Friday, October 28, 2011

cool linguistic discovery of the day

Last night I watched a (fantastic) film called No Man's Land and it's mostly in Serbo-Croatian. There are a lot of shared words between it and Romanian so as I was watching I'd catch words I'd understand, all ones with Slavic roots.

One of them was
bezna, which in Romanian means complete darkness, the kind where you can't see anything, pitch black, no light at all. DEX tells me that figuratively it means something like ignorance. But of course! And I heard the word in a context where there was clearly some underlying shared sense, so I looked it up and it turns out the word means meaningless.

Once again, but of course! We see that in words like
lucid. So the same kind of thing is happening not only in Latin, in languages rooted there, but also in Slavic-based languages.

I'm thinking of John 1:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. There was a man sent from God whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all might believe. He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world." (bolding mine)

So we see how our languages reflect this--that light represents something life-giving and darkness maybe a lack of that. Let's say the word here (Jesus) does what regular words do for us everyday: they reveal meaning. Jesus reveals God, comes down to earth as a man and we start to understand what this God is all about, Jesus as friend, as savior, defender of the poor, as the just one who will make all things right (this being very far from an exhaustive list). And life, the light of all mankind.

I wonder then if all our languages don't point to this reality: that meaning (perhaps by extension, our purpose) and life are bound in this Father of heavenly lights, that without him, there isn't any. (That reference comes from this baller verse: "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." James 1:17) I wonder if maybe on some level we know this, intrinsically.

Well then, maybe it's just common sense, but that doesn't that bring us back to the question of where that common sense comes from? And what makes it true? And by extension the whole old argument about where our sense of right and wrong comes from? Of course that opens the doors to relative morality and a whole slew of questions. Good conversation--by the way, Tim Keller's book _The Reason For God_ is great if you're interested in that. So is Mere Christianity (C. S. Lewis).

Anyway, the point I'm getting to is that I think this sort of thing is in us already, this idea of the light being related to meaning and life. And if we recognize that, I wonder if it's not worth asking where it came from.

Thursday, October 27, 2011


This from rereading Perelandra this past week:

"As he stood looking down on her, what was most with him was an intense and orphaned longing that he might, if only for once, have seen the great Mother of his own race thus, in her innocence and splendor. 'Other things, other blessings, other glories,' he murmured. 'But never that. Never in all worlds, that. God can make good use of all that happens. But the loss is real."

And this (instrumental), from one of the soundtracks I love:

They both remind me of the other.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

wherein i drop a little girl on her head

I've been around families a lot since I've been in Romania, especially in Pitesti. It's a change, for sure, especially after four years of college where everyone was around my age or older. Not a lot of families, certainly no kids and mostly just young people. But here I get to hang out a good deal with my pastor's kids, four of them and all under ten.

Here's another change: things feel like they're falling in place. There's a settled feeling. I'm doing my job and am able to be involved way more now, am learning an enormous amount. My kitchen feels like my kitchen (I think it's because I finally own some cooking utensils, mostly a spatula that assists in making fantastic omelets) and I feel like a grown-up when I'm in it. The truth is that I've been doing this for five or six years now, living on my own and feeding myself and paying all my bills--being an adult. I don't know why it should suddenly feel more like it now. Anyway, there's another aspect to it.

It's being around all these kids, these families. My peer group is now not just college students and singles but families and little kids. And there's a maternal side that's been coming out that I was afraid for a long time I was just too awkward to have. But there it is, and the other night I was at a birthday party for the most charming, wonderful five-year-old you've ever met. And while playing with them, I started dancing with his four-year-old sister.

You should know that their floor is hardwood. Or some kind of hardwood mimicker with a very slippery surface which makes dancing quite fun if you're little and someone bigger is spinning you. Or if you're bigger and you're sliding across playing bowling for little kids. (Kidding, but that could be fun, no? I know a certain nine-year-old who'd love it, especially if you were really good at missing but almost not.) Anyway, we're dancing and I'm spinning her, and all of a sudden she slips. Didn't think this one ahead very well. My hand was around her wrist so I had to let go of it or else it would have twisted and, I don't know, very possibly could have broken. So I let go (right hand) and with my right hand (no idea what my left hand was doing, probably just hanging there forgetting it existed) grabbed the upper part of her other arm, the higher one. And I have no idea how the physics of this are even possible, but she somehow managed to pivot around her other arm and fall in a way that gravity took no part in and then land on her head.

