Wednesday, June 30, 2010

a good bye letter.

Dear beloved Grandmother, You have let go. On the 14th of June. Finally I must say for it has been a long time that it was expected. I could not bring myself writing to you earlier. And all the same, it is now the right time writing you. I did not expect you would fight as long as you eventually did. And a fight it really was. Grateful I am though that you fought so long. We all thought you would say good bye to us much earlier. Around Christmas I had already lost hope that you would live to see The Spring. But you did. And what a gorgeous spring it was. I had hoped you would be allowed to die in peace, at home, surrounded by your loved ones. I am so sorry that was not the case. But how do I know that eventually it is what you wanted? How you wanted it? I am sorry you died in a hospital, alone and drugged to be able to stand the pain. I wish I had seen you before the morphine set in and sedated you. I would have loved to speak to you one last time. At the same time, I do not know if you wanted to be surrounded by us. I do not know if you would have wanted me to come all the way from Yemen just to watch you die. I am sorry, I came so late. Came when you already didn’t recognize me anymore. I do hope you know I was there. Held your hand. Told you stories. Promised I would come back the next day to read to you. The next day never came. I told you to wait for me. I wanted you to promise to me. Promise, I said, that you wait for me. Wait until I am back and hold your hand so that you don’t have to be alone. Alas, you wouldn’t promise. Wouldn’t listen to my plea. I flew to Berlin a day before all this, couldn’t bear the thought of you all alone in the hospital. And in the end, you decided to let go by yourself. I do not know if your decision was a conscious one. But I hope it was. I am grateful for the time we had. I am grateful for the time we spend together. I am always smiling when I think of how proud you were of me and my studies. Smile when other people recognize who I am and tell me how my grandmother spoke about me. Today, I am shedding tears for you like I have not done before. Today, two weeks later, you will find your final rest. You will be buried close to your late husband. I do not mind not being there. I carry you with me in my thoughts. I have said my good-byes to you. I feel sorry, though, for my mother, your daughter, that she has to bury you today. But I know my father will be there, holding her hand, steadying her path. You will be missed and not forgotten. Your granddaughter.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Women and Yemen.

Being a woman in Yemen isn't easy. I am not even referring to how I feel living here. (Even though, on a side note, my feelings have changed ever since I came back from Berlin on Monday. I might have been living in a cloud of ignorance but until then nothing happened to me. In the last five days, twice taxi drivers tried to get money from me, by taking different, longer routes. I assume, it's more the foreigner in me than the woman that made them believe it would be okay to do so. Yesterday, though I got clearly harrassed, including stones thrown in my direction to attract attention. Nearstanding men only got involved after I made my disapproval clear. These are the first incidents I have had. This is not the rule, but the exception.) Compared to men, less women get an education, can read and write, are allowed to work or choose their husbands and a future. If they do choose a future, if they are able to free themselves from their families, they often stay unmarried. Finding a suitable, ambitous man as a successful woman is quite a task. Their legal rights are limited. Leaving the country, acquiring a passport is up to the husband or closest male relative. If he is against it, there is not much she can do about it. Getting a divorce requires reasons (nothing men need) and financial and social considerations. If marrying again, the women lose their right to their children. Access to health services in general are limited. But even more so for the women. Men, boys, male infants are treated better, esp. in the rural areas. The majority of women still does not deliver their children in hospitals. In parts of Yemen, female genital mutilation (FGM) is still practiced. According to a Country Report on Human Rights by UNHCR FGM is performed by 90% of the under 40day old infants in the coastal areas along the Red Sea. It is easy to look arrogant at all this. The poverty. The dirt. The disadvantages. The lack of education. The differences between rural and urban areas. But I am not here to blame. Just to describe what I see and hear and read. Yemen is the poorest Arab country. It is in need for so much. It's women and children are. And when looking for solutions, it all comes down to education. And the lack of it.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Food obsessions.

I am obsessed with food. No idea when the obsession started. I always loved to cook and bake. I was a meat eater all through my childhood. I tried vegetarian during adolescence.

