There are places you visit, enjoy and there are places, you will never forget, because they touched your heart, they connected with you on a deeper level. Zimbabwe and South Sudan are places I deeply fell in love with. I had seen the horrors of the war that raged in South Sudan in 2014, that shows you what humans are capable of doing, with women lying on the roadside and their bellies cut open as a symbol to the enemy. But there is also this immense beauty of people and the landscape that is completely untouched with miