Lost in Translation

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Jun 19, 2013
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Just some reflections on how my first semester abroad was.
Sorry for wall of text.

In our little country I am used to having most things. My house, my dog, my family, my friends, my money. And if there is something I need, I can always require it somewhere. I am a good citizen, I pay my taxes, I vote Labour Party and I segregate the waste for a greener and brighter future. I have higher education, I contribute to the country's GNP and I contribute to the society. I have always been a winner, but I have worked hard for it. My dad was Captain for our team's A-team at the age of 16, I did not want to be any worse. I never became Captain and did not play for the A-team until several years after. But I was chosen for the City-team, the Region-team and the State-team at the age of 13. One of the best stories is from Dana Cup, Europe's biggest football cup located in Denmark. In short, Lokomotiv Moscow had won all their matches. We met them in the semi-finals and beat them 1-0, I was assist on that winning goal.

I was also 5 times National Karate Champion. I won my first championship after I graduated for my first belt and after that I had a wonderful time as an martial artist. The saddest moment was when I announced I was resigning as a karate-ka. It was after my last Championship and the Grandmaster, a small 75 year old agile Japanese, approached me. He wrote my name in Kanji on my karate gi, and his name and blessing on my obi. I was honoured with his blessing.

I used to play the guitar, in fact I was in a few bands too. I even received a musician's scholarship from the Nordic Music Council. I do not play any more, after I damaged my hand the coordination and reaction makes it impossible to play like I used to.

I was popular, I had a lot of friends. Typically the cool ones stayed with the cool, the accepted ones with the accepted, and the nerds, weirdos and losers stayed away. I do not know why, but for some reason I had the “ability” to traverse these classifications in Junior High, without being ridiculed. In High School everything changed, the classifications where blurred and different kinds of pupils became friends. For me nothing really changed, it is like when someone asks me why I have so many friends on Facebook, I simply answer because they are my friends.

This far I have had a good life in our little country, so now what? It has become a little boring, it is the same routines everyday and I do not want to be stuck in this system at the tender age of 25. Also, I am exhausted of being constantly on the offensive, being the leader of the pack, walking among the elite. I do not want to change, but develop my personality, who I am and widen my understanding. It is when I meet new people I can develop my compassion and identity. Putting myself out there is the most decisive factor to influence my existential knowledge as a human being.
I land in this new place, this new city without the slightest hint of a welcome, or maybe there was and I did not registrate it. I am peaceful, it is peaceful. I am still tired from sleeping on the plane. I grab my luggage and head to the exit. So where do I go, where is the “nothing to declare exit”? There is something written, but there is only one door. There is a young man dressed in cammo and at ease like a soldier. I approach him and ask him where I am supposed to go. The soldier replies in a foreign manner I do not understand. I shrug at him, at least it is a manner he understands. He points to the exit, I point to the one and only door. He says something again, I still do not understand him, so I just smile at him and drag my luggage towards the door. Poor guy, he did not speak, probably because he did not have sufficient education, but then again it does not require much to be a guard. Now, having crossed to the other side, I realised how small this airport was. After withdrawing some domestic currency, I was, with just a few steps, outside hailing a taxi. I had prepared for this, written Jana Matejki on a post-it note and I spoke to the driver and he immediately understood where I wanted to go.

My destination turned out to be this tall and wide building. Not far from what Google Maps had showed me. In the reception I was met by two old guards and an old woman. I was hoping everything would run smoothly, because they could speak to me in a way I could understand, or at least that what my coordinator had told me. It turned out only the woman could speak, and very poorly. Instead of the 10 quick minutes I was hoping for, a 45 minute game of thousand questions started. Everything from who I was, if my name was on their list to what my parents did for a living and so on. Finally I got the key to my room at the 10th floor. It turned out it was two separated rooms sharing toilet, bathroom and kitchen. My room had a closet, a night table and a desk. The bed was so hard that the floor seemed soft in comparison. Prison cells back home have a higher standard. I was new here, in this place, this city and this country, so I did not idle long. I needed food, so I went down to the reception asking where I could get food. The woman spoke while pointing in one direction, putting emphasis on “go left”. That was some explanation, I had no idea where I was and she tells me to “go left”. Luckily I had studied the map of this place, so I knew where to find the main road. On the main road I turned left and started walking. After five minutes I could see a Tesco-sign. I knew that shop, so I went there hoping it would be open. I did not buy too much, just enough to keep me alive for the next few days. I did not even know how much it would cost or if I even had enough money. It does not get any easier when I have discalculia. It is similar to dyslexia in a way, but I have problems with operating and understanding numbers. Back home everything is expensive, so I always bring more than enough money or my Visa. To my relief I had enough money and upon closer comparison, the same amount of money would not get me more than one bread and some milk back home.

