The Joys(?) of Living in Ireland!

I can’t believe that I am nearing the 10 month mark of living in Ireland. (Well, minus those 6 weeks I traveled as a homeless wanderer through the UK.) Anyways, it’s been an interesting 10 months, and I thought it was about time I wrote about some of the things that this Florida/Colorado girl finds exciting about life here.

Weather – I’ve lived at least a decade in both Florida and Colorado, and though they are very different, one thing unites them. I heard it said of both of them that if you don’t like the weather, stick around for half an hour and it will likely change. That statement was true of both places too. Weather could be a bit unpredictable.

However, my definition of “unpredictable weather” has changed since arriving in Ireland – much the same as my definition of “mountains’ changed upon moving to Colorado. In the half hour before I began writing this post the scene out my window went from cloudy with a mixture of snow, hail and rain blowing in wind gusts of nearly 50 MPH, to sun with little or no wind, to rain and hail with the sun as a backdrop, and then to cloudy, windy and dry.

My friends, if you don’t like the weather here, too bad. It will change any second, but that change will probably last a minute or ten at best. You might as well just layer up, make sure you’ve got a raincoat, and move along with your plans. It’s not often dry, but it’s usually exciting! ๐Ÿ™‚

Taps – When moving to Ireland I expected things to be different in some aspects. I expected to be confused at times, but I had no idea that sinks would be a culprit. In my experience, most sinks have a single tap with two separate pipes delivering water to it. One brings cold water, and if you’re lucky the other brings hot. By using the valves controlling each supply correctly, you can achieve a comfortable temperature at which to wash your hands or complete whatever task has brought you to the sink.

I have found that many sinks here in Ireland missed out on the memo that both hot and cold water could be delivered through the same tap. The result of this is the user being left with a difficult – sometimes painful – choice. When washing my hands in my bathroom, I can choose to cleanse them with water that feels as though it was just delivered by a passing glacierย OR I can decide that I’d rather try to get a thorough clean by sterilizing them with water that nearly rolls out of the tap at a boil. Happily, the hot tap does take a bit of time to reach those temperatures, so if it has been long enough between uses and I am quick enough, I can get clean and warm hands without the necessity of burn cream.

Language/phrases – Ah, the English language. Anyone who has traveled even to different areas of the USA (or any other English-speaking country) knows that speaking the same language doesn’t guarantee understanding. I knew many of the words and phrases that I would encounter when coming here. I knew that if I wanted a cookie, I should ask for a biscuit. If I want something similar to what I would normally call a biscuit, I should get a scone. Most things didn’t take me long to switch in my brain.

The first phrase I discovered that was completely new was a way of stating a time. Where I would typically say “six-thirty” if I saw 6:30 on a clock, people here said “half-six”. That makes perfect sense, but it still took some getting used to.

Another phrase I hear a lot from some people is “yer man”. When watching a tennis match with a friend, she kept saying, “yer man’s playing very good” or “oh, yer man slipped”, etc. I didn’t say anything at the time, but I was so confused. The running monologue in my head went something like this: “I don’t have a man. He’s not mine. I’m not even cheering for him. I want the other guy to win.” After subsequent conversations with this friend and others, I have realized that this is a generic phrase to refer to any random guy. Thankfully, I have realized that all of the men my friends mention do not in fact belong to me.

The final word that continues to confuse me is tea. When someone invites me for tea, I still have to figure out whether I should expect a cup of tea or an evening meal. Obviously the time of day is a clue, but if it’s getting near evening hours, I’m lost. I will admit that I have on occasion eaten a small amount of food before visiting my friends because I figured if I am served a meal the small salad I ate at home will not keep me from enjoying a portion of the dinner; however, if I am offered a cup of tea and biscuits, I will not starve or eat an entire plate of “digestives”.

Daylight – Having spent most of my life far closer to the Equator, I’m used to the sun being a bit more present during the day. Of course there were months when it wasn’t bright outside as early or late, but I don’t believe it was ever like this. At the moment, I must admit it is a bit difficult to get moving in the morning because the sun doesn’t show itself until nearly 9:00 am. While the days are beginning to get longer now, and the sun stays out until about 4:30 pm, the evenings still seem long. Just think, though, in a few short months I get to look forward to days that go from about 4:00 am until 11:00 pm again. I know there are many places in the world where this is the case, but it’s new to me, and it has taken some adjustment.

Home – That’s nearly enough for now, but I’ll mention one final thing that caught me off guard in moving to Ireland. I had no idea how quickly this place would become home. I don’t know how long I’ll be here, but I do know that if I leave, a part of me will stay behind. I will always love Ireland with its quirks and even its frustrations. This is my home for as long as God will allow it be!

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That One Time in Uzbekistan

On the road from Termez to Tashkent. (The way back was uneventful.)

