Blind!

Round The World Trip, Things I have learned, Things I have learned

While in Hamburg Germany, I finally had the opportunity to experience “Dialog in the Dark”. It is an exhibit and role reversal of sighted people and the visually impaired. For 19 euros (about $28) I took a group tour in English with 7 German women in their 60s. They were there with their visually impaired friend to better understand what she went through on a daily basis.

interesting architecture

interesting architecture

“Dialog in the Dark” operates in many different cities in the world and gives ordinary people a chance to learn and experience being blind for 2 hours in a safe environment. One of the goals is to show that the blind can do many of the same things a sighted person can do, if given the opportunity. In this case, the sighted are guided and taken care of by the visually impaired, and making us think what it means to be “different”, “normal” and “capable”. It also creates jobs for the blind.

We were required to put cell phones, watches and anything else shiny or luminous in a storage locker before we began.

The entire experience took place indoors in special rooms that were completely darkened. We were given a white cane and practiced tapping and sweeping it it along the floor in front of us. The trick is to sweep it slightly wider than our body – not too wide or it bumps into obstacles that don’t matter. The entrance of the corridor was covered in vertical strips of a carpet-like material. We then walked through the corridor, turning several corners. It was completely dark, like a cave. We could not see our hands in front of our faces.

The first room we were introduced to was a park. We used our canes to tap along the pebbly path, feeling tree leaves and bushes on our right and discovered a wooden totem pole. We heard the sounds of birds chirping felt waterfall spray on our left as our canes bumped into an arched wooden bridge that required us to step up a few inches in order to cross it. Our guide Toby, called to us using while we used the sound of his voice to find our way to where he was on the other side of the room, sweeping our canes in front of us then stepping down from the wooden bridge. We paid attention to the different types of ground we walked on.

Toby guided us through a door into another room. He informed us that this was a warehouse where we were to find small wooden boxes of spices and identify them. We fumbled around to find the boxes of peppercorn, coffee, mint, sesame seeds. And felt successful when we did. Small successes! Some boxes were higher, other boxes were waist level and some were lower. What sounds like a simple task was much more difficult when bumping into wooden boxes and having to stick my hands inside to feel and smell the spices. I realize how much I rely on my visual sense rather than my sense of smell. These items were distinct in their odors, so we were all successful. Toby asked which spices we found, and when I missed one, I had to go back to find the box of coffee. How hard it would be for me to identify other items that were not distinct or expected.

Another room was a grocery store and we had to figure out which vegetables were available for us to purchase in order to make dinner. We were not to taste them as they had been handled by a lot of people before us, but the veggies were all real. We identified carrots, coconut, onions and apples by feel and smell and then were asked what kind of apples? I was reminded once again how much I take my vision for granted. If I were blind, dinners would be a surprise to myguests as well as me.

We then followed Toby, tapping and sweeping our way through another doorway into another room. I am not sure how the rooms were changed. I think there may have been a movable, hinged wall to create another environment because I felt a whoosh of air, as we walked through a doorway into the next room into the new scene.

This room was a boathouse. We touched a hanging life preserve ring, some nets, an anchor, and could feel the manufacturers cursive writing on the side of a boat. We could hear sounds like what you would hear on a dock, small waves lapping, and an echo of sounds carrying across the water. We walked across a narrow moving gangplank onto a rocking boat (scary) and sat on a bench.

We were told that the next room contained an automobile, and we were to figure out which kind it was. I had no idea. I felt the cursive writing of the manufacturer but didn’t figure it out. Some of the others recognized the make. (It was a 1969 Citroen).

The hardest obstacle was still coming. Our next scene was in a city and to cross the street. Toby said ”I want to show you something”which tickled my funny bone since no one could see anything.

The crosswalk signs tell you walk or don’t walk at the crosswalk had raised arrows and we could figure out which direction to cross the street based on touching the arrow and feeling the direction it pointed. The crosswalk started beeping that it was safe to cross. I started to cross and promptly lost my sense of direction. I headed to what I thought was the other side, but did not arrive. I turned a bit and continued walking, but still did not get to the other side. The beeping stopped and it was no longer safe to cross.

