Of an old wise man and millipedes
"The biggest miracle that you can experience in a lifetime is not winning a lottery but living your whole life without ever experiencing a war."
Looking back, I should have given these words the weight they deserved.
I didn’t. How could I?
The person telling me this had prior to this sentence not given me any reason to believe that he dabbled in serious business.
We had only met a couple of minutes earlier. Despite the train being nearly empty, he had rushed and plumped himself on the seat right opposite me shaking my hand like a long lost friend. His name was Musa and he came from one of the Congos.
Millipedes and centipedes
Democratic republic of Congo? I had asked him.
“Congo is Congo!” he laughed. A hearty laugh that reverberated through the empty train. His hair all gray, was trimmed and neat.
“Do you miss Congo?” I had asked him. He had stared at me, a smile lingering across his lips not saying a thing.
“Is there anything you miss about life in Congo?” I had persisted for no reason other than keeping the conversation going.
This time he did have an answer.
“Millipedes!” he said simply.
“Millipedes?” I had asked, wondering what he was smoking.
“And centipedes!” he had added bursting into a gentle chuckle.
“Did you know that there are red and black centipedes?” he had continued.
He alighted from the train somewhere in the middle of nowhere at a small desperate looking train station. I watched him as the train pulled away. An old African man in Europe. Lonely isn’t quite the right word.
The folly of war
One incident recently made me remember him.
“Putin wants the whole of Europe” a visibly agitated Polish man was saying on TV. The interviewer held the micro phone closer to him.
“People in Germany shouldn’t feel safe. Putin’s idea of Russia is a border somewhere in the middle of Germany!”
Paranoid guy, I thought. The German interviewer could barely suppress a smile.
A few weeks later, the mood couldn’t be more different. 71 % of Germans according to the recent ZDF statistics are now a worried about a war. I can’t blame them. This is a country that was not too long ago a heap of rubbles.
I have watched wars erupt in many parts of the world often with a detachment of someone who is naïve enough to believe in their invincibility. A friend from the Balkans once told me of her memory of the NATO bombings.
“It felt like a solution. It was so exciting!”
But this excitement soon turned to desperation and later, to lifelong traumas as most wars eventually do.