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Silviaexpat shares a couple of “survival” experiences – in very different places!


Surviving in a new host country: That was something that had never happened to me before Khartoum.

I had always immediately fallen in love with all our new lands – their climate, their smell, their colors, their landscapes. Survival was something I didn’t know.

When we flew into the Sudan, looking down on that green line that crosses the desert, the Nile, I had felt intense excitement, as our new adventure was starting. And the same excitement was there the first days – those magic days when everything is a discovery, when precious emotions fade away in a few hours unless we capture them in words or pictures. But then, as the weeks went by, excitement became curiosity, then interest, then small pleasures, and eventually basic needs.

The political situation

It was not the best those days. President Bashir had just been convicted for “crimes against humanity” by the International Criminal Court and retaliation against international organizations was underway. Local expatriates got the worst of it, with expulsions, withdrawal of visas and bureaucracy at its worst.

So it came down to us, locked at home for security reasons, with no information about our belongings – stuck somewhere in Port Sudan – just waiting for a stamp that wouldn’t come for months. It came down heavy on me. No friends around, husband at work, daughter – happily, thank God! – at school, cat asleep most of the day, I got more lost than ever before.

Moving around

I had bought a car, but the papers were not yet officially accepted by the relevant authorities, so finally I rented a car. I went around Khartoum, beneath the huge airplanes landing on the sandy tarmac, rock music at full blast, black glasses against the light and dust, in a state of melancholic blues, dreaming of Pakistan or the Balkans.


Surviving Khartoum

With hardly anyone around, only the city and its moods, I found myself in an unfair emotional dilemma: one part of me loved the idea of Khartoum and the Sudan; another hated the loneliness that came with it. It would take me months before I would meet some nice, intelligent women, and months to reunite with the boxes that contained our lives. More months to finally get to drive our own jeep. And many more to feel connected with the city, although the link remained frail and uncertain until the end.

Which didn’t take long to arrive. Only 12 months after my first landing in Khartoum, I was already leaving the Sahara desert, destination Tanzania.

I often remember Khartoum as a vague idea from my past that goes away with a pinch of nostalgia and I like to think about that city as a missed love: I knew that there were the foundations for a wonderful relationship. And yet, too many obstacles came along, too many personal issues held me back.

I like to think now that it was this chance of love that helped me survive there and still muses over the White Nile and the old city of Khartoum.

Surviving in Germany can prove at times to be as tough as surviving in Sudan.

Surviving Berlin

Surviving Berlin

Well, yes, if one day you wake up receiving a long A4 letter full of legal terms and compound words even longer than the usual normal daily life ones, you do regret certain aspects of a simpler life in Khartoum

Or at least, this is what I thought that day, when after slipping through the A4 letter’s 12 pages I found out what the whole thing was about: 956€ to pay through an unknown law firm to the Warner Bros.Ltd for having downloaded a movie from the Internet.

I mean… 956€ for a movie?? Come on!! I’ve downloaded hundreds of movies practically all over the world, old and new, colours and b/w, for children and not, comedy, drama, thriller & fanta-fiction, and now suddenly in Berlin I get to pay such an amount of money for a German movie???

Well, the thing is that this is the grey zone of Internet, and not only in Germany. Downloading and uploading, sharing and P2P all seems to be still with uncut edges when it comes to law. Yes, it is illegal to download a movie, but not if you watch it in the intimacy of your home. Noooo, says someone else, the problem is not downloding, but uploading. And so on.

The language

However, and whatever, for me, let’s face it, the problem was not really the technical part of it, but the language, German! And the fact that, if you are new in this country – and do not know any lawyer – the next step would be to go to the bank and send a 950€ check to the Law Firm & Co. Yes, sure, you find a lot of information in Internet by googling the name of that Law Firm. But what if it is ALL in German??? Of course, use Google Translate, but… no, is not sooo clear to understand what the hell is going on. No, no. Another friend suggested to go next door where he had noticed a legal cabinet. Sure, I thought, I just go downstairs and say “ ‘Morgen! Ich hab’ ‘ne klein Problem mit Internet, können Sie bitte mir helfen?” (Good morning, I have a small problem with the Internet, can you help me?). No, this is not Italy, this is Germany, it doesn’t work like this. And if you do decide to go to a lawyer, you better double check your vocabulary and possibly take a dictionary with you – and perhaps a little bags with underwear and toiletry – in case you say something really stupid and imprisonment is the next best thing…!!!

Not really, not. But still, this is the country of law and rules and you find yourself in a little mess, alone in an intricate game where, apparently, everyone wins something (the Law Firm perhaps your 950€) except you. So, you will ask, what next? Well, I did get help eventually, when I found out that a German friend of some other German friends had received the same letter, from the same Law Firm and that she had then consulted a lawyer specialized in this issue (Internet down/uploading) who helped her for a simple 125€.

How to say it? I almost kissed the feet of this friend of my friends, who had, inadvertently, cleared up the path to my own absolution! I contacted the lawyer – who happened to know a bit of English – I gave him my documentation, I paid the little amount as requested and then I waited. I am still waiting actually, but apparently that is normal. And I feel, for the time being, safe. From the Law Firm, but also in this country where, due to the linguistic barrier, I felt utterly alone and lost for 48 hours.


Berlin, Germany
March 2013
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