Toby called “Pam, Where are you?” I replied that “I am lost. I need a seeing eye dog.” Toby informed me “that a dog will not be of help, it is dark and the dog would not be able to see.” I followed Toby’s voice until I found my way to him, frustrated, but at least knowing this was not real life for me. If this had been real life, I would have had cars honking at me and yelling or running me over. It was sooo hard to not know where I was and not know how to get where I was going.

Toby, on the other hand, was an expert on getting around and was very capable. I was reminded of my own prejudices and what it means to be a leader.

The last challenge was to enter a bar, order something, pay for it, then have a seat and enjoy the refreshment while getting to converse and ask questions of Toby. We had the opportunity to ask questions of a blind person that we may never had had the chance to ask before today. I found the bar and ordered a cola and a candy bar. I had brought enough euro coins so that it would be easy for me to not use paper money. I counted out my money by feeling the size of the coins. Toby handed me my cola and candy bar and gently corrected the incorrect coins I had given him. I fumbled my way to the picnic bench and was relieved to have found my seat. Once seated I was afraid to take my hand off my snacks because I may knock them over or not find them again. I thought I had been successful until Toby asked “Pam, why are you sitting on the table and not the bench?”

It was a relief to be done with the frustration of not knowing anything and doing most things wrong, even though it was a safe environment. It also made me think about how we perceive people who look different than us. By removing the looks of someone, it was not distracting, and each of us in the group developed our perceptions of each other based on personality and skill set of our leader.

After leaving the exhibits, I saw a blind man leaving the building. He was probably in his 30s and his face was all banged up, scraped and scabbed over, and bruised. It looked as though he had fallen on his face, hard. He unfolded his white cane with confidence and walked off briskly.

I thought about what it must feel like , as an adult to fall onto something so unforgiving as a sidewalk, face scraping the pavement . I thought about how frustrated I would be and hurt and wanting to cry of anger and frustration and the unfairness of it all. Yet, he walked with confidence. How brave he must be to continue living an independent life without being paralyzed by fear. No one commented on the injuries to his face, and perhaps this was the attraction of the place as well.

We were all curious about what Toby looked like, but we never saw him. He told us he was albino and was in university studying law with a CCTV machine. He also had a machine at home that announced the color of his clothes and he had learned that everything matches black. Reflecting on the experience, I am glad we never got to see Toby. All of our impressions were based on his outstanding personality and competence. Seeing him could only have detracted from that.

I reminded myself to always be grateful.

interesting architecture

interesting architecture

Cultural Exchange

Interesting People

About a week ago I got to host my first visitor from my Round The World journey. We had never met, but I stayed with her sister and parents in their German home, and was thrilled to return the cultural exchange. She is a very pretty, 22 yr. old German girl. Like most Germans, her English was excellent and I got to teach her slang words, many inadvertently (Go ahead, We’ll figure it out etc). I didn’t realize how much of our everyday language is slang.

The Nazis left so many everlasting details that will effect centuries of the population in the future. The Germans, as a people are very attractive. There bone structure has a lot of symmetry, and they look strong and healthy. Or, at least those are common characteristics of people I have met. I noticed this in several countries that had been occupied by the Nazis.

It reminds me of Los Angeles, where the “beautiful people” live. So many good looking people relocate there hoping to make it in acting, and then they settle down, have families, and pass on their genes to the next generation.

It was fun to experience again all the great things we have to do locally, including visiting a family owned aquarium to feed stingrays and sharks, touch snakes and hold a small alligator. Germany is starting autumn, and it has no seashore, so spending time at the Florida beaches over a 3 day weekend was exciting for her, and a reminder of why we like Tampa so much.

She also got to experience everyday life. She became ill while here and got to experience our health care system. It was an eye opener for me too. She went into a walk in clinic with a fever that had been as high as 103.

The clinic gave an estimate of the cost of seeing the doctor, and we were required to sign that we will pay it before the doctor will see her. It didn’t matter what kind of insurance she had, they would only take payment immediately. The estimate suggested that the cost would be $120 to see the doctor.

They ask for a detailed history of her health (excellent), the Dr. took vitals, had her pee in a cup, jammed a 8 inch Q-tip up her nose (which was a real surprise because we had not understood what they were going to do. It happened so fast. The technician was doing her job without a lot of enjoyment and was difficult to understand because she mumbled).

