Varanasi – India’s spiritual capital 

   
Banares, as Indians call it, or Varanasi is a city that lies directly at the Ganges river, a holy city for pilgrims. 

We’ve spent a day here, walking through the tiny streets, watching an Arti prayer and – as always – enjoying food. I have seen more cows than ever, and Varanasi is home to a lot of monkeys. My romantic thoughts about making friends with monkeys are over, they can be quite fierce as I have cone to learn when one grabbed my foot this morning 😉 

   
I really thought this bull & I had built some raport walking down the streets side by side. When I was ready to pose with him for a pic he became a little unhappy and made moves to bump into me…I guess I should have paid him for that pic?!  

Right by the Ganges at dusk you see many people pray, meditate and bath. It is a quiet place, after the wedding excitement it calmed me down. 

We took out a boat to see the cremation sites: yeah, you read correctly, I could not really comprehend it until I saw it myself. It is the greatest honor for Hindus to be washed & cremated in the Ganges by Varanasi. Hence, there are dead body carrying boats, a street with temples dedicated for mourn and ceremonies and then there is the burning site: 

  
The bodies, wrapped in a golden foil, are carried towards the river bed and bathed. Meanwhile, there is a fireplace prepared for them onto which they are laid. In this picture you can see multiple fires cremating Hindus. Across the entire area there were groups waiting in line for their cremation. 

   
This morning we watched the sun rise and then indulged – yup, against all advice – in street food and masala chai. Masala chai is tea cooked in milk with cardamon, nutmeg, glove, ginger and lots of sugar. They serve it in tiny clay cups that are only used once & then produced again. Chai costs 10rupees (approximately 1.5 cents USD) and I am beginning to think that the reason it tastes so good is because it is cooked in a dirty pot by the streets, filled with spit, cows and their leftovers 🙂    

I also had a fresh coconut again, I cannot get enough of less that a dollar coconut water. Once you’ve drank the water they crack it open for you to eat the meat. 

We’re now on our way to Dehradun, into the north, you’ll gear from me again from there 🙂 

Sangeet – an Indian wedding dance party 

I have learned in my short time here that there really isn’t one India. Different regions, different cultures, different wedding traditions.

Saturday night, Abishek & Jessica’s wedding kicked off with an event called Sangeet…here is a summary: 

  • The invitation said 6.30pm. Indian style, that means: Do not expect the event to kick off before 8.30 (the German in me suffered) 
  • After friends & family deliver their best wishes, the style is a little like a US rehearsal dinner, the dancing commences. 
  • And, much to my surprise, the dancing is led by the men. In our case it was mostly the father of the groom and the brother who animated everyone to dance. Literally, everyone! The music ranged from house to the 90’s craziness of the “Venga boys are back in town” 
  • After the dancing Abhishek took the mic and sung a love song for his bride. It was followed by other family members singing what I have been told are the classics of Indian song culture. 
  • This was the first time I was introduced to Indian Rum. All I can say, sitting at the breakfast table with my fourth coffee, is that “The Old Monk” Indian Rum should be sold with a pack of painkillers attached to it. It is sweet, very dark, rum, served with Coke and – from hindsight – you should deny more than 2 glasses of this drink…

  
This is Jessica, the bride. 

  
Abhishek, the groom. 

More to come…

New Delhi 

I am sitting in a train from New Delhi to Allhabad with 6 other Fletchies who arrived from Pretoria, Kigali, Singapore and Lubiljana. 

Time difference between Boston & Delhi is 11.5hours, day & night reversed. And it does mess with my body. A lot! Last night we had a Fletcher meetup in Delhi, it was so nice to reconnect with Alumni & have international relations conversations.  

 
When I finally went to bed I realized I had spent more time in Ubers than at the restaurant, lots of traffic, lots of car honking, and very different cars. Against all warnings I took a “tuk tuk” today, but I had Sid with me to not get charged triple the price as per usual with foreigners.  

