Tag Archives: Life Change

Paraguay Calling: Part I

Paraguay has called, once again. For those who don’t know my back story intimately, (as I won’t be so presumptuous to assume you do!) I spent 6 months volunteering for the WWF in Paraguay in 2010. It was a challenging time for me, filled with both the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows. I struggled to adjust to a new way of life in a third world country, particularly to the extreme poverty I wasn’t used to seeing and the children, cats, and dogs roaming the streets aimlessly in search of food or a kind soul. But I also made incredible friendships that will last a lifetime, greatly improved my Spanish, and learned that I could in fact survive in a new city on my own, (with a little help to guide the way, of course!)

My first trip back to Asuncion was about 10 months after I moved away, last October, 2011. I had been working on a proposal with my colleagues in our Paraguay office and we had just received approval to write the long proposal, (think 20  or so pages versus 5,) so I flew down for two weeks to work more closely with the team to develop our project plan.

I was nervous to go back at first. I wasn’t sure how I would feel now that I had been home for a few months and then moved to Germany. Would I still get along with my friends well? Would my Spanish be at least as good as when I left? Would I still understand the intricacies of our work as well as when I had lived there? Would my heart sink every time I saw a homeless dog crossing the street?

I arrived after 22 hours of travel a bit exhausted and somewhat flustered at my inability to move my tongue as fluidly as I would have liked, (I blame the months of German lessons for that one!) but after resting up for the day (and soaking in some sun at my hotel) I was prepared to take on the language, and my former home (albeit a temporary one.)

As for all of my other fears, they were nothing to worry about. What I learned more than anything was that you can always go home again. I fit right back in with my friends (with a strange Gringa/German accent, but still), the office welcomed me with open arms, and my memory of our project work and goals had nowhere near disappeared in my time away. I felt peaceful being there, without the same conflicts that had plagued me during my volunteership. I was in a new place, both physically and mentally, and could handle what was thrown at me.

Paraguay was a place I belonged, it had become a part of me.

…to be continued…


A Homecoming Worth Celebrating: There’s No Place Like Home

After a weekend of celebrating and seeing old friends, I was well prepared for the reunions that awaited me at home. I arrived at the Nassau International Airport for my 8:30 AM flight the morning following the wedding, (what was I thinking? Not so sure, but I made it without any problems!) I was lucky enough to be on the same ‘going to our honeymoon’ flight as Laura and Benji and had my last-minute fill of the Pinders before separating in Fort Lauderdale, where I boarded my flight to New York.

I arrived to a sunny, but cold, day in New York and expected to see snow covering the ground from the recent (and random) Halloween snow storm, but most of it had already melted by then. My dad was waiting at the airport for me and we headed straight…to the computer store, (my Mac has been acting up after a recent incident involving it falling off the bed…)

Waiting to be loved

We then headed back home where I had the greeting of a lifetime from 5 fuzzy creatures who I had missed all too much while in Germany. A squealing and crying, “I’m on my back, pet my tummy” hello from our golden retriever Pumpkin, and a few good rubs and “Hello, I remember you! Can you feed me?” meows from Cody and Cooper, (Cleo and Blue were a bit more passive as though my return home after so long meant nothing to them.)

My favorite thing ever...being surrounded by animals in when I wake up in the morning!

After some time rejoicing in our mutual love, Cooper, as per usual, copped a major attitude with me reminding me that he was pissed off I’d left him for so long. This routine takes place everytime I leave home and come back after a long period of time away. Cooper is only too happy to see me and be petted and loved, and then spends the next 2-3 hours hissing and swatting at me anytime I get too close. He is really angry. It isn’t for another few hour or sometimes even overnight that he becomes my little cuddley bundle of joy again. No amount of reasoning or cooing words can change this. I’ve tried.

That is one pissed off Cooper!

Once the grand reunion excitement with the fuzzballs was over, I set to cooking. I invited 7 of my closest friends from high school to come over for a pot luck dinner and to catch up, and I was making mac and cheese. I was so happy to have everyone there, especially since Kellie and Katy had traveled in from so far away, (Boston and Baltimore, respectively.) It was so nice to be around my friends again! A few of the girls stayed the night, so it could feel like old times, (though I was still so exhausted from the wedding festivities just the night before I crashed quite a bit earlier than expected!) and we even got to brunch the next morning!

High School Homecoming About 8 Years Ago (and still friends today!)

My first day back set the precedent for the hugs and excitement that would ensure for the remainder of my trip. One glorious week in New York.

I spent a day shopping at the outlets with Jaquelyn, another lunching and shoe shopping with Melanie, eating Ramen with Allyn and Cathy, Dining on Hibachi, Mexican, and Italian food with friends all over the place, and seeing family I hadn’t seen in so long. I even had time for a couple of mother-daughter manicures, walks with the furballs, and a museum trip to the Met with my mom and dad.

Winter Walk With the Cats and Dog - Cody taking the lead!

After being away for 8 long months, I can honestly say there is no place like home. Lucky for me I get to return again for Christmas in just a few short weeks!

Coming Home, or Something Like It

After returning from Paraguay last December, spending a couple of months in NY and then moving to Germany in March – I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to “come home again”. You know the feeling you get; goosebumps thinking about seeing your family and friends, the town you grew up in, your family pets. You anticipate what it will be like to be in the same place as the people you love, to eat mom’s homemade spaghetti and meatballs (or noodle pudding!)

Unfortunately, I still had one month to go before I could really go home again, to NY that is, but I was lucky enough to travel down to Paraguay for work in October, 2011 – for the first time in ten months. So in a way, it felt like going home again.

I remember leaving the country last December and being unsure if I wanted to go back. I knew I was leaving behind great people and lasting friendships, but the hardship of my daily life living in a home I didn’t feel welcome, in the poverty of the downtown made it difficult to get by each day. I remember suffering immensely at the homeless animals all over the streets and the indigenous children walking barefoot along Asuncion’s main Avenues, doing tricks or begging for change.

I can say happily that on this return trip I had none of the same emotions as last year. The overt poverty was still there, but I was staying with a great friend, in a town bordering Asuncion, in a lovely home where home cooked meals were prepared daily, if not twice daily – so I wasn’t as exposed as I had been previously. My great friends would drive out to pick me up and take me anywhere I wanted to go, and I was spared the agony of the Paraguayan public transport system (i.e. buses from 1965). I didn’t even feel like the animals were in as bad a condition as I had remembered. I went to work each day with a plan and a goal, and felt confident in my Spanish in a way I never had before.

Mi Beautiful Paraguayan Amigas

That’s not to say I was ignorant to the hardships of life in Asuncion, but I didn’t feel like I was suffering along with them, as I once had. Not that I was ever on the streets begging for food or pennies, but I tend to feel the pain and hurt of others in an overpowering way that sometimes I can’t turn away from. So when I am exposed to an environment where that is the norm, I find it difficult to function. This trip back to Paraguay made it feel like a nice place I’d happily come visit again, rather than being clouded by the dark memories I created there, (alongside some very nice ones.)

Needles to say, it wasn’t exactly “home”, but it definitely felt like a comfortable friend’s home where I was welcomed back with open arms, which was a welcome respite from learning the ropes in my new city.

The Dubious Yogi

So after a 4 year hiatus, I decided to take a leap of faith and try out Bikram Yoga once again. I happened to pass by a Bikram studio, Bikram Berlin, (easy to remember!) on my way home from work one evening, it’s only about 10-15 minute walk from the apartment I’m staying in, and they had a promotion of 10 days of yoga for only 10 Euros! I love promotions like these, (remembering fondly that my first Bikram experience was a similar promotion of 30 for 30,) so I mustered up the courage and took my dubious yogi self to class.

Memories of this pose, among others, brought me back! (No, I can't do that.)

I arrived 20 minutes before class and spoke directly with the instructor, Rachel, who is an English speaker hailing from Toronto. She assured me that “It will all come back.” and “I have complete confidence that you will do great!” With such reassuring words, the fear of a yoga studio heated to 100 degrees and filled with 30-40 strangers melted away, (no pun intended,) so I grabbed a mat and set up shop right by the windows. She had recommended I sit by the windows since it gives the best vantage point into the room so I could follow the lead of the other more experiences yogis, but I think also, secretly, she knew she’d be letting in small blasts of air from those little godsends and that I would be closest to it for a quick cool down!

I was worried about the heat, even though probably more than anyone else I know, I relish the thought of baking in intense heat and sunshine for hours at a time without moving. I guess this little bit of me proved that practice makes perfect. While it was hot in that studio for 90 minutes, I powered through and never felt like I was going to pass out. Okay, well at one point with my head tilted back while attempting a human bridge of sorts, I thought I might pass out, but that was fleeting!

You'd be surprised how challenging this position is!

People around me threatened to cave to their bodies’ impulse to shut the show down, one girl even tried to leave after only 15 minutes of practice, but the instructor told her it wasn’t allowed and to please sit back down on her mat. From then on, she meant business. The guy next to me was huffing and puffing and sweating profusely. If it hadn’t been so hot, and a little bit dark, I’d swear his black skin was turning a rare shade of green, but even he powered through, with only a few short breaks here and there to try and recompose himself.

When you think of yoga, you think of stretching your body to it’s limits, literally and figuratively, but I think people always assume it is easy and maybe even a lazy way to get exercise. While I find it hard to consider regular Hatha yoga as intense, (purely because the level of sweat is so much less,) I know that my body benefits from testing out different muscles’ capabilities. For anyone who thinks hot yoga will be a piece of cake, you might want to prepare yourself a little better before jumping in!

There's none of this in Bikram...but it looks peaceful!

