Boo is helping me pack the last odds and ends. So tempting to pack her too while we’re at it… But it’ll mean an additional 4 kg, so I guess I better not 😉 I’ll miss her to bits but, gladly, my dad is taking great care of her.
Boo is helping me pack the last odds and ends. So tempting to pack her too while we’re at it… But it’ll mean an additional 4 kg, so I guess I better not 😉 I’ll miss her to bits but, gladly, my dad is taking great care of her.
What do you crave when you are far away from home? For me (don’t laugh) it’s Aromat. It’s a Swiss-ism. A quite unhealthy, artificial salt thingy. Most Swiss can’t live without it. Neither can I. And I’m not even Swiss. I’ve only lived there, off and on, for 17 years. Wherever else I went during the last 30 years, an Aromat was always with me. Making hard-boiled eggs and not having Aromat to go with it is a major emergency. Very sad.
So, even though I need to keep my backpack weight as low as possible, this Aromat shaker WILL have to come with me 😂☀️
Update from the Lake Constance Writing Front:
Over the last few months, I’ve had so much to process, learn, and overcome, I ended up being not by far as productive as I’d have liked to be. Still, I alternated writing short stories and articles for various platforms, worked on my blog, kept developing the story of my 2nd book, watched stage management webinars, and sent application emails out into the world. All this whilst sharing this comfy couch with little Boo who always faithfully waited for me to return and get back to work whenever I left our shared living space for a moment.
As a stage manager, like so many of my peers, I’m out of luck at this time. Nobody is hiring… yet. But I’ll keep writing emails, just to remind people I exist… in the great hope that one of these days, this year, or next year, when shows open up again, I’ll get an email saying, “Hey, are you still available. We want you!”
In the meantime, now that European borders are slowly opening, I am planning a long-distance hike.
There is the idea of a final destination, but I want to keep my options wide open. I’ll most likely start walking beginning of July. If the pitch for my new book gets accepted, I’ll write on the road to meet deadlines. I’ll take walking breaks when I find cozy, affordable shelter and will keep working on that book. Even if my manuscript does not get accepted at this time, I want to keep writing whilst on the road. Continue with my articles for TheaterArtLife, continue with my second book…
A travel blog comes to mind as well…
Plus, I am wondering if I can combine doing something good for myself with doing something good for others… maybe do some crowd funding and donate money to performing arts organizations around the globe who really need it. “Walk for the performing arts” or something like that… (let me know if any of you have any practical suggestions and ideas for this. Please PM me).
What I will definitely keep doing as well is to keep writing applications to shows worldwide whilst I am exploring the great unknown.
And thus the duration of my hike will largely depend on when a backstage job will become available to me. I might walk for only a month, then get an offer, and head to wherever it is I am needed. Or I’ll be walking for four months, five, six… who knows. It really isn’t so much about reaching the final destination as it is about letting those feet and thoughts roam freely, as it is to knock something off my bucket list (a long-distance hike has been on my mind for decades), as it is to stay active and creative.
At the moment, everything is so greatly uncertain and even more unpredictable than usual. Many of us have no idea when we’ll be able to get back to work. Some of us, like me, are homeless on top of it and have been couchsurfing for many months. I’ll embrace that homelessness and make the best of it… and in case I get injured or I’m just not up for it, I can stop walking at any time, and get back to couchsurfing somewhere… Continue from there…
Everything is possible.
I’ll do the only thing I can at this time, and do it with vigor:
I’ll go with the flow.
Can I just say how grateful I am for my dad?
I mean, I am thinking daily, “Damn, I’m stuck here in Germany in this small apartment without any privacy, camping on the couch in the middle of the room.” True. There are no doors to close, and it’s a small one-bedroom apartment. Nowhere to hide from my dad’s loud snoring (or the even louder snoring of his cat for that matter). Nowhere to hide from the clattering of dishes when my dad (almost daily I might add) decides to unload the dishwasher right next to my ears at 7am…
Yet, while I’m feeling sorry for myself, I think again, yes, I’m camping in the middle of his living room. It’s been almost two months now… with no end in sight…
But, when I ask him, “Are you ok? This is your home. I know I’m disturbing your routine and there’s never a second for you to be alone. Let me know if it gets too much, ok?”, he just smiles and says, “I don’t mind. You can stay as long as you like.”
