Saturday, June 26, 2010

what I learned

When I set out on this adventure I knew that I needed something different in my life. I was looking to break out of my routine and learn new things. I was looking for something challenging and new. A deeper meaning and understanding of this world. I wasn't exactly sure what I expected to find, but looking back on the last 5 months, there is one theme that has stood out more than any other. One profound idea and insight that I've gained that has not only helped change me into a better person, but restored by faith in humanity.

Kindness. Kindness in all its forms and from all different people. It is so easy to fall into daily routines that are safe and protect us from ever having to make ourselves and our loved ones venerable to ever having to rely on the whims and fancies of those around us. The thought alone is slightly terrifying, but it was a side effect of the choice we made when we decided to give everything away and move to Magdeburg, Germany.

On almost a daily basis we found ourselves helpless in a face of a new challenge, from little things like ordering food in a restaurant to big things like where do we live and how do we get our visa? For every challenge there was always someone there to help us. Granted, most of these people were our friends, but our friends showed us such kindness that it almost makes me cry just thinking about it. They gave up their time to help us deal with bureaucratic issues. They gave up their privacy to house us. They gave up their possessions to make our lives more comfortable. When we had a problem, they stood behind us until it was fixed. I've rarely witnessed such generosity with such pure intention. I will forever be grateful to have gotten to be a part of my friend's lives while living in Magdeburg, and I miss them more than they know.

It wasn't only my friends that showed us kindness. Complete strangers went out of their way to make our lives better. From the college kids that gave Ilya their last ice cream on a hot afternoon in the park to the woman in the social security office who cut through weeks worth of red tape so that I could get my social security number that day.

I didn't set out to put myself or my family in such a venerable position, at the mercy of strangers, but it was one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. My goal now is to pay all this kindness forward. Maybe that is how I change the world. One person at a time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Slavery Through Bureaucracry

Forgive my ranting but I am hoping that sending this sad story to all four of my readers might help me feel better and restore some semblance of goodness in the universe.

I was hired to be an English teacher at a school that shall remain nameless (because I am a wuss and don't actually want them finding this post). One month before I began, I was sent what looked to me like a book but which turned out to be a packet of detailed personal information that I needed to fill out in order to be employed. Included in this packet were questions about if I had adopted my child or convinced her naturally, a request for a bank account number (since I didn't have a bank account, I used a friend's account) and proof of health insurance. I diligently translated the entire document, answered all the questions, and provided all the requested information.

Skip ahead to the end of May. I had been working about a month and it was payday. I was called into the office and informed that they weren't going to be able to pay me until they received a bank account, proof of health insurance, and a tax identification number...oh, yes, and they needed this information yesterday. When I told them that I had already turned in this information months ago, the lady looked at me confused and told me again what she needed. I asked if I could use a friend's bank account since I didn't have one of my own. She said that would be fine.

So, I called Adam, who was diligently working at home, and begged him to get to get our friend's bank account info (again) and bring that and the health insurance documents into the school. Adam missed half a day of work getting this information to the school so they could have it that very day. I had to wait to get them the tax card because I needed to go into the foreign affairs office (again) to get it and I couldn't do that until Friday as I was busy working! Had they told me I needed it earlier, I would have gone in earlier and gotten it.

Two weeks later, I still have not been paid. When I ask the lady in the office about my pay, she informs me that I need a social security number, and that they can't use the bank account because it wasn't in my name....grrrrrrrr........

I tell them I don't have a bank account number (again), and they tell me that they will write me a check once I get my social security number. She tells me to go to the social security office the next day during my break to get the number. I do this and upon my return get yelled at for not being on campus! .... grrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr ............

I leave Germany on Saturday. Today, Tuesday, they inform me that in order to get my pay, I need to get different health insurance. Are you fucking kidding me???? I'm leaving in four days! I'm not getting new health insurance when the health insurance I have was good enough for the government to issue a visa with it!!!!

Needless to say, I will not be returning to work for the remainder of the week. I'm owed two months worth of pay, and I am so pessimistic that I will ever see a cent.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Future Plans

Alas, our time here in Germany is coming to an end. It has been a wild, wonderful adventure that has helped me grow and learn so much. There are so many things that I will miss terribly about living here, but I am also very ready to move on to the next stage of our lives. All these thoughts will be in another blog post. Today's post is dedicated to our future.

For those of you that are interested, I am outlining our travel plans through the middle of July:

This coming Saturday, we will leave our flat in Magdeburg and depart for Berlin where we will stay until Tuesday. Tuesday we will be catching a flight to Dublin Ireland. We don't know anyone personally in Ireland, but through friends of friends and couch surfing, we have people to stay with the entire two weeks we will be in Ireland!

We're spending 5 days in Dublin then traveling to Kilkenny where we will spend three days before heading on to Clomnel. Clomnel is the city that is hosting a giant theatre festival so we will be spending an entire week there. Our flight leaves Dublin on the 13th of July heading for New York.

We plan on spending four days and three nights in New York visiting friends and staying with more couch surfers before leaving for New Mexico on July 16th. I don't know how long we will stay in New Mexico, but I want to show my family some of my favorite places - like the Grand Canyon and Carlsbad Caverns. It would also be fun to take Ilya to the Balloon Festival in October.

We will be going to Wisconsin in October for Brendan and Stina's wedding and probably heading back to Seattle after that....but who knows what will happen. The only things set in stone right now are: Ireland, New York, Albuquerque, and Wisconsin. I am excited to be traveling more and meeting new people, but I miss Seattle terribly and can't wait to see my home again.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The World Cup

I am viewing Germany in a whole new light since the beginning of The World Cup. This once fairly normal German city has been transformed into a shouting, honking, horn blowing mob intent on making as much noise as possible in support of their soccer team. I find myself being judged not on the way I look or speak, but on the quality of my nation's soccer team (which is doing "better than expected" so I'm alright).

My friends and I took a night off from my beautiful daughter and made our way across town to the Magdeburg stadium where a giant screen was broadcasting the Germany/Australian game live. Other than the lack of admission cost, you would never have known that this wasn't an actual live game. Thousands of Germans filled the stadium equipped with black, red, and yellow flags, outfits, and noise makers. Beer and Bratwurst were readily available for a small mark-up (which was still incredibly cheap by US standards) and cigarette smoke instantly and permanently enveloped the crowd.

I was prepared for the drinking, and eating, and even the smoking, but what really amazed me was the shear volume produced by this crowd of people. In addition to the shouting and the giant air horns that every third person seamed to have, the fans in South Africa were making so much noise behind the announcer, it sounded like a bee hive was in the microphone. I couldn't hear well for several hours following the game. I'm old. I know.

The ride home was astounding. Germany won 4-0 and it was as if the fans in the stadium multiplied and NEVER STOPPED CHEERING! Every car was honking and shouting various forms of the word, "Deutschland!" At the round-about in the center of town, cars had simply stopped while drunk Germans hung out of windows and walked around to other cars drinking, shouting, and honking. There was a mob of people standing in the center of the round-about with German flags drinking and dancing. Someone overheard me speaking English and called me "Australian!"

At the bar my friends and I went to following the game, we were mistaken for Britons and made fun of because the UK's goalie is no good. No argument there. We were, however, grudgingly respected when they found out we were from the USA because the USA did, "better than expected."

This is the reaction from the fans after Germany scored one of its goals - my favorite part is Brendan!