I have lived gluten free for several months and have avoided dairy at the same time (as well as coffee, sugar, chocolate, alcohol at the same time). This phase was not my desire but a necessity. I was sick for a long time and then advised to stay away from these foods for a certain period. The best part: I felt great. As good as I have never felt before or after. I didn't imagine it would be difficult. It wasn't. Mostly I enjoyed it. Enjoyed myself and my new me. Even though with the knowledge now that it made me sick again. Differently. Obsessed not with food, but with the food I could not have. With my own body. It was a struggle. But the struggle is over.

Back to food. I tried everything without hesitation. Mostly, I simply changed my diet, adopted to the new. Explored the supermarket for new desirable products. I became and am a master in reading and deciphering food labels.

Before I left highschool, while trying to figure out what I should be studying, I considered nutrition science. It was at the top of my wish list. I dropped that idea though. Too much chemistry, to little real food. I hated chemistry. I loved food. Real food.

I am a concerned consumer. I loved the concept of organic food from the first time I came across it. It took me a quite a while to understand that that was not and is not the case for a lot of people around me. And even now I feel the need to ask: who wants a carrot and who wants something that looks like a carrot but was treated with chemicals and pesticides?

I consistently read about food. On the net, in magazines & newspapers. I have quite a collection of books at home (besides the ever growing collection of cookbooks) that deal with food.

How to approach it. What to eat.. How to understand labels and the chemicals we are willing to take in. Which to avoid. I usually end up knowing what I knew before, just more detailed.

My latest favorite is less like a book and more like a brochure. Food Rules by Michael Pollan. He has written other books about the topics. Good books. Books about how our food is produced nowadays and how it could be produced. Food Rules is for the consumer. For the consumer who is bombarded with products in every average supermarket.

And this is how Michael Pollan sums it up. All you probably need to know to eat good: Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.

Seven words it's all it takes. But there is so much more to it

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Yemen and money.

Let's start my serious about "What am I doing at the end of the world/Yemen" with: What am I doing here? Theoretically, I am trying to do some research. Which takes forever. Getting interviews, making appointments, meeting the officials (knowing I won't get anything useful from them, but protocol demands the introduction). Meeting for interviews, still barely any information. No one wants to talk. Rarely anyone wants to disclose the obvious with his name attached. Okay, but what am I really doing here? Drinking coffee in the few Western style coffee shops (2 + the Mövenpick Hotel). All the time. They have cheese cake, real coffee (gasp) and prices that keep the locals out - that part is not a requirement from my side though. I always sit there with a little shame. And embarrassment. An afternoon with 2 coffees and a piece of cake is as much money as one family has to spend for school uniforms and books per year (2000 YR = 9$). Which is so much, many families can't afford it and not all kids go to school (literacy rate is 54% in general, 35% for females). It is embarrassing the money that gets wasted here. By the government. By the expat community. By the few Yemenis who can afford the imported Betty Crooker cake mixes, German cookies and the Philadelphia cream cheese in the big supermarkets. Every day life is cheap though. Produce and fresh food are local and therefore cheap compared to Western standards. Imported goods from the Western world is where it gets expensive. Recently I have started to count big cars. I don't mean the normal 4ws. Jeeps are common. They are a necessity to get around outside the cities and the paved roads. They show signs of the crazy traffic. Bumps and all. I also don't mean the Government jeeps (a lot though and big and expensive). I mean the big private cars. New, shiny, not a single scratch. The Porsche's and BMWs - latest edition. The Volvo's. I even spotted a Jaguar once. Driving around by taxi (300 to 400 YR) is cheap for me but not affordable for people who take the bus (30YR). The other things one can do in Yemen: Go to the Malls. Go to restaurants. Meet with other expats (privately) which always involves booze. Walk the streets. More on that another time.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

On Yemen. A beginning.

