2012- A Year in Pictures

Yeah, I know. Another one of those year recaps. But I just can’t help it. 2012 has been such a happy, HAPPY year with a load of new experiences in all aspects of my life- Theater, Traveling, Going abroad, Dating and boys in general, Academics, Future plans, Life, HAPPINESS. A really, really great year has passed and has set the bar high for 2013. Here are some impressions of my year in pictures:

JANUARY.  

A friend of ours died in a tragic accident on New Years Eve. When the new year starts like that, you develop an unknown determination to make things count, enjoy every minute and never take things for granted. And so I tried. I realized something really important for myself. We are young, goddamn. We are young and in the process of finding ourselves. We are allowed to make mistakes and regret them and get over them and find new paths! And I’m not supposed to always choose the right thing; I am not supposed to have my future all planed out. I feel like simply jumping into this beautiful adventure called life, wherever it takes me, turning around and choosing another way if I don’t like the result, yes, maybe risking a detour but feeling good doing so. I don’t have to know what the outcome is, or what the end of the tunnel offers. I already wasted a lot of time recognizing that but luckily there is still a lot of time left and I will try my best to act upon it and be happy

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After 8 weeks of winter break finally reunited with my roommate (aka the- other- person- posting- here), moved on from the breakup from my then- boyfriend and was all ready to start fresh into 2012

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FEBRUARY

Starting to work out again and getting rewarded with OREO cake made by my friends (which, in Germany, is a scarce resource). It’s the moments when a friend makes you surprises like this that you are reminded of the power of friendship.

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February, one of the coldest and rainiest months in Germany. Naturally, the most logical conclusion is taking a dorm room, filling it up with sand, heat it on full power, put palms into it and play beach songs. Looking back, I liked this party a lot because it reflects how spontaneous and juvenile, how adventurous and fun we felt.
Having an epic and totally forbidden party without getting caught- LIKE A BOSS.

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MARCH

March. Did someone say HERE COMES THE SUN? Without further ado, we put my couch outside to make studying more fun. With the sun in Germany comes an astonishing increase in overall life satisfaction, especially noticeable on campus. Life motto from here until october: The sun shines so life is good.

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 APRIL

Spring break in Dublin. Lessons learned: Guinness might grow on you…or it might just not. And the Irish accent is good craic!

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KONY 2012 did not leave out Germany either. And no, I’m not one of those that watched the 30-minute-long video and assumed she knew the world. I did intense research and thought about it critically before starting to support them. I even applied for an internship, got it offered but then declined to be able to go to NYC. What did I learn from the campaign? Sometimes it’s not necessary to wait for change to come, its upon every one of us to raise our voice and tried to be heard. Why would we want to depend on anyone else to change our life for us?

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MAY

Not a real year without some downs and, since I want to be honest with my 2012 recap, here is one of them. Pressure of finding an internship, finishing finals, getting the visa in time and figuring out finances all crashed down on me at once and sometimes even chocolate can’t help. But, if you really want something in life, don’t accept a NO, go fight for it. You know you deserve it, so don’t mind the path, eyes on the goal.

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Last day of the spring semester, shortly before my departure to New York, sweet promises of my summer ringing in my head and the official start of our long-distance roommate relationship.

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JUNE

In New York! The start of three months that would change my life and my goals and, overall, would become the best decision of my life.

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JULY- AUGUST

My trips to DC, Indiana and Upstate New York showed me more of the US and made me even more passionate for the country. Yes, NYC does not equal the rest of the states but there is something in the way most people interact, something in the air that fascinates me . By the end of August, I was a true US- fanatic, its official now and I think all my friends would confirm.

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SEPTEMBER

Back in the fatherland but still heavily under US influence and desperate to keep my summer spirit alive in my everyday routine.
New dorm, new (temporary) roommate, new academic year, new challenges- the biggest one of them related to grad schools. I learned to hold on to things I love and to be willing to take more risks without double-questioning everything all the time.  Just because you sometimes cannot be sure of the outcomes it doesn’t mean everything will end in failure. This attitude brought me a new and happy relationship, in which I learned to be more confident in myself and that guys can be romantic indeed- first time in my life that I had gotten flowers from a boy! And my friends liked him 🙂

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OCTOBER

The joy of having a birthday full of wonderful surprises by my friends and boyfriend, the feeling of being loved and knowing that there are people who care about you added to the warm colors of fall, the mild weather and the smell of passing summer. Made me feel alive and happy and excited (and strong enough to face the tiring winter, urgh, I HATE it). Not to forget, Judith was actually back on campus, since Nairobi hadn’t worked out for her, so we got to have a short-distance-yet-not-roommates-time, which will change to us moving back in together this February 🙂

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NOVEMBER

Dedicated to rehearsals for “The Importance of Being Earnest”, in which I had the role of Gwendolen Fairfax. Made me realize how much I love theater and that, no matter where my future will take me, I will keep my eyes open for auditions and theater groups. It’s just too much fun to portray someone else and entirely sink into that role. Also, it’s ok to be crazy because the majority of theater people are.

