[No translation needed here...]
It's been unseasonably cold here. Ruth swears this is very unusual. It feels great to me! I would have thought people with cold winters would have high cold tolerances. It's the opposite here, definitely, and I'm still wearing my sandals. I think I'll stop now, only because it draws so many sideways glances and people shouting "Zima?!"
Yesterday I hung out at Mlyny, the mall across from my apartment, with two new friends from school. Both of them actually live in a town 30 km away from Nitra, but they live in special student dormitories in the city. Good for the commute, I suppose, but it must be hard only getting to see your parents on weekends! (Haha, a little ironic I'm saying this...)
Mlyny's McDonald's deserves a whole paragraph. I approached the counter (though I didn't order anything) and was shocked to see clean. Spotless floor. Shiny countertop. Well-groomed, intelligent workers dressed smartly in pressed button-up shirts and trousers. We went into the actual sitting area, and wow. Exactly like a Starbucks. We're talking cool modern design, leather-upholstered furniture, everything spotless. I could touch the table and feel fine about it. (A woman was walking around with a spray bottle meticulously cleaning all the tables as soon as they were vacated.) It was pretty awesome. Interestingly enough, though, it was expensive! Not only did it cost maybe double or triple the price in America, it was very costly by the usual extremely inexpensive Slovak standards! Maybe you're paying for the decor? The menu I saw looked a lot greener than the American one, though Slovak cuisine in general isn't very healthy (meat and starch), and the McFlurry milkshake was the main attraction. Mom will appreciate this: no straws, only spoons!
As we were sitting and talking, I looked out the window and saw a small lake outside, right next to Mlyny. I commented on it, and Lucka said yes, there was a lot of water under the building, and there were rumors... I later asked Ruth about it, and now I don't know if I should be afraid or not! Apparently, the architect who designed Mlyny committed suicide after because he had "built it wrong" and was afraid he was going to put in prison. Which, as Ruth points out, makes you wonder about what exactly is wrong with it! She says they built it in an extremely short amount of time, and there is a lot of water under the building, so many people are afraid it's going to collapse in on itself at any moment. Hmm. This kind of worries me. I'd like to think safety inspectors have given it the all-clear, but I really don't know if that's the case.
Two fun things at school yesterday: one, there was a test in German class, and I didn't have to take it. That was nice. Two, in history class the teacher was reviewing the material the students had learned the year before by holding up pictures of different things from history. I was proud to recognize most... The cooler thing was that I'd been to a lot of them! "Oh, that's Carnak. Ahh! The Blue Mosque and Hagia Sofia! How lovely..." Thanks, parents.
And now a discussion about Catholicism in Slovakia. Totally jumping around topics here, I know, but bear with me... I've read that 80% of Slovakia is Catholic, though it feels like more! It seems like everyone is... Is that what it feels like with Christianity in America? I never thought so, but I also don't hail from the Bible Belt. And maybe it feels less concentrated, too, since there are so many different sects you can belong to. Here, there's just one! I'm still exploring how deeply ingrained it is into the culture. The flag has a double cross on it, which is supposed to signify the country's religious heritage. Does it make things easier, I wonder, if everyone agrees about moral issues? I have yet to see a vocal minority (considering I haven't even sensed a minority...). So yes, it's interesting. You can go to any church, any day of the week. They collect donations at mass, but I wonder how it works with tithing, since you can go to whatever church you feel like. I'm really curious to know how separate church and state are. The two definitely overlap quite a bit in America, which tries to claim it's secularized. So we'll see...
This afternoon I went with Ruth to a special mass for her school in honor of the Virgin Mary's birthday (today). Ruth's school is attached to a large, beautiful church, but this mass was held at a different church, one I hadn't been to before. This other church has a sort of special dedication to Mary, so it makes sense to hold the mass there. I was excited to see yet another Nitra kostol... I've seen the insides of five now, and gone to mass at four.
It was great for me because I got to meet a nun who was actually from Iowa, Sister Mary Nicole. She works in the elementary portion of Ruth's school, so Ruth knew her well. I think she'd been stationed in Slovakia for maybe two years now? More? At any rate, her Slovak was perfect. My untrained ears would never had heard a difference. Interestingly enough, her English had a subtle Slovak accent! Which I heard gradually subside over the course of the mass, talking to me. I definitely can understand how it happens. Even just talking to Ruth in English, sometimes I find it natural to fall into the way she pronounces things (though she has a great accent), and then I have to catch myself. I wonder what it'll be like at the end of the year...
So, Sister Mary Nicole sat with Ruth and me, and so very kindly translated the whole sermon for me! I was amazed at her translation skills; she spoke at the exact same time as the priest, and the translation lagged by only half a second! It was so nice to finally understand the mass. And it was very lovely. She also procured song lyrics for me so I could sing along and showed me in a little book the responses to give to the priest. The last song was actually in Spanish, and she wrote out the words for me. One thing that makes no sense to me, though, is the word "tu" in the lyrics. In Spanish it means "you," in Slovak it means "here." (And I still cross my wires sometimes and get mixed up. Old habits die hard! Not to mention "no" actually means "yes" in Slovak...) I was reading the lyrics over after the mass, and I was so worried I was losing my Spanish, because they weren't making any sense to me. Then I tried making "tu" mean "here," and it suddenly worked. But it's not like Sr. Mary Nicole wrote the lyrics out wrong; we had sung that word. So why would a Slovak write a hymn in Spanish? Since I can't think of any other explanation. Hmm...
And I got blessed! It came time for the Eucharist, which I of course never get up for, and Sr. Mary Nicole turned to me and said, "So, are you Catholic?" Um... "No." "That's okay, you just can't receive the Eucharist! But you can go up and put your finger over your lips, and then he'll know to bless you instead. If you want to." So I did. It was very nice.
So, yes, I had a wonderful time, mostly because of Sr. Mary Nicole making everything better for me! She was such a sweet person. I've met the greatest people here in Slovakia (I'm counting her, even if she is originally American). And she invited me over for fajitas sometime soon, so that'll be so much fun! I'm already looking forward to seeing her again.