Homecoming to Ljubljana

It’s hard to believe that I first arrived in my beautiful new home of Ljubljana, Slovenia already 15 days ago. It’s also hard for me to articulate all the emotions I experienced or even to capture all the things I’ve already seen or done. But I’ll at least try to give you an idea. Let’s flash back a few weeks to the day I was supposed to leave.

Thursday, September 12 was an odd day emotionally. That morning, I finished packing last-minute items in my two, 50-pound suitcases, loaded up the car, said “bye” to my Aunt Michelle, and made the drive with my parents to the airport. I remember feeling a mix of excitement, anticipation, fear, sadness, anxiety. The day for which I had been preparing for the past four months (or four years if you want to get technical) had finally arrived.

At the airport, I met one of my teammates Hilary (pictured below). After checking in our bags, we said our tearful goodbyes to our parents, which I must say was hard, especially knowing that I wouldn’t be able to hug them until April of next year. (I’m getting choked up now just thinking about it. *Wipes away tears*). And as usual, Mom and Dad waited to leave until I waved once through security.

Dad, Mom, and Me at the airport. Teary goodbyes... I'm so thankful for them.

But at this point, Hilary and I were ready for the long day of travel to finally get to a place we’d only heard about for years. The outpour of prayers, love, encouragement, and support on Facebook, Instagram, and through text messages was incredible.

We found our gate, and shortly after heard the news that our flight to Newark was delayed. First for an hour. Then for two hours. There was a groundstop in Newark, JFK, LaGuardia, Boston, and Washington Dulles because of an approaching storm. We were back and forth on the phone with our teammates, who were waiting for us in Newark, and our location director, trying to figure out what to do.

Eventually, we boarded the plane (three hours after we were supposed to have taken off). But we didn’t go anywhere. We taxied on the runway for more than an hour waiting for the OK to take off. That OK never came. Eventually, we went back to the terminal. At this point, our other teammates were boarded on our flight to Munich.

I was confused. Frustrated. I was upset with God. So many people are praying for us, why won’t You let us go? But God reminded me that this wasn’t a surprise to Him. It’s obvious He didn’t want us on that plane, just based on the fact that so many people were praying, and it still didn’t happen.

We scrambled to find other flights out that night. But nothing happened. Lloyd, an airport employee, was working with us to try and book flights for us. When he went into the computer, flight itineraries were booked for us for the next day. We got the last seats on the flight to Dulles, then to Munich. I still don’t know who booked the tickets, or how we got the last seats. But I do know the Lord provided in this way for us. And in the midst of everything, I still had deep-seated peace knowing that God always does what is best for me and what brings Him the most glory. Though I didn’t understand, I knew Hilary and I would be OK.

After 9 hours in the airport, my mom picked Hilary and me up from the airport and took us to a hotel, where Hilary and I spent the night. I was so nice getting to spend another few hours with my mom and getting to hug her again, especially after the day we had. I’m so thankful for that.

The next day, we gave it another go. This time went a little more smoothly. When we finally made it to Munich on Saturday morning, the rest of the team greeted us with smiles and hugs, which were very much needed on our end. There was overall a sense of relief when we got there. And the drive from Munich to Ljubljana was breathtaking, which helped a lot, too. What an awesome reminder of God and His creation!

Since then, we’ve been adjusting to life in the city, learning how the buses work and our way around the grocery stores, preparing as team for our start on campus, catching on to some Slovene words, and figuring out how to work the washing machine and dishwasher in our apartment, just to name a few things.

Ljubljana

Ljubljana!

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

Bus Pass, compete with my full name

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Part of the fun has been exploring Ljubljana and some nearby villages. Last weekend, as a team we hiked through one of Slovenia’s national parks and spent the night at the weekend home of Uroš (oo-rōsh), one of the student volunteers in our campus ministry Vsak Študent.

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John

From left: Uroš, Katie, Mike, Hilary, Andrew, Me, Anna, Hayley, Melissa, and John. Photo by Uroš

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Did I mention how beautiful this country is? Because it is.

I’m just constantly amazed at how the Lord has provided in the last few weeks, and throughout the last year to bring me here. It’s incredible to think of all the little ways He has made this year possible — physical healing, prayer and financial partners to send me, food that I can eat here (including rice milk gelato!!), and encouraging teammates, who are also a lot of fun!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

Hazelnut rice gelato!

