Friday, 30 May 2014

Growing where we're planted.

A year ago today, Team B arrived safely at Frankfurt airport, and were met by Petra. Thank goodness she was there to teach us the ways, or we might never have arrived in Cologne! There was a lot that was different, and being in a car that was on the wrong side of the road was a harrowing experience!

I was reading about the stages of culture shock and integrating into a new country. Now, I don't want to pin-point where exactly I am in the honeymoon, frustration/negotiation, adjustment etc phase, since I'm pretty sure that there is a "go back ten spaces" option in this whole moving abroad game. However, the honeymoon phase is over, and the mastery phase has not yet arrived... I think we're still somewhere in the middle.

While there are some things that I find amusing about life here, I take note of the differences not with the intention to belittle the culture (although the fear of draughts here is real, guys.), but rather so that I can take note of the subtle changes that might be going on with me. I want to be aware of the ways in which my mannerisms change, or notice how behaviours that I might start finding normal here aren't common in SA, so that one day, when we return to South Africa, I'm not totally shocked by it.

Unsurprisingly, there are some definite things that have changed in the last year...

For example, the new me...

- writes numbers differently.
Number 1 needs to have that little stripe at the top, which makes it look like a 7, so the 7 needs to have the cross it to differentiate it. Failure to do this causes confusion at the bank, so it's best to just change.

- looks left, right, left again when crossing the road.
I usually get this right these days, and my days of frantically looking both ways is sort seem to be behind me. This was a necessary adjustment in order to preserve my life.

- wears house shoes inside.
It took a while, but Winter converted me and I've decided that house shoes are the way to go.

- has German words creeping into English.
While German generally has exceptionally long words, there are some words such as "Stimmt" or "Doch" that seem more efficient in German and sometimes creep in.

- recycles.
I used to recycle in SA, but the system isn't nearly as complicated. While the system here seemed complicated and frustrated me at first, it really isn't thaaaaat complicated.

- has become more interested in the origins of fruit.
Who in SA really cares where their bananas come from? {silence} {stereotyping!} I've never given it too much thought, but I am a little more aware of it now.

- finds Sprudel delicious.
While we still don't buy bottled water, when carbonated water is available, I actually rather like it. And Apfelschorle (apple juice and carbonated water) is just like Appletizer for half the price. Yes!

- is no longer intimidated by the dairy isle.
This has been a thing for a while... but something I've been working on. I still haven't a clue as to what most things are, but I am no longer intimidated by any of it, since I've decided that Quark is the perfect substitute for, well, everything.

- has embraced the window box.
I've always admired the pretty flowers growing in so many window boxes, and now, we're proud window box owners! (do we get a membership card or a certificate?)

- is a practical dresser. 
Malcolm would disagree with this, I think, but I dress far more practically here than in SA. If it's hot, I dress like it's hot, if it's cold, I dress like it's cold. In SA I could usually avoid weather because I was either driving or inside some other building.

- no longer gets a fright when the window tilts. 
At first, the windows here would give me such a fright when they tilted, but I think I'm getting used to it now, and it seems pretty normal - the challenge will be not breaking windows in SA when trying to tilt them open!

A year over here certainly has changed me in small ways, and I'm so thankful. Even more though, I hope that I've grown too, and that the process carries on until it's time to leave.

Wednesday, 28 May 2014

It was the eve before boarding.

This week brings a flurry of "a year since" moments. 

Yesterday was a year since I took my last dance class with Mrs Boote and while the memory of that day makes tears spring up, yesterday was a wonderful day of new beginnings signing the contract and being welcomed into my new job. 

Today marks a year since our last day in PMB. To be honest, I can remember very little of it. It involved packing and weighing bags over and over again. It involved sorting through things. It involved many goodbyes and 'last times'. 

In the evening, we went with our homegroup to a restaurant for supper, not as a farewell or anything, but simply because it had been set aside as a social evening. I remember sitting at the table, listening to people talking about such mundane stuff, and feeling horribly alone with my thoughts, that nobody was really noticing what a huge night it was. 

