On Life: Insecurities vs. Passion

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” (Howard Thurman)

This one is especially for Ariane, inspired by a recent conversation. I feel a bit awkward, to be honest, in trying to sell anything like a life philosophy – I really don’t know if I should be that bold at the age of twenty-two. Then again, I am young enough to vividly remember my teenage years… that time when everything that matters is what everyone else thinks of you. When judgements like “too fat”, “not pretty enough”, “teacher’s pet”, “loser”, “bad at sports”, “too tall”, “weird hair”, “not part of the cool kids”, are what seems to define a person. And trust me, my teenage years, particularly the early ones, were full of those. Later I sort of found my “niche”, but even though the judgements were no longer made to my face, my brain had already learned them and repeated them, endlessly, without my conscious attention. It was only recently that I became aware of just how damaging those little voices in my head had been, and how insecure they had rendered me.

I’m not going to tell you I have no more insecurities. Everybody does. Inside everyone is that awkward teenager that felt somehow they just did not fit in, or the child who felt that she was not loved enough, or the schoolboy who was made fun of because he was the teacher’s favourite.

In the process of reaching that state of adulthood, I believe it’s crucial to begin replacing the judgements that formed our identity in our teenage years with a new concept of the self. Now, a few years ago, my definition of myself might have been something like, “I’m a student… I like books… and travelling… and… uhmmm… I have a cat…” See my point? I wouldn’t have known how to define my identity, other than what I do, and what I like. The unspoken judgements that formed an enormous (albeit largely subconscious) part of who I was and how I behaved, were something like “too fat… guys don’t like me… my hair is too frizzy… I’m too smart, nobody likes a know-it-all… I’m not one of the cool kids… I don’t fit in”. The process of learning to answer the question “Who are you?” starts by identifying what we think we are, subconsciously. These damaging words that are so ingrained in us after our teenage years are what causes us to be insecure. So what makes us more secure? What can give us confidence? How do we arrive at a new self-concept, one that is not based on negative judgements that usually do not even have any kind of objective truth in them?

The obvious answer is, by finding what really is true about us. Ask yourself, what makes me tick? What am I passionate about? What is it that I love? Which are the activities that I enjoy so much that I don’t feel time passing anymore? What makes me unique? What are my talents? What have others noticed in me that they appreciate? What am I often complimented on? Whether that is your style or the way you do your hair, the way you kick a soccer ball, your ability to listen or to make people laugh, it does not matter. I could say what others think of you doesn’t matter anyways, and to an extent that is exactly what I am saying. But of course, mtu ni watu (a person is people, i.e. no man is an island), so our self-concept will naturally be influenced by our interactions with others. My point is that often we take from those interactions any criticism and judgement, real or imagined, and internalize it, but we dismiss compliments. Don’t. It’s not “nothing”.

Don’t dismiss compliments. Don’t dismiss yourself and your talents. Don’t say, “Well yeah, but that’s nothing extraordinary”, or, “Well, everybody can do that”. Your skills and talents are worth something. If someone asks who you are, tell them what inspires you. Tell them what you dream of. Don’t be afraid to share what you love. Of course you are not just your skills and talents. I’m talking about what makes you passionate, what makes you come alive. Have you ever had a conversation with someone about their greatest passion? Have you noticed how their eyes are bright, their whole body is alive, they’re almost beaming with excitement… and suddenly the most boring subject seems interesting, because they are speaking of it in such a passionate way? It’s happened to me with a biology teacher speaking about amoebae, and a scientist who builds little robots that scan the ground of the ocean and bring up dirt samples. I also had the great privilege of being taught Calculus by a man who was a mathematician not just by profession, but with every fiber of his being. I always preferred languages and social sciences, but that year, math was my favourite class.

It’s amazing what passion can do, and how much it can change our lives if we find what we are passionate about. If you already know, great. Think about how you feel when you’re doing whatever it is you love doing. I bet you don’t feel inadequate, or insecure. I bet you’re not thinking you should really lose a few pounds or wishing your hair was longer, or less unruly. When you’re in the zone, there is just no room for such thoughts. THAT is who you are. Share that part of your life. It’s the most genuine you can be – and that’s how connection happens.

