Monday, June 4, 2012

Minnesotan Chicken Wild Rice Soup

     I finally did it! The Minnesotan Chicken Wild Rice Soup recipe I have saved in my backpack was used. As a gift from my host family's from me, I gave them each a packet of black wild rice. Belgians are not familiar with this typical rice in the Minnesotan and Wiscosin region. It was my wish to present a special dish from my country to them, however, with all the activities and busy schedules, I missed the chance to cook it for my first two host families. The packet of black rice still rest in their cupboards in the most probability. I couldn't say the same for my third host family.

      During the weekend I made the Minnesotan Chicken Wild Rice Soup as my little 12 year old host brother cooked his éclair. It took me around 2 or 3 hours to finish preparing the meal, yet it was worth it. At first, my host family examined my soup as if it was an alien specimen. The Belgains are more habituated with soup that is more liquid, whereas my soup had more consistency from the mushrooms, chicken, black rice, carrots, and celery. With a little encouragement they tasted my creation; the result: a happy family with full stomachs replenished with my soup.

      My host family is generally hard to please when it comes to food and my host brothers always critic my host moms meals. My recipe was only received with delight and marvel. Olivier, my little host brother, never eats mushrooms and he ate the whole bowl before I revealed to him the secret ingredients. He pretended he was choking to death after this epiphany (he didn't die, no worries). We continued our slow eventing and ate Olivier's éclair as a desert.

      I have to keep in mind that my first two host families still have not tasted this luxury and I hope to get the chance before I leave Belgium July 28th. My soup is a little taste of home I miss and I will never cease to present it to others with the pleasureful chance of meeting my acquaintance.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Contamination of Sanitation

     Since the first day I used the public bathrooms at my Belgian school, I have noticed something peculiar and quite disgusting; almost none of the students wash their hands after using the bathroom! St. Rock is a strict catholic school and it has high standards for all its students: education wise. With this in mind, I ask myself, "how can intelligent and bright students ignore the basic sanitation rules?" Many possible reasons apply. The students could be cumulatively lazy. A group of students may have decided they didn't have time to stop at the sink and clean their hands and others followed suit, creating a domino effect. The uncleanliness could be caused by the lack of paper towels, usually stationed by the sink, and soap in the soap dispensers, defeating their purpose. Or, students override this important ritual to sustain their natural needs; the weather is often cold and wet hands are sensitive to its terror. Whatever reason, I am horrified to touch another student's hand. Perhaps Belgians have decided to use Bisous to compensate. They avoid hand contact and instead use their faces to greet one another: prevention from hand contamination.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

It Might End Before It Starts: The Ireland Disaster

     My friend Nickola from Australia suggested that we should go to Ireland together to visit her family. The moment she said Ireland I was more than willing to accept the offer. We bought our plane tickets before we went on our Rotary trip to Italy. Our decision was made as quickly as possible because plane tickets usually cost more the longer the purchaser waits. My dream was coming true and my secret desire to explore a beautiful country made me feel like I was walking on air, that is until the night of the opera. I went to an Italian opera with my Rotary club and while I was there my friend Nickola sent me a message from her cell phone. She told me that she didn't want to go anymore and was going to cancel her ticket. At first I didn't answer her message since I didn't know what to do. Eventually, I told her I understood and let her do what she wanted with her ticket, since she bought it. My heart was broken, not only because I was denied, but also because I have to pay a refund that will cost me 1/3 of the ticket to be reinbursed. I still want to go to Ireland and I am attempting to find people to come with me. Rotary has a rule that will not let me visit another country unless I have other people traveling with me. I will not give up until I absolutely must and I will try to find people who want to share the same passion as I. Life can be so unexpecting.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Opera In Liège (again)

     My host club invited me to join them to go to Liège to watch an Italian opera. I have never seen an Italian opera before and I didn't want to watch it without bringing my first host mom. Christine explained to me that she is not the shy type, but she prefers not to be among a group of strangers. She invited her mom for reassurance. My counselor didn't mind and he said I could bring as many family members as I would like. As for me, I was over joyed to have two of my favorite host family members accompany me.
     Before the opera, I walked to Christine's house from school to get prepared. It had been many months since I lived with the Drougets. Walking though the door, I had the impression that I never left. Lady, the short orange haired dog, greeted me with a kind nudge. I felt at home as I looked at all the familiar furniture and appliances laying about. Louisa showed me the pond that Pascal cleaned out. To my surprise, Louisa placed her finger on the surface of the water and waited. One of the crois fish came to the surface and attempted to eat her finger! It amused us and I managed to pet the fish. Croix fish are one of the most audacious sea creatures I have met. The time came for us to leave and Christine drove her mom and I to Liège.
     During the car ride, I received a message from my friend Nickola saying she was cancelling her plane ticket for Ireland. We planned to go to Ireland together for a week during the summer until she decided to back out. Instandly, my stomach churned and I felt discontent. Not only was I about to loose 1/3 of my money for a reimbursement, but I also felt miserable that Nickola told me the bad news from her cell phone. It upsets me when people use technology or other people to give bad news. She seemed nonchalant in her messages and simply said she didn't want to go anymore. Not knowing what to say, I didn't respond. 
     Christine parked the car and I tried to hide my discomfort. Pierre, my counselor, greeted us when we entered the huge white tent. He welcomed us to eat mini sandwiches with him and other strangers. Many of the Rotary men from my club were present and it took a half an hour for me to walk around to greet them all involving many bisous and small discussions. I was handed a glass of champaign and I quickly placed it on a table as discreetly as possible. Many people in Belgium enjoy alcoholic drinks (it's apart of the culture); I am not one of them. We walked over to our seats and Nickola sent me another message asking if I got her message. I excused myself and went into the bathroom to respond. It was impossible to stop her from canceling the trip and I told her that I understood.
     I tried to re-enter the opera, but I was stopped by the personnel. The guards told me I would sit on the corner seat in the back row until the break since the act already started. Even when I tried to explain to them that my host mom would get worried, they wouldn't listen. The rules are set in place to avoid interrupting other people. Feeling like everything was spinning out of my control, I sat in my seat and cried silently in the darkened room. With the fallout with Nickola and my banishment to the corner, I was feeling depressed. After a few minutes, I watched as my first host mom began to notice my absence and look around. She stood up and started walking toward the exit. Automatically, I stood up and rushed toward her. It would be better to rejoin her in our seats then have her be forced to join me in the back.
     Sometimes it's better to just forget about all the worries in the world and just enjoy the moment as it presented itself, and that was what I did. The performers sang in Italian which is a language I appreciate and admire greatly. It was easy enough to guess what was happening from their behaviors, emotions, and roles. The costumes and atmosphere were beautiful and the music was enchanting. Like in most operas, the lover died in the end and I cried again because it was extremely sad.  
     The curtain fell signaling the end and everyone applauded. The performers came back on stage to accept our cheers. After five minutes, people started to sneak out of the tent. The singers and actors on stage wouldn't stop bowing and my hands started to hurt. Clapping for a long period of time made me think about how the unspoken tradition of slapping our hands together expressed our courtesy and satisfaction for any event came to be. Christine signaled for me to go and we also hurried out the exit. 
     The Italian opera that my Rotary invited me to was spent charmingly with my host family members and aged Rotary men. The situation with Nickola wounded me emotionally and being forced to sit alone during the opera didn't improve my negative attitude. When I rejoined my host family and finally paid attention to the singing performers, I started to enjoy myself and absorb the story. I managed to cry one more time when one of the main characters died. That night was an event very emotional and enlightening.  

