Monday, April 22, 2013

I love Tallinn!

Tallinn, Estonia is one of my favorite places in the world! From the moment we got there everything just felt inviting and cozy. If you ever make it to the Baltic states, Tallinn better be number one on your list! Most European cities have an "Old Town" where you have the cobblestone streets and things. They are super fun to visit, but most of them look the same. Tallinn is unique because it has a lot of medieval history. The atmosphere was something you just can't beat.
Tallinn Bound!

 Climbed 258 super narrow, spiral steps to get this view!
I love European streets.

Old city wall

 You get a good experience of old own in just a day or two, so on the third day we headed to the beach! It was FREEZING! My feet hurt so bad just standing in the water. All the natives were walking around in jackets and hats and were looking a us like were were insane. They were possibly right... but whats life if you don't live a little.

 We met the greatest people in Estonia! I know people don't smile too much in the Baltics, and maybe it's just because this city is super touristy, but people were so nice! Like the man who didn't know english but came up and insisted on taking a group photo for us, the lady who worked at the awesome medieval pub who was super fun and generous when we ordered apple pies, the flattering gentleman at the crepe house ;), the guy who knew lost girls when he saw us and steered us in the right direction... Oh Tallinn. I could kiss you!

This was at the Crepe place called the Kompressor. They were hands down, the BEST crepes I've ever eaten in my entire life. The were huge and amazingly satisfying. 

 My other favorite food was from the medival place in town hall. Everything was just a euro! They had thick elk soup and phenomenal apple pies! On top of that, once you got your food you could spear your own homemade pickle from a barrel for free! Kinda like bobbing for apples. I was a pro. Wish i had better pictures but that was us trying to catch a pickle.

                                              Oh, and Tallinn has some sweet graffiti too. :)

If you ever want to travel, put this place on the top of your list!

Viso Gero!

P.s.- Funny story real quick: To say goodbye to various people around town, Kerry and I have been pronouncing that (Vee-sah Geh-dah). Apparently when you are as lame as us, you have been telling the cashiers at the local grocery that "Everyone's Drinking!" for the past three months.

P.s.s- Also... i've been getting a bunch of views in Germany. On the one-in-a-billion chance you're the lady who sat next to me on the plane to Frankfurt- Contact me! I'm headed back your way in just over a week and we should meet up! (*Super wishful thinking)

Friday, April 5, 2013

I'm an international criminal.

 Really. I have the paperwork and everything. What did i do? I bought a "student" bus ticket and i got stopped by the bus police. Apparently, my student status doesn't apply unless i'm a student in the European Union, even if i have an international student card. I feel like Lithuania is being a little discriminatory here. It's 'cause I'm american isn't it??
"What? An american woman can't be a student?"
(See reference:
What's more is that the gentleman who escorted me off the bus proceeded to talk about me with the other officers in Lithuanian and kept mentioning Facebook. If I get Facebook stalked by a random Lithuanian, it's the guy who made me pay a large fine and now wants to friend me. Smooth move. Give me my money back, dirtbag. 

On a lighter note: There is a section of Vilnius that claims to be its own republic called Uzupio. You cross over a bridge from Vilnius into a little artsy section where people just live however makes them happy. They have a constitution about it and everything. It's independence day is on April 1st, when they celebrate in all kinds of weird ways. Kerry (my roommate) and I heard that if you cross the bridge on that day, you get a Uzupio passport stamp. We weren't sure of the validity of the statement, seeing as it was April fools and all. But i still only had one stamp in my passport, so we went and BAM! We got stamped! Go weird, artsy republics!

The Uzupio Angel, representing Artistic freedom for eastern Europe.

