I was in Stuttgart, Freiburg and Berlin (May-1st half of June)
Then in Italy (2nd half of June)
Then in Brussels, Belgium, and Paris, France (1st half of July)
…and now I have returned to Germany. I am in Cologne today, then back in Freiburg and Stuttgart before heading to Berlin and flying home to the United States.
If you are one of the many persons I have encountered “live” so far on this journey, let me please say: thank you! It has been a pleasure to make so many encouraging acquaintances.
But speaking of challenges, by far the most challenging bit of my work this summer has been finding my way, by plane, train, and automobile my own two feet, to my research interviews and site visits. I am not sure how often you make your way around European metropoles, but I have discovered that finding sport associations in discreet office buildings or off-the-beaten-track gymnasiums is decidedly more difficult than finding directions to, for example, La Tour Eiffel.
The upside of this challenge (besides sharpening my map-reading skills in multiple languages) has been experiencing “alternative tourism”. By taking the chance to interview these organizations on their “turf”, I’ve been led away from the more well-known (and generally well-kept) sections of Berlin, Brussels, and Paris. I’ve learned to see it coming, actually: the train ride usually takes a little bit longer than you’re used to, and the faces change from tourists and business people to service workers and families – the skin tone of the majority of my co-commuters gradually darkens, and when I leave the metro/tram/bus/train and am blinded by summer sun, the streets are crowded, loud, colorful, and busy.
While I was underground watching faces change, 99cent stores replaced organic produces shops. In one of the neighborhoods I visited in Berlin, the storefronts repeated themselves each block, so I had memorized the order by the time I arrived on site: Barber shop, Döner/Kebap Restaurant, Internet Café, 99-cent Shop, Asian Restaurant, Corner Grocery Store – and then again, and again, and again! Every single block!
I guess what I am getting at here is something that Sarah M mentioned a few weeks back in her blog post, “Internationally Known and Locally Respected”. According to her experiences in SA, Sarah said, “What seems to be a crucial ingredient for programmatic success is local ownership and local buy-in”. As our team works on the project, we’ve heard this idea reinforced in site visits, literature, and off-the-record conversations. Social change requires energetic impulses from outside and sustained support from inside – in other words, you need trainers who know this Barber Shop from the next.
Maybe I’m not saying anything new. What I can say, though, is hats off to you! Thanks for inviting me into your space and letting me see the work you do – in cities that are internationally renowned, but where local respect is what matters.
And P.S. – Especially to those of you who who have commented on research methods and hypotheses – thanks for being the “outside impulse” bringing energy to long-term practitioners. Communication and collaboration are key! Please stay connected to Generations for Peace and the Conflict Resolution Program at Georgetown University for more.