Monday, October 22, 2007

Why the Swiss I think I’m Crazy

“If pigs have wings, then some winged animals are good to eat; now, some winged animals are good to eat; therefore pigs have wings.”

The weather took a turn this week and it is cold cold cold in Basel. Cold enough to make the neighbors cover all their plants with plastic for the night, and the African students take off at least thirteen layers of clothes when they get to class (and they are still perfectly decent!!). There were even rumors of snow flurries today (!!), and when I walk to and from the tram, it feels like my lungs are going to up and freeze on the spot. Fortunately, my coat finally decided to show up Saturday after taking its sweet time getting here from home. By Friday it was already near-freezing weather, but despite the cold, I set out that morning in flip flops. Most of you know I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with shoes—love to buy them, hate to wear them—and when I have to sit in class all day, there is nothing worse than claustrophobic feet for hours on end. So I wore my flip flops, figuring that as long as my torso is warm, the rest of me is fine, and until my toes are at risk of getting frostbite and falling off, flip flops are the way to go as far as I am concerned. Well! Apparently people don’t do that here! Half of Basel, not to mention the lower part of Germany, were quite concerned about my health and scolded me profusely in three languages! My teachers, classmates, friends at church in Germany, teenagers on the train—they all thought it was quite a scandal, and clucked disapprovingly, prophesied I’d catch cold, offered me their own shoes and otherwise generally insisted that really, flip flops in freezing weather is just too much. Vitaly even said he was older and wiser and I should therefore listen to him (he is 23). They don’t really have to worry though, because I got my coat and I’ve been much warmer the last couple days even though the weather is colder and, just as importantly, flip flops don’t match my coat so the whole footwear issue has rather taken care of itself, don’t you think?

Saturday I bought a scarf, and I look like I real European girl now. I must pull it off pretty well, because people are always yakking away at me in Schwitzer Deutsche, sometimes getting whole paragraphs out before I can get a word in edgewise to apologize for not understanding a thing they are saying. This especially happens with old people on the train, and I am probably most disappointed about not being able to talk to them. Just Saturday, for instance, I was on the tram on my way to the train station. I was sitting in the handicap section and had a potted purple pansy in my hand and was busy reading a book by historian Mark Noll about Christians in colonial America (Colonial history is 10 times more interesting than normal when I supposed to be reading African history). Oh, and of course, I was wearing my magical Europe scarf. An old Swiss couple got on the train and the man said, “Ahh, schöne! Die Blumen.” and he leaned over to admire my flowers. I understood that much, of course. He was saying, “oh, what pretty flowers,” and I smiled and agreed in my best German. But THEN I think he asked what kind they were, or possibly what they were for, and when I said, in English, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak German,” he and his wife smiled and nodded approvingly and continued to talk about the type of flowers. I don’t think they heard me, I thought. So I said again, this time in German, “I only speak a little German,” and they said, yes, they thought I was right—that was the name of the flowers, only they say it different in their dialect (and they demonstrated the difference). Clearly, they hadn’t heard me, but I didn’t know what else to do. By that time they thought we had just had a lovely conversation, and I didn’t want to spoil it for them. So I smiled and agreed again in German, and I don’t think they had any idea that I couldn’t understand them!