If you’ve read this far and you’re shaking your head and saying, nice, but I’m really not that excited about anything… I hear you. I said the same thing a while ago. It can take time to figure out what you’re really passionate about. If you have an inkling… you always took art classes as a kid but stopped because it wasn’t considered cool, or you didn’t want to spend the money, or life got in the way… but you really enjoyed those classes… that’s a good starting point. If you keep getting compliments for something, that’s another good starting point. Like I said – don’t dismiss compliments. Listen.

If you have no idea, you get to try something new. Try a sport you feel drawn to. Join a choir. Get a library card. Learn chess. Plant a few herbs or flowers and be a gardener. Take a class in sewing, or Russian, or anything else that sounds like fun. If you don’t love it, try something else. Think about what you consider yourself to be talented in – but don’t limit yourself to that. It’s entirely possible to be good at something and not enjoy it at all. It’s equally possible that you’ll be good at something you didn’t think you could do.

And when you’ve found that thing that you love, that makes you forget the passing of time… share it. Let that be what others see in you. Not your self-doubts and your insecurities. Those aren’t ever going to go away.. but if you can recognise them for what they are, instead of calling them truths, you’ll be able to handle them much easier. And the first step to that, I believe, is to find something that is actually true about you – so true that when you share it, others can see it in your eyes and your body language and hear it in the way you speak. Call it your passion, your favourite hobby, your talent, your calling, whatever you like. Just promise me that you’ll take away from the time that you spend doubting yourself and worrying about yourself and your shortcomings, and invest that time into finding what makes you tick. It’s more than worth it – and you owe it to yourself to find out what makes you come alive.

PS:

Of course, there is much more to a self-concept than your passions. Something else I’ve been pondering a lot is the question of values. Where are my boundaries? What is acceptable behaviour? How do I treat others, and how do I wish to be treated? Are those two in accord? … etc. … Another is the question of personality – part of that, of course, is what I wrote about above, but there is more to that too – being honest about your character traits, identifying where there is a need for improvement… but also realise that your shortcomings are not you, they are just aspects of your personality that you can observe and change. I might write a second part to this in the not too distant future, if I feel like it… I mean, if I find the time, considering my other commitments.

I’d also like to say that this is just what my young, idealistic and sometimes over-analytical self came up with when I thought about insecurity versus confidence. It’s obviously not the gospel truth. Take what you like from it, leave the rest. Also leave comments if you like. Cheers!

Advertisements

A Different Kind of Love Letter

This is not for any person. This is for my home.

Upper Bavaria, in the South of Germany, is known among Germans as a bit of an odd place, where people talk funny, have a number of befuddling traditions, are a little too conservative, and altogether just a bit strange.

I happen to think it is the most beautiful place on Earth.

I landed in the early afternoon on a day in mid-September, and as the plane broke through the clouds on its way to the international airport in Munich, we were greeted by rather typical German September weather… grey, cloudy, cool, a smell of cold in the air, already a hint of winter. (Not that September in Germany couldn’t also be sunny and 30°C… theoretically. It does happen.)

As we descended, rolling hills of green passed by outside my window, little villages tucked into forest clearings or a river bend, all of them composed of white houses with red roofs, the obligatory church and market square, all peaceful-looking, tiny and a wholly different world from the one I had just left behind me in Kenya’s capital city Nairobi. The contrast could have not been more striking.

Three weeks in Kenya taught me a lot about the country, but as always, going away also makes you look at your home country in a different light. What I noticed as I re-entered Germany was how green everything was, how cold compared to Nairobi, how clean and how orderly. Above all, I noticed the difference in perceived (and presumably real) safety levels. I hopped into my mom’s car and we drove home without locking the car doors, parked the car on our parking lot and walked into the house without passing any security guards or gates. There are no bars in front of our windows, walking at 3 a.m. is usually perfectly safe, and a taxi driver is extremely unlikely to con and rob you. Within Germany, there are certainly areas where safety especially at night can be an issue, but my small town in Bavaria is definitely not one of them.

