Thursday, July 30, 2009

Speedy Delivery

A pastor in Mali has been given some money to purchase an ensemble of computer and office equipment for his ministry.  Because this is one of John’s areas of expertise, he has asked John to help.  Computers are expensive in Mali, so we have been looking for his equipment here in Switzerland.  The prices and selection aren’t as good as in the States, however they are much better than Mali and it will be cheaper and easier for us to bring things back in our luggage rather that having it shipped from the U.S.  John has spent a lot of time scanning ads and visiting many stores to find the best equipment and prices.  It turns out, there is a very good on-line resource in Switzerland and he’s been able to order everything online and have it delivered to our house.  He did have to overcome the challenge of the website being primarily in German, a language used equally if not more here in Switzerland than French.  But he managed to get everything the pastor is looking for at a good price.  We continue to be amazed by the efficiency of things in Switzerland.  John placed the bulk of the computer order yesterday at 3:00pm our time.  At 7:00 this morning, the mailman was knocking on our door with the order in hand!  Oh yes…let’s not forget the site offered free delivery!  If you’re ever in Switzerland and in need of computer equipment, be sure to check out www.internet.ch.  We give them a very high recommendation.

Cole has been sick with a cold and the flu this week.  He’s been able to make it to a couple of classes, but for the most part, he’s been sick and miserable.  Please keep him in your prayers.  Our schedule is going to be increasing as our time in Switzerland is beginning to run out.  This weekend in particular is going to be extra busy as this Saturday is Switzerland’s independence day.  It’s celebrated with all the hype and activity associated with the 4th of July in the States and we’re expecting a pretty full social calendar.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

French Kissing

French is a very complicated language.  To begin with, every verb is conjugated or changed depending on the pronoun (I, You, Them, We, etc.) it’s used with.  There are 6 different basic pronouns meaning there are six different basic conjugations for every verb.  Now add to this 14 different tenses for each verb.  This essentially means there are 84 different versions for every verb!  Looking up a word in an English/French dictionary just gives the root verb…now it’s up to us to figure out how to change it into one of the 84 forms needed to communicate what we want to say.  Needless to say, it takes a lot of time and effort to understand.  And this is just the beginning!  From there, things just continue to escalate and get more complicated.  As you can see, it can be very overwhelming, but we’re still keeping our heads above water.

We’re continuing with our French immersion lifestyle by speaking French from 6:00am to 6:00pm even when we’re alone as a family.  We created a little family game in which we all carry special cards in our pockets with our name on them.  If someone is caught speaking English, they surrender a card.  At the end of the day, the cards are counted up.  A verb is assigned for each card and the person needs to write out the six basic conjugations for each verb.  This game has really helped curb the laziness factor of reverting to English now and then.  Cole has really taken it seriously and even made his own gendarme (police) badge to help enforce our rules.  

There are no shortages of other ways to practice our French.  We have a lot of new friends who we enjoy talking with and building our vocabulary, comprehension, and speaking skills.  Although many of these people can speak English, they’re helping us by speaking French only…even after hours.  It’s been a wonderful experience.  We’re also learning a lot about the Swiss culture.  One the things we picked up early on was greeting.  The Swiss, like the French, greet each other with a kiss on the cheek.  In Switzerland, upon meeting, two people simultaneously kiss each other on the cheek…left cheek first, then right, and back to left again.  We’ve learned that kissing a total stranger quickly begins the process of building a friendship.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

I Can See Clearly Now The Rain Is Gone

Alps It has been raining nearly every day since we’ve arrived.  There have been a couple of days when we’ve had a few hours of sun, but for the most part it’s been overcast and cloudy.  We’ve also experienced hailstorms and incredible electrical storms.  The other day, the weather service logged over 30,000 lightning strikes in Switzerland in a 24-hour period.

Today was our first day without rain and the sky was clear enough we could see the snow covered Alps from our house.  We can even see the Matterhorn!…yes, the real one that Disneyland’s is modeled after.  For even a better view, our hosts drove us up to an overlook called appropriately enough, View of the Alps.  It’s a ski area in the winter and a nice picnic getaway during the summer.  More rain is predicted this week, but we’re hoping for a few sunny days in between.  The Swiss are out walking around in shorts and swimming in the lakes and swimming pools.  We’re afraid it’s not quite warm enough for us to do that yet.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Ups and Downs

Funicular Switzerland is a nation of mountains.  We spend a lot of time walking up and down hills.  Thankfully, the Swiss transportation system accounts for this.  In Neuchâtel, we have 2 funicular systems that transform long and exhausting walks uphill into short trolley rides.  A funicular is a specialized cable car with a passenger car at each end of a motorized cable.  As one car is  traveling uphill, the other is traveling downhill simultaneously on the same track.  The cars pass each other midway on a special crossing track.  For those of you familiar with Los Angeles, the historic Angel’s Flight is a funicular.

