A Tribute to the Grasshopper I Had For Lunch

There would come a day in my life where I would find myself on a weekly market in Cholula, thinking about whether dried grasshoppers have bones. If somebody would have told me that way in advance, it probably wouldn’t have been so much of an intense moment.

I may be an A-student in university and a curious person with glasses which makes most people think I am some sort of super smart but actually I am not. I mean, I don’t even know if insects have skeletons. Well, I just looked it up. They do have something like bones though it is made of another material. More like fingernails and our fingernails are made of a protein called keratin. Thanks, internet! Next question: Do insects have feelings? Do they have a conscience?

I looked at the plastic bag filled with dried, brown little somethings and fished out one of them with two fingers. I had no idea why I was doing this. Maybe to get it off my bucket list, even though dried grasshoppers with sauce and lime juice were not on it but it sounded like something you would put on a bucket list.

I took a deep breath and popped in the tiny protein bomb called chapulines. In the eastern- european culture I partially grew up with, in my childhood there was  a custom of making a wish when eating something for the very first time. I made a wish from the depth of my racing heart, chewed and swallowed. That f***ing wish better come true now, it better do. Please.

The legs were thin and crunchy. Something like  individual dried herbs from a dish or a tiny piece of uncooked spaghetti or vermicelli better yet, for the pasta connoisseurs among my readers. The crunchiness of the insect was short-lived and so was the spicy shock coming from the sauce as it was smoothened by the lime juice only a few seconds later. The fish-like taste in the finish made me wonder about the contents of the sauce. I doubt the vendor, who at the same time sold cherries in one bucket and dried grasshoppers with chilli and lime in another, used fishstock for this but this was Mexico so you never knew. In fact, the taste reminded me of the packages of dried fish from the Russian supermarket. Typical beer snacks, as addictive as sunflower seeds way before Socialism was introduced to Pringles. Or the other way around?

I left it at only one encounter with the dried insects even though they may be the healthier alternative to chips. Mexican markets are a curious thing of its own. No matter how much I hate crowds by now I can’t cease to be fascinated by them. There are all sorts of food and drinks and while one part of me really wants to try this pancake shaped pastry with chocolate filling, called  gorditas de nata, my fear of food poisoning forces me to remain rational and enjoy the surroundings with my eyes and nose rather than with my taste buds.  Even as I pass by mexican women whipping cocoa to a cold and foamy drinkable substance, followed by stands of giant corn cobs topped with mayonnaise and shredded mozzarella, I remain stubborn despite the medical charcoal in my pocket whispering that everything will be alright.

Michelada,  a beer cocktail made of beer, tomato juice, salt, lime, tabasco and Worcester – or Maggi sauce (so basically what…beer soup? Beer gazpacho?) makes me feel glad I don’t drink alcohol.

20170916_125201  Sorry for the disturbing imagery. Here’s a picture of candy to calm down your nerves. 🙂

 

 

Airport Stories You Tell Your Grandchildren

Whenever you make a mistake, you intend to do it better next time. So when for example, you find yourself running around Shiphol airport in Amsterdam to catch your flight at the last second, next time, you tell yourself, you’ll do everything differently and everything will go smoothly.

When my next time came along, however, I imagine destiny just decided to lean back with a bucket of popcorn (probably salt and lime flavored like the one I am eating right now) and let itself be entertained.

The machine at the airport in Berlin would only print a ticket to Frankfurt. While the other passengers who have been waiting in line with me, as it is custom in Germany, nearly an hour in advance kept staring holes into my back, the Lufthansa employee told me to try again once I arrived in Frankfurt. Meanwhile my luggage would go all the way to Mexico. All I had to do now was hope to see it again any time soon.

But even in Frankfurt, the computer system kept asking for a visa before it could spit out a boarding pass for a plane to Mexico City. Another lady from Lufthansa, very optimistic at first, kept staring at the screen, growing even more confused by the minute. She looked at my Belarusian passport, a poor little thing visibly marked by endless journeys and visa stamps over the past seven years, and couldn’t stop wondering.

“The database says you are a german citizen. You have a biometric german passport. Why do you keep travelling with this then?”

Whatever it was that the computer knew about me, which was probably everything from what I have had for breakfast that morning to the color of my underwear, this time it knew something I didn’t. I did actually not own a german passport in the physical sense but it seemed like the Big Brother was already aware of the fact that my application for citizenship had gone through and had apparently been approved. What an irony to hear the good news from a Lufthansa employee with less than an hour left till my connecting flight across half the planet. Was this it? Was I going to get a firm handshake, a copy of the constitution and be welcomed to my new identity as a german citizen? Was this just part of an episode of Candid Camera?! Could somebody help me out here?

