They arrived via train from Paris on October 24…

…and Imogen was pretty much in awe of her Uncle Ted from the start.

Ted and Imogen at our apartment on Romerstrasse, Bonn, Germany, October 2016.
Ted and Imogen at our apartment on Romerstrasse, Bonn, Germany, October 2016.

Then we walked down by the river and she fell asleep…

Ted, Imogen, and Nina on the bike path in Bonn.
Ted, Imogen, and Nina on the bike path in Bonn.

…allowing us to enjoy the happiest of hours.

...allowing us to enjoy in full the happiest of hours.

Sunset on the Rhine
Sunset on the Rhine

A few days later we returned to the site of (the beginning of) Imogen’s birth, Drachenfels Hill in Konigswinter…

Ted and Nina ready to slay some dragons (i.e., climb the hill)!
Ted and Nina ready to slay some dragons (i.e., climb the hill)!

…which she also enjoyed from the arms of her Uncle Ted.

Ted and Imogen almost to the top of Drachenfels Hill, Konigswinter.
Ted and Imogen almost to the top of Drachenfels Hill, Konigswinter.
From the lookout just below Drachenfels ruin.
From the lookout just below Drachenfels ruin.

And, making it back down, we decide we must celebrate again. As you do.

Nina, Ted, Imogen and I at Im Tubak, our favorite pub in Konigswinter.
Nina, Ted, Imogen and I at Im Tubak, our favorite pub in Konigswinter. (Photo Jaco Rizla)

Imogen’s birth story

My water broke around 2 p.m. Sunday, September 11, 2016, on a beautiful fall day about 100 yards from the top of Drachenfels, a hill that was formed by rising magma that could not break through to the surface, but cooled and became solid underneath.

I called my midwife Heike to let her know, and Jacob and I excitedly began the stomp down. Something was finally happening with the baby we’d been waiting to meet since January! I felt completely ready for whatever was going to come our way.

Regular contractions started about 5 p.m., an hour after we’d made it back to our apartment in Bonn from Konigswinter on the tram: they’d been between five and six minutes apart for the duration of one episode of The Wire.

The midwife came by and was able to determine I was 3.5 centimeters dilated. As we’d discussed, this was probably too soon to go to our Geburtshaus (aka birth center) so she went home to wait and I spent the next phase in the shower, Jacob holding the wand to my lower back. By 9 p.m. we were ready, and I showed up at the Geburtshaus at 7.5 centimeters.

Continued “rushing” all night, Jacob breathing with me through every one, kissing me, giving the kind of support I’d read about in my books. Eight hours later, at 5 a.m., I was 9.5 cm dilated, and Imogen’s head was down in my pelvis as it had been for months, but she wasn’t positioned in such a way that would allow for any descent, much less a smooth descent, down the birth canal.

It was suggested that we lie down and take a rest: another midwife would be in in the (later) morning and the best way to proceed would be decided upon her arrival. The contractions continued through this “rest” (nodding off while Jacob spooned me and waking up every three minutes with a contaction/anxiety/fatigue cocktail).

Christiane showed up over an hour later and confirmed the fact that the baby was stuck in my pelvis and that my contractions evidently weren’t powerful enough to bring her down. It was during this confirmation I did my one push.

We tried different positions, I was given an enema, Jacob and I went outside for a walk (that was interesting). When I quite literally couldn’t do anything anymore, Jacob convinced Heike that we needed to lie down again. Christiane, the other midwife, seemed to have vanished into thin air.

Heike hooked me up to the fetal heartbeat monitor in my bed and told me that another midwife would be coming to fill in for her because she was so tired. I understood the tiredness and thanked her for her help but could not believe she was leaving us at that particular moment, two first-time parents sweating it out in a bed.

Another contraction woke me up and I saw my my baby’s heartbeat, which had never once dropped below 120 in nine months of doctor appointments, at just 39. Just then the midwife Barbara showed up and essentially played cleanup crew: called the university hospital to tell them we were on our way, asked Jacob to gather our things,

helped me into the bathroom as my bladder had been too full for me to make it there on my own, which was a big part of the problem, I’d find out upon catheterization (read: instant relief) at the hospital, and then into her own car, drove us to the hospital, almost got broadsided on the way, debriefed our new team who induced me to try to establish lost regularity of contractions, which didn’t work.

It was explained to me that since Imogen’s water had broken now close to 24 hours prior, there was a high risk of infection for us both. Her heartbeat was up at this point, but irregular. Keeping my eye on the heartbeat monitor, I decided to get on all fours and try to regulate my own contractions. A 20-something nurse put my hair in a bun and applied cold cloths to my neck.

A female Asian doctor came in and explained the head thing again. Jacob asked if we could have a few minutes to discuss what I of course already knew, that they were recommending a C-section. Another doctor who looked fresh from the set of the “L” Word came in to “assess the situation,” which she told me the next day they commonly refer to as “oh fuck what do we do now” slash “come with us if you want to live.”

From slice to baby takes about a minute, I am told. I am given something to stop the contractions, put into a gown and green shower cap. They try to take my necklace off, a gift from my best friend Jenny which has Imogen’s name and Jacob and my wedding date on it, but can’t untangle it fast enough and leave it.

I am wheeled in bed to the “theater,” everyone seeming familiar with the word in this context but me, made to switch beds, given an ineffective epidural while in the midst of a contraction. I can remember being polite and trying to make small talk even in this situation and thinking at least the theater was cooler than any of the other rooms (I was getting too hot, I was told later) – I am such an optimistic person.

I thought of my baby and my husband the whole time. I remember Jacob yelling at the anesthesiologist and telling me that the Caesarean was named after Julius Caesar, a fact we learned later was actually not true.

Imogen Charlotte Resneck was born Monday, September 12, 2016, at 5:04 pm after about 24 hours of labor. I'll never forget the face of the pediatrician who handed her to me. My first thought was simply "that's her." 
Imogen Charlotte Resneck was born Monday, September 12, 2016, at 5:04 pm after 24 hours of labor. When the pediatrician handed her to me my first thought was simply “that’s her.”

