Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Good Ol' Budapest

I'd say it's been a pretty productive past few days since my last post. First, my roommate Ruben got engaged in the city square of Timisoara. My job was to scare the pigeons so that the pictures would turn out even better, but for the most part I just looked like a dork who's trying way to hard to ruin a priceless moment. He drops down on his knee, pops the question, she says yes, we all get excited; oh, and did I mention that it was jam-packed with people? Afterwards, they wanted to go get KFC and see How to Train Your Dragon in 3D at Ilius Mall, which has to be most awesome engagement celebration of all time.

The next day Danny and I went to Budapest to schedule tours/find restaurants for when the group comes over in June. We had to get up at 4:15 AM on Sunday, but we missed our train that left at 4:50 because it left 25 minutes early. And it was the only train to the next train station until 6 PM. Who does this? Seriously, why would you leave 25 minutes early at 4 AM on a Sunday? After much grumbling, we had to go wake up Ruben to drive us to Timisoara, but we made our next train and arrived in Budapest six hours later. We arrived and immediately put on our swim trunks to head to the Szechenyi Baths, which was the best thing in the whole world since sliced bread. What is it? A thermal bath where old people wear Speedos, others flaunt their belly rolls and saggy arms, and where you hear at least four different languages while sitting in one hot tub. After four hours of pure bliss, I realized that this is the reason why I love Europe.

Everything else went well. We planned everything out, found great places to eat, to sleep, and to see for when the group of 50 comes. We loved this saxophone player in Hero's Square, who would frequently play Whitney Houston and Celine Dion. We also loved the goulash at Cafe Intenzo (which, by the way, had a beautiful Hungarian waitress who was top notch). We never stopped walking around or climbing the hills on the Buda side, but it was a great experience. So we get back last night at 12:30 AM after a 9 hour journey home, and after a short night sleep we got up to do some manual labor in Susani painting some pipes. Our reward? Eating homemade Romanian food.

This weekend I'm going to Frankfurt from Friday to Tuesday to pick up a van that Ovidiu got a good deal on and desperately needs, which means we'll be driving back through not just the Bavarian and Austrian Alps, but also on the German and Austrian autobahn. I'm crossing my fingers that I could possibly drive, even if it's for just one mile, so that my life could officially be complete. Speed limits are for wussies.

And a funny story: While in Budapest, we found a super, super cheap hotel (22 Euros cheap) that even had breakfast included. Little did we know that we were sleeping below a group of very loud and very drunk Germans who would sing "Tribute" by Tenacious D, followed by deep laughter and a subsequent "Owww!!" This was all while sleeping in a room that was maybe five feet wide, on a bed that felt like concrete, all after walking around Budapest for 14 hours straight. We happened to see them the next morning, and when I say morning I mean 2 PM.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Pictures From Teenage Prison in Buzias

Without further adieu, some pictures from Buzias...

Monday, March 15, 2010

Prison Ministry in Buzias, Romania

As I said in my last post, if you would have told me that I'd be going to an all boys prison in Romania for a week three months ago, I would have said you were sniffing glue. Who knew that I was going to be meeting up people from South Carolina, Tennessee, and Kentucky to hang out/evangelize 65+ teenage boys who have known nothing else in their lives except stealing, gambling, sex, and life on the streets? Who knew that I would be playing "jail rules soccer" with inmates 14-17 years old who are good enough to play professionally? Who knew that one of the guys I met was a professional magician who would be wowing crowds of inmates yelling "Magia!" when he walked into a room?

These are just a few questions that crossed my mind throughout this past week in Buzias. We ate with the prisoners, which was interesting because I hit my gag reflex twice with the soup, and played a ton of football (European) with them. We sang songs with them in their prison dormitories and repeated everything they said because we couldn't understand them (most of them which was vulgar). It seemed all they wanted to do was arm-wrestle with me, which in itself had no rules, so by the end of every day my right arm felt like spaghetti. We would sit and talk with them, asking questions about their family and what happened in their past that brought them here. And when you pulled your camera out, it was complete pandemonium; I've never had to pose for more pictures in my life.

