I Am Not Anne

When I was a young girl, my favorite book was Anne of Green Gables. I loved reading about the adventures and mishaps of Anne, an eleven year old orphan who’s adopted by two elderly siblings. She isn’t wanted at first, but eventually moves in with the Cuthberts and changes life in the small town of Avonlea quite a bit. With her very open and curious personality she falls into a few traps along the way, but somehow she always manages to win people over. No mater how selfish, bitter or traditional people are – Anne finds ‘kindred spirits’ everywhere.

I have always found Anne’s character quite appealing, considering the fact that she moves into a very tight-knit community. Everybody knows everyone in Avonlea, and everyone is somehow related. This comes with the usual conflicts and gossip: once you do something ‘wrong’ (which basically means something different than traditions) everyone knows about it. And everyone is entitled to have an opinion on it.

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Anne doesn’t care. She does things differently, ignores rules, or revises old traditions. She confuses people with her extroverted character and ideas, but in the end she brings the community closer together. People suddenly help each other out and care for each other.

Grandma’s place reminds me a lot of Avonlea. A small village in the middle of nowhere where everyone knows everyone. There are conflicts and there’s gossip. There’s one right way to do it, and a lot of confused stares and hushed comments if you do it differently.

There’s close community and a lot of help, too. You can call people anytime if you need homemade food, farming supplies or practical help. People reach out and are willing to care about each other. My Grandma and my mom as well are used to simply picking up the phone and calling for help. They have no problem walking into other people’s yards.

They are at home there.

As much as I enjoy Grandma’s place I realize it’s not my Avonlea.
When I was there a few weeks ago Grandma asked me to pick up some honey from the neighbor. “You can walk through the backyard”, she said.
I really wanted to.

Instead, I stood there and hesitated.

Unable to walk through the yard I realized that I know of people, but I don’t really know them. I am not the kind of person who just walks into people’s yards and lives. I am not the kind of girl who turns others into ‘kindred spirits’.

I am not Anne.

I have had my shares of adventures and mishaps (and I hope I’m not done yet!). I have walked into cultural traps and caused more confusion than understanding. I have felt unwanted and lost in tight-knit communities.

And yet I have discovered that there’s more of an Anne inside of me than I thought.

I do have a way to look at the world that some might call daydreaming, idealistic, or naïve. I call it finding beauty in the mundane. With the right mindset you can see past the worries, pain, and problems life so often throws at us.

I do clash with people’s mindsets and opinions because I sometimes do things ‘differently’. But it’s such a blessing to see how others live and think – why don’t we learn more from each other? And more than that, why don’t we practice caring about and for each other?

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Most of all, I did and do find ‘kindred spirits’ everywhere. It normally happens when I least expect it. At a friend’s birthday party, on my way home from work, in a comment below a blog post.
‘Kindred spirits’ who have traveled the world, who have lived in different countries and fell in love with several cultures at the same time.

Who know what it means to feel lost and want to belong so badly.
Who do things ‘differently’ and yet don’t want to give up themselves.

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Who might be afraid to walk through the neighbor’s backyard, but would have no problem finding a place to stay on any continent.

Who have discovered that our Avonlea is bigger than one geographical location – it can be found whenever we let each other in on the new, weird, exciting, exhausting experiences life might bring.

[Five Minute Friday] World

Time for Five Minute Friday over at Kate Motaung‘s place! Today I am featured with a video over there, so if you want to see a bit of me and why I blog, check it out here!

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“The world is a big place. Go run it.”

I drive by this ad every morning, and every morning I think I only agree half with this statement.
Well, I’m not a runner, so I might not take this advice literally.
Can we say “travel” for run?

The world is a big place. Go travel.
I love traveling. Just last week I got back from the US; once again I was incredibly blessed by landscapes, food, and experiences.
The best thing, though, were the people. The ones who fill that big space. 

My parents never had a lot of money, so we never really went to any fancy resorts or beach trips.
We took our car and just drove.
Stayed at friends’ places.
Saw the back streets instead of the shiny boulevards.
Cooked with people and listened to their stories.
Were inspired to tell our own stories.

