Thursday, October 28, 2010

Meatloaf, Frogs, Peanut butter, and Finger Food

         Tonight I am making meatloaf and baked potatoes. Nomnomnom. Julia should like it, since she will be allowed to smother everything in ketchup!
         Tomorrow I am going to Libramont for the youth festival! I have been told that Libramont is in the Ardennes, the only ‘mountainous’ region in Belgium, so I’m curious to see what that will look like. It’s basically on the other side of Belgium, so the train ride will be about 3 hours. 3 hours to cross an entire country!
         Today in health class we were discussing skin and secretions, and frogs came up. Someone asked if there were frogs in Alaska, and thus began a deluge of questions and answers about Alaska that went on for about 15 minutes. Thus, my head was a little like a cartoon owl (swiveling all around!) and I am going to bring some of my peanut butter hoard to school for them to taste.  
         Another difference I have noticed here: pizza is eaten in the round here, and always with a fork and knife. Pizza is sold by the pizza, not by the slice. My friends at school were mildly horrified that we eat pizza and fries with our hands all the time. Luckily the messy Americans are more inclined to wash their hands! (They were also shocked and horrified that Americans don't kiss each other to say hello.)

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Flashmob Video

Click here to see a video of the flashmob!

More Miscellany

Things I forgot to mention:
    Europeans don't bat an eye at drinking, smoking tobacco, or even smoking pot. Mention owning a gun and they think you're crazy and a maladjusted individual.
    Last Saturday I went with Marianne to buy paint for my room; it will be green, green, and green! (3 different shades, of course). I think it's getting close to being done! I learned that you have to pay to use shopping carts.
    Gone are the days of iparent and confidential test scores; students get their grades read out loud from their teacher and write it down here.  Grades are expressed as points out of 20, never in percentages. Before a report card the teacher announces the overall grade.
        It's frosting now and some of the trees have lost their leaves. The wind is colder and more frequent. But the grass is still green!

Mobbin' the Flashmob, Mysteries, and Miscellaneous

   This Sunday Julia and I participated in AFS Belgium’s long-anticipated flashmob in Brussels! (A flashmob is when people show up in a public place and all begin to dance to music. There are also flashmobs where you just show up at a certain time and freeze.) We have been practicing the dance since we arrived in Belgium, but we had to keep it on the down low because flashmobs are supposed to be a surprise. We took the train to Brussels Sunday morning to meet up with AFSers from the entirety of Belgium. We got to see our friends from orientation and we Americans shared some very welcome American hugs (Belgians are big on kissing, but not so enthusiastic about hugging). We kissed each other too, and laughed about how we would have been shocked two months ago. We also compared notes on our deteriorating English and improving French. I also discovered that Julia and I are not the only northerners freezing to death here---it is HUMID! And if we are freezing, I can only imagine what the poor Mexicans are feeling. 
All 170 of us practiced dancing all day until we had our act together, and then we went out to assimilate into the tourists in the area. We ogled the Godiva chocolate pumpkins (Halloween is sorta recognized here), oohed and ahed at the Belgian lace, and walked around gaping at things waiting for the music to start. When Jai Ho came on, my group started dancing. I ended up in the front corner, and found myself confronted with about 30 tourists’ cameras pointed at my terrified face! (PLUS a journalist’s camera! I do believe we were on the news.) We had some goofs, but all in all we rocked Jai Ho, Alors On Danse(Belgian), Tik Tok, Yankee Daddy, and the Waka Waka. There was laughter and smiles all around, and I think AFS definitely made an impression on the tourists that were present! We even got a couple of them to dance with us. Definitely an awesome experience. 
Afterwards we hung out in the station with some other students and a Norwegian boy and I happily debated the plausibility of conservative politics and the existence of God. The others rolled their eyes at us. This week I made an Italian chicken dish for supper for everyone---Cecile and Pépé included! It wasn’t quite as amazing as when I made it with Lauren (she wasn’t there to keep me on my toes!), but it turned out well. Unfortunately, I didn’t know Marianne doesn’t like peppers---one of the principal ingredients. We laughed because she picked them out and we said she was eating like Julia (tu vas être forte est grande jamais!)  I also made split seconds (demisecondes) and those were quite a hit. Cécile thoughtfully brought me baking powder and PEANUT BUTTER without any sugar! She is so sweet and I love her!
Friday several friends came home from school with us to look at some photos of Alaska and hang out. We looked over some AK photos, met the four-footed residents (some of them, anyway!) talked about twilight, looked over Icelandic things, and ended the evening by singing Hakuna Matata in French, Icelandic, and English. Good fun, and I was very happy to have finally invited some people to do something! 
I have another Belgian saying: Garder une poire pour la soif= Keep a pear for thirst= save something for hard times.
Touchtou and I still play Frisbee almost every day. There’s been a handsome Blue Heron in the area, and we see him most days. It has been rather muddy lately, so sometimes I bring back a brown dog instead of a white one! (insert towels and scrubbing here). 
There is a tantalizing bakery just across the street from our house, so Julia and I went there this week to get something for breakfast. The bakery is full of croissants and pastries and so many good things I don’t know the names of. When we left with our loot in tow, the Belgian weather assaulted us with a surprise downpour. Julia seized the day and led our speedy retreat across the street. We may have been rather damp, but the sweet raisin bread was totally worth it. I think we will be visiting that bakery again. And our reconnaissance was very useful---we wore raincoats to school and avoided soaking by several more surprise attacks! 
      I can definitely feel my English grammar slipping…I’m forgetting some words too. But on the other hand, I am passing ALL of my classes (which was my goal!) and I can understand so much more! Speedy speaking does not confound me like it once did---I can even understand Marianne’s conversations! Mostly, anyways. Yesterday I filled out a true and false section in Science and Technology test and realized after I’d turned it in that I had put T for the true answers instead of V for vrai! My teacher laughed and said it wasn’t a problem.  
This weekend I am going to a youth festival with the Marie Jeunesse (a Catholic youth group, basically). I am super duper excited, and thanking God for putting together several coincidences that gave me the chance to go!(My French teacher gave me the card of an American pastor who is familiar with Alaska, and when I talked to him about Anchorage and Moose Tracks ice cream he invited me to this festival on the other side of Belgium. Then I realized that one of the students in my class is also involved in Marie Jeunesse and found out that he is going too, so we can take the train together and I won’t get lost and it’s going to be amazing!) Anyways, I am excited. The festival is going to be in Libramont, which is in the Ardennes. I haven’t seen that corner of the country yet, so I’m pumped!
We also have a vacation from school next week. Fall break---what a splendid idea! I think I’m going to try to make an early Thanksgiving dinner that week. Julia wants to learn to make an American apple pie, which I am all for! Now to find the Belgian equivalent of Crisco…
Speaking of food, I finally discovered what is in Filet Americain, a popular sandwich spread: whipped egg, mayo, and raw hamburger meat. It's actually really good. It's basically just raw meatloaf. But most Americans definitely do not eat it, so the name remains a mystery. 

