24 September 2006

how did i get into this, anyway?

on my trip to Alaska last summer, we visited the sign post forest. my favourite sign was one with the words, "whose idea was this anyway?". it's currently set as the desktop of my computer as it seems that it fits my life - it's either that or "how did i get into this?". on the bright side, i usually end up with great stories - and a lot of laughter.

this weekend, i was on the weekend team here. which means that i helped make sure that there was food on a regular basis, chapel was held, and activities were planned (we ended up with a boat ride yesterday afternoon, pool yesterday evening, and church and the beach today). i'm not entirely sure how i got on it as i've only been here three and half weeks now - and the schedule was made awhile ago (probably somebody figured i wouldn't mind helping out - and they were right :)) anyway, that means that i shopped this weekend, spent a lot of time with a lot of people, cooked a bunch of times, led a chapel, and generally was busy. but i had a grand time. i laughed so hard so many times.

i'm bad at pool (so obviously this was not my choice of activity). i know where to hit the ball (most of the time) to make it go where i want it to go but i can't usually get the white ball to hit the other one in the right place or at the right speed. a bunch of us played half a dozen games last night. i had one really good game. and the rest weren't so good. after i completely missed a really easy shot, my opponents let me do it again from about the same place. and i completely missed again! (they decided that i probably didn't deserve a third try). it was so absolutely ridiculously horrible that my only response was to laugh and laugh and laugh. overall, i had decent partners, so it wasn't a complete disaster. we won sometimes. and we laughed more.

for church today, i figured since whatever one we chose it would be in Dutch (and my Dutch is pretty limited), it didn't matter to me where we were going. we went to a Salvation Army church that is around the corner. it's not a very big church - and the dozen of us kind of stuck out. after the first verse of the song (which we'd sung acapella) the person leading the singing asked if any of us from Oudezijds 100 played the piano. i didn't understand much of what he said - but i caught the question of whether any of us could play. i wasn't particularly enthusiastic about responding. but in response to the leader's question, most of my 'family' looked at me or said my name (they had, after all, all heard me playing the last couple of days). so, i went up to the piano and told both of the people leading the service that i didn't speak Dutch.

it went well for the most part, although there was one moment that was absolutely priceless. for one of the songs, the leader explained (i think) that she would read the first verse and then we'd sing it and then she'd read the second verse and then we'd sing it and so on. her explanation was in Dutch and i wasn't entirely paying attention because i was trying to look over the song to see if i could play it. so, after playing the first verse, i went right on to the second. the woman turned her head quickly around, told me to 'shh'. i stopped immediately (nearly jumped) and said sorry very quickly. and she went on with reading the passage - and when given some kind of cue, i started the next verse. i was on the stage/platform with the leaders so i had a great view of the faces of some of my family. the looks on their face were priceless. it was such a surprising, funny moment.

and the service describes well how things are going: sometimes i'm more aware of what's happening than people expect and sometimes i have absolutely no idea what's going on or what people expect of me (which leads to odd results at times). sometimes i ask how i get in the middle of some of the things - but i wouldn't change it. and it's been awhile since i've laughed so much and so hard as i have here. which seems to point to God's hand having something to do with how i got into this :)

22 September 2006

a few quirks of life here

when one lives in a place long enough one forgets the things that are odd about it, so i thought i'd write a few down at the beginning before they become normal (and i forget how much they make me smile). however, life here always seems to be full of surprises (and i have a tendency to have odd things happen to me), so maybe life here will continue to have its odd quirks.

- towels and sheets are provided here. i had assumed that they would just give me some at the beginning of the year - and i'd give them back at the end. actually i get new ones every week and i just return the dirty ones to the laundry room. the current dilemma is whether i keep my duvet cover for an extra week - as it's this lovely green plaid - or whether i use the nice clean flowered ones (i dislike flowered sheets - and i've given back the bedspread). and as the towels are generally little (like really little), i might try to hold onto the slightly larger towel that i just got. of course, if everyone thinks like i do (and is as picky as i am), it causes a bit of a logistical dilemma - so i'll get over it and give back the stuff i like (or else request laundry duty on a more permanent basis - or bribe the laundry person:))

- it's becoming second nature for me to look for how to receive a little number on a paper before i talk to anyone about anything official. maybe there's less people in Canada or we queue differently. but here in the Netherlands, we wait until your number comes up on the board and you get to go to 'ballie' number...