Somewhere in Uzbekistan

Having been to nearly 30 countries in the last 20 years, I’ve got a fair number of fun stories I can tell. Who knows, maybe my next book will be a book of fun stories – assuming I write another one… When I think of crazy overseas stories, though, there is one that always comes to mind first: The trip from Tashkent to Termez, Uzbekistan during my first trip to Afghanistan.

It was just before Christmas in 2002, and I was part of a team of 7 heading into Northern Afghanistan to work with a development organization for 2 months. Since the town we would be going to was only 3-4 hours from the border of Uzbekistan, we flew into Tashkent, spent a couple of days there, traveled in taxis to Termez (the border town), spent the night, and crossed the border the next day before getting taxis to our temporary home… Sounds easy, right?

Depending on how much you’ve traveled in Central Asia – or anywhere in the third world – you may see several steps in that process that could go terribly wrong. Flights were delayed, we were stranded for a day in Seoul, S. Korea on the way to Tashkent, and extra fees were charged in airports because of the delays, but finally we arrived in Tashkent. I had been there for a couple of months earlier in the year, so we found our housing and met up with our hosts fairly easily. The time in Tashkent went well, and surely the worst was behind us.

WRONG!

Our Uzbek host in Tashkent arranged our transportation to Termez. He would meet us and the driver, send us on our way, and then we would meet up with someone else at the guesthouse. It seemed simple enough, but then again we were in the part of the world where things are rarely “simple”.

Though he was asked SEVERAL times, our host would not give us the address of our destination in Termez. Instead, he assured us repeatedly that our drivers knew where they were going. And yes, I said drivers… Instead of the van we had asked for, we would be traveling in 3 taxis. Don’t worry, though; the drivers know to stay to together. No problem.

So, off we went. Thankfully, we had 3 men on the team, and so each car had a man to accompany us ladies. Because there were only 2 of us in my car, the rest of the back seat was loaded with luggage. (Remember that bit of info for later in the story.) The ride was meant to be about 9 hours, plus time to stop for lunch along the way, so even with the fact that we left about an hour after our scheduled departure time, we were in decent shape.

As you may imagine, our cars were separated before we even got out of the city. For the rest of the drive we kept our eyes peeled for cars that looked like those carrying our team mates. And we did see them once. It was at the top of the mountain pass we had to cross, and there were many cars there. Several were stuck, and several (including ours) had to be pushed to move over a particularly nasty patch of ice. I still look back at that and thank the Lord we didn’t slide off the mountain. ๐Ÿ™‚ By the time we traversed that bit of craziness, the other cars were long gone, not to be seen again for far too many hours.

There were a couple of stops along the way. One, a brief stop in Samarkand so our driver could buy bread, (which he was kind enough to share bits of with us since we had no money to buy our own). Another was at a tea/coffee shop where our driver bought the 3 of us coffee. I choked down the bitter but sweet concoction very aware that I was the only female in the building that wasn’t serving the drinks. (Aside from the piece of bread and the cup of coffee, my friend and I shared a 1.5 litre bottle of water and a snickers bar during the trip.)

After approximately 12 hours in the car, thanks to the snowy mountain pass traffic jam and extremely dense fog for many miles, we finally arrive on the outskirts of Termez. Praise the Lord! Unfortunately, this is the moment where our situation goes from bad to worse. Our taxi driver, who speaks only Russian, looks at the guy on my team and asks “Where to?” (I recognized the question only because of my previous visit to Uzbekistan.)

We showed our driver the paper we had with the name of the organization we were to work with hoping that he would know where the guesthouse was they typically used. He was unfamiliar with the group, and so he took us to the Red Crescent Society – the equivalent of the Red Cross in that part of the world. By this time it was after 9pm, and they could not help us. We drove around the town for quite sometime, everyone in the car becoming more desperate as time wore on.

Finally, he drove us outside of town to the UN compound. At least there would be someone there who could speak English, and so a spark of hope was kindled. We were invited in, given tea, and a call was made to the police. All vehicles coming into town were stopped at checkpoints, and the idea was that perhaps we could track down the other cars through that avenue – especially if they had given an address.

The head of the UN offered us beds (for a price, of course), but I couldn’t leave the rest of the team with no word of our whereabouts – especially since the occupants of one of the other cars were my parents and I knew they were freaking out! ๐Ÿ™‚ And so, off we went again, this time with a new passenger, a young Uzbek UN worker with a crush on me… Thankfully I didn’t find that out until later in our adventures. (This is where it becomes important to remember that 1/2 to 2/3 of the backseat was filled with stuff. The car was now quite crowded!)

