Enough Courage to Come Home

The day I quit my job I called ata cycle in concord and made an appointment for a bike fit: your body gets measured, the data then gets fed into an adjustable bike and while you’re biking the computer spits out recommendations like saddle height. A couple of days later I picked up a white framed, pink handle barred carbon dream. And I named it Tharros, which is the ancient Greek word for courage.

After a couple of hundred miles in New England, Dubai, Germany and Canada (not all of them on Tharros), I have decided to do my first triathlon this summer. And I will do this one at home. After now four years in Boston I am literally taking my courage and moving to Germany. Almost four years ago I wrote a post titled “Danke, Carl Zeiss”. Since then I have been in touch with colleagues, working as a student during grad school, following company news, stayed in touch with many of my former colleagues. And, you’re probably guessing it already, the story continues: I will be joining the Corporate Zeiss Communications team at the beginning of June, ending my funemployment sooner than I would have thought.

While I will leave a great network of friends in Boston, I am more than excited to write that I will be accompanied by the man who has become my partner, wonderful friend, reliable accomplice and travel mate. Pouya will move to Germany a little later this summer, ready for lots of Hefeweizen, sausage, climbing the Southern German mountains on his bike, learning German (little does he know that he will most likely end up speaking with a heavy Swabian accent) and probably also becoming familiar with German neurotics.

I am leaving you, as always, with some funemployment impressions:

 

Ten Days to do nothing, yet see everything

The idea: waking up feeling relaxed, starting the day with a good breakfast, and then jumping right into my “projects I’ll do when I have time”. 

The Reality: woke up the first three days at 6, dead-set on having overslept &being late for work. Then realizing that me leaving my job coincided with me buying my first roadbike…so all the other projects had to wait until I am getting to tired to ride (which – so far – does not seem to happen too soon). 

The reality of having more time is that you actually don’t get more done. And that’s not what it’s about. It’s about having time. Having time to cook, to walk mindfully through your cute neighbourhood, to take care of yourself, and to reconsider some priorities. To not just keep busy! 

I biked 200miles, I swam 5miles, I even ran. I discovered the great Armenian stores in Watertown, watched the Battle of Lexington Reenactment, went to brunch with friends, cursed & loved the New England spring (which really is a comparable to a schizophrenic impersonating monsoon & August), took a roadtrip to Burke Mountain in Vermont and I read and read and read.

And before I knew it became very clear to me that while I still love New England my time here is coming to an end. I am writing this post from the Frankfurt Airport, where I have just met my parents for breakfast. We’re on a layover to Dubai, about to soak in lots of sun, phones off, sunscreen on. Pretty sure that while the saltwater will wash away the dead skin it  will also clear my head for new adventures. 

  
  

Peter Drucker made me quit my job…well kind of

When the 100-year old writings of an Austrian Business dude totally throw you off…

Peter Drucker is the ultimate dude when it comes to leadership advice. Although his works date back to the early to mid 20th-century, his writing still holds true in times of Twitter, digital everything and snapchat.

The Austrian dude has a chapter about time in his book “The Effective Executive”. As he goes explaining how time is the only true scarce resource he consequently states: If you are doing something that is not contributing to your goals, you are wasting your time.

I was listening to that chapter after a not so great day of work that had already been preceded by many not too great days of work which had already been foreshadowed by a couple of meh months at work, you get the idea. And the only thing that kept me sane during this time was my workouts, weekends filled with skiing or other fun adventures and my friends in Germany, in South East Asia, in Boston that never get tired of listening to vents, to complaints, to doubts.

 

You will just have to listen to the Dudes…

I would not go so far as to say that Peter Drucker told me through the grapevine to put in my 2 weeks notice, but that night when I was chopping vegetables in my beautiful Boston apartment I felt that change was going to come my way and that I would embrace it: The uncertainty, the angst, the excitement, the freedom, the opportunity to work more focused towards my goals.

And enjoy the moments of deepest uncertainty

Yesterday Pouya & I walked to cozy Spy Pond in Cambridge on the first day of sunshine after three days of icy rain and snow storms in Boston (yes, Germans, I knwo . We carried with us the Greens from the Persian Sofra. Tradition has it that on the 13th day of Persian New Year you are supposed to tie a knot into your greens while making a wish and then sending the greens into the water. Obviously, I cannot tell anyone about the wish that I made while brading the greens. I can tell you, though, that sitting by the water, enjoying a sunny afternoon moment filled me with inner peace. After all Lichtenberg said “I cannot say whether things will get better if we change; what I can say is they must change if they are to get better.”
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Thanks Dudes! Peter Drucker and Georg Lichtenberg

I am hugging my conniption fit inner child on this sunday morning

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort or convenience, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. (Martin Luther King)

Once again I visited the Martin Luther King Memorial in DC and, in deep admiration, paused for a moment in front of his quotes; They are humbling. The above one captured my attention so much because I currently find myself confronted with some life challenges.

When you want it all…and end up on the couch with your solace giving jar of Peanut Butter

Last week I tried it all: working out, eating clean, enough sleep, performing well at work and packing up my apt for a move on saturday. And this is the situation I found myself in most nights: Cancelled all workouts, munching on potato chips with Peanut Butter, sleep-deprived, insanely frustrated at work because for the first time I have taken on a project that does not have clearly defined goals and I am suffering. And instead of packing smartly, I ended up packing “miscellaneous” boxes – basically just randomly throwing stuff in so at least one thing would be DONE in my head.

