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!

Discovering the Isteiner Klotz

Discovering the Isteiner Klotz

Today was a German holiday: the 3rd of October is the day we celebrate the reunification of Germany in 1990. In Pakistan this was usually a special day for us – here in Germany I often feel that people don’t think much about it, its just a day off work. I had spontaneously gone to visit my brother Sunday evening and wanted to head back to Freiburg today after lunch. The train wasn’t too full, despite the holiday – but we ended up getting stuck in a small town called Efringen-Kirchen, about 60km away from Freiburg. I seriously considered cycling home…but was discouraged by the fact that I had no food and hardly any water and all the shops would be closed. In the end, after waiting for about half an hour, we were informed that our train could not continue and we would have to get off and wait for the next train, due in about 30minutes. I took my bike and decided to explore Efringen-Kirchen. I soon realised that everything was indeed closed – not that there were many shops to start with, but both the bakery and the one or two other shops I passed by were shut. I saw a sign saying “Istein 2km” and figured I might as well enjoy the sunny day going to the next station by bike instead of waiting around. I had always wondered about Istein – going this way by train countless times I always heard the town announced over the loud speakers when we stopped, but I had never visited the place. It didn’t take me long to reach the little town and it struck me as quite pretty – lots of vineyards, beautiful little half-timbered houses and the backdrop of a hill with large boulders and cliff-like rocks. It reminded me of some of the landscapes I had seen in the Danube valley.
I stopped to take a picture and shortly after spotted some people going for a walk in a small graveyard. Right behind them was a little chapel, up in the cliff. I parked my bike and climbed up some stairs to check it out – a sign informing me that I had discovered the 150m high limestone rock “Isteiner Klotz” and the small chapel of Saint Veith, apparently dating back to the 12th century. (Sorry, I didn’t actually take a picture of the chapel…next time)
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It was pretty fascinating, although the way to the top of the rock was closed off and part of the area designated a nature reserve, so I couldn’t actually climb up to the cliffs or go into some of the caves. I had to be content with looking inside the little prayer chapel and enjoying the view of the rocky hill from below. After a few minutes I returned to my bike and made my way to the Isteiner train station to catch the next train to Freiburg. This time the train was extremely full and we had to figure out a way to fit rather a lot of bikes in a small space…but most people were in a good mood, despite the inconvenience of the cancelled train. When I mentioned my unsuccessful attempt to buy food a lady even offered me a Landjäger  🙂 What happy misfortune, that a train malfunction led to a beautiful bike ride, discovering a pretty new place and meeting friendly people on this holiday. Happy 3rd of October everyone  😀

Praise the Lord

Praise the Lord

My favourite way to start the day is when I manage to get up early, go outside and have some time just me and God. Go for a walk, a run, a swim – whatever. Just enjoy being out in the cool morning air, hear the birds chirp and maybe even watch the sunrise. When I was in Ulm two weeks ago I did just that – one morning I jumped in the Danube and another I cycled up a hill to the Wilhelmsburg, an old fortification with a tower that offers a great view of the city.
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And the sun was just rising as I reached the top – it was beautiful. I had my Bible with me and randomly opened it at Psalm 113 – and it couldn’t have been more fitting!

Praise the Lord.
Praise, O servants of the Lord, praise the name of the Lord.
Let the name of the Lord be praised, both now and for evermore.
From the rising of the sun to the place where it sets, the name of the Lord is to be praised.

The Lord is exalted over all the nations, his glory above the heavens.
Who is like the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,
who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?

He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap;
he seats them with princes, with the princes of their people.
He settles the barren woman in her home as a happy mother of children.

Praise the Lord. (Psalm 113 NIV translation, emphasis added)

It is truly good to praise God! It is the best way to start the day and the best way to finish the day. No matter what is going on, there is always reason to praise God because HE is good. Because He is just. Because his love never fails. His mercy is new every morning.

I was so happy that morning – happy for the sunrise, happy to be cycling, happy to spot a hot air balloon in the sky. Happy because it was the day we were making parathas for breakfast and going climbing. Seemed like the perfect start to a perfect day. And I thanked God for it. But even though in every day life I don’t always take the time to go out first thing in the morning – either because I’m too lazy or because I feel like I have too much stuff to get done…I realise that taking time to at least thank God for a new day and recognising how much I have to be grateful for also contributes to cultivating a positive heart attitude, changes my perspective and automatically makes my day better as I am reminded of God’s goodness in the big and little things.