I tried to look ha-ha surprised so she wouldn't cry (look at those dance moves!) and she didn't but mostly because her mom rushed in and saved the day. So I say to these settling down feelings, this playing mom and wondering if I'll have a handful of boys one day (just wrote that 'wonday'--ohf, my brain), to the 'logical next step': okay, but I'm watching you. Sometime, not now, but sometime. You are good preparation, and for that I appreciate you--I'd like to not drop anymore kids on their head, if I have the choice, but I guess even that's good practice.

For now, though, it's nice just to be around other people's families. And not to have to worry about the logistics of getting to the point where mine might happen. Just being now, an awesome job and friends and good community, watching that turkey of a five-year-old and his brother and sisters light up the room.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

quite possibly the best thing i've read all week

"I love how people who are having babies describe it as 'expecting.' Gives an air of uncertainty.
'We're expecting a baby but it could be a velociraptor.'"
--source unknown (meaning it's probably a meme floating around the internet--anyway, awesome awesome awesome)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

fall in my sweet carolina

About this time, I'd be on a haybed being pulled behind a tractor, all the straight lines and clear carrying voices of fall in the rural South. We'd be at Mike's Farm--with Nicole, maybe, Alicia, a few others--and there'd be teenagers in hoodies laughing loudly, kids from local high schools dressed up to jump out and scare you as part of the ride. The sudden breath in the cold, a white half-gone shock of a breath, and then empty sky above the trees.

At Mike's Farm, when we were kids and went there on field trips, we made apple cider from apples we helped gather. That one time I nearly stepped on a snake. Hayrides, a haunted theme for Halloween and the Christmas light show all through December. That's what I remember--lights in the dark and cold air that cuts, that wakes you up from the inside, a whole throng of ten-year-olds with red noses.

It feels like fall now here. It is fall, but it feels like it too. I walk home from the sediu at night and if I closed my eyes, I could almost be there. It's different in the city, though. One thing I've appreciated since coming here from Bucuresti is that it's smaller, it's slower, there's more of an open feeling. But it's still not the country. It's not the hard frosted earth, it's sidewalk.

Fall is so much more of a physical season, I think. Surely you'll think of summer as being the most physical--you're outside, you're playing volleyball, you go to the beach, but the heat blurs things. Makes you hazy. You're there and you're not there, a sort of half-awake dream under the thick blanket of humidity. Spring wakes you back up, but it's a slow thawing and you start off numb, the coming-alive part the kind you look back and realize. But fall--those edged cold nights, close enough to summer to feel like reprieve, to wake you up from its sleep, and not cold enough to close yourself inside from it.

Something about being here: I miss being able to walk at night, to go outside and walk out my thoughts. You're outside, but there's a half-inside, constantly public feeling of it when you've got blocs rising up on both sides. I miss going down to the south end of Wrightsville and walking barefoot on the cold sand, hearing the whole expanse of the ocean rushing up to the shore, a sound you can see in the darkness. Space to think and pray. Even just space.

I keep coming back to this: leaning against a dune at night, burying my feet in the sand to keep warm, a whole stretch of the world we live on. A place you know and don't know, that's yours and utterly not yours, so much bigger than you. Room for thoughts and prayers and conversations to float up. Get stuck up there above you. Or how they blaze above you at the fair--you're all at the fair these days--red and yellow and music and shouting and the wheeling of the tilt-o-whirl, somebody eating a caramel apple or a fried Snickers bar.

Hard ground, the way hay feels under your feet, the way the air makes you want to jump and run and laugh loudly, alive.

Oh my sweet Carolina
What compels me to go
Oh my sweet disposition
May you one day carry me home.
--Ryan Adams

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

limba romana, for lack of a better title

Since we're on a language-related roll...

Last night those of us on the coordinating team for OSCPi (said something like ohs-che-pee) had a meeting on Skype, mostly to do with the budget and other related financial things. And I don't think I've ever done anything harder in Romanian. Add to the fact that you're discussing a topic which is already generally a stressful one and do it without being able to see the people and in not-your-language, and you surely have yourself a task. One in which you will become very agitated very quickly.

But this isn't to complain about the language or to bemoan the fact that I wasn't bam! fluent in two months. Rather, I've observed some surprising things happening with regard to it and its effects on my equal parts stimulated and turned-to-toast brain.

Since I've been in Pitesti it's been all Romanian all the time. Over the summer more of my work was with fund raising and conferences, most of the students being gone, so except for a few weeks at camp or at church, I spoke mostly in English. Three months of plateau. But then here, no more American family, no more English with the roommate. However, a curious thing happened in September at Formacion.

I always expected that when you finally get to the point where you can communicate only (or 90+%) in another language, after a full day or week of it, you'd have a strange relationship with your own language. By that I mean that there'd be some gap, some lack--I'm missing it completely. I thought it would feel different to be totally in another language in some way I'm failing to explain at the moment--imagine speaking yours and everything is green, but speaking theirs everything is red. But I realized it really doesn't. The thing is, for so long this language was (and barely) just in my head. It never made it to my heart. It felt removed, dry meaning filtered from significance in the deeper sense. And then suddenly it occurred to me that now that I can finally do it, being all in Romanian feels exactly the same as all in English. Which raises lots of questions to be asked and addressed later.

Anyway, since being here, it's like a switch has been flipped on--there are off days, for sure, stumbling through halty sentences, and bah! What's the word? Want to guess how many times I've said n-am inteles, ever :) ? But then there are good days, or rather, good parts of the day, and it feels like I get to participate in some dance I'd only been watching. Imagine an ensemble all dancing together, fluid and graceful, one big movement seen from above, and I get to be part of that, an arm or a leg of a body.

That said, for those who love to laugh, there's plenty cause. A few of many mistakes as of late:

--"Am scorat!" I wanted to say that I'd scored. Cat e scorul means 'what's the score,' so I figured, well if it's a cognate, borrowed, anything like that, it should go as the verb as well! Nope.
--Porumbel, porumb, porunca. Pigeon, corn and commandment and I never get them straight. You can imagine.
--When you meet somebody, the proper thing to say is imi pare bine which literally means 'it seems well to me' but is something like 'pleased to meet you.' Without thinking, Sarawr the Dinosaur said imi pare rau: 'it seems bad to me,' or basically I'm sorry.

The worst though has come from the lack of spoken English. If I'm by myself, I think out loud, and after spending a whole day only speaking Romanian, a strange thing happens to the way sentences are formed. Basically they keep their English structure for the most part. But I always substitute Romanian verbs (I would love to know why this happens). However, since we like to -ing everything (see what I did there?) (I'm doing homework, I'm eating eggs) instead and Romanians do homework and eat eggs, you get sentences like this: I'm fac-ing homework acum (I'm do-ing homework now). Except fac is pronounced something like fock, so you see the predicament.

And also, I've come to realize that if you learn these, used in abundance here, you can do practically anything: a face, a da, ma, to do, to give and something kind of like yo or man. We'll make a verb out of any noun (I'm vacuuming the living room), but here, if you just put a da in front of it, you're good (dau cu aspiratorul). And ma, well I don't know that it's quite as useful grammatically as the other two, but you do hear it every five seconds :)

Anyway, always an adventure.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

more language: american dream

Sort of in the same vein as the post about Turkish. This song, actually, to me is really sad. A lot of the Romanian music I like usually is. Just as an aside, for this reason I like good hiphop, I like how it's political, its observations of the state of things, its social commentary. True for this as well.

Anyway, here are some verses and their translations from the song below. (Full lyrics here.)

Acum nu te mai duci la munca, te duci la job
You don't go to work anymore, you go to the job

Nu mai avem cartiere naspa, avem ghetou
Raperii au flow, sunt underground yo
Totul este cool, nimic nu e misto
We don't have crappy neighborhoods anymore, we have the ghetto
Rappers have flow, they're underground, yo
Everything is cool, nothing's misto*

Tre' sa fii in trend, altfel nu e de gluma
"Is this the life" nu suna asa bine-n romana
You gotta be in trend, otherwise (?)
'Is this the life' doesn't sound as good in Romanian

So if you go through both you see that half the song is English (if a little bit Romanianized) and so it is with how people talk. I mean, I suppose it's exaggerated if you're talking about regular conversation with young people. But there are so many borrowed words that you really can talk like this. And is it really Romanian? Some kind of weird hybrid?

