Thursday, July 18, 2013

Our new adventure: Olympia and other things of note

Day 5 of the Paraguayan adventure:

Last night our group decided that we were going to go and watch the local football team, "our local football team", "Olympia", play in the first leg of the South America Championship.  At first it was proposed to go to TGIFridays, yes, there is a TGIFridays in Asuncion, but we instead opted to talk to a lot of the locals and after asking them where we should go for the "local experience" and it was recommended by many that we go to go to one of the local malls.  An hour and a half before the game we set off from the hotel to go to the game, Pierre and myself donning the Olympia jerseys of our favorite players (actually we asked around and found out who other people's favorite players are and just picked those ones since we haven't ever seen a game before) and headed to the mall.  We first noticed that something was amiss when we didn't almost die when crossing the street a block from our hotel.  Normally, and without any of the exaggeration that my readers will know I occasionally am suspect of, crossing the street here might be the most dangerous thing that happens to me during my two years here.  There are no cross walks, there are very few rules being followed by drivers, everyone drives very fast and there are wholes all over the place, in the sidewalk, in the roads, everywhere, just waiting to gobble up unsuspecting walkers.  It looks like my streak of being hit by a car in every country I've lived in (+1, Thanks Turkey!) will probably continue here in Paraguay.  Anyway, so we get a block from the hotel, look to cross the road and it is virtually empty.  We stroll across the road and realize that Paraguayans everywhere have already hunkered down for the night to cheer on their team.
When we got to the mall we found the Paraguayans.  All the chairs were taken, people were standing on the stairs, the place was packed.  We managed to find a seat sitting on some stairs in the food court where we could see the two enormous screens that were going to show the game.  Everyone was wearing Olympia colors, most with jerseys on (except for a guy from school who showed up with the Bolivian national team jersey on, I don't know why, he's Argentinian, but anyway) and anytime during the pregame show the screens showed Olympia everybody clapped and shouted and everytime the screens showed Atlético Mineiro, a Brazilian club, everyone whistled (a bad thing here) and jeered.  It was already a great time and the game hadn't even started.  By the time the game was about to start the energy was electric.
The game started and I won't go into full reporter detail but let it be known that both teams came out jittery and I was a bit disappointed in South American football after I'd heard such good things for so long.  After a while though both clubs settled down and it was a really good game.  When Olympia scored in the first half the food court EXPLODED!  People went nuts, clapping whistling, chanting, high fiving neighbors, it was amazing!  And there were Pierre, the other new teachers and myself, not a minute's worth of cheering for Olympia before tonight, going nuts with the rest of them like we were life long supporters.  It was just so easy to get caught up in the energy that we had no choice but to shout and scream and wave our arms like everyone around us.  I will point out that at no point last night, either at the mall or later in the streets, did I feel unsafe, there was drinking but few were drunk, the shouting and cheering was intense but never unsafe.
The second half I was on pins and needles, fist tightly clenched as Atlético tried to come back.  When Ronaldinho went off everyone at the mall shouted at him, probably using words that it's good I didn't quite understand.  Atlético had a really good 10 minutes were Olympia couldn't seem to get a good foot on the ball and I was on the edge of my stair waiting for the doomed equalizer that I felt was coming.  It didn't.  Olympia held off the numerous attacks and finally started to calm down and start counter attacking.  The crowd at the mall felt the shift as Olympia took shot after shot, some barely missing the goal until Olympia had the best counter attack of the night.  Atlético was caught pushing defenders forward and Olympia took the ball and pushed forward with massive numbers.  One of the players faked the keeper, who dived, and passed to another player in the middle of the box, who was covered by the one remaining defender, and then passed to number 16, Pierre's chosen jersey, WHO COULDN'T HAVE BEEN MORE OPEN IF HE HAD BEEN ON AN EMPTY FIELD IN AN EMPTY STADIUM AND MISSED TO THE LEFT!!!! I found myself holding my head like the diehards, shouting my frustration and blaming Pierre since he was wearing the jersey.  But the thing that happened next is why I have chosen Olympia to be my team for the time I'm here (I mean for the rest of my life, I'm diehard now!), after a minute of everyone feeling frustrated about the missed opportunity they sat back in their seats, and started clapping and encouraging their team on.  I've never seen that at any sporting event I've been to and I really appreciated it last night.  The last play of the game came, we were nearing the end of stoppage time, everyone was happy that Olympia was going to win 1-0, but also feeling a little disappointed that they didn't take advantage of the plethora of opportunities that they had to go up 2-0 or 3-0 when the ref called a foul for Olympia right outside the box and all the sudden the mall was abuzz again.  When #7 put in the free kick, right under the crossbar, in the 95th minute everyone, and I mean everyone, lost it.  People were shouting, screaming, jumping, laughing, congratulating neighbors, standing on chairs, clapping, singing, Max and his wild rumpus would have been proud.  It was amazing.  Pierre kept looking at me and saying, "This is a mall man, A MALL."  It was incredible.
As we walked outside the celebration was in full swing in the streets.  Cars honking, air horns blowing, people hanging out of car windows and sunroofs and off the back of pickups, flags flying everywhere, music blaring, me and my cohorts yelling at the cars and them yelling back at us, high fiving strangers, fireworks going off as we headed off to a local bar to catch up with some other friends.
After hanging out, having a few drinks (water for me thanks) and finding out where the party is going to happen next week if we (I've decided that I've been a fan long enough to start referring to my fellow Olympia fans and myself as, "we".) started walking back to the hotel when we saw that all the cars a few blocks down were stopped because people were holding an enormous Olympia flag across the two lanes of traffic.  Obviously (and you know how much I hate that word so I don't use it lightly), we had to investigate.  Things we saw at the end of that street... lots of fireworks, people banging drums, toddlers being lifted out of the sunroof of moving cars, lots of screaming and shouting (by us as much as by them), an the results of an accident, no one was hurt but the front bumper was halfway off the car, (the way to fix such a problem was certainly the chosen method of kicking the bumper the rest of the way off and sticking it across the backseat of the car and out the back windows on both sides of the car and then driving off, yelling and honking like nothing had happened) and generally the safest and in no way violent mayhem that I've been a witness to.
We walked back to the hotel and each went to bed,  a smile on our face and pride in our heart that our team had performed so admirably.