So here are some things I want to praise God for this week:

  • Last weekend we had a leadership retreat from my church and it was so encouraging to spend time together, read the Bible, pray for eachother.
  • We were in Breisach, right next to the Rhine river – and again I managed to go for an early morning and evening walk and enjoy the beauty of the moment. (I had to skip the slackline for three days – didn’t have one there! Really noticed it on Monday…)
  • Work was good last week, I enjoyed the tours with my tourists and had good weather, a friendly group, not too much traffic – and generous tips 🙂
  • I found out when my last exam is going to be (mid November) and have three more weeks to study than I expected 🙂
  • I found out a friend from church actually goes rock climbing and we went climbing last week which was pretty cool – hope to go again these next weeks, so climbing partner prayer answered 🙂
  • I’m doing some teaching at a discipleship school these next few weeks and am excited and encouraged to see God at work in the students’ lives
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Praise the Lord from the rising of the sun…
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to the place where it sets. (Rhine river, Breisach)

30 Day Challenge: Conquer the slackline

30 Day Challenge: Conquer the slackline

So I’m home again, my muscles were sore for two days after going climbing – but it was the good kind of sore that makes you feel happy and accomplished and impatient to go out again. I went climbing again on Saturday on my own, just to some rocks near where I live – but without a climbing partner (I don’t recommend that, there were others out there too though so I wasn’t alone) so I was limited to choosing a really safe route I could do without rope. It was still fun though, the view was beautiful – and got quite exciting later when a team of firemen showed up! Another climber had called to warn them of a fire that hadn’t been put out properly. I had heard the call being made and ended up going with two other climbers to show the firemen the spot so they could put it out. It probably wouldn’t have been enough to start a forest fire, but it was still good to be safe and a good reminder to think twice before foolishly starting a fire in the woods!

I’m pretty motivated to keep climbing, but the weather hasn’t been so good and I have to organise myself with gear and climbing partner – but after a week of lots of sports and being outside and realising how amazing that was I decided I have to make it more of a priority in daily life. I know its something that helps me focus, clear my head and is simply super enjoyable and a good balance to studying – so instead of thinking I have no time due to studies (I do have to study A LOT these next weeks!) I want to make a bit of time every day. But since I can’t exactly go climbing or on a bike tour every day, I have instead opted for conquering the slackline! You know how teachers always tell you that practice makes perfect? Its supposed to apply to learning your French vocab words, your creative writing skills, solving maths problems, singing in choir, playing an instrument, reciting poems, cooking, sports and most things in life. Well, I have decided to put this claim to the test for a specific time period and see what improvement I can witness in just thirty days of practice. Of course, the idea is NOT to give up doing something after trying just thirty days – I am fully aware that real learning takes longer than that and requires a bit more effort, investment and perseverance – but when you are trying to start a new habit, the decision to follow through for a month is a good place to start.

I have been thinking about slacklining for a while, always amused by how popular it is here in Freiburg and how silly people look trying to walk across with their arms in the air. It is good for balance, focus and body control, though – and actually quite a challenge to master well and a lot of fun! It is also extremely accessible for me right now since there are two slacklines permanently installed on the lawn in front of my house. So, what’s the plan? I intend to go slacklining 10-30 minutes every day for the next 25 days* and see how much I improve. I must confess I am a complete beginner and look like a fool trying to take a single step, but hey – that’s what practice is for, right! So I started this four days ago – what’s my progress so far? 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! Yeah! Today I was up to 40 and felt more confident getting up on the line, especially with the right foot.

After 30 days I would like to:

– be able to balance on either foot for as long as I like (say count to 100)
– walk the length of the slackline and back again (need to measure it…)
– get up on either foot without losing my balance
– change direction midway

I have no idea how quickly I will achieve this goal, that’s what makes it interesting. Maybe this is super easy and I will make it after ten days – or I’m underestimating the slackline and require longer.

In case you don’t know how to slackline, here’s a nice video to teach you the basics 🙂

How to slackline

and in case you think slacklining is dull, check out this competition and maybe you’ll change your mind…

2016 GoPro Mountain Games Slackline Highlight Reel

*every day unless its raining A LOT or someone ate the slackline, then any other sport can serve as a substitute for that day. Day 3 I went cycling 🙂

Discovering: 3-day bike tour day 3 – from Sigmaringen to Ulm

 

Passing through the village of Munderkingen

On Monday my brother and I rode from Sigmaringen to Ulm. It was a beautiful bike ride – we passed through some pretty little towns and villages and also had some nice paths right along the river. I would say I probably preferred day two with the impressive rocks – but both was beautiful and very much enjoyable in it’s own way 🙂 We stopped in a small town called Ehingen to have a late lunch break – it was a nice stop and a well needed rest to get some food and refill our empty water bottles.

Ehingen

 We arrived in Ulm and spent two days relaxing and playing tourist which was a lot of fun 🙂 we were able to stay with a friend which was cool and he welcomed us with a splendid dinner. Enjoying good food together always has a high priority – and we had plenty of that!

