“My memories are like a shuffled deck of cards,
each one coming up at random.” – Brian James
This is my first September in Pankow: when I started studying at ECLA three years ago, the classes began in October. This September is awfully similar to an October––perhaps to the October two years ago––the one before my exchange year in Brazil. This ECLA is awfully similar to the ECLA of two years ago. The replica is so well done, that should I not know better, I would think myself crazy. But the keen eye cannot be so easily fooled. No replica is without a flaw and one can notice, if one is to pay attention, that the swing usually found in front of dorm W15 is on the other side of the lawn, that the goals on the football court have green nets on them, and that the bike shed is actually being used to store bikes. Then again, some things are so masterfully reproduced––the sound of birds at three in the morning that mixes with the breaks of the M1 tram at Kuckhoffstrasse (“bitte aussteigen”), or the swoosh of the wind that sounds like the beginning of a rain shower. This swoosh brings the image of Rio summer showers back to my mind so vividly that I can smell the humidity in the heavy hot air.
I have been away for a year that now feels like a day, which feels like centuries ago. Being back at ECLA of Bard feels somewhat like a post–stroke experience; or perhaps like waking up from a deep sleep and suddenly, being still a little sleepy, feeling a bit out of place in your own room. Nothing has been drastically changed––things have been just slightly altered, and just like the stroke patient, I feel I have to learn the most basic things again. Things I once knew so well I hadn’t had to even think of them, things so banal that the mere learning of them would appear to be so useless. It feels exactly like going away on a summer vacation only to come back and discover that your mom has cleaned up your room while you were gone and now you can’t find any of your things, which in your former mess, had clear coordinates. Perhaps my “deep sleep” metaphor above is not as good, since so many things have happened in my life while I was on my exchange year and while ECLA continued its usual mode of existence without huge changes, apart from, of course, the radical repositioning of the swing few meters from its former habitat.
In this past year I was also away from my BA generation colleagues. All of us went to different places; our years were filled up with different faces, landscapes, foods, thoughts, emotions and so many other stimuli one could not even put into words. We came back altered, and yet–– somehow precisely the same. We came back with different developments within us that mirror in magnitude those of the ECLA campus––some almost unnoticeable, like the swing position or the green nets on the goals––others drastic, so drastic they are still not obviously apparent even to us.
Now it’s the time for re-adaptation, the time when each lunch we spend together unearths another story, reveals where the piece of the road we have built away from ECLA is. For me, it’s the digestion period. ECLA still feels like the safe ground under my feet, and though I am swarmed by the work load that I used to take for granted, this ground allows my cognitive enzymes to digest the food for thought I ingested and incorporate it into my blood stream, so as to sustain the life processes of my mental body.
As the plane passes by over the campus and gives me the feeling that I am in a tribe in the Amazon, isolated from the world, I remember that ECLA is just a small part of that forest that is Berlin. She has been waiting for us. I say ‘she’, because ‘city’ in Portuguese is of female gender, and that is how it feels right. Though the bear stands as its symbol and its concrete is all but feminine to me, Berlin gives me a sense of belonging––the sense of unconditional acceptance and waiting, which in my somewhat corrupted mind is everything but masculine. So, she has waited, and I have come back to her.
Although, no September is ever like an October, this one is as similar as it gets. As I move in this simulacrum of ECLA, though everything at first glance appears the same, I am aware of the fraud because I notice all the miniscule differences that are present. But give me another month or so, and I too will believe that this is reality, and that the green nets have always been on the goals, and that the only natural position of the swing is on the left side of the lawn; perhaps even that September is no different from October. But that day, which happened centuries ago, that day, in which I spent eleven months in Rio, will forever shape my focal view of everything that comes after it. If I am somehow enlightened by that speck in my eye, I believe so are my fellow BAs. And in the true spirit of ECLA, I can only but look forward to learn from and with them. This will take time and patience, but until I feel completely at home again, I will sit back and enjoy the sound of a summer rain shower, on a cloudless day, whose impeccable blue sky is framed by the campus trees in Pankow.