We received the results in 15 minutes, and the bill was $170. Apparently, each test they give costs about $25, and apparently, every female gets a pregnancy test after peeing in the cup, whether she needs it or not.

I wonder who decided it was better/more economical/more profitable to test all females for pregnancy and demand payment? I have heard of some places that test for pregnancy, even though a hysterectomy had been performed years before. And the woman must pay for it.

Then we went to the pharmacy located inside the local grocery store. They do not charge for antibiotics and I wanted to save my guest money, since she just spent nearly $200 dollars that was not budgeted.

In Germany, when a person has a prescription for a common antibiotic, the pharmacist hands over the supply of antibiotics that was ordered and the transaction takes less than 5 minutes.

At Publix grocery store in the USA, she had to fill out lots of information, name, address, phone, e-mail etc. When my guest asked why she had to fill out her e-mail and my phone number, I did not have a good answer for her.

There was no one in line, so when we dropped off the prescription, I thought they would fill it immediately. After all, she was sick, in their store, and potentially spreading germs. The pharmacy informed us that it would take about 45 minutes to an hour to fill.

What?!

They said they had many other prescriptions to fill after the weekend.

I took my sick guest home and went back to the pharmacy 45 minutes later. It was still not ready, and I waited another 45 minutes, sitting in the chair next to the pick-up window, where they suggested I wait. After 45 minutes, I decided to ask how much longer, and the girl retrieved it from the space where it had been waiting to be picked up.

I am not sure if this was poor customer service, or normal routine, but I was certainly not impressed.

Our health care system is certainly broken, when a woman is required to pay for a (pregnancy) test she does not need, and then wait nearly 2 hours to receive a common antibiotic.

Since this was her first time visiting the USA, the questions she asked show the perceptions that others have of the U.S. She asked why so many of our popular TV shows and story lines use guns (NCIS, CSI, movies).

One of the positive adventures we had was eating Grouper (fish) from a local restaurant in an ethnic part of town. So many people  were welcoming to a foreign guest! We met a some locals in a Greek area who talked about life as a sponge fisherman, and had lunch with a Latina who had just gotten back from Europe. We lived each day, and enjoyed our time together.

I wish people who are afraid of foreigners could have spent time with such a kind, curious, smart and now, my new friend. The world is filled with people like this if we take the time to turn off the television and get out there and meet them.

Approaching the end?

Impressions of a Country, Round The World Trip

Quick Summary

Less than 8 weeks left on this leg of the trip- or is it the end of my journey? The answer is unclear today. Some of my goals were to meet interesting people, and see how life is lived by other people in the world. Along the way, I wanted to volunteer, learn and experience lots of life. Most of these goals have been accomplished, although the volunteering did not turn out as expected. I found that volunteering for only one or 2 weeks was not what the organizations I contacted needed. Some had a minimum of a six month commitment, another was not set up for an individual volunteer but wanted a group. Probably with better planning or a longer commitment, and I would have enjoyed those experiences as well. Even speaking English and exposing kids at a refugee camp did not work out, since my timing happened to be when they were studying for the most important exams of the year.

Let’s face it, a year is not long enough. The world is an amazing place, and so much bigger than I thought. Our planet is huge and there is so much more I want to see, but am out of time. My incredibly talented daughter is graduating law school, and I am going to be there.

Most frequently asked question of me: Do I like Obama?

Second most frequently asked question: What is my favorite place? (While traveling)

Third most frequently asked question: Do I have a gun? (In the USA)

Favorite places: I cannot say I have a favorite because I liked so many places, but for different reasons.

Most beautiful- Switzerland, but really expensive.

Montenegro is a close second- the Natural beauty is spectacular. Lots of greenery and mountains, and very inexpensive, but harder to get to.

Best Food – Italy. Everything people say about the good food is true. The whole culture is built around enjoying food, and family.

Amsterdam, Netherlands – I enjoyed the “live and let live” attitude. Surprisingly, the city shuts down around 6:00 pm except for Fridays and Saturdays, and even then it shuts down around 11:00 pm. I would definitely go back to see the tulips in spring again, the photos do not do them justice. They are magnificent.

Germany– It is similar to the USA with the modern conveniences and easy to get around with public transportation. The variety of delicious sausages were enjoyable. Wonderful parks- especially the English Garden in Munich.

