Friday, October 29, 2010

Culture Shock in the Melting Pot

It was the most mellow sound I had heard in years.  A slow ballad backed a smooth trumpet melody and accompanied the delightful five minute interval between my descent into the Boston T-station and my entrance onto the red-line train.

My hearing wasn't the only sense stimulated by an everyday event everyone else was accustomed to.  The diversity of the soon-to-be passengers both entertained and confused my vision.  "Where am I?", I had to ask, despite the fact that I knew I was in melting-pot America and more specifically Quincy Massachusetts - only 5 subway stops from the heart of Boston.

Quincy is classic Boston in more ways than one.  Named after John Quincy Adams, it's a city, but a suburb, urban, but historic, diverse but united by its appeal.  The same could be said for Salem - our residence during my final year of college and the most popular place to celebrate Halloween in America.

But the point isn't Quincy, Salem or even Boston.  I'm reminded of the Sunday School song I sang as a kid; "He's got the whole world in his hands".  To take nothing from the Lord's omnipotence, the American City has the whole world in its grasp.  Red, yellow, black and white, urban America is a refreshingly beautiful sight - at least for these sore eyes. 

Take your pick - Pakistani restaurant, Dominican hair-salon, Bosnian night-club or Boston sports bar - it's all here.  The teenager in a burqa who served me coffee this morning instructed her Mexican co-worker how to blend it.  A blind African-American woman asked a second generation Asian student if she could help her find the entrance.  The pipe smoking, thickly bearded Caucasian walked quickly, not noticing the kaleidoscope of skin he passed.

He didn't even think about it because it's home for him.  Home for representatives of every country in the world.  Home for me - even if it's only for three months.  Because even though I'm visiting from another part of the world, I'm among other visitors whose distinction is becoming less about their skin color and more about their decision to stay.

The trumpeter feels at home too.  Or at least that's how the perfect balance of melody, rhythm and acoustics convey itself as it settles ironically into a space originally developed solely for transportation.  The foreign sounds fit in perfectly.

Suddenly a jumpy bossa nova beat interrupts my thoughts and introduces the approaching train.  Off to other sights and sounds.  Off to another diversely united city of America.

Off to another place I could call home. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Orahovica, I will miss you

We're headed to the US of A in just a few days.  Maybe it's the fall weather leaving me with some nostalgia.  Maybe it's the fact that I feel more at home here everyday.  No matter what, there's a lot I'll miss about Orahovica Croatia.  Here are the top 5:

5. The bakery.  Fresh baked rolls for 50 cents.  Bakers who smile pleasantly when I make a mistake in Croatian because they've been part of the learning process with me.  Burek s mesom.  You will be missed. 

4. The scenery.  I know, I know.   I'm headed back to New England and the fall foliage will be fantastic.  But the horses, the river and the beauty of the foothills of Orahovica are tough to leave behind. 

3. Baseball.  "Are you kidding me?" you may ask.  "The World Series starts the day you get to the States and you're complaining about leaving baseball behind?"  Last Sunday we played our best game yet.  These teens and kids have come a long way since we started 3 years ago.  Can't wait for spring BOK!

2. Our church.  The other day we were talking to someone in the States about our sending church.  Turns out, even though we're considered missionaries, our sending church is right here in Orahovica.  They pray for us.  They support us.  They've cared for us tremendously.  We'll miss the corporate worship with Betanija church while we're gone. 

1. Our friends.  Whenever you leave a place, it's always the people you miss most.  No exception here. 

Orahovico, falit' ćeš me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

European Ingenuity Part Deux

You've heard me complain about the roads, driving and parking in Croatia.  You've endured the sob-stories about how many obstacles there are and how many accidents I've been a part of.

But friends, let me tell you about the silver lining.  The light at the end of the tunnel if you will.  Because, while I have lost my love for driving since I moved here, there's a well deserved prize waiting for me when I arrive at my destination in any Croatian city.

For this demonstration we will use Osijek - the city we frequent the most when we venture out of Orahovica.  It's the first place I came across our latest edition of European Ingenuity.

Let me introduce to you the idea of paying by cell-phone.  Maybe you'd call it Mobile Magic if you live in England.  Whatever the case, when in Croatia you'd be terribly behind if you chose to pay for parking the old fashion way.  Dropping coins in the slot?  Phhh!  That's so yesterday.  

Let me show you how it works:

1. As you're looking for a parking spot keep your eye out for this blue parking device.  Once you're there - don't even think about getting out...

2...unless you forgot your license plate number.

3.  Type that number as a text message (make sure you've stopped the car so as not to violate the commitment you made to Oprah) and send the message to the 4-digit number listed on the cell phone in picture number 1.

Folks, that's it.  That's all you have to do.  But what happens after you text the number to City Parking?

1. You'll immediately receive a message confirming your request to park in the beautiful city of Osijek.

2. City Parking will send an approximately 75 cent bill (the price of parking) to your cell phone company which you will pay the next time you pay your monthly cell-phone bill.

