Living in Limbo…

This current situation that I find myself in is an odd one, a marriage and life straddling two continents.  Modern technology makes it easier and I often think about what it would be like without that.  Skype is a lifesaver.  CH and I have settled into a pattern of twice daily Skype calls during the week and more frequent on the weekends.  Because of the time difference, one of the calls is only sleepy ships passing in the night (or morning).  I was never much of a Skyper before this, so I know I’m late to that party.  durlach

I find myself a bit envious that CH is there experiencing new adventures without me.  I’m comforted though that he seems to be settling in well.  His apartment has everything that he needs and is in a small village on the outskirts of Karlsruhe.  Looking outside of his window he can see quaint German architecture,  community open markets and on the weekends the air is often filled with music from local bands.  Grocery shopping and small restaurants are all within walking distance, making everything quite convenient.  This flat is temporary though.  He will be moving into Karlsruhe proper in about another month.  That flat wasn’t immediately available, so he was lucky to find this one in the interim. (Thank you Carmen Sax!)  The new place will put him within walking distance from his office.

My days aren’t significantly different than before CH left, although it’s very lonely without him.  The first week I was like a lost puppy.  I’ve now created my own solo routine, however the silence in the house is still very stark at times.  I miss my friend.  I miss boring and simple things like just watching TV together and hearing him threaten that he is “boycotting The Voice” if his contestant gets kicked off.  I miss sharing meals together and our constant banter that to an untrained ear can be mistaken for bickering.  I miss how he brings me coffee in the morning on weekends.  I miss laughing together.  We get to do some of that via Skype, but it’s kind of like enjoying a beautiful sunset through a picture on a computer screen….it is still gorgeous, but you lose so much when you aren’t experiencing it in person.

I had my 50th birthday a few days ago.  That stung a bit to be alone for that, but again, technology to the rescue!  CH sent me beautiful flowers, my son from San Diego sent me a package with some lovely fruit and I had LOADS of very kind messages from all of my friends on Facebook as well as calls from family.  I am so looking forward to brunch with my daughter tomorrow.  We are going to one of my favorite restaurants in the Napa Valley.  I have much to be grateful for.  I find myself waiting with great anticipation for Christmas when my family will be back together.  We always try to make Christmas special, but this will truly be a wonderful one!

I’m not exactly sure the date I will be moving to Germany.  My son is ending his military service in April and I was planning on staying in the US until he got home.  However, it’s looking like he may stay in Southern California, so I don’t really need to wait for that.  My next step is to put a plan together for the move and start getting estimates from moving companies.  Honestly my biggest concern though is our cat.  She is a part of our family which is no different that any other pet lovers, but she is a senior kitty.  By the time I move, she will be almost 14 years old.  She is in relatively good health, but I really worry about her making such a long trip from the US to Germany. Other than for short excursions like going to the vet, she has never really been out of the house. I worry that such a trip would either kill her or really traumatize her.  I have no idea what I’m going to do. Is it weird that in planning such a big move, my main concern is my CAT?! I don’t know. 🙂  We also have a dog, but I think he will do OK on the journey.  He is also CH’s baby, so there is no way he would leave him behind.  If anyone has any experience with transporting animals….companies that you’ve used and liked, stories about how your pets managed the transition, etc, I would love to hear them!

When I leave I’m sure I will miss home like crazy.  I think I may need to be medicated when I say goodbye to my kids.  However, I remind myself that I am so lucky that at this stage of my life (super cool and hot 50!) that I have an opportunity to experience something so new and exciting.  In the meantime, I will continue to ride the rollercoaster of transition and try to savor each step of the way!

Tschüß!