Scotland- if a person likes to hike and doesn’t mind rain, come here.

Ireland – lots of rain and lots of pubs.

Iceland- Windy. Lots of fish to eat. The Blue Lagoon will bring me back again- but this time in summer. The best organized tourism industry that I experienced.

Serbia – Someone told me to tell everyone to bring your tourist dollars here. The people are so helpful, several walked with me to my destination to be sure I got to where I was going. The public transportation is easy to get around. There is beautiful architecture, and it is a very inexpensive country.

Croatia– Another beautiful country. I didn’t get to spend much time here, but would go back to visit the National Park, and to island hop along the coast. The Aegean Sea is a turquoise blue.

Israel– I don’t think they will ever have peace. I think many people do not want peace. They would rather be right. Really hot and dry. This is where I got over my vanity of being overweight , middle-age woman in a bathing suit. I figured that more people cared about what it was like to float in the Dead Sea, rather than what I looked like.

Czech Republic – I only spent time in Prague, but it is a city with so much historical architecture. This is still an inexpensive area. Great public transportation.

Hungary– I only got to spend a day in Budapest, and would like to go back. It is inexpensive, has good public transportation. The caving experience here was the best caving I have ever done.

Turkey– I went here 3 different times over a 6 month period and explored different areas. The people are very friendly, and the country has everything from sea resorts, to recently discovered cities over 3,000 years ago. The Grand Bazaar is a really interesting place, and for the prettiest jewelry I have ever seen in my travels is located here. It is intricate and stunning. If I am walking down the red carpet in Hollywood, chances are that I will be wearing jewelry from here. Inexpensive.

Zimbabwe– This is where I learned to understand how important it is to have a good leader, and what corruption does to the general population. This is a fascinating country with many, many problems. The local, wonderful people I met here probably had the biggest impact on me through all of my travels. I only spent about a week here, but have a lifetime of memories. Also, a very dear friend joined me here and we shared the experiences. I am so happy to have shared these experiences with her.

Botswana– This is the representation of what I expected of Africa- endless scenery, lots of big animals.

South Africa – I only spent time driving through and then staying a couple days in Johannesburg. The city is growing so quickly they don’t know what the population is, and they have 12 official languages. I now question why some people in the USA think we need one official language. I was very uncomfortable here, partly because of the reputation of the city and people who have not traveled here telling me how dangerous it was. It was a growing experience for me to be the minority everywhere I went.

Thailand – A wonderful country that I will visit again. The people are very friendly and helpful, it is inexpensive, and easy to get around in English. The north has mountains and several Hill Tribes (ethnic groups that do not speak Thai, and dress in their traditional costumes). The south has fantastic beach after beach after beach.

Singapore – Lots of rules. Very clean. Excellent public transportation. Modern architecture. Expensive. A melting pot of Asian people.

Nepal – my least favorite country. The people were very nice, but it is a difficult life for many people. Again, government leadership is so important. When different factions cannot agree on anything, except “leave the tourists alone”, life is hard for its citizens. The capital city, Kathmandu is the most polluted city I have ever seen – air, noise, trash, water, everything. On the other hand, the citizens have bigger problems to worry about.

Bali, Indonesia – such a pretty country with friendly locals. Too bad the places I went in Bali were so damaged by tourism. I would like to discover more of Indonesia, but would hesitate to go back here until the infrastructure catches up, and the trash is gone.

India – I hear that the south is very different than the north. I only had a few days in the north, although I met a very nice family. Next time I will visit the south. India seems to be making progress from what I had expected. It was cleaner than Nepal and school is compulsory. I would not travel as a lone western female in the North again. I was very uncomfortable, although I stayed safe.

Malaysia- Hot and humid, great public transportation. Excellent Chinese food everywhere and inexpensive.

I have met so many kind people and everyone has a story. I have been so fortunate to stay with friends, family, acquaintances and friends of friends, and near strangers. I have found that the world is full of good-hearted people no matter what country, and most people are just like me, trying to find my way on this life’s journey. We have the same concerns, taking care of our family and providing for our children. We are more similar than different, even though we may have different names for our “God”, and wear different clothes and have different manners, but in the end, the world is a wonderful place, and not as scary as we are led to believe.