“There it is”, the woman’s voice got me out of my mess of thoughts. You have to re-book your returning flight to an earlier date. You have crossed the 180 day deadline for the tourist stay. ”

Indeed I had. My mistake of mixing up the months when booking my flights chased me down the hallway to the service terminal. It was like “Shiphol marathon” from two years ago all over again. Why did I choose Frankfurt with a longer layover and pay half a grand more? Why? It was definitely so I could gasp for air like a dying fish while, after a generous extra payment for changing my returning flight, the visa recognition system decided to die on me for good it seemed.

With less than half an hour till take off, I still had no boarding pass. My last hope was the check-in desk at the boarding gate. That hope however, was slowly dying, too just like I was on the inside from running up the stairs all the way to terminal B. Those of you who have ever been to Frankfurt airport will feel my pain.

Ahead of me stretched out a sea, no a whole ocean of travellers waiting for passport control. Right before me in line, stood a kuwaiti family of six. The policeman at the desk seemed to be in his best mood and as I watched him let one of the kids put the stamps into the family’s passports, I realized that there would be no more flights today to Mexico City and that I should probably start imagining what it would be like to spend the night on the floor of an airport.

But at the very end, destiny decided it had enough fun for the day and here I am, arrived on time, writing this.  The jetlag is still tearing at my nerves. For now, sleep to me are just two shifts of naps, each lasting for about 4 hours but nevertheless, the most intense emotions will always make the best stories.

Dear Coward From Platform 5,

you will probably never read this because you have no idea who I am but I am sure that there are many more of your kind out there so why not just say it anyway?

I still wonder what you were thinking, sticking your hand up my skirt. You did it in passing by. Casually, like it’s something one would just do every now and then. Not brushing slightly against it, not accidentally touching it because you were in a hurry. ALL. THE. WAY. UP.  UNDER. THE. DAMN. FABRIC. Don’t tell me there wasn’t enough room for your cold, bony fingers otherwise on a perfectly empty escalator as you were walking up the stairs.

Some may say that I shouldn’t make a big deal out of this. That these things happen and that I should maybe even be “grateful” you  found me attractive enough to touch me in that manner. I know such people and I wonder how much respect they have for themselves (and others) if this is the way they think.

I don’t see any show of affection or attraction here. What I see is some self righteous coward. You are a coward, sir, because apparently this is the only way you can manage to get your hands on a woman instead of just having the balls to approach one the normal way.

I bet you can’t stand rejection. I bet this is why you do things like that. You compensate your own failure by pretending to own the world. You think you can do whatever the hell you want because you are a man and all the women in this world could be at your feet in an instant. You  are the sexiest beast on earth, you think, but you just didn’t feel like making use of that today, am I right? Today you just wanted something quick. To remind yourself of how great you can be if only you want to.

Just because you think I have a nice body doesn’t give you the right to touch it when you feel like it. Regardless of whether I am single or married. I don’t care if this doesn’t count as intercourse to you or anyone who shrugs their shoulders at this. You want something from a man or a woman, you ask for it first! Just like you may not take a picture of someone without their permission, you may not grab them and check out their body parts for softness like they are a piece of fruit on a market stand.

This is not about wearing skirts or dresses either. If she’s wearing a skirt, if she’s showing too much skin, she’s asking for it, they say.

Let me tell you something: Not every person is into short skirts. Not everyone gets their brains blown out at the sight of legs. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder as they say. For some, an Amish style outfit totally does it. Some people like curvy blondes, some are fascinated by Tomboys in biker boots and piercings. It is not up to me to account for every single taste that’s  out there when getting dressed! It’s about men (and women) keeping their shit together when their brains get fried from deprivation of sex.

I had men who were old enough to be my father whistle at me in the streets of Riyadh as I walked by, dressed in an abaya with a hijab on my head. Black from head to toe, shaped like a walking tent. So don’t you dare telling me that this is about clothes. Men who catcall after women or try to get their hands on them without permission are a type of men who will do such a thing regardless of what a woman is wearing. The fact that she’s a woman (or a man if the harasser is female) is enough to get them going. THAT plus their own imagination is all it really takes.

That said, you are not being nice, you are not being masculine, you are not doing me a favor. You are being a fucking coward, sir.

 

 

What Actually Happens When I Try to “Study”

 

A tribute to what my mind and I are going through when I am at home, trying to get things done and study.

1. Alright, international relations theory it is today. Let’s start reading this 30 page text. (reads one paragraph)

 

2. Wait a minute…I am still supposed to download all the readings from BlackBoard before they are taken down for good. (downloads all the readings for classes, curses the German copyright system)

 

3. Okay, too much text to read. Let’s see if YouTube can explain this any better and faster. (goes on YouTube)

 

4. Finally found a well explaining video. (watches the first few seconds)

 

5. Oh, the guy tries to explain Constructivism with a Matrix reference. Have I ever seen The Matrix from start to finish? Let’s see if it is on Netflix. (pauses video, goes on Netflix)

 

6. New arrivals? Let’s have a look at that. Don’t forget to finish watching House of Cards btw. What does this say? Season 2 of Fuller House coming December 9th? YAY! Wait…what was I on here for again…? Yeah right, The Matrix. (looks up The Matrix)

 

7. Wow there’s like 3 versions of this on here. Let’s add one to the endless list of movies and shows I still want to watch and forget it even exists.

 

8. Back to YouTube…I wonder whether there is a book called International Relations for Dummies because I really need that right now. (searches for International Relations for Dummies, doesn’t find anything)

 

9. Well, I guess this summary text does it, too. (reads)

 

10. I am hungry. Time to make lunch. (eats lunch, looks at newly bought pasta maker)

 

11. Hell, I love pasta! Now, how do I best get beetroot and feta cheese stuffed into tortellini?? (starts thinking about making tortellini but goes back to studying)

 

12.  (watches another video) “A realist walks into a bar and orders a half empty glass of water”? Politics makes so much sense now.

 

13. Wasn’t Carlos Ruiz Zafón going to publish a new book soon? When does that come out again? (looks up publishing date)

 

14. (while finishing notes on IR) I have some chocolate cream cheese left but I am out of grissini sticks. How do I make grissini sticks? (looks up recipe).

 

15. (watches last video on international relations theory) Look! A video on Game Theory

16. It’s already December. Time to start designing the photo calendars. (searches for typography Photoshop tutorials for the cover page of calendar)

The vicious cycle is cruel and endless. Pretty much explains why studying takes so much time. At least I am still an A student. 🙂

 

 

Being a Local in Berlin

A while ago, I wrote about why traveling to other places can be so much more exciting than one’s own hometown.

Today’s subject of my random thinking session after I had finally finished my French revision was what makes the difference between living in a country compared to just visiting it for a few days.

When you become a local somewhere you notice that the carefree days of being an explorer of the world slowly come to an end. Your daily life consists of many single fragments that usually don’t appear as such in the life of someone who only drops by for a visit.

For me, being a local here in Berlin is made up of living in a part of town that tour guides probably leave out on purpose because there is really not much to see here and the only travellers who ever get here are a couple of Canadian au pairs from Ontario who accidentally took the absolutely wrong bus.

My neighbors and I don’t know each other but living in the same building makes for some (weird) encounters. It includes me leaving my flat with a puzzled look at the box of bio-vegetables delivered to my neighbor in the early morning and left standing there at the door all day until she gets home. I find it a bit strange because as a student on a government scholarship I cannot yet understand how someone has the spare money to have bio food delivered (!). My neighbor in turn must think of me as a weirdo for not yet having grasped the importance of ecologically friendly food. Neighbor etiquette in Germany includes taking the mail for the others in the building if they are not at home. On the other hand, I also get to pick up my mail from the others, having it handed over to me by people in a fluffy bathrobe or no clothes at all above the waist in the case of men.

Having lived here for so long now, part of my daily routine consists of sorting my trash into plastic, paper, glass, bio remains and “other waste”. Shall I dare to throw a bag into the wrong container while one of the elderly neighbors is around, I am in for an angry lecture on the importance of recycling. Last time the lady was so serious about it, she actually made me get the bag out of the wrong container again and throw it into the right one. I am not even sure how many travellers to Germany know we have a recycling system and if they do, how many of them actually care about sticking to it.

Me feeling like a local includes not making a noise on Sunday so that no one’s peace is disturbed. With the newly gained energy, I can then dedicate myself to handling bureaucratic matters, a process I probably wouldn’t wish upon my worst enemy. The bad mood and hopelessness of the employees is contagious but with time one learns to give a non-sarcastic answer to the question: “And your relatives let you live with them for free or what?”, when applying for government-funded housing. After that I can finish my day by buying groceries at the Turkish store near me, realizing that I have been on a  halal diet for months now without being Muslim because I am too tired to make it to the next hypermarket. Eating out is sinfully expensive and unlike tourists, most Germans do it for special occasions only.

