Here There and Everywhere

Expat wanderer

A Special Birthday in Germany

Birthdays aren’t my favorite days, and in spite of that, I’ve had some really good ones. The best birthday I can remember, ever, came as a gift of sharing that totally blew me away.

I was living in a small German village. Little by little, I mastered enough German to be able to interact with the villagers, who were very kind to me. They included my husband and I in the village events, including private birthday parties, which in Germany, are a BIG deal.

Birthdays are YOUR day. Every woman in the village brings a cake – or two. Competition to provide the fanciest, most lucious cake is keen. The cakes are not overly sweet, but are incredibly full of fresh cream. And of course, it is rude not to try a little of everyone’s cakes . . . all eyes are all watching.

The two women in the village who took care of me were my landlady and her mother-in-law, who lived in a house just across the courtyard. My landlady sang in the village choir, which performed at a variety of locations throughout the year – festivals, local events, schools – and at 50th birthday parties. The 50th Birthday Party was very special. The whole choir would sing JUST for the birthday girl.

It was a very small village. Everyone knew everyone. Some people didn’t speak because their grandmother didn’t speak to someone else’s grandmother. People carried grudges for a long time. Memories were long, and tongues were longer. My landlady’s protection was very valuable to me, an outsider in the village, who might, from time to time, violate customs without even knowing about it.

My husband and I were leaving Germany, after four years in the village. It was around this time of the year, the cold cold of winter in Germany. One evening my landlady came down and asked us to come to her birthday party the next night – our birthdays are only two days apart, and we had often celebrated together. We were delighted for the invitation, as we knew the choir would be seranading our landlady.

There was a lovely catered sit-down dinner. Everyone was in dress-up clothing, and the wine and beer were flowing. We knew it would be our last dinner in the village, and we felt so honored to be included.

And then the choir arrived. The choir master made a speech to our landlady, congratulating her on her special birthday and giving her a long list of good wishes. And then he turned to us, and said that tonight our landlady was sharing her birthday with me, and they would sing two songs for us on our departure.

This was her special day. Her 50th birthday is the day the whole village would honor her. It only happens once in your lifetime. And she shared it with me.

The choir sang “The Gypsy Wanderers”, and truly, it was appropriate for my husband and I, departing for our next life in Doha. From the first notes, I cried. I’ve never minded my vagabond life, but for that brief moment, I regretted not having the kind of deep roots that kept me anchored in one place. I would never have a village singing for my 50th birthday; I had never earned that honor. And my landlady gave it to me, simply, without fanfare, sharing the honors she had earned day by day, living in the village. She gave it expecting nothing in return for it, sheerly for the joy of sharing.

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Cross Cultural, ExPat Life, Family Issues, Friends & Friendship, Germany, Living Conditions, Relationships, Spiritual, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Tale of Two Cities: Kuwait and Doha

Departing Kuwait was chaos. The gates down which you walk straight into the plane seem to be non-operational, and the teeming hoardes are shipped out to the planes in buses. At gates 22-23, security was clearing people for flights to Dubai, Muskat, China and Doha, all at the same time.

People would crowd toward to gate, only to be told “Not Now! Not Now! Now is Muskat!” “Now is Doha!” “over there is China!” but as some people spoke neither English nor Arabic, there was mass confusion. Planes, unable to depart on time because passengers had not been boarded, were only steps from the airport, but still, passengers were boarded onto buses and taken out. Sheer chaos.

Arrival in Doha was smooth, if quirky. In Doha, if your baggage is marked Priority or Business, it comes off the plane last. Not just this time, but the entire time I lived in Doha, this uniqueness was the rule rather than the exception.

Doha has the Miss America entrance just like Kuwait, and fortunately my friends were there to greet me and whisk me away. But in Doha, unlike Kuwait, the exit is chaos. Private cars are waiting for arrivals, taxis, limos, and a thousand laborors stand dazed at the exit, waiting to be told what to do. Threading our way through the chaos, we race for the car and exit, making our way into the city where we meet our husbands for dinner.

It was a very short trip, but I have a few more Doha photos to share with you. The Doha skyline is changing dramatically. Here is the new Museum of Islamic Art, due to open shortly – notice anything?


This is the new Qatar Center for the Presentation of Islam building – it includes a mosque, library, coffee shop and meeting rooms (the one on the left):


This is the first we have seen of dhows being built in the old way in Doha:


Last, the continually changing Corniche skyline:

January 27, 2007 Posted by | Arts & Handicrafts, Cross Cultural, Customer Service, Doha, ExPat Life, Lumix, Photos, Qatar, Social Issues | 7 Comments