Weekly photo challenge: Reflection

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What is real? As I thought about the week’s photo challenge, this question floated to and fro. Because this photo, of a pond in eastern Germany, was taken with an old iPhone, the quality isn’t too crisp or clear. However, it’s easy to recognize the scenery: trees, around a pond and reflected in the water. A quiet place for reflection where everything looks normal. However, upon further inspection, you may notice that something is a little off, a bit surreal. Do you see it?

My reflections are often similarly unclear and unreal. As I get older, it’s difficult to decipher if remembrances of past events are 100% accurate or if they have been altered (like this photo) and affected by stories I have been told or stories I have read. When I was younger, things appeared so black and white; but as I age, those distinctions seem less clear and less important. What is real and what is an illusion?

What is real?

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

She's got balls!  I wish I could do that!

Living in a city offers opportunities to see things that one would rarely spot in a small town or village. As I ventured to the store to pick up some fresh milk, the exotic sounds of belly-dance beats bounced off the Zeil and lured me into its trance. As I followed the rhythms to the heart of the street, I noticed a well-endowed “woman” with belly-dance bells over her flirty skirt entertaining the crowd with her dramatic hip actions. All the shoppers, also lured by the sounds and scene, broke from their consumer frenzy to enjoy the surprising scene.

The first thought that sprang to my mind was, “Wow! She’s got balls! I could never belly dance in front of a growing group of strangers, let alone in front of my friends.” Apparently, I was not the only one piqued. A squat man in a red-striped shirt that stretched over his rotund stomach focused his eyes only on her. He sprang into action, twirling, teasingly strutting his stuff, and sashaying his body to her. The crowd cheered in excitement by clapping and hooting, encouraging them both. We all stood rooted to our places, enjoying the performance, until the band eventually ended their gig and the two dancers went their separate ways.

Still mesmerized, with bewildering thoughts going through my head, I started my journey home only to realize, when I was climbing back up the stairs to the flat, that I had forgotten to buy the milk. Doh! But then I realized “Who needs milk or substances when street performers provide nourishment and remind us of what it means to be alive and free to be who we are.” Would you ever see a performance like that in a small little town? I didn’t think so.

She’s got balls! I wish I could do that!

History outside my doorsteps

Walking across the stone bridge over the Neckar River, I shot this view of the Heidelberg Castle, one of many medieval buildings, fortresses, and ruins that enrich Germany.

Reflecting on my youth I wonder if history, one of my least favorite subjects in school, could have been one of my favorites, had I been born and raised in Heidelberg or in any of the ancient cities of Europe, where history is not relegated to the pages of a thick and boring textbook, but evident everywhere you look. Could this be the reason why most Europeans are knowledgeable about history, politics, and geography while most Americans can barely pinpoint Germany on a map?

History outside my doorsteps

Der, Die, Das…Was?

Der, Die, Das...Was?

Today’s daily prompt asked us to predict what we would be doing on July 30, 2014. While images of wine festivals, music concerts, or treks through the Alps flirt through my mind, the one thing I hope I will NOT still be doing is learning more German grammar. Der, Die, Das…Was? Calgon, take me away!

Der, Die, Das, Was?

Was Hitler sweet at sixteen?

Was Hitler sweet at sixteen?

Sweet sixteen, as a coming-of-age milestone in the U.S, supposedly marks the transition from youth to adulthood. As I reflected on my thank-goodness-it’s-over teenage years of discomfort, anxiety and confusion, my thoughts wondered how I am different today than I was then. I wondered if the seeds of who I am now were planted then or if they were already engrained in my DNA from birth.

Then, I remembered an exhibit my friend Lucy and I saw at the Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art in Kansas City many years ago. The artist, whose name I can no longer remember, displayed photos of influential figures from history, accompanied by a photo of each as a child. This is a photo I took of the Hitler exhibit, him as a child and as a man.

The installation inspired so many thought-provoking questions:

If we could go back in time, how would we treat the baby Hitler, knowing what we know now?
When were the seeds of who he would became planted?
If we had that knowledge, what is our responsible as a society, or as individuals?

What are your thoughts? I would be interested to hear them, if you would share them with me. Thanks.

Was Hitler Sweet at Sixteen?

Racist, bully, stupid, or all of the above?

As I was hurrying from the train platform to the station exit, an unexpected tug on my arm forced me to stop.  I looked down to see a little blond kid about seven or eights years of age looking up at me.  Although his lips were moving, I couldn’t understand what he was saying because ALT-J was blasting through my headphones. In that abrupt moment of interruption, my brain was reminded of India, where it’s impossible to walk through a market or street without a child tugging and begging for money. “India?” my confused brain thought. “But you’re in Germany. Kids don’t beg in Germany.” So naturally, my brain thought the child was lost or needed help finding his parents.