Now, you probably want to know why I was carrying around a pot of purple pansies, right? I was going to Dan’s house to watch Walk the Line, the movie about Johnny Cash, and the pansies were for his mother. I bought them Saturday afternoon when I was planting flowers and procrastinating on my homework, because I thought they were so pretty and perky that they had to be given to someone. When I got to the train station (after the miscommunication with the old Swiss couple) I was standing at a counter by a coffee shop. I had nearly an hour before the next train and I had just gotten off the phone with Dan to tell him I would be late when a French guy about 12-15 years older than me walked over. He stood beside me for a second looking around the room, not at me. You know how undercover police officers work on the movies? Always watching the room, never looking at the other cop when they are having an important powwow about the bad guys? He did it just like that—came out of no where, looked around the room and then finally nodded toward my flowers and said in a hushed tone, “You know in Europe, we only give zees kinds of flowers at funerals.”
“What!?!” I said, a little startled, while I mentally noted to myself that either my magical scarf was not working or it was no defense against telephone conversation eaves-droppers as it seemed likely that this guy was. How else did he deduce he should talk to me in English, and that I was from nowhere in Europe?
“Really?! You give pansies at funerals.” I repeated. I was a little dubious. “What do you call zees?” he asked. Pansies? Yes, they are funeral flowers.” “Well!” I told him. “I thought they were pretty, and they are for my friend’s mom.” He laughed and said again they were definitely funeral flowers, but when I gave him my most squinty-eyed skeptical look, and asked, “Who told you that?” he said he read it in a book once, which I hardly thought proved the point. We talked a little longer about why we were both in Basel, about Portland and how far away it is from Canada and Seattle and other famous places. He was eager to see what I was reading and seemed to have an unusually keen interest in American Colonial history. Remarkably keen for someone who appeared to know nothing about it, I thought, and that was about the time I decided I would go wander around and see what other conversations my potted pansy and I could get ourselves into. We didn’t talk to anyone else though (not that I was disappointed), and when I got to Germany Mrs. Boschbach said he was wrong—they aren’t funeral flowers—and she thought they were pretty too.

I went to the English-speaking church in Basel Sunday. A girl invited me to her house for the afternoon along with a bunch of other mostly young/mostly single people for lunch and visiting. They were friendly and fun and I will certainly go back, although it might be a bad move for my German. There was some good natured teasing between the Americans and Brits over proper English. The argument about tomAHto/ tomato confused the guy from Hungary. He thought we were talking about two separate things, and wasn’t sure what the difference was. “Oh, it’s only pronunciation,” one of the Brits explained. “One way is right and the other way is American.”

So…That’s what’s going on. At least, that’s the important stuff. Then there are classes and things of course, but nothing much to say there, except that this week I learned some very interesting things about Swiss Missions, Anthropology in the 1920s, historical cartography in Cameroon, and the rise and fall of the black peasantry class in South Africa. Oh, and I learned in my epidemiology lecture on causality that the number of births in Germany between 1965 and 1980 decreased in proportion to the declining pairs of storks in the area. Correlation or cause?? You decide...
Beyond that, not a lot to tell. People are still completely at a loss for why an American would study African Studies, of all things, and in Switzerland, of all places. I’m asked several times a week, in fact, and I answer each person with a creative variation of “I haven’t the faintest idea.”

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

If you want to be happy in a million ways...

Oh! There’s no place like home for the holidays,
‘Cause no matter how far away you roam,
If you wanna be happy in a million ways,
For the holidays you can’t beat home sweet home!

I bought tickets home for Christmas!!! (Grandpa, this leaves you 2 months, i.e. plenty of time, to lock the doors and turn out the lights before I get there). I'm supposed to arrive in Portland Christmas Eve, and I will stay until February 13. I am campaigning for a job. Feel free to get the word out that I am looking for work for the month of January/first week of February, and I will take anything legal and ethical that pays--Dollars, Euros, Swiss Francs, doesn't matter. So if you know of anything, or if you think you might need a house sitter, dog/cat/baby/turtle sitter, mover, garage sale clerk, cleaning girl, research assistant, writer, painter (like for a room, not a picture), Christmas un-decorator, errand runner, old person companion, cook, art teacher, tutor, or a tight rope walker, let me know. I cant actually tight rope walk just yet, but I have a couple months, and I urgently need some work for January. I'm sure I could learn. Ok?? That's just a little FYI for you all. I am VERY excited to be coming home. I like Basel and in general I am still having a wonderful time, but really, Basel ain't got nothin' on Forest Grove.

