Enough Courage to Come Home

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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:

 

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.

A cross-country ski marathon…because “why not”?

Cross-country skiing plus shooting – Biathlon – is one of my favorite winter sports to watch. I always wanted to cross-country ski, but every time I am close to mountains downhill just seemed so much more appealing.

A couple of weeks ago, after I walked my marathon and realized how much I love long weekend training sessions, I decided to sign up for a cross-country ski race. Not just any race, the “American Birkie“, the US version of the Norwegian Birkebeinerrennet, a cross-country ski marathon.

The only – not really logical – reason for me signing up for a ski marathon is: Why not? It will be a great motivator to go out and explore the beautiful North-East more, we have a great group of grad school friends  all doing it and a good story never started with “I don’t think I can do that.”

My first time on skate skis

As you can imagine I am awaiting snow this year more than ever. While you can train endurance and stability in the gym it does make sense to ski as often as possible. Last weekend I was finally able to put on skate-skis for the first time in my life. I should mention that my first challenge was to attach the skis to my boots, but once that was taken care of and I started skating, I realized: this is not as easy as I thought it would be. But it is a lot of fun! Especially if you find yourself in the middle of the forrest on a beautiful sunny sunday, skating alongside your boyfriend (who was crazy enough to sign up as well).

waterville_cx

Whether I’ll be able to actually ski 50km at the end of February does not really matter at this point. What matters is that I finally did what I have always wanted to do and I am learning something new. I will for sure keep you posted.

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.