He doesn’t ask much of me either. I go shopping for us (“the fridge is so full,” he laughs) and I cook (“oh, spicy,” he says). In return, he takes out the garbage, and takes care of that dish washer.
He doesn’t ask me to do anything else, there are no conditions attached. We are just there, together for the moment, in the living room, him on one couch, me on the other, doing our separate things.
What would I do without him letting me stay here right now? I have no home to go to and my meager savings will barely keep me afloat for a couple of months if I have to pay any rent anywhere. And who knows when I’ll find employment again. It’s funny, too. Because, I rushed over here to make sure he is safe and to help him out in this global crisis. However, at the end of the day, it’s him, sharing his tiny living space so generously with me, who is saving my ass.
That being said, even before, his door was always open. What would we have done over the past decade, my partner and I, had he not sheltered us and helped us out financially over and over again? He took us in for months at a time when we needed a place to stay and shared all he had with us. He was there for us when no one else was. He was always happy to see us. And no matter how much he did for us, he never asked for anything in return. He was open-minded. Supportive. He never judged. He was just present, with his warm smile, accepting us as we were.
I probably don’t appreciate him enough. I know I criticize him way too often. I’m too impatient. Much better than I used to be, though. For that, I am grateful to my soulmate, who helped me see him through her eyes, and helped me realize that ancient past is just that – the past.
Most likely my dad will never see this post. I’ll make sure to tell him in person though, how much I appreciate him and all he’s done so selflessly for me, for us (when there was still an us).
This is what being family is all about, isn’t it? To be a safety net for each other. To be there for each other even if paths or opinions diverge. To care. To support. Unconditionally.
Thank you, Dad, for being in my life.
Thinking of this little family today.
I found them in a pet store in Macau, in 2010. They had just been rescued from the street. A cat with three kittens. All of them were horribly sick. They had any infection you could think of… cat flu, ear infections, eye infections, ringworm, etc. One of the little ones was so tiny, he could fit in a tea cup. He looked like Gollum. Barely any fur left on him, huge eyes, and a greyish, wrinkly face. I wanted to adopt all the babies but the volunteers in the store told me honestly that Gollum wouldn’t make it. The other two stood a fighting chance. Only one of them seemed strong though. He was the largest of the babies… and the loudest… meowing non-stop. The other one didn’t look quite as bad as Gollum, but she was extremely tiny and scrawny for a five to six-week-old kitten. She had patchy, dark brown fur. What was left of it stood on end, making her look as if she had stuck her little paw into an electrical socket.
I decided to take the two healthier babies home. As we took them out of their cage, their mom crawled into my arms and didn’t seem to want to let me go. She was small for an adult cat, cuddly, with huge, expressive, green eyes. However, I had really only come for the babies. I left without her.
Arriving at home, her offspring soon crawled into every corner and jumped on every shelf. They made quick friends with the parrot I fostered at the time – a cheeky, red-lored Amazon named Cebi (short for Cebola… ‘onion’ in Portuguese. Since he was Brazilian, I had figured he needed a name reflecting his heritage at least linguistically). The first couple of days were mayhem with medicating the fur babies around the clock, plus trying to keep Cebi from pecking at their tails the entire time.
While I had my hands full with my ‘menagerie a trois’, I kept thinking about the kittens’ mom. The chances of anyone ever adopting her were slim to none. She was now together with Gollum in the cramped cage in the back of the pet store. Watching him die. It occurred to me how horribly alone and abandoned she must feel. Over the next few days, no matter how much the antics of baby cats and parrot made me laugh, I couldn’t stop thinking about her. “Screw this,” I finally thought on day five, “one more cat won’t make a difference.”
I went back to the pet store. Gollum had died already. And here was his mom. Huddled all by herself in the corner of her cage. The animal charity volunteers were more than happy to let me take her as well. I had brought a transport box with me, and off we went, to reunite her with her other two babies. As soon as we came through the door, however, her kittens didn’t welcome her. It seemed they had already made my apartment their territory. For two days straight, they hissed at their mom, and skulked around like John Wayne and Lara Croft, ready to draw their guns at any time. Thankfully, on the third day after the initial, slightly flawed homecoming, the kittens began cuddling with their mom again as if they had never been separated. One day later, she was nursing them as well. As they were massaging her tits with their paws, the babies were purring as loudly as twin tractor engines.