Future stops in include Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii before I make my way back home. I am looking forward to knowing how to get to the grocery store, and the proper way to purchase vegetables without holding up a line full of people. I also am really, really, looking forward to a cheeseburger!

And most importantly- I am looking forward to hugging my family and friends.

Past Selves meet Present Selves 10 Years Later

Impressions of a Country, Interesting People, Things I have learned

Germany was special to me because not only did I see some of the tourist things and check another one off the bucket list [visit a site where the Olympics were held}. Munich was the perfect place to go, especially with its history of the start of modern-day terrorism.

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But the best part was staying with someone I knew and getting to know them in their home country.

 

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It was great to ask questions about the culture or food, or social norms and to understand another perspective.  Rather than finding all of this curiosity annoying or tiresome (as some of my family and friends do) they are eager to share their culture with me, and often times want to know what life is like in “America”.

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Funny, when I travel I tend to say I am from The United States rather than America. A dear friend (who I will visit in Chile later in the trip)  reminded me that America includes both North and South America as well as Central America. This list includes Mexico and Canada. We are all Americans.

 

 

So, as for Germany…

I learned that a person who belongs to a church may have an amount deducted from their paycheck called church taxes. The government collects the money and gives the money to churches. If a person does not belong to any church she / he doesn’t pay. Taxpayers register their religion (Catholic, Protestant etc.) and the money raised goes to that religious institution.

I was fortunate to have conversations with a dear friend of mine who was only 6 weeks away from giving birth and had just started maternity leave.{ Congrats to Rike and Ulf and welcome to the world Fiona.}

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Rike and Ulf and I discussed healthcare since that is such a big topic in my country.  This was a topic that I discussed with different people, in different countries who have different opinions. This is what I learned…

First of all, some things all over the world are the same.

 

 

One is…

everyone thinks they pay too much for health insurance. Even the 22-year-old German guy who fell down and hit his head after getting stoned on marijuana in a coffee shop in Amsterdam. He even got stitches. He thought $50 euros (about $75) per month coming right out of his paycheck was expensive.

 

A guy I met who got to use the health care system w/i 2 hours of arrival

 

 

Secondly, there is always a line to use the lady’s toilet. It doesn’t matter if one is camping in the bush using a hole in the ground in Botswana, or in a nice restaurant with running water, there will be a line.

I was told by a German citizen that the level of income taxes paid for social services such as medical, old age and general income tax, depends on the level of salary.

Southern Germany

Impressions of a Country

I spent time in several German cities, Lake Constance (a village in the South of Germany and near the border of Switzerland), Munich, Hamburg and Berlin. I found each city to be different from each others. Since I spent quite a bit of time with locals, I also learned a lot of miscellaneous, but interesting information.

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Lake Constance http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Constance

Because Lake Constance is so close to Switzerland, I crossed the border 4x in 2 days. Nobody even checked my passport, and I didn’t even see anyone in the customs office paying attention. I crossed both by foot, and by car.

??????????????????? Lake Constance

Switzerland is a very expensive country. Since the border is so close, many Swiss cross into Germany to make their purchases. I was told that 30-40% of sales in the Lake Constance area are due to Swiss crossing the border to make purchases.

I have been told that Germans are precise and that the Swiss are even more so ( that must be why Swiss watches are reputed to be so good). Germans and Swiss like to follow rules. I noticed that people usually waited for the crossing light to be green to cross a street, and seldom did they cross against the light, even if there were no cars coming.

In Switzerland, if a car is speeding 20 kilometers over the speed limit, the fine is 800 euros (about $1200!) Drunk driving in Germany means an automatic forfeiture of driver’s license, and for first offense it will be from 4 weeks – 3 months. Since there is a law against talking on a cell phone, even if a person uses an earpiece, the penalty is 70 euro (approximately $100). In Switzerland, a bus driver makes about 5,700 Swiss francs per month (so about $7500). It may sound like a lot but based on their taxes and the expense of living in such a beautiful country, that is what it takes.

I stayed with a very nice and welcoming family in the South of Germany for a couple of days.

 

The German home I stayed in??????????????????????????????????????????????

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????? Isa let me try on her Oktoberfest outfit. It was so fun to spend time with someone with a similar outlook on life, and to try on a traditional costume.  Funny, about regional differences.  My friend told me that in the Bavarian region, most people would have a traditional outfit for Oktoberfest. When I was in the northern part of the country, someone told me you would not find these outfits in a person’s closet. You would have to rent one from a costume shop.