Jake says I died and came back to life. It was worth it for who was waiting for me at the hospital in Bonn.

Post script Sept. 12, 2016 5:04 pm – Sept. 13, 2016 5:04 pm (first 24 hours of Imogen’s life)

You were brought to me in a yellow towel. You looked very familiar. I was only able to glance at you because I was dealing with the pain of them rearranging my insides.

The doctor brought you back after having checked you out and laid you on my left shoulder. I tried to focus on you but kept feeling like I was going to knock you onto the floor – I couldn’t be still because of their rummaging around inside me.

Your dad took you and left when they finally put me under (they made him or he would’ve stayed). On his way out they said congratulations to him while they were, as he put it, elbow deep in my gore. Thanks, he replied, not looking at them.

The next thing I knew I was being wheeled back into the room where you and dad were waiting. He told you a little bit about what to expect from the world during that time. This was about the first hour. For the next couple of hours doctors paraded in and out explaining things. Jacob, being Jacob, listened carefully to it all.

There was no family room available that night so dad had to go back to our apartment on the bus. Your head was a bit misshapen from ramming it against my pelvis and your right eye still had some opening to do, but you nursed like a pro and promptly turned yourself a different color.

They wheeled me into another room and I fell asleep with you in my bed in vintage jammies.
They wheeled me into another room and I fell asleep with you in my bed in vintage jammies.

Your dad rode his bike back in the morning with a bunny for you. You didn’t cry until that afternoon. When you did cry, another midwife said it could be because your first memory (your birth) was not such a nice one. I figure I have the next 18 years to the rest of my life to improve upon it.

Proud mommy (despite super puffy belly!)
Proud mommy despite super puffy belly!

Imogen Charlotte’s nursery

The main things I focused on getting were a rocking chair (secondhand from IKEA), a STICK (ground scored from the nature preserve by our house while walking), and (not pictured – yet) a sheepskin rug (scoured the Internet for this and eventually found one sold by Polish farmers at the flohmarkt in Bonn).

This is what her nursery looked like in June when we got home from the baby shower with all her beautiful new things. Now for the fun part: setting them all up!
This is what her nursery looked like in June when we got home from the baby shower with all her beautiful new things. Now for the fun part: setting them all up!
"The friends" (Installment I) from (L-R) Rick and Heather, Laura Jean, Irie and Fern, and Aunt Sara
A few of our new friends: Musical lamb from Rick and Heather, Baby elephant from Laura Jean, Irie and Fern, and bunny crocheted by Aunt Sara
Fun (again Pinterest-inspired) name bunting made with cute shower cards
Name bunting made with cute shower cards and orchid LEAVES ONLY (this is in June)…
Dresser/changing table with all clothes and blankets washed line dried and ready to go.
Dresser/changing table with all clothes and blankets washed, line dried, and ready to go.
Euro store over-the-door shoe and hat rack: check!
Euro over-the-door shoe and hat rack: check!
Finished! Bassinet mattress cover and curtains courtesy of mom!  
Last but not least, this orchid was given to me by a woman who told me it never flowered. But I put it in the nursery and thought I noticed something one day...
Last but not least, this orchid was given to me by a woman who told me it never flowered. But I put it in the nursery and thought I noticed something one day…

You only turn 38 once!

Started out the sunny summer day in our new happy place, a watering hole on the Zieg, a Rhein tributary!
Started out the sunny summer day in our new happy place, a watering hole on the Sieg, a Rhein tributary!
After swimming, a Wundertüte (literally "wonderful bag") was in order!
After swimming, the much-anticipated Wundertüte (literally “wonderful bag”) at our local gelateria was in order.
Present time and he liked the shirt I got him, phew, yay!
Present time and he liked the shirt I got him, phew, yay!
Rushed the lattice on my strawberry pie but it turned out great and I can't wait to try it again!
Rushed the lattice on my strawberry pie but it turned out great and I can’t wait to try it again!
Lovely guy on the walk back from our fish dinner at a Spanish-Portugese restaurant on the river...
My lovely guy pauses for a photo op on the walk back from our fish dinner at a Spanish-Portugese restaurant on the river…
...and ended the day with a lil' garden party. Happy birthday Jake!!  'Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.' -Vonnegut
…and we ended the day with pie in the garden with our sweet neighbors.

‘Enjoy the little things in life because one day you`ll look back and realize they were the big things.’ -Vonnegut

Happy birthday Jake!!


Baltic/East Prussian Honeymoon III: Home Sweet Home

Hi everybody! We got home almost a week ago and had a lot to do in terms of getting back on track here in Bonn so it took me a minute to finish my honeymoon posts but here are a few pictures from Lithuania, Latvia and our journey back to Germany by Stena ferry.

It was a great trip and I’m super glad we did it – I reached my fortieth country (Latvia, which was a new one for Jaco too) and have some beautiful new memories to cherish. As is often the case, it did feel good to get home to our *other* clothes and our own bed.

Thank you for following along on the last (big) journey before our little girl arrives in September! It was a special trip for us and it means a lot to have your love and support here on our East Prussian/Baltic Honey-/Babymoon 2.0…and beyond!

See ya soon,


Of course I am smiling on the ferry to Klaipeda; he gave me the raincoat and the coffee!
Of course I am smiling on the ferry to Klaipeda; he gave me his raincoat and got me coffee! (“Wow, your wife is so prepared!”)
This guy loves his Lithuanian dumplings!
This guy loves his Lithuanian dumplings! Klaipeda, Lithuania.
The one picture I took in Riga - my guy and a huge Soviet building.
The one picture I took in Riga – the guy and a Soviet building. Fun fact: I got stung by a bee I startled when I crouched down to get the whole building in the frame!
Took this along the harbor near “Horkplatz” where I got into the tornado warning position to be sick in Ventspils…I was in an altered state when I took it but I’d like to see this as a painting!
After 1 am, still not dark, we decided to get up and go find the music we could hear from our little pension. It wasn’t hard to find, the band was good and there was a bonfire, and many wreathed people. Happy solstice Ventspils, Latvia, and world!
Boarding our 20-hour ferry back to Travemunde/Lubeck, where we’d catch the train to Bonn via Hamburg. Fun to walk past all the cars on the way in…not so fun when they all got to peel out before us after we’d docked.
“Meet ya on the heli-pad for a dance:” hands-down my favorite moment.
30 wks en route from Ventspils to Travemunde
Couldn’t resist posting 30-week bumpdate from the ship…let’s do this! #stoked #maternitystockings #babyonboard

Baltic/East Prussian Honeymoon I: Bonn –> Kaliningrad, Russian Federation

I know, ‘how lame to update your blog while on your honeymoon,’ but I’d like to remind you that I am already pregnant (28 weeks today, as a matter of fact), and the end of a travel day plus Jake not needing/wanting his laptop equals the time is right for my first post!