My town has about 20,000 inhabitants, which means I still occasionally run into my kindergarten teacher at the supermarket. The conservative party won about 70 percent of votes in the last election (although, I suspect, mostly because it was promising to build a cinema, which probably earned quite a few votes from the age group 18-25). There are more churches than I would consider strictly necessary for this number of people, and the ban on religious symbols at school has not yet reached us – crucifixes in classrooms are still a matter of course, as is compulsory religious education, or alternatively “ethics”, for those who don’t feel they belong in either the Catholic or the Protestant class. We’ve got a pool and a few restaurants, but in terms of entertainment, nearby Munich offers a lot more, of course. With a 20 minute drive I can be in the heart of Munich, fighting traffic (although compared to Nairobi traffic, this really does not seem worth mentioning), but a drive of the same duration in the other direction will lead me into the countryside, where villages have 200 inhabitants and usually about the same number of cows.

Do I have my issues with this place? Of course I do. In rural Bavaria, the predominant notion is that you should really just stay where you were born, get married, have a few kids, and if you go on holiday, maybe you should go see the North of Germany, where they speak that odd, over-correct German and don’t know what a “Semmel” is. (A.N.: Bavarian dialect for a bread roll, the standard German is “Brötchen”). Why ever would you want to travel far away? What do you want in New York City where there are so many tall buildings and you can barely see the sky? Why would you go to Africa, where it’s always hot and dirty and people are starving? What could possibly induce you to go to South America, where you’ll surely be robbed, or kidnapped by a drug cartel?

Of course this narrow view of the world bothers me. Of course it bothered me that my decision to study somewhere other than Munich was frowned upon. Of course it bothered me when a boyfriend came to visit and odd looks followed us in the more rural areas because of the color of his skin. Of course it bothers me that a winter can last from October to April, and that finding a cinema that will play films in their original language can take some substantive effort. It’s why I travel… so that this part of the world is not all that I see, so that its view of the world is not all that I know.

Yet no matter what happens, this is my home. And for as long as I live, when I think of this little conservative, peaceful, almost boring corner of the world, it will give me a distinct feeling of belonging. My roots are here in this odd and beautiful place where dialect is very much alive, where people know that Weißwurst (Bavarian veal sausage) is traditionally eaten before 12 pm, where even greetings already involve a mention of God (“Grüß Gott!”), where the standard, stoic answer to something not going one’s way is “ja mei” (dialect for “oh well”), and where summer months are still spent biking to the nearby lake to swim, or finding one’s way through a maze cut into a corn field.

I wish I could have continued my stay in Kenya as planned, and throughout the entire flight I felt regret tugging at me, making me wish that something had gone differently… yet as we landed, just for a while, I forgot about it. As I was watching the green hills under the cloudy sky, watching white houses with red roofs come into closer view, fields alternating with patches of forest, I only felt one thing – love.

It’s good to be back, Bavaria.

Ariane’s Bucket List- Part 1

This list is by all means incomplete, which is good because it will make me keep striving for challenges and experiences. However, here are the 30 first things that are on my bucket list so far ( order of listing doesn’t coincide with priority. I take life as it comes.):

1. Camp on a NCY Skyscraper

Who would have thought that, over summer, certain NY rooftops are up for camping? I can only imagine how amazing it must be to crash up there, with a bunch of random, happy people, feeling like you live on the top of the world…. YES!

2. Move to NYC

If you have followed my previous blog posts here, you will understand. No further explanation necessary, I believe!

3. Speak Spanish fluently

It’s the language of passion, sounds beautiful and is not all too difficult to learn- so why wouldn’t I make it my goal to improve my knowledge and become fluent in it. That way, I could talk to my Venezuelan friend solo en español.

4. Visit every country that my friends are from

…which include, et all, Venezuela, the US, Mauritius, Equador, Chile, Bavaria, Morocco, Portugal, United Arab Emirates, Finnland,  Norway, Paraguay, Pakistan, South Africa, India. I think that’s about it. Lets just say that my university is quite a multicultural place.