Meeting my Third Host Family

   I waited for April 14th for a long time and it finally came and with it a new revelation. It has been 10 days since I have lived with my new host family. The move was not extraordinary or remarkable and, in fact, came and went quickly. While I was still living with my second host family, my second host sisters were preparing to go to the ranch to ride horses like they usually do on Saturdays. My second host dad Pierre drove them to their activity around noon and came back for me. As Pierre surveyed his garden, I loaded my numerous baggage into the trunk. All my clothes and materials were packed and ready 3 days in advance. Silence covered us until we entered a small neighborhood in the Theux community. The car slowed down and Pierre rolled down his window to say hello to his ex-wife as she jogged by. It was the first day I had a glance of Pierre's ex-wife and it didn't last long. Pierre explained to me that his ex-wife and her grandparents live near my third host family's house, but I still am uncertain of the location.
      Pierre walked over to the door and rang the doorbell and I began to unload the car. Olivier, my 12 year old third host brother, answered the door and hauled some of my baggage into the entrée way. Soon enough, Pierre drove away declaring it was not the last time we would meet again and drove away. His words still ring in my head as I reflect on our conversation many days ago. My skinny, little host brother lead me upstairs with one of my bags in his hands. I took charge of the rest of my luggage and carried them to a room at the corner of the upstairs hallway next to the bathroom. My room was a small rectangular shape with one windows opposite the door and the other on the connecting wall on the right. A bunk bed stood next to the door and a wardrobe on the other side. The air was cold and I pulled my jumper closed. I thanked Olivier for his help and he turned on his heel and went downstairs. I watched his short blond, grey head of hair disappear down from the balcony, then I began to unload my clothes into the various drawers and shelves. Two hours of hard labor and I was finished. I turned in a 360° circle to survey my work and I couldn't help but smile; I was beginning a new adventure.
     Downstairs in the kitchen, I met my 16 year old host brother Andrea. He seemed to be preoccupied and we didn't talk much. Unsure of what to do, I grabbed my french book and began to read until my third host mom, Janique, came through the door. Having a woman in the room relaxed me a little (I am not used to male brothers). We all socialized until my third host dad, Pierre (also the name of my second host dad), came home from work.
     Eventually, we sat down and ate dinner. We discussed bathroom schedules, food preferences, etc. The day ended soon enough and I went to bed feeling like I was walking on clouds. My host parents were extremely nice and polite whereas my two host brothers seemed sophisticated and sportif.
The next day at 6:45 a.m. I woke up as I usually do. Cookies, my third host family's dog, threw himself on me in excitement as I opened the door into the kitchen. Janique was already sitting at the square table enjoying her breakfast. She greeted me gayly with a big smile and wrinkled eyes. When she stood up she was a few inches smaller than me and her short blond and brown hair was in disorder. Janique is a professional hairstylist and had not yet prepared for her day. I watched as she showed me where I could find the yogurt and fiber cereal to make my "parfait." We sat together and I admired Janiques ray-ban shaped glasses as I ate. Olivier had a soccer match, so Janique, Olivier, and I rushed out the door.
      We met up with the other team players and stood in the stands and cheered for Olivier and his team. The wind tugged at my clothes and the rain pelted my face with icy cold drops. Janique and I stood close together under her umbrella until half-time. Due to weather conditions, we stayed inside the lukewarm building next to the field and surveyed the match through the window. Janique constantly asked me if I would like a refreshment and I finally gave in and drank a hot chocolate and red pepper soup. It's normal for the adults to drink at least 3 beers or 3 cups of coffee.
Olivier didn't win the game, nevertheless, we left in a positive mood. My host mom and I walked Cookies afterwards on a looping path that took at least a half an hour. It was fun and the small tour calmed the energetic dog.
     School was the same the next day excluding the fact that my positivity was elevated more than usual. Over the weekend I felt a change within me. Once I felt safe and marvelous at home I felt stupendous everywhere. My third host family had an effect on me that shifted and uplifted my past, downcast attitude.
     Pierre took me for a run that Tuesday and it was inspiring. My host dad didn't jog, he practically ran the whole 40 minutes while we cross-country ran through the forest. The beginning was easy enough and we held a steady conversation until I was huffing to catch my breath. Pierre had no problem and carried on the conversation as I answered in one word responses.
Wednesday was also active as Janique took me shopped with her. Olivier needed to find clothes and shoes for the summer season and we spent hours in a mall in Liège. Janique was even gracious enough to buy me banana ice cream and tea before we came home.
      Nothing special happened until last Saturday. Olivier's cousin's friends Christoph were throwing a surprise birthday party and I was invited. Christoph's girlfriend picked Olivier and me up after I skyped my parents. She was a reckless driver and I felt I would throw up as the car shot over the windy road. When the car pulled into the parking lot I let out a breath of relief.
A group of men were waiting in a huge mob before me. There must have been at least 25 men and among them the girl who drove me to the place and myself were the only girls. We walked over to the office and listened patiently on the pick-nick tables outside as the instructor told us the rules and regulations. Each of us were given a thin suit that was two times my size. Poor Olivier was swimming in his. With the mask the costume was complete and each person resembled another person like they were twins.
     The group moved to the arena and we each grabbed one of who different colored paintball guns that separated us into two groups. Fortunate for me, I had the birthday boy on my team and Olivier. Small wood walls, logs, trees big tire wheels, a windowless van, holes, and the sort were scatter all over the arena. We pulled our masks over our faces (as was required) and gripped our weapons as each team walked to opposite sides of the netted area. The instructor counted down from three in french and when he gave the signal for us to go, everyone ran in different directions.
The object of the game was to shoot at the opponents and not get shot in the process. The last man or women standing would represent the end of the game and victory for their team. I didn't completely know what I was doing and hide behind a small square wall of wood. In my point of view, everyone was my enemy and I shot at anything that moved within my vision. Behind me I sensed somebody budge, so I whipped around and started shooting. It turns out that it was Christoph: the birthday boy who was on my team. When I shot crazily at him I managed not to hit him with a paintball. I stopped immediately the moment I had an epiphany and he forgave me afterwards.
     For the first round I was one of the first to exit the arena. My ability to avoid balls of paint the size of a big cherry shot at 200 miles per hour was not accelerated enough. The paintball exploded near my elbow and instant pain engulfed the area of impact. I threw my arms in the air to indicate my defeat and strolled outside the safety nets.
     Our group played a few rounds until the instructor decided to rise the stakes. He placed a red flag in the middle of the field on top of a pile of empty containers. The first group to capture the flag and run it to their beginning spot would win. The other team was more crafty than mine and they won.
We rotated arenas with other Belgian groups and we ended up in a larger paintball arena. More trees and huge crater sized holes were dispersed around us. The game began and I was getting more paranoid and nervous as the hours passed. At one point, I was stationed behind a tree at the wrong place at the wrong time. A bombardment of paint balls hit me all over my body. I didn't even have the time to cry out as my throat closed up and I flung my hand in the air to stop the enemies from raining more paint balls on me. I limped to the exit with tears in my eyes from the agony.
     The next match started with my emotions under control. It was the last game because our 3 hours were almost finished as well as our ammunition. The paintball instructor announced that if anyone got shot, it would not have any significance. Everyone had to play until all their ammunition was used. The game began; adrenaline was pumping through my body and my vision sharpened. My eyes roamed around the barriers, looking for my prey. I jumped inside a hole the size of two cars with my comrades. An avalanche of paint balls pelted us and I fell deeper into the hole were my back made contact with rocks and roots. The people didn't stop shooting and I laid stock still not knowing how to escape the enemy advancement. My comrade came over to me to ask if I was ok. I couldn't respond because my throat was chocked up again from crying. He pulled me up from behind underneath my arms. I regained composure and reassured him that I would survive. Handing him my loaded gun I said that I was finished and walked off the arena. Luckily I was wearing a mask and no one saw my outburst. Getting shot and falling down holes was exciting but I needed to take a break after the 3 hours.
     The game ended and our belgian group gathered to drink pop and hot wine. The weather was turning for the worst and the cold was becoming more bitter. One of the men among us drove Olivier and I home where I met up with the other members of my host family.
The next day was not as exciting as the paintball session, but calmer. Olivier had a soccer game that Sunday and I accompanied him and my host mom to the soccer match for the second time. Janique and I were almost the only girls at the event, but I still had fun talking with all the belgian soccer dads. A small market was in town and Janique and I shopped and ate free samples. We must have consumed at least a meal worth of soup and hot chocolate during the break between the soccer match before we left. The match was declared as a draw in the end.
     After the match, Janique and I took Cookies to get his hair cut. The moment I saw the dog after his hair cut I had to stop myself from laughing. Cookies hair was cut extremely short everywhere except his tail and the top of his head. I had the impression that the dog had a mullet. When we brought him back to the house, my host brother laughed. Luckily hair grows. We watched an american film in French, then my first week with my family ended.
      Meeting my new host family was one of the busiest and exciting moments in Belgium. Everyday was filled with activities. Watching Olivier play soccer is a new experience for me because I didn't only meet fun soccer dads, but I also spend intimate time with my third host mom. Paintballing for the first time in Belgium was harsh and rough, yet I had the time of my life. I can say that I know what it feels like to get shot and how to avoid it. Truely, I landed in a lucky situation. I couldn't be happier and my third host family is wonderful. I don't regret my Belgium life whatsoever.

