Wednesday, February 8, 2012

We Are Fine

Hello from Berlin. There is a lot to say about this lively place, but most of it will have to wait a little bit. I'm staying in the lovely neighborhood of Fredrichshain with the lovely friend of a friend who is a generous enough person to open her doors to a complete stranger for two and a half weeks. Luckily, Silke & I get along smashingly and we've spent some lovely evenings trying to stay warm in her top story apartment and looking out at the gorgeous views of the city. (She is the one who also finally got me to watch "Downton Abbey" and based on how hooked I am, I think we're friends for life).

I've spent the last few days trying to begin my research here, looking at sights, and walking through countless museums. Unfortunately, I seem to have also come face to face with a case of the blues. There is an ever-growing knot in my stomach as I try to figure out all that's left to figure out. The logistics of this year, and having to figure it all out on my own can, at times, be overwhelming and exhausting, and unfortunately this seems to be one of those times. I've spent a lot of time in the last few days dashing into Starbucks for free wi fi connections (I know, I know it's practically a sin to be in a Starbucks when I'm in Europe) sending frantic e-mails to people in Zambia trying to find any kind of contacts and, most importantly, any kind of housing. (The cheapest "hostel" I can find offers long-term accommodation for $900/month!) I still haven't made any progress, and considering I'll be there in less than three weeks, I'm getting pretty desperate and pretty worried. Despite the confidence and independence I've acquired over the last 6+ months of solo travel, there is a lot of me that still freaks out when I think about all the unknowns for the next six. Some nights when I'm trying to fall asleep, a little voice enters my head that says, "Hey Nell, you're arriving in an unknown south African country at the end of this month and you don't have any idea what bed you're sleeping in. Or how to get a visa extension. There might be snakes there. Also, in case you forgot, you're COMPLETELY ALONE."

When people ask me what I miss most about the United States, my answer (besides the people, of course) is that I miss things being easy. I miss knowing how things work. I miss being able to pick up my phone and talk to someone then and there. I miss knowing where to turn to go home, I miss being able to read the labels on things in the grocery store. I miss not having to constantly think about planning my next move, I miss having second opinions.

I know that part of the gift of this year is not being able to do all of this, but right now, I'm just tired. I want these logistics to somehow work themselves out, and because they're not, I'm spending more time than I would like in front of my computer screen and my Lonely Planet Zambia book and getting too emotional in public.

A small silver lining is the beautiful sounds that have been coming through my headphones as I try to figure all of this out. I thought I'd share a little. In the past month three of my all-time favorite artists (First Aid Kit, Dr. Dog, & Sharon Van Etten) have put out new albums that I just acquired. There is so much on them that feels so fitting.

Especially this one, for right now.

If you're interested, check out this New York Times Magazine article on her: (Make note of my favorite part: "You know," she said, "I'm traveling, I'm female, I'm strong."

More on Berlin to come when I catch my breath a little. Let my stressed out state be no reflection on how great this city is. It is really great.


  1. Berlin blues, I quite like it! Let me check with my sister and her African-studies colleagues for acommodation in Zambia! I asked her on fb already.

  2. Hi Nell.
    what about being a nanny or an aupair in Zambia?
    You would have a house and some money to spend and people to talk to about names, and you'll be in the "naming circles" again.
    or you could check all kinds of christian missionary churches/hospitals
    I bet they will host you for a while.
    Good luck!

  3. Chris & Anne, thanks for the tips! Anne, unfortunately under the fellowship rules I'm not allowed to take on any kind of work (besides my research) this year. Otherwise, I might not have flexibility to do the kind of spontaneous work/interviews that come up. I think because of that nannying/au pairing is out, but it was a great idea!
    Chris, keep me posted about your sister.
    Hoping to see you both next week! Thanks for all your support. :)