Thursday, September 30, 2010

ThE meSs of WorDS

I know our brain has an area that processes language, studying the human brain and psychology I should actually be able to name the side of the brain and the area- but I can't remember and I'm too lazy to look it up. (My grades are not a reflection of how well I actually learned something). It seems to me that my brain has a compartment, similar to a filing cabinet where any language other than English is shoved. And when a language I am learning leaks through my ears, my brain just unloads the entire filing drawer and I have to sort through all the bits of languages to find the word or phrase I'm looking for.


For example, tonight I was sitting on the bus and two gentleman came on, speaking Spanish. I somehow joined their conversation and spoke a little Spanish in reponse. As we began talking more and more, Swahili words began popping into my head. "No, 'jua' is Swahili for 'know'. Spanish is...." And then I would remember 'conozco.' Ugh!
And then, to say 'Good Night' I nearly told them in Amheric, which sounds similar to Spanish for "It's nothing" that would have been strange.

A few years ago, I was living with a family that spoke mostly Swahili. I was able to understand a lot more then than I do now. But, every Friday night I would attend a Spanish church service. I would spend the evening speaking Spanish to return to a house where Swahili was the language. I felt like I was loosing my mind for an hour each night!
And there have been times where I would be sitting on a bus, or in a room of people and suddenly some word or phrase of a language would just leap out of my mouth. I told someone this once and they asked if I had Touretts- and just to be clear, no I don't.
I just have too many languages in my head.

Here are some of the confusing things:

"si' in Spanish means yes.
"si" in Swahili is a prefix for 'not'.

"no" means no in English and Spanish.
"no" means 'is' in Amheric. So 'harif no' means 'is good'.

"De-na-der" is Amheric for 'good night.'
"De nada" is Spanish for 'it's nothing'

"Semy" is Amheric for 'name'
Similarly sound "semi" is Amheric for 'blue'
"Semi' is Thai for 'husband'.

"Kai" is Amheric for 'red'
"Kai" is Thai for chicken.

"mook" in Amheric means 'hot'
"muk muk" is Thai for 'much' or alot

"ow" is English for an expression of pain.
"ow" is Amheric for 'yes'

"dad" is English for Father
"dada" is Swahili for sister.

And these are just a few of the examples.
Not to mention when I'm trying to remember the Amheric word for something, one of the other three languages (Swahili, Thai or Spanish) is tossed out of the filing drawer and I'm forced to either stand, silently for two or more minutes, shuffling through my random papers or just say the word in English.
Thank goodness I can default back to English. I know it hinders me in becoming fluent in a language, but I feel much better to be understood than to say a puzzle-piece of a sentence with four different languages mixed in.

However, this also plays to my advantage, at times.
When I'm doing well in a language- such as when I was in Ethiopia for a month and I was getting better at communicating to people and understanding the language, Spanish flowed easier for me, as well.
I remember one afternoon when I took a walk by myself and these too-friendly Ethiopian boys wouldn't leave me alone. So I just pretended that I couldn't speak any English and spoke to them only in Spanish. I didn't invent any words, I really did speak Spanish to them. And I properly conjegated all my verbs and my sentences were properly structured. Why on earth would my Spanish improve after I had been in Ethiopia for a month?
Because I had spent time filing away the Amheric words, the Spanish was also neatly tucked away, and easily accessible.
After an hour of internally laughing at these boys who wouldn't give it up, they really wanted to talk to me, I finally said 'good bye' to them in English and blew my whole cover. We laughed for a while and they promised not to pester any more white visitors who might want some peace and quiet.

Some day I will fluently speak Amheric. And then I have to learn how to write in their different characters and alphabet. And hopefully, that will make Spanish and Swahili fall more into place, as well.
Until that time, I will continue to struggle with my messy box of bits of languages.

De-na-der
Buenos Noches
Usiku Njema
Ra-tree Sawat
Good Night

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Snap shots

I feel I should apologize, because these pictures really aren't very good. The lights are dimmed, so with my camera I have to choose between grainy, darker photos, or too bright of pictures when using a flash.