     

Friday, March 30, 2012

Déjà-Vous

         Dans deux semaine, mes amies belge et moi sont allées a la glacier pour manger le glace. Il y a deux magazine de glace en Theux mais l'en que je suis visité est le meilleur. Le mercredi passe, les Slovaques et les Belge ont joué le sport comme le foot, le volley, etc. Mes camarades de classe ont visité Slovaquie et nous avons dormi chez quelque famille durant le voyage de RHETO. Pour l'instant, les Slovaques visitent Belgique et les Belge les accueillent. Les sport sont les activités que mon école a organisé. Mes amies et moi ont regardé le volley et après nous sommes partis à la magazine avec leur correspondants. Il faisait beau et j'ai mangé mon glace dans l'extérieur. Le magazine restait dans le coins à côté de le friterie avec autres magazine auteur le roue. Pour un moment, j'ai regardé mon malette et j'ai vu quelque chose bizarre. J'ai nettoyé mon sac à doc quand j'écrasais mon yaourt dans le poche. J'ai été gêne un peu par la situation. Aussi, j'ai vu un Volkswagen beetle jaune pour le deuxième fois à la même endoit avec les mêmes personnes dans le même rue. J'ai frappé sur mon amie car on fait ça avec le joue s'appelle slug-bug ou punch-buggy. Nous avons fini nos desserts et nous sommes allées chez Noël avec Pauline et la correspondant de Noël. Je suis resté quelque minutes là-bas, puis la mère de Pauline m'a conduit chez moi. Finalement, mes parents d'accueil sont retournés et nous avons mangé ensemble. Je m'a bien amusé avec mes amis et j'ai mangé de bonne glace.  

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Journée Adventure

SATURDAY:
     Belgium is known for its convenient transport despite its antique vehicles. The trains and buses in Belgium are well organized and accessible due to its small land mass size. I wanted to take my friend Lydia to Germany and within one night we planned our day and took the train the next morning to Aachen. Were in the next country in less than an hour during our train ride. The reason I chose Aachen for our adventure was for its well-know shops, cathedrals, scenery, and castles.
     The moment Lydia and I stepped off the train we started heading in the direction of the information center to search for a map and information. In a local store near us, we talked to a cashier who gave us brief directions and we managed to find the information center with lots of guessing. The area was beautiful and we sat down on some steps near a restaurant to enjoy our pick-nick. As pedestrians walked by, Lydia and I took turns telling stories about them depending on their behavior and clothing. Our game ended when the last sandwich was eaten and we were on our way again.
     An ally of small shops caught our attention and we lolygaged eating free gingerbread samples from various bakeries. Lydia knew that a tour for the local cathedral began at 2 o'clock in the afternoon and we walked through the office doors next to the cathedral (we needed to confirm our participation). The secretaries told us that it was too late to sign up because the guided tour was full. We made our way outside behind the group and decided to follow them. The guide didn't notice two extra candidates (Lydia and myself) and he lead us around while telling us the cathedral's history. What I found extremely impressive about our guide was the fact that he spoke in fluent english the whole time, german being his first. The guide informed us about Charleroi, the construction of the building, and more. I gazed around the ancient and magnificent church. The guide mentioned that the windows were replaced, but every other aspect remained the same. I examined Charleroi's tomb and touched his throne. It was an enriching experience.
     The tour ended and Lydia and I went back to shopping. In almost every store we visited, Lydia bought some accessory or other. I had the impression that money was growing from her purse. We shared some belgian waffles, then Lydia went to the grocery store to buy ice cream. The temperature was still extremely hot when we boarded the train for our return. Back at the Verviers train station, Lydia's host dad drove us home and we still had lots of time on our hands. I showed Lydia the Franchimont castle and my school. We managed to spend two hours outside touring Theux before we came back to my house to cook dinner.
     Originally, we were going to cook chinese noodles, but we ended up making a creation of our own. Our masterpiece consisted of black rice, peas, curry sauce, apples, carrots, celery, and scrambled eggs. In reality, our dish was made of whatever we found in the cupboards. Pierre came home and ate with us before Règine came home. Pierre and Règine ate a second dinner as we all socialized. Pierre asked Lydia numerous questions and she could barely answer before Pierre demanded the next question at her. Later that night Lydia told me she was a little intimated by my host parent's strong personalities. Règine offered us special marange and strawberry ice cream with fresh strawberries and whipped cream on top. My friend and I were not tired after the ice cream dessert, so we watched the You Tube video called Kony. The next day was going to be challenging because we were having a rotary activity involving physical exercise. We settled down and fell asleep to reserve our strenth.
SUNDAY:
     Rotary organized another activity and the exchange students were meeting in Wavre to visit the park called Journée Adventure. Règine, my second host mom, woke my friend and I up because the alarm on my phone didn't ring. Without knowing, daylight savings happened overnight and no one told us. Lydia, my friend from New Zealand, and I got ready within fifteen minutes and we were out the door with our workout suits on and tennis shoes strapped to our feet. Our late start prevented Lydia and I from eating breakfast and Règine decided to stop at the bakery on the way to Verviers. Règine forgot where the bakery was and turned the car around thinking that she passed it. Within a few minutes she realized it was further down the road and we pivoted again back onto our path. I kept checking the clock because we had less than ten minutes to get to the train station and it was no where near us. The car stopped and Règine ran inside to find us breakfast. Back on the road, Règine became lost once more and at length found the road. I hopped out of the car when it came to our destination. Lydia and I shot into the train just in time before it embarked. My other Rotary friends were waiting for us on the seats and we all squeezed together.
     The train eventually dropped us off at Leuven in the Dutch region of Bemgium. My friends ate their first and second breakfasts' in a nearby bakery. We had an hour to waste and individually rounded up chairs to sit outside and enjoy the spring weather. Nicola needed to find an ATM and I decided to ask the cashier in the restaurant where the nearest one was. I resorted to english because I don't know how to speak dutch and no one spoke french. All at once, the cashier and customers jumped to my aid. A young women told me in pidgin english to follow her and she walked out the door immediately. My friends watched me as I ran after the stranger leading me down the road. I turned my head to find the group of exchange students trailing behind me. The women guided me to the ATM in the train station and returned to the bakery. My friends caught up with me and other foreign exchange students as well who were disembarking their train.
     With our new, bigger group, we boarded the train heading for Wavre. Within an hour all the exchange students were together and the Rotex chaperons lead us to Journée Adventure. The cost for entry was 25 euros and I reached inside my purse to pay for the cost. To my horror I discovered that I grabbed the wrong wallet and my 50 dollar bill was all I had. My morning was hectic and my lack of focus caused my mixup. I attempted to pay with my american money, but it was not acceptable. My friend Maisa from Finland saw my struggle and lent me 25 euros, permitting me entrance.
     The exchange student group walked inside a building where a worker handed me a blue jump suit with a cord attached. I put the metal object at the end of the cord in the loop at the side of my suit and placed my bags in the locker room. The worker lead the exchange students to an area were we strapped on harnesses, then we began our first climbing obstacle course. Three levels of difficulty existed within the camp: green, red, and black (green being the easiest level and black the hardest). For obvious reasons, our group started on the green level and I slid the metal object shaped like a T onto the cord. Various obstacles and platforms were connected to the trees and a main metal cord hung beside it. I crossed bridges, cords, planks, monkey bars, ropes, and climbing walls hanging in the air between each platform on the trees.
     My friends and I finished the path in the trees and we found the easiest level lull, so we walked straight to the hardest black course. A young girl was passing between the trees on these ropes with stirrups when she fell. Her cord snapped as her weight pulled against it. After a few attempts to regain her balance she gave up and hung limp in the air. An hour passed before my friends and I decided to get off the course and we chronologically turned around and returned to the beginning and unhooked ourselves from the main cord: it's impossible to unhook yourself in the middle of the course once you slide the metal object from your cord to the main chain.
     Another strenuous black course was nearby and we hopped on. Throsby and Nicola were behind me while Jess and Maisa were ahead of me. Throsby would stop in-between each obstacle and I would wait patiently. As the challenge augmented, Throsby became more stiff. Multiple zip lines marked the end of our path. I descended and gained so much momentum that I ran into the cushion on the tree. My body rebounded and I slid back off the platform and I hung in the air from my cord, stuck. Throsby and Nicola were oblivious to my problem and Throsby started to descend as well. I watched as he glided toward me and I closed my eyes and braised myself as he collided into me. A loud clap sounded as our bodies met and we twirled in a circle with our cords twisted. I was on top of Throsby as we hung in the air and we tried to untangle ourselves. A rope was not far from our reach and Throwsby attempted to push me toward it without success. We were only a few feet from the ground, but our cords connected to our harnesses held us fast. A worker came to save us and tried to grab my foot to pull me back to the platform, but all he did was pull off my shoe. He stomped away and reappeared on the platform in front of us. He connected himself to the cord and pulled himself toward us like an army crawl. He whipped out another cord and connected himself to us and proceeded to drag us to the end of the course. I walked over to Throsby who was sitting on the bench to see if he was ok. His face was as white as a sheet and I felt his shaking body under my hand as I patted him on the back. Nicola wanted to begin the next black course we left beforehand, but most of our friends backed out.
     Nicola lead the way followed by myself, Chris, Danni, and Michaela. We climbed until we were extremely high in the air among the trees. I crossed some monkey bars and watched Maisa as she attempted to follow suit. Her hand slipped and I watched in horror as she swung into the edge of the platform where I stood. Nicola and I dragged Maisa on top of the platform and she cried in pain. Her back took a hard hit and the physical effort was a backbreaker (literally). Without much convincing, Maisa and a few other girls waited for the worker to come to unhook them and lower them down back to the ground.
     I realized that the rate of our advancement through the course would not comply with the time we needed to catch the train. It was impossible to quicken our pace since other visitors were ahead of us. In an optimistic way I saw our position as an opportunity to enjoy the park longer. My friend Maisa was walking on the path heading toward the exit and spotted me. It was my intention to walk with her back to the train station. I told her that I could pay her back with the money I was going to take out at the local ATM in the train station, however, I was still stuck on the course. Fortunately, my other friend Lydia gave her money to allow her to buy her train ticket and I would pay Lydia back some other time.
     At the end of my course, most of the exchange students already left. Chris, Danni, Patrícia, Nicola, Morgen and I were escorted to the train station after we ate free waffles and drank sparkling ice tea. The train stopped in Leuven again and we hung out at the same bakery we visited that morning. When I got off at the Verviers train station Règine picked me up and drove me home. It was a cheerful ending.
     Lydia and I visited many shops and a church in Aachen on Saturday while on Sunday I climbed around in the trees at the Journée Adventure park. The german shops and food were amazing in Aachen. We learned about Charloi and a famous cathedral. The courses in the park were challenging and delightful. Even though I missed my train, some of my friends stayed with me and accompanied me back to my village. The weekend began and ended perfectly.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Thursday: Rotary President Visit

