The Great Break-In…

I was reading a lovely story about children in Italy in the 1950s. It was all about their trials and tribulations of growing up in poverty and it focused on how they made their dreams come true through scholastic endeavours. The main character, a young girl, talks about how she wanted the boys to like her. She noticed that these males would only be nice to her when a test was coming up. They would only hang out with her in order to be able to borrow her school notes. This got me reminiscing about one particularly interesting summer day during my youth.

It was a Saturday. Growing up as a Croatian in Canada, my parents ensured we were surrounded with our Croatian heritage. We went to church on Sundays (mass was said in Croatian). We attended weekly choir practice a(all songs were in Croatian). We were part of the tamburitza musical group where we played Croatian songs from the various regions of Croatia. Later we became part of the kolo (dance) group where we performed dances and sang songs from varying Croatian regions. All things Croatian. That was us! If satellite tv had been available then (maybe it was?) we would’ve been watching Croatian tv as well. So, it was no surprise that we attended Croatian school on Saturday. What were we learning? Why all things Croatian of course! We learned all 30 letters of the alphabet. We learned to conjugate Croatian verbs. We sang songs (in Croatian). We learned the history and geography of: Canada. NOT! All Croatia, all the time. We were the most Croatian of all Croatians outside of Croatia itself. Yes, we were loud and proud, but also confused.

You see, depending on where your parents came from in Croatia you ended up speaking a different dialect at home. So, those from the Northern area of Croatia had village-speak words that were a mixture of Croatian with German (due to German occupation). Those from the south had a cocktail language mixture of Croatian and Italian (yup, Italian occupation). When we got to Saturday heritage school we were suddenly surprised to realize that we had to learn our home and native tongue again because we had no idea that we weren’t actually speaking pure book-version Croatian.

Thus, it came as no surprise that there was the need for hardcore studying when final test time came around. It was also no surprise that I, the teacher’s pet AND super-student suddenly became super popular and was asked, nay begged, by many to sit beside them. My tests were usually 100% accurate. During my grade 6 year I had to share this desired attention with my competition; a boy. He also aced everything. Ah…I pictured us getting married and having brilliant children. (*swoon*) Note: growing up as a female Croatian during this time, it was important to keep your eyes peeled for the perfect mate: smart, church-going, and naturally…Croatian. It was during this month of June, this end of school year June, that IT happened. the Great Exam Heist of 1980-something.

It was a sunny day. Actually, it was a swelteringly hot summer day. We had our scholarly class held in a off-shot educational box called a portable. My class had already been hard at work writing our final exam when the recess bell rang. The teacher had ushered us out of the oven-hot classroom to go play outside. She locked the door to make sure no one would try to get into the class. Little did she know that a plot had been hatched.

I oftentimes wondered why the person(s) who came up with this ingenious plan could not find the fortitude to put this much effort into studying as they did in finding a way to come up with this dare-devilish plan. So much effort and planning. It was genius! But could it be pulled off?

Our recess break lasted a total of 30 minutes. As we shuffled out of the room that was located in the portapack (a group of portables stuck together with a hallway) we groaned knowing that we would be stuck outdoors in extreme heat and humidity. It was the end of June and it was a hot one! As our teacher headed purposefully toward the main air-conditioned school building, I was approached by one girl to come meet her outside. She said there was already a group waiting there for us. She was one of the cool kids that never hung out anywhere near my brainy self. I was way too uncool to be seen publicly with her fashionista self. This was a once-in-a-lifetime chance to hang out with the cool kid. I followed excitedly.

As we exited the portapack into the extreme sunniness of the great outdoors, I saw the rest of my class standing around chatting excitedly. There, in the middle of this kerfuffle, was my future brainiac baby daddy. (We would have such brilliant children. Einsteinish even). The cool boy in our class nodded to the fashionista and the meeting began.

“You two are the smartest in the class. How close are you to finishing your tests?” Brainiac and I both looked around wondering why we were there and why they were actually speaking to us. We didn’t say anything. “How many pages of the exam have you finished?” I was actually too afraid to speak. Why was cool boy talking to me? “I have completed the whole exam,” said my future baby-daddy. He looked a me (**swoon**). “Me too,” I replied. “GREAT!” exclaimed cool kid. It was then that his mental genius of an idea came pouring out his mouth, all our classmates listened intently.

MASTER PLAN: “We have 25 minutes until recess is over. The window to the portable is open. We get long-legged skinny joe here and hoist him up through the window into the room. He grabs your test (pointing to me) and your test (pointing to smart-boy-future-baby-daddy) and passes them over to us. We write down the answers. Then twiggy boy puts your test papers back on the desks, makes his escape, and we all win!”

