Friday, April 7, 2017

Don't go with the flow. Be flow. (published in HELLO Alanya, November 2015)

It’s November 8 as I am writing this column. And I am having flashbacks to the same date 5 years ago. The day that I moved from Amsterdam to Turkey, for the love of my life. I remember that my best friend and I went to a concert that night, just a few hours before my flight. She got tickets for Volkan Konak, a Turkish folks singer, and his song ‘yarim yarim’ will somehow forever be connected to this particular time and place in my life. We had to skip the last 10 minutes of the concert to make it to the airport on time. It was past midnight already. I remember the goodbyes from my dear friends and the kind man at custom services who asked me if I were alright. The blurred Schiphol by night view from my little airplane window, because of the rain and the tears. Sad and happy tears, all mixed up, tasting salty and sweet. That was the night that I flew into the first sunrise of my new life. The night that I cut some significant roots that I had grown over the past years and had become attached to. The night that home changed from a place into a person.
Another thing that I will never forget is what had brought me to this particular point in life. It wasn’t a rational decision or a calculated one, based on the pro’s and con’s of who should make the move. Neither was it a desperate one, based on running high emotions.  No, it wasn’t even a decision at all when you think of it. It was more like an insight, like a knowing. A silent, unexpected knowing, coming from out of nowhere, filling my inner self the way a perfume fills the air. Subtle yet unmistakably. 
The ‘should I move to Alanya’ question had been on my mind for quite a while back then. And I just didn’t know what to do. At first I was afraid that I might regret it. Afraid that I might be giving up too much in return for it. So I asked myself what to do over and over again. I listened to other people’s opinions and I searched for signs. For a breadcrumb trail of any kind that would lead me into the right direction.
And then, one day, the answer came, word for word, written down by Elif Shafak in her wonderful book ‘The Forty Rules of Love’. We had just published the book at Penguin Books and my colleague had reserved me a copy.  I came to a passage in the book where Shams of Tabriz says the following:
Fret not where the road will take you. Instead concentrate on the first step. That’s the hardest part and that’s what you are responsible for. Once you take that step let everything do what it naturally does and the rest will follow. Do not go with the flow. Be the flow”.

It was as if this particular part had been written just for me. As if the letters and words bounced right off the page and penetrated every single cell of my being. Focus on the first step and nothing else. I could do that. I could just move. I could go and be where my heart wants me to be. Without considering all the what if’s and all the possible consequences. Everything else would need to do what it naturally does. And I will be a part of it. I will be flow with it. And so that’s how I came to live here. By trusting these wise words that I still live by and my inner voice. I took the first step, and everything else worked out for itself in ways far, far better than I could ever plan or expect myself. Yes, there are hiccups and struggles included, because how could they not be. But no regrets. Not even one. Just flow.

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Thursday, April 6, 2017

The beauty of mixed relationships (published in HELLO Alanya, August 2015)

All relationships are special and unique in their own ways. But there is something about mixed culture relationships that makes them stand out in a way and make people who meet the couple curious. Everyone is interesting in the story of how those two met? And what about all the cultural differences, how do you handle them? Are you guys happy? And most of all, though rarely asked in a direct way, how do you make it work?
Being one half of a culturally mixed couple, I have heard these questions many times. And I get it. Not only do couples in mixed relationships go through the same hiccups and struggles like any other couple does, they are also facing a lot of challenges that come with combining two cultures in their relationship. Challenges like speaking different languages and the struggle to find a way to express yourself in a language other than your own. Or having grown up in a different culture and with a different mentality than your partner, which can lead to small and big misunderstandings. Or liking different foods. And believing in different rituals, possibly even having another religion. And other ways and habits of doing things. And on top of all that, in some cases, there is also the ultimate test of long distance. Boy, this can be a tough one to master. The missing, the uncertainty, the phone calls and the ‘why the heck is he not answering?’.  It’s all part of it. The ‘when can I come visit’ and the ‘please come visit as soon as you can’. Those who’ve been there know exactly what I’m talking about. And I know that there is quite a few of you among my readers because this is, after all, the story of Alanya. That little place in southern Turkey by the Mediterranean Sea, where East End boy meets West End girl.
All this can add up to the feeling of having to ‘work harder’ than others to make such a relationship work. Especially on the outside it may look like that. But let me tell you from firsthand experience that there is a little twist to that. These challenges and struggles happen to be more than just that. At the same time they are also the best thing about it. They are the thrill and the excitement for all the same reasons and exactly why it works. Learning a language surely isn’t a piece of cake. It’s difficult and it can be immensely frustrating. But when you do it out of love it becomes so much more fun and easier. Suddenly you really want to speak that language and understand everything. The language gives you more insight into your partner’s background, family and culture and what he’s talking about on the phone too. Plus it’s fun to share the learning process. Helping each other to become better strengthens the bond.
And all those cultural and mentality differences? There comes a point when you start to realize that they are actually eye and mind opening experiences to you. Not only do they add more color and more layers to your perception of life, but they also show you that there is different ways of doing things and your personal understanding and opinions might change profoundly. You are more willing of simply accepting what is, instead of expecting things to be as they should. You quit comparing everything in judgmental terms of better and worse.
Yes, the learning curve is steep and sometimes overwhelming but it’s exciting at the same time. Tasting new food and discovering a new country. Meeting new people and its cities. And being introduced to other ways of believing and praying. As Rumi  says so beautifully: there are a thousand ways to kneel and kiss the ground. It makes you realize two very important things in life: how unique we all are and how much alike we are at the same time.

