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Monday, February 20, 2012

February

I accidentally went to France on Saturday.
Portes du Soleil is the largest contiguous skiing area in mainland Europe, with mountains falling on both sides of the French-Swiss border. When I was young, I took ski lessons in Morzine, the largest town in the area. I always remember the area being referred to as Morzine-Avoriaz, named after the two mountains on either side of the valley. In our 4 years visiting the area, I only remember one time my parents took me up to ski on Avoriaz, and on a snowy slope, I saw a flag indicating we were at the Swiss border.
As it seems, that flag is only a short drive past Lake Geneva. In fact, from the base of Crosets, it takes only a single ride on the chairlift to reach a seemingly disputed peak; I suppose that's why they bother to sell a two-zone ski pass there. After an 8-minute, 1600-meter ride on the lift, we reached this peak and promptly took a southwesterly bearing. On our way down, we only saw one unbelievably long lift that would take us back up, so we tried kind of hopped trails in an attempt to keep things interesting and to actually reach our only hope for return. Our expedition led straight down into a large, deep valley. When I arrived at the bottom, I noticed that another lift, further off to the right, bore signage indicating that it led to the peak of Avoriaz. Suspiciously, the lift right in front of me also bore the name of the French mountain, and my Swiss-only pass wouldn't allow me access to the chairs that would return me to Helvetica. Fortunately, it seems that whoever was supposed to be attending the lift wasn't paying much attention, because I followed the lead of the Swiss delinquent in front of me who removed his skis and hopped the turnstile. Fortunately for the rest of my group, since they were at least 15 minutes behind me, Kevin had accidentally bought a two-zone pass, and could scan it every couple minutes to let all 6 of the guys through.
So, that was the first run of the day.
Crosets is an amazing place, and the name Portes du Soleil is not a misnomer. It was sunny spring conditions in mid-February, there were 80-centimeter crevasses forming in the snow higher up, and I got sunburned. Luckily, I wasn't wearing goggles. Unluckily, I was wearing my mustache.
I spent all day with Luke, Kevin, Logan, Will, and Matt, plus a 15-year-old Swiss German named Luca who is on base taking an English class. We found a terrain park with manageably-sized-but-still-exciting jumps and a snowcross course that emptied out into a natural halfpipe, and we spent the hours before and after lunch going through it about 6 times. Jordan (Martina's husband) joined up with us after lunch, and he showed us a cool powdery tree run that culminates with a 20-foot drop off of a cliff into masses of soft powder. Every time we got to that part, we paused, regrouped, and went over the drop one-by-one. It was intimidating, but the landing was so thickly padded that I'm uncertain whether there is any possible way to get hurt there. On Will's first attempt, he and I were the only ones remaining. He had never skied in powder before and was slightly hesitant about the jump, and he wisely asked me to wait and go after him. On impact, he lost his right ski, and it seemed fortunate that I could just drop down right next to it, dig it out, and hand it over. Of course, it didn't work out that simply: as I pulled the ski out by its end, the snow on my gloves allowed its metal edges to slide frictionlessly out of my grasp, and it promptly took off down the hill. I took off after it on my snowboard, splashing powder everywhere in a way that made me afraid I might accidentally bury it, and Will removed his other ski and started bodysurfing in pursuit of his footgear. Long story short, we achieved victory. Also, it's hard to put skis back on in deep powder.
It's tough to say that Crosets is my favorite mountain so far, but that's mostly because Villars was so good. Indisputably, the terrain park was the best I've ever enjoyed and the many ravines and lightly-used powder runs through the trees were excellent. The only downside was that the sheer number of people going through there were really packing down the snow and creating some congestion on the more groomed runs, but the off-trail skiing at Portes du Soleil is so expansive that you barely need to stay on the actual trails.

