Sunday, October 31, 2010

Week in Review: Week 8

This week was pretty low-key. It started out inching along, and then was over before I knew it. Here's some highlights:
  • Yesterday we had the youth over for a sort of annual fun-day/Halloween celebration. It was a lot of fun, but 7 hours worth of teenagers in small quarters made my head tired.
  • We played some dirty/gross games with them. I was proud to say that the two that perhaps went over best were some that I brought over, namely chubby bunnies and the baby shower game where you melt chocolate in diapers and force the participants to taste and identify the chocolate.
  • We played these games outside our garage and, for me, one of the best parts was watching the neighbors and people passing by gawk at these kids making toilet paper mummies and eating out of diapers. There were almost a few wrecks.
  • My mom has decided to come visit for Thanksgiving! My last week here was free so we are going to spin around England for a few days. I'm excited!
  • I will be home in 5 weeks, and I WILL GRADUATE IN 6 WEEKS. I only have 4 papers and a portfolio left! (And, inshallah, 2 of those will be finished in the next day or so.)
  • I've decided I am going to incorporate what little Arabic I know into everyday conversations. Consider yourselves barakah-ed.
  • This coming week is a class break (to coincide with the break in the schools here). After this week I will only have 2 more weeks of teaching (the final week will be exams, etc.). I finally got my classes up to speed in the curriculum. It should be smooth sailing from here on out. Inshallah.
  • We were invited over to the house of some friends from church. It was a lovely evening all around, but one of the highlights for me was being able to see the stars on the way out to the car. I had realized earlier that I don't think I had seen a single star here--it's either cloudy or too bright in Brussels. They live outside of the city some, so it was almost a surprise to look up and see the Big Dipper.
  • I had to run to the store earlier to pick up something for lunch. Janee gave me a handful of change and out the door I went. Assuming she knew how much it would cost I hadn't grabbed my purse. I went to the store, grabbed the item and counted the change to make sure I would have enough--I had 1.80 and it cost 1.75. Good deal. Until I dropped one of the dimes...which rolled under the edge of the shelf. I kind of bent and looked but didn't see it. Turns out there was no bottom ledge to the shelf and the coin had gone ALL the way under the huge shelf. Normally, a dime is worth bending over for, but not worth digging around under shelving for--except I had no other money whatsoever on me. So, in the middle of the tiny aisle, in a dress, I had to get on all fours and reeeeeach through the dust and dirt to find the dime. Ugh.
  • I know these things have to happen to other people, but I sure feel like these things happen to me in much higher percentage. C'est la vie.
  • Faith and beliefs aside, it's nice being a Christian for superficial things as well--like not having to go to the halal butcher. I went this week so we could cook for our neighbors and not only are the lines four times longer but the butcher has a looong scraggly beard. I do not want that mixed into my hamburger meat.
Well, that about sums up the highlights of the week. It was long but not too eventful. I've got about a month left here, but the baby could be coming any time now, so who knows what the rest of my time here will look like!

Thursday, October 28, 2010

You know what I miss?

Well mostly all you lovely people. But other than that?

I really just want a big mug of crappy drip coffee. I mean I've had cafe au lait, and cappuccinos. Every day I drink what more or less amounts to espresso from the fancy coffee machine in the kitchen. I've even had Starbucks once. But really, I just want American coffee. Not even an "Americano." No, I want a big ceramic mug of Folgers from my 1995 model Mr. Coffee with powdered creamer and a couple spoonfuls of white sugar.

Nothing fancy here folks.

I'd even take it out of one of those little styrofoam cups from Logsdon. (Yes, I know. I killed the universe with those little cups when I could have used a mug. But I saw way too many people not wash those mugs properly. Yep, I said it.)

Anyway, there is no point to this entry besides that. So enjoy a cup of coffee for me.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Aachen

I realized that I never posted any pictures from my trip across the border to Germany. So here, I present to you, a bit of Aachen, Germany:








Sunday, October 24, 2010

Week in Review: Week 7!


