Tuesday, April 27, 2010


"The most incredible thing about miracles is that they happen" G.K. Chesterton

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fun With Croatian

I'm not one of those people who love learning languages.  If you do, more power to you.  For me, it's honestly been the toughest thing about moving to Croatia. 

There are, however, little nuggets of fun at times.  Like when you discover that you can say something in Croatian that English doesn't have a word for.  Or when you can do funny little word plays that most people wouldn't appreciate. Or when you find phrases you would never use in English when translated literally.  Here are three examples:

3. Moja Žena (My woman).  I just couldn't use this phrase to refer to my wife for the first two years I lived here.  ("Hi! Would you like to meet my woman?)  Instead I would say moja supruga - which is formal and awkward and means "my spouse who is female".  All the married men I know refer to their wife as moja žena and now I do too.  By the way, doesn't it seem a little strange that if a husband says "my woman" (in English) it means they're incredibly chauvinist, but if a wife says "that's my man" it means she's with a hunk with a great sense of humor and good with kids?  Just saying.

2. Bez veze (Without connection): I love this one.  When you stub your toe, do you say "WITHOUT CONNECTION!"?  Croatians who don't swear do.  Which leads me to swearing.  As a person who doesn't swear I was presented with the challenging question of "Do I learn the Croatian swears or not?" The argument went as follows:  If I know the curse words, when I hear a teenager yell or read the grafiti on a building then I'll know not to repeat it.  My wife (woman?) made a good point on that one: "Just don't repeat anything you hear a teenager say or read on a wall."  On the other hand, if I don't know the swears then when I'm scanning my brain for the correct word to use, a swear word won't accidently surface and slip out of my mouth.  Either way, Bez Veze! will have to be my outburst of choice. 

1. Ležeći policajac (A policeman who is lying down): You'd never guess it - this is the Croatian term for "speedbump".  Maybe this picture will help you go over speedbumps more slowly...or perhaps more quickly?

This has been fun with Croatian.  Until next time...

Thursday, April 15, 2010

My Turn

I just turned 3 months old. 
And I know you probably think I'm too young to blog.  But Daddy's posts are getting way too long.  And my brother?  There's nothing he likes more than playing outside these days.  Yesterday he rolled himself down the hill and fell face-first into a mud puddle. 

I loved watching the various reactions:
As for me?  I'm happy to just sit here.  
Ian - the content younger brother

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Acting the Part

After thinking about it, Croatian isn't the first second language I've tried to learn.  And I'm not referring to the German course I took in college.  No, it was in the summer of 1998 - the same year 2 phonies brought baseball back to the fore and I was stuck in U.S. Marine Corps boot camp at Parris Island South Carolina

Four men with Smokey Bear "covers" began pounding new values into my life.  One was the importance of a rifle.  Short of sleeping with it, I learned that it was my best friend.  (We've since parted ways.)  Another was physical toughness and endurance.  I never won any of the pugil stick fights, but at least I could run.  The third was learning a new language. 

Every sentence began and ended with "sir".  I had been reduced to a "recruit" at best, while the people in charge of me had at least 4 words that came before their name: "Drill Instructor Staff Sargeant so and so".
Beds were "racks".  Heads were "grapes".  Floors were "decks".  People outside our elite club were "civilians".   I only had 3 months to learn the new Marine language.

And learn it I did.  When I got home, not even my family or the baseball playoffs could loosen my grip on my new set of values.  Don Zimmer was a "nasty civilian" because he had put on a bit too much weight and I would soon have to educate my brother in the skill of eating breakfast in under one minute or he would have no hope of becoming like me one day.

I was assigned to recruiters assistance soon after completing boot camp.  My duty was to help the recruiter.  Because I was on the lowest possible rung of the ladder, I had to do anything he told me to do.  All of a sudden the nice guy who promised to do whatever he could to get me in to the Corps was giving me "missions" that didn't make any sense. 

