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.