Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Back in the USA

Sue, Bhad's mom, picked us up at the Austin airport and shuffled us over to his brother Josh and his girlfriend Nicole's house to land. On the drive over, we stopped at a store to grab some local beer. Fireman's Four and Real Ale. When we arrived at Josh and Nicole's, we were greeted with big hugs and a delicious veggie meal. The beers were popped open and the party was on.

Bhad's been practicing his harmonica so he can jam with Josh when he got to Austin. He's gotten really good at it and I'm very impressed. He can improvise and make any song sound good. They're playing right now, in fact. With the guitar and the harmonica we have a band right here in the living room!

Josh and Nicole have two big dogs. Green and Violet. Do I sense a theme? They're adorable and after a few hours of "getting-to-know," Booster joined the big dog gang. He was terrified at first: goggled eyes, ears back, tail between legs, hunched back. But now he's sniffing and wiggling and provoking play time. It's good for the little man. And now he's got a posse. Violet is such a character--she'll let Josh do anything to her. Hence the sheep-carrying pose. She's the most loving dog I've ever met, always noozling you or putting her paw on your lap to say hello. Green is a total human. He's sitting on the couch people style, right now. He's so mature and he'll look at you with this, 'hey, what's up' face. They're all characters and Booster's absolutely loving the dog-company!

The Journey on the Aeroplane

I wrote this on the plane yesterday morning:

"In the air from Chicago to Austin. Thirty-something thousand feet. They put us on standyby for the direct 9:05am flight. The alternative was to catch the 9:55am to St. Louis and then on to Austin by 4:30pm.

We should've been in Texas last night if everything had gone as expected. As Tom, the operational supervisor at American Airlines, said: 'it's an act of God so it's not our problem.' He pleaded with us to blame God for the weather delay, not him, and to feel free to take up any concerns with the big man or

We had to make a 12:00 flight from Krakow yesterday morning so we were up and out the door by 7:00am. The Hallo Taxi man was waiting cheerfully outside our door. This guy's one of my favorite drivers. I know most of them from my tri-weekly ventures to satellite schools and businesses.

Our train to Krakow was almost an hour late. Once in the Krakow airport, we waited and waited, three hours, in 'utter chaos' (as the flustered American couple put it). It really was utter chaos, although I prefer not to pass judgement on another culture for not being the same as my own. It's an easy outlet for disgruntlement, but it's unkind and unnecessary. I'll try to describe it as objectively as I can. Hundreds of people funnelling into a tiny space--the width of two, maybe three, people--to enter another area where you again had to squeeze into another section to wait. It felt like a sweaty and tense mirror maze. There was no tidy queue, no courtesies, just a mass of irritated travellers shoving for the best position and throwing angry glares at their new neighbors. It was all so primitive. It was survival.

As it turns out, it wasn't bad that our flight from Krakow was delayed as we learned once we passed through the hours of security. We wouldn't've made it to the plane on time anyway. But we were already tired and we hadn't even begun.

The flight was a-okay. There was no room in the first-class closet for my wedding dress or Bhad's suit, so we had to not-delicately-at-all cram them in the overhead compartment. The LOT stewardesses (I know it's politically incorrect, but I like the throw-back) were curt as usual, but we noticed major and recognizeable improvements in our Polish. The last trip we made on LOT airlines, we were struggling to keep the words for 'thank you' and 'good day' straight. Now we could communicate that we wanted tea with milk and no, no lemon thank you. We didn't get any cocked-head, confused looks, all was smooth as butter. Smooth as maslo. And Booster was a star. Didn't even make a whimper.

Our landing was delayed 30 minutes and it was terribly rocky. Tumultuous is the word. I was very nervous, I admit; the plane would drop and then seemingly catch itself every few seconds. 'What's the worst that could happen?' I kept asking myself. Oh, yes, we could all die. But we'll die anyway someday, right? So nothing we should worry about. I think I could do for better acceptance of death. It puts things into perspective and it's so real. It might sound obvious to say that death is real, but we do our best to ignore it everyday. But the reality is also that I like living, and conveniently we didn't die. The pilot got us on the ground and the passengers errupted in applause.