You will also be pleased to know that I am now almost officially a resident of Switzerland. Not yet, but close. Monday Daniel and I drove 5 hours to Lyon to get my visa, and after several wrong turns and missed exits, and navigating by a combination of the sun, a confusing map, the alps, and a certain McDonald's restaurant, we finally got there. Oh, but first, we were late by that time, so I said, ok, I'm pretty sure the consulate is up this road a couple blocks. I'll hop out. You park, or drive around, and we will call each other. Good plan. I hurried up the block, but I couldn't find the consulate anywhere. I couldn't even find the road it was supposed to be on!! And THEN I discovered my phone was out of money and I couldn't call Daniel or the consulate. There is nothing like being late (the consulate had already closed), separated from your party and lost in a foreign country with no phone. But we managed, and I got my visa and we drove home. This week after I register with the city I can go open a Swiss bank account, which, along with the chocolate, is of course the REAL reason I came.

I have to go to class here momentarily, so ta ta. Have a great day, and don't forget to send any job leads my way. =)

Friday, October 12, 2007

Happy Friday to you!

You could knit mighty matters out of books
So up and tell a story, by cock's bones!
-Chaucer, The Parson's Tale

Hey friends!! I dont have any stories to tell, but I am delighted to inform you that its Friday! I hope you are enjoying the beginning of your weekend. I have one more class still today--a joint lecture series course where a different professor presents each week in regards to his or her area of research relating to African Studies. My favorite Professor is presenting tonight about the history of missions in Africa and the many ways that missionaries have contributed to knowledge in many "secular" realms through their work and writings. Professor Harries is from South Africa, and teaches both my lecture course on the history of labor in South Africa as well as the seminar on land reform history. In land reform, I am breaking one of my cardinal rules this semester. If I am expected to do a presentation in a course, I usually make every effort to avoid the area of the professor's particular interest or expertise. This time, however, other people took the topics I wanted before I voiced my preference, so I will be researching and presenting about a group of South African people called the Makuleke who were removed from their land in the Kruger National Park during Apartheid segregation, and then were the first to get their land back under land restitution after apartheid. Sounds great, except that my professor was personally involved with uncovering the fact that these people were being forcibly relocated, and the process of restitution. That doesn't bode well for my presentation grade, I think. =)

In a different class, the guided city tour course that I mentioned before, I will also be researching the history of the Basel mission. It has actually worked out rather nicely that I ended up here in Basel. The history of Christianity and missions in the 19th and 20th centuries has always been interesting, and here I have the Basel Mission archives just up the street and complete freedom to go read about anything I want. Then, besides that library, there is also the Basel Africa Bibliographien, with all kinds of resources and archives on Namibia especially plus other Southern African countries. Fun, huh?! Since we are talking about classes, mom, I just wanted to say thank you for teaching me about things like biology classification, abiotics, weather patterns, soil types and scientific process when I was in grade school. Ecology and epidemiology are making perfectly good sense to me, while some of my classmates (even some native English speakers!) are bewildered half the time.

In other news, tonight I am going to a party at a classmate's house. This is the guy from Egypt, and he is throwing the party in celebration of the end of the month of Ramadan. All the students in our department are invited, and, while I am usually a bit grumpy on Friday because of having class until 6 pm, and I am not overly excited about spending the evening with all my classmates, I am going anyway. I figure if I am going to spend 2 years with these people, I should make every effort to get to know them and accept hospitality, or else I will soon find myself excluded from invitations. And I'm sure I will have an ok time and will be glad I went. Tomorrow my land lady and her son get back from vacation, so the big wait for Internet at home is almost over!!! Hopefully I will have it this week or next the latest. Okiedokie, gotta go to class.

Talk to y'all soon.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007


Better late than never! I posted a few pictures below. Hope you enjoy them.

Monday, October 8, 2007

CIA officers, Castles, and yet another brilliant idea...

Its about time for some new pictures, don't you think? The ones on here are drivin' me nuts. Last night, as I procrastinated both homework and sleep, I moved all the pictures I want to share with you onto my USB, only to leave it at home in my laptop this morning in my hustle to make it to the tram on time. Such good intentions...such little evidence....