The Constitution is  posted in 15 different languages. There are some pretty awesome rights in this thing... 3, 21, 26, 37... It was hard to take a readable picture but here's what it says:

1. Everyone has the right to live by the River VilnelÄ—, and the River VilnelÄ— has the right to flow by everyone.
2. Everyone has the right to hot water, heating in winter and a tiled roof.
3. Everyone has the right to die, but this is not an obligation.
4. Everyone has the right to make mistakes.
5. Everyone has the right to be unique.
6. Everyone has the right to love.
7. Everyone has the right not to be loved, but not necessarily.
8. Everyone has the right to be undistinguished and unknown.
9. Everyone has the right to be idle.
10. Everyone has the right to love and take care of the cat.
11. Everyone has the right to look after the dog until one of them dies.
12. A dog has the right to be a dog.
13. A cat is not obliged to love its owner, but must help in time of need (sick).
14. Sometimes everyone has the right to be unaware of their duties.
15. Everyone has the right to be in doubt, but this is not an obligation.
16. Everyone has the right to be happy.
17. Everyone has the right to be unhappy.
18. Everyone has the right to be silent.
19. Everyone has the right to have faith.
20. No one has the right to violence.
21. Everyone has the right to appreciate their unimportance.
22. No one has the right to have a design on eternity.
23. Everyone has the right to understand.
24. Everyone has the right to understand nothing.
25. Everyone has the right to be of any nationality.
26. Everyone has the right to celebrate or not celebrate their birthday.
27. Everyone shall remember their name.
28. Everyone may share what they possess.
29. No one can share what they do not possess.
30. Everyone has the right to have brothers, sisters and parents.
31. Everyone may be independent.
32. Everyone is responsible for their freedom.
33. Everyone has the right to cry.
34. Everyone has the right to be misunderstood.
35. No one has the right to make another person guilty.
36. Everyone has the right to be individual.
37. Everyone has the right to have no rights.
38. Everyone has the right to not to be afraid.
39. Do not defeat
40. Do not fight back
41. Do not surrender

Hahaha. Well anyway, I had a good April Fools Day. Hope yours was just as grand!
Random picture of wall art. Lithuanians sure love tea. 
Random picture of me and a sweater tree.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Things to Think

1. The other day my host mom said something close to,
"It is so weird to me that you don't speak Lithuanian  In the beginning it was different, you were a new guest and from America. Now, i know you and i see you are just human, but i feel like you should speak how i do."
I know I've said before that people are people no matter where you are, but it's still true. I don't know why but before coming here i had this crazy presumption that i'd be meeting this completely different species of people. With all the friends and "family" i've made here i'm so glad that's not true. The only difference is how strange it is that i can't understand what they say. I still catch myself staring in awe as my host siblings talk to each other and their parents. I know the tones they use and the emotions they show, but the words are all missing from my vocabulary. It's strange to hear my three year old "brother" complaining in Lithuanian and think that his language is normal. I think that's what host mom was saying. "It's weird that your normal is not my normal when i feel the same as you." The human experience is an amazing thing. I'm thankful for everyday i wake up able to live it. 

2. A sweet, older Russian lady came up to me and the head teacher at church on Sunday and said, "Your beauty is as Elvis or Frank Sinatra has to sing about for people to understand." We kinda chuckled and thanked her and she said, "No really. You look different, you know. The people here, they don't just smile. I saw you at the grocery store yesterday and i knew you were different because you were smiling. You are beautiful." 
The head teacher and i determined beauty is all in the smile and to smile more. You should as well, apparently it makes all the difference. 
(Example unintentionally provided by Kerry:)

2. Castles are really cool. No matter when they were built or where they are. Maybe it's just cause Disney taught me all about how important it is to be a princess and stuff. Regardless, they get a tad bit cooler (pun possibly intentional) if you can walk across a frozen lake to reach it.

 Or Bicycle across. That works too. 

 3. We started a new thing. It's called Mighty-Kebab-Monday. It's just a big burrito with pork,cabbage, and some typical Lithuanian garlic sauce. Every. Monday.

 4. Sometimes our children look like Einstein.  
4. Sometimes  Most of the time it's more fun to act like our kids.

5. Puppies. That's it.

6. How else are you supposed to put a duvet cover on? Someone please enlighten me on a better way. 
7. I've only got a month left. I'm starting to feel like that's not enough time. 