The next day I woke up tired, my back was hurting from the bed and the sun was shining through the curtainless window. I got up, showered and ate breakfast. I was told not to drink the tap water because of the high chloride percentage. In comparison, back home the water is naturally clean and processed without chemicals. The tap water is so pure they actually add flavour to it, without it would actually not have any taste. I sat around for maybe a couple of hours, being excited about being in a new and different place. The room being empty and me having nothing except my luggage, health insurance and passport. Later the other room was being occupied. I now had a room mate. I went over there, knocked on the door, introduced myself to the five persons standing there, trying to distinguish who actually lived here. As we got to know each other, I learned that this was their second year here, so they were already seasoned. They decided to show me around the city so we went down to the main street, by tram of course. Now on daytime there was so many people outside. I had not experienced a crowed street like this since our Constitution Day and the common holiday in the Capital. I remember commenting on the tram's condition, my room mate told me the old trams were even worse, so they were happy for the EU improvements here. Down on the main street we walked and walked. It felt for ages while my room mate and the entourage told me what to see, what clubs to party in and where to eat. Later we sat down at this local restaurant, because they wanted to introduce me to the local cuisine. By the looks of it, it was soup with sausage and a bun on the side. Even to this day I am not completely sure what was in that soup, I do not think I want to know either, but at least ignorance tasted good.

The next week I was invited to play futsal, it was great. I had not played football for almost half a year. The first half an hour was spent getting into the game, getting to know my team mate's abilities and reading the opponents. It is probably one of the most beautiful things about team sports, it does not matter who you are or where you are from. On the field we are equal, we have the same goals, the same enemy and the enemy has the same struggles as us. These players were not highly skilled in the art of football, but I could see that some of them had definitely played before. The game was a whole lot of fun. I may not look like much and even appear feeble to some, but I still scored 8, so half of all our goals. I was content and the others impressed. That night was also El Classico, so we went to this sports bar to drink and enjoy the sports arrangement on TV. Football-stars are the modern gladiators, whether they hail from Latin-America, Africa or Europe, they are the base of an unique common interest and a common dialogue regardless of skin colour or geographical boundaries. It brings people together in happy or sad emotions.

A couple of days later we got a new room mate assigned to my room. It was early in the morning, I was asleep, naked, when our new friend entered with family and luggage. I was so tired, I barely managed to cover myself up, stretching out my hand to greet them. Later that day, we learned that our new room mate was Hungarian and had the choice of either moving in with some Angolian who spoke very poorly or to move in with us. The choice was obvious, because Scandinavian countries starts to learn the lingua franca in the first year of school and communicating with us would be so much easier. The Hungarian also spoke the common language, which helped me a lot in understanding everything about this place. Everything from shopping and ordering tram tickets to understanding the currency value and drinking habits became so much clearer. I do not know much about the language here, but what I do understand is that when I speak it, I speak with a very clear dialect, which is rather impressive to most locals. I still have that problem with money and currency value here. I always wondered why the cashiers seemed so angry when I did not pay the exact amount in coins instead of paying them with notes. But I got it explained that they wanted more coins for exchange rather then notes, and that they did not like to break notes. Back home the cashiers are more than happy to take your money, especially if it is notes, and paying with Visa is met with a smile that says “yes please”. My roomie used to laugh at me calling me a tourist, spending so much money on clothes, food and alcohol. But when my scholarship was three times the Hungarian per month, I did not mind being kind to my roomie at all. Sometimes my brain would get stuck in “my homecountry's high prices”-mode and I would bring lots of cash. I cannot count all the times I have bought shots and drinks to get us drunk. Usually it has ended with me getting drunk enough for the both of us and later falling asleep on top of my bed with my shoes and all my clothes on. The next day was usually followed by me in super good shape and my roomie hungover enough for the both of us, so I always get the last laugh. Good friends make life worth it's while, but it is so easy to forget where you are and who you are. When you can spend lots of money without your wallet suffering, it is easy to become a bit arrogant questioning everyone else's behaviour and forgetting yourself. It is like the time we went to the Capital city with its huge monumentalistic buildings and the Palace of Culture. One the first day I was wearing my Che Guevara t-shirt and I got a lot of strange looks. Truth is, I totally forgot that this is a former communist country, but people at the National Museum seemed excited about it. I guess we are even since they had a 2mx4m poster of the terrorist Anders Behring Brevik. I also learned that the man which our street was named after was a painter.