     Within every organization someone who is over achieving stands at the top and is the leader of leaders and followers. I saw the Rotary exchange president of Rotary for the first time that Saturday. During the morning I woke up with my host parents to eat with them and see them off before they went to work. It was possible for me to sleep in and to enjoy a few more hours of sweet dreams, but I preferred to eat and socialize with my family. When my host parents went out the door I looked at the clock reading 8:00 a.m. I knew I would have to hurry to prepare for the Rotary get together. A superstition I am familiar with describes women as people who need lots of time for preparation and I believe it. The arrival time for my train came and passed and I still was in my house not fully put together.
     The event started at 10:00 a.m. and my next train stopped in Verviers fifteen minutes after 10:00 a.m. As quick as humanly possible, I rushed out the door ready for the half an hour walk from my house to the nearest train stop. Meanwhile, my neighbor was driving down the road and spotted me. She stopped next to me as I was fast walking and rolled down her window. In a soft voice she called out and offered me a ride. I accepted with gratitude and sat down next to the older women in her small car. The conversation went straight to the subject about foreign exchange (like most of my conversations). Apparently, the woman's daughter was a Rotary exchange student a few years ago. The car arrived at my stop and my elderly neighbor turned her clear blue eyes on me with intense interest and carried on the conversation for a few minutes longer. She didn't have a job to go to since she was retired and had time to spare. Soon enough the bell started ringing signaling the approaching train and I thanked my generous chauffeur.
     The ride on the train went by fast and I was in the Verviers train station as scheduled. No other foreign exchange student were in sight and I started a steady jog toward the Verviers hotel. A voice called my name behind me and I turned to find my good friend Henry trailing behind me. He missed his bus and was also as late as I. We fell into step at the same rhythm and moved as fast as we could without looking more awkward to the pedestrians surrounding us. I glanced at Henry's outfit with his purple and back tie, dress black pants and shirt with his black rotary blazer. I was wearing my rotary blazer as well except mine was dark blue jingling with more multiple pins. I have been in Belgium a half year longer than Henry, henceforth I have more pins through seniority. In the rotary exchange, the students trade their pins that represent their countries and place them on their blazers as a Rotary tradition.
     Eventually, we made it to the hotel except the location changed and the Rotary leaders lead us to the building next door where we originally practiced our meeting. Henry and I entered the movie theater and everyone was standing around drinking and eating appetizers. The organizers of the event rounded us up and we overviewed again what we had to do. The Rotary president was on his way and the exchange students lined up in two lines facing each other filling the halls. I was holding an umbrella with the rotary logo in one hand and a hand clapper toy in the other, mirroring the students around me. Withing a few minutes the rotary president walked through the doors and we began to shake the hand clapper toys and put on our fake smiles. A mob of elderly figures passed before me and I glimpsed the short Indian man responsible for us all. The rims of his golden, rounded glasses shimmered as he turned his face left to right and smile back at us.
     They walked into one of the theater rooms and the students followed suit a half an hour later. Random people gave speeches, awards were given out, and songs were sung in celebration of this grand event. The president's speech was intriguing and interesting as I listened to his Indian accented english. An Indian exchange student sung a song in her language to show respect for the Rotary president then the exchange students sung "Imagine" by John Lennon. Around 2:00 in the afternoon everyone dispersed and went to search for the free sandwiches, waffles, chips, and beverages laying on the tables waiting for us.
     People socialized for a few hours until we were ushered into the movie theater room to watch "The Hunger Games." I settled down next to my New Zealand friend Nicola and waited in anticipation for the movie to begin. Nicola is a book worm and read The Hunger Games series multiple times and began to read them in french. As the lights dimmed, I turned to her to say a few last words before the screen lighted. Even in the dark room her light blond hair still shined and her blue eyes were fixed on the screen when the actors began speaking in english with the french and dutch subtitles below.
     The plot to the movie began slowly and gained action and suspense as the minutes rolled by. My emotions were on a roller coaster as the film depicted depressing, scary, and joyous scenes. People around me were talking, yelling, and laughing, distracting me from my concentrating. I didn't personally express my frustration with the undisciplined exchange students, but I didn't have to. Someone would shout something random and it would be followed by another person yelling at them to be quiet: it was a vicious never ending cycle of cause and reaction. Sadly enough, the movie ended and I walked out of the free movie feeling satisfied. When books are based off of movies they are usually lesser in their quality, however, a few (like The Hunger Games) turn out fine.
     Even though I didn't have regular school during the day, I still had to go to my after school french class when the Rotary event finished. Some of my friends decided to skip class habitually; as for me, I love my french classes and I am the only one who has not missed one since it's beginning. I walked into the building with the few New Zealand friends who decided to come and we greeted our other adult classmates. Candala from Chili was sitting at the table in her regular spot in the lounge room. A smile spread on her freckled brown face, causing wrinkles at the corner of her eyes to form squinting. I bent down to bisous her on the cheek. She said bonjour with her spanish accent. I went around the table bisouing each of my classmates. When I stopped near Booton and bisoused him he pulled away a little. He does it, not just to me, but to everyone. My believe is that Booton's religion and culture is strict about his behavior toward people and women in particular. Booton has a shy character and is quiet; it's possible that he hesitates to speak due to his lack of knowledge in the french language like the rest of the class. I have about 13 classmates, so it took me about a minute to walk around the table to greet each person.
     The french teacher walked into the room to signal the class was about to begin. We gathered our bags and walked upstairs to the classroom overlooking the town of Verviers. I pulled out my supplies including pencils, pens, highlighters, papers, binders, etc. There doesn't come a day when I am not prepared and my classmates know it. My adult classmates took special interest in me and the foreign exchange students that day because we were wearing fancy clothes with our blazers filled with cultural pins. After the half an hour break period, most of my friends left to catch the bus and I walked out the door after another half an hour to wait for Règine. Every Monday and Thursday Règine or Pierre come to pick me up, but they usually come later and I don't come home until 8:30 p.m. My host mom usually starts cooking within the half an hour since we arrive. It's been hard having to adjust to eating between 9 and 10 o'clock at night and it still is a challenge.
     When I finished eating it was already time to sleep. I had a full school day ahead of me the following morning. Every night before I fall asleep I pull out my book to read a few pages. I starting reading the Tin Tin comic series and Eragon in french to improve my language skills. I went to sleep reminiscing about my first  and probably last time meeting the president of the Rotary organization.
     The Rotary meeting for the President was amusing with all the activities including eating, socializing, watching free movies, etc. I got off on a rough start when I missed my train due to my need to look nice (similar to many girls). The Rotary President seemed polite and confident, even though I didn't get the chance to speak with him. My french classes were a great learning experience like always. As for the moment before going to bed, I read my books and fell asleep.

