Wednesday, October 27, 2010

French Culture / Being a Minority

Although this didn't happen this week, I did have a lot of time to think about things and this moment came into my head. When I was treated as a minority. And learning about French culture and how at first, they are not very friendly if you do not speak their language etc. My thoughts on this moment came from last night, but the action happened a couple weeks ago. I still count that as "this week" though, because this is when it all dawned on me.

Gym Class Hero
As I leave the Chateau de Pourtales, I do not what to expect at all. This will be my first time out without anyone. Something that can be hard for anyone, inclusive of myself. I start the long walk from my home away from home, sweatshirt on, hood up, and my iPod blaring music to get me excited for my first moments in ESpace Gym in the center of Strasbourg city.
I have been there before, but never to lift. I just went with a couple of my friends to get my I.D. badge and register with their only employee that spoke a little English. That day took about half an hour. With my broken French and her broken English, we created some very humorous moments for those trying to get a workout in before work or before dinner.

I reach the bus station and look at the sign to see when the next bus would come. A 20-minute wait and I was on my way. It was weird sitting on the bus alone with people speaking only French around me. I felt powerless. I felt that I couldn’t do anything. A woman has already yelled me at in French because my French is nowhere near perfect. I pride my self in my ability to speak Spanish, but French is not a strong point.

As I reach ArĂȘte Observatoire, I get off my lonely and long bus ride to catch a tram to my gym. The tram was absolutely packed. I am wearing a backpack and am one of the only people doing so. I felt even more out of place. I was also wearing clear American style- Abercrombie and Fitch, Oakley sunglasses… I was not feeling like I belonged. The whole ride to Homme d’Fer was awkward. Many of the people were staring at me as I jostle from side to side, not knowing when the tram was turning or making stops. It was embarrassing and made me feel like I should just turn back. I was more than halfway there, so I had to continue on.

I make it to the gym, and have yet to speak a word of any language. I was completely immersed into my iPod. I walk up the stainless steel stairs and was greeted very friendly at the desk by the ESpace staff. I hand them my card and go to the locker rooms, which were also very different compared to back home and the gyms there. Europeans have a completely different view of the human body and aren’t ashamed of changing, basically, in the wide open. This was a shock to me. In the United States, many of the views are that of your body should be kept covered and “safe”.
I walk out to the gym and look into the mirror. I’m wearing clothes that no one else at the gym was. Almost all of the people at the gym were wearing long training pants made by brands such as Puma or Adidas. No one, on my first day, was wearing shorts and a light t-shirt like I was. They paid attention to their appearance, unlike what I was. As you can imagine, I was not feeling very good about myself. I felt completely isolated from everyone. I could not speak their language, dressed differently, did different exercises, and was not social like all of the French who were there. The only really good part of all of this was that I got a decent lift in. Everyone once in a while, someone would walk up to me and ask if I was done with whatever I was using at that point in time. I would look at them, fake a smile, and give them thumbs up and point to whatever. I would put my fake French accent on and say, “Go for it,” like my friend, Jagat, does.

Some of the guys there thought me as a comedic topic for their conversations. I could easily tell they were making fun of something I was doing. It wasn’t hard to notice the subtle looks, points, and laughing coming from the different corners of the gym. From my first experience, I really didn’t know if I wanted to continue my training at ESpace. I persisted and came back a couple more times before I was complete accepted by the French bodybuilders. It wasn’t the smaller people that befriended me; it was the bigger, more socially “picky”. That really made me feel good and want to continue to come. Every time I go in, smiles, hugs, and high-fives that I taught them back home greet me. And when I leave? Laughter engulfs the gym as the bodybuilders shout, “Expendables! Stallone! You get them Mr. New Hampshire-Chase!” That always makes me feel

All in all, I would do it again. The experience of being completely isolated from everyone and that feeling of being a minority was hard, but very good from a learning perspective. I can now relate better to people who are treated badly just because of their skin color or accent, because I was too. It is hard.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Zoo-Who? No.... ZULU!

Last week JJ, Situation, and I went out to see a Zulu dance. What is Zulu? Well, when we got there, we had absolutely no idea either! The place was packed, mostly with females and a couple college boys... Us... That struck us as a little odd. The next thing that completly caught us off guard was the man in knee-high pink socks, short suit-shorts, a suit coat with a multicolored tail, and a pink, glowing feather duster.

"He has got to be a part of the act..." I whispered to my friends, who nodded slightly, hoping it was correct. We went in and sat down...