A few days later we got a new room mate, a 17 year old Belarusian the size of a small tractor. The Belarusian spoke very poorly, but could speak the common language and communicated with us through my roomie. The new room mate brought new problems to our establishment, like frequently playing loud music and inviting friends over to drink. The problems was not that the friends came to visit, it was more that they stayed for 15 minutes and then the left and came back. Most of these friends were either Belarusian or Russian, coming and going as they pleased. I come from a place of peace and quiet, where people respects other's boundaries and visiting hours, so I told our new room mate this had to end as it was annoying when everyone else were reading and preparing for classes. I do not know if the Belarusians and Russian understood the concept, but this front descended into locking the door. My containment politics were a great success, except the number of people constantly knocking on our door. “There must be some kind of way out of here”, said the Norwegian to the Finnish. “There is so much confusion, I cannot get any relief”. And with these magical words we moved out of Gulag Matejki. We found a newly refurbished flat, expensive in the domestic currency, but to us it was some extremely cheap 40 sq. m. We now live behind the Opera like royalty, though I still feel a little bad for leaving the Hungarian behind, even though we visit Gulag Matejki and the Hungarian visit us in Paradise from time to time.

My parents came to visit me once. They have travelled a lot and also been to the more famous cities in this country. It looked like they enjoyed their stay and the things they saw here. My mum went on a shopping spree on crystal and paintings, and my dad was happily amused by the prices he had to pay for dinner each night. For all three of us the same amount would be barley enough for one person eating at a restaurant back home. My dad is also a teacher, it saddened him that these young people working in shops and restaurants spoke so poorly or did not speak at all. I do agree, it is a shame really, being in the EU and all. When I went home for the Christmas holiday, it was like stepping into a different world. Everything was nice and dandy, the standard of things were so much higher, but so were the prices. One of the best things about coming home to my little country is our food, our drinks and our language. However, when I met my friends it seemed like time had stopped or had moved very, very slowly. Like nothing had changed. Everything was like normal. I wanted to feel like I belonged, like I was no longer an outsider. Having two very different homes, is like having two different hearts. One longs for Paradise and one longs for home. Standing at the border, with one leg on each side, friends think they can see me, but they do not know who I am. I am different, they are the same.

Having lived in this new country for half a year, it feels like in the movie when they are lying in bed and Charlotte says “let's never come here again, because it would never be as much fun”. To an extent I agree. This little big city actually has its wonders and mysteries. This place is fun when you are really looking. But right now I feel stuck in this city. Like with everything, I guess it gets easier. Even more so, when I get to experience more about myself and others. Paradoxically it feels like the more I change the less I feel. I know what I want to be, but as knowledge and experience shape the outcome of my future, I feel less about it. Were things not supposed to feel differently? Like the feeling of accomplishment, that I actually saw this through? But the burden is not lifted from my shoulders, it is still there. But the weight is inverted, instead I have pillows under my arms to protect me from everything outside this bubble. It feels like walking in a field of cactus. Everywhere there are thorns that wants to burst my protective bubble. In this field I have to catch myself if the thorns decides to pierce through my world, my everything. And like this movie nothing progresses, yet everything does, but so slowly you could not tell. Like the fleeting moment in a wink of an eye. It is indeed a fine line to balance between what is real and what is unreal, to distinguish the dead from the living.

The truth hurts, the world is a hard and lonely place. It is like everything I see is a false reality. It is like Big Brother, the Matrix or whatever you want to call it. While I am watching the others, they are watching me, all the time. Your eyes can deceive you, so do not trust them. It seems to get harder to distinguish reality from the illusions people makes for us and the ones we make for ourselves. But maybe it's part of the plan, to make me think I'm crazy. It is not working, yet.

When I venture into this country, I put myself at risk by partly losing control over the moment. What happens between us happens, because it is based on mutual trust. This relation we create, cannot be created in a vacuum, both you and me have to participate. Reality is created by us and we participate without acquiring it or owning it. When I can only offer my mutual trust, I do it with a moral responsibility. Independent of how I perceive or am perceived, it will affect me in a profound way. Because I am touched at my inner core, these kinds of realised ethics will not be predetermined based on rules, habits or etiquette. I simply have to find a way with myself as the ultimate sacrifice.

Amongst many things I am a teacher, philologist, historian, physician and nutritionist back home.
In Norway I am lot of things, but here in Poland I am just a guy who nie mowie po polsku...

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