Why It’s Important to Push Each Other

It’s almost a year since I moved to this new city. Quite a crazy idea – moving during the school year when your head is definitely not in the game of making new friends and settling in somewhere. Well, sometimes work forces you to do crazy things.

A lot has happened in this almost year. 
I now know more than the way to work and the grocery store. I actually stumbled across some real beauty in my own neighborhood.
I have survived my first year of teaching and just started my second one. And I still like it. (Good because otherwise I might have a problem with my career choice…)
I have written a book which was launched two weeks ago. This is still a whirlwind of emotions and I’m enjoying every minute of this ride.

I have found people who support me.

Colleagues who have welcomed me in and made me feel part of the team. Some of them have already become friends.
Creative minds who cheered for me when I signed the book contract and encouraged me to be brave with my words.
Dear friends from near and far who have overwhelmed me with their pictures about the book, cheerful posts and warm words.
Faithful souls who have prayed and believed for me when I couldn’t.

There’s no material value in support, no visible product in the end. 
But our support can mean the world to someone else. 
A word of encouragement in tough times.
A hug.
A celebration for each other’s accomplishments.
An hour of your time.
It’s like the wind in our sails that pushes us forward on this ocean of life. 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
And sorry for being absent these last few weeks. I had a book to launch… 🙂

The Signposts of Life

When we find ourselves at a crossroads in life we need to make some tough decisions. Since we have more choices than all the other generations before us, this has become more and more difficult.

When you graduate from school and need to choose a career.
When you move to new places and see friendships change or even come to an end.
When you feel lonely and long for deep relationships in your life.
When you start questioning what you believe and are afraid to lose yourself in the process.
When your book comes out in a week (a week!) and you’re not sure if this was the right idea.

Don’t we all need some guidance in our lives sometimes? 

Unfortunately, there’s no map for this thing called life.
There are no downtrodden paths we can simply follow.

But I believe there are signposts that can help us to navigate tough waters.

There is the spirit inside of us nudging us gently into a good direction.
There are our instincts that hopefully keep us from making irrational decisions.
There are good companions who challenge us with thoughts and questions. I just spent a few days with great friends, deep conversations and challenging insights – what a blessing to have such people in our lives!
There is a God who leaves behind signs in this world for us to detect – signs to show us we belong, we are loved, we are cared for. We are not forgotten.

There might be more guidance out there than we’d imagine.
Because we can be guides to others when we’d least expect it. We can point each other to the signposts and steer through the storms together. 


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.
I am serious, my book releases NEXT FRIDAY and I’m nervous, excited, freaked out…all of it! If you haven’t pre-ordered it – there’s still time!

A Matter of Perspective

What do you see when you look at the world? 

Charlottesville.
Barcelona.
Dead people.
Injuries.

What a week.

What do you see when you look at your world? 

Friends struggling in their jobs.
Broken relationships.
Unanswered questions.
Doubts about the book you’re about to release.

What a life.

It’s so easy to fall into this hole of sadness and despair and helplessness.
It’s tempting to just give in to all this darkness around us.
It’s dangerous to believe the narrative of lies and deceit that settles in our hearts so easily.

In times like these I have to remind myself that there is another perspective out there. 
There is beauty despite all the busyness and chaos.
There is resurrection in unexpected places.
There is peace even here, in the middle of the storm.
There is human connection and love, poured out in the midst of terror and suffering.
There is divine hope that is stronger than any kind of hatred and destruction.

There is courage to speak up and tell the truth when those in power do not. 
Truth that drives out the darkness inside of us and inside this world. 

What do you see when you look at the world?

In case you’re tired of all the bad news, flood your inbox with good news like here or here.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

Yearning for a Home

So…where are you from?
Quite a typical question in a smalltalk setting.
To a TCK, it’s the worst enemy.

Somehow “place” has got a spell on us.
The places we’ve lived in have made us who we are today, they have shaped our understanding of ourselves, they have given us a home in this big wide world.

Place

But what if you change place all the time?
What home remains for us restless wanderers?

In the last two years I have made an interesting discovery: I actually do like to stay somewhere.
To take hold of a place.
To make a home somewhere.

This is strikingly new to someone who has moved more than twenty times in her not-so-long life.
I can’t promise I’ll stay forever.
I can’t guarantee I’m going to like everything about it.