Want to hear my latest brilliant idea?? I decided to write a novel next month. That's right. In November. December would be too busy, you know, with Christmas and exams and what not. But I think November is a good time to make my debut as a novelist. Besides the obvious advantages of the month (few holidays, dreary weather, no exams), there is the added incentive that November is National Novel Writing Month, and a wonderfully ridiculous organization called NaNoWriMo (short for National Novel Writing Month) orchestrates word checks and pep talks for some 30,000 people who commit to writing a 50,000 word novel between November 1st and November 30th. To be honest, I haven't quite decided for sure if I am going to participate, but I am leaning that way--a serious lack of story ideas notwithstanding. My primary reservations are that it will take a lot of time, and that friends and family such as yourself will undoubtedly think this is another one of my charmingly crack-pot self-improvement projects...not that that has stopped me in the past, of course (studying in Switzerland? Case in point!). So stay tuned. =) I am re-reading F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby for inspiration and already I feel a best seller coming on. I could really use some NaNoWriMo writing buddies though, so if any of you aspiring authors (Jessica? Tim?!) want to join me, the more, the merrier!! I would highly recommend checking out the nanowrimo website.

Yesterday I visited a church in Basel. They meet in the Gundeli Casino building, which explains why I missed the place the first 3 times I walked by. Who notices a church that meets in a Casino?!? The preaching was in German, but they gave me a headphone set and a funny, slow-talking British guy translated for me. Or he could have been German or Swiss with a convincing British accent. I couldn't quite tell...he translated an awful lot of words as "stuff," a curious translation for such a variety of words, and as distracting as it was to hear both the German and the English at the same time, it was worth it for his parenthetical little insertions, like "You can drop your card in the orange box at the back...he didn't really say that yet, but I'll just tell you that. Ok, I'm shutting up now..." He was really the highlight of the service for me, whoever he was, which doesn't say a whole lot for the rest of the service. I wish I could transplant the Mars Hill church in Seattle to Switzerland. That's what I'm looking for, or something similar in the teaching style, but so far nada. Fortunately, thanks to the wonders of modern technology I have been enjoying Mars Hill podcasts from afar.

Did I tell you about the guy I met who works for the Swiss version of the CIA?! He's in a couple of my classes, and in one of them we did introductions the first week and were supposed to say why we were in the class, what we were studying, etc. He said that he travels a lot for his job and he will be likely going to Africa more in the future, and he needs to know more about the continent. Hmmm, I thought to myself. That is an intriguingly vague description, and besides that, even people who want to know more about a particular region to prepare for travel don't normally take Masters level courses in, say, the ecology of the place, or the politics, or the spread of disease. Sounds suspect, if you ask me. So the next week, we both happened to be a bit early for class, and I took advantage of the opportunity to pry into his personal business. "What kind of work do you do that requires you to go to Africa?" He said he gathers information. "What kind of information?" I asked. He gave me a sideways look, as if to say I was a nosy little so and so, but I just smiled, and he said, "information about countries." "Who do you gather this information for?" He skirted the issue a bit longer, but finally said yes, he works for Swiss intelligence, and is primarily involved in issues of Security. Now THAT is interesting! If it's true. But you kind of have to wonder, because usually people who work in intelligence aren't really supposed to advertise that fact in the chit chat of everyday conversation, you know? You would think it would be a little tougher to wrastle that information out of a person, but maybe he thought I seemed harmless enough.

This week I went for a run and found a Castle. I also found some cows with bells, and I had a long conversation with a goose who didn't speak any English but was more sympathetic than some of the other persons around here who don't speak English. I found some great running trails that wind around a pond and up through the hills just outside of Arlesheim. They seem to be well used during the day--there were lots of older people out for walks, and a few runners, and moms with strollers, so I am looking forward to running there instead of in town. I will post pictures of the castle asap.

I secured a German tutor this week. I have been emailing with this woman since before I left the states, but we just finally met up today. We will be meeting for two hours each Monday and spending one hour in German and one hour in English. She is an experienced German teacher, which is great for me. Her English is already pretty good, but she needs to work on her reading pronunciation and vocabulary that is outside of the realm of normal conversation--for instance, the things that she reads for class and understands, but has no idea how to pronounce. This week I will try to track down some good English advanced vocabulary building materials, and we agreed to use my German/English parallel text stories, too.

