The Silent Musings of a Foreigner in Europe


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Is it possible to be friends with people you disagree with politically?

The Britannica defines friendship as a "state of enduring affection, esteem, intimacy, and trust between two people."

Is it possible to be friends with people you disagree with politically? Some people would say yes, but I have my reservations.

In this episode, I share my thoughts and reflections on why I think that this is not possible.

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Putin's surprising war in Europe

The thing about this war is that nobody saw it coming. Which is a strange thing to say because Putin did not keep it a secret. He told anyone who bothered to listen. Maybe he didn’t mention the logistics of it all but other than that, he never made any secrets about his intentions.

 

A friend from the Balkans once told me about the times when war broke out there. She was still a kid, but she remembers an excitement in the air. An energy that engulfed the whole place. This would eventually be replaced with a cold despair.  This despair would come to define that whole period. I imagine that this is the natural progression of all wars.

I am glad that the people of Ukraine are not being left to fight Putin alone. I am glad that the eastern europen countries have all opened their borders to help refugees.

 

This past week has been surreal. Watching the German parliament in a speacial session yesterday made me feel that something fundamental has changed. There is a mixture of shock and fury at what Putin is doing. And what this might mean for Germany and the whole of Europe.

 

For the period that I have lived here in Germany, I have learned that most Germans are very anti-war. After two world wars, people here have no illusions or romantic visions of war. Watching the live parliamentary session yesterday, one could literally discern the unease accompanying the decision to strengthen the military. Where would it end? They all seemed to be asking themselves.

 

There is no doubt that life is going to be much more difficult and complicated for most people as the sanctions against Putin begin to bite. Just this past week, I fuelled the car for close to 2 Euros per liter. There is every reason to believe that these prices are going to continue rising.

 

Here is to hoping for a quick end to this nightmare and for enough humanitarian aid for all victims of war.

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Whoopi Goldberg was right. The holocaust was not just about race

The most important lessons to teach children

Last year, we went to Greece on holiday in a place called Nikita. Apart from Covid, there were fires across Greece. Prior to the trip, we pondered whether to cancel. There were so many risks of something going wrong, but the kids were adamant so off we went.  

There were very strict Covid rules in place in Greece which basically meant that we couldn’t drive around and were stuck in the hotel. And so, we swam and ate and swam and played volleyball on the charming beach of our hotel on the mediteranean. The four of us, even though we are rubbish at volleyball won quite a few games thanks to a French family that were really rubbish and later, a family from nothern Macedonia that were quite delightful but totally untalented in volleyball. Between winning volleyball matches that would embarrass any true volleballer and watching the incredible news of the Taliban take-over of Afghanistan, a video popped up in my feed of a guy explaining what he reckons is the most important thing to teach kids.

 

“Piss off!” he said dryly. The interviewer looked on wide eyed not quite believing his ears. “Many problems are because of not knowing when or how to tell people to piss off. If you teach your kids this, you would have done then a huge favour!” He grabbed a trolley and started to walk off. The interviewer looked like he was about to burst out laughing. I laughed and to my husbands’s horror sat the kids down and showed them the video. Like that man, I wholeheartedly believe that teaching kids about effecting their boundaries is a game changer.  It is the difference between putting up with an abusive spouse, staying on in a toxic work environment, tolerating poisonous people and just living a crappy life in the name of pleasing people. That and the following are important lessons that all kids deserve to be taught.

  1. 1.      Many things that we worry about don’t always happen. Often, it is better to just do things instead of spending all your time worrying.

  2. Never waste your time trying to prove to anyone that you are a good person. Just be good and kind. It is good for the soul.
  3. Be wary of people who are quick to tear others down. Remember that nothing will stop them from doing the same to you. Run and don’t look back.  If you can for some reason not get away, then do not engage them. They will poison your life.  
  4. 1.      Whatever it is you are looking to achieve, it is not worth making someone else feel worthless. It is too high a price to pay to reach your goals.

  5.           Know what is important to you. Do not let others define it for you. If you do not know who you are or what is important for you, someone will come along who will try to mould you into their own demented version.

  6.          Most people only do stuff that they think they can get away with. Remember this, especially when dealing with difficult people. The prospect of no consequences can turn regular nasty people into monsters.

  7.          If you have no way to hold a nasty person to account, then you must walk away. Whatever you are hoping to achieve is not worth the harm they will do to you.

  8.     Be your own best advocate. Just because something is important to you doesn’t mean that it is important to anyone else. Don’t wait for someone to speak for you.

  9. 1.      Always ask yourself what the real price of your decisions are. If you are not sure, ask yourself whether you can live with the consequences. It will give you clarity.

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Why is it so difficult to talk about racism? A look at my own experiences and the lessons I have learnt

When my son was small, he used to ask random stuff.  “Why do you have a mum?” He once asked.  I pondered wondering what to say. His neutral stare suggested that he was not joking plus he at the time did not understand the concept of jokes. “Because she gave birth to me?” I responded. He nodded and picked his bottle of milk.  Except for these random questions and not smiling much and insisting on drinking his milk from the bottle at five instead of a glass, he was mostly an easy baby.

Once, I took him for an ice cream and bumped into an old acquitance. “Mummy, are there Nazis in Dortmund?” he asked.

“I suppose,” I responded absently.

My acquitance looked on in horror.  “Are you talking to your kids about racism?” she asked unable to hide her dismay.

“You are doing them a great disservice!”

 

I looked at her half amused. A black woman condemning me for teaching my kids about racism.

I watch documentaries, historical documentaries dealing with Nazis, slavery, colonialism, and all kinds of stuff I can lay my hands on. And not just that, I read and explain to the kids everything that I know in detail and respond to their questions.  Many years later, I think I now have a better understanding of the woman’s misguided opinions. And so I would like to share what I believe are the most important things that I have learnt about racism.

My 10 most important lessons about racism

  1.  Many people do not like to talk about racism.  For the victims, it is too traumatizing. For the racists, I suppose it is too humiliating to face or acknowledge the monster that lives within them.
  2. If you talk to a white person about racism and they listen or maybe only fidget a bit but do not try to convince you that racism is not a thing or downright smack you in the face, then consider them a friend for life.
  3.  Don’t trust any campagins against racism. It is a show meant to hoodwink and soothe. Remember George Floyd and the messages of solidarity? What became of them?
  4.      Educate yourself about racism and demystify it. It is much easier to deal with a monster that you truly understand than one that you refuse to acknowledge.
  5.      Toni Morrison. Find her work. She really understood racism and racists.
  6.     Many people are OK with you being racially abused and discrminated against. What they are not OK with, is you standing up for yourself and making them uncomfortable in the process.
  7. Being at the receiving end of racism and discrimination is painful but what is doubly painful is the silence that accompanies it. Get used to the silence. It is not about you.
  8. Racism is exhausting. Always acknowledge your feelings. Do not pretend that it doesn’t hurt. You only move on when you give yourself permission to feel your feelings.
  9. Self care is important. Get away or simply do not engage. Choose your battles.
  10. And finally, document it. Racists want to erase their terrible deeds and the hurt they cause. They don’t want it acknowledged or remembered. Don’t let them. Document it for posterity, document it for your mental health. By doing this, you return the burden of racism where it truly belongs, with the racists.
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Narcos Netflix series and the 10 best lessons about justice

I was watching the Netflix series Narcos and in the end, the protagonists like Pablo Escobar were either dead or thrown in American jails. It left me wondering. Was that justice? In one of the scenes, Escobar’s mother is shown sobbing after her son has been gunned down. I assume that she wasn’t the only one. What about all the people her son had killed? Didn’t they mean anything to her? One is tempted to ask.

And the Americans? Were they really the good guys? Arming vigilantes to kill poor Colombians in the name of fighting communism? Looking away when it suited them? Selectively fighting traffickers?

 

This series is a sobering illustration of everything that is wrong with the concept of justice, and it  mostly leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Justice, most of us would like to believe, is a way to balance the scale. To bring closure. To right a wrong. The reality in this series, just like in our every day lives is stunningly different. 

My 10 Life Lessons about justice

So what do I know about justice?

 

1.      Justice is often a subjective issue. Rarely does everyone see it the same way.

 

2.      The less power you have, the higher the chances that you will only read about justice in books.

 

3.      Justice and fairness are not synonymous.

 

4.      Be wary of those intent on meting out justice. Justice is often meted out from a position of power.

 

5.      It is noble to fight for justice.

 

6.      When you set out to fight for justice, be very sure that you understand what you are fighting for.

 

7.      Be aware that for every supposed justice, there is someone who feels terribly aggrieved.

 

8.      Justice has a price.

 

9.      When it comes to justice, perception is everything.

 

10.   Living in an unjust society is hell on earth.

 

 

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Do people still read?

2021 has come to an end. I wish I could say good riddance, but it is difficult to say that without knowing what 2022 has in store for us. What if 2020 and 2021 turn out to be the good old days? The past two years have been a rollercoaster. A literal one if one ever existed. I have struggled to motivate myself to write. The better excuse would be to say that I have lacked time. But this simply is not true. I look back to the days when I enjoyed reading and writing and it seems like a whole different world. Don’t get me wrong. I still do enjoy reading but my patience wears thin. I read articles. Sometimes they are the serious kind but sometimes they are the kind with titles that would make Angela Merkel blush.  “Putin’s 5 most favourite salads, number 3 will surprise you!”

There was a time I would have sneered at an article like this but now I find myself working to extract the wisdom in it.

Which brings me to my crisis with writing. What if no one reads whatever I write? This is no longer a rhetorical question. What started as occassionally not feeling like writing has morphed into a total disinterest. I just can not be bothered to write, which breaks my heart because there was a time I used to write to relax.  

 

The thing about being on the other side of 40 is that you start developing some urgency. You nolonger stroll. You pick up the pace because you start feeling the force of the oncoming end.  There is a decent chance that you might not have enough time to accomplish everything on your list. The cruel joke is that it is exactly the point where your knees begin to hurt.

The question that starts dominating your life is whether somethings are worth your time. Is writing articles that no one has time to read worth my time?

I have concluded that it is worth my time. And I am hoping that 2022 will bring me back the magic of writing.  The joy of marvelling at beautifully constructed sentences or the absurdities of everyday life. But most of all, I would like to be able to just write. A few sentences or maybe more…

 

Happy 2022!

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