Posts Tagged ‘People’

On a Boat

Monday, June 8th, 2009

Our ferry ride from Stockholm left Thursday (05/28) at 1745 from the main port. We had visited the ferry port twice on the preceding two days, first just after they closed and second while they were opened and we purchased our tickets. We had spent our day downtown and had a bit of a rush to get through the crowded city streets to the port in time for our 1645 boarding time. We did make it, however, and, exactly at 1645 checked in and were ushered onto the boat.

Our room was on the 8th deck and was about as small as a railway cabin. Just enough room for four fold-down beds, a corner toilet/shower room and a tiny desk attached to the wall. We got all our stuff in, including our foul-smelling bag of dirty laundry and Matt began washing his stuff. We had hoped against hope that there wouldn’t be a fourth person in our cabin, for his sake. David and I went out to explore the ship and Matt kept washing.

The boat was huge. It looked like a cruise ship. I’ve never been on a cruise ship, but I’ve seen a few in harbor and this looked almost exactly like one of those, except it was a bit smaller and didn’t have a climbing wall. It did have a spa, a casino, an arcade, two restaurants, a fast-food joint, a night club, a disco, and free (but slow) wifi. It also had three decks of rooms and two decks of car and truck parking.

I got back to the room and checked in on Matt who was soaking wet, had his shirt off, music playing in the shower and had the bathroom full of clothes hanging off the the two bed ladders he had wedged above the sink. He said our cabin-mate had showed up and greeted Matt with an expectedly shocked expression, dropped off his stuff and left.

Dan and David showed up a few minutes later just as the captain of the ship was making an announcement in Estonian. Not long after our cabin-mate showed up again and introduced himself as Rauno and, after we had apologized for the smell in the cabin, we all sat down and talked. As we talked, one-by-one each of us would disappear into the shower for a few minutes to wash ourselves and our clothes and, within a few hours the rooms scent had improved drastically and we were all much cleaner. We had learned quite a bit about Rauno, as well in his very good, although not perfect English–he said he has never learned Swedish or Norwegian so gets plenty of practice speaking English.

Rauno is in his mid thirties and works as a carpenter and cabinet-maker in Sweden and Norway for seven or eight months out of the year, with a visit home every few weeks. He has a family in Voru, Estonia, a wife and two little girls who live in a small, two-room apartment and he has been in the process of building a house for the past 5 years and expects to be done with it by the end of the summer. He is a pleasant, peaceful fellow. Soft-spoken with short, thinning hair, a ready smile and a gentle demeanor.

Over our shared peanut-butter and jelly sandwiches and his drinking yoghurt–delicious, real yoghurt with live cultures–we learned about his work history. Back when Estonia was under Soviet control, Rauno studied welding in the state university. After graduating, however, he was unable to find a job and so he began working at a logging camp. For several years he drove a 25-ton Soviet, treaded tractor pulling a large rake. His job was to follow after the clear-cutting of the loggers and rake all of the branches into rows to be collected and mulched. He said he hated that job. The cabin of the tractor was open to the air and temperatures could hit -20ºC and he was dropped off in the middle of the forest at the beginning of the day and picked up at the end.

After working as a logger for long enough, Rauno said “I looked around and realised that this is a s**t job. So, I told my boss ‘I quit’ and didn’t come back the next day.” After that, he picked up some jobs as an electrician before finally settling into carpentry around the time Estonia joined the EU. Rauno told us about how work is unavailable is in Estonia and how great it is to be able to travel to other EU countries where there is work–in his case Sweden and Norway. He said that for the past several years he has had to find work outside Estonia and, while that’s not ideal for him and his family, he is willing to do it and is very glad for the work.

From all he told us he is a hard worker, willing to do almost anything to get a job done right. When we explained to him what we were up to and how we were living on the road, he told us about working in Norway right before Christmas when he and two of his friends worked in a house 500 meters away from the outhouse, with no heat and the only source of water next to the outhouse. He said they went weeks without showers, we could sympathize, although it hasn’t gotten quite that bad for us.

During this entire time he seemed completely unfazed by the fact that we were washing our clothes and had then hanging all over the room, even helping us set up the ladders to make a great drying rack. I felt a bit self-conscious for imposing on him so greatly, but he truly did not seem to mind and seemed to enjoy hanging out with us as well. After a few hours we had finished washing our clothes and ourselves and we all dispersed to hang out throughout the ship.

