Monday, November 18, 2013

The Weakest Link

I learned something new this of those things that you feel you always should have known but somehow just didn't.  I got to preach this Sunday and I was assigned my topic, because Jeff is in the middle of a series and he didn't want to break the flow.  My passage of scripture was that sort of infamous verse about women being weak.  I've never studied it before, so I was actually interested to find out what it really meant and how it applied to my life.  It was a great verse, and I thoroughly enjoyed studying it.  I thought I'd share it here, just because I thought you might enjoy it too.  And after you've read it, you can get your husband to read it because it's even more applicable to him!

Jeff makes me feel like an 8-cow woman!
(You'll get it later!)

So here it is...The Weakest Link

I Peter 3:7 - Husbands, likewise, dwell with them with understanding, giving honor to the wife, as to the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life, that your prayers may not be hindered.

The word "likewise" in this verse is there to remind you of what was just discussed above, because the principle that applied in those passages also applies here.  The theme was submission, everyone's favorite word!  Since you're not sitting in a pew listening to a sermon right now with your Bible on your lap, I'll just re-cap what the previous verses said for you here:

- Everyone - submit to laws, ordinances and ruling authorities, for that is the will of God

- Servants - submit to your master, because Christ suffered for us

- Wives - submit to your husbands, so they will be won by their wives’ conduct

- Husbands - know and honor your wife, that your prayers may not be hindered

I Peter 3:7 is a misquoted, even disliked verse. All the good words and admonition in this passage of scripture are completely overshadowed and even ignored in the light of the phrase, "the weaker vessel."

No one wants to be weak...weak-minded, weak-kneed, weakling, the weakest link, showing signs of weakness...

Does anyone remember the game show, "Weakest Link?" That was the game where contestants had to answer a long string of questions unbroken by a wrong answer. If they failed to answer a question correctly and broke the chain, the host would say in her crisp British accent, "Karyn, you are the wwweakest link. Goodbye!" and Karyn would slink off the stage in shame.

My kids really liked this game show when they were young, and I remember one day Kate was struggling to open a door where the latch always stuck. Jeff reached over and opened it for her, and she laughed and said, "I’m such a weak link!" mixing up the word "weakling" with the title of the show, "Weakest Link." We all laughed.

But being weak is no laughing matter. Personally, I hate being weak. I hate asking for help and I hate feeling inadequate or useless. So a scripture like this immediately gets my defenses up, and I start affirming myself..."I’m not weak...I can outrun Jeff, I can outwork Jeff, and I have more stamina than Jeff."

But when it comes right down to it, he’s stronger. He’s almost a foot taller than I am and he has more muscle mass. He can lift things I can’t. He can carry things I can’t. He can open things I can’t. He can reach things I can’t. And then there’s my youngest son, who gets the greatest kick out of scooping me up like a sack of potatoes, tossing me over his shoulder and running up the stairs with me. I haven't done that with him since he was a toddler!

I realized what a weakling I truly was when I joined the gym this year. I went to a HIIT class, which stands for, "high intensity interval training." When I first walked in I thought, "This will be no problem...I run every day and I’m in pretty good shape." The instructor had us planking on huge exercise balls, doing push-ups with our feet suspended, holding a plie squat and bouncing with tiny little pulsations until our legs quivered. She called out encouragingly as people began to groan in agony, "Come on, you can do’re stronger than you think!" And I argued back inside, "No, you’re wrong. I’m weaker than I think, because I thought this would be a piece of cake, but I feel like I am about to collapse!"

So, I admit it: I am weak. And I have really wimpy arms! And before you laugh at me, most of you do too!

But let’s not get hung up on this fact! We get our feathers ruffled over being the weaker vessel and miss the rest of the verse, which is just begging us to pay attention, because there are some precious gems waiting to be discovered!

Let’s compare the two husband-and-wife passages: Wives, you are to be submissive to your own husbands. Husbands, you are to dwell with your wives with understanding, giving honor to her. It’s a give-and-take scenario...the wife submits and the husband honors. When the husband honors, it is easy for the wife to submit. When the wife submits, the husband finds it easy to honor.

The beginning of verse 7 commands the husband to dwell with his wife with understanding.
"To dwell" means to live together domestically as husband and wife. It comes from the Greek root word that means "to stand beside, accompany, or preside." Husbands are to stand beside their wives and preside over the marriage. It’s a position more than it is a place. The first thing a husband can do to strengthen his marriage is to take his God-given position...

- stand beside your wife, which speaks of commitment, loyalty and support

- preside over your marriage, which means to take the spiritual leadership in your relationship

Husbands are to be the initiator of spiritual things---the one who should make a stand for morality and integrity, the promoter of a godly life, the protector of his family against spiritual attack by the enemy, the first to pray, the first to speak faith, the first to bless, the first to love and the quickest to forgive and say sorry.  Husbands are the leaders over their home, and they also live in that home together with their wives.

Secondly, you are to do this with understanding, or knowledge.

Although in Peter’s day, a man had the legal right to dominate, control and even physically abuse his wife, the Bible here takes a stand for women by admonishing men to be considerate and understanding of their honor them, not hurt them, even though they had the brute strength and legal right to do whatever they pleased. Peter was calling the men of his day higher than what society taught, allowed and even accepted. This is a beautiful verse that expresses God’s great care and value for women.

The Bible says husbands are to dwell with their wives with understanding or knowledge..."Okay," men say, "so just how am I supposed to treat my wife?" And that’s what the rest of the verse is about. So after today, men can’t plead ignorance! James 4:17 says, "for him who knows to do good and does not do it, it is sin." Here what the Bible teaches on how to treat a woman, summed up in just one word, because God knows that men like the short version!

Give honor to your wife

I’ve done a lot of clean-up projects over the years, and one thing that intrigues me is how people value things. As the one cleaning up, I see very little value in the objects I’m sorting...but for the person they belong to, there is great value. After mercilessly tossing aside someone’s treasures, I then go home and do some cleaning out of my own. I pick up an object and think about parting with it, but suddenly I can’t. I paid good money for that. It was my favorite! I’ll never find another one like it. So I hang on to it when I know very well someone else would look at it and say, "Really, Karyn?" See, because I paid a price for it, it has value to me, and because it has value, I honor it by placing it in a special spot, taking good care of it, speaking fondly about it, admiring it, and keeping it for a very long time. That’s what the word "honor" means in this passage. It is "value based on a price paid for a person or thing that is bought." In Bible days, a wife was purchased. A man had to pay a dowry for his bride, and then in a legal contract she became his property. You know that romantic line in wedding vows, "to have and to hold from this day forward"? That word "hold" has nothing to do with taking the one you love in your arms. It meant to hold as in business, real estate. You own it, you hold the title. Sorry, ladies, but that was just the way it was!

But again, the Bible takes the side of the woman, not society. This scripture tells men to treat their wives worthy of the price they paid for them. I don’t know about you, but if a dress is hanging on a hanger in a store, I may admire the dress for a moment but if I don't buy it I’ll walk away, and if the dress falls off the hanger and gets trampled on the floor, it really doesn’t matter to me. But if I purchase that dress, suddenly I want that dress wrapped in tissue and placed in a bag to keep it clean and safe until I get it home. I value the same dress entirely differently once I’ve paid the price to purchase it and it becomes mine.

Here’s another old story that I learned waaayyy back in Bible college...a story that because the campus joke for quite awhile!

Johnny Lingo and the 8-Cow Woman

Johnny Lingo was a shrewd but honest and well-liked Polynesian trader.  He came to one of the islands to bargain for a wife. The young woman he desired was considered by her neighbors and even her father to be of little value, as she was sullen, ugly and undesirable. As the bargaining was about to begin, women of the island bragged to each other of how many cows their husbands had given for each of them and commented that the father would be lucky if he got one cow as dowry for his daughter.  The tribal counselor advised the father to ask for three cows so that hopefully he would get at least get one.  The bargaining began and, as the counselor suggested, the father asked Johnny Lingo for three cows. The Islanders laughed, waiting for Johnny to make his counter-offer.  But Johnny surprised them when he said, "Three cows are many, but that's not enough for my girl!" He then offered the unheard-of price of eight cows for her hand in marriage. The next day Johnny brought the cows and subsequently married the daughter.  He and his new bride then left the island on a trading trip.  When they came back, to everyone's astonishment, the homely bride was now a beautiful, happy woman. Johnny, the honorable husband, had proven to her that her she was valuable.  He had paid the highest price for her.  When she realized how precious and priceless she was to Johnny, she blossomed.  His love and honor for her made her beautiful and desirable.  She was an 8-cow woman!!

Wives need to be treated as though they are valuable and precious...worth 8 cows, at least!

I Peter 3:7 tells us there are two ways that husbands should honor their wives:

1. As the weaker vessel

We already agreed that the wife, generally speaking, is weaker. There are always exceptions...some women have Olympic gold medals and are bigger, stronger and faster than any ordinary man, but most women are physically weaker than men.