A Culture of Fear

Over the past two decades especially, the political climate in the United States has become extremely divisive.  I think I can pinpoint 9/11 as the beginning of that change.  When that horrific tragedy happened, Americans came together like at no other time.  How we recovered from the tragedy is what has separated us.  One way has been to become more fearful and less trusting of others.  I think that is probably the most automatic human reaction.  It’s understandable to go into a mode of protection when one has been hurt. As time goes on though, if we stay in that mindset we begin to think that everyone wants to hurt us.  The “us vs them” is further entrenched into our culture. That mindset is contrary to the culture that the United States was founded on.  A quote from Emma Lazarus on the Statue of Liberty reads, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me: I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”  That is the idea that has made the US great.  The one filled with hope, strength and charity.

Germany has a different history and culture, but I see them struggling with some similar values.  They have never been the “melting pot” of the United States.  However, in their history, many Germans were the refugees after WWII.  I speculate, but I wonder if that is what leads them to be as welcoming as they have been to the current Syrian refugees.  All Germans however haven’t been so happy about the acceptance of refugees to their country.  The interesting thing to me as an American studying German current events and culture, is that there are so many similarities between the anti refugee crowd in the US compared to those in Germany.  The common theme is fear.

Being concerned about hundreds of thousands of people from war torn countries with a different culture/language and many with a different religion isn’t surprising and doesn’t make one a xenophobe.  With that said though, the vitriol I have read online from some Americans and Europeans about this subject has been really disturbing to me.  There is a lack of humanity in their rhetoric.  Fear that has been carefully cultivated and refined by propaganda.  These are a few of the comments I have read today about the refugees….

“Go home terrorists. Nobody wants you but fools.”…..American

“not migrants not refugees but invaders & criminals”…UK

“Now we know when and how our civilization will end.“… Canadian

Although i reject statements like these, it doesn’t mean that I don’t understand concerns that people have.  The reality is that we live in a world where we have had violence levied by radical Islmamic extremists.  We have also endured much tragedy and violence by radical Christian extremists.  Extremism is destructive.  No one knows that better than Germany.  However, I refuse to allow fear to override my humanity.  I will also not allow it to override my logic.  Logic tells me that since there are 1.6 BILLION Muslims in the world and up to 12 MILLION of them in the United States, that if they were all violent terrorists the world would see much more terrorism than it does now. My religion tells me that even when culture and religion differ, we are all God’s children. My humanity tells me that I have a responsibility to help others when I can.  When I can look at families fleeing across oceans and hundreds of miles on foot to live somewhere safe and I don’t feel compassion for them, I no longer want to live in this world.  When we are so consumed by fear that we lose our humanity then the terrorists have won.

I have more questions than answers about what should be done about the refugees running for their lives.  I agree that there must be checks and safeguards and that one country can only do so much.  I do expect the leaders of the world to come up with a solution to this.  The US has a responsibility.  We have had a hand in the Middle East for many years now.  The destabilization of the Middle East is in part a result of ousting Hussein in Iraq and the vacuum of power that created.  These are difficult problems that require wisdom and diplomacy and can’t be driven purely by fear of what might happen.  What I hope is that we all remember that much of our good fortune is that of chance and grace.  There but for the grace of God go I.

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“Starting Is Easy, To Persevere Is An Art”

I said goodbye yesterday to my best friend and hubby (CH), as he left to begin his new job in Germany.  I have to stay in The States for a number of months to wrap things up here before I will be joining him.  It was a difficult thing to see him walk out the door of our home, knowing that in the next 6 months, I will probably only see him a handful of times.   I’m pretty sure the “Marriage Rule Book” frowns on that.     Rule #749:  Live on the same Continent.  I feel like a whinny baby when I talk about it.  I mean it isn’t unheard of that couples have to live apart for various reasons at some time in their marriage. Military spouses do it all the time under much more difficult circumstances.  I do try though to focus instead on the positive aspects of living sans CH, like no one will cook uncovered food that splatters in the microwave…..or just in general leave messes in the kitchen.  I’m sure there are a few of my annoying habits he will be happy to be free of too, at least for a little while.

