MICHAELA FENGSTAD

Writing about life as it happens, trends in career development and new inspiration

Month: May 2014

Why We Shouldn’t Always Get Along

I can’t stand the idea of all people getting along every minute, every hour, every second. I can’t stand the idea of living in a country, city, community, circle of friends or family in which we all are echo-chambers for each other’s ideas, feelings or beliefs. I don’t believe in the commercial-like partnerships: all smiling, holding hands and hugging all day long. I believe in conflict and opposite ideas, I believe in challenging ourselves and each other. I believe in the power of Why? when we are asked to do or to feel something.

1979_congresul-al-xii-lea-al-pcr-aspect-din-salaIn communism, we were taught to follow and never challenge or question. If the direction came from above it was to be followed, no questions asked. It did not come naturally to a very vibrant and intelligent people but after jail time and years of hard work  in salt mines for the more outspoken, resentfully, we all obeyed. I remember my father coming home from two or three days of meetings exhausted physically and mentally. They never had a voice. All they had to do was to sit for hours in huge halls, listen to the most idiotic speeches and from time to time, at the signal of the security services people strategically seated among the participants, jump on their feet, applaud vigorously and chant the name of the leader. The less you yelled and applauded, the  less chances you and your family would survive in the respective jobs for another month, and the more chances you’d  meet with the “friendly” security service personnel assigned to watch over you. And this is how an entire nation was apparently fascinated by the speeches filled with grammatical errors and demented ideas of a shoe maker with little school.

While every communist institution and mass media outlet was teaching us to follow and not to question, my father was doing quite the opposite within the walls of our house.  I have never been a follower. I always had my own way of doing things and dealing with things and a stubbornness that the educator in my father had to mould somehow. As we could not discuss the regime inside because of the listening devices planted here and there in the house, we were talking about anything else: life,dating, school, people and characters, relationships, you name it. To me, the best part was not  the subject discussed but the fact that my father, a very strict person whose word we all, including my mom, were supposed to obey, was allowing me to challenge his ideas. You can imagine that I embraced this opportunity with open arms! I would stay up as long as was necessary to wait for him coming back from work and while he was having his late dinners and the usual glass of wine, start the most animated debates on the most random issues. Sometimes it wasn’t pretty, sometimes I would end up in tears, unable to argue my point of view. In the end, I learnt so much about life, trust, people, characters, family, relations, and so much more. The most important things I learnt were :

  1. The way we handle the smallest conflict says a lot more about the person than a long time of happy times
  2. We all should have people in our lives to challenge us as only through challenges we evolve and progress

The story of Alice Stewart  should be told in schools. A scientist in the 50’s who made a connection between the S_-_portrait.Alice_Stewart_2higher number of cancers among children of affluent women as opposed to lower numbers for those of not so wealthy women. The culprit: the easier access to X-rays while pregnant for the women in the first category. To prove her point she enlisted an epidemiologist whose only job was to find ways to challenge and dismantle any of her findings. Although he miserably failed to proving her wrong, it would take 20 more years until X-rays were forbidden on pregnant women. The part that really impressed me was the possibility of making a successful team with somebody who never accepted her truth. It is also true that it would have probably taken humanity way longer to ban X-rays if Alice, would have broken down in tears, crying “you hurt my feelings” at the first sign of disagreement or challenge.

A poignant similarity between my two worlds, is basically the same way conflict is handled: by avoidance. Back while I was growing up, conflict was not permitted. Questions were out of question because they generated ideas. The communism did not like people with ideas. In the first world countries, conflict is avoided because it makes us uncomfortable and brings feelings of unhappiness.  For  a short period of time, it also creates an environment that cannot be controlled and in a world that has learnt to behave and do things only through guidelines and best practices, uncontrolled is not the way to go. But what to do when human nature takes its tall on us and we find ourselves in the middle of a conflict?