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DECEMBER

Finals, a break-up, christmas, new years. A lot happening, a lot of thinking about myself, love, relationships, family. Mixed feelings at the end of 2012. Embracing crazy ideas like taking a day trip to Poland.

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2013

I know, only roughly 8% of people with new years resolutions actually stick to them but it’s still nice to have some. So, here are mine:

  • Stop bottling things up- tell people my opinion right away
  • Figure out things with the relationship that i ended but maybe not rightfully so?
  • STOP GIVING A FUCK ABOUT WHAT PEOPLE THINK!!! Self-esteem, Ariane, self-esteem!
  • Doing my utmost to make San Francisco happen. I want this year to end with me being in the states!
  • Graduate

HAPPY BELAYED NEW YEAR everybody 🙂

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

[Special warning: Long post ahead. Feel free to read part and come back later to finish, but do come back and finish reading cause I’d hate for you to read the Bad and the Ugly and miss the Good! That being said, enjoy.]

I’ve been in Nairobi for ten days now, and while that is obviously not enough time to form a coherent picture of the place or to make any kind of judgment, it might be a good time to sum up some of my first impressions. A good friend told me before I left that I’d experience the good, the bad, and the ugly, and as usual (don’t tell him I said that), he was right. I am in no way saying that the points below are an accurate description of Nairobi, or that a local would agree with me, or even that I am not going to change my mind about things as I get used to the place – but that’s why it’s called first impressions, right?

So, saving the good for last (bring your most weighty arguments towards the end to create the best impact, as every middle and high school teacher I ever had never tired of reminding me)… let’s start with

The Bad.

  • Public transport is confusing as heck, and also somewhat dangerous – both because of high risk of pickpockets and of the way these guys drive. I have yet to experience a matatu (minibuses that are chronically overloaded, sometimes blasting loud music, but are also cheaper and run with a higher frequency than buses) from the inside, but I’ve been almost run over by them several times, because they often, and without warning, drive onto the sidewalk to let someone alight or board the “mat”. A somewhat more adventurous part of me has to admit they do look like they might be fun, so I’ll give them a try sometime soon.
  • While the harassment is nowhere near as bad as it was in South America, a white girl does stand out and receive a certain amount of (mostly) unwanted attention and “tourist treatment”. The best so far was a guy at the market who asked for 4000 Ksh (that’s about 40 Euros!) for  a pair of (admittedly very pretty) earrings that should have cost about a tenth of that price.
  • The air… big city, as far as I’m aware no “clean air” regulations, a lot of cars (and trucks and buses) with rather old engines, and a LOT of traffic means it is hard to breathe any air that doesn’t smell like gasoline and dust. My eyes are often red and itchy just from being outside in the city center.
  • The university is… well… somewhat less efficient and supportive than my university back home. I’ve heard this from every exchange student I spoke to before leaving… once you go abroad, you’ll appreciate how this university works, and it’s true. I have been going back and forth from the university to my house to a copy-shop to a place that takes passport pictures, back to the university, back home, to the bank, back to the university, etc., even though at the time I asked via email, I had been told they had all the documents they needed. There’s no orientation for new students and as of now, no timetables, even though classes are supposed to start on Monday. I asked a student about it and she said my best source of information would be other students, since most of the time, the university won’t really be helpful. So… we’ll see how that goes.

The Ugly.

