Yes, this is the real way of traveling, I think. Every time you go to a different place, you are obviously moving physically from point A to point B. But there is more to it than that; it also involves an inner journey where your mind and soul are there, taking in as much as possible. There are many new emotions and experiences, full of thoughts and feelings. This is the way a traveler discovers a new country: he or she goes away from the comfort zone, interacts with locals, tries to speak their language as much as possible and even becomes somehow part of the community. This is in opposition to the tourist, who just wants to stay at a location for a while, going to the guidebook’s areas, and refusing to visit less-traveled places. It is the idea of simply taking a short break from every day life. A traveler, instead, could stay there much longer, even for the rest of his or her life. I am definitely more of a traveler than a tourist.
It was a special summer holiday, traveling first to Germany and then to England. I am glad I met extraordinary people. A few of them have become close friends. Just imagine meeting other German teachers from all over the world, which is exactly what happened in Munich thanks to a grant being offered by the Goethe-Institut. The program was a two-week teacher training course on the use of digital media in German language classes. We were 18 participants from many different parts of the globe, which is what made this experience unique and unforgettable for all of us.
The location was perfectly chosen as it wasn’t exactly in Munich but in Gauting, a quiet village next to the busy city. We were lodged at the Institut für Jugendarbeit, a state-owned building that not only offered teacher courses but also vocational training programs for unmotivated teenagers. It was an opportunity for high school students to be motivated again and learn a profession.
The Institut für Jugendarbeit looked like a fairytale palace to each one of us, surrounded by trees and a large evergreen meadow where we did group relaxation exercises and played all sorts of imaginative and funny games together . This was a ritual before starting our daily teacher training program and it was real fun. It brought us close to each other from the very first day as well as the fact that everything took place there: we slept in individual or double rooms and had breakfast and lunch in the building opposite, where our course was also held.
Our group of teachers had very intense contact during those two weeks. We were almost like a big family, sharing the whole experience as much as possible, getting to know more about our countries and our incredibly diverse cultures. We respected each other. Our little world became an ideal microcosm of the way planet Earth should be: No wars, perfect human understanding and social justice.
“I am too good for Egypt, Kyrta,” one of the German teachers said. He had a handsome face. His eyes were beautiful, prominent and as dark as the ocean depths. A penetrating gaze. He looked like one of those pharaohs of Ancient Egypt. Unusually small hands, though. He worked for the Goethe-Institut in Alexandria. “There is little hope that things can change in generations,” he said.
That was our conversation on a train. I immediately thought of the Arab Spring, mid-2012. What had initially looked like a non-violent revolutionary wave of demonstrations and protests had later changed into ongoing conflicts, not to mention Syria’s civil war in 2011.
“A soft dictatorship is the only possible thing in Egypt,” he continued. I thought, how sad. Couldn’t the Egyptians reach real democracy? Wasn’t there a better alternative to come from the civil society? I also thought about the copts and their prosecution. He was one of them.
“In China we have no Youtube,” said another teacher. At least we could keep in touch by email. She was much younger than me, one of the youngest in fact, around twenty-something. She was also very fast using digital apps, which helped me a lot. I was much slower and got impatient often during the two-week course because I associate with the sort of people who want to learn everything. If I see I need more time and this is somehow not possible, I get easily annoyed.
Working with the Chinese-German teacher was great, but so was working and interacting with all the other participants. There were four nice Russian-German teachers (all women), a very generous and humorous Polish man, who always offered us his car. There was a humorous Turkish man I designed a teaching project with. There was a lively Canadian teacher who originally came from Germany, then a quiet and peaceful Pakistani man, an equally quiet and peaceful Kenyan man who had problems with the German summer heat even though he came from a hotter continent. There were also the other Europeans and the teachers based in Latin America and Brazil. Then there was an introspective and good-hearted woman from Kyrgyzstan and, finally, a quiet and spiritual woman from Uzbekistan, where you do not see women riding bicycles and where you cannot leave uneaten food on the table. How sad she was during our last dinner in Munich.
“Sorry, I can’t leave this pizza here. I must eat it all. In Uzbekistan that would be a great offense, it means you’re refusing the food you’re being offered.”
“In China it’s just the opposite. We serve food in small receptacles. It’s always good to leave something. It means you love the food you’re being offered and wish to come back to that house or place you’ve been invited to.”
The solution for the Uzbekistan teacher was to ask at the restaurant for a plastic box to keep the food remains and take them with us. Some other people did the same.
In fact, in our group all continents were represented except Australia. It is probably too far for the Australian-German teachers to come to Germany. Besides, the Goethe-Institut surely offers enough teacher training courses in Australia.
After two weeks of such intense human contact we all became very close to each other and saying goodbye was hard. From then on we would only talk to each other using email, whatsapp or Facebook. Such an encounter had been unique and unrepeatable.
I spent the rest of my summer holiday in London. And what can I say about it? First of all, going to see Benedict Cumberbatch’s Hamlet performance was great. The beauty of Shakespeare’s language.The brilliant acting. The stage innovations with the frozen-like effects, though criticized by some who considered them too cinematic, gave the play something special together with Shakespeare’s universal themes: revenge, power, corruption, loss of a parent, human madness… Getting Cumberbatch’s autograph was an incredibly funny adventure with Olga and her daughter Lena, as well as introducing them to John.
However, the highlight was meeting Mario Savioni. We went to a poetry reading together. When he told me he was a poet I immediately thought: “Wow, that must be an interesting person.” So I joined him for a poetry reading, which was something I had never experienced before. It was amazing what people could do with an open mic that they had in that crowded and small bar. Many of them must have been actors because the majority could recite their poems without reading off of paper.
Mario was a bit nervous. He said he could not recite his poem by heart and he must read it. I said it would be fine and it was. Later on and back at the youth hostel I researched him on the Internet as he had told me; I came across his poem Pine and Blue posted on youtube and felt it was beautiful. After this vacation, I bought one of his books, Blue Emptiness,and wrote a review about it that he liked very much. I had no idea I was capable of doing such a thing. I also ignored that I would end up reading the rest of his books, write a review for each one, and that I would love them all. The experience in its entirety had a great impact on me. It began to change things in my life.
I admit the London weather might not always be nice, but is it right to complain about the rain when there are plenty of museums and art galleries to attend? What about walking or riding a bicycle through the beautiful royal parks before or after rain? Most probably and, as a result of all this life experience, which was full of so many interesting human encounters, I got the necessary inspiration to write short stories and poems. Some of them evoked pleasant thoughts and feelings and funny moments, while others reflected sadness because of how life evolves.