 

Isa  IMG_4291

 

Udo, the dad, was retired and took me into the countryside in Switzerland for half a day, while my friend Isa was working. He knew I liked nature and took me to some gorgeous viewpoints as well as to a couple of natural areas. I saw my first swarm of wild bees! It was soooo cool.We were walking around a castle that happened to be closed that day, and were standing on a path. I noticed there were quite a few bees flying about and commented that there were quite a few bees.

IMG_4285 Udo took me to some natural areas. It was so beautiful.

 

(I tend to notice bees since I walking into a nest of yellow jackets when I was about 5 years old and was stung multiple times. I still have dreams about huge yellow jacket nests – in the walls, in the trees, in windows etc. when I am stressed). After looking about for another 5 seconds, I commented that there really were quite a lot of bees around. My next comment was, there are REALLY a lot of bees around, there must be a nest very close by, and then started to look around for a nest because I know for certain that I did not want to disturb a nest of bees.

Udo looked around and noticed a swarm about 18 inches from where he stood. Since the bees were just flying around, I hung around for a few minutes trying to get a good picture. I have heard that when they swarm, they are looking for a new place to make a home, they are not really aggressive. (And these were honeybees, so less aggressive than yellow jackets). I think. Anyway, those were my thoughts, and nothing bad happened. Besides, Udo was closer to them than I was, and he did not seem disturbed by them.

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Udo was a really good cook and made delicious food. He made wiener schnitzel and purple sauerkraut one day. We also had a variety of breads and jams and even peanut butter for breakfast. One of the breads that I found served often in Germany were big soft pretzels just like the ones we have at sporting events or at the movies in the U.S. Sometimes they are served plain, sometimes cut in half with cream cheese on them. I had never considered these for breakfast before, but they were delicious – better than the ones in the USA because they were fresher.

I also tried Black Forest Cake thanks to a recommendation. I figured it was dark black chocolate cake. Wrong!

?????????????????????????????????? A traditional German restaurant

 

Black Forest Cake is actually a very wet cake with cherries that have been soaked in some kind of liquor. It was ok, but I wouldn’t order it again. German Chocolate cake does not actually come from Germany. As a matter of fact, none of these Germans had ever heard of such a cake. The family also shared a drink that they thought I would like. It was a mixture of some kind of fruit juice and something like sprite. They were surprised that I had never heard of such a thing, they though it was a typical American drink since it was made by either Coca Cola or Pepsico. By the way, it was really tasty, but I am sure it was not healthy.

With all this good eating, Isa and I  took a bike ride to a stunning church that was in the middle of nowhere and looked ordinary on the outside, but spectacular on the inside.

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It continues to amaze me at how beautiful the religious sites are, and reminds me of how powerful the churches were. It was an interesting form of government shared between the Royal families and the Church  for centuries. I suspect this is how things stayed in balance.

Isa’s mom Gabby was kind enough to let me borrow her bike and we rode about 40 km (about 25 miles). I gotta say, German bikes are great, but the seats are no more comfortable than the American ones. I don’t know how Lance Armstrong is able to ride so far and for so long. Gotta be more than steroids.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This is how traffic is slowed down on certain streets. One lane has pretty flower gardens growing, so the traffic must slow down and share the other lane.

?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????This picture is of a cemetery. Each plot was lovingly taken care of and each plot was a small, well maintained garden.

Gabby had to work, so I did not get to know her very well.  She was so kind and friendly and the whole family made me feel so welcome, I hope I can return the favor and they visit me in the States someday soon.

The Immigration Problem

Impressions of a Country

I have been asking people about the current problems of their countries, and each one has talked about immigration. Everyone has immigrants who come over either invited as guest workers, or illegally – some for jobs, some fleeing war, but after they have arrived and made a life for themselves, they do not leave. This is a common complaint.

To me, it all boils down to “the haves” and “the have nots”. Everyone wants the good life and to be one of “the haves”. I hear about this problem in the USA as well – (especially on Facebook postings that spread hate and discontent without a lot of thought behind broad sweeping statements – like send all illegal immigrants home and don’t let them ever come back, even to visit their families. Have people thought of the repercussions of this really happening? The costs to send them back? The costs of groceries in our supermarkets by not having enough workers? The costs of losing the taxes that illegal immigrants pay?)