The "vessel" concept is a funny one. On researching this verse, I came across analogies that state "weaker vessel" must surely mean "delicate," like fine china. So then men, you must handle your wives as though she is a piece of fine china, delicate and valuable. Now that’s a nice picture, and I suppose there is an element of truth to the analogy, but if you really want to know what the "weaker vessel" is, it is very simply, "the weaker body."

The word "weaker" doesn’t mean delicate or fragile, it means weaker...not as strong. And the word vessel is a common Greek metaphor for body, which the Bible uses in other scriptures in the New Testament.

So how does a husband honor his wife as the physically weaker one? By using his physical strength not to hurt her but to help her.

- physical abuse vs. physical affection (touch her romantically, not just sexually)

- physical force vs. physical freedom (encourage her opinions, desires, interests)

- physical laziness vs. physical labor (work for her, assist her)

- physical desertion vs. physical defense (cover and protect her, physically, emotionally and spiritually)

- physical absence vs. physical awareness (spend time with her, listen)

- physical control vs. physical care (love her as your own body)

The greatest key to understanding this verse is this: A husband, more than anyone, should know his wife’s weaknesses, and a husband, more than anyone, should know best what she needs...from him.  Husbands honor their wives when they know her weaknesses, when they understand her needs, and when they strive to meet them.

2. As joint-heirs of the grace of life

The second way a man honors is wife is by recognizing that she is a joint-heir with him of the grace of life. Once again, the Bible is championing for women. Only in scripture was a woman elevated to a place of equality with her husband. Men and women have different functions within the marriage relationship and different levels of authority, but they have equal value and worth. God gives grace to each of us, both male and female. God offers salvation to each of us. God grants forgiveness to each of us. God brings each of us into eternity. Once a man realizes that the fact that his wife is weaker than he does not mean that she is less spiritual than he, then he will be able to honor her the way God commands. A wife is a husband's partner. Together they stand before God in covenant relationship, together they serve Him and work in His kingdom, and together they reap all the spiritual blessings that enhance and bless their life and, ultimately, the lives of others.

So why is it so important for a husband to honor his wife? Can’t they just agree to disagree? Can’t they just live their own lives before God? Can’t the husband just be the boss and tell the wife what to do?

No. God has given a command, and with his commands come either a blessing or a curse. The blessing is a strong, committed couple who walk in the grace of God and fullness of life. The curse is hindered prayers.
I Peter 3:7 says for husbands to honor their wives that their prayers may be not hindered

When husbands aren’t communicating with their wives properly, God won’t communicate with them. It’s that big of a deal.

The word "hindered" doesn’t mean "get through with a little bit of difficulty," the way we might think it does. It actually means, cut out and cut off, like a tree.

The very same Greek word is used in these scriptures:

Matthew 3:10 - And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.

Matthew 5:30 - And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

Rom. 11:22 - Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off.

When a husband's prayers are hindered, he is actually cut off from God.  God will seem distant and not very real. That man will go to bed at night and lie there staring at the ceiling, thinking, "God's not listening." When he tries to pray, he'll feel hypocritical. 

Here is a thought-provoking quote from commentator Wayne Grudem:

No Christian husband should presume to think that any spiritual good will be accomplished by his life without an effective ministry of prayer. And no husband may expect an effective prayer life unless he lives with his wife "in an understanding way, bestowing honor" on her. 

When a husband doesn’t honor his wife, he...and not the actually the weakest. She may be weaker than him physically, but he is the weakest link in the chain between the blessing of God to his family.

Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands...
Likewise, husbands, dwell with your wives with understanding, giving her honor...

If we purpose in our hearts to do this, we will see our marriages revitalized. We will see our spouses change. We will see our prayer life flourish. We will see our relationship with the Lord grow and strengthen. And we will walk out our days side-by-side with the one we love, enjoying the full blessing of the grace of God on our lives!

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Staging the Seasons

Are you familiar with the concept of "staging?"  You's setting things up very carefully to make it look as though it happened naturally.  We stage all the time, often without realizing how deliberately we're trying to be nonchalant!  We do it for pictures, in our homes, and in fashion (think about how long it takes to get your hair to have that casual-curl "tousled" look!).

But the strangest staging to me is the staging of the seasons.  It fascinates me to think of how we drag pumpkins, stalks of corn, bales of hay, sheaves of wheat and colorful leaves onto our porches or into our kitchens for an autumnal atmosphere.  We make apple pie, butternut squash soup, roasted root veggies and mulled cider.  Then we light apple-cinnamon candles, sip pumpkin spice lattes, and go to the pumpkin patch wearing our plaid flannel shirts, infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots!

And it's not just fall we've fallen for!  At Christmas, we're decking the halls with holly and evergreen, baking Christmas cookies, lighting fir-scented candles, sipping peppermint mochas, and wearing red mittens, jackets with fur-trimmed hoods, and infinity scarves and skinny jeans tucked into our boots!  And we even go the extra mile to add music to that season!

In the spring and summer, we stop lighting candles because we can bring fragrant flowers right inside.  We gorge ourselves like bears out of hibernation on all the fresh berries that ripen in glorious waves of strawberry, raspberry, cherry, blueberry, blackberry and peach.  We ice our lattes, and we finally toss the boots into the closet and wear strappy sandals with our skinny jeans, and our infinity scarves lose a lot of weight as we switch out the knits for airy cotton!

This staging of the seasons is nothing more than replicating a by-gone era.  We reproduce something we've never known and make it our own.  Think back 100 years ago...

A century ago in autumn, the fields were ripe for harvest.  The wheat was golden, the corn stalks towered in height, the hay baled and ready for winter feeding, and pumpkins gathered to be roasted and canned, not carved.  The apples and root veggies were gathered in baskets, wooden crates and tin pails not because they were vintage, retro or charming but because industrial-strength plastic crates and clam-shell packaging hadn't been invented yet.  Then those fruits and veggies were stored in cold cellars so there would be produce to eat during the long winter months when nothing grew and no one could run to the store for grapes from Chili, mangoes from Mexico and hydroponic tomatoes from a greenhouse.  Ladies bought canning jars for (gasp) canning, not for flower vases, drinking glasses, or smoothie shakers.  Kitchens were filled with the fragrance of good food because the harvest must be preserved...a huge, messy job that was necessary for survival, not a couple batches of pretty peaches or jelly in jars displayed on a shelf, but the true process of "putting up" produce...beans, tomatoes, corn, peaches, pears, pickles, beets, squash, plums...everything that could be canned would be canned!  They ate butternut squash soup and applesauce and kale because that's what was in season and available, not because it was cozy "fall food."  And if there were colorful leaves all over the yard it was because they didn't have a leaf-blower to remove them in 10 minutes and they were too busy in the fields and kitchen to bother raking them until later in the season when they were dry, brown and broken down.  All those pumpkins sitting in a happy heap in a wagon?  Well, they were simply loaded up like that so they could be hauled to market to sell to townfolk.  And the bales of hay were stacked up not to look like a pretty decoration, but to fill a barn with insulating warmth for the animals, bedding for their stalls, and food for the winter months of no grass to graze.  Plaid flannel shirts were great for working...warm enough to keep away the chilly autumn air but light enough to buck those bales of hay, pick the apples, and dig potatoes.  Boots were necessary for working in mud.  And pumpkin spice lattes and eternity scarves didn't even exist.

I've thought about this "season staging" over the last few years, but it was just this weekend that I had the epiphany that inspired me enough to actually name the phenomenon (by the way, that is my original phrase!).  On Saturday I went to the pumpkin patch for the sole purpose of buying donuts.  There is a local farm that makes homemade pumpkin spice and apple cider donuts and serves them fresh and hot in a paper bag.  They are really the only donut I like and I buy them every year.  I took my daughter and her friend along for the ride on that gorgeous morning---a truly quintessential autumn day at the peak of the season.  The leaves were bursting with color and still mostly on the trees but with enough fallen to the ground to produce the perfect "crunch factor."  The fields were golden, the sky was blue, the barn was red, and the pumpkins were plump and jumbled together in a kaleidoscope of orange, yellow, pink and white.  Because it was Saturday, the place was packed with people.  We parked and walked towards the sounds of laughter and humming motors and came upon a huge inflatable "barn" for the kids to jump in.  How fun!  Then the pony rides were right beside that...patient little ponies tethered to a ring, walking in circles with both crying and laughing kids on their backs.  On the other side of the ponies was the pumpkin patch.  Yeah, right.  It was just a gigantic pile of already-picked pumpkins scattered on the ground so all you had to do was pick up your favorite and take it home.  Beyond that was a hay maze, a haunted barn, a giant slide into a pile of hay, a little "cow" choo-choo train and a wagon full of hay pulled by a tractor for rides, a guy strumming a guitar and singing country songs, a petting zoo, a big barn gift shop selling pies, candles, apples, cider and whimsical fall décor, a booth that popped fresh kettle corn, a concession stand for hot dogs, and....DONUTS!  We skipped all of the above and headed straight for the donuts.  Then we took our greasy paper bags and walked away from the madding crowd of noisy kids and excited parents (I'm obviously very much in between having little kids and grandkids...when you have neither you really don't enjoy being around those who do!).  There was a little path that curved down around a hill towards tall trees, in which nestled a real barn with real horses and an irrigation pond beside it.  From there you could see the real fields where the pumpkins actually grew and the brittle stubble of a harvested hay field.  We found some clean hay on the ground to sit on, and we made ourselves comfortable.  There, in the quiet countryside, we enjoyed our treats---salted caramel lattes we had grabbed to-go on our way to the farm, cinnamon-sugary donuts, and a healthy organic apple to counter the carb deficit of the donut.  As I took the first bite of my donut I suddenly looked at myself...pumpkin spice donut in one hand, latte in the other and my apple balanced on my knee, sitting in the hay wearing skinny jeans and boots and an infinity scarf.  Yep, I really was.  I thought I was avoiding the hype of the pumpkin patch but had actually plopped myself down right in the middle of it!  I said to Kate, "Take my picture."  I knew right then I was going to blog this "ah-ha" moment!

