Wednesday, December 22, 2010

My Christmas Philosophy, courtesy of the Muppets

The world has got a smile today
The world has got a glow
There's no such thing as strangers when
A stranger says hello

It's the season when the saints can employ us
To spread the news about peace and to keep love alive

Yes, faith is in our hearts today
We're shining like the sun

It's true
Wherever you find love
It feels like Christmas
It is the season of the heart
A special time of caring
The ways of love made clear
It is the season of the sprit
The message if we hear it
Is make it last all year

It is the summer of the soul in December
Yes, when you do your best for love
It feels like Christmas

Yes and every night will end, and every day will start
With a greatful prayer and a thankful heart

With an open smile and with open doors
I will bid you welcome, what is mine is yours
Stop and look around you, the glory that you see
Is born again each day, don't let it slip away
How precious life can be

With a thankful heart that is wide awake
I do make this promise, every breath I take
Will be used now to sing your praise
And to beg you to share my days
With a loving guarantee that even if we part
I will hold you close in a thankful heart

Let us always love each other
Lead us to the light
Let us hear the voice of reason, singing in the night
Let us run from anger and catch us when we fall
Teach us in our dreams and please, yes please
Bless us one and all

We reach for you and we stand tall
And in our prayers and dreams
We ask you bless us all

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

A how-to guide for a (slightly illegal) Danish adventure

1) Make it clear that you are dressed for warmth, not style.  Suggested attire includes snow boots, rubber ducky mittens, and a goofy hat.

2) Board the Schleswig-Holstein Express to Flensburg, Germany's northernmost city.

3) Enjoy the scenery.

4) Be resourceful/unethical by grabbing a massive wad of toilet paper from the train bathroom, in light of having forgotten to bring tissues.

5) Arrive in Flensburg and pay homage to mysterious giant head.

6) Fluster some Danes by posing a question in German.

7) Be overly excited about the cuteness of the city.

8) Pay obligatory visit to really old German church.

9) Confirm that the church is, in fact, really old.

10) Ponder the story behind this:

11) Wish you could live in a magenta house.

12) Take a bus but get off too early and, as a result, take a very long and cold, but very beautiful, walk.

13) Sneak up on a bird to take its picture.

14) Discover the foot-bridge to Denmark!

15) Celebrate your first ever visit to Scandanavia.

16) Worry that a border guard is in the little house, waiting to apprehend you.

17) Spend 5 minutes searching for a stick.

18) Spend 5 minutes using said stick to scrape the ice and snow off of this sign, as proof of where you are.

19) Stand in awe.

20) Lose feeling in your hands by taking too many pictures of icy water.

21) Decide that you are Scandinavian at heart.

22) Have entirely too much fun jumping on the ice.

24) Return to the bridge and wonder what country you're in.

25) Ponder the nationality of these birds.

26) Sigh with relief that you made it back into Germany without being discovered.


Monday, December 20, 2010

Kendra's Christmas List

1) A decision from the Rechtsamt

2) Warm hands and feet

3) Some Doritos and a root beer

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

That's the thing about activism.

It isn't a members-only club. We don't get to choose who is, and who isn't, an activist.

The ability to stand up, to do the right thing - to be active - is in every human being.

Almost everyone does it at some point in their lives.  They get angry, stand up, and say no. I won't move to the back of the bus.

Or yes. I will stand with you today. In silence. Asking for peace.

- Jane Barry and Jelena Dordevic

The most important meal of the day

Sunday morning, as I went to take out some money for offering, I realized that my wallet wasn't in my bag.  I found this disconcerting, since I didn't remember taking it out of my bag the night before, but I wasn't too worried, assuming it was buried somewhere in the mess that is my room.  Based on this assumption and because I had no occasion to buy anything, I didn't think of the wallet's absence for the rest of the day.

Upon waking up Monday morning, I conducted a search of my room, which grew increasingly frantic - my wallet was nowhere to be found.

After an accumulation of unfortunate events and an ongoing bad mood, this was the last thing I needed.  I found myself  alternating between the Nancy Kerrigan "Why me?!" mode and kicking myself for being careless enough to lose a significant (by my standards) amount of money, my driver's license, and bank cards.

By the time I reached work this morning, I had accepted the loss and was somewhat calmed by knowing I had taken care of everything I needed to regarding the contents of the wallet.

With this state of mind, I grabbed my box of Müsli for some breakfast when, lo and behold, there was my wallet!  My precious, heartily-missed wallet - getting all warm and cozy in my box of granola.

I can only assume that when I dropped my wallet into my backpack on Saturday evening, it fell right into the box that was also traveling through Hamburg with me.

Had I taken the time to eat breakfast on Sunday or Monday morning, I could have saved myself a vast amount of mental turmoil and the underserved sympathy from well-wishers.

And what do we learn from this, boys and girls? 
Never, ever, skip breakfast.

I'll never snub you again, my dear friend.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Between principle and pragmatism

I'm lucky enough to live close to a huge park with several kilometers of paths that are great for running and walking.
Something I find unusual is that part of the park runs right along a prison/detention center. There's a nice little brick wall along the edge of the park, and right behind that is a threatening, giant concrete wall complete with barbed wire and watch towers. 

It's a strange, though not unusual, occurrence, as I go down the path, to pass by people standing in the park who are engaged in shouted conversations with their incarcerated friends and family members, who are yelling back out of their cell windows.
What makes it all rather eerie to me is this:

This sign tells how, during the NS reign, the prison was used as an execution site for members of the Resistance - roughly 500 people were imprisoned here before then being beheaded.

