Thursday, December 29, 2016

Yearly New Year's Roundup: A Good Year For Me, A Bad One For The World

The countdown is on, we have almost made it: 2016 is in its final lap. This horrendous year for the planet is finally nearing an end, and although we will still live on a worse planet on January 1, 2017, than the one we occupied the same day in 2016, I think it comes as a relief to everyone that at least this torturous year is a memory. For me, 2016 was one of the best. The world, however, can't say the same thing. Almost none of the great things we expected happened except Leo DiCaprio finally winning the Oscar. This time last year we had hope for the planet, a female President, a stronger Europe and multicultural, tolerant and modern societies. Well, that hope was shattered with the most brutal force. Not only didn't we get Hillary, we got a lunatic asshole instead. Not only did we not get more tolerance, we got way more terrorists. And instead of a stronger Europe, almost the entire continent is preparing to vote for Nazi-enthusiasts once more next year. What a difference a year makes...

For me personally, the year started with a completely different expectation to what actually happened as well. I was in Moscow, fulfilling a lifelong dream. I was there with a boy, and at the time that was a nice thing. They say you spend the year with whoever is around on New Year's Eve. Instead, the boy I chose for that hooked up with the next chick the minute I left the country five days later (and, so it turned out, had already been doing so). Without telling me, of course. I found out in May when I was already way past caring, which makes writing this easier. What sounds like a sad story is, in fact, a huge contribution to why 2016 was such a success for me: I let go of a 10-year-old question mark that became an exclamation of "Sina, stop wasting your time!". My consequent reconciliation with my ex wasn't a result of that but felt way less forced than all the other reconciliations (there were plenty!) Despite this wonderful silver lining, two years of being in a relationship also came to an end and that, retrospectively, was also the right thing to happen. In the age of truly identifying what I want and need, the solitude made me make the right decision for myself. My relationship in Egypt never failed, but it ended because change was needed... and achieved.

The other biggie, of course, was leaving Egypt. I was sad to be leaving my boyfriend, but I never once doubted that leaving Egypt was the right step, and neither did he. There are few things in life you just feel are right, and when they come along, you still question them. Now, months after, I haven't missed Egypt even once, embracing my life back in Europe in a way I couldn't have had without the experience of living and loathing Cairo. Hearing all this, you may ask yourself why I celebrate a year in which men lost my love because they couldn't keep it in the pants (literally, mere hours both times!) and had to leave my lover behind, and the answer is very simple: it just had to happen. Everything that followed was positive. Duh, getting over a guy who doesn't appreciate you is easy, but actually realizing what you have in those who do appreciate you is a major lesson to learn. Leaving someone you love is harder, but finally accepting the end of something deemed to fall apart is liberating, saves everyone time and heartache and allowed both of us to continue to feel positive about each other.

The only thing I can really criticize about my personal year 2016 was the confusion about my career, and the countless times I was almost chosen to make all my dreams come true, but wasn't. This year, I applied and interviewed with Huffington Post, Politico, Business Insider, Deutsche Welle, CNN, International Business Times and, surprisingly, Ria Novosti. Each time, I lost out in the final round or was made an offer I couldn't accept. Each time, I was a stone throw away from literally everything I worked for these past years, only to realize it wasn't what I thought it would be. In the end, I started opening my horizon to new career ideas and I genuinely landed all jobs I applied for but two. It was evident, that "being a journalist in Germany above everything else" was no longer a smart model for my life, and once this realization made it into my head, I was getting opportunities I didn't know I could have. Here, too, my expectation for the year was not met, but exceeded hugely. On New Year's 2015 I thought I was heading back to school in the States, and now I'm back where it all started, how I had always hoped it would go when I was just a teenager.

Of course, a happy ending of 2016 for me personally does not translate into real life. All together I will never remember 2016 as a good year because the world changed for the worse. No other year I cried so much, but never for myself. I cried weeks for Brexit, then I cried weeks for Trump, and throughout I cried a lot watching and seeing and knowing that Aleppo, and all its people, was burning, and far beyond the confines of what was once a city, or a country. I skipped Christmas due to the incredible heartbreak over the world heading towards doom, by choice, and that I thought that 2016 would be, like all the other years, a year of progress and enhanced cooperation, and not a year in which hate crimes became trendy and being part of a multilateral world view was to be viewed as weakness, or even evil. I started the year being proud of my profession, and finish it knowing the world thinks I'm a liar due to my profession. Everything changed this year, and I, for as long as I live, will remember and say "I was there, I saw it coming!". Hopefully!