So, here I am contemplating the silliness of staging and the satisfaction of it.  Why do I go to such effort to both avoid it and embrace it?  I long for the natural, genuine beauty of fall, but I enjoy just as much bringing that beauty into my home (and my tummy!).  So I sit here and blog about it, listening to the leaf-blower outside my window, swishing away the lovely leaves I just crunched my way through on my morning run, while I sip my latte and enjoy the fragrance of my "Fall Leaves" candle that I can light now that my allergic husband has left for work.  I've decided it's too difficult and no fun to separate the two but to enjoy each just the way it is.  This is our culture and our day.  We don't live 100 years ago when harvest was harvest and fall was just one of the four seasons.  We can be thankful for the harvest, eat of the harvest, and even bring the harvest right inside our homes.  We can go to the pumpkin patch and the apple festival and absorb the whole 21st century "farm" experience.  We can light spicy-sweet scented candles in our kitchens and bake an apple pie.  We can drink hot spiced cider and pumpkin spice lattes to our hearts' content.  And we can walk in the solitude of a wooded path where the leaves fall and no one blows them away.  Fall is both staged and unrehearsed.  So put on your infinity scarf and get out there and enjoy it!


Wednesday, October 16, 2013

She's Making Herstory

Is it still your blog if you tell another person's story?

My daughter Anna is on an adventure in India.  She is teaching English for 6 months at a Bible college and an English Medium School, preaching at youth meetings, working with orphans, and doing whatever else she is asked to do.  She is eating rice three times a day, wearing covering clothing on hot, humid days, dealing with almost daily power outages, unreliable internet connections, crazy traffic, and cyclones.  She is a celebrity...the very, very white girl with the very, very blue eyes.  Everywhere she goes people stare and the brave ones ask to have their picture taken with her.  Her students loves to pinch her skin, fascinated with how that white flesh turns red.  They are concerned about her losing weight from eating rice three times a day: "Ma'am, you are losing all your nice fat," they say worriedly.  The littlest orphans cuddle up against her, tucking their small bodies underneath her arms to feel the security and nurture they miss from their mothers.  She takes care of sick people and kills snakes.  She washes her own laundry and hangs it out to dry.  She prays every day, sometimes three times a day, and gets up early to do it.  She cooks regularly.  She is the first white teacher in the whole state of Andhra Pradesh.  She is a history maker!

Anna isn't a writer like Kate and I.  But she is pretty good at text messages like this: 

They call my braid an "elephant's tail."
The warden's wife thinks my zits are mosquito bites.
Jaya thinks the reason my hair sheds is because it's straight.
The girls are fascinated with my chubby cheeks. 

What Anna does best is talk...when we Skype, we talk a loooonnnnggg time!  She tells great stories and makes me laugh.  She sees humor where others would see poverty or dirt or communication barriers or culture clashes.  She sees the beauty and fun in a place of brokenness and hardship.  Not only does she make me laugh, she makes the kids laugh.  Her pictures are full of laughing children...they look like the most joyful, fun-loving group of children anywhere.  Why?  Because when they are cutting the grass by hand with bladed curved sticks, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like they are playing golf.  When they are scrubbing their clothes with a bar of soap on a concrete floor, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like the most fun job ever.  When they are standing in line for their plate of rice at lunchtime, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like they are at a hipster community lunch place in Portland.  When they are studying in their dorm rooms, Anna takes pictures and makes it look like a slumber party.

But in her heart, she is moved.  She bought a set of clothes for one little guy whose pants were tied up with string and shirt was reduced to two buttons.  She hid her camera when visiting the mud-and-thatch hut of one of her students to spare him the shame of making his home a Facebook spectacle.  She praises the orphans who say, "Ma'am, watch me!" when they do a trick or stunt for her.  They have no mothers sitting on a park bench smiling encouragingly at their children as they climb to the top of the slide or jump from a platform or hang from the monkey bars.  They have no one to say, "Mom, look at this!" to, as they color a beautiful picture.  There is no one to listen when they read a full paragraph aloud from their favorite book  So Anna is the "Watch me!" "Listen to me!" surrogate mother.  They love to perform, and she loves to praise.  She allows their little hands to explore her face, hair and white skin as they poke and pinch her in curiosity.  The littlest ones are simply content to hold her hand, soaking up the physical contact and warmth of an affectionate mother figure.  It's already breaking her heart to think of how she will have to say goodbye.

Who is most blessed?  The kids...because they are not only learning English---the ticket out of poverty in India---but they are learning it from a native-born English speaker.  They are in a godly atmosphere, learning that they have a destiny, purpose and call in a place of hopelessness and despair.  They are fed, clothed and sheltered.  And they are loved and touched affectionately.

But maybe it's Anna who is most blessed...because she is seeing a world so different from her own, where the simplest things have the greatest value.  She will learn to give sacrificially and work while everyone else on the other side of the world plays.  She will do things she was never trained to do, and do them well.  She will grow up.  She will be more compassionate, and more passionate.

But then again, maybe it's the rest of us who will be blessed...because our eyes are opened our hearts are touched by the stories and pictures someone else shares of a people we didn't even know existed.  And we, with our vast resources of time and money, can invest in those little lives across the globe.  We can share in their destiny on earth and their eternity in heaven.  We can affect millions because of one who affected a few.

Anna has only been in India for a little over a month.  She has five months before her.  What else will she see and do?  What else will she share with us?  I'm excited for her on this amazing adventure.  But I'm excited for all the people who will suddenly be awakened to the potential of redeemed lives in other nations.  Because of Anna, perhaps someone else will help people in Niger, Tibet, Dubai, the Amazon, Nunavut, an unnamed island, a remote mountain village, a slum in a city of millions.  I've already done some world travel, and yet she inspires me to do more.

Be used!

From youngest to oldest, beautiful girls in vibrant colors!

Anna's boys on wash day


Thursday, October 3, 2013

The Saddest Scene in Oregon

For those of you who know me, you'll know this:  I love Oregon.  I was born here, right in the beautiful city of Portland and spent my teen and young adult years in the quaint town of Newberg.  I am both a city girl and a country girl (hence, the title of my blog!), and I love the aspects and nuances of both lives.  Sometimes I even have daydreams that would border on being a tree-hugger---living in the forest, foraging for berries and wildflowers, letting my hair go curly and wild, skipping the make-up, and cozying up in my cabin to write books.  Then once a month I'd get all dressed up with high heels and pretty hair and spend a weekend in the city shopping and eating at great restaurants, soaking up culture and drinking coffee!  Ahhh, wouldn't that be the life!

But anyway, here I am in my small-town subdivision caught somewhere in the middle of those two lives.  This week, my husband and I are in the city to attend a conference, so I am getting my Portland coffee fix and eating yummy food every day.  One afternoon when we had some free time between sessions, we decided to go on an adventure.

Jeff had read a few years ago that there were some large waterfalls just off the I-205 freeway that we often travel.  They are the second widest falls in the U.S. next to Niagara Falls and the 17th widest falls in the world.  So why hadn't I ever been there, he wondered.

I didn't have an answer.  Yes, I'd heard about them, but only vaguely.  I, who have hiked too many falls to count and even got engaged beside one of them, had never seen these grand Willamette Falls that Jeff was so curious about.  Well, that made him even more curious.  Why hadn't I ever seen them?  Why did I know nothing about them?  He decided he wanted to see them, so one day when we were driving down the freeway, we pulled over at the view point and peered through thick foliage to catch a glimpse of nothing but mist down below.  Well, that was disappointing!  Now we were both curious about the hidden falls and why they were so unknown and unaccessible.  We decided that one day when we had some free time we would search out a way to see the falls.  That free time came this week.