As we rushed off the plane that'd carried us across the Atlantic, the relief of the safe landing didn't last long. We immediately started to feel the urgency once again. We had to make our connection to Austin in just 40 minutes! The health and safety inspector needed to take a look at the pup's papers, but they took about 15 minutes trying to page an officer authorized to do it. We shot off towards the AA check-in area in terminal five the moment he cleared us to go.

When we arrived at the check-in, the man directing the people traffic said 'this line please, oh, I think that flight is cancelled,' as if someone had just asked him if he wanted sugar in his coffee and he'd responded 'sure.' I had the fantasy of him saying all of these traumatic or drastically exciting things in the same ambivilent tone. But the novelty of it dissapated into annoyance quickly. We were to meet this man, our buddy Tom, at the counter 30 minutes later.

As warned, our flight was cancelled. Due to weather, apparently. Every potential flight out of Chicago aimed at Texas--even one to D.C (?!)--were cancelled for the night. Tom offered with his broad, toothy smile 'if we wanted, we'd be more than welcome to stay in the public terminal overnight. The seats out there are quite comfy and there's a food court just upstairs [insert automatic smile here].' He also gave us the option, as he put it, of taking an indirect flight from Chicago to St. Louis to Austin, arriving at 4:30 in the afternoon the following day. We made the argument that our original flight was direct and we were not exactly happy with the exchange. Insert smile, shake head, sing-songy Chicago accent, and his power phrase: well, that's your opinion. He apologized for the inconvenience and said 'well, if there's nothing more I can do for you...' The word 'more' rallied every emotion in my body for battle and set me off. More you can do? More? But you would've had to do something in order to offer us more! 'That's all I can offer you, ma'am. I'm very sorry.' Smile, bigger smile.

I had to muster all the sense I had left to not start making wild judgements about Americans again. The saccarine sweet attitude Tom gave us, never giving us a direct answer but twisting it to make it look like it was the best situation possible for us, disgusted me. Why not just be honest and treat your customers, although they're customers, like humans? The toothy grins and chipper nods he perpetuated when he gave us the bad news was totally unbelievable. Unbelievable. What world are we in? What's wrong with him?

I was upset and exhausted and totally unable to make a clear decision. Bhads took charge and bought a hotel room at the Radisson with a discount voucher from the airline. It was still $80 (240pln!!!) and on principal I disagreed, but we really needed the rest.

The hotel was as comfy as a cloud. There was a nice clean bathtub with hot water in the pipes just asking to be released, internet access, TV showcasing a baseball game in all it's American glory. Booster let loose after being in his bag all day, I jumped into the bath, and Bhads ordered us a deep dish Chicago pizza from the famous Giordano's. I don't know if they're really famous, but they claimed to be so on the box. One third crust and sauce, two thirds cheeeeeese. There was so much cheese, I was almost grossed out. I love cheese. It's my favorite food. Practically any type of cheese. I'll eat it alone, with other foods, hot or cold. I could eat cheese for every meal. But this was almost too much. The call was simple, no language challenges. And we sipped on water from the tap--what a luxury!

Ah hah, descending into Austin now. Oh, hello cabin pressure and nausea...

We ate some of the left over pizza for breakfast and hopped the shuttle back to the airport to try to get a standby seat on the direct 9:05 flight. We got seriously lucky. Out of 39 people waiting on standby for an open seat, we were numbers one and two! We got seats next to each other without a problem. And they even had a closet to hang our wedding wares.

Oh, bumpy clouds. Maybe clouds aren't so comfy. We'll be in Austin in minutes. 95 degrees, clear skies and humid? Oh, the journey continues and it's time for a nap."