We left Bonn about 8 am for Berlin where we caught the train to Gdańsk, Poland. I only slept from about 1 am to 5 am the night before but Jake didn’t sleep at all so this is what the majority of our 11-hour train journey looked like to the casual observer:

On the train from Berlin to Gdańsk
On the train from Berlin to Gdańsk

We were able to find our place just fine, went out for some mushroom and cabbage pierogies (me; Jake went with ‘Gdańsk guinea fowl’ which was actually chicken) and after checking out the town square and getting some stuff for breakfast (and pistachio ice cream) climbed into a bathtub surrounded by candles.

The next day after checking out a pretty cool ship we found a really beautiful restaurant where I ordered trout and Jake was just in general really excited.

A happy husband awaiting his herring in Gdańsk
Happy husband awaiting his herring in Gdańsk

Our next destination after Gdańsk was Kaliningrad which was just about 120 km away, but we’d heard it might take a bit longer at the Polish-Russian border which turned out to be true in our case.

Our driver was gruff but patient and we were able to get a walk to the old part of the city in before it got dark, after which time we lit all the tea lights again and watched the Tetris documentary The Ecstasy of Order we’d been saving for Russia.

View from our digs in Kaliningrad.
View from our digs in Kaliningrad.

After breakfast we walked to an aquarium/submarine museum which was pretty fun, then an art cafe Jake had read about, and then an art/history of Kaliningrad museum.

After all of that walking my city dogs were barking and we got Sushi Love for the second night in a row, watched Silicon Valley and ‘chillaxed’ (even though I hate that word and all made up words).

Now we find ourselves in the Curonian Spit, just an hour away from Kaliningrad but right on the Baltic Sea!  Let’s see what happens…

Being seven months pregnant should not prohibit one from crawling around Soviet submarines on her honeymoon. -Jame
I’m so happy to have found this cherry picker.

Sardinian Babymoon! Installment II: Porto Alabe –> Dusseldorf

Crawled around in some witches' tombs "Necropolis of Chirisconis" outside Porto Alabe - which date back to the stone age
Crawled around in some witches’ tombs “Necropolis of Chirisconis” outside Porto Alabe
And checked out one of over 7,000 Nuraghe - 3,000 year old towers. Skill in design!
…and checked out one of over 7,000 Nuraghe (3,000 year old towers).
Guy on the Nuraghe
Getting up close and personal with Cumpultittu Beach near Porto Alabe
Getting up close and personal with Cumpultittu Beach near Porto Alabe
Beautiful renovated (in 17th century) cathedral in Cagliari, Sardinia’s largest city. Jaco lit a candle for our baby in a church we went to just before this one!
Flying back to Dusseldorf
Flying back to Dusseldorf from Cagliari
...via Rome (thanks for checking out my pictures!!)
…after twenty hours in Rome (just enough time to swing by the Vatican!)

Sardinian Babymoon! Installment I: Bonn –> Porto Alabe

Left Bonn at 4 am for our 10:30 flight to Pisa from Frankfurt. It wasn’t too bad getting up at 2:30 am but after lunching in Pisa and our train to Casciana (3 pm) we had about a 5 km uphill walk to our countryside B & B. It was worth it, though – stunning, quintessentially ‘Italian’ views, good lighting in the room. (There was other good stuff too but those were the highlights.) Worked for awhile and fell asleep to rain on the skylights.

Our first morning after cappucinnos and bruschetta we got a ride into Casciana where we were gonna soak in a thermal bath but were told pregnant women weren’t allowed! Had fun instead picking out stuff for Ted’s birthday and goind for lunch – I got a ‘bianca & verde’ pizza on crust Jaco correctly referred to as a big saltine (which incidentally I’ve wanted and haven’t been able to find.) Jaco had seafood calzone with octopus.

Feeling rested after our second night at the B & B outside Casciana, we left to go back to Pisa and then caught a train to Livorno – where we met our overnight (MOBY) ferry to Sardinia. Was happy we’d booked seats in advance – we were using it as our accommodation that night – as we were able to turn the lights down and stretch out in our own ‘zone’ – being halfway through my first trimester I took advantage of being able to sleep anytime, anywhere.

Our ferry to Olbia from Livorno, a short train ride from Pisa. Flew to Pisa from Frankfurt for 5 euros each!
Our ferry to Olbia from Livorno, a short train ride from Pisa. Flew to Pisa from Frankfurt for 5 euros each – tx Ryanair!

Left our second B & B after a nice Valentine’s Day full of sunshine, walking, gelato, and Cheers.  The next leg of travel entailed train from Olbia to Sassari and Sassari to Alghero, and a bus from Alghero to Bosa, with Bosa being the next destination.  For Valentine’s dinner I had clam spaghetti because it has been looking really good to me (I know preggo mamas aren’t supposed to eat shellfish but I was okay) and Jaco had a steak.

And just because I feel like it here are a few incidental Valentine’s Day deep thoughts by Jame: single life, while fun (albeit not mutually exclusive) ‘heart-lonely;’ something I miss – past (static) childhood; something I don’t miss; grandmother’s house now with pictures of me from 1996; miss people who are gone, don’t miss people who are still here but act gone.