We first drove into the town of Oregon City for lunch and coffee.  I had read about a little café that was supposed to have good food.  After an incredible amount of rain this past week, the sun was finally starting to break through the heavy clouds and the rain actually stopped for a couple hours just for us!  The café was cute and cozy, and we enjoyed paninis and lattes and the art gallery before our adventure.  Jeff asked the girl beside us if she knew of a way to get to the falls.  She apologized and said no.  Jeff asked the girl taking our order, and she also didn't know.  We drove away on our own, following what I had learned online:  There are four viewpoints, one from the bridge, one from the bluffs, one from the highway and one from the freeway.  We headed down the hill toward the river and parked alongside the edge of the river walkway high above the water below.

We looked over the rusty rail separating the walkway from a steep river bank that dropped straight down to swirling brown water that carried foam on its surface, picked up from the polluted liquid that pumped out of the many pipes feeding directly into the river.  We could finally see the falls in the distance, but they were obscured with mist and hidden by the many mills lining the banks.  We walked along the sidewalk towards the falls, noting how decrepit the railing and the promenade were.  We got to the "view point," and realized we were still nowhere near the falls.  We could see them now, but they were too far away to appreciate their beauty or power.  So we got back into the car and took the highway up to the bluffs above us.

Here was the best viewpoint so eyeful of ugly, dirty industrial buildings in a terrible state of disrepair, sucking the beauty and the life out of the churning falls.  A few other people were also "admiring" the view.  I remarked out loud how sad a scene this was.  A woman next to me overheard me and said, "Why?" in a puzzled tone.  "Well," I explained, stating what I thought was pretty obvious, "The falls are ruined.  This could be a beautiful spot."  She shrugged nonchalantly and walked back to her car with her daughter, who had been reading aloud the history of the industrialization of the falls from a memorial plaque.  I walked a little further down to try to get closer so I could take some pictures.  When I returned, Jeff was talking to a big man in a dirty mechanic's jacket with unkempt hair and scruffy beard.  He was reciting the history of the mills very matter-of-factly and, like the woman, didn't seem bothered at all by the desecration of the falls.

The mills were some of the creepiest buildings I had ever seen.  They were built in the late 1800s and were still standing...and still, 150 years later.  The metal siding was rusted right through in places, the windows were shattered, the iron railings and staircases were rusted, the roofs were thick with moss, and the black smoke stacks continually spewed gray clouds while the river thrashed wildly over the rocks and locks.  I found a metal staircase and climbed to the top to get a better view.  There were no great views...these falls were purposely ignored by the public  The forgotten falls were life to this small town, providing jobs for a majority of the workforce.  They were also the source of power---and therefore life---to the big city of Portland.  Suddenly it all made sense.  The silence of all the activists, native Indians, nature-preservists, outdoorsmen, earthies, and hippie tree-huggers was due to the fact that without those powerful, awesome falls there would be no powerful, awesome Portland.  And for the little city that once bore the name of the falls, all those power plants and mills provided employment for many of the residents.  No one wanted to see the mills close down or the source of power eliminated, but no one wanted to see the rape of the falls and the ravishing of their beauty either, so they were tucked away out of sight and not spoken of.

So now we knew the story.  We walked away without much to say.  All my "for shame!" ideologies were quieted by the knowledge that the most populated area of my beloved state drew its very life from these falls.  The scenery was sacrificed for the city and its citizens.  When we got back to our hotel room, I went online one more time and clicked on the link for the Willamette Falls Legacy Project.  This is what I read:

Willamette Falls Legacy Project
For the first time in 150 years, Oregonians have the opportunity to rediscover a cultural and scenic treasure: Willamette Falls. A public vision and master plan are taking shape, with the goal of transforming a 23-acre industrial site nestled along the Falls in historic Oregon City. This former paper mill could someday serve as an economic engine, a waterfront destination, a unique habitat, a window into Oregon’s past – and a bold step into our future.  Whatever develops on the landscape will be shaped by Willamette Falls, roaring in the Willamette River below. The largest waterfall in the Pacific Northwest, it was long an important cultural and gathering place for Native American tribes. The Oregon Trail ended here. And throughout the 1800s, the Falls made history by generating energy for Oregon’s early industries and cities and fueling the nation’s first long-distance electrical power transmission.

So I am encouraged!  There is hope that one day the beauty of the falls and power of the falls can both be appreciated.  Maybe I should join the committee!!

Here are some fascinating pictures...I wish I had more than my slowly dying, ancient iPhone to capture the scene.

Far down the river, the foam floats by

Could be a beautiful view, but the brown water looks dark and dirty

Nothing is cared for here, not even the promenade beside the river

The first real view

I climbed these stairs for a better view of the buildings

I lined everything up so that only green trees
and water was visible.  You'd never guess
this was the same place!

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Change of Seasons

Summer is over, and today is the official first day of fall...and it arrived with great gusto!  The weatherman actually said it would come in "with a roar," and right on cue the wind began blowing, tree branches snapped, the sky grew dark and heavy, and the rain came down fast and hard.

I really love summer, but I also love fall.  Rather than be torn between the two, I simply give my affections to both!  Although I'm always a little wistful when I put away the lawn furniture, clip the last of my hydrangeas, and forage for one final handful of blackberries, I actually welcome fall and all the glory that it brings...vivid color, golden light, crisp mornings, warm drinks, spicy treats, cozy sweaters, and misty mountains.

This year, there was a very sharp delineation between summer and fall.  Usually summer's long days and languid pace picks up gradually, until it finally gives way to the quicker march of the fall routine.  But this year we had a week of 90-degree weather under a hot September sun, then suddenly a cloudy curtain was pulled down over the bright light and the wind blew Autumn in overnight.  I went from fresh blackberries, sun tea and sheets on the line yesterday to slow-simmered boeuf bourguignon, a raincoat, and candles today!

This summer also brought a rapid change to the seasons of my life.  Kate returned from her year in Bosnia, unpacked, re-packed, and then left for college.  Tyler graduated from college and moved back home.  Anna left for a six-month mission trip to India.  Justin started an internship and began making plans to move out on his own.  In the space of two week's time I moved Kate into the dorms, looked online for apartments with Justin, saw Anna off to India, and lost my job.  Now wait...that certainly wasn't on the calendar!! Suddenly, with a lot less kids and a lot less money, Jeff and I began tossing around phrases like, "Maybe we should downsize."  "A 5-bedroom house is too big for one kid." "Maybe it's time for a change."  We haven't done anything...we're just mulling it all over.

The seasons of life are just so...seasonal.  And that is why each season should be savored for exactly what it is.  I want to give my affection to every season of my life.  I want to enjoy each one to the full and savor the sweetness and the bounty each brings.  And then, despite the wistfulness I may feel as I put away things no longer needed and bid goodbye to a season I love, I want to welcome the next season with anticipation and expectation.  I know it will bring color and warmth to my life, and I'm certain it will be both sweet and spicy!

I finish with this quote by a Turkish playwright.  I have no idea who he is, but I agree with his musing: 

“Love all the seasons, because every season has its own treasures! Winter does not own the treasures of the spring; the spring does not own the treasures of the winter! If you know only the autumn, you are poor; if you know only the summer, you are poor! To be rich, love all the seasons and live all the seasons! A wise and rich man is the one who knows all the treasures of all the seasons!” (Ildan)

And an even better quote:

"To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven." (Ecc. 3:1)

Enjoy the change of seasons!  Give your affection to them all!

The first branch to change color!

Mist over the mountain

After the rain

Welcoming Fall with a
Browned-Butter Caramel Apple Cheesecake...

...made with these apples, gathered with
these early-fall fresh-picked fruits

All Good Things Must Come to an End... more good things can come!