There was a lot of high-fiving and cheering as this plan was given the Classroom Seal of Approval. Me and my future genius-baby-daddy (**swoon**) looked at each other. My mind was reeling: What if a teacher on duty sees? What if we get caught? My parents would KILL me! My smarty parts male counterpart had a different thought.

“That’s cheating,” he declared. (**swoon**) My Einsteinish non-boyfriend was so honourable. Like a Knight of the Round Table.

Cool Kid put a hand on his shoulder and declared that what he would be doing was a noble deed. The teacher was mean. She hadn’t given us enough time to study. The exam was too hard. He was helping his fellow man. It was the last test of the whole year and wouldn’t he do it just this once?

I listened intently. I didn’t really need to listen. I had made up my mind. I had NOOOOOOOO problem at all having them steal my test and use my answers to pass this exam. I wanted to be liked. See, my grade 6 self had no problem being bribed by praise. LIKE ME! That was all I wanted. Even if it meant doing the unthinkable thing of cheating. It was fine by me.

“We’re running out of time!” someone yelled.

“Fine…” murmured by co-hort in smartness. He looked beaten. His moral compass had been broken.

Me? I was whoot whootin’ excitedly. This was craziness! Could we pull it off? Would we get caught? We might, but then it was a whole class of kids that would get in trouble. Safety in numbers, I figured.

Skinny kid was hoisted up and into the portable. It took a bit of desk pointing to figure out which desks contained my and my future spouses exam papers. Our tests were passed out through the window quickly by Lanky Lenny to Cool Kid and the frenetic copying began. Someone had the idea to let one person read while everyone else wrote the answers:

1 is A / 2 is C / 3 is C …. 8 is TRUE / 9 is TRUE / …. 22 is RIJEKA (river in English)….etc.

DING DING DING DING DING!!! The recess bell rang

F***!! yelled Cool Kid. He grabbed Boney Benny and hoisted him back into the room. The rest of us went inside the portapack to line up by the door. We were nervous. What if he didn’t get out in time? We saw the teacher approaching. We heard a THUMP noise and then a loud “OH SHIT!” It was at this time that my daily mantra popped into my head, “my parents are going to kill me.”

The teacher unlocked the door and let us back into the room. She reminded us not to talk to each other as that would be considered cheating and we would all fail the test.

“My parents are going to kill me…my parents are going to kill me….my parents…” was all my brain was playing over and over in my mind. I sat down at my desk and tried to act natural. I dropped my pencil. My eraser bounced off my desk and off down another aisle. Typical clutzy me.

Five minutes before the end of class, the teacher told everyone to put their writing utensils down and then she walked around and collected all of our papers. I was sweating so much. I hoped my guilty nervousness was not showing through. It was over. After collecting my school bag and heading out the door, I had never felt such fear and excitement and such a sense of coolness as I had experienced that day. It was over…or so I thought.

The following Saturday, our strict teacher glowered at us as we entered our classroom. We took our seats and sat chatting happily as it was the last day of school. We had finished grade 6. Hallelujah!

“I have your final exams here,” she said, pointing to a stack of papers on her left. “It’s interesting how well you all did,” she continued. “So many of the same answers as if you could see each other’s papers….” she paused for effect as she stared down at each one of us. No one breathed. No one said a word. I tried not to blink as I thought, “my parents are going kill me”. Her demonic stare kept sweeping from one side of the room to the other. No one flinched. No one admitted anything. We were a collective group of cheaters and we were standing united.

“Anna,” she said loudly as she held up a test paper. Anna went up to get her exam. “5,” said the teacher. (note: in Croatian school, marks went from 1 to 5 with 5 being the best and 1 being the lowest grade).

“Tom,” she snarled as Tom Cool Kid went up to get his paper, “5-” she said coolly as he smirked, his outstretched arm grabbing his paper.

The class average was 5-. An historical feat. She knew something was up. She knew there must have been a way that we had cheated, but she couldn’t prove it.

To this day, I consider this my Mission Impossible in life. Oh, don’t get me wrong, cheating is horrendous, and cheating just to get accolades and atto-boys for 3 hours if nothing to be proud of. The reason why I love this part of my life is because it showed me that people can put aside their differences and work together as a group in order to achieve a final goal. It’s like any government:

You will cheat to get your desired outcome

You can put aside your differences in order to achieve your final goal

If you find a common tyrant you can get good people to go against their usual values

Hot, summer days are not a good time to hold exams

Close the windows on the classroom. You never know what kind of hooligans you actually have in your class.

