Amsterdam

The anniversary of 9/11 is just a few days away.

I was back in the States when the attack occurred. When I returned to Germany a few weeks later, I was in turmoil. I felt all the contradictions of my life. I’m a resident alien on another continent. I’ve been the target of instant hate when someone found out I’m  American. This only has to happen once to convince you that prejudice is awful. What the hell was I doing so far away from my own country? What was going on in the world, and could anywhere feel safe? It seemed like everything was getting sucked into a swirling vortex. My identity as a US citizen, as a foreigner, as a human being, came crashing down.

A few months later my epidemiologist friend Elena came to Europe for a conference. I took an unplanned trip to Amsterdam with her. Maybe 2 days away would give me a break from how heavy life felt. Below is the account from those 2 days and how they affected me:

Friday Buddha, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

Friday planetary post, Schwedagon Pagoda, Yangon Burma

“I people-watch as we travel to Holland. On a German train near the border, the train car is full of local residents heading home. An African couple talk over their baby. Another young couple sit by me with their own child. The wife’s exquisite black scarf frames her face. Her husband reads from a small leather bound Koran. Both of them keep an eye on the baby carriage. The rest of the car is full with the usual students, professionals, commuters.

An old man goes into the WC. Later the door slides open without his realizing it. He stands helpless, then fumbles at the door. We all see the prosthetic leg strapped to his upper thigh. Everyone looks away. The door slides open again and he looks up, stricken. I rise and go to the door and close it. When the door inevitably opens again a few minutes later, the man with the Koran closes it for him.

A cell phone rings. The African man pulls out his phone and answers, then switches to English. I realize they’ve understood every word of the conversations Elena and I have been having about global health issues, world politics, and travel.

The woman in the headscarf looks at me steadily. When she finally catches my eye she holds me in a gaze of tenderness and our connectedness as human beings. We see one another for a few minutes, and then the train stops and they detrain.

The train reaches Amsterdam. I’ve been here before and always feel as if I’m coming home to an old friend. We walk along the canal streets, and brick building facades reflect in the Amstel as it flows under the bridges. The Egyptian bellhop at the hotel asks where we’re from. “I love this city! You meet people from all over the world,” he declares.

In 2 days Elena flies back to the US. Later that morning I stand waiting to catch the tram from our hotel. A dark-haired woman at the street bus stop carries a backpack. I offer her my tram pass; I won’t need it beyond the central train station. She thanks me, but says she’s heading home. She’s an Israeli airline stewardess, in Amsterdam for a few days’ holiday.

“I live in Tel Aviv, and I’m afraid to go out of my house,” she tells me. “Everyone is scared of more terrorist attacks there. The situation is out of control.” I listen to her and say, “The rest of the world says, ‘just make peace!’ If only it were so easy.”

Once I’m on board my train I read a Newsweek, then dive back into a novel. The quiet man next to me asks in English if this train stops at the Frankfurt airport. I offer him the magazine. We begin to talk: he is Iranian, in Germany for an international banking and finance conference. He lectures at the University of Cardiff. His wife is a dentist, he tells me. They live in Britain and go back to Iran, to their home in the northeast by the mountains at the Afghani border, each summer for vacation.

He lifts the suitcase at his feet and sets it on his lap. Opening it, he pulls out framed photographs of 2 smiling boys. “These are my children.” We discuss their names, their ages, their personalities. At the airport station he leaves for his flight, and I wish him a safe trip home.

The woman sitting across from us changes trains with me in Mannheim. We stand shivering in the evening air on the platform. She is a Dutch physical therapist, doing an apprenticeship in Munich. She asks what I think of Holland.  We talk about the coffee shops. I mention the small scale that guides decision-making in her country. I give her my leftover Dutch coins and she buys the tram pass from me.

Late that night I finally arrive home. In the space of 48 hours I touched on what seemed to be the entire planet. And I didn’t learn the names of any of the people who talked to me.

Travel isn’t just seeing and exploring other countries and cultures or the threads that weave those peoples’ histories with the present. Travel is the journey we make every day into other people, other lives, other ways of being and thinking and feeling.

Travel is about the interconnectedness of us all. Each person with whom we interact leaves behind traces that can change the world. Travel is about holding onto hope.

A part of me remains in every place I’ve ever stood. My image was impressed in a snow angel I made up in the Arctic Circle, which vanished years ago. But who can say if some part of my spirit still wavers there like the Northern Lights? Or in my interactions with all those people on the trains between Stuttgart and Amsterdam? I don’t know…. but we should live as if every act matters, as if choosing to love and be open to the rest of the world and each other can transform us.”

