The Silent Musings of a foreigner in Europe
Read more at the The Foreigner's blog...
My daughter had a phase when she told jokes all the time.
“Mummy I have a new joke!” she would announce whenever I picked her from school. On the drive home, I would be bombarded with all kinds of jokes. What was interesting was that, she didn’t care whether I laughed or not. She was always so busy laughing at her own jokes that I eventually started laughing at how she was laughing.
Whenever I watch Trevor Noah, I am always reminded of that phase. Like my daughter, he gives me a feeling that he doesn’t need an audience. He is his own biggest fan which I guess is a good thing in a world so polarized.
But all this aside, I like the fact that Trevor Noah never shies away from the ‘difficult’ topics. This week, he talked about Hilary Clinton’s experience on the campaign trail. It is something that has uncanny similarity with what most minorities experience all the time.
Prove your worth! Prove that you can be trusted! Prove that you are not evil!
Prove! Prove! Prove!
“You don't ask people with knives in their stomachs what would make them happy; happiness is no longer the point. It's all about survival; it's all about whether you pull the knife out and bleed to death or keep it in...” Nick Hornby, How to Be Good
The wind howl as rain batters the mid-sized ship in the dead of the night. The cracking sound of the thunder and the waves is everywhere. The crew, a group of Germans busy themselves tying this and tying that. The water and the clouds are so dark that one can barely tell them apart. Lightning strikes, surprising the sky for a second before quickly vanishing. It is the Mediterranean at its most ferocious. In the horizon, a flickering light appears. The binoculars are set in that direction.
‘It’s a boat!’ a lady looking into a pair of binoculars cries out. The men jump to their feet and start dressing up. Helmets are quickly pulled and fastened.
‘Yes it’s a boat!’ another voice calls out as if to confirm what they already know. ‘I think they are at least 300!’ the voice adds throwing the binoculars aside and grabbing a helmet.
His name is Markus and this is his first saving operation at night. His eyes light up.
“Mediterranean shouldn’t be a graveyard!” he says, a bit out of breath and fastening his helmet. His heartbeat is racing. Saving people from drowning is a lot of things.
It is especially dangerous when said people do not know how to swim which is unfortunately always the case. Almost all who set out on the 2000km stretch between Libya and Italy across the Mediterranean are almost always non-swimmers. They are exceptional in every sense of the word. They are the grit crowd. (Angela Duckworth anyone?) The ones who don’t give up. The ones who look for ways. Impossible ways. The suicidal ones.
‘Vi are from Germany, vi are here to help you!’ A middle aged man, the captain of the ship speaks into a loudspeaker. He owns the ship and the whole crew are volunteers.
Saving the refugees is helping the traffickers.
The more you save them, the more will come.
Save them and then what?
He has heard all kinds of accusations. He’s watched refugee residences burnt down across Germany. He’s watched right populist parties become mainstream. But he is still out here.
The small boat is now a few meters from the ship. The light from the ship beams onto the small boat. It is an inflatable boat, the kind that looks like a toy. It is full to the brim and the people in it are all dressed in red-orange inflated life vests. They are all standing. I guess anything else would not be possible. Any good businessman would admire the traffickers’ ability to optimize. Every single space is occupied and because of the inflated vests, one cannot turn or move. As I watch them, it suddenly occurs to me that the vests are exactly like the one I used to have. In my misguided attempt to cut corners and swim without the inconvenience of a swimming lesson, I once got myself a swimming vest. Even in a pool, I almost drowned. Swimming/life vests are strictly to aid swimming and not to save one who has never swam from drowning.
‘Please stay calm’ the middle aged man speaks into the loudspeaker. His voice is calm. The people in the boat look up. Their faces are a mixture of relief and nervousness. In the moments that follow, life boats are lowered into the water. Markus and his colleagues get busy pulling people from the boat and into the ship. They wrap them in blankets and check their body temperatures. Among the volunteers are doctors, students and all kinds of professionals. It’s like a mini army.
As I watch this, I feel myself tear up. Taking an inflated boat across the Mediterranean is like a race through a long dark slippery tunnel. It is as risky as standing in front of 40,000 kg truck driving at 100 km per hour and hoping that it will somehow stop in time and not grind you into pulp.
This past Sunday, Angela Merkel and her ruling coalition lost Berlin. It was the third lost federal state election in a row. It was as has now become the norm, another humbling defeat. As I watched the results trickle in, I marvelled at how much things have changed. The right leaning AFD once thought of as a fringe populist party, got 14.1% of the vote, only three points behind Merkel’s CDU’s 17.6%. If you consider that they were nowhere during the previous elections, it was a massive triumph. With this result, AFD are now serious contenders for mainstream political power.
For a foreigner like me, the prospect of an AFD led government is terrifying. And not just because their leader Frauke Petry thinks 'Happy birthday' should be sung in German. She probably has many other things up her sleeve.
But how did this happen? How did AFD become mainstream?
I think I have an idea.
A few weeks ago, we took our bikes and set out on a small bike tour. Our plan was to cycle to one of the lakes in the outskirts of the town we live in. Germany is populated with lakes. Statistically speaking, there are supposed to be between 15,000 and 30,000 lakes around Germany. The lakes in Germany are not the awe inspiring kind like the ones that you find in Africa. As a matter of fact, one would be hard pressed to find a Lake Victoria, Lake Livingstone, Lake Rudolf or any of those fancy names white people gave lakes in Africa. They are mostly, like most things German, sensible and practical places to swim in during hot summer afternoons.