You haven’t traveled the world until you know its people.

Somehow this kind of traveling is still instilled in me.
I love exploring other countries, I enjoy seeing breath taking nature and indulge in some good food that’s so different to me.
But I feel like I haven’t traveled, really traveled, a country until I connected with people that live there. Until I’ve seen behind the scenes and got a glimpse into the ordinary.
The ordinary is actually quite beautiful because it makes me realize that the world isn’t such a big place after all. 
We all have struggles.
We all fight through them.
We all experience hope and joys and wonders.

Now I know that not everyone feels like or doesn’t have the time and money to get on a plane and travel.
To discover the world in depth, though, you don’t have to go far.
Just leave your own house and explore YOUR world.
Stay at friends’ places.
Turn from the shiny boulevards to the back streets.
Cook with people and listen to their stories.
Be brave to tell your own story.
And I hope you discover that the world is smaller and more beautiful than you imagined.

[Five Minute Friday] Gift

I’ve been a little out of touch in this space lately, but there’s a good excuse. For the last two weeks I’ve been traveling around North Carolina, taking a break from work, and reconnecting with dear friends.

It’s just been two weeks, but t’s also been so much more than that.
Fourteen days of not thinking about work at all.
Of indulging in good food and free refilled drinks.
Of admiring nature’s beauty in the mountains and at the beach.
Fourteen days of restoring rest to body, mind, and soul.
Of time with precious people, talking late into the night, reminiscing of sweet memories and adding new chapters to the story.
Fourteen days of celebrating friendships.
It’s just been two weeks, but they were intensely filled with gifts.
Like all those people who opened their homes and let me crash on their couches, even though it was often late at night.
Like all those friends who drove me around and did the most ridiculous shopping trips with me.
Like entering T’s house and feeling at home right away. Such a welcoming atmosphere that made me not even think about work or stress for one minute. I was just there and could enjoy every single moment.

Like celebrating beautiful H, watching her get married to the boy of her dreams, and swing dancing the night away. Hiking through the woods and laughing about silly stuff were just the things I needed.

Like driving through beautiful Greensboro or walking around campus with T and sharing about life. Simply starting where we had left off about two years ago, as if we had never been apart. Instant connection, instant depth, and incredible blessings to my soul.

Like going to the beach with E and swimming in the ocean with the most amazing colors. Sitting at the water at night, listening to the waves, and sharing about the essential things in life. E’s view of the world, his attention to and appreciation of the little beauties in the ordinary, and his nostalgia were inspiring.

Like walking around town with ME, MB, and A or going on culinary adventures with C, E, and N made me discover hidden things, rejoice about new developments, and treasure the familiar.

Every single talk was often so much more than expected, so much deeper than hoped for, and so much more a blessing than imagined. Friendships may be silent at times, but once souls have connected they’ll always come back to each other, no matter the distance.

Thank you for the gift of friendship. Thank you for being on that journey together.
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A little later than usual, but I’m still linking up with Kate Motaung’s Five Minute Friday. Another great gift, this community of bloggers and encouragers! 

This Little Storybook that Holds My World

My passport expired a few months ago, and since I’m about to go traveling again I needed to get a new one. When the lady at city hall asked for my old passport I was startled. Did she want to take it away?
It left me wondering, Why do I care so much about this little booklet?

Among TCKs there’s a joke that the most valuable book you’ll ever possess is your passport.
This little booklet tells stories.
Stories of travels to foreign countries.
Stories of adventures in unknown cultures.
Memories of people, smells, and food so different from who you are.

Like the story when we were stuck at the airport in Entebbe/Uganda for hours because the officer wouldn’t accept our residence permits. We didn’t want to pay the customary “fee” (we would call it a bribe), so he made us wait in this unknown country. Our work and lives for the next two years would depend on this little piece of paper. When he finally let us go after lots of questions, it felt like a relief and the stamp of entry like a triumph.

Like the story when we traveled to Tanzania, a 10-12 hour bus ride. Crossing the border was a matter of hours again because the border patrol enjoyed talking to the only Mzungus (white people) on the bus in the middle of African bush land. Only when they were sure my dad was Jesus (because of his beard and longish hair), they let us pass, and we had a new stamp in our passports to remember this trip.