I do realize that it would not really be practical for the German government to avoid using any building that had once been utilized by the NS regime, but the fact that there are prisoners (including those in pre-deportation detention) being held at a site where such crimes were committed by the state just doesn't seem quite right to me.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

This thing called simple living

In the latest edition of my residence permit saga, the lady responsible for my case voiced her doubt that I can live off of my monthly 'salary' from pbi and pointed out that I receive less than Hartz-IV recipients.

The fact that I receive less money than those on the German welfare system is something I'd never much considered before.  Earlier this year, during Lent, members of a few church congregations decided to restrict themselves to living only off the amount that Hartz-IV recipients receive.  I read an article from one participant, and she wrote how, after a couple weeks, she was out of money.

I've never thought that living at this income level was that hard.  But I guess it all depends on your perspective and what you are used to.  I went from college (where I had multiple jobs but where the income went to tuition) to a volunteer year to several months of unemployment to more volunteer service, and, besides, thriftiness (or stinginess) is part of my nature.  The article author wrote that what broke her budget were her social activities - going out for drinks and the like.  In my time here, my circle of friends has mostly consisted of interns: college students or recent graduates who spend 4 months working here without receiving any payment; it's a lot easier to avoid spending money if your friends don't have any either.

But, upon further consideration, living at this financial level is hard.  Or, at least, it very well could be.

I rely on my bike to get around.  But if someone is elderly or for any number of health reasons is not able to ride through the city (which is increasingly plausible as temperatures fall further below freezing and the ice and snow accumulate), they are left with the cost of public transportation.  After paying rent, a monthly pass would wipe out more than a quarter of my income.

I have a washing machine to use free of charge, but others face the costs of regular visits to the laundromat.  Whereas I sub-let and don't have to worry about such things, others may see their entire monthly income swallowed up by a broken refrigerator.  And the list continues.

Just as in the US, welfare recipients here are also stigmatized and discriminated against.  If everyone in the city would undergo a stint of 'living simply,' they would discover that it's really not that simple.

Monday, December 6, 2010

So shines a good deed in a weary world

Yesterday I visited a different church and so found myself talking to some new people during the coffee hour.

I was chatting with a woman from Singapore who now lives in Hamburg with her German husband. Upon hearing that I didn't yet know what I would be doing for Christmas, she gave me her cell phone number, just in case I wanted some company for the holidays.

I had only met her five minutes before.

I don't think she had any idea how much her small gesture meant to me.

Friday, December 3, 2010


'Clubbin' leggings that double as long-johns.  Having enough money that I can splurge on a bus ticket instead of battling through the snow with my bike.  Having a flexible enough job that it doesn't matter when my bus comes 20 minutes late.  Brötchen for breakfast.  Escaping from my desk to chop vegetables.  The delivery man who hauled 10 pizzas up 4 flights of stairs.  The distinctly American feel of stuffing my face with far too much pizza.  Dancing my way back from the post office with some help from Train and Tracey Chapman.  The pleasant surprise of a concert in the middle of the subway station.  Friendly strangers willing to offer me directions.  Free gospel concert.  Singing 'Go Tell It on a Mountain' with a church full of Germans.  The mix of gospel and Christmas music.  The people and work of Brot & Rosen.  Hearing the cheers and chants from the soccer stadium as I walk home.  Having a warm apartment to come home to.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The waiting person is a patient person. The word patience means the willingness to stay where we are and live the situation out to the full in the belief that something hidden there will manifest itself to us. Impatient people are always expecting the real thing to happen somewhere else and therefore want to go elsewhere. The moment is empty. But patient people dare to stay where they are. Patient living means to live actively in the present and wait there. Waiting, then, is not passive. It involves nurturing the moment, as a mother nurtures the child that is growing in her. Zechariah, Elizabeth, and Mary were very present to the moment. That is why they could hear the angel. They were alert, attentive to the voice that spoke to them and said, "Don't be afraid. Something is happening to you. Pay attention."

- Henri Nouwen

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

I got some salmon from Seattle last September...

Today I headed to the post office to pick up a package.  As I stood in line, all of a sudden "The Wells Fargo Wagon" song started running through my head, as I hoped that the package was 'somethin' special just for me.'

The combination of the cold and the brewery fumes is obviously doing funny things to my brain.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

That (Im)personal Touch

The other day, one of our interns mentioned something about how she had been signed up to attend one of our seminars a couple months ago.  When I expressed surprise, she brought it my attention that we had in fact been in email contact about it.


Much to my distaste, I've realized that I've become a sort of automated response system.  I spend time almost every day responding to people interested in the work of pbi, either providing them with more information about our volunteer program or turning them down because they don't meet our qualifications.  In either case, I use one of several pre-written letters, taking the time only to change the name following the "Dear..."  I'm fairly certain that one of these days I will in fact forget to the change the name and will mortally offend some lady named Lena because I addressed her as Ralf.