Other items of note:
- The people I'm going to be working with are amazing.  They are young and fun and we all get along very very well.
- After a few very frustrating days of house hunting, Joana and I have found a place.  We will be living with another couple and their three dogs in a BEAUTIFUL house with a man-cave and a pool.  I'll post pictures and give a better description soon.
- I am loving the fact that the group of new teachers is so active.  We all play a lot of sports and already some of us have played basketball while others have found a great park to go running in.  I got out of the habit of going out to play sports a bit over the past few years and I'm very excited for both Joana and myself that being active seems to be a way of life here.
- I am experiencing a bit of culture shock here.  I haven't figured out what sort of a place I'm living in.  Sometimes I relate this place back to Freetown, with water that I can't drink, holes in the sidewalks and  highly inflated money (4,500 guaranee to the dollar).  Other times it feels more like the States or Portugal, 24 hours of light and water, easy internet access, nice stores and air conditioning everywhere. It's going to take a while to get used to being here and to be fair I have really only been in about a 10 kilometer square section of the city, so we'll see what happens when I get to see the rest of the city/country.
- I'm struggling with the language too.  Spanish is close enough to Portuguese and I've learned enough Spanish in my life, that a lot of the times, if people don't speak too fast I can understand what they are saying.  I however cannot speak Spanish at the moment, like almost at all.  I speak Portuguese in response and sometimes people understand and sometimes they don't.  This is a challenge I want to really work on since I don't want to be an expat on the outside but would rather hang out with Paraguayans and experience their culture from the inside.

So that's the news after 4 days of life in a new place.  I have been extremely proud of Joana, she is doing so well with her first time living in a new country.  We are settling in well and feel like this will be a good place for us to be for the next few years.

God bless,

Monday, July 18, 2011

A long awaited update


I wanted to take a few minutes and say "Hello" to all of you! I realize it's been nearly forever since I last wrote an update about my life, thus keeping you on tenterhooks as to the goings on of yours truly.