Practice Rotary Meeting




     My Saterday morning was spent preparing before I had to take the train at 10:57 a.m. to Namur. I was getting excited because I was going to spend the day with my close Germany friend Doreen. My host dad dropped me off at the train station and my day began. An hour and a half after I was in the Namur train station, however, Doreen was nowhere to be seen. Moude, Doreen's host mom, forgot to dropper her off at the train stop near her house, so her mom drove her to our rendezvous point. It took a few confusing minutes to find each other in the huge train station, but we managed to locate one another.
     Doreen and I walked outside near the train station to pass the time because her Belgian friend Sarah was coming as well. With time on our hands, Doreen bought some strawberries and post cards. I searched for a bathroom in a sketchy area (we left as soon a possible). We came back to the train station to pick up Sarah. As I walked toward her I noticed her medium brown hair and short height. Even though she was 18, she was a head smaller than me and was in 4th grade in high school with Doreen. It was well into the afternoon and we hadn't eaten yet because we wanted to have a pick-nick. Due to the overcast weather, we searched for a bakery and sat down at the indoor restaurant around 1:30 p.m. and gladly ate.
     We managed to do some shopping and to spend a wonderful time together until the movie was about to start at the local theatre. One of the foreign exchange students I met on the WEP trip in Spain met us in the movie theatre as well. The building was confusing and seemed like a labyrinth. The ticket collector pointed out the general direction of our destination. After layers of stairs and hallways leading us in confusing circles we entered the movie theatre just in time for the credits to start. Doreen and I needed to use the bathroom and it was confidently within the room next to the screen (strangely enough). The door to the bathroom lead to a room with two doors: one for females and the other for males. The women's bathroom was already occupied, so Doreen walked through the boys bathroom door. I stood guard and waited patiently like any friend. I watched as a middle aged man walked out of the girl's bathroom door with a garbage can in his hand. The stranger proceeded to stand near me and continue to eat from the garbage. I watched in horror as he finished, placed the garbage can on the floor, and refill it with the litter he previously threw on the floor around him. There was something definitely strange about this man and I ushered Doreen back to the theatre room when she finished. Throughout the duration of the film the same man went to the bathroom 4 more times (doing who knows what).
     The film ended and Doreen, my friend from Brazil, Doreen's friend, and I walked through the labyrinth to return outside. My train was scheduled to leave soon and everyone walked to the train station. My host dad asked me to come home earlier, but I missed the other train due to my position. The train I took to Namur took about an hour, while the train ride home was an hour longer: sometimes the connecting train is not on the same schedule as others. When I arrived at my stop at Franchimont it was already getting dark. I started walking and a half an hour later I was home. My host siblings were sitting around the T.V. alone. When I asked where the parents were they replied that they went to a party. It's believe Pierre and Règine wanted me to come home from my get together with my friend to baby sit. Pierre told me he wanted me to be at the house earlier because he wanted the kids to experience a foreign exchange student, however, I found it strange that they were not home themselves.
     The next day I woke up and prepared for my Rotary activity. The 1630 Rotary students had to go to an obligatory gathering that started before midday. My host parents were still sleeping and the time was passing quickly. Eventually, I had to wake them up with much regret. Since my host parents came home so late that I didn't have the time to preview them to my activity until I had to wake them up the next morning. Règine got out of bed and gave me a ride. I felt guilty and expressed my remorse. She forgave me and I walked into the Verviers hotel feeling less guilty. A Rotary leader told us the plans changed and he drove us to the movie theatre. From that point, a different Rotarian drove us to the train station to pick up other exchange students, then we came back to the theatre. I am still unsure why the Rotarians were driving us to all these places.
     A massive group of teenagers stood together eating free waffles and free pop. The practice Rotary meeting soon began. I was handed an umbrella and ushered in line with the others. Two lines were formed facing each other with a walking space between us. Hours passed as the leaders tried to control the chaos. People were talking, roaming around, and not paying attention. The Rotarians switched  between french, english, and spanish trying to explain what we had to do for the Rotary president's arrival that Thursday. Finally, the Rotarians gave the students buttery sandwiches and waffles for lunch. When we finished eating, we tried to practice standing in lines and, this time, held the national flags from each country while fake smiling. The leaders rounded us up again and we sang the song called, "Imagine," by John Lennon. The practice finished, but I was unsure if the job was actually finished: we didn't accomplish much.
     My New Zealand friends invited me to go to a parade in Welkenraedt while we were standing around trying to decide what to do. I called Règine and asked her if I could go and what time I should come back. She said I could and allowed me to decide what time I could come home. When I finished negotiated with Règine I remembered that I forgot my backpack in the Rotarian's car from the time when he was driving us all over town. With a quick explanation to my friends, I ran toward the parking lot. An exchange student and I met up before I stepped outside and handed me my backpack. She forgot her bags in the car as well and grabbed mine. With my bag in hand, I ran back to meet up with my friends at the front of the building, but they were nowhere to be seen. They must have forgotten me and I ran to the train station to catch up with them before it was too late. I bolted through the Verviers train station to meet a group already waiting. Ironically, Henry went back to find me. I felt touched that he searched for me even though he accidentally left.
     Once everyone was together, we boarded the train heading for the German section in Belgium. The parade was already in session in Welkenrraedt. The different floats blasted their music as they passed by and disguised people waved at the cheering crowds. Candy rained down on the on-lookers and the children scattered about me trying to collect them. My group consisted of many people and we dispersed in different directions. Henry and Jack ended up in their Belgian friend's house and all the girls, including me, joined them in good time. The house was somewhat in a disarray and people were running around. Food and drinks were laid on the table and the parents of the Belgian offered us lunch and alcohol. I accepted the small glass of wine, however, I didn't drink much. The others, on the other hand, were drunk. Someone gave Henry a guitar and he began to sing and play. We were captivated by his songs that he made up the lyrics on the spot. Later, as we talked about our day, Henry couldn't even remember what he did. The owners of the house were kind and generous. It shocked me how they allowed random strangers in their home and fed us like we were old friends. As I left I thanked them generously and walked back on the street where the parade was finishing.
     My friends accompanied me to my train and saw me off. I stood in the doorway until the doors closed on me to talk with my friends as long as possible. Hurridly, I walked into the train car and sat by the window to get one more glimpse of my good friends. The train began to pull away and my friends scrambled to keep in my view through the window I peered out of. A grin grew on my face and I twisted my head to watch them disappeared from my view. Tears filled my eyes as I thought about how much I love my friends and how much I missed them already. A girl about the same age as me walked into the train cart and sat on the seat across the aisle from me. The young girl noticed I was crying and asked if I was ok. I looked up and noticed she was crying as well. She explained to me that her boyfriend was muslim and was angry with her because she drank alcohol and became drunk. I was crying because I missed my New Zealand friends. The girl left when he stop came and I was left alone with three other strange boys.
     Waiting patently, I sat next to the window minding my business. The boys advanced toward me and tried to talk to me. Instantly I knew something was horrible wrong with them (perhaps they were drunk or on drugs). Despite their attempts to gain my attention I tried end our conversation. When I had enough of their inappropriate questions I stood up to leave and the boys stood in my way. Without warning, one of the boys said I was beautiful and leaned in and kissed me. Shocked, I backed away and they moved toward me. The train came to a stop and I rushed out the door and sprinted down the road. My heart was beating fast and a cry escaped from my lips. The only thought in my mind was my desire to be home and tears filled my eyes as I began to weep. My phone was in my hand and I dialed Règines number as I looked around the dark, deserted train platform. Directly after I said I was at the Pepinster train stop in my strained voice Règine demanded why I got off the train. I became mute as my throat chocked up with emotion as I attempted to explain what happened. All I could get out in french was, "could you please pick me up from the Pepinster train station." Règine expressed her frustration that I did not get off at the closer train stop 5 minutes away and that she was busy. With a loud click, Règine hung up the phone without saying goodbye. It was possible that she was angry when I didn't answer her question. A half an hour later Règines car pulled up beside me and I plopped down in the seat and broke down again. Règine Turned to me and asked in a commanding voice what happened. Meanwhile Règine drove, I  re-lived the incident as I anxiously re-told my story. All Règine had to say was that these situations happen and that she was furious at me about yesterday and that day. In my mind I thought my day couldn't get any worse; I was wrong.
     I walked into my house and downstairs to the kitchen trying to regain my composure. I saw Pierre signal to Clemence to walk toward me. Clemence asked if I was coming to present to her class the next Thursday. With much regret I told her I couldn't because Rotary e-mailed me that I had to go to an obligatory meeting. Pierre was standing near and and before I could complete my sentence he started to yell at me. I remember he said that he was vexed and disappointed for his daughter. Clemence said with her little voice that she didn't mind and we could reschedule the date for my presentation to her elementary english class. On the other hand, Pierre wouldn't hear of it. Before that night, I told Règine that I couldn't go to Clemence's gig when I received the message from Rotary and she probably told Pierre. Perhaps Pierre and Règine wanted me to tell Clemence the bad news myself. So many things were going wrong and I felt helpless as I watch my relationship with my host parents become destroyed within a weekend. I still apologize for the unfortunate chain of events, but all Pierre says is, "of course you are sorry." In my opinion, I don't think they forgive me.
     From my adventure to Namur with my friend to the Rotary even the next day, I had a blast. Most of the time was spent talking with my friends and having a good time, yet there were also dark moments. The train is more complicated than I thought pertaining to the scheduling and passengers. It's important to be with friends and to have a life outside the house equally to the need to be cautious and weary. Hopefully my host parents will look back on the weekend and see it as a simple mistake and misunderstanding because I don't feel content when anyone hates me.