Sure, it is not practical for me to take the time to learn the life story of everyone who sends me an email (and if I did, it would probably just creep them out); I just wish there was an efficient way to provide information that didn't leave me feeling like a robot.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Giving Thanks for Thanksgiving

 Having now spent my third (non-consecutive) Thanksgiving in Germany, I thought I'd take a moment to reflect on how I've been fortunate enough to celebrate this classic American holiday each year:

 I started the day by continuing in my quest to introduce as many Germans as possible to the greatness of Rice Krispie treats.  These were well-received by my co-workers, and I had the amusement of hearing them all try to pronounce Thanksgiving (Considering how my times my German pronunciation has been mocked, I have no misgivings whatsoever in taking amusement in their mistakes).
After work I headed to the home of the American family I knew from church who were hosting a big dinner. I didn't really know anyone, and, shortly after arriving, I realized I was one of the few people there that was neither a member of the military nor a spouse/kid of a military member..."Hi, I work at a peace organization..."
Still, it was pleasant, the food was delicious, and I got to chat about international law with someone who works for the UN.  Because, really, what says 'Happy Thanksgiving' better than international law discussions?

But the revelry didn't end there.  This year I was lucky enough to get to celebrate twice.  Saturday I headed to Kelly's house for 'Smug Married Couples' Thanksgiving.'  Okay, so they really weren't smug, but I couldn't resist the Bridget Jones reference, and it was me, 4 married couples, and 12 kids (10 of which were age 5 and under).  It was intense.
And the food.  Oh, the food!  The highlights included rekindling my relationship with green bean casserole and discovering my love for sweet potatoes.
And, we played Cranium!

The bounty.
This picture in no way reveals how excited I was to be playing this game.

I had taken a few days off from the girls' home and traveled to Hamburg to visit Anna and Sara, my two Swedish friends who were also doing an FSJ.
On Thursday morning, as we were discussing our plans for the day, they told me they were wanting to go to IKEA for Swedish meatballs. The fact that it was Thanksgiving had actually escaped my mind, so I wasn't too bothered by the idea of taking a trip to a furniture store.
But, lo and behold, their actual plan was surprising me with a trip to an American-style restaurant that was hosting a Thanksgiving buffet.  Those tricky Swedes.
After paying an exorbitant price, we were welcomed to a buffet filled with all the typical Thanksgiving foods, or, at least, what the Germans think are typical Thanksgiving foods.  My favorites were the muffins as desserts (muffins are inescapably connected with America here) and the bowl of giant marshmallows (apparently they missed the memo that they are traditionally cooked with the sweet potatoes).  The food was great, but I was much more thankful for the thoughtfulness of my friends in staking out the place and doing their best to make me feel at home.
Please take notice of the abundance of American flags as well as the turkey trying to bite my skull.

My program in Berlin had classes on this day, but luckily Thursdays were field trip days for my morning German language class.  And this time we took a trip to Deutsche Welle!  Deutsche Welle is basically the German version of the BBC and is therefore awesome.
[Sidenote to illustrate the coolness of Deutsche Welle: their website has these time-traveling programs/games where you can learn German by helping the hero Anna stop those who want to hinder Germany's reunification, learn French by helping the hero Eva against her opponents who want to take France back to the time of Napoleon, and learn Polish by helping Suzanna stop the gangsters wanting to prevent Poland from joining the EU.]
Needless to say,  getting a tour of an international radio/TV news studio was amazing.

I'm pretty pumped about my DW swag.

From there, I headed to my afternoon class, which was about the multi-culturalism of Germany/Berlin, and this class too was having a field trip.  So, I headed to the depths of eastern Berlin, where our class consisted of eating at a Vietnamese restaurant and hearing about the city's Vietnamese community.  Not a bad way to spend class-time.
Then, thought, it was really Thanksgiving time.  My friends (mostly Americans plus a Bulgarian and a Portuguese) and I had planned a potluck, and it was one of the most fun Thanksgivings I've ever had.  And, for being entirely cooked by a bunch of 20 year-olds, the food was quite delicious.  The most amusing menu item was the choice of meat.  Whole turkeys are hard to come by here, so instead, my friend bought a rotisserie chicken that are sold ready-to-eat all around the city.

Friends and a feast.

If there's one thing I've learned from my overseas Thanksgiving experiences, it's this: you can take the glutton out of America, but you can't take the America out of the glutton.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The Day Is Done

The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of Night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in his flight.

I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist:

A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.

Come, read to me some poem,
Some simple and heartfelt lay,
That shall soothe this restless feeling,
And banish the thoughts of day.

Not from the grand old masters,
Not from the bards sublime,
Whose distant footsteps echo
Through the corridors of Time.

For, like strains of martial music,
Their mighty thoughts suggest
Life's endless toil and endeavor;
And to-night I long for rest.

Read from some humbler poet,
Whose songs gushed from his heart,
As showers from the clouds of summer,
Or tears from the eyelids start;

Who, through long days of labor,
And nights devoid of ease,
Still heard in his soul the music
Of wonderful melodies.

Such songs have power to quiet
The restless pulse of care,
And come like the benediction
That follows after prayer.

Then read from the treasured volume
The poem of thy choice,
And lend to the rhyme of the poet
The beauty of thy voice.

And the night shall be filled with music
And the cares, that infest the day,
Shall fold their tents, like the Arabs,
And as silently steal away.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The week in review

Monday: Trying to convince the choir director that The Police's "Every Breath You Take" is a stalker song and really doesn't fit the imagery of a mother lovingly watching over her children.  Vois Sur Ton Chemin.  Free imbiss.  Celebration of religious diversity. 

Tuesday: Torsten not disappointing expectations with the Hand Song.  Laughing with pre-teens over Kotzende Kangaroo and James Bond.  Human Rights Taboo.  The handful of jr. high kids willing to discuss human rights at 5:00 in the evening.  Learning the proper greeting to use in Kenya.  Board games!