Tuesday last week was Valentine's Day, and it was actually the best Valentine's Day I've had since elementary school. Our topic for Week 5 was, of course, Relationships, but it can more accurately be said that the teacher mostly joked about romantic relationships while covering more fundamental issues relating primarily to how Jesus summed up "all the Law and the Prophets" (i.e. the whole Bible) with "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself." In between going through 1 Corinthians 13 backwards, along with other select verses about God's love, nature, and character (which are all love) and mentions of how Christians should be more socially conscious because God cares about all people, Troy Sherman mercilessly mocked Leah and Kevin for sitting at the same table on the first day when they knew it was Relationships Week and promised that, with our "perfect" 1:1 gender ratio, we'd all be hooked up by the end of the week. In opposition to this intentionally absurd "prophetic word" lies the much cooler de jure sexual climate here: one page on the school application included a signature-required clause that we would not pursue "exclusive relationships" during the course of these 5 months. Of course, everyone is being good and abiding by the codes of conduct to which we've agreed in the interest of community living, but we're also all in a certain age group, and my classmates are therefore only pursuing inclusive relationships, meaning all being good-natured, generous, and somewhat snarky towards the entirety of the opposite sex in a manner that at least appears equitable.
Now that the atmosphere has been described, back to Valentine's Day. Upon getting wind that the female folk were plotting something, we men wrested control of our classroom on Monday evening and occupied it for a few hours, working on cards for our classmates. Of course, none of us were going to make a specific card for a specific girl, so we each just illustrated the exteriors and then decided arbitrarily which one was going to whom. Then, we filled the interiors of the cards with a single message for each of them, drawn from all our collective genius and wordsmithery, and with carefully-selected verses from Song of Solomon (because Martina suggested it as a joke, and the best thing we could do was to apply it). We then pooled our resources to procure 7 red roses, which we presented in the morning to each of the ladies and to Martina along with the cards that we had hand-made. They graciously received the pathetic messes we'd scribbled and made a big show of smelling all their flowers and then apologized that they hadn't gotten us anything, and then they told us that they were lying. They told us to meet in the classroom after lunch, and Matt confidently declared that they had made dessert for us. When we entered, we found a riddle posted on the board; Matt immediately said "It's just gonna lead us to the middle room upstairs, guys." After three minutes of following clues to the Annex basement and the garage, we indeed found ourselves in the middle room upstairs with paper cards in the shape of hearts (each containing writing from all 6 girls), squares of homemade fudge, and little origami boxes full of confections, decorated with bunches of hearts and such phrases as "YWAM: Young Women After Men," "Marry Me," a lipstick print with a phone number (one not belonging to any of the girls in our class, of course), and, on the box Matt obtained, "You're a tease." Magdy asked "What is 'tease'?" and quickly reprimanded Matt when we explained it to him (on a side note, the girls later told me that they randomized which box went to whom, as we had done with cards). Magdy's other comment on the matter was "You know what, guys? Seriously, you are lucky. You guys are very lucky that these girls do this for you." I agree. I'm actually really impressed. Hats off, ladies.

It seems that, yet again, I've managed a reasonably-sized update while still not summarizing anything that I've been learning. I have some thoughts on bilingualism, service, and identity, but it's 1 a.m. here and I need some more time to compose my ideas on those topics.

Ciao!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

G'Day

Hey, I wonder what I've been up to lately.

When I last posted, I was already trying to go back and cover an entire week's worth of meaningful events during which I'd neglected to post. Now, I have an incomprehensible amount of material to go back through and filter out into what is the most important and entertaining to mention.

Actually, attempting to maintain a blog and to produce meaningful and relevant content has made me realize that sorting through all the mess that I create in my head is complicated. This past week, I've saved two documents in Microsoft Word that are the beginning of posts on Love and Politics, respectively. They both contain the word "today" in the first sentence, but I will have to revise that, because I could not come near the end of even thinking anything on the matter in a single day. So, if it's any comfort, I wasn't ignoring you guys; I was simply having difficulty carving out the time to produce adequately mind-blowing content for you, readers.

Speaking of carving, I've experienced some excellent Swiss snowboarding so far. The Saturday following the first week of class, a majority of my class and some base staff traveled to Verbier, a large, touristy resort mountain past the end of Lake Geneva. Kevin, the ex-military kite-surfer from Florida, had come to Switzerland before the New Year and spent the week preceding the start of class on this very mountain, so I followed his lead up to the highest point we could reach. We strapped our feet into our boards at 3005 meters of elevation and rode down through a submerged boulder field. Luke and Logan rode with us, and a Swiss German student from the Leadership Training School named Nathanael made us a five-man band carving up the back of the mountain. Of that group, I'm probably the worst snowboarder, and I covered about 200 vertical feet in a long, continuous tumble partly caused by my continuing attempts to steady myself. Instead of managing to get back up and resume riding, I set the world record for most consecutive cartwheels. After some difficulties and some ups-and-downs, we finished the whole run and met up with the others for lunch. All our excited chatter convinced our less experienced comrades to come with us on the same run. When we reached the top, Will, Leah, and Matt immediately began protesting. We told them it wasn't as bad as it looked and that they should just follow us, and after we got down the really steep part at the beginning, everything went pretty well for everyone. It was only Matt's 3rd time snowboarding ever, and Luke insisted that "the way to get better is to snowboard with people who are better than you." It seems to have worked. Near the end, though, our group got so big that it was hard to keep together, and I accidentally got separated from the group downslope right when they shut off all the lifts. Consequently, I had to ride all the way down to the village halfway down the mountain and have no way to meet up with my group anywhere. Long story short, we left about 2 hours later than we'd originally planned, and we had to call ahead back to base so that they'd set aside 15 plates of dinner.
The following week, we took a trip to Villars-Gryon. That area is much more frequented by locals rather than tourists, and they seemed to be having ski races that weekend. There was much less traffic there than at Verbier, and the snow conditions were the epitome of perfection, with the previous day's fresh snow supplemented by the snow that fell as we rode. Jordan and Alex, staff from the base, each spent half the day showing us the best tree runs and back ways off of the main slopes and through the thick powder. Kevin compared the experience to surfing, Luke said it was like floating, and I felt like I was gliding over marshmallow spread. The big white blanket was so soft and inviting that I had new snow on me every time I caught up to the group. Villars-Gryon has most definitely taken its place in my Top 3 favorite snowboarding locations ever.
On February 18th, we're going to drive over to Chamonix in France to experience what is reputed to be the best hors-piste in Europe. I'm excited.