Sunday, October 17, 2010

2 months down...

Well, I’ve been out and about in the world for 2 months today. Only 9 more left!
            This week I broke my previous record and had 5 dogs in my bed one night. They kept skooshing me, and I kept scootching, and eventually I ended up with about 12 inches on the very edge of the double bed. I was nice and warm though, and certainly not lonely!
            Yesterday I went with Marianne to pick up the furniture she bought for my bedroom. There’s a nice double bed, a dresser, and two end tables. They’re all very handsome. She bought them from a sort of short-term hotel that is going out of business, so my bed has lots of…experience. We had some good laughs out of that. We went with Veronique and her husband because they knew where the place was, and they were also an essential part of the disassembly-and-transportation-down-the-steep-European-stairs team. When we got there, we realized that we didn’t have the right tool to take apart the furniture, but luckily Veronique had a belt buckle that worked effectively. Everything made it into the vehicle without trouble, and then we headed back to Veronique’s for an amiable visit. The sun was shining and the wind was blowing, and we had a nice drive over the HILLY country to Veronique’s (there are next to no hills here!) It was a pleasant Saturday on the whole.
            There is a strike tonight and tomorrow for the trains. Last Monday it was the buses. I think it’s rather odd, but they schedule their strikes in advance so everyone knows when it’s going to happen and for exactly how long. And the strikes only last one day. Last Monday there were fewer kids at school, but classes continued like normal. We’ll see what it’s like tomorrow. Gilles and Jean are here for the weekend, so they have to pay attention to take their trains today before the strike starts.           
            I may be Alaskan, and it may not be freezing here yet, but it feels freakin’ COLD here because it is humid! And they don’t really do heating here. I guess the buildings are too old and it’s too expensive. So I am swaddled up under the bed covers with a mug of tea and it’s only October. Note to self: buy fingerless gloves so you can type without having frozen fingers.
            A note on the social workings of Belgium: you hang out with fewer people here and have fewer friends, but they are closer friends. In the US you might have 20 people you talk to and hang out with during classes and at lunch, but here it is more like 10 at the most.  We have close friends in the US too, but you have to invest years to get really close because you don’t spend that much concentrated time with them. Here you make closer friends faster. So that’s different.
            We had oysters for dinner with Cecile and Pépé this week. I guess it’s the start of the oyster season, and Pépé really loves oysters. Julia had pasta, but the rest of us happily slurped down our raw oysters with lemon juice. I couldn’t taste the lemon juice at all; it was like a taste of the sea. We had puddles of the sea on our plates when we were done too!
            This week is yet again full of tests and I have a fat folder of field work stuff due. I’m not too worried about it. Hooray for not stressing over school work!


