ktravula – a travelogue!

art. language. travel

Germany Me

A few minutes ago, I left my mailbox at the department with two German magazines that I hadn’t ordered for. A closer look showed me that they were originally delivered to my head of department, a long-term professor of German. One of them, “German Life”, is published in English while the other “Dasfenster” is written totally in German. All this wouldn’t have made much sense but for the fact that a few hours ago, earlier in the morning, she had mistakenly began to speak rapidly to me in German, again. It usually happened like this: She would come into the language lab with the intention of telling me something, and she would begin to say it in German and I would stare blankly until after the fourth sentence when she’d realize what is happening, and burst out laughing.

Last year, I shared an office with someone from Switzerland who spoke a different kind of German. Although she didn’t manage to switch into the said language subconsciously, she did give me something to look forward to if I eventually decide to learn the language. (Those interested should check out her German teaching website here). Today’s episode has however got me thinking that maybe what a few years of befriending German women couldn’t accomplish, working in a foreign language department eventually would. Maybe, I said. Fantastische! Oh well.

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Ilorin

I’m in the University town of Ilorin, having the time of my life in the midst of old friends that I last saw in Ibadan years ago. Right now, we are watching the Uruguay-Germany game at a bar. Paul the German Octopus has predicted that Germany would win, but right now, Uruguay is leading with two goals to one. I wonder how this would end. Something tells me that we might see an Octopus peppersoup dish by this time tomorrow.

I have been to the University of Ilorin. I went there today for the very first time. We tried to see the dam which was not far from the gate but we were turned back by the security folks who said they were acting on instructions of the Vice-Chancellor. Why five young men might be a threat to a University dam is still beyond my comprehension, but I was able to at least get some shots. The University is a nice place. Far more beautiful than the Adekunle Ajasin University at Akungba Akoko. But I had a very nice time in the house of the Dean of the Faculty of Arts of the AAU. He has a nice family too.

I have left the German and Taiwanese linguists from SOAS behind in Ikare where we last parted. They will be proceeding to a village called Ikakumo, and later Ayere later in the week. I on the other hand will move on towards Kaduna, and wherever else until I get broke, bored or disinterested. Right now, everything is going well. I’ve had moin-moin, ponmo and some drinks. And right as I’m typing this, Germany has equalized, and the scores is 2-2.

I’d better get back to watching the game before I miss all the action. Of course, there are many photos to share. Greetings from the Nigerian countryside. How have you been?

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Travellers, we all.

The thought had crossed my mind at the dinner table at the house of a Palestinian professor of history Tamari’s on Wednesday evening. On one side of the table was my head of department, and on the other was Reham the Egyptian. Joyce, the oldest, was American, and I am you-already-know-what. The head of department, had just made a startling confession: her parents were German Jews who fled from Germany in 1939, first to Canada, and then to the United States. The confession, in its ordinariness, however brought a new dimension to a conversation on history, the commonness of our humanity, and migration.

Where are the Jews originally from? I don’t know. But now they occupy the Palestinian region as a Jewish state of Israel. They used to live all over Europe and the Middle East however. Sitting down there trying to get it all in, here was what my brain was trying to process: Jews in Europe were gassed in millions and some managed to flee to other parts of the world, adopting a new nationality and a new home. (Well, not quite. Belinda has confessed to have felt a certain homeliness anytime she visits Germany, in spite of the contradictions of the occasional meeting with descendants of people who just a couple of decades ago could have murdered her parents or sent them to the gas chamber.) As a result of their new nationalities, these travellers have become a new people: Americans. Not even a Jewish Americans or an American Jew, she is every inch American albeit with a certain longing for the beauty of Germany. Had Hitler not begun killing, she probably would not have been born, or she might not have been born in the United States. And there won’t have been the State of Israel, perhaps, and the displacement of the Palestinian people. But now, she’s no longer German. She wasn’t born in Germany; nor is she really Jewish. She doesn’t practice Judaism. Alright.

Now, our host professor is Palestinian. His people are killed in hundreds every day in Gaza and parts of Israel by Jewish descendants of some other kinds of survivors from the pogrom of 1940 Europe. A sign at the entrance to his house says “No more war” or something to that effect. He is one of the softly-spoken people I’ve ever met. Brilliant and level-headed. He is a professor of history and he is as knowledgeable in the Palestinian cause as he is in the subject of the Jewish holocaust. Had he lived in Palestine or Israel today, he could have been killed by suicide bombers, or the Jewish state soldiers for looking like a terrorist, or arrested for being outspoken. Had Hiltler not started killing Jews in Europe, he could also have been born and raised in Palestine, living there till old age, and not ever having to have migrated to the United States, or meeting someone like Belinda, or myself.

Of course, if instead of coming to the West, Belinda’s parents had instead gone with the other right-wing folks who founded the State of Israel, she would by now have become a descendant of the right-wing Jews now occupying government in Israel today, occupying lands, persecuting people shooting Palestinians some of who might be related to Tamari. Just sitting there in their midst brought to me a new sense of amazement, at how something as little as migration could have changed the course of history.

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Schwartzfahrer

This 10-min short video by Pepe Danquart won an Oscar in 1994 for its portrayal of a particular aspect of everyday Germany. I caught Yvonne, my colleague at the office and German professor, watching it last week and I joined her. I enjoyed it, laughing my head off at the end. You should too. The dialogue is in German, but it is subtitled.

The title Schwartzfahrer in German means “Black Rider”, which originally referred to those who board public transportation without tickets, particularly the foreigners.

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Our Berlin Wall

IMG_1587And so today marks the twentieth year of the demolition of the Berlin Wall in Germany. To commemorate it on campus, the German arm of the Foreign Languages Department in which I work have unveiled a public art exhibition featuring texts, artworks, pictures, history, (German) music, and most notably a miniature replica of the old Wall. Constructed with wood, and strategically placed at a publicly accessible spot on campus, the “wall” already randomly graffitied stands today both as a reminder of the historic day, as well as the ingenuity of the Department of Foreign Languages, especially of Belinda Carstens – the head of the department who is also a professor of German. Along with the chance to take pictures with the “wall”, students have been encouraged to spray-paint the wall and decorate it with their own graffitis as they see fit, just like was done with the real Wall in those days by angry Berliners and rebels who wanted it torn down. Needless to say, the over twenty feet long wall is already a notable piece of attraction on campus, and will be till the end of the week.

Here are a few of the pictures I took today, along with Catherine Xavier, an Indian member of the department. The exhibition will be open every day for the rest of this week, and there will be paint brushes and paints for each visitor to use to their artistic advantage on the symbolic representation of the old wall.

IMG_1649But amidst my excitement to be here at this moment in time, here’s a dilemma I face: I can’t yet figure what I want to write on this wall. Prof Doug Simms of the deparment had taken his time today to draw on it a sickle and a hammer (the old symbol of communism) turned upside down, like it was on the old wall, according to him. A few of the other graffitis on this “wall” reflect each painter’s own sensibilities, and not always related to the politics of the Wall itself. So here I am, thinking (or asking YOU, as the case may be) that when I go back there tomorrow with a brush and paint in hand, what other creative texts or symbols (in any language) should I be writing on this remade wall from twenty years ago beside the obvious personal statement in my mind at this moment which simply reads, in German: “ktravula war hier“?

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