3. You may do your shopping, enjoy the sights and sounds or conduct your business without having to worry about when to pay again.  Why?  Because your friendly neighborhood City Parking will notify you via cell phone 10 minutes before your time runs out.  Then all you have to do is repeat steps 1 through 3.

Too bad driving isn't that easy huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lost in Creation

One of the reasons we love Croatia as much as we do is because of the natural beauty.  And it just so happens that Orahovica - the town we live in - offers as many examples of that beauty as any place in Croatia. 

Today, as I prepared the morning must-haves - coffee for myself  and a bottle for Ian - I looked out the window to see 5 horses practically in our backyard.   Every fall, the owner of a nearby corral lets his horses graze on the land right behind ours.  We're fortunate to have them drop by every so often.  This was the scene this morning: 

They seemed to enjoy our company almost as much as we enjoyed theirs so Enoh and I stood watching them for about 10 minutes.  Both of us must have gotten caught up in the situation because as soon as one of the horses snorted we both jumped and laughed. 

What is it about God's creation that causes us to lose ourselves? 

I was reminded of the way David expressed his awe in Psalm 139:
How precious to me are your thoughts oh God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Common Language

If you're a regular here on the Culture Shock weblog, consider yourself privileged. 

No, I don't say that because this is a spectacular blog or anything.  I say it because that means that you are part of the 4 billion people in the world who use English - or "Globish" as Newsweek calls it.  In other words, not only can you read and understand this blog, you are able to speak with, listen to, or understand 67% of the rest of the world when they use English.

While I studied teaching ESL four years ago, we were told that we might someday find ourselves in a situation where 2 people from 2 different parts of the world who speak 2 different languages are communicating in a common second language - English.  They used the example of two businessmen - one Japanese and one Dutch meeting in Cairo, and speaking a language which is native neither to the people nor the land.  "Pretty cool", I thought, "I wonder if I will ever see that?" 

Turns out that I have seen something like it on a few occasions since I've lived in Croatia.   Just this morning, I listenened to a conversation between these two guys:

The one on the left is Croat.  He asked the teenager on the right from Norway to tell him a little about the electronic drumset he was playing as part of the concert they would be putting on this evening in our small town of Orahovica.  They spoke English and understood each other quite well.  Even though Croatian and Norwegian were their native languages, they successfully used a second language to communicate effectively. 
It happens all around the world folks. So while it may not seem like a privilege to speak a language most of the world understands, if English is your native tongue, the fact is the rest of the world is learning how to communicate with you.

Kind of convicting for someone who only knows one language fluently.   Thankfully, it's English.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Have I Ever Told You About Parking Lots/Spots In Croatia?

One of the reasons I update this blog is to inform those who come after me.  Some of the things I've experienced in Croatia have taken me completely by surprise.   For example, I had no idea it was so beautiful here. Have I mentioned the hospitality?  And who would have thought you might have to pay to use the facilities?

Now it's time to add parking lots to the list of things that have taken me off guard.

I've been at fault for 2 car accidents in my 12 years of driving.  Both happened in Croatia.  Both occurred while driving slower than 3 MPH.  And both car accidents were in a parking lot.

Now, I realize am the one at fault.  Not Croatia.  I understand that.  And I've taken full responsibility.  But if you are an American driver who learned how to park at Wal-Mart, just know that things are different here. Parking often involves sidewalks - two tires on, two tires off.  Parking is often very hard to find.  The lines are extremely narrow.  Your car will get scraped by someone else's door.

And people often double-park.

Our good friends the Wilsons came to visit right at the end of the tourist season so we decided to take them to the coast of Croatia.

We made a plan to visit one of their college friends who lived 2-3 hours away.  Because of the fact that between the 3 couples we have 6 kids, we found it adventageous to plan ahead.  On Thursday, we decided to make the trip Saturday.  We would leave the house at such-and-such a time so that we could make the right ferry, that would put us in Split by such-and-such a time so we could see the city but make it back on the ferry by such-and-such a time so the kids could get to bed at a decent time.  Our plan was foolproof.

Until Saturday morning when I went to the car to pack some things before the trip and found that a van had parked right behind us making it impossible to leave the parking lot.  That wouldn't have been so bad except that the van belonged to 1 of 40 fishermen who were already competing in the annual island contest and were spread out along a kilometer of rock on the water.

I stood and looked at the van in disbelief.  Are you kidding me?!?  You park right behind my car and then go and participate in a competition in which you actually have to sit there the whole time and wait for a fish to attach itself your string?

I walked back trying to hold my composure and found a judge.  He was surprisingly very pleasant when I told him the situation with my less-than-perfect Croatian.  He promised to find the culprit.  And he did.  It just so happened that Mr. White Van was near where we were talking.  He agreed to move the van as soon as we were ready to go.  And he did.  And we made our ferry.  And we had a great day. 

So why did I get so frustrated?

Because I'm still not used to it!  I would like to be able to pull smoothly into a wide parking spot, take care of my business and be able to leave without any issue.  I guess I'm a typical American who relies on ease and lots of space.  Often that's not the way it works here though.

I know it's a small thing.  It really is.

Almost as small as the parking spots in Croatia.