  • There’s really only one item on this part of the list, but it is ugly. Very ugly. It’s poverty. I’ve travelled before I came here. In South America, I stayed in houses that had walls made of clay and sugarcane trunks with a tin roof that only covered half the kitchen. I stayed in villages that didn’t have electricity or running water, and where the toilet for all villagers consisted of three holes in the ground, a ten-minute walk from the village. So I’m aware that the standard of living I’ve grown up with can’t be taken for granted. I’m aware of how very, very lucky I am to have spent my childhood in a house with a garden, with a road that was safe to play and walk on even after dark, in a place where you can leave the front door unlocked because the chances of burglary are virtually nonexistent. I had running, hot water whenever I wanted and electricity that only ever went out if there was a big storm, maybe. I know how lucky I am to have grown up like this and I’ve seen how different it can be.
    But here, poverty has touched me in a new way. Maybe it’s because the poor and the rich are so very close together. You drive to certain parts of Nairobi, like Karen, and you see huge mansions with elaborate security and armed guards, but on the way, you pass little kiosks on the road side, buildings made of some wood and some tin, that never look quite finished, or like they would really offer any kind of protection. My hostdad says that an estimated one million people in Nairobi live in a slum called Kibera (not far from where my house is but I’ve never been there), and it’s not a very long drive from the mansions of Karen, or the skyscrapers of the central business district. The poor and the wealthy live so close to each other that it’s impossible to ignore the poverty, and it’s also impossible to get used to it because it is so close to so much wealth that you cannot help but compare and wonder how it must feel. When I walk to the mall, little kids run after me begging for coins, often all the way from the intersection right to the entrance of the mall – they wouldn’t get past the guards at the entrance, and they know, but they are persistent. I know that if I start giving them money, I’ll probably have dozens of kids following me, and I’ll never be able to help them all. I also know a few coins won’t make a big difference and certainly do nothing to touch on the root of the problem, but when you have a maybe eight-year-old child telling you “Miss, I’m so hungry”, it’s really hard not to let it break your heart. I act like I’ve seen the people with me, I shake my head, I tell them “kesho”, “tomorrow”, and that I don’t have anything for them right now, and I feel like a really heartless and cruel human being, because I do have money, and maybe more in my bank account right now than these kids will see in their entire life, and it makes me want to cry to shake them off every time. How do you live amongst this kind of poverty, and not feel guilty for being so blessed yourself? It’s something I will have to arrange with myself in the months to come.

The Good.

  • I am so happy we have arrived at this part of the list. The last part of this entry has left me feeling quite glum, to be honest. It’s time to turn my focus (and that of my readers… please bear with me, the depressing part is over now, I promise) to the good things about Nairobi. Let’s start with the weather. It’s very nice. Sometimes (like today) it’s rather chilly, but in true Nairobi fashion I wrap a shawl around my shoulders and ignore the cold. Mostly it’s beautiful and sunny and quite warm, sometimes even hot. It rains occasionally, but not the annoying drizzling kind of rain that drags on for days without stopping. More the sudden downpour kind, Wolkenbruch, aguacero, I haven’t found out if there is a Swahili word as well, but pick your language. It’s the cool kind of rain that starts as suddenly as it stops, is deafeningly loud while it lasts, and leaves the air smelling fresh and drenches you within a fraction of a second, if it happens to catch you while you’re outside (luckily, it hasn’t yet). It’s awesome. I am also told that the weather at the coast is even nicer and I should go there sometime. I’m hoping to make it in December after my exams, hopefully with my Kenyan friend and partner in crime, Van Hoodie, who will be home for the winter break. (For the sake of privacy, I won’t be using any real names except mine and Ari’s, but it should be obvious that her name is not actually Van Hoodie).
  • The food. I haven’t tried nearly enough new things, of course, but I got a first taste, literally, of the food culture. I have fallen in love with samosas (sort of like a minced meat triangular pastry) and also chapos (chapatti). Our house help makes them with a bit of carrot in the dough, which is an awesome idea in my opinion. The most common meal for both lunch and dinner would be rice and stew, usually consisting of vegetables and some sort of meat. Ours almost always has carrots and peas in it, and the one with minced meat is my favorite kind so far. Then there is tea, served before and/or after a meal, or just in between, or when you have guests, or while you’re watching TV, or pretty much any time of the day. Kenyan tea is made in a big pot with a lot of milk, and most people add a lot of sugar to it – they find it funny that I reject the idea of sugar in both coffee and tea, but well, “if you prefer it that way…”
    Of course, as anywhere in the world, the German in me misses her dark bread and cheese, but cheap avocados and delicious fruit almost completely make up for it. (Side note: I am constantly entreated to eat more, have seconds, have a fruit, have more tea, etc. – I am convinced my host mother is determined to make me go home nice and round so that nobody will be able to say she didn’t feed me enough.) Oh, and I almost forgot… THERE IS CADBURY’S. In every supermarket. I am in paradise. Oh, and my favorite instant coffee in the world, Africafé. So the foodie in me is happy – if slightly concerned that she won’t fit into the plane seat on the way back!
  • Wildlife. I haven’t seen much of it yet, of course, lions, giraffes and elephants don’t exactly live in the CBD (although close by, more on that some other time)… but I have seen some really pretty birds that don’t look anything like any bird I’ve ever seen – and, what’s way cooler, there are monkeys. I saw two of them just chilling in a tree the other day and another one on the street really close to where I live. They’re grey, medium size (more on the small side of medium), and apparently they like to steal bananas, which is why the kitchen window should be closed if there is nobody in the kitchen. To the people here, there more a nuisance than anything else, but hey, I’ve grown up in Germany… monkeys stealing bananas through the kitchen window are like the coolest thing EVER.
  • The schedule. I don’t have it in full yet, but it looks like  I will mostly have class from 2-5 or maybe 11-5 some days. Meaning I get to actually sleep in the mornings, and those who know me know how important that is to me! Also, it will give me plenty of time in the evenings to do homework and readings – compared to days at university back home that sometimes went from 5:30 am (rowing practice) to 10 pm (elective), this is awesome.
  • The language. Have you ever heard someone speaking Swahili? It’s freaking CUTE. I can’t wait until I understand enough to haggle at the market in Swa. That should also make prices drop quite a bit… 🙂
  • The people. I left this point for last because it is really the best one (argument with most substance at the very end for greatest impact, remember?). Van Hoodie’s family, who I am living with, is amazing. I wrote about this already in my last post, but I must repeat it here because the list of good things would not be complete without them on it. Yesterday I found a bag in my room with a brand new towel and some hangers for my clothes, and when I wanted to thank “Mum”, she only apologized that she hadn’t gotten them earlier and she was going to buy more hangers, etc. She blows me away time and again by saying or doing something that I would have never expected or asked her to do, and then acting like it was the most normal thing in the world and she only wishes she’d been able to do it sooner, or help out more, etc. She has started introducing me as her daughter wherever we go, which draws confused looks from people but makes me feel all warm and fuzzy inside. My favorite cousin is the six-year-old with the adorable traces of a British accent in her English. Yesterday she questioned me at length about why I was here and what I was doing… “Are you learning Kiswahili? And Kikuyu? Do you go to the university so you can make new friends? Do you have Sprite in Germany?”… and sometimes she mixes a bit of Kiswahili into her English without realizing, and then she gets very impatient with me when I don’t understand. She likes questions, that one. Of course I still haven’t met even half the family, and I still mix up uncles, aunts and cousins, forget whose kids the ones currently visiting are, and the other day I accidentally introduced myself to somebody I had already met twice. (I hold that it wasn’t my fault because he was wearing a suit on both occasions and looked very different in casual clothes, but I was embarrassed nonetheless.) However, everyone I met and remember has been really nice to me and done everything possible to make me feel at home. My host mum and sister have welcomed me home like I’d always lived here, and my host dad made sure I got some cheese and semi-dark bread in the supermarket so I wouldn’t miss those things too much. The list could go on for ages, and I’ve only been here ten days. I’m sure of one thing already… whatever else happens, however things work out with the university, with the city itself, with my fellow students… I’ll always have this house as a refuge and a place where I feel at home and welcome. And trust me, if you’re in the middle of a strange country, you’ve crossed half a continent to come here and won’t see your family and friends for months, it is really a blessing if in the midst of all your confusion and insecurity, you have a place to come home to.