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Walloon Language

     while I was watching the television with my family the other night, an emission about Wisconsin appeared. The story intrigued me because I come from the state of Wisconsin and I wanted to watch something about the United States. The channels on my host parents television usually revolves around Belgium or France; on top of that, it's in french. The news article talked about the generation of people from the Belgian immigrants who moved to Lincoln, Wisconsin. The American citizens who descended from Belgian immigrants still spoke english, but kept their Walloon language as well. In France and Belgium, the citizens speak french, however, an old language called Walloon is spoken in Belgium as well (besides dutch in the northern part of the country). People have described the Walloon language to me as a shake spear version of speaking in french. My host grandparents understand and speak Wallonie; the younger generations do not. The Walloon language is slowly dying, yet it's still spoken in my home state. The history lesson was important to me because it revealed that even though the world is a big place, immigrants can keep a piece of them wherever they go.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Sweet Dreams

     The last day of my trip in the Alps with my host mom and her family and friends started extremely early. My host mom woke me up around 4 o'clock in the morning so we could get on the road before traffic would pile up. The instant Règine brought me to consciousness, the first thought that came to my mind was the context of my dream. As I mulled over my dream I realized that I was not speaking english, but french! The characters in my dream spoke in french as well. Most of the time I do not remember my dreams, however, I believe I have dreamt in french before without knowing it. The main reason I knew that night I dreamt in french was caused by Règine who interrupted my Rapid Eye Movement sleep cycle before it was finished. In fact, when people experience their most vivid dreams they are having Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. 
     Dreams go through different types of sleep cycles and REM sleep is only one part of it. Most people do not recall their dreams unless they write it down; it depends on the person. The dreams each person experiences may reflect their feelings, thoughts, behaviors, personality, motives, values, beliefs, etc.
     On the other side of regular dreams, nightmares also exist. The main causes of nightmares are usually stress, trauma, emotional events, illness, drugs, or medication. People who are generally more sensitive and open are more susceptible to nightmares than others. A cure for these harsh dreams don't exist, however, they come and go as is natural in life.
     My discovery of the dream during my vacation was surprising and exciting. I doubted myself whether I actually dreamt in french, but it was real. Dreams reflect what people think and do and I believe, since I am constantly surrounded by french, that it has surfaced in my dreams. The reason why people dream is still a mystery to me, but I take pleasure in their drama.

This Dog Loves Shoes

     My first host sister, Louisa, and I took Lady, my first host family's short golden orange dog, and my first host grandparent's dog for a walk. Convieniently, my first host grandparents live next door to my first host family and Louisa and I went to search for him. The grandparents were on vacation and we let ourselves in. The dog was sitting on a chair chewing on a sandale. Louisa and I tried to convince the dog to unlock his jaws on the shoe, but he wouldn't budge. We gave up after our 10 minute of exertion. While we walked down the street, Louisa, the dog, and I had our shoes with us. I looked down at my first host grandparents dog and smiled as he galloped with the oversized shoe hanging from the corner of his mouth. Even when we finished our walk, Louisa insisted that she needed to remove the shoe from the dog's death grip. She tried everything from offering the dog treats to lifting up the shoe in the air with the dog latched on, suspended in the air. Lots of time passed and I gave up and sat on the road watching my first host sister continue her struggle with the dog. When all hope was almost lost, a cat came into view and the dog immediately dropped the sandale and ran after the house cat. With the problem solved we caught the dog, put him back in the house, then went home next door to eat chocolate cake. I suppose the hour we spent together was worth it because we were together wasting time.It was also hilarious that my host grandparents dog went for a stroll with a shoe.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Ladybug Attack

     This morning I woke up not wanting to get out of my bed. Somedays I like to just lay in bed and allow myself a few more minutes before I must prepare for the day and work at school. I always debate to myself whether I should stay and succumb to my desire to resume my sweat dreams or to get up like a responsible person. Usually this time period is relaxing, but a strange sensation on my leg was distracting me. When I uncovered my blankets I was faced with a gang of ladybugs. I can live with ladybugs when they are outside and I can co-exist with them if they stumble inside the house, but when they decided to take a stroll on my legs while I sleep then there is a problem. As carefully and rapidly as I could, I removed the insects from my bed and from my leg and placed them outside my window. They will probably find a way back inside my room (hopefully not on my body).

