1. The first days of the Arrival and the first surprises
Tired but happy we arrived in the home of our hosts. Next morning, we went to the City Museum, where Circus Harmony is training and performing. There are no words to describe this inspiring museum. It looks like if someone collected everything what he could get to create the best thing what might had been possible. From door knobs, to facades of old buildings, everything is present. As this might not be crazy enough, there is a ferris wheel and the school bus on the top of the roof. There are not only slides for children, there is also an aquarium inside and not to forget the CircusHarmony.
After the impressive show of our mentor’s daughter (all her three kids are involved in Circus Harmony and have abilities on a very high level) we went with her and another trainer of the circus, for lunch to a Pakistani restaurant.
Not to forget the wonderful welcome cake. Thank you Circus Harmony!
The trainers of Circus Harmony are pretty cool and I appreciate the way, how they teach.
After watching some rehearsals we arrived late, but with full stomachs at home.
Taking the public transport takes a lot of time in St. Louis. One funny thing is, that the trains in this young country hunk like an old steam locomotive.
Moreover, the food is much better than expected in my host family.
Nearly every day lettuce, less meat and also organic products. No Hamburgers!
For lunch we get free food in the circus Harmony, which tends to correspond more to the greasy American food.
Circus class starts on Saturday at nine and it takes more than an hour to get to the city museum, although it is less than nine miles from our house away. In this case it took much longer, because my bus driver stopped from time to time on a bus station to make some calls. Usually, the buses are in time. Moreover, there is a very handy construction in the front of the bus, which allows you to take your bike with you. Germany could adopt this wonderful system.
People are very open minded in the bus and communicative. Nearly every day, some one wants to tell me the story of his/her life, ask me for money or my phone to make a call. It is crystal clear, that everybody, who has a car, doesn´t drive bus.
You should not be mostly afraid about weapon in the US. The most dangerous thing is cycling on big streets. Especially, when you have just one break and one gear.
Whereas in Germany the most car drivers have the attitude, that it might be better to brake for a human being on a bike, it tends to be more the American attitude, that every cyclist should go out of the way, when he has any affection towards his life and wants to survive. It doesn’t matter who is allowed to drive first.
Moreover, cyclists are a rarity in the US. It seems like some car drivers think, that cyclists are not allowed to drive on the roads. I had once the experience on a hill that a car driver starts honking, because I drove too slow, regarding his opinion, until he could overtake with about ten miles to high speed and immediately went back to my lane, although the back of his car was still on my level.
I had other similar experience. Therefore, I decided to go by foot or public transport, whenever possible. No miracle, why so less people ride on bicycles.
Finally, there are also for sure some friendly car drivers from time to time.
Nevertheless, you might say, that some Germans are married with their car, I get the impression in the US, that some Americans would like to live in their cars.
There are not only drive in fast food restaurants, as I am used to. There also drive-in banks and drive-in pharmacies. It is only a time of questions until the first drive-in grocery store will open.
That’s also an odd thing. In the US the taxes are not added until at the cash register, so that it costs always more than it seems to be, also every state has different taxes for products, fuel and food.
2. My new Family
My host parents are very friendly, they are working as art teachers, they have two daughters and a whole zoo.
It is consisting of a big dog named Little, a cat named Max, a hamster called Buddy, a goldfish, five beautiful chicken, for whom I am very thankful for my delicious breakfast egg.
Although, I would like to have animals at my home, we never had animals except some gold fishes, which died after a few months.
The house looks like Germans imagine of a typical wonderful American house. It has a huge porch around it, whereupon a rocking chair, a porch swing, a hammock and many benches are inviting to take a rest.
My guest room is the second living room, which is in the basement and three times bigger as my room in my parents house. Moreover, not only the Reeds house, also nearly all the other houses are covered with mosquito nets, what should be also in Germany as a standard.
Besides this, I really like the ice maker in the fridge. The first time it was nearly like a miracle for me. It has never been so easy to get some ice. I will get used to it and I will become lazy.
After one month I bought a bed and decorated my room a little bit.
One interesting thing about their daughters is, that they not only train circus in the City Museum, but also in the living room, they are really passionate about doing acrobatics and contursion. So it might be that during watching a baseball match, a girl walks on her hands, while splitting through your field of vision. Who needs TV to see sports? It will take some time until I can recognize this as normal.
Moreover, the girls have to do a lot of homework. Every time when I see them doing there homework, I feel relieved and happy, because I don’t have to do any homework.
3. First days and Incorporation
There was no real incorporation. When you are lucky, my mentor shows you everything in 10 minutes.
Luckily there are some teachers, who help you. You learn everything by trial and error. There are a lot of rules, which are not written down. You will brake them, because you don´t know them. It is nearly impossible to make everything right from the beginning.
There had been plenty of highlights. Especially a lot with the people of Circus Harmony.
Nevertheless, one was really touching me and I would like to highlight, this experience, which I made outside of the Circus.
03rd of October 2015
This early morning I am registered for an international symposium of social work. After a wonderful breakfast the event starts. I have to leave earlier to arrive in time to the synagogue. For one second I deal with the thought to stay in the symposium, where international guests are talking about how they save the world.
At 10 o´clock I am invited to attend at a Jewish service in Central Reform Congregation (http://www.centralreform.org/).
On one hand I am curious how it will be, on the other hand I am afraid after my last experience, about more unpleasant remarks with respect about myself and my relation to Nazi Germany in front, which I could not choose.
