Saturday, January 16, 2010

die „Göttinger Tafel“

[ The Göttingen Soup Kitchen ]

As a Parlamentarisches Patenschafts Programm Teilnehmer I have a responsibility of not only representing the States as I am living abroad in Germany, but also utilizing the very generous experience provided to me by the German and US governments to give back to the communities I am living in. As PPP representatives, we are required to take part in volunteer work -freiwiliger Arbeit - and seek opportunities in our community to assist with service projects.

For me, this is something that I have a long history of doing and I definitely participate in as something I enjoy. I have helped through a variety of volunteer projects in high school and college already, as well as through my internship experience in Detroit, and searching for a similar project to take part in while in Germany was something I was very interested in doing.

I must comment that in Germany, being a much more social country with high taxes utilized for social projects, it is very difficult to find volunteer work with relative ease - it definitely exists, but in comparison to America, well known for its volunteerism and value for social service, it is not something I found to be available virtually everywhere. This surprised me a lot, since I am in one of the largest University towns in Germany, and I figured I could walk up to one of the many clustered bulletin boards and find something [like one could do for certain in Ann Arbor to find a project, club, job ect.], but that didn't turn out to be the case. I actually had to start sending out e-mails to local government offices and churches asking for advice. [ Just as heresy, I have heard quite often in Germany that, opposite from the States, it is sometimes easier to land an internship than find freiwiliger Arbeit. This very well could be true based on my experiences of searching for both.]

After a few weeks of searching - a task I thought would only take minutes to track down a fitting volunteer project to help over the next few months - I was directed to the Göttinger Tafel - which serves as a food distribution site in the middle of Göttingen for those in need of basic daily foodstuffs. I translated the Tafel as a soup kitchen, however, the food distributed is all from donations from local businesses and not given out as prepared meals - it is more of a center for basic groceries, from produce, breads, and other necessities.

[ A huge mountain of gifts we collected and stacked in December at the Tafel to be distributed to children throughout the Christmas season ]

Going in for the first day at the Tafel was a little nerve-wracking for me. I was not sure what my jobs were going to be, let alone how I was just going to jump right into work in the German speaking environment, yet, walking into the office there were smiling faces young and old - all volunteers as well as students completing their social work [which is an option other than Army participation after high school in Germany] - and all were very happy to have me join to help for the morning.

I have worked at the Tafel quite a few mornings already over the past few weeks when I had the chance around my University schedule and I have found the work to be very rewarding. My jobs have included sorting the foodstuffs as they are delivered to the center, driving around in the vans to local markets and stores to pick up donations, as well as working in the Laden and distributing the food.

The job has definitely tested my German - when taking directions, or even more challenging, taking orders from incomers for their grocery bags, I have to definitely keep a keen ear. Under many situations, the incomers come from foreign lands and either speak German with very strong Slavic and Turkish accents, or they have German skills that are equal to my own. The job gives me the same satisfaction that I had working at the food centers of Focus:HOPE back in Detroit, and learning some great life lessons and advice from co-founder Eleanor Josaitis. There are always some laughs, especially when the name of some vegetable completely defies my wordbank for the day, as well as the person anxiously pointing at the brussel sprouts since they don't know what to call them auf Deutsch either - der Rosenkohl - always a learning experience.

Sometimes the people catch on to the fact that I am definitely not a native German speaker and upon asking my origin, like to throw in what they know from English. Just the other day, one man gave me his best, "I can English a little bittle" and that little bit meant a lot to me.

The Tafel has been more than just a volunteer job for me. It has been another great perspective from my home town in Germany and learn some new systems for volunteer work in another country - it may be different, but the bottom line is that it still feels great anywhere to help out in a community project.

Alles gut zum Geburtstag

[ Happy Birthday to you! ]

Back in Göttingen just before school started gave me a bit of a chance to collect myself after a very exciting and busy few weeks of holiday celebrations and traveling. I knew that Göttingen was going to be a bit quiet when I returned - no friends really back until the weekend - and that my birthday would pass by a little low key, yet after having so many great experiences that was completely fine to me.

I think it was this state of mind that made the surprises for me turning 20 that much more unexpected and really wonderful. Coming into the kitchen on the morning of the 5th, Inge was there to give me a huge hug - she had already very excitedly greeted me the evening before for my return home, and we sat together to talk about the new years celebrations we had - but this hug for my birthday was huge - Zwanzig Jahre Alt! - 20 years old!

Wow... I am 20 - no longer a teenager. The number didn't really strike me right away, but this year really is one of great transitions for me. When Andreas returned home mid day for lunch, I also received a very warm greeting from him and a long list of wishes for me for the upcoming year.

With Janna and Moritz on their own travels, and life at the Sebode house returning to the norm of Inge, Andreas and myself together, it really meant so much to me that my host parents were so excited to celebrate my birthday and have many surprises waiting for me. For lunch, as a centerpiece on the table was a German good luck charm for birthdays - complete with a silver champagne bucket signifying the good champagne for the year, a bouquet of 4-leaf clovers, and a little Kaminkehrer - a chimney sweeper - that also denotes good luck in Germany. Inge made a great lunch, and before we ate, a toast with Champagne and another new tradition for me - an entirely new song in German sung for Birthdays [and one with many verses too, I should add, really testing Inge and Andreas' endurance].

Heute kann es regnen,
stürmen oder schnei'n,
denn du strahlst ja selber
wie der Sonnenschein.
Heut ist dein Geburtstag,
darum feiern wir,
alle deine Freunde,
freuen sich mit dir.

Wie schön, dass du geboren bist,
wir hätten dich sonst sehr vermisst.
wie schön, dass wir beisammen sind,
wir gratulieren dir, Geburtstagskind!

[Today it can rain,
storm or snow,
because you yourself are beaming
like sunshine.
Today is your birthday,
that's why we're celebrating.
All your friends,
are happy for you.

How nice that you were born,
we would have really missed you otherwise.
how nice that we're all together;
we congratulate you, birthday child! ]

Everything was perfect - I really felt so loved on my birthday at home, and there were already some great German traditions that I learned that will now be great memories. Everything so far was already so appreciated, but Inge and Andres also had a few other gifts for me - They really went above and beyond for me - a new book to read as well as some Göttingen attire to proudly wear my University on my chest. Later in the evening I received a surprise phone call from Moritz all the way from Mexico to wish me a Happy Birthday. I am really so lucky to have received so much generosity on my Birthday, and it will definitely be one that I will always remember.

Montag, Dienstag, Mittwoch,
das ist ganz egal,
dein Geburtstag kommt im Jahr
doch nur einmal.
Darum lass uns feiern,
dass die Schwarte kracht,
Heute wird getanzt,
gesungen und gelacht.

Wie schön, dass du geboren bist,
wir hätten dich...

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday,
that doesn't really matter,
but your birthday comes only
once a year.
So let us celebrate,
until we're exhausted,*
Today there's dancing,
singing and laughter.

How nice that you were born,
we would have...