Dinner with Diversity

Posted on March 25th, 2012 by

Solving the world's problems (excluding stuttering; see name)

The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ; also known in English as the German Agency for International Cooperation) is a classy organization that does a lot of humanitarian work. A friend of mine works there and invited some of us to a documentary-dinner deal they were hosting. Since some ambassadors from a couple southern African countries were going to be there, everything was to be in English (this is helpful when my high-class, academic German is abysmal and one of my friends can’t really speak German [in her defense though, she’s fluent in Italian, French, and English; just a little impressive]). As the event is starting, the ambassadors haven’t made it, so the guy at the podium says, “Can we just speak German then? Is there anyone who only speaks English here?” Seriously, you’re expecting people to raise their hands in a sea of Germans and say, “Yup, right here; hold off on the Deutsch, bitte.” Obviously, we didn’t have the gall to say anything, so everything then proceeded in German. I understood a bit, but luckily the documentary was in English. It was about the physically handicapped in Zimbabwe who are shunned to the outer reaches of society making life extremely difficult. But even so, one group found a way to thrive. In the film, Ithemba (which means hope), a Zimbabwean band made up completely of physically handicapped men and women was chronicled. It was incredible (here’s a link to the trailer http://www.loliandrex.com/ if you’d like to see what I’m talking about; do it). I expected the protagonists to be strong (which they were), but they were also so much more. For one, absolutely hilarious. It was wonderful to see a film portray this community in a way that makes you forget their handicap. Normally, pity seems to be the ultimate goal of these documentaries but this was more about acceptance and ability. They aren’t any different than “normal” people and the filmmaker did a great job of showing that. I’m not sure where you’d find this movie in the States, but it’s definitely worth it. GAC, you need to make this happen. Once the documentary was over, there was a panel discussion and dinner which was a great venue for some good conversations. After eating and drinking our fill (we closed down the place), we left like two and a half hours later than expected. Oops.

My group gave a presentation this week on COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). It went extremely well. I even got to strip during one portion of the presentation (you’d think these shenanigans would end once you enter grad school, but people still enjoy being entertained). I should probably explain how that all worked out. Well, one of my group members drew an impressive set of lungs onto a white undershirt of mine, and when she was explaining the medical aspect of COPD, she was planning on pointing to the shirt I’d be wearing. I figured, why not mess with people and when she says, “If only I had a set of lungs to help explain this,” I suavely say, “I think I can help you out with that one.” And then proceed to start unbuttoning my dress shirt. Lucky for the audience, I was quick about it, so no one had a chance to hyperventilate too much from anticipation. Even the professors laughed when I was able to reveal a perfect set of lungs without actually taking all my clothes off. In the end, the presentation was quite the success.

He loves a good apple, Reisemarkt, and Sensodyne

The Ostbahnhof (the train station near my house) has a small shopping center within it. From time to time, I go there for my groceries. As I went the other day, there was a special event going on known as a Reisemarkt (travel market). From what I gathered, this is just a bunch of booths with people talking about different places to visit. A couple things I realized: there are a lot of little German towns that look beautiful that I have never even heard of, and two, old people go bonkers over this stuff.  You’d think they were giving away free Sensodyne the way people were clamoring at these booths. It was a zoo but made for entertaining people-watching.

I’m uncertain as to whether Germans use deodorant. At very least, I  can’t seem to find it anywhere.

The longer I live here, the more I realize America likes to do a lot of basic things differently than the rest of the world. We use miles instead of the kilometers. Fahrenheit instead of Celcius. Our standard paper is 8 ½” by 11” instead of being A4 (you just got confused, didn’t you?). This probably requires an explanation. A4 is about 8.3” by 11.7” (so it’s skinnier and longer; kind of like when you compare actual Germans and Americans). These numbers probably seem extremely arbitrary, but of course being German, there’s a completely logical reason for this. A3 is then twice the size of A4. A2 twice the size of A3. So on, so forth. In the end, A0 is one square meter with the sides being at a ratio of 1: 1.41 (the square root of 2). Why they chose this, I have no idea, but there’s probably some cool explanation similar to the golden mean or something. But now getting to the actual point. Even our envelopes are different sizes. I wanted to send Flat Gus, but he didn’t fit the standard German envelope. I then had to go to the post office where all they had that would fit him was an envelope that was much too big. In the end, I just used that one and sent Gus off to Spain in the lap of luxury with more room than British Airways business class (cost about the same too). Also, in case this letter goes the wrong address, Gus isn’t making his way back to me. Germans don’t believe in things like return addresses.

I really do wonder what German Elmo sounds like

I met a man named Elmo this week. He was wearing a bright red t-shirt. I loved it.

Our entire class went to a kitchen on Friday night (oddly in the compound of an old printing press manufacturing company turned into a non-profit) where everyone prepared food from their home countries. It was a blast (and complete and utter chaos). As I arrived, there were already people hard at work in the kitchen. But with only one stove and its six burners, space was at a premium. Also, the barter system came into full effect. You’d realize you didn’t have tomatoes, so then you’d have to trade a few cloves of garlic for one (who needs the World Trade Organization when you have effective bartering skills). Things were getting so crazy I even got some coconut milk splashed into my drink (surprisingly, they stay separated quite well). Considering that we must represent around 20 countries from all corners of the globe, the food was quite diverse. And incredible. A few highlights: I had never in my life had Kenyan food but that was fantastic. The Pakistani food made me feel a little closer to home (as in my parent’s kitchen). Korea was represented by a rice noodle, vegetable, and meat extravaganza. Germany came in strong with some spätzle (Deutschland’s answer to Mac and Cheese) and boulette (good ol’ fashioned German meat patties). Homemade vegetable lasagna was thrown down by Italy. And many more, but I’m getting too hungry thinking about all of this so I need to stop. I made some shrimp curry which I can’t really comment on because it was gone before I had a chance to try it. After finishing eating, we fought through the food coma and started a dance party. Always a good call. I even got to try out a bit of the swing moves on the head of our program. The event was definitely a success, and hopefully one that is repeated before we all venture off to our own parts of the world.

This coming week, the glorious Gustie Abbey Leona Maus is coming all the way from the US of A to visit me here in Berlin. With that being the case, we’ll be heading to Italia next weekend for her to get a taste of southern Europe. Between that trip, school, and showing Abbs everything Berlin has to offer, not quite sure when this next blog will be written. I’ll do my best to crank it out in a timely fashion but no promises.

Hugs and hand pound,



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