Well, week 7 is over and it has been a doozy.
  • It has been a busy week as far as classes are concerned--I gave, graded and gave back tests. Now we are on to trying to finish 4 units in less than 3.5 weeks. Ready, set, go.
  • Some of my students did horribly on the exam. It doesn't really bother me because I know they understand the things they messed up on. Still, it pained me to give them bad grades...so I wrote "good" even on the test of the person who made a 50...
  • The week began with a visitor who stayed in our house for 2 days. In the middle of the week Rob Nash, head of CBF's missions side, stopped in for a night. And then today, to top it off the week, Hary's brother, 3 neices and a family friend from Antwerp all came by. It's been a full house.
  • I graduate in 7 weeks! I only have 5 papers and a portfolio to go!
  • Maybe the weather is the culprit, but I was cursed with a migraine for 2 days this week. Not fun.
  • Yesterday we got to go work with Tabitha ministries again, who work with the homeless here in Brussels. We made sandwiches for a few hours and then went to the station to feed two hundred and fifty people.
  • I passed out the soup again. Even though it's pronounced the same in English and French lots of people kept laughing at me when I offered it to them. Whatever.
  • After the homeless feeding we stopped in a memorial service for a close family type person for Hary. It was at our church, but involved mostly the orthodox church that meets there on Saturdays. It was like stepping into a different world. There were people everywhere and a couple of moments after we walked in the door plates of food were shoved at us.
  • My favorite memory of the evening? We got to talk to 2 head honchos in the Assyriac Indian Orthodox Church (or something like that...). I spotted them the moment we walked in because their outfits were awesome (and bright red)! Turns out these 2 live in the US (in Providence and Columbus) and speak English. We chatted for a while but I mostly just stared at their robes/necklaces/fancy walking sticks/beards/rings.
  • We did a little internet research when we got home (because I needed a picture of them!). See below!
  • Despite being in a position to be called "his eminence" and wearing crazy costumes these guys were friendly, charismatic, and totally accessible. If being Baptist doesn't work out, I might have a plan B...
  • Also in the bizarre department: At the memorial service someone came up to congratulate one of the guys I had been speaking to that evening (who happens to be 37). On his engagement. To me. Talk about total surprise! Apparently one of the idiot guys in our church spread that one around for reasons I still don't understand. Can we say awkward??
  • Hary's been wanting me to cook, so tonight I dusted off my Southern roots and fried up some chicken. That with the sweet tea and little bit of Texas country music made me feel right at home.
  • I also managed to smoke up the entire kitchen. Oops.
Anyway, that about wraps up the week. It was a long one, but I'm quickly realizing my time here is already on the downhill slide. It's been a whirlwind so far! OK, check out our friend below! (He was only wearing the red on Saturday and his walking stick has gotten a major upgrade since this picture was taken. But seriously, how awesome is that??)


Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Just Right


I inherited my dad's dislike of the cold (maybe his cold heart too), and since I got here in early September, I have been bracing for the chill I knew was coming. Well it's here.

And I kind of love it.

I went for that really long walk I told you about and the crispness to the air was perfect. The last couple of days the rain has returned, and surprisingly, I have found it to be pretty lovely too. Today I had to go make copies of the second half of our English books to pass out tonight. It was colder than I thought out there, and was raining, but with my blue scarf and green polka dot umbrella, it felt just right. I had debated on buying the umbrella, because, well it's not just green, it's neon green. At least I figured I would be less likely to forget it somewhere when it was that bright. But today I realized it's perfect for grey days. (And for 2 Euro at Ikea, it was a steal too!)

Also, the cold has inspired me to stay inside some as well. That has led to 3, maybe 4, This American Life podcasts listened to, all of my laundry finished and put away, and the whole upstairs having been cleaned. I even rearranged furniture some this afternoon (which always makes me feel better) and created a little desk in my room next to the radiator. I'm hoping this inspires me to finish my last papers!

Anyway, I know the sentiment won't last, but for now, the cold is just right.