All in all, this was one of the craziest experiences I've ever had. Some of the stories these young men told made me tear up; how could you not when you hear that some of them stole only because their parents live in Spain so they had to support their brothers and sisters? And not only that, but they only get to talk to them on the phone once a month. We asked each group if they could think of one person who loved them, and only four out of 60 raised their hand. Hearing stories like these and making friendships with these guys has opened my eyes to a whole new understanding of the world, and I know that I'll never be the same. Seeing them grabbing you and not wanting to let you leave was hard, and I told them I would be back soon. What they don't know is that while they may have benefitted from me being there, they completely changed my life.

That being said, this week will be a little slower. There are some people here from the Detroit area here, so I imagine I'll do stuff with them at some point. But the big news is that next weekend I'll be going to Budapest with Danny for three days to make sure everything is set for the Pioneer trip. They asked me if going there would be a problem. I told them "I mean, it's WAY out of my way, but I guess I'll fit it into my schedule..."

And a funny story of the week: When I first met these guys from South Carolina, one of them came up to me and said "Hi, my name is Brandon" loud and very slow. I said, "Hi I'm Alex." He says, "Wow, his English is really sharp." I said, "Well, I'm from Texas." And later on in the week, I met a 12 year old boy who came with the Detroit group. He comes up to me and says, "So where do you live?" I told him I live in Lugoj. He said, "Oh okay. Have you ever been to America?" I laughed and said, "Excuse me?" He repeated the question because he was being serious, so I said, "Well, I sort of lived there all my life. I'm from Dallas." Even Americans that come over think I'm Romanian.

Friday, March 5, 2010

And Just When You Think It's Spring... snows all day today, and you have to go unpack your long underwear from your suitcase that's out on the balcony. But it's all good because today was beautiful; so beautiful that I walked around the city all morning trying to be "artsy" with my photos, as noticed above. Danny and Ruben had classes all week for their college degree from Covington Seminary, which has a branch here in Lugoj. They had two professors here and I was encouraged to go to a few classes, which I did the past three days. I enjoy Romania the most in the snow; it's a new kind of experience walking down the street, probably with a factory dog behind you, having cold snow sting your face like needles as you cross the street adjacent to an elderly gypsy woman with a dull green headcovering. Talking with a couple of those professors tonight, they mentioned that they always think about Romania when they're back in South Carolina. They said they always think about this place wherever they are because it's a different place than they've ever been. They say they've "fallen in love with it." I agree with them more and more every day.

This weekend I'm going to Arad for a youth meeting with a couple guys who are flying in from North Carolina. Arad is a place I've heard a lot about, so I'm excited about making the couple hour van trip north with some new American friends. The big news for this post is that all next week these guys that are coming over are going to be doing ministry in a teenage prison in local village of Buzias, which is pretty close to Lugoj. I've asked to join them, so hopefully it's cool if I tag along (and if it's not I'm going anyways). We'll be there from 10-4 every day next week, spending time and eating with the inmates. I came here excited about new experiences and not knowing exactly what to expect, and I think this fits the bill pretty well.

As promised, a funny story: I was talking with Adina, Ovidiu's wife, and she was telling me that they were showing my Facebook page to some of the students here that they regularly hang out with before I flew over. She said they were looking at some of my profile pictures and saw the picture of Borat in that hilarious swimsuit, and she became very nervous about having me come over because they thought I was going to look just like Borat. She didn't want to show the picture to the students and was nervous about me acting just like Borat. The joke is that my "Avatar" character wouldn't be one of those blue characters, but Borat; they even expected me to have a mustache when I got off the plane. Adina says it's all good now because I don't wear anything like that picture or act outrageous like Borat. Yet.