It was hard to get up and get going this morning. It’s the first time I’ve really felt tired this whole trip, but I guess all those late nights, early mornings, and miles of walking finally took their toll. We went downstairs for coffee and then right into the family car for the drive to Travnik. This time Kate’s host brother joined us to be our interpreter. But he didn’t want to interpret. His dad would wave at various scenes outside as we drove past and say a lot in Bosnian to Irfan, but Irfan would just say, "He wants me to tell you about the buildings and history and stuff, but it’s stupid." I liked Irfan, he was friendly and funny, but he definitely had "attitude." Still, I had now seen so much of the countryside that I didn’t feel I needed an ongoing commentary. I asked a few questions, and he would translate them to his dad and then translate back the answer, and that was good enough. The day was so different than the last 4 days. The mountains and countryside were very green and the day was overcast and much cooler, with some dark clouds gathering on the horizon. I actually found it refreshing after all the heat and sun. We arrived in Travnik and headed straight for lunch, as the only breakfast we had been served was coffee. It was family cevapi day, much like we would order pizza or burgers. I don’t really enjoy cevapi. It’s not that it tastes bad—it doesn’t—I just can’t handle that huge piece of greasy grilled flatbread and 10 sausages stuffed inside. I tried to order just 5, the smallest portion, but they wouldn’t let me. I only ate 6 of the 10, and #6 was just to be polite. Then I suffered with "cevapi belly," which is what the girls call it, describing how your belly is round and hard after eating them and then you burp for the rest of the day. I would have loved to have ordered just about anything than that!  I don't see how Kate can love it so much!  While we were in the middle of lunch, there was a clap of thunder and within minutes we were in a downpour, with thunder and lightning and a bit of wind. We were on the patio but under a very big umbrella so we were dry, just a bit cold. We ordered coffee to keep us warm while we waited out the storm. This time the coffee came on individual platters, with a Turkish pot, a tiny cup already filled with two sugar lumps, and a tiny spoon. In the other two sections of the tray was a piece of Turkish Delight and a cigarette and box of matches. Yep, for real. First time I’ve ever been given a cigarette! It was pretty funny. My Turkish Delight was crawling with ants. When Esad tried to return it for me, the waiter shrugged it off like no big deal, so Esad traded his piece for mine and then proceeded to eat mine, ants and all! We all laughed. Finally the rain let up enough that we could take umbrellas and start the climb to the fort. Yes, another fort and another climb. I think I’m pretty much an expert fort hiker now! Like Mostar, Travnik also had a rushing river flowing right through town, right through the restaurant, to be exact! It was also sparkling clear and beautiful but not as blue as Mostar’s river. The view from the top was beautiful, of course. The scenery was definitely different though...much more mountainous and much greener. It reminded me of Oregon with all that green and the fresh, rain-washed air. I think that was the first time I thought I might be ready to go home.

The view of Travnik, wrapped in silvery cloud after
the thunderstorm

After we toured the fort, we got in the car and drove a little bit back on the highway before stopping at a massive store called "Fis." This was a cultural experience just as much as the ancient fort! It was like K-Mart on sterioids...huge! It had everything...from groceries and clothing to housewares and hardware, just as any Fred Meyer, Wal-Mart or Super Store would...but it was bigger still. There were funny items, like a megaphone and pieces to construct your own cable dish. There was a music section selling all kinds of guitars, drums, keyboards and amps. There was an appliance section selling washing and dryers, fridges and stoves. Bicycle tires, car tires. It just went on and on. And if that wasn’t enough, there was a Fis version of "Home Depot" to buy lawn mowers, hardwood, bed frames, lighting, soil and fixtures. We systematically and thoroughly toured every department. This was a big deal to Kate’s family. They weren’t going to drive all the way out to Travnik and miss this place! After the first few sections, Irfan lost interest and went off on his own for a cigarette and a nap in the car. When Esad and Nizama were done shopping, purchasing an assortment of household goods and a few candy bars just for good measure, we got back in the car and headed home. And I actually dozed in the car. I never do that! Yes, the trip was over and my body was done physically and mentally. Kate and Irfan, however, went for the full-out, slack-jaw deep sleep for almost the entire return trip. Once home, Kate and I simply re-organized ourselves and headed out to Old Town one last time to finish up a few shopping odds and ends. While we were getting our things together, it began to thunder, then pour, then hail. We stood at the window and watched the storm roll in across the mountains and then, happily, move on. Kate’s dad had some errand to run, so he offered to drive us into town. Two car rides in one day...I was feeling spoiled! We shopped a bit, and I bought some baklava, which I love and had really wanted to try the real thing. Actually, I prefer Lebanese style, which is what we used to buy at the Lebanese bakery when we lived in Edmonton. It’s drier, crisper and more buttery. This was soaked in a super-sweet syrup that, to me, left it soggy and almost tasteless. But, hey, I got the experience, which is the priceless part, right? The last event for the evening was meeting Kate’s youth leader, Kat, for coffee. We had a wonderful visit in a café Kate didn’t even know about...the only one in the city that is nonsmoking! Because almost all Balkans smoke, this was a real treat. It was a nice, quiet end to our day, filled with good conversation, good coffee, and a pleasant atmosphere. We took the bus home for the last time and made the last hill climb. Then we had one last visit with the family and I gave them my thank you gifts and made a little thank you speech for Medina to translate. Then upstairs to pack and fall asleep for the last time to the sound of the birds that sing in the dark and the barking dogs.

I didn’t have to get up early because we didn’t have to leave until 11:15 and I had very little to do.  It was another really great sleep.  I guess I’m getting used to the night sounds and the bed, and the trip probably has caught up to me. I first dressed and went downstairs to say goodbye to Esad, Nizama and Medina before they left for work (they all ride together), and Nizama gave me a bag of goodies...all kinds of Bosnian cookies, chocolates, coffee, and a beautiful scarf. And here I thought I was going to go home with lighter luggage! I showered and then stripped the sheets, ate breakfast, finished packing, and woke up Kate. We then spent the next hour packing her big suitcase, because she has too much to take back by herself. Since I managed to come with only a carry-on, I said I’d take a suitcase of her winter things back with me...bulky items like boots and a winter coat for the cold Bosnian winter. And then, we were done. We got Irfan to call a taxi for us, said goodbye, and then made our way to the airport. It was Kate’s turn to see me off at the airport instead of the other way around! She waited while I cleared security so we could have one last wave goodbye, just like I have always done for her. And then our visit was over. Such a precious time together and such a wonderful experience. Now that it’s finished, I do have to say it was the trip of a lifetime!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Turkish Delight

The beautiful river viewed from the famous bridge

And the guy who thinks he's beautiful,
showing off before he jumps!

I didn’t sleep well that night. I dreamed of stone walls and laundry. I woke at 4:39 thinking about the laundry, so I got up to check it. The washing machine was not running, but the lights were blinking. Oh, well. I took all the damp clothes out, grabbed the clothespins, and let myself out into the still-dark early morning to hang out the laundry. It took me 20 minutes to hang everything up, and I contemplated staying up and jumping in the shower while everyone else was sleeping. But I changed my mind and crawled back under the heavy duvet beside Kate, who was restlessly turning and sighing in her sleep. I finally drifted off and woke again almost an hour later at 6. I headed for the shower, so looking forward to washing all the salt out of my hair and off my skin. I turned the water on and waited, and waited and waited. No hot water. At 6 in the morning I just couldn’t bear the thought of standing under a cold shower to wash my hair, so I skipped my hair and just washed my body. I looked at my hair in the mirror. I just about had dreadlocks after two days of salt in my curls. They were so tangled and stuck together that I couldn’t even get a comb through, so I shrugged my shoulders and left it. When I went outside to gather our wet clothes, I noticed that my white tank top and underwear were a dingy gray, as though they had been washed in muddy water. I had mixed the color of the clothes for washing, but there were no jeans or dark-dyed garments, so I couldn’t imagine what had caused the whites to turn gray, other than the water from the probably rarely used washing machine that churned forever the night before. Hopefully, they’ll wash clean at home. As we were packing, Marin came down with two pots of Turkish coffee for us. We didn’t have time at all to sit and drink coffee, but that is the Balkan way, so we obliged...a little nervously. Finally, we dared not put off leaving any longer.  Foregoing another budget-breaking taxi ride, we grabbed out suitcases and made our way down the twisty streets for the last time, making quite a spectacle of ourselves with five American women dragging suitcases behind them over the bumpy cobbled streets! We got to the bus stop right before departure time, but again the tickets were more than we thought, so two of us had to withdraw more money. I had carefully budgeted my spending to ensure that I had just enough kuna for the bus ride back to Bosnia, so I wouldn’t have to re-exchange it and get charged a second fee on the same money, but the girls’ estimate had been too low. The ATM machine was acting up; eventually the other girl got it to work, but after two tries I had to give up because we were running out of time to board the bus. I borrowed some Bosnian marks from one of the girls and ran over to the exchange window and quickly bought enough kuna to purchase our bus tickets. At that moment I had exactly 10 kuna (6 cents) to my US money, no Bosnian money and no way to get any more. Stressful and maddening! We boarded the bus, got settled and calmed down, and then wound our way up into the Denaric Alps, leaving the beautiful sea behind us.

Arriving in Mostar a few hours later, we decided we had better buy our train tickets to Sarajevo right away so we wouldn’t repeat our departure from Dubrovnik. Well, we pretty much experienced the same thing, just without the pressure of our mode of transportation leaving without us. The tickets had gone up in price since the girls had last taken the train, and we had to pay to leave our suitcases in an office so we wouldn’t have to lug them around while we toured the town. In every other train/bus station I had been to, there was an ATM and a place to exchange money. Not at this one! Kate only had 20 marks with her, which wasn’t enough, so we had to borrow once again. "I hate this!!" I exclaimed to Kate. "Get me to a bank, now!" After buying our tickets and parting three ways with the girls, each having her own agenda for this town the girls were very familiar with, Kate and I walked straight to an ATM. My card didn’t work again. I was starting to feel desperate. Kate tried her card, and it did work, so she withdrew the last 30 marks in her account and we held onto that as most precious gold, doling it out throughout the day with great thought and care, making it last until we returned to Sarajevo.