I like to watch how languages evolve, I like to think about how English is changing. It's fun, it's interesting. But I'll admit that the Romanian in this song is not pretty the way the language normally is. Whether it's really changing that much, I have no idea. The sixteen-year-old I share a room with doesn't talk like this (although she doesn't know English either). Nor do most people I know.

But then I don't think that's really the entire point of the song. And there's a ton that could be said about it. Maybe I'll write about that soon... Anyway, a large part seems to be summed up here:

I can be what I want to be
Losing my dignity**
Cause I gotta lot of life in me
Let me live my American dream

*from what I understand, misto actually comes from the language Gypsies speak?
**sounds more like they're saying vanity to me, but all the lyrics I read say dignity

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

multi ani inainte

I had a whole twenty three things I haven't done yet but would love to do one day post planned for my birthday last month, but never really got around to finishing it. There's a list with five things hanging out somewhere in my drafts here that I'm hoping to add to, with time.

Just about thirteen months ago now, someone wished me happy birthday and they said, just think, next birthday you'll be celebrating in Romania. And I hoped, I really hoped so, but I wasn't sure. This birthday I was in the Bucegi mountains with forty students from all over this country singing La Multi Ani, celebrating it with the other four people who had birthdays that week. And in that week we ate a fish somebody caught with their hands in a river, told jokes about people from Oltenia (okay, I just listened), watched Jupiter rise above the mountain, prayed together, laughed at one skinny white Romanian do a spot-on impression of Michael Jackson ("What kind of music do you like?" "Well, Christian music... and Michael Jackson! I do impressions in my spare time!") and wondered at a whole lot of really wonderful things going on in our cities, at our faculties.

(And then I got to do it again with one baller family in Bucuresti :))

Here's a post to say: look how God answers prayers and look at how it is different than I thought it would, look how good a thing it was. We have a God who is great, my friends.

Below: three of us with birthdays. And cake, really good cake.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

"later: the face of prescriptive language??"

From "Turkish and Fakelish: Foreign terms and the words that replace them"

"The more enduring suspicion about the new language revolution was the accusation, voiced widely by the press in the wake of Atatürk’s death, that it had produced an “artificial and synthetic language.” The words that were suggested as substitutes, Lewis notes, were archaic words which had long fallen out of use in Turkish, or composites of ancient Turkic roots which were said to equivocate to undesirable Ottoman terms."


Faruk Kadri Timurtaş, a professor at İstanbul University and one of the most vocal opponents of language purism, spoke out against a language that he believed could not be categorized as Turkish any more than German nor considered any more natural than Esperanto. He pejoratively termed the new language uydurmacılık, or “fakelish,” declaring that the aim of the association was “to degenerate and ruin the language, to bring upon anarchy in our culture.” The most persistent argument of opponents to the TDK was that every language contains foreign words. “Every language has foreign elements, the only exception to this rule are the languages of the world’s most isolated tribes,” Timurtaş, declared in 1974."

Interesting stuff. By the way, the title comes from this most excellent comic:

Friday, October 7, 2011

(more) change

There are four drafts sitting in my Blogger now, each an attempt over the last three or so weeks to write about change. If I'd only guessed what was coming. But despite the unexpected, I'm finding myself settling in quickly and well, starting to love things about this small city.

And the truth is I love change--or, rather, I love big change. Every time I go to Subway (or wherever), I always get the same thing. Same-ness in the little things, creature of habit. But moving to another city, another continent? New language and weather and sky. New start, even. I wonder, now, how much that has to do with it. I moved so many times when I was little. Or maybe it's being able to look at all the same things in some new frame. The last night of Formacion, a handful of us stood in the dark below the mountain picking out the constellations and stars we knew. Vega, the double star in the Big Dipper, Andromeda, Pegasus. I don't know this sky, fall in Romania, half of it waiting to wheel from behind the mountain. But I know this piece, and this one, and standing there in the cold, so far north, I thought about the first time I saw the sky differently. Three years earlier, a balmy Colombian summer night, holding in my hand some things old, some things new.

And why not? I am a creature made new--"the old has gone, the new has come." And now everything looks different.


It is one of those nights. I want to run away with words. I want to get caught up in language and stay there for a few hours, but all the immediate and present are tethering me here on a bed which is not my own behind a borrowed closed door. And I'm praying now for patience and grace, mostly to not be so selfish. That's another thing about change: it pulls you apart, sprawls you, has no space for dark places. And in the end you find yourself piecing yourself back together with bits of the old and new, a patchwork of life made new again and again.

