It is a late October evening and I hear raindrops hitting the scaffolding outside of my apartment window. It is unclear to me when the construction in our building will finish. Time is relative in that sense. A promised 6 weeks can stretch out longer depending on how many days the weather is bleak and ominous to outdoor workers. Time of course is also relative for crops which rely on sunshine, rain, promising temperatures within an acceptable range and of course availability of macro and micro nutrients. In summary plants run on biological time which I am told can mostly be calculated with equations and run through computer simulations which could predict yields and so on. ( Not so romantic I suppose but I digress).
Time feels relative walking along the train tracks from Bad Krozingen to Tunsel and vice versa for what feels like an infinite number of times. Sometimes it’s sunny, mostly it’s cloudy but without exception, trains run North and South, their arrival preceded by an overwhelming wave of unpleasant sounds. When the train passes as you walk along side of it, it can make you feel like you are floating forwards or backwards, the speed of the train making you feel stationary.
Transit in villages or the lack thereof often makes me hyperaware of my own mobility and therein my own body. I could take the bus to go to Tunsel but after accidentally hopping into the wrong bus and going all the way to Heitersheim one morning I tend to stick mostly to walking, not because I think I’d make that same mistake again but because it is a luxury to be able to walk for 30 minutes in complete silence through a monotonous landscape and not encounter a single soul. I consider this to be almost meditative. It’s not something you get from listening to a podcast or walking on a treadmill at the gym.
I wish more people could experience this different perception of time. A perception of time slowed down to its very core. Time so slow that you see individual leaves on the ground, watch swarms of birds migrate across the sky towards the tropics, feel the wind knock rows of maize back and forth across the sky which loses light in small increments till it is dark and everyone has gone home. Most of us claim not to have time. We are too busy. There is much work to be done. But as I said time is relative. If you live your life like time is on fast forward, you will perceive it as such.
As if operating on a different biological clock, I walk along train tracks hoping to come out some sort of winner against Father Time and make the grains of sand in the hour glass fall slower. Unless of course the train is coming in which case I run and prove to myself just how out of shape I really am, but this too somehow slows time.
Feeling the body, each muscle working for an explicit purpose, makes you lose where you are. There is no thought, there just is. Nutrients are consumed, energy exerted and the body is running its biological clock in an autonomous manner. Time is not accounted for. You get a few seconds older, a bit worn down, but also a bit stronger. The rain drops fall in late October. The sun sets just a few minutes earlier each day. Dormant fields await spring. Time slows.
In the last few months I’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean twice (of course going through the jet lag each way). I preface this post by recognizing how extraordinarily fortunate I am to be able to study here in Germany and live out a dream that I have held onto for years to be here in Freiburg and to work with environmental causes. My internship has started, I’m settled back in by all normal accounts, trying to keep up a social life with those who are still in town, but something feels off.
I’m sure this is by no means a unique expat story. I know a lot of people my age who have made international moves for work or school and I catch snippets of these feelings on social media from others living abroad. The apartment was found, the work is set up, friends are made, but something feels off.
I’m no psychologist but I would imagine this comes down a lot to the establishment of routines. Flying across oceans literally pulls your body’s inner clock into an entirely different routine to start out with. Last year I was fortunate that a strong community quickly formed in our Masters program and there was for months seldom a lonely day. We were imperfect yet driven individuals who had each others backs. We came from all over this green earth, dozens of countries of origins, a myriad of career backgrounds but we cultivated our tribe.
I smile as I catch digital updates from these colleagues working in so many exciting projects and workplaces during our internship period. Others are taking the time to better their German or cherish time with loved ones. It’s such a unique experience to realize what a diverse group we are really part of in MEG. Nonetheless I miss them all dearly.
I think this year flying back to Germany was one of the rougher transitions as it was a little bit lonelier. There were no classes to jump into, most friends out of town, and my internship while I am extremely happy with it so far is mostly flex time and accomplished remotely which can make sticking to routines more difficult.
If you find yourself in a similar position to me (either as a person living abroad, someone who’s recently moved or just an individual trying to feel a bit more settled into a routine) here are strategies I am trying to employ to feel a bit more grounded:
- Set your alarm at the same time every morning and get ready as if you were going out even if you plan to stay in — Working at home can work out provided you know you’ll be able to concentrate. I’m one of the strange individuals who actually concentrate on work more easily at home than out in other public spaces. It’s really important for me though to dress as if I were going out in order to delineate the realm of relaxation and sleep from work. If you find this is too difficult it may be advisable to work from a public space such as a library or cafe which I also do from time to time.
- Seek out green spaces–In Freiburg this is almost too easy, with many green parks and the surrounding Black Forest.