Wednesday: Being able to laugh about my paperless status.  Walking the streets of Hamburg en masse.  The right to demonstrate.  Peaceful protests.  The hope that social action will have an effect on Germany's refugee policies. The dichotomy of going directly from a demonstration to the movie theater. Living in a city big enough to offer movies in original English.  The magic of seeing a Harry Potter movie for the first time.

Thursday: Humor in the office.  Poking fun at Americans' bad taste.  Email from a friend I haven't heard from in a long while.  The smell of clean laundry.  Jon Stewart's wit.

Friday: An unproblematic rideshare.  Glimpses into the lives of others.  Seeing the sun for the first time in two weeks.  The beauty of deep greens and browns in the rolling hills.  Seeing hills at all after spending so much time in the city in the middle of flatlands.  The warmth of sunshine on my face.  Incidentally entering the shooting of a German TV show.  Bonn's Innenstadt.  Simply getting away.  Riding the train along the Rhein.  Knowing the trip was worth it for the view of the river and hills alone.  Sunset over the Rhein.  Taking an excessive number of pictures of the sunset as I made my way through Neuwied.  Hanging out with an 'ironic and sarcastic buddy.'  Amusing ourselves with all manner of ridiculous ideas.  Trying out pizza with spinach and feta.  Having my play ticket paid for by someone whom I'd met just 5 minutes before.  Liebe in Dunklen Zeiten.  Nighttime stroll on the Rhein. 

Saturday: Starting the day off with a book.  Finding the most awesome rainboots on the planet.  Pink shoes! Couscous and tzatziki on a baked potato.  The excitement of a free Brötchen.  Happy Hippos.  The ridiculousness of the 1980's European music scene.  Re-discovering the delights of a playground.  Exploring Mystery Island.  Receiving a wave from a barge driver.  Ellen taking song requests as a minstrel.  "You scared the Baby Jesus out of me!"  Strawberry-Elderberry wine.  The coolness factor of telling the flatmates, as they were headed to the bars and clubs, that were were going to the playground.  Trampoline!  Nighttime swinging.  Talks at the river.  Scheming the greatest retreat ever.  Salt & vinegar chips.  Mel Brooks' outrageous humor.

Sunday: More quality reading time.  Nutella toast.  The vast history offered by an old German cemetary.  A shared meal.  Ice cream.  A free concert and the soothing quality of classical music.  More strolling along the river.  Conversation flowing freely between German, English, and French.  Amusing hosts.  Die Erde von Oben.  More ice cream, topped with brambleberry-applesauce.  Tatort.

Taking Rides from Strangers

I'm a big fan of the German train system, but, alas, it is rather expensive.

So, for the more cost-conscious among us, there is Mitfahrgelegenheit.  This is a well-developed, nation-wide rideshare program where you can search on the website and find a ride for a reasonable price.
It can be annoying to have to contact 10 different people before finding someone who a) actually responds and b) has space available, and I have had a few experiences of last-minute cancellations or standing distraught in Cologne because the ride I thought I'd arranged didn't pan out.  Yet, all in all, I think it's a great idea.

I'm sure that the much longer distances between cities is a reason why the US doesn't have such a system, but I also wonder if it has to do with trust.  I feel like Americans have an overly-developed sense of stranger danger and that the media has provided us with so many stories of murderous hitchhikers/rapist ride-givers that many people would have definite reservations about making use of such a system.  Because, after all, Mitfahrgelegenheit is really just a more organized and efficient (aka more German) form of hitchhiking. 
Personally, though, I've never thought twice about it.  I just spent 6 hours traveling alone with a strange man, and my biggest worry was trying to sustain my feigned interest in his endless conversation.

On another note, ridesharing seems to be a prime opportunity to learn aspects of random strangers' personal lives.
If I had to make a generalization about Germans, it would be that they are rather reserved - you generally have to know them a long time before they open up to you.
Not so when cruising the Autobahn with them.  When riding back from Berlin with a lady (who worked as a journalist and now as a therapist for traumatized kids and is therefore my career role model), she proceeded to tell me about how she knows how having an abortion can affect a woman because she had had one herself.
And, within 5 minutes of beginning our journey to Bonn, a fellow passenger told us all about her quasi-boyfriend: the entire story of how they met, how he wants her to be with him but can't commit, how she is considering leaving behind her friends and family and a job that she loves to be with him, and how she was now on her way, unannounced, to visit in a last-ditch effort to win him over.  I felt like I was in a soap opera.

Oh the people you meet.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home – so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any maps of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person; the neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman, and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerned citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.

-  Eleanor Roosevelt

Counting the Blessings

Tuesday:  Cherry tomatoes on sale.  Pondering the possibilities of illegally riding the train by hiding on the luggage rack. Discovering radio on the train. Amusing Paul and Juli with my "Forever Young" dance.  Escaping the city. Surviving two back-to-back human rights workshops with confirmands and having them go better than expected.  Working to dispel 13 year-olds' prejudices against foreigners and those receiving governmental aid.  Torsten's inexhaustible enthusiasm.  "The man who calmed the sea!....Oh yeah."  "What's always the right answer in confirmation?  Jesus!"  Paul's humor. Singing and laughing over "Put your hand in the hand in the hand..."  Vegetarian Döner.  Singing "Heute kann es regnen" in celebration of Micha's birthday.  Snacks.