Leave it on TV to teach us how to deal with everything. Do you want conflict? Turn on any of the Real Housewives franchises and you’ll find conflict galore! There is no episode that goes by without at least one fight. Unfortunately, this is the worst example ever of handling conflict, and as it is the only one accessible to everybody, it is the only one that is learnt and propagated. But about them, in another post…

I like to believe that I taught my son to ask the question “Why?” as frequently as possible, as it is the only way we can create better ways of living and become better people. As dr. Linda Brodsky was saying in her article Conflict Creates Progress–Don’t Let the Unpleasant Get in the Way of “Better” : “We have been lured into believing that behavior that “goes along” is better than behaviour that challenges. I do not agree. If we don’t challenge ourselves and others to question what we do, why we do it and how we do it, then we are stuck in the mistakes of today without the hope of a better tomorrow.”

About Books

 

Growing up in a communist Eastern European country there was not much to do as a teenager: no drugs to get high and cry what a tough life I have, no crazy parties with dozens of kids and flowing alcohol, no Playstation or Computer games to play for days and thus avoid the reality of unhappy or uncomfortable feelings. Yet we all had to face the same problems as other teenagers around the world did: body issues, mood swings, peer pressure, bullying, and so on. The only things that we did were small stuff: going out on bicycle trips to the outskirts of the city to get a juice at a rundown bistro, play soccer or tennis or basketball (some of us but I was not too much of an athlete), skip a class or two just to listen to Beatles, Jimmy Hendrix, Bob Marley or Beethoven and Chopin while enjoying a forbidden cigarette and sometimes a glass of home made wine, or just spend time in the park, talking, laughing, socializing. I mostly liked to spend my time reading. For all the issues I would encounter there was a character I could identify with and find solutions for my real life. Or this is what I thought. Sometimes it would work, most of the times it would fail and I had to move on to the next problem as life was not going to wait for me to solve everything!

My parents had quite a library at home and my grandmother who was watching over us during the day had this rule: never touch any books that are on the upper shelves. Those were the forbidden books, books that she used to say that were too difficult for us to understand at that age. Well, the tactic was super efficient: I read only the ones on the upper shelves but strangely enough I could never finish them as new ones kept on showing up. Being the smart woman she was, she never over encouraged me to read. There were no balloons, cakes or clapping, no “atta girl” and let’s throw her a party every time I would finish a book. She kept a very good balance between praising and nagging me about reading too much. Thus I always saw reading not as a chore nor as a bragging right: it was just a normal daily activity, more like washing your face or  sitting down at dinner table.

After I landed in Canada, I stopped reading. There was no time, no money or state of mind for books. Basically over night I went from being surrounded by family, friends, books and a highly stimulating intellectual environment in a culture I knew so well to being a single mother with one maybe two friends, no material possessions, a crappy job and my own drama unfolding in front of my eyes in a foreign culture and language. Life was getting complicated and I had to get rid of a few of my habits if I wanted to stay afloat; I had no more time to myself and even when I could steal a few minutes, I was too exhausted, mentally and physically to be able to concentrate on reading. My personal life was providing me with way too much excitement to allow my brain any time or strength to analyze and understand some or any fictional characters. The television seemed to be a better mind tranquilizer.

For the first few years I had the feeling my brain was wasting one cell at a time. Back home, reading, researching and debating ideas used to be a daily occurrence. Life used to happen at a faster pace and you had to stay relevant. Working with teenagers and also in the radio industry forced me to stay on top of trends not only in fashion and music but literature, lifestyle, and the economy as well. All these on top of the most debated subjects ever: soccer and politics. My personal struggles to fit and succeed in the new country were not the only cause of my habit change.

Choice back home was limited. After communism fell, the variety of any products or services had increased but not to the scale I was faced with here, in Canada. From food to clothes to bread and beverages, they all come in a one hundred thousand varieties. To choose the best product you need is a daunting time consuming exercise. I still have a tough time going to Subway for example to get a sandwich. The first hurdle and the most difficult step is to choose the bread!  I usually go for the Italian Herbs and Cheese for no other reason other than the fact that I like the way the name sounds. But I could select Italian bread, or Rosemary and Sea Salt, or Hearty Italian, Jalapeño Cheese, Monterey Cheddar, Parmesan Oregano, Roasted Garlic, 9-Grain Wheat, 9-Grain Honey Oat, Italian, Italian Herbs & Cheese or Flatbread. Wow! Did I get them all? And yet, they have no bread with olives or nuts, things that I really like! I think my feelings have just been hurt!  🙂