Mostar is an absolutely beautiful and intriguing exotic in its Turkish feel. The bus/train depot with its surrounding neighborhood was ugly, as expected. We walked for awhile and I remarked to Kate that it didn’t look very special, especially after stunning Dubrovnik. Kate said, "I love this city!" and then we turned down a street and I saw why...we had entered Turkey! It was as though we had left the Mediterranean and stepped into the Orient. Mosques, music, minarets, brightly colored fabrics, jewelry and wares sold from booths, cobbled streets, stone buildings, and the bluest river I had ever seen flowing under an arching bridge high above the water. It really was breathtaking.

I actually really liked what they were selling in the booths, unlike most open-air markets, and I wished I had money with me! It was very hot, so we worked our way down to the river where we had spied a park when crossing the bridge above. There, I slipped out of my shoes and stepped into the crystal-clear water. Yikes! That river must have rushed down from a glacier right into this little pool because it was cold as ice. Still, it was hot enough that it was quite cooling and refreshing. While we were relaxing by the river, we heard shouts and cheers from the bridge above. We looked up to see two men in bathing suits on the side of bridge wall, hanging from the railing and walking along the ledge, to the great entertainment of the crowd. As the volume reached a crescendo, the first guy jumped....down, down, down, plunging into the swiftly flowing river. The crowd cheered, and the guy swam to the rocks, stood up and took a bow. Then the next guy started his show...working up the crowd (and taking their money!), until he felt he had good support, and then he jumped. Everyone was clapping and cheering, whether on the bridge, on a restaurant patio or on the ground below where we were. Sufficiently rested, entertained and cooled off, Kate and I made our way back to the streets and bought a gelato, which fits the budget because in Bosnia it’s only 60 cents for a serving. We explored the other half of the old town and then started feeling hungry after just a snack on the bus, so we bought fresh strawberries from the market and "burek," which is phyllo pastry laid flat, spread with filling (mine was cheese and spinach, Kate’s was meat), and then rolled up into a long rope and spiraled into a circle, and finally sliced into wedges like a pie. We each bought a wedge and then stopped at the mosque to refill our water bottles from the fountain that every mosque has in its courtyard. It’s always clean, cold, fresh water. Fully loaded with good things, we made our way down the street to find a park to eat in before walking to the air-conditioned mall in the new part of the city. By that time we were ready for a bathroom break, having not gone since 6 a.m. that morning. When you’re on the streets, if you find a "toalet" it’s often a Turkish toilet, which is a hole in the floor and a simple sink, and not stocked with toilet paper or soap. I knew in Turkish Mostart our odds of finding a good bathroom would be slim. But Kate said, "Don’t worry, I know where to go." Yes, she did know where to the 5-star hotel downtown. I said, "Kate, we aren’t guests here, we can’t just walk in off the streets and use their bathroom." "Sure we can," she said, "if you walk in like you know what you’re doing and where you’re going." I looked at her doubtfully. "Don’t worry," she said again, "follow me." For the first time I was glad I looked like an American made us look like hotel guests!  We walked through the wide doors, down the carpeted staircase, turned a corner and walked into a beautiful, clean, air-conditioned bathroom with gleaming tile, individual water closets with their own wooden doors and real door handles, big mirrors over the sinks, good quality soap, hot and cold running water and a pleasant fragrance. I couldn’t believe how nice a little luxury could feel! I thoroughly enjoyed my 5-star bathroom and thanked Kate for taking us there!

A few blocks away was the mall, and it too was very civilized and nice. By now I was feeling quite at home! Kate took me to her all her favorite stores, and although we didn’t dare buy anything, we enjoyed window shopping in the air-conditioned building. It was almost time to catch our train by then, so we made one more stop at a café for coffee, sitting on the shady sidewalk and people-watching. A little gypsy girl wandered over, and Kate told me to pull our bags from the empty chairs we had set them on.  The girl reached the table next to us first, and those women shooed her away like one of the stray dogs. But it had to be done. When we finished our coffee, we made our way towards the train station and were followed by a gypsy boy who begged us for money. Kate shooed him away and he picked up a rock and threatened to throw it at us. Kate told him no and shooed him away again, and we kept walking. He followed more slowly until we were a little ways away, and then he threw the rock, which didn’t hit us but told us he was mad. I realized then that I was holding the rest of our strawberries and I told Kate I was going to give them to him. "No, Mom," she said, "You’re not supposed to." "It’s just berries, not money," I countered. I turned around but he was nowhere in sight. I did see two other little boys, though, and called them over. The littlest boy was probably around 3, and he hung back waiting for his big brother, who was probably 4, to come first. But the brother was busy squatting on the ground, so he hurriedly finished his business and then pulled up his pants and came running toward us. I put the strawberries on a rock and walked away. They were the dirtiest children I had ever seen...dirtier than the children I’d seen in the slums of Costa Rica or the streets of India. There was no future for those children. They were raised just like the stray dogs and treated the same. They stole because they were taught to steal and because they were desperate. They were mistreated and abused from the day they were born, and they in turn would mistreat and abuse others. How sad. The image of their little dirty faces stayed with me as we walked into the train station and met the other girls.  We gathered our bags and hauled them up more stairs. I missed the US at that point. You hand over your bags at the counter and they are cared for until you arrive at your destination. There are elevators and escalators. There are lights. The stations are relatively clean and everything works. But I complained too soon...I hadn’t boarded the train yet! The girls wanted us to have a room instead of individual seats, so they arranged for Kate to take my suitcase and for me to board unhindered and book it past the people and through the train car to grab a room. I did, but every room was already full of previous passengers who were not departing. I finally found one with a single old man and gestured to him if it was okay if I came in. He nodded and waved me in. He might have been sorry when 4 other loud American girls followed, but he didn’t say anything. The little room was stifling hot. There was a window, but it wouldn’t open. There was no ventilation of any kind, and it must have been 95 degrees inside. The man had sweat rivelets down both his cheeks, so I gathered it didn’t get much cooler once the train started up. Honestly, I’ve never traveled on such filthy transportation before. The train was ancient and broken down, dirty, worn and tattered. The windows were streaked with dark brown dirt, which accumulated in the window tracks. The fabric was terribly stained, patched and torn. The plastic trim was cracked and crumbling, the built-in garbage can was dented and coated with food and drink stains. We started to sweat before the train even left the depot, and I was sorry I had told Kate I wanted to take the train. She had warned me that the train was dirtier than the bus, but I never dreamed it would look like this. "Oh, well," the girls said cheerfully, "It’s a lot cheaper." Yes, it was. The only reason I had wanted to take the train is that I thought we would be able to see more of the countryside than on a highway. Even there I was wrong. We went through so many tunnels, the windows were so dirty and then night fell, so I probably saw half of what I saw on the bus. Oh, well. It was a lot cheaper.

When the train arrived in Sarajevo, we said goodbye to the girls and waited for Esad, Kate’s host dad, to pick us up. Then we visited with the family for awhile, telling them all our stories, and finally headed upstairs for the most wonderful shower! How great it felt to wash away the grime of the train, the dust of the streets and the salt of the sea! Clean and refreshed, I slipped into bed and had the best sleep of my entire trip.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

A Taste of the Mediterranean

I was most excited for this part of my trip...three days in Dubrovnik, a city which I had never even heard of before until planning my visit to see Kate in Sarajevo. When I first had my grandiose idea of a tour through Europe, Montenegro had been on my list of places to see. Many years ago when the James Bond movie "Casino Royale" came out, I watched it with Jeff, who enjoys James Bond movies. I thought the movie was fine, but what I came away with wasn’t how great the movie was or how attractive Daniel Craig was, it was the breathtaking beauty of a place I knew nothing about...Montenegro. I said out loud, "I want to go there." I told enough people that I wanted to see it that my sister-in-law actually looked into going on a family trip together. None of that ever materialized, but suddenly here was this alluring country right next door to Kate’s home! As we were planning how to get there, Kate mentioned Dubrovnik. It was highly recommended by all the locals as THE tourist destination. When I went online, I saw why. It is stunning in beauty and filled with things to do, rich in history, and easily accessible by bus from Sarajevo. So I planned a three-day trip there, and it became the highlight of the trip because it was also very exciting for Kate, having never been there either. When Kate told the other four girls in her exchange program that she was going, they begged to come along. Would I be willing to chaperone five 18-year-olds in a foreign country for four days? Sure! Having chaperoned teenagers on trips all over the world many times---on teams as large as 100---four extra girls would be a piece of cake. The excitement was palpable. One of the girls on Kate’s team went online and researched the best attractions and restaurants and also made us a budget for all the travel we would do. I booked us a villa. Then one of the other girls found out that her mother was also planning to visit that same week, so she joined us too. It was a funny relationship. The two moms, both of whom are world travelers, would be the "authority," but the girls would be the real bosses, as they were the ones who knew the language and the culture. From the minute we bought our bus tickets, they were in charge. When we bought our tickets, they were four times more expensive than what Kate had told me a month earlier and then we had to pay our bus driver to load our suitcases on the bus, so I was over budget before I had even left Sarajevo! Something told me this "so-much-less-expensive-than-western Europe" trip was not going to be cheap.