Switching trains in Sassari en route to Alghero from Olbia. We didn't take this one, but it was almost 100 years old!
Switching trains in Sassari en route to Alghero from Olbia. We didn’t take this one, but it’s been chuggin’ since the ’30s.
Jacob near the seaside in Alghero. A very defensible city!
Jacob near the seaside in Alghero, a very defensible city.
Bosa was next, a bus ride down the coast from Alghero. The red building on the left is our guesthouse. Good artichoke pizza here...
The red building on the left is our guesthouse in Bosa, a ride down the coast from Alghero . Good artichoke pizza here…

Our guide Antonio picked us up after our stay at the Bosa B & B, took us to the supermarket, and then drove us to his house in Porto Alabe, which was so close to the ocean we could hear it when we were lying in bed at night even with the windows closed. Found a path which led to a four-hour seaside walk to a tower: the view from the top – and from the ‘pill-boxes’ along the way – quite spectacular.

Taken from a 'pill-box' in Porto Alabe outside Bosa, where we'd stay the longest (4 nights).
Taken from a ‘pill-box’ in Porto Alabe outside Bosa, where we’d stay the longest (4 nights).
Porto Alabe
Porto Alabe

Compulsory Tourism III (Athens – Analysis)

I was staying at a flat in Uskudar, Istanbul when two Syrian flatmates with whom I would become great friends and stay in touch arrived.

When I heard the friend whose story I am about to share was going to take one of the sea-crossing journeys from Turkey to Europe I was less than thrilled with a world that would put someone in this predicament.

But he assured all of us who asked that he would be fine, so we had to believe that.

The situation is terrible, and it doesn’t look to be getting better anytime soon, but my friend is fine, and about  month ago he sent me a forty-page document detailing the whole story of his journey. 

Having read (as we all have) so many “ripple-effect” refugee stories (I talk about this elsewhere on this blog), it was almost calming for me to read a first-hand account. Mostly I feel really happy for my friend that he made it to somewhere he wants to be. 

Please read (and share!) this story written by my friend: the more people who can understand the “refugee crisis” as it affects the whole world, the better.

Jamie Lynn Buehner, December 14, 2015

Καλώς ήρθατε στην Αθήνα

The ferry docks and the boarding process is repeated in reverse order. What a nice feeling to be here at last, especially when you have a good surprise waiting for you…the public transport is free for five days! We board the bus going to the nearest metro station.

I didn’t have any clue about what to do in Athens, but I said to myself that I would follow my intuition and ask the people about the next steps. So when we land on Athenian ground and hear people say they were going to “Amonia Square,” me, Hadikun, Wallow, and a guy called Abdou decide to go along: I ask at the information desk at the metro station. “You mean Omoneia? Yes, it’s this way.”

Helpless migrants everywhere, I am thinking to myself when I hear a female voice speaking in Turkish! Although I was in Turkey only five days ago, it seems like a long time for some reason. I get closer to the source of the voice, and there I see a Turkish woman talking to a Syrian woman (who apparently knew Turkish to a good extent).

The Turkish woman seems very compassionate, asking the Syrian about the journey and other generalities concerning the situation, so I join the conversation because I am curious to know more about this woman. She asks me and the Syrian woman about the other refugees who were around.

While talking, I noticed that she was with a man, who seemed like her husband/boyfriend, and she was translating everything to English for him. It turned out that he is really her husband and he’s Greek, and as he joined the conversation in English, we were already in Omoneia Square, and we had to get off.

The good thing is that Gozde and Panaiwtis (The names of the Turkish woman and her husband as they will tell us later) are also getting off here, and not only that, they are also going to help us find a cheap hotel around the area!

We get off with Gozde and Panaiwtis and a Syrian family of five or six people, and roam the surroundings until we find a hotel for 15 EUR per night! The Turko-Greek couple give us some extra info about the locality, and a contact number to call them if we need anything. What a nice start with nice people, I say to myself: it’s going smoother than I thought!

Anyway, we don’t book in that 15 EUR hotel, preferring to keep walking and looking for extra clues to help us plan our next step. We come across a falafel place with a signboard written in Arabic (“Falafel abu Michel”) and ask the guy where to find cafes or places Syrians sit to discuss the next steps. With a clear Lebanese accent, he shows us a route and we follow it.

We spot a cafe called “Cafe of Omoneia” in Arabic, and in front of it meet Tarek and Ramez, the Damascene guys who were with us in Izmir and on the boat. All of us decided to take a rest for a while. We were missing one phone because Abdou was bankrupt on the road and had to sell his to earn some 30 EUR. We had huge cups of delicious tea.

Afterwards, we stop at another falafel place, and when I talked to the “falafelist” he knows at once that I come from Latakia, as he is from the neighboring city of Jableh. He has been in Greece for 21 years. This conversation gets interrupted because another guy comes in, and everybody starts talking about how to reach Macedonia.

The new guy advises everyone to go to Thessaloniki as soon as possible, and says that we should book the night train right away, because it’s much cheaper. Thessaloniki is the next stop on the way for those who will be traveling through the Balkans, but Hadikun and I haven’t decided yet, and we prefer to go by air with fake documents.

We leave the falafel shop with that new guy, and as a last piece of help he shows us a cheap hotel for 10 EUR per night. I decide not to go back to that falafel shop because I don’t know anything about the background of the owner.

He seemed nice, but usually when dealing with Syrians I try to hide the fact that I’m from Latakia in order to avoid any troubles related to political or sectarian reasons, because Latakia is known to be a supporter of the Regime with a majority of Alawites (one of the many religious sects in Syria).

For a huge percentage of Syrians being from Latakia is suspicious because it means “Supporter of the Regime” or “Alawite,” and even if someone is Sunni (Islam’s mainstream sect) from Latakia, there is a widespread belief that these Sunnis “betrayed the revolution.”

Based on all of that, I thought it better not to get in close touch with the guy, because he might ask where am I from, to which sect I belong, and what I think about the situation while I’m trying to avoid all these topics – if not the pertinence to the entire poor social system that lead its people to such an abyss!

Stationary for a While

Hadikun and I decide that we are going by air, so we stay at this 10 EUR hostel at Victor Hugo street (I hope we’ll not be Les Miserables if we stay here, I think to myself jokingly). The others book their train tickets to Thessaloniki on the night train going next day.