5. Do something really stupid

I have done the one or other stupid things. Like not setting my alarm clock on the train home after intense Irish spring break and thus falling asleep and waking up in Poland. But I have never done something that made me feel so utterly stupid that I could have buried myself in my shame while, 1 month later, it makes you crack up and gives you a good story. At least I can’t remember. Though, waking up in Poland comes pretty close to that.

6. Do my driver’s license

To all non-Germans out there: Doing the drivers license in Germany is not only freaking expensive (depending on the state it will cost you between 1.200-2.000€) but also takes a lot of time. You have to have theoretical lessons, followed by a mandatory number of rides on highways, at nighttime, through the countryside, through the city etc etc. It is quite ridiculous. So far, I always had better things to do with that much money. Like paying my college tuition.

7. Learn how to cook

From Hotel Mom to life at a private university in Germany, where three meals a day are being offered and covered in your college tuition…that means very little incentive to cook for yourself. Although every floor as a community kitchen as well, they are rather badly equipped and it would take forever to find a pot to cook your noodles in. Because, lets face it, thats as far as I my cooking abilities take me. Though I do believe, that I could find ways of becoming a food-creative person if I had to. Its all a matter of supply and demand, as the economics student inside of me says.

8. Write a novel

That would be pretty sweet. Though, in the digital age, every blog is pretty much a bit of a novel, isn’t it?

9. Go to a Spa for a day

How could you say No to professional massages, peelings and manicures? Hhhhhm, only the thought of it makes my muscles relax.

10. Learn how to take amazing pictures

My camera is quite okay but I somehow feel that I am not doing it justice. I am pretty sure, that I have to train my professional photography eye. I often walk through life and see beautiful things and think by myself “Huh, that would be an amazing picture”. So, I take the picture and the effect isn’t half as strong as I’d like it to be, it doesn’t do the reality any justice at all. Thus, this has to be improved.

11. Understand Stats

Nothing to be mentioned here. I tried and I failed. Will keep trying though.

12. Picknick at the beach

Preferably with someone you like. Although I live at the beach, I have never actually had one of those great beach picknicks where you chill in the sand and watch the sun set and everything. So, I think it would be great to have that.

13. Learn how to tune my guitar without tuner

I just feel like I should be able to get that one straight. Shouldn’t be too difficult, right?

14. Start watching HIMYM and/or Friends

To adjust to social peer pressure

15. March up to a good-looking guy at a party and kiss him without further explanation

You know how EPIC that would be? Like a movie scene. You spot this guy and you two have been eye-f***ing each other for quite a while already but instead of just waiting around for him to make a move, you walk straight across the room, pull him down to you (ideally, he is taller than I am) and start kissing him.

16. Never start smoking

No further explanation needed, I believe.

17. Learn how to talk like a US American…alternatively Brit.

Because my own undefinable, neutral accent annoys me.

18. Have an apartment in which one wall is painted in dark red with a HUGE black-and-white picture of New York on it.

Has always been a dream of mine, ever since I understood what “Living alone” meant.

19. Find The One

Isn’t that the dream of pretty much everybody? Find that one person that you KNOW will be on your side until death my part you. While I am still a bit skeptical that this concept can be applied to me, I am also excited for it.

20. Lose weight

And become a good-looking girl with a trained body that is being envied by everyone else. Or at least, if that is too much to ask for, get rid of the Freshman-15-Pounds-grudge that is still haunting me a little.

21.Remove a spider from my room on my own.

Even the bare thought of it makes me twitch and make faces and panicky search my room for any hint of such a creature. If that day ever comes, I will make sure to let you know. Don’t put your hopes up too high though.

22. Do something that makes myself proud. 

No idea what exactly, yet. Its kinda hard to find something with which I could impress myself. But I will search, I promise!

23. Believe in myself

Whoever read my last log entry, knows that I constantly doubt myself and that needs to be changed I think. Might come with above mentioned lost of weight. Or with finding The One. We’ll see.

24. Go to Thailand and China

25. Travel on my own

To push myself out of my comfort zone and be forced to make new friends.