  
 

  • Sikh-Temple Banga Sahib 

Today I wanted to go out on the streets of Delhi alone, to soak in, to be mindful and feel more comfortable. I was stopped by three people on my way out of the hotel inquiring where the hell I think I was going alone? They all gave me the same advice: Do not talk to people, do not give money to beggars, do not let people get too close to you and stay the hell away from streetfood. So, I walked. And I realized after a few minutes that there really aren’t any white people, hardly any women in general, on the streets. I was told I would be getting stared at. But nothing really prepares you for that. It made me so uncomfortable that I decided to cover my head, which eventually gave me a sense of protection. Even with my head covered, I was approached by many people wanting to take selfies with me, or just smiling and saying hello. 

   
At the Sikh temple the aura suddenly changed. Gone was the traffic noise, taken over by music and sung prayer, broadcast on the entire area. 

The building, the healing waters lake and obvious holiness which visitors attach to the temple calmed me down. When entering the temple area you have to take off your shoes and go through a water basin to clean your feet: 

  

From here there is an entire routine, from cleaning hands to getting a sweet  to paying your tributes to the higher temple authorities. 

    

  • Connaught Place 

Built by the British this massive square hosts shopping, eating and hanging out. I noticed that people hang out literally everywhere, saw a lot of homeless people, some with open wounds and missing limbs; and lots of stray dogs like this sad fellow by a street clothing shop (and what I mean by that is literally a pile of clothes on the sidewalk)      

  When we had all gathered as a group before out trainride we went to get Buttered Chicken, a specialty from Delhi. It was good, but I am becoming more and more of a naan with Dal person, warm white bread with lentils cooked with onions & spices. For dessert we went to an all natural ice cream store, they had saffron pistachio ice cream. Connaught is full of opposites to me: A fancy shoe shop next to a obscure mini-mart, a traditional old Indian restaurant and around the corner the hipster icecream.   

  •   Security 

I left the airport&could not get back in because only ticket holders are allowed. Every time I entered the hotel my purse was screened, every restaurant has guards watching the doors & even at the train station luggage was screened. People wait patiently in those lines; my Indian friends say they’d rather have these checks slow down their lives if it can help prevent another attack. 

My favorite moment today was in the train when an Indian woman, Anti, started teaching us how to play cards, my favorite food was Aloo Bonda (cauliflower, potato, spices for breakfast) and this is my mindful moment foto:

  

Time for an Indian wedding adventure

“If you two get married in India and I don’t get invited, I will be pretty pissed.”

I still hear myself saying these words at a Thai restaurant in downtown Boston. By the smirks on the faces of the couple sitting on the other side of the table I should have understood that it was just a matter of time.

So, 6 months later I find myself all packed up with Immodium, sanitary wipes, about to enter a plane to India…

The beautiful story of the couple whose wedding I will attend deserves its own blogpost which will follow later. For now I will just share my travel route and invite you to follow me in the upcoming two weeks as I will be exploring a new world region.

My flight

When flying from Boston to India you basically have two options: Two 7-hour flights with a stop in Europe or one 12-hour flight to Dubai and a short flight to Delhi. I crowdsourced that question to my facebook-pinwall which ended in a battle between those who love Lufthansa and others preferring Emirates. I finally decided on the Emirates flight because it will enable me to get a sneak peak into one of the places that Pouya has lived in.

My Route

Unfortunately, India is not known to be the safest of all places. Especially not for a white blond European with no travelling experience in developing countries. Fortunately, though, many of my amazing Fletcher grad school friends have found their way back to India and decided to take an entire trip with a couple of the Non-Indian “kids”.