I named the two-year-old mom ‘Boo’, because of her big, round eyes, which made her look startled as well as inquisitive. She reminded me of Boo in the movie Monsters Inc. Boo’s little girl was fearless. Only a third the body size of her brother, she was the one who explored everything first, climbed up everywhere, and battled her illness with much courage and cheerfulness. She had a warrior spirit. I named her Lara. Her brother was easy to find a name for as well. He had never stopped meowing since the moment I had laid eyes on him and generally sounded like a mix between a goat and a squeaky door in need of WD-40. Henceforth, his name was Bocelli. My own little opera singer.
It took over a month for me to nurse them all back to good health. This not without them infecting me with ringworm first as well. We ended up being quarantined in the apartment together for four weeks, since the fungus infection was highly contagious. Thankfully, Cebi’s parrot feathers at least seemed to be resistant to fungus.
Six months later, despite all bravery, Lara lost her battle. At first, she had seemed to become healthy just as the rest of her feline family. But then, she had begun to show strange symptoms. She didn’t grow. While her brother became ever bigger, she remained so tiny, she could sit on my hand. Something seemed to be wrong with her muscles and nervous system as well. Five months in, she could barely walk anymore or lift her little head to eat from her food dish. Her muscles gave out every so often and she would just collapse on the floor. Nevertheless, she was still as cheerful as ever, snuggling in the crook of my elbow and purring her little heart out. I consulted with a veterinary and we both came to the unanimous decision that it was kinder to help Lara along and let her go.
She enjoyed one last meal with her family. Then, I carried her to the vet. I kept holding her in my arms as the injection was gently working its way through her bloodstream and putting her to sleep. I buried her in a niche high up on a rock wall along the coast of Coloane with her favorite toy, a little stuffed sun with a smiling face, pouty red lips, and blue eyelashes. Lara’s final resting place overlooked a beautiful pagoda and the South China Sea. She still rests there today and I feel more at home when I am close by, able to every so often walk past her resting place to tell her she is not forgotten.
Three years later, in 2013, I left Macau for the first time and shipped Boo and Bocelli to my dad’s place in Germany. They took to him faster than you can say “hello.” I moved on towards a more nomadic life.
Meanwhile, the cats contentedly snuggled with my dad and with each other. They still do. Boo is now twelve years old, Bocelli is ten. He still meows constantly. His mom is still as cuddly, loving, and caring towards both her son and her human companion as ever. She listens to and seems to understand every word my dad says. She licks his forehead and rubs her head on his hand. Whenever her son, Bocelli, sidles up to her in need of affection, she gently licks her son’s ears and face. Often, she lets him snuggle close. Then, of course, there are the inevitable, territorial wrestling matches when Boo needs to assert her dominance and make it clear that she can take the spot on the window sill or on top of the aquarium whenever she wants to. Bocelli usually doesn’t put up much of a fight but rather let’s her have whatever she desires.
Unless it is a box. He is passionate about his boxes.
He is a shy and anxious boy. Which is why he is also Boo’s admiring, respectful student. He watches her every move to learn and see what is safe and what isn’t. It took him five years of longingly watching Boo interact with my dad before Bocelli gathered enough courage to relax and snuggle with the tall, smiling human being, too. Now he rarely leaves his side.
My dad spends much of his days either feeding Boo and Bocelli or sitting on the couch with both cats curled up together in his lap. I am happy, I can visit them every so often. Each time, the felines are on a different diet, alternating between looking rather like furry balloons, or looking more like the little, muscular, former street cats they are. They both love snoozing in patches of sunlight. When sleeping deeply, Boo now snores as loud as a lumberjack…
I’ve gone back to Lara as well. Back home for a couple of years. Looking out over the South China Sea, remembering her, just underneath her resting place. Wondering if her little stuffed sun is still shining for her. Somehow, I am sure it is.
I’m having a tough time today.