Rotary Luxembourg Saturday and Carnival Parade Sunday

     At 6:45 a.m. I woke up as I would for any ordinary school day, except my day wasn't going to lead there. Règine drove me to Liège-Guillemins (the train station in the city of Liège) and I met up with the other Rotary foreign exchange students. We talked and greeted everyone with the belgian bisous tradition, then loaded in the bus heading for Luxembourg. The road trip lasted for two hours before we walked off the bus. My legs never habituate to car rides, however, I was able to distract myself by socializing non-stop with my english-speaking buddies. Henry, Chris, Lydia, and Jessica came from the small island of New Zealand and Nicola from Australia. Josie was also with us and she came from South Africa. I talked to Henry, Lydia, and Josie for most of the time. I always want to be around Henry because he is a bundle of energy and positivity. He constantly moves his skinny, tall frame around and always mentions some subject on rock music. What attracts my attention when I look at him is usually his thick and frizzy strawberry blond hair or his sky blue eyes.
     The Rotary leaders herded us to "la Braserie Bofferding" - a beer producing factory. The moment I walked through the door a wave of chemical oders filled my nose. I wanted to turn around and go back the way I came in, but it was too late: the guide lowered a screen in the middle of the room and turned on a short film. During our fifteen minute overview of how beer was process, the students stood together and watched attentively.
     The group moved with the guide to the next room to drink some refreshments when the film finished. At first we were given water, then we were handed small doses of vodka and huge cups of beer. It's unfortunate to say that some exchange students abused the fact that they were given free beer and sneaked more than they could handle. It was not even noon and many teenagers were drunk. We were escorted through the building and lead back to the bus at the end of the tour.
     The next stop on our mini-tour was at "le grand-duché de Luxembourg" - the central region of Luxembourg with many shopping sites and historical buildings. My Zew Zealand friends and I stayed together in a pack as we strolled down the streets for a few hours. One of the boys following us was really drunk. We didn't tell him to leave us alone, but we expressed our frustration with his behavior when he constantly asked bazar questions in his slurred voice.
     Hunger drove the students together and we left for "le Luxembourgeois au Rehazenter" - a sports club building for handicapped civilians. The cafeteria was open for us to consume our lunch. I counted it strange that all these young exchange students were eating on the tables at one half of the room, gobbling our food down, while some elderly and disabled people were quietly eating and moving about across the room. What a strange idea for Rotary to decide that we stopped to eat at this type of recreation center for disabled and elderly people.
     Another two hours of bus travel brought us back to Liège at 19:30 p.m. It was already an hour past our arrival when my friends and I got off the train bringing us home. I was sad as I watched my friends driven away by their host parents. It had been ages since I talked in english non-stop and my head hurt like it never had before. My New Zealand friends arrived only last month and it wasn't until this day that we had time to just talk and appreciate one another's company without distractions. We have french classes after school every Monday and Thursday, so we were not complete strangers before that day.
     Christine picked me up from the local train station and brought me back to Franchimont to a home cooked meal waiting for me. I love my first host family because they are wonderful in ways I can't describe. That night, I slept until 7:00 a.m., then got ready for the day and was out the door by 10:00 a.m. My first host family was taking me to the Carnival parade.
     Christines friend's house was on the street where the parade would pass and we waited for it to begin. Music rung in my hears, signaling the approaching spectacle. The adults and children lined the streets and watched the floats and people in costume march past. Hours passed before we considered re-entering the house. One of the parade participants followed us. She was wearing a Lady Gaga outfit and made conversation with us while we sat and drank. Her white wig was long and straight with a bow made of wig hair stationed on the side of her head. The Lada Gaga personage wore a black dress that was short enough to exposed her but and fish net tights. The woman gave me her phone number and was on her way within a half an hour. Later in the day I mentioned her to Christine and she told me she didn't know her; neither did any body. I talked to the stranger like everyone else as if she was an old friend because I thought she was a friend: I was wrong (it's astounding how situations like this one happens).
     The parade in Tiege finished, yet our group was not. Christine drove us to the next neighborhood to watch another parade. The second round of dancing people, overdone floats, and free candy was more spectacular. The only issue was that the parading people would stuff confetti down my shirt every few hours. It was a joke when they threw confetti at people for entertainment, yet the effort of trying to get the little pieces of colored paper out of my bra, shirt, pants, and underwear was unpleasant.
     We couldn't leave for another few hours because the first parade I saw in Tiege was coming to present itself on the street where we stood. The location and timing were fine with me since I was receiving free candy and a free show. We left eventually and came back home. My third host mom came over to the house to socialize while my first host sister and I danced crazily to a dance video game. With all wonderful dates, it had to end and Christine drove me back to my second host family's house.
     My weekend in Luxembourg with Rotary and at the Carnival parades with my first host family was amusing. Rotary allowed us to tour the beer factory and taste some of their products as well. I also saw more of Luxembourg as my New Zealand friends and I explored the small shops and beautiful landscape. The next day was as entertaining as the first at the Carnival with my first and lovable host family. My host sister and I jammed to the dance video game and I didn't want to stop. I couldn't say that I would have imagined myself traveling between two countries and end my weekend dancing the night away.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Skiing in the Alps: 17/2/2011

     My Friday school day ended earlier than usual because Règine, my second host mom, decided to pick me up from school to start our trip to the Alps as soon as was possible. The problem was, was that I did not check my phone until later that day, preventing me from noticing the new message from my second host mom. Apparently, Règine; her family, and her friends, wanted leave ahead of schedule and Règine wanted to pick me up before our rendezvous time. The instant I saw the message I ran outside and she was already waiting on the side of the road in her car. Quicker than I thought possible, Règine drove us to her house to pick up our baggage, then were on our way to her grandparents house. We waited longer than was expected for Règine's daughter Floureen and Floureen's boyfriend Stephen to arrive. They told Règine to pick me up earlier because they thought they were ready, yet they had other business to attend to. We rushed for no reason and left for our trip later than the first appointed time, on the other hand, I was relieved -  it's better to begin a journey instead of abandoning it completely due to a little bad luck.
     Since we left later on the schedule, we hit traffic the instant we got on the highway. Floureen was studying english vocabulary from her college and asked me to help her, so we practiced our language skills to pass the time. Stephen drove until 2 o'clock in the morning until we arrived at the hostel in a city near the Alps. The owner of the hostel stayed awake to let us in. I did not give much thought to anything other than the need to find a bed. In our hotel room I fell asleep the moment my head hit the pillow.
     The first day of my vacation during Carnival week did not lead to the Alps (since day 2 was our arrival date), but we already made lots of progress. We got off on a rough start when communication between each party was disorganized, leading to our late departure. The good news is, is that if all the mistakes were made in the beginning and left the ending to nothing but an improvement.

Skiing in the Alps: 18/2/2011

     During the morning of our second day of vacation, Règine, Floureen, Stephen, and I gathered our luggage and left our first hotel to travel to the next hotel where we were going to stay for the duration of the week. We took our time as we went grocery shopping and searched for new gloves for Floureen (she lost her pair before the journey began!). Around the afternoon we arrived at the Val Thorens ski station. With any type of voyage, we unpacked our bags and situated ourselves. Our next chore was to search for the ski passes and skis. It was a long day and, unfortunately, was not spent on skiing. Nevertheless, I kept my spirits up because the next morning my first down hill skiing experience was about to begin.

Skiing in the Alps: 19/2/2011

     I was extremely anxious and excited to start skiing on the Alps. My libs were trembling with energy at the beginning, however, the others were not in the same state as me. Like the first two days, the grown-up were taking their time and lolly gagging. Suddenly, everyone was rushing because they realized they were moving too slow and were ready and out the door around 11:00 a.m. One of the reasons why we waited so long was because Marie lost her gloves and found some that were not a cheap date (around 100 euros!). It seemed everyone was loosing something or another. Luckily, I had no problems and waited patiently near the ski lift.
     Within the first few minutes of skiing I knew straight away that it would be a long and difficult learning process. In fact, I was an expert with my snowboard back in the United States, on the other hand, it never occurred to me to try skiing until the moment I was in the Alps. My whole group were skiing and I wanted to follow suit. Our beginning hill freighted me greatly. The intimidation of facing a slope without previous knowledge of navigating with skis was quite the challenge. On top of that, fog as thick as carpet enveloped our group. My eye sight was limited to the length of my outstretched arms, preventing me from anticipating the location of other skiers and snowboarders. Adrenaline pumped throughout my body while my skis slid down the mountain. With every awkward turn I stumbled because I didn't know how to turn, stop, or slow down  in general (like a baby trying out his or her new legs). My group encouraged me and gave me helpful tips on skiing technics. Their advice improved my position immensely, yet it also disabled me. I needed to experiment and adjust to my skis and the consistent commentary distracted me.
     When 3 o'clock came around we skied back to our little town in Val Thorens. In a nearby restaurant we stopped to eat a snack since we did not get the change to eat lunch. I ordered the most delicious hot chocolate with whipped cream that I have tasted in a long time. Floureen ordered a hot lemon drink, but the owners of the restaurant ripped her off because her 3 euro drink consisted of hot water with a lemon in it (without flavor). She let the waiter know her opinions of the poorly made drink and he gave her a small tea bag that costed her another 3 euros (the people in the mountains were crazy!). The pizza that Stephen ordered was also extremely expensive for 11 euros. My drink was around 4 euros, however, it was worth its value.
     After our snack we came back to our hotel room and pigged out. When we were satisfied, we went out shopping. Most of the products were expensive for their good quality (and perhaps everything in the Alps are more expensive due to the location). It was difficult for me not to impulsively buy everything on sight. The smell of waffles was in the air and, even though I just ate, I wanted to eat more junk food. Eventually, the others became tired and headed back; as for me, I walked around for another two hours to pass the time.
     When I walked through the hotel room door I walked out again to search for ingredients that Règine needed for supper that night. When 9 o'clock struck, we all sat down and enjoyed our first dinner in the Alps. It was difficult to sleep afterwards; not because I was not tired, but because I was only a few hours away from getting back on the mountain.
     The third day of my carnival vacation in the Alps was exceptional with the skiing, shopping, and the food. Not everyone can say that their first down hill skiing experience was spent in the Alps. Skiing on the mountains was not fun and games all the time because the combination of my lack of skiing experience and the foggy weather made the situation elaborate. At the restaurant, after we went skiing, it was painful for me to watch as Floureen paid for the 50 euros worth of drinks and the huge pizza for all of the people in our skiing group. We stretched our legs as we went shopping, then we ate a large dinner before our day came to an end.

