Deafinitely Beautiful

I know I’ve been fairly silent since I crossed the Atlantic Ocean, but don’t worry: I am safe and sound with mi hermana. I had to wait in Budapest for a day and a half to be reunited with her, but reunited we were, and then we crossed into Romanian territory.

Becky and I set off my first full day in Romania with a bang. How, you ask? We spent it with deaf Romanians. Talk about a communication barrier, right? Except it actually wasn’t – or at least as much as you would think. Granted, I did have the advantage of two hearing people with me – my sister, and Natalia, who both speak limited Romanian and Romaninan sign – but for the most part, it was just a joyful mess of trying to figure out what people were saying. I say “joyful”, but maybe that was a bit one-sided… I had fun, anyway.

The morning started at the bus stop, where Becky and I met Natalia, Becky’s Russian coworker. We then got on the bus, which was entirely inhabited at this point by Deaf passengers going to the same service we were going to (one of whom looked like Christopher Eccleston! Sorry, no pictures).

When we got to the church, Becky picked a spot far enough away from the speakers so that we wouldn’t get blasted with sound during the music portions. Yes, music is still incorporated into a deaf service… they can feel the vibrations of the bass, to keep the beat. They did songs in two ways: one, in which someone would lead the congregation in signing the words that appeared on the screen; and two, in which the pastor turned to the congregation and asked if anyone would like to lead them in a song. Someone volunteered, and this heavy beat would start playing and then the individual would essentially (or at least from what I could tell) freestyle it, signing a Psalm or some other Bible verse. This was my favorite, because it was like musical improvisation.

Following the sermon was very difficult for me. Natalia was to be my interpreter, the poor girl. Imagine wanting to sit down and get something out of a message and then have to interpret for some idiot. She inadvertently made Becky and me laugh before the sermon began, because she had put in earplugs to fend off the loud speakers, and started speaking to us – in Russian. She quickly realized her mistake, and interpreted the sermon as best she could (she was able to speak out loud as the speaker signed), but I already have a hard enough time focusing on things while I’m sitting for a long period of time. Becky was merciful and blamed it on jetlag, but you can be let in on my little secret: I haven’t been able to listen to a sermon, or even a lecture, for years without falling asleep at some point during  the message. I need to be doing something active.

After the service, everyone sat around and drank coffee (which apparently not all Romanian Christians do… I guess some of the churches won’t drink coffee because it’s bordering on “coffee and cigarettes” imagery). This was the obligatory introduction period, in which every single person commented on how much Becky and I looked alike, and how beautiful we were. After meeting about thirty people, I now have that awkward “haha, thanks” expression permanently ingrained onto my face.

But it was also an exciting time for me, as I tried to communicate with people via Becky, and worked on picking up some Romanian signs. A lot of it was just staring at people as they talked, then nudging Becky and saying, “What does this mean?” and doing a clumsy attempt at a sign, and hearing the reply, “Um, I’m not sure.”

Some of the people were good to me, and mixed in some miming with their signs as they talked to Becky and me — something that Becky later told me is great for communication, but not so great for learning. Deaf people are apparently much better at communicating across languages, because they have so much practice dealing with incompetent people such as myself, so they get used to the idea of having to communicate in whatever way possible.

After coffee, a group of us decided to go out to lunch, during which I did some more staring, but also got to know Becky’s friends a little more. Imagine having to communicate with someone who knows absolutely none of your own language, and think of how frustrated you would get; now erase that attitude from the equation, and you have the reaction that these people had to communicating with me. Now, true, a lot of the time they simply involved themselves in other conversations, as unsure as I was about what to talk to me about, but when we were engaged, they engaged. They didn’t just walk away.

The day ended with a walk around the city center, which is beautiful and under construction, which somehow makes it more beautiful. A metaphor for life, perhaps? Or at least the perfect ending to my first full day in Romania.


Look for more pictures to come, darlings.

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Kick-off

When I was looking for flights out of the country, I figured it would be appropriate to fly out of Boston so I could make a quick visit to the Cape and see my family. Man, I make good decisions sometimes. Though I always manage to only be home for a day or two, and have to rush through my time there and spread it thin, it still always feels really good.

This time was a little weird for me. Hopefully it didn’t show too much — I hate to be that person who ruins the fun — but it was the first time since my grandmother’s funeral that I hung out on the Cape. I kept expecting to see Gma in her chair by the fireplace, watching Judge Judy, but she wasn’t there.

