You are not alone

You are not alone

Growing up in Pakistan I got very used to having someone watch out for me. It was not really culturally appropriate for me to go out alone as a young girl and usually, whenever I went to the market, either my dad or my brothers would be my “body guards” and it made me feel completely at ease. I trusted them and felt loved and safe. It never bothered me to take one of my brothers with me, I enjoyed their company and it was nice to know I could rely on them. Moving to Germany ten years ago I knew in my head that things would be different – I knew that I didn’t really need anyone to go with me anymore and I would be ok on my own. But I found that I did miss my dad and brothers sometimes. Knowing someone’s got my back. In our time of feminism and gender equality I sometimes got strange responses from guy friends if I asked them to be my “body guard” for an occasion and step in the place of dad, brother or husband. Some would be happy to oblige, others thought it weird and told me to just look out for myself instead of “relying on a man”. It was funny because being single didn’t bother me that much – not having “brothers” did. But then I also realised something – in the end, no matter where I am, I am never alone because God is with me. I experienced that a lot of times over the years – in Pakistan, in Thailand, in Germany, Spain, Mexico – God is with me. Jesus stands behind me and says “Don’t worry, I got your back.” And even if it is nice to sometimes have someone with me on a journey, I know that I am also totally ok on my own. Now, living in Pakistan again, this topic is once more on my mind. When I first arrived my dad and little brother were still in the country, but we weren’t always together and two months ago they moved back to Germany. I am slowly getting used to moving around by myself. Driving on my own. Doing grocery shopping on my own. It is different…but I realise it is also part of growing up. Moving around on my own would never have bothered me in Germany and is something I have to learn here in Pakistan. Thankfully, I am not really alone. Once again it is true that God is with me always, here too.

Perseverance OR Revisiting the Slackline Challenge

Perseverance OR Revisiting the Slackline Challenge

I wrote this post last year when I was about half-way through my Slackline Challenge and realised that I never published it…happens a lot. I write something and think I just want to edit it a bit and then forget. In this case I decided to publish it now, despite the delay. Visiting Freiburg in June I actually went back to the slackline and tried crossing it again – I wasn’t able to do all I could do last year but then I have been without a slackline for over seven months so I’m not too surprised…it was still cool to be able to cross it, even though I lost my balance trying to turn around.

The post from October really just contains some thoughts on perseverance:

It is erroneous to think that success should come easily as a result of being naturally gifted. Perhaps, to a certain degree, natural aptitude does play a role – but the greater part is hard work, discipline and perseverance.

I once had the chance to listen to a concert pianist practice.
He had started playing at a very early age and it was soon apparent that he was gifted in music. He received tutoring and was supported and encouraged to develop his talent and pursue music in his studies. He would practice five hours a day, sometimes more.
That dedication was evident in listening to him.

What does it mean to persevere?
Am I someone who perseveres?

I think the three questions that influence whether or not I persevere are:
1) Is it worth it?
2) How badly do I want this?
3) Do I believe I can achieve the goal – or am I heading towards failure?

If I am pursuing something but continuously pondering these questions in my mind, it is unlikely that I will press on. If I am not convinced that something is worth it, if I am not fully engaged or if I have doubts about being able to reach the finish line – these thoughts alone are enough to hinder success. Like I wrote in my post on marriage and running – if you start running a marathon but don’t commit to run to the end, you probably wont. Committing and making a personal decision to follow through help you to focus on your goal and to give it all you got.

But how do you answer these questions? I think everyone has their own way of weighing up priorities, risks and setting goals. I find that for me, it is really important to allow myself to actually care enough about something to really fight for it. To permit desire, passion, determination. Sometimes not caring is more convenient – because that way you are never disappointed. But then you also miss out on the joy of experiencing what you dreamed of, or achieving what you set out to do. You need to dare to care and spell out exactly what you are going after – and then not allow the fear of failure or the uncertainty of whether or not you have what it takes distract you.

It is like climbing. Choosing a route to climb is risky. What if I go up half way and realise I lack the strength to finish? What if I slip and fall?
Once I was climbing in the gym and my climbing partner suggested a route with a slight overhang. It looked like an interesting route and I wanted to give it a go – but when he pointed out a few things to watch out for after the overhang I replied something along the lines of, “I’ll keep that in mind if I even get there!” He responded that I probably wouldn’t if that was the attitude I started out with!
And its so true. I need to face a task with a positive “I shall conquer this” attitude, rather than a non-committed “we’ll see how this turns out”. I need to be focused on the goal, rather than distracted by the fears or possibilities of everything that could go wrong.