The first text I got from CH upon him arriving in Germany was “Shit.  Shit”  That can’t be good.  Nope.  When he was on the DB train from Frankfurt to Karlsruhe, someone stole his backpack which contained a lot of camera equipment, his laptop and money.  The backpack was very large and wouldn’t fit on his lap so he had no choice on the crowded train, but to to put it in the luggage rack above his seat. He thinks it was a duo set up, because when the train was coming to the Mannheim stop, a man distracted him asking for his help with a map.  He thinks while he was looking at the map and talking to the guy, someone else took his bag.  After some choice words to the universe, I’m pretty much over it now. I know it will take longer for CH though.  He is a very calm person and not much ever gets him upset…..except bad drivers or when he loses something.  Those two situations throw him from zero to ten in a flash.   We both know that in the big scheme of things possessions aren’t that important.  I’m grateful that he made it there safely.

For the next month or so I’m going to focus mostly on my German studies  I tried to sign up for an online German 1 class at a Community College, but unfortunately the class was closed.  I’ve been searching the internet for a more beefy curriculum than Duolingo.  I’ve found a few things, but I’m open to any suggestions if anyone knows of something good.  I definitely have some time on my hands.

Anfangen ist leicht, beharren eine Kunst.

“Go Back to Africa!”

“GO BACK TO AFRICA!”, he yelled.   I was shocked and angry and hurt and ashamed, each an individual feeling, but all experienced at the same time.  It was our first day in Karlsruhe, Germany.  The sun was shining brightly and my husband (CH) and I had just left the hotel, excited to explore this beautiful new city on foot. We had the promise of new possibilities in our minds and I was acutely aware that we might be walking through our new home for the first time.  After a few blocks, we stopped to check out a menu posted outside a local pub.  It was, of course written in German, so I was staring intently at the words, trying to translate when I heard the man yelling.  I turned to CH and asked him what was said because I didn’t hear it clearly.  I saw this man still looking at my husband angrily as he walked away.  He was an older German man of fairly slight stature.  We were instantly transported from our carefree day into a place neither of us wanted to be.  How dare this man do this to us. How dare he verbally assault us this way.  But he wasn’t really directing his anger toward me, only my husband. My white skin protected me from his scorn.  That even made me more angry.  Why would this man feel it was OK to call out another person like that in broad daylight in the middle of the street?  After talking for a few minutes about how much the situation sucked, we both decided to “let it go” and continued on trying to enjoy our day.  It kept nagging at me though.  I couldn’t help but wonder if that could happen again at any time.  I was now on guard.

What bothered me the most was that someone had tried to hurt my husband.  That man doesn’t know how caring and loving my husband is.  He doesn’t know how smart and successful he is.  He doesn’t know that my husband is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met.  He didn’t even know that my husband is not African, not that it mattered.  The fact is……that man knew nothing about my husband, except that he has darker skin.

I often hear on the news and in social media people saying that they are sick of hearing about race….wondering why people of color can’t just stop talking about it, thinking about it.  What I have learned by being the caucasian wife of a black man is that when you aren’t white, society requires you to think about race.  Not thinking about race can put you in questionable situations at best, dangerous situations at worst.  You could be walking down the street with your wife in a fabulous new country and BAM!  you are reminded that your race is a problem for some folks.

I certainly don’t think this bigoted man is representative of Germany.  I met many wonderful Germans on our trip and overall we were treated very kindly.  Racism and xenophobia know no borders.  Something similar happened to CH in our neighborhood in the US a few years ago.  We live in a nice upper middle class community that is more racially diverse than most and only 25 miles from from the center of liberalism, Berkeley, California.  CH was out walking our little dog one night and a group of young white men drove by yelling, “Go Home N!#*$r!”  I was blown away that something like that could happen in our neighborhood.  It still breaks my heart.  Just as on the street in Karlsruhe, I was shocked….shocked that it happened a block from our home and that young people in our community would do that to another human being.  I was angry that my comfort in our neighborhood was being challenged.  I was angry that someone would target a member of my family. I was hurt that the man I love was treated in such a degrading way.  I was ashamed because people that I share a heritage with could be so cruel.  I know that those young men in the car also aren’t representative of our community as a whole.  That is important to keep in mind, but it still stings when such an ugly experience happens.  To pretend that black people just bring race issues onto themselves and that if they only stopped thinking and talking about it, everything would be fine, is a lie.