 8. For reason #7, make each sunset count. Wherever you are.

Monday, March 18, 2013

This One's A Lot About Learning

My computer is working! My friends, this is a miracle! I've wanted to update you on things for quite a while but without a computer to plug in my camera or type long winded posts without getting thumb cramps, it has been impossible. My host dad wanted to try and fix it for me the other day and when i went to show him the problem, BAM! It turned on and worked fine! I'm not getting my hopes up but here's some updates:

1. I've had a lot of questions about why i am teaching English. 
      Besides that it's a chance to be in another country, a chance to help people, or a new experience, why teach Lithuanians English? I myself have not really known the answer, it just sounded like a good idea. All the parents of the students i teach always tell me what a great thing i am doing and how appreciative they are that i am doing this. I halfheartedly understood their appreciation. Sure, coming here, pausing my life, and teaching for free is a noteworthy thing and i get that it's important to know such a wide-spread language. But it just seemed small. It hadn't felt like it was this great service everyone kept saying i was doing. 
      I was eating dinner with a parent the other day and when she too, started expressing her appreciation  i asked her why it it so important. She explained some of the history of Lithuania. The invasion of the soviets and when they finally gained their independence just over 20 years ago. It left the country relatively poor, but free. I think a big thing was just being able to speak their own language when and where they wished. However, she explained that because the language belongs to such a small population of the world, textbooks and other things are still in other languages because they are too expensive to have translated. So by the time she went to college, and ultimately medical school, she either had to know Russian or English to study. So basically if you want to go to college and get a good education as a Lithuanian,  you must either study abroad or learn English or Russian  Since keeping their independence from Russia is so important, English is the door to a world of possibility. 
      It's a concept that I, as an American, take for granted. That is why I am teaching English. Because somewhere down the road, one of these kids is going to need to perform a heart surgery or something. It could even be on someone i know, or maybe even me. And they will be able to say, "I want a scalpel" all because i taught them how to say i want.   
     The mother's explanation was a great blessing of comprehension for me. It helped me feel like on the days when the kids aren't into it, when they are climbing on the tables, cursing in Russian, telling me I'm not as pretty as the last teachers or more strict, when they bring animals to class, when they are screaming, singing that darned gangam style song..... It will be okay. It's kind of like being a mom: It's hard to do so much work for someone who doesn't appreciate it or recognize it's there, but i love them so much the difficulty is sliding to the background. These kids don't have to appreciate me now, but when they go to study for their medical exam, i vainly hope they'll think of me.

Difficut Child: Teacher, do you like a mouse?
Roommate: Sure i guess, as long as it's not in my house.
Difficult child: *pulls live mouse from his pocket after being in class for  over an hour.

This picture explains so much, it really is worth 1000 words. Examples, "The girl who bit my finger" "You'll get a token if you smile" "Flamingo hand prints are only cool if you get dirty"
2. I went to Poland.
      Several people do this program to travel relatively cheap. Once you get over here you can catch a nice bus (personal tv's, electrical outlets, wi-fi, reclining seats, and drunk twenty something's who wish you "Happy Valentine's all year!" because they heard you speak english and that's all they know how to say) to other countries for less than $30! I didn't plan on traveling much once i got here, but getting the chance to visit Auschwitz was the one opportunity i knew i'd take if i could.
   Poland was really such a nice beautiful country. I only wish i could have seen it in the summer when things are green and blooming. The architecture in Europe never ceases to amaze me, i would take a year just to study some of it. Any of my architecture friends, getting over here is a must.  

Just chillin' in Poland
Europe is all about big grand cathedrals. We found this one on accident just walking all over Krakow one day. I wanted it to be a beauty and the beast castle :)
My first Castle. This part was made of so many different materials, i wish a picture could express how stunning it was. 
I have so many pictures of random cobblestone streets like this, I'm going to make a collage. Europe is the coolest.
Main Square. It's beautiful: the architecture, how it's lit up at night, the placement, cathedrals not shown in the picture. Again, only wish it had been clear, sunny, warm, and green.


