Without a doubt the biggest change in my life this year was leaving the U.S. I'd moved away before, but that was for only 6 months. This time I literally left everything behind to begin a new life in the UK that would begin with some time living in Germany first. 2016: the year I became an expat. (And not actually because Trump won!) Before the year closes, I thought I might write a bit about how living in Germany is going. I didn't have any real idea what to expect here. But here's how it's different than I might have imagined and what I'm having to get used to that I could never have planned for. It's not an exhaustive list, so maybe I'll write more another time.
1. This place is weird, but I like it.
Never in my life have I specifically desired to visit (much less live in) Germany. Growing up, I'd heard that my maiden name was apparently German, but it's not like I felt any affinity to the country. When we started talking about how we could move to England quicker and easier by moving to another EU country first, Germany made sense as David, on the other hand, has always had a thing for this country. One day last year when Talitha was still using pacifiers, I looked down to see the words 'made in Germany' on a NUK pacifier she had. Something clicked for me that day. A tiny whisper saying "yes." In February, we were watching some clips on GOD TV of worship at a conference or something being held in Germany. Another slightly louder whisper of confirmation rushed over me and deep into my spirit as I sang along with the worship set in my living room in North Carolina, Talitha not even scooting around yet laying on a blanket in the floor in front of me. As the months passed and we bought our plane tickets and the time drew closer for our departure, I had this feeling being here in Germany was going to be more than just a "waiting room" for England. The first night we were here, exhausted from traveling from California, I went to sleep with such expectation in my heart. As I closed my eyes, I immediately began to feel something I can only describe as "fireworks" going off in my spirit — that is exactly the image I saw in my mind's eye. I've carried that with me in my heart through out this time so far. Most of the time, I have no idea what my wider purpose here is in this community and city. (But I remembered recently that to love people around me is always my "wider purpose" anywhere I am.) Often, I find myself incredibly eager to be in England instead. To be honest, Germans as a people (but definitely not the church community we've met here) can be rather cold. The culture isn't naturally lively, warm, and open — you have to look harder for those moments. (Although Christmas here was beautiful and special and brought so much more festivity.) Duisburg isn't actually very pretty in the sense of fairytale villages you might conjure up in your mind when thinking of Germany. There isn't a charming 'olde towne' here. It is city life complete with grafitti everywhere and often trash littering the road. We also came at the tale-end of Autumn (which was lovely), but generally anywhere the seasons of Fall and Winter tend to be a bit more isolating. So I hold onto to those fireworks I felt in the beginning and actively choose to look for the places I can set them off for myself.
2. Language is everything.
I think God must have shielded my heart from anxiety over the language barrier in our preparations for coming here, because I didn't realize how crazy it would be. Visiting foreign countries is one thing — you only deal with that change of language for a short amount of time. But living in a place day in and day out where everything is written in a language you don't undertstand and that you've never studied and have absolutely no grid for is utterly exhausting. I often find myself very tired (more than just mom-fatigue and beyond adjusting to jet lag and the time zone) and I don't understand why, because I'm not physically tired out by working at a job or running around doing a ton of stuff. But I've realized that my brain is naturally constantly trying to translate everything and make sense of the world around me. I think it must be a bit like how Talitha's little baby brain does that. Now that we've been here for 2 1/2 months, German doesn't seem as foreign as it did before. The actual sounds I hear feel more like a language now instead of just harsh consonants and vowels. I'm starting to sense the rhythm of the language, and I've picked up some vocabulary here and there, which seems to thoroughly delight and impress David. He's been very encouraging about it, and I'm constantly amazed at how he's able to function. Naturally, his German has already improved using it so much. I have to depend on him in a way I never have before. He is my constant translator and often has to be my voice. But it's been hard feeling like I don't have a voice of my own sometimes. Once, in the parking lot of a supermarket, a couple were coming back to their car parked next to us. David was still in the store, and I had come back out to the car with a fussy Talitha. I was standing with the back side door open letting her play in the back seat. When I saw the woman was about to get in the passenger side of the car, I picked Talitha up to go back in to rejoin David inside. When I did, our car door brushed theirs, but it was very light, so I carried on inside hoping nothing was the matter, because I obviously didn't have the words to say "Oh, excuse me, I might have hit your car. I hope it's okay" and be a normal, decent human being. A few seconds later, I could hear the voice of the man calling out to me. I didn't know what he was saying, but I knew it was directed towards me. With a blank stare on my face, my heart sunk a little. Thankfully, David was just coming out. "I think I might have hit their car with the door," I said. David chatted with the guy, who wasn't terribly mean or anything, just concerned about his work vehicle, and David gave him our info. Because I was so stunned by the experience and embarassed by what I'm sure they might have thought was awkward behavior from me at first i.e. seemingly dismissive since I was just silent, I felt so frustrated that I couldn't be myself or respond the way I would normally react in a situation like that. I couldn't relay to them that I was sorry or that I wasn't trying to ignore them. They realized I didn't speak German obviously once David was there, and they called back later in the day to say the tiny mark was so insignificant that there wasn't anything to worry about, but the feeling I had in that situation — the feeling of being invisible — was the worst. Needless to say, I have a new empathy for people who don't speak the language of the country they're in and haven't learned it yet.
