This time last year the decision was clear that I would be leaving my job at a tech startup in Boston. Although I had always been loosely in touch with the company I work for now I had not decided to return at that point. I was open to other opportunities, thinking about finally returning to the West Coast of the US, living the beach and Ocean Cali life, or laying a focus on more mountaineering adventures in a region closer to British Columbia. The little nomad adventurer within me wanted to go do something new, Middle East, South East Asia – different cultures, different values in society.
Like a withering flower
The minute I stopped working this is what happened: I could not get out of bed and when I did I basically only waited until Pouya was off to work to return to bed. Some days, full of good intentions, I started reading a book, only to put it aside after half a page – while my eyes were reading, inside my head a totally different kind of scenario was unfolding: What if I would not find a job? How many months could I afford my life before I would be broke? What do I want? What do I stand for? How important is a career versus so many other things?
You are not your career, they say, tweet, coach. And when you have a job that annoys you you keep thinking: That’s not worth it, that is bull, I want to do something different. Well, the minute I did exactly that, I started feeling incredibly worthless. And I really did not want to admit it because in my head I was supposed to feel free, to embrace that I can do anything – when ultimately some days when Pouya returned from home I had not even managed to brush my teeth.
Rural Germany with an international partner: Nothing can prepare you for it
We made the decision to come to Germany together, Pouya and I. He really wanted to live in Europe and learn German, I really wanted to be closer to my family and see them more regularly than once a year for Christmas. I also wanted to live in a system where I have more than 24hours notice, have a contract that says how much vacation I have versus a so called “umlimited vacation contract” (that ends up being no vacation because going on vacation is interpreted as not willing to put in what is needed to succeed).
I took a plane from Boston to Frankfurt in the beginning of June, crying for the first hour because I could not believe that I am actually leaving Boston, the only place that I have ever called my home. With me I had a suitcase and my true companion, a white and pink carbon road bike that I have named Tharros – which is Greek and means courage. Back in the office that I had already worked at years before I felt excited, safe and hopeful. I buried myself in work and triathlon practice – work, work out, eat, work, sleep, repeat. The first weekend I went to my hometown because I did not want to be alone, the second weekend I stayed in Aalen – on monday morning I then realized that I had not talked to any person except for Pouya on the phone, and my friends Deepti and Maria Rita – calls that kept me going, about world politics, personal struggles, about fitting in, about pulling through.
The third weekend I went to a friend’s birthday party; when I arrived she introduced me as the party animal – we went down memory lane for a couple of hours, entertaining everyone with our truly ridiculous stories. And then there was this one time when we arrived at 7AM at her house, opening another bottle of prosecco…or that other time when we fell asleep in the bar… The night ended with me initiating a flunky ball tournament. The next morning I woke up early, packed the car (in which at that time Tharros and bike equipment were standard) and I drove – home to Kassel again. I went out with my 17-year old sister, I spend evenings with my Mama, I camped at my first triathlon weekend with my Dad.
Mid July it was time to return to Boston to pack up everything for the move and to cheer Pouya on at his first Ironman in Lake Placid. I packed my Bank of America credit cards, my CVS card, my Boston Charlie Card and off I went, enjoying flavored coffees, Bacon Egg and Cheese Bagels, Vietnamese soups, the splendid landscpapes of the East Coast from Mass all the way to New York State. It did not feel like home anymore, it felt like a place that I belonged to, very familiar.
Honestly, I did not think of how it would be to be in Germany before I moved. And neither did I anticipate how it would be to live in rural Germany with a Middle Eastern looking man. Since last June I went through phases of disbelief, sadness, hatred, solitude to the point I am at now: A point where I have managed to find peace inside of me – at least sometimes.
There is a point at which home can only be a state within yourself, not a location
Although Germany and the United States both belong to “The West” the fundamental concept of living is absolutely different. When I was in the US I always knew that I am German. Now that I am in Germany the only thing I know and appreciate is that I have a German passport. I also understand that living in Boston is not comparable with living in the rural Southeast of Germany, so comparisons are not fair to either. What is becoming more apparent though is that the person I am right now can not live for long in a rural German area – and maybe that has nothing to do with Germany, but with the fact that it is rural.
For the first time in my life I have trouble finding friends, or even acquaintances. While the Americans are said to be superficial, my experience is that they at least make it easy to spend time with. My many attempts to try and “hang out” with people here have either been unanswered or not reciprocated. Hence, I have probably never spend more time with my family. At our training camp in Cyprus we met a lot of like-minded people – obviously you start conversing when next to each other on the bike for several hours; it felt a little like a wake-up call that things will need to change in the near future.
The other day at swim practice in Aalen one of the better swimmers told me: You sometimes are like a log of wood in the water, you should swim more. I have improved my swimming from the beginning of this winter until now by 25seconds per 100meters, I said. He said that I am still slow. Perspective makes such a difference, doesn’t it? In the US, unless you want to compete with the superheroes of triathlon Jan Frodeno and Sebastian Kienle, and even then, the general attitude is to focus on the positive, on having fun. Focus on what works well, focus on your own journey, make the best version of yourself. The Germany I live in right now focuses on comparison, on standards, on being better than others.
Integration in rural Germany means: Assimilation. Or being lonely
A lot of nights Pouya and I have talked about the concepts of immigration versus assimilation. Being here with him, a clearly “Islamic” looking man, has opened my eyes to the fact that Germany has no concept of immigrating internationals, welcoming their cultures, co-existing. What rural Germans see as immigration de facto means assimilation. My parents in law tried to exchange Dollars to Euros the other day: At six banks they tried, none of them would give them Euros because they did not have an account. At the hospital Pouya and I went to after his bike accident the first question the lady asked was: Where are you from? The second was: Do you even work? I threatened her to get media involved if she refused to treat Pouya and had to give here my credit card as a security. Up until this day no big bank in Germany is giving us a joint bank account. In the city are 12 bakeries with great bread and brötchen. If you want something “international” you can go to the Turkish supermarket – led probably by second generation Germans of Turkish descent. The minute people are moving to Canada, acquiring a Canadian passport, they are considered Canadian.
“Try to live all the questions” Rilke, my favorite poet, wrote. I am.