Last year in October, I lost my home. How I miss my beautiful, quiet little sanctuary with a view of the ocean, warmth, sun-flooded rooms, a gorgeous rooftop beneath the stars, and a charming neighborhood. I miss the sweet smell of egg tarts wafting through open windows in the early morning. I miss spending tropical nights with friends and a glass of wine on the rooftop. I miss buying fresh vegetables underneath old, sun-battered tarps. I miss the old lady who sold groceries from her living room around the corner… She was always deeply asleep on her couch making shopping a bit of a gamble. I miss the Chinese cafés with breakfasts of cup noodles and beaten coffee. And I miss heading out into the picturesque village and the hills beyond.
I had found a rare gem. It was exactly what I had searched for all my life and, each time I moved back into town for work, I was lucky to be able to rent it again (thanks to great friends and agents). Three times lucky as a matter of fact. I loved inhabiting this space on my own at first and, later on, adored sharing it with my partner and soulmate. It was a real home… filled with memories, color, music, creativity, happiness, laughter, sadness… and hope. Safe yet open to the world.
Ever since I had to leave, I’ve lived out of my suitcase and camped on borrowed couches. And no, these are not places to relax in and find some treasured alone time on.
Even the cabin I inhabited on the cruise ship I worked on these past few months was just a temporary space where I allowed my exhausted body to collapse at night. There was no peace or privacy.
I know, I am fortunate to have friends and my dad who let me live on their couches. The longer I stay, the more they sacrifice their own personal space as well. I am aware of that and I am grateful for their help. No matter how great their hospitality though, I long to get away. I long to be able to have a little harbor of my own again. A harbor, which I can sail into, feel relaxed in, and close the door to. I love being a nomad, but I’ve always found a place to retreat to wherever I was for however long; a place I loved coming home to, where I could breathe, ponder the day, and recharge my batteries…
Now, floating on couches, the only place I can rest in is myself. And, as important as this may be, I miss the physical presence of a harbor more than I dare admit to myself.
I am lonely, too.
But loneliness doesn’t bother me quite as much. I am comfortable in my own company just as much as I am with a person whom I love and enjoy spending time and sharing space with.
No, essentially, it’s the homelessness that gets to me most…
With freedom of movement in the world reduced to a fraction of what it was only a few weeks ago, there is no telling when I’ll be able to get back to my treasured expat life, no telling when I’ll be able to get back to working backstage, no telling when I’ll finally have my own bed again… (even if this will be in hotel rooms… any place really where I can be myself, openly and unguardedly).
I am doing my best not to dwell. I am doing my best to overcome, let go, and be grateful for what I have. I spend quality time with my dad, cook for us and, as we are getting into a temporary rhythm between two couches and a kitchen, share breakfasts and dinners with him in his one-bedroom apartment.
I fill my quasi-alone time cuddling with cats, learning, reading, writing, and binge-watching TV series on my dad’s exposed, cream-colored, white leather couch. Countering my lack of privacy with an invisible border I create with my earphones… There is a lot to enjoy and it’s a pretty couch.
Yet the homelessness remains…
It’s the end of March 2020.
A slightly ruffled, disoriented “hello” from myself and Bocelli, my dad’s ever-meowing cat who isn’t quite sure how he feels about me invading their space…
How are you all?
I haven’t written much in this blog since last December…
As stage and production manager on one of the largest cruise ships in the Caribbean, life as I knew it was put on hold. I worked non-stop, 7 days a week, 15 hours per day. I would get up early in the morning when, without fail, my phone would begin ringing… Then, after each relentless day, I would go to bed to the sound of said phone still ringing… Until I would pass out, exhausted, dreaming a fitful sleep, still working and solving backstage emergencies in my dreams. Relentless is the best word I can come up with to describe my experience managing a large, high-risk venue on an even larger ship. Other words that come to mind are growth and stamina. And, thankfully, persevering, managing, learning, staying true to myself, and staying kind.
The absorption in our daily work onboard was complete. My colleagues and I heard about what went on in the world through word-of-mouth only. Or, sometimes, we managed to read about it when our anemic internet had one of its rare little bursts of energy and actually loaded an article or a post for us. Although we came back to sunny Florida once a week every Sunday since beginning of this year, Earth with all its viruses seemed a million miles away.
