Tuesday Was Market Day




(originally posted on “Maps and Solitude“)

Sometimes there are things you associate specifically with the cities you live in or visit on a regular basis. Mexico City has many such unique characteristics that I may return to in future posts but one of the things that I will always associate with it is the smell of corn. If Mexico City would have to bring out a signature perfume it would smell of corn (and maybe some vegetable oil). I mean there is already a town named after it. From this point on, only the sky is the limit.  If I had to explain it the most basic way there is, then corn is in Mexico what dates are in the Middle East. Staple food.

Maybe it was for the various corn tortillas frying in the round, hot grill plates in the narrow streets. Or maybe it was all due to the fresh or dried tortillas that one could find in abundance at any supermarket. Or it was because almost any pastry in this town is somehow related to corn. If you don’t like pastries, there is still no way around the yellow vegetable for you. Ever wondered why the chicken meat here is always yellow? Well, guess what chickens are fed.

Even though my last visit was quite a while ago, I am not sure I still like to eat corn or anything made from it.

On Tuesdays there was finally a change of scenery for my corn-tortured taste buds. On Tuesdays, all the way down Pachuca street, stretched out a tremendous street market, luring in  visitors with its colors and smells and the piercing cries of the local vendors.

It was a labyrinth of all sorts of goods with unusual names, bright colors and exotic scents. I walked past stands with fruit I could only find occasionally at my favorite Turkish supermarket in Berlin, or which I have never seen before to begin with, one of those being light green tomatoes or avocados with edible skins.

Elderly women with silver hair and white traditional dresses walked in the dense crowd, their braided baskets full of caramelized nuts. From time to time they would pick a shopper at random, Mexican or not, offering him or her a sweet treat for as little as 10 pesos.

The vendors at the stands all of whom were men on this particular ocassion addressed me with guapa, complimenting my natural beauty and held pieces of fruit out to me on the tips of kitchen knives. Some of them would literally run after their potential customers with their knives in hand and had there not been a piece fruit on the tips of their kitchen knives, one could have mistaken the whole ongoing for a murder scenario.

The numerous packets of medicinal charcoal which I had brought with me from Europe kept crossing my mind while I bit into a slice of avocado sprinkled with lime juice. The vendor had eventually caught up with me.

A few stands past the avocados lay stacks of round, light green cactus leaves. The Mexicans use the word nopal, originating from the ancient language Nahuatl to name it. The bundles were available for 10 pesos each (a common price for most things on Mexican markets). When faced with exotic foods, markets are the best if not the only place where you will always find someone to explain  how to prepare this mysterious… fruit? plant? vegetable? How do you categorize a cactus anyway?

“Toss it in a pan with some onions, then add salt  and pepper to it”, said the vendor and handed me my change along with a full plastic bag of cactus. Luckily at this point, my Spanish had gotten good enough to not ask for everything to be repeated twice.

Done as told, even without salt or pepper, the green leaves had a sour taste to them. I could have been eating fried gherkins or pickles for all I knew. Other countries, other dishes.

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.

A Berliner in Mexico

Two hours before my high school graduation ceremony on Saudi Arabian soil, I met Catherine. I have never been good at talking to random strangers but when constantly traveling from one place to another you eventually realise that, in the big picture, making a fool of yourself is really no big deal. So during my very last hours in the air-conditioned hallway of the science department, the photographs of the past students of the month on the wall being our only listeners, I asked Catherine to tell me her story.

The part of it that I remember until today makes me think of her as an adventurous, spontaneous person. How else would you describe someone who, 24 hours before starting a new life in Oxford in the company of an old friend, has not even started packing yet and feels totally relaxed about it?

Today, almost three years later, just like Catherine, I am standing in front of an empty suitcase and don’t feel a thing. I must have wasted all of my nervous emotions on the previous months, filled with getting additional travel documents, several health check ups and paying a fortune for health insurance.

What I love most about life is that you have the chance to be defined by the people you meet over the years. I like to think of myself as a product of all the stories and observed behaviors of those who have crossed my path of life so far. I like to think that a little bit of every friend of mine stays alive within me, even if said friends have left my life a long time ago.