3. DM is everyone's favorite.
DM (short for drogerie markt meaning 'drug store') is the equivalent to CVS or Walgreens in the US or Boots or Superdrug in the UK. Since Germany doesn't have anything quite like Walmart or Target (where you can get, like, everything at one place), I don't know, I feel like DM is sort of the German Target without the clothes (although they do have an adorable babies and toddlers section complete with play area and changing table) and electronics and food and furniture. It's basically where the cool people get their shampoo. It's that place that's become familiar now, and when I go in, I feel a little 'ahhh' in my heart, much like I imagine the Germans are feeling when they pop in there. If this tells you anything, my friend got me a gift card to DM for Christmas, and it was rad.
4. Rewe's €2.50 Kebab is our new comfort food.
There's a grocery store here called Rewe (pronounced Reh-vah) about a mile from our apartment, and they have a grill in the back where you can buy hot food like bratwurst, frikadellen, and doner kebabs. Their kebabs are so cheap yet quality and filling, we find ourselves stopping by a couple times a week. It's a habit we don't want to break. I admit, I can be a fast food junkie, but in a city of over 500,000 that only has ONE drive-thru fast food place (McDonald's), my American fast food habit isn't possible. I realize that's a good thing, but I won't pretend that finding the cheap kebabs didn't feel like an absolute godsend. Thanks, God. He knows your needs, friends. ;)
5. I Miss Goldfish.
Who knew Pepperidge Farm Goldfish snacks would be so dearly missed? It's just that Talitha loved them back home (what kid doesn't?) and snacks are basically a lifeline for any mama of a young child. Kid acting antsy getting into the car seat? Stuff food in kid's mouth. Kid is bored but you're out in public. Stuff food in kid's mouth. Kid is having a meltdown over the toy they can't have/you won't buy for them. Stuff food in kid's mouth. Even though there are other things I've found for her to munch on in those life or death situations — bread rolls and pretzels FTW, and I promise I give her fruit, too — I miss the way her little face would light up when a handful of goldfish were placed in front of her.
6. Being connected to people is life.
We've become pretty good at making new friends (and moving away from them!). But even though we're not staying here for long, it's vital to find people who are like-minded and open. I'm so thankful for a few sweet people who have opened their hearts to us for a while — and for English speakers! It's still tempting to isolate ourselves, but the challenge of doing life with others is far more rewarding.
7. I've never been so grateful for a car.
We've lived without one before both in England in 2013 and most of our time in Redding, CA, but not having a car with a kid is far more difficult. It was only a little over a month we didn't have one, but that's definitely not something I'm going to volunteer for in the future. It's still not quite as good as it could be since we bought a manual engine, and I can only drive an automatic, so it's not like I can hop in the car by myself or anything. Basically, this time here is definitely bringing my lack of skills to the surface! But I can either let them be or do something about them. The language thing isn't as easy, but driving a manual is something for the 2017 resolution list for sure!
8. My kid is amazing.
Talitha — she's seriously the best. Yes, she has moments where she's crying because she can't have something, and she's getting harder to take shopping since she's always wanting to move and go and play and pick up everything. (When did I get a toddler?!) Also, going to sleep at night lately has become a drawn out exercise in increasing mommy and daddy's patience levels. She weaned herself from nursing to sleep, but she wants extra (and extra and extra) cuddles before finally falling off to sleep. But to put it all in perspective, to know she's also had to leave everthing (and everyone) she knew behind, and to see her do it while still keeping such an open heart to everything, smiling and playing as if nothing were different, it makes me smile. I know she's a baby, and their adaptability is off the charts, but there are so many other ways this could have gone, right? It's like seeing her happy and well lets me know that we haven't screwed up massively. I just mean that from a parent's perspective, it seems that if your child is struggling, you sort of know that something is wrong and things need to change, that it's your responsibility (and honor) to make things better for them. What I guess I'm saying is that Talitha has made it easy for us to follow our hearts so far, and it's the combination of God's grace and her awesome personality, I think. One day when she's older, I can't wait to thank her for being a pretty chill baby and send her on adventures of her own.