Mid-March, our ship headed for Miami, debarking the last of our passengers to cease operations in accordance with the entire fleet. Our stately vessel was then bound to sail into isolation on the open seas – with almost all crew remaining onboard.
I decided to leave. Maybe, I had seen too many disaster movies. But my instincts screamed at me to keep moving… that being locked down on a ship at close quarters with thousands of other people was far more dangerous than to grab my bag and make my way across borders and continents back to my father’s home.
I had to go. To be there for my dad, in case he needed me. And to ride this pandemic out somewhere… not alone… but together with someone for whom I profoundly matter – and who matters to me.
My trip home, from the Southern US to the South of Germany, began on 15th of March. It became a 3-day odyssey and quite the challenge…
Flights were cancelled left and right. Borders were closing all around me, faster than I could blink. My window of opportunity to make it back safely shrank before my eyes.
Most of my cruise ship colleagues decided to stay onboard. They sailed towards the Bahamas. To drop anchor close by. They sanitized, cleaned, and partied together. There was no physical distancing. They assumed to be safe. They waited for the world beyond the blue horizon to find its way back to some kind of new normalcy. Which is when they planned to dock in Miami yet again to reenter a land-based existence…
Meanwhile, I squeezed through all rapidly closing gates and borders. Yet on the way, I shared close quarters with thousands of people on airplanes and in the airports of New York, London, and Zurich. Now, with daily rising numbers of infected people worldwide, I would not dare to tackle this three-day journey anymore. Far too much risk of infection. At this point in time, it has simply become too great a hazard to travel so far.
It seems, I left just in time.
Even so, I was terrified upon my arrival in Germany. My dad’s loving hug, which usually feels so good, made me quiver inside. Had I endangered him by trying to do the right thing? After the initial closeness, I tried to distance myself physically from him as best as possible in his small apartment…
I have now been at his place for 15 days. I’ve counted the minutes, the hours. And, I was glad, yesterday, to finally get to that magical 14-day-incubation-time mark with both of us – as of yet – still healthy.
But there is the ship. My co-workers and friends. Who worked and partied with vigor during the past two weeks out at sea. And for whom safety was an illusion.
Three days ago, I heard 14 people onboard our floating palace were infected with Covid-19. Yesterday, the count had already risen to 51 people. I am terrified and worried for my colleagues and hope with all my heart that this is it… not, how I fear, just the tip of the iceberg. 1’600 crew are still onboard. I can’t stop thinking about them. Trapped on the ship. I hope they will beat the virus. I hope their immune systems haven’t been compromised too much by months of working hard with barely a pause.
Here I am now, being stared at by Bocelli, my dad’s tone-deaf-opera-singer cat. I am grateful for my little harbor of momentary safety, at the border between Germany and Switzerland, amidst green fields and forests. I am, however, well aware that, just as on the ship, safety in the face of an – as of yet – undefeated, invisible enemy is an illusion.
For now, in self-isolation like most other human beings on our planet, I have way too much time to think on my hands. I endeavor to use this gift of time wisely. I want to rest, but also be creative. I want to write. I will write. Our world has shrunk so much so fast. Yet, through our creativity, with the aid of the Internet, there still are no boundaries. We can still let our minds soar. Writers like me can send their words out to ride fiber currents…
I am thinking of my friends and family around the world. More than ever before, I know there is nothing more important than the human connections we build throughout our lifetimes. I can’t wait to be able to travel again to do what I love most: hug and squeeze the people I care about, touch base with them every so often, share experiences, ideas, and thoughts.
No matter what’s out there, and no matter what happens to each of us in the months to come… as always, friendship, love, kindness, creativity, and hope will help us overcome it all… even when we have an annoyed, territorial cat glaring at us.
Last week, a friend of mine introduced me to a refugee from Pakistan (to protect her privacy, let’s call her Nanala). We had an unforgettable dinner together.
From the first moment onwards, Nanala struck me as a self-confident, warm-hearted woman. After a while she began sharing parts of her life journey.
Eleven years ago, soldiers had broken down the door of Nanala’s home in Pakistan. They had shot and killed her husband and two of her four children in front of her eyes.
Nanala had managed to escape with her remaining two children. She had gathered a small part of their belongings and managed to get passage on a ship bound for Europe.
