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

The oil-yumminess-ratio

Chicken tikka with lemon rice, raita, lentils and mango chutney
Chicken tikka with lemon rice, raita, lentils and mango chutney

Last weekend was largely about food. Food, friends and fun.
And the most important place of action: the kitchen.

There’s a bunch of us who grew up in Pakistan and/or Thailand and went to school together but now live somewhere in good old Germany. At some point someone began to suggest reunions and the idea caught on – some get togethers being quite large and pre-planned, others small and spontaneous. I find them to be a bit of a break from normal routine, a time where you don’t need to explain why “where are you from” is such a difficult question and can catch up, talk about life, God and the universe just as easily as any random, silly topic you feel like or just shut up and silently enjoy the sun – and most of all, the food. I would say that is what these reunions generally have in common – no matter who, how many or where – all you need is a kitchen and the right ingredients.

I love cooking Pakistani food. And I love eating it.
Somehow I feel there must be an oil-yumminess-ratio.
Because the more oil we use preparing these dishes…the more incredible it all tastes.

So we had rice with onions and various spices.
And boneless chicken in a delicious spicy tomato, ginger, onion, garlic etc. sauce…
and barbequed chicken that had been marinated in incredible tikka marinade for like 24 hours
and lemon rice with nuts and mustard seeds
and yellow lentils and raita (a yoghurt dish) and this funky mashed potato stuff
and homemade roti – which is basically a type of flat bread made from flour, salt and water.

Paratha and fried egg
Paratha and fried egg

And then you can add oil to that and the roti magically turns into – paratha. The best breakfast ever. In my opinion at least…I recommend you try it with fried egg. Lots of oil. Really yummy.
You can also eat it with chickpeas or omlette and a bunch of other things. Even with nutella – but that’s sort of not typical, I just like almost anything with nutella.

To go with the paratha you drink a perfect cup of chai.

During the reunion, we used more oil and butter in two days than I usually use in two weeks…
But it was so worth it – it was so yummy.
The place to be – definitely the kitchen.

I would so like to cook this stuff more often…but somehow I feel the smell of oil, onions and garlic is not always so appreciated in Germany =)
maybe I will work on a more “neighbour friendly” version of these recipes…but then that would go against the yumminess-ratio. What a dilemma…

Monsoon

Roof RaindropsPacking in a hurry for my trip to Pakistan I somehow completely forgot to think about the weather. This may not be very clever, but I often pack with the weather of my PRESENT location in mind, rather than that of my destination! Many a time have I packed a suitcase while the sun was blazing and the thermometer measuring over 35°C and I simply could not imagine ever needing a sweater…until we reached the cool mountains and I suddenly needed to borrow something to keep warm!
Trees FogThe funny thing about the seasons in Pakistan is that the Monsoon does not exist in Germany. The Monsoon is the rainy season. It isn’t really cold – in fact most days it has been rather warm! And yet it isn’t summer. There are clouds in the sky and many a day may be described as foggy and rainy. Very rainy. You would think clouds have a limit as to how many raindrops they can shower on our lovely earth…

splashesBut then despite the many puddles, moist blankets, slippery paths, jamming doors and the seemingly impossible task of getting laundry to dry…I love the monsoon! I love the beauty of those clouds kissing the mountains and the tree tops…I love the walks where you suddenly disappear in the fog…I love the sound of the heavy rain pattering on the rooftops…and the feeling of wonder as lightning lights up the sky and thunder roars in the distance! And growing up in Pakistan I often found myself praying for rain – as a blessing from God that would allow us to shower more frequently, wash clothes and flush our toilets!
So I love the monsoon – and praise God for rain!
A walk through the fog

The change came within less than five minutes!
The change came within less than five minutes!