30 August, 2008

Quiet Revolution

Like many of the bloggers I’ve read yesterday and today, I was very impressed with the speech Mr. Obama held Thursday. My daughter and I watched Mr. Obama giving his speech yesterday morning on the Internet. Much of the responses of the bloggers were along the lines, “yes, maybe we dare to believe” variety. What I wonder at this point, is not whether Mr. Obama will be elected president, though I decidedly hope this will happen, but whether Thursday night’s speech managed to finally ignite a flame announcing the arrival of a revolution of social change long in coming?

This avalanche of change has perhaps been a quiet revolution to date, but there is no denying a shift has occurred over the last decade empowering all individuals to break barriers and find voice. And, it is the Americans who have led this revolution. The notion of social participation to entice change began, I believe, nearly a decade ago, in part, through developments in Internet technology.

The IT crash of 2000 signaled a shift in conscious thinking concerning the use of Internet. This shift resulted in innovative ideas such as the Read/Write web (Web 2.0) and open source (e.g., SourceForge) coming to being. Many new innovations followed: micro-financing (e.g., Kiva), global community work (e.g., Nabuur), and grassroots political activism (e.g., Change Congress). All of these programs are powerful in their simplicity and completely, convincingly empowering for anyone willing to participate.

It has been fascinating for me to see how this quiet revolution has evolved. At a time when I found no hope in finding leadership in America as a nation, and Bush/Cheney as a government, when it came to environmental and military practices, I found hope of change through the common folk* already creating it.

And maybe, just maybe, it was necessary for America and the world to experience these last eight years of the Bush/Cheney administration to waken us up to our individual potential for creating change. As Mr. Obama said, “…it is that American spirit, that American promise, that pushes us forward even when the path is uncertain; that binds us together in spite of our differences; that makes us fix our eye not on what is seen, but what is unseen, that better place around the bend.”

These last years has already created so much change in my life, I don’t think there has been any time in my adult life where I have learned so much and participated in so many new creative endeavours. Some of these experiences have been questionably disappointing, but overall and most irrevocably they have changed my life and my actions.

(*I’m not sure what is the pc word for common folk is anymore, but let me assure you these common folk are in no ways common, but rather they are heroes of mine.)

26 August, 2008

Creating a Dialog

This slide show is a part of a presentation I gave to a group of teachers and professional women last winter in preparation for activities related to our national Girl's Day program. The program is organised on various fronts, but it is the work between the schools and the business community that is most crucial to getting the program up and running.
Girl\'s Day 2008
View SlideShare presentation or Upload your own. (tags: mentoring education)

A teacher approached me a few months before Girl's Day 2008 was to run, with a dilemma. Apparently, the girls from her school (grade 7-8) had not left a very good impression with the professional women they had visited the year before. The women stated that the girls came to their companies appeared overall to be disinterested and distant. They wondered whether the only reason the girls agreed to come to their workplaces was to get a day off school. The girls had not asked any questions or expressed any interest in what they had heard during the professional women's presentations. When asked, many of the girls admitted that they found the presentations boring and they didn't know what questions to ask in the Q&A sessions, so they didn't say anything.

The teacher came to me to ask how the project could be made more interesting using digital media. And, as happens so often, the solution did not lie in introducing all sorts of new media into the activities, but by changing the learning format to one which would encouraged collaborative learning.

The previous Girl's Day activities were so structured that the girls were sent off to various companies without previous knowledge of the companies or the professional women. The professional women introduced themselves, gave a presentation of their company and their particular job positions, carried through a Q&A session and then sent the girls on home.

This year's Girl's Day was structured so:

  • Professional women introduced themselves and their professional field in short biographies and sent them to the school two weeks before the event.
  • The girls divided up into small groups and chose which professional women they would visit and sent the women emails with their names and questions they wished to ask them during Girl's Day.
  • The professional women had time to think of how they would respond to the questions and also created a list of their own questions that they could ask the girls when they came to visit.
  • The different groups went to the different companies and interviewed the professional women they were allocated.
  • The girls returned to school and each group made up a presentation that was a story about the professional women they visited and the profession these women worked in.
  • Each group presented their presentation to the other girls, teachers and the professional women at an evening event.

Even though the girls did use media (cell phones, digital cameras, mp3 players (recorders), cc photo material from the Internet, and Open Office presentation program), and the use of media did motivate them to be more alert, this only played a peripheral role. It was the fact that everyone prepared themselves for the day and the fact that professional women created a dialog with the girls and not lectures that made the exchange so successful.

24 August, 2008

Russian Ice Queen


Did you even wonder why Ice Queens are nearly always portrayed as beautiful ethereal, but majestic figure residing in arctic wonderlands? I usually think of Cate Blanchett, Nicole Kidman, or Tilda Swinton as Ice Queens parading around in their hoity-toity best. That is, I imagined them to be so until last week, when I had a real life encounter with an Ice Queen in Nuremberg Park on a lush summer day.

