Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Start of My Journey-Berlin and India

I’ve already entered a new world. The languages are already different. Investigating the food possibilities I see ten men kneeling for prayer. I’ve decided on Turkish food, a flat bread with spinach. HLN is on TV, but I am now among a sea of faces that look differently than mine.

It’s all a bit bittersweet, these new beginnings, not so much endings, but knowing that some of my friends and family I won’t see for two years. Technology of course makes it somewhat easier but still there’s something about physical proximity which I will miss. Of course, we tend to take that proximity for granted. My path during the past year has been so much one of connection with people that I truly care about and have come to truly care about. People that are open to connection and wanting to share their lives on a deeper level, people that are self-aware, know about their diversity, and can deal with the diversity of others. There are also those that have been distanced in my life, but I know that I always do my best to shorten those distances.

It’s curious to me when others say keep in contact. Of course my perspective of contact goes quite deep and takes effort. Acquaintances are fine but I really enjoy deep friendships. The reality is that age doesn’t have to matter, but can be an issue. I think that it’s more about life experience and a willingness to be open to connection.

My adventures have more than started and they continue on this particular life journey.

I’m in India! Been here since 3/12. But a few words about Berlin first.
I saw the sun very little for the six days that I was in Berlin. I know that it’s the time of the year, but it also is somewhat how I saw the city. Don’t get me wrong, there is so much history in this city. So much that the city has to offer in terms of culture and of course my beloved children also live there. The buildings were just incredible and walking up unter den linden to the Brandenburg Gate and then seeing pictures of where the Wall was located next to this monument sent shivers up my spine. The thing though is that wherever I went I was reminded of the Wall, either through actually seeing portions of the Wall which have been preserved, maybe as a reminder as to how horrible people can be towards each other, but also through indications on the street where the wall was once established to separate people. Constantly asking myself and my children are we in what was East or West Berlin and knowing that people were put into this “cage” so that they weren’t free in my mind is “sick”.

There were also many reminders of a once thriving Jewish community, markers in front of various homes where Jews were taken away to concentration camps, the Jewish Memorial and museum, a Jewish cemetery with 65,000 or so people buried there, temples which once were vibrant but now are museums where one has to pay some Euros to get in, and pictures of buildings that were a, e.g. Jewish school. Yes, there are new headstones at the Jewish cemetery, but one knows that the people were most likely born in Berlin, somehow escaped being murdered by the Nazis and just wanted to once more return to their homeland.

I have an aunt who leads tours to concentration camps and is reminding us all to “never forget”. I had wanted to go to visit a concentration camp on my last day in Berlin, but was feeling a bit too nervous about my impending trip to India and so didn’t go. My children have not visited a camp, nor do they have the desire to. In talking to some Jewish people, they would never consider going to Germany and the fact still remains that there is not a thriving Jewish community, as far as I know in Berlin and possibly not even in Germany. But others can correct me on this. One cannot forget about a holocaust, because this type of thing, ethnic cleansing, is still occurring too frequently in our world. There is still anti-semitism and the fear of crimes against Jews as I noted by the policeman and barricades at anything that was Jewish, temples and even a restaurant in Berlin. But also at some point there needs to be healing.

Unfortunately I think that the collective world does forget because it is no longer happening to “me” and it is happening “over there” and it is happening to other ethnic groups and so at least it is not happening to “us”.

I think that the work that my aunt is doing is very important but are we in fact learning any lessons so that “we” don’t or allow some to do the same thing to others? Do we in fact reverse roles when we now get power? This is something that I struggle with.

Seeing my children in their home environment, having them lead the tour in a city where I didn’t speak or understand the language, was an incredibly transformative thing for me. Knowing that my children moved to a foreign country and are able to live their lives is very comforting. Of course they struggle, but never-the-less it is an amazing accomplishment! One of the last things that we did together in Berlin was to see the movie Valkyrie.

I am so fortunate in my friendships. They have so much depth and I feel so much love and support. Of course I’ve worked at this to make it so! One of these friends is Onkar Kakar who lives in his family home at 10-A Lee Road in Kolkata with his wife Myna, son Anant and father Mohan. Onkar is the kind of person who would do anything for his friends and family. I’ve known Onkar since January 1982 when we attended Northeastern University-MBA program together.

When I arrived in New Delhi on Thursday night, of course the VSO folks were there, but so was Onky with his, and my new, friend Rashmi. When I saw Onky I gave him a big bear hug and a kiss and he took me back to his aunt, Chachi and uncle’s, Chacha for a few days. Chacha and Chachi’s son Caren and his wife and new son also live in the house. Another Chacha and Chachi were also visiting. Because of Onky’s friendship I’m immediately part of this extended family. We would sit in Chacha and Chachi’s bedroom hanging out, drinking tea, talking, just being together.

The Indian family structure seems so lovely to me and the Indian family, at least from what I’ve witnessed holds the society together. Of course, given the pace of growth in India, this may be changing. There is more divorce and this impacts everything. But even among the very poor families that I’ve seen, no matter where they are and many do live on the street, the entire family appears to be together. To be accepted into an Indian family is magical and I wouldn’t trade this for anything.

Onky also introduced me to others, both family and friends and this makes my transition easier than many. Also, Ricardo, my daughter Sarah’s boyfriend, is in India and I was able to spend time with him as he showed me the American Embassy compound where I will play some b-ball at the American Embassy School, as well as how to use the Delhi metro.

But here is why I really love India and why I wanted to come. Outside of the place where the volunteers are staying at the Indian Social Institute are some pretty “destitute” people, living in some makeshift “houses”. As I tend to hook up with children no matter where I go, and as I was walking back from class today, I noticed a game of cricket happening. I tried cricket once in 2006 when I had previously visited India and was quite unsuccessful. But in order to start becoming part of this society I kind of pointed and the children, smiling, let me try. A little deaf boy had his own unskinned tennis ball and a cricket bat and we started playing. He would kind of make grunting sounds and would smile and we both knew exactly what to do.

Picture children of all ages from just walking to teens, hanging out in this kind of road with cars, dogs, three wheeled scooters and motorcycles playing cricket. The women are preparing dinner, but the other adults are nearby talking, some women stringing flowers together. So, one young man brings out a small basketball and of course I immediately pick up on this and start teaching him and a couple of others how to dribble and pass. Soon we are going up and down the alley, dribbling and passing avoiding all of the cars and other motorized vehicles. The next step, as the cricket game stopped was to get a bunch of the children together in a circle to start passing the ball, while I was in the middle trying to steal the ball. The game got so large that we had four people in the middle and everyone, including the adults, who were now watching, were just cracking up. There was so much laughter as this crazy American and one Brit were running around in the middle of this circle with all of these children. At the end of the game, when I was just dripping, I gave most of the kids a two handed high five and with one child I jumped up in the air as we crashed our bodies together. I’m now known as “uncle” or Michael.

1 comment:

Carol said...

Happy to see someone as thoughtful and inquiring as you are set out to learn from and about others in this way. I hope to hear and see more as your journey continues.
Carol Coren