I am certain I'm in the right place--why here and not South America, not North Africa, I don't know that I'll ever know. And for how long? What of the next change? But even that changes. Now it looks like place: apartment, city, nation. But even it has its different faces. There's nothing but to see.

For now, all of this has got me firmly rooted in the moment. The trafficked girls we met with tonight. Trying to quiet the part of me that would make stolen milk into something much more bitter, the part of me that would use the word stolen. And I'm praying for change within myself toward grace and gentleness and love. But more, outside myself. Those girls tonight. And the students we've been praying for that we haven't even met yet. Bobociada on Thursday and the girls we'll be discipling. Sowing change, sewing it, having been stitched so together ourselves: something that will endure. Surely this is what you make of so many pieces from so many places.

Lord, help me to do it well.

Thursday, October 6, 2011


"This," she said, "I have always--at least, ever since I can remember--had a kind of longing for death."

"Ah, Psyche," I said, "have I made you so little happy as that?"

"No, no, no," she said. "You don't understand. Not that kind of longing. It was when I was happiest that I longed most. It was on happy days when we were up there on the hills, the three of us, with the wind and the sunshine... where you couldn't see Glome or the palace. Do you remember? The colour and the smell, and looking across at the Grey Mountain in the distance? And because it was so beautiful, it set me longing, always longing. Somewhere else there must be more of it. Everything seemed to be saying, Pysche come! But I couldn't (not yet) come and I didn't know where I was to come. It almost hurt me. I felt like a bird in a cage when the other birds of its kind are flying home."

--C. S. Lewis (Till We Have Faces)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


I realized I just posted, but I got on the computer this morning to check the magnitude of the earthquake we felt last night (5.1, article in English) and saw that I used you're instead of your in the previous title.


Can we blame that on Romanian? It messes with your head, speaking all the time in not-your-language. And especially if the grammar is really different, because then every once in a while the sentences in your own language come out in structured like the other language. And I find myself forgetting how to spell words sometimes.

Anyway, whoops, corrected. Can't believe that happened.

Monday, October 3, 2011

adventure or the circus, your pick

Sorry for the radio silence as of late. It's been a busy last few weeks between Formacion and preparing to move to Pitesti. And as of Saturday, I'm here now, but as per usual, life is a circus.

Saturday morning I left my apartment in Bucuresti, went to the Yorks' to pack everything in the car and move. The plan was to move into a garsoniera (studio apartment) because it was pretty cheap (except I wasn't sure how I felt about living alone and turns out it was in a really sketch neighborhood--not normally a big deal being used to that, but without roommates it's more problematic). It's a long story, but about ten minutes before we packed the last of the things in the car, we got a phone call saying the apartment was no longer available. Meaning, hey, I'm moving to Pitesti today but we're not exactly sure where.

So I stayed a night with the general secretary and his family and last night I brought myself along with all my stuff to another girl's apartment. However, I'm sharing a room (and a pull-out couch) with a sixteen-year-old girl. Anyway, I don't want to say too much because it's the internet but it's interesting already how God is working things. I'll say that she and I have similar backgrounds. And that I really wanted a room to myself--fellow introverts, you understand.

There's so much about this place that's perfect. All of it, really, except for sharing a bed and room with someone. I don't say this to complain, and not because beggars can't be choosers, but because I wonder what my God is doing, at what he is doing. And I already I'm being stretched, but this is a good thing. Difficult, I'm expecting, but in addition to the good things I'm thinking will come out of it are all the other awesome things about living here.

So there's that. Pitesti is nice so far. Completely different from Bucuresti (much smaller, for one). And student work begins tomorrow. Today I met up with a girl here and we walked around a bit, something like the calm before the craziness. And this morning I was reading my Bible--I've been in 1 Kings--and came across this (17:2-6):

"Then the word of the LORD came to Elijah: 'Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan. You will drink from the brook, and I have directed the ravens to supply you with food there.' So he did what the LORD had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook."

Pretty fitting, no? Our God surely provides. When we got the news Saturday morning, I don't know what it is but I felt really relieved. It's a good reminder that there are bigger things at work here than I can see.

And this is how these last stressful few days ended: