I love stereotypes though as a foreigner, I really ought to hate them. One of the most enduring realities of living in a foreign land is that you will constantly be bathed, scrubbed and wrapped with stereotypes. I suspect that this is especially so if you are African. Some who have watched that crazy film with Eddy Murphy will assume that you are a Zamunda citizen waiting to pull some crazy stunt on them. They will mostly ignore you but if they have a minute to spare, they will look at you with wry amusement laced with unhinged curiosity.
This is something I wondered about when I first moved to Germany. I imagine that it is a question that gives many of my fellow foreigners sleepless nights. Can one get a job in Germany when they are not fluent in German? The truth is, that German is not an easy language and there are many levels that one has to master before feeling half competent in it. If you somehow succeed in figuring out the random genders of trees, cows and books, you will still be pleasantly surprised to come across a word like this 'Rechtsschutzversicherungsgesellschaften'("legal protection insurance companies") or a sentence so long that it could easily go around the world and back. The second truth is there are not too many countries or places around the world where German is spoken. In fact, almost all the 230 million speakers of German live in Europe with small pockets elsewhere. Most foreigners who come to Germany usually have other native languages and have previously only had superficial contact with German. Some of them come into contact with German for the first time. Many of them have qualifications from their native countries usually learnt in different languages for example English, Spanish and many others to name but a few. Almost all of them have dreams of working and earning a living.
When I first visited Germany for the first time in 2002, I got the impression that everyone spoke English: My partner’s family, friends and acquaintances all spoke English. Even though, some were not fluent, all of them could express themselves fairly well in English. During that visit, we did a small tour of Germany starting from the small town in South west of Germany) near Heilbronn where my partner’s family lived and headed to Berlin in the north about 600km away and then to Hamburg to the North-west and back. During this trip, pretty much everyone I encountered spoke English. I also noticed an eagerness of sorts among the many Germans I met to speak English. Strangers would often ask me probably because I looked different whether I spoke French or English. Needless to say, I concluded that one could get by in Germany without speaking German which as I later found out was at best naïve and at worst, well, very naïve J.
I never thought he would get elected. I just didn’t. Too many reasonable people in America. Women would stand with one of their own. He is too brash. Not without releasing his tax returns. Not with his Russian connections. Not after his tape about grabbing pu**y.
I was wrong.
As he would say, I was ‘bigly tremendously yugely’ wrong.
“You don't ask people with knives in their stomachs what would make them happy; happiness is no longer the point. It's all about survival; it's all about whether you pull the knife out and bleed to death or keep it in...” Nick Hornby, How to Be Good
Staying young is easy. Work out as often as you can. Eat healthy and most important of all, never ever acknowledge a new year.
A few years ago on my birthday, I told my son that I was turning fifteen.
‘Fifteen?’ I still remember the awe in his voice. He attempted to count his fingers but fifteen was a figure way beyond his imagination.
In the subsequent years, I have repeated the same story. Fifteen I am, and fifteen I remain.
Last week, I heard him tell his sister in his cocky little way that he could count up to one hundred. He started counting and when he reached fifteen, he paused and raised his finger.
“Mummy is fifteen!”
For a moment, there was just silence and then the sister broke out into a boisterous laughter. I saw the hurt in his eyes.
“Well …” I started but wasn’t quite sure what to say. ‘I was kidding,’ ‘that’s what adults say’ all seemed a bit lame. So I told him the truth.
‘‘I am 15b!’’
His sister’s eyes almost popped out and in that moment, I knew that I had to put this down for posterity.
“Self-pity is the worst possible emotion anyone can have. And the most destructive.”Stephen Fry English comedian,writer,presenter and activist.
No wiser words have been spoken before.
Most of us have experienced those moments.
The moments when the universe seems to be directly conspiring against us.
It could be small things;your dog is sick, you have a horrible tooth-ache, someone beat you to a parking spot.
But sometimes,it could be pretty huge;a serious illness, bankruptcy,losing a loved one,divorce.
Happy new year everyone!
A time comes in your life when you finally get it . . . when in the midst of all your fears and insanity you stop dead in your tracks and somewhere the voice inside your head cries out: ENOUGH! Enough fighting and crying or struggling to hold on. And, like a child quieting down after a blind tantrum, your sobs begin to subside, you shudder once or twice, you blink back your tears, and through a mantle of wet lashes you begin to look at the world through new eyes.
This is your awakening.
