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.