And as every year, I ask myself what I learned from the good and the bad, that makes even a bad year a good one in terms of experience. This year, I learned that things can go very well for yourself, and it means nothing if you can't share it. I had a wonderful year, full of great experiences, but it didn't make me happy because they were a result of my privilege that I did not deserve. My happiness does not guarantee me satisfaction, simply because I just don't have a heart that is able to shut the evil in this world out. Just like every other year, 2017 I am expecting huge changes, and unlike most years, they are welcomed because I have realized that they are the way forward. Jumping into the cold water, doing something wild, not thinking before doing, and other really hard to do things people try to avoid, just seem to be my style. I am relocating, I am changing career, and I am over the disappointments of 2016 which means 2017 will have an easy time teaching me new things. And that way, hopefully, 2016 with all its deaths and political catastrophes can hopefully remain a memory as soon as we have cleaned up the mess it made. That won't happen in 2017, but we hopefully have time... 

Monday, December 19, 2016

Why I'm Skipping Christmas In My Heart This Year.

The entire house is full of Christmas song and spirit. I work at the Christmas market, where the holidays are literally business. On top of that, I try to fit all my holiday watch list into my barely existing spare time. Heck, I even went to Disneyland. And yet, this year Christmas has not stood a chance in my heart. Before I continue, I should probably express how Christmas is much more than a holiday to me and that I usually start looking forward to it in August. It's just the time of love, family and peace, where we all remember to be kind, give gifts to those we love, and yes, we love, and then love more. And that is why this year I have now decided to skip Christmas: not in what I do, but in my heart. There will be a tree, but there won't be a celebration. After the year we had it simply doesn't feel right.

I was watching a carol show this morning, and some terrible singer lipsynced a call for "peace on Earth". And that is why I cannot identify with Christmas this year. In my lifetime a situation like Aleppo has not happened: live death on TV, the internet and absolutely nothing done to stop it. This season of peace is anything but. To feel Christmas spirit only means to turn off the TV and close the eyes to the most drastic suffering I have ever witnessed. How some people react to this senseless act of violence also rarely reminds me of what Jesus would have done or wants us to do. As a result, celebrating love, peace and the salvation we acquired by the birth of a man who, according to our belief system, grants us peace even after death but not those who are quite literally dying in front of our eyes as we speak, is wrong. It just doesn't feel right. And sure, our Lord has mercy, and yet I cannot help but overlook the paradox of Christmas and Aleppo happening at the same time.

To me, personally, that means that for the first time in my life I had to ask myself if it is at all tasteful to forget about what is happening and just focus on the good news of Christmas. I have never felt this good news to be threatened more than in 2016, and my subsequent answer was that allowing that Christmas sentiment into my heart would be a disrespect. I usually feel lucky and grateful for my privilege, but right now I am feeling uncomfortable about it. I don't deserve sitting here in the warmth, forgetting about the cruel world out there, pretending that love is what makes this world go around. It has never been more obvious that love does NOT conquer all, and that compassion and kindness are not today's trending topics. If that was true, we wouldn't have a Brexit to prevent immigrants from entering a country, a president-elect who openly hates people and appoints Putin's friends to government positions and, most importantly, war in more countries than currently not at war.

At a carol service earlier today, there they were: the privileged people, sipping their mulled wine while singing about how happy they are about Jesus being born despite not having gone to church in years and going by "atheism" to save taxes. At this point it is absolutely hilarious, or should I say mind-blowing, that quite a few people who are shaking their head about the people of Bethlehem not taking Mary and Joseph in on the night of Jesus' arrival are also suggesting to have a maximum quota on Syrians escaping wars to this country. A Protestant and a Catholic minister had also appeared to tell the Christmas story, tastelessly comparing the suffering of Aleppo to all of our personal battles that we just need to give up to God. As a person who has little time for religion, I struggle to just believe that God's salvation will benefit Aleppo. I think most people agree with me that human action would probably help a lot more.

But, and this is important, action was lacking big time. No American or UN action, or anything to counter Russian action which should never have happened. Gone are the days where this fight was about democracy. Anyone believing in democracy needs to be against Assad, although parties to put support in instead are of course very few in number. But whatever got us there, whoever really is the evil side, this human catastrophe was 100% preventable. I have a lot of very moronic friends who support Assad and still call themselves believers in freedom, undermining everything we see as propaganda. You know, the way almost every dictator in history got their following by simply undermining truths and appealing to emotions. And this year we have had so much of that. It has been easy to emotionalize people in the wake of more than one political failure, and considering that 2016 is possibly just the beginning of this downward spiral that will lead us out of our value system makes me feel anything but all tingly inside. Tingles, sure, but due to nausea.