Saturday, October 16, 2010

A Bit of Bliss

I am currently tucked into my bed with a scarf, sweatshirt, coat, wool socks, and a dog(Touchtou, of course!) after a nice hot shower on a frigid fall day. Thus, I am sitting here with a slightly idiotic smile plastered on my face reveling in coziness. *insert blissful sigh here*
            The hamburger pie turned out well, much to my delight (the power of prayer!)The mashed potatoes were rather gluey (I have been informed that that was the potatoes’ problem, not mine) but it was ok because they weren’t a dish all by themselves. I made it on the spicy side, which turned out to be a bit much for Julia. However, she did like the corn chips (she even tried eating them with nutella on a later occasion).  The French visitor turned out to be two, and they each had 3 helpings. They were very curious about what was in it, and about Iceland and Alaska too (Palin? Yes, that’s the one).
            Today I found out that one of my classmates is 20. I had not realized that. Most kids are 16, give or take. Oh la la.
            Julia has introduced me to the TV show Friends and we are going to watch one now, I think. So ttfn(tata for now!).

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Hamburger Pie Hopefully

     I am making hamburger pie for supper tonight. I really really hope there are no mishaps this time because a friend of Marianne’s is coming for dinner. And I have never met her before, and she is French. Oh my oh my.
            Yesterday my group presented our games and I taught my class how to play I Spy in our ‘how to play games with the people you’re in charge of’ class. They don’t have anything like that here, so it was fun to see a bunch of teenagers playing I Spy for the first time. I also had them play an adapted version of scattergories because our group had too much time left over, and that was also completely new for them. Both activities went well, and I think they even had fun.
            Today in English class I tried to teach a friend the difference between the initial sounds in the words ‘feel’, ‘think’ and ‘these’. Both ‘th’ sounds don’t exist in French, so she thought that ‘think’ and ‘feel’ started with the same sound. The spit factor was a little dangerous, but there were no catastrophes, and she started pronouncing it right. And it was rather amusing.
            In French class we are doing an overview of the evolution of theater (sound familiar, anyone?). You know you’re an exchange student when mere mentions of Waiting for Godot, Westside Story, and Shakespeare seem warm and fuzzy and so wonderfully familiar that you could just hug them to death. I think we’re  going to read one of Moliere’s plays this year, which I’m excited about. It’ll probably be really hard for me, but it will be the original French version!
            Another cultural difference here that I have forgotten to mention: blowing your nose here is not discreet at all. Teachers and students blow their nose in the middle of class, in the middle of a sentence, without turning aside or anything, tuck their handkercheif back in their pocket, and continue like nothing happened. Julia has been very attentive to this, because blowing your nose is considered extremely disgusting in Icelandic culture. In public, they sniff with gusto rather than blow their nose. Everyone deals with snot differently, I guess.
            Julia is learning more and more French, and understands a lot more now. Speaking is still difficult, but she can answer a lot more questions now. I can understand the majority of what goes on in class now, but I still have a hard time understanding the other kids’ conversations, especially during lunch when it’s extremely noisy. I can’t wait until I understand their conversations entirely! I will do a major happy dance when that happens. I might even sing at the same time.
            My room is ready to be painted, and Marianne is going to let me choose a color. She says I can pick whatever I like because if the next resident doesn’t like it, they can choose their own color. Do I have a cool host mom or what? I am vacillating between orange and green.
            Well, off I go to mash the potatoes and start the hamburger pie! I will say a prayer BEFORE I get into trouble this time!

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Accomplishments of the Week

1. Found the postoffice
2. Learned how to open and close the door in my room to the balcony
3. Probably passed all my tests (50% or better)
4. Can say ‘debruillerais’
5. Ran with the boys and beat a couple of them
6. Discovered Speculoos chocolate (YUM)
7. Forgot how long I’ve been here (time is going faster! At the beginning every day seemed like eons)
8. Determined to make Speculoos smores at some point and time
9. Learned that Belgian spiders are not poisonous, even if they are 8 cm across with visible fangs
10. Negotiated successfully with the residential printer
11. Understood more French
12. Taught some friends to say “ ‘sup”