And because the one and only reason for being on this amazing adventure is the love of your life, you are willing to plunge right into it. It opens you up and teaches you to be more flexible, to be comfortable outside of your own comfort zone and to become better at compromising. As long as there is plenty of love and blessing and gratitude, all of these challenges don’t feel so much like hard work but more like an invitation to new adventures. And that my dear ones is the beauty of mixed relationships. 

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Lucky to be a (Wo)man (published in HELLO Alanya, July 2015)

Dear ones, it’s too warm this afternoon to have deep thoughts and compose them into a column. And besides that the TV in the background is distracting me with ongoing news about Greece and the referendum. Europeans certainly learned how to spell the word ‘no’ in Greek today.

As I was going through some old boxes and stuff the other day, trying to do some proper cleaning up, I came across a piece of paper from my Turkish language classes at Tömer from back in 2011 that really made me smile. So I am sharing it with you here, guessing you will read it with a smile too. We were supposed to learn the Genis Zaman (present tense) in Turkish so we got a copy of some sentences to practice with. And in days where everywhere in the world the concepts of gender and feminism are being subject to countless discussions in an attempt to redefine them, this little list shamelessly, carelessly and hilariously confirms all of the gaps and the clichés between men and women without probably even being aware of it. It sums up some of the advantages of being a man or woman, as perceived in this country. Needless to say that this list and its ‘gender-mender who cares?’ kind of attitude is a bit exaggerated and obviously meant as a joke. The text, of course, was in Turkish so I translated it into English here.

We are lucky to be men
-          We are charismatic!
-          It’s easy for us to open jars.
-          We can walk on the streets without a bag
-          On warm days we can take off our shirts
-          We only need a small bag for a 5 day holiday
-          Chips, coke, chocolate.. we can eat everything without having to worry
-          We can solve the problems with our girlfriend with one rose
-          We can have a conversation over the phone within 30 seconds
-          We can wear 2 pairs of shoes to 20 different occasions and no one will notice
-          We pay small prices at hairdressers
-          We can shave, shower, get dressed and leave the house within 10 minutes
-          The colours in our face are real and can’t be washed off with water.
-          We can walk alone on the streets at night

We are lucky to be women
-          We are beautiful!
-          We can make our own food.
-          We can extend our length with 10 cm by wearing high heels
-          We don’t have naked baby pictures in our albums
-          We can use make-up to cover up a pimple
-          We don’t snore!
-          We can easily find our socks
-          We can get into a club without a partner
-          Men say “Behind every successful man stands a woman”
-          We can easily remember the special dates in our life.
-          We can cry in the cinema and be comfortable about it.
-          We can color our hair in every color
-          And… we can be mothers.

To all you strong and charismatic beings from Mars and all you beautiful beings from Venus, who are always well behaved, even in your sleep: I hope you will enjoy your summer, meeting each other and hanging out together. And let me know if there is anything you would like to add to this fabulous list. 

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Moving for Love (published in HELLO Alanya, june 2015)

