This is a cheater Belgian Email since I am writing it not from Belgium, but rather from the Great Northern Lowlands. As the topic will be entirely dedicated to my last week in Belgium, however, I think the claim is valid.
So greetings hello and welcome! I think I sent everyone a note to let you know I was here and alive, right? Good. I’ll fill you in on the Netherlands soon enough, but first, all about my exciting last week in Belgium.
The week was irritatingly sprinkled with pointless academic obligations. On Monday, I had to sit around outside a classroom while all the professors in our program debated the quality of our theses. We got no feedback from them, so we just went home when it was over. On Thursday, the same thing happened concerning grades for our coursework. At least this time, after the deliberations, they announced who would be graduating, although nothing more specific.
With my name thankfully on that list, I proceeded to the graduation festivities on Friday. This was about what you’d expect out of a graduation ceremony, only much less ceremonial. It included all the departments of the Faculty of Letters, both undergraduate and masters students. There were no fancy gowns and caps, no pomp and circumstance, just lists of names read off and speeches in Dutch done by people who were probably important. I graduated Cum Laude – third best and third worse of those in my group to graduate on time.
I managed to find my slacker of a promoter after it was over. He seems to have liked my thesis just fine, but had nothing at all to say about the fact that he never bothered to read it before I handed it in. Much to my extreme satisfaction, once I got my grades back, I discovered that my best thesis grades (we got 7 of them) did not come from him, but from one of my other two readers. So maybe my thesis wasn’t total rubbish after all, though I’m still not convinced it was the quality of work I could have done if I’d had a little guidance.
In between these lovely academic ordeals, I spent the week traveling about with Marianne. We spent the first couple days in her hometown of Maasmechelen. Her mommy cooked me yummy Belgian dinners (stuffed red peppers one night, something fried and breaded the next…) This is also where the Chicken Summer Camp is, so we dropped Germaine and Josephine off at their new home. They’ll be learning to get along and play nicely with other chickens and also geese for the next few months. They weren’t doing very well at that at the time we left. I’ve got some great pictures that I will try to put up soon.
Chickens taken care of, we went out that evening with some of Marianne’s friends to play cards and pool (and drink beers, of course). It was really nice. Her friends were great, and very tolerant of my language deficiency, and we had a good time.
The next night we went to Koen’s hometown of Sint Truiden. His family was also fabulously welcoming. His mommy cooked us stoofvlees (beefy stew kind of stuff) and homemade fries. It was very yummy. Then we went out with some of Koen’s friends. I didn’t like them so much; too much smoking and drinking and annoying me. I was glad, in the end, to retire to his backyard, where Marianne and I were sharing a tent in the rain. It wasn’t very warm, but at least it was dry and quiet.
The last day, Marianne and I went up to Blankenberge (I think?) which is on the Belgian Coast. I was tired and ready to be done vacationing, but it seemed like a pity to miss what was supposed to be the nicest destination. We got going late, but it was okay to take just the afternoon. We walked along the coast then went and saw the sand sculptures. I guess this is a yearly activity – famous sand sculptors from all over come and make famous Belgian landmarks out of sand. I took a bunch of pictures, which will eventually end up on my website. Stay tuned. We then had a nice meal (Marianne’s 8-legged dinner stared at me through the meal until I gave him a cucumber hat to get those beady eyes off me) and headed back to Leuven.
That was the morning I graduated. After that, I went out and spent the weekend with the Evans family in Namur. They are so wonderful to me. On saturday, they gave me a bit of a sending off party. All my friends from my congregation showed up (well, at least as many as could fit around the garden tables, a few of which we pilfered from the neighbors). I helped cook the meal, which included three kinds of quiche, chicken in a crazy-yummy sherry sauce, saffron rice pilaf, homemade spaghetti, and lots and lots of cookies and ice cream and cherry tart and cupcakes for dessert. Mmmmmm!
The evening continued with some rousing karaoke hooked up to the living room television. It was hilarious. Everyone sang along to all the songs, so no one felt dumb taking a turn holding the mike. I think Yellow Submarine was the highlight of the evening.
I stayed with them through Monday morning, just relaxing and pretending to be in a family. They’re no substitute for my own (I miss you guys!!) but I’ll happily take what I can get. Two more months to go!
When I got home (to Leuven, let’s clarify), I packed and cleaned and packed some more and cleaned some more. Jeroen came and rescued me at 6 or so. We were supposed to be taking my bike back to the bike rental place but… well… it’s a long story as to why that didn’t work. Ye gads. After giving up in frustration, we decided to go out to dinner (mexican!) and a movie (War of the Worlds). I then had my last sit-out on the terrace in Oude Markt, drinking Kriek and yapping about nothing at all. It was a good way to conclude my stay in Belgium.
Somehow or another, the next morning, I got myself, my two suitcases, and my two backpacks onto the train. (I even left one suitcase with the Evanses! Sheeeesh.) I had to change trains three times before I got to Nijmegen, which was truly taxing. By the time I got picked up, I was ready for a nap. Instead, I got to go meet (and re-meet!) lots of people working in the office and living in the excavation house. Everything is falling together to look like it will be a really great summer. I’ll give more details in my next email, but let it suffice to say for now that although there are no chickens this time, there are ducks and frogs (I guess the spiders and mosquitoes don’t count).
I started working yesterday, and I must say, I’ve forgotten how hard this work is, and how dirty. Yikes. But it’ll be good for me. Especially after my muscles learn to cope and I find a happy balance between sunscreen and blowing dust…
Okay. Time to give this epic up for now. I hope the summer continues to be wonderful in all your respective corners of the globe. Your first Netherlandic Epic should be arriving some time over the weekend… Very much love and many hugs!