On the first day however, my recruiter wasn't there.  There was another Marine (of even higher rank) who saw me walk in and started giving me orders.  One of the things he told me was even though I was on time, I was to be early the next day.  I responded with "Sir, yes sir".  He continued by explaining that I would no longer need to use "sir" as a prefix and suffix. "Sir, yes, sir!" I exclaimed.  It was only after the conversation ended that I realized my mistake. 

Sure I knew the language, but I had been taught to respond in a way that was less than genuine.  In fact, I had been taught to answer without thinking.  I wasn't expressing myself. The military ought to be proud of themselves.  They're able to teach new behaviors, a new language, even a new way of life.  But in only 3 months it's close to impossible to make those behaviors genuine if they weren't part of your daily life before boot camp. 

The biggest reason I'm struggling with Croatian is that I have a hard time acting.  If I sit down for coffee with a friend, I want to get to know them.  How can I be genuine when the focus is on me creating a sentence with correct grammar, pronunciation and up-to-date vocabulary that fits the context of the conversation?  I can't.  So I resort to English - because that's how I know how to express myself genuinely. 

Or take prayer for example.  As a proper Evangelical, I grew up praying from the heart.  That certainly didn't mean we couldn't pray the Lord's Prayer or occassionally read prayers from a book, but still I was encouraged to pray with my own words expressing my own gratitude, needs and praise.  How can I pray in a languae that I hardly know?  How can I communicate with God in less than genunine way?

Practice.  The more I acted like a Marine, the more I became a Marine (for better or worse).  The more I act like I speak Croatian fluently the closer I come to speaking the language.  It's not an overnight change.  It's going to take more than 3 months - more than 3 years for crying out loud!  But eventually I will speak Croatian fluently and genuinely. 

In the meantime, Croatian friends, thank you for helping me become a better actor.

Friday, April 9, 2010

How is your Vision?

This was taken on Easter as I was trying out the timer setting on my new camera.  The camera has an auto focus, but it doesn't necessarily focus on what you want it to...automatically.

I've been digesting a "must read" for Christians who are concerned about ministry and church leadership called Let My People Grow.  In it, Michael Harper has this to say about clearer thinking:
The story of Peter walking on water is familiar to us. In Matthew 14:31 Jesus said to Peter 'Oh man of little faith, why did you doubt?'  The Greek word for doubt (distazo) is an interesting one. The commonly held view of this story is that Peter looked away from Jesus and saw the waves.  But the use of this verb suggests something different.  The word literally means 'standing and looking where two ways come together'.  The truth is that Peter looked first at Jesus, then at Jesus and the waves simultaneously.
Peter was looking at two opposite things at the same time.  Double vision instantly confused him, causing him to sink. 

When I take a picture, I have to decide on what I'm trying to capture.  Enoh has proven to be one of my favorite targets, but if I want a clear picture of him I can't focus on the background.  On the other hand if I want a shot of the Orahovica mountains, I have to change my focus.  If I try to split the difference, I'll have a completely blurry picture.

Peter's initial decision to get out of the boat just so he could be part of what Jesus was doing was incredibly focused.  But as soon as the waves came, he lost it. 

How is your vision?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Sharing the Road

Like many of the other potential driving hazards I've experienced in Croatia, this was one that was never covered in my American drivers education class:  

Let me reiterate: On Croatian roads, the drivers of normal everyday cars are at the bottom of the totem pole.  As we approached this scene, there was no sense of urgency on the part of the shepherds to get their sheep off the street.  In fact, the road was probably the only place for them.  The cars had to go around the sheep, just like they have to go around tractors, wheelchairs, bicyclists, kids, horses, carriages, parked cars or anything else in the middle of the road. 

Of course, in America, drivers would try to avoid hitting any of these things too.  But the difference is that here the road is for everyone.  Anyone and anything is welcome on Croatian byways, whether it's moving (sheep), or not moving (parked cars).  Our job as drivers is to accomodate everyone else's desire to use the road in the way they please.

Am I complaining?  No.  I appreciate the fact that in Croatia I have the opportunity to share the road with a diversity of travelers.  But it's still shocking at times.