But for now, I want to make an effort to set down roots here and really settle into the place I’ve been given.
Get to know the people around me.
Appreciate the beauty right in front of me.
Rest in the knowledge that this restlessness is a deep yearning for the ultimate home – the place where all our hearts do belong.

Psst, if you’re looking for some great reading on this prompt, check out Tsh’s memoir “At Home in the World” or Jen Pollock Michel’s “Keeping Place“.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

A Break in Paradise [Philippines #3]

Episode 3. El Nido.

If you don’t have time to travel by shop from island to island (there are more than 7,000 in case you were wondering), it’s the easiest way to take a plane. So we fly to Puerto Princesa, the capital of the long and slim island Palawan, where we’ll spend the next part of our trip.

Luckily, we catch a bus right away, with AC and comfortable seats. Even the music is different – for a while we get to listen to Filipino hiphop before it goes back to the all-too-familiar soft pop. The guy behind me sings along loudly whenever he knows a song. And he knows a lot. It doesn’t matter if you’re in the middle of a conversation, just break into song. If you don’t hit the tune – no problem, you just have to be loud.

The bus takes the only road available going North, through rice fields, palm trees and banana plantations. Everything is so green and so much more bearable than the noisy, busy city. It’s quite similar to the landscapes we used to roam in Uganda as kids. On and on we go and the longer we drive, the more it feels like a journey into a far away world, deep into the jungle.

Out of a sudden, the skies turn grey, then black and heavy raindrops hit the bus windows. The heavens open up to release a long awaited downpour and engulf everyone and everything outside. On the lonely road we see a group of school children, their uniforms soaking wet, their hair dripping with water. They sit down, two in one seat. They smile at me shyly when they realize that I’m a foreigner. Somewhere, in the middle of nowhere, we drop them off and I wonder how in the world they get to school everyday. It’s a long way and probably expensive to get an education. In fact, many parents choose to not send their kids to school because it’s far more lucrative to let them work on the streets. Whenever a car stops at the traffic lights, you can see them coming up to you, their mouths covered to protect themselves from smog and pollution, their tiny hands holding up bottles of water or snacks. They look at you for a while, their eyes desperate and pleading, but eventually they move on. While my students in Germany are so self-righteous that it makes me sick sometimes, children over here seem to be kept from having a perspective in life at all.

El Nido 7

El Nido 6

We get into El Nido at sunset and have to find a hotel. What used to be a small idyllic fishermen’s village a couple of years ago has now exploded into a flourishing tourist attraction. The hotel we find is right at the beach in Hama Street – the place to be where hotel is next to bar next to restaurant next to coffee shop. I’m blown away to see people from all across the globe in this little place.

El Nido 5
This town seems to attract a certain kind of people. If you’re a free spirit, interested in cheap parties, sex and drugs, El Nido is the place for you. The restaurants are full with elderly hippie couples with grey hair and blurred tattoos. In the coffee shops you’ll find the hipsters staring at their phones. In between are families and well-built divers.

The first day is very rainy and we spend it walking from coffee shop to restaurant to bar. It’s actually nice to bury my face in a good book for a change, but I’m also a little worried that the weather will not get better.

El Nido 12
The Art Café – a restaurant/bar/coffee shop run by a Swiss lady with delicious food and a great atmosphere. We spent all our mornings on its beautiful balcony with a gorgeous view of the Bay.

But when we wake up the next morning, I look out the window expectantly and – what a joy – there’s a blue sky, no clouds and the sun is shining brightly. After breakfast we meet our tour guide Lorenzo and he takes us on a tour through the Bacuit Archipelago – a group of islands in the South Chinese Sea.

El Nido 9

El Nido 8

As we stretch our legs on the boat, we pass by hidden beaches with little cottages under palm trees.
We marvel at rocks in the water. Over and over again, we have to grin at each other because this can.not.be real.
We go anchor in front of a wall of rocks, take the kayak and discover a secret lagoon through a little rift in the wall. All of a sudden it’s so calm. An oasis of quiet and peace.
We go snorkeling, which is quite something for someone who’s shy of water. The view below the surface is quite different – colorful corals, fish swarms, even turtles. Sometimes it’s worth to look deeper.


We have lunch at Entalula Island, a small beach with crystal clear water. The buffet looks like a feast with grilled fish, vegetables and fresh fruits. Afterwards we lie down on the boat and let the sun kiss our bodies. Yes, life is good.

El Nido 13
We kayak into Cathedral Cove, a large opening in a rock. Inside it’s dark and we can hear bats flying high above us.