This is the dining area- almost all of the chairs, except the two in the corner of the photo, have been re-covered with a beautiful brown design. When I tell people Biruk and his cousin re-covered them all by themselves they are surprised. Then, if I happen to mention the new coverings are actually from tablecloths, they don't believe me. They did a great job- the chairs are beautiful!


Above are some water pipes (or hookas, or shisha pipes, whatever you prefer to call them) and the next photo, still above, is the shisha lounge area. Biruk ordered the couches from an acquaintance who orders them from Dubai, they are incredibly comfortable. Although not my style, they are just the right firmness to take a nice nap and I would trade-in my couches for these anytime!

The pool area, and the famous orange wall- although it appears red in this photo. 

And there is Biruk, relaxing on the job. With my obnoxious flash blinding in the background.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Legalities and Culture

I feel as though I jinxed myself with my previous post on not working at my husband's restaurant. It seems as though I will be working there more now.
A few days ago I was notified that my work visa extension has been denied and I am being deported next week.

Okay, not deported. That was a joke. When I explained to my boss that my work visa was denied and I am not legally allowed to work, she immediately assumed I was being deported. Which made me laugh and feel a little better.

Actually, I have 90 days to change my status, allowing me to remain in Canada under 'no status' for that time. As long as I am 'in process' before 90 days are up. After 90 days, then the trouble sets in.
My employer likes me, so she is willing to go through the process- which doesn't sound too complicated to get an employer-specific work permit (previously I had an open work permit and could gain employment anywhere, except as a doctor). It takes about 4 months or more to complete the process.
She likes me so much, she's even leaving a 'good-bye' bonus on my last pay check before I can resume working again, legally.
And I like her program so much, I think I'll just volunteer my time without pay for that period of time.
I feel well-taken care of.
But a little bummed, because I was really into trying to get a job in the criminal justice field. But that can wait- it has to. Until then, I can complete my most recent writing project, finish decorating our apartment, and help Biruk at his restaurant. I desperately am hoping that I get the work permit for Christmas, as we wanted to go to Cuba for our honeymoon. We promised that we will, someday take that trip. If it doesn't work this year, we will celebrate in Montreal or Victoria Island.

Permanent Residency? Well, we don't want to apply and them to hold off on the work permit for the 9 months or more the permanent residency process takes. No, we'll just wait a little bit. Besides, I still have to have a full physical exam, including blood work, a chest x-ray and more to determine that I'm healthy enough not to drain their health care system. And, we still need to get tons of special photos and re-do all the application papers- because the other ones are now inaccurate, as Biruk's employment has changed.

In other news- Biruk's family is moving to Edmonton.
I wasn't sure I would be excited about this, as I like the 3 hour distance between us that lets us lead our own, independent lives. However, with Biruk opening an restaurant, it does call for help and his family has been really great about wanting to be involved and wanting to help out.
Also, with Biruk's mom being sick and undergoing radiation therapy on a schedule, he wants to be closer to them to help out. It's sort of a situation where everyone feels that they benefit.
A lot of my worries were quickly put to rest and now I'm getting more and more excited to have my family live in the same city. Biruk and I would love to take Abi (my younger brother) to the water park and ice skating, and I know Biruk would like to spend more time with his dad.