- i live with so many people that i don't know all their names. i know all the names of the people i regularly eat with - but i don't eat with everyone all the time (which is good). but i think there are a number of people connected to the community who i still haven't met after three weeks. there are about 9 buildings in the community, each of which has quite a number of rooms - i'm still trying to figure out where live the people i actually do know.

- somebody told me the other day that he was surprised at how normal people here were. and i had laughed - i guess i feel a bit of the same. it's not exactly what you'd call the most normal of neighbourhoods, after all. but people here are pretty normal. sure, none of us are perfect - and some of us have more quirks than others - and we all come here with a history. but other than some of the odd things (like cooking supper for 30, doing industrialized sized loads of just cleaning cloths, using soda to disinfect pretty much everything - yet still getting sick more often, aving slightly less personal space, and almost always having some kind of noise going on in the background), it's really delightfully low-key. even normal, most of the time.

- i don't know exactly where i am on a fairly regular basis (when i'm not home, that is!). it's gotten to the point that i at least have a vague sense and don't get completely lost anymore, but it's still kind of fuzzy (i've been going for walks in different directions lately just to figure out where i am). the problem is the canals. they're not exactly straight. and the roads follow them - or turn a bit and change names - or stop. i think if i could take a boat through it'd be easier - as the canals seem to stop a lot less than the roads.

- this really is the city of bikes. i can step out in front of a slow moving car (at one of the bridges or between side streets) and expect them to stop. but i have learned - never mess with the bikes. and never expect the bikes to stop. it'll be great to be biking on a regular basis (i now have an 'oma fiets' - a grandma bike - good and solid and old enough that it's not the first choice for stealing).

- my bathroom still makes me laugh. there's just so little non-shower room in it. i can't imagine how anyone significantly bigger than me would feel in it. and contrary to my negative opinions about never choosing to share a bathroom with guys (because they're annoying), i now share it with two guys (we'll see if one or two more people join us in the next while) and I'M the one who is probably the most annoying to share with (my hair gets stuck in the shower drain - and dat is vies)!

- i kill a lot of mosquitoes. much to my disappointment i discovered that the Netherlands has mosquitoes, too - which makes sense since Amsterdam is a former marsh and has a lot of water around (although the farm in Friesland was worse for mosquitoes). and there are no screens on the windows. but it's been such delightful weather all month that it'd be sad not to have my window open. so before i go to sleep, i scan the walls for lazy mosquitoes with the hope that i won't get bitten during the night.

- my tap, for no apparent reason, periodically spits out water when it's off. i imagine it has something to do with a big old house. the fire alarm also goes off randomly because it's a big old house. the drill is to make sure it's not my room going off (there's a signal over my door) and then do nothing. if it goes on again (or stays on for a few minutes), then i need to leave.

- and as i've said before, the sloping rooms and the many different levels of rooms and differing number of stairs for pretty much every set of stairs. and the funny part about the slope is that different levels have different slopes. certain windows and doors follow the shape of the slope - and are definitely not rectangular!

i'm sure there are more quirks but right now that's all i can think of :)

17 September 2006


this morning i worshipped at the Oude Kerk (the old church) that is just around the corner. it was in dutch, which made things a bit harder to follow (I don't think I caught anything of the sermon). but i still worshipped. and that is because i go to church more to feed my soul and my heart. it helps if my mind understands what is going on - and i could understand what we were doing most of the time as i can follow a standard service, I know quite a bit of the Bible (today's passages were Isaiah 56:1-7 (which i did a paper on last year), Ephesians 2, and John 2 (the part about the clearing of the temple)), and my Dutch knowledge has been focused on chapel/ prayer times and meal times.