Skiing in the Alps: 20/2/2011

     A loud racked woke me and I slowly got out of the bottom part of the bunk bed. Marie was already up before 7 o'clock: she getting ready for the day ahead. A few hours later the others got up and we sat at the table for breakfast. We snuck to the locker rooms in the hotel when we were dressed and ready to avoid begin caught with our snow shoes on. The hotel had a policy that all the snow gear were required to remain in the locker rooms. My group members ignored this rule since we couldn't fit all our supplies in our tiny locker.
     My progress was visible as I made it down the ski paths, falling only once in a while. My group insisted that we advance from the blue pistes - the easiest skiing hills, to the red pistes - the next level of difficulty on the mountain hills. The back pistes were the most severe of the skiing paths. To my luck, we did not try to battle with the tenuous slopes. With all the exercise, we stopped at a restaurant on the mountain to take a break. As we drank our hot chocolate drinks, we relaxed on the lawn chairs and watched the random skiers and snowboarders zoom by.
     We sat on the next forklift with renewed energy from our sugary drinks and landed on the highest skiing point in Val Thorens. A sensation of amazement filled me as I gazed down on the clouds. I felt like I was on top of the world, surrounded by the white capped mountains and cotton white clouds below me. The group was moving fast toward the next skiing path and I didn't have a long time to soak in my surroundings.
     We descended down the mountain and rushed toward the next lift. A crowd of people were already waiting to be picked up by the suspended benches. Marie was standing to my left and the others on my right. Suddently, Marie turned around and yelled at the women behind her. The woman was overlapping her skies on Marie's skies and she did not get the hint to back off when Marie threw her dirty looks. It wasn't necessary for Marie to lash out on the stranger, but she got her point across. Everyone waiting for the ski lift watched in amusement as the women trailed behind us with a gab sizable enough.
     Time seemed to disappear as we went up and down the mountains. The workers were getting ready to close down the lift while my group was trying to get through: we needed to ride the lift if we wanted to get on the right path directed toward our village. My group members rushed ahead of me to get through. The other pedestrians had the same idea and were jostling one another to be first - it was quite the violent battle. I did not want to be separated from my host family and friends, so I followed suit (without knocking people out of my way). The moment I passed through the gate, the worker closed off the ski lift entrance. With some physical effort and a little chance, I was the last one of our group to shuffle through.
     On the way down the last hill for the day I saw something green and rectangular laying in the snow. I stopped and bended over to get a better look at the 100 dollar bill. My host family and friends skied past me, indefinitely I stuffed the bill in my pocked and rushed after them. Many other people were heading to their apartments and most of them were drunk. Usually, the tourists drink lots of alcohol in the restaurants on the mountains then ski back to the village because it's the only way of timely travel. I swerved around trying to avoid an accident near the clumsily skiing people.
     I was so focused on the people around me that I did not notice that I was a mile ahead of my ski group. We stop and wait for each other after covering some ground for precautious reasons. I stopped and waited immediately after the moment I couldn't see them within my sight. After fifteen minutes I started to get nervous and thought they must have taken another path that connected to the main stream. There was nothing to be worried about since they found me. They took longer than usual to arrive because they were waiting for me further up the hill. I was done having a heart attack and continued.
     The path turned into a fork and the men in my group turned to the right. I was going to follow them when Floureen yelled for me to stop. She said I was going the wrong way. I tried to explain to her the situation, but she didn't listen as she turned toward the left past me. The decision was difficult, however, I skied after Floureen: I did not want her to be alone and lost. Règine was behind me and followed me blindly without knowing she was talking the wrong path as well. At the bottom of the hill, Floureen realised her mistake and we walked for a half a mile back to our hotel room with our ski boots latched to our feet. It would have been a pleasurable stroll if we were not wearing our heavy, bulky ski shoes with our skies on our backs. On the other hand, I discovered my lumberjack strength that carried me through.
     The sky turned dark by the time we entered our hotel room. I took a glance outside and was faced with fireworks streaming in front of my hotel window. They were bright and amusing contrasted to the dark surrounding with the Alps in the background and the other appartements and stores below. Carnaval week was being celebrated all over Europe and some people decided to signal its arrival.
     The firework show came to an end after a half an hour and we resumed our dinner. Stephen wanted to eat a pizza so he ordered one. Since the day we arrived he would resist eating the same foods as us and resort to buying a pizza. I didn't mind because he was a full grown adult and can decide for himself what he wanted to eat, on the other hand, it visibly upset the others. They couldn't stay mad forever with the free pizza.
     Our ski adventure on the Alps was challenging and rewarding. I managed to keep up with the others while we switched from the easier hills to the red pistes, which was the next level. During one point in the day, I stood above the clouds and looked at the enormous mountains laid out over the earth. Even though we were having a great time we were also faced with problems: when the stranger was scratching Maries skies as she was disrespectingly sliding over them with her skies. Toward the end of my journey I dodged many drunk skiers and snowboarders and got lost two times: once when I ended up by myself and the other time when Floureen, Règine, and I took the wrong path. For a grand finally, we watched muticoleured fireworks set off in the night.

Skiing in the Alps 21/2/2011

     Instead of being woken up at 7:00 a.m., Marie woke Règine, Fred, and I up around 6 a.m. Maire is a wonderful and fun person, but when anyone starts the day super early, then its hard to be forgiving. Luckily, I am a morning person, so I was not as affected as much as the others in regards to their attitudes. At 7:00 a.m. I managed to pull myself out of bed to join my group to eat "le pain perdu" - bread soaked in egg batter and fried on a pan (after it's cooked its usually eaten with loads of sugar on the surface). I must have eaten enough "pain perdu" to feed a cow.
     We managed to leave earlier than usual and the paths were vacant. The third day of our skiing adventure was the charm because I was moving down the mountain like a professional (I am exaggerating of course). I still slipped and ended up on my back more times than I can count. Within a few hours my group members wanted to stop at a nearby restaurant on "le courchevel" - an extremely expensive ski zone due to the high prices for the food and products. The restaurant was markedly fancy and high class. Mahogony tables and cushioned chairs were aligned on the massive patio. I took a seat and stared at the desert table near us with various exotic and presentable cakes, pies, cookies, and puddings. A row of wine was impressioned in the snow that wrapped around the patio. Even the waiters were classy with their stripped white and back shirts and the classic beret. Règine and I packed our lunch before hand and resisted buying the expensive food on the menu. Marie bought a hamburger and french fries for Fred that was worth 24 euros! Règine mentioned that this station was the most expensive in the mountains, however, it attracted many famous people (none were present because they come while there are fewer people).
     Unfortunately, while we were back on the path, Floureen's leg was in pain and we had to take a 45 minute break. It was surprisingly hot in the mountains and I had to take off my jacket and I laid it on the 5 inch thick snow. We skied to another rest stop to drink hot chocolate with lots of whipped cream on top before heading back.
     I saw a little market set up near our hotel at our return. Règine and I walked through it and I managed to eat a meal consisting of cheese, meat, and candy. My favorite aspect of a small market is, is that they always have delicious free samples. Règine bought some cheese that smelled like decaying bodies and jars of honey. We ate together then watched Stewert little 2 in french. I was sitting on the couch and petting Marie's dog that she brought along for the week. I noticed the dog was calmer than usual, not because she was tired, but because she was not moving around as much. It turns out that I pushed her in-between the couch cushions when I was petting her, preventing Marie's dog from the ability to maneuver. Marie thought it was funny and couldn't stop laughing for a long time. Her face turned redder than her sun tan; in fact, we were all as red as tomatoes from all the sun exposure.
     When the movie finished everyone dispersed to their own beds. Within an hour I heard a snarling noise. The others must have fallen asleep already; I was the exception. I rolled out of my bed to search for the source of noise with heavy eye lids and stiff legs. Near the shoe rack, Marries dog was sleeping heavily and snored loudly like she was holding a loudspeaker to her face. The poor animal was laying on the hard floor, so I picked her up and placed her in the small dog bed in the corner. People and animals snore caused by the inability to breath properly and I was happy to fix the problem for the dog. Marries dog stopped snoring like it was magic and I slept soundly in the calm silence.
     From an early morning to a late, noisy night, my ski group and I skied again on the Alps and shopped in a small market. The courchevel section was extremely expensive and I found it unfortunate that Marrie bought a hamburger worth the price of 20 Belgian chocolates. The movie was relaxing while watching it with my host mom and new friends. Marrie''s dog also joined our company and accidentally fell asleep on the hard floor (probably because she was as tired as we were!).