- Consider yoga, meditation or other similarly zen activities. –Perhaps your yoga might actually be knitting, or running. Whatever it may be it’s crucial to get out of your own head.
- Keep in touch with friends and family–With the time differences this can be tricky. Also expect that you can’t keep in touch with everyone and some people won’t always be available to you. Relationships ebb and flow. Don’t let this scare you and focus on your own life instead of worrying about fading out of the thoughts of others.
- Lower your expectations — No, I’m not implying that you shouldn’t reach for the stars or work hard but often times I find that when I am very hard on myself, it’s for imaginary standards I have created, or failed expectations which in the first place were unnecessary to hold. Focus on the essential.
- If mentors are available to you, seek out their advice–In our program we have an excellent coordinator who also happens to be my supervisor for my student job. She works miracles and guides students through their life planning and uncertainties every day. It might feel like you’re bothering someone, but if someone in your work circles is available for a quick consultation on an issue that has you confused or worried, it is always better to reach out for advice and let them guide you towards the proper resources or organizations which can assist you.
And lastly remember, we are all just trying to figure things out each day. We are all human.
❤ Till next time
Upon a friend’s recommendation I went out to the Harmonie Theater in Freiburg to see a documentary called The Whale and the Raven. Before attending I knew next to nothing about whales or the community in which the film takes place, Gitga’at, a territory inhabited by many First Nations’ residents. The film highlights two researchers and their passion for tireless research on each individual whale in their waters. The landscape in the beginning of the film appears by first glances to be pristine, untouchable, painfully beautiful.
However, a threat looms in the region. Large oil tankers from a company called LNG are almost inevitably doomed to come to the Great Bear Rainforest and threaten the whale’s habitat. The money and employment opportunities are greatly needed. Many in town are on board with the new projects. But even small boats make it nearly impossible for whales, who rely on sonar, to navigate the waters of the bay meaning that large tankers could potentially harm many whales and disrupt their sleeping and searches for food and thus their livelihoods.
If someone were to ask you simply the question of whether you think whales should be protected, it would be easy to say Yes, of course. The complication comes when accounting for the power dynamics between more distant government forces with economic interests and a weaker local population who has been carefully managing their lands for thousands of years. As time goes on it becomes harder for the First Nations’ people to maintain sovereignty over their lands and to acquire stable employment for young people. These economic and political struggles ultimately blur the lines between what is just and what is necessary.
These realities are a hard pill to swallow, but at the very last I am touched by the passion of researchers who love their work so much that they can scarcely imagine any other purpose for their lives.
Four years ago when I interned with a CSA project outside Freiburg I found it quite beneficial to jot down my experiences so I will keep with this tradition. My internship this year for my Masters program is with a local NGO/Research Group called Die Agronauten which I am doing with another classmate of mine. Part of it will involve event planning, networking with other NGO’s, small projects putting together informational booklets and lastly but not least, part will consist of working with an organic farm. The thing about farming is that it’s easy to forgot what one did that day as tasks can become quite repetitive and as cliche as it sounds you really do lose track of time out on the field.
My morning consisted of a meeting for an intercultural benefit taking place next month and it felt very nice to “have a place at the table” so to say. Being a person who has more work experience being on their feet than at a roundtable there’s something satisfying about this. In the afternoon it was time to go visit this new farm for the first time.
I was, just as the last time I farmed four years ago, concerned I wouldn’t find the place but thankfully after taking only one wrong turn I asked a nice stranger for directions and did not have to have someone come and get me with their car. *cringe* The head farmer and an English traveler turned gardener greeted me at the entrance. I was quite impressed with the biodiversity of the plots, the inclusion of flowers to encourage bee pollinate, and also some impressive crop rotation in place. This is all even more impressive considering that this farm in particular was actually only started up a couple years ago.
We began by cleaning out a large water tank which had acquired some grime and needed cleaning. Then we refilled the drinking water for the chickens and we got straight to work at unrolling some bales of hay for compost with the aid of a tractor. I was getting a bit worried because I knew my friend that I was interning with was coming on her bike and had gotten a flat before heading out but she made it as well. Eventually we breaked for a Kaffeepause, a favorite activity of mine. Unexpectedly a local resident of the nearby village came to chat us up. Somehow at the time I was the only person around who actually spoke German as the head farmer had run out for an errand so I ended up having to entertain this guy even though he was clearly drunk. I think we were all able to have a somewhat normal conversation despite these awkward obstacles.
Waiting for my train home an older gentleman spoke with a woman about how he couldn’t find an apartment but immigrants who according to him ‘don’t do any work are just given apartments’. Then he saw I was listening to him and said more or less (in a rough translation) that I was following along with them in their conversation. As politely as I could and obviously with my German a bit rough around the edges these days I told him that it was just that I saw him looking at me and as a slightly brown person this scares me and makes me uncomfortable.