Allahabad
I will be spending one day in New Delhi, Fletcher meet-up included and then depart to Allahabad for a three-day wedding weekend. So far my biggest concern is that I do not yet own an appropriate dress for the wedding…I have been assured that there will be a Sari for me

Varanasi
From Allahabad we plan of hitchhiking our way to Varanasi…just kidding, Dad… We will rent a bus and pick up hitchhikers 😉

Dehradun

After 2days in Varanasi we will make our way all the way into the North to Dehradun to the home of my classmate Adi who has invited us to stay with his family.

Now here comes the part that I am pretty excited about: Up until this point I will not have spend any time alone. But from Dehradun to Delhi to Dubai to Boston I can have a 48-hour experience of Eat-Pray-Love, self-exploration or getting lost – every one of you who knows me knows that pretty much any outcome is possible. But that’s also what makes me me and this trip so delightful.

Yearning for German Christmas Traditions

Yesterday, December 6th, is Nikolaus. The only day I voluntarily cleaned my shoes. Why? Because – that’s the tradition – children put their clean boots in front of the house the night before December 6th, hoping that St. Nikolaus will reward them for having been on good.

As a strong believer that you shall never fully grow up Nikolaus continues to be a very special day for me & my family in December. This morning I woke up to so many Nikolaus messages from my whole family and yesterday I picked up a package filled with Nikolaus goodies from my Mom, just in time.

Yet, this 2016 Christmas season feels somewhat more intense to me. I was lucky enough to have my first warm Christmas wine, a real German Marzipanstollen (sweet bread with Marzipan, raisins and powdered sugar) and roasted Almonds at the Christmas market in Toronto last week and it felt a little bit like home.

I have not been home for one full year. Funny enough, my chronic complaints about Germany and some cultural features slowly turned into a romantic yearning for everything German & christmas, and I indulge in it (I even had a bread with Nutella for breakfast the other day). Obviously, this might change the moment I touch ground in Frankfurt.

I also have a feeling that this desire has to do with the fact that I will not be returning to Germany alone…and I am extremely excited to show Pouya my Germany during this very special season, including watching Sissi (a trilogy on the Austrian Habsburger queen Elizabeth in the 19th century), drinking lots of calories like spiked eggnog and hot cocoa with rum and eating Goose.

Meanwhile, until we land in Germany, I will hopefully be able to enjoy first snow and lots of seasonal adventures in Boston.

Communicate better, listen more

Day 1 after an election that made me reflect a lot. The German magazine “Die Zeit”, well known for their liberal progressive views, read mostly by a highly educated politicized, economically well off part of Germany, published a piece hit me like a slap in the face. The author basically claims that it is the arrogance with which the well-educated liberal class approaches life that is to blame for the rise of authoritarian or racist politicians. And she makes a good point: We  define what’s hip, we define what we legitimately accept as a real challenge, we use the coolest technologies without considering their affordability and we chose to ignore or belittle whatever does not fit. And it so happens that our cosmopolitan macro world view does, as a matter of fact, not consider the small man’s issues. I might offer a translated version of the article after checking in with the author.

The core argument, that we ignore and marginalize a significant part of society and make them feel left out, is something that happens naturally, not intentionally. All of my time I spend with my colleagues, friends from grad school or at working out at an “elite” crossfit gym. So maybe it is time to communicate better what I am doing, how I am thinking, open to criticism, open to being made aware of the flaws in my value system.

I felt so overwhelmed and hopeless yesterday, so I started journaling. With the intention of only writing down what I am thankful for. And realized that I am incredibly thankful and still humbled for being able to live freely as an immigrant in this country, getting to know cultures, being challenged every day at work. And then I thought: It always sounds so generic when I hear other people say that. What does that even mean? How hard can it be? “Getting to know cultures” or “being challenged at work”?

I have decided to restructure my blog and create a new section about my work experience, calling it “startup adventures”. It will contain impressions, pieces on my struggles, insecurities, beautiful/emotional moments, my everyday life…at least that’s one thing I can start doing right now: Communicate better, and listen more.