Our last night in our country for a while. The next day we would board a plane and fly off to a city we were unfamiliar with, to live in an apartment we had no idea about, for Malcolm to learn German, while I had no idea what would become of my own dreams and ambitions. It was a brand new slate and we had next to no plan. It was exciting and daunting, and as much as I was trying very hard to be positive, it seemed more like an end to everything I knew and loved than an exciting new start. In some ways, I was looking forward to arriving in Germany because then finally the goodbyes and endings would be over and the new things would begin. Yet, at the same time, I dreaded landing in Germany because that would be just too real. 

I remember saying goodbye and going back to our flat, being a bundle of mixed emotions - nerves and fear and sadness and excitement and hope. 

We had absolutely no idea what to expect; not in regards to Cologne and perhaps even less regarding Marburg. All we knew was that God had opened doors and guided us and changed our hearts in so many ways, preparing us to take the step and go in His plan.
Last night we read the account of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane and how he prayed to God that he wouldn't have to go through with the plan, but that it should not be his will, but God's that is done. At the end, he seems to have such peace, in such stark contrast to how he enters the garden.
It struck me how when we're in God's plan, he provides the peace and reassurance that we need, even if it's scary. 

Looking back, I can see God's faithfulness so clearly. We're blessed beyond what we imagined. We have seen God's goodness and provision over and over again. 
Today, while reflecting on this day a year ago, I'm so thankful. 

Monday, 26 May 2014

Green Pastures

It's a Monday morning, and despite the rain that's falling outside, I'm not complaining that the new week has begun.

Having said that, we did also have a wonderful weekend, which I was a little sad to see ending. Thinking back on it, the grass is feeling pretty green right where we are right now.

On Saturday morning Malcolm and I cycled down to another Student Residence in our area to hang up a poster. Then, since we were down the hill already and didn't feel like heading straight back up again, we decided to cycle along the Lahn, which soon turned into a cycle to Niederweimar See (about 8km by the route we took). It was a little rainy, but that's sometimes a good thing because then we can cycle next to each other and talk, instead of having to constantly make way for other cyclists. Plus, by the time we were heading back home, the sun was out and it had warmed up nicely.

That afternoon we went to the "50 Jahre Richtsberg" celebration... a street festival/party thing in a road close by. There was really traditional-sounding singing and music as we walked down, and when we arrived it was fun seeing the little children running around with balloons, the various things for sale, different stands for organisations, and games and activities for kids. It was really cool to be out celebrating how far this neighbourhood has come in 50 years. Wikipedia calls it the "integration district" since over 80 nations are represented in this neighbourhood of 9000 people. While some consider this amount of immigrants and a negative thing, I see it as something really amazing, that so many different cultures merge here.

My love for where we are right now grew on Sunday when we continued with a Cakeparty, though 'rebranded' and reorganised a bit, so that it is now an event that falls under "Internationale Studenten am Richtsberg". It's so good to get to know others in our building and welcome them into the area, and build friendships with people who we live so close to. I'm really looking forward to seeing more people attending so that the circle grows and that we establish a sense of community across cultures and nations! Exciting times in Richtsberg!

So, that was the weekend, and now the week starts.
I'll be officially starting work tomorrow, and Thursday marks a year since our feet left South African soil. How good and faithful God is to us! I'm really looking forward to this week with new starts, reflection and celebration!

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Things nobody told me about bike-riding.

A few weeks ago, Malcolm and I got some bikes. We'd been missing our riding-around-Dunnwald days, and have been waiting for Winter to pass so that we'd return to our beautiful days of bike rides in the evenings.

We failed to consider 2 things...
#1: Dunnwald was flat, Richtsberg and Marburg give a hint as to what the topography is like here.
#2: Unlike our days in Dunnwald, we have friends and committments here, which makes bike riding less of a leisure activity and more of a getting-from-A-to-B-activity.

That said, there are also a few other things that I've learned about bike-riding in the last few weeks.

#1: Bugs are not my friend, and I am not theirs either. 
Flying down the hill with no peddling necessary is absolutely glorious. Until one gets a bug in ones eye, nose, mouth, or ear. I've had to stop to get a bug our from between my teeth (yes, gross.), and blinking furiously doesn't help to get bugs out my eyes as much as it just sort of... squishes them. I'm yet to figure out how to breath effectively in a way that avoids bug inhalation.