There is a lot going on in life and I am overjoyed to say that God continues to bless me in incredible ways.

First, I am still living in Estoril, Portugal. I have been there for three years now and am happier being there now than ever. I have found a place that feels like home, where I have an amazing amount of support, a fantastic life, and a bright future. I am still working at the Carlucci American International School of Lisbon though my role at the school is soon to change. For the past three years I have happily taught 3rd grade. In January I was approached about my interest in moving from the Elementary School to the Middle School to become a 6th grade teacher. While at first I rejected the idea, the more I thought about it and talked with friends the more the idea grew on me until I finally told the school that such a proposition would interest me very much. And so, starting in about a month and a half I will do the unthinkable and become a middle school teacher! I am filled with both excitement and trepidation when I think about what the following year is going to look like and oftentimes am consumed with the desire to run back to school begging to be given my old job, but this next year will challenge me to grow as a teacher and as a person and I welcome the challenge. It helps a lot that both the principal and the middle school coordinator have great faith in my abilities and are encouraging me to do things in my own style, giving me plenty of freedom to play with how things are presented. I will continue to coach at the school, basketball, soccer and cross-country and will be looking for other ways to make an impact once the school year starts since some of my old avenues will no longer be viable.

Secondly, since November I have become involved with an AMAZING church family just outside of Sintra. If there had been any area which had really been lacking for me in my overseas journeys it was that I hadn't ever found a church home where I felt comfortable and welcome. Grace church is so much more than I could have dreamed of. From the first time I visited I have felt welcomed. I have now become a part of the church in several ways. On many Sundays I have joined with others in leading worship either through playing the jembe or singing or a combination of the two. I am a part of several bible studies and prayer groups, which have given me so much more strength and courage as I try, day by day, to live a faith filled walk. I have been doing a lot of hanging out with the youth and some with the children and hope to do a lot more with those groups in the future as they are an astounding group of young people. I thank God for granting me the opportunity to find this church where I am able to nourish a part of myself that has gone unwatered for far too long.

Thirdly, Joana. :) Joana is the BEAUTIFUL woman who is in this photo with me.
Her accolades are far too many to count. Let it be known though that she constantly pushes me to be more Godly, more loving and to be a better pool player as she has thoroughly smacked me down in that game. We met after having seen each other once or twice during a movie night at a friends house. Our mutual friend, Zuzia, called ahead to ask if she could bring her roommate to movie night. I, half jokingly, asked the person Zuzia had talked to on the phone if it was the cute roommate. Lo and behold the two of them walked in the front door and it WAS the cute roommate! I then proceeded to make an utter fool of myself in trying to play it cool while at the same time flirting shamelessly. At the end of the night, though the movie wasn't over and I wasn't really tired, I said that I was and asked Zuzia if I could get a ride back to my house with her and her roomie. I have no idea what the two girls talked about on the ride home as the whole time I was thinking, "I really want to talk to this girl some more. But Zuzia is here and I can't ask for her number in front of Zuzia, what if she doesn't want to give me her number? When will there be time to ask her? Should I ask her now??? No, that would be dumb, they're talking about something. Oops, they asked me a question! What did they say?" "Yep, I agree with that." "I hope that was something I would agree with, but who cares, how can I talk to this girl again?" And so forth on what felt both like an eternal drive and yet was over before I knew it. In the end I ended up giving Zuzia a bottle of wine that one of my students had given to me, while at the same time saying I had gotten it for her as a going away gift (is it bad that this all started out on a little white lie?) so that she would be distracted and I could finally ask Joana for her phone number. She smiled as she gave it to me, (my heart melted a bit with that smile) and we promised to talk more soon. Never having been one to claim patience as a gift, I called her the next day and we set it up to go for a walk on the boardwalk the next day. And we kept hanging out. She is now someone who I share bible studies, church services, breakfasts, lunches and dinners, pool games, stories, happiness and frustrations with. God has absolutely blessed me with someone who first loves Himself and secondly loves me and I could not possibly in my wildest of dreams be happier.

And that is kind of my life right now. I'm in the states looking forward to supporting my amazing sister as she gets married next Saturday. I have been fortunate to spend time with my family and friends.