The public transport in Neuchâtel is very convenient.  We have been traveling via train, bus, electric trolley bus, and funicular.  The funicular is one of our favorites.  One of them takes us from the main train station to the shore of Lake Neuchâtel in under five minutes allowing us a wonderful picnic lunch at the lake each day after class.  It would be a 20-30 minute walk up and down some very steep hills otherwise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

No Peeing In The Pool

“Halte au pipi dans l’eau des piscines” was literally the headline in the newspaper today.  The story was about the rising health problem of people not using the restrooms at public pools.  Because our train arrives in Neuchâtel 45 minutes before our classes begin, we’ve been using this time to build our reading comprehension and vocabulary by reading the newspaper each day.  It’s also given us a closer glimpse into Swiss culture.  There was a story a few days ago about the intolerable tardiness of trains the last few months.  According to the article, as many as 5% of trains have been arriving 1-2 minutes late.  These “staggering statistics” are forcing the train companies to fix things or else!  They are considering docking the train drivers’ pay every time they are late.

It’s been interesting to see what stories make it into the paper.  Yes, we too have been overwhelmed by Michael Jackson stories.  But we had to hang our heads in shame when a story ran last week (complete with photo) about the annual July 11th mooning party of Amtrak and Metrolink trains in Laguna Niguel, CA.  We were amazed that word of this “local ritual” has extended beyond the OC and has become international news. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Fantasyland

Le Landeron We were invited to lunch yesterday by a family at church that lives in a village called Le Landeron about 20 minutes from Neuchâtel on the bank of Lake Bienne.  We began our visit in the family garden (which was VERY large) picking and eating fresh raspberries and blackberries straight from the vine.  We then moved on to black currants, cranberries, and plums.  After about a half-hour of grazing in the garden, we had lunch in their beautiful home with a few other people from church.  Their house is amazing (over 400 years old) and opens up to the center of the original village of Le Landeron which dates back to 1260.  The village has just one street.  Standing in the street is like standing in the center of Fantasyland at Disneyland.  There are stunning fountains at both ends of the street and a large village clock.

We’ve been really blessed by the people we’ve been meeting.  We have a lot of new friends that have been taking really good care of us.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Going Postal

La Poste - Montmollin Last night, we were invited to dinner with the staff of the postal service in downtown Montmollin.  Basically, what this means is we had dinner with Pierre-Andre and his wife Therese who operate the post office and deliver the mail for the Swiss postal service in Montmollin.  Downtown consists of the post office and a small elementary school surrounded by farms and farmhouses.

We met Pierre-Andre and Therese in a home Bible study a couple of weeks ago.  They live in a farmhouse two doors down from the post office.  They have made a couple of trips to the US and traveled extensively through the States via motor home.  They have been to 44 U.S. states.  Needless to say, they know more about much of our home country than we do. 

We had a wonderful dinner and time of sharing with them and their three kids.  Like many people in Switzerland, their first language is German.  Switzerland has four official languages:  German, French, Italian, and Romansh.  Although Pierre-Andre and Therese speak English, they focused on speaking purely French with us to help in our language acquisition effort.  Cole really enjoyed some interaction with kids his age.

After dinner, Pierre-Andre and Therese invited us across the street with them to visit with a woman named Fatama, who is from Algeria - one of Mali’s bordering countries.  We had met Fatama at the same Bible study.  She and her family had some Swiss friends visiting and we enjoyed sharing some company and Algerian tea (much like Malian tea) with them.

These times of getting together with others in Switzerland have been very special to us and we’re making a lot of new friends.  They are helping us gain a lot of confidence in our language learning.  All of our conversations have taken place in French and we have never been lost in the conversation or lacking for words.  Everyone has been very graceful and forgiving with our elementary French skills and have corrected and helped us when necessary.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Dollar Menu