#2: "No hands!" actually serves a purpose. 
I don't think I've ever been able to ride without having my hands on the handle-bars. I usually see people riding without holding on, hands in their pockets or simply with their arms folded, and think to myself that they're showing off. Since then, I've realised how useful this skill is... while trying to take one hand off the handlebars to get a bug out my eye today, I nearly crashed. It would also help make indicating, which looks so effortless but seems to me to be more dangerous than its worth, safer. Answering a cellphone or knitting or applying make-up while riding are not essential, but I might get there one day.

#3: Laundry increases. 
With the hot weather and the bike rides, our laundry basket seems to fill up a lot faster. This is something I never really thought about before.

#4: Doors are even more annoying now. 
Slightly less related, I've mentioned before the awkward interchanges with people as we enter and exit the building. With bikes, it makes it a little trickier - 4 doors to open and get a bike through while trying to look like I have it all under control might be the most stressful part of the journey. 

#5: It's easier maintanence. 
The day we left PMB to head to the airport, Malcolm's car was still in the mechanic's workshop because something or another had gone wrong. Once, I needed Malcolm to leave work to come and rescue me because my car broke down, giving me his car since I urgently needed to get somewhere. Only after he called friends and towed it and all that, did they find out that I had simply run out of petrol. (like father, like daughter.) This last weekend, my peddle pulled out and I couldn't ride any further (except slight downhills where I could perch in a very lady-like fashion and free-wheel down)... it was slightly inconvenient, but a bike is waaaaaay easier to push home than a car is, and loading a bike onto a bus is waaaaaay easier than the last time we towed Malcolm's car. 

#6: It saves money. 
I assumped this already, but only really considered that getting a bike might save me money on a bus ticket each month. But as it turns out, I spend less not only since I don't travel by bus as much but also because I'm not tempted by shops as much since it takes so much effort to get to them. (well, getting there is easy, it's the thought of getting back that deters me.) PLUS, when I am in a shop, I'm hesitant to buy anything since I then need to schlepp it back up with me.

I'm hoping to still learn some more lessons... mostly how to hop up onto pavements and ride with no hands, like a cool-kid, but I'm rather pleased with my progress so far. 

Monday, 19 May 2014

Another milestone moment.

4 years. 
That’s 1460 nights I’ve gone to sleep knowing that you’re thinking of me. 
4 whole years since you asked me to be your girl, or rather, since you brought up the topic and I jumped in enthusiastically. 
Ever since, you’ve been a part of my decisions, memories, adventures, dreams and day-to-day plans.

Here’s to many, many more years adventuring together.

Friday, 16 May 2014

The Bentleys Abroad {part 8} Wilhelmshöhe

I left off recounting our time in Kassel saying that we decided to leave the city and go to a place called Wilhelmshöhe. The park was started in 1696, and took about 150 years to complete... not surprising since at 2.4 square kms, it's the biggest hillside park in Europe. 

The park, starting at the base of the hill, has many trails running through it, with many little sights along the way. As one nears the top, there are water features that run down (unfortunately when we were there the fountains weren't actually running since they run on certain days only), and which eventually lead one to the massive Hercules statue at the top. The schloss is now a art museum, holding a collection of wallpaper (?!?) and has a collection of work focussing on the 16th and 17th century. 

To get there is really simple; we hopped on a tram somewhere in the middle of town and it took us all the way out to the base of the mountain, where we went into the welcome centre and picked up a free map. 

And so began our walk up the mountain, involving fields of flowers, steep inclines, a wedding, a pleasure-palace, the Devil's bridge and Hell's pond. 

The Schloss up ahead.

Having made it to the palace. 
The palace (now art museum) from the other side.
(First wedding party spotted here!)
First little water-falls, second wedding party spotted!
Lowensburg up ahead. 

I find Lowensburg fascinating. It was built in 1793 to look like a romanticised medieval knights castle, but as 'artistic ruins'. (who builds ruins??) It was used by the Landgrave and his mistress as their residence or Lustschloss - this seems to translate to both pleasure palace and Summer palace. Interpret it as you will!
There is a tour if one wants to see inside, but we were cheap and having come this far with only spending money on icecream, we decided to skip it.