And of course I am aware that Aleppo isn't the first, or even the worst, catastrophe there ever was around Christmas, but this time we are all watching. It is impossible to miss people posting their last messages to social media on Facebook, and despite Assad turning off the internet or mobile services in Aleppo, of course not everyone died there. On top of that, we also heard about wars before, haven't we? This one isn't any better than all the others we vowed to never allow to happen ever again. Christmas feels wrong all the time. In 2012, after Newtown, Christmas in my heart was a stretch as well. I was also in Israel where many things reminded me of how the world has forgotten about Jesus' legacy. I cannot have Christmas in my heart. There is no room in my heart this year. It is filled with grieve for the numbness, helplessness and negligence I feel about Aleppo. There is no silver lining for people seeking freedom and not getting it because the entire world had interests they wanted to see through. My personal interest is freedom for everyone, and so this is a dark Christmas, because we are heading towards less freedom globally, and 2k16 was likely just the beginning...

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Everything about Disneyland is good but *these* things are even better...

After talking about my reoccurring dream of the past decade of being in Disneyland with time running out or attractions closing, and my rather elaborate blog on how I believe that I will fall in love with whoever takes me to Disneyland, I finally went to Disneyland last week. The mere fact I can write this without lying makes me very happy. I love, love, love Disneyland. Prior to the visit, I was prepared by friends that I might be disappointed: Disneyland is a place for children, and last time I went I sorta was one. So last week, for the first time in ten and a half years, I walked onto Main Street, USA in Disneyland and actually did what I had planned for a long time. Spoiler Alert: I was not disappointed. It would have been crazy for me to not love the experience. Yet, I of course managed to acquire some highlights, and I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t share them.

Every single boy I ever dated knew I had this dream of going to Disneyland. Each one of them promised to take me. None of them, for different reasons, followed through. Now that I went with my friends Camille and Tom I only have one thing to say about that: THANK F***! I have many cool places ruined by the fact I went there with the wrong, or at least no longer right, person. My lifelong dream of being in Moscow is now a distinctive memory of just one person, and I don’t enjoy thinking of what happened with him very much. I don’t think I could ever go back to my ex’s hometown in the Highlands without associating the place with him. Therefore, not making memories with the wrong guy in Disneyland is a win, I suppose. No corrupting places anymore! Instead, I now have memories with friends I’ve had for many years and who will, unlike these boys, never exit my life. I won’t ever regret association of Disneyland with Tom and Camille. And to have such friends, even after all those years of not being around each other, made it extra special.


Paradoxically, one of the reasons I love Disneyland so much is the set of memories I have from it which is the opposite of my prior argument. Disneyland Paris is the only place I remember vacationing with my father. I remembered him going on a high-speed, upside down roller coaster with his briefcase and taking a picture with Goofy, his favorite character. Then I remember my last visit in California, where the park shut for the public and allowed high school seniors to enter only. And finally, I remember that it had been a dream of mine to go to Disneyland as a child, and my mother only obliging when I was eleven. Back then, the robots in the Pirates ride were real AF. Now, the internet corrupted us and anything but CGI is a disappointment. The memories of thinking “whoaaaa, what a ride” however, aren’t going anywhere.

Diversity in a place so white even Trump would be shocked

Disneyland is not a very good representation of France these days. The moment I left the train station on my arrival I immediately noticed the diversity. I feel good in diverse places, in fact, I probably enjoy a society more if it features more than one color. Granted, Disneyland is a pretty white place. I consider it the most American place outside the US, and even in France the main audience was white, rich families, at least it seemed that way. However, I saw certain efforts to still illustrate some openness to all those white kids. “It’s a small world”, a boat ride through a room with dolls dancing from all over the world, had dolls of all color. My favorite, however, was the doll wearing niqab, dancing and singing with all the others. AWESOME! Additionally, one of the Elzas in the parade was Asian. FANTASTIC! Reflecting Disney’s worldview in present-day, Fillon-and-LePen-voting France, I suppose, isn’t the easiest feat, but at least they try.

Disneyland vs Reality

Just by fulfilling my dream of finally being back, my day at Disneyland was one of the best ones I had this year. It reminds me of past days, makes me dream of the future, and for a second I quite literally forgot I live in a terrible world because Disneyland is so awesome. People tell me every day how they just don’t watch the news anymore because it upsets them, or they don’t engage with hatred to protect their heart. Well, I’m not capable of that (and also believe that’s a wrong attitude) but on Disneyday, I succeeded in doing just that. Then, at 8pm, as the grand finale, Disneyland put on a laser show at the castle. The castle lit up with pictures of children singing and dancing around the world: in front of the Pyramids, in the Highlands, on the Great Wall of China. Then, suddenly, all lights went off, and the only thing visible was a huge projection of just one word: “Peace”. Since the end of "My Girl" I hadn't cried this much. We had just spent a whole day never once thinking of reality, and that’s ok sometimes, but the reality is out there, and it’s not peaceful. With goosebumps all over my body, this became my highlight of the entire day because Disneyland gave us a break but didn’t allow us to forget.