I also experienced this in slacklining. I am now half way through the slackline challenge and its been so much fun! The first few days I felt I’d made a lot of progress and was very excited to be more and more comfortable balancing on the line and taking several steps. Then I had to pause for three days because I had no slack line or it was raining – but somehow I expected to be just fine starting up again. Wrong! I felt like I had to practice a bit more before feeling the same confidence on the line as before. It was discouraging – but instead of letting that bother me I decided to take it as a challenge and put in more effort to regain my balance. In the end, I managed to cross the slack line and successfully did some turns on the line – both of which were goals I had wanted to achieve. I also learned a few things about myself and how I work best. I realised that its easier to slackline when there aren’t a lot of people around to distract me and its also easier during day light, because I can see my focus point better. While walking across I usually focus on a point in the distance on the other side of the line and that helps me to keep my balance.

So once again, I find that sport offers a nice metaphor for life. In slacklining you want to keep your focus, ignore distractions and just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Keep going. Don’t let people’s comments or your own fear of falling stop you from pursuing your goal. And don’t compare your own achievement to that of others! I watched some videos on youtube of slackliners doing amazing tricks on the line and its easy to feel silly celebrating my small victories compared to their jumps, flips and longlining or highlining – but that’s not the point. I am not competing against them, my goal of what it means to conquer the slackline is defined by me, not by what they can do.
And the same is true for life! Its also important to stay focused and not compare yourself to other people. Don’t let fear or people’s opinions dictate your next step. Celebrate your big and little victories and don’t mind if you fall, just get up again.

At the end of the 30 days I had completed all my goals.
When I started on day 1 I went from not being able to balance at all to being able to balance on either foot and count to 20 and take seven shaky steps.

After thirty days I wanted to be able to:
– balance on either foot for as long as I like (say 2 minutes)
– walk the length of the slackline and back again
– get up on either foot without losing my balance
– change direction midway

I was able to do this after 28 days, some things sooner. Achieving some goals quite quickly, like balancing on one foot or walking the length of the line,
I tried other things like:

– the chongo mount
– the sit mount
– jumping onto the line
– jumping on the line
– lying on the line

I was not always very successful with those things…but it was fun trying. My highlight was being able to do a really short highline in the climbing gym with harness 🙂 (I didn’t measure it, would guess it was 3m high and 4-5m in length)

This month I am doing a new 30-Day-Challenge – its a 10-minute work-out every day. I was inspired by the Monsoon rain which makes it hard to do any sport outside. I realised I was getting rather moody, was not sleeping well and felt the need for exercise…I was always a bit skeptical of work-out videos but its been fun and I intend to keep it up. It usually ends up being more of a 20-30 minute work-out but saying 10 minutes makes it seem like I could definitely fit it in any day of the week and tricks me into getting started – and persevering to the end! 🙂

The Ghost Cat Moment

I tend to be quite sensitive when it comes to the messages I perceive around me. A movie I watch or even a book I read or song I listen to all have the potential to move me deeply and make me think about what they convey. This also means I can only tolerate certain messages when I’m stressed, tired or upset. They are times I prefer to curl up on the sofa with a positive book or lighthearted kids movie, rather than exposing myself to the wars of the universe and plight of mankind.

I really noticed this once again coming back to Pakistan last week after my 6-week trip to Europe. I was really tired, drained by travel but also by a lot of time with lots of different people and just felt like I had a lot to digest and was emotionally strained. I knew I would soon have to dive into lesson planning and needed to be wise in using my energy and recharging. What did I do? Besides sleeping, cleaning my flat and listening to music – I decided to chill in the living room with a feel-good kinda movie. I ended up watching something a friend had recommended, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”. (Spoiler alert) All I knew was that there were epic landscape scenes in the mountains. A volcano. A sweet longboard scene. Sounded safe to me. (Ok, after about fifteen minutes of watching I confess I read the summary just to make sure it had a happy end…beard guy was getting on my nerves, but I only do that in emergencies…honest!)