It was nice to get a bit of time to get out of each others hair, and on a ship that big there was plenty of space. David found a quiet corner and read for a while and Matt got on the internet and got some personal correspondence and photo uploading done. After I had been doing a bit of reading in our room (Dune by Frank Herbert), Rauno walked in and we started talking. He asked me about the book I was reading and I described it for him then asked him what type of reading he does. He said he doesn’t have a lot of time to read, but when he gets time, he’s in the middle of a book on Yoga by an Estonian guru.

The subject of Yoga got us talking about religion and the bad parts and false parts and real parts. He believes in God but dislikes the word God so he calls Him The Absolute. He also doesn’t really appreciate most organized religions, but believes that all of them have some good in them, particularly when it comes to moral law. I discussed the origins of morality and the origins of sin, the origins of the world and the end of our lives. He seemed to have an almost Christian view of the afterlife, but the method for getting there is through conquering our will through our own means. In a way his faith was Christianity without Christ. Doing good, loving your brother, living a good life, trying to not sin so you can get to heaven, but without Christ or the Holy Spirit. He seemed to be very thoughtful and seeking and I enjoyed our conversation and hope I left him with a bit of understanding of the religion I’ve embraced.

Rauno and I talked until after 2300 and he went off to find a friend of his to try to get a ride to his hometown the next day and I went to find Matt and David to see what they were up to. That evening at 2330 was a cabaret show in the nightclub involving lots of glitter, crazy costumes and top hats. David, Matt and Rauno went and watched at least part of that. According to David and Matt, “The show was laughably ridiculous, especially since it seemed like it would have been better suited to Las Vegas than Estonia.”

In the meantime, I started working on the website. When I got up after a bit to borrow Matt’s room key to go get a snack of some jørdnotters–delicious and relatively cheap salted, roasted peanuts we had found in Stockholm–I found Matt taking pictures at the ship’s dance floor and soon joining in with the dancing. The music was live and performed in about 15 different styles by a group of 4 guys and a synthesizer. The event was quite a spectacle.

Anyway, I returned to the computer and spent the evening working on pictures, maps, etc. for the website and doing a bit of chatting with my homies and Rachel. Since we had the free internet readily available, we decided to make the best of it so I ended up staying up quite late getting quite a bit done (you may have noticed around that time a number of improvements to the site, if anyone was keeping track). That evening I felt like a fly on the wall of the ship’s nightlife.

I was sitting in the little fast-food area–which was open 24 hours a day–so I could see people coming and going through that area. At about 0100 there was a group of about 5 drunk truck-drivers sitting around eating burgers, hotdogs, and fries and talking in Swedish. After about half an hour they left and for the next hour or so I was alone with my headphones in listening to Flight of the Conchords and enjoying the quiet. Then, a shriek of anger, three people yelling and a man, sobbing loudly threw open the door to the sundeck and stormed into the drizzly night. A few minutes later three people–two who appeared to be a couple and another girl, apparently his friends–followed him rather timidly on deck. Some quiet murmuring outside and they returned with the angry fellow meekly holding the hand of the previously unattached girl. They disappeared down the hall and all was quiet again.

At 0130 the last glimmer of the sun finally disappeared from the horizon and, except for the distant thudding of a drum, the thrumming of the engine and the slight whistle of the wind, the night was quiet. At 0240 my peaceful evening was once again shattered by three of the same truck drivers from before, but this time they were more drunk and, therefore, louder. They ordered another round of fast food and beers and laughed and spoke slurred Swedish to each other for another half hour, then disappeared again. At about that time, the two couples with the anger issues from earlier came back, although they had apparently solved their issues and seemed rather drugged on a combination of beer and hormones, they left shortly after arriving. The sun began to glimmer again at about 0245.

I kept working and listening, now to several NPR podcasts from before we left. 0300 came around and the disco drums grew a bit quieter and fewer people passed up and down the stairs and the sun grew stronger just over the horizon. By 0330 I was nearing the end of my work on the slow internet and appreciating the quiet of the evening, then the largest and hairiest of the truck drivers stumbled into the cafeteria, placed his order loudly, and stumbled over to a table with a burger and another beer and apparently enjoyed them. After him, a man and his two Estonian women in way too-short skirts came in, ordered drunkenly, and, with an excessive amount of making out and feeling up, joined the truck driver to eat their meals and drink their beers.

