Monday, 30 March 2015

Esther Bejarano & The Microphone Mafia

I am currently working as an English language assistant at a school in Hamburg, Germany, and last week I had the privilege of attending a reading and concert by Auschwitz survivor Esther Bejarano.

Ms Bejarano, now in her nineties, is one of the dwindling number of concentration camp survivors left. When I heard about the event I was apprehensive, expecting it to be quite an emotional evening. But let's face it, for how much longer are we going to have the opportunity to learn from such a person, and to remember them? Simply seeing the lady, and knowing what she had experienced, was both upsetting and awe-inspiring.

The evening began with Ms Bejarano reading from her memoir Erinnerungen (Memories), which detailed her time first at Auschwitz, then at Ravensbrück, ending with her eventual liberation. Ms Bejarano perhaps owes her freedom in great part to her musical talent, which gained her a place in the Auschwitz Girls' Orchestra. She has continued to sing and play ever since. Following the reading, she once again took to the stage alongside the anti-racist band Microphone Mafia. The music was quite a mixture, combining rap with more traditional folk and world music, including a lot of Yiddish influence. The evening ended with an encore and a standing ovation.

I had expected it to be an emotional evening, and it was. However, though the memories must have left their scars, Ms Bejarano told her story as it was, speaking in clear German. It is easy to shelve such events as the Holocaust, however devastating, as a part of history, long before our time. But seeing this lady in the flesh brought it all home. In a few years time there will be nobody left to tell the story first hand, and Ms Bejarano has made it her life's work to go on telling not just her story, but the story of those she met throughout her experiences.

The memories must hurt, but to see a woman so strong and so full of life despite the horrors she went through was an inspiration. She remains determined to sing, determined to live, determined to be happy, and determined to tell her tale. The Holocaust did not stop her from living her life. Instead, her liberation, as she put it, was her "second birth". The applause that followed this statement was the longest I have ever heard.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

Sun Rays

It's so much nicer being able to go to work when the sun is out. This morning was crisp, with frost on the reeds in the pond and a chill that made my nose feel like an ice cube. But the unmistakeable scent of spring was in the air.

This morning the mist characteristic of Hamburg was softening the scenery, and the sun's rays could be seen slanting through the trees. I wanted to take a picture, but sadly my camera would not have been able to capture the magic. Some scenes simply have to remain in the memory.

So I wish you a very happy spring and hope that you experience plenty of equally inspiring mornings x

Saturday, 28 March 2015

Introductions and Identity Crises

Dear Reader,

First of all, let me say thank you so much for dropping by. I can't say this is my first blog, but it will hopefully be the first to last beyond two posts, so it means a lot to me that you are taking the time to read this. I hope you will feel it is time well spent!

Second, I believe introductions are in order. This is my first post after all, so I may as well start with saying a bit about myself and, as mentioned in the title, my identity crisis. Why do I have an identity crisis? Well, as much as I love meeting new people, one of those simple first questions people ask never has a simple answer for me: "Where do you come from?"

Long story short, I was born in England to English parents, but I grew up in Spain. Because of this, I can't really say I have a nationality. In Spain I was an English person, or "chana" or "guiri", as they preferred to call foreigners, and these terms, though far from PC, never bothered me. I spent my formative years in Spain and did 90% of my obligatory schooling in a Spanish school in South Eastern Spain (expat central, I'm sorry to say!) and I can say, even now, that that place is home. It doesn't matter that I wasn't born there. My birth town in Cheshire became stranger and stranger to me the longer I was away, and if it wasn't for the fact that family still dwell there, I  probably wouldn't have a reason to go back at all. But Spain, though home, couldn't keep me there. My itchy feet wanted to take me around the world, and where better to start than in the country I had left as a child, a country that was my birthright, but that I barely even knew?

So I enrolled at university in the UK, down in Portsmouth on the South coast, a place completely new to me. I can't explain why I went there of all places, but from the get-go it had an unexplainable attraction. And within a few weeks, I bloomed. In Spain I was always the shy girl, the foreigner, the one too afraid to speak up despite the ability to speak Spanish like a local. In the UK, for one reason or several little ones, I suddenly felt free and confident, happy to give my input, especially in those subjects I was interested in. But even so, there was a good dose of culture shock that I had never expected to come across.

The first surprise was the greeting. In Spain, everyone greets each other with a kiss on each cheek, a gesture which crops up in quite a few European countries. In the UK, the British teenagers didn't even offer a handshake. As I stood there in the hallway of my student flat, awkwardly meeting my flatmates for the first time, I already started to notice the differences. Meal times were different. As were their teen years in general. Partying, for those particular teenagers, involved getting as drunk as possible without winding up in hospital, rather than simply having a good time, a chat with friends or a dance to some decent music. And through all this, I realised I had a very different mindset to a lot of my British counterparts. So different, in fact, that I couldn't possibly be British.

So what am I? Where do I come from? For a long time, I felt a little lost. I grew up with Flamenco dancing, Moors and Christians parades, the dreaded Baccalaureate to earn my place at university, the ability to go clubbing until six in the morning from the age of fourteen, and all year round sunshine. Yet at the same time, I say please, thank you and sorry more than necessary, I queue and hold  doors open and I drink PG Tips like a fish drinks water. All I can say, truthfully, is that I'm Spanglish.

Thankfully, I'm not alone. There are plenty of people who think I'm crazy when I cheer for Spain over England during the World Cup and insist on calling Spain my home despite my birth. But there are a lot of people out there who are in the same boat, or even more unusual boats, especially these days. And all my life, most of my closest friends have been in the same situation as me. They were migrants at some point or another, or born with mixed backgrounds, That "birds of a feather" saying has never been truer.

So what am I? I'm a wanderer. I'm Spanglish. I'm European. I'm a human being.

Identity crisis? Pah.