Yesterday we had our post-arrival orientation with AFS in Mons, a cheese supper. Julia and I took the train in the morning, despite my blunder of looking at the wrong day’s schedule and thinking our train would be earlier. Luckily there was another train later, and we ate hot things from a pastry shop while we waited. Croissants are so amazing that I almost forgot to freak out about making sure we were on the right platform and that we were going to be on the right train, etc. Luckily Julia was there to make me calm down and reassure me that we were at the right spot. We were, of course, and spent the half-an-hour train ride with another AFSer.
We had a great day in Mons. We spent the morning talking about our families and playing games(metaphorical, of course!). It was a relief to talk to other exchange students and know that we are all in the same boat in a lot of ways. We shared some fun stories too! After lunch we moved on to school, friends, and rules discussions, and then we set off on a little tour of Mons (after being refueled with waffles). We stopped at the Cathedral for a group photo with about 15 different cameras (AFS volunteers have skills). The buildings were very antiquated and beautiful; I felt a little like I was in a fairy tale or in a history book. We visited a little monkey statue in the grande place of Mons which you’re supposed to rub with your left hand for luck, and laughed at a nearby bridegroom wearing orange fishnets and not much else.
We returned to have a supper of cheese, salads, bread, and beer with our host families. There were so many varieties of cheese! They were all set out beautifully with little signs, which confirmed my suspicion that I had never heard of any of them. The types I got to try were delicious spread on olive bread! I went for the orange juice and avoided the beer, since I wasn’t so sure I wanted to drink a whole one. And I also had no idea what the difference was between the billions of varieties! We got to meet each others families, which was nice, and visit some more during a very European meal. I learned that Canadians have Thanksgiving too, but that Americans really are the only ones who use Farenheit. Good times.
I have learned another French saying: dire/faire quelque chose avec les gants=to say/to do something with gloves= to do it gently. I like it.
Today the sun is shining again. I am actually getting ‘tan’ here! I have also learned to expect a Christmas with GREEN GRASS. I’m still trying to wrap my mind around that one. I guess the trees do lose their leaves, at least. It is also humid here, so my hair has been very 80’s ish of late. Thanks to some hairspray, I might not resort to shaving my head. Maybe.
Last Sunday I made an American breakfast for lunch. I tried not to laugh too hard when they spread nutella on pancakes and then carefully folded them like  crepes. American pancakes are a lot fatter than French ones, so it was not nearly as aesthetic. But they liked them anyway.
I survived my week of tests and am expecting another full week ahead, with observations in the field and preparations for actually working in the field. The students have really been helping me a lot with getting to and from stages and with everything else in this new school and environment. I am so incredibly grateful! I’m a little nervous about speaking my French and trying to be a good social worker at the same time. We’ll see how it goes. Maybe I can make them laugh at my accent, if nothing else!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Monday, October 4, 2010

Fire drill, Wool sweaters, and Sunshine

      Today we had a firedrill at school. If it had been a real fire, or if there had been a threat (the ‘bad man’ of Colony) we would have died. First of all, we almost didn’t notice that there WAS a firedrill because the alarm was barely audible. Luckily our teacher looked out the window and noticed that everyone else was heading outside. Then everyone sauntered to the door, where we waited for the teacher, who told us to hurry up and abandoned us to exit by an entirely different route. Then we ambled down 3 flights of stairs with a girl on crutches.  We were the last class out of the building, but no one seemed to care. No roll call. Just a general dispersing of students for a couple minutes and then we sauntered back. I spent those minutes thinking of all the fire hazards in a 60 year old building with smoking students…
            Today I wore my new wool sweater and was wonderfully warm all day. Until the walk home, when the sun shone and the breeze died. Weather changes a lot here, but even so, I am getting more freckles in ‘rainy’ Belgium in the fall than I got all summer in Alaska!
             I have oodles of tests this week, plus work in the field. So off I go to do homework!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Well, about that luck: definitely lacking.  An hour before dinnertime I got out what I thought was cornmeal and everything else I needed to make cornbread and gravy. Imagine my horror when I discovered that I had cornstarch instead of cornmeal. Darn foreign labels. Not to be thwarted, I decided to make biscuits and gravy instead. There was a solitary lump of butter left in the fridge. 5 Tablespoons-worth? I hoped so. I guessed my way through the recipe. When I added the buttermilk, however, I found that I had a very soupy mixture that was very different from the doughy mixture I was supposed to be able to knead and roll out. It was at this point that I remembered that I had walked under a ladder that morning on the way to school and that Julia warned me of the bad-luck consequences. I almost threw out the whole thing and got out the bread for gravy sandwiches at that point, but I decided to try adding more flour to see if I could get it to thicken up. Once I’d done that, prevented the dough from cementing itself to the counter, and squished all the round hopefully-biscuits into a pie pan, I realized I hadn’t turned the oven on yet.  I got the gravy safely underway and checked the oven to see if it was ready…and discovered I had put it on the wrong setting. Thus, dinner was a little later than hoped for. I was rather frazzled. BUT by the grace of God (power of prayer!) my biscuits turned out quite edible! Not the same quality as Mom’s, but enjoyable and recognizably biscuits. Julia even had seconds. And Marianne asked what was in them, and raised an eyebrow when I explained using sour milk for a buttermilk substitute. I was very very content and relieved. And leery of ladders.