“Wherever you are, and whatever you do, be in love”.  Rumi

It’s late in the evening as I am trying to collect my thoughts and write a column. But my thoughts are somewhere else tonight. I am thinking about my dear sister. Today is the day that she moved to Oslo to start a new life together with her boyfriend. It hasn’t been an easy decision, but it was one that she was looking forward to nonetheless. She just arrived at her new home a few hours ago, which I have yet to visit. I hope that she will be happy there. I hope that this new chapter in her life will turn out to be everything that she imagines it to be. And though we never know what will happen down the road, one thing I know for sure:  if love is calling, we must answer. Because chasing love is chasing happiness. And isn’t that the greatest chase of all? The ultimate journey. The power that moves us all. If we fall in love, whether it’s  with a person, a place, a job or a country, we must move for it. Without minding risks nor fear too much. Because ignoring that inner pull is no option, it will only make us feel miserable. The real change has already taken place inside of us long before we actually take action to make the visible changes like packing, quitting our job, selling the home and so on. The real change happened right the moment we fell in love. Which already is the point of no return right there. Staying and trying to keep things as they were before out of fear of the unknown is pointless.. everything has already changed anyway. You are changed. And everything that was part of your normal life up until the moment you fell in love is different now. Transformed. Pushing you into a new direction, taking you on a new adventure.
Moving for love is always right thing to do. Living in Alanya I am reminded of this every day by the people around me. This is what some many of us who live here have done, including myself. And yet, this love may not be forever. It may even end as swiftly and as suddenly as it entered your life. It may last only for a while or for just one year, or for whatever the amount of time it was needed to fulfill its purpose. Maybe it turned out to be only a romance. Maybe you came here to let the sunshine warm up your soul for as long as you needed.  Maybe the beaches and the nature gave you the piece you were seeking, so you could to return to your old situation with fresh energy and new insights. Maybe you needed to fill up your heart with fun and laughter and music and food until you felt nourished again in every way. Love is love. And just because it didn’t last doesn’t mean it wasn’t real. Love isn’t measured by its length but by its capacity to touch you and to change you. Profoundly and undeniably. Moving for love is not irresponsible. It’s not naïve. And it’s certainly not crazy. It’s for the strong and the brave. For those who in all honesty dare to admit that this is what it’s all about. Who understand that this is the stuff that makes the world go round and keeps us moving forward day after day. If love is not worth all of our courage, what is? If it’s not love that we are seeking, then what are we running after? Love moves us as much as we move for love.  

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Living a luxurious Life (published in HELLO Alanya, May 2015)

I am writing this column sitting in the sun on my balcony while my little boy is taking his afternoon nap. There’s a fresh breeze today coming from the mountains. On the table nothing but my laptop, a bowl of sweet strawberries for a snack and a glass of water. Nothing fancy but for some reason this delicious simplicity surrounding me gives me a sense of luxury and happiness that I can’t explain.
And the more I reflect on this the more I realize how much more simple yet luxurious my life is now than it was about 5 years ago when I was still living in Amsterdam. It seems like a paradox considering what I gave up there to start a new life in Alanya. But it’s not. It all makes sense once you understand that the truest definition of success lies in finding your own happiness. And knowing what living a happy life looks like to you and being able to pursue it, is what I call a real luxury.
As society we seem to be redefining luxury. We are shifting away from wanting things and towards wanting experiences. We don’t necessarily want to own luxury but we want to experience it. This is becoming very visible in our social media networks where thousands and thousands of pictures are being uploaded every single day of people sharing their personal experiences. It can be everything from a colourful cocktail on a tropical beach to dinner with friends or a bouquet of pretty flowers. Luxury is hiding in all the daily details and it’s up to us to transform everyday life moments into something special. You can gulp down your hot morning coffee in a hurry on the way to work or you can take a few minutes to enjoy a really good coffee, with perfect foam, savoring its aroma, drinking it from your favorite mug.
In our busy modern day lives, anything getting close to enjoying the good and simple life is called a luxury. Taking a dive into the sea after work. Biting into a freshly picked tomato still warm from the sun. A pretty cupcake. A road trip along the coast for a few days. It’s interesting how this notion has turned the concept of luxury into something surprisingly inclusive and often inexpensive opposed to the old definition of luxury, which was rather exclusive and only given to a few who could afford it. The fact that luxury now is much more ‘makeable’ and affordable to a bigger crowd than it used to be might be an alarming development for the elite of older generations, but it’s definitely good news for everyone else.

Of course, this doesn’t mean we no longer want to have nice things. A great car, a beautiful apartment, a pool in the garden and the newest gadget. These things probably will forever be wanna-haves to most people. But many of us no longer accept to live an overscheduled, overworked life in order to get those things, sacrificing our personal well-being and a chance for traveling, discovering, adventure and quality time for it. Defining luxury only by what car you drive or the brands you wear has become too superficial and incredible boring too if you ask me. It just doesn’t cover it anymore, especially if you need to compromise your personal happiness for it. I saw this quote online once, it’s from Leontyne Price, and it said: ‘the ultimate of being successful is the luxury of giving yourself the time to do what you want to do’. Beautiful words to live by. 