Now, to give you an idea of Zulu, this the definition- a member of a South African people living mainly in KwaZulu-Natal province.
• the Nguni language of this people.

That's all you will find, in words, on what 'Zulu' is.


We jump up at this half dressed African man walking down the auditorium steps singing in perfect pitch what we have never heard before. Yells... But in tune. It was amazing.

Stomp, stomp, stomp, sto sto sto stomp... Shhhh, shuffle, clap, clap....

The wave of musically driven sounds of feet and shoes hit our tender ears as the man continues to sing in part African, part English, and part French as a video is played in the back of the auditorium. A rather large women walks out, holding a pair of shoes on her head as she points a video camera to her mouth... Singing loudly towards the audience.

This night was powerful. There were many hidden symbols and it is all very hard to put into writing. You would have just had to have been there... Hidden symbols for aids, for the poorness of certain individuals that can't even afford shoes, for just... Trying to find happiness in dark times with the help of each other. A family so to speak.

I could be writing this blog for hours about the things we saw that night. It was very interesting...

Men climbing through the audience chairs (with people in them) all the way to the top... Climbing and struggling as the bring this long paper roll up with them. The struggles of mankind for equality... The visual symbols were astounding in this night of Zulu dance.

If you are interested in more deeper meaning... Let me know. I could try and explain what I saw, but it will be very hard. Try to find a Zulu dance of your own! I challenge that to you.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Poem That Speaks to Me...

I wrote this poem and right now it really means a lot to me.

I hope you enjoy it.


I decided to write a poem
About a man that died
Although I didn’t know him
I still teared up and cried

For he was a hero
A man of his time
Yet some thought of him as a zero
But he never committed a crime

He helped everyone he could
Yet to him that wasn’t enough
Inside him was nothing but good
But his outside was so rough

He, as a child, was poked at
Made fun of all year
Alone at lunch he sat
His eyes beading down tears

I decided to write a poem
About a man that is dying
Although I didn’t know him
I still sat here crying

School idols thought it was fun
To poke at this kid
Yet to him he was just done
His life, so he hid

But he hid on the inside
Closing his walls
His happiness had died
As he ignored their calls

He is older now
Being been through so much
Going against his vow
He believes he’s been touched

I decided to write a poem
About a man that could die
Although I started to know him
That man is I

I have been blessed by true friends
Friends who really care
They are with me till the end
Letting me breath fresh air

They rescued me
From the walls I created
Allowing me to see
All the emotions I’ve so hated

As I see in a different light
I now know why I’m here
To advise people in the right
And to help them not to fear

I decided to write a poem
About myself as you see
I’m still getting to know him
Yet now,

I am free.


Wednesday, October 6, 2010

It Really Makes You Think...

This past weekend we made the trek up to the Struthoff concentration camp. This is the only camp in France. It took the place of a gorgeous ski resort. When we arrived and got all settled and things, we made our way to the front gates of barbed wire and iron bars. We had to walk through the actual gate that the prisoners actually went through during WWII. For me, walking through it made my stomach knot up. It was hard.

Our tour was very informative, although most of it was pretty easy to see on our own as we looked around the camp. One of the hardest buildings we went through was the crematorium and prison/execution rooms. In the prison section, they had these small rooms... Too big to stand in and too small to sit comfortably in. The Nazis claimed they were used to heat the prison, although there is not a single piece of evidence to support such claims... The Waffen SS would put 3 to 4 people in these extremely tiny rooms. Most would die excruciatingly painful deaths due to the contortions of their body for so long and lack of nourishment.

Walking into one of the prison cells made my heart feel like it was 2,000 pounds. There were scrapes in the wall, the floor was discolored in areas, and you could tell of some attempted escapes. There was only 1 successful breakout recorded at this camp.

The next room almost made me want to throw up. It was the execution room... The floor was slanted inwards towards a floor drain... It was for the blood. They would fire 1 shot into the neck of a prisoner, so that they would suffer for a while before they died. It was very hard to think about. We also looked into the operation room, where 'doctors' would perform medical experiments on live and dead prisoners. Some of the pictures we saw of this were very hard to look at... They would experiment with all sorts of chemicals on and in the body, as well as other things...

We also visited the crematorium. I shouldn't have to say much about that... It was difficult to look at.

We left with spirits not so high, but very informed with eyes wide open at what really happened during these hard times. I feel like my outlook on life has shifted a little. It was a good, but sad experience.