There is a stubborn inner child taking over at times that can be quite annoying

Surely I could have asked for and I certainly was offered help. But I wanted to get it done by myself. I want to say it’s not me, it is a very stubborn, unreasonable part of me. Once set on an idea or task, however insurmountable that workload may look to a reasonable person, there is no turning back. Or accepting help. I call that part of me my annoying inner child. Why? Have you ever seen a young child throw herself on the floor in the supermarket, screaming, wanting something. Yeah, that’s how I feel at times of challenge.

Letting go

Just like the child’s conniptions in the supermarket only last a few minutes, my inner child gets appeased fairly easily; Or defeated by exhaustion. Maria Rita reminded me this week that while welcoming bad feelings is crucial, it is just as important to let go of them as easily. So, after a good night’s sleep, after moving out of my apartment and in with my boyfriend and after waking up next to him with the Boston sunlight announcing my favorite day, I am hugging my inner child this morning and tell her: You’ll be fine. I don’t want to get rid of you, I am accepting you as a part of me.

 

 

Persian New Year: Tahdig, Hafez and the goldfish

Spicer, Trump and friends keep handing out so much bull, I will keep it lighthearted today and hand you some happy moments of my international love experience. You could also subtitle this one with: Dating a Persian, 101.

Persian New Year

Today is Persian New Year, or Nowruz. Let me start with a cool fact: Persians celebrate their New Year (which is like christmas for Germans) at the vernal equinox. And they are peculiar about the timing. The New Year celebration is exactly at the time of the actual equinox, today at 6.28AM, but changing every year. You would think that if there is any nation in this world who celebrates a holiday ON TIME, it would be the Germans…

IMG_0469Just as christmas, Nowruz comes with a lot of traditions. Before the actual celebration every household prepares as so called Sofra  – a table decorated with seven things that start with the letter S. Very typical is the spice Sumac, an apple, Greens which are called Sabzi in Farsi, a mirror, a goldfish…Yes, you read correctly! An alive goldfish is part of Nowruz. Can you imagine my excitement about getting a pet goldfish? Unfortunately, or I am assuming Pouya thinks differently about this one, we were too late and could not get a goldfish, but rest assured: I will be a Sofra earlybird next year…

 

Let’s talk food. I have had quite some exposure to the Persian cuisine. In Farsi, the word for stomach and heart is the same, that hints at how important and intricate Persian cooking is. While many dishes are absolutely delicious, there is this one thing that I am almost as obsessed about as Peanut Butter, and that is Tahdig. Imagine this: You take a tortilla and butter, and put that tortilla at the bottom of a pan and on top you put cooked rice. Let that sit for long enough and the butter, tortilla and rice form this dark brown crust…Tahdig is also where Persian hospitality comes to a brief pause – because the bottom of a pan is only so big, meaning there is only so much Tahdig and everybody wants it.

So, what happened last saturday at a Nowruz celebration is that, at a certain late-night hour, I found myself in the extremely lucky situation of having discovered that there was a tiny bit of Tahdig left over at the bottom of the pot. I was comforted by the Persians present that under the influence scraping off Tahdig is a very ok thing to do…

Lastly, Persian New Year has a wonderful tradition and that is reading  Hafez‘ poems. Traditionally, you are asking yourself a question silently, then open the book and somebody will read the poem to you. Hafez words are so complicated and complex, though, leaving so much room for interpretation that it can take a long time to interpret the meaning of the poem, especially in the context of your question. I will, of course, not convey the question that I asked, but it’s been a precious experience to experience the most important tradition of a culture you learn so little (and that little you do hear is mostly negative) about when you grow up in the Western world.

 

 

Being certain about stepping into uncertainty does not work

My friend Maria Rita used to joke about her Plan B: if no job would work out she’ll simply move to South East Asia to embrace uncertainty. Guess what, she did. And she loves it. I have been quiet for a while: I came back from India to what I would call a work blizzard that left me with no shelter and my time in India, pressure at work, strongly felt disbelief about the new United States government and an inner restlessness yanking away my comfort for Boston have swirled me into a phase of doubt.

Is this still the right job? I have taken over a high visibility project at work and with that comes high pressure, politics, energy draining discussions and it culminated in me doubting my abilities and my fit.

Is this still the right country? America is an idea, not a culture. I chose America as my home and I have been able to settle in a beautiful, historical and academically loaded place surrounded by breathtaking nature, an ocean & skiing mountains nearby. I am living the American way in many ways. Yet, the emergence of President Trump, a man who could not be further from what I consider an integer & charismatic statesman delivering a visa ban on majority Muslim countries also made me realize how much I love and always wanted to be involved in politics. Looking back to Europe and seeing nationalist sentiments creeping into Western societies instigate a strong urge to move back “home” and follow that calling I have felt for years.

These phases of doubt are not new to me, they are what brings me forward; they make me emotional, more sensual, prompt me to be very honest to myself. Those of you who know me know that these phases take me over completely, I can’t just have my 30minutes of doubt every week and continue with life. Once that box is opened it surrounds me, it’s closing in on me until I have found answers…

I want to step into a more uncertain, adventurous future, but I want to feel very certain about this decision.  And here’s the first tough to digest finding of 2017: You can never be certain and that’s ok. I guess that is part of adulting… All my options are a blessing, not a burden. I can see Maria Rita smiling at me: The German needs certainty in order to step into uncertainty…

As always, some impressions from the last couple of weeks:

 

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.