El Nido 10

Our last stop on this perfect day is a small beach with palm trees and warm water where we take a few minutes to relax. When we get back to the boat, our friend steps into something. At first, he thinks it was a sharp coral, but by the time we get back to the harbor, his right foot has swollen to double its normal size and he can’t walk more than a few steps. The doctor says it’s nothing serious and that he should ake it slow for a few weeks, but on google we find a few horror stories about starfish and other dangerous creatures of the sea. “That’s some serious shit”, the diving instructor says when we tell him the story.

El Nido 11

This has truly been a once in a lifetime experience.
The next morning we leave El Nido with a swollen foot, but with extremly full and grateful hearts.


This is part 3 of the series. Here or here are more stories!

Everyday Killers

This space has been empty a few Fridays in a row. I opened Kate’s page early on Friday mornings to check what the prompt was as I usually do. Then I would mull over a few thoughts and start typing.

Not in the last few weeks.

I was just blank. Even after a few hours of thinking and pondering, nothing would come to mind. Nothing. I felt like I had nothing to say. So I left this space blank. Week after week passed, Friday after Friday I grew more frustrated and angrier at myself.
Has inspiration deserted me?
Where has all my creativity wandered off to?

If I compare my soul to a garden, there are different kinds of flowers and plants. Together they make a beautiful diverse image of creation, but each of them needs different care and nurturing.

Inspiration is a very delicate plant in this soul garden. It is planted deep inside everyone of us, but it will only grow depending how we take care of it. It’s so easy for inspiration to be suffocated with the thistles of busyness – a dangerous plant that grows like crazy if we don’t pay attention. It will drain the soil and leave us empty inside. I have been so busy lately with finishing off the school year while launching a book that I was too busy to pay much attention. Busyness had tied me up and I never really had time to stop and rest.

It can be hard to find inspiration in the midst of busyness. That’s why it is imperative to train our eyes to look for it, no matter how many thistles grow in our garden.
I have lost the focus on beauty in the mundane a bit in the last few weeks.
And slowly by slowly, sentiments like frustration and anger have settled in my heart. I snapped at students, I got frustrated with colleagues, I didn’t see the good in others anymore. The bright and colorful garden had turned grey for me because I looked at it through the wrong filter.
Beauty is already here, right here and now. And I need it more than I can imagine.
Only when I am able to admire the wonders around me, only when I allow God to speak to me, I am able to draw from that inspiration deep inside of me and truly create.

While I work in the garden I often get distracted by that voice inside of me.
You’re not good enough.
No one is going to read your words anyway.
Your work has to be perfect.
Far too often I give in to that voice. It’s like someone is slamming on my inner breaks and my hands are tied, I just.can’t.write. Instead of tending to the musings of my soul and responding to the inspiration inside of me, I worry about formats and what others will say about it. I fall for false expectations and am left empty in the end.

Can anyone relate?
What can you find in the garden of your soul?

With summer approaching I want to take better care of my garden and all the different plants in it.
I want to be intentional about resting more.
I want to listen more before I do.
I want to look out for beauty all around me.
I want to protect my inspiration from lies and distractions.
I want to create again.


Writing for Five Minute Friday today.

An Unexpected Invitation [Philippines #2]

Episode 2. Bohol.

Our ferry leaves at 8:15 a.m. Destination: Tagbilaran on the neighboring island Bohol. There’s not much to do on the boat except watch some pirated Chinese movie (with Chinese subtitles) or sleep, which I desperately need. Jetlag has kept me awake for most of last night.
When we step off the boat two hours later, we’re greeted by a hoard of taxi drivers offering their services: “Where you going? Come with me, I give you best price!” We choose Martin who doesn’t speak much English except “Chocolate Hills” – the famous attraction on this island. Once we hit the road, we communicate with hands and feet that we’d like to make two more stops and miraculously, we end up at the right places.

Our first stop is a national sanctuary for Tarpiers, small primates which look a little like monkeys. We carefully walk through the tropical forest of banana palms to spot the tiny animals. “Do you see any?” – “Yes, look out for their huge eyes.” The bodies are incredibly small in proportion to their eyes. Interesting creatures.

IMG_8182

We get back into the car and shortly after, we stop at what would be a real challenge for me. Across the Luboc River are two bridges made of banana leaves and a little bit of iron reinforcement. The only way across the river is across these bridges.