The next thing we research is how to receive our money from Turkey, because the whole financial system -including banks and money transfer companies – is closed till further notice, and even Greeks can’t withdraw more than 60 EUR per day from ATMs.

After our comrades leave for Thessaloniki, Hadikun and I start our daily walks exploring Athens, pretending, even to ourselves, that we are ordinary tourists, and to look for a solution for our financial problem.

The first thing we notice is that the buildings which belong to 70s, 80s, and 90s are so similar to their counterparts in Syria, and, architecturally speaking, Athens gives the same impression as that of the chaotic Syrio-Lebanese cities in their contemporary versions.

It reminds us of place we’re trying to escape, but we’re able to forget this when we look at the people around us and see that the society is different and already liberated from the useless “conservations” of previous ages – unlike the Arab societies still imprisoned in ages of needless, even harmful, traditions.

We could see in some parts that Athens, before the emergence of these “Polykatikeia” buildings, was a beautiful place from an architectural point of view – the same as the cities of the Levant.

The (natural) beauty and ugliness  (architecture) of Athens.
The (natural) beauty and ugliness (architecture) of Athens.  Γκρεμίζουν την Αθήνα την παλιά του παλιού του μάγκα ραγίζουν την καρδιά 

These daily walks lead us to different places, like the old city (which we like too much at night), and to other “Syria-like” neighborhoods. Our focus on finding cheap shops always was fruitful: we ate daily at Abu Michel’s Falafel, because we could get a huge sandwich for 1.5 EUR, and Abu Michel himself had a good sense of humor and was always welcoming.

We discovered places we could buy natural juice for 1.20 EUR, semi-shops that sold clothes starting from 3 EUR, a cheap Bulgarian supermarket, 1 EUR shops, and other low budget options. It seemed that other fellow Syrians were doing the same, but too many of them used to stay at the Omoneia Square awake all night, waiting for the next step, whatever that next step is.

A few days later, we arrange a meeting with the guy who is supposed to provide us with the fake documents to fly away.  We go to the mentioned address on foot although it seems a bit far, because we like walking, not to mention our low budget.

On the way to this guy (whom I’ll call Faggio), the “Syrian Architecture” feeling gets stronger, but we always remember that we’re somewhere else by looking at the people, Greek flags, and Greek Style buildings that we see on the way, like the National Archaeological Museum. After about 30 minutes walk, we met Faggio at the agreed point, and he takes us to a shaded cafe in a nice side-street.

I get a good impression about him, because he reminds me of our mediator in Izmir: aa calm person, not much influenced in the Syrian/Middle Eastern mainstream culture, caring…one of those who got involved in this business because he had no other choice, NOT because he has a huge appetite for fast cash.

I expected Faggio to be such a guy, because I knew about him from a friend of my friends from Latakia who had come to Istanbul trying to make his way to Germany. We became “mates” faster than we would have if we’d have been in Latakia. I’d expected this Latakian friend could lead me to such people as Faggio.

While sitting in the café Faggio tells us that originally he tried to go to Europe illegally after losing almost everything in his native city of Aleppo, but he found himself stuck in Greece with no money, so he had to find some work quickly. Also, he had to pave the way for his family to go north.

That’s how he ended up doing this business in Athens. With Faggio we talked about different issues also, like what we used to do in Syria, what are our plans when we reach our destinations, and how we liked Athens.

When the meeting finished, we came back with a good impression, plus the info we needed to receive our money from Istanbul: there were Syrian “bureaus” working behind the scenes to provide such services for reasonable prices.

We went back “home” to our hostel at Victor Hugo’s, our “headquarters” to plan all our steps, where we were always warmly welcomed by the receptionists, exchanging greetings with the people sitting in the small lounge downstairs, including a Syrian handicapped guy who used to welcome us with a smile every day as we passed by.

Soubhi was his name, and he had problems walking normally, so he used a cane. Once as I was passing through the main lobby, he greeted me with “Why are you still here? I thought your wings were ready!” At that moment I decided to get closer and hear his story. He used to sit in the small hostel lobby alone every night, waiting for his “wings.”

After chatting for a while, I felt comfortable about that he had an open view of the situation. He was against the regime, his father and brother having died in the dark cells of the secret service. It took two years after his father’s disappearance for his family to learn that the father died after two days in prison.

According to Soubhi, the father was very keen not to talk politics because his other son (Soubhi’s brother) was an army officer, and if the family showed any symptoms of opposing the regime, the first victim would be the officer. The officer was never imprisoned nor interrogated, but the father and his other son (another brother of Soubhi) died in prison.

In this system people get arrested on so-called “reports” suspecting that they might be involved in anti-regime activities. These reports can be written by other people who have personal issues not related to politics at all. In these cases, the accused are considered guilty until proven otherwise – that’s why they get tortured or neglected until a clear decision – which takes a whole eternity sometimes – is made.

Soubhi left his wife and children in Istanbul at his brother the officer’s house. (He’d deserted the army to escape any possible persecution after his brother and father died in prison.) On the way to Turkey, he was caught by some Islamic militants who wanted to execute him, knowing that he was an officer in the army.

He managed to get loose and reach Istanbul after a scary journey. Soubhi’s wife is an Alawite from the Syrian coast, which is another testament that the guy is not sectarian nor Islamist in any way. He is afraid of the Islamification of the country more than he is afraid of the regime. “This is not a revolution, what we are seeing now is horrible….” he repeated on several occasions.

Soubhi decided to go to Europe in spite of his handicap, in order to ensure a better life for his family away from hatred. He had been in the hostel for 40 days, had had three attempts with different passports, but nothing really worked. However, he kept trying because he had no other choice.

Hadikun and I kept “voyaging” through Athens organizing my money transfer: I’d left my money with my Turkish flatmate in Istanbul in order to send it to me via Western Union, but since the financial system not working in Greece, I had to send it through this Syrian alternative.