Lastly, I want you to know that whether it has been hours since we talked or years, I appreciate you. I appreciate the support that you have given to me through ups and downs. I appreciate the prayers, the advice, the phone calls and emails, and most of all the love that I have felt from you, my friends and family. You have made me who I am today and I thank God for each and every one of you and beseech Him to bless you as I have been blessed.

In Him,
Justin Wallace

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Reaching out to the world

My kids just started a project last week that I have high hopes for.

We wrote a letter, as a class, telling who we are and asking questions like, "How many people are in your class?" and "What do third graders do for fun in your country?" We then chose 50 countries from all over the world that we would like to know more about. I then spent several hours looking up international schools in each of the 50 countries, (Which was way more interesting than I thought it'd be. I may have some new ideas about where I want to go next.) and copying down their addresses. The kids then practiced their address writing skills as they filled out 50 envelopes, folded 50 letters, placed a postcard of Portugal in each envelope and then carefully sealed each envelope.

We hope to get responses back from each of the schools. We look forward to learning more about others, to making connections with people from all over the world. To learning how other people lead lives that are different from our own. To discovering how much we have in common with people we've never met.


At times I find myself in a state of wonderment for the pathways that God has brought me down. I am so blessed. I have so much to be thankful for. There is so much to look forward to.
I hope that I can live up to the expectations that God has for me. I hope that I honor Him with my life. I hope that I make Him proud.

Sunday, May 23, 2010


I love grilled peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

Before you turn up your nose you must, as everyone constantly says to me, give it a try. The way that the peanut butter melts into the jelly, the warmth and crispness of the bread, the great big goopy mess of everything, the smell that fills the space giving your stomach a wake up call, it is a truely magnificent sandwich.

In Portugal I would be looked at funny for saying that I love a sandwich. I can really really really like the sandwich. I can adore the sandwich. I can say that the sandwich is the best thing ever. But to say that I LOVE the sandwich would instantly set me apart as someone not of this land.

In Portugal (in my experience) you love your family. You love your spouse. You might be able to love your country though I've never tried to say that. Other than those things I'm not sure that you say, "Love" to too much more than that.

Now I can understand the Portuguese mentality to an extent. Do I really love the new book that I just read? Do I really love chocolate? Or the new Facebook application? Does my claiming love for every little thing that pops up in my life cheapen the word? I don't know.

But I miss love. I miss hearing people claim that they care about something other than bloodties enough to say they love it. I miss people loving their job. I miss people loving an activity. Music, food, the ocean. I love a lot of things, certainly not in the same way that I love my family or the spouse that I one day hope to have. But I know that the way that my heart warms when I go to my friends house and their child laughs and reaches for me is more than me really really liking her. I know that the way my spirit lifts when I hear the first few beats of the first dance song of the evening are more than me adoring the individual notes that I hear. I know that, even on my most difficult of days, there is no other kind of work that I want to dedicate myself to and that the feeling that I have in front of the classroom or working one on one is soooo much more than appreciation.

I have conformed. While the word love has moved into one of the rarer words I use, (which makes me very very sad to type) I will happily look about the world I live in with love that hopefully pours out in my actions, my language, my very eyes, to the point that when people want to describe me to others they will be forced, despite nationality, custum or habit, to use the word... love.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

The fight

Last night I went to Rock n Rio. A concert/fair/music explosion of sorts. I was looking forward to watching John Mayer and maybe checking out the Shakira concert as well. I had decided to go alone and just appreciate the music and the freedom to have some time to myself, with several thousand screaming people.

John Mayer was amazing. He can play a guitar, wow, like no one I’ve ever seen. Including at one point him laying the guitar flat on the ground and kneeling over it and then playing it without even holding the thing. It was ridiculous. When he sang “Why Georgia” I thought I was going to bust a vocal cord. It was so much fun and I had wheedled my way close enough to the stage that had I had a baseball John Mayer and I could have played catch. Which would have been fun.

