Friday, July 29, 2005

A Great and Terrible Beauty

Loosely (as in, not at all) based on the book of the same name, "Beauty" follows the story of a young Lothario (Joe Hartzler) who spies the object of his affections across a restaurant - and puts his powers of persuasion to work.

troubles? TenFourGoodBuddy

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

More Tales of Travel

Life has been awfully slow the past few days. Sarah left a few days ago, which leaves me without my closest friend in Romania, and as a result, things are less fun. In addition, the German team left at 4:30 this morning, and we stayed up all night before they left to send them off. I've been exhausted all day. I've been trying without success to put together some screenplays for the fall, but I find myself completely lacking creativity. I seem to be in a slump. I may ask for advice on such a topic in a later post.

On the other hand, we had an awesome lunch today (it was deep-fried... uh... meat, and something like french fries. It was unbelieveably good), plans to make a face-meltingly cool documentary are underway, and it looks like Chris, JA, and I can all get our own rooms by Thursday. So things are looking up. Plus, God's been teaching me cool things about faith and persistence through my exhaustion, so I've got nothing to complain about on that front.

I promised that I'd write more stories from Budapest and Oradea, and I meant it this time. Consistent readers would point out that I rarely keep my e-promises, but here's one more, just like I said. I've got another one partially finished, and that may surface soon, as well:

A Tax On Americans

I discovered in Budapest that Hungarians - or at least, Budapestians - don't really seem to like Americans. They put up with us, for sure, since they provide a steady stream of cash, but the sense seems to be that they'd really like for all of us to clear out and leave 'em in peace.

A clear example of this is the following tale. JA and I decided to take the subway across Budapest to visit Margarite Island, said to be a popular hang-out spot for Budapestites. So we wandered down to the subway station and looked around to see where we could find tickets. All the directions were written in Hungarian, but a helpful local Budapestonian pointed us to a small queue on the opposite wall of the station where tickets could be purchased. Thanking her, we sauntered over and JA purchased the tickets for us (I figured JA would be a good translator for me, since he used to speak fluent Hungarian, even though he's forgotten most of it. To my surprise, he didn't even attempt it, though, and instead communicated by speaking English in a Romanian accent to whatever Budapester we happened to be talking to, which probably didn't help matters any).

Having purchased our tickets, we followed the flocking queue of people, most of whom had not purchased any sort of ticket, down the nearby escalator, where we were accosted by subway employees specially trained to spot Americans. The head lady asked for our tickets, which we blithely handed over, not suspecting a trap. She took our tickets, put them in her pocket, and fined us each 2000 forint (about $10 apiece). It turned out that on the wall next to the escalator was a ticket punching machine into which we were to insert our ticket. We hadn't noticed the machine, since no Budapestalongs were using it, which assumable was part of the trap. We asked if we could go back up the escalator and punch our tickets now, since we simply weren't aware of the rule. Nothing doing. We tried to leave, since we figured that since we hadn't actually ridden the subway yet, there was no reason we should be paying the fine. They pulled out a cell phone and began to call the police. Since paying ten bucks in better than explaining ourselves in Hungarian prison, we paid up.

The helpful subway workers explained to us that the directions for punching the ticket were written in English and German at the top of the escalator (We checked. They weren't, of course), and written on the back of our tickets (ditto). They might have said more to us, but by then they had spotted a pack of Irish tourists, and were already excitedly explaining to them that each of them that they had better pay up pronto for their insultingly blatant disregard of subway rules. We tried to talk to the tourists to explain to them what the problem was, but we were informed that we had no legal right to be talking to anyone here, in the lobby of a subway, and wouldn't it be better if we left right now. And so we left.

Budapest is a truly beautiful city, a historical city, a well-maintained city, and everyone should see it eventually. But that story is just one example of the sort of treatment we got there. I don't know how many Budapestealites we met who interacted with us with the same charm and warmth you would an escaped convict who knocked up your teenage daughter. I was thrilled to leave.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Return to Beius

I've returned from my adventures in Budapest and Oradea. I have so much to tell I simply can't do it all at once, so I'm going to tell a new vacation story in each post, and that'll have to hold you over for a while. Here's the first one; if you don't understand it, it means you have too much of a social life and aren't spending enough time watching movies:

So while I was in Oradea, I met JA and Chris' brother (Catalin) and sister (Ina). They're really fabulous: on a scale of one to ten, they're both doing better than JA is. When JA introduced me to Catalin, he said, "hey, Ben, this is your brother, Catalin," and Catalin stuck out his hand. A slow smile crept over my face. "Brothers don't shake hands," I said. "Brothers gotta hug!" I engulfed him in a big bear hug. Catalin, who had probably not seen Tommy Boy, had certainly not seen it in English, and likely was rarely forcefully hugged by short pale strangers in the streets of Oradea, seemed a little startled, but recovered nicely. Whenever we got together after that, we always gave each other a hug goodbye.

