The Long Awaited Conference Week

First, I must apologize for the extreme delay for this post…I hope you can forgive me when you read about how busy this week (and the ones after it) have been.

Monday (7/10) was fairly uneventful. I ate the leftover baklava from the night before (just as heavenly as ever) for lunch, then went to work, where I met with Irène and Kofi (a colleague who mostly works with the JUMA project) as they had their last planing meeting before their workshop for the big conference the next day. I then came home and talked to Ayse about everything from abortion to beggars to the story of her name, until after midnight.

The only problem with this wonderful long conversation was, when my alarm went off at 5:30 AM on Tuesday, I was still pretty tired! I managed to make it to the Kalkscheune conference center at 7 am as planned, however, where I helped set up the workshop rooms, the registration station, and some bulletin boards for an all-group activity.

Registration didn't actually start till 9, but those punctual Germans started showing up closer to 8:30. I was in charge of the speakers, workshop leaders and organizers check-in, so that I could hand out extra workshop material as needed. It was nice to finally see the faces that belonged to the names I had seen in the program for weeks! I guess it means that the Germans are not actually so punctual, since people were still showing up half an hour late, which meant I missed the first couple welcome speeches.

I was lucky enough to be able to hand over my registration duty in time to hear the author Sharon Dodua Otoo and because I think it is really cool that she has her own wikipedia page, where you can read more about her background without me writing it all out, here it is:

She was a project leader with RAA until recently, but has now made a move to focus on her writing. She told a wonderful allegorical story about race, but told through shapes, entitled "Die Geschichte von Kreis und Viereck" (The Story of the Circle and Square") about a circle in a society of squares, who was unappreciated, and criticized, and the struggle of fighting for a place, and for recognition in a society that could only see shapes in comparison to the straightness and 90 degree virtues of the square mindset. It was both funny and powerful, and I am about to buy her books.

Next, Miriam Camara and Andrés Nadar (the RAA director) did a general intro to the principles (pretty similar to last wenek's training). After that, the group transitioned to an activity thought-up and introduced by the moderator (who works a desk away from me) Yaari Pannwitz. This is where we needed all the bulletin boards: in "the loft" upstairs, the attendees were invited to write comments, questions and thoughts on a piece of Flipchart paper pinned up next to each principle. People wrote and wrote and wrote! It was really interesting to see the different difficulties, that people had with the ideas, but also what they especially appreciated. Yaari and I ended up having to run around and get more paper because there was not room for all the thoughts on one sheet.

From there we went downstairs to a delicious lunch, where I met some other RAA colleagues from other projects that I had not visited yet. After lunch, and a short intro to each of the seven workshop leaders, we broke up into workshop groups. I went with Iène, Kofi and Sonja Dudek (from another organization) to their workshop about project development, and diversity as a benchmark. It was interesting to see the planning meetings manifest themselves in reality, and to hear the feedback of the other members of the group. It got a little tricky when we broke up into smaller groups to talk about examples from our own projects, and I didn't have any…but it worked out alright in that I could just listen.

To wrap up the official part of the day, there was a panel discussion on impressions and takeaways. It was interesting to hear over and over things along the lines of "I felt so comfortable in this group, as a ______ (person of color, person with a disability, etc)" and it did really make me reflect on how (as a white person) feeling comfortable in a group is the norm for me. It just goes to show how important events, organizations and projects like this are: everyone deserves to feel comfortable, and for me it was also good to realize my privilege.

When the panel wrapped up (half an hour late…) I was assured over and over by Irène that I did not actually need to help clean up (I guess it is the camp counselor in me that always wants to be ready for the next activity…) but eventually I conquered this urge, and went upstairs to the "break room" where I chatted and laughed with all the tired, relieved speakers, whose work was finally done. There was a generally jolly "we did it!" atmosphere, which made the already wonderful people even more fun to hangout with.

Eventually, after some shoe changing, and even a few showers, we trickled back downstairs for the private (organization and special guests only) after party / one-year-late-25th-birthday-party for RAA Berlin, which was founded in '91 (they were too busy or else just forgot to celebrate last year, so this seemed like a good time to party, since everyone was already there for the conference). The food was once again very good, and I had a really fun time chatting with some other new people, as we were all crammed onto a thin bench, eating. There was a minimal amount of formal speaking, and the bouquet that was given to Andrés and the first Director were really the only formal parts of the evening. Then the party continued.

