Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Climbing out of my box...

 I don't think I've ever been the adventurous type. I don't race cars or ride motorcycles, I have no desire to go bungee jumping or white water rafting, I'm not into mountain climbing or sky diving (although I did do indoor skydiving once), I'm just not much into trying new things.  In other words, I like my comfort zone. I like things like shopping, painting, reading, watching t.v., visiting with friends and talking on the phone to my mom. Things that are familiar, some might even say boring but honestly, that's okay with me. I'm good with boring. So why am I living in Italy? Good question... 

 Part of me is still trying to figure it out. If you read my first blog you'll remember that this was something I had to be talked into. Several years ago when Mark first brought up the idea I wasn't at all keen on it. Most of it had to do with the kids still being in school. I had moved around so much when I was growing up and I really wanted them to have a place to call home. But I have to admit part of my hesitation was that I liked my life. I liked my house and my car and my neighbors and my church. I liked that I could hop into my car and go shopping or any other place I wanted to go and it was all familiar. I think deep down I knew that if I agreed to this I would lose my version of comfortable. And indeed I have.

 I am truly a stranger in a strange land. Comfort has gone out the window. Honestly, if I were to dwell only on the negative I could truly hate this place. For example, the majority of people smoke. It's just part of the culture but I really hate walking out of a building and being hit in the face with smoke. (Funny thing is that this is a culture that is obsessed with youth and beauty yet they not only smoke they're avid sunbathers. Talk about things that will zap both youth and beauty!) Also, thievery is rampant here. We know several people who have had their houses or cars broken into and several who have been pick-pocketed. The rule of thumb here is: every evening around sunset, close and lock your shutters (every house has them) and leave nothing of value in your car. The thieves here have devices that can read electronic signals telling them if there is something in the car worth stealing such as GPS devices, ipods or other electronics. We ourselves have been victims, someone having stolen our camera battery out of our camera bag in our hotel room. Fortunately we had the camera and our other valuables locked in the safe. And don't even get me started on the driving! It is totally crazy, with narrow (sometimes one lane) winding roads. Motorcycles pass between cars, usually in very dangerous situations, there are bicyclists everywhere, occasionally slowing traffic to a halt, and the drivers themselves are insane! I thought it was bad in Dallas but it can't compare. There's no going the speed limit. You'll get run over if you try and even going over the limit you have cars right on your tail most of the time. I have seen cars pass and just barely make it back into their lane before being hit by oncoming traffic.  We have come upon 2 separate major accidents and I wonder why we haven't seen more. The prices in most stores are sky-high, there's no way to get to those stores quickly, most places are at least a 30 minute drive, many of them an hour or more...I could go on but here's the thing. I don't want to focus on the negative. There are many things here that are wonderful.

 The setting couldn't be better. Beautiful views of the Alps, moderate temperatures, gorgeous flowers and trees that have wonderful scents that (depending on where you are) permeate the air with a sweet smell that just makes you want to inhale constantly! The history in this area is fascinating. I can't tell you how awesome it is to realize you're standing in a building that was occupied by Leonardo da Vinci or gazing at a piece of artwork created my Michelangelo. In addition, for the most part the people are very nice. We have had more than one person help, or attempt to help in situations where we didn't know what to do or didn't understand the language. One Saturday as we were struggling to understand a parking meter a man who spoke English very well stopped and showed us the sign that informed us we didn't need to pay because it was after noon. One of the bellman at the hotel has helped us with our Italian and many store clerks have tried to work a little English into their vocabulary when it was clear to them we didn't understand. We even had a train conductor overlook the fact that we forgot to validate our tickets before boarding the train (normally a 50 Euro fine). I think it was obvious to him we were foreigners and not too bright!  These acts of kindness have come full circle for us because we have also been able to help some people who needed it this past weekend. While walking to board a train to Milan on Sunday we helped a woman who spoke German but very little English board the correct train and then we helped guide a family to Milan's town square since we had been there before. It felt kinda nice to be the helpers instead of the helpees! 

 I guess what I'm trying to convey is that it would be very easy to stay holed up in my hotel room (or my house if I ever get moved in) and not speak to or interact with anyone. That's my natural tendency because it's comfortable. But I didn't come here to stay in my box. My box needed to be broken out of and now I'm doing things and going places I never thought I would. I'm ready to plan new experiences not know what will happen but knowing that God is always watching over us. I think one day I'll look back on this whole thing and think, "Wow, I'm really glad I did that!" 

And ultimately, that's why I'm here. Yes, it's frightening and uncomfortable but it's going to be a lot more interesting than staying in my box!

Until next time: Arrivederci!
 A tree that I thought was really interesting.
 The view from our hotel room.

Part of the colosseum in Aosta left standing from the Roman occupation.


Tuesday, June 11, 2013

 While reading one of my daily devotionals I came across this sentence:

 God won't allow anything that makes man look self-sufficient in his own eyes.

 That got me to thinking about my current circumstances. Right now I am feeling anything but self-sufficient. I have spent a great deal of my life moving from place to place and each move has had it's own set of difficulties. There is always the search for a place to live, a place to worship, a place to shop, etc. but this is unlike anything I've ever experienced. There is nothing in this place that is comfortable or familiar...at least right now. 

 Don't get me wrong, I am NOT complaining. I am aware that not very many people get this kind of opportunity and Mark and I both feel that God led us here. If you read my previous blogs you'll know that everything that happened from the time we "put our names into the hat" was smooth and effortless. Trust me, we are not arrogant enough to believe we had anything to do with the ease of that part of this transition.  