Wednesday: The opportunity to remember the events of Nov. 9/10, 1938.  Movie night.  The score from 'The Cider House Rules.'  Snacks.  "Good night, you Princes of Maine, you Kings of New England!"

Thursday: Free concert.  'Solid Ground.'

Friday:  The uncommon experience of being completely alone in the office.  Listening to classical music while working.  Watching 'The Colbert Report' on my lunch break.  The satisfaction of a completed grant proposal.  The smell of clean laundry.  Chocolate with vanilla cookie in the middle.  The magic of Harry Potter.

Saturday: The lovely Fielmann worker fixing my glasses free of charge.  The enjoyment I find in running errands.  Reading TIME Magazine.  Chasing down protests and following riot police around downtown.  The singular experience of standing directly in between protesters and dozens of police lined up in riot gear.  The lack of major violence throughout the day's protests.  Skype calls with the family.  My 3 year-old niece serenading me with The Black-Eyed Peas' "I've Got a Feeling." More Harry Potter.  Amusing Skype conversation with Michael, in which I spoke in German and he responded in English.

Sunday: The rain pausing long enough for me to make my bike trek to church.  Richard playing "Before the Throne of God" on the piano.  Excellent hot chocolate and interesting conversation.  Spending two hours making sweet potato soup (with apple, carrot, and leek) with emotional support from Owl City and Jack's Mannequin.  Enjoying the delicious soup all the more because it took me so long to make it.  Brötchen fresh out of the oven.  Sunday afternoon walk, despite the rain.  The opportunity to remember those who died trying to reach Europe and in pre-deportation detention.  Thought-provoking message.  Stirring music.  Delicious bread and spread.  More Harry Potter.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Rejoicing on a Monday.

Leading 20 young adults in engaged discussion about human rights. All the hard work and overtime paying off in a successful workshop.  Laughing with my co-workers.  Seasons of Love.  Singing "For the Longest Time" in three-part acapella. Sharing an evening meal.  Playing Mensch Ärger Dich Nicht for two hours without getting bored.

Monday, November 1, 2010

If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we should find in each man's life sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility.

- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

But you are not alone in this...

Today was a cold and dreary day that found me receiving yet more disappointment from my lawyer, being yelled at and brought to tears by a disgruntled postal worker, and finally breaking down in exhaustion and frustration over the accumulation of everything weighing me down at the moment.

But, as I could do nothing but sit at my desk and cry, there sat a co-worker to provide understanding, support, and a hug. 

And tonight I could do nothing but laugh as I talked with a friend.

It's been a blessed day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Hamburg's Heroines

1) Heike

"Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear."

Never before have I met anyone who so fully lives out these words.  Heike has been with pbi since the '80's, first in various Latin American projects and, most recently, travelling around Germany presenting her puppet show.  Her contract with pbi expired in February, but you would never know it - she has continued working just as hard for pbi, despite the fact that she no longer gets paid.

Heike doesn't have an apartment or a house - she sleeps in our office when she is in Hamburg, and when she is travelling, she spends her nights on whatever beds, couches, or floors are available to her.
All that she owns fits in her backpack and a large cupboard in our office.  Her wardrobe is spartan, based on comfort and warmth, and consists almost entirely of items given to her from others.
Her diet consists primarily of anything she finds in our office's collective fridge or in, for example, apples that have already fallen to the ground.  Even wilted vegetables will be fully utilized by Heike's creative cooking.

I am continually amazed at the epitome of simple living that Heike embodies.  I can only wish to be like her in her disregard for receiving payment and for material wealth.  Even more, I admire her trust and faith and the freedom that comes with that.  I am continually haunted with worries and questions of "What if?" Heike, though, has enough trust in God and enough faith in people's generousity to rest assured that all her needs will be provided.

2) Heinke

Before ever having met me, Heinke and her husband Johannes offered me their home until I was able to find a room here in Hamburg.  In sharing their home and in sharing their daily bread, I discovered hospitality and generousity every day anew.

Beyond this, Heinke has a seemingly tireless dedication to pursuing justice.  In her upper 60's, Heinke has worked with pbi since it began, and she's still at it.  When I would return late each evening, she would sit with me as I ate and, after inquiring about my day, would tell me about the event she had attended or the effort she had led that evening and of the human rights abuses going on in Guatemala, in Colombia, in Mexico.
I would feel guilty because after spending the day in the office of a human rights organisation, I wanted to busy myself with light and entertaining topics, not to hear more stories about the suffering of others.

Having reached the point in life where she could justifiably put her feet up, pat herself on the back, and say "Well done, good and faithful servant," Heinke doesn't rest.  Knowing the long race that is the quest for justice, Heinke finds the perseverance and keeps running.

3) Helga

Actually, I have no idea what this lady's name is, but continuing with the trend, I shall call her Helga.

There is an outdoor stage at the nearby park, which hosted free concerts on Sunday afternoons throughout the summer.  And at every concert I went to, there was Helga.

On the dancefloor next to the stage, Helga would dance.  Regardless of what kind of music was playing.  Regardless of if she was surrounded by couples, if she was mixing in with other free spirits, or if she was the lone figure on the dance floor for all to see. Regardless of if people dance with her or stare and laugh at her, Helga dances.

"We're fools whether we dance or not, so we might as well dance."
~Japanese Proverb

This has Me written all over it

A while back, I returned home late one Saturday evening and set about cleaning my bathroom.