Next came the dancing. To be honest, when the party plan was first described to me, I was pretty skeptical about how this portion could possibly be NOT awkward—dancing with my co-workers, all of whom are at least 10, if not closer to 30 years older than me, some of whom I barely know… As many of you know, I love to dance, but I was just not sure about the social situation. I shouldn't have worried. As soon as I saw the already full dance floor, I knew I wouldn't stop dancing till the music stopped, and that it would be a wonderful night. The mood was so relaxed, friendly and goofy that it really felt more like a family wedding—my favorite place to dance—than a work party. The DJ was also super good—reading the crowd well, and he played everything from Buenavista Social Club, to Michael Jackson. Shoes were kicked to the side, and flower vases were commandeered as "microphones" (Sharon, who only spilled a little bit of the water on Miriam…) and everyone sang along and boogied however it felt right—with no pressure to look cool or impress anyone. We were all just happy to be done with the conference, and to be together dancing.

We eventually had to go home around 11 (I suppose 16 hours without leaving the building was enough…but now that I think about it, but it actually didn't seem that long) I ended up riding home on the U-Bahn with Daniel Hornber (one of the panelists) and Sabrine(a?) who works on one of the projects I was going to see the next week (and who happened to also go to a Waldorf school). I was starting to feel preeeety tired by the time I got home however, and suffice it to say I barely managed to take a quick shower to wash off all the dance-sweat before collapsing into bed.

On Wednesday things pretty much went back to normal. I ended up eating a lot of soup (a side-effect of the seemingly perpetual rainy weather…) since I didn't wanna pack a lunch. I ate at a German restaurant down the street for lunch. At work I helped Irène disassemble all the leftover bags we had put together last week. For dinner Ayse and I went to the other Tibetan restaurant in the neighborhood and had some more soup. I thought it was pretty yummy (and I forgave the long wait, but apparently the whole thing was just not up to her standards)

Thursday's class was funny, since we did a "pass it along" story rotation, where each group is given a beginning to a fairy tale, but things started to get goofy as each group wrote a little farther then passed it along. The best story (in my humble opinion) involved a lesbian princess who ended up running away with a witch to Turkey, after deciding that she didn't need to kill her parents after all, so therefore the pact with the witch (involving pig blood, eyes and bratwurst…) ended up turning into a wedding and a honeymoon in Turkey…why not?

After class and work, I finally made it to the Naturkundemuseum (Museum of Natural History) that is at the subway stop between school and work, but that I had never found time to go to somehow, despite passing it twice every day on my way to work…I saw lots of dinosaur bones, fish fossils and cool minerals (as well as a detailed exhibit on taxidermy!) before getting kicked out sehr punktlich at 18:00 Uhr, when the museum closed.

I had a nice watermelon-cheese-pepper-bread dinner with Ayse, followed by some tea and some knitting (on her part) and yet another lovely talk, this time about love and relationships.

Friday I did not have to go into work, since there was not going to be anyone there anyway, so I was finally able to meet some people from class to go get lunch. It was nice to speak some "Deutschañol" at the very hip restaurant we found ourselves in. Since the majority were Spanish speaking (1 Colombian, 1 Spaniard, 2 Argentinians) and then me and the German teacher, it was certainly an interesting mix of languages.

I then wandered home to watch 3 hours of Spanish TV while I ate a delicious fresh salad. It was a welcome lazy afternoon to finish off a busy work week. Ayse came home bearing a delicious apple cookie, which led to some more dinner and more chatting about work and life. It ended up being a rather early night to bed.

On Saturday, Irving and I had planned to meet his Abendkurs classmates from the language school at the Spektrum Museum at 11. We managed 12, but we ended up finding them anyway. We strolled through the various floors full of interactive science exhibits on sound, optics and motion for a while, then (since entry way free that day) we hopped on over to the Deutsches Technisches Museum, just to check it out. We had only seen one room full of old cars, and one of old computers when we both kind of realized we didn't actually care too much about old cars or computers in general, and especially on a rare beautiful sunny Saturday. So we left.

We decided we were hungry, and ready for some lunch. So we U-Bahned our way to "Thai Park" (recognized as such even by google maps.) It is kind of what you might expect: a park full of Thai (and other south east Asian) food vendors. We strolled around the stands, and I eventually opted for some Korean vegetable pancakes, which were soooo yummy, and Irving went for some red curry. We had to quickly find Irving some water however, since the curry was painfully spicy, even for someone who grew up eating chilies! I also grabbed myself a mango lassie before we headed out.