Bagan, Burma

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

NOTE: This post marks one year of blogging. Thanks for your support.  — Jadi

Travel Karma

I’ve moved! You’ll find me (and all of my previous posts) at my new address jadicampbell.com.

Travel karma is the bad luck, bad weather, bad room, bad case of Montezuna’s revenge… all the moments that you hope you’ll look back on and laugh about someday. That Jamaica honeymoon your brother booked, and the hotel had a fire? Blame it on travel karma. Our week on Malta in the autumn month that the travel agent swore got only 2-3 days of rain, and we were there for all 5 of them? Oh, yeah. It was travel karma.

There’s nothing you can do except shrug your shoulders, find a comfy café to hang out, and pull out the book you brought along.

Travel karma is other moments, too. It’s serendipity, the magic of being in the right place at the exactly right time. It’s the town festival you stumble into while out exploring. Travel karma is the restaurant with the fixed price menu that turns out to include champagne throughout the meal. It’s when you jump on a train 10 seconds before the doors close to leave.

Every so often travel karma gives you a heady dose of both moments…

We booked a charter flight to India.

Where we were headed

Where we were headed

I don’t always sleep well on the eve of a trip, and slept especially poorly this night. The next morning we were on a very early ICE train to Frankfurt to get our flight to India. The ICE is a sleek, fast train that makes few stops and great time.

I hauled my train pass out of my travel purse out of my day back for the train attendant to check. Tired, I reminded myself that I would need to put the pass back in the purse and the purse back in the day pack.

I didn’t.

We got off the train and headed up into the airport. A few horrified minutes later I realized my purse was right where I’d left it, on the seat of a train now heading to Amsterdam… containing my passport. And my credit cards. And my train pass. And $$s. And €€s, all the ready money I was carrying as we weren’t sure how easy it would be to find cash machines.

We could get more cash in the airport and use Uwe’s credit cards, but I wasn’t going anyplace unless I got my passport back. The helpful folks at DB (Deutsches Bahn) contacted the train and they checked: my purse still lay on the seat where I’d left it! The problem was that the next scheduled stop for the ICE wouldn’t be until Köln, several hours up the tracks. DB would hold my purse for me there. There was no way I’d have my passport back in time for us to make our plane.

It was too late to do anything but rebook the flight to India. If I said “Uwe, I’m soooo sorry!” once, I said it 100 times. Man, did I feel awful. But – it was travel karma.

Uwe climbed on the next train heading back to Stuttgart (looking a whole lot less happy than he had early that morning) and I caught a train to Köln. The DB personnel hadn’t been able to report if my purse still contained my valuables. My passport was stamped with the resident alien visa that allowed me to remain in Germany. And without my passport I couldn’t head back to America to see my country, or my family, or go anywhere, for that matter. I felt oddly vulnerable. This situation was bad, and the more I worried about it, the worse it became.

As I sat on the train I bargained with the travel gods: “Just leave me the passport.”

When we reached Köln I realized I hadn’t eaten anything since supper the night before. I wasn’t ready yet for good/bad news about my purse. I bought myself a sandwich and a coffee and stalled for five minutes. Then it was time… I headed to Lost & Found and told someone my story. Of course, I no longer had any ID to prove who I was. He asked me to describe the purse and what was in it.  I flinched inside as I told him.

The nice man vanished into the back and returned with my purse. “Go ahead and check that everything’s there,” he suggested. I know my hands shook as I unzipped it and looked.

Not a pfennig had gone missing. I shrieked Ya-hoo! and he laughed. Then I said thank you and left the little office.

I went directly to the flower vendor kitty-corner to Lost & Found and bought the largest bouquet of white blooms they offered. I marched with the bouquet back into the Lost & Found office. The employees all looked up astonished when they saw me again.

My voice quavered. “These are for all of you. It’s not enough just to say, ‘Thank you for doing your jobs’. It’s so great to know that there are still honest, helpful people in the world!” Nonplussed, they accepted the flowers, but everyone was smiling.

The train trip back to Stuttgart from Köln took 3 hours. The next charter flight to India left 3 days later. When we got finally got there I had one of the most amazing trips of my life. I probably used up a lot of good travel karma on that day I had to journey to Köln, but I hope I’ve added to my karma account since then. And I will never, ever forget my belongings on a train going anywhere. That’s one lesson I’ve learned!

(All photographs can be enlarged by simply clicking on the image.)