PS. As promised, a picture of my green polka dot umbrella:



Sunday, October 17, 2010

Week In Review: Week 6


Another installment of my random snippets from the week:
  • Hary is back from Syria! He is tre gentil and brought me back some famous Syrian soap. It's the same recipe that some famous queen used and it smells really nice. It's a dark green color. The first time I used it, I washed my face with it, and after a moment looked down at my hands--they were brown! Panic! I was afraid that it was actually some kind of middle eastern self tanner and that I'd stained my face khaki green. Thankfully it all washed right off. Crisis averted.
  • When talking to my conversation students about food it came out that they all love Chinese food. For fun we thought we would hold our Thursday class in a local Chinese restaurant. Let's just say it wasn't quite a disaster.
  • I must be one of the most awkward people alive. I mean, I know I'm not the MOST awkward person, but I'm pretty sure I am somewhere toward the top of the list.
  • 8 weeks until I graduate.
  • It's in the 30s this week. Last night it fell bellow 32. Hello winter!
  • Friday I was asked if I was Romanian. Again, close but no.
  • Friday we also had the youth over for the evening. Afterwards we took a couple of the ids home and were invited in for tea. Along with the traditional nuts that go with tea they also brought out: pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, sunflower seeds, candy coated chickpeas, Syrian bread, olive oil and spices, 2 kinds of homemade cheeses (she even goes to the farm herself to get the milk!), tomatoes, cucumbers, 2 kinds of homemade cookies, apples, oranges and pomegranates. AND she also brought us out huge bowls of pasta.
  • All of this took place between 10:30-12:30 at night.
  • Yesterday I tried again, and 3rd time is a charm, made it inside the Laeken Cathedral. It was more impressive than I thought it would be, even though it's under renovation.
  • I also took the more direct route there, which took a whopping 9 minutes.
  • I felt like walking so I kept going towards the Royal Palace. I not only saw a race, but saw hoards of Chinese tourists visiting...the Chinese Tower. It was odd to me.
  • This week I also got my first taste of Antwerp. It's Flemish and much more orderly feeling than Brussels. Hary gave us a tour of the docks.
OK, that about does it. Week 6 is finished, on to week 7 here in Brussels. This coming week is my midpoint here! Picture of the soap below (I'll try to get some more up later):


Friday, October 15, 2010

Hidden Brussels



So this afternoon I started flipping through a guidebook from the downstairs bookshelf. It's called Secret Brussels and has all kinds of fun facts and hidden gems of the city. One interesting fact I learned, when reading the section on touring the city's sewers, is that Brussels has so many rats that it comes out to about 2 rats for each human living in the city. Gross. Also, apparently, hidden away in the middle of the city is an urban farm complete with sheep, chickens and an orchard. I have definitely added that to my "to see" list.


This week I also came across a hidden gem in our neighborhood. After dropping off the car at the shop (Dad: I was right, it is a Renault), we walked home and passed a little park. We decided to go in and Janee showed me what just so happened to be a cave where, supposedly, Mary at one time appeared. Right in the middle of the neighborhood was this cave, with an alter inside, along with pictures, petitions, and ceramic "thank you" tiles all along the cave walls. Outside the cave were little booths containing the stations of the cross and several statues.

It was a strange departure from our Moroccan neighborhood, but fascinating nonetheless.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Week in Review: Week 5


It's Sunday--you know the drill! Week in Review take 5:
  • Friday we took a quick day-trip across the border in France to go to a Flemish tapestry factory. When we got there they told us it had actually been moved...back to Belgium. Oops.
  • While we were in France we took the opportunity to eat at KFC. It hit the spot.
  • Saturday I went to Morocco. And by that I mean I walked outside of our door. This weekend is our neighborhood's carnival/garage sale/market weekend where they shut down some streets and bring out the market stalls. It smelt, looked and felt just like Morocco.
  • There was also a marching band of clowns. That bit was not very Moroccan.
  • We sat for a couple of hours on some steps, just eating apple beignets and watching everyone walk by. It was QUALITY people watching.
  • Those kilos of chocolate I told you about last week? Yep, a dangerous thing to just have sitting in your room.
  • Classes are going well--we finished our third unit this week. One more unit to go until it's midterm.
  • My conversation classes are by far my favorite.
  • Friday night Janee made a Pakistani dish she learned in Africa. It was pretty tasty.
  • Hary is still gone to Syria. He will be back in Brussels early Wednesday morning. I am looking forward to some good stories!
  • It has been warm this week--like upper 60s and even into the low 70s. I feel like we had our winter and now we are on to spring. Something tells me that when winter really does get here I will be disappointed.
  • I took yesterday to do some class reading and paper writing. I only have 7 more papers to write in my entire graduate school career! Who's excited?!
  • I need to get busy on post-grad./pre-tirement/sabbatical/quarter-life crisis trip planning. Who's got ideas?
  • There were ponies at our little street fair yesterday.
  • In Chocolat fashion I decided to buy some chocolate with chili peppers in it. I know this was a really dumb observation, but it was HOT! And sadly too hot for my weak taste buds.
  • When we finally made it to the Flemish tapestry factory, it was right outside of Gent, Belgium. We went into the little town and had a looksy. I was very impressed. It was a bit like Brugges but not as frozen in time.
  • Also, this week I figured out Google Talk/Voice. If you get a call from (325) 455-0440, answer! It's me!
  • I know this is unbelievable, but just this week I had my very first, real deal, made fresh on the street Belgian waffle. It pretty much lived up to the hype.
OK, some pictures below to enhance the fun! Bonne journée!


Castle in Gent


Moi at the canal in Gent

A very small portion of our carnival/street market


People watching and sneaking a picture


A closer look at the apple beignets. In typical fair fashion there was plenty of fried food all around.

Ponies!

My first real waffle


Thursday, October 7, 2010

Pardon My French...

Non-English speakers don't really get why I'm giggling all the time. Here are just a few examples:

Asse: The Belgian town Janee and Hary are looking at houses in.
Key fuck: "How are you" in Arabic, for a man.
Daim: A Swedish brand of toffee. Milka also makes a Daim (good) chocolate bar.
Hella: Arabic for "now"


Bonus points if you use more than one in the same sentence. With a straight face.

In other news, Janee and I are going on a day trip to France tomorrow!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good Medicine

Well, the allergies here are brutal, so I gave in and made my way to the pharmacy. Today I'm feeling a bit better. I'm not sure if its because of this:


Or this:


What's in the boxes and bags? Oh, but yes, it's over 8 pounds of high quality Belgian chocolate. Now a lot of it is Janee's to give away when people come to visit the baby and a lot of what I bought includes Christmas gifts, so I won't get into it much, but this is proof of our first stop of the day. On the way to Janee's dr.'s appointment we stopped at the Neuhaus Chocolate factory. We picked up a bunch of good deals, but also got to sample, well, just about everything.

My kind of brunch. : )

Monday, October 4, 2010

Thinking...




Last week I had an afternoon to myself while Hary and Janee went to look at some houses. Because our house is in the process of being sold (long story) I also had to vacate the building for a couple of hours so it could be shown. I decided to finally go look at some of the touristy things in the neighborhood I hadn't had the chance to see.

I bundled up, checked my window for the general vicinity of the cathedral, went downstairs, locked my door and then headed in that direction. Unfortunately the streets I chose to take did not take me in the exact direction I wanted to go, so I ended up touring some of the sketchier bits of our neighborhood. Finally, I had almost given up on finding my way there when I turned and looked over my shoulder.

Oh! Cathedral, there you are!

So I turned around and headed back behind me. I then realized there was a tunnel between me and the church. I debated for a second and then quickly made my way through the tunnel.


Finally I made it to the cathedral where all the royal people of Belgium have been buried for ages.


And it was closed. Riiiiight. It's closed on Mondays...which is the reason I didn't get to see it the LAST time I was there. I had a look around the outside and then made my way over to the cemetery next door, which I figured would also be closed. But, even though it should have been closed--it was my lucky day! It was open! The Laeken Cemetery is the oldest still functioning cemetery in Brussels and is known as the "Belgian Pere Lachaise."

I put on my headphones and listened to nice depressing music and made my way through the cemetery. There's a smattering of different styles of gravestones and a lot of them are really old. The cemetery was also quiet and filled with yellow-leaved trees which made it seem like I had slipped into a different place when I made it through the gate.

I wandered around for a while, poked my head into some little chapels, and walked along the old paths. It had something of a secret garden feel to it.




And then finally found what I was looking for. This cemetery is famous for one if its gravestones--not just any gravestones, but one of the original cast's of Auguste Rodin's Thinker. I got to get up close to it and walk around it.




I thought how unusual to be by something so famous all by myself with no one else interfering. And I soon figured out why.

I had a good look through the rest of the cemetery, all of it fascinating. There were rows and rows of World War I casualties, which is always sobering. And to be honest, some of the other grave statues were even more moving or impressive to me than Rodin's. This one for example:


Overall, I was just enjoying myself and thinking how nice it felt to be outside, enjoying some of the positive things Brussels has to offer. After about an hour I made my way back to the exit, to find this:


The gate was closed. Uh-oh. Not only closed but locked.

I was locked into the cemetery.

Thankfully after a little searching I found a groundskeeper doing some raking. He didn't seem too happy with me disturbing him or with my pitiful attempt at telling him in French that I was locked in. But whatever, my pride willingly took that hit because he let me out--which was all I cared about at that moment.

On the way back to the house I also saw a signpost that definitely would have saved me some time earlier in the day trying to find the cathedral and the cemetery.


And then to put the icing on the cake, when I got home I couldn't get the key to work.

It's not everyday that you get locked IN a cemetery and OUT of your house. (Oh, and then it started to rain.)

It was a ridiculous afternoon, but hey, it makes for a good story. A couple more pictures below:



Saturday, October 2, 2010

Week in Review: Week 4

Is it really October? Week 4 has come and gone as how my first of 3 months in Brussels. I did some touristy things this week and have lots of pictures that I will hopefully get up soon. But for now, week 4 in review:
  • Because coffee here comes in such small (but intense) doses, and because I am around so many Arabs, I have taken to drinking a lot of tea.
  • Syrian coffee is NASTY. Bleh. It tastes like a combination of black pepper and tar.
  • Hary went back to Syria this week. Because of a strike in Brussels that cancelled all flights Syrian Airlines called with a new plan. They loaded up all the passengers on a bus at 3 AM and drove them to Amsterdam to pick up a flight there.
  • Going to the airport at 3 AM has one plus--They have the only Starbucks in town (in the country?), and it was still (already?) open!
  • This whole week I have been suffering at the hands of Belgian pollen. Belgian cough syrup has a whole different taste to it--it tastes sweet like vanilla for the first millisecond then tastes like black death. You also have to drink it from a spoon which causes you to have to taste quite a bit more of it then when you shoot it.
  • Friday we got up early and made a quick trip to Aachen, Germany (pictures to come soon). In an hour and a half we had made it through 3 countries--Belgium, the Netherlands, and Germany. There and back we made it across 4 national borders on a 1/4 tank of gas!
  • Yesterday (Saturday) Janee and I were forced into staying for lunch at the house of a couple from our church. The couple is Italian and Moroccan and we were joined by two Belgian born Spaniards. We had quiche, Moroccan tagine, and pecorino cheese. It was a nice mixture of cultures.
  • Mario, the husband, also worked selling coffee machines for years. I had the best coffee I've had since I arrived in Belgium at their house.
  • Logsdon friends: I bought a sweater vest this week. International sweater vest day soon?
  • My French is slightly improving. I'm decent at understanding, and not being able to breathe out of my nose has drastically improved my accent.
  • I still think Arabic is more fun. For example: hella is Arabic for "now."
  • Cool cool is also Arabic for "eat up!" which I hear a lot when in Arab homes.
  • The worst day of allergies this week I abandoned my plans to be the a super tourist and decided to spend the entire next to the heater writing papers. The good news is that I only have 4 papers (and 7 journals) left in graduate school!
  • One day this week I got locked IN a cemetery and OUT of our house. In the rain. (more on that later)
  • Friday night we had the youth over. As entertainment one of the youth brought his magic tricks. I was imagining quarters coming out of ears, but this kid was legit! Like a less satanic David Blaine. In our living room.
OK, so that is week 4 in review! Things are going by so quickly, I can't believe I am already down to 9 weeks left!