the Oude Kerk celebrated 700 years today - and it was a celebration! There has been extra preparations and extra events all weekend.
And the Oude Kerk is very large, with the cathedral ceilings and stained glass windows and so on that one would expect of a church that old. And the music was soul-warming. and we had communion. and all of those things are good and helped me worship God, but the thing that stands out is the community there. when we prayed, we prayed for the world and for our community, including Amsterdam, which the church cannot help but see is not the Christian city that we would like it to be (red neon lights and red-lit windows are around the outside of the church) and even though i don't think most of the congregation lives around the corner like we do, they do hope and pray that the surrounding area might be more a place of God. Zr. Rosaliene was working on a display of boxes that had been filled with things (mostly by children) that display an important part of life in the church for them. And when the children came up front to have kind of a children's time, they were encouraged to speak - and there's quite a bit of laughter from everyone as he talked to them (i think about how long people had been in the church). and then when we were celebrating communion (we all went to the front of the church which had a large section for us to stand during the whole communion part), the children, who had left after the children's time, returned. And they returned with balloons and a bit of noise (as children tend to make). and combining the remembrance of what God had done for us in the body and blood with the joy of the children coming in carrying very obvious symbols of a party filled me with joy. and when one little boy's balloon popped, several people jumped, but we all chuckled somewhat. and all of it seemed to point to a community that wanted to be community - to share the gifts and joys of everyone present - and who took worshipping God seriously but not so seriously that they forget the joy and laughter involved in worshipping God together.

and so my heart and soul have been fed again. and a bit later i get to go back for Vespers.

13 September 2006

a description of my new home

sometimes it feels like I live with a hundred people. that, of course, is an exaggeration - as i have my own room and we have different addresses, i don't technically live with all of them. i just happen to share meals with about 20 at a time (more at supper), share chores, and share a lot of common space with all these people - at least 20 of which are kids. Lest that sounds a bit overwhelming, the community is made up of at least 8 different buildings (most of which contain a number of floors and quite a number of apartments and/or common rooms) plus a farm (with a couple of buildings) in Friesland.

Last weekend, a lot of us went up to the farm for openingweekend - which is the name used to talk about all of us camping out together (in tents and buildings), doing some work together, playing games together, eating together, and just getting to know each other. Pictures have been posted at the community website. So if you'd like to see the people who have become a regular part of my life now (and a few pictures of me), then check out the Gemeenschap Foto album i'm pretty sure i haven't met everybody yet - nor have i even been in half the buildings!

but let me tell you about the buildings i do know about.

i have my own room. it's a decent size, with a bed, a chair, shelf, one wall that's mostly window, a desk, a cupboard, and a sink (so i don't have to bring my toothbrush anywhere).

i share a bathroom with a couple of others on my floor. the bathroom is kind of small. when you open the door (towards you) and walk in, you have to be careful not to hit the toilet. the toilet takes up most of the non-shower space of the bathroom (there's no sink - which is why i have one in my room). the toilet's against the back wall, and if i stand in front of it, i can touch one wall with my palm and the door with my elbow and if i lean back ever so slightly i bump into the shower curtain. on the bright side, though, the shower is more than half the size of the bathroom so there's lots of elbow room there. it's just kind of awkward to do anything other than shower in there.

i live on the second floor (of 5). As Achterburgwal 100, 102, and 104 have all been connected (along with 127 Voorburgwal from the back) and as the houses are slightly different, the floors are at different levels in each house, so there's a few flights in a few different buildings to get to the second floor. I now finally understand how families could have been hidden during WWII - there are so many strange doors, stairways and nooks and crannies (and i think i've only seen half the building - maybe even only half the hallways!)

one of my favourite parts of the house is the library. on the down side most of the books are in Dutch and German. on the up side, at least half of the books are theology related and i'm learning Dutch and planning on learning German. and the computer with internet is in there. and the floor is crooked. the house, like a number of old Dutch houses, has shifted somewhat so that in some places you can drop a ball on the floor and it would roll quite easily. it's a bit disconcerting (at least in the stairwall when you recognize it) but apparently it's quite nice for Muriel who's learning to walk with a stroller - except of course for the downhill slant :)

the other places i spend a lot of time are in the basements of 100, 102, and 104. one is the common room where anyone is allowed to come in during the mornings and evenings for a cup of coffee or tea. another is the kitchen area. and the last is the chapel. and each of these is a place for ministry.

if you go out the outside door, there's kind of a sidewalk (it's sometimes taken over by stairs coming out of the houses), then a one-way street, then enough space to parallel park (although much of the parking area is taken up by bikes and a tree every once in awhile). and then there's a canal (usually with ducks on it), with the same pattern on the other side of the canal. the numerous bridges and the great tall Dutch buildings (all at least 4 stories) add to the mostly picturesque view. the Oude Kerk is around the corner - and I can easily hear the bells in my room.