Monday, December 5, 2016

My Munich trips perfectly reflect everything that's wrong with Germany...

I’ve been to Munich four times in my life, and each time I mad a very similar experience. They say that the South is a friendly place, and I’m pretty sure if I ever got to stay longer that’s the experience I would make. Fact is, I never did stay long. I only ever stayed long enough to realize just how German Munich was. Anyone who’s read this blog before should know fully well what that means: order, efficiency, no surprises. The best part of the last two months I spent acclimatizing to this reality again after chaos, ridiculous inefficiency and nothing ever working out the way it was supposed to in Cairo. Two years of Egypt would make it pretty hard for anyone to accept living somewhere else again, and I chose to make that place Germany. As if it wasn’t underwhelming to me the first few times. It’s funny how each of my visits to Munich underlines exactly that: some sort of culture shock. But let me not tell you everything right away:

Visit #1: Oktoberfest 2006

The one and only time my hometown football club of Alemannia Aachen played the Bundesliga, me and my church friends couldn’t miss the chance to see them play Bayern Munich. Where does Bayern play? That’s right, Munich. So that’s where we went, to watch football, the most German thing anyone could ever do. I was 17 and hugely into Jesus, in fact staying the night at the priest’s residence for lack of any places in Munich to sleep all week because it was Oktoberfest time. What’s more German than football? That’s right, Oktoberfest. So right after the game which we obviously lost we headed to the tents. This was before ISIS in Europe, so it was crowded AF. Everyone was drunk. I hated beer. To set the precedent for my future life in Germany, it was this experience that I realized I had still not become the classic German. I had just returned from a year in the States, and my father had just passed away. And now this alcoholic hell was my life, and I didn’t drink. Oktoberfest looked fun to the person I would become, but back then it just showed me that maybe, Germany is not the right place for me to stay.

Visit # 2: Volleyball Club Trip 2010

Fast forward a few years and I had in fact left Germany again. I was living in the world’s best country in 2010, studying my absolute passion, being happier than I believe I ever was. My Volleyball Club traveled to Munich for a weekend of drinking, and I had become a drinker since my last visit. For the first time I was traveling as a Scottish university student but in my own country. I knew the language and the customs, and being in Munich there could not have been a bigger difference between the traits I had learned to love about the Scots and the complete opposite of that personified in the German people. We had the best time in all of Munich, and I mean it. No German had that much fun. Six years ago, as a completely different person from what I am now, I was ranting and ranting and ranting how boring those Germans are. Later on, I came to learn they’re not boring, they simply just don’t enjoy being like me, or the Scots, or the Americans for that matter. Silver lining: I was right where I was, in Scotland, and happy not to be in Munich.

Visit #3: Weird, weird job interview 2014

After uni and my PhD plans changing, I was applying Germany-wide. I didn’t want to stay in Germany but knew that the job market would probably only get worse if I left Germany. I was unemployed there, so I was going to be unemployed everywhere. What made matters worse was the incredible boredom of not having a job. Coupled with being in Germany, it was genuinely the worst time. I had a job interview at a PR firm in Munich so I thought “what the hell, why not?” and went for it. Within 10 minutes of being there I knew the job was history, however, I was still in Munich and thought my sister and I could have a good time. We couldn’t find decent döner which shouldn’t happen in any place in Germany. I also saw far less foreign people, which is never a good thing. When I then met up with my American friend Lindsey, and she told me how she was having trouble finding friends in Munich, I got an impression of where I was. I myself had met Lindsey one night in Slovenia, and we were friends the next day. How she could struggle was beyond me. But I knew of course what making friends in Germany entails, and so I just figured Munich, with all its rich, white people, probably wouldn’t be different than Aachen where I am from.

Visit #4: Working for Huff Post

This time I came as a completely new person. Nothing was left of those experiences before and my enthusiasm for Germany greatly changed after the four best words a German chancellor ever made: “We can do it”, speaking about the refugee crisis. Ever since, Germany has become a possibility for me to stay, which it never was. So when this opportunity arose it started sounding cool being close to the Alps and having a city job. It was redemption time. On day 1 I left the house at 7.30. A jogger past me as I left the hotel. At the corner I turned, a man with a dog past me. And at the traffic lights a couple was meeting up cheerily. The next day, I left the hotel at 7.30 again. At the exact same place as the day before, the jogger passed me. At the corner, there he was: the man with the dog. And finally the same couple met up at the same place as the day before. Three guesses what happened the day after. Same again! To the second! Nobody late! Everything predictable, after two days. This is the essence of Germany, and it’s hard to cherish after chaos and insanity sometimes worked out really well for me in Cairo. Now I wouldn’t prefer Egypt, but what happened to a healthy balance. Sometimes feeling like Germans aren’t robots would be nice…