Our Neighbor Isa

The world is full of numerous seemingly meaningless connections and interactions. Yet, when a coincidence seems more significant than mere chance, I believe it is important to observe it, and to try and learn from it. For example, our neighbor across the hall, Isa, happens to be a Buddhist. This is a significant coincidence, because when I was an angsty 17 year-old, I discovered Existentialism – which is a rather defeatist, and at times, nihilistic philosophy (and may have made me more angsty, but that is another story). Once in college, a friend introduced me to Buddhism, which seems to be the best antidote to the despairing truths of Existentialism. At the time, when I was 20 and 21, I was inspired to write a novel about a young woman who travels to India in order to seek out enlightenment. While I never got past the first chapter or my research of Buddhism, I learned a lot about it.

Our Neighbor Isa

Although she is our neighbor, we met Isa because she has an agreement with our landlord that she can use the washing machine and the internet, both of which are located in our apartment. Thankfully, Isa is an incredibly charming, intelligent person who speaks fluent English and German. She also used to live in our apartment, and knows our landlord way better than we do, so obviously, she has first-dibs.

Soon after we met Isa, she had a look of concern in her eyes. She said, “You shouldn’t download any music or videos in Germany, because the German entertainment industry, ‘GEMA‘ heavily fines people for this.” That advice was just one invaluable piece of information Isa has shared with us.

Isa also happens to be our German language instructor three times per week (my mom suggested that we ask her to tudor us; best suggestion ever). Isa is the best teacher ever because of several reasons:

  • Isa is a native German speaker
  • Isa speaks fluent English
  • Isa understand the cultural nuances of Germany, because she has traveled extensively (Bolivia, Guatemala, Switzerland, India, and several other countries)
  • Isa is very patient and likes to laugh
  • Isa is our neighbor

Isa is so good at teaching us German, that Germans are talking to us in German, because our accents are tricking them into thinking we can speak German. For example, Isa is teaching us how to properly pronounce words that would otherwise all sound the same to us. See below:


*Not a real word, but translates into something like “Naked bar.”

You can understand why pronunciation is important. We can’t just run around calling our neighbors “naked bars.”

Sarah and I laugh because if our heads were in one, we would be amazing at speaking German, because of my knowledge of German vocabulary and grammar and her pronunciation skills–although Sarah has been studying German diligently in preparing for her application for her Masters program, so she is learning very quickly.

Together, Isa, Sarah and I sometimes have dinner together. Isa is committed to her practice of Buddhism, a tenet of which is ahimsa, or harmlessness, so we eat vegetarian when we do. Sarah and I have enjoyed the challenge of preparing savory, nutritious, vegetarian meals even before we came to Germany, so it has been fun to share that experience together.

Isa is incredibly creative. Currently she is designing patterns for a client in the U.S. Also, together Isa, Sarah, and I are working on developing a mobile application. We will see how that goes, though we are feeling confident about it, but because Berlin is one of the tech start-up centers of Europe. Keep your fingers crossed for us! (or as the Germans say, drückt uns die Daumen!)

As I said earlier, Isa is preparing to move to India for several months to continue studying how to read and write Tibetan, which she hopes to use to deepen her understanding and practice of Tibetan Buddhism. Regrettably, we will lose our neighbor for that time, but it is an important journey for her. During these past two months, Isa has provided us many laughs, casual social connection, and deeper understanding of Germany; and brought me closer to spiritualism than I have had in several years, and for all of that, we are very, very grateful to Isa.

If you can help Isa, she has a GoFundMe set up to help cover the costs of her travel and lodging in India. The bulk of the cost is in airfare, because she will be living for $5 – $10 per day in India by living in a Buddhist Nunnery for some of her time there. Sarah and I recently donated, and maybe you can help her too (presuming our app idea doesn’t sell for millions;). Here is the link if you would like to help: http://www.gofundme.com/learntibetan (Isa uses the name “Yon Tong” on Facebook).

Isa used to work for Jägermeister. And she is still friends with one of her former colleagues, who happens to own a bar, and throws an annual Halloween party. Isa invited Sarah and I to go, and below are some pictures from it.

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All in all, we can’t thank Isa enough for the knowledge, the laughs, and the companionship.

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