(I'm not sure which is more pathetic: the fact that I can only mop my bathroom floor when my one flatmate is gone or the fact that I had nothing else to do with my Saturday evening than mop my bathroom floor)

I didn't start until about 10:30 and because I got distracted throughout, it was midnight before I finished. Feeling the satisfaction that can only come with a freshly cleaned bathroom, I was heading down the hall to my room when a most disgusting sight caught my eye.........a NACKTSCHNECKE!!!!

Translated, this means naked slug. But I prefer to call them the Queens of Slime, the Queens of Filth, the Queens of Putrescence. (Boo!  Boo!)

I know God created all creatures great and small.  But really, Lord?  Really?

Because I had never encountered this vile creature before I came to Germany and because the mind's eye can only go so far, I feel the need to provide a picture:                                                                            
Vollbild anzeigen

Yes, this is the creature that was ever so slowly making its way along the carpet of my hallway.  How it got there, I don't care to think about.
After my initial freak-out, I grabbed a giant wad of paper towels, took a couple minutes to work up my nerve, picked up the Queen of Slime, sprinted outside, and chucked it in the near-by vegetation.

Now, the thing about German doors is that almost none of them have handles on the outside. This means that any time the door shuts, it locks.  On multiple occasions, I've left the apartment door open to take the garbage out, but have always made sure to take my keys with me.  Just in cases.  And on every one of these occasions, the door has remained open.

On this one occasion, however, I, amidst my Nacktschnecke panic, did not have my keys with me.  And on this one occasion, of course, the door did not remain open but rather blew shut just as I turned to go back in.

And so, there I stood.  Locked out. At midnight.  Barefoot. Wearing shorts and a tank top in mid-50's temperatures.  With no cell phone and no memorized numbers even if I did have a phone.  With no money.

"It's ok," I thought to myself, "Flatmate Mauricio is here, and I just talked to him 15 minutes ago, so he must still be up."

Ring the doorbell....Mauricio does not appear.  Ring again...Mauricio still does not appear.  Knock on the Mauricio.  Repeat the process, with increasingly longer doobell-rings and increasingly more violent door-knocks. Become increasingly panicked considering my lack of anyone to contact, anywhere to go, or any way to get there.

Finally, after 15 minutes or so, my pajama-clad hero, Mauricio, entered the scene and let me in. I thanked my lucky stars and went to bed with a confirmed conviction that Nacktschecken are, indeed, the bane of my existence.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Das erste Schritt

Wenn du zum Tor des Lebens gelangen willst,
musst du aufbrechen
einen Weg suchen,
der auf keiner Karte verzeichnet und in keinem Buch beschrieben ist.

Dein Fuß wird an Steine stoßen,
die Sonne wird brennen und dich durstig machen,
deine Beine werden schwer werden.
Die Last der Jahre wird dich niederdrücken.

Aber irgendwann wirst du beginnen,
diesen Weg zu lieben,
weil du erkennst, dass es dein Weg ist.

Du wirst straucheln und fallen,
aber Kraft haben, wieder aufzustehen.
Du wirst Umwege und Irrwege gehen,
aber dem Ziel näherkommen.

Alles kommt darauf an,
den ersten Schritt zu wagen.
Denn mit dem ersten Schritt
gehst du durch das Tor.

- Wolfgang Poeplau

My English translation:

The First Step

If you want to reach the gateway to life,
you must set out
and search a path
that is not drawn on any map and isn't described in any book.

Your foot will strike against stones,
the sun will burn and make you thirsty,
your legs will grow heavy.
The burden of the years will bring you down.

But by and by, you will begin to love this path.
Because you recognize that it is your path.

You will stumble and fall,
but have the strength to stand up again.
You will take detours and go astray,
but come closer to the goal.

It all depends on
daring to take that first step.
Because with the first step,
you go through the gate.

Sing, Sing a Song (Don't worry that it's not good enough for anyone else to hear)

I spent this evening at choir practice.

There is nothing unusual about that statement.  Except for the fact that it is coming from me, for I am, you see, an unusually bad singer.

As my family and close friends (and, of course, former music teachers) would readily confirm, I can neither carry a tune nor keep a rhythm.  Seriously, I can't sing and clap at the same time because for me to have any hope of clapping to the beat, I have to focus all my concentration on it and watch those around me.

But, I love music, and I enjoy singing. And so, given the opportunity to try out a low-key singing group where I wouldn't have do any solo voice testing, I threw inhibition to the wind and went for it.

And it was fun.  Plus, tonight, in addition to the ever-so-disturbing and stalkerish "Every Breath You Take," we also sang "Seasons of Love" - I'm sold.

Sorry, ESG International Chor - you are now doomed to be one voice worse.  You had me at "five hundred twenty-five thousand six hundred minutes."

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Week in Blessings

Seeing a rainbow out my office window.

Brot and Rosen: its people, its delicious food, and all that the community strives and works for.

Singing Taize songs.

Seeing a rainbow out my office window, AGAIN!  A double one even!

Helping a small child and her mother chase down her balloon that was blowing down the street.

Being able to give blood and the tasty treats provided after.

Orchard apples and fair-trade peanut butter.

Receiving an unexpected package from a friend, and the kindess and generousity it symbolizes.

Kraft Mac & Cheese and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups.

A stranger stopping to provide assistance at the grocery store.

Discovering a new opportunity for activity and friendship.

Social Unrest

Last night I headed out for a run and as I got to the end of the park where I normally turn around, I noticed multiple police vehicles stationed at the beginning of the Reeperbahn. My curiosity got the best of me, so I headed down the street to see what was going on.