One German man stated an interesting point of view, that was different from what I have recently heard in the USA. He spoke about the need of immigrants in Germany to support the aging population – a similar phenomenon we are experiencing in the USA. Germany needs 2.1 children per family in order to maintain a stable German population, and a high standard of living like Americans currently experience. Currently, German families only have 1.4 children on average. The problem becomes that as Germans retire, there are not enough taxpayers paying into the system to support the aging population. In the USA this will soon be my peer group, which means we will have to retire at a later age, or increase our a tax base. He says that Germans understand this principle; they want and need immigrants – but want the highly educated ones.

Look at what is happening in Serbia. The Serbian government pays for the six years of medical school for the students. Out of 400 graduates of one medical school last year, 200 were recruited to Germany. Their education was already paid for, they have the training and ambition, and now they are happy to have jobs in their fields. Germany is really smart. We should be doing more of this. As for the illegal immigrants who are already in our country, such as children who were brought here from Central America, who have been educated in our public schools, who are bright and ambitious, perhaps we need to think about legalizing them, rather than sending them home. They already are educated, they are intelligent, they understand our culture, why would we let those assets go? And on top of that, pay to send them back? It seems shortsighted to me.

Now, this particular man I was speaking to also said that the problem is with the uneducated immigrants. Which is a completely different story. As Americans, perhaps we should not judge all illegal immigrants as a problem. Perhaps we should identify the ones we really want who can be an asset to our country, and make it easier for them to become official citizens. After all, they are already here. Let’s be smart.

A Turkish friend of mine is becoming a citizen of The Netherlands. He says it is very difficult to travel under a Turkish passport. The countries that are part of the European Union are able to travel easily through each other’s countries. He said that with a Turkish passport, immigration asks a bunch of questions and wants to be sure you have enough resources in order to go back home. They ask how he paid for his ticket and when he said he put it on his credit card, they let him in. He says it is a hassle.

The Germans complain about the Turks, the Turks complain about the immigrants from Syria and the uneducated citizens from the eastern part of the country who move to the city and use up the resources. So, in Germany, there are a lot of Turkish immigrants and many are uneducated and seen as a problem.

Here is a summary of my experience while going through customs in Munich, Germany from Istanbul, Turkey. There were three different lines to go through passport control, so I was able to watch the people in front of me.

Customs official: “Where are you coming from”?

Passenger #1 (who doesn’t speak German or much English)  Istanbul, Turkey

CO- How long are you staying?

#1- what?

CO- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#1- I don’t understand

CO speaking slower- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#1 about a month

CO- what is the purpose of your visit?

#1 – what?

CO- why are you in Germany?

#1- to see my family

CO- Do you have a return ticket?

#1- A return ticket?

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#1 -yes

CO- Let me see it.

#1 – See it?

CO- Yes, I want to see your plane ticket

#1- I don’t have a plane ticket

CO- How much money do you have?

#1- How much money?

CO- Yes, let me see your wallet

#1 – See my money?

CO- yes.

Passenger pulls out wallet, opens it, Customs guy looks at the money, lets him through.

 

Next guy in other line with a different Customs official

CO- Where are you coming from?

#2 (doesn’t understand Germany and not much English) Turkey

CO- How long are you staying?

#2 what?

CO- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#2- I don’t understand

CO speaking slower- How long will you be staying in Germany?

#2 not sure, my mother is sick

CO- what is the purpose of your visit?

#2– what?

CO- why are you in Germany?

#2- to see my mother and take care of her, she is sick

CO- Do you have a return ticket?

#2- A return ticket?

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#2- what?

CO is getting frustrated. Stands up in booth and leans over and gets louder

CO- How will you be getting back? Do you have another plane ticket?

#2 what?

CO- You are coming to Germany and will then leave, How will you get home? Do you have a plane ticket?

#2 -yes

CO- Let me see it.

#2 – See it?

CO- Yes, I want to see your plane ticket

#2- I don’t have a plane ticket yet

CO- How much money do you have?

#2- How much money?

CO- Yes, let me see your wallet

#2 – See my money?