It was 2001 and I knew I had no budget for books at all but I really wanted to step into a Chapters or Indigo as they were the Cathedrals of my imagination. I missed touching the crisp pages of the new books, I wanted to inhale the scent of the newly printed novels, I just wanted to lose myself for one hour into my favourite playroom. I took advantage of a birthday party my son was invited to, dropped him there half an hour earlier just to be sure and drove to the nearest Chapters. The first five minutes or so I walked aimlessly around the store trying to understand the layout. Nothing made sense to me. So many faces and names that I had never heard of were smiling glamorously at me from glossy covers taking the best spots in the huge store. Big Best Seller, Oprah’s Book Club or Heather’s Pick stamps and signs were demanding your attention. Where should I go first? Who was this Heather and why I had never heard of her? Is it that long ago that I stopped following any news in the literary world? And why is Who Moved My Cheese a best seller?  The selection was overwhelming! I had no criteria to sort through the madness! I felt hopelessly lost.

I wanted to visit the book store not only for the books but hoping to find a safe place where I could shut off my brain and let my senses take control and  through smell and touch of books and sight of familiar faces and printed names connect the old life with the new life. After two stressful years I needed that common denominator to help me start growing roots and find a reason to pull through that period of my life that was not happy, stable or fulfilling on any level: professional or personal.  It seemed that it was not meant to be. I could not recognize any names, the titles were absolutely hilarious and most of the books were dealing with self help – a subject that I have never been a big fan of but it seemed to be a big hit here. It looked like my only hope of finding a familiar place inhabited by familiar characters was impossible to find.

Feeling down and still having some time before I needed to pick my son up, I moved towards the back of the library. It was quieter and I thought I could just grab a book, no matter which and read for a few minutes. I thought I also saw a sale sign and I had developed a real attraction for it  that I am still fighting to get over! I got closer and my eyes lit with happiness: all  Penguin Classics were on sale. Familiar names on small, unattractive covers ( from a commercial perspective) were waiting patiently for somebody, anybody to take them home. I did not have money to spare but, I had to find a way to take a few of these with me. Shoplifting crossed my mind for a second or two, but the thought I was the only “responsible” adult in my son’s life killed that thought. I took a quick executive decision and decided to splurge and not think about consequences! I picked up John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, Aristotle’s The Politics and Bernard Shaw’s The Devil’s Disciple, Caesar and Cleopatra and Captain Brassbound’s Conversion . All for the huge amount for me at that time of CAD $16.90.

It was one of the first moments I felt good in my new country.  I was impressed and I admired a lot of things here but at the time I had little or no reason to feel good about me or my decision to emigrate. But now, holding tightly to the books I felt like I was getting back some of the old Michaela and I liked that one so much better.

In time I learnt how to filter through all the best sellers that pop up almost on a monthly basis; I learnt that best sellers are not necessarily  the best read, quite the opposite. I learnt that Heather is the CEO of Chapters and quite a good book critic on whose opinion I have based some of my purchases before the Internet and Amazon and Google took over. I learnt to deal with choice although at times I still feel overwhelmed. I feel better about my decisions and about myself but I still fight the occasional mood swings when I miss my old self and my old friends.

In the meantime, I managed to cover some of my walls with books and I feel the happiest when the house is quiet and warm, I am curled on a couch with a book in my hand and a hot tea at my side. That is when I finally feel at home.

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”  Jorge Luis Borges

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First World Problems…

A few years after the 1989 fall of the communist regime, I was contacted by an American College and asked if I would be interested in teaching Romanian culture and language to groups of college students. Groups of 10 to 15 late teens and young adults were to spend three months in the area. It was a unique opportunity for a young  teacher that had read a lot about the world outside of the communist walls but had never come into direct contact with anybody from the western world. To be fair, I had tasted a couple of the western beverages – Teacher’s whiskey and Bacardi rum were my favourites and managed to acquire a few clothing items that I was quite proud of but that was all. It was a new perspective that  I was so eager to explore. What I thought would be a short 3 months, turned out to be a collaboration that would extend over the years up to the very last week of my leaving the country for good. It was a fun time but also a tremendous learning experience for me.