 This part of the transition is the difficult part. As I write this, I'm sitting alone in my hotel room. We are staying in a nice place but it's located by the airport and there's not a lot to do out here. Mark is working and has our one and only car and to be honest, the roads are so confusing that I don't feel comfortable driving yet anyway. I have my kindle, my computer, magazines and a sketch pad and pencils but I feel somewhat like a prisoner in a nice cell. If I get really bored I can go walk around the airport. Also, there's the problem of the language barrier. My Italian is pathetic to poor at this stage despite using Rosetta Stone for the better part of a year. I think it's because most Italians speak so quickly and I tend to get that "deer in headlights" look when someone speaks to me. If I'm thinking quickly (which is almost never) I can say "Non capisco, puo parlare pui lentamente per favore (I don't understand, can you speak more slowly please). I guess one of the good things about being near the airport is that some people do speak at least a little English. I can't tell you what a relief that is!
 Also there's the cultural barrier. When you live in one culture all your life it's easy to get the hang of stuff, to know how to do everything. Just simple things seem so different here. I was getting so exhausted just doing everyday things last week and then it dawned on me that I was tensing up every time we went out. It's because not knowing the culture and language makes everything more difficult. Going to the post office is a good example. They have machines when you walk in that dispense tickets based on what you want to do there. You have to walk up to the machine and push the correct button. The buttons are of course labeled in Italian. And no one tells you this is the procedure. Walking up to a line and standing there will get you nowhere. Partly because the lines are different based on what you want to do and partly because the tickets are numbered and they call your number based on which ticket you get. Did I mention that nobody goes to the post office to mail anything? The post office here is a business that does everything from handling immigration papers to selling the latest novels. There's no way we would have known any of this save for the fact that the lawyer handling our immigration explained it to us. And on that note...

 Thank God for the people He's putting in our path. Our lawyer is an American who's been living here for the past 14 years and not only knows the language and culture but knows how to get things done. We also know a couple named Mike and Veronica (Mike works with Mark) who are getting us connected with a church and Bible study groups. I will be so glad to have those kind of relationships again. You can feel so isolated without them. We are going to their house tomorrow night to meet some couples from church and a Bible study. Also on Friday morning I'm going with Veronica to a ladies Bible study group and then we're going to Switzerland (about a half an hour away) to do some shopping! I'm very excited about that! 

 As I stated above, I'm really not complaining. There is a lot about this place that is so interesting and I'm sure when we finally get into a house things will be much brighter. We have already found a place but the process here is slow so we're just waiting. It could be a month or more so I guess I better just cool my heels! In the mean time I appreciate your prayers on our behalf. God is good and I know he'll take us through this difficult part and lead us to something beautiful. He always does!  For now:


Wednesday, June 5, 2013

After an exhausting trip...

  We finally made it to Milan. We've been here for 5 days and it seems like we've been going non-stop. I think I'm still a little jet lagged because I am getting very tired very early in the day. Hopefully I'll adjust soon.

  As a matter of fact there are a LOT of things I'm going to have to adjust to. To be honest I knew that signing on to this excursion but there are a lot of things here I didn't expect. First of all I don't know how I'm ever going to get my bearings. While we have a beautiful view of the Alps from our hotel window, the roads and so winding and narrow with so many trees on either side I can't tell what direction is what. Plus there are round-a-bouts everywhere, which really do make more sense than your average intersection because they keep traffic moving, but talk about getting turned around! Adding to the chaos is that most of these crazy roads aren't labeled anywhere. Forget about street signs, they're almost impossible to find. Even with our GPS we've gotten temporarily misplaced. I'm learning to look for landmarks so we'll see how it goes.

  The next thing I'm going to have to get used to seeing on those narrow, twisting roads is...(are you ready for this?)...prostitutes. Basically they just stand or sit on upside down 5 gallon buckets, yes you read that correctly, waiting to be picked up. If you drive on those roads you will see them every day. Some of them are dressed like you'd expect to see prostitutes dress, some are just in everyday clothes but there's no mistaking why they're there.  It's just one of those things that all the locals know about and shrug off. Strange and a little sad if you ask me.

  Also, we took our first trip to an Italian supermarket the day after we got here. It's a fairly modern place with a lot of the items you'd expect to see but there are a few things I wasn't prepared for. For example in the meat department you have your basics: chicken, ground beef, pork. Then there's the section labeled "Eqino". If your Italian isn't good, that's horse meat. They also sell whole skinned rabbit. Um, no thanks. Kinda makes me wonder what other surprises await me.

  As for the language barrier it's just going to take some time. My Italian vocabulary is very limited and while we come across some people who know English, many do not. We're learning to listen and watch the gesturing. It's amazing what you can pick up by doing that. The good news is that the Italian people seem to be very warm, friendly people and they seem to appreciate our efforts at speaking and understanding them. It's still a little intimidating to walk into a store or restaurant because you never know if you're going to be able to communicate but we're doing our best. 

  So far things are going pretty well. We had our first house hunting trip today and I think we may have found something. The process takes longer here so we just have to put our bid in and wait. We've got the hotel room for 2 months but I'd much rather have my house and be able to cook and do everyday things. Also, we're starting the immigration process tomorrow. That's something else that will take time. I think God is putting me in a position to work on my patience because everything here works much more slowly that I'm used to. In any case, it'll all work out. I do appreciate your continued prayers. 

  I'm sure I'll be posting more in the coming days with new discoveries and pictures. We ventured into downtown Milan and toured the Duomo and visited the Galleria so enjoy the photos! (I'll add more when I'm out of our hotel and the internet isn't so slow!)