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Posts Tagged ‘books’

Something loud and lively was happening in the hallway. Something cheerful and friendly. People greeting each other with gusto. It felt like I was home!

At a recent meeting of the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) in Bonn, I had the pleasure of meeting other students (read: scholars) from Africa. Yes – what a privilege! For what I found there was more than mere camaraderie: it was, I am sure, part of the future of our continent. Discussions ranged from theology to politics to art (both literature and visual arts), and in more than one case, I was totally blown away!

What I experienced there is hard to explain, so what follows might seem like a strange analogy, but I would like to make it anyway. The past two months or so I have been reading Kim Stanley Robinson’s Mars-trilogy, a story deeply concerned with building a new society. One encounters multiple meetings, or conferences, or whatever it might be called, where people talk long into the night, totally immersed in both the challenges and the hope with which they are confronted. Hope – yes, hope! Amidst a myriad of opinions, amidst a host of key characters, the story spirals onward. Although the characters and parties involved are diverse, a common goal is imagined and achieved. No one character dominates in this story; everyone is important, but something bigger is happening than simply one person: a move towards something better.

This, I think, is sort of what I experienced – or at least perceived, last week. For although we all came from different countries, and shared differing points of view, we could speak of a common goal. And I have to add: a common willingness. Time and time again I was struck by the willingness of the people I spoke with to sacrifice for their country; and indirectly, for their continent – but without losing their identity. A realistic hope. If the people I met is a representative sample of what is happening in Africa, I am proud to call it my continent.

Speaking about being from Africa: as a whitey, I’ve sometimes wondered about my right of saying this. Am I from Africa? I’m glad to say that I was accepted in this group without question. And if you ever wondered if one could speak about “a” South African culture; we South Africans certainly were glad to find each other, and certainly were different in the sense of being, well, “South African”. (Yes, I know everything is much more complicated than I’ve set it out here, but please take it for the bona fide quick reflection that it is.)

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Goodbye, Dortmund!

In a short while, I’ll leave for Münster – and will have to wave Dortmund, my home for the past four months, goodbye. How fast everything has blurred past! I can’t even begin to recap.

So, what to tell? The first thing that springs to mind is the multitude of people that I met while at the Carl Duisberg Centrum, where I took part in a German course. These folks came from all over – Europe, off course, but also Latin America, different parts of Asia, Africa. What a lot I learned from them – about their countries, cultures, religion, and lots more! My only regret is that I didn’t spend even more time with them.

Travelling made up a big deal of my time here in Dortmund. In Paris, we had the privilege of being shown around by a British lady who had lived there for quite a while. Here I was also forced to buy a shirt in order to visit the Moulin Rouge (obviously, the cheapest decent shirt I could find, but which I think has since become my favourite). In Amsterdam I found the grave site of some of my relatives; visited a church service in the Keizersgrachtkerk, simply enjoyed the beautiful city, and had a mouthwatering cheese-fest, probably adding half a kilo in weight on the spot. I presented my (seminal? hopefully) paper at the SBL conference in Tartu, Estonia, and I got some good critical feedback. I also had a joyous reunion with my friends and colleagues from the University of Pretoria’s Department of Ancient Languages. During a trip to the Schwarzwald, I felt the cold creep up on me for the first time. Nevertheless, we had a great time – eating black forest cake, of course, and afterwards having dinner in the rain. (We refused to move, so we could have a view on the lake. Was worth it.) I met with a friend in Cologne, after cycling there via Wuppertal. Another time, a group of us South Africans (we travel in packs) simply stopped over there on our way to Aachen – also a worthwhile experience!

Of course, I did a lot of cycling in- and around Dortmund, too. Cycling is quite a solitary exercise, and perhaps that’s why I enjoy it so much. Of course, it’s much better still if you cycle with someone, but even then, you’ve got lots of time to mull over things. And mulling over I did! Cities close to Dortmund were my first target – those that impressed me most being Soest and Haltern-am-See. I visited a bunch of museums, including the most impressive Bergbaumuseum (mining museum) in Bochum and the DASA (German Occupational Safety and Health Exhibition) in Dortmund – twice. Worthy of note is also the Museum für Kunst und Kulturgeschichte, where one of the biggest finds of gold coins from the Roman era is on exhibit.

Naturally I travelled not only by bicycle, but also by train. Not all experiences on the train were so great; at least once, in trying to navigate during ExtraSchicht, a most wonderful cultural happening in the Ruhrgebiet, I got totally depressed.

I remember another time when I travelled with a (male) friend, and we ended up in Essen, during a gay festival. My friend, being from Iraq, was at first quite unsuspecting – I found it rather funny, especially when a more-than-drunk man complimented my friend on his shapely legs. The night ended in another highlight, namely, an Iraqi restaurant. (Well, the cook was from Iraq, anyway.) Good food, good times! I especially liked the drinkable yoghurt.

Another special night was when the Mongolians arranged a dinner party. What a great night! I had been learning about Mongolia all the while, 7 of the people in my class being from Mongolia, but this night was really special. We ate Mongolian food (OK, it was Russian food, mostly; real Mongolian ingredients are hard to come by in Germany, but it was good nonetheless) heard a Mongolian poem, a Mongolian song, and generally basked in the friendliness of the people of Mongolia. They are so proud of their country – as is most ambassadors here at the language course – that I involuntarily had to think about what makes me proud of being South African. (Another day, another post.)

There are a number of other experiences that I could relate, but these will have to suffice. One more needs to be added, though, as an afterthought. Last week, I met with my “Doktorvater”, Prof Gert Steyn, along with one of his other doctoral students, Peter Nagel, in Münster. Three years ago, I wouldn’t have thought this would be possible – but there we were!

Yes, I am very excited to start my studies in Münster. Thus far, I have been a bit lazy – just soaking up what’s happening in Dortmund and Germany. (And reading. Oh, my goodness, did I read! German books, mostly, but also some English books. My must-read list expanded considerably; it now includes Dostoyevski, Oe, Rafik Shami, Galsan Tschinag, Nâzım Hikmet, Can Yücel and Goethe).

From now on, it will be back to the (academic) books. First, however, I’m going on a cycle tour. Here’s a map, if you want to have a look. I’ll blog about my experiences when I get back; but for now, I know it’s going to be cold and rainy. Looking forward already!

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