Archive for October, 2012

In the Spotlight

October 29, 2012

The jungle heat emanating from the newly installed radiators of the old Soviet building’s major league heating system threatened to activate my armpits’ sweat glands and noticeably dampen my blue dress shirt. That or nerves. It didn’t really matter which it was. Sweat is sweat. I rolled up my sleeves…the last line of defense for a man who has already removed his jacket, and perhaps a nice figure of speech for what would be an hour speaking in front of the room.

As the dancing shades did their best to contain the rare Polish sunshine while cold blasts of air penetrated the room, I was being introduced as Mr. It sounded a bit strange. Then again, an American in Poland talking about Armenia is kind of strange. What a strange road that I took to come to this place, this moment. I looked out on the room of faces and wondered if they’d understand me.

Twenty four slides, 1 awkward swallow (I always manage at least one), and countless words later I was finished. The braver students asked me some questions, which were great. Success.

It felt nice to share something with them. As any RPCV (Returned Peace Corps Volunteer) probably understands, the opportunity to talk about your second country is a thing to be coveted. I was also impressed with their English. They seemed to understand most of what I said. I think it’s easy to take for granted when someone else has learned a language, especially yours. If you sit back and think about how those students had to work for every word they know, the respect sets in.

All in all it went really well. I’m glad I did it!

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The Moment’s Thoughts

October 23, 2012

This post has no theme. It is a place for me to have diarrhea of the fingertips and put my 60 GWAM typing skills to use. Apologies in advance.

I guess I should start with how I’m feeling and how things are going here, since people tend to ask about that.

I feel pretty good. There are lots of things to be happy about I suppose: I am hanging out in Poland, I have an apartment of all my own, I have a TV which I use to listen to Polish news broadcasts until I pick up a word or two, I can take showers whenever I want, I have a fridge with good stuff inside, my bed is comfy, and most importantly I am in good health, have great family and friends, and the future is in front of me.

There are some things to not be happy about too: the Cardinals didn’t win Game 7, I couldn’t watch any of it, Bobby Valentine wasn’t calling games, and I can’t understand Polish. Maybe there are more but on the surface right now that’s about it. Seeing as 3 of my problems are baseball-related I think I’ve got it easy.

Oh yeah, I am unemployed. Should that go in the first group or the second group?

When people ask how Poland is I tell them that it’s pretty good. I think it would be better if I had work, but maybe that’s just wishful thinking. Regardless, I did apply to a bunch of jobs here last winter and had 0 success, so it’s not really for lack of trying. There’s only so much you can do as a non-EU passport holder (teach English). And I decided to not try to hawk my English teaching skills (or lack thereof).

But I have decided to try and do something. I contacted a local university and have an appointment tomorrow to go talk with an English lecturer about giving a presentation to her class next week. The idea is that I will present something on Armenia in English for them. It’s a win-win because they get to practice their English skills, learn something about the Caucasus (at this school they all have a focus on Russia and the old USSR gang), and get out of a normal lesson. And I get to force myself upon a group of poor students and talk about Armenia ad nauseum. If it goes well then I can take the show to other classes or start discussion groups or something.

I also have an acquaintance who is interested in improving her English. I am excited to help this person improve, despite the contradiction it might appear to create with what I wrote earlier. This would be voluntary work, or at least not done in exchange for currency (I would kindly accept a comestible of the Polish variety, however).

I feel a bit guilty as I have no real muse now. Next time, next time.

Foreign Country Reflux

October 11, 2012

Cześć! If this is a book, then this is definitely a new chapter or something. I even started a new Word doc in order to bask in the inconsequential fact that this part of my life is somehow different from the rest. The last Word doc, started on May 31st, 2010, is 188 pages and 115,347 words. The average novel is around 64,000 words. Did I really ramble for almost 2 books about my adventures in Peace Corps Armenia?

As hard as it is sometimes to accept that the grand Armenian journey is now over, I must do so. It’s time to move on. And that’s exactly what I’m doing by becoming gainfully employed and truly contributing to society once again, rather than living off of the government’s teat as a white-knight grass roots development worker in the developing world watching Game of Thrones on my laptop instead of integrating in the community.

Oh, wait. No. Nope. I am unemployed and hanging out in Europe. Specifically, I am writing you from Poznań, Poland. Not sure where it is? Don’t worry. Not sure how to pronounce the name of the city with that funny n thing? Don’t worry, me neither.

As we all know, Poznań is just southwest of Bydgoszcz

This is the part where we talk about how it’s going. The first week went really quickly because I was searching for an apartment. The second week went pretty quickly too. It is pretty cool to get to feel the European side of things again. After all, Armenia was a big mashup of Europe, Middle East, and Asia, so it’s fun to experience something that reminds me of that special place. As I predicted, it was a breath of fresh air to be here after struggling with a few things about the culture of my own country. And since I’d been here before, it wasn’t such a huge shock to come back.

But. There’s always a but. I never stayed here for more than 10 days. I was never anything more than a tourist. And the tourist experiences the country in a certain way while a resident (or perhaps I’m a long-term tourist) sees it differently. That sets the stage for the main idea of this post, which is that foreign countries will give you heartburn.

I don’t actually have heartburn guys. But recently I do feel all agitated as if I have some serious esophageal burnination going on. It’s not one big pain in the ass but rather death by a thousand paper cuts.

It’s not just that I’m back to hand washing laundry again in some cruel twist of fate. It’s that the sun hasn’t come out for days. It’s that I have to sort my garbage. It’s that my windows are drafty. It’s that the water tastes a little different. It’s that I don’t understand anything, again. It’s that I’m not quite sure how to do anything. It’s that the electric water heater always manages to run out of hot water before I’m done with my speed shower. It’s that the toilet seat doesn’t stay up. It’s that the whole bathroom is the size of the bathtub in an American bathroom. It’s that the cashiers and clerks are more miserable than Sally Struthers on Slimfast. It’s that they have way too many coins and everybody wants exact change. It’s that life is lived according to the train schedule instead of according to what you feel like doing. It’s that I make countless comparisons to life in Armenia when in fact THIS IS NOT ARMENIA. It’s that I’m not really sure what I’m doing with myself or what will be. And it’s also that I somehow need to figure it out while getting over this stuff.

Poland is cool. I like a lot of things about this place. But it is still a foreign country for me, and one that I’m not at all used to yet. It’s only been 2 weeks. That’s nothing. I need way more time to get used to the way things are here and to accept what I cannot change. Over time it will get a lot less frustrating and instead become endearing to me. The language scales will ever-so-slowly tip in my favor if I put in enough work. If anything this is a slap in the face and a reminder of just how hard and insane Armenia was in the first months.

So, we’re back to celebrating small victories in life. Today I bought bread. That was my victory. It was the first time that I went to a bakery that has everything behind the counter (which requires ::GASP:: speaking!). I was nervous about it. I thought about it a lot. It seemed like something that could wait until I was curled up in the fetal position with my muscles atrophying from starvation. But on my gooey inside I just knew that going into that bakery was my battle for today. I walked in and looked around carefully. My eyes zeroed in on my loaf of choice. The lady in front of me paid and the clerk’s head popped around the side.

“Proszę.”

Swallow. Execute speech command, Slavic style! I did my best to regurgitate my practiced line of, “that bread please.”

It worked. Fiat currency was exchanged for some chleb (bread). And now my victory is digesting in my stomach. That’s good enough for today.

I can build on this. And I can eat it!