These stamps are not just stamps on a piece of paper. 
They serve as a conduit to our memories. 
Images of sun-drazed hills, humble yet elegant and amazingly friendly people, and the most
breath-taking sunsets come to mind when I flip through the pages of this little booklet.

Many pages are filled with visas, but in between there are also a few surprises. Like the entry stamp of Abu Dhabi I had not intended to get.
My flight to Johannesburg, South Africa was delayed, so I had an extra night to spend in this desert metropole. At immigration I was searched by a completely covered-up woman, which felt intimidating since she asked me to take off my clothes. As soon as I left the nicely cooled airport a heat wave hit me and made my clothes stick to my body. The cab passed by simple white houses in the desert, the skyscrapers downtown looming in the background. I was taken to a hotel which could’ve easily been the scene of a Persian fairytale and met some friendly fellow travelers.
The Arab letters in my passport remind me of my first encounter with the Oriental culture, even though it was just a peek.

To get a visa or entry stamp from the US is quite a journey which starts a few months before actual departure, when you go to the embassy, wait a few hours, and endure security protocol. Just to get a five minute interview in which you state that you definitely don’t want to emigrate to the US or have a secret fiancé there. The long line at the airport and a suspiciously looking border patrol officer in Charlotte, NC almost seemed like a piece of cake afterwards.

Passports tell stories.
Our stories.
Just like photo albums they take us back to adventures and memories of the past.
An invaluable treasure you don’t want to give up.

And yet, I guess that many TCKs might agree that their passports can be a burden for them sometimes.
This little booklet doesn’t just tell what you experienced, but also who you are. 
Your place of birth, your family name, your nationality.
You’re a citizen of country x. You belong to the people of y.

But what if I don’t feel like it?
What if my heart doesn’t match what it says on that paper?
What if my soul is lost in the beauty of Africa, the hospitality and openness of people with a different skin color? 
The allegiance of my heart cannot be described by one single country code.
I am German and yet I’m not. I feel African, but so many things drive me crazy about it.
I’m a mix of everything, which sometimes feels like nothing.
My passport reminds me of this cultural conflict I find myself in, this search for a sense of belonging, a sense of myself, a home.

After a bit of paperwork the lady at city hall handed me back my passport.
With “expired” written across the page in bold letters.
Even though my old passport has expired, my stories are not. 
Because I’m still here to treasure and tell them.

A few weeks later I got my new passport – many more pages to fill with new experiences.
New memories.
New stories.

[Waiting for Him] Didn’t you see me?

This month I am doing a series on Advent and preparing ourselves for Christmas. You can find more info on the series here. Come and join us for a month of getting ready and waiting!
In diesem Monat gibt es eine Serie über Advent und wie wir uns auf Weihnachten vorbereiten können. Hier gibt es mehr Infos über die Serie. Komm und sei dabei bei den Vorbereitungen und beim Warten!
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We talked quite a bit about our expectations this Advent already. We learn to wait, but also to dream big. And most of all, that the Lord we’re waiting for knows how to exceed our expectations again and again. 
But what does that mean? He doesn’t only give us more of what we want and expect, he starts by changing and moulding our expectations. He might redirect our gaze towards someone or something we wouldn’t see otherwise. He shows his strength in our weakness. His love and compassion in our coldness. His time in our stress. 

When all Christmas cookies are baked and the candles are lit – then it’s time to listen to a Christmas story in our house. It’s the same every year, everywhere. We took that story to warm Uganda, where Christmas was rather about sweating than snuggling with a cup of tea. We turned it into a musical. Even though we’re no longer at home for the first Advent we take that story with us. Just yesterday I got to listen to it with friends. The message is the same: Christ is coming this Christmas, but it might be different than you expected. 
So get yourself a cup of tea and a warm blanket (or a cool drink if you live in the Southern hemisphere) and challenge yourself and your view of Christmas with this story: Leo Tolstoy’s “Papa Panov’s Special Christmas”.

It was Christmas Eve and although it was still afternoon, lights had begun to appear in the shops and houses of the little Russian village, for the short winter day was nearly over. Excited children scurried indoors and now only muffled sounds of chatter and laughter escaped from closed shutters.

Old Papa Panov, the village shoemaker, stepped outside his shop to take one last look around. The sounds of happiness, the bright lights and the faint but delicious smells of Christmas cooking reminded him of past Christmas times when his wife had still been alive and his own children little. Now they had gone. His usually cheerful face, with the little laughter wrinkles behind the round steel spectacles, looked sad now. But he went back indoors with a firm step, put up the shutters and set a pot of coffee to heat on the charcoal stove. Then, with a sigh, he settled in his big armchair.



Papa Panov did not often read, but tonight he pulled down the big old family Bible and, slowly tracing the lines with one forefinger, he read again the Christmas story. He read how Mary and Joseph, tired by their journey to Bethlehem, found no room for them at the inn, so that Mary’s little baby was born in the cowshed.
“Oh, dear, oh, dear!” exclaimed Papa Panov, “if only they had come here! I would have given them my bed and I could have covered the baby with my patchwork quilt to keep him warm.”
He read on about the wise men who had come to see the baby Jesus, bringing him splendid gifts. Papa Panov’s face fell. “I have no gift that I could give him,” he thought sadly.

Then his face brightened. He put down the Bible, got up and stretched his long arms t the shelf high up in his little room. He took down a small, dusty box and opened it. Inside was a perfect pair of tiny leather shoes. Papa Panov smiled with satisfaction. Yes, they were as good as he had remembered- the best shoes he had ever made. “I should give him those,” he decided, as he gently put them away and sat down again.

He was feeling tired now, and the further he read the sleeper he became. The print began to dance before his eyes so that he closed them, just for a minute. In no time at all Papa Panov was fast asleep.
And as he slept he dreamed. He dreamed that someone was in his room and he know at once, as one does in dreams, who the person was. It was Jesus.

“You have been wishing that you could see me, Papa Panov.” he said kindly, “then look for me tomorrow. It will be Christmas Day and I will visit you. But look carefully, for I shall not tell you who I am.”

When at last Papa Panov awoke, the bells were ringing out and a thin light was filtering through the shutters. “Bless my soul!” said Papa Panov. “It’s Christmas Day!”
He stood up and stretched himself for he was rather stiff. Then his face filled with happiness as he remembered his dream. 

This would be a very special Christmas after all, for Jesus was coming to visit him. How would he look? Would he be a little baby, as at that first Christmas? Would he be a grown man, a carpenter- or the great King that he is, God’s Son? He must watch carefully the whole day through so that he recognized him however he came.

Papa Panov put on a special pot of coffee for his Christmas breakfast, took down the shutters and looked out of the window. The street was deserted, no one was stirring yet. No one except the road sweeper. He looked as miserable and dirty as ever, and well he might! Whoever wanted to work on Christmas Day – and in the raw cold and bitter freezing mist of such a morning?

Papa Panov opened the shop door, letting in a thin stream of cold air. “Come in!” he shouted across the street cheerily. “Come in and have some hot coffee to keep out the cold!”
The sweeper looked up, scarcely able to believe his ears. He was only too glad to put down his broom and come into the warm room. His old clothes steamed gently in the heat of the stove and he clasped both red hands round the comforting warm mug as he drank.
Papa Panov watched him with satisfaction, but every now and them his eyes strayed to the window. It would never do to miss his special visitor.
“Expecting someone?” the sweeper asked at last. So Papa Panov told him about his dream.
“Well, I hope he comes,” the sweeper said, “you’ve given me a bit of Christmas cheer I never expected to have. I’d say you deserve to have your dream come true.” And he actually smiled.

When he had gone, Papa Panov put on cabbage soup for his dinner, then went to the door again, scanning the street. He saw no one. But he was mistaken. Someone was coming.
The girl walked so slowly and quietly, hugging the walls of shops and houses, that it was a while before he noticed her. She looked very tired and she was carrying something. As she drew nearer he could see that it was a baby, wrapped in a thin shawl. There was such sadness in her face and in the pinched little face of the baby, that Papa Panov’s heart went out to them.
“Won’t you come in,” he called, stepping outside to meet them. “You both need a warm by the fire and a rest.”