In the end I was surprised, though. I had just expected to find a fun movie, but really loved the whole feel of the story, the main characters with their quirks and especially all the beautiful little moments. That moment when Walter imagines his crush singing “Ground Control to Major Tom” and decides to brave the odds and runs to the helicopter. That moment where he offers his mom’s cake to the warlord to gain passage over the mountains. And yes, that moment when he straps rocks to his hands and goes down the winding mountain road on a kid’s longboard! But I think my favorite moment is the one when he finally finds Sean up in the Himalayas, in search of a rare mountain lion. When she appears, Walter asks Sean when he plans to take the shot and Sean replies – sometimes I don’t. Sometimes he just likes to enjoy the moment. When he really likes something, personally, he doesn’t want the lens to get in the way.

In a time of endless selfies and instagram and who knows what…I find it refreshing to not capture every moment. Don’t get me wrong, I love pictures. But especially since my camera broke about a year ago, I began to indulge in that freedom of not taking the shot. Just living the moment. Now my brother recently gave me a phone with a pretty sweet camera (thanks again!) and I really am excited to take more pics and hopefully share some beautiful moments and places soon…but I know I won’t share everything. At times I’ll decide to put the camera aside and just cherish the beauty of a moment by being in it. Chase a ghost cat and keep her to myself. Beauty that often goes unappreciated; if you don’t take care to look closely, it might pass you by.

Tired but/and Thankful

If I had to use two words to describe my sentiments after my first half year teaching full time, those two would be it.
Tired. Tired from lack of sleep, new pressures and responsibilities, lack of a balanced diet and regular exercise. Mistakes of a rookie, maybe. But certainly come with lessons learned.
Tired from/of grading seemingly endless papers and editing a PowerPoint to find the laptop freeze and crash…again.

Thankful. Thankful for smiling faces in the classroom, even when I know they hate poetry…
thankful for encouraging words. Please and thank you. Can I please go to the bathroom? Yes, you may.
Thankful for laughter and morning tea. Thankful for little goals and little victories. Thankful for beautiful moments in between the stress that somehow make it all worth it.
Thankful for Gods grace. And second chances.

A friend recently said how teaching is really such a crazy job…and how you have to be crazy to do it.
In a way I agree with her. But then again, the students – and those random beautiful moments in the midst of the craziness – somehow make it all worth it.

Beginning in the Middle

Beginning in the Middle

I just heard some fireworks outside – early celebrations for Pakistan Day? That will be celebrated on the 23rd March, with parades in the city and most people enjoying a national holiday.

What is Pakistan like in March? In what aspect? Let’s stick to the weather. Favourite topic of conversation in so many situations. The weather here in March is quite different from what it is in Germany. Some places in the plains are already quite warm during the day, reaching around 25-30°C, while places in the mountains can still be quite cool. There might still be patches of snow around while the first blossoms announce spring. We’ve had some rain, also some snow and hail in the mountains recently – but I do believe spring is pretty much here 🙂

I would say that starting work in Pakistan has been wonderful, strange, stressful, a privilege…a whole mix of things. It is a new beginning: first time working full time after studying, first time living in my own apartment, first time independently responsible for a number of classes…but somehow its also like starting in the middle of a story: I joined the staff in the middle of the school year and I’m back in a place I used to live, though it feels like that was a long time ago. A mix of old and new, strange and familiar. A country I lived in as a child and teenager that I am getting to know in a whole new way. A country where I love the food and clothing and friendly hospitality, yet I hardly speak the language and struggle to fit learning vocab and the alphabet into my busy work schedule.

What have I learned so far?

1) Working hard for the sake of the students is a lot more motivating than research paper deadlines or exams at university…but it also feels like a much bigger responsibility!

2) No matter how cute/sweet you feel you’re students are…try not to say it out loud.

3) Grading homework, presentations, tests and essays is just as much work as I anticipated…but it is do-able. Just…don’t procrastinate. Same as in school. At Uni. Always.

4) School food is so much nicer than having to cook every single day…

5) No matter how much work you feel you have, don’t forget to sleep, eat, get some fresh air – and BREATHE.

And in all, remember that God is the one carrying you through. Don’t try to do it alone. And don’t be too perfectionist. With that said – I have really felt privileged to have so many people praying for me and also for the country. I feel peace about being here in Pakistan and feel thankful for all the friends, family, churches praying, supporting me, sending me messages or mail. Thanks guys!

 

Transition Time

Transition Time

From Freiburg to Wiedenest to Pakistan.