A few blocks later, I come across police lined up in riot gear, with one officer issuing instructions through a loudspeaker. Intermingled with this were rioters throwing bottles and firecrackers, and the police responding with water cannons. A protester came running up to the police and the tank and was pushed violently to the ground.

I found the whole scene really quite horrible but somehow could not turn myself away, maybe due to my journalistic inclinations. I ventured as close as safely possible and could only wish I had a camera with me. A bit later, the police had arrested a group of 25 or so and had them surrounded, with another line of police officers blocking off the sidewalk.  Here, too, I felt as if I were somehow mesmerised, despite the rain and cold, and could only stand watching the police officers, still in full riot gear, facing me.

I don't if it's due to growing up in America or to never having lived an extended period of time in a big city, but before coming here, I had never witnessed a mass demonstration or its violent aftermath. A month or so ago, a so-considered alternative part of the city celebrated a  peaceful neighborhood festival that turned into a violent riot as evening came. Having been warned ahead of time, I steered clear of the area, but still had to ride down a bordering street to get home. I found it so bizarre to see groups of a dozen police officers, all in full riot gear, standing at every street corner and police vechicles, including tanks with water cannons, lining the street.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How to Stain Your Carpet in 6 Easy Steps

Step 1: Do laundry but have neither a dryer nor more than 2 square meters of floor space for a drying rack

Step 2: Identify the shelf stretching above your doorway as the best alternative to hang your bed-sheet

Step 3: Think it is a good idea to use bottles full of green beer as weight to hold up your sheet on said shelf

Step 4: Hurriedly enter your room and, without thinking, push the sheet to one side

Step 5: Freeze in shock as a glass bottle narrowly misses your head

Step 6: Stand in dismay in the midst of broken glass, green liquid, and an overpowering smell of woodruff syrup

You and me are done, Waldmeister.

What now, John Chapman?

On Sunday I took a much-anticipated bicycle foray into the "Old Country," an area outside of Hamburg with the distinction of being central Europe's largest continuous fruit-growing region.

And fruity it is. Specifically, apple orchards upon apple orchards. But I had quite the journey to get there.

First, I hitched a ride on the ferry:

Then I rode down a seemingly endless path along the river:

And proceeded to pass by some awfully cute houses,:

A quaint windmill,:

And a bus stop identified simply with the street number of the nearest house:

Before finally reaching the glorious Eden of the apple country:

And, I must say, I did indeed feel a bit like Eve as I rode by (and through the middle of) countless orchards, with the magnificent-looking forbidden fruit practically begging me to pick it from the tree. 
The temptation was bearable, however, because almost every orchard had stands (or entire barns) with the express purpose of selling me some delicious, locally grown apple-goodness.

I discovered that when a website tells you a bike route is marked, they are actually just messing with you, and thus, I spent considerable time taking wrong turns, riding in circles, and general being lost-ness.
Still, it was a sunny fall day and I had a chance to escape the city, and so the evening found me pedaling home with tired legs, 3 kilos of apples, and much contentment.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Weekend Recap, Examen Style

Friday: Run around the lake. Getting caught in the rain and not minding.  Lying on the dock.  Fish sticks, Doppelkeks, and peach iced tea.  Internet access and the chance to catch up with friends.

Saturday: Lazy lounging.  Unexpected sunshine.  Finding TIME magazine at the library.  Afternoon spent reading in said library.  The character of the St. Georg neighborhood.  Cooking rice with all sorts of proteiny goodness.  Watching "Wild Hearts Can't Be Broken" and all the nostalgia that comes with it.  Chocolate.

Sunday: Friendly faces and caring hearts at church.  "Singing our songs in a foreign land."  Pumpkin bread.  Sunshine and fresh air.  Wide open spaces.  Escaping the city.  Having a functional bike and the health to be able to ride it long distances.  Apple orchards.  3 kilos of apples.  Singing out loud.  Viewing the sunset with no buildings in the way. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Learning patience

My patience with the German bureaucracy is fast reaching its end.

I applied for a residence permit in March, whereupon they issued me a "fictional certificate" (a term not even my German co-workers had ever heard of) while they waited the two or three weeks for my files from Friesland and Berlin.
Then came the issue of insurance. Because I'm not insured with a German company, I had to track down someone from the American insurance company for proof that I am insured at a level meeting German standards. This also turned out to be a challenge, since the American coverage does not meet Germany's dental criteria. But, after about a month, this issue too was worked out.
Then, however, the foreigner office informed me that they needed to send my work contract to the employment office for approval.  It then took the employment office more than two months to review my case and make a decision, during which I had the pleasure of going to the foreigner office every two weeks to have my "fictional certificate" extended.
At the end of July, I received word that the employment office had decided that my volunteer service didn't meet their qualifications and thus that the foreigner office was denying my application for a residence permit. This was followed with a letter saying I had until September 17th to leave the country or risk being deported.
Thus began my first experience with a lawyer, a friend of my co-worker who specializes in foreigner law and who agreed to take my case. She submitted an appeal, and I continued to wait.
September came around, and still no decision. We heard from the foreigner office that the lady responsible for deciding my fortune was on vacation, and so my kick-out date was extended to September 30th.
On September 29, I sat at work and had no idea if I would be needing to leave the country the next day. After going through a bit of an ordeal to secure my lawyer's cell number and call her at home (she was sick that day), I found out that no decision had been made on the appeal, and my kick-out date had been pushed to November 1st.
So, I wait. November draws near, and I haven't heard anything. In the meantime, I'm not allowed to leave Germany (more accurately, if I did leave, I would not be allowed back in), which puts a damper on the trip to Belfast I'd been looking forward to all year. I can't plan anything past this month, such as buying a plane ticket home for a wedding.  This situation of feeling stuck and not knowing is becoming increasingly frustrating and draining.