         So, the reason i went to Poland was to see some WWII History. Auschwitsz, Shindler's factory, and the Jewish quarters where thousands of Polish Jews were relocated to their own section of the city. I hadn't known much about Oskar Schindler before i went to poland, but we were able to visit the museum of his factory where he saved the lives of thousand by employing people who would have died because they were unfit for labor. The museum touched on a lot of polish history i was completely unaware of. It's incredible how you think you know about something, just to find out a world more of information. I don't think you can really say, "I know all about ___." Because even if you know the anatomy and physics of a butterfly, you still don't know what it feels like to fly, to flap wings, the thoughts it has or if it has thoughts. Anyway.... I learned so much. 

Pots, plates, bowls, and what-nots made in Oskar's factory. Most of these things were flawed, dented, even unusable because the indivduals who made them weren't able to do the work. The compassion for individuals without limbs, a right mind, steady or strong hands... it's such a noble act i'm glad i got to appreciate by going in person. 
I imagine there is little more disheartening than when all has been taken from you and then someone seeks to destroy your hopes as well.


 Auschwitz. There is not much to put in words about my experience. Only that i am grateful that i got the opportunity to walk the grounds of a place i have studied about since i was young. In the words of Pocahontas "I learned things i never knew, i never knew."

"Work makes you free"

      The deceptions are endless. At one point on the tour they showed us a case that had tickets people actually paid for to come live at the camp. I can't even imagine. 

Women and children arriving at the camp
      There were so many photos hanging on the walls of the camp. Most pictures we see were taken by Germans and don't document certain aspects of the events there, but a camera was found that had been smuggled in. The pictures were all blurry and skewed because it was done in secret but showcased the daily realities of the camp. 

These are some of the actual cans of cyanide that were dropped into the gas chambers. 

      There were rooms like this full of things the Germans kept. Mostly things the Germans took from the prisoners as soon as they got off the train. The prisoners had picked and brought their most valued possessions  The Germans stored these in big factories and would send them back to soldiers and German civilians. We are talking big, big factories. All but one was destroyed by the Germans at the end of the war to hide evidence of their crimes. Even this one was so big that the camp now holds rooms and rooms of what was found. Rooms full of shoes, suitcases, hairbrushes, prosthetic limbs. The hardest part of the whole tour for me was a room full of hair that had been cut from the women. It was so real walking past blonde curls and matted ponytails. 

This would have been such a place to stand, freedom just past that gate. 

The only gas chamber that wasn't destroyed

Most of the barracks were made of wood and destroyed at the end of the war, again to destroy evidence. The rows and rows of chimneys are all that's left. It's hard to see but there were so many- it seemed they went on for miles.

      People wonder why anyone goes to visit these places and study the history of it. Some say it's to not repeat history, but i think it's much more than that. Every injustice i learn, the struggles, the escapes, the resistances to defeat, add more understanding of their experience. I know i will never grasp the magnitude of the sufferings caused by the Nazis, but as i learn about them i add more sympathy for the victims and more meaning and appreciation to my life. What a shame if people never knew, remembered or sympathized for their struggles. I want my life to be remembered when i'm gone; i think most people do. Hopefully it's recognized that the trials and sufferings make up a story as significantly as the joys and should be remembered. 

3. I've learned a few truths.
       I mean, besides what i have already written in this long post. It seems every time i talk with my parents or friends back home i come to some new realization. Here are a few in pictures:

Taco Time!
1.Mexican food is American comfort food.  
      I got to cook for host family the other day. They told me to make something American. I didn't know what that meant. I started planning some meals i really like to cook back home; chicken enchiladas, chicken pot pie. But every time i went to get the ingredients, they didn't exist here. I defaulted to this very small Mexican section at the supermarket. It was so small there weren't even re-fried beans. :( But i did my best, ordering an accidentally very large amount of ground beef/pork. But all was well! They hadn't tried it before, but they loved Mexican food! And it felt like a small piece of home.