Immediately after hugging Cata, JA and I returned to the hotel, where our doorman, Francisco, opened to door for us. "Francisco," JA acknowledged. "Ooh, Francisco, that's fun to say." I said to Francisco, stopping for a minute to see if he'd catch the reference.* Francisco regarded me dully, so I continued on, well pleased with myself, to my hotel room, well satisfied with my work. You don't get chances like these often.

I've slept in comfy hotel beds, eaten steak, chicken, pork, and ribs, watched hours of MTV, seen some of the most fabulous architecture ever made, explored two beautiful cities, shopped to my heart's content (it didn't take long), jumped off of a high dive at a water park. I even drank champagne while boating down the Danube through the lights of Budapest (top that!). This week has been absolutely unbelievable. But, honestly, it's really, really nice to back. I missed it. Bad.

*Elf. Duh. C'mon, pull yourself together and start staying in nights. You'll never learn anything if you aren't willing to apply yourself. Now haul yourself down to Blockbuster and get cracking.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Budapest awaits

I leave early tomorrow morning for Budapest, Hungary, for a week of vacation with my family. How many people get to type that as an introductory sentence, eh? Though I'm not here to brag about my good fortune in having my family come out to Central Europe while I'm but a hop-skip-jump away. Well, alright, maybe I am, but there's other things I could mention, too.

For example, I'll only be gone until the 19th, but I'm going to miss all the kids anyway. It's a wonderful thing to see these kids every day, morning, noon, and night. I get there just after they get up, and most nights I put them to bed, too. Being here all summer lets you see breakthroughs.

You see, the workers at the orphanage are, by and large, lazy. They also play favorites. They'll only pay attention to one kid, and take them home on the weekends, play with them, give them special attention, and try to adopt them. But when they find out that they can't adopt them, they turn their backs and ignore them. No kid should have to be rejected again.

But then each summer workers come out and play with the kids, talk to the kids, discipline the kids, really pay attention to the kids. And the kids begin to thrive. It's wonderful to see. Alena no longer looks scared, and she'll run trustingly into a worker's arms. Geta is recovering from her second rejection. The twins are learning that they don't have to cling to the workers. It's unbelievable how suddenly it happens. For weeks they don't talk, and then suddenly they always want to be in your arms.

I'm gonna go to pieces at the end of this summer.

Friday, July 08, 2005

The Story Of Homer

I don't seem to have the time to create a full post, so I'll throw out a few bits and pieces to tell you how things are going:

  • All the teams have left, leaving only the summer volunteers here for a few weeks. It's very cozy, there's only about ten of us, but I leave for Budapest in a week so I guess I'll only get so much bonding.
  • I'm fortunate enough to get to spend most of my day over at the orphanage, which is a tiring but wonderful life to live. I'm finally convincing the kids that they need to learn my name, since I'm tired of being "mommy," or if I'm lucky, "sir mommy." A few have gotten it. It's interesting to be addressed as mommy, but since they don't address the workers by anything else, I've gotten used to it. Still, Pamela was clinging to me as we walked to the park today, and one of the workers told her to get down and walk. "But he's my father," she pointed out. Heartbreak.
  • Which reminds me, my understanding of Romanian is getting better. I still only understand about six words, but their common enough words that when they appear in a sentence, I can usually reverse-engineer the sentence to figure it out. This may come back to bite me in the butt.
  • I was putting socks on Gabi the other day, and looked down to discover that they said "I Love Daddy" on them. Now, I know that these kids need clothes, and people donate out of the goodness of their hearts, but - sometimes the irony of something is so ugly that you can't bear it. I resisted the urge to throw the socks out the window, I smiled at Gabi, and I put on her shoes. There are bigger battles to fight.
  • I'll finish with a story. We had a small team here the other week, two couple, one middle aged, one quite elderly. The elderly gentlemen's name was Homer, and he always gets pneumonia when he goes to Europe. It takes him three to five days to get over it. He would tell anyone who would listen this fact, multiple times a day, and since Homer is quite deaf, he wasn't the best judge of figuring out if you were listening or not. So he would simply announce this, in a loud Southern drawl, at the table from time to time. He spent the rest of the time sleeping. Ron, the middle-aged man who came with him, had about had it with Homer, and would ignore him and continue his stories regardless of interruption. Homer's wife, Diane, was the same way, but she liked to fill the spaces in conversation with updates on people's health: her own, Homer's, government officials, whoever. Therefore most table conversations went like this.
Ron: See, Homer? I knew you'd feel better once you got a good meal into you.
Homer regards him dully.
Diane: My, my allergies are just terrible today!
Ron (to me): Did I ever tell you about when I was ski instructor?
Me: Uh, no, you didn't.
Ron: There was this one time when it was ninety-nine below zero...
Diane: The pollen is so terrible here in Romania!
Ron: And this guy wants to go skiing!
Diane: I'm just all dried out!
Ron: And I'm telling him, you're crazy!
Diane: I keep drinking water, but I don't know how people get by!

