U. S. Servas

promoting world peace one conversation at a time…

Servas Story from Anni Kamola

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Hi Servas folks-
I’m writing you a little note to put on your blog. It seems to me like Servas is a network of people that, somehow, lands synchronicity…

I traveled to Germany last spring (2011) for my first overseas solo-traveling. I began the now in-process journey of retracing my family roots. I happened to find out about Servas about a month before I left the country, and quickly applied and was accepted just before leaving the country.
I spent my travels last spring in Bayern (known to Americans as ‘Bavaria.’ It’s the south-eastern part of Germany) where my family is from. I spent several weeks meeting family friends and family members, eating amazing food, feeling overwhelmed in culture and language-shock, and lugging along my trusty but heavy traveler’s backpack (or ‘rucksack’ as the Germans called it). Part of my lugging-grievances was the Servas book. Really? Was I really going to use it? It was heavy and bulky, and I often looked at it and rolled my eyes. I was spending all of my travels with family and friends–there was no need for it!
But after about a month, I felt I needed a dose of 5Rhythms dancing. 5Rhythms is a dancing meditation that I practice in the states. (I like to call it “meditation for people who can’t sit still.”) At home I practice two times a week for about two hours each time, and not having that touchstone in my traveling lifestyle was hard. I was antsy. I wanted to DANCE!! Thankful for the wonders of technology, I popped online and found several places offering classes. I found a three-day workshop in Freiburg that seemed like just the thing! At the last minute, I applied for the workshop. The workshop was expensive, and I was on a shoestring budget. I was looking up hostels and places to stay…and then I thought of that yellow-covered, bulky Servas book that was tucked into the bottom of my pack.

     I pulled it out and flipped to the section of Frieburg:  hmmmm…..now, which of the 300 hosts would I stay with? I began flipping through, and there, on the top of the page, was a couple who listed–besides red wine, conversation, food, and tango in their interests (all of which I love as well)–5Rhythms! They dance it too! People who not only spoke German, but who also spoke the body language of this wonderful practice! It felt like a relief. Like I was going to visit another set of relatives, though we were related through the practice and not through genes.
I called them up, and N— answered (I’ll not include their names, for privacy). Of course I could stay with them! Oh, wait. Hm. She and A— were leaving for a family reunion the day I was arriving. Hm. Well, no problem. Because I was a Servas member, I could use their apartment while they were gone!
Suddenly, the next day, I arrived at their beautiful apartment. A– was sick, but still invited me in, fed me, gave me the spare room and let me settle in for a little bit. Then he found me a map of Freiburg (which he ripped from a book just so I could carry it along with me), loaned me his grandmother’s bicycle, and sent me on my way to the workshop.
The workshop was intense. We danced for 4-7 hours each day for three d ays. It was such a blessing to land at the quiet, tidy, art-filled apartment in the evening. I was welcome to drink their tea and eat their food. The place, although not mine, felt very familiar and safe. When A— and N— came home two days later, they invited me to stay for another night. We had amazing meals and good discussions, talks about family, heritage, Nazism, change; the food system, gardening, urban vs. rural living.
     That night, A– took me on a bicycle-tour of the town. First stop was ice cream. Ice cream is cheap in Germany because it came with the wave of immigrants post-WWII who came to help rebuild the cities. It started out cheap, and it stayed cheap. While we ate, A— told me some stories about his childhood. Then we biked further and went to the Schloss (church) in the center of Freiburg. It was astounding! Beautiful!  He led me a walking tour of the center of the city and gave me a wonderful history of the area. Much better than a paid tour guide. Quite suddenly, it started to rain! We decided to call it a night, and hopped back onto our bicycles.
     But as we rode, it began to rain harder. And harder! And HARDER!! Within minutes we were drenched. A— had a speedy, new road-bike, and he shot off ahead of me. I couldn’t keep  up, no matter how hard I tried pedaling his grandma’s bicycle.
Can you imagine me:  riding his grandmother’s green 3-speed bicycle, with an almost flat-tire, up a steep, steep, steep cobblestone road, in the pouring down rain, drenched through to my skin, so full of ice cream I could hardly move? There was nothing to do but pull my shawl off of my hair, lean my face back into the rain, and laugh! Laugh and laugh and laugh! I laughed so hard I had to walk my bike up the rest of the hill, where A— waited, grinning, for me in the deluge.
     N— must have thought we looked like drowned rats as we came in. She gave us towels and tea, and we all packed off to our beds.
     The next day N— helped me with paperwork, phoning consulates, wading through bureaucracy in a language I did not understand. We had a leisurely breakfast of rolls and cheeses, and then it was goodbye. It was a sad, but grateful, departure.
     Now, a year later and on the other side of the world, I am still in touch with them. We exchange e-mails at the holidays, and with the turning of the seasons.
     Although I still grumbled about the weight of my Servas book (I think next time I’ll do the online option), it wasn’t with an eye-rolling, but with a smile at the memories of the wonderful hosts I had in Freiburg, and the hilarity we shared. People to people, story to story, we connected in a strange, unpredictable, and serendipitous way.
     Anneliese Kamola

Author: United States Servas, Inc.

Servas is a worldwide cooperative cultural exchange network established in 1948 and composed of member hosts and travelers working together to foster peace, goodwill and mutual respect. Servas seeks to realize these aims by providing opportunities for person-to-person contacts between people of diverse cultures and backgrounds. Our mission includes providing approved US and international travelers with opportunities to be guests of Servas member hosts around the world.

One thought on “Servas Story from Anni Kamola

  1. Great story! Shows the true heart of Servas. Glad this blog was created to share with everyone.

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