Part of their assignment in Romania was to help with orphanages and the newly created Street Kids program. The orphanage experience was horrendous. In their attempt to maintain a facade of a healthy, happy nation, the directions from the party leaders were clear: all newborns with any kind of disability or HIV were taken from their parents at birth and locked into this orphanages where they were barely kept alive in sub human conditions. Psychologically, emotionally, and physically abused, they were never taught anything and never knew human touch or caress. To say that I was shocked by what I saw  is underestimated. Enough to mention that those images still visit me in the odd nightmares. There were small children in straight jackets or tied to beds and chairs, and toddlers sitting in their own feces, banging their heads on the steel gates of their cribs. Scared, starving and sick. My students were heartbroken. Crying and trying to give hugs to terrified kids that thought we were there for more punishment was hard to watch.

The Street Kids program, provided some heart break as well, but on a different level. Orphans that eluded the system and found refuge in the underground sewage system or kids that ran away from abusive poor families and were living on the streets were a different kind of challenge. Trust was never in their vocabulary and all they knew was how to steal and rob to survive. The mission of the program was to teach them basic skills, hygiene and how to read and write. It was titanic work with a very low rate of success. We were all amateurs in dealing with these high risk kids but tried our best. The excitement and satisfaction I felt when these kids were accomplishing the simplest tasks have yet to be matched. And when the first kid asked if he could help us teach others, we all teared up with joy for a change!

copilstrazi

Conditions have slightly improved since then or this is what I read. I am posting the link to a story that I have been following since 2000. It is the story of Izidor Ruckel, one of the orphans that was adopted by an American family when he was 8. His challenges growing up, his inability to understand love and also why he was abandoned and his continuous struggle to have more and more orphans adopted as early as possible.

Tears? Compassion? Sadness? Yes, for people like him and issues like these I have time, I have lots of tears and tons of compassion. The rest to me is first world problems and I rarely have time, compassion or tears for them.

Photo: Andrei Pandele

If you want to get involved, check out similar programs: Projects Abroad or Global  Volunteers .

Playing Catch…

 

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It was within my first month in Canada when I had to take the bus. I was used to public transit and although it was not my favourite means of transportation, I was happy to let the bus driver navigate the very new environment and deliver me safely to wherever I needed to be. A bus ride should be the same: you go to the bus stop, buy a ticket, get on the bus, get off the bus, end of the story. And yet, to say that I was completely cool and composed is an overstatement. On one hand, it is not in my DNA to be composed and so much more at that moment in time, when even stepping outside of the building was a daunting task. On the other hand, getting on a bus anywhere in my new country, meant to be locked and in possible close contact with Canadians, who , at that time in my head were all either murderers with a common desire to kill me and abandon my remains in the ocean, or they were all super intelligent neuroscientists with above the normal human intelligence. Either options scared the crap out of me.

Almost every immigrant has had at least one psychotic episode. In the article When Immigration is Trauma: Guidelines for the Individual and Family Clinician, RoseMarie Perez Foster Ph D notes: “The migration process is unquestionably linked to major adjustment stressors. The impact of these stressors on mental health are variable and complex. As has been described in excellent reviews of the literature in these areas  […] anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse, and higher prevalence of serious psychiatric disorders have all been associated with multiple immigrant populations both in and outside of the United States.” I was lucky I developed only some anxiety linked to PTSD but I know of cases that required more than just a paper bag and developing coping skills.