More pictures from India and of Uwe’s photography may be viewed at viewpics.de.

17800_Ind_04_04_032

En route

Hubli

6-8th century Jain, Hindu, and Buddhist cave temples, Badami.

Nandi Purmina festival  Hampi, India

Nandi Purmina festival
Hampi

Goa

Goa

Saved By A Blogger Award

insblogger-big

“But Mousie, thou art no thy lane,
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men
Gang aft agley.” –Robert Burns To a Mouse, on Turning Her Up in Her Nest with the Plough

Feste the Fool: [Singing]
He that has and a little tiny wit–
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain,–
Must make content with his fortunes fit,
For the rain it raineth every day.” —Shakespeare King Lear, Act III, Scene 2

“Man plans; God laughs.” —Anonymous

We’re  renovating our apartment, and line up all the dates for workmen and repairs months in advance. We decide that once it starts will be the perfect time for me to fly back to America and visit my family. It’s finally about to begin, when suddenly…

We receive a phone call that my mother-in-law is in the hospital. She lives about 1 1/2 hours south of us, so Uwe and I take turns heading down there. He spends a night in a hotel. I arrive by train the next day and take over so that Uwe can drive home to work.

We need to move Mama into assisted living; I volunteer to go meet with the nursing home staff. For anyone contemplating life in a foreign language, the year I spent in submersion classes learning to speak fluent German pays off now. It would be scary not to understand what is happening, and awful not to be able to help my husband.

Her doctors think she needs an operation and schedule a day for it. Then the next time I go down, they inform us they’ve decided not to operate. She is moved out of the ICU. And then back into the ICU. And then back out of the ICU. Uwe deals with banks and Mama’s newspaper deliveries and the phone company. We need to keep updating the nursing home. Each day is a roller coaster experience.

Should I cancel or push back my flight to the US? I keep asking, but Uwe continues to assure me I can head out as planned.

Germany has record flooding. It rains every day and the train runs alongside the banks of the Neckar River. I have the surreal experience of watching the waters keep rising, along with our concerns about Mama.

In the meantime I try to write. I see massage patients. But I’m shocked when my sister announces my nephew’s birthday has arrived. I know it’s still a few days away, and then l look at a calendar. I have the date and what day of the week it is both wrong. I lost 48 hours somewhere.

Friday the tile layer begins work in the hallway. Saturday I go to my monthly writers’ group and come home to find an email about an award. Sunday I take my last train ride. Monday the tile layer returns and Mama can finally leave the hospital. Uwe drives down to get his mother settled in and buy furniture, etc. for her new digs. I remain home to hold down the fort. Tuesday the next Handwerker arrives and for two days walls are fixed in the next room (as I type these words. Literally.)

I am grateful for the completely unexpected VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER Award. It’s a glad moment in what have been harried days and nights. The wonderful, creative Jen Payne at http://randomactsofwriting.wordpress.com has honored me with the nomination. It’s a lovely recognition. It doesn’t involve answering or posing questions. Best of all, it arrived at the height/depth of 2 weeks of insanity. This award provided me with light for the end of the tunnel, letting me know that maybe I’m not just viewing the headlights of an oncoming train ….

The word inspire means to “fill with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.” I feel my creativity slowly returning as the flood waters in some spots finally begin to recede.

Heartfelt thanks again to Jen at Random Acts of Writing [+ art] for the nomination. I’m delighted to pass on the compliment by following the award rules and nominating 15 other bloggers.

VERY INSPIRING BLOGGER RULES
• Display the award logo on your blog.
• Link back to the person who nominated you.
• Nominate 15 other bloggers for this award and link to them.
• Notify those bloggers of the nomination and the award’s requirements.

May my nominations bring you amusement, relief, or whatever you may be needing at the moment. It’s great to be part of this community! (Written June 12th, 2013)

  1. http://aleafinspringtime.wordpress.com/
  2. http://alien-heartbeat.com/
  3. http://arranqhenderson.com/
  4. http://athingforwordsjahesch.wordpress.com/
  5. http://barbtaub.com/
  6. http://chattyowl.com/
  7. http://gallivance.net/
  8. http://lifeoutofthebox.com/
  9. http://narrativeecopsych.wordpress.com/
  10. http://nomadruss.me/
  11. http://ohgodmywifeisgerman.com/
  12. http://raysharp.wordpress.com/
  13. http://theforesterartist.com/
  14. http://valeriedavies.com/
  15. http://windagainstcurrent.com/