You realize that it’s time to stop hoping and waiting for something to change or for happiness, safety and security to come galloping over the next horizon. You come to terms with the fact that there is nothing like a perfect life. In the real world, there aren’t always fairytale endings (or beginnings for that matter) and that any guarantee of `happily ever after` must begin with you, and in the process a sense of serenity is born, of acceptance.
You awaken to the fact that you are not perfect and that not everyone will always love, appreciate, or approve of who or what you are . . . and that’s OK.(They are entitled to their own views and opinions.)
And you learn the importance of loving and championing yourself and in the process a sense of new found confidence is born of self-approval.
You stop bitching and blaming other people for the things they did to you (or didn’t do for you,) and you learn that the only thing you can really count on is the unexpected. You learn that people don’t always say what they mean or mean what they say and that not everyone will always be there for you and that it’s not always about you. So, you learn to stand on your own and to take care of yourself, and in the process a sense of safety and security is born of self-reliance.
The year is 1985. It must have been.
Her grip is becoming tighter. I hold on to her fingers and feel the sweat on my palms.
“Faster” she whispers in a near trembling voice. Waya which simply means 'aunt' in Luo, is a bubbly fearless woman whose laughter echoes miles away and lights up anything it comes across.
“Keep walking” she says.
“Look ahead” she exhales slowly. She barely opens her mouth let alone looks at me. The small backpack with my clothes suddenly feels heavy but I majestically try to keep her pace.
We are not alone. There is the samosa guy pacing around and singing something soulful. And then there is the little girl. She is probably about my age and she is carrying an orange bowl with peanuts and a small spoon.
And then there is everyone else.
Interesting take on a never ending topic…
That it was going to happen, was never in doubt. In fact, I had expected that it would happen any moment. And yet on that Thursday night when I watched Caren Miosga, the ARD newscaster talk of Mandela in the past tense, I was left staring hopelessly at the screen, tears welling like a sudden summer rain. She didn’t have to say it. Her regretful somber tone said it all.
Growing up, I didn’t know what apartheid was. In its place, I knew Winnie Mandela with her velvet like skin, Miriam Makeba with her sultry powerful voice and yes Lucky Dube. I knew that there was some kind of struggle going on down there going by the number of times South African music repeated the word ‘freedom’. But all these were too distant to make any impression on me.
So the elections came and went. As expected, ‘Mutti’ won. It wasn’t the fact that she won that was surprising. It was the style. So emphatic was her win that the competition was left speechless. For a big part of the evening, we sat glued in front of the screen, wondering whether she’d reach the magic number-absolute majority.
I felt sorry for the opposition. There is losing, and then there is losing. The latter is the kind of stuff you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy. She had crushed them, literally. The social democrats managed a measly 25.7 %. Their natural partners the Greens managed 8.4%. Frau Merkel’s former coalition partners FDP (liberals) didn’t even manage the minimum 5%, and have as a result been kicked out of parliament. It was an evening that many will live to remember.
But if the opposition had any regrets about how they conducted their campaigns, I didn’t see it. It was more like sighs and yes, helpless shrugging of shoulders. ‘How were we to have any chance against her?’ The social democrats seemed to be asking themselves. Amazingly, there was no trace of bitterness. And so for the rest of the evening, we were treated to a chorus. “We would like to congratulate Frau Merkel on her victory.” One opposition leader after the other went on.
Frau Merkel on her part smiled that distant smile, which never quite reaches the eyes. Not once did she let the moment consume her. Not once did she gawk down at the losers in the way lesser mortals would have been tempted to do.
I watched this spectacle with a mixture of emotions. The lack of drama was both puzzling and admirable. No one acted like their lives depended on the elections. No one acted as if the world would crumble if the opponent won. But most important of all, no one doubted the ACCURACY of the results. It was a near opposite of elections, as I remember them back home in Kenya.
There is an agreement in most parts of the world that Africa is on the rise. With economic growth rates that the rest of the world can only dream of, Africa is set to be a favorite destination of economic immigrants. Actually this is already happening. The Portuguese are said to be migrating in droves to Angola to look for work. And the Angolans are returning the favor by travelling to Portugal to… guess what? shop!
In recognition of the importance of Africa, I have decided to come up with a list of the different types of Africans you are likely to come across. Be sure to print this list out and carry it in your handbag for future reference whenever you bump into an African or if you are lucky enough to hang out with one.…
Germany is a country of laws. There are laws for everything. Sometimes it looks to me like Germans’ favorite pastime is coming up with new laws. While some countries thrive in chaos, Germany’s sole agenda is to bring order to arbitrariness in life.