Our next stop was Nollendorfplatz, where we followed the colorfully clad public toward the Lesbian-Gay City Festival. Probably partly because of the good weather, it was SO full, so full that it made it a little hard to enjoy the festivities, because you were being pushed and herded along the entire time. Around the same time, Irving and I also both came to the conclusion that it was pretty much just like any other German street festival we had been to: you had your cocktail vendors, the food stands, the cloths stands and the music. The main difference, aside from a few LGBTQ+ organizations that were represented, was that everything was rainbow, and there were more gay men in underwear…

It was interesting to note how the Israel-Palestine debate got so mixed up in the whole event as well, however. There were many people handing out rainbow Israeli flags, but we also saw a fair bit of graffiti with the stencil "No pride in Israeli Apartheid." It was an interesting example of some of the issues that get talked about a lot at Earlham. After walking from end to end of the fest, we felt like we had seen enough, and ended up leaving and finding a little park to relax in for a bit.

Irving then voiced his Starbucks craving, so we looked up the nearest franchise, and found ourself sitting in the very American/tourist-filled shop when it poured rain, so that was lucky. I wondered aloud who would want to buy an over-priced ceramic mug that said "Germany" (rather than "Deutschland" at least…) from Starbucks as a souvenir of Berlin, when along came a guy who did…

We then parted ways, and I wandered home where I made a delicious veggie-filled dinner, before doing some video chatting.

Sunday morning was a bit lazy—as Sunday mornings are allowed to be, in my opinion. I did manage to get some laundry done, and have a nice late breakfast with Ayse, before chatting with the family for a bit. I then rallied myself and left the house to go to one of the last climbing gyms on my list. I stopped at the Brandenburger Tor on the way, because I wanted to check off this touristy destination before my time in Berlin ran out. The whole detour took maybe 5 minutes.

When I got to the climbing gym, the guy at the check-in desk warned me that they had a "very small boulder room"—ha! If that was very small, he should come to Earlham and see our wall, which to him would probably be microscopic (it is maybe a fourth of the size of that room…) I had a fun time trying out some routes, before heading outside to do some slacklining in the back.

I then headed back home, where I thankfully ate the rice, lentil and yogurt dish Ayse had made, as we chatted about our days'. I was tired enough after my climbing adventure, that I was able to return to my bed I had left not that long ago, and make an early night of it.

Photos #

Sharon Dodua Otoo telling her wonderful story
Sharon Dodua Otoo telling her wonderful story
Conference attendees
Conference attendees commenting on the principles
The workshop leaders
All of the workshop leaders introducing themselves
A giant chunk of copper in the Museum of Natural History
A giant chunk of copper in the Museum of Natural History
Two giant fossilized perisphinctes
Some cool giant shells. (We'll actually they're fossilized perisphinctes, which are an extinct relative of the Cephalopod.)
A close up view of the perisphinctes
A close-up of one
Fossilized brachiosaurus skeleton
I tried to do a panorama shot to capture the overwhelming height of this Brachiosaurus brancai's neck….not sure I did very well…
Rabbits sitting in the grass
We found a buuunch of rabbits in Thai park
My dumplings and vegetable pancake
This was my dumplings and vegetable pancake lunch with some vendors in the background.
The entrance to the Lesbian-Gay Festival
The entrance to the Lesbian-Gay Festival
Graffiti reads: No pride in Israeli apartheid
This was stenciled on to a dumpster in the neighborhood of the festival
Rainbow Israeli flag
This is a slightly soggy, slightly blurry example of what I meant about the rainbow Israeli flag that was being handed out at the festival
View of the Brandenberg gate
Now I can check the Brandenberg gate off my list for this trip
Selfie in front of the Brandenberg gate
And the obligatory touristy selfie…
View of outdoor climbing gym
One of the outdoor walls at the gym that I went to on Sunday
View of indoor climbing gym
The indoor section was even bigger!
Climbing holds shaped like animals
I enjoyed grabbing onto these holds and only then realizing they were owls and spiders!
View from the top of the wall
The view from above of the "very small" boulder room…I was afraid to jump down, it was so tall!
Climbing hold shaped like a turtle
The fun animal shaped holds continued