I went to bed at at 0400 having accomplished a significant amount and rested comfortably the rest of the night. At 0930 we all woke up, packed up, said goodbye to Rauno and made our way to the car. We were separated at the packed elevator and Matt, who took the next one ended up on the wrong floor. David went to move the car while I went to hunt Matt down. Before I could find him, however, I found a lost looking Estonian man who begged me in German for help opening a locked door to the car area. I couldn’t help him open it, but I did show him where another door was. I went out, talked to David, got my passport (Matt had his on him) and told David to go ahead and drive out because the trucks were waiting for him to get out of their way.

While David did that I went hunting for Matt and found him just a few minutes later. We walked off the pedestrian ramp, at every point looking for a way to get back to the car before customs, then walked through customs without stopping (Thank you EU!), made our way to to the ground where we found ourselves separated from David by a high fence. We motioned to him and after a bit he drove out to us. Matt and I hopped in and off we went.

This was the longest boat ride of my life and, although there were several portions of it that made me slightly uncomfortable–mainly the entertainment and several of the other passengers–I enjoyed the ride.

Daniel Z

Mountains and Soccer

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

I suppose it’s because I’m the youngest and most harmless looking of the group, but I (Matt) am often the one sent to ask locals for directions. The claim of harmlessness may be questioned but let’s be perfectly honest, I stand 5′6″ and weighed only 139 pounds before the trip. Also, I can grow nothing more than peach fuzz. I even struggle with pronunciations. Needless-to-say, these limited interactions make interesting stories. On the British Isles, at least I could be understood. Admittedly, I asked one Irish man to repeat his directions three times before I understood his thick accent. I have spoken with several people on the mainland who understood only limited English and it’s always a strange dance. My first experience of this was with the young illustrator in Pontoise, France (see my Paris blog). We both experienced the awkward pauses as we tried to remember the right English words to express ourselves. Several times we understood each other before we found those words. I have no excuse; English is my first language but I still struggle to guess which words foreigners will understand. The same phenomenon occurred with the youth group in Bad Pyrmont, Germany. I’m learning how much I can pick up through inflection and body language. It’s such a wonderful experience to share the train of thought with someone so that you know what they mean to say before the say it.

When asking for directions, I generally encounter people with even less knowledge of English. We followed one man in his car about 7 km in Norway after I he had spoken only one word of English to me. I had asked for directions at a roadside restaurant and one man had understood my question for the nearest train station. “Friend going to Halden.” The men exchanged some words and then the latter pointed to his car then to me. “Follow.” Just yesterday we followed another man while looking for the highest point in Estonia. When I couldn’t make myself understood to a local, he pointed one direction and said, “Latvia.” I shook my head. “Rouge [Estonia],” pointing the opposite direction. I nodded emphatically. “Son. English,” he said and motioned us to follow him. We drove into Rouge but never did find this “Son.” I found a grocery store manager who only knew Estonian and one English word, mountain. I am still not sure how she knew what I meant when, in searching for a way to convey our intentions of seeing the highest point in Estonia, I tried the word. There are positively no mountains in Estonia. The highest point we found was 296 meters above sea level. In any case, she ended up outside the grocery store , kneeling beside me and tracing the roads we should follow in the dirt. Apparently, finding the “mountain” meant a few turns and the rightmost road when one branched into three.

Friday afternoon in Stockholm, I tired of waiting for the guys to return for exploring the town so I walked over to a nearby school and approached one of the adults monitoring the recess yard. “American, can I join?” pointing to the dozen or so boys playing soccer. He hadn’t heard me correctly and somehow asked thought I was from Barcelona. I almost played along since their soccer team had won the Champions League final the night before. I expressed regret that I couldn’t speak Swedish and the man laughed. “That’s okay, football is international.” I had a blast madly running around with the boys and met Gabriel and Carlos, two boys on the Cubs, the team that drafted my services. We made an impressive combo; we held the other team scoreless and I served up an assist to Carlos who placed the ball in the net with a smart flick of his Crocs. High-fives all around. We hit it off and they ran inside after the end of recess yelling behind them, “You awesome!” “No, no,” I grinned, “You!” Some things need very little shared language to be communicated.

Matt

London: Accomplishments

Sunday, May 24th, 2009

I’ve been in London before for a few days with Rosedale Bible College’s Celtic Christianity & CS Lewis tour back in 2006. That was a rather quick trip to London, however, so I was glad to return. Cities aren’t my favorite places to hang out, but London isn’t bad as cities go. It has a river (the Thames), lots of history, and generally friendly people.