I’ve also been blessed to see some of fruit that God is producing in the ministry in Ljubljana. (In my next post later this week, I’ll share more about the spiritual climate in Ljubljana and share stories about some of the students I’ve met.)

P.S. To follow our ministry in Ljubljana and what our team is doing, check out our blog, Sent To Slovenia.

Caché: Tighza Valley

For my senior professional project, I wanted to combine hands-on journalism with my French language studies. So, I chose to spend five weeks in Morocco to compile interviews and observations in order to produce my final product, Caché. My friend, Kim Hackman (pictured below), a photojournalism student, served as my photographer throughout the trip.

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Because ethnographic and immersion journalism place the greatest importance on understanding the lives and cultures of others, I chose this method to research the Tighza Valley and the people who inhabit the region. By immersing myself into the Tighza village life for a period of time, I now have a better and understanding of the people and their traditions through in-depth interviews, conversations and observations. My stories, in the form of ethnographic and narrative journalism, attempt to place readers directly into the scene as the subject talks.

To provide a sense of the subjects’ lives, I interviewed approximately 55 villagers and had informal conversations with many others. The stories also capture events and daily life through observation. While in the village, we attended wedding ceremonies, watched women bake bread, went to a Ramadan feast and hiked four hours uphill to camp by Lake Tamda and talk to shepherds. We were also able to observe social gatherings and the villagers’ daily lives.

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By attending social events as an observer, I had the ability to see life from an insider’s perspective but without altering the event. Because I did not speak the language, Tachelhit (tesh-la-heet), it was impossible to know everything happening at social events, or even in everyday dialogue. So, I gathered much of my background information through interviews and unstructured coversations with interpreters or with villagers (with the help of interpreters).

Throughout my time in Tighza, I conducted interviews in French, which my three interpreters then translated into Tachelhit. The interpreters, all of whom were born in the village, spoke Tachelhit, Arabic, and varying degrees of French. I worked closest with Mina El Mouden (pictured below), a 24-year-old woman with a strong academic background and a proficiency in French. El Mouden interpreted for a majority of the interviews, including all interviews with female villagers. Because of El Mouden’s gender and the lack of men present in the rooms where I interviewed, the women shared more openly about their stories and daily struggles. The most powerful stories came from the lives of women, who seemed empowered that someone would take an interest in them and listen to them.

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When in Tighza, I stayed at the home of Carolyn Logan (pictured below), originally from the United Kingdom, and her husband, Mohamed El Qasemy, who was born and raised in the village. Logan, the only English speaker in the village, was my primary source of contact because we could communicate without interpretation, and she was familiar with the culture and people of the region.

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Throughout the process, I trusted Logan to provide insight and explanation of events and cultural differences because she had lived in the culture for five years, and she explained these things in a way a Westerner could understand. Her views of village life proved to be very similar to my own perspective because we were both foreigners.

The 29-year-old Mohamed and his 25-year-old brother, Ahmed, served as my other interpreters. Both left school in their pre-teen years, but because of their experience working alongside foreigners visiting the village, they picked up French. The brothers, sons of a respected village elder, were well known among the people of Tighza, giving us access to more sources and contacts.

Our purpose is to present an accurate account of the lives of the villagers, both through text and through photos. My hope with the magazine is that after reading the stories of the villagers of Tighza, readers will come away with a better understanding of their lives and the rich culture of the Berbers of the High Atlas Mountains.

Click HERE to see the digital version of the magazine!

(Sample pages are shown below.)

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There’s a mouche in my bouche! (8/17/2011)

Prior to this trip, Carolyn told me that I wouldn’t have to worry about mosquitoes, much like I did in France. (In France, I had to choose between extreme heat and mosquitoes, considering there weren’t screens for the windows.) Well, Carolyn was right. I think I may have seen one mosquito since being here, but nonetheless, we have had problems with flies, gnats (British “midges”), spiders, and moths. Flies and gnats both bite here. I have itchy scars to prove it. To give you an idea of what Kim and I have experienced so far, I’ll recount a few short stories for you.

One night, during our first week here, we had the external window open in our bedroom to keep cool. (Keep in mind that there are no screens here either.) Kim had just turned off the light a few minutes prior, and I was already half asleep when I heard a rustling noise outside. Paranoid me thought someone was outside our window, so I ran to turn on the light. Much to my surprise, I didn’t find a person, but a six-inch brown spider, roughly the size of my hand.  Imagine a tarantula, but brown and less hairy. Kim and I were frozen and panicked, arguing back and forth as to who would go after it, then prancing around like frightened/grossed-out little girls, not exactly knowing what to do next. By body decided for me… I started to hyperventilate.

Apparently, we made enough noise to wake up Carolyn, who came running in, obviously groggy and frazzled. I was still hyperventilating. Within the next minute, a disheveled Mohamed came racing in, still trying to put on his blue silk, gold-trimmed, man-version of a Moroccan kaftan, known as a Sahara. In a flash, he left and came back in without me noticing, this time carrying a large beige bucket. He took a few swings at the eight-legged creature. By this point, the spider was crawling around with its nasty claws all over my bed. Eventually, Moh was able to scoop up the spider. Then, he squashed it and threw it outside. Moh to the rescue, I suppose.

I’m sorry if you didn’t see the humor that I saw in the incident. But if you know us, and if you knew Carolyn and Moh, you would probably find it a bit funnier. Perhaps I’ll try another insect story….

Once again, it was late in the evening, and Kim and I had just finished getting ready for bed. (The window was open, again.) I switched off the light and climbed into bed. When my head hit the pillow, I felt and heard a loud vibrating noise that sounded like a motor smacking into a plastic bag. I turned the light back on, and the vibrating stopped. We looked around and saw nothing. So, I switched the light back off.

Again, when my head hit the pillow, I heard and felt the same vibration. This time, I ran out of bed to turn the light on. I searched around my bed for anything, and that’s when I spotted a pair of wings sticking out of my pillowcase. Not sure how to handle this situation, I picked up my tennis shoe, covered in red dust, and slowly moved toward my pillow, trying to sneak up on the winged animal. Smack! I nicked the wing, but mostly just left a large dust spot on my wall. The Atlas moth (the size of the palm of my hand) fluttered to the wooden beams of our ceiling. Well, naturally, we had to kill the thing, otherwise it would’ve eaten us in our sleep. So, what did we do to try to get it down? We chucked paper balls at the beams, failing miserably. At times, it decided to swoosh to a different beam, one time knocking me to the floor in the process. It probably resembled a slapstick comedy show in which the comedian just falls to the floor in slow motion.

Half an hour later… we were still whipping paper balls at the ceiling, when Kim noticed her tripod in the corner. We used the tripod to knock it off the ceiling, and it landed in between Kim’s bed and the wall. Smacking it with the tripod really did the trick, and now there’s a dead Atlas moth that remains under Kim’s bed. Score.

Riad Kasbah Oliver (8/17/2011)

Three years ago, Carolyn (pictured below with son Oliver) started building her riad kasbah into a hill in the Tighza Valley. (I feel like I’m hiking up a mountain of red dirt and sand every time I return here after a day out in the village. That was strategic on Carolyn’s part so that the kasbah wouldn’t have unwanted visitors.)

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Designing the building herself, she used local contractors, carpenters, and stone crafters to build the energy-efficient kasbah, fit for the “adventurous type,” according to the Talbot family, a British family that stayed at the kasbah for five days. The riad kasbah is energy efficient because of the strategically-placed windows to allow for the optimum amount of natural light and for a cross draft in each room, and the design materials allow the kasbah to keep retain heat in the winter.

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The building is designed as a combination of a riad and a kasbah with interior and exterior windows and square turrets. A riad is a type of Moroccan hotel or home with a central courtyard that allows entrance to each room. A kasbah is a fortified North African home, that resembles a castle, with a square turret on top of each corner of the building.

As soon as you climb the stone staircase to the double wooden doors, you see the reception desk immediately inside. On the right is a W.C., and to the left is the kitchen (pictured below). Behind the reception desk is another set of double doors, although these doors together are about the size of a large single door. Through these doors rests the open garden, which is surrounded by tile floors. (We eat at small round tables around the garden.)

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On either side of the garden, there are two 7×15 salons, one for dining Berber style and the other for watching TV. Neither room is completely finished, although the dining room is decorated like a traditional Moroccan dining/living room, with seating around each wall that’s covered in decorative tapestry and matching pillows. The other salon, which doesn’t have decorations yet, has a few single-sized camping mattresses with a small TV, cable box and DVD player. (It’s been a good spot for chick flick movie nights with Carolyn and Mina.)

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Beside the garden is a wide-set stone staircase (pictured above) leading to the second floor. Tile floors lead to each of the seven bedrooms, which can accommodate up to 21 people at a time. The kasbah also functions as a home for Carolyn, her husband Mohamed, and their son Oliver, who is two and a half. One room is Carolyn and Mohamed’s, another is Oliver’s. There’s also a large W.C. for the rooms without toilets. Because we are here for the long haul, we snatched the room with two single beds and a private shower and western-style toilet (no squatty potties for us in the kasbah!). And I’m really glad Carolyn gave us this room because of how often the two of us were sick over the course of our 35 days here. A private bathroom and a western toilet turned out to be quite convenient.

Ma Vie (3/31/2010)

I realize that I have not written for a few days, and I sincerely apologize. The adjustment has been a tad bit rough on my body. I’m constantly tired, and I think I’m sick. I can’t seem to kick the exhaustion either. Even though I’m tired, and slightly homesick already, everything is going well. There is so much I need to tell you. So I’ll begin with my family here.

My mère d’accueil (host mom) is an older woman, probably in her 60s. She works as a nurse at the clinic once per week, which happened to be yesterday. The day changes each week. She has two daughters, who are 33 and 32, and they don’t live in the house. Both daughters have two little enfants (children). Monday, before our little luncheon at the university with our host families, I was reading my Bible in the sun on the terrace (which was wonderful, I recommend it), when her older daughter arrived with her 3-year-old son William. He is quite adorable, with little ears that stick out and golden-blond hair. And the best part, he probably speaks better French than I do, which is humbling.

My host mom also has a boyfriend, Serge, who is about her age. I think the best way to describe him is “a stereotypical older French man.” With that image, you’re probably thinking he’s thin, smokes, has a deep chortle/voice, loves to joke, is hard to understand, and wears a hat. We’ll you’d be correct. Well, except I’ve never seen him wear a hat. It’s funny because Sammi (another OU student staying in the same house) and I cannot understand him, even though we try incredibly hard. Sammi thinks it’s because he mumbles (loudly), and I think she’s right. He doesn’t really move his mouth when he talks, yet somehow he has a loud voice. Although we can’t really understand him, he’s very patient and listens closely when we attempt our French. I enjoy being around him. Il m’amuse.

There are quite a few differences between this home and the one in the U.S. First, in France, all of the houses are small. Although it’s small, our chambres (bedrooms) are large. (In another post, I’ll give you a complete tour of the house with pictures.) It also seems like all the appliances in the house are smaller.

They conserve water here, unlike all of us wasteful Americans. To shower, you must turn on the water for 30 seconds and rinse. Then, you turn off the water and soap up your entire body, including your hair. Then, you turn the water back on and rinse. And that’s your shower. Me, I cheat a bit. And by cheating, I mean turning on the water about 4 times. The first thing I will do whenever I get to a hotel is take a complete shower, as in not turning off the water, even though now I’ll feel guilty for using so much water. Showering here has made me realize that water is a luxury that Americans use way too much of. The French are correct when they stereotype us as wasteful. Also, they turn off all lights, all the time. And much of the time we use nature lighting here. Let’s just say that 8:00 p.m. dinners are a tad dark.

To flush the toilet, we have to pull up the button, then when the water flushes the toilet contents away, we push down on the button to stop the water. It’s a little odd.

Also, everyone eats little breakfasts, lunch around 12 and then dinner around 8. I don’t know how people make it that long without eating. I’m starving by dinner. I’m also eating tons of bread, which doesn’t keep me full very long at all, and it makes me thirsty. (There are no water fountains, I keep refilling a water bottle in the sinks I can find.) I think the diet here is also taking a toll of my body. The food is excellent, but it includes a lot of bread and cheese. I never thought it was possible to crave vegetables, but I actually started to today.

Those are the main differences for now. If I think of any more, I’ll let you know. Just so I don’t bog you down with a ton of writing, I’ll split up my stories into days. I’ll be telling you first about my shopping experiences and then about the university and my classes. Stay tuned!

P.S. It’s getting harder and harder to write in English. I’m actually thinking in French and having to translate it into English. C’est bizarre.