A friend and I were walking through the park, when we passed an elderly couple and their coiffed poodle. The dog, without any provocation, jumped at me and bit me in my thigh. This incident occurred so quickly, that by the time I realised what the cause of the pain was, the dog was back at its owner’s side. I turned and told the woman her dog had bitten me, ostensibly believing she would offer concern and apology for her dog’s bad behaviour. I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The elderly woman transformed into an Ice Queen. Looking at me with the coldest eyes I have ever seen in a person. She waved her hand in the direction of my leg and dismissed the situation with one sweep of her fingers. Proclaiming in heavily accented German, “Enough. It didn’t happen.”

Her cowed husband momentarily looked as though he sympathised with me, but his wife barked something at him in Russian, and he fearfully turned his head the other way. The three of them continued on their walk through the park. Leaving my friend and I temporarily speechless, frozen in our places, unable to move or react in any way appropriate to the situation.

(P.S. For those of you wondering why we didn’t call the police, you can go and sit on the fence with my husband who shares your puzzlement. For those of you who wish to know the extent of injury: no skin was broken, just two large ugly bruises showed up a few hours after the incident.)

21 August, 2008

My Personal Vantage Point

Just after I moved to Germany from Canada 26 years ago, Ronald Regan sent in American troops to Grenada. My parents who live(d) in Grenada happened to be visiting me in Germany at the time. In the days after the Americans landed, we were desperate to find out what was happening back at home. The American newspapers were proclaiming victory in their “intervention”. The British, French and German papers were affronted by the lack of propriety of the American “invasion”. Very few people were listening to the Grenadian points of view. It was difficult to know what was true or not.

Living through this experience made me realise, a) how tainted or biased the media is by political agenda, b) how confusing it is for concerned citizens to formulate our own opinions when hearing or reading so many conflicting points of view, and c) yet, in the end, I believe it is very important for us to make up our own minds about what is true. For the truth is a matter of vantage point or personal perspective, and not something absolute.

When Ronni asked us all to write about topics concerning the up-and-coming American election, I thought immediately about writing how the media in Germany is presenting the presidential election. But, after a few failed attempts, I realise I can really only write about how I am experiencing the election from afar. In some ways this experience is like that which I experienced long ago: wading through oceans of biased reporting, listening to conflicting points of view, and eventually believing in something new.

It might surprise many Americans to know just how interested Europeans are in politics overall and specifically in American politics. Even though there was countless media coverage on the judiciary debacle in Florida during the 2000 election, and puzzlement over Bush’s re-election in 2004, this year’s election is not so much about the American electoral system, it is about Obama. What interests the media is whether the American people will elect this intelligent, informed, and articulate politician who promises change, or his opponent who just gives lip service to it. I am not personally sure whether this is what European citizens are most concerned with. It's perhaps an over simplification of a more complex situation.

To understand the discrepancy between the information the media presents and the viewpoints of the citizens, take the example of Obama’s speech in Berlin. As much as the press would like to say that people came to hear Obama speak because they think he is a rock star. It just is not so. They are curious about his so-called rock star status, but they travelled from far and wide to hear him speak about history, politics, and his vision for America. Is it so hard to believe that hundreds of thousands of people are interested in such matters?

In Europe they do things like gather in masses. Just a few weeks ago, millions of people came to London to celebrate Mandela’s birthday. Yes, they came for the festivities, but they also came to honour and celebrate history, politics, and Mandela’s vision.

In the end, I don’t know if Obama will be elected. The American electoral system is too confusing to understand and the American voters too volatile to predict. There is also the question whether Obama and his party can live up to the promises he makes even if elected. One thing that I am convinced though, he has already made change. He has shown the Old World cynics in Europe that the American Dream is still alive. Who would have thought three years ago… that Obama could win the primaries, that a political underdog would refuse funding from lobbyists, that so many young citizens would stand up to be heard, and that Internet technology content could fuel such a lively global debate?

I’m optimistic that this change will continue. I believe it will create other changes, not only in American politics and government, but also in the politics and governments of other countries as well. And for this belief I am thankful, in part, to Obama, but more so to people like Ronni and other bloggers who have opened my eyes to new facets of your political culture.

18 August, 2008

Friends Indeed

I’ve just came back from a trip down south to visit with friends. These are women I have known for over twenty-five years. Even though I moved away twenty years ago, we remain in contact and, more importantly, we remain connected. Every time I go back, I am a washed with the familiarity and the steadfastness of my friends’ lives. Yet, as you can imagine, much changes: small children grow into adult, new jobs or recent retirement, old dreams gone by the wayside, and new travel plans, etc. Mostly, I am just thankful for the warm welcome and the conversations that leave my head spinning, so that I spent a good part of the train journey home, just thinking about what was said and what was left unsaid.

12 August, 2008

Vultures Eyes, Lucky Nuts

My two children have come and gone again in a whisper of time.