"No more walls in the sea:" the same poster in different languages
“No more walls in the sea:” the same poster in different languages 

Days pass by, and we keep wandering around the city, this time more carefully as we are now carrying a huge amount of money with us all the time. Ready to try his first attempt, Hadikun deposits his money into a black-market bureau that works as a financial guarantor between the traffickers and traffickee.

Neither the mediator nor the trafficker gets their money if the refugee doesn’t reach his/her destination, because the refugee has a password agreed upon with the bureau, which the traveler discloses to the mediator/trafficker only in the case of success. It is only then that the mediator/trafficker can get the money – the refugee has the right to retake his/her money after a certain time if attempts to reach the promised land didn’t work. The same mechanism is used in Izmir for boat journeys.

I can’t do this step because I have to wait for my friend (Dave Hume), who was originally supposed to be my journey companion. The reason why I had to wait for him is because I had his money!! We kept our money with the same Turkish friend who was leaving Turkey for a long-term journey.

Dave Hume is an exceptional personality – one of those who works hard and is smart at the same time, never gives up, and represents a good living example of “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Hume was the one who planted in my head the idea of reaching Europe illegally, because it seemed much easier than obtaining a visa (which might be impossible). He even gathered all the information needed about the route through the Balkans.

We got acquainted in Istanbul, where he had many ups and more downs. When I first met him he had a good job, but was fired because his boss was exploiting him and overloading him with huge tasks as if he was some kind of servant. He also had a huge amount of money stolen by impostors who promised him different things and then faded away.

Despite all of this, and although there was a big possibility that he wouldn’t be able to make it back to Istanbul since Istanbul has a bad reputation as a “capital for the Syrian Opposition” amongst the supporters of the regime, he was brave enough to go back to Damascus for his last university exam.

He almost got stuck there, but his quick-witted mind allowed him to pass through the military checkpoint safely. He wanted to graduate and keep moving on to higher educational degrees, so this last exam in Damascus must be passed.

Similar to me, Hume got sick of the sectarian, religious, social, and political limitations and tensions in Syria and has an ambition of becoming a world citizen who achieves success in various fields. Europe is the closest place which allows us to achieve that.

The Wanderers House

So I can’t make my move before Hume arrives – or at least before I find an alternative way to deliver his money – so I keep hanging around Athens for a bit longer. I have to find an alternative to Victor Hugo, because Hadikun’s attempt will be coming soon and we are 80% sure that he’s going to make it with his new Malaysian passport.

I was writing to one of my good acquaintances in Croatia, and she told me that there are some Serbian guys organizing a good initiative – a house where travelers can sleep for free in exchange for contributions and donations. I found the house on Facebook and asked if I could join.

They approved my request, for four days (the maximum, in order to allow other travelers to come). When the agreed day arrived, I exchanged “farewell” wishes with Hadikun and followed the instructions to reach the house, where I’m welcomed.

It was a normal apartment with no furniture, because everyone has to bring their own sleeping bags or whatever they like to sleep on. When I first got in, one of the travelers provided me with a general overview about do’s and don’ts. It’s a great idea, someone hires a house in a city, free of furniture, in order to provide a platform for travelers to meet and cooperate in a very minimalistic environment materially, but very rich intellectually.

Everyone is a guest and a host at the same time. There is a minimum required level of discipline in order to keep it going smoothly for all, but there is also a huge margin of freedom: freedom in contributing, freedom in communication, freedom from the monetary system (at least in terms of paid accommodation).

The house was a great chance to meet different interesting people, the most prominent of whom was the main organizer (Elia), a calm personality who seemed to have traveled a lot. He told me his idea was born in Istanbul, and having achieved success there, organized similar houses in Granada and Tbilisi in addition to Athens.

At about 14:15 on the first day I open the door and see a guy who speaks good Japanese, is a graphic designer, and artist – whose name is Hadikun! He came to the house after the failure of his first attempt. I had given him the info needed to register in case he failed.

Lina, the organizer who provided him with the instructions when he got in, thought he was from Switzerland! We wondered how it could be, but countries separated by huge Tempo-Geographical gap in reality – like Syria and Switzerland – are only one click away from each other on an online country list.

That evening we had a delicious Greek dinner cooked by Nadora (also not real name), a nice girl from Albanian origins, who cooks delicious Greek meals for everyone in the house once in a week. These dinners are a great chance to socialize, as everybody sits in a circle and talks about whatever, and a good example of the common spirit since everyone participates by money or contributions.

These initiatives are really important in our increasingly integrated world: we need such bridges of mutual understanding and examples of common non-monetary lifestyles in order to achieve our next evolutionary leap – avoiding conflict as much as possible – successfully.

There are a huge lot of reasons and tools for destructive conflicts based on all kinds of differences (political, racial, religious, regional – you just name it): Greek dinners (or other dinners if you would like) can be our savior.

 Ready to Fly

A few days after I deposit my money in an “insurance bureau,” I receive a midnight message from my mediator Faggio telling me to get ready – he has a Polish ID for me. I meet him about 2:00 AM at some forgotten corner. He shows me the ID with my picture on it (a picture that I took 2 days ago).

It really looks very original, except Warsaw is written in English instead of Polish, and even misspelled! Warsow! Where is this city? He assured me that there was no problem at all.

Back at the house, everybody seemed excited to see this Polish ID – most of them didn’t have to deal with fake IDs/Documents since they had European/quasi-European documents – for them it was really exotic to see firsthand someone paying huge amounts of money in order to pass those 10-15 seconds of passport control.

The next day, all I hear is “I hope I will NOT see you today,” as a wish of good luck in this attempt of mine.

At the airport, I follow the instructions that Faggio had provided: “Be confident, live your life normally, and way to go.” First gate, passed. Second gate (baggage control); third gate (boarding control), passed. I reach Gate B31 and sit down with everyone else waiting for the plane going to Modlin airport in Warsaw.

When the boarding time comes, I move on very confidently, but confidence doesn’t mean anything if your document has a shouting spelling mistake, which the controller’s eye can hear from miles away. The controller says to me “Please sit aside, we have to check this.”

At this moment I was sure that I was busted, but I was at least happy that my skills of paying attention to details are good enough. A few minutes later the security officer comes and asks me in a very polite manner in English “Where did you get this?” I answered him in Greek that I bought it.