CO- yes.

#2 You want to see my money?

CO- Yes, I want to see how you will pay for your plane ticket

#2 pulls out wallet and shows credit card.

Guard lets him pass through.

 

Now my turn.

CO -Where are you coming ,from?

Me – Istanbul, Turkey

CO- How long will you be in Germany?

me- (thinking, I don’t really know, doing things on the fly, stay until I want to go), but say, 2 weeks.

CO- What brings you to Germany?

me- (thinking, my AFSers, visiting friends, seeing what the world is like here, try to understand how did a society try to eliminate an entire population group) but say “Tourism” and hand my beautiful blue American passport to him

CO- Welcome to Germany, have a nice visit.

Germany and Nazi History

Impressions of a Country

It was so interesting to experience Germany after seeing the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem and a former Concentration Camp. In Southern Germany, along the Swiss border, there are still many historical building because the Allied forces did not want to bomb Switzerland, a neutral country, so the beautiful buildings remain.

 

IMG_4312 Train station in S. Germany, near the border of Switzerland

However, in Hamburg, there are some old buildings, but most of the city is full of modern buildings.

Modern building in Hamburg Germany

Modern building in Hamburg Germany

 

IMG_4327 IMG_4369 IMG_4367

Based on the conversations I had with several different Germans, these are my impressions.

Germans do not display their Country’s flag like Americans do. Now that the World Cup matches include Germany, there are some flags to be seen – small flags with suction cups attached to car windows, but never on a T-shirt or hanging off buildings and houses. The Germans still feel as though they are being judged for the Holocaust history and what people allowed to happen. People feel ashamed, even though they personally may have not even been alive back then.

Another person told me that as a German society, because of the Nazi’s, people question the information they are given. They think about who is providing the information, and what is the purpose. One person who is now 32 yrs old, said she had not felt national pride for her country, because the Nazi’s had tried to exterminate a whole segment of society. In school students are taught about the Holocaust often, so they know their history and the atrocities that took place.

What really impresses me is that people are always aware of the Holocaust.  It is talked about often and there are daily reminders. Walking down the sidewalks of a residential street, I would come across a small brass plaque, or two or four that were built into the sidewalk. Each plaque is in front of a home or apartment with a name, date of birth, date of death and the location of death if known. The program is known as stolpersteine. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stolperstein

These plaques have the names and dates of birth / death of people who were taken from their homes and murdered by the Nazis.

These plaques have the names and dates of birth / death of people who were taken from their homes and murdered by the Nazis.

These are the names of the Jews who lived in those apartments and were taken away and killed. Just walking down the street, a person is reminded about what the Nazi’s did, and it is a stark reminder that these were individuals, people with real lives, who lived right where I was standing. They are not forgotten. It was a reminder that while I was walking to the grocery store, or doing another simple errand, in the middle of the sunny afternoon, that four people from this building were exterminated. A ½ block later, there was another reminder of another husband and wife were taken away and murdered. It was quite a reminder. I don’t know who came up with the idea, but I really appreciate that it makes people stop and think, even if for a brief moment. Germany now has critical thinkers, who question the motives of people giving information, and hopefully will never again just believe what one charismatic leader states.

 

 

Surfing a River in Munich, Germany

Impressions of a Country

The sign posted said “Danger, no swimming or diving” but that did not stop a line of people from forming on both sides of the river. The land was flat but each man and woman was carrying a surfboard and waiting impatiently.

Who ever heard of surfing a river? Not me, until now. While in the English Garden in Munich- similar to Central Park in New York City but larger, there is a body of freshwater – too big to call a creek, too wide to be called a stream, but just past a bridge, there is a current strong enough to surf.

The surfers looked to be in their 20’s or 30’s rather than teenagers. Probably parents would never let their teens near this place and in the USA there would be fences keeping the adrenaline junkies away. The sides were concrete and I could see concrete on the bottom, a dangerous place for inexperience or idiots. This river (for lack of a better word) was either man-made, or at least contained by man. It was about waist deep and cold, and the folks in Munich really enjoyed this river – whether surfing or picnicking nearby and cooling off by riding the current. Make no mistake, the water is cold, it comes from the mountains after all, but what a great way to cool off on a hot afternoon.

Surfing a River

Surfing a River

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