Once settled on our tour bus, the girls promptly fell asleep. Even as a teenager I could never sleep on trips...I loved to see the scenery, especially when it was a place I would likely never see again. The scenery was incredibly beautiful. We traveled through the Denaric Alps, driving up and down and through switchbacks, past quaint villages, rushing rivers and snow-capped peaks. With every turn we were rewarded with another vista...I didn’t dare turn off my camera. So many times I wished the bus would stop or at least slow down so I could capture the scenes. When the bus finally did stop for our first break, it was at a little roadside café perched on the edge of a river. We picked out a table by the window and waited to order our coffee...and waited, and waited and waited. No one ever came to take our order, even though we made eye contact and gestured numerous times and the staff nodded back as though they would "be right there." But they never came, and our break was over so we got back on the bus having had nothing. I figured in the long-run it was probably for the best, as coffee can make my stomach upset when I travel, and these twisty roads were a lot to deal with. It was a very slow bus ride.  Dubrovnik is about 3-1/2 to 4 hours away from Sarajevo, and I figured we’d be stopping so I allowed another hour, telling the host of our villa that we would probably be there around noon. Well, that trip drug on for 8 hours!  I had exhausted the little snacks I had packed and was feeling pretty hungry. I also dozed off a few was just so long. We had to cross the border from Bosnia into Croatia, then Croatia back into Bosnia and then one more time from Bosnia into Croatia because of the way they divided the countries’ borders when Yugoslavia was dissolved. Each time we had to stop and pull out our passports. We did stop one more time where they let us get out and have a 15-minute break, which was just enough time to buy gelato and eat it out in the sun. We reached Dubrovnik at 3 in the afternoon. We tried to get a taxi to take us to our destination, but they refused to take all 5 of us in one car. This wasn’t good either, as I knew the three girls would ride in one taxi and split the fare three ways and I would ride with Kate in the second taxi and have to pay for both of us. They threw our luggage in the trunk and bickered back and forth with each other about where the place was, looking at the address and acting like they didn’t have a clue where it was. I knew we were about to be taken for ride and there wasn’t a thing I could do about it but get in the car and go. They zipped us through the winding, narrow little streets and then came to a quick stop. The trip took maybe 5 minutes. The car doors were opened, the suitcases set on the ground, and hands extended for the fare. I know nothing about kuna, which is Croatia’s currency, so I just handed the money over for Kate and myself and figured I’d calculate the exchange later. But the girls instantly knew it was very expensive and were muttering under their breath. The drivers pointed us up a hill and drove away. We picked up our suitcases and started up the hill...and up, up, up we went, probably the equivalent of 3 city blocks, including 9 flights of stone steps (I counted!) and 2 long stone "ramps" where there were no stairs.  We were completely sweaty, exhausted and out of breath by the time we reached our villa. Our hosts, Ivan and Marin, came out to meet us. In a mix of Bosnian, Croatian and English we told them we came by taxi. They asked how much we were charged. The girls told them and they shook their heads in disbelief and said in English, "Evil!!" I vowed right then I would not be taken advantage of again.

Our hosts showed us around our villa, explaining the usual things like how to turn on the shower and work the stove and where the extra blankets were. She had fresh lemons and oranges from the trees in her gorgeous garden sitting in a bowl for us, homemade candied orange peel, and fresh-squeezed orange juice in bottles in the fridge. Then they invited us upstairs to where they lived, and she served us more orange juice, orange liqueur and a moist crumb cake. Her husband pulled out the city map and showed us how to get around, what bus to use, and the best attractions to see. We were there a good hour. Finally, we were released. We were now 5 hours behind schedule...and starving. We grabbed our map and our bags and set out for Old Town. What a maze of streets and alleys and staircases! And because many of the streets were walled on both sides, it definitely felt like a maze. We worked our way down, down, down and arrived at Old Town, which was quite impressive. Walking across the drawbridge through the gates, we stepped back into time when streets were stone, cities were walled, houses were joined and stacked, cathedrals were prominent, and fountains graced the town square. But the city was most definitely modern, as shops and cafes lined every single street and alley. We were mesmerized. We were supposed to meet the other girl from the team and her mother, but they hadn’t arrived yet, so we wandered aimlessly but happily through the maze of streets, exploring and taking in the beauty as well as getting our bearings for the true sightseeing we would be doing the next day. We stopped for coffee while we waited and sat at tiny tables in a tiny alleyway, hidden from the entire city unless you happened upon this exact alley as we had. Then we walked down to the agreed-upon restaurant for dinner to find the other two. We had a very good meal, but the girls were disappointed it was Bosnian food and not Croatian. Bosnian food is more Turkish and Croatian food is more Mediterranean. It was all new to me, so I didn’t mind, and the restaurant was cozy and dark with an almost medieval feel because of the stone walls, heavy wooden tables and chairs and candlelight. We dined on a variety of dishes, puffy little rolls that were like a yeast donut only not sweet and served with that thick sour cream that isn’t very sour, salads with tomatoes, cucumber, olives, onions, hard-boiled egg and sheep’s cheese, beef, roasted vegetables, and other foods I don’t know the names for. The meal was great, and we happily made our way out of Old Town to head back to the villa, since it was Helena’s 18th birthday, and her mother, Claire, had picked up a Sacher torte when she passed through Vienna on her way to Sarajevo. I was thrilled!  I had really wanted to buy a piece of authentic Viennese Sacher torte when I passed through Vienna, but that didn’t happen when I ended up having to run for my plane, and now I'd get to try it!  None of us realized just how difficult it was going to be to get home. Claire had rented a car, so we squeezed all seven of us into it and made our way up towards our villa. One of the girls navigated using the map we were given, but we ended up on a road that took us right out of the city and far, far up the side of the mountain. It was impossible to stop and turn around, as it was one way with no turn-offs, so we were forced to continue in the opposite direction for a few miles.  Finally we found a wide spot on the edge of the road and pulled over, then, carefully looking in every direction on this curvy, narrow mountain road, we pulled across to the other lane going back into town and made our way back in the dark of night. We followed the map until we figured we were somewhat close to our villa, and then parked along the side of the road as we saw others had done. It was a sheer cliff at the shoulder's edge, so I got out and directed Claire backwards so she wouldn’t go too far and slip off. Then Helena and Claire got their suitcases and we walked single file along that dark stretch of highway with no shoulder, using one cell phone in front for vision and one in back so cars would see us.  We walked like that for a good 10 minutes until we finally found a stone staircase heading down. The girls said, "No, this isn’t our street!" The moms said, "We don’t care, we’re getting off this highway!" For a moment, we were boss again! We climbed down the stairs to the next street level, which was residential and quiet, and then headed horizontally to our street, and then down again until we reached our villa. All homes are enclosed within gates, and all the entrances to the gates are on the sides of the streets, so you never enter a house through a front or back door, always from the side. We were so tired and a little stressed, but there was Sacher Torte! So we sang Happy Birthday to Helena and ate that rich chocolate cake with apricot filling and fudgy frosting at almost midnight! Then, despite the sugar high, we climbed into bed with the shutters wide open to the sea breeze and fell promptly to sleep.