Other things have changed, too. The Yarmouth House has a new menu. Panera doesn’t sell Jones soda anymore. The chipmunk has moved his hole to the other side of the backyard, and the grass under the red maple tree is thinning.

But the crows are still there, and the turkeys, too. And the beach. And Keltic Kitchen is every bit as perfect. And my mom and my Grandad are still there. And we still have to squish around a long table when the entire family comes for dinner.

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I went walking on the beach this morning, and encountered two women walking their dogs. As soon as they hit the sand, one of the dogs made a beeline for the water. Her owner was not pleased. “Dixie!” she yelled, annoyance crossing her face. “Dixie!” I left them for a few minutes, squishing my toes in the sand and taking in the salt air and throwing not-quite-seaglass back into the water. When I started coming back up the shore, the women and their dogs were still there. Dixie was still wading. “Dixie!” cried her owner. Dixie sat down with a splash.

I had to laugh. Let Dixie be Dixie, I wanted to say. She’s a dog; dogs like to play in the water. Let her be a dog. Enjoy how she frustrates you — don’t take it for granted — because it’s who she is, and it won’t be constant. One day, she may not be around anymore, and you’ll have an empty chair by the fireplace that you won’t know what to do with.

My Grandad will finally be undergoing heart surgery sometime within the next few weeks. He’s normally such an active person, and he’s getting so tired of being tired; hopefully this surgery will help a little with that. But it has its risks. I told him as I left this morning to take it easy, that I loved him, and that I’d see him soon.

And then I visited my Grandma’s grave, and updated her on Grandad’s surgery plans; that was one of the things she asked about even in the last few days. And I cleared the twigs off her nameplate, told her I missed her, I loved her, and I’d see her soon.

And now I’m boarding a plane to Romania.

The Thing About Culture Shock

Guys. I leave for Romania in less than a week.

As I prepare for my trip to Romania to visit my sister, I’ve been reflecting a lot on past trips — I’ve been comparing the amounts of time it took me to prepare for my various previous travels, reminiscing about the experiences I had, etc. I have also found myself wondering if I will experience culture shock.

imageI experienced minor culture shock in Guatemala, major culture shock in Uganda, and a different kind of culture shock in the UK (since their culture is closer to that of the State, it was more like “solo travel” culture shock). But I don’t know how drastic it will be in Romania. I’ll only be there for two weeks, and while I won’t exactly be cramped up in a hotel, eating Burger King and avoiding the local culture, I honestly don’t know if I’ll have enough time to stumble past the “honeymoon phase” of the experience and hit crisis mode. Plus the fact that I’ll be staying with an American expat — not nearly as immersive as some past experiences have been, regardless of the time frame.

I was talking with some friends of mine who just had a fairly immersive experience in China, and we drifted to the topic of culture shock. They admitted that they had been hit pretty hard, an understandable thing given the drastic contrast of China’s culture to America’s. But interestingly enough, we found that we agreed that sometimes reentry shock (that is, returning to your native culture) can be just as bad.

I had that experience with my trip to Uganda. I had some rough patches while I was there, and they were nothing to be scoffed at, but it was nothing compared to coming back to the States.

It makes sense, if you think about it. First off, returning to your native culture, you’ll feel a sense of loss as the amount of adventure in your day-to-day life drastically changes. Suddenly, every experience doesn’t seem new and exciting… it just seems like something you’ve done every day for the larger half of your life. This is something that you can experience for any amount of travel, whether it’s a two-week trip or an entire four months.

But there’s something more substantial to reentry shock than just a sense of boredom; there’s also a shift in values, and a feeling of whiplash as your stretched worldview gets shoved back into its original container.

When you experience shock in a new culture, it usually involves a sense of discomfort or even disgust at the way that something is happening — whether it’s traditions, attitudes of the locals, uncomfortable miscommunications, etc. For the most part, the reason why you feel this discomfort is because you don’t understand that aspect of the culture, and you have to learn how to adapt.

What makes reentry shock so hard is that you do understand. You grew up in that culture; you used to do things that specific way. But now you’re suddenly seeing it from a new perspective. And so the fact that it disturbs you is even worse, because it used to be you. What you once accepted as absolute truth has now been tipped on its head, and you see how backwards the truth may be — or at least how dependent on the situaton it is – and you are terrified by it. And what makes it all the more frustrating is trying to describe this feeling to people who don’t understand it.