Friday, June 15, 2007

We Are Teachers

With the end of the year comes stress, sentimentality, and best of all, presents. Most of this past year I felt more like I was working at learning how to teach rather than really feeling like,
"hey, I'm a teacher." But the formula is easy: students give me presents, I feel like a teacher. I just remember the days when I'd get so excited to give my own teacher a little something to say thanks before jetting out of the class as fast as I could to a bright blue and newfound summer day. I was shocked to have my students presenting me with gifts this time. Me?! Could I be the teacher that they get excited to give a gift to before jetting outside? Even if the answer's no, I still felt like it and that's what counts. Presents are serious fun.

My adult class gave me an atlas for Poland. It's this huge book with super detailed maps of literally every inch of the country. It'll come in handy on our travels--very thoughtful, too. I blogged about them earlier so I won't go on again.

My teenagers at our satellite school Jankego, Martyna and Michal, gave me a bouquet of flowers. The rumor is that teenagers are miserable to teach, but this class totally disproves it. They are so lovely, they laugh at my stupid jokes, they say the cleverist things, and I really feel like I know them. Those IH scrabble champions made my year fun!

The kiddos at Jankego were so sweet. They gave me all kinds of goodies: flowers, a candle, a box of fancy chocolates. It was so cute the way they presented them to me. Rushing up to the teacher at the last minute like they'd been waiting all class, sticking their hands out with the gifts, and saying "here," then running off again. They're nothing short of adorable. I really know what my mom means now when she calls her students her children. They're pictured left to right with the play they wrote: (top) Aga, Gosia, Mieszko, Wiktor, (bottom) Dominika, Marta, and me.

Some of Bhad's teens from the satellite school in Siemianowice: Kuba and Anna. They're really cool kids and are well versed in the Bhadrisms. They joined at us the pub last week for their last class. We're trying to convince Kuba to check out St. Ed's for college next year. He's already suited up in his Texas gear, so the rest is easy.

Bhads also got a present from his one-to-one student. It really takes the cake. It's a purple, glass "diamond" the size of a fist. It looks just like a diamond, but it's massive. The woman bought it at a really nice store here in town, Rosenthal, and we can't really tell if it's functional (paperweight?) or if it's art. It's so cool in its randomness and I dig it.

So that's it for the year. We're heading back to Texas this Monday and there's loads to do. We are going to take a day to do absolutely nothing and enjoy it before it's back to work for the wedding. Ooh, it's all happening folks. Life is good!

Schooooool's Out for the Summer

Schoooool's out for the summer! Yesterday was our last day at IH Katowice. I ran around the teacher's room hunting down each person for a memorable and goofy photo. They're all such great people. It was really sad to say goodbye. But of course, we're all roamers and I'm sure we'll meet again. Happy Trails, everyone!

This is our lovely teacher's room, where Stephanie and Joanna use the miracle of light reflection to communicate.

Jo is not only a teacher, but she also a model in her spare time. Or maybe a body builder...? Look at those cheeks, baby. She's got all the moves!

Sabina is one of the sweetest and most genuine people I've ever met. She's our office manager, and she's amazing. I'm going to miss our wedding chat, but I can't wait to hang out in Wroclaw with her. We'll be newlywed couple friends -- ah, so 1950's!

Ooh, there's the Director of Studies at the stand-by board up to no good. Please, Bronwen, no summer stand-by slots!

Oh, I'll miss you smokers. Oh, I'll miss you smoker's balcony (note the sign). Piers and Jo, creating lasting friendships while creating lasting damage to their lungs. Ahh...

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Croissants, Tieing the Knot, & Last Classes

I have 45 minutes before my next class. It's 4:30 pm and I've been here at school since 10:00 am. I have two classes tonight, which puts it at 10.5 hours for the day. Boogers, I'm tired.

For a bit of a pep-up, I walked down to Zabka--a tiny convenient store with, surprisingly, everything you could ever need. I thought I wanted a chocolate bar, but then I saw the beloved 7 Days Chocolate Croissant making eyes at me. These little devils are seriously delicious. We used to eat practically one a day during CELTA, so yes fond memories. They are buttery and soft with a dollup (never enough) of chocolate cream inside. They are packaged and oozing with preservatives and it makes them all the better! I bought one for Bhads, he loves them equally as much as I do, so when he gets out of his class he can have a tasty snack. But it's a real test: it's sitting there, about 3 feet away, waiting for Bhadri but giving me the same eyes it gave me in the shop, can I resist?