My knees begin to shake a little and I get nervous.
I’m afraid of heights, especially if there’s only water below me and very shaky ground underneath my feet.
Nevertheless, I step onto the bridge and slowly make it across the river. And I’m glad I did because the view and the sense of accomplishment are worth it.

IMG_0137

For lunch we find a local shop that displays pots filled with meat and cooked vegetables. And rice, there’s always rice. Filipino food mostly consists of meat and isn’t really spicy, but I must admit I really lusted for some fresh vegetables after a while.

When we walk past a stand with baked banana, I just can’t resist. As the soft consistency and sweet taste fill my mouth I am suddenly taken back to long bus rides from Uganda to Tanzania or Rwanda, where we visited friends a long time ago.
Five white people alone somewhere in the jungle.
Dozens of people shouting, “Mzungu, Mzungu (white person)” – oh, sweet sweet memories.

After lunch we walk around the streets and find the public market, a crowded place in the middle of town. Stalls offer everything – from fresh fruits to smelly fish to clothes to toys – and we buy some coconut juice. The lady picks two large nuts and slices the top part off, plucks a straw through the soft skin and hands it to us. Fresh juice, you just can’t get it any better than that.

We walk into one of the side streets and suddenly, the scene changes.
Colorful stalls become damp, dark shops.
Brick market buildings are replaced by rusty, instable shacks.
People sit in front of their tiny houses in dirty, torn clothes, kids are running around, often naked.
Wives cheer for their husbands as they play a board game and their wide-open mouths reveal several missing teeth.

As we walk through this chaos, people look up and stare at us. All of a sudden, I feel very uncomfortable in my own skin. Not because of them – because of me. I feel like I’m intruding into their streets, their lives, their world. My mere outer appearance doesn’t fit and I can do nothing to change that. No matter how hard I try to be different, I’ll never be the same. I don’t belong here and that is a rather strange experience. We turn around and make our way back to the main road.

 

IMG_8197
Tricycles – the cheapest way to get around locally in the Filipino. Definitely a ride to remember!

On we go with our taxis to our final destination, Carmen. The roads are winding up and down the hill, but Martin still takes them at 120km/h. Whenever a tricycle or pedestrian seems to slow him down, he honks and they hurry to get out of his way. This is the Filipino way of driving: drive fast or make way. I’m surprised that I’m not carsick yet, but I find myself reaching for the door handle a few times.

 

When we arrive in Carmen, Martin is surprised to hear that we’re not staying at the pricy hotel direct next to the Chocolate Hills and it takes him a while to find the Bed&Breakfast tucked away in a rubble street. “You must be Katharina”, a woman greets me at the door.

This warm welcome is the beginning of a unique Filipino experience.

For the last four years, Grace has been running the B&B together with her Canadian husband Steve, who had just returned from a work assignment in Saudi-Arabia the night of our arrival. In his honor, the family – who all live on the property – prepare a feast for him and invite us along. Together with an elderly American missionary couple we get to taste Lechon – fire roasted piglet stuffed with vegetables. Interestingly, it is the same piglet we had seen running around early that afternoon…

Sharing a meal with our hosts is very special. We aren’t just guests in their home – we are invited to their table and share a bit of their lives. So we sit together, taste Filipino rum and ask questions about each other’s lives. They tell us how much Filipinos love Karaoke, they sing along whenever they know (or don’t know) a song on the radio. Their favorites are – of course – soft pop ballads.

IMG_8254

The next morning we get up at 5 a.m. and ask a tricycle driver to take us to the Chocolate Hills. Tricycles are another great Filipino invention: buy a motorcycle and attach an iron cabin to it. It’s not really fast, but the easiest and cheapest way to get around locally. With three passengers, the tricycle driver struggles quite a bit to get us all the way up there, but we make it and are rewarded with a spectacular view: more than one hundred hills lie in front of us, their tops still hidden in the fog slowly rising up from the ground. A legend says the hills resemble giant tears shed for a lost love and they received their name from looking chocolate-brown during dry season. There’s no one on the platform except the three of us and we just take in the peaceful atmosphere of the morning. And finally, for once, the temperature is somewhat comfortable.

IMG_8280

IMG_0204

IMG_8223

After a good breakfast at Grace&Steve’s, we say goodbye and head back to the ferry. In just two days we have seen and learned a lot. The only regret we have is that we couldn’t stay longer to experience more of Filipino hospitality.


This is part 2 of the series. Read more stories here, there or over here.