Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Foreign Kid

Remember the foreign exchange students in high school? Everyone knew who they were. Maybe you were or are the foreign kid. Then you will know exactly what I am talking about. People greet you with a sort of curiosity and then talk to you about the things they know about your country. You are immediately informed if they have been there before, or anywhere near it. Your last name immediately becomes your country. "I'd like you to meet Alysha From America." Alysha America. Oh well. It has a certain ring to it.

Converstations in a group of aquantances either completely circles around you or is completely outside of you. The two questions I get the most are: "So do you like Obama?" "What do you think about the oil spill?" Basically the two things that are on the Italian news about America. After everyones knowledge of your culture is spent the conversation turns away from anything familiar to you, and you go from the center of attention to a spectator. The ability to adjust is necessary in this funny business of traveling.

It's funny to see what people assume about you based on your country. I remember a guy being incredulous when he found out I don't smoke marijuana. Or when I didn't like being hit on. He told me that one of his favorite movies was American Pie, and light was shed on why he thought what he did. Now he was more of an extreme case of course, but you get the idea. Though I must say that there are Italians that genuinely know more about the States than some Americans do.

Some of the people I have talked with listen with a shocked curiosity as I tell them that not all American's go out to discotecs every weekend, or like to shop all the time. You must imagine their confusion when I proved time and time again to be shy and not the immediately crazy outgoing American that they see on tv.

It's funny to see the look on people's faces when they hear a foreign language coming out of my mouth. In the store people turn their head and look at me as I talk. I'd better soak this in while I can. I may never be so well listened to again. But I must say when I get back it will be nice to be able to talk in a store and not draw attention. You feel like you are interrupting the rhythm of the store, dinner, or party when you speak a different language than everyone else in the crowd around you.

I am the foreign kid.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Travelling Alone

I have been blessed enough to have moments where I feel strong and sure of myself here in this unfamiliar situation. Like when I realized that I knew how to get basically anywhere I wanted in Bergamo. Or when I pick Margherita up from school, and she runs for me to pick her up, her chubby arms spread as far as they go and a huge smile on her face. Usually these moments of temporary security happen when I am with the wonderful family I am living with. Monica (the mom in the family) and I have really good talks about everything, and this helps curb the gnawing vacancy of friendship here.

Along with this there are times where I want nothing more than to be home around familiar things. Yesterday, after two months of pushing down the feeling of loneliness it finally hit the fan. I felt it keenly from the start of the day when I again woke up in a room by myself and walked to an empty kitchen. I did my crunches that have become a habit and went to go eat breakfast. I showered, came back to my room, and spend time talking with God and reading the Bible. I think I assumed that because I did that it would automatically turn it into a good day. After that, I chilled in my room, got on facebook, went out for a bit, and watched School of Rock for the first time. I laughed at a funny part, but promptly was reminded that I was alone when only my laugh cut the air. I tried to ignore it and refocused my attention on the hilarity of the movie (I cannot believe it has taken me this long to see it).

For the past two months if a twinge of loneliness hit me I pushed it away like a child pushes away bitter medicine. Apparently the barrel for the million pieces of lonely I pushed away was filled to the top because all of the sudden I felt it all heavily.

I didn't want to do anything, because I would have to do it alone. So I sat Indian style on my bed. I found myself the closest to tears I have been in a long time. As they blurred my vision I tried to stop thinking about it and got up to reorganize my dresser for the millionth time. I was frustrated. Frustrated at myself for being sad, frustrated at the situation, frustrated at loneliness, and frustrated I could not get rid of the ache that had recently taken up residence in my ribcage.

Later that night I skyped with my family, and was able to watch movie with them via computer. It was perfect because one of the things I miss most is being able to just sit and watch movies with people, or just hang out. I was also cheered up by a friend that made me smile and laugh until I forgot I was lonely. God's good to me.

You may have a couple reactions reading this. You may think I'm out of my mind for being in Italy yet feeling sad. That's ok. I just recommend that you travel alone sometime and get back to me on that. Or you may swing to the other side of the spectrum and feel bad. You don't have to do that either because I am learning so much here and will be home soon. My heart seems to keep making desperate reaches toward home but I am keeping it here to the best of my ability. That being said I am also looking forward to being back, yet know that I will miss my time here just as keenly as I now miss home. See you all soon.

Peace in Christ

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Venice Waterblogged Part Two (in Venice)

I arrived at my hostel and walked up the stairs to the level the rooms were on. It was basically a floor of an old palace remade into a hostel. I payed for my stay and talked to the owner a bit. He asked "Where are you from?" "United States." He looked at me and said "Hm. You don't have an American accent." I looked at him really confused and he said he was from Australia and that I must have picked up an accent in Italy. I attributed it to the fact that I had just been listening to and speaking in Italian with the man that showed me where the hostel was. I tend to accidentally mimic accents. The tweak in my speech soon went away though as I talked with other Americans in the hostel. My room was with 7 other girls. 4 bunk beds were set up in a large room with one bathroom attached. I chose a bed and set down my stuff.

The thing about traveling alone is that it makes you come out of your shell. It's like the first week the freshman year of college. You realize your need to connect with people and therefore being shy must be put on hold. I found this to be true in the hostel as well. I walked out and joined a group of people at the table. Introductions followed, and we all learned the others' home countries, why they were in Venice, and how long they had been traveling. There was a mix of Aussies, Brits, Canadians, and Americans. I have not heard so much English in such a long time. I must admit it was nice. I connected well with a small group and we talked of deep things like friendship, religion, and the difference between being buzzed and being drunk (ok so the last one isn't so deep but they felt the need to educate me seeing as I've never been drunk). I also met a man from Turkey, Meshnin, who had just rode on the deck of a ferry for 30 hours to reach Italy. He was into making commercials and also making short clips to raise awareness for human rights and treating the Earth with care. We talked about the Middle East, the film business, dreads (he had his dreads for 5 years), and family. In the middle of our conversation he pulled out a little silver box and rolled his own cigarette, filter and all. Meshnin
the tobacco he had was organic and contained much less toxins.
He offered me one but I said no thanks.

That night we all went out. I met a girl, Rafa, and we talked for a bit. She happened to be sleeping on the bunk above me, and we decided to explore the city together the next day. We exchanged stories of the boys we missed and made plans to get up early the next day.
Rafa and I spent 10 hours on foot exploring the city. We rode on a 50 cent gondola across the canal, explored San Marco's Cathedral, and took water buses to the neighboring islands. For lunch we decided to be cheap and go to the supermarket. Our purchases? A can of pringles, tortilla chips, cream cheese, pickles, chocolate, and tea. It was glorious.

It was so nice to have someone to explore the city with. I was getting weary of doing things alone. We saw many beautiful, and hilarious things (like a monk playfully whipping someone with the rope tied around his waist).

Venice is a beautiful city. I don't think there is any place like it. However, it's not the kind of place you would live or spend more than a few days in. But those few days will be unforgettable,
I can tell you that.

The train ride back was good. I have certain songs that are perfect for trips alone on the train. They just feel like train rides to me. I met up with the family in Verona. We went to a beautiful restaurant and attempted to explore a bit. However, the rain came down like it was trying to push us out of it's city, and so we conceded and left for home. I hope to go back to Verona (Romeo and Juliet's city).

I feel so blessed to be on these adventures. Every once and I while I will catch a glance at my reflection in a window when I am out and am surprised that it is my image looking back at me. I would never have imagined that I would get to go to Venice, let alone Italy. God takes good care of me when there are no other resources. In fact, He provides way more than I could ever hope for.

Peace in Christ

My Train Songs:

Skinny Love by Bon Iver
Paper Planes by M..I.A.
Mademoiselle by Berry
Colgando en Tus Manos by Carlos Baute and Marta Sanchez
Falling in Love in a Coffee Shop by Landon Pigg
Say Hey (I Love You) by Spearhead
Me Voy by Julieta Venegas
Quelqu'un M'a Dit by Carla Bruni
Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michealson
Punkrocker by Sandi Thom
Another Way to Die by Alicia Keys (yes this is the James Bond theme song)
Knock You Down by Keri Helson
Waving Flag by K'Naan (the one ft. Nancy Ajram is my favorite)
Ciega, Sorda, Muda by Shakira

Venice Waterblogged Part One (the trip)

The City on Water. First of all, if you get the chance, go to it. It makes up for the excess of tourists with its beauty and atmosphere. However, I recommend that you wait until you have someone to explore it with.

On Friday I got on the train that would take me to Venice. Monica was wonderful and drove me to Brescia so I wouldn't have to switch trains halfway through. While I waited, I got a cappuccino (a real one) in a cafe in the train station. I thought of my dear friend Barbara and how she would like it because of the massive amount of foam in the cup. I got on the train and found a car that was nearly empty. I had an entire table to myself for the 2 hour ride. I waited until I heard the word "Venezia" and made my way off the train with my backpack.

The sight that greeted my eyes made me tilt my head in confusion. This did not look like Venice, or what the directions to my hostel described. The neighborhood I found myself more resembled an Italian ghetto. My stomach sank as I realized I had no idea where I was. I crossed the busy street in search of an internet cafe. I felt completely vulnerable as my mind searched for some sign of where I was, and nothing was found. I spotted and internet spot that doubled as a small casino. I walked in and was greeted my a row of rough looking men playing the slot machines. Great. I went up to the woman at the counter and asked to use the computer. I had to squeeze past a man to get to the tiny space. He smiled at me past his large nose. Once he helped me find the right button on the Italian keyboard and I found he spoke English. I was able to find directions to the hostel I was supposed to stay in, but this did no good because I was in the wrong spot. I returned to the train station with all of my resources exhausted. I looked and there was the man from the casino, sitting in the train station. He made caught eye contact with me with his eyes that reflected how bad he had been to his liver. "Is everything ok?" he asked. I had no choice. "Well I don't know how to get to Santa Lucia (the main street of Venice)." He got up, offered a smile and said "Oh, well I can show you how to get there." He showed me the bus stop, told me to get on bus #2 and to get off at the last stop. He told me he was originally from the Middle East and that he had been in Italy for 3 years, but was returning home soon. I thanked him for his help and walked to the bus stop.

I had no idea how to pay for this bus, so I prayed that I wouldn't get in trouble and just got on and off. No one stopped me. Don't judge, when you are a girl alone, lost in a completely foreign city, paying for a bus ride to the next city is low on your list of priorities. Finally I made it to Venice, and was greeted by a beautiful canal, water-buses, and gorgeous buildings. Ok, now to get to my hostel. My backpack and stress was making my back tighten up like a clenched fist. I asked directions to the street I needed to take, and the woman at the desk directed me to a bus. Well, according to Murphy's Law, if something can go wrong, it will. I happened to be standing next to an employee of the water-bus system, and he told me we were going the opposite way of my hostel. I tried not to let my face show how frustrated I was, but apparently failed, because he offered to show me how to get there. Can I just say that God provides at the perfect times? This man told the driver of the bus he would see him later, and he took me to the square I needed to be in. On the way, he told me which shops were fake, what were the tourist traps, the best places to eat, and things to be careful of. He wasn't flirtatious at all, and i didn't get a weird vibe from him. He took 20 minutes out of his day to help me get to where I needed to be. I thanked him for everything and felt my back's muscles release a bit of their death-grip.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Waving Farewell to the Teens

So tomorrow I am officially saying goodbye to my teen years. I am pretty sure I am ok with it. I didn't get too attached. Although I did feel like I should write a blog dedicated to them since they were with me for a while.

I mean, they did stay with me through the torrents of puberty and the awkward moments where my I wished I would stick my foot in my socially inept mouth. I was definitely an early bloomer, and this brought the lovely mood swings, acne break outs, and impassioned arguements with my parents in one fell swoop. I laugh thinking about how scandalous I felt when I whispered a swear word for the first time in the safety of my room. Or how terrified yet thrilled I was sitting behind the wheel of a car for the first time. My first job, first theater production, first solo in choir, first time wearing makeup out of the house. Each new expirience brought a rush of excitement mixed with a bit of nerves.

I learned a lot of hard lessons as well, like what if feels like when someone doesn't like you because of your race, and that appearances aren't always how things really are. Of course no one can make it through thier teen years with out a heartbreak or two, but now I can look back and smile at how my dramatic 15 year old mind wondered if I would ever "move on".

TPing houses and ducking when a police car came by, climbing on roofs all over the city, sneaking an entire pizza and a 2 liter of peach soda into the movie theater, quietly exploring the underground school tunnels... the list goes on of things that my friends and I did to pass the days and bring little thrills (yes, my mother does know about all of this).

I met friends that would change my life and how I view things. They were (and are) with me through the good and not so good moments in my life. And my family put up with my carefully thought out arguements and the times when my temper exploded like a hormonal time bomb.

Now I am in Italy and saying "arrivederci" to the teens and "buongiourno" to the 20's. Whoa. It will take a while to get used to this. Hopefully I adjust before I hit the 30's. I don't even want to think about that. Before I came I thought about the romantic idea of turning 20 in Italy. It certainly sounds wonderful: "Yes, I turned 20 in the beautiful country of Italia..." At least it sounds romantic because I would like to have people I know with me as I turn this corner. However, I chose this expirience and I am enjoying it to the fullest.

I thank God for how good He's been to me through the teen years with a full knowledge that He is already going ahead of me in the next chapter of my life.

Peace in Christ

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Italy's Secret

Italy has a secret.

In the street filled with people, in the thick heat of summer, you can see her walking through the crowd. She strolls on the cobblestone roads with a small smile, for she is so very aware of the hidden fact. She might have a gelato cone to distract her from the fact that there is nothing else to occupy her hands and mouth. It keeps her from being jealous of the lovestruck couples in the street. For surely ice cream is sweeter than any man's lips.

But at times she's not so sure.

Especially when the ice cream melts and leaves a sticky mess on her hands. It is said that men don't melt, even when it rains.

Then again, stranger things have happened.

Her sunglasses shade her eyes and make her feel like it isn't as personal when a man looks her up and down with his elevator eyes. He scans her from ground level to the top in a few short seconds and her gut twists uncomfortably within her. The sunglasses remain on her face, even if the building cast a dark shadow on her.

Because if he doesn't see her eyes, he doesn't truly see her.

She passes a bookstore and immediately walks in. The smell of new words hit her and she decides to stay a while. No matter that she can't understand the syllables on the shiny covers.

At least the smell is familiar.

She tires of not being able to understand the words so she continues on her way, taking in the music played by the old man on the street. He woefully plays his instrument and looks at the people passing by through his thick glasses. His face shows nothing. His emotions only ride on the notes he plays.

How she wishes for her piano.

When the streets loose thier draw and the shops have been explored she begins the walk home, passing the buildings, statues and cathedrals that made her jaw drop when she first arrived. Their new familiarity allows her heart to settle.

Becoming friends with a city is quite the adventure.

She is content.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Walk Like an ... Italian?

I am pretty good at learning the habits of others around me so I can blend in. In the Domincan I stuck out like a sore thumb, but I learned the accent, mannerisms, and lingo to slip into the culture as much as possible. I taught my body to move just like a Dominicana when we danced the bachata and merengue, and could not stop smiling when my host sister told me I didn't look American when I danced (I'd like to attribute this to the Lebanese blood but may be just my pride speaking). Here in Italy I have learned a few things to help me look like a Bergamasca native that is completely familiar with her surroundings.

The Walk: I walk everywhere. The trick to walking like an Italian is to keep a steady gate and let your arms swing at your sides if you aren't carrying anything. People my age wear headphones with only one earbud in and sunglasses as well. I enjoy walking with my music going and my sunglasses shading my eyes. When you pass people you don't make eye contact or say hi. Just look straight ahead.

The Fashion: I prepared myself to enter a country where fashion was everything. I was right. There is no such thing as a woman "letting herself go" here. Ever. No matter your class, you wear your choice of style to it's fullest. Scarves are a must. You can wear something rediculous here if you act like it is fashionable. I've seen the strangest clothes. This makes me feel better because as long as I act like what I'm wearing is cool, it is. I haven't seen any flip-flops but the ones on my feet. These I will not give up. I like them too much. Plus they let me show off my toe-ring.

The Feeding Time: This is just as, if not more, important than fashion. Whenever possible, you have the fork in your left hand. If you are going to fill up your glass, you check to make sure no one else needs it first. If they do, fill theirs, then give yourself some. Glasses are only filled halfway. There is generally more that one course. At the simplest, you have the main meal and then after some cheese or bread. Olive oil graces every Italian table. At parties you have at least four courses. First an appetizer, then the main dish, next comes the post main dish appetizer (I don't know the proper name), and then dessert. Conversation makes meals enjoyable whether you are at home or out.

Conversation: Italians are great conversationalists. It is a part of so much. At meals, if there is a slight lull in the conversation, someone immediately picks it up. Usually with a "How are you, (enter name here)? Is everything well?" The questioned person then tells the table what they have been up to, about thier sick kid, and the movies they have seen recently. This spurs more conversation. You always make sure to say hello and goodbye to everyone, whether it is your mother, your friend, or the lady checking out your groceries. You greet friends and family by taking their hand and kissing them on the left cheek first, then the right. Most people just kiss the air.

I smile to myself when a tourist thinks I am a normal part of the Bergamo scene. Here in Northern Italy my light skin and hair do not make me stick out, as there are Italians much paler than me walking around. I have even seen multiple blond haired, blue eyed Italians. Many people also have curly hair like mine so that helps as well. Just hand me my Aviator sunglasses and music and I'm ready to go slip into the Italian image this summer has handed me.

Peace in Christ