I've been explaining some of the cultural differences to Biruk's cousin, who has been staying with us for a little while. I often feel that I live in a strange, Ethiopian, partially Canadian world- but I'm still American. I'm the one who does things strange, or not strange enough- so that it's taken as odd instead of diverse.
It's frustrating, at times I wish we would just move to Ethiopia because I could handle that better if my mind was prepared for complete Ethiopian culture. Or that perhaps, we lived in a more neutral place- where we are both out of our elements and could recognize the differences. Canada should feel that way, but it doesn't. Maybe because it's because Biruk and I know Canadian culture pretty well, we function in that, but also drift back into our home cultures.
With Biruk it is easy, it's all the other family members and friends that I feel I'm tripping with.
Since Biruk's family is moving here, that is one of my concerns. However, I've decided to just be very frank and address any of these cultural differences clearly. I am not Canadian, I am American and while I don't want to be offensive on purpose, I want to feel comfortable in my own house and with my family. And I'm sure they don't want to continue to do something that I find offensive.
So far, Biruk's cousin has been understanding when I explained that if you have a guest over for dinner, it is expected to eat dinner at the table, not in the living room. In addition, asking someone if they are pregnant is never, ever acceptable. Women will take it to mean that they are fat, even if you were just wondering when we were going to start a family.
I just hope I don't come off as the cranky bitch, hopefully I am nice enough about explaining these differences.

I feel that our life just never slows down- first we got married, then Biruk got stabbed. Then he decided to open a restaurant. Then I had my work visa denied. When will we just be on track? But that's life- nothing ever happens exactly as you imagined it. Sometimes is wonderful surprises, and sometimes it's a bad situation that you get to look for the good in, or experience something even more amazing; when God transforms the bad into something new and good.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Thursdays at 2

So, instead of thinking or writing about my own life, I've started writing a story about someone else's life. I'm posting it publicly, so please feel free to check it out and continue reading there. There is also a link under "My Links"- Thursdays at 2.
More will come on my exciting life soon. I just have to make some long, long phone calls and take some photos first.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Papyrus Summary

One of the most popular questions I've been asked has been about me waitressing at Biruk's place, from my family, friends and customers at the restaurant.
When Biruk decided to open a restaurant, I told him I would support him and encourage him and help out in some fashions as needed, but it wouldn't be a job for me, as I already have a job and want to pursue something in my own field. That was fine with Biruk, if I could help out as needed, but wouldn't make that my full-time pursuit.

So far, it's worked out well: Biruk and his cousin do most of the serving, which is fine with Biruk, so that he can keep track of who has paid. With those two, and Biruk's mother and another woman do the cooking, everything is covered. I just mostly help Biruk organize paperwork or make tea or coffee. While I was a waitress for several years and have worked in the food industry on several occasions, this is different- it's Ethiopian. What is considered hospitable and nice in a restaurant varies from culture to culture, so I'll let Biruk do it as he wants.

Also, I'm not at the restaurant all the time.
I did quit that job, but stayed until they found a replacement for me. Today was my final day, and I was glad to go. Things continued to get worse every day I stayed: staff given responsibility, but no authority. Finances in the house for youth continued to be a problem. For a about three weeks I juggled a full-time job and a part-time job. Not new for me, as I've done that on several occasions, but this time I'm married and my husband is running his own business, which requires evening and late-night hours. But now that I'm done this job, I'll have much more time with Biruk.

I still work part-time, with the position I really enjoy.
And I have a job interview on Monday as a caseworker at a half-way house for federal offenders.
In my free time, I play soccer. Fall is rushing in, so I am getting as much playing in as I can.
And, I'm looking to start volunteering again.Young Life works at a high school a few blocks away from our apartment. I would like to be involved in a youth ministry again, and from what I've heard and in meeting with the director, they really care about kids and have a whole-person approach that isn't just evangelism, but discipleship and seeing youth succeed in life.

Biruk has been great. When I didn't like my new job, Biruk was the first one to suggest quitting. And in pursuing other employment, Biruk is very encouraging and wants me to put my degree and education to work. We both feel really blessed to be able to pursue our dreams, together, but differently.

The first weekend for Biruk's restaurant went well- it was busy. I should post pictures soon.
It's lots of soft lighting, brown walls, black trim. You'll just have imagine the Ethiopian music in the background and the smell of doro wat (chicken stew) and grape shisha smoke in the air.

This weekend should be busy, as well, since it is the Ethiopian New Year, entering the year 2003.
So, while I don't really work at Biruk's restaurant, I help out when I do have some free time, or after I've played soccer.