“So you speak Greek?” he asks. “Maybe,” I answer. He guesses that I’m from Syria, and asks me to follow him. He accompanies me to the first gate, and tells me “Here you leave my friend.” I thanked him for his real politeness and went away. It seemed that he felt more sorry for me more than even I felt!

Athens’s airport staff is tolerant with Syrians who travel with fake documents. When they realize that someone is Syrian trying to get to Europe with a fake document, all they do is just take the document away and ask you go back. They don’t take any serious measures.

From my personal experience, and the stories I heard from others, I think that Greece was very helpful to Syrian refugees during this crisis. They are the first and the biggest station for the refugee tsunamis, but in comparison to other countries on this migration road the Greeks are extremely patient and tolerant although they have their own economic troubles.

Back at the house, everybody seems more disappointed than I am. Anyway, this was a chance to cook more, chat more, and do more collective activities, until I get my new document as promised by Faggio.

Faster than I thought, Faggio calls me the same night and tells me there is an Italian ID with a booking to Germany. “Would you take this?” he said. I say yes and meet him at 11:00 PM to give him my personal pictures for the new document. He says the document will be ready at 1:30 AM.

Everything goes as planned, and I get the document and the ticket. When I first saw the Italian ID I thought there was no way I was going to fly. It seemed very primitive, and the name and surname of the guy were not Italian at all. “Anyway, it’s just another attempt,” I said to myself.

I liked the idea that the ticket was to Berlin – this way I would get a chance to drink coffee with my sister (she was studying there at the time) before moving forward to Warsaw. But of course, everything depends on these ten seconds at the passport control.

At the airport I repeat the same steps, only the last step is different. The controller just looks at my face to compare it with the face in the ID and lets me in.

Personal Analysis & Opinion

I’m expressing my opinion regarding the refugee crisis here as a person who doesn’t belong to either side, yet belongs to them both at the same time.

Who are the refugees?

From what I read on the net, the stories I hear from friends, and my personal experience, I could say that there are three categories of (at least Syrian) refugees.

Real Refugees

Poor or helpless people who have lost almost everything, including hope to see the end of this mess: that’s why they decided to move on to Europe (namely Germany, Holland and Scandinavian countries). There they can find peace, hope for a better future, and reasonable financial aid until they’re able to stand on their feet again.

They come usually from conservative communities, but their version of Islam is what I call “Popular Islam,” which is not dangerous against others. They have a positive attitude toward the Europeans who they see as having saved them while their own compatriots and fellow Arabs and Muslims didn’t give a damn about them.

Amongst this category there is a huge sentiment of thankfulness towards the receiving countries, and a will to be positive contributors themselves. A significant portion of this category is determined to “go back home” when it’s finished. I think they’ll remain conservative in Europe (at least the first generation if they stay there). They understand that European societies have different standards and will not try to impose anything on Europeans.

Bad Refugees

One can also see a visible (not huge, but also not very small) category of “negative refugees.” The common denominator amongst these is the ingratitude toward receiving countries. Bad refugees are the examples that scare some Europeans from accepting refugees, and fuel right-wing arguments against “The Islamic Trojan Horse” coming to Europe.

Some of them look at Europe as a place where they can get easy money, without paying any real respect to the fact that these new countries have welcomed them much better than their fellow people.

Others can be dangerous: they have an “Islamist” background (“Islamist” in the sense of aggressive religious fanaticism, or compassion with fanatics). These don’t have any respect for the “infidel” people they criticize. Fortunately, it’s easy to distinguish them, as they will always be trying to make demonstrations or other activities to express their discontent, or to impose their opinions.

This part of the second category is especially responsible for increasing Islamophobia amongst the Europeans who deal directly with them.

Cultural Refugees

These ones are the skilled, the creative, the ambitious who felt always as strangers in the socio-political systems of their original societies, which at the least didn’t support anyone trying to behave “outside of the matrix,” and at the worst waged war against any new or unfamiliar personalities/ideas.

After the war, they’ve felt more alienated in a country divided between a totalitarian regime and Islamic militant groups, and the zealous supporters of each party.

Some of the cultural refugees were opponents of the regime and participators in the demonstrations. They had to flee Syria to escape persecution. Most of them have become now opponents of both the regime and the Islamic militant groups, which for them represent a huge disappointment in this society.

Another part of the cultural refugees are the ones who were keen to avoid any tension from the beginning. They didn’t participate in any activity (on purpose), thinking that this will only lead to more blood and tension with no “victory” for anyone. They were aliens before the war, and after the war they’ve become even more alienated.

Some cultural refugees are/were regime supporters. They’ve lost their hope in any “victory” because of the corruption of the regime and the vicious circle that doesn’t seem to be ending quickly as they expected. This is what made them revise their opinions, and reach the conclusion that it’s best to live somewhere else where a human being is more respected.

It is worth mentioning that they support/supported the regime not because they are ready to fight and kill for this cause, but because in their eyes it represented the best possible choice on ground – they are intellectuals and university graduates who had nothing to do with weapons, same as the intellectual supporters of the opposition, who were hoping to create a democratic and free Syria.

Of course, you can find people who belong to a mixture of these categories at the same time.

 And the Europeans?

“Welcome Refugees”

Free of any kind of discrimination against any racial, ethnic, religious group of people, they think that everyone on the planet deserves a decent life, and the priority is for helping fellow humans rather than caring about “who’s legal and who’s not.”

“Right Wing”

Refusing to accept refugees based on discriminative (racial, anti-Islamic, nationalistic) reasons, for them these migrants/refugees are at best inferior people/unwelcomed guests, and at worst, enemies.

They can’t see the distinction between the aforementioned categories of refugees. Usually one can recognize this category by their hate language, which is similar to the hate language that Islamists and other fanatics use against “others.”

“No Hatred, but No Refugees”

People in this category are not racist and have nothing personal against Muslims/Arabs, but they think that accepting this amount of people coming from a different culture (inflicted with wars, conflicts, fanatism, ignorance, etc.) will have negative effects.

