summers I’ve gone to a remote town in Croatia to teach English to Croatian high schoolers. I’m more of a conversation coach than a teacher—the kids already know English, but it’s hard to find a native speaker who can help them review and refine their knowledge of the English language and American culture. Croatians want to learn good English so they can get good jobs with good international companies—since their own economy is not so good.

I and my team fill another need—the need of the Gospel. Many of these children are raised catholic, but only know God as an impersonal entity—an element of complicated and probably useless tradition. But we want to show them that God is real, that His Son died in their place, and because of that they can have eternal life. Sans works, sans priests, sans doubts, sans fear. My students don’t know that. It’s my mission to let them know.

But I need a bit of help getting there. Money, sadly, doesn’t grow on trees. Even if it does, I certainly am not in possession of one of these trees.

I have $1,646.22 left to raise for the trip. I leave in less than a month.

Oddly, I’m not panicking. A little concerned, maybe. But I’m not panicking. Honestly, if I don’t raise the full amount, I’ll still be fine.

Still, every little bit helps. Wishing alone does not a gypsy make. Dreams won’t fund travel, as much as we might wish it to.

So I’m putting my hat out on the curb, and I’m playing my violin as sweetly as I can. Dear readers, if you would feel inclined to drop a quarter or two in my hat, I’d be ever so grateful.

I opened a GoFundMe account. It’s a website where people throw their hats to the curb and hope people will drop pennies in them.

The link to my page is here: http://www.gofundme.com/95ot2k

Even if you can’t (won’t, would rather not) contribute—and believe me, I understand why you might not want to—please pray for me. Money can get me there, I suppose, but my ministry is lifeless without prayer.

There. The pitch is over. The Croatia posts are coming up, and I’m very, very excited about what the Lord has in store this year. 

Back Home

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So we find ourselves back where we started. Back in the national pastor’s house, well rested and very, very well fed.

This is also the house where the keyboard is set to Croatian mode, so if I type a “z” I get a “y” and vice versa. So if zou see anz weird tzpos, that’s whz.

I had forgotten how lovely it is to sleep for a solid ten hours. I have a very long Monday ahead of me, so I’m trying to stock up on sleep, if such a thing is possible.

Teaching is over for another year at least. It was harder to leave this year. Number one, for every inch we stepped towardy the car to leave the school, our students pulled us back a foot or so. Number two, I love my students, and for all I know, last night was the last time I’ll ever see them. Of course, a few of my older female students informed me that they are going to hold auditions for a Croatian husband for me–if I married a Croatian, I’d have to stay, they said. I told them “good luck.”

You know, last year I considered this trip a one-time thing. I would go, I would do my teaching thing, I’d leave, and I’d never come back. But somehow, after two years in a row, these people have become my people in a sense. While I am positive that God does not want me here on a permanent basis, I would come back every summer if I could. This is a dark land. So many people have never heard the liberating truth of the Gospel. The children here that I love do not yet know the love of Christ. I want to keep coming back to tell them again and again.

I am not much of a person. I am no great teacher. I am no great evangelist. There are amny things I love to do, none of which are areas in which I am proficient. But there are few things I’d rather do than be used of God to tell others of Himself. I have discovered in 21 years of living that there are fewer things more exciting than that.

I am praying already towards whether or not I should return next year. So many doors flew wide open this year that I feel I’d be a fool not to use another summer walking through them. As my Croatian mother says often, “It’s in God’s hands.” At the very least, my goal this year will be to tell people about Croatia and the incredible needs there. Maybe I’ll bring people with me next year. I’d love to.

But for now, I’m back home for a short rest before hitting the road again. So much is up in the air, and so will I be in a few days. Up in the air and headed home.

 

Croatia

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Did I mention I’m going back to Croatia this summer?

Well, I am.

Those of you who were following The Risible Rambler last year may recall that trip. I could blog about nothing else. I mean, I was in Croatia, for crying out loud. How often in your life do you get to go to Croatia?

The experience changed my life. In a good way. The trip came after the most turbulent semester of my life. I was rebuilding last summer. Rebuilding everything. I was rubble at the end of my sophomore year of college. Everything I had been before that year had been systematically torn down, and not by me. I was left with a pile of bricks and a memory of a blueprint.

And then, that summer, I found myself rebuilding in a country very much in need of rebuilding. I landed in a country full of people who were still aching from the war that wiped out a generation of Croatian men and raised a generation of children afraid to play in the forests for fear of landmines.

I taught English. I’m not sure how I did, actually—me, with no gift for teaching and no great gift with children. But my students were, in a word, brilliant. They were thrilled to be learning things, thrilled to meet an American, and thrilled to show me their culture. I made friends with them, and had several chances to give them the truth of God’s Gospel. Best thing in the world.

The Croatian pastor and his wife practically adopted me. Our communication was limited—I speak broken German and they are fairly fluent, so we scraped together a few good conversations—but their selflessness and their unconditional love was inspirational.

Long story short, I fell in love last summer. I fell in love with a country and the people of that country. I fell in love with travel. I fell in love with God all over again.

I debated as to whether or not I should go back. After all, this is my last summer as a college student. I could spend it working or applying to graduate schools. Or just chilling, prepping my academic muscles for the oncoming rigors of a packed senior year.

But that’s just it. This is the last summer of my college career. I didn’t want to spend it on myself. I had the thought over Christmas that this might be my last summer on earth. You never know what might happen—human life is such a fragile thing. I didn’t want to spend what could be my last summer twiddling my thumbs while there are people out there who have never heard the Gospel.

So I’m going. On June 14th, I’ll be flying back to Croatia, my home away from home, armed with a camera and a box of lesson material.

I love adventure.