Sunday, October 16, 2016

A poplar and a dream

Sunday morning.
My eyes remind me that I should go back to bed before the day begins, but I fear it‘s too late – the former industrial buildings of Berlin Mitte, visible beyond the balcony window, have steadily emerged from the night and the heart-shaped, long-stemmed leaves of the big poplar in the courtyard have begun their trembling dance in the cool morning breeze.

Why am I in Berlin?
Sure, there is always family to see and friends to catch up with. But the real reason is that I am homeless. Well, I should rather say 'without a home' or simply 'a nomad', as it is a conscious choice of mine, rather than the result of sorry circumstances. And yet, after over seven months of this particular form of modern nomadism, just as my eyes long for sleep, I long for nothing more than a place to call my own. Three weeks of working here, two days of staying on a friend's couch there, then two days on the road and a week of hiking in the mountains. Two weeks of training in this place, a day of traveling, then three days at a conference in that city. Of course every stop, every day is filled with countless beautiful moments, meaningful encounters, new insights and much learning. And yet, underneath all that, there is a growing yearning.
In my blissful freedom of movement lies a deep desire to settle. And in fact – it goes back way beyond the past seven months – it goes back seven and ten years, when I set out from my protected and comfortable parental home to finish school abroad. During all the years since and in all the five countries I dwelled in, although there certainly were feelings of homeliness at times and close ties with friends and neighbours, which conveyed a certain sense of belonging, all along I hedged deep within me a dream. A dream of a village - my village.
With time, this dream developed into a vision that grew clearer and more elaborate as I tended to it and as I shared and developed it with friends and lovers. More recently, this vision is being incorporated into concrete plans for coming years, as the intellectual, social and professional realms I navigate in are converging more and more towards the question at the very heart of that vision: what immediate environment can we build for ourselves that allows us to heal, over generations to come, the relationships we hold with our earth-mother, with each other and with ourselves?

In my vision I see a village.
I see children running joyfully from one house to the other and then off into the woods.
I see youngsters that find courage on their path and strength in their identity.
I see adults sharing and cooperating, creating meaningful social and economic relationships.
I see elders that are integrated, honoured and looked after, looking after toddlers and passing on stories and songs of their youth.
I see humans listening to what the birds say, thanking the land for its riches and giving back in joyous ceremony.
I see a land healing in the joy of giving and receiving, growing ever more bountiful and whole from year to year.
And I see a poplar tree in a courtyard, swaying calmly, its heart-shaped, long-stemmed leaves waving at the new-born day.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Tangiers halls & staircases

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Tangiers Art Déco Building "STOP PRESSING"

Thursday, September 22, 2016

What a ride!

We waved down a shared taxi with space on the back bench, I said good-bye to Abdel Wahed and off I was. It was only 15 km to the next town, but this short trip became a very memorable experience.

As we rode along the country road from hamlet to hamlet, through the rolling landscape of the southern Moroccan coast and its dry farmland, tired after a hot summer, the taxi quickly filled up to the habitual 4 guys in the back and two on the front seat next to the driver. It was an old, run-down station wagon with grubby seats, patched-up holes in the roof lining and a slight odor of leaked petrol – just the way I like them. Pressed against the door & an unopenable, dirty window on one side and against an old, veiled man in jalabia on the other, listening to a groovy gypsy-like sound blasting from shabby speakers, I gazed at the barren, harrowed fields outside, sparsely dotted with olive, fig and argan trees and at the hills stretching out beyond, covered in semi-wild Argan forest – the source of the famous oil that has now become become one of Morocco’s major exports.

At that moment, I suddenly realised how happy I was and I wondered which part of that experience I owed this joyous feeling to – the arid landscape that I was so used to from my years in Jordan and that I’ve missed since living in central Europe? The faces of old men, tanned and grooved by the sun, village life and their hard work? Having a stranger nearly sitting on my lap? The beautifully harsh sound of a rural Arabic being spoken around me (even though a very bastardised version)?
In the end I concluded that is was simply this mode of traveling – the humble and ordinary nature of it, the connection with this country’s inhabitants that it enabled and the sheer simplicity of genuine, wordless human contact.
And just at that blissful instant, as I glanced back and forth between the landscapes of the passengers’ faces and those outside the window, just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, the taxi pulled over on the dusty roadside that merged seamlessly into a field. Seven women and two children, wearing plain, but brightly-coloured dresses, were standing in the sun, waiting for a ride. I immediately started smiling in anticipation and disbelief of what I imagined was about to happen. Was our driver really stopping to offer them a ride? How the hell…?

Another equally full taxi had pulled up simultaneously and the two drivers agreed to take on the challenge. As they started shuffling the complacent passengers around between their two vehicles, I gave way to my amused disbelief and said smilingly to my close neighbour: musta7eel! He smiled back at me, confirming: Musta7eel! (Impossible!) But we were to be proven wrong: only a few seconds later we found ourselves – four of us in total – ushered into the old car’s boot, the door to which was now being held up permanently with a wooden pole that looked like it had been used for this purpose before. A gentle but rather firm push was needed to close the front two doors of our taxi, now holding all seven (!) women, the two children on the laps and four men in the boot. I don’t know how the driver could reach the gear stick without breaking any cultural norms, but off we went, with a pleasant, exhaust-scented breeze and a splendid view out the back.

