Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Mission Story #1

Well, over the past 7 years, I have had many opportunities to do random things in the name of Christ. I have a ridiculous number of stories of things that have happened to me, and I have told the stories many times to many people. Some have suggested writing them down and trying to do a book. Some have mentioned that I should share them more often.... etc. I don't know how to do a book, and so, now that I am here, I believe I will have periodic mission story tales. I will try not to repeat them, however, most of them are QUITE entertaining and I only hope that I can communicate the emotions that I felt as I experienced them enough for you to realize the humor, embarrassment, love, compassion..... etc.

The challenge for me in this case, is going to be determining where to start. Some are much more detailed than others. I believe I will begin in Germany, the country I love second only to my own USA. The stories from here are too many to ever tell, however, they touch my heart in ways difficult to communicate.

So, mission story number 1 -

It was a VERY cold day at the end of March. The Germans in Eisenach celebrate the return of spring after a hard winter every year in a celebration called "somergewinn." Literally translated "Summer wins!" The festival is attended by everyone in town (roughly 50,000 people) as well as people from all over Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. They set up a large fair in the "Marktplatz" (City square) and also install loud speakers to echo the celebration throughout the city. Most of the entertainment that day is celebrating German life. So, the music that is played all day is German folk music. Then, at the end of the afternoon the long awaited event happens. A HUGE parade happens through the city streets. This parade is MC'd from a stage in the city square. On that stage, the "mayor" of Eisenach, the "governor" of Thuringia (the state Eisenach is in), and many other local officials will watch the parade. At the end, there is a large staged battle between winter and summer, and every year, summer wins, and the whole city explodes with celebration that summer is FINALLY on the way! Below are a few pictures of the parade.

Anyway, I ended up with a nice spot to watch the parade. I was directly across the street from the stage where the state and city officials were sitting. This was my first mistake.

As we waited for the parade to begin, I noticed first of all that I stood out a bit in appearance. Germans tend to wear a lot of dark colors. Especially when it comes to their coats and jackets. The day was very cold. My warmest jacket was BRIGHT BUMBLE BEE YELLOW!!! So, I looked like quite the American tourist standing in the crowd. Then came the fatal mistake. An elderly man tried to start a conversation. Instead of just pretending not to hear him, I was a nice American girl and told him very slowly "Ich komme aus USA. Meine Deutsch ist schlimm, ich verstehe nur ein bissien und spreche weniger. Es tut mir leid." (tr. I am from the USA. My German is very bad, I only understand a little and I speak even less. I am sorry). The man seemed to be content with ending our conversation and went back to talking with his wife. I felt like I had done something great! I had communicated clearly that I could not communicate.

Moments later, (after the polizei dogs delayed the beginning of the parade because of a bomb threat on the stage where the officials were.... ) the EmCee was trying to stall so he started asking where everyone was from. (All of this was in German, I understood much more than I spoke... I knew what the question was, but I didn't know everything else at the time.) Someone directly behind me yelled, "Jena! Weimar! Berlin! Munich!" All were German cities. Then we heard other locations "Oestereich (Austria), Frankreich (France), Die Schweiss (Switzerland). All of a sudden, the nice little man next to me starts pointing and yelling "Sie kommt aus USA!!! Sie kommt aus USA!!!" (tr. She is from the USA!!!) I wanted to hide, however, the bright yellow coat prevented this. The EmCee started to come off the stage and all I wanted to do was disappear.... unfortunately I could not. He crossed the street, walked up to me, and started asking questions.... IN GERMAN!! I had only been there 3 months. I had a basic understanding of the language, I barely spoke German in front of the family I lived with. I did NOT want to speak German in public, in front of Germans.... in front of THOUSANDS of Germans!!!! Regardless, I did my best. I answered the questions. I will spare you my German now.... They asked the following questions in German. "Where are you from?" - I am from the USA "What State?" - Alabama "How long have you been here?" - I have been here for 3 months. "How long will you stay?" - I plan to be here a year. "What work do you do?" I work with Abbe Gymnasium, and Luther Gymnasium and Friedliche-gemeinde Eisenach. "Do you miss Alabama?" - Yes, I miss my family.

That (I thought) was the end of the torture. The Germans all over the city laughed at my American Accent when I spoke German. I had spoken their language in front of a LOT of them! I had accomplished something great... and then... as the German polka music faded. The "governor" of Thuringia looked my way and smiled really big. My heart stopped as I heard the first few notes of "the" song most well known about Alabama.... and then the words "Big wheels keep on turnin' Carryin' me home to see my kin........... Sweet Home Alabama." Once more, I really hoped that my yellow coat would turn into an invisible coat and I could melt into the brick streets and disappear. The mayor of Eisenach made a "sad face" at me and pretended to wipe a tear away from his eyes. The governor poked his bottom lip out in a pouting manner. They interrupted the day of German polka music - for Sweet Home Alabama..... there are no words to describe the moment.

For the rest of the day, when I passed my students from the school or church in the streets they would comment on my German with my accent. The little old ladies looked at me with smiles. Were they smiles of pity because my German was so poor? Or smiles of excitement??? Maybe a mix of the two. Word got back to other friends who were not there that afternoon and from then on I was not allowed to go to celebrations alone any more. They believed that I, being an American, was incapable of showing up anywhere without drawing attention to myself and eventually ending up in a mess.

This, my friends, is an example of what happens when I leave home. The stories are numerous. This is the most embarassing, however, not the worst predicament I have been in. The stories will continue.... Keep an eye out for Mission Stories in the future.


Rebecca said...

Lessons Learned from Julia-
1. Don't buy a yellow coat
2. Pretend to be deaf in a crowd of Germans and you can't speak the language well
3. Don't stand in front or near the officals' stand in a parade.

:) You're awesome Julia!!

JustJessie said...

That was too funny! I can't even tell you how I would have coped with that situation. Probably faked my own death or something.

About the book thing, though, there's a website where you can turn your blog into a book. You can choose which entries and pictures to include. It's not the same as a publishable book, but it would be a great thing to give your kids some day! (I plan to do one for each of my boys at the end of every year of blogging.)