Between university term papers, Spanish vocabulary exercises and  E-Mails replacing actual office hours with professors , came all the farewell dinners with friends and family that I have eventually lost count of. This is not my first new beginning as I have come to call it. In a way it feels very familiar, almost nostalgically welcoming. However, it is the first new beginning that I am responsible for largely by myself. Each journey is so different and yet the process of getting there is all the same.

Such things are worth writing about as much as they are worth experiencing. Maybe this is one of those moments one may look back upon and say that this is where an old life ended and a new one took its course. It is one of those turning points when you begin to understand that between now and the following  months you will become a new person with new memories, new friends and maybe even new world views. I am curious to see how much I will recognize my old self once this is over.

So from now on, because this blog is already somewhat known to a couple of readers, I’ll document my journey to and through Mexico City on here, happily inviting you to read along!

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.



About Poetry

It was a small gathering and to be brutally honest, it was only a matter of coincidence and good luck that I remembered the little note in my calendar.

In school they used to tell us that if it didn’t rhyme, it wasn’t poetry so when she told me that in her writing, there was no such thing as a metrical pattern, I was yet again convinced that my whole school life was a lie.

It was an interesting realisation that in a city like Berlin, at almost any hour of the day, there is always something taking place. Somewhere people gather  to watch a play, hear a speech or listen to a piece of classical music. This is a city of events and the smaller, the less known it is, the more interesting, more intimate and unique it appears to be.

Poetry doesn’t always make sense to people who did not write it themselves. But since yesterday I figured that maybe the beauty of poetry doesn’t lie in the sense of its words. If you ever watch young poets in the making sharing their work with an audience in a tiny location on the grounds of an old german brewery, you may come to realise that a poem gets its beauty from its poet.

It was not just about words and meaning. It was also all about voices, about emotions and passion. Have you ever noticed how a personal poem can sound like a rap song if the tone of voice is right? When it gets louder with each line, fueled by rising emotions and memories?  Not only is it all about how one writes something but also about how the written is presented.

I sat there and listened to people pour their hearts out on stage. A famous german poet once said that in every piece of writing the author gives away something about himself. So if you want to get to know people, look at what they write about and how they write it. It can say a lot.

I sat there watching them and felt admiration for these people who stayed true to what drives them, regardless who gets to hear their results. They write poetry because they love it. Their love of what they do makes them beautiful.

“I should have kept writing, too”, I said to myself. So now back here I am.


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. 🙂



Happy Halloween

Photo by: Toa Heftiba

For the last couple of days, on the news feeds of my social media accounts, Halloween jokes have been shared and costumes and make-up presented with a pinch of pride.

Growing up in Berlin and never having been anywhere near the United States or Canada, this holiday had always appeared to me as something…let’s just say “rather American”.

Even though one can find tons of decorations for this theme, I have never seen carved pumpkins lightening up the porches of houses or the windows of apartments in Berlin. Just like there are tons of Halloween decorations for one’s home, there are probably as many parties around here, where it’s all about looking spooky (or at least being dressed up as something) and having fun to ear-shattering music and expensive booze.

The only children dress ups I have ever known and been part of, were the ones we had in elementary school every once in a while but I have never, not even when I used to live in a house, come across groups of excited children roaming the streets in search of candy.

Therefore I have always assumed that Halloween was just another reason for us Germans to throw a party when (or because) there is no time to invade Mallorca on a short notice. I didn’t think much when I spotted a little girl dressed up as a witch, waiting in line at the supermarket next to her father today. But a few minutes ago, I heard someone ring my doorbell three times. After a few seconds of confusion I realized that the whole “trick or treat” thing was actually happening. In my apartment building, in a far, far away part of Berlin that even some locals  know from legends only without ever having been here. Who else would be standing at my door at this hour and weather?

I had no choice but to remain silent until I heard the muttering of children’s voices and tiny steps becoming more and more silent with the increasing amount of stairs walked. I have never felt so bad about not having any child- appropriate candy in the house. I really hope they had more luck elsewhere.

So even if Halloween is not such a big deal here, no matter where you are from,  I guess it is always good to have candy at hand. You never know.