I found a friend in Failure

I moved to Germany about 2 years ago, a new bride and madly in love. Despite all the frills, I was more than excited to be coming to the country where my profession originated.

I am a Homoeopathic doctor from India with a Masters in my field and an honour-roll student at that. (Yes, Homoeopathy was discovered in Leipzig, Germany and not in India!)

I had big plans! I was going to make it big. And fast. Or not.

In no uncertain terms, Germany informed me, that not only could I forget about keeping my title but that I had to re-qualify. In German. You know how they say life is too short to learn German? Well, here I was, trying to re-do my university degrees in a foreign language! I thought about not even beginning to attempt. It seemed like I had Mount Everest before me and needed to climb it in roller skates! Impossible!

Not one to shy away from challenges; I jumped headlong into learning German. The more progress I made, the more frustrated I got at all the ridiculous grammar rules! There were days when I wanted to pack my bags and go back home. Luckily, sense and the husband prevailed; with the promise that if it takes too much of a toll; we would move back to India. I fought a demon’s battle within; not wanting this alternative because it would mean I failed.

Failing is something I was allergic to. I remember being mad at my Basketball coach in school when he told me “Nicola, you need to lose a few matches so you know what losing feels like.” (We were reigning champions almost throughout my term on the team.) I thought he had lost his mind! In hindsight I know what a wisdom filled statement that was. Sir, if you’re reading this, let me say, I failed and now I know.

I spent years of my student life being detested by friends and colleagues alike for being “a nerd, smart-ass, scholar”.Well, I never failed an exam. Kinder-garden to University. So although I didn’t then, I now understand their sentiments. Life is unfair. But I have stopped apologizing for my talents. However cocky that sounds.

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So back to my roller-coaster journey in Germany. I finally broke through the language test barriers and got a C 1- which is one level below native speaker. Then came the bigger more relevant exam- qualifying as a registered Homoeopath. Being a medical doctor was out of the question unless I went back to University. After already having romanced university for eight and a half years in India; I said NO. So I began preparing for the “Heilpraktikerprüfung” which is an exam taken by all practitioners of alternative medicine.

All this while, I wanted to earn my bread and butter; so as an added challenge; I was working at Homoeopaths Without Borders, Germany in an administrative post. I’ve lost count of how often I felt undervalued while answering phone calls, writing letters and doing mundane office work. When someone so kindly pointed out- “Did you go to medical school to end up sealing envelopes?”; rage and humiliation filled me! I wanted to tear him to pieces! But again, not one to give up, I plodded on. I also continued to run my practice in Goa with a great team. (www.gergo.net for more)

In March 2017 I answered the written exam- which is conducted only twice a year- and failed. I was so struck by disappointment, shame, pain and anger; that I came a hair’s breath close to giving up. It took tons of courage to go back to the exam-preparatory class I attended and explain that I had failed.

I had another chance in October and I took it. This time fighting fainting spells from being pregnant and emotional wreckage from losing my dear father in August. That was truly rock bottom for me. As they say, the only good thing about hitting rock bottom is that the only way out, is up.

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And up I went.

I cleared the written exam! Hooray! Half was accomplished and now I had to clear the oral exam. If I didn’t; I would have to start again with the written exam- which if you remember, happens only twice a year.

So after studying with a vengeance for the last 3 months, (I couldn’t bear to entertain failure again) I went in today for my do-or-die moment. I was potentially looking at moving back to India.

It was 2 degrees this morning and I was sweating. My voice trembled as the examiner took me back down memory lane to university exam times and quizzed me on Anatomy, Physiology, Emergencies and then the most tricky part- laws and regulations. Indian medical laws are sketchy at best and were never part of an exam syllabus!

20 minutes through and I was asked to step outside while the two men decided my fate.

I waddled outside, taking my 36 week belly with me (not that I had a choice), and wondering if I made it.

I did!!

I’m on top of the world and success tastes so sweet!

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Failing was painful. But necessary. I have found a friend in Failure. No, I do not like it any better than before, but I have new respect for it. I have learnt a lot more than if I had passed the first time – about myself, about persevering, about medicine and most of all about life. Hard work pays off and hitting rock bottom is not bad if you get up and go on.