Thursday, August 07, 2014

PARISky and bees

Night has fallen over Paris and traffic has slowed down. Sacré Cœur, the famous church on the hill of Montmartre, is lit up brightly on the skyline and the searchlight on the Eiffel tower makes its rounds over the sprawling cityscape, endlessly looking for something.
From my balcony on the eighth floor I enjoy the rare luxury of a good view on this mellow summer's evening just after midnight, surrounded by a dozen tomato plants and various other balcony garden experiments. A dead end of the nearby Canal de l'Ourcq that connects Paris with the countryside to its north-east, lies calm and pitch-black next to a long row of elm trees below. A lone, fluffy cloud reflects the luminous city back onto itself against a dark blue-purple sky, dotted with barely a handful of lonely stars whose flickering lights hardly make it though the layers of air and light pollution.

Another feature of this 8th floor flat in the 19th district on the edge of "intramuros" Paris, is the fact that 4 floors down lives a lady who has an even greater luxury than our balcony - as the only one in the whole apartment building, she has a large terrace twice the size of our living room. And there – what else would one be doing with such a terrace in Paris! – she hosts many thousands of individuals of a very particular species that has recently become very dear to me: honey bees. She has seven bee hives! And since I have been taking weekend courses on beekeeping for a few months now, we have become friends and colleagues in the art of beekeeping. Well, let's rather say: I'm learning a lot from her, who has been doing this for over twenty years in the countryside and three years ago decided to bring some of her hives into the city. The use of her terrace, which was a great, quiet place for dinners, barbecues and other occasions before, has since been sacrificed entirely to this passion of hers and as a result of the enormous activity of the hives she installed there, one now has to take certain precautions when venturing onto it: covering one's hair is the minimum, so the bees don't get caught in it. Better would be: the awkward astronaut-like outfit of a beekeeper.

[the following evening:]

Tonight I'm on the balcony before sunset, after a heavy summer's rainfall, which washed the city clean and cleared the air - like a shower after a heavy argument. One last remaining dark cloud is slowly moving northwards, leaving in its wake a sky full of snippets, stripes, fluffy balls and veils with a quarter of a moon already peaking through and swallows sweeping overhead, chirping gaily.

This apartment is really all about the sky - I often forget, but it's true. As a matter of fact, I spend far too little time here… but that's another story.

I wanted to write about the bees last night, but didn't get too far before I fell asleep…
In my first contact and experiences with bees I objected to the full-body-suit with the cage-like head cover, thinking "that's for people who're not really connected with these intelligent beings, who're simply in it for the honey/money - IIIIII don't need that!"
Haha - how I was wrong! My first few "interventions" (as the French call it) were hence with bare hands, in t-shirt and only a straw hat with a thin veil. It felt good - I didn't get stung, the bees were calm and so obviously: my theory was proven right!
But then a I helped the afore-mentioned neighbour a few weeks ago to check on her seven bee-hives. As she insisted that I should be well-protected, I wore fingerless woollen gloves and a long-sleeve shirt. We opened two small hives, took out a few frames and things were ok - I could simply shake off the occasional curious bee. But as we opened the biggest one to check on their honey production, we moved too hastily, they got irritated and then it all happened very quickly. One or two stung me, I screamed, moved my hands like a madman, the smell of the venom spread by the movement, which got all the others even more irritated and they  launched a large-scale attack - within less than a minute I had at least 15 stingers stuck in my almost bare hands, my lofty gloves and on my arms…
But we had to finish what we were doing, so I tried to calm down, we closed up the hive and withdrew from the balcony back into my neighbour's flat, killing dozens of bees on the way, as they were trying to follow us. It was carnage - a dreadful sight.
While I initially had almost no physical reaction apart from slight swelling, later that evening I was feverish, exhausted to the brink of breakdown and I had to throw up. I was deeply ashamed of my foolishness and of the fact that so many bees had to die to teach me this lesson.

Now I am the proud owner of a yellow beekeeper's outfit with a astronaut-like head-cage-thing and a pair of thick leather gloves. But of course, foolish as I am, there's still a part of me that believes that one day, with "my own" bees, I will be able to have a relationship that enables me to touch them with bare hands.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Almost two years later...