90 minutes later the teacher was congratulating us on a job well done, and reminded us to thank ourselves for going in today (propoganda? or simply the truth?) In all seriousness, I was thanking myself for going in! I was so impressed I’d be able to make it through, and did not seem too much worse for the wear. I guess the running and walking have helped keep my body active and more capable of doing 90 minutes of intense stretching, (as compared to in college when I was pretty damn lazy!) So I left feeling invigorated, had pretty much the deepest sleep of my life last night, and packed a bag of clothes to try it all again tonight. Let’s just hope yesterday’s experiment wasn’t just beginner’s luck!

New Yorkaholism

I inadvertently brought New York on my shoulders when I entered Berlin. Not just the culturally savvy, food snobby, my city’s the best in the world part, but also the “Don’t you dare look at me.” “Why are you talking to me?” “What do you want?” part as well.

I find myself walking down the streets avoiding eye contact, but for 4-legged friends who I can’t help but coo over, and glaring at anyone who looks my way for too long. I sit down at a restaurant to eat and stare down the young German guy who’s checking to see if my order might be just what he wants as well. Don’t even try to read a few lines from my book because I will stare at you as I close the spine, to prove the point that this is my reading, it’s not a free-for-all!

Isn’t the first step in recovery from an addiction admitting that you have a problem? Hello, I am Amanda, and I am a New Yorkaholic.

Go Beyond the Hour

How many of you took the time to switch off the lights at 8:30 PM on Saturday, March 26? For those of you who did, BRAVO!! You participated in the largest Earth Hour event the world has seen to date, with 134 participating countries!

What is Earth Hour? For those of you who are unfamiliar, (or live under a rock,) Earth Hour is an event organized by WWF to show people the difference each person can make in shutting off the lights for just one hour each evening. This is represented by major landmarks in major cities, towns, and villages across the world shutting of the lights at 8:30 PM local time (or now that I’m in Germany, 20:30).

This year, many nation’s events focused on energy change, as we all watched with horror the unfolding events in Japan. Here in Berlin the words written in candles were not 60 or WWF, but “ENERGIE WENDE JEZTS!”, Energy Change Now!

Image thanks to BerlinSidewalk.com

The lanterns A, I, and 15 or so others held up as the lights were switched off. (Image thanks to BerlinSidewalk.com)

All in all the night’s events were great, though it was pretty damn cold in Berlin on this particular night and after arriving at 5:30 to help set up, my toes were numb around 9…so I had to call it quits just a bit earlier than I would have wanted! But looking at some sights that show you the Bigger Picture and which set up interactive visuals of the changing horizons in various cities around the world, you really feel amazing to know you are part of something bigger!

Now WWF promotes what is called “Beyond the Hour” to help people realize small changes they can make daily to go beyond Earth Hour and to move towards a more eco-friendly and sustainable future. See what you can do to promote a healthier environment in your daily life!

The Wait of The World

Two week packing marathon (or 24 hour frenzy, depending how you look at it) behind me and I am on day 4 in my new home: Berlin, Germany! Man it was a long journey to get here, but I finally made it through, not too much worse for the wear.

I arrived after an exhausting 11+ hour journey and very little sleep while on my two flights to a very comfortable hotel room in the middle of the city. Thinking I would be exhilarated upon landing and ready for action, I was slightly disappointed that I spent the better part of the day lying in bed wondering if I should give in and let the ZZZ’s take over, or fight to keep the zombie in me awake just a few more hours.

But my stomach began leading me astray from my grand plans to take in the sights and sounds of my hotel room, and I finally ventured out around 7 PM to see what was around for dinner. Hackescher Markt, where my hotel is so conveniently located, is filled with bars, restaurants and, (as much as I hate to admit I loved hearing them,) obnoxious American tourists. It was strangely comforting to hear my mother tongue, not spoken with a strange pompous accent, in a place that seemed so foreign to me.

I wandered a few streets before deciding to stop in a Spanish Tapas restaurant, partially because it was food I was familiar with and partially because it looked packed and cozy inside.

I AM...Hungry

I was seated at a table by the window until bar space opened up (the table was reserved but the hostess wanted to make me comfortable as early as possible.) I then ordered a glass of Syrah and a veggie tapas platter, which was prepared right before me by the man behind the bar. He took such care to pick each olive, each caper, and each piece of cheese. It was as though he were imagining what specific morcel would be most pleasing to my senses. And he did a great job, for the most part, except for the pieces that burned my tongue like hell!

Notice the selection of extras also behind the bar

While the food may look unrecognizable, let me point out for you the sun dried tomatoes to the left, the block of fresh feta cheese to its right, large spicy green olives intertwined with yellow peppers, large capers, queso manchego, sauteed mushrooms, black olives, and a red pepper stuffed with cheese.

I was so happy that the people of Berlin spoke my food language, that I wanted to tell the world, (and so here we are.) But the meal that night just reassured me that the packing was finally done, the anxiety over leaving home, the worry about what it would be like when I arrived…the wait was finally over. And with a delicious meal like that, I knew I could survive here. And so it’s on to the next chapter…