As I was approaching the bus stop, trying to play both scenarios in my head, control the panic that was growing exponentially with every step closer to the sign, I was also trying to come up with reasons why I should just turn, go back home and try another day when one of my friends with a few more years of Canadian experience could accompany me. Unfortunately, before I could solve my dilemma, I was almost falling on the steps of the bus: who knew the bloody buses in Canada accommodate people with disabilities and old age by lowering those steps? Finally in, I offered my ticket to the bus driver but he kept pointing to an odd machine. All I could do was to stare back at him, trying to buy time. Slightly frustrated, he took my ticket, slided it in the machine to be time stamped and handed it back. That is when I found out that a transit ticket, regardless of where it was bought, will be valid for two hours on any public transit service. I moved then quickly towards the back of the bus, trying to find a seat with nobody behind me – just in case a murderer would want to sit there. By the time I sat down, my heart was pounding, my palms were sweaty and I felt like I was ready to burst into tears any second. But I was also patting myself on the back for being so brave and getting on a bus.

The happy feeling did not last long as soon enough I realized the bus did not stop where I needed to get off. Which proved my theory that the driver was one of those murderers out to get me! With a newly found courage and defiance, I swiftly moved towards the front of the bus to confront him. In an English with a heavy accent I yelled at the poor bus driver asking why he did not stop and demanding to turn the bus and take me to MY stop. It is safe to assume it was not his first encounter with people like me. Calmly, he pointed to a big sign on the side of the bus that read: Pull the cord if you need to get off the bus. In 1999 Google was only a new born and the sources of information were usually fellow immigrants with a few more years of living in Canada. With a clear focus on what bus I should take and where I should get off, all my friends forgot to mention that in Canada, buses don’t stop at each bus stop regardless if they have people waiting or not, or if there are people getting off or not. Travellers are responsible for letting the driver know where they need to get off. I felt embarrassed, I felt stupid, I felt I suddenly regressed about 20 years.

It sounds funny now and quite silly. A nice story I tell to break the ice when meeting new people or just another story. In time I got over the embarrassment, I got over the fear of transit, I learnt that Canadians are  mostly decent people and unlikely to kill me with or without cause. One feeling I cannot shake off though is the feeling I am constantly playing catch up. Once you stepped into the new world, as a mature immigrant, everything you once knew changes: the landscape, the climate, the people and their way of thinking, the customs, the language, the time. Unlike the new borns, you are not a white slate ready for all these to mark you and determine the person you will become. You now, have to constantly translate and remodel all the concepts that once were second nature to you.  At first it is only normal not to want to replace anything because you are not ready to let go of any little thing that still reminds you of home. It is and will be for a while the only normal that you can understand, refer to and hold onto tight when nothing makes sense and you feel that life is spinning out of control. On the other hand you need to keep on translating and trying to grasp new concepts, to understand new customs and people and build new connections. But all this constant tribulation between the two lives requires time and time is what you don’t have. Time is what you are trying to catch up to as a whole lot of history happened before you ever set foot in this country and all these happenings have wired the people around in a different way. If I ever want to call Canada home, I have to keep on asking questions and asking for clarifications and making sure I am catching up.

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I have days when I am tired feeling awkward and insecure when I don’t really understand words, people, actions, modus operandi, or just simple tasks that are second nature to everybody around. I get tired of explaining one life through the other life. It would be so much simpler if I could shed one life just as you do with an old sweater. Take it off, put it aside and pick it up on a need basis. But human mind does not work like that. My past or my other life will always pop up hindering my efforts of ever catching up with this present life.

They say being different is a blessing and a curse at the same time. I think I can deal with being different but I struggle with always having to catch up.

Will It Pay Off?

Emigration comes with a long list of aches. Nobody leaves their family and country because of too much happiness and accomplishment. At least I haven’t met anybody that was living a blissful life and one morning, they woke up and said: we are moving to a different country, and new culture. This process is always associated with some level of unhappiness and disillusionment. When the unhappiness and the disillusionment become greater than the ache of leaving behind parents, friends and everything and everybody else that helped you become the person you are right at that moment, you dare to leave. There is one hope that keeps you pulling through the hard times and the low moments: one day, all this effort will pay off.