I seemed to have captivated an audience with my tact and calm delivery so I went further to explain I was a Masters student here and a Sociologist who had actually studied migration during the 2015 influx. While I understand their concerns about this fast shift, the whole issue is just a little more complicated than the way they were framing it. The conversation ended with them being very kind and admitting they knew a few nice refugee families. We wished each other a good day. I didn’t feel accomplished or disillusioned that I’d changed their minds or ideologies in any way, but at least for myself I was able to challenge their stereotyped image of me. Additionally I felt grateful that I was at least comfortable enough to defend myself in a way that I do not feel empowered or safe to do at home in the states.
Afterwards I ate dinner with a good friend and after a long day I’m confident I’ll sleep like a rock.
❤ Until next time,
I’ve just come back from a month at home in West Virginia. I expected to either be extremely happy to be home or to somehow have a lousy time there, but I’d say it was somewhat more in between. Going home can be like putting on your favorite old sweater. You see you’ve outgrown it a bit and its worn out in some places but it’s formed to you. You belong there. It’s comfortable. Only to be perfectly frank the political atmosphere surrounding minorities is not the best in the American South at the moment and at times I felt that I did not at all belong there anymore, that I was no longer welcome. I couldn’t help but feeling watched. Glanced with looks that I could not explain as anything else but deep judgement. Thankfully my time in Germany has taught me to have the confidence to stare right back at those people, to look them straight in the eye. (Germans are lovely but have a tendency in general to maintain eye contact for longer than I am comfortable with). I didn’t remember feeling this way in public when I left last year, or perhaps I forgot what these strange stares felt like after living in such a liberal city as Freiburg. I am grateful to have grown up in a land of such opportunity and possibility but all things must be maintained and unfortunately American Democracy is in a bit of a state of disarray at the moment.
As an expat (I hate the word expat but there’s no better one) I would’ve expected that Germany, as much as I love it, would never feel quite like a home. I was at peace with this expectation. I did not come here to be comfortable but to expand my life, to learn from a country I had a deep respect for. But at this point I’ve been coming here on and off since 2014 and I’ve reached past a threshold where I am more comfortable here than I am back home in the U.S.
I love the silence on the city streets.
I love the strangers who have absolutely no interest in small talk but who help you lift your suitcase into the overhead in a heartbeat.
I love the nature. I love the old buildings clashing with modernity.
But somehow leaving those country roads hurt this time. I didn’t think I’d feel a thing. Many of my friends no longer live in West Virginia. But my heart aches at the sight of late summer sunsets in those mountains tattooed in the back corners of my memory. I see buildings growing older and more dilapidated. People with no homes wandering the streets of downtown, but I see people who love their home. Kind people who are trying to build the city of Charleston into the next era to pass it to their children as a place they can raise their children. Despite the struggles of economic instability people are starting new businesses and new organizations in the Mountain State. I see this and I am not a part of it. It makes me feel like a bit of a ghost haunting the old grounds.
But then I came back home to Freiburg and it was every bit as beautiful as I had left it. I saw friends again. I feel at peace. I don’t have a good ending to this blog post. I haven’t finished working through these feelings. I am caught between different cities that have been home at some time or another. Caught between a few languages, forgetting words in one language and remembering in another. I am subtracting hours in my head to figure out the time in various time zones. It is disorienting, verwirrend, emocional. I’ve had moments over the past year where I repeat to myself how much I want to go home and I realize I am in fact already siting at home in my living room. But I would not trade this life for any other. You could say I long for it. I hope it never ends, the feeling of searching for home, that is.
It’s incredible what we remember and who we are depending on where we are placed. Coming to Texas I am always confronted with the mental fragments of several versions of myself. Age 5, 10, 15, etc. I can remember being a toddler chasing ducks at the park waiting for my brother and sister to finish tennis practice. I can remember listening to John Mayer in the car speeding past the mesquite trees on the desolate highway. More recently I can remember voices of my professors, my mentors. Yehuda insisting I start writing a book now, on anything, while I still have time. Ian taking the more realistic approach that I had to experience some more things in life before I consider taking on a large project of this kind. Somehow they were both right at the same time.
And now after a few years away from this part of the world, I did not know what awaited me mentally. I did not know who I would discover that I am after being in so many places, after being so many different people. But as it turns out a few core identities remain no matter where I am in the world. I am an artist and a communicator. I feel deep emotions and do not shy away from them. I am part of a family yet I am an individual. I watch the sun set and then rise and feel it as sacred. I watch, I listen and who I am exactly when I do these things becomes irrelevant. I am many fragments and they mostly fit together.