Life here in Lausanne is pretty fun and very full. While my class contains 12 students and 4 staff, the building also hosts a 30-student YWAM Leadership Training School, 3 students learning English for Missions, and somewhere around 20 more base staff, plus bedrooms for all those people. The main building is still the same as the defunct hotel purchased by Loren and Darlene Cunningham, the founders of YWAM, in 1968, though its interior went through an overhaul in the mid-'90s. In any case, it is now what I would best characterize as a 4 1/2-story building set on a hill between a golf club and a forest, with the world's premiere hotel school directly across the street. At capacity, it could probably accommodate no more than 100 people. The base also owns a few other buildings in which to hold meetings, store materials, run a preschool, take care of administrative concerns, and host additional guests, while some of the married staff members own condos in the complex right next door.

On week days, we have breakfast at 6:45 and lunch at 12:30, spending a majority of the betweentime in class learning from a guest speaker about the topic of the week. (Thus far, we've covered Hearing God's Voice, Discipleship, The Nature and Character of God, The Holy Spirit, and Relationships.) Three mornings a week, we have 20-minute-long student-led class devotions. Before class on Mondays, we have an hour of worship time with all the students and staff on base, and during the same time on Thursdays, we have Community-wide Intercessory Prayer on a changing list of topics, which has so far included things like the abuse of women and the political instability across parts of the Middle East.
After lunch, we divide up into teams to do "Practical Ministry," which means chores with a good attitude. I'm on the Maintenance Team with Matt and Jon and we take orders from a cool Norwegian guy named Sindre and a British administrative juggernaut named Astra. Most of the other teams execute daily necessities like meal preparation and clean up or vacuuming and cleaning of all public spaces, so I consider myself fortunate to be on the Varied Responsibilities team. We fix things when they need to be fixed, mount things when they need to be mounted, clean filters and any other cleanable non-surface or moving part, make sure the cars are gassed up, move televisions and tables, and change lightbulbs, as well as making sure walkways are clear of hazardous snow and ice. The running joke is using "Swiss" to describe whether or not our enacted solutions are satisfactory (not by our own standards, but by those of the locals).
After Practical Ministry, we engage in a variety of activities. My class spends two hours a week in the language lab using Rosetta Stone Classroom Edition. Everyone else is working on French, but since I was allowed to elect another language, I chose Arabic. Magdy's first language is Arabic, and he told me that we can practice together once I've learned 100 words. To make it more fun, I've been trying to demonstrate my proficiency by piecing together such phrases as "the big egg" or "the dog runs" and to describe words I haven't learned in terms of words I have learned (such as "a yellow apple" to describe an orange). This becomes less amusing as I realize that dialectic differences in pronunciation between Standard Arabic and Egyptian Arabic ruin my comedic timing, because the window closes as he tries to decipher what I've said. But, hey, I'm learning a new alphabet, so that's cool.
On Wednesday afternoons, we go down to the town square and talk to people, pray for them, and give them free hot chocolate. The first day, we played soccer with an Afghani and some Syrians in a cobblestone rectangle by the fountain, using public benches as goal posts. You know who is terrible at soccer? Me. I'm even worse than the Canadians.
On Thursdays, we have Community Meetings where we welcome in people from the surrounding area and discuss some of the goals and visions that YWAM has and then eat some delicious dessert of some kind. One of the Brazilian staff here made amazing rice pudding a few weeks ago, and we've also enjoyed Swiss traditions like Fasnachtsch├╝echli (which Tabea taught me how to pronounce, but not how to spell). Apparently, I do really well with Swiss German words over 3 syllables, but I can't pronounce "Zucker" properly.
In between classes, we've taken trips down to the main area of town and bought Swiss chocolate and whatever we could find that we considered at all reasonably priced, which is not that much. We've gotten small, expensive pizzas; small, expensive coffees; and small, expensive candy bars. One day, we took a little field trip over to Montreux and hung out by the Freddy Mercury statue on that side of the lake. Also, we have occasional dance parties.