Sunday, November 8, 2009

Lost and found


Alster Lake in Hamburg

Watching BBC and CNN nowadays sends me to the proverbial memory lane and brings back images I thought I had forgotten. On Monday, November 9, the Berlin Wall will have fallen for twenty years. This event heralded a climate of change in Europe and eventually the world, providing a tangible proof to the dismantling of divisions brought about by the Cold War.

But my German experience is personal. I was there two and a half years ago for a short course on economic and financial journalism. I ended up learning so much more – about the world, about people, about myself. It helped me chart the course of the rest of my life.

It is unfortunate that when I was there I was not yet a blogger. I could have recorded my observations and impressions real time. Had I been blogging then, I wold have done so faithfully, and enthusiastically. I would have produced a respectable online travel journal. Sayang!

But enough of something I cannot anymore do anything about. Now watching the news or reading the IHT gives me goose bumps. I see the Brandeburg Gate, for instance, or parts of the wall, and the empty niches of the Memorial to the Jews, and I read about the border guard who decided to open the darned gate,and I think to myself, the place is just so rich with history – of events and names and places, yes, but also the history of human nature. And suddenly I don't feel inadequate at being an outsider to all these things, somebody from a small nation across the globe, who was a fat and awkward 13 year old in November 1989.

I took many pictures, though, although I missed on a few aspects, failing to capture the rest of my routine (i.e.,train ride to school, what I did on the weekends that I went out, where I bought my yogurt and tea and where I went “dancin' till the morning light.”) I think I have enough. And it was not just one city,either. The photo attached to this entry is one of a lake in Hamburg, taken (with my unassuming but trusty Nokia) one late afternoon. Looking at the lake photos always makes me feel...misty.

Last week I uploaded my photos into an album in my Facebook account. I am be happy to share it with my friends, of course, and am always excited if somebody “likes” the pictures or,moreso, comments on them. But it's not done yet. All of the pictures are posted now but I am not quite finished – I will work on the captions and make them tell a story.

That experience enriched me professionally, and in so many ways besides. I learned to live alone – sleep alone, wake up alone, do chores alone, entertain myself alone. At the same time I gained access to a bigger forest. We always feel as though the Philippines is the universe. It it not. I feel I had been yanked into outer space,or at least the atmosphere, suspended there and made to look down. My perspective now covers a whole lot more. There is suffering here? Oh, yes. But there is also suffering somewhere else. The less unfortunate ones get featured on CNN or BBC. A lot more suffer and die and remain in oblivion.

I learned, too, to overcome certain fears. After sleeping alone in hotel rooms and my apartment for two months, I was convinced that the scariest things are the tricks our own mind plays with us – if we allow it to, that is. Ghosts? There should have been plenty of those in the city where the murder of six million jews was planned. But far scarier are the ghosts of our past. If we do not confront them, head on as we should, then they have the power to haunt us, not only on a full moon's night or on Halloween, but for the rest of our lives. They have the capacity to destroy our well-being, emotional stability, judgment and even relationships with the people we love. Boo.

Finally, I learned not to be scared of getting lost. I know people who would rather stick to the same roads and confine themselves to places within their comfort zones. They are terrified at the prospect of not knowing where they are and having to suffer the indignity of figuring out how to get back on track. I feel lucky that I am not one of those people.

My classmates (all from third world countries) and I were given everything we would need during our stay – a place to live, train tickets, course materials,planned excursions to must-see places – and maps. Among ourselves, we planned activities to bond and get to know one another. We had to look after our own apartments, cook our meals and do our laundry. There were the demands of class work on top of all that (my payroll was also active and I was doing editing and writing for my newspaper from six time zones away.) Despite these, one still had a lot of free time. And that delicious freedom emboldened you to explore.

Getting lost was part of the experience. Sometimes I got lost with Lib, my fellow Filipino. But more often, I got lost alone. I looked for shops, took a look at parks, or simply soaked in the newness and the foreign-ness of it all. The maps hardly made sense and the train stations looked painfully alike and my sense of direction was screwed up and not too many people knew English.

But I always found my way back.

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