The young mother let him shepherd her indoors and to the comfort of the armchair. She gave a big sigh of relief.
“I’ll warm some milk for the baby,” Papa Panov said, “I’ve had children of my own- I can feed her for you.” He took the milk from the stove and carefully fed the baby from a spoon, warming her tiny feet by the stove at the same time.
“She needs shoes,” the cobbler said.
But the girl replied, “I can’t afford shoes, I’ve got no husband to bring home money. I’m on my way to the next village to get work.”

A sudden thought flashed through Papa Panov’s mind. He remembered the little shoes he had looked at last night. But he had been keeping those for Jesus. He looked again at the cold little feet and made up his mind.

“Try these on her,” he said, handing the baby and the shoes to the mother. The beautiful little shoes were a perfect fit. The girl smiled happily and the baby gurgled with pleasure.

“You have been so kind to us,” the girl said, when she got up with her baby to go. “May all your Christmas wishes come true!” 

But Papa Panov was beginning to wonder if his very special Christmas wish would come true. Perhaps he had missed his visitor? He looked anxiously up and down the street. There were plenty of people about but they were all faces that he recognized. There were neighbors going to call on their families. They nodded and smiled and wished him Happy Christmas! Or beggars- and Papa Panov hurried indoors to fetch them hot soup and a generous hunk of bread, hurrying out again in case he missed the Important Stranger.


All too soon the winter dusk fell. When Papa Panov next went to the door and strained his eyes, he could no longer make out the passers-by. most were home and indoors by now anyway. He walked slowly back into his room at last, put up the shutters, and sat down wearily in his armchair. 

So it had been just a dream after all. Jesus had not come. 

Then all at once he knew that he was no longer alone in the room. 
This was not adream for he was wide awake. 

At first he seemed to see before his eyes the long stream of people who had come to him that day. 
He saw again the old road sweeper, the young mother and her baby and the beggars he had fed. As they passed, each whispered, “Didn’t you see me, Papa Panov?” 

“Who are you?” he called out, bewildered. 

Then another voice answered him. It was the voice from his dream- the voice of Jesus. 

“I was hungry and you fed me,” he said. “I was naked and you clothed me. I was cold and you warmed me. I came to you today in everyone of those you helped and welcomed.” 

Then all was quiet and still. Only the sound of the big clock ticking. A great peace and happiness seemed to fill the room, overflowing Papa Panov’s heart until he wanted to burst out singing and laughing and dancing with joy. 

“So he did come after all!” was all that he said. 



[31 Days] Day 28 Expect

It’s Day 28 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!
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I came home from a year in South Africa being in love with the country and its people. The goodbye was incredibly hard and the re-entry to Germany was, too. 
I settled back into life, began university, started making new friends. 
But this deep longing and feeling of homesickness were my constant companion.

A few months later I had my debrief with the mission agency and they told me that for various reasons I would have the chance to go back for a short time. What a game changer! The summer semester couldn’t go by faster as my eyes and heart were set on July 29th, departure for my second home South Africa. 

A week before I left I had dinner with a few friends; we sat outside in the summer night and talked about my trip. And then one friend asked: 

What do you expect of this trip? 

This question stuck with me during my trip, which turned out to be different than I expected. 
Did I go back to cure my homesickness? 
Did I expect I would go back and everything would be alright again? 
Did I expect time would have stopped and I could just continue where I had left things? 


It was a bit of a homecoming. 
Flying into Johannesburg and driving to the farm from the airport felt so familiar. 
I recognized houses, towns, shops. 
Seeing “my” town again made my heart leap. 
And holding dear friends in my arms again felt a bit like healing. 
So yes, a bit of my homesickness was stilled, at least for two months. 

It was also a bit like a revelation. 
A shattering of expectations. 
The bubble of nostalgic idealization burst and I was left with reality. 
Things had changed, people had left and the perfect community we had had a year before did no longer exist. 
The people had made the experience so unique, and without them I couldn’t just simply replicate it. 
Things that had bothered me in the first year were still there, and I wondered how I could’ve idealized them, too. 