Its high time for another post! Yes, I made the slackline challenge (hurray, more in detail to follow) and no, I’m not in Pakistan yet – but I have left my home of seven years and moved away from Freiburg. Its been a pretty busy few weeks. Transition time. Packing time. Goodbyes. Painting my room. Presenting the work I will be doing in Pakistan. Getting rid of stuff. A lot of stuff. Writing Emails. Making phone calls. Trying to study in the midst of it all…a bit too much going on, really, but also an exciting time of change and transition. Just a few too many goodbyes. I tend not to think much about the implications of leaving until after the fact – makes things easier while there is still work to be done. But the last week in Freiburg I found myself saying goodbye to friends at my University, colleagues from work, neighbours, flatmates, girls from youth group, friends from church, random places that I knew I wouldn’t visit again…and caught myself feeling slightly sentimental. Seven years. I had never lived that long in one place. Ok, I left Freiburg a few times before as well and moved house like five times…but still. Its a long time all the same.

Somehow I both love and hate goodbyes. I love the excitement, the change, the anticipation of the new that is to come…and I hate having to organise a move, figuring out the logistics, and actually saying goodbye. Let’s make it short. Bye. See ya sometime. God bless.
I guess its just one of those things that doesn’t really get easier either. You’d think after moving so many times it wouldn’t matter anymore…but somehow it does.

And yet, its still not a final goodbye. I’ll be back for my Spanish exam in two weeks and Lord willing back to visit sometime next year. But I must confess I actually started writing a goodbye song…trying to put my thoughts into words. Maybe I’ll manage to finish it before I fly and can share it with you 🙂 For now – I am in the midst of preparations for moving to and working in Pakistan, continue to study and will hopefully manage to keep writing too.

Transition Time.

I started writing this post about two months ago and MUCH has happened since. Publishing it got buried under other tasks – like that exam I mentioned, preparation time in Wiedenest, packing and moving to Pakistan!

Transition time.

That place between the pages of two chapters.
That no man’s land.
That moving truck between a home and some place new.
Those strange in-between days that don’t quite belong to any season.

Closing the chapter “Student Life”, whatever that means.
A chapter of learning, discovering, trying things out, meeting people, getting to know yourself a bit better, perhaps, and figuring out life, setting goals, being idealistic and hoping to somehow change the world for the better. No routine or strict schedule – though I suppose that depends on what it is you are studying. Not accountable to anyone and free to learn or not as you please. Flexible. Able to travel at a moment’s notice. Student discounts wherever you go…its been real. Time to be a responsible adult now.

Closing the chapter “Freiburg”.
Pretty little city. Warmest region of Germany. Wine-growing area. Black Forest (Must say I did enjoy being a tour guide there…) Flammkuchen. Tannenzäpfle (though I must confess I never much liked the taste). Schwarzwälder Schinken. Bicycles. Dreisam. Bächle. Friends. Home. Place so full of original and alternative style I always felt one could do any strange thing and never receive an awkward glance. I could go to class barefoot, no one would mind.

Closing the chapter “Germany”.
After 9 years, my passport country has found a place in my heart. (I’m probably far more German than I even realise. Not too punctual though, I’m afraid.) Efficient. Organised. Productive. 😉 Autobahn without speed limits…and people (mostly) adhering to traffic rules. Old castles, old churches. Half-timbered houses. Nice cars. Free education. Chocolate. Hefeweizen. Sauerkraut. Semmelknödel. Rotkohl. Rinderroladen. Spätzle 🙂 Beautiful landscapes to explore by bike, beautiful lakes and refreshing rivers to jump into, beautiful rocks to climb. People with a variety of different lovely German dialects…Alemannen, Schwaben, Sachsen 🙂 and I especially remember the cities where I preached or shared the gospel with some friends. Freiburg. Munich. Erding. Ulm. Nürnberg. Siegen. Berlin. Spending some hours on the street, talking with random strangers about life, faith, hope. Its the 500th anniversary of the reformation this coming year – I wonder how many Germans know the good news of Jesus and are aware of God’s amazing love?

Transition Time.
The room a mess. Boxes everywhere. Piles of clothes and random things to give away or throw in the trash. Doctor’s appointments, last minute check-up at the dentist. Vaccinations.
For a few weeks, I have no home.
Living out of a suitcase. Instability. Strange combination of excitement and exhaustion.
Apprehension and longing. Happiness and a sense of sadness.
What day is it again?