I have never thought that I would leave my country. I always wanted to move away from my family but to a different city, not country and definitely never fantasized about putting an ocean between us. And yet, here I am, approximately 14 hours of flying plus 4 to 5 hours of driving away from my family. Don’t get me wrong, my family is awesome and I love them with all my heart but I felt that there was no room for me to make any mistakes in my city without affecting my entire family or without my entire family taking full control over my life in an attempt to save me from the perils of modern society. Ok, it sounds almost like I grew up in a religious compound but I did not. It was just a typical patriarchal family, very much supported by the ruling class of the time mainly because it has been proven to produce the most submissive subjects. I just wasn’t the one to submit to my father’s wishes, to my family’s wishes or to any form of authority. I needed to make my own mistakes and to live my life the only way it was acceptable to me: My way. I chose a different city but I ended up on a different continent.

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Fast forward fifteen years and I have checked a long list of pains and aches and another one of gains and joys. To get the answer if my emigration paid off, theoretically I should put the two lists side by side and for every pain, cross out a gain and see which way the balance tips. If only it would work this way! If I could neutralize the “Your degree after years of hard work means nothing to Canada” with “I can pay my bills through Internet and don’t have to stand in line for hours” or ” You have no Canadian experience therefore you can not be employed at this time” with “I am confident the health system will take care of me” or “It costs me an arm, a leg and a kidney to buy a plane ticket to hug my parents once every three to five years” with ” I have a wonderful husband that loves me and my family”… As much as I try, I can not do the math… at least not yet…

This week I lost my aunt. She was 83 and you might say it was her time. And probably it was. I knew she was not well and we were somehow expecting it to happen. I thought the geographical distance between us will soften the pain and work as a tranquillizer, the same kind the dentist uses. I thought I would be the strength my dad will need to burry his sister. I thought that I am only remotely connected to people in my past after so many years of living abroad. I was wrong.

Mama Shela, as I used to call her, was always there for whoever needed help, a good word or just a good talk. She lived 10 minutes away and I don’t really remember any celebration, anniversary, wedding or funeral or any Sunday without her. She was always bringing treats and wooing over all the new babies in the family. Actually, she was notorious for spoiling us all. Last time I went home, I happened to mention one dessert she used to make and the next day she called for us to come and get it, as it was too heavy for her to carry it but it was not too much for her to make it. She probably knew more than half of the city and their family history and could talk to you forever about every member of our family for the last three or four generations. Her last twenty years were not a walk in the park… She lost her husband, she lost her house, then her only daughter, but lived to see, love and spoil her great grand daughter.

This week it’s been one of the times when I hated the physical distance I put between me and my family. I could not neutralize with anything the pain of not being able to attend her funeral, to say my good bye, to hug my dad and my mom and to help my brother organize everything. With a bit of luck and good connections I might have been able to get there in the morning of the funeral, tired and of no help for anybody else.  So, once again, I found myself wondering if emigration with all its pains and aches, will ever pay off? And then, I remembered my dad’s eyes tearing up and his face lightening with relief learning that we are helping him with the costs for the funeral. And I remembered my husband holding me tight and asking me not if but when I need to fly out.

And I finally realized that adding and subtracting, comparing and dividing is not important in life. Physical distance does not destroy emotional connections and does not numb feelings but it forces your mind to recreate old places and dear people. Over time nostalgia takes over and like a good mother, keeps us focused on the good and the beautiful, strengthening the old bonds.

 

The Art of Being a Brother … or Sister

trabant-601-04If you are asking me, a novice motorbike rider that has not yet caught a taste for twists and wind in your face, the best part of a ride is greeting other fellow bikers, or giving the (in)famous Riders’ Wave. Now seriously, how many other owners of vehicles do you know that will take the time to salute a fellow Saturn owner, for example? None! We, the bikers, don’t discriminate: whatever make or kind, whatever colour or art, we will always wave at each other. With a few exceptions: if you ride a Harley Davidson, we say Hello, you most often give us the nod! Or this is what we think as nobody likes to be ignored! Just to be clear, scooters and mopeds are NOT motorbikes, therefore acknowledging their presence on the road will definitely bring an uproar of dissatisfaction with possible grave repercussions from the bikers community! On the Can-Am’s and other 3 wheeled motorcycles, the jury is still out there! I wave anyway… just because I am friendly!