26. Give a cute Starbucks barista my number

Have never been brave to do that. What if he throws it away? But then again…so WHAT?! The problem is that Germany doesn’t have as many Starbucks stores as big US cities do. And wouldn’t it be bad, if I felt to embarrassed to every go into my local Starbucks again ever?

27. Say Yes more often. 

Accept challenges and laugh risks into the face. Cause life is pretty short.

28. Earn enough (or save up enough) to pay my parents really really nice vacations.

Because the majority of their lives, they have been working to give my brothers and me all the opportunities possible, even if that meant that they had to take a step back themselves. Since I acknowledge and appreciate that, I hope that at some point I will be able to show them all the places abroad that I really really like.

29. Become good in massages.

I think at the moment, I am missing arm strength but am convinced that being able to give good massages is an excellent start to “make friends”…if you know what I mean.

30. Be a hero.

Whether that is in a theater play (I love acting) or in real life, wouldn’t it be great to make someones day or save something…?

Surprise goodbye

So… remember the part where this was supposed to be an exchange semester?

Yeah, me too. It’s a long story. The short version is that the lecturers went on a strike which took too long for me to wait out. I had to make a decision or risk having to take all my leftover credits in the last semester if something went wrong here in Nairobi. So last week, I decided to go home. I’ve got my flight, I’ll be leaving tomorrow… suddenly Kenya feels like a dream and I’m about to wake up. A part of me is really sad. Another part of me is a little relieved (obviously this was the more difficult route than just staying home in the first place, and maybe, a little bit, I am happy I don’t have to challenge myself like this). The largest part of me is surprisingly stoic, now that the decision is made. So I’ll go back. It’s not the end of my adventures. I can come to Kenya anytime. The idea is maybe to come back over winter break, depending on how I can combine it with some other plans that I have, and how I am going to pay for it, of course.

Anyways, to say goodbye properly, I went to get my hair done Kenyan-style today. I opted for long microbraids that are a little wavy, and even though I was really nervous, I am actually quite happy with the result. It’s gotten mixed reactions, as was expected, but then I didn’t get it so everybody would love it, I got it to see what it’s like to get your hair braided, and what it feels like to run around with a large amount of fake hair very firmly attached to your head. It should last about a month and I hope I can care for it well enough so I don’t destroy my natural hair completely in the process… but the experience of getting it done in itself was already pretty much worth it.

A hairstylist (recommended to me because she’s especially fast) took four hours and five large pieces of fake hair, plus an assistant who was pretty much the Kenyan version of the stereotypical superawesome gay fashionista stylist – the end result will take some getting used to and also a few days before it stops pulling at my scalp the way it does right now… but it’s kind of awesome. I have no idea what I’ll do with it when I exercise – it’s heavy, and it won’t ever fit into a normal hairtie! – or how I’m going to find a swimming cap big enough to hold all of this craziness together… but I’m sure I can figure it out.

Obviously I look like a total tourist, but tomorrow I’ll leave and back in Germany, I have no idea what the reactions will be… maybe people will think I’m part African, who knows. Maybe the Africans on campus will think I’m the weirdest person ever. It doesn’t really matter… I have the coolest souvenir possible. With my microbraids, I’m going to take a little bit of Kenya back to Germany. So for now… asante sana, Kenya, it was a good time, and tutaonana 🙂

Sometimes, life sucks…

…but theoretically, that means that it can only get better, right? It has been two weeks that I have been on campus now and I started settling in. Since Judith was supposed to be gone for a semester (Btw, she has something to break to you, but I will leave it up to her to inform you guys), I have a new temporary roommate and she is great, we get along super well and have a lot of fun. So, thats the good thing. We are all settled in and have our dorm decorated. But thats not the thing, I wanna talk about really.

What I am really angry about right now is the power that guys can have over your life. In the recent history of our closer friendship circle, we have had several cases of love sickness or unreturned love or dramatically separated love and, naturally, that influences a person. When I broke up with my first serious boyfriend last December, after over a year of an intense on-campus relationship, I got over him pretty fast, I must say. Mostly because the last few months had been filled with drama and drama and more drama and when we finally broke up, it felt like a heavy weight had been taken off me. I was excited to go back for the spring semester and yes, I would see him every day, but I had gotten strong over winter and knew I could handle it/him. And it worked. Damn, did I enjoy this semester. I became so much more social with my friends because I suddenly had time for that. I got better in my grades. Life was good. Then New York worked out just as I had planned on. Everything was good and I knew it couldn’t get much better. But thats exactly the problem. You lived your dream and then your dream ends and what do you have left? You have to start making new dreams. And in order to make new dreams, I think, you need to realize who you are, where you are and where you wanna go.