The next morning I woke to the sound of birds, big horn blasts from the ships coming and going in the harbor, bells from the cathedral, and mo-peds speeding through the little streets. Sunlight filtered through the slats of the shutters. I got up and opened the shutter doors wide, stepping out on the balcony to take in the view of the sunrise over the sea. From our villa high on the hill, it looked like first a sea of red tiled roofs and then a sea of blue wrapping around the golden hills and islands, dotted with white boats and sparkling under the morning sun. Ahhh...this was wonderful! Kate and I and Anna, who is also an early riser, grabbed some money and headed out for some groceries so we could have breakfast. Down, down, down we walked until we reached street level and the little store. We picked up dried apricots, hazelnuts, milk and yogurt and then turned around and walked straight up again, huffing and puffing and sweating before we’d even truly started our day. Claire and Helena had also gone out early, determined to find their car in the daylight and bring it down to a more convenient and safe location. On their way home they had picked up two loaves of fresh bread from the pekura (bakery) and a paper package of dried figs. After a great breakfast of yogurt with kiwi from the garden and granola from home, one of those sweet, juicy oranges from the fruit bowl and dried figs (the girls chose the sugar cereal I had brought from the States, the fresh bread and orange juice!), we headed down to Old Town to tour the city wall. Since the city is situated on a jutting outcropping of rock into the sea, not only was it a port for commerce and travel, it was also vulnerable to invading navies. So the entire city is enclosed with thick stone walls like the fort on the hill above it, with a walkway as wide as the thickness of the wall built on top. We walked the entire perimeter, taking in the incredible views of city, mountain and sea from every direction. There were more hills and more stairs, and we climbed in the hot morning sun until we had worked up yet another good sweat. Rounding a corner of the wall, we came upon a little café that faced the south sea. It was slightly shaded and offered tall glasses of bright orange-colored juice made of fresh-squeezed oranges, grapefruit, carrots, apples and pears. I thought it sounded wonderfully refreshing, so we sat down and ordered....before asking the price. Well, when I found out it was 60 kuna, or $10 USD, I was no longer very thirsty.  But I told myself, "You are paying for not just the delicious juice you are about to drink but for the experience, which you really can’t get at home."   As we were waiting for our drinks, I noticed a man carrying a big box of Dole oranges. I watched as he dumped them into the juicer. I said to our group, "Those are Dole oranges...they’re not even from here!" The girls looked at me like, "So?" I remembered my vow not to get taken advantage of again, and I decided I would not spend $10 for a glass of Dole orange juice. When the waiter came, I asked him if they used Dole oranges for their fresh-squeezed juice or if they used the local oranges. He acknowledged they used the imported Dole. So, I apologized to Kate for embarrassing her and then said, "I don’t want the juice" and cancelled my order. So while the poor girls gulped their expensive drinks, I drank a much cheaper (but not cheap) coffee, mentally reinforcing my vow to not get taken advantage of as an American tourist.

We moved on from there and finished the wall right before lunch. We caught a ferry and sailed away to a nearby island called Lokrum, where we were planning to tour then swim. We ate Croatian-style sandwiches at a little café on the island, which were made of good white bakery bread, with proscuitto and fromaggio, lettuce, tomato, and balsamic vinegar and olive oil. They were very good. Dubrovnik was its own republic for most of its history, only recently belonging to Yugoslavia/Croatia. They fought off both the Turks and the Italians to maintain their independence, but they are closely linked to and highly influenced by Italy, which is evident in food, architecture and Catholicism. We walked the island, touring the remains of a monastery that was beautiful with its crumbing stone work and admired the many peacocks that strutted among the ruins. Then we hiked to the fort at the very top and center of the island, which provided a beautiful view of the mainland.  Once again very hot and sweaty, we climbed all the way back down to the sea, picked our way across the massive rocks to the edge of the water, and jumped into the turquoise-blue waters of the Adriatic Sea.

It was cold.  Achingly cold.   We gasped and sputtered with shock, and one of the girls sat with only her feet in for a very long time, mustering up the courage to immerse herself. Once we adjusted to the temperature, it was chilly but bearable. It was totally cool, though, to lay flat on your back and float in the salty water. I’ve been in a few seas around the world, but I don’t recall ever being able to just lie perfectly flat and still and float like that before. If it had been warmer I think I could have stayed like that for hours! Eventually, we began to shiver. The girls who more active, jumping off the rocks, climbing back up and jumping again, did better. But Claire and I pulled out, and I chose to explore the warm tide pools caught between the rocks while she spread out her towel and suntanned on the rocks. When we’d finally had enough, we dressed and walked to the café by the harbor to have coffee, then took the ferry back to the mainland. We then toured the fort, which gave us a view of isolated little coves on the other side of the rocks, and there we found what looked like a great restaurant overlooking the water of the cove. So when we were done with our tour, we stopped for dinner and enjoyed fresh seafood, Croatia’s specialty, in its many forms...some had grilled fish, others had it mixed with pasta, another had black risotto (dyed pure black with squid ink!) and I had risotto with tomatoes, mussels, shrimp and squid, and we all had a delicious antipasto plate of good bread, salmon mousse, grilled vegetables, briny olives and salty anchovies. It was delicious. To drink, I had myrtille juice, similar to blueberry, mixed in sparkling water. We lingered just until dusk, not wanting to walk home in total darkness again. But it takes so long to get up all those hills, that we still ended up in the dark. We took a couple wrong turns and found ourselves going down a big hill, which made us all groan because what goes down must come up. Sure enough, we had missed the correct angle, so we turned around and re-climbed our way back, then found the place where we should have veered toward the right and climbed up the correct way to home. Too tired to wait my turn for a shower, I washed my face and my feet, brushed my teeth, and went to bed.

When I woke up my hair was very curly from the salt water the day before, but figuring we’d probably go swimming again, I simply pinned it away from my face and showered and dressed. Marin had made a pot of coffee for Claire and I, so we sat on the patio under the trellis that formed a canopy of kiwi and grape vines (I never knew kiwi grew on vines!). We drank the strong, sweet Turkish coffee that even Italian Catholic Croatia serves, and sliced into another delicious orange while Marin pointed out all the beautiful fruits and vegetables she grew in her garden...a little orchard of mandarin oranges, which were in blossom at the moment, producing a heavy, heady fragrance that hung in the air everywhere we walked, oranges and lemons which were presently in season, kiwi, which had just finished, cherry soon to come, and pomegranate in the fall.  In the ground she had planted onions, lettuce, squash, and strawberries that were just starting to ripen, of which she picked us a bowl and offered us the first-fruits of her harvest! When we left, she walked with us a ways before separating to go to the market with her grandson, and we headed up this time instead of down, on towards the cable cars. The cable cars are brand new and 100 times safer than those I rode in India! The original cable car station had been bombed during the war and was destroyed. The had turned the new station into a mini museum/memorial. Everywhere are reminders of the war. The view from the top of the mountain was gorgeous, as you would expect, but more interesting to me was behind the cable cars, where Kate and I found the stone remnants of an old amphitheater and an underground tunnel emerging from the rocks in the hillside. The mountain itself is quite barren and rocky, not lush and green like the alps we had crossed coming out of Sarajevo. There was a rugged beauty to the mountains rising above the sea. There was really nothing to do at the top but admire the view, so we basically just wandered and relaxed for awhile, then took the cable car back down and headed to the port.  There, we walked out on the jetty to the furthermost tip of land reaching into the sea.  We sat down on the rocks, slipped off our shoes, and soaked our hot feet in the cool water that lapped rhythmically in a soothing, refreshing manner. It was a slower-paced day. No one really felt like moving fast. Everyone just wanted to nap in the sun. But eventually we headed back into Old Town and stopped for a gelato, then toured the Franciscan monastery and the second oldest synagogue in Europe and peered into the cathedral, which was charging more than we wanted to spend. We found a little Italian café tucked in one of the alleys and ate Italian pizza and pasta and bruschetta. We finished the last of our touring and slipped between the stone walls and through a tunnel to come out on the outside of the wall, where a café was built right on the rocks overlooking the sea. There we had cold iced tea sitting on the rocks, watching other people swim. Although it was nice to tan a bit, I was dying to jump in that blue water and cool off. It was a hot day. Because everyone felt done touring, we hopped a transit bus back to the villa to get our bathing suits and then walked all the way down to those little coves we had spied the day before and went for a swim. The water wasn’t quite as cold in the cove as it was in the open sea, but the sun was behind those towering walls of rock, so the shade made it chillier than it should have been. Still we all went in. I found a cave and half swam, half crawled on the rocks to explore it a bit, picking my way carefully over the slippery rock bottom covered in algae, through the fish swimming around my ankles, and past the most ruby-red sea anemone I have ever seen. After swimming, we were hungry again.  The girls wanted Mexican food, something they haven't had since they left the States, but that’s about the last thing I wanted, so we parted ways and Kate and I walked all the way down to the marina on the opposite side of the city which we hadn't yet explored.  We watched the sun go down over the water and had the most delicious meal of the whole trip at this wonderful restaurant with a rooftop terrace nestled in the hillside with trees behind us, cushioned benches with pillows, and candles everywhere, with the only electric light flickering on and off at will. I had butternut squash soup with toasted hazelnuts and a dollop of the sour cream that’s not sour and then a grilled portabella mushroom stuffed with couscous and gorgonzola cheese on a bed of rich and garlicky ratatouille. Oh, my...soooo good! Of course there was more bread with olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Kate had grilled chicken with polenta and ratatouille, and she loved that too. We contemplated tiramisu, but we had already had gelato and it was almost 10:00, so we reluctantly passed on that. We gave in to our fatigue and took the bus home instead of walking, but that still left us the last long descent (1 big ramp for approximately a block, then those 9 flights of stairs) to our villa. When we got home, I threw all our wet clothes into the washing machine with a little laundry soap I had saved for just such an occasion and hoped to hang them out on the clothesline and go to bed. But that washing machine just wouldn’t quit.  Finally I gave up waiting and went to bed at midnight, too tired to even care that I’d have to lug home wet clothes the next day.  The Dubrovnik trip was over...but Mostar was yet to come!