They might even have friends from Muslim/Arab backgrounds or countries, but they think that the majority of the newcomers will not be as nice as their Arab/Muslim friends, especially with what they see about Muslim countries through different media, or their own personal experiences sometimes.

Personal Opinion

Pragmatically speaking, I think for the EU it’s not a matter of accepting or not accepting; rather it’s about the way to receive the refugees. Greece, Italy and Hungary will keep witnessing an influx of refugees as long as there are wars/troubles in the poorer regions of the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

It’s not practically possible (let alone ethical) to stop these waves of refugees in a world that is becoming more integrated – where a war in one place might have far-reaching echoes in ways never before seen in the history of humanity. This is what “Right Wing” Europeans can’t understand, apparently.

The EU countries are obliged to help Greece, Italy and Hungary as members of the same union. However, they have to come up with a plan to welcome refugees. This plan should be well designed, fulfilling the following elements: (1.) finding out “who is who” (i.e., who belongs to each category) amongst refugees.

(2.) Avoiding any troubles that might be caused by “bad” refugees (this can be done with the help of other Syrians who are willing to demonstrate the bright face of Syria, and don’t feel comfortable towards the negative deeds done in their name).

Here it is worth mentioning that many Europeans from the “Welcome Refugees” category should pay attention to the fact that not all the refugees are “nice,” and refrain from arguing with the opponents of accepting refugees – because arguing just leads to more polarization and complications.

I think it would be better if they could keep working, but avoid direct confrontations with Right-Wing. Eventually, it’s about building a positive sentiment (as much as possible) among all the parties concerned, from both the Europeans and the refugees.

(3.) Designing different integration plans according to each category, and according to the country situation, down to the very local level.

I know my view might be very short-sighted, but this is everything I can come up with so far, based on my knowledge and observations. If you have any new suggestions, comments, or ideas, they are more than welcome…especially with a cup of coffee or tea.

(Understanding the crisis)

(Humanity Thanks)

Thank you for reading, and if you have any questions about anything here please contact me via the “contact” link at the top of this blog. 

With love


Dad’s visit to Germany in 12 photos

Started out the visit by checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Started out the visit by getting the lay of the land in Bonn and checking out the local environs which happened to include these wild mushrooms
Next we went to Hamburg and boarded a boat
Next we went to Hamburg and, on a very cold and windy day boarded a boat to check out the city center
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad's friend is helping redesign.
which included a stop at a Swedish church Dad’s friend is helping redesign. We were just in time for this sweet concert.
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Snacks in the basement of the Swedish church in Hamburg
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Hamburg Christmas market about to open
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US :)
Back in Bonn for Thanksgiving with my dishwasher from US 🙂
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Real Disney castle Drachenfels in Konigswinter is illuminated at night in December
Bonn Christmas market ferris wheel
Bonn Christmas market Ferris wheel
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day
Koln-Dusseldorfer holiday cruise on the Poseidon, last day
Can't resist a high mirror selfie in Linz
Can’t resist a high mirror selfie in Linz
How did they make the exact same expression?! Hopefully his holiday card, Linz
How did they make the exact same expression?! Hopefully his holiday card, Linz
Penultimate gluhwein, unbelievably great visit.
Penultimate gluhwein, great, great visit!

Good Guys

This last weekend when 700 refugees vanished from a German center in Lower Saxony, migration experts said they had ‘no idea’ what could have motivated the young, able-bodied refugees, some of whom have just walked across nine countries, to leave, instead of sitting around waiting around for their half of a banana.

Movement is helpful – it gets the blood flowing to the brain – and you don’t need to tell a war refugee that any actual place is better than purgatory.

It is difficult to handle this influx: that’s the main sentence these days. It’s about much more than that.

The EU look pretty bad for supporting Turkey, whose (‘snap’) recently re-elected government has made things so difficult for its own people in its quest for power, intellectuals will opine it is ‘corrupt from the inside.’

But Turkey, who is more hospitable, and more tolerant, and who has been dealing with Syrian refugees a lot longer than have the Europeans, didn’t even raise a fuss until the Europeans, who are sick of the refugees already after only three months, brought them up.

Here’s how they ‘brought them up’: Germany’s chancellor, who ‘knows all about’ Turkey’s recent ‘humanitarian’ record gave Turkey money to deal with the refugees, which is not a bad thing on its own, but the EU should know that they can’t give three billion dollars to the current government two weeks before an election, and then be upset that now they have to play by that elected government’s rules.

When all the refugees started flooding into Germany I had just arrived here to live as well, and was proud of the German chancellor’s welcoming stance, but now in her selfie with the refugee all I see is a grimace. She didn’t take a principled stand for the good like people thought she had, because no one does in politics that I can see.

My grandfather used to wear a ball cap that said “Good Guys” in white on black, and last night when I was up thinking about all of this my mind went to the way he thrashed around while he was dying and they kept giving him more morphine. After he was gone, it took my mother and my grandmother and me exactly ten minutes to clear everything out of his room at the nursing home, and the last thing I placed in the box was a shirt my mother bought for him that still had the tags on it.

What is the point of having people in charge if no one can be a good guy, if no one can help the good guys?  A complete free-for-all would be better than this “let’s have a meeting about this transit zone” or let’s get together to discuss the possibility of that refugee status card,” because in a borderless free-for-all, at least it would be our own individual lives that were the guiding force. As it is now, babies are washing up on shores, and thousands more people are about to freeze, because of others’ indecision.

We need new ideas. The US and the EU both need to stop placating Saudi Arabia. If we could lessen our dependence on Saudi Arabia’s oil, for example, suddenly that country would find themselves with less money to send weapons to Syria.

No one in the US understands how deeply Iran is involved in Syria. We’ve been willing to bomb Syria for the past year, but we only started talking to Iran last week? When did sitting down and talking about something face to face become more threatening to us than military action? When did we all become such pussies?

I did hear a good story about astronauts. On the first three days of their mission this is how it went: on the first day, they talked about which country they were from. On the second day, looking down at Earth, they talked about it in terms of their continent. By the third day, they were speaking of their planet.