Last time I had the impression, that the rabbi was not aware that Nazi Germany and the Germany nowadays is not the same. When he asked me in front of the Jewish community if my city is torn down and the unemployment is like Detroit. It seemed like he did not consider that something could have changed in the past 70 years and the conditions are not comparable today after World War 2.
Nevertheless, it is our history. We can´t sweep history under the carpet.
As Jews were condemned to death by the Nazis because of their Religion, We are condemned to explain the detestable behaviour of our ancestors to their progenies and to the world. It was so cruel, that I doubt if someone can really explain how this massacre could happen. It will remain an incomprehensible fact.
Nevertheless, I expected to be not only judged by my ancestry.
Since my mentor arranged everything for me, that I do not have to work this morning in Circus, I have a bad conscience and decide that I cannot stay longer. A female rabbi with high heels is standing on the pulpit. The service is opened by a klezmer band with a brilliant clarinettist.
While the klezmer band “Gesundheit” plays a joyful song the parish walks six times through the garden in the synagogue. Every round, the Torah is passed to another person.
Suddenly, someone is asking me if I want to carry the Torah. Of course I want to! Nevertheless, I am not sure, if I as a gentile am allowed to carry the most holy book of the Jews. I am hesitating for a moment and wonder if it is better to tell him, that I am not Jewish. Too late. He is holding the Torah towards me in all the joyful hurl-burly. I take the Torah.
The Torah carries a long history. It is not only represented by the length of the divine roll, also by the considerable weight, which I can feel right now.
People are around me to touch the hidden Torah with two fingers and kiss it afterward.
At the end of my round I am looking for someone, to whom I could pass the Torah. Out of the blue, the smiling rabbi is waving with her hand into my direction. There is no doubt. She wants me to bring up the Torah to the altar.
During the Simchat Torah, where they rewind the scroll namely the Torah, this is an occasion for this joyful celebration. The rabbi introduces Dan from Germany to the parish. (A lot of Americans are not used to my name. Some call me John, some Ian, the Asian Americans named me Yang,
Young and the Hispanics Juan.)
I am expecting not only good reactions, since the last experience in the other Jewish parish.
Moreover, I worry to have destroyed for some Jews their joyful celebration.
Luckily, the opposite is the case. A lot of people start to talk with me, some even in German. The most remarkable of this wonderful people is for me M.
She escaped from Germany in 1939 from Germany. She is small but her hand shake is powerful and warm. By looking at my watch, I recognize that the service took surprisingly more than two hours.
Unfortunately I have to leave very fast to the City Museum for teaching this afternoon. She gives me her card to meet her again.
I have never seen such a progressive Jewish community.
I am so joyful that I recognize, two stations too late, that I already have passed the bus station of the City museum (http://www.citymuseum.org/).
5. Expectations for next year
After this gorgeous first 6 weeks, I do not know what to expect from the next year.
I hope, that I can continue to grow into Circus Harmony and help to make a difference.
I see that the Circus is doing great work and has big impact on the region of St. Louis.
Moreover, I hope to meet and stay with more interesting people like M. first host mother and other wonderful people from inside or outside of the Circus.
Especially circus obsessed volunteer can learn a lot. But it is in general for every one a great chance
to experience a new world. I feel a little bit sorry, that I am not such a good circus artist. When I see all these young kids doing back flips, I wish I would have started early with circus and have worked harder, in order to be more useful.
My worry to not get along with my mentor seems to have been totally in vain.
In opposite, I like and understand her and appreciate how hard she works for all these kids. I hope it won't change.
6. Comments and wishes
Sometimes I have the impression, that this permanent pressure, which rests mainly on her shoulders, seems to be too much for her to deal with it in appropriate way. But who can stay calm all the time, when an important show is imminent. Even though, she has a crystal clear picture how Circus Harmony is supposed to look like, she is open to suggestions.
She responded positively to my idea, to open a band. Moreover, she agreed with the music, which I choose for the band. The first rehearsal was successful. There is on really fast learning violinist.
Unfortunately, have the other students not really time to practice, besides school and circus. If they really practice, I am sure that this band could impress a large audience. I am curious how much we can achieve in the next month with the band. I already wrote a circus anthem. My mentor also likes it. I hope we have enough time for practicing and the other band members take their chance and the
band as important as they train their circus skills. I see great potential.
Since I am involved in a quire, dance classes and other sports with students of a big university, I feel torn apart between all this great offers and circus classes. By having also outside of Circus Harmony the chance to make (even a bigger) difference and a lot of wonderful opportunity, it is hard to resist them all, although I would like to help more in the circus.
Doctor: It was not easy to visit my doctor, who gives me the shots against my wasp allergy. It took
me two hours by public transport to reach his office. With a car, I could make it in 20 minutes. I paid 250 dollars for the first visit. The shot was not included.
It is annoying to fill out not only the questions of the doctor, also you have to fill out every time the paper of the insurance.
Salary: I receive or rather I have to ask every second week for a check. I would prefer to get it via an online transfer, since I do not want to go every second week to my bank. The next office of my bank is like everything here in St. Louis far away. It takes me around an hour just to get to my bank.
Recommendation for future volunteers: For my first contract I paid 50 dollars the month for my cell phone. This is in the US a normal price for a monthly plane.
Luckily I found lycamobile. This contract has less data but costs only 20 bucks the month. Calls to Mexico and Canada are included and also calls to Germany are not so expensive. Perhaps this could help future volunteers to save a lot of money.