What a month: A perfect New England late summer

Fall has definitely arrived in Boston.Rain, cold winds, hot cocoa time. For me the start of fall also comes with a desire for reflection. I was feeling pretty tired and worn out yesterday and as I was scrolling through my September/early October pictures it is no wonder I am a little exhausted. Late summer is my favorite time of the year, and these last weeks have been as eventful as can be with my parents visiting from Germany and many other splendid moments.

Still learning a lot about myself. Everyday. And instead of complaining, here is my reflection shared with you in pictures.

lighthouse

In early September my Mom was here for my birthday and we did a roadtrip to Maine. This is the picturesque Nubble Lighthouse. Looks more romantic than it is.

 

mama

My mom had not been to the US for a while and although she loved Maine the trip made her realize how much more she appreciates Germany now 😉

uss-constitution

One of my all-time favorite spots: The USS Constitution

century-ride

During one of those “why not”-moments I signed up for the Tufts century ride. The University invites all alumni & students to ride at the beginning of each academic year. It was a beautiful experience…

tufts-century-ride

…with lots of unhealthy food afterwards 😉

jimmy-fund

A week after the bike ride I walked the Jimmy Fund marathon & raised money for cancer research. Not only do cancer survivors walk with you, the Jimmy Fund Walk brought out amazing people…

jimmy-fund_2

…like these two: If you take a closer look at his shirt, it says “20 years and still slicing”. They stood at the famous Heartbreak Hill and provided everyone with sliced oranges, having a blast.

mrb

September was also a long good-bye/see you later for me and Maria Rita. I have grown so used to having many close friends in Boston, but given our hunger for adventure eventually we’ll all move on. Maria Rita is the first to leave to spend four months in South East Asia. I am hoping to meet her in India early next year. This was her good-bye dinner party.

walden_pond

September also brought a lot of magical and romantic moments. This is the sunrise over Walden Pond. Waking up to go swim in a cold-ish lake before 6AM, yup: It was one of the best dates I have ever had.

hidden_concert

Just like this one: I was taken to one of Boston’s “Hidden concerts”. Although you have to get the ticket months in advance, you only learn about the artist & the location 24hours beforehand. 

persian-breakfast

Speaking of magical moments: I was introduced to Persian breakfast: The triangle shaped pieces on the plate are eggs with lots of herbs and this is called kookoo sabzi. If you like omelette, turmeric and herbs, you will love this dish. 

fall_nh

Last week, my Dad was here and we took a roadtrip to New Hampshire to enjoy fall foliage.

papa_hike

This is one of the selfies at the beginning of our hike at Mount Lafayette in the Franconia Notch

mt-lafayette

This is the view into the Franconia Ridge. 

welch-dickey

The Welch-Dickey trail gifts you this beautiful view on a clear day.

They know you, and they still like you

Today I was talking to a woman from El Salvador about our experiences living in the states. She asked me if I had moved here with my family. When I explained to her that my entire family lives in my home town in Germany she looked at me and asked whether I was very lonely…

Maria Rita and Zdenka just left my apt after a what we call ladies’ night. It’s not really what society associates with it. It is time carefully carved out of or our busy lives with no phones present, with listening to whatever the other needs to and wants to share. It is my therapy session, my reality check, my place to giggle, to cry, to lay bare fears, to be weak, to be argumentative, to be honest, to be judgy.

And then I realized – that night out that got completely out of control, that after work conversation, that call to China at 5AM, that what’s app group in which everyone randomly shares absurd life pictures, the postcards from Germany, that fierce discussion about politics, that moment not needing words, that text message screaming words, that ease of being with someone that does not require you to put on an identity, that outspoken yet deeply felt respect, that really blunt advice, that insane laughter – that I am blessed with wonderful,kind and exceptional people in my life and it humbles me.

Thank you!

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“Friends are those people that like you even after getting to know you.”

