Ich bin in Bonn

I stumble onto the escalator heading toward the train tracks.  I feel ill; perhaps it’s from not eating, and then eating too much, but in any case, I feel as though I’m about to faint.  I shouldn’t even be here right now,* I think to myself as I collapse onto a bench, grateful for the ten minute wait for my train.

Frankfurt, or at least Frankfurt’s airport, feels strikingly similar to the last time I was in Germany, in Munich.  That time, I was also alone, though with more of a breaking heart than imploding insides.  And it was cold, freezing actually, as I made my way from the airport to my hostel.  As I wait for the bus to my hotel, I watch a young Moroccan with a large suitcase from the corner of my eye.  It’s clear that he’s new here.  I feel I have more in common with him than everyone else, for more reasons than one.

This time I’m a little older, a little wiser, but still can’t read German and find the simplest things–like trying to buy a U-Bahn ticket–difficult.  Germany in general has always struck me as kind of odd, at least to an American: lots of things look, and are, very similar, but then you’ll find something totally out of the ordinary, like a cigarette machine or on-time trains, or the fact that though nearly everyone speaks some English, all of the signage is in German, and you’re confounded.

This time I’m in Bonn, for just two days, to accept an award at the Deutsche Welle Forum for Talk Morocco, a project I co-founded last summer with my friend Hisham.  We never expected to win, so this was a lovely surprise, made even more lovely by the fact that Hisham (who lives in Rouen, France) was able to get here easily as well.  We’re joined by one of our contributors as well, Mahdi, who lives in Berlin.

Bonn has a strangely gothic feel to it; perhaps it’s the chill in the midnight air, or the leaves strewn about fallen from trees, but the city feels perpetually autumnal.  I took the afternoon to myself to wander the city on foot and clear my head, deciding for myself that it’s a form of recovery.  The afternoon sun (which I was forced to protect myself from with 100 SPF thanks to the medications I’m taking) felt just right on my face as I strolled through Bonn’s many pedestrian streets, savoring the various aromas.  I stopped for awhile to sniff spices in an open-air market, and noticed the seller staring at what I thought was my breasts.  I looked up at him, then down, only to realize he was trying to decipher my necklace. Finally, he asked, “do you know what your necklace says?”

“Of course I do,” I replied.  “It’s my name in Arabic.”

“Ahh,” he said.  “I was struggling to read it.  Are you Arab?”

“No, but I had this made in Damascus when I was there last year.”

“Damascus?!  I’m from Damascus!  Marhaba!”

How small the world eventually becomes, eh?

* I had a minor but emergency surgical procedure last Friday and was warned against travel (though the doctors do know that I ended up going).  I’m actually feeling quite well, but nevertheless should be resting, not lugging a suitcase all over Europe.

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