At the airport in Leipzig.
Suitcases all checked in.
Final goodbyes said. Hugs.
Waving one last time as I move through the passport control.
Take off the shoes. And belt. No belt? Forgot it. Don’t ask me how.
Laptop and liquids separate, please.
Sitting in the waiting area – time to board the flight.
Writing messages to family and friends until a stewardess bids all passengers to switch off their electronic devices.

Layover in Istanbul.
Standing at a counter waiting.
“So where’s home for you?” The man in front of me asks, a kind smile in his eyes.
“Everywhere and no-where,” I reply.

I like layovers.
I like long journeys.
They allow you to take time for that in-between phase.
They help you take a moment to reflect and look back on that last chapter, remember what was wonderful and let go of what wasn’t.
They give you a moment to hold your breath as you think in anticipation of what is to come, as you wonder about the new chapter ahead – wonder what is in store and whether it’ll be all you expect or quite different.
They give you a moment to rest, to be in no-man’s land and just sleep.
There is time still. The flight isn’t leaving for another few hours. Just stop for a bit.
Regain your strength. People used to go by boat, they had a long time for transition then.
Everything moves faster nowdays.

Transition time.
That time and place between the pages of two chapters.
That no man’s land.
That moving truck between a home and some place new.
Those strange in-between days that don’t quite belong to any season.

Transition time.
It ends soon.

I began my studies in Freiburg in October 2009.
Last Thursday, I went out for a special buffet breakfast at the fancy Serena hotel with my parents and little brother in Islamabad, Pakistan, celebrating the success of my final exam in Spanish on November 18th 2016, marking the end of my studies. (Time for a little victory dance, it is finished! :D)

Now, I am starting a new chapter:
Chapter “teaching” and “Pakistan” and “let’s-pretend-to-be-grown-up”, or something like that.
I have already arrived.
I have a new phone number, some new clothes and will soon have a new apartment: a new place to call home.
Excitement outweighs doubt or apprehension:
This is going to be a good chapter, I can tell!

Wait a second…am I home?

So I’m in Mexico. Its been several weeks already and I feel pretty much acclimatized. The first week was a bit crazy though…Mostly because…I felt so at home. It was like, from the minute I landed in Mexico City to the moment I arrived at the remote village in the North of Oaxaca where I intended to stay, EVERYTHING reminded me of home!

mountainview

the landscape…bustling Mexico City reminded me of Lahore or Rawalpindi…the mountains, valleys, rivers and pines in the North of Oaxaca reminded me of Khairagali, Thandiani and Murree and maybe even of drives up the Kharakorum highway…so beautiful, breathtaking creation – I praise God for mountains =)

fog

the weather… warmth and sunshine one minute – fog and rain the next; although the rain was mostly very gentle rain and only a couple times did we have a real strong downpour accompanied by lighting and rolling thunder!

MarketThe marketplaces…bags full of spices, lentils, herbs and piles of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables – totally reminded me of going to the market in Pakistan

the power cuts and internet problems…had that quite a bit back home =)

the feeling of standing out kind of A LOT – white skin, “blond” hair and I’m just about a head taller than a lot of people!

the megaphone announcements all over our small town – reminded me of the call to prayer

the improvisation, relaxed attitudes and flexibility

tacosthe food – spicy chilli in everything and LOTS of flat bread, the tortillas – different from roti because its made out of corn flour instead of wheat flour. You can eat it with every meal and there is great variety!

the trying to get clothes dry during the rainy season with sunshine being repeatedly interrupted by rain showers – its like a game of hanging up the clothes and quickly taking them down again =D

the buying cloth and bringing it to a tailor in the village for it to be made into a traditional skirt

turkeys

the animals around the place…be it cows, goats, donkeys, cats, stray dogs, chickens, coyotes, eagles, frogs or giant grasshoppers and butterflies

But then even while all these things reminded me of my childhood in Pakistan…I also realized that it really isn’t all the same – that I needed to be open to discovering a new country and culture and willing to observe, ask questions, listen and learn. Sometimes its so easy to just take a glance and think – oh I know that. But then you miss out on the opportunity to grow and be taught and to discover new things or a new perspective. I think what fascinates me most about getting to know different cultures is that new perspective – just because things are often done in a way different from what you’re used to, doesn’t make them worse or wrong. Often times its actually enriching when you let other people’s customs challenge the way you think…and maybe you end up with a little bit of both…

donkey