It seems I have once again forgotten that I have a blog. I’m done with classes for the year and feel as if I am coming up for air after a long, long swim in the ocean. Disoriented from jet-lag, dark European winter and strangely intense projects for my Masters that for some reason always involve arts and crafts, I am pleasantly surprised to remember that there is indeed such a thing as winter sunlight and long walks on Texas asphalt.
After a few months settled into the Freiburg lifestyle I am amused at all the small idiosyncracies of reverse culture shock. For example I find myself very impatient at many things such as people who walk entirely too slow, people speaking louder than a whisper in public spaces, and the inexplicable amount of air conditioning applied to produce at grocery stores. It’s not all negative though. I become so excited over the possibility to say hi to strangers on the street and make superficially cheery small talk with cashiers at Trader Joe’s. Basically anything related to Trader Joe’s brings a smile to my American face.
I really miss writing for pleasure. Every so often during the semester I’ve been writing poetry but most of all I really miss free-writing like this so I hope to write a few more posts while I’m on vacation. In a few days we’ll leave for Durango and you better believe I’m ready to eat my weight in gorditas ❤
With love ❤
What can I say? I love this book so much I read it twice. I love it so much that when I left for Germany last year it was one of maybe 3 books I took with me. The book is Helen Russell’s memoir chronicling the year she and her husband moved from London to rural Jutland in Denmark so that he could pursue a career with Lego. Along with his new job her husband also pursued a passion for purchasing expensive Danish design classics for their new home in the middle of nowhere such as the famed Arnold Jacobsen chair and various fancy lamps.
A random picture of my host mom’s garden in Gevninge, Denmark.
At first the slowed down pace of life, dismal weather and predictability of life in rural Jutland slowly drove Russell insane. As the year went on you follow as her and Lego Man (her husband) suddenly find themself adapted to life on the Danish coast. It’s a great read for an expat, a Scandiphile or really anyone who enjoys sarcasm and travel memoirs. I give this book an 11/10. Plus the cover is beautiful. Check it out for yourself.
Though I’m not a big fan of the book title, I have to say that Fat Chance by Dr. Robert Lustig was a very informative read. Most of the time when you read books about the obesity epidemic in America, you get the feeling that you’re reading the same information you’ve already seen before in other books. I recommend reading it but if you’re short on time, skim over parts that give you trouble. For example, I had a lot of trouble understanding the chapter where he explains what leptin is and other similar biochemical processes.
My favorite part about this book is that Dr. Lustig begins each chapter with case studies on various child and adolescent patients he’s had and their experiences in attempting to revert back to a healthier weight. As it turns out the body has several mechanisms to maintain body fat, which is why fad dieting, medications, and even regular exercise often fails to lead to permanent weight loss.
Some main takeaways from the book:
- Fructose is metabolized in the liver which means it will almost entirely be converted straight to fat.
- Juices and sodas are full of excess sugar which will result in rapid weight gain when consumed regularly so don’t drink your fruits. Eat them.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup and other altered synthetic sweeteners are not your friend. The substance is hidden in almost everything in the U.S. including but not limited to bread, cereal, soda, juice, yoghurt, canned fruit, mac and cheese, salad dressing, protein bars and basically anything from a fast food restauarant.
- Low income families do not always have the luxury of eating healthy as fresh fruits and vegetables are less covered by food stamps and cost more per calorie than junk foods. Also the availability of produce in low-income neighborhoods is startlingly low, a phenomenon referred to as a food desert.
- You should probably be eating more fiber.
- It takes time for your body to signal that it’s full so eat slowly. Additionally when consuming a poor diet, your body’s biochemistry gets altered in ways that disturb the process by which your body will signal that you’ve eaten enough.
- Exercise is really good for you even if you don’t notice any immediate weight loss.
- Whenever possible try to consume “real food” , a.k.a. food you find at the edges of the supermarket and that does not come in a box with a long list of ingredients.
Hope you get a chance to read the book. Eat your veggies and read your food labels 🙂
I’ve been using the Olympus 17mm 1.8 prime now for a little over a week and I enjoy the lens. It focuses quickly and the colors are generally pleasing. As others have noted, it’s not always the sharpest and focusing with the manual focus ring is not accurate. That ring is also a little lose on my copy of the lens. However I am in love with this lens because it’s extremely versatile, light, and has enabled me to start carrying my camera daily with me again.
I will say I like the colors better with the 25mm 1.8 but that lens focuses pretty slowly at times and is not a great lens for showing the background behind a subject. Here are some sample shots with this lens:
Disclaimer: this shot ended up being cropped quite a bit. If I knew I was going to see deer I would have brought a zoom lens with me.
Not a perfect lens by any means but I definitely recommend it for travel and general use. If you know you prefer telephoto lenses and dislike having to correct for distortion or crooked photos then go for the 25mm. Otherwise this is a great lens.