And finally there is customer service! The longer you live here, the more likely you are to realize that the only person who can help you is yourself in about 50% of the cases. Being a local sometimes means getting a customer service where an electrician comes to your house who will tell you that you have no hot water because the fuses burned out. He will tell you that he does not have any of the fuses you need with him and that he does not know where to buy them because they are so outdated so you better go search yourself. At the end of the day he will still charge you 150€ for the visit because you called him after all.

This is not to say that everything is bad here. There are always good days and bad days, good people and not so good people. It seems to be all about the little details of life that a regular visitor probably doesn’t even think of. I can’t help but smile whenever people who are visiting tell me in excitement how much they would like to live here. 🙂

 

10 Signs You Study at a Leftist University

I assume that when you study political science, you might naturally expect there to be a certain tendency towards political ideologies among your fellow students. I began the semester at the Freie Universität Berlin with the same idea but initially I believed to find a few scattered groups here and there, nothing too concentrated. There should be quite some diversity in terms of political believes in a student body made of 37000 souls, right?

Well, the first thing I noticed (specifically at the political science faculty but also with respect to the student government) was the left wing spirit and it was so surprisingly overwhelming that I decided to write a post about my observations considering the leftist atmosphere of my new academic home:

You know you study at a leftist university when…

1. The first workshop offered to incoming students is about how to behave during a demonstration.

2. Your professor for political theory spends several minutes recalling enthusiastically how back in the 70s (or 80s) the Trotskysts beat the hell out ofthe Maoists.

3. The café of the political science department is called “The Red Café” and is located in a building that has been seized by students decades ago during a protest.

4. The whole campus is full of red posters with the picture of Trotsky on them, in honor of 75 years since his death.

5. There is a whole week dedicated to critical approaches to uni where you are reminded of how important it is to resist authority when needed. Seriously, I would not have been surprised if during the critical campus tour, we would have passed by the grave of Rudi Dutschke. Courtesy to this funny article for giving me that idea.

6. One of the political parties running to be elected into the student government advocates for the implementation of the United Socialist States of Europe. Because who needs the European Union anyway?

7. There is ALWAYS a reason to go out into the streets and protest and the student government leaders will not hesitate to kindly remind you of your “responsibility” via E-Mail at least once a week.

8. At least one party running for student government has something along the lines of “the young communists” in their name.

9. One of the events organized by the student initiative of The Red Café (it was a party of some sort or maybe just a movie night) was called “The Red Café Fraction”. That name comes from the left wing militant group Red Army Fraction, also known as the Baader-Meinhof Group.

10. Among students, your political science institute goes by the name “Johannes Agnoli Institute for Criticism of Politics”.

I know it says 10 in the title but I do remember just another one: The study and examination regulations of your faculty “strongly encourage” you to take at least one gender focused seminar. The contents of those, so I gathered from my friend, can be so hardcore that even current feminists start thinking about whether this whole feminism thing was a good idea to begin with.

 

 

Lecture Hall Noise: Concerto Nr. 1 in E Major

Some scattered thoughts on all the things you can hear inside a lecture hall instead for the actual lecture:

Some people type so vigorously on their laptops, you might think their lives depend on it. Maybe in a way they do. Two more weeks until finals.

While the crowd has just now managed to get seated, another group comes in (10 minutes late) like some animals who are finally let out to run in the open. *Sarcasm*

Someone drops their glass bottle of club mate, Berlin’s ultimate hipster drink. We hear it rolling endlessly down to the podium. How have these people remained hydrated before this magic “elixir” has flooded the local stores and the consumers’ hearts all the way from South America? Mate- doping for students and all night party hipsters.

The door slams shut behind them. Anyone ever heard of closing the door after entering when class has already started? Apparently not.

Again the squeaking of wooden chairs and tables. People getting up to let others pass into the rows of seats. I feel someone stretching out his leg next to me and climb across the last row of seats only centimeters away to my right. I’m telling you: it won’t be long until someone chops someone’s head off in the process of that “athletic performance”. *Sarcasm*

Isn’t it interesting how intensively so many people have to cough all of a sudden when you put them together in one room?

The newcomers open their bags, get out their sandwiches and cups of couscous. Let the chewing contest begin! The professor remains unimpressed. You might think he talks into empty space and doesn’t mind, which in a way is quite impressive.

The room fills with the smell of black bread with sunflower seeds, butter and lettuce.

The girl in front of me shakes her gum container. Finally, someone with a sense of rhythm! *Sarcasm*

By now the professor’s words are nothing but a hum of the sea. I might just as well use this time to practice my mindfulness technique, lulled by the soothing sound of my professor’s gentle Bavarian accent (which I do indeed find interesting to listen to, by the way), until the prototype exam questions come on the screen.

A few more reasons for why studying from home was initially not such a bad idea.