Well I made it! Today was my fifth day in Belgium and I'm starting to get used to things. So many things have happened, and I'm just starting to get over jet lag!
When we got to the airport, there was a ton of people waiting at the gate. I guess a family had just adopted a Japanese baby and everyone they knew decided to go to the airport to welcome it! There were also the host families of 11 students, and as soon as I walked into the main area I heard a ton of shouts of "Kenzie! KENZIE!!!" and I found my host family. The mom, Francoise, the dad, Jean-Luc, and my host sister, Clementine, all came to welcome me. I got big hugs from each of them and we drove about an hour home to Dinant.
My city is beautiful. It's in the "mountains". Belgian mountains are kind of a joke. They're more hills, but the rest of Belgium is as flat as Kansas so I guess if they want to they can call them mountains. The river Meuse runs right through my town and there are a ton of cliffs and really steep hills with a ton of trees. There is a citadel on top of the cliff, which is beautiful, and a really old church right below it. The houses are all really close together and most of the streets are cobblestone. It's a picturesque European village.
So we get to my house and my host dad takes my luggage in. I started to grab one to take it up to my room but he said no, and Clementine and Francoise gave me a tour. My room is actually on the 4th floor. Well, kind of. You have to go up 4 flights of stairs to get there. Yes, 52 stairs. Its exhausting. I took the oldest sisters room, because she lives in the town that her school is in, Louvain la Neuve. The middle sister is in Spain right now for Vacances, but her room is next to mine and we share a bathroom. My room is MASSIVE and has an amazing view of the river. My dad owns a restaurant which is on half of the bottom floor of our house, and "mami" and "papi" (grandma and grandpa) live on the other side. I haven't even explored the entire house yet, its just huge.
I can hardly understand anything, so everything is a surprise. My family probably tells me what we're doing, but I don't know because I have no idea what they are saying. It rained almost all day today, which put a damper on my sightseeing. I had horrible jet lag and just wanted to sleep, but so much was going on I couldn't. Clementine's friends came over for dinner, but they talk "hyper-vite" so I only understood words.
Family is very important in Belgium. I met some of Francoise's family, and her family is HUGE. Mami and Papi had 7 kids, 4 girls and 3 boys. The girls are Michelle, Jacqueline, Martine, and Francoise. I only know one of the boys (Phillipe) and he runs the restaurant with Jean-Luc. Michelle has a son, Allan, and he looks about my age. I met her husband but I don't remember his name. Jacqueline lives in Paris except during les vacances, and her son and husband are both named Marc. This still confuses me to no end. Marc (the son, probably the only one I'll refer to) speaks very good English and has spent some time in England and the US. He lives in Paris as well as his other brother (Alexander), and offered his mom's house if I ever want to visit. I do. They also have a sister named Christine who lives in Madrid. Martine has 3 kids, Arnold (~12 years old), Gladys (~8?) and Theo, but I don't know his age. But he is hyper. ALL THE TIME. Phillipe is divorced with 2 kids, Appoline and Lucas, but they only visit for 15 days during les vacances and weekends. Appoline has a mental illnessm I'm not sure exactly what it is, but something to do with lack of oxygen to the brain when she was born. I think she's 15. She loves girls and holds my hand everywhere we go. She's the sweetest thing and I absolutely love her. Lucas is maybe 12. All this family is at my house ALL THE TIME. Constantly. I don't even know why, but I'm beginning to like it. There is a lot of chaos. And loud, fast talking.
Went to a castle, a few different small towns, and a restaurant called "the Tank" today. Apparently during WW2, the Americans mined a road on the way to Dinant. A German tank hit it and exploded, and a woman who owned a restaurant nearby told the Germans that the road was mined all the way to Dinant. It wasn't, but they believed her. By the time the Germans figured out a way around the road, the Americans got there and the Battle of the Bulge began. The Germans never made it to my town because of that lady's lies :) After that we went to a birthday party and stayed there til 1 AM. I was still jet lagged and didn't understand anything, so it was difficult. Plus I kept making language mistakes, and that was irritating.