Together with four other families, Nanala and her children spent almost two weeks locked inside a container. They had a small supply of dried food, fruits, and water, and some flashlights. Other than that, only a couple of small, round holes in the sides of the container brought a bit of illumination from the outside. Days began to blend into each other. The journey felt endless, the walls were closing in… but, finally, the container ship arrived in a harbor in Greece.
After months of surviving in a refugee camp on a small island, Nanala and her children were transferred to Zurich, Switzerland. There, they lived for many years in yet another refugee camp. Nanala took any job the Swiss authorities allowed her to have, to be able to provide for her family. Her children went to school and adapted well to their new Swiss home.
Nanala had never attended school. She had never learned how to study. When she asked her children to help and teach her, they said, “We are busy with our own lives, Mom. We don’t have time.”
Nanala was only ever hired on an hourly basis. Each time, she was promised that after a year she would be given a contract. She worked hard. Studied. Learned German. But each time, the promise would be broken and she would be let go.
Each time hope reared its head, it was smacked hard again with a whip. Yet, Nanala kept getting back up on her feet. She never gave up.
Nanala’s daughter graduated high school and found an apprenticeship as a dental nurse. During her studies, she began to distance herself more and more from her mother. She never helped financially. After three years, her apprenticeship was over and she found a good job. At the same time, she was given the Swiss passport. From this moment on, she became very hostile towards her mother and pushed her away ever harder. She was ashamed of her mother who had still not been given a resident permit. She didn’t want to be seen as the daughter of a refugee.
Nanala’s daughter even began influencing her younger brother against his mom. He will finish high school soon, and Nanala is afraid. What if he abandons her, too? If he does, she will lose the rest of her family. She will also lose the social housing they have been given by the government.
Nanala has been assigned a new job. She has started work for a company which makes house calls to elderly people who can’t take care of themselves anymore.
That morning, when Nanala cleaned one older lady’s apartment, a spider fell from the ceiling, landed on her face, and bit her in the cheek. A bright red bruise marked the spot.
What struck me more than anything about Nanala was her capacity to love, her emotional intelligence, her dignity, and her beautiful sense of humor. Even during our chat, she kept raising herself back up and vowed to claim her independence and freedom through further hard work and studies. For her own sake, as well as that of her children, she doesn’t want to depend on them. Or on anyone else for that matter.
Even after all that has happened to her, Nanala wasn’t self-absorbed during our dinner, but present, listening to our stories as well as telling us her own.
She cried when she remembered moments of pain and abandonment. At the same time, she was full of enthusiasm at the thought of being able to help other people in her new profession. Rarely have I seen a stronger, more compassionate human being.
Since 1991, I’ve lived all over the world. That’s 28 years of being a nomad, an immigrant, a world citizen, an expat.
Presently, I am back in my dad’s little village in Southern Germany. It’s just for 6 weeks, but my home simply doesn’t feel like home anymore. I suspect it never will again. Nothing ever changes here. No matter how many years I stay away, when I come back to visit, people still complain about the same things, cook the same meals, and have the same exact routines and opinions. I am trying to relax and enjoy the peaceful inertia for the little time I am here. Use the time to charge my batteries.
Instead, I feel like suffocating. I miss my international life, miss constant change, miss invigorating conversations with people from all kinds of backgrounds. I miss traveling, miss being close to the deep blue (or in case of Macau deep brown) sea, miss challenges and growth, and miss sharing new experiences with like-minded souls.
Furthermore, I miss the spontaneity of expat life. The random unexpected knock on the door, bumping into people everywhere, unplanned trips, casual dinners, or catching up over a couple glasses of wine. I miss my show family, miss living with my soul mate, miss being surrounded by curiosity, questions, passion, and creativity. I miss late nights on rooftops, gazing up at the stars, and marvelling at moments spent in corners of the world I never thought I’d ever find myself in. I have 4 more weeks here in this picturesque little village before I head out again, but I might have to split that in half by finding a spot close to the ocean somewhere to dive into the unknown…
The wait continues… I’m really not a big fan of being in limbo. So, while looking for job opportunities, I keep doing my best to de-limbo myself by getting productive and continuing to write my 2nd book (as well as tackling smaller projects)… including passing out in between and recharging my batteries for whatever may come…