but it is only mostly picturesque - for the hemp museum is barely a two minute walk down the street, and the red lights and red curtains (and often the scantily-dressed women) can be seen from the front door. we live in De Wallen because we live on Achterburgwal (the middle street of the three parallel streets ending with -wal). De Wallen is Red Light District.

and for obvious reasons, it's not really a nice place to live. which is why the community is there. the streets are often filled with people coming by checking out what's happening - and the hope is that they will see something different in how we live and what we do.
- we ring the chapel bell, calling the community to prayer, twice a day. and the prayers go up for the church, for ourselves, and for the world that we cannot pretend to ignore.
- we've been eating dinner with the windows wide open to the street (although they're only about hip-level) and i wonder what people think as they walk by 25 people (including about 10 kids) eating and laughing and sharing a meal together in a place where you don't quite expect that much joy.
- we open the doors to anyone to come in for coffee and tea - and maybe a conversation. and answer the phone to talk with whoever calls - and open the doors to people who need a place to live for awhile or start new again.
- and each of these places and each of these apartments is one less place for an x-rated theatre (which is what the chapel used to be), one less place for another red lit window, and one less place for someone to sell drugs from.

and we pray that God might use the work we do and the doors we open so that we - and those around might love God more and love others more.

10 September 2006

learning to be okay with being incompetent

i'm generally good at most things i do. i'll admit that i tend to shy away from things i'm bad at (i.e. bowling and baseball), so i haven't spent that much time being incompetent. lately, however things have changed.

i had forgotten how dumb it feels not to understand what people are saying around you. to not how the system works. to not know the patterns of life. to know what the expectations are.

most of the people who surround me are people i met less than 2 weeks ago. with a few there was email contact, but with most it's been a surprise. and when i think about them, i am thankful. people have been as good as i had hoped. and in many cases, even better than i had dared to hope. they are very willing to translate for me, to help me learn dutch (i currently have some strange song in my head about forward and after, and left and right), to answer my questions, to show me what to do, to listen to my concerns, and to try to help me use my gifts and to be able to study.

but it is hard to ask for help a lot. and i'm not even entirely sure why - because i know people are helpful - and i even hear their encouragement of it. i just get tired of doing it all the time. and feeling dumb for asking about things that i feel should be obvious - like how do you make coffee here, or where do i get a bike, and so on.

and it is hard to feel so incompetent. no matter how much i ask, no matter how much i watch, i will never learn as quick as I want to (whether it be about life here or with Dutch).
and it is strange to go from being the one that people would ask lots of different questions to being the person who is likely not to know the answer. or even be able to understand the question.

as much as i realize that this is leaning toward being whine-y, i am saying this because i know that this is good for me. i just wish it was easier on my ego. or that it didn't take so much energy. my constant prayer seems to be, "i have so much to learn, God. help me to see and listen."

and already He has answered. even if i don't understand all that is going on around me, i have been able to see different people's gifts - from the gift of storytelling, to singing, to a gentle spirit, to a gracious heart, to a willingness to help out with tasks, to making space for people who are new and different.

and i do not think that i would have seen all that (i would have been too busy being in the know to notice) if i were not so incompetent right now. and for that i am thankful even as i struggle to live with it.

03 September 2006

at home in Amsterdam

The title sums up things here well. I have been adopted into the community where I'm living - and it has been good (although a little tiring - I have been trying to understand Dutch, speaking in English, and also speaking in Hungarian (I had no idea that there were this many Hungarian volunteers helping out in Amsterdam - i would have never guessed that my knowledge of hungarian would be helpful here!!))

but it is good. today i was in Friesland and Drenthe, and we drove through Groningen and another are (nieuwe land?) yesterday i got to bike a bit in the city (which was much easier than people tell me it is). and i had a canal tour of the centre. i've been to the airport twice (the second time to collect somebody who was new to the community), i've helped with dishes a lot, helped cook one night, attended 3 morning and evening prayers, watched a baptism, talked a lot, played Cranium in Dutch (even though they translated, i was quite horrible at it), i've been to the Vrije to register, and am officially over my jetlag. not bad for coming here on Thursday. oh, and one of the people in the community here works for a CRC church plant here, and another couple people who study theology at the VU.

so, all in all life is good. and i am more than content. it is as good here as i hoped it would be.

tomorrow, hopefully the people at the VU will be able to tell me what they expect from me this year - things have not been so clear so far...