Today was the Baignoire festival. It's this thing where different groups decorate tubs and basically have a parade. It sounds cheesy. It's really cool actually. My town has 13,000 people, and over 25,000 showed up for the festival. It's been a tradition on the 14th of August for over 30 years. Today was also the day I met Kayla, my "oldie". An oldie is an exchange student from the other hemisphere. They exchange January to January, we exchange August to August. So by the time we get there, they already know the ropes (and the language) and can help you out. She lives in a town 10 minutes away and her host family is friends with mine. It was awesome speaking English again, and just being able to understand everything that was going on. It was a much needed break from the stress and headache learning French is.
It's a tradition with the Henroteaux family to throw water balloons at the baignoires at the end of the parade. We filled up a ton and threw them, but our aim sucks and mostly we just threw them at each other. I got soaking wet, and then someone decided to bring buckets, so staying dry was hopeless. I threw a bucket on my host cousin, Allan, so he pushed me in the river. It's not very clean so I had to take a shower but it was really fun. After the festival, there was this big party. Clementine, Kayla, and I went to a bar and then went to the dance party. There was a ton of people, and Kayla and I didn't really know anyone (but we knew all the music!) so we went home about one and Clementine came home at 2. My house is right in the center of town so I can walk everywhere!
Went to my school today to get papers, take a tour, and see what classes I can take. The schedules are really different here. I will be in the "Sports" section, which means only 2 languages, not much math and science, no Latin or Greek, and a lot of PE classes. Went with Martine and the younger boy to Ciney, a town a couple km's away and got ice cream and grocery shopped. Then we picked up the rest of her family and went to a Saint Roch party down the street from my house. I love my host family. They are loud and funny and know everyone everywhere, and introduce me as "la mignonne, petite americain" (the cute little american). I still understand very little and never know what's going on! I am getting better though. When I first got here, when people in big groups spoke to each other I would just zone out and not think because it was too hard. Now, I mostly zone out still but I catch words and phrases and almost always know what they are talking about, which is a HUGE improvement.
Today I tried to get a bank account. It failed. This is why people travel abroad, and don't live abroad.
To get my Visa, I needed 1000 papers and a passport. To get into my school, I need a Visa and a letter from Rotary. To get a long term Visa/ID card (so I don't get deported in 3 months) I need a Visa, my passport, a letter from my school, a letter from rotary, and I have to do this within 8 days of arrival. To get a bank account, I need a Visa, a passport, a letter from my school, and a letter from Rotary. Things just get so confusing! But I finally figured out what the letter from Rotary was that was very important and everyone kept saying I should have but didn't. It's my Guarantee Form. Which I do have, thank God. So then I played Angry Birds with Arnold for like 2 hours, tried filet americain (Steak tartare) for lunch-hmmmm- and ate french fries-YUM.
Then I went to the Citadelle for my first rotary meeting with Marc (old one, not one who invited me to Paris) and Martine's husband (who name shall remain unknown). A lot of the Rotarians came up to talk to me, which I was really nervous about, because my french isn't that good, but everyone says I understand a lot and they're amazed I can speak so well already. So props to my French teachers. And it was easy because they all asked the same questions. When did you get here? (Samedi matin) Where in the States are you from? (Wyoming, avec les cowboys et Yellowstone) What's your prenom? (Mackenzie.) No, you're first name. (Oui, Mackenzie, ou Kenzie) Mais c'est un nom de famille, non? (Yes, but its my first name, not my family name. ACCEPT IT) and What school will you attend, what city are you in? (College de Bellevue, Dinant). They were all nice but it was loud and I could barely hear, let alone understand everything.
After the rotary meeting, we went to dinner at Martine's house as a going away thing for Clementine. She leaves for San Luis Obispo tomorrow at 6 AM for the year. We played this game called Jungle Speed with all her cousins and it's really fun but I'm really bad and at first it was hard to understand.
Sorry this post is so long! I had a lot to fill you in on :) Mostly the pictures will be on my facebook, because it takes a long time to add them on here. I will post a list of cool/different things I've noticed about the culture here soon, but pour maintenant, au revoir!