So here I am, finally free of exams and bureaucracy; raring to start my career in Germany as a licensed Homoeopath! But not before first taking a well deserved break to bring my son into this world. He’s due in a just a few weeks. Cross your fingers for us!

Before an exam, a match or anything I undertook; my dad always said- “Kator re Bhaji!” (The Konkani equivalent of Break a Leg! For more on why this phrase is an important part of two histories- of hypnosis and of Goa, check here). I’m certain he’s celebrating in Valhalla with lame jokes and liquid spirits! This one is for you Dada!

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Let the merry threes begin

Done with the terrible twos and now to the next. No, this isn’t about a toddler. Not yet anyway.

Today, I celebrate two whole, adventure-filled years of moving to a new country -Hamburg, Germany. Perhaps this is what happens on the other side of 30, but I find myself increasingly taking stock of my life on days like today. It helps put my ever erratic thoughts in perspective.

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Hamburg’s beautiful Alster

To sum up the last 8 seasons of “Indian Hamburg-er”, here’s a recap:

  • Love-
    • my inconvenient marriage gets better everyday 😉
    • I’ve made and lost friends and grown at every step
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    An Indian and an American discovering Germany
    • my relationship with food has reached a dizzying new level; (my pants are not yet complaining though)
    • Yoga and West Coast Swing make up my favourite shake-a-leg moments of the day
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West Coast Swing-ing
  • Life-
    • my dearest father took his last breath in my arms. It still hurts like mad, but I’m coping.
    • I’m six months done with waiting. Three to go before my son is here.
    • I speak German fluently now and even lectured a whole day last week in my field of expertise- Homoeopathy. At the end of the day, I couldn’t talk in English anymore! My German husband found it hilarious.
    • Working with Homoeopaths Without Borders is both fulfilling and challenging
  • Travel-
    • I wrote a booklet on traveling tips in Hamburg.book cover
    • New year in Mirissa, Sri Lanka; with my parents
    • A weekend of camping and kayaking in the east German country side, with my in-laws.
    • Travelling home to Goa, India is always a pleasure. I added Bangalore on one of my three trips home.
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I would move to Italy just for the food
  • Travel contd..
    • Romancing Rome in fantastic Italy.
    • Kite-surfing in the Netherlands.
    • Backpacking through China– a crazy experience of culture, gastronomy, terrain and people.
    • Exploring Brussels, Belgium over a long weekend.
    • Discovering the many by-lanes and tantalizing surprises Hamburg hides at various corners.
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Breath-taking Mirissa, Sri Lanka

I love my life with all its trials and tribulations. Although I would never trade my pani-puri and chai for a bratwurst and beer (well, for a Glühwein maybe); I love what living abroad has done for me.

  • it’s broadened my horizons like nothing else before.
  • I have learnt to accept that I’m different and to celebrate it. No more trying to fit in. That’s plain boring.
  • the cold is my bitter-sweet enemy-friend and I have new respect for the sun.
  • there’s always a way, you just have to find it. Of course it helps to have a friendly face or at least a chocolate croissant accompany you.

Will I live in Hamburg for the rest of my life? Maybe. Maybe not. It will however, always be the place that taught me life is so much more than everyday worries. There’s magic everywhere. Follow your nose and you’ll find it!

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Glühwein at a Christmas Market

Oh no, I just let out a mighty sneeze and from two years of experience, I know exactly what’s coming- a giant change of season cold. Well I’m off to follow my nose and celebrate in the comfort of my warm bed.

Tschüss! (sounds like a sneeze I know, but it actually means bye in German)

This is how it’s done

Hamburg makes you fall helplessly in love with her. Over and over again.

This rainbow today broke the gloomy spell of dreary weather we had all weekend. Just when it seemed I was at my wit’s (and tit’s) end at the icy chill, Hamburg decided to smile down some colour.

Additionally for me, it was as if the city took a moment out of her busy schedule to wish me a Happy Illegal* Second Wedding Anniversary. Gosh, I feel blessed! ❤

*We got legally married in Germany and then illegally (in church) in India. 😉

Being spontaneous. Yes/no?