So the world is imperfect….this is no revelation. We move on and don’t let others’ negativity determine our reality. I try to do what I can to be a good person and reflect the change I want to see.  However, you can’t deny it leaves a mark.  We are all a sum of the vast experiences imprinted on us.  As humans we are fortunate when we are still net positive.

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Ich Spreche Kein Deutsch! (I don’t speak German!)

I’ve had very few occasions in my life where I’ve felt the kind of vulnerability that occurs when in a foreign land unable to speak the language or truly know the culture and systems.  I’ve traveled out of the United States to Mexico, The Bahamas, England, France and now Germany.  Of course in England and The Bahamas, English is the spoken language. When visiting Mexico I’ve always stayed close to the resorts where English is always spoken to the American tourists, although I do frequently take the opportunity to utilize my rudimentary Spanish skills on the poor resort staff.  I’m sure they never get tired of that. hahaha.

When I traveled to Paris last year I was very nervous about my complete ignorance of French, because we’ve all heard about how mean the French are! hehehe (actually the French were quite lovely!). Prior to our trip, I became BFFs with Rosetta Stone and at least learned enough French to be able to say some basic things and understand signs and menus.  However, to my surprise most Parisians automatically spoke to me in English after just my utterance of “Bonjour”.  The way that greeting rolls off my tongue must have given some indication I wasn’t French and blew my cover! Only once when in France did I encounter anyone that didn’t speak excellent English.  One morning, on the way out the door of my hotel room, I made a quick call to room service to ask them to pick up the breakfast dishes.  Everyone in the hotel had spoken English so I was caught off guard when the kitchen staff was unable to communicate with me.  I actually know enough French to be able to string some words together to get my point across, but what did I do?……PANIC!  ugh!  I panicked and just hung up the phone!   I was shocked by my rudeness and inability to blurt out any French at all.  I guess it’s not that surprising, but definitely embarrassing.  Other than that though, Paris was quite easy, language-wise. I’m sure a lot of it has to do with it being such a tourist hub and my experience would vary significantly if I traveled outside of the city.

When we traveled to Germany I was half expecting things to be the same as Paris.  I had much less lead time to learn some German on this trip, as it was a quick decision centered around a job opportunity for my husband, rather than a long anticipated European vacation.  Instead of paying another big chunk of money for Rosetta Stone, I decided to check out the free language app Duolingo.  It definitely helped me learn some basics in a short amount of time.  However, during our trip I realized that no one was going to automatically speak to me in English, often even at the hotel. (Maybe my Guten Tag is better than my Bon Jour!)  Many Germans do speak English, especially younger ones, but probably 95% of the Germans I encountered spoke to me in German until I asked them “Sprechen sie English?”  The government also doesn’t really accommodate English speakers.  All info at the train stations, signage and as I understand, all official government dealings, are almost exclusively in German.  Thank goodness there were English options on the ATMs and the train ticket machines.  However, when the ticket comes out…..all in German.  Good luck knowing how to catch the train if you don’t even know what a “gleis” is (by the way, it means “track” or platform).  None of this is surprising.  It is Germany after all and they speak German.  I’m telling you though, it is quite a strange feeling and extremely anxiety producing, especially if you are someone that really doesn’t like not having control over your surroundings.