I am playing the role of this girl that always makes people laugh and always has something funny or clumsy to say or to do. Everyone in our group has a role and I’m the cheerful person. Because thats the easiest. Everybody likes the cheerful person. And I like making people smile. I like coming to the lunch table and seeing people being stressed out from classes or assignments and just start telling a funny story and make their day a little better. But thats it, thats all people get to see, I always make sure of that.

But who am I really? Yesterday in our Social Psychology class, I had to answer exactly that question for myself. “Just write down, who you are!” Last semester, we had an exercise in class, where people had to go around and write on other people’s backs how they perceived them (Yeah, our university is so small, that you actually know EVERYBODY…except for the Asians and Eastern Europeans. They like to stay for themselves or with their studies. No harm intended). About me, people wrote things like: “The actress”, “New York”, “Happy”, “I like to see your shoulder naked” (still wondering about this one…). I think thats a really great perception that people have of me. But how would I describe myself?

Well. I am… a romantic. And insecure, very insecure. That is the main thing that I perceive about myself. I don’t trust my own judgement and I don’t believe that other people would like me or find me pretty or something. In high school, I was a nerd and no one would believe that studying and having fun could go together, so they put me into a box, I think. My first real relationship on campus was with a guy, that judged people by their ability to have intense, deep discussions and, while we had a good time together as long as it lasted, he also always made clear that “he couldn’t connect on that high intellectual level with me”. If you hear that for over a year and always wonder if you should bring more sophisticated arguments to impress your conversation partner, it kinda tattoos a certain attitude under your skin. Thats what it did. I’m insecure in whether people would like me if they got to know me better, so I just play the easiest role possible: Being the cheer-up. The always happy one. If there is nothing more I show, people think there is nothing more to explore.

From time to time though, I do get to know someone I might like or someone who seems interested in me and then I want to open up. I wanna show him that I am so much more than just that person that is always joking around. But due to my lack of self-confidence, I always doubt that the guy is actually interested in me and just assume that he is extremely drunk/horny/unexperienced/hopeless and thus sees the last chance in me. Especially when nothing is coming as a reaction once both of us sobered up. “Jupp, he was just drunk and I was just drunk and thats how it happened and now thats the end of story, how could you have even considered that he might actually like you, you are ugly and too tall and too chubby and you should go and get your butt to get smaller and your face to get prettier and all those pretty people out there with all these great ideals and how could you ever compete with that?! He sobered up and realized whom he had been flirting with last night and he thought ‘Well, shit’ and then ignored you. And that won’t change. So, give up before putting your hopes up!” And I am getting up and fight with the mirror in the morning because I wanna see what people tell me they see, wanna see that my legs are nice, just as my friend tells me, and that my lips look good and that I am pretty, but I can’t see it really and so I keep on running and keep on hoping that one day, I might win that fight.

sorry folks, I know what you must be thinking…she has friends, a college life, a family etc etc. Im not unthankful, I just wish I could find a way to… appreciate myself maybe? I am working on that, I swear I am but sometimes process is slow and I just have to brag about my little down. But, as said in the beginning, with every downturn comes an up, right? So, lets see what the up is! And yes, I do consider the possibility that I might just be tired or have had a bad day or things are just not working out as I wish at the moment, sometimes everything comes together and you just wanna get it out of your system but don’t bother your friends with all that emotional stuff because they have their own big problems themselves so you turn to your blog that you don’t even know who exactly is gonna read it, so basically you write down really personal things, available for anyone with internet access…why?!?!?! I guess, if I wasn’t that tired and my filter was gone (the filter that would normally make me write all of this down in a google document instead of a PUBLIC blog), I wouldn’t publish that anyway. But anyhow, for anyone who reads this, maybe it makes you realize that you are not the only one with a problem. Or it makes you realize that people, who don’t have “real problems” just make themselves some. I don’t know. Think what you want to think. Since I am generally an optimistic person though, I will know go to bed and hope for an up tomorrow…

Good night guys!