Roadtrippin through the US of A

“I never make a trip to the United States without visiting a supermarket. To me they are more fascinating than any fashion salon.”                 – Wallis Simpson.

Well, that is pretty much the conclusion I jumped to. Within the last month, Jess and I have done quite a bit of traveling together. We went to D.C. for a weekend, to Indiana for five days and to Albany for a night. Also, despite Jessi’s argument that you can’t count state you haven’t actually set foot on, I will also list Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Indiana as states I have been to disregarding the fact that I merely drove through some of them… I need to get my 50 states together somehow 😛 Needless to say that I loved every single trip that I made, despite or maybe because of the big differences between my destinations.

Lets start with D.C….Da Capital! A great city. Historical. Impressive buildings, monuments, and museums. Nice embassies, broad sidewalks, clean streets (especially if you are only used to uptown new york streets), suffocating heat… yes, thats right. 100°F and intense humidity made it hard for Jess and me to stick to our so well planned out schedule. With heavy backpacks and really bad footgear, we almost collapsed at the end of day one. We still managed to enjoy a great bunch of sights, starting at Union Station, walking to the Capitol and from there along The Mall, passing the White House, all the memorials and the Washington Monument on our way to the Lincoln Memorial. From there, we walked right back to the capitol searching for our hotel. Everybody who has been to DC before knows exactly, how long of a walk that is for one day. Well, and if you now smile and think “Pfff, thats nothing!”, please don’t forget about above mentioned backpacks and shoe wear… 

