Christmas in October

IMG_1862Life loses its magic quickly. We grow up. Time instills in us fears that blind us to adventure, experiences which numb us to hope, and burdens that overshadow the lonely free spirit that sits caged in the corner of our souls. I tend to be a child most of the time.

For better and for worse, the process of becoming an adult has been a slow one for me. (The fact that I ate cookies for lunch and skipped dinner today may indicate as much).

But one of the advantages of going through spurts of ten-year-oldisms is the delightfully squeelish feeling of joy in circumstances beyond our control – like a perfect day, a letter from home, warm socks after walking through the rain.

Most often I get that feeling at school when I’m walking through empty corridors at the end of a good day and the windows are letting in soft sunshine. My footsteps echo. My shadow follows me along the wall of classrooms. My fingers clench so as not to scare the cleaning ladies at the end of the hall as I physically attempt to restrain my desire to burst into giggles or song or both. It’s that feeling like you don’t want to be anywhere else in the world at that moment but right where you are. It’s like Christmas morning.

But lately I’ve been bogged down with the grown-up side of life. The side which says I need to start thinking about my plans for next year, my friendships back home, my goals, my future… It’s hard to have those spasms of joy when you’re worried about tomorrow.

Last weekend I accepted an invitation to visit a friend and her family in a South Bohemian town called Česky Budejovice. I was looking forward to a weekend away from my regular rigmarole (though still letting it sit in the form of stress in the high priority seating located towards the front of my mind), but my friend doesn’t speak much (any?) English and I had never met her daughter (who is my age and attends a University in Prague).

For those of you who may not fully appreciate the total immersion language experience – it’s terrifying. Especially if your best (and only?) quality is putting people at ease through conversation. But that aside, it takes tremendous mental effort to be concentrating on understanding and responding in another language all day, to the point where you feel physically exhausted. We take it for granted both how much we use language and how little we need to think about it. And it’s just embarrassing having to pause before every word and still mix up conjugations, declensions, and vocabulary.

So it was with a brave face and a lot of trepidation that I walked into Ivana’s modest apartment and met her daughter, Katka. Continue reading

Kitten in a Dog Fight

I am a teacher. These are my stories.

The Smack-Down

Usually, my classes consist of 12-15 mildly well-behaved children. There are a few exceptions to this (read: all of my fourth grade classes). But the behavior levels in class are directly related to the number of students in the class.

Imagine my surprise when I walked into a classroom of not 15 but 30 ten-year olds. Occasionally teachers will get sick and their students get shuffled to another teacher (usually whoever is working the same subject for that grade).

I had not prepared for 30 students. I think they could sense it because they were sitting on tables and throwing paper planes and about eight of them were wearing very obvious smirks. I took roll for my half of the class and prayed that nobody from the other half was missing.

Sixty eyeballs split into my forehead and I took a deep breath. Then it all unraveled.

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Princess Cucumber

“Learn the language,” my Dad said as we drove towards LAX beneath rumbling gray clouds. “Aside from sharing the Gospel, learning the language is the most important thing you can do over there.”

Every year for Christmas and my birthday my Dad gets me another book of Czech language guides or maps of Prague (except for last Christmas – he got me a “Basics to Cooking” DVD series and I can’t help but think it may have been a reaction to some of my less-than-successful holiday baking). My Dad loves words and languages and he not only passed the word-worm to me but has gently pushed that worm into a rabid, man-eating insect. I’ve become obsessed with learning as much Czech as I can as fast as I can, at the expense of regular conversation.

Of the many awesome things I have and will get to do to help missionaries Jerry and Marilyn this summer, English Camp is one of the highlights. For three years I’ve heard about how awesome English Camp is – ten days of English lessons followed by crazy games, outlandish skits, day hikes and tons and tons of wonderful people. Jerry and Marilyn prepare for it all year and by the time I arrived in June they had already begun “the sweat shop.” Seven of us stapled, folded, stacked, sorted and hole-punched enough paper in three days to make a significant dent in the rain forest. Jerry was good enough to keep me sufficiently drugged with authentic Czech chocolate during the process.

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