2. Keep this one quiet: I miss cleaning.
      I know. I'm almost worried about myself. Yesterday i came home and just deep cleaned everything. The bathroom, the floors, the laundry, the bed sheets and blankets, under the tables, etc. I was vacuuming and mopping and scrubbing for a few hours. My roommate came home and said, "This is the happiest you've been in months!" Seriously, you don't appreciate the ability to clean things until you can only clean your room in the house and even then, your sides of that room all with limited supplies. I'm actually excited to go home and clean my mom's house. (<----this statement is subject to change....but true)

Walls of people. Just jump in.
Traditional Dancing 
3. The best parts of another country are their traditions.
      These are pictures from a big festival they have called Kaziuko Muge. (I think it's pronounced Kazoo-coo moo-gay) It's kinda like the candy dance for those of you who know what that is, but bigger and for the whole country. It spans the town center (Up and down the streets of Old Town.). It started in medieval times to celebrate some saint. A few people got together and sold their homemade items. More and more people joined in and now it's huge. It's not for you if you are claustrophobic or not a people person. You basically jump in a sea of people and are pushed down the street. You just jump out if you see something you like. It was fun to see their traditional market and the things they sell. 

McDonald's "Walk-through"
4. Never underestimate McDonald's.
      I thought this was just something American teenagers tried to do for fun- trying to walk through the drive-through of a fast food place. But alas, it's real. You really can have a "Walk-through" experience at McDonald's

I love you Mom!
5. Packages from America take FOREVER and end up being pricey to claim, but are well worth the effort.
      It took about 6 or 7 weeks but i finally got my care package! Easy mac, american candy, encouragements, and gifts for the kids couldn't have come at a better time. Thanks mom!

4. When things get rough.     

Well lastly, It seems there's been a lot of hard times going around with my friends and family. It's been hard being so far away from the people i want to comfort and from those who could comfort me in my trials. As I've sought for direction, I've read several things that i found comfort in. One in particular has helped a lot. 

               “Both abundance and lack [of abundance] exist simultaneously in our lives, as parallel realities. It is always our conscious choice which secret garden we will tend … when we choose not to focus on what is missing from our lives but are grateful for the abundance that’s present—love, health, family, friends, work, the joys of nature, and personal pursuits that bring us [happiness]—the wasteland of illusion falls away and we experience heaven on earth.” - Sarah Ban Breathnach

      It's so easy to get caught up in what's hard and the things that seem to break me down, but I've tried to recognize at least one thing each day that is a blessing. As I do, i realize the things which are most important and those things become my thoughts and happiness. Everything else seems to shrink in comparison. I hope you can take time to count the blessings in your life and experience that.
      I find my blessings in the present are always increasing, but looking to the future i often get discouraged. Recently a missionary couple attending my church here shared a thought before their return to the U.S. The man wanted to express his love for the members he had met here and leave them with good wishes for their futures. He expressed this with a quote:

              "We know not what lies ahead of us. We know not what the coming days will bring. We live in a world of uncertainty. For some, there will be great accomplishment. For others, disappointment. For some, much of rejoicing and gladness, good health, and gracious living. For others, perhaps sickness and a measure of sorrow. We do not know. But one thing we do know. Like the polar star in the heavens, regardless of what the future holds, there stands the Redeemer of the world, the Son of God, certain and sure as the anchor of our immortal lives. He is the rock of our salvation, our strength, our comfort, the very focus of our faith. In sunshine and in shadow we look to Him, and He is there to assure and smile upon us." -Gordon B. Hinckley

      Especially as Easter is near i wanted to share my appreciation that i have a Savior to guide me through the uncertainties. We don't know our future, but i believe in a Savior who does. He will help me when i fall or things seem too hard to handle. I am grateful for his sacrifice so that i may have help to become a better person. He is always near to help when we need it and i am thankful for his direction in my life.

         May you recognize the blessings in your life and therefore find your own joys to guide you in your trials. :)