Having moved from an Indian social set-up to a German one, spontaneous meet-ups are something I sorely miss. Back home, I could easily waltz into a friend’s house and check if they wanted to grab a drink or go to the beach. If they weren’t available, the parents or room-mates usually were, or worst case, I had a nice scooter ride back and forth.

Often in Hamburg, to meet a friend, we need to plan weeks ahead and pick a specific date, time and place. Some of my friends have their calendars full for the rest of the year! Even when it’s only June. No swinging by on a Vespa to say hi.

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Today in chilly Hamburg, I felt this primal urge to connect with good food and company and to do so spontaneously. Considering the relatively small social circle I have here, I took to a few expat platforms on social media and announced my desire. I posted just a few hours in advance. Being a Tuesday, I was thoroughly skeptical and fully expected to be enjoying my cupcake and coffee in the company of my very dear self.

Now don’t get me wrong. I love being organized and planning ahead. And Germany has honed those skills in me to a remarkable degree. But I also love the unexpected, the spontaneous and even the chaotic. There is a certain magic in doing things on the spur of the moment or just because.

As much as I try not to view the world through stereotyped lenses, I am human. So while I expected the expats to take my bait to meet, I certainly thought no German in their right mind would respond. I have been reprimanded in the past by German acquaintances for being too last-minute. While I acknowledged their annoyance at my tardiness, I was equally annoyed at their lack of spontaneity.

So imagine my surprise when the company that turned up today was German! So lovely! Meeting M was a delight.  We connected over delicious food and coffee, swapping stories of yoga, love, travel and life in Hamburg. All the while breaking stereotypes and celebrating being spontaneous.

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I thought of all the times I have been spontaneous. Sometimes they paid off and sometimes they didn’t. But I realized that every single time was infused with excitement and adventure. Here are some:

-taking a midnight train back to university, for the first time in 8 years, instead of the usual bus. The result- I met my future husband on that train!

-exploring a new route home through the enticing by-lanes of Hamburg. Disaster! I got thoroughly lost. Two hours and frozen toes later, I needed to swallow my pride and ask to be picked up.

-saying yes to hosting a group of Lebanese students over Easter in Goa. I met a soul-mate.

-taking an unplanned hike to Mount Emei in China because our flights got cancelled. It was both exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The hike and view awed me and then I had heat stroke and food-poisoning.

-getting my hair braided in Bali. I’m not sure my friends and family were sold on the look, definitely not my fiancee when I informed him that braids would be my wedding hair-do. I sure had a blast!

What have you done spontaneously that led to exciting outcomes? I’m curious…

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Dear Dada, until we meet again..

I am here not to mourn the passing of my father, but to celebrate the richness of his life. Celebration begets gratitude. So let me begin by saying a huge Thank You! to all whose help, support and concern have meant the world to us. From medical to spiritual, emotional and physical care, you tided the three of us- Dad, Mum and myself through these trying times. You have been and continue to be indispensable.

You know who you are. To each of you here who knew Albert, he would have loved to say to you- Dev Borem Korum! (Thank You in Konkani).

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Had it been up to my dad, he would have said at this point, “Nice speech Nicky, thank you! That will be all.” Unfortunately for him, I inherited his stubbornness. So here goes:

Albert was well versed in the role of being a father figure. He had much exposure even before me. No, it’s not what you think. I am  his only biological child (princess, if I am honest). He first fathered his own siblings- six of them, when they lost their father prematurely. Subsequently he readily took on the mantle of provider and mentor to friends, nieces, nephews, 32nd cousins and complete strangers.

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He was most at ease and peace when he could be there for someone in need. I will refrain from saying anymore because I respect his firm belief of “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand is up to”. Might I add, he always said this with a naughty twinkle in his eye.

In celebrating Albert’s life, I would be amiss if I didn’t mention his cherished and sometimes crazy desire to travel. When in college at Mangalore (350 km or 8 hours from home) I often received a call from him saying, “Get ready in 20 min, we’re going out.” Much to my mother’s chagrin he often hopped onto a train, bus or plane – on the spur of the moment- to explore the world and see his baby girl. He more than made up to Mama these last two years, taking her all over the globe and partially satiating his travel hunger.

Dada on train

To my mother and the love of Albert’s life; Mama, know that he held you in a very special place. Though he might not have said it in so many words, – we know he was a man of minimum words and maximum action; YOU made his life complete. You were his first “Best Girl in the Whole World”!