From there we carried on up and went via the Devil's bridge. I was expecting the actual bridge to look a little scarier, and was disappointed by how small it was... until I realised the drop... on one side it's a meter to the ground, on the other side of the bridge, it's a sheer drop.

The walk was getting steeper, and the mistiness was sure to turn into rain any minute. There were rolls of thunder every now and then, and looking up to the big Hercules in the distance was slightly ominous. This feeling wasn't relieved when we got to the pool at the foot of the Water features, where Triton is hanging out.

As we walked up the stairs, I had plenty of time to think.
Here we were, panting and aching as we walked up those seemingly never-ending stairs, to get to a bronze statue of a mythological hero. As we were dragging ourselves up, a couple came past jogging. (jogging?!?!?) I looked at them and admired them for their perseverance, how focused they were, and noticed how dreadfully slow I was at this whole thing. I mused that there was the option of having taken a bus to the top and that we could have walked the whole thing downhill.
How good the news is, that to reach God we don't have to try with all our strength to reach Him, but that Jesus came to us in our weakness. Furthermore, what a relief that our God is not made of bronze and slathered in bird-droppings, something that tarnishes and needs to be maintained, but that He is all powerful and living God who is the same always, and who loves us.

We finally made it to the top, and had a beautiful yet hazy view of Kassel.

At the top, we still couldn't actually reach Hercules (isn't that always the case with false gods?), but we were pretty happy to have made it to the top. That said, we were not in the mood to walk all the way back down again and instead we took the bus and then the tram back to the station. 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

The Bentleys Abroad {part 7} Kassel

After dad flew back to SA, mum still stayed for another week. It was so good to have her here, and we certainly saw most of Marburg. For her last weekend, we decided to take a day trip to Kassel. My grandmother spent some time in Kassel, where she studied to be a Kindergarten teacher, and so it was meaningful to visit there.

We set off on the train with very little idea about what we were doing. Many people had commented that there isn't much to see or do there, so we assumed it was a little town, and easily navigable. That was a silly assumption. Fortunately, mum had the idea to buy a map (genius!) and we plotted a vague route that should allow us to see a fair amount of the tourist-spots.

Heading out of the Hauptbahnhof, it felt really grungy and with people hanging out in the graveyard of a church, it freaked me out a little. Nevertheless, after some walking we got into the older area and one of the first things was St Martins Kirche. It's really impressive, and so interesting to see the different periods in which the church was built; started in 1364 and renovated and added onto a few times since.

Inside the church there's this giant monument; an epitaph to the Landgraf Philip and his wife, and the location where many in the family were buried. Standing at 12m tall, it is quite a memorial. It was damaged over the centuries, and eventually during WW2 it was walled up to protect it. Since then, it's been moved and restored.

From the church we wandered onward to the old city wall built in 1330. The water tower, intended to put out fires, is now a ruin, after it was damaged by a fire. The irony was not lost on us.

Continuing the walk, we got to the Garnisonskirche. Again, the ruins of it. And then another city wall. And then the Elizabeth Hospital. 

Maybe it was the grey weather. Maybe it was the first impression as we walked out the station. But I was already slightly disappointed with Kassel. Maybe not just disappointed, but saddened.

We'd come to see the town where my grandmother studied pre-World-War-Two. What we were confronted with, though, were the remains of what she had seen. I felt kind of haunted by the thought that she would have walked these streets when there weren't plaques on old buildings explaining what is was before it got bombed. Her life-time suddenly seemed so very, very far from mine, and yet it also made the war seem much closer. Kassel's downtown area was 90% destroyed, and I can only imagine how horrible it was to live in a city that burned for 7 days. The devastation of the war is just so evident.

It made me wander what my grandchildren will see one day, when they walk the streets that I do now - what events will have transpired and in what ways will the city bare testimony to them?

Anyway, we sat overlooking a dusty square and considered what to do. Mum had spotted a sign saying something about Wilhelmshohe, and after we looked it up online and realising how easy it would be to get there, we decided to consider going. It looked like it was going to rain, and even though we hadn't even reached the river yet, I was ready to move on.

Which means, we hopped on a tram and headed there. Such a good decision, and I'll share our experience there soon!