I remember coming back to the States in complete cynical disarray. I couldn’t wrap my head around how much we wasted in America, how much we took things for granted… There’s a water shortage in California? Well, no wonder — look how much water we use to shower, or to run the dishwasher for those four cups we forgot in the last run. Or, why can’t I eat as much junk food as I used to? Because my body has gotten used to real food, a concept that had previously just meant putting veggies on my pizza. Or, why do people assume that I went to Africa on a missions trip? Because some people can’t see the citizens of a third world culture as anything other than helpless (a view that is actually, terrifyingly enough, being adopted in those cultures, but that’s a topic for another time). I was warned that this incredulity would happen, but I didn’t realize the implications of the warning until I actually experienced it.

Luckily, with every bout of culture/reentry shock, there is a period of adjustment. Hopefully, it becomes a learning experience, and doesn’t just thrust you into a state of eternal cynicism (though I’ll put myself out there and say that a little bit of cynicism is a good thing). And hopefully, it will spark a change, and hopefully, that spark won’t fade over time (something that I continually worry about). And hopefully, your worldview won’t just shift, it will expand.

I doubt I’ll go through the rollercoaster that I just described in the mere two weeks that I’m abroad; but I like checking in with myself every once in a while and making sure that I haven’t lost the impact of the experiences that I’ve already had. And let’s be honest: if I don’t experience the same drastic culture shock that I experienced before, that doesn’t mean that I haven’t learned anything about that culture. If I have a more shallow experience of something, I still had that experience… it just takes a little more effort and presence of mind to process it and incorporate it into my understanding of the world.

Sam Posts In Her Blog! (And Other Delayed Tales)

Note: If you’re here to help me pick a Halloween costume, that part is at the end. Scroll along, bud.

Life Updates!

Sam has a lot of stuff going on at the moment. Sam also likes to speak in the third person. Sorry about that. Here are some things that I’ve decided could be cool to share with you all:

1) Sam has been running around like a chicken with her head cut off!

…ie, work has been BUSY. It isn’t always busy, in the sense that every day there is something to do — I will admit that there are days when all of the items on the agenda can’t get done until later that week, or until someone responds to my email. So I sit there and twiddle my thumbs. But these past few weeks, it’s been a long list of YOU NEED TO DO THIS AND YOU NEED TO DO IT NOW and YOU NEED TO DO THIS YESTERDAY and, as time quickly passes, YOU WERE SUPPOSED TO GET THIS DONE THREE DAYS AGO! Work has been busy.

Hence, I have not posted in a couple weeks — mea culpa — but now, if all goes well, I’ll be back on track and you will once again hear my voice creeping up out of the noise from the Internet.

2) Sam has a bedframe!

This has been a bittersweet achievement, as for the past two years I have not been able to fit a boxspring up the stairs that lead to my room, so all I’ve had is a mattress on the floor. I don’t spend a ton of time in my room, so it hasn’t been a huge issue. But then, lo and behold, my roommate got a new bedframe and announced to me that his old frame doesn’t require a boxspring! And now it is mine. I’m finally climbing the ladder of life.

BUT, BUT, BUT. The only issue is, I have roof-ceilings (you know, the ones that slant), and now my bed is about three feet from the ceiling at its furthest point. You have to give up some comforts to get other comforts.

3) Sam is going to Romania soon!

I have been planning a trip to visit my sister in Oradea, and it’s finally happening at the end of September. I’m going through the scrambling phase, making sure I have everything in order before my trip, and I’m very excited to get there and see mi hermana.

4) Sam is impatient for medical procedures to occur!

As some of you may know, my Grandma just recently passed away. My Grandad has been due to have heart surgery even before she went, but it kept getting pushed back. Well, now I’ve been told that it will be happening in the first week of October (no exact date, yet, of course. There’s still a chance for them to screw that one up). This is slightly nervewracking since I will be in Romania for the first week of October, BUT, I will be visiting my family the day before I leave to see my sister, so I’ll be able to see him at least pre-surgery. Even if it is a couple of weeks prior. AND, he’s getting the less invasive surgery — which means that, instead of the old-fashioned open heart surgery, they will be able to go in through a vein somehow? I don’t know. A bunch of medical terms.

5) Sam wants to pick a Halloween costume!

Because it’s never too early to pick a Halloween costume..

I have several characters to choose from. Here’s the lineup:

    • River Tam (Firefly)

  • Sarah Sanderson (Hocus Pocus)
  • Illyria (Angel)
  • The Moment (Doctor Who)

In fact, if you want to help me decide, please leave a comment and argue your point for any of the above costumes. They’re all just too good to decide, I might have to do more than one.