Hochzeit Nicola und Kay (50)

My father often told me how he played the song, “You’ll never know how much I love you”, when I was born. Perhaps I may never fully comprehend his love, but the day he died, I got a taste.

He endured excruciating pain to wait until I arrived from another continent. We spoke and I held him as he passed.

My greatest consolation through these waves of grief, is that he is truly in a better place and not in pain anymore.

Of course, memories help- of us “King-fishing” (read spotting and counting Kingfishers in paddy fields), stepping hard on his toes learning an awkward waltz, devouring roadside tea and bhajis (veggies deep fried in batter), long bike rides to the beach and deep conversations on life, love and football.

As I bid a physical adieu to the remains of my father, I wish to answer a question many have asked me since he died. “What can I do to help?”

In Albert’s memory, help someone in need- no matter if it’s a child, a street dog or a stranger. Or maybe plant a tree. Let’s spread some goodness.

And finally, to my favourite dance partner, my father and my friend; it is an honour to be your daughter. You died knowing your legacy lives on and I promise to do my best.

On behalf of all your family and friends, Adeus Dada, until we meet again.

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Zen at an intersection

It beats me why I chose this spot to zone out and zen in. In retrospect, perhaps because it’s a fitting analogy to my present status.
Today is day 1 of my 19th month in a new country. While I have a lot going for me, I also have a lot going against. I love Hamburg and the life it offers me, nonetheless there are constantly new hurdles I need to step over, sometimes stomp on or just let fly.

Take for instance Ms. Pretentious in my licensing exam class (in German) who made her disdain of my language very audible. Upon finding out I’m new (relatively) she switched gears and offered to coach me (at a ridiculous price) on my pronunciation. I, of course, happily let her know that she could go fly a kite. In not so many words as actions. Needless to say, she reverted to her former disdain.

Back to finding Zen. For many of us caught in the cross hairs of life; it’s easy to let chaos overwhelm. There’s many a contender vying for top peeve- boss, the absence of or the presence of a partner, a kid, family, money. There’s always illness, an addiction, pesky neighbours, the weather, you don’t need to look far.

So today after Ms. Pretentious grated my nerves once again, I let off steam by cycling a couple of kilometres and found myself sitting cross-legged on a park bench. The soothing hot chocolate in my hand manages to calm more than my hungry stomach.

The intersection is buzzing with traffic, cyclists whizz past, dogs are being walked, children are being cycle- trained and the occasional tramp gives me a curious look.

I find my ears tuning in to the cheerful cries of tiny birds. My nose picks up the scent of spicy chicken being roasted across the street​. My skin tingles in confusion, unable to decide if it feels warm or cold. For though the sun is shining, a cool breeze of 16°C takes over intermittently.

As I allow my senses to be soaked in the stimuli around me; I suddenly feel completely at peace. My heart no longer runs a race, my lungs breathe freely and deeply and the tension in my muscles slowly leaves.

The devil’s advocate in me gets vocal and asks- so how does this solve all of your other challenges

The Zen I’ve tapped into answers- it doesn’t. 

So this was an exercise in futility. 

Most certainly not. Now that I feel better, I deal better.

A barking dog breaks me out of this dialogue in my head and I notice how light I feel.

To some it might seem strange and silly. But to me, this was a lesson in Zen. A lesson in being fully present in the moment and realising that-

I dont need to have all the answers. Nor a problem free life. I just need to BE. Just be ME.

How many countries at my breakfast table?

Take a guess maybe?

Being one half of an Indo-German couple; I often get asked how we handle/manage food?

We don’t.

We celebrate it. And not just Indian and German. Why should we restrict ourselves when the World is our oyster? And our Panini, Baklava, Bacalhau, Nasi goreng, …. I could go on for days…

My spread at breakfast jumped out at me today. I actually put my hunger on hold for a whole five minutes to appreciate how beautifully 7 countries came together before me. (Maybe more, I counted in a hurry.)

Sigh, if only this could be translated to today’s trend of dividing politics and racial clashes!

Not to end on a wishful note, can anyone pick out these countries from the photo above? 2 should be easy enough….