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New beginnings (published in HELLO Alanya, April 2015)

Hello to all you dear ones. Welcome back at my little corner in this beautiful magazine. I’m looking forward to a new season in Alanya and to talking with you about all things big and small in life that keep our minds and hearts occupied as we float through 2015.
April always feels a bit like New Year’s Day around here in a way. There is many ways to count a year. At work a year begins and ends with the calendar. For students a year is divided into semesters. If you are pregnant or parents to a baby, you count every month. For children, the seemingly endless amount of time that goes into one year is marked by birthdays, Christmas, Bayram, happy events and of course summer break. But if you live in Alanya, the year is divided into two big parts, the summer season and the winter season. And with the beginning of the summer season everything feels fresh and new and full of possibilities again. Much like January 1st. There is renovation work going on everywhere in town, new tourists will come and old ones will come back. New friendships are being made and many will fall in love here, something that seems inevitable in our little town. ‘It must be something in the water’ as they say around here. Whether it’s the water, the sunshine, the beautiful surrounding or the locals working their charms, or maybe a combination of all of these things, it’s definitely attractive to so many tourist visiting every year.

In the warm and bright light of the new season, I wanted to share with you my idea of making plans and resolutions for the new year ahead. 2015 is still young and so it’s not too late to think about what you want to archive this year. Because we all want to start new beginnings with the best intentions at heart. We plan to be more successful, to lose weight before summer comes, to live healthier and do more sports, quit smoking, earn more money, travel more, buy a house, a car or whatever it is you want to purchase. And as the months roll buy the goals we set kind of disappear in the distance and we feel a bit embarrassed when we have to admit that we kind of lost the motivation to chase them. This is why resolutions, expressed in a single specific goal, don’t work if you ask me. They often lead to frustration and excuses. I have discovered some years ago that it is much more effective and satisfying if you pick a word instead of a goal. Just one word, that you can apply to every area of colorful life. It can be anything you want, as long as it’s positive and constructive. Think of words like creativity, ambition, growth, renovation, service, change, love, travel, educating yourself and so on. Come up with one word that you want to represent how you approach things in your life and remind yourself of this word as you go along. Honor this word and give it your best intention. Use it with honesty. For example last year, my personal word was dedication. As a new mom, I dedicated myself completely to the tasks of motherhood and family life. But I also applied the word to other areas in my life like maintaining my friendships and taking care of my good health the best way I could. This year I chose a new word. It is manifestation. And by that I mean doing things right away rather than postponing them. Daily tasks as well as the big stuff. There are some things on my mind that I have been planning and talking about quite a lot but just didn’t do them yet. And I know it’s time for me to kick my own butt and just get going when I get tired of hearing myself talking about my plans without actually doing much about it. So this new season I want to be all about manifesting a dream or two and I intend to do much more of walking the walk rather than just talking the talk. Word! What is your new word going to be? 

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A little THANK YOU to end the year with (published in HELLO Alanya, December 2014)

It’s the last month of the year, the last magazine and a last little word from me here before 2014 ends. Therefore I would like to say a little word of gratitude before the clock strikes 12 and all eyes will be on 2015. We may not celebrate Thanksgiving in Europe but when looking back at a whole year that has passed, we automatically reflect on all the things that we are thankful for. 
It makes us realize how much we have been given and how rich we really are. It’s all about the simple yet most valuable things in life that aren’t actually ‘things’, like having a loving family and dear friends, a good health, a cozy home and all the things we get to do that excite us, that nourish our soul and that make us prosper and grow on a personal level. One of my thank you’s here goes out to Cindy, for giving me this crispy white page in her magazine to fill with all that I want to write about.  It’s a beautiful way of sharing thoughts and stories with you. And I am equally thankful for you, dear readers, you who read my columns every month and who like them and comment on them, who let me know that you enjoy reading them. I enjoy hearing from you just as much. But also those of you that I don’t hear or see and who simply like to just take a few moments to read this column before going on with your daily life, thank you for doing so. As much as a violin wants to be played, a heart wants to be touched and a cake wants to be eaten, written words just want to be read. So thank you for doing exactly that and for actively or silently taking part in a little journey to somewhere together.
I’ll be driving home for Christmas soon (are you hearing the tune?) to spend the holidays with my family in France. I am a December child and I love Christmas. We have always celebrated a traditional Christmas in my family and growing up in Germany the Christkind used to bring some real magic into our home. Now that I’m a mother myself I would love to pass this beautiful tradition on to my son. But living in Turkey that’s a bit harder said than done. Though Christmas is much about gifts and food and cookies and looking all dressed up, I also want him to experience and understand the ‘real’ Christmas, not only the ‘gimmie an iPad’ kind of Christmas. And my parent’s place in a small village in the mountains of France with snow and a tree and all is a great place for that. Though I’m afraid it’s going to be everything but silent nights holy nights since we’re dealing with some serious teething at the moment, but it will definitely be jingle all the way. And I’m already looking forward to it. Weather you will be celebrating Christmas or not, I want to wish you all a beautiful December month wherever you are and a very Happy New Year!

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