So no, my expectations were shattered. But in a positive way. 
When I returned to Germany the second time I knew a little bit better how to handle my homesickness. 
I still missed friends and certain things deeply, and they will always be close to my heart. However, I don’t give in to nostalgic longing for things anymore that are more of a burden than a blessing. 
My expectations were refined. 

For those of you who returned “home”, what were your expectations and experiences? 


[31 Days] Day 27 Visit

It’s Day 27 of the 31 Days in the Life of a TCK series! Welcome! You can find more info on the series here. Don’t forget to subscribe!


Today I am very honored to introduce my last guest blogger to you. We have never met in person, but I follow her blog which always encourages me. A TCK herself and mom to TCKs, Marilyn just has so much wisdom and expertise which she knows how to put into touching and powerful words. Marilyn writes at her own blog Communicating Across Boundaries, but I am incredibly blessed to have her over at my small place today. When I read her post for the first time it deeply resonated with me, and I hope you’ll enjoy it, too. Thank you so much, Marilyn, for your wisdom! Please read more about her at the 
end of the post. 
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“So – are you visiting?”

The question took me completely by surprise. 
We had returned to Cairo for our first trip two years after leaving. 
Cairo had been our home for seven years.

photo credit: Marilyn Gardner

It was in Cairo that we had watched three of our five children take their first steps. 
It was in Cairo where our youngest two were born, three years apart. 
It was our community in this city that had loved us and cared for us through pregnancies and sickness; through post-delivery chaos and family crises; and through packing up and leaving when the time came. 
The apartment we lived in still had markings of our children’s measurements on the doorpost. We had seen these just a day before while with our friends.


Cairo had been home for a long time and it broke our hearts to leave. 
We said goodbye to all those things we loved so deeply. 
Rides in huge, wooden boats called feluccas on the Nile River; Egyptian lentils (Kosherie) with the spicy tomato sauce and crispy fried onions to top it off; friendships that had been forged through hours of talking and doing life together; a church that was one of a kind with people from all over the world.

So when the woman asked me the question I didn’t know what to say. 
A lump came into my throat and I willed myself to hold back the tears.
“Yes. Yes – we are visiting.” Pause “We used to live here…..” my voice trailed off.

The words ‘Visit’ and ‘Live’ are worlds apart. 
Visit means stranger, tourist, one who goes and stays in a place for a “short time.” 
The dictionary definition is clear on this. 
It goes on to add “for purposes of sociability, business, politeness, curiousity…”

By contrast, the word live means “to dwell, to stay as a permanent resident.”
It was like being slapped on the face by someone you trust. 
We were no longer permanent residents in Cairo, Egypt. 
Our visas, stamped into our blue passports, no longer gave us legal resident status. Instead, they gave us only temporary permission to be in the country. 
We did not have permission to dwell, to live, to work. 
We only had permission to stay for a short time – to ‘visit.’

The grief that washed over me was acute and I wanted to bury myself in it. 
I wanted to be able to grieve with abandon, to cry the tears I had wanted to cry since leaving two years prior. 
I wanted to cry tears that would water the dusty ground that surrounded me, ground that had not seen water for a long time. 
But I couldn’t. 
Because indulging in the grief at that moment would have taken me away from the place that I loved, the people that I loved.

When a third culture kid suddenly finds himself or herself a stranger, a visitor in a land they once claimed the grief is acute and necessary. 
And there is no way around but through. 
Trying to avoid the reality is not helpful. 

But this I know: More difficult than a visit would have been no visit at all, far harder than facing my current reality would have been dreaming a dream in a country far removed and never getting to experience this beloved place again. 
So I held in the grief until a better time, swallowed hard, and went on my way.

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Marilyn Gardner is an adult third culture kid who grew up in Pakistan and raised her own third culture kids in Cairo, Egypt before moving to the United States. She is author of the recently released book Between Worlds: Essays on Culture and Belonging available now at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Powell Books.