Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Familiarity Breeds...

Familiarity is strange... A truly bizarre phenomenon that defies logic or convention. Yet I can attest to the process because somehow, somewhere along the way, an obscure corner of Hungary has become more familiar to me than many of the well-traveled places in my “homelands” of the United States and the Netherlands.

I spent the first quarter-century of my life in the heartland of America, yet vast and significant portions of the United States are completely unfamiliar to me. I’ve never visited San Francisco or Baltimore, and childhood tourist experiences hardly count for familiarity of the great American metropolises of New York and Los Angeles. The Library of Congress could not hold enough photo albums to feature the countless snapshots of grinning foreign tourists posing in Yellowstone, Disneyland, and Gettysburg -- but there wouldn’t be a single photograph of me from these places, because I’ve never been there. I’ve been fortunate to travel through the majority of American states -- at least to the point where I could check them off from a list -- but even so, I’ve never even set foot in Idaho... or Maine... or Louisiana... to name a few.

Likewise, I’ve been living in the Netherlands for over three years now -- a relatively small nation (just a third the size of the American state of Ohio) -- yet parts of the country are totally unfamiliar. Rotterdam, Utrecht, and Eindhoven are scarcely more than train stops to me. Foreign tourists rave about the cheese market in Gouda, the palaces of Den Haag, and the replica village of Madurodam... but I can only smile and nod with feigned appreciation for these foreign experiences from my adopted homeland. I’ve never been north of Zwolle; thus, the northern third of the Netherlands remains a complete mystery to me. And even Amsterdam holds innumerable pockets of unfamiliarity for me after three years.

Yet here I am -- writing in a very familiar lobby of a very familiar hotel. Every day of this week, we’re eating familiar meals and snacks, drinking familiar-tasting water, and smelling familiar odors in the air. We're taking familiar walks through familiar landscapes. If we went outside the door of this hotel, I could give you directions to the train station, the post office, and the grocery store in town... And yet, this is a relatively obscure conference center, in a relatively obscure village, in a relatively obscure country, in a relatively obscure region of Europe: Balatonkenese, Hungary.

This is our fourth year of participation in the annual Great Commission Europe Staff Retreat, at the Hotel Marina Port on the shores of Lake Balaton in Hungary. Thus, by the time this week is over, I will have spent a cumulative period of roughly one month of my life in Balatonkenese, Hungary... Crazy to think about, huh? No wonder everything seems so familiar around here...


At 6:11 PM, Blogger Marcey said...

I know it won't surprise you when I say that I have been thinking of Balatonkenese for the last few weeks, as if my brain has it on a reminder list. There is such a strong connection between Easter and Hungary in my mind! I just remember how quiet it was out in the town. We had such a great time last year, it was very fun and restful. Don't forget, only a mile or two away is the all-season bobsled park! It was cheap and really fun, if anyone has a car. The kids loved it! Anyway, enjoy your time and greet everyone for us.



At 7:32 PM, Blogger Eric Asp said...

Yes, we thought of you guys too at this year's retreat... We had some good times together in Hungary (I still fondly remember a specific night from our first time there, telling stories late into the night with you guys and Steve and Ali)... They're talking about holding the conference somewhere else next year, so it may be the end of our Hungary memories too. But at least there are good memories.


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