My son was in Montreal for ten days: to keep his grandmother company after the death of her brother and to help my brother and sister in various practical ways. He came home from Montreal yesterday, four hours late and with no luggage. He had a shower. I made him a meal. He packed another suitcase with what clothes were left in his cupboard. Then he went off kayaking with his father and sister on the Poland Ukraine border.

My daughter arrived back four days ago from a two-week trip with friends to Gran Canary. Tonight she went off with another friend and her family to the west coast of France. Last year she had trepidation to travel to Montreal alone with her brother. One year later, she has become fully a teenager and revels in her independence. It is exceptional. It heart-breaking.

I tell you that I am proud of their self-reliance and trust in living life’s adventures. I am also not doing too well at showing this pride gracefully. There is a Squirming Wailer in me that takes an effort to dampened down and doesn’t let that stalwart matriarch shine, as she deserves to shine. This is unfortunate, since, when it comes to a joy of travel and an ease of preparation, my children take after me, which is actually something to rejoice. For those of you who know my husband, you know what I mean.

There were two separate instances yesterday and today, when my son and daughter were doing their packing (on their own), they came into the living room, and when I asked them how they were doing, they each answered, “Nearly finished. I just need the lucky nuts.” My heart tripped each time. For, they were referring to a custom I’ve practiced for the last thirty years or so.

After storms, on the beaches of Grenada, it is possible to find a nut that is locally called Lucky Nut, Vulture’s Eye (the brown speckled variety), or Donkey’s Eye (the grey variety). This nut is reputed to bring seven-years of luck when you rub it and make a wish. Every time I walk on a beach in Grenada, I look along the tide line of debris to see if I can find such a nut nested there. The nuts are supposed to float up from the Orinoco River in Venezuela with the tides.

This is all lore from my childhood and yet, it pleases me to place one lucky nut in each piece of luggage whenever we travel anywhere. I infuse each nut with prayers for a safe and pleasant journey. And, mercifully, our travels have been plenty and pleasurable.

The fact that my children wish to carry on this tradition of their own volition, makes me smile tonight, when actually I feel rather melancholy. Safe and pleasant journeys, children of mine.

P.S. This is my 777th post. A Schnapszahl in Germany... lucky number.

08 August, 2008

Popsicle Lunches

A friend and I were due yesterday to go on a long day trip to Stralsund. Unfortunately, my friend had to cancel at the last moment.

So, I was left with some spare time on my hands. I briefly considered tackling one of the many projects on my to-do list. Instead, I spent all of yesterday and part of today on a “Boston Legal” marathon. To top off the ridiculousness of this situation, I also ended up eating popsicles for lunch both days.

Don’t know whether I’ve ever done something so decadent and silly before. Our daughter is due home from her two-week vacation soon, so I’m back to more respectable pursuits.

07 August, 2008

Book and Film Recommendations

I am in need of some book and film recommendations for a school project I’m involved in. The project is an ESL project with three themes: London, India, and immigration. If possible, could you please suggest any reading and viewing material that concerns any of these three or includes all three of them?

04 August, 2008

03 August, 2008

A Quiet Sunday


No need of words...

02 August, 2008

Summer Love


The heat of day has just started to abate. I sit at the lakefront in a shady spot, whiling away the afternoon and early evening hours before heading back to the stifling city oven. I gaze in one direction, letting the ducks, and birds, and sailboats randomly pass in and out of its frame. The warm breeze cools my inner restlessness that has been accompanying me these last days.

The bow of a made-in-Taiwan inflatable boat, the type that is popular to use whilst drinking cocktails in pools, slips into the corner of my view. The boat is almost suspended in motion, except for the young man who valiantly, madly, churns and churns the miniature paddles. They are objects of such insignificance that dipping the ends below the water surface is a heroic feat. Seated at the stern of the vessel, is a young woman squished in between various bags, using a black-and-white polka-dot umbrella as a shield to keep off the sun from her sunburnt body. They discover me sitting on the shore in my shaded paradise of a place and ask me whether I know of any cheap camping spot they can stay for the night.

It turns out that they’ve been paddling down the Wagnetiz river from Luebck and across the Ratzeburg lake for the last two days in this wee excuse of a vessel. They are sunburnt, probably have sunstroke, without significant funds to afford the 15 Euro camper fees, have run out of food, and they are far from their reaching their goal of rowing to the end of the lake and back… they are literally up the river without a paddle. But, they are in love. They are so much in love that the woman still is amused at the man’s fanatical comic churning of the paddles, and the man is courageously willing to push on even though his hands have blisters and his back is as sore as sore can be.

This is summer love. Hot, fiery beautiful summer love. I breathe it in and I am transported back thirty years to a memory of such joyful intensity that I have to stop myself from giving these two strangers a hug in gratitude. Instead, I nonchalantly offer to take them back home if they wish, in my air-conditioned car; saving them from paddling onwards into the inevitable defeat they are heading towards. Elated, they fall upon the suggestion and spend the journey homeward laughing at their folly and palatably relieved that they survived the adventure with their love intact.