We drove around town a while longer, stopping occasionally at various locations to check one thing or another. Honestly, I’m not really sure what happened during these stops because as a girl, I was told to stay in the car at all times. I do know that, at each place with a telephone, a call was made to the sister of our young UN friend, who spoke English. During these calls, the phone would be passed back and forth between my friend, the driver, and the young man so that the sister could translate conversations for them.

Finally, we ended up at the home of our young friend. We met his sister, and were given some small snacks and probably some more tea while he called back to the UN to see if there had been any new information discovered. Lo and behold, they had tracked down the other cars, and we had an address! As we began to make our way outside to pile into the car one last time, the young lady who had been so helpful began to ask if I was married or had a boyfriend because her brother… I made my apologies that I really needed to be on my way, and while I am very grateful for all of their help, I didn’t think it would work out. I must find and talk to my parents, after all!

At long last, we were reunited with the rest of the team at midnight! 15 hours, very little food or drink, a LOT of praying, and quite an adventure later, we were where we were supposed to be.

Come to find out, the other cars, though they had been separated most of the day, arrived in town at about the same time. They connected at the checkpoint and were able to figure out fairly quickly where to take their passengers – though they had not been given the address either. They arrive at the guesthouse not too long before we pulled into town and began the craziness. They stood outside for a while, hoping that we might happen by. (They assumed that since their drivers didn’t know where to go, that ours would not either.)

Unfortunately, they had moved inside to wait, worry, and pray mere minutes before we pulled up at the Red Crescent Society, ACROSS THE STREET from the guesthouse!

Though not the most fun I had ever had at the time, this will probably always be one of my favorite stories. God was good, and protected us, not to mention the lessons I learned in the process. Lessons such as, if possible, never get into a taxi without knowing the destination, always make sure you have at least a small amount of currency for wherever you are, always have the personal contact number of SOMEONE, and always find the fun in every situation, even the unscheduled adventures! ๐Ÿ™‚

A Change in the Wind, Says I…

Yesterday at church my pastor was sharing about the “Wind of God”, and how it often brings change, movement, and discomfort… Lately, He has been visiting my house with nearly hurricane force winds. I have 2 roommates, who also rank high on the list of my best friends, and these winds of change are blowing through all of our lives and taking us in very different directions. There is a lot of transition, and it is definitely uncomfortable!

As I began to clear out some of my belongings to make it easier to pack up my life and move in the next several months, reality began to hit hard. At times I get so excited about moving forward that I can hardly breath for the anticipation that swells in my chest. However, this past weekend I became aware that for every ounce of excitement and anticipation I feel about this move, I possess an equal amount of fear.

Fear is a strong word, but I have yet to think of better one. Oh, I’m not afraid of traveling by myself, flying, or even having some unexpected adventures along the way. (I’ve been to at least 28 countries, lived in Afghanistan, and have some fun stories I could tell.) And yet, I am afraid. It has taken me a while to figure out why, but I think I have finally found my answer… In my previous travels, I have almost always had a support system wherever I was going, certainly on the extended trips/moves. When I moved to Afghanistan, my brother’s family was there too.

This time is different because I am moving alone. But I’m friendly and outgoing, and I’ll meet people there, so it should be no big deal… Right? And now to my great fear: what if they don’t like me? What if I am not accepted in this place that I am called to? For an extrovert/verbal processor like myself, the options are to either find friends or go insane. Suddenly packing up my life and moving across the pond seems a bit more intimidating, even than moving to Afghanistan once did.

When I moved to Central Asia, I expected the culture shock that comes with learning a foreign language and way of life. The first time someone asked me if I was from the United States, I wondered if it was safe to admit that the answer was yes. (This was about 2 years after 9/11/2001.) And yet, I was welcomed with open arms by everyone I talked to. I was there to help, and they were grateful.

Now, as I look forward to my move to the Republic of Ireland and travels around the UK, I wonder about my response to my new surroundings. I’m going to another western nation, so I expect fewer cultural differences. However, sometimes those places are more difficult because there are the differences you never expect to encounter. I also wonder about the response I will get as I meet people. My roommates and I thoroughly enjoy BBC television and movies, and while I realize that the television/movies of that region probably represent the average residents about as well as Hollywood represents me (read “not at all”), a common portrayal of Americans in their entertainment is the loud, obnoxious, crude, and/or uncultured buffoon. Is that truly the perception I face as I travel there? I hope not.

Whatever the case, I know that God has opened this door for me to go to this part of the world that I love (though I’ve only ever visited the region once before). I also know that when He opens a door, He will take care of the details. It’s true that I don’t have family or friends in Ireland yet, but I trust that they are there and it will be fun to meet them when the time comes. ๐Ÿ™‚

Thanks for reading about my (most likely irrational) fear. Sharing it with you has lessened the weight of it, and I am now feeling a rise in excitement again for the things that God has in store for me during the months to come!