I think I am out of news and exciting stories, so before I digress into tales of labor relations and land alienation in South Africa, or worse, epidemiology formulas, I will say 'so long' and bid you all a good day. =)
All my love,

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

long time no post

Ok, so I lied. I didn't post pictures from around town after a day or two, and in fact, I am going to keep you all waiting even longer because my laptop stubbornly refused to recognize my camera when I tried to download pictures last night. But at some point in the near future, expect to see pictures from Basel, Arlesheim, my newest shoes (these are white), and possibly even the party I went to Saturday.

I went to a crazy birthday party this weekend!! Remember Simone, the girl on the left in the picture with the gigantic US map? She turned 19 last week, so she invited 35 people over to celebrate. We all brought ingredients for dinner, and then, based on what people brought, we made dinner together. Imagine 35 (mostly) teenagers, four burners, one oven, and a lot of knives, and you will have a pretty good idea of what the party was like. I told her patient parents that if I had tried to pull something like that, I would have been disowned and dismissed from the household. It was a fun party though, and I met some new people. Simone asked everyone to introduce themselves in English as well as German, for Steph's sake. One guy from her school said, "My English is not so good. When Simone was in the US, I called and said `hi, I'm the gay from Germany.' Elli and Johanna told me I am very typically American, in my style and mannerisms, but "It's ok," they said. "We like it." Johanna said she likes Americans so much she is planning to marry an American boy and was like, "So do you have any sisters or...brothers??!!!" I think it's interesting though how much they perceive the United States through our movies. They said they think I look like Reese Witherspoon (the actress in Sweet Home Alabama, or Legally Blond) but Vipka disagreed. She thinks I look like Gweneth Paltrow (the actress in Emma). So--I dont really think I look like either of them, but being compared to two pretty blond actresses in one day? I can hardly complain.

I am enjoying getting to know my classmates a bit more. Friday night my Guided City Tour class took a little walk to see the Basel Mission (a huge building built in 1815) and then went out for drinks and chicken wings. Timo said the wings were so good, it must have been a chased chicken. In Namibia where he is from, the chickens that are fed and kept in a pen are plumper and better tasting than the tough hens that run all over the place. When it's time to eat one, the kids go chase it around the pen and they say that's what makes it taste so good--its a chased chicken. Ibraham, from Egypt, said that they eat pigeons in Egypt, and if he knew how to prepare one he would be tempted to poach the pigeons that are always flying around town. "The pigeons here are so dumb," he said. "They don't watch where they are going, and they just land whether there is a person there or not. I've been hit by pigeons twice!!" None of the rest of us have had this problem...but it was funny listening to him complain about it.

Speaking of Egypt, my landlady and her son are on vacation there at the moment. Agi moved out this weekend, and I moved into my permanent room, which is great--less Legos, more lamps, fewer airplanes, more chairs, no star-spangled canopy over my bed, but as a consolation prize I have an old-fashioned desk with glass hutch doors and everything. I bought a lavender candle that smells like Grandma Bishop's house as a room-warming present for myself. Oh, I bought tulip and daffodil bulbs too!! I haven't planted them yet because I couldn't fit a pot in my backpack last time I went shopping...but just wait. In a week or two I will have tulips buried and waiting for the spring.

I did buy I bike last week. It doesn't have a basket yet, but it will. The bike will be handy for grocery shopping, hauling flower pots, and running around on the weekends. My very fatherly South African professor is quite concerned that Chantelle and I ought to be wearing helmets if we are going to be riding about town, but you know it would mess up my hair, and anyway, nobody else wears them and I cant be looking like a homeschooler!! But I promise I will avoid riding by the trams or on the busy roads without a helmet.

Classes are going well, although my reading is starting to pile up a bit. I got distracted talking to someone here in the library and I have to go to Epidemiology now, so I will write more some other time, though I dare not make promises about when since I seem bound to break them. =)

I need a job. Please pray that I find one.
Behave yourselves, and don't do anything I wouldn't do. =)