But really, who am I to complain?  I came to Germany voluntarily - there were no safety or economic factors forcing me to flee my home and come here. What's the worst thing that could happen?  I get kicked out and have to return to a county of safety and comparable wealth, where I have a home, friends and family, and various opportunities available.
Meanwhile, there are so many people in Germany, and right here in Hamburg, who are facing deportation under far worse circumstances. For instance, Roma people who, after living here 15 or 20 years, are being threatened with deportation to Kosovo, a place still bearing the scars of war and where they don't know the language, have little chance of finding employment, are often forced to live in slums, and are denied their rights through numerous other forms of prejudice and discrimination.

Talk about perspective.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Weekend Recap : Examen-style

Friday: Autumn sunshine.  Purchasing Mumford and Sons cd for only 7 euros.  Briefly escaping the city bustle and walking past horses and sheep and glimpsing the sunset.  Babysitting consisting primarily of eating ice cream and various American delicacies (Mac & Cheese, brownies and Starburst), using Kelly's flatrate phone to talk to Grandma for the first time in 7 months, and watching Gilmore Girls. Being able to give an exhausted mother a night off.

Saturday: More autumn sunshine. Pausing on my bike ride to offer to take a group photo. Refreshing run around the Alster. Re-instating my post-run tradition of lying on my back and looking up at the sky.  Lying on the lakeside dock in the sunshine. Repeatedly dancing like a fool to "The Cave." The smell of clean laundry. Returning to the Alster to read in the sun. Receiving a ride to and from Catherine's. Fantastic home-made vegetarian lasagna.  The Speicherstadt game and good company. Chocolate.

Sunday: Sleeping in. More dancing. Continued autumn sunshine. Thought-provoking church message.  Washing dishes. Having a bike and the health to ride it. Riding along the Elbe. Dozing in the sun on the beach. Power-riding uphill with help from M and S. Being in such a good mood that my bike chain breaking and having to push my bike home didn't phase me. Long overdue chat with Emily.  Quasi-successful pumpkin soup.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Es war ein kalter, bewölkter Tag, als der Reiter den kleinen Spatz in der Mitte des Weges sah, auf dem Rücken liegend.
Im Sattel sitzen bleibend, sah er auf die zerbrechliche Kreatur und fragte: "Was liegst du hier auf deinem Rücken auf der Strasse herum?"
"Ich habe gehört, dass heute der Himmer herab fallen soll."
Der Reiter lachte: "Und deine spindeldürren Beine halten ihn auf?"
"Man tut, was man kann," sagte der kleine Spatz.

                                                     - Quelle unbekannt

And my translation for any English-speaking readers:

It was a cold, cloudy day as the knight saw the little sparrow, lying on his back in the middle of the path.
Remaining in the saddle, he looked at the fragile creature and asked:"What are you doing, lying there on your back?"
"I heard that today the sky is going to fall."
The knight laughed: "And your twig-thin legs are going to hold it up?"
"One does what one can," answered the little sparrow.

                                                         - Source unknown

Why there is reason to rejoice

Today I was at the post office to mail a package for a co-worker. She had already put several stamps on it, but I had to have it weighed to see if the postage was enough. The postage was in fact 20 cents short. I didn't have any money - just our company's charge card - along, and the disgruntled postal worker did not look kindly on the idea of going through the hassle of the card just for 20 cents of postage. 

But then, Kindness appeared in the form of the lady at the next counter who tossed a 20-cent coin on my counter. No-longer-quite-as-disgruntled postal worker lady took the money, and I returned to work, smiling the whole way.

This little moment made my day. 20 cents is practically nothing, but reminders of people's inherent goodness are worth all the money in the world.  Many thanks, meine Dame!

"The time has come," the Walrus said, "To speak of many things..."


I have always decided against starting an online journal because:
1) For inexplicable reasons, the word "blog" makes me cringe.
2) The whole idea of online journals seems like yet another step towards impersonality in the isolating process that is internet communication. If I know that my friends and family can fill themselves in on what I'm up to on their own time, will it make even more lazy about establishing actual contact with them?
3) Call me old-fashioned, but I feel like a journal is something that deserves to be handwritten, be it in a fine leather-bound book or hastily jotted on a napkin.

However, as you can see, these misgivings have been outweighed, thanks to the following factors:
1) Many of my email-update recipients are not on Facebook and thus don't have access to any pictures I get around to posting.
2) People have told me "Hey, you should start a blog."
3) In the "use it or lose it" mentality, I'm attempting to get back into the writing mode. Similarly, as my daily life takes place in German, I am trying to ensure that I maintain a native speaker's grasp on the English language.
4) In the past couple of years, I've had many meaningful, enjoyable, or just plain funny experiences that I keep meaning to write down so that I can remember them. I, of course, never get around to it, though, and they are sliding bit by bit from my memory. My hope is that writing with the goal of informing others, I will be better about taking the time to reflect and record.  So really, this effort is just for my own sake.

So there you have it: the entire thought process behind the starting of this journal. As you may have noticed, I like lists, and I tend to ramble. You've been warned.