Friday, October 20, 2006

Branik valley

Armando's birthday celebration

Sunset Adriatic Sea

We returned to Slovenija in September for the second year after a couple of months at home. Home has become a confusing term. Is home the house that we own, but is inhabited by another family? Is home the state we have lived in most of our lives but not now? Is home the country of our birth, which seems strangely unfamiliar to us? Is home where our family lives scattered around Ohio? Is home where we have the closest friends? Is home the place where we live together and share our daily adventures? I found myself saying that I was going home when in Slovenija as I talked about returning to the U.S. and in the U.S. when talking about returning to Slovenija. No place feels like home and both places feel like home.

We concentrated our energies in Ohio to connecting with family and friends and working around our house. Fortunately the renters bought a home in June so our house was available to use when we returned the beginning of July. It is such a nice house, but I was surprised that my feelings of attachment to the place we designed and built with our own hands was without emotion. A lovely place to live, but really didn’t feel like home. We were only supposed to be in OH for 6 weeks, but because of medical tests, Bob needed to stay four more weeks. The extra time should have provided us with more time to connect with people, but it was surprising how many seemed too busy to make time for us, and how few seemed really interested in hearing about our experiences. Our return to Nova Gorica was greeted with very warm welcomes and a genuine pleasure that we chose to return to Slovenija. Maybe home is where one feels appreciated.

Bob and I are both teaching this year. He continues to teach full time at the gymnasia and I am teaching at the technical school. The technical school has about1,500 students who at 14/15 years old decided to go to school to study wood working, computer science, auto mechanics, traffic management, engineering or agriculture. Most of the classes are made up entirely of boys with just a smattering of girls. I am the English language assistant and I share teaching responsibilities with 8 English teachers. My major responsibility is to be a native speaker and engage the students in dialogue concerning a topic chosen by the teacher. In my first week I discussed advertising, an introduction to music beginning with rock music and working backwards, a discussion of the 3 pillars of change in a persons life [birth, marriage, death], the skill of asking questions and working with a basic class to help them introduce themselves and tell me what they have planned for the weekend. I continue to be amazed by the high level of conversation and discussion that happens with students who are only in their first or second year of high school. With the 4th year students I do not have to adjust my vocabulary at all and they often surprise me with their sophisticated word usage. In one class I was asked to discuss biometric ID’s and I had to do research to understand what it was and how the controversy is affecting the world. Actually I think I am learning more than my students.

Bob has a teaching schedule that suits him better than last year. He will not be bouncing from teacher to teacher, but concentrating on the European classes and seeing those students for 15 classes each week. The other 5 classes will be distributed with a teacher for a week at a time. This schedule will make it possible for him to really get to know the students and be more involved with the sequence of their learning and not just the native speaker entertainment that plagued him last year.

Last year we had months and months of trying to get our residency permit. This year should have been easier, but because we had to delay our return our residency papers, the car inspection and insurance had expired. Bob took the Twingo to be inspected, but it needed new brakes, new headlight and an emission adjustment. If all those things were repaired within 3days then he didn’t have to pay for a new inspection, but of course nothing in Slovenia is completed in 3 days so he paid again. He wasn’t able to get the insurance though with out the new residency permit so the car sat until the wheel of bureaucracy ground to a stop, the planets were aligned and it was our lucky day. Good thing we have bikes, the weather is nice and we do not have far to travel to work. Surprisingly after only 3 weeks we had all the papers in order, we both have Slovene health insurance, the car is insured and we are feeling very official.

We are living in a new apartment in Šempeter. The town is smaller than Nova Gorica and has more charm of a European village than the post WWII city. We live 225 steps from a grocery store, and within a couple of blocks of a church with ringing bells every quarter hour, 2 bakeries, 4 cafés, 2 flower shops, a pharmacy, a medical supply store, 2 meat markets, a department store, the hospital, the bus stop and a pizzeria. The ride on our bikes takes about 20 minutes on the bike path with the walkers, rollerbladers and other bikers. The European Union recently celebrated the European Week of Mobility. The focus was to encourage people to use alternative transportation to cars, and it does seem that there are many more bikers and walkers out and about. The fact that gasoline is about $5.00 per gallon is undoubtedly also a factor in the choice to use people power. The city also offers free city bus rides to encourage people to leave their cars at home so at anytime of the day people are coming and going, meeting each other, getting exercise and enjoying their community.

We are the first residents of our apartment so everything is new. We have 2 bedrooms, a balcony, a bath and a half, and a full size kitchen. The windows face northeast with beautiful light. We are hoping that from the bedroom window we will be able to see the mountains when the leaves fall off the trees. Our landlords and friends have furnished the apartment with new living room and bedroom furniture and new kitchen appliances that include a full size oven and a dishwasher. We feel like we are living in the greatest comfort and sitting on the balcony in the morning with a steaming cup of fruit tea is the height of luxury.