24 December 2009

From where things work, happy holidays

One of the advantages of working and living in an Islamic country like Afghanistan is being free from the relentless commercial and emotional assault of Christmas. No non-stop exhortations to buy, no sappy Christmas carols, and no idealizations of the perfect (in other words, non-existent) family.

Arriving in Germany a week before Christmas allowed me just one week of yuletide onslaught, which is mercifully modest and surprisingly less manic when compared to the States. The net effect of which is that I can with straight-face sincerity wish you a happy holiday season.

I am very grateful to be in Heidelberg with my sweetheart Oksana who I haven’t seen in almost a year because of problems she had in getting her passport approved by authorities in her native Turkmenistan. The day after Christmas we plan on doing a little traveling and sightseeing in the Czech Republic, visiting a friend in Poland, and otherwise enjoying each other’s company.

Before signing off, allow me an observation or two about Heidelberg, which may apply to all of Germany, though I can’t be the judge of that because this is my first trip to the country. I have never seen more runners and bicyclists, or a greater variety of ages, active in a wide array of weather conditions, including slush- and snow-clogged streets. Heidelberg makes Boulder, Colorado, seem downright sedentary. My frames of references are in recent years Albuquerque, New Mexico, where the threat of a sprinkle is enough to keep most recreationalists inside, and Kabul and Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, where any runner of any age is an oddity worthy of at least a second look.

Secondly, things work here. Public transportation operates on time, the heating and hot water work, and you can safely assume that consumer goods will operate or function as they claim to. While this may seem like a pedestrian observation, I can assure you that after living the better part of the last three years in the developing world that you cannot make these assumptions everywhere. I have seen new kitchen appliances fall apart while being taken out of the box. I have tried to open cupboard drawers and succeeded only in detaching the handle from the drawer. In Kabul, there is a drawer in my kitchen with upwards of a dozen knives, spoons and forks in which the plastic handles have fallen off the metal shafts.

So for the moment (and may it last), I feel spoiled and greatly appreciative of my creature comforts.


  1. Good to see you in a happier place than last summer. Merry Christmas to you, too.

  2. Right happy that you and Oksana are enjoying each other and the world.

    Heidelberg is a really intoxicating place.

    Prague is a way NEAT city, abounding in architectural anomalies: On any given square, there may be buildings from as many as five of six different centuries...

  3. Seamus:

    The New Years commercial onslaught which includes trees, presents and "Grandfather Frost" i.e. Santa Claus is just as bad in Bishkek as in the US.