But how do you wave? Actually, I am quite confused why it is called a wave when all you do is extend your arm out. My kind of a wave is extending your arm out upwards and shaking it violently from the elbow, right to left or left to right . But I will not debate now the anatomy of a wave. Let’s discuss the multiple ways the riders wave! It turns out that the number of fingers one extends will tell the other rider how many cylinders his bike has: 2 fingers out – 2 cylinders, 4 fingers out – 4 cylinders. Now, to make things even more complicated, watch for which fingers you are extending. No, the middle finger is never a good choice when meeting a biker – you never know which one you just offended: the nice guy, that will laugh it off or the bad guy that will make sure you will not be able to move any fingers for an undetermined period of time! So, if you want to really tell the others that you are riding on top of 2 cylinders, extend your thumb and your index.  What if your bike is a 6 cylinder beast? I could not find a perfect answer on all the forums I researched but I would go with either one of my 2 favourites: the peace sign with the fingers pointing to the road or the low Hi five.

Unclear to me is who has the time to check out your wave and count the number of cylinders. Just imagine: let’s say I meet you on the road, riding at a comfortable (probably for you only at this moment) 70 km/hour. We wave at each other but I just could not be sure – did you wave 2 fingers or 4 fingers at me? 2 or 4 cylinders?  Exactly: I really don’t care! The fact that you waved is the important part! Remember Shakespeare? Remember Juliet’s famous quote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” Allow me to trivialize a bit the lines: what’s in a wave? That which we call a wave/By any other name would mean as much! Two fingers or 4 fingers, Hi fives or Peace wave, they all used to mean the same: if you ever are in need, we will be there to help you out! I don’t know and I hope I will never find out if the meaning behind the wave is still there. What I know is that the group of friends we are riding with will do just that: always stop and make sure you and/or your bike are ok.

There is another personal reason why I wave:it brings back memories from back home where I used to be the proud owner of a Trabant. Some of you might have heard about this corky East German car. I call it corky but most of the conoisseurs call it junk. Although the name is related to the Russian word Sputnik (satellite)  the little Trabi had nothing to do with speed, safety, scientific or technological development. Designed first as a 3 wheeled motorcycle, somehow it ended as an air-cooled two cylinder 500 cc, (later 600cc) two-stroke engine encased in a steel cage, draped in a plastic shell made out of recycled cotton or paper.

Small, light, grossly inefficient and extremely pollutant, owning a Trabant was good mainly for the ego: in a communist country where cars were scarce, to own a car meant that you somehow made it. The selection was quite limited: you could buy only a Dacia or an Oltcit, both Trabi and usRomanian made cars, a Wartburg or a Trabant, both East German cars. But there was something special about the Trabant and its owners besides the fact that the pre-owned cars were cheaper than the other makes and quit well taken care of: once you bought one, it was like going under a spell. The car came with an imaginary membership to a unique community: supportive, helpful and proud.

On a highway, country road or side road, wherever the car broke, you would always see more than one person working to fix the car. It did not really matter how busy or rushed you were, if a fellow Trabant owner was having mechanical issues, you stopped. If drivers like me, with little to no mechanical understanding or inclination, would happen to drive by, they would still stop and offer a coffee, a sandwich or just moral support. And as there were not that many cars in the country we were a very tight community; failing to stop (even if your wife was almost delivering your baby on the passenger seat) was considered the biggest snub ever and we all lived with the fear that next time when it happens our Trabi to let us down in the middle of the street nobody will stop!

In a country where the Secret Police’s job was to make sure nobody trusted anybody, it was the camaraderie that we all treasured. It had a subtle subversive note to it. The meetings were random and unplanned but between a couple pieces of advice on how to fix the engine, we would always slip something against the government, the communist leader and against the poor life we all were living. And it felt good. The blink of the headlights every time we would meet in traffic was more than just hello, I have your back! It was one of the few things that the government had no control over, could not censor or strangle.

So, wave on fellow riders! And smile, and nod and stop by for a coffee and a story! There is no better feeling than knowing I am now part of a great family.

 

© 2017 MICHAELA FENGSTAD

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