Cheers!!

“Is that your real hair?”

Wow, I have never felt more like some sort of exotic circus animal than in the last few hours. It was one of the funniest things that have ever happened to me.

I spent an afternoon in a small village not far from Lake Nakuru (I’ll tell you about the national park next time… with pictures, promise!) at an aunt’s place (my hostdad’s eldest sister, if you really care) while the hostdad went to do some politics in the area. I hadn’t been there ten minutes when two girls came in, saw me, started giggling incessantly and sat down on the couch opposite me, whispering to each other in rapid Kikuyu. For a while, we sat in amused and somewhat awkward silence… I was reading something and everytime I looked up at them, they turned their heads away really fast and started laughing again. I smiled encouragingly each time and eventually the younger one dared to smile back at me. With the ice broken, I started asking their names and how old they were – Faith is twelve and the younger one, who I understood was called Meri, is eight. I’m phrasing it this way because her name could have just as well been either Miri or Mary, with their English it was hard to tell. I told them my name and we lapsed back into silence, until after a lot more giggling  and staring, eventually the older one asked: “Is that your hair?”I blinked, not sure what she was asking. “I mean, your real hair?” When I told her it was, more giggling and whispering ensued, and eventually they ventured off their couch over to where I was sitting, so that they could touch my hair.

I’m not sure if they’ve met a “mzungu”, a white person, before, but it seems they definitely haven’t had a chance to touch one, and my hair and skin were utterly fascinating to them. They examined my hands in great detail (I assured them the green nails weren’t natural but a nailpolish, which seemed to reassure them a little bit), all the while chattering in Kikuyu and sometimes Swahili. I understood a word here and there, usually “mzungu”, but I have no idea what exactly their conclusions on my skin and hair were. I’d never before thought of my birthmarks as something extraordinary, but when they found the first one, they were almost unstoppable in looking for as many as they could find. Besides that, the fact that you can see the veins of a white person through their skin seemed to be exciting and scary at the same time.

At some point, I made the “mistake” of getting my camera out to show them the pictures of the park I had just been in, and the few pictures of my family that I had on it. The moment they saw the camera, everything else was forgotten. I spent most of the afternoon taking their pictures, posing so they could take pictures of me, explaining how the camera worked, showing every single picture I took to both of them, giving them the camera so they could take pictures of every poor unsuspecting visitor that walked into the room (and there was quite a steady flow of them!), and, although I tried not to panic, running after them to make sure they didn’t break my beloved camera. I’m not sure whether my mzungu-ness or my camera was the bigger sensation, but I have a feeling that my sudden appearance made their day. I’m also not sure whether I enjoy being the object of constant attention (and a lot of touching!), but those two were so adorable, I couldn’t help but be glad that I entertained them for an afternoon.

Here’s one of the many, many pictures we took:

Meri and Faith

For those of you that are on Facebook, there will be an album soon with a lot more pictures, but I just wanted to give you a little impression of my first real “mzungu” experience… eye-opening, thought-provoking, and definitely funny… I like those kids. I hope they grow up to decent jobs and their own place to live… the younger one doesn’t know how to read yet, and the older one doesn’t read very quickly, but at least it seems that they do go to school, and that’s really the most important thing. I wonder if I’ll see them again…

Leaving New York, Never Easy…

…at least it has never been for me. I know, my next blog post was due long ago and I’m sorry. There is just quite some moving around going on at the moment and its only been now that I had time to sort my thoughts and write them down.