And so on. They're gone now, but Elizabeth turned to me the other day and said: "You know, I miss Homer. I didn't think I would, but I do." That goes for me, too.

That's all for now, folks. La revedere.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Romania Update

I went on an Agape Run yesterday. An Agape Run consists of a pack of Americans piling into a van with food and second-hand clothing, to help some of the less fortunate of Romania. A popular quote in Christian circles these days is Francis of Asissi's "Preach the gospel at all times, and when necessary, use words," and these trips are the fulfillment of this - we usually can't communicate with these people at all, we just stumble through as best we can, hoping our actions and our Romanian New Testament speak where we cannot.

I mention this especially because I haven't been feeling too well the past few days. I've been exhausted and lightheaded and generally unenthusiastic about all things ministry. But I got up and I went along. We loaded up the van and visited several families, all of whom had handicapped children. We visted a smiling crippled girl, bedridden since a car accident at age six. At 29, she lies on her stomach as a result of a painful ulcer resulting from her handicap, and waits for the night, when she can sign on-line and visit a world where no one cares if her legs work or not. We sat uncomfortably in her room, as everyone tried to say helpful things about her handicap, as if to console her about a condition to which she had clearly already resigned herself. Eventually we all ran out of sympathetic commentary and left.

We visited a set of twins who had cerebral palsy among various other unknown complications. They failed to acknowledge our presence as we walked in, and we suspected that they might be partially blind, as well. We tried to talk to them, but they stared off into space uncomprehendingly, clinging to a crude set of parellel bars. Their mother informed us that in a few weeks they would be travelling to Oradea to visit a doctor who works with many cases like this. "He has healed many children," she said, with hope somehow still triumphant in her eyes.

I don't think it's enough to say that I was ashamed for feeling sorry for myself.

But the fact remains that when I woke up this morning, feeling tired and achy, I just lay there and felt sorry for myself again.

Mort d'Ozone

Bad news, crew. Andrea informed me that O-Zone had split up and gone their separate ways, and I'm sorry to announce that it's true. I checked it out. My suspicions were that it was likely "artistic differences," but fortunately they'd all be launching solo careers, so I needn't worry.

Am I ever wrong? It appears Radu wanted to settle down and spend some time with his wife, but Dan and Arsenie are too busy living the high life. They'd been hoping to get on with their won careers, anyway, and after a good bit of arguing, they decided this was the best solution, artistically speaking, for all involved. It'll let them all be more creative, and hopefully allow them to get back to their first love, songwriting.

I'd give you a link for you to see the facts yourself, but it appears that major publications have somehow overlooked the story, so you'll have to do your own internet browsing. Still, I thought you should, so you could all mourn in your own little way. For example, my way is not mourning at all.

A hereto unrecognized similarity to Wilt Chamberlain

I've been playing basketball in the park out here in Beius. In answer to your unsaid question, no these Romanians are not very good. They aren't bad though.

The problem is, of course, that they never play anyone better than them. They aren't bad shooters, they're great passers, and they always know where the other players are on the floor. That's basic European basketball. But they can't go left, they think they're much better than they are, and they don't know what to do with a player who moves without the ball. I'm tearing them up.

Part of the problem is how the game's been lost in translation - they missed the street-ball rule in which, in half-court ball, after a ball has struck the rim and been rebounded by the opposite team, the ball must be "cleared" out beyond the three-point line before a player on that team can attempt to take a shot. First of all, they don't have a three-point line (they don't really have any useful lines, actually, the person who painted the court had no concept of what sport he was painting for; the lines seem to be painted in a sort of combination volleyball/shuffleboard fashion), and they've never heard of the rule. So when a shot goes off the rim, any player can take the ball, put it back in the hoop, and win points for their team.

Introducing: Ben Wyman, Dominating Inside Presence. This has never been seen before, and likely will never be seen again. But since I don't have to clear the ball, I can simply put this ball back in, and before you know it I've scored more points than the rest of the team combined. All of a sudden I'm a dominating rebounder, I'm constantly swiping the ball away from cocky Romanian guards, I'm pouring in put-back points, and I'm blocking shots.

This place is great.

Olympic Update

I've received word from Dr. Owens regarding my Olympic position, and I'll be working as a camera assistant in Sauze d'Ouix Novenceau for Aerials and Moguls from February 6-24. At least, I think that's right, the Asbury web mail server has crashed and I'm working from memory, so I might be a bit hazy, especially on "Sauze d'Ouix Novenceau," which is French and therefore unintelligible to me.

Still, big news, eh? Feel free to send in congratulations and hate mail.