After John Mayer finished (doesn’t he just seem like one of those people who you ought to say their first and last name, even when you’re talking to them) I made my way through the crowds to the rollercoaster that had been set up. I was so psyched because even though this had nothing on the Vortex or the Great American Scream Machine it was still a rollercoaster and it had the added bonus of cars that spun around in circles as you went up and down the tracks. Oh, yeah, and the cars were mice, one of whom was smoking a cigarette. Ok, so a little strange, but they were from Spain, so… whatever ;) Since I was on my own I ended up in a car with the two ladies in front of me, one of whom was probably about 13 and I am convinced had never ridden a rollercoaster before and the other, her cousin/sister/I don’t know who was decidedly cute and about my age. The car had some buttons on it that would add special effects and I asked the girls if they wanted to press the button and the younger girl said, in a no-time-for-a-breath-but-I’m-still-talking-somehow stream of consciousness in no uncertain terms, that she absolutely positively didn’t want anyone thinking of pressing the button. So I did… no not really, that would have been mean. And then the ride started and the girl started screaming and her friend and I started laughing and the ride started spinning and then a cat ate our car and there was a constant flow of what sounded like appeals to a higher power from the girl and more laughter from us and then the ride was over. As I asked the girl if she was ok as she shakily got off the ride she said that she was, in-between her continuing flow of unbelieving statements about how that was craziness to get on something like that. I thanked the ladies, waved and walked off to go hear Shakira. Which is when the craziness began…

I am leaning against a building. A man stumbles, steps on me while spilling beer on me. Words are spoken. Then the crowd begins to perk up. Heads turn. Bodies scramble away. A woman is knocked into and collapses at my feet. Suddenly where there was once a crowd, people are now shoving each other to get away. I see a man with no shirt on come out of nowhere and a vicious head-rocking right cross is thrown. There is blood. And screaming. More fighters show up. We are standing toe to toe. I don’t know what to do but Shakira has long since been forgotten. Angry women are trying to hold the men back. Beer is thrown on the shirtless man. And then I am surrounded by security. The man who threw the punch and the man who spilled beer on me have disappeared. The security talks so fast, asking what happened, I don’t understand and shrink back into the wall that I was leaning against before all this happened and try to disappear as well.

And then I left. Because security didn’t care about me, they were trying to figure out what happened with all the people who were fighting around me. I just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and after listening to some more of the concert, which was surprisingly good, Shakira puts on a good show, I decided it was time to get home. I walked away with slightly sticky feet from having a drop or two of beer spilled on them, a smile because I’d very much enjoyed my time, aside from watching a fight break out around me between some very intoxicated men, and a story, which is always a good thing.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

We both made it out with our wallet and only one of us was hit by a car...

Turkey was amazing! My friend Nick and I flew out of Portugl on Friday afternoon, had an uneventful flight and arrived in Istanbul Friday night at about midnight. Nick's friend, Chadis, I think that's how that is spelled, met us at the airport and we set out on our adventure.

After briefly getting lost on the highways of Istanbul we successfully drove through the ridiculously think fog to Chadis' mother's house in Edirne. Although we arrived after 2 in the morning his mother and sister were still up to greet us with large amounts of food and his friends even stopped by to see everyone and share in the food consumption. Everyone was really friendly even though there was little English spoken round the table. The highlight of the night was when one of Chadis' friends was leaving and after having spoken only a word or two of English throughout the whole evening/morning he poked his head around the doorway he'd just left through to say, "I must go now...because I'm married". Being that almost the only thing I'd understood for the previous hour was the nearly constant ribbing he'd been given over his being married and needing to be accountable for his hours it was really funny.

The next morning we woke up to a feast of a breakfast complete with Turkish tea. Being a non-tea drinker I was a bit apprehensive but drank through a glass with the help of two sugar cubes. It wasn't too bad, but I politely declined a second glass. After breakfast we all, mom, sister, Chadis, Nick and I piled into the small family car and drove to the grandparent's place. As we drove Nick and I learned about how to great the older generation with respect. So when we met the grandparents we both took their hand, kissed the back, touched our foreheads to their hand and then gave lose hugs with a kiss first on the right and then the left. After that we were treated like family. They were wonderful people and, while I once again didn't understand most of what was being said, we all got on very well. At one point during the visit each person was given a small cup of Turkish coffee. I have consumed even less coffee in my lifetime than tea and managed to take a few sips before realizing that I just couldn't get through it. There was no problem though, Gulce, the sister, (it's supposed to have two dots over the u but I don't know where that key is) nicely dumped my coffee but brought back the cup with the residue in it. We were told that mom could read our fortunes and that we ought to flip the cup onto the saucer. A few minutes later I learned that I will soon come into a large sum of money, that I will be taking a big trip in either four days or four weeks or four months, she wasn't sure about the specific time and that currently I am thinking of courting two young ladies and I would be better served to make a decision. The whole experience was done with a sense of seriousness that let me know that while it wasn't concrete it was still taken with some level of respect within the family.