Two friendly people, Erlis and Gesine Miller are related to David and live in Walthamstowe, a residential area of the city, and they invited us to stay at their house. David had met them a few times, but hadn’t seem them in quite a while. We got an email from them the day before we were supposed to arrive giving us directions and the location of a hidden key and inviting us to make ourselves at home. So, we did.

After enjoying the Millers’ hospitality that evening, we got to bed a bit late after having a great conversation with both of them. They have each had so many experiences from working in the Middle East to camping in an Italian vineyard. They kept us entertained with amazing stories and interesting conversation through our entire stay.

The next day after a full, delicious breakfast with yogurt, muesli, toast, and all the fixings we took the tube downtown to get our applications for Kazakh visas sorted out—we’re planning on visiting Kazakhstan around the beginning of August. Since the consulate doesn’t accept visas on Wednesday so we just filled out all our paperwork and got everything in order. Then we went down to the river and ate lunch at Whitehall park just off the river. What happened then was the highlight of my London experience. We were walking past Westminster Palace (home of the Houses of Parlaiment) where we noticed people walking off the street into the palace. I have always had an interest in parliamentary procedure (a nerdy confession: once in a while while at home I watch The Ohio Channel by Ohio Public broadcasting which broadcasts sessions of Ohio’s congress). Anyway, all that to say that I was thrilled to discover that anyone—even foreigners—can observe parliament while it is in session. Which it was!

Dan and David weren’t thrilled about the idea but Matt was interested in getting some pictures from the inside of the palace, so we decided to see what we could see. Past the expected security check, the palace was exceedingly impressive. The welcome hall was the former hall of St. Steven’s Chapel (although pretty much everything was lost back in 1834 in a fire, still pretty old) and was surrounded by the newer parliamentary buildings.

Matt and I visited the house of Commons—decorated in green—where the elected ministers of parliament (MPs) were discussing the rather dry topic of possibly implementing price limit (defined quarterly or bi-yearly) on crude oil imports. After a bit of discussion, the matter was decided by division. The ministers file into two rooms at either corner of the hall where they are counted for the votes, one room being Nay and the other Aye. The oil proposal was rejected as was the next proposal: that gasoline tax rates be set lower for rural areas of the country.

Matt went off to explore the rest of the city, but I went on to the House of Lords—decorated all in red and with a huge golden throne and dais at one end where the queen sits when she attends (rarely). The Lords (some landed, some not) were discussing the possibility of financing an airport on the island of St. Helena, a remote island off the coast of Africa, where it takes 4 days on a boat to access the mainland. Unfortunately, I had to leave before the issue was decided so that I could get back and help make supper (delicious hamburgers). We spent the evening talking to Erlis and Gesine again about our experiences that day and their work.

Thursday I woke up around 7:15 and headed downtown to the Kazakh consulate to put in the applications for David, Matt, and my visas. I spent the morning waiting in line then, after succeeding in my task, headed to the river to meet up with the other guys for lunch (sandwiches) in Whitehall park again. After the sandwiches, Matt and I headed to the Apple store he had found earlier so that I could see about getting my computer fixed (I had been having some trouble with the MagSafe powerport, quite annoying). That took most of the afternoon, but they took it and told me they would fix it for free! Hooray!

I walked about town a bit after that then headed back to the Millers’ house where we enjoyed having a house and getting our clothes washed and things in order. That evening was another delectable meal with the Millers and we stayed up late into the evening talking. The next day, breakfast was again delicious and, fully satiated, we all set out together to walk the Golden Triangle (after picking up our Kazakh visas (Approved!) and visiting Hyde park, the Victoria and Albert Museum, and the Albert Memorial). Buckingham palace, the National Gallery and Trafalgar Square, and Westminster Abby were quite impressive and well worth seeing, but better described in pictures.

That afternoon I got some cables for my camera and went back to the Millers’ a bit early to make some calls back home and send some emails about our final insurance paperwork for the UK (It all worked out quite well and we were pleased to discover that if we were to pull a semi trailer behind our Passat it too would be covered by our insurance… I’m tempted to try).

The evening was spent out on the town seeing the lights of the city over the river. Westminster Palace, the Tower of London, and the Tower Bridge were well worth the time. We slept well that night and, after enjoying a hearty breakfast, fetching my computer, and devouring a great lunch, we left London on our way to Dover.