While in Germany I had an appointment with a doctor in a little village, Bad Bergzabern.  I have some chronic health issues so our decision to move was determined in part if I could find an appropriate doctor in Germany.  Bad Bergzabern is an hour away from Karlsruhe by train and requires changing trains once.  My appointment was on a day when my husband was scheduled to participate in interviews at his prospective company so I had to go solo.  The idea of negotiating the trains by myself was pretty scary to me. (Don’t worry, the fact that I sound like a neurotic wimp isn’t lost on me.)  My kind husband agreed to do a trial run with me a few days before.  YESSSS!  Even that was stressful though.

We got to the Hauptbahnhof (main train station) and our first task was to purchase tickets. We can do this!  So we queued up at the back of a line at what looked like a ticket counter.  When we reached the front of the line I pleaded asked “Sprechen sie English”. ” Ja! a little”, the young woman at the counter replied. (everyone says a little, no matter how good their English is).  Ok awesome!  I went on to tell her where we wanted to go, Bad Bergzabern. The look of incomprehension on her face couldn’t have been more if I would have said I wanted to go to Mars.  After a few more times of butchering the name of this poor town I finally wrote it down.  The young girl smiled with acknowledgement and repeated back to me what sounded to my American ears as “budbusaba”.  OK sure.  Yeah…that’s it.  Please can I have tickets?  She again looked at me like I had food in my teeth.  Apparently we were in a line just to ask information, not to get tickets. She pointed us to the ticket machines.  As I said, the machines have an English option and were fairly easy to navigate, but when the tickets came out printed all in German. we were still clueless about what it meant or where to catch the train. UGH!!!  I started fumbling with the translator on my cell phone and in short order we decided it would be easier just to go back to the young lady at the information counter.  There were 2 workers at the counter and as I was standing in line I was saying a prayer,  “God please let the same girl help me”.  Sometimes prayers are unanswered. So I began over again. “Sprechen sie…..” This girl told us the tickets we purchased weren’t enough to get to our destination and that we would have to go to the “window room” to add money to our tickets.  What the hell is a window room???! (I didn’t really say that. I just smiled and said danke)  We finally figured out where the window room was and found that she had given us incorrect information.  Our tickets were fine and we were informed of what a “gleis” was and where we should go to catch our train.  Awesome!  Yay Window Room!  This was already way more stress than I like to impose on myself and all we had accomplished at this point was buying the tickets!!!  The labyrinth of our journey had just begun and we had quite a few more obstacles, but we made it to Bad Bergzabern. It is the most beautiful village and we really enjoyed it, along with some ice cream.  Ice cream makes everything better, right?!  During my 9 days in Germany I had a number of similar experiences.  I was grateful to the many kind Germans that assisted me along the way….. and there were MANY!

The first time I ever remember feeling like a fish out of water was when I was 7 years old and in the 2nd grade.  My mom took my sisters and me to New York City to live in the Bronx with our grandparents.  We ended up not staying for long, but I was enrolled in school for awhile.  We previously had been living in small towns in Oklahoma.  That was the only life I knew, so going from that to New York City was a huge change for that little girl.  I remember my first day in the Monster Educational Complex school, at the end of the day the teachers were funneling all the kids into different lines leading to multiple buses, many of them city buses.  My mom and grandfather were supposed to pick me up that day and I think I knew that, but for some unknown reason I followed the leader right onto a city bus.  By the grace of God it was actually a bus that went to my grandparents’ neighborhood.  I remember being very scared in that crazy big city.  Somehow though I recognized the shopping district close to our neighborhood, got off the bus and walked to my grandparent’s apartment building.  Of course no one was home because they were frantically looking for me at the school!  That feeling of being a vulnerable little girl completely out of her comfort zone was similar to what I felt when trying to navigate unfamiliar systems in a foreign German tongue.  However, if I could find my way at seven years old, I certainly can do it with 40+ extra years under my belt.  I just may occasionally need some liquid courage at the end of the day AND a lot of German lessons!

danke-fc3bcrs-lesen