Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Thoughts on My Final Night of Being 28 (Katie's post)

Well saying that I'm not where I thought I would be would be an understatement.  Never would I have thought that I'd be spending my last night of being 28 in a 6th floor apartment in Zagreb, Croatia.  But here I am.  

These last few weeks have been difficult for many reasons.  School has been great in a lot of ways.  Smaller class sizes, more freedom, quirky kids, being able to have lunch with Sam every day, free coffee in the lounge. But it's also been a struggle.  I came from a school with such strict restrictions on how I could teach, when I would teach it, etc.  Whereas here, it's the complete opposite.  Almost too much.  I feel like I've been given freedom in my classroom and I'm not quite sure what to do with it.  It's an adjustment to start brand new in every subject area.  And just like any teaching job, no matter where you're at, you're still going to have kids who say, "I don't know anything about rocks," when you're trying to have them activate prior knowledge before launching a new science kit.  You'll still have kids who say they never got their homework until you look into the depths of their locker and find it crumpled up at the bottom.  You'll still have people telling you that you're not doing things right.  

It just is what it is...

But the biggest struggle came on September 6th.  I had just had a meeting with a parent when I got a message from my mom asking to call right away.  When I called she told my that my grandpa had passed away in his sleep. His death came as a shock.  His wife (my grandmother) died seven years ago.  But by the time she died, Alzheimer's had already taken the woman I knew and loved.  But my grandpa was still so "with it."  Thankfully, I saw him last July in Colorado Springs. He was frail and weak, but he was still very much him.  I don't know how to put him into words other than to say that he was just simply lovely, one of the best people I knew.  Losing him was hard, but losing him and being thousands of miles away was harder.  I wanted to be there for my mom during this time.  I wanted to cry and laugh with my family as we recalled memories that we shared of him.  Through Skype I was able to do some of this, but it wasn't the same.  

What has helped me stay together is the fact that I do feel at peace with our decision to be here.  I honestly feel like I am where I'm supposed to be, however hard it is at this moment.  

So on this last night of being 28, I'm reflecting on where I am right now.  I'm thankful for the many blessings God has given me.  A rich heritage of people that loved Him and loved each other.  The opportunity to experience a new culture and a new life overseas with my very best friend.  The distance to miss the life I had.  The realization that I need to fully live in the moment I'm in and not constantly wish for the past or the future.  

For this is the day the Lord has made.  Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Meeting the Village (Veli Rat - Dugi Otok, Croatia) Part 1

The name “Kuzma”

            Over the years in my family I kept on hearing this random name of Kuzma. I never really looked into the name, like who the man was or what his story was.  I just kept on hearing the name in family conversations and never tried to place the connection of the name to my family.  After I married my wife and she became a part of those same circles, she noticed the name, too. Kuzma…It has a unique ring to it, doesn’t it?

            Facebook is an amazing tool in connecting family together. I have been connecting with distant relatives recently and it’s been fun connecting the pieces together.  One of these puzzle pieces is Sanja Valjin from Zadar, Croatia.  We started messaging one another back in February. We started putting the puzzle pieces together over emails. I made a family tree online while talking with my dad over the phone.  I sent Sanja the link, she talked to her mother and we found how our trees touched branches.  We were connected through “Kuzma” Mirkovich.  Sanja’s Grandfather’s brother is Kuzma, who married my Grandfather’s sister, Mary.  Her Grandfather’s other brother married my Grandfather’s other sister.  You need a family tree picture now, don’t you? They are all from the village of Veli Rat on the island of Dugi Otok in Croatia.

            So Sanja and I stayed in contact over the next couple of months leading up to our departure to Croatia. We decided that we should make an effort to connect our vacations together in Veli Rat.  She has a family house there and we rented an apartment across the bay.

            Before we met I was practicing introductions in my Croatian language lesson.  So I was prepping what I would say when we finally met in person. As her and her family came up to Katie and I at the CafĂ©, my mind went blank and English came out my mouth.  I was disappointed in myself but Sanja and her husband Davor spoke perfect English and made us feel at ease.  We talked about our blog, how we are related, when her family left the island, my families house on the island, our jobs, their jobs, and Apple products.  It was great fun getting to know our new friends.

            Later we walked to their family’s house, which was about 50 meters away and met Sanja’s mother and grandmother. They welcomed us into their house. We saw pictures of their family on their wall and noticed a familiar face.  It was a picture of Phyllis, another mutual family member who lives in the bay area. Phyllis is actually related to me by blood. That was a highlight of my day and made the connection with our two families very real. I just kept on saying “No way… No way… that’s Phyllis!”

We later took a walk to the family/community well,

my great grandfather’s house,

the village gardens on the hill, and my family’s individual garden. 

All of it was just amazing to me.  I tried to picture this village the way it once was. With no electricity, no running water, and 16 people packed into one house.  What it took to provide for your own family: fishing, gathering, farming, and harvesting. What did they trade for goods? What did they do in droughts?  When was it just too difficult to bare? When did they want to leave? What was it like when they heard about America for the first time? Who told them about America?  What was that thought process like… Was it spontaneous? Was it rushed?  Did they save every dime for the trip?  Had they planned it out for years?

            I correlated it to our decision to move to Zagreb.  All the thoughts I had to work through to take that jump. I think we were in two different shoes. Their story made my shoes look smaller and my jump shorter. I’m a 20 minute cab ride and a swipe of a credit card to fly back home to America.  They didn’t have the same luxury. Their decision was so much greater then mine.  Honestly I needed that comparison. It humbled me and moved me to a stronger place and peace of mind.