This reminds me of another predicament. When we were travelling back from Lviv, back during Easter break, we had a layover in a Polish-Ukrainian border town called Przemsyl. Lovely town. But as we strolled through town, we noticed the glow from inside Zabka (yet again). We went in and snatched up what but two 7 Days Chocolate Croissants. We ate them left us unsatisfied. So we popped into a gas station a few blocks down the road and, yes, bought another pair of the delights. So here is the conclusion: one is good, but two is nasty. We felt so ill after eating the second one (and really, after half of the second one I knew I should quit, but...). We both were regretful and had that feeling that you know you just chose to do something oh-so wrong. So with this in mind, I think I'll pass on Bhad's croissant and allow him the pleasure.

We now have less than a week until we leave for America. It's pretty mind-blowing. We aren't mentally or physically or psychologically or anthingally prepared for it. Today, I'm finding it difficult to balance teaching with wedding planning. But we sure are plugging away and getting lots done for the wedding. A few biggies are still left up in the air, but we have a couple of weeks to sort things out. We had a look at possible vow and ceremony options yesterday, and it hit both of us hard. We were quite the couple, sitting in the coffee shop with our pages of options, me with red and teary eyes and Bhads gasping for breath. It's pretty powerful stuff, this marriage business. We've been so overwhelmed with school and all the details of the wedding that we haven't started to focus on what we'll say to each other or how the ceremony will go. As Gabi, one of our teachers, nicely put it: "Maybe the other stuff is here to distract us so we won't focus on the important stuff until it's the right time." I think she must be right.

I'm really going to miss some of my classes. Last night my class of post-advanced adults and I went to the pub for class. And they gave me a gift. Seriously, I felt like such a teacher! It's crazy how one little thing can make you feel like you've done a good job and it can justify all the stress. We stayed at the pub for a few hours, chatting about shelled animals (do crabs really have shells or just "armor" and do octopuses have a shell if it's inside their skin?), weddings, Silesia, and accents. It was lovely.

I brought my wedding dress home last Saturday. It was such a relief to have it at home. I was going through that unfinal anxiety and it's nice to feel like I have some control over it now. Yes, I need to feel control over my dress. Oh crap, what's happening to me?! I need another pub lesson.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Misadventure to the Lake

I haven't blogged in a while, and I'm not even sure what I want to write as I sit here in the teachers' room of the school. The semester finishes this week. So pub lessons are on tap for the agenda. This means that for the last 90 minute lesson we head to the pub and have a beer with our students and just talk. I didn't get to have any pub lessons last semester because we joined the team so late in the term, and I'm really looking forward to the idea.

Yesterday we went to a nearby man-made lake called Pogoria or something close to that. After a 40 min. bus ride with our host for the day and friend Boz, we continued on foot for another 20 minutes to our destination. As we got closer hoards of people were walking in the opposite direction from us and the rain began to fall hard with lightning and thunder and the whole bit. But we figured we could walk back and get wet or continue to the lake and get wet so we pressed on. The lake was great. I didn't have any expectations, but it was really nice. Sandy beach and all. Apparently they used to mine sand there and when they were finished they filled the big whole with water instead of leaving it -- good idea. The lake is probably a mile wide. We sat beneath a large patio umbrella at the pub waiting for the sun to fully bloom and the rain to dissapear. After a couple of hours and a few pints the sun finally retuned. We finished the day with some volleyball and a quick wade into the the icy water. Booster passed the time digging in the sand, running around in a frenzy for a few seconds before digging again, sticking his nose in the hole and repeating the entire process again and again. Boz was brave enough to go for a swim while Beth, Booster and I only went in up to our ankles. My only regret is that I didn't have a speedo (that's all the men where here). I'll have to get one for the next time.