Thursday, November 29, 2012

Jolly Ol’ England

I have a confession to make.  I’ve never had a strong desire to go to England.  I love Jane Austen.  I love British accents.  I love a good spot o' tea and a crumpet.  But for whatever reason, it’s never been high on my list of places to travel.  Perhaps because I thought it would be too much like home.  Luckily for me, I got to go to England when all I wanted was a place that feels like home. 

Sam got the opportunity to go to an IB conference in Oxford.  The backstory to that is that he was originally going to go to a conference in the middle of Arizona during the last week that we were supposed to be in Yakima.  My always-optimistic hubby thought it would be perfectly feasible for me to finish work, pack up the house in 2 days, finish painting our garage, and have us all moved out before he took off for a week, returning a day before we needed to be out of our house.  Somehow I was able to talk him out of this idea, gently reminding him that he is not always the best judge of how long things will take. 

So when we got to AISZ, he got signed up for a conference in Oxford for four days.  And as luck would have it, it was during a four-day weekend so I got to go, too!  By this point in October, I was feeling pretty homesick.  I missed family and friends.  I missed the simplicity of being able to speak the language.  And I wanted to have a pumpkin spice latte and some spicy food (not necessarily together, but hey, I’m not picky!)

So on Halloween (after dressing up like Mary Poppins for school that morning) we headed to the Zagreb airport.  I am usually a terrified flier, dreading it for days, sometimes weeks in advance.  But for whatever reason, I was not terrified.  It was only a 2 hour trip and we had rented Blue Like Jazz for the journey.  Any plane ride that lasts the length of a movie is pretty much perfect in my opinion. 

We landed at Heathrow and read the wonderful signs in ENGLISH to find our way to the bus.  We picked up our first English newspaper in four months.  We chatted with the bus driver.  We felt like we were eavesdropping on everyone around us because we could actually understand what they were saying! 

That night, Sam had to go immediately to his welcome dinner for his training.  So I decided to wander down the street in search of spice.  I found a little Chinese restaurant and located “Mouthwatering Chicken” on the menu.  Yes, please.  It had chili oil, peanuts, cilantro, coriander and sesame sauce.  So.  Good.  I love the food in Croatia, but there’s not a lot of variety.  So having something so different than what I’d been having for the last four months was a real treat.

The next day I got to just wander around Oxford.  It’s a fairytale city. You feel like it can’t be real.  It’s that amazing.  It’s small enough that you can do everything on foot, but yet there’s plenty to see and do.  Churches, all the colleges, shops, pubs, coffee and tea houses.  It was the first time in my whole life that I'd wandered around an unfamiliar city by myself.  Thankfully I got to spend some of the time with my traveling buddy.  Sam had a little time after his trainings for me to drag him around to some of the sights.

 I love traveling in fall.

 First Starbucks in four months!

After three blissful days in Oxford, we took the bus back to London.  The first night, we took the tube into the city to see the Tower Bridge and Big Ben lit up at night.  The next morning, we had about 6 hours in London before we had to leave.  In typical London fashion, it poured.  I mean umbrella-getting-turned-inside-out-Sam’s-pants-soaked-up-to-his-knees kind of pouring.  We got about a half an hour of sun break.  We kept saying, “This is romantic…Right?”  It was a fast and furious tour, but I think we saw a lot of the important sights.

 Just a little puddle.

What I loved about this trip (among other things) was that it was the perfect time for a break from Zagreb.  I mean, I love it here.  But things are just a little harder and take a little longer and it gets tiring sometimes.  We’d been having car trouble (meaning our AMERICAN car wasn’t working.  We had to buy parts in the U.S., have them shipped here, and had to pay ridiculous taxes on them.)  We were feeling a little overwhelmed by having so many things out of our control.  It’s also about the time where the “honeymoon” faze of living overseas is over.  Instead of feeling like it’s an adventure, you start to just feel frustrated by the fact that simple things are complicated.  But then you get an opportunity to take a weekend trip to England and suddenly, it’s an adventure again!

If I would have come to England at any other time I would not have appreciated it in the same way.  I would not have noticed how friendly the people were, how wonderful the food was, how speaking  in English to strangers can be a delight, or just how good cheddar cheese can be.   

And for that, I am thankful for jolly ol’ England.  


Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Sime From the States…(Sime [she-may] is My Croatian Name)

After I found out that I got the job teaching in Croatia, I searched the Internet (to the point of obsession) to find all the information I could about the new city I was about to move to. One thing that I wanted to do was to expand outside my American School community and American home life and force myself into Croatian culture. I wanted to hear the language in context with real people so that I could learn more of it.  So when I came across the Zagreb Baseball Klub on the Internet, I translated the page through a Google app.  I jumped at the chance to know more. I started a correspondence with the president of the Klub through email. We sent many emails back and forth and I gave him the date of our arrival in Zagreb. 
So the day after our extremely long flight, I got an email saying that we should meet so that he could show me the field.  I struggled through trying to pronounce the street names and he eventually picked me up close to our hotel.  I got into the car with a man I had only communicated with on the Internet, driving through a town that was completely foreign and unfamiliar.  I thought to myself, how did I get here?  We made very short small talk, with his limited English and my limited Croatian. 15 minutes later we were at the field. I didn’t have cleats, a hat, or baseball pants with me. So I showed up with only a glove.  I was thinking to myself that I was far from being the lean college athlete that I was ten years ago. Now I’m balding and a bit overweight wondering if I had something worth giving.  There were about 4 players on the field warming up for practice, if you can call that enough for a practice.  The players were coach Mario Manojlov and Dino Kondic and two high school aged players, whose names I can’t remember. Croatian names are generally tough to pronounce and are not commonly used in America.

Mario Monjlov (player coach) 
Dino Kondic (catcher)

So there I was, throwing some pitches to Dino, the 21-year-old catcher, in their over-grown grassy bullpen. It felt like an abandoned sandbox.  The bullpen grass was up to my knees in some spots.  There was a large hole in front of the rubber about 5 inches deep. The dirt hole looked like it hadn’t been replaced for years. Imagine a small baseball stadium being built in the mid 90’s and then fast-forward to the present day with literally no maintenance being done by the city or anything.  The only ones that actually taking care of it are the players who also have full time jobs. 
Besides my surroundings, I felt okay with my pitching. My location was a little off, but I was close to the plate with most of my pitches. I thought it would just take a little fine-tuning and a couple more bullpens to find my placement.  I asked Dino how I did and he said “good” with no real emotion on his face.  Croatians in general are very hard to read. So with no measuring stick to compare myself to, I left the field with a lot questions still unanswered. Were they going to accept me as an American? Would I have enough talent to compete with these guys?  Would somebody be upset if I took their position? All these questions had to wait because I left on a three-week vacation to the Dalmatian coast.