New illness revealed…

Everyday there seems to be some kind of new disease taking over the world.  I do believe I have discovered a new illness.  It is quite uncomfortable and irritating, and it usually clears up after a couple of days.  If I am correct, and this is a new disease, then I shall be famously known as the woman who discovered, diagnosed, and provided the remedy for the infamous Croatianitus (pronounced:  kro-aye-shun-eye-tis).  What is Croatianitus?

I am sure most of you have heard about Tinnitus.  It is a ringing or buzzing in your ears that only you can hear.  Croatianitus is something similar, but in an opposite way.  Instead of hearing the buzzing in your ears you find that you really can’t hear at all.  There is a pressure built up in your head, sort of like having your head wrapped up in a cotton ball helmet.  When people speak to you, you can see their lips moving and perhaps some sound will break through the fogginess, but your actual capability to hear normally has been adversely affected.

What causes Croatianitus?   This condition is most often brought on by being in public places with Croatians.  These are a jovial and entertaining group of people.  They prefer loud music and even louder conversations. This friendly group of humans started out in Croatia.  From there, emigration began and they moved to many different countries all over the world!  They brought their sense of joie de vivre with them and settled in cities where there were others of their kind.  Their raucous laughter and joke telling was studied in order to record their decibel levels.  After numerous studies, dB showed them way above healthy levels…closer to “shot gun” deafening.

I have been studying this society for quite some time now.  I have attended their marital rituals and other religious ceremonies.  I have been invited to and frequented other social events including annual group performances which showed their softer side.  Colourful, cultural dances and the vocalizing of historical songs.  All is well until their show is over and the socializing begins.

It appears very harmless.  Oftentimes you will move to a different room and sometimes even a different location.  Having completed their ceremonies, they become lax and free-spirited.  They congregate and speak.  This is symptom number one of Croatianitus.  You believe you are in a regular conversation, however, when this group forms you will find that they begin speaking at a dB (decibel) level of perhaps 30.   Very safe.  As more of them enter the room, there are more in-depth discussions beginning.  In order to be heard, the repartee of each mini-group grows in loudness.  Suddenly, you notice that the traditional music has begun playing in the background.  When did that occur?  You are already beginning to notice a difference in your hearing.

Symptom number two is when you realize that you yourself have begun to annunciate and speak louder.  This is an automatic self-preservation tactic.  In order to be heard above the din you must assimilate with the masses.  You lull yourself into a false sense of security at your ingenuity.  Little do you realize that as the seconds and minutes tick by, you have gone from “normal-speaking” person voice to the “Croatian” speaking voice.  This voice is at least three times louder than your normal speech and you feel comfortable because the “Croatians” smile at you happily and proudly as you have adjusted in order to join their world.

Symptom number three is the most fatal one and oftentimes is mistaken for tiredness or regular tinnitus.  After cavorting with these cheerful and partying persons, it is time for you to go home.  You start to say your goodbyes but you can’t hear your own voice.  After much analysis I believe that this is the reason why these people give big hugs and double cheek kisses at the end of the night.  No one can really hear them, and it is said that actions speak louder than words, so this is their way of showing you their joy and gratitude for your attendance.

Remedy for Croatianitus is a bit of a longer process.  It is all about patience.  You will notice that your ears will continue ringing.   The buzzing will stop, usually by next morning.  The newfound deafness could take up to a couple of days to clear, but you will get there.

The best way to ensure you don’t become prone to this illness is to limit exposure.  After intense study on this group, I have found that a two-hour maximum exposure limit will allow you to hear in about one hour after departing their company.  Anything longer than that and you are looking at the three day rule until full recovery.

How do I know all about this?  I myself am a Croatian.  I chanced upon Croatianitus after moving out of my parent’s house.  As mentioned previously, there were six of us in that house and the Over-Talking (a.k.a. “speaking over another person while they are still talking” because we didn’t consider that rude).  We knew we had to speak louder in order to be heard.  THAT was our training ground.  There was no “excuse me” or “pardon me for interrupting” it was survival of the fittest, or in this case, the loudest.

After departing the humble abode of my youth and moving in with Wiseguy hubby, he started lowering the volume on the tv set one night.  He asked if I could still hear everything.  I could. He lowered it again…and again…and again.  Surprisingly, I could still hear every word being said.  THAT was when I first realized there was something unique about being nurtured (trained) in a Croatian home.

EPILOGUE:  It has been five hours since departing my last Croatian function.

  •  Congregating time after concert = 2 hours.
  •  Hearing in my right ear = returned after 2 hours.
  • Hearing in my left ear = returned after 4 hours.