The German constitutional court recently declared that anyone who tortured, humiliated or killed Jews during the holocaust is as liable as the leadership of the Nazi regime. All those who worked for Hitler were part of a brutal murderous machine and are as guilty as those who gave orders. One can no longer claim that they were only following orders from above. It basically means that everyone must carry their own cross.
This is a momentous law with far reaching consequences.
For the most part, German laws are very progressive. It is a country that came back from the brink and is deeply aware of human faults and the dangers that this might pose to humanity. While I think this is fantastic, there are German laws that leave me scratching my head. For example, there is a German law that states that if a government official dies during an official trip, then that is the end of the trip. To me this does not make sense because a dead person cannot continue with a trip. Why is it necessary to have a law stating the obvious?
Of Americans and their Chinese debt
I recently watched a documentary about China and had to laugh at one of the interviews. “They should pay us back what they owe us!” a middle aged Chinese woman remarked while sweeping the front part of her house. “We don’t live beyond our means like they do!” she continued in a contemptuous tone while her companions smiled coyly in that special way only known to Asians. I immediately sat up. It was clear who she was talking about. The United States of America. Oh, how times change!
One of my most memorable memories growing up in Kenya was our collective obsession with America and the American twang. Anyone who spoke with a twang immediately got our attention. People instantly assumed that they were well off, better educated, cool and all those adjectives that imply some kind of superiority. What followed then was that anyone who went to the states, even those who only had a stopover on their way to Timbuktu came back with a twang. An acquaintance of mine who to the best of my knowledge had never been able to string two sentences in English together stunned us on arrival from her three month visit to the great USA. She had metamorphosed into an American with a drawl most residents of Alabama would be proud of. To top it all, she had managed to forget her brilliant sheng and most things Kenyan!
If the American accent was what most Kenyans wanted to associate themselves with, the Indian accent had the exact opposite effect. I have never met a Kenyan speaking with an Indian accent. This is despite the fact that very many Kenyans have studied and continue to study in Indian universities.
Change of world order?
This fascination with America is however not limited to Kenya. Here in Germany, things come to a standstill whenever there are American elections or anything big happening in America. News, TV talk shows, radio are all usually flooded with Americans and American stuff. One can sense the awe and the respect that America generates in this part of the world. I have been asking myself if this party is about to end. Are we about to witness a world where ni hao is the coolest thing one can know? I somehow doubt it.
.What is it like to be a Kenyan abroad? Expat Caroline Adhiambo Jakob has found friendship, rejection and her own preconceptions challenged.
I am a Kenyan who lives in Germany. I’ve lived here for the past ten years, and one of the questions that people often ask me is whether I have experienced racism. I find it extremely difficult to respond.
Part of the reason for this is that my husband, with whom I have two children, is German; this means I have a rare insight into how Germans see and interpret such issues. The other reason is that racism, like other forms of discrimination, is a difficult topic to tackle.
My first encounter with racism in Germany occurred early in my stay, when my husband and I were hunting for an apartment to rent in the city of Mannheim. Prior to this, the people I had met were all friendly, and seemed glad to have me in their midst.
After submitting our requests for apartments and always being turned down, I started wondering what we were doing wrong. My husband, in his typically pragmatic way, assured me that it was normal since there were many other applicants. Feeling optimistic we would soon find the right place, I was unprepared when an estate agent called to tell us that the owner of one apartment had said he did not want to lease to a foreigner, especially not one who was black.
To say that I was hurt and humiliated would be a gross understatement. I was being told to my face that being black was a bad thing – and there was nothing that I could do about it.
A few days later, feeling dejected, we resumed our search, this time in an upmarket part of the city. My husband, who knew this particular neighbourhood well, was apprehensive. If we had failed to get an apartment in more average areas, what would be our chances in one of the city’s best locations?
We drove to that apartment and, on arrival, realised that the appointment was not just for us but also for 30 other potential tenants. We looked through the apartment and quickly filled out the application form, as we had done many times before. On our way out, the owner, an old lady, followed us and enquired whether we had liked her place. Feeling vulnerable, I almost said no. But, we had a short conversation with her – and were astonished when she offered the apartment to us there and then.
We lived there for the next five years, during which time she treated us as part of her family. Even now we have moved on, she is still a part of our lives.
What I learned from this is that no one can ever be fair when making generalisations or assumptions. It’s so important to look past prejudices – and that goes for all of us.
This aricle was first published by Kenya yetu, a Kenyan business magazine