25 February, 2017

Everyday questions (1)

A friend from Iran and I are starting up a new blog soon. We are going to answer everyday questions posed by new immigrants to Germany about what they see happening around them and can’t make sense of. Questions they do not understand because either the situation is different in the countries they come from, or they do not know any Germans to ask.

I thought I would post a few of the posts here, since they will be appearing in German in the other blog. 

Why don’t people talk to each other in doctor’s waiting rooms?

The opposite of talking isn't listening. The opposite of talking is waiting. Fran Lebowitz

Time spent in a doctor’s waiting room is usually spent quietly.  When entering the waiting room, you are expected to greet everyone with a brief “Guten Tag” and then quickly find a seat and sit there silently until your name is called. It is time to wait: reading magazines, looking at something on your mobile phone, or just sitting still.

Generally, Germans do not like to show they are suffering from an illness or that they are in pain. So, maybe everyone is silent in the waiting room out of respect to let others suffer in silence.

23 February, 2017

Waiting... the art of preparation or anticipation

My whole life is waiting for the questions to which I have prepared answers.
Tom Stoppard
Life is so busy, isn’t it? We rush from one activity to another. When do we take a quiet breath? The whole idea of waiting, the art of preparation or anticipation, has disappeared from our lives. When and why did this happen?

20 February, 2017

19 February, 2017

"What do I believe to be true?

Friends are writing from around the world: distressed, confused, and saying they are experiencing a continual sense of dread. A dear friend from the States wrote about what it is like to wake up every morning to the "the horror show of Reality TV invading the White House". We are all frantically trying to figure out what is real news and fake news and who offers an infallible source of the former.

It is not enough to consume facts through watching television reports or reading newspaper articles. Germans love to do this. They love the idea of being "informed". Which is not a bad thing to do, but it does not mean that we can base all our opinions and beliefs on things we read. It is not enough to watch on the side-lines. If there is something monumental happening in the world, it is not possible to wait and see. We all must take steps forward and enter into the confusion and chaos.

When the refugees started coming into Germany two years ago, it was quickly evident that we were living in historical times. I, like many million others, were aghast at the plight of the people and yet fearful about what it would mean to let them into our borders. During the first year, there were daily reports about the ongoing events and, overall, many of the reports were positive and hopeful in their tone. They applauded Merkel for her (unfortunately one of the few EU members) humanitarian act of letting the refugees into our borders.

Yet, as you can imagine, many Germans had serious trepidation about these developments. And since both my husband and I are immigrants, many of the conversations we had with friends and colleagues was about this new influx of immigrants. It was a draining time. Trying to convince others that millions of refugees should or could be allowed to come here. Eventually, I began to lose my patience during these conversations. Because they were only intellectual debates. None of the people I was talking to had any personal contact with refugees themselves. They arguments were based on facts from television reports or third-person anecdotal information.

So, I became rather radical in my strategy. If someone started talking along the lines, "we just can't let them all in", I would ask them bluntly how many refugees did they know personally and what were they doing to positively make the lives of these people safe. You can say, I just got fed up with talk. This meant many of my German friends and colleagues relationships became somewhat distant. I was so passionately moved by the plight of the refugees and didn't want to hear from others that it wasn't our problem.

This was not a good development. It created an Us and Others mentality in me. Us being immigrants, new and old. Them or others, Germans and German bureaucracy. Not good. It created a situation where I was living in a bubble. And look what happened during the last American presidential election...

Now, two years on, I have become convinced that the best ways way to partake in conversation in these times is to share our personal stories, as well as reliable as facts. I believe the media, as well as us consumers, should be providing the answers to these two questions:

"What do I believe to be true?" and "What have I experienced concretely that has led me to this belief?".  

Here is one such belief I have developed about the "refugee situation" in Germany.

I believe...

We can allow more refugees into our country and we will survive economically.

Why concretely...

I have lived in Germany for nearly 35 years and we have faced numerous momentous social-political changes during this time. Each and every one of the changes has created a more robust democracy and, overall, we have continued at have a strong economy.

I came to live in German in the baby years of the EU. A time when American and Russia were the only two major political powers contending for influence. The EU became another such power. A second change happened when the Berlin Wall collapsed. We managed to create a unification of state with millions of people whose only commonality was their language and history 50 years old. Another such example of massive change occurred when Germany signed the Kyoto Agreement. The daily practices of individuals and compliance of industries to environmental restrictions have shifted greatly over the years.

Nowadays, I am back to talking to Germans about the refugees living here. I can do it now with more patience and persuasiveness. It is a long-term process and it is good so. It shouldn’t be easy, otherwise it would not be real.

Most of the conversations I have about the "refugee situation" though are directly with those who have come here from Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan and some of the other seven countries the US President is so interested in banning from his borders. They are lively conversations filled with fascinating perspectives, laughter, heartfelt debate, and often as not, tears. My heart is filled with stories of their lives before war, their experiences coming over here, and their struggles to stay in this country and build of life which is safe.

A place safe from hunger and strife, it is the least we should give them for having lost so much.

17 February, 2017

Travelling the trains

It's been a long dark grey winter. Then a day of beautiful sunshine finds its way up north and follows my travels through the country. What a fantastic experience.

09 February, 2017

The Afterlife

Having been raised as a strict Catholic during the 60s and 70s, my notion of the Afterlife was heaven, hell, and purgatory.

Somewhere during my grade school catechism classes, I had an argument with the Irish priest giving us a lesson on baptism and how only those souls who had been baptized into our church were given the chance to enter heaven. When I asked him if babies who die are allowed into heaven, he said not if they haven’t been baptized. He explained that their (poor innocent (my words)) souls still possessed the stain of original sin. As you can imagine, it was at this point that my young mind began to dismiss belief in the Catholic church and the concept of heaven and hell in the Afterlife.

The one good Christian lesson I did learn was from my grandmother, a staunch Catholic. She told me that every night before she said her prayers, she would count her tender mercies. She would think of three good things she did for others, and three good things others did onto her during the day. This is one of the best exercises in gratitude I have had the joy of practicing. It influences the way I interact with those dear to my heart, as well as those strangers I encounter randomly.

Later, in my late teens, I dabbled in Zen Buddhism. For a decade or so, I attended regular retreats and meditated daily. Along the way, I learnt (a bit) about reincarnation. Not enough to say I understand or believe in it, but certainly enough to see parallels with the thermodynamic rules of entropy and enthalpy.

A friend of mine, who was raised as a Buddhist in Thailand, told me something about karma that I carry close to my heart. She said we are put into this world with three types of karma. The one is filled with challenges from past lives we are meant to overcome. The next is one is lessons we are meant to learn, now, in our current circumstances. And the last, is one we fill to carry us into our future lives. So, each kind deed or word spoken can fill any of the buckets…

Today is the anniversary of my father’s death. On such a day, I tend to think about his Afterlife. Where he is. What he is doing. It is a day, which begins with meditation. I will also go to my favourite cathedral and light a candle for him; in gratitude, for having had him in my life. Yet, I also know he still lives on close to my heart. I believe his spirit will guide me today, as it does every day. Wherever or whatever Afterlife is, I believe it to be interlocked with sorrow and joy I’m experiencing right now.

05 February, 2017

... it's what you see

The days are slowly growing longer
Still, I while away hours reading
Endless news feeds until an internal
Switch short-circuits. Time to turn off
The media hysteria and quietly close
The door behind me and venture out
Into this bright winter day.