Daniel Z

Religion and The West

Monday, May 4th, 2009

Our first Sunday in Ireland dawned predicatively cloudy. The night had been a bit hard, having spent a tense and hectic half hour in the in the driving rain and gathering dark staking down our tarps to keep our belongings dry. It was with smiling, if tired faces, then, that we greeted the calls of “It’s dry!” that morning. It was about 9 in the morning and the sun was up, although low in the sky and a dry wind was blowing. We laid out the tent and tent fly that hadn’t quite dried from the night before.(leaving at 8 before the sun came out and the dew dried meant we hadn’t had time to air them out.). We also laid out the precious tarps which had so successfully kept the rain off of our bags the night before.

After a half hour or so, we left our little spot in the field for the second time and headed to Dublin.
In Dublin, we parked about a block from St Patrick’s Cathedral and walked to church, feeling a bit bedraggled without a shower, but in our best clothes.

The cathedral is magnificent. During the week the main chapel is home to a gift shop and costs several euro to enter (I always think of Jesus ejecting the moneychangers and others profiting from God’s temple when I see gift shops and admission fees at these cathedrals). On Sundays, however, mass is held at 8:30 and Eucharist sung at 11:15 and admission is free. We didn’t feel like waking up early and wet two days in a row (plus most of us aren’t big fans of waking up early in the morning) so we aimed for the 11:15 service.

A group called the City of London Chamber Choir were the guest choir and sang beautifully, although, as in most cathedrals, the words were lost in the nooks and crannies of the decorated ceilings and walls. The cathedral is Anglican now, although I’m not sure it has been always. St. Patrick is, of course, the patron saint of Ireland and his name and face are widespread throughout the country. Schools, streets, villages, restaurants, hotels, tour companies, breweries and almost every other possible variety of institution bear his name. There are a lot of people who get a lot of acclaim who don’t really deserve it, but Patrick is one who almost certainly does. There are a lot of legends about his life–many of them probably true, for example his origins in Roman Britain or his relationship with the church, which is fairly well documented. Other stories are less documented. For example, he is said to have banished all snakes from Ireland by praying on a mountain for 40 days and 40 nights. It is certainly possible that a man in tune with God’s will could ask for God to perform a miracle as spectacular as banishing snakes from an entire nation.

Back in the church, the service celebrated the 4th Sunday of Easter and was filled with some beautiful spring music and a sermon exhorting the members of the congregation to be shepherds of our brothers and sisters and not sit back and assume that the pastor (shepherd) of the congregation will pick up your slack. The congregation was made up of a number of people who seemed as though they might be Dublin-area regulars and probably about 30 or 40 people who looked like tourists. All in all, attendance was probably at about 150. Not bad for secular Europe, although Ireland is one of the most religious nation in Europe.
It was a sombre service, but seemed filled with a groundswell of celebration of Christ’s resurrection. One of the morning’s hymns, written by John Crum and sung to a traditional French melody, seemed to fit well.

Now the green blade riseth from the buried grain,
Wheat that in dark earth many days has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again,
Like wheat that springeth green.

I left in a good mood, feeling reminded of what a great, international God we serve.
That afternoon we headed to The West, straight across the country. It only took about 3 and ½ hours to cross the entire nation! Along the way, we were thrilled at the the sights of the Irish countryside, damp as they were. Matt also took his first turn driving once we were outside of Dublin, and did quite well. One of the phrases we’ve taken to using here is “Driving like a European” since it seems that in the two European nations we’ve visited on this trip so far, driving in a crazy manner seems rather mundane over here. Matt learned to drive like a European.
Eventually we made it safe and sound to Limerick in The West and headed up the coast. That evening we spent at the beautiful Cliffs of Moher, one of the 7 Wonders of the Natural World (As a sidebar, who comes up with these wonders? I mean… can I just declare myself one of the 7 Wonders of the Human World? Not that I want to. Just asking.)

Pictures will do a better job of describing the cliffs, but they rise several hundred feet from the frigid and tumultuous North Atlantic below. We were all awed by how dramatic a form Creation can take, more wonderful than the most spectacular of man’s buildings. In other words, Frank Lloyd Wright’s Falling Water is nothing compared with God’s Cliffs of Moher (just to clarify, I’m not dissing Wright, I really like his work!)
We left the cliffs a bit late–we had tried to see the sunset, but in typical Irish fashion, it was cloudy–and drove north through Doolin and Galway. Tomorrow we’re going to see the Giant’s Causeway built by the infamous giant, Finn MacCool himself. We’ll finish the day in Belfast where we’ll catch the 3:20 ferry to Stranrear, Scotland.

Daniel Z