It's still dark in the office - I haven't turned the lights on yet. Slow but persistently drizzling rain falls on the meagre bushes in the office building's courtyard. The world seams quiet. Only for a moment, though - a wishful moment - and then I hear footsteps and a door slamming upstairs, the cars and lorries on the nearby street and the tapping of my fingers on the keyboard.
What a strange world we have created for ourselves here in “the West”! I spend sometimes ten hours a day in front of a luminous screen and at the end of the day I come home and I realise that if I didn't have to eat and sleep and if I didn't have a few friends and my girlfriend, I'd have barely anything  outside of that luminous screen... most of my worries, fears, hopes and ideas - most of my work, my efforts, my great plans for big changes and most of my connections with friends and family - all of that happens in front of or through this screen!
I have never really worked regularly in an office before. And even in the last three months I have discovered that I have a certain level of physical anxiety that correlates more or less directly with the amount of time I spend in front of my laptop - after a long day with little out-of-office work I feel that my stomach is squeezed, my diaphragm tensed-up and my heart a little nervous. And then there's the back, the tight shoulders... why do I do this to myself? It is so clearly unhealthy, yet such a huge part of my world is determined by this thing - it's incredible!!!
I am not happy about that. It has to change. And I know that it will take years to construct a life where that is not the norm. But that must be the goal.

Since months I have been wanting to write here again. And I could never find the right subject, the right moment, the right setting. My life has turned inside out in many ways since I last wrote here - I was still in Jordan, starting a 'new life'... AGAIN! Haha. Little did I know that the life I was wishing to restart wouldn't be all that different to what life was like before.
Now however, it is certainly a new life. I was plucked out of my old one like a flower from a garden bed and left to start over. What a shock - and what a blessing!
More on that later - hopefully within less than a year. :)

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Balcony Office

I hereby open my new 'balcony office' with the most incredible view of Amman.
This is where I start my new life.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Stirrings beneath

If you can judge a people's anger by the volume of their shouting, then the people of Amman must be rather angry today. As almost every Friday over the past months, demonstrations were held today after Friday prayers in the relatively small downtown area of Amman, where several hundreds (thousands? - I wasn't there) gathered to voice their anger, or just to voice their voices, about the ever-more incredible corruption cases that are coming out, proof of the elite's greed and disregard for justice, not to mention their lack of concern for the well-being of the average Jordanian.

Till yesterday I always answered the question "How about the situation in Jordan?" with comments like "Jordan is an island of peace in the middle of a storm", or "the grievances of Jordanians are nothing compared to those of their neighbours" or other such comments, pointing to how the secret service, police or other state institutions here are much less oppressive than they had been and still are in Syria or Egypt, for example and that overall, the situation was not so overtly dissatisfying for the masses.

But it seems things are changing. Not that the government or the Royal Court is becoming oppressive like Asad's regime all of a sudden, but the corruption that has reached new heights during the last decade of Abdallah II's rule, can now no longer be blamed just on prime ministers, military chiefs, high-ups in the Royal Court or other big shots in politics or business - it is becoming ever-more apparent that the King himself is deeply involved in many issues that have been raised by protesters both on the street and online over the last months. The King himself has pushed the Anti-Corruption Commission to pursue the two most recent prime ministers and the only-recently-stepped-down mayor of Amman, the Kingdom's capital, on a range of corruption charges. How can anyone believe that the Throne itself was not involved or had no knowledge of the dirty deals of its most senior servants?
A good friend of mine, who my girlfriend and I saw over dinner last night, told me that he had recently told the few dozen staff of his small company that he expects there might come months in 2012, where he will not know how to pay them their salaries, if they cannot come to work because they are afraid to leave their houses.

The demonstrations today, that were noticeably louder than in previous weeks, seem to confirm my friend's fear, though a total breakdown of authority and security is far off for now. But a growing wariness is undeniable, even within myself.
And in the midst of all this, I'm planning to finally start my own full-time project, which I've been preparing for months now. Its aim is to work with Jordanian youth and to improve their lives. Much needed, for sure, but whether what my project has to offer is anywhere near what they want, remains to be seen.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Cats and dogs

There are few things cuter than when a dog and a cat get along and cuddle on your favourite chair. :)

Thursday, September 29, 2011


We had the extraordinary opportunity to host a revolutionary for three weeks in our new flat. Well, he wasn't quite as one might imagine a revolutionary - no beret, no cigar, no moustache or worn-out army uniform, not even a commanding presence, though he did enjoy the company of pretty women and seemed to make a most favourable impression on them.
He was one of a few dozen organisers of the revolution in our northerly neighbour country and was responsible for organising daily demonstrations in and around its capital city until the day he had to leave his country about a month ago. The country's secret service had caught up with him and twice he managed, only barely, to escape their claws. Once, after he had not seen his family for weeks for fear of putting them in danger through his activities, he missed them too much and went home for lunch. When he left their flat and walked down the staircase, the men in the leather jackets were already waiting for him at the bottom. He tried to make a run, but they caught on to his shirt. And then he managed the incredible - to leave them with nothing but his shirt in their hands, while he was running up the busy street. "Thank God the street was busy - so they didn't shoot."
Now, he fears, his revolution might turn violent - the so far almost entirely peaceful demonstrators might get fed up with being shot at and dying.
I wish them all the courage in the word.

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