I’m not in New York anymore. At the end of August, my internship was over and it was time to pack my backs and fly back to Germany. First of all, I am scared of flying. Terrified. I just know too little about flight procedures to help myself with rational arguments. When the engines are started and the plane speeds up, I mentally excuse myself to god for being such an unchristian christian and only sending prayers when I’m sitting in a plane or the night before a final I know I didn’t study enough for. The flight from New York to Stuttgart, Germany, was especially bad. I didn’t wanna go back. I was excited to see my family again and my friends, to have certain German things back (like dark bread or Ketchup Pringles) but I would have preferred to go visit them and then come back to the States.When I left my apartment, I didn’t plug in my iPod as usually, I didn’t nap during the subway ride. I wanted to soak up as much of the city as possible. The smell of the Best Fishmarket in Harlem. The dialects and different accents. The stories you kinda overhear in the metro station.

Watching people in the craziest outfits blasting music or performing dances in the trains. I bought myself one last mint-chocolate calorie bomb, wore my most obvious “I’m a weird-looking person but its okay, because its new york and no one would ever care!” outfit and said good-bye.

Once in the plane, it got worse. I was turning on my New York Playlist and was fighting the tears…until the pilot decided to give us one last glimpse of the city. He flew a circle around NY before heading off into the proper direction to give everyone in the plane a good last look. And there they were- Brooklyn Bridge, Central Park, the Empire State Building, New Jersey and they all were so familiar. They felt like home. It had only been three months and I was ashamed I had been letting myself fall for something that quickly. I was crying my eyes out in that stupid plane, awkwardly turned towards the window with my bandana as low into my face as possible. It was horrible. At least it defeated my fear of flying for a while- until three hours into the trip. It was pitch-dark outside, we were above the middle of the Atlantic, I’m watching Hunger Games (which is a great movie by the way but pretty gloomy at times) and suddenly the pilot makes the following announcement: Ladies and Gentlemen, please excuse the disturbance but we will have to reboot our system. That means that the movies won’t be available for a while, we are sorry for this inconvenience.” The logical sight of my thinks: Ok, if their greatest concern is the  unavailability of the movies, then we aren’t in any trouble really. But the irrational part of me, myself and I mentally screams: We are DEAD! The system isn’t working and we lost contact to the ground and we have no idea at which height to fly, so if another plane is crossing our level, WE GONNA CRASH and my mortal remains will be lost in the ocean and NO ONE WILL EVER FIND OUT WHAT HAPPENED!!! Well, guess what? Nothing noticeable actually happened. But it sure prevented me from sleeping for the rest of the flight.

Once back in Germany, I had a few hours to kill at the train station. So, I walk into this grocery store, pick something and go pay. Still under American influence, I greet the cashier with a friendly “Guten Morgen, wie geht es Ihnen?” “Good Morning, how are you?” and just get a suspicious glance in return. “Why is that any of your business?”, she replied. “Do you want the gummy bears or not?”. Oh yeah, welcome back to Germany! The train ride home was even gloomier than the flight. The sky was grey, it was chilly, people gave me weird looks for my leggins and no one would offer to help me with my heavy luggage. Sometimes I shrieked when people, that were clearly younger than 21, walked by with a bottle of beer in their hands. At least I won’t have to hide red wine in an orange-juice-bottle anymore^^ Well, once I arrived at home and had my family and friends around me, I felt fine, it was great seeing everyone. Same goes for the day I returned to my campus. People here become extremely close to each other, since we are all living and studying together, they become your family. So, it was also great to see my second family again, it was about time.

Now, normal college stress caught up with me and I have to stop making a big, mental fuss of how great my summer was, how pathbreaking and how instructive. I know what I wanna do in the future, I just don’t know if I can afford it. But for now I am back on campus and have to remind myself day by day that this is the very last year I will have with my friends, like this, under these circumstances and with this much freedom. I should learn to appreciate the past and live in the present but at the very moment, I am grieving about the past and longing for the future. Bad Ari!!! It’s time to focus my thoughts on the more appropriate things in life: What to do for which class, what to write my bachelor thesis about, where to go for grad school, what to wear for saturday’s party, how to loose weight by christmas and how to spice up servery food. And as I’m writing this, I notice that I am feeling good in this role as well and I’ll do my best to adjust back to it asap!! And now I’ll go and have my guitar tuned because I didn’t have it over the summer and really hope I didn’t forget how to play the chords 😀

Cheers guys!!