I quickly took my buds out of my ears and asked in German, “I’m sorry I couldn’t hear you; What’s wrong? How can I help you?”  He replied in German, “Can I listen to your music?” This non sequitur response surprised me; it was the last thing I had expected to hear, from him or from anyone who might have interrupted my journey through the train station. How many people accost a perfect stranger to ask if they can listen to what the other person is listening to? Not many, I think.

I inquired quizzically, “You want to listen to my music?” making sure that I had understood him. He didn’t respond immediately, so I thought I had indeed misunderstood. I asked him again what he needed and I realized too late that he had just gotten it: my undivided attention.

With my attention fully disengaged from my music and destination and fully on him now, he sprayed a slew of derogatory, racist comments, gestures, and then capped it off with a bunch of unintelligible sounds he assumed to be my mother tongue. It happened all so fast and, because I was so stunned at what was happening, I said nothing. After he realized that I wasn’t saying or reacting to him (I was quite literally in shock and speechless), he turned around to face a small group of boys behind us, probably his gang, who all broke out laughing, making similar unintelligible noises and pointing at me.  That’s when I found myself jerked back through time to when I was a little girl, walking home from school or standing in the playground, when a bunch of boys – it’s always a bunch of boys or girls and never just one boy or one girl – would descend upon me and shout racist comments, make similar efforts at languages they didn’t know, or bump into me intending to make me fall over.

In situations like this, especially when I am being harassed, denigrated or victimized because of the color of my skin, strong emotions alway surge to the surface. Angry emotions seem easy to justify against another adult, but a child? Because the perpetrator was a little boy of no more than 10 years of age, and even though he obviously had no reservations or fear about accosting an adult female in a crowded train station, my concern for the boy outweighed my concern for myself. I was so surprised by his young age that I didn’t have time to react – no time to get hurt or to get angry. I was just stunned.

Afterwards, after I had had time to reflect, I became angry. Not at the boy, but at myself.

I became angry at myself for allowing that “lucky” opportunity to pass by without incident. I became angry at myself because, by not reacting or doing anything I have allowed those boys to continue their ignorant rants to others after me. By my inaction and silence, I have given those boys permission to harass and bully others after me – a daughter walking home, a brother going to piano lessons, a father waiting for the bus, a mother going for a walk, a sister going to meet her friends, etc.

It happened to me today, but I will not let it happen again. I will be prepared the next time and seize the opportunity to affect change. I will no longer be silent.

Racist, bully, stupid or all of the above?

My learning style for languages: Interactive

No matter how old and not-SO-wise I became, the first day of anything fills me with equal parts anticipation, excitement and fear. The first two propel me forward, filling me with hope and determination; fear, however, only inhibits me and makes me want to flee.

Someone once opined that ‘life is too short to learn German.” Boy, do I know what that person meant. Although there are moments, reading a German menu (Bier, Brot, Wein) or reading signs along the streets (Kindergarten, Schule, Cinemas), when I feel confident that I can learn German, the majority of my moments in Germany are lost in a foreign fog (Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitaen, Minderwertigkeitskomplex, Vernachlaessigugn). Learning a new language, at my more mature age, is more challenging than I ever imagined. Why didn’t I learn German instead of French in High School? Not that I can remember any of my French now. It’s lost somewhere with my Adam Ant albums and my mixed cassettes of favorite songs from OMD, Alphaville, New Order and Gang of Four.

After trying a few classes and teachers, I realized that I learn best from teachers who are passion about what they are teaching and who are well prepared. Duh, right? But the majority of the teachers seem to lack passion or even an ounce of enthusiasm for their subject or their pupils. It’s as if they think their role as teachers is to show up, select exercises in the workbook, ask the students to do them in pairs, and then escape to their computers at the front of the class. Really? Is that what teaching is? If so, then what value do we receive from attending a class? Couldn’t we just complete the workbook by ourselves at home and check the answers ourselves? The passionate teachers I have had usually keep everybody on their toes. We’re either standing up or sitting down, only for a sec, and either way we’re constantly engaged in speaking, writing, or interacting with each other. Whether that is to play vocabulary games, to write stories on butcher papers, or to present and act those stories out to our peers, passionate teachers engage us to learn in class by interacting with each other. Interactive learning. That’s my preferred method for learning anything, especially German.

Daily Prompt for 8 Jan 2014