Pakistani breakfast of parathas and fried eggs

What can you do in Ulm? Lots 🙂         My favorite spot is probably along the river Danube in the Fischerau – there’s a bridge there that leads to Neu-Ulm and it’s a great place to go swimming and jump into the river. Very refreshing after a long bike ride 🙂


The city centre also has it’s charms – with some pretty half timbered houses and little alleys and of course the Münster – the church with the highest steeple in the world at 161,53 m! We went all the way up (costs 3,50-5,00 Euros) and had a sweet view of the whole city – was definitely worth the climb!

Tuesday afternoon we went to a small lake to go swimming – it was a really sunny day which was great. Ulm tends not to be known for it’s good weather – I did pray for sunshine though 🙂

Wednesday was quite a sporty day with cycling and rock climbing on our agenda! I’ve always loved climbing and as a kid I would climb up any wall or tree I could – at school I spent many a break time or afternoon up my favorite tree on the playground. I also went rock climbing a few times and always wanted to do more but it wasn’t til recently that I finally signed up for a beginners course at my uni and spent a weekend in a climbing gym and out in the Black Forest to climb some rocks. It was amazing. Of course you’re up there and there’s the feeling of – “why am I doing this?” and “this is incredible” at the same time! I like the challenge, the team work and the time you get just you and the rock, your head and muscles. Or lack of 😉 And that’s what led to us going climbing in the Blautal near Ulm.

 I had heard that there were some places around for climbing, some friends of mine are passionate climbers and go out a lot – so I had asked our host, also a climber, if it would be possible to organize a rope and go climb. It all worked out and was pretty sweet! We cycled about 20km to the cliffs and hiked up a little way up a mountain and then our friend climbed up first lead climbing so that my brother and I could climb top rope. It was challenging – the rock was real slippery in some parts and I must admit I fell a lot! But I was always caught safe by the rope and it was a good exercise to just try again and work a bit harder. In the end I also got to do a short climb doing lead climbing which was especially cool – it was a totally different feeling to know that I really shouldn’t fall or at least to be aware of my climbing higher and securing more rope making a fall safer. Even then I did fall and get a few scratches – but it was worth it!

 Now our Ulm adventure has come to an end and today we hit the road again – not cycling all the way back, but taking the train via Friedrichshafen, by the Bodensee (Lake Constance). There’s also a really nice cycling route along there – from Ulm to the lake and then even all the way to Basel – maybe something for another time 🙂

So would I recommend a trip like this? Definitely! The bike tour and discovering Ulm are both worth it – it wasn’t my first time in Ulm but I never get tired of it either. I’ve already decided that I would love to live in a city where I can jump in the river any time 🙂 though I guess I would really have to pray for good weather all year round then 🙂

Discovering: 3-day bike tour day two – from Donaueschingen to Sigmaringen 

  Good morning 🙂 I’m at a youth hostel in the town of Sigmaringen – and could see the sunrise from my bedroom window, which is kinda nice. The tour yesterday was amazing, I really loved it. It wasn’t too strenuous, really well marked with signs along the way so we couldn’t get lost and I just really loved the landscape of the Danube valley with the river and the impressive cliffs. When we started out in Donaueschingen we saw the river Brigach which later joins with the river Brech to continue as the Danube (or Donau as it’s called in German). We also checked out what they say is the source of the Danube – this fancy looking pool of water in the city centre – and then set off towards Tuttlingen at almost noon.  

 It was an easy start with no steep hills, but I must confess I did stop a couple times for pictures – especially wanted to witness where the Donau disappears into the ground at the “Donau Versickerung”. We had a really great packed lunch in Tuttlingen by the river – my wonderful hosts in Donaueschingen had helped provide for lots of sandwiches and fruit which was really great! And I was even given a helmet to borrow because I had managed to forget mine in Freiburg. Shocking, I know! Who goes on a bike tour and forgets their helmet? Especially since I managed to pack all kinds of other ridiculous things…well, thankfully they were kind to help me out so we were all set and well equipped for the day 🙂

  Arrived at Sigmaringen around 7:30pm and just checked out the view of the famous castle from a distance before going up a rather steep hill to our hostel. Since there was no dinner we ordered some take away kebab-salad-fries, finishing up the evening outside with a nice glass of wine. 

  
Conclusion: it was a great day and I would recommend the tour – there were some steep parts after Friedingen so it’s helpful to have good gears but it’s a nice little challenge and worth the effort. Pack enough water (I had three liters and then we filled up the bottles twice along the way). And enjoy 🙂 

Here’s a website with the route nicely explained (in German) 

http://www.fahrrad-tour.de/Donautal/Fertig/Donau1.htm

So today the goal is Sigmaringen-Ulm, about 110km, and I’m already tempted to jump into the Danube when we get there 🙂