The next trip on our list led us to Terra-Haute, Indiana because I was invited to Jessi’s sisters wedding. Not only has that been the first wedding I ever attended but also has this been the first time that I’ve seen more of the US than just one of their big cities. What can I say? Indiana has…space. A lot of space. Thats lovely. Really is. And all the flags outside of people’s doors. Really lovely. And the old toilets now used as flower pots in the backyards. Really lovely! No, but all kidding aside…I liked Indiana. Probably because my state of origin is not that much different. I appreciated the new insights ESPECIALLY the insights into Walmart and Superwalmart. ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! That thing was an airport terminal. They have NUTELLA there for almost the same cheap price as in Germany. And they have so many more Oreos than in the supermarket around the corner. And, and….so MUCH of EVERYTHING. You could totally move in and just live in Walmart. If all else fails and, despite my university’s insurance that all of the students are gonna be the “Global Leaders of Tomorrow” , I will stand alone unemployed, I will become a greeter at Walmart. I honestly think I could do an amazing job there because I believe in them. I wouldn’t have trouble coming up with different greetings every day. Stuff like: “Oh my GOD, HIIIIII…did you see the super awesome discount on cookies we have today? Yes, ALL cookies and there are so many!!! That is so awesome, isn’t it? I know, I can’t believe it myself!” or: “Ha, did you know that they have Starbucks Icecream? That is so super awesome!”…
The wedding itself was beautiful…and did something to me I can’t really describe and feel almost too ashamed of to tell you… It made me want to get married. Before this wedding, I didn’t really see a reason for marriage. More and more people get divorced. And divorcements suck. How high are the chances that you’d actually stay together with this person that you meet in your early twenties? “Till death parts us” nowadays can easily last till you’re hundred! When this oath was created, 45 was the average life expectancy…see the catch?! But then I was at this wedding and boy was that romantic. There I was, watching this couple swearing to spend the rest of their lives with each other and being happy about it. It made me realize that, hopefully, at one point in time, I will meet someone who is willing to be that certain someone for me. Someone who laughs about my lame jokes and subtly lets me know when they are too much. Someone who gives me a huge hug whom I can offer support knowing that, if I need it, he’ll be there for me too. Having the significant other half. I am fine being single. I don’t feel like anything is missing. But I also know that not being single makes you feel even stronger, even more secure in life and, of course, less alone. If this is what I can hope for, if this is what life holds for me, I am fine waiting for it. If this is the best possible outcome, I am excited to search for that because I can’t imagine the amazing feeling of having found the one. Look at me. This cheesy romance coming from me is a little awkward, because I used to be one of the people that would answer “Yeah, maybe in movies and books but in reality you fight and get divorced, you get bored with each other or you don’t find each other at all.” But also getting to know Jessi’s grandparents who tell the story of how they first met whenever possible, who are still showing their love and affection for each other is an amazing thing in my opinion. So yeah, that is basically the lesson that Indiana taught me, thanks for that.

Our last travel destination led us to a little town close to Albany, NY. I personally loved that part of the state. Its hilly and green, very very green. We went hiking, drove through areas with nothing but a house every now and then bordering at a Walmart (of course) and I couldn’t help but keep thinking of horror movie scenes. You know, the ones where a bunch of youngsters go camping in the nature and either a) get lost in the woods and killed by weirdos or b)have a car accident and look for help at this random shady house in the middle of nowhere and get killed by weirdos or c)camp in the middle of nowhere and get killed by weirdos. You have forests and then two houses, a meadow and a house, a hill and three houses. Having a vivid imagination and a special relation to horror movies, that freaked me out a little. But fast food culture and nature are absolute amazing in Upstate New York:

Lessons I learned overall during my travels:

1.) Go to Walmart for whatever you need. They’ll have it. Cheaper than anyone else.
2.) Flag production must be a major business in the US. These thing are EVERYWHERE.
3.) “OJ” is the official abbreviation for Orange Juice but “AJ” does not stand for Apple Juice
4.) D.C. is supposed to be the city you couldn’t possibly get lost in…well, within 48 hours there I got lost more often than I ever did within three months in NYC.
5.) Ice-Cream is freaking delicious but they put some unknown ingredient into the cream that makes one scoop have 850 calories
6.) People don’t exaggerate when they say that the Midwest countries grow a lot of corn
7.) Root Beer has to be something that every other country EXCEPT FROM the USA uses as cough sirup. In the US its a popular soft drink.
8.) Soft drink is a local dialect. In other parts of the country you call it “Coke” or “Pop”…or something like that.
9.) There are hundreds of channels but never something on TV.
10.) FOX News is a joke, is it? Please tell me it is!
11.) I love the USA.

I have much more to talk and write about but for now, this post is just to sum up my previous travel experiences. Otherwise this whole thing would become waaaaay too long!