I am almost 100% convinced that my laptop was built in a country with sunny climate and warm weather, just like me. Since lean mean machine is an extension of my person, it reacts to the obnoxious Berlin weather in the same manner as I do – as well as my cats. The sun disappears and the temperatures drop to anything below 15C my keyboard jams and my screen goes ballistically wonky. At first I blamed the strange behaviour of my electronics to my one of my cats who likes to hang around, in typical feline fashion, in front of the monitor and nudge the odd item or two. Then I noticed that ever since the Autumn temperatures came to town I’m having more and more trouble. Thank goodness for external monitors!
Unlike many of the previous weeks, the past few days have consisted of a flurry of activity that have forced me out of my cocoon and the house. Imagine that! Here I am battling with one thing or another going bonkers, and the next thing I know I find myself back on buses and subways crisscrossing around town.
Did I miss the commute? Hell no.
Did I miss being out and about? Not really.
Did I miss meeting up with people and having proper conversations without the aid of a monitor? Absolutely!
Let’s begin with my visit to the Federal Employment Agency (Bundesagentur für Arbeit – BA) last Tuesday for a meeting with my counsellor. First of all it was creepy to walk into a government building that is otherwise buzzing with activity and be greeted at the door by the guard who directed me immediately to the hand disinfection station. These days you are not allowed to walk into any government building without a proper invitation and set appointment, as they want to control the number of people in the building due to social distancing. It was like walking through haunted halls, and the few people I met were all wearing masks. Once inside the designated office I sat behind a large plexiglass barrier and we conducted our business that way.
In case you are wondering about the title of the blog – transcendence and gratitude. This meeting with the employment counsellor is what triggered the thoughts. After spending months of reading and listening to other people’s experiences with COVID-19, I am very grateful to be “stuck” in Germany, where the basic services continued to thrive and most people are disciplined enough to follow instructions. In addition to that, however, there is also the discovery of the intricacies and complexities of the (un)employment network. Like everything else that is government-related here, there is a bright side and a dark side. Yes, the reference to Star Wars is intended… Perhaps it is because I am a relatively new citizen still in the early stages of discovering what Germany has to offer immigrants and citizens, but at this point I don’t think I would trade places with anyone.
The BA has two sides to their services:
1. the financial support component for those who have lost their jobs, and
2. the job placement services.
These are not independent services to choose from, but rather two interlocked concepts that are masterfully designed to encourage and get you back on your feet. You must register first as job seeker and justify your situation before you can apply for unemployment benefits. The time you remain unemployed is also time sensitive, so you cannot simply freeload on government money as long as you want to. The allotted timeframe is calculated according to age and previous employment record. There are also options for re-training should you decide on a career change, a portion of which will be subsidised by the BA, including equipment. To a certain extent, if you decide to opt for further qualifications for accreditations, the case can be reviewed and if you are lucky, it will be funded as well. This was the ultimate surprise to me, as I had shied away from taking my freelancing work to a new level for further accreditation due to the fees involved.
As I wrote before, it was very much to my surprise that I received a call from from the BA a while back to inform me that my file was being transferred from the local BA to the one in the next zone because I have a university degree. Confused doesn’t even begin to described how I felt… Job placements for people with college degrees are handled differently from those who attended vocational training or none at all. You can’t have people of different academic backgrounds competing for the same type of jobs. It is in this spirit that I found myself in the most fascinating meeting last Tuesday, discussing my options, limitations, profile, benefits, etc. Most of the information can be found on the BA portal but there are nuances that never made sense to me until they were fully explained. It was that guiding hand I had been missing all along these past months, and I walked out of the building feeling motivated and with renewed fighting spirit. Sure, there is pressure on all fronts to land a job, but when you land with the right counsellor you also discover that the world is not ruled by Darth Vader after all. There are a few Obi Wans and Luke Skywalkers out there who will share the wisdom. I will never become a Jedi knight, but at least I know I have a damn good fighting chance.
Above is a photograph I shot back in November 2019. You know my love for clouds and water, and this location was no exception, but there was something about the scene that spoke to me. When I shot this I was overcome by a deep sense of gratitude, not only for being able to witness the beauty and majesty of nature, but also because change was in the air. True enough, that day was the beginning of a massive transition in my life that unravelled a few months later in 2020. So I will forever be reminded of the transition with mixed emotions. However, I revisited the photograph two days ago and re-edited it into a black and white image, which is more reflective of my current state of mind.
It’s a personal choice really, and there is no right or wrong answer. Whereas in the first image it was all about the blues and the clouds, in the second it is all about conquering the shadows.
I met up with former colleagues for breakfast yesterday. What a joy to be among them again and to see all the familiar faces. It wasn’t just me craving for that human connection again, that sense of community that we all took for granted and griped about. 18 months of isolation teaches you to be grateful for the presence of people in your life, for the luxury of having conversations face to face, for the ability to meet someone on the street and smile at them again. It doesn’t matter that I live in one of the grumpiest cities of Germany, but knowing that this is my stomping ground and hometown allows me to transcend those shadows of doubt.