With the falling value of the dollar, it’s difficult living overseas today.  But this adds up even more in Switzerland where the cost of living is much higher than we’re accustomed to.  We’re having to bypass or curtail many of our cravings for the Western world.  Upon stepping back into a developed nation, McDonalds is a big attraction for many missionaries, and especially missionary kids (MKs).  Our Swiss friends in Mali have told us they never eat at McDonalds because it’s too expensive.  How can McDs be too expensive?  We soon found out.  There are several McDonalds restaurants in Neuchâtel.  Here, the Swiss call it McDoe.  It was one of the first stops on our list.  It quickly became the last.  A simple #1 Value Meal (Big Mac, fries, & Coke) is over $12.50.  A Big Mac by itself is $6.00.  Ouch!  Some much for the ol’ stand-by.  Check out the p’tits prix menu, the equivalent of the dollar menu in the States:  http://www.mcdonalds.ch/fr/actuel/les-ptits-prix%284-117%29.htm.  For comparison purposes, 1 Swiss franc is worth slightly less than $1 USD.

On the brighter side of things, cheese and chocolate are abundant and inexpensive here.  This is helping with John’s weight gain goals.  These goals are probably going to reverse when it comes time to leave.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Pardon Our Dust

With the school’s recommendation, we have chosen to continue our language learning in the 2nd level French class.  It continues to be challenging, but we seem to be keeping up.  The school is very transient in nature with people cycling in and out of the class on a weekly basis.  It’s also vacation time in Switzerland for the school staff, so we are getting an opportunity to experience working with several teachers as well.  The variety has been nice.

We feel like we are learning a lot and this trip will be well worth the effort.  The classes are very intense.  It’s a lot like trying to drink from a fire hose.  Some days we come away feeling refreshed when things really click, while others we’re left overwhelmed and confused by new concepts.  So far, we’re all having our ups and downs on separate days, so we’re able to hold each other up during the difficult times.

Our train station in Montmollin closed on Monday for 3 weeks as they do maintenance work on several miles of the tracks.  We had received notice ahead of time so we were weren’t caught by surprise.  The train service has provided a shuttle bus which picks up people from the Montmollin station and takes us to the next closest station on the same schedule as the train.  Even with the changes in service, the Swiss transportation system continues to run like clockwork.  We certainly know the origin of this phrase now.  Even during times of inconvenience, everything still remains extremely convenient.

Monday, July 06, 2009

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream For…

creuxduvan We had a busy weekend meeting with friends and exploring Switzerland.  We started Friday with lunch with Hermine, a lovely retired Swiss woman who lives in Neuchâtel and serves as the liaison for missionaries attending the Inlinga language school.  She is also very involved in the church we’re attending.  She invited us and another missionary language student over for lunch and visiting.

Tudienus & Clarks On Saturday, we shared the afternoon with Nathalie Tudienu and her girls.  They serve with YWAM in Mali at our Koutiala base.  A couple of years ago, Nathalie’s husband Charles died suddenly of a heart attack during a YWAM conference we were attending in Koutiala.  This has been a difficult time for Nathalie and her two daughters.  Nathalie is Swiss and they have temporarily relocated to Switzerland to be near family as they continue to process their loss.  They live about 30 minutes by bus from us.  It was really neat to spend an afternoon with them catching up on each others’ lives.  We had lunch at her house then took a relaxing walk through the forest and along the shore of Lake Neuchâtel.

This is one of the first years we didn’t celebrate the 4th of July.  Being in another country, American holidays often pass without us even realizing.  We did hear a large fireworks show on Saturday night, but couldn’t see it from our house.  We don’t know if it was related to the our 4th of July holiday, but we pretended it was.  Switzerland celebrates their Independence Day on August 1st.   We’re looking forward to celebrating with the Swiss this year.  We also have Malian Independence Day coming up on September 22nd.

Clots & Clarks On Sunday afternoon, the Clot family (whose home we’re living in), invited us for a hike through some local mountains.  From Neuchâtel, we can see a large cliff formation in the distance.  They drove us up to that area and we hiked out to the edge of the cliffs for a breathtaking view down into Switzerland.  It’s not a climb to the top of the Alps mind you, but the landscape was still stunning.

Sundays are a traditional day for hiking in Switzerland.  We were surrounded by many other hikers.  The Swiss are known for their skiing.  Apparently, they still practice even when there is no snow on the ground.  We passed several hikers that were walking with the assistance of ski poles.  We’ve also seen this around town the past couple of weeks.  It looks like people are often skiing up and down the sidewalks.

After our hike, the Clots invited us to a local restaurant on a dairy farm in the mountains for a special Swiss treat called crème cornets.  It’s a waffle ice cream cone filled with fresh whipped cream instead of ice cream.  They were to die for.  We won’t be surprised if this confection finds itself onto the food midway of the U.S. fair circuit.