After visiting the late father's grave, which was my first time in an Islamic graveyard, they have raised graves that are covered with soil so that families have planted flowers on the graves, we all went to the Eski Camii. The Eski Camii is an enormous mosque in Edirne. It was amazingly huge and absolutely spectacular. As with most old cathedrals that I've visited there was an overwhelming sense of awe of how many hours went into building such an amazing place for the sole purpose of honoring and worshipping something greater than the people who built it.

After the mosque the five of us walked around town for a bit before going to a local restaurant that is famous for it's local quisine. Our new friends didn't feel the need to tell us what we were eating until we'd already devoured half a plate of whatever was put in front of us. It turns out we were eating fried liver. And loving it. The drink was something that Nick and I didn't go back for seconds on, a sort of salty yogurt. I never imagined I would like liver more than yogurt, it even feels weird to say, but man that was a great meal.
After leaving the Chadis' mother and sister in Edirne with hugs, well-wishes and hopes to one day see each other again the three of us went back to Istanbul. We spent a few hours seeing the Hagia Sofia, an ancient cathedral turned mosque, the Blue Mosque and a basilica, which we all decided had something to do with holding water but we weren't really sure what we met up with another of Nick's friends for dinner. After dinner we drove to the Asian side of Istanbul, (I've now been to Asia!!!) to rest and get ready for a night out. As we were driving around I was struck with the immensity of this city, it is easily the largest and most confusing place I've ever been. Nick and I quickly realized how fortunate we were to be traversing the city with people who knew their way around.

That night we went out for drinks, before Chadis, Nick and I went to a rock bar. It was great fun. We were out dancing till just after five in the morning. The band was great and I even tried to sing along at one point. I'm not sure I sang any of the right words, being that they were Turkish, but we gave it a valiant effort. I then got to drive home, being the non-drinker of the group, which was cool, I've now driven on five continents, before we all crashed at Chadis' place.

The next day we went walking along the Marmara Sea. It was nice looking out over Istanbul, just relaxing a bit. Even though we'd woken up at two we all decided we could use a nap before going out that night. We later met up with Nick's other friend again for dinner and drinks and had a nice relaxed evening.
The next morning we woke up early, made sure our bags were packed and went back over to the European side to check out the Grand Bazaar. Nick and I agreed we were expecting more of an outdoor market but it wasn't that at all. It was kind of like an ancient mall with lots of small shops selling lots of very traditional Turkish type things. I managed to pick up a little magic genie lamp, which is now residing among my "trophie collection" of knick-knacks from around the world.
After the bazaar we walked around for a few more hours before heading off to the airport.
I really had an amazing time in Turkey. The people were all very friendly, the city was amazing to behold and it was a fun adventure. One I would certainly recommend to anyone looking for something very different from the norm.

Oh yeah, and the car thing...
We were walking down to the ferry port and weren't sure which way to go. For some reason, which I definitely don't remember now I stopped in the middle of the road to look at a sign, not that I could read any of the signs but I must have thought it a good idea. Anyway, the driving in Istanbul rivals that of Freetown for the craziest drivers I've ever encountered and stopping in the middle of the road is unadvisable. I heard the briefest of "heads ups" shouted by my friend before I found myself flat on my back and a car wheel rolling up on my foot. I was more surprised than anything else at the moment and popped up laughing like an idiot. I think it was my bodies way of dealing with the stress. I limped off the road, waved to the man who looked aghast at hitting me that I was o.k. and trudged off down the road. I was and am fine, my leg ached for a bit and my shoulder was sore, but I'm fine and can now say that I've been hit by a car in Asia.