Wanderlust 

 

WanderlustAuf meinem Rueckflug von Vegas nach Boston habe ich am Flughafen diese Tasche entdeckt. Noch immer bin ich erstaunt darueber, welche Worte sich im Englischen behaupten konnten.

Gestern habe ich lange mit meiner Mama telefoniert. Viele Leute haben mich in letzter Zeit gefragt, wie ich es so weit entfernt von meiner Familie aushalte und irgendwie hat mich das zum Nachdenken gebracht: Sollte ich zurueckkehren? Vernachlaessigt man automatisch seine Familie und Freunde, wenn man weit weg ist. Pauschale Antworten auf diese Fragen gibt es keine.

Meine Mama sagte dazu gestern etwas, was mich erstaunt, mit ganz viel Dank erfuellt und bestaerkt hat, sie sagte:

“Dein Vater und ich haben Dich doch nicht erzogen, damit Du bei uns bleibst. Wir haben Dich erzogen, damit Du machen kannst, was Du willst und immer weisst, wo Deine Heimat ist.”

 

 

 

Connecting Worlds: Eric helps Moms in Africa grow veggies

My friends from Fletcher took off in all world directions. Here is an update on Eric. After spending the summer 2014 in Africa, he moved to Kigali after graduation.

Eric landed a typical Fletcher dream job: Development in Africa

My grad school friend Eric works for Gardens for health in Rwanda

A few months after graduating from Fletcher, I moved to Kigali, Rwanda to start a job with an NGO called Gardens for Health International (GHI). GHI works to eradicate childhood malnutrition by helping mothers grow vegetable gardens and learn about nutrition. While this is not my first time living in Africa, it is the most significant in that it’s a real, paying job, and it doesn’t come with an end date and flight home. This is a snapshot of my life six months in.

First things first: Rwanda is a nice, safe, and easy place to live. Perhaps you didn’t expect that? More than 20 years have passed since the genocide of 1994, and it has made impressive gains since then. Not only do I have running water and electricity, but within a 10-minute walk from my house in Kigali, there are two supermarkets, Italian, Chinese, and Thai restaurants, and an art gallery. The roads are mostly paved and in good shape, traffic is minimal, and I can safely walk around alone at night – all things I couldn’t have said about many of the western cities I’ve called home.

To be sure, my life in Rwanda comes with its idiosyncrasies. My office is located on a farm outside of the city, and my daily commute is on the back of a pickup truck. Routine activities such as taking the dog for a walk and grocery shopping involve dozens of children (and sometimes adults) unashamedly staring at me and exclaiming “muzungu!” (white person). My interaction with the children enrolled in GHI’s program usually has a 50/50 chance of leaving them speechless in awe or crying in fear.

weigh in-no fun

My favorite shot: this is how we keep track of the children’s weight

Crying children aside, I love my job. Working for a small, mission-driven organization in Africa has given me professional opportunities I would never have had back home. My title is the Impact and Learning Manager, which means I use data to try and measure our social impact and help the organization to learn from and improve on what we do. I’ve only been here for six months, but in that time I’ve had the opportunity to design and roll-out a system of collecting data through mobile phones (a big change from staff filling out every survey by hand), lead trainings of 60 people, and help our staff gain new insights of our program’s successes and limitations.

My days are not spent out in the field, feeding malnourished babies or handing out seeds, but in my office, staring at spreadsheets. Not very glamorous, I know. But I can see the impact I’m having on the people around me, and through them, on the most vulnerable women and children in the country. Don’t get me wrong, I’m also motivated by many less-than-altruistic things – the country’s beautiful hills, the affordable lifestyle, the year-round access to delicious tropical fruits, and the sense of adventure, just to name a few. But in those moments when I find the absurdities of my life and the comforts of home making me question the path I’ve chosen, I can remind myself that in some small way, I’ve helped improve the lives of people much worse off than myself. And that’s something worth sticking around for.

Eric enjoys nature and live in KigaliLearn more

  • about GHI’s work here
  • about Eric’s work here