Since I arrived, over a month ago, I thought about writing here about Yemen. My home, temporarily. I cannot though. I have tried. And it just doesn't work. My thoughts are full of things I have read about this country. Poverty. Illiteracy. Human Rights. If I was here the very first time, I could write about the Old City in Sana'a. What a magical place it can be, if you find te right corners. It is not the first time I am here. It is second time. And yet, everything is different. The time I have to spend here. The place I live in. The way I spend my time here. The opportunities to move around. The people I meet. The way I move around. I am looking at things differently. With familiarity. I was amazed how much I remembered when I arrived. I am amazed how easily I move around confidently and without hesitation. I still haven't seen everything. I won't be seeing everything before I leave. So, if I write about my observations, human rights reports might make an appearance. Because I have tried and failed to write about this country without thinking about this too.

Monday, June 07, 2010

on food.

There are things I want to say and write about food. How I got started. Where I stand. But today, I want to quote someone else. A woman whose book has informed and inspired me. To read more. To accept less. To question more. To return to the basics. To enjoy the simple. To worry less. After walking the reader through the issues of food and the decisions we have to make every time we enter a supermarket, Marion Nestle sums up her advice and this is what she tells us: "If you want to understand what human culture is about, you can investigate why rice, wheat, corn, or beans form the basis of one kind of diet but not another. If you want to see corporate greed in action, just look at food marketing. If you want to understand globalization, look at how coffee is grown and how its profits are distributed. If economic terms like "externalities" make your eyes glaze over, consider what it costs to keep drinking water free of agricultural pesticides. If environmental issues seem too abstract, think about how coal-burning power plants affect levels of methyl-mercury in the fish you eat. If what happens on Wall Street seems distant, consider how relentless pressures for quarterly growth drive additional outlets of McDonald's and Starbucks into your neighborhood. If you want to see how politics affects government actions, just take a look at farm subsidies, school lunches, or federal dietary advice." Marion Nestle: "What to eat", 2006, p. 523

Saturday, June 05, 2010

where I have been. where I am.

In April I anticipated Mays arrival. It couldn't be fast enough. And then.
May came and went by. Too fast. So many things happened. I traveled. Again. I have left my city behind in its most lovely season. Again. It is a sacrifice I am willing to take to satisfy my desire to see! to feel! to be! But then again. I am homesick. I know all too well how beautiful that city of mine is this time of year. How green and vivid and pretty. Every year in spring I fall in love with Berlin as if he was the most irresistable man you have ever seen. The One.
***
I settled into a house, a family that will be my home for several weeks.
Once again I have and had to get accustomed to living in a place that isn't mine. I love this new family of mine. They care for me like I am family. They have welcomed me into their home, into their family to make me feel as much at home as I could possibly be.
And still - will I ever be satisfied? I miss home. I miss the house I call home now. And again - so often already - it's not the house I miss. It's the one room where I can be creative, where I create and where I have and had tedious and heated arguments with my husband and the loveliest dinners.
***
I dived into a different country. A new old country. A country I have been before. And had to, needed to come back to and fall in love with all over again. A country with a name that always sounded exotic to me and that will always be full of excitement and wonder. Yemen. Head first I have dived into a different culture and language again. A language I love and cherish and that is dear to my heart and still foreign and new.
A culture I have read about, have seen before, differently. The culture that doesn't fail to amaze and irritate me all at the same time. Over and over again.
***
I am learning and have learned to appreciate the small things.
The green islands in the desert. The oases. The small things that I love so much but have grown accustomed to. Things I sometimes don't even see anymore.
The street cafés in Berlin, the greenness, the possibility to walk, the availability of things, the every day beauty that is everywhere. And that I am still unable to capture (like other people do). My appreciation is homesickness, I know. Rarely have I felt as homesick as I feel now. It's painting Berlin and my feelings for it in the most precious, vivid colors.
***
I feel blessed for the new beautiful people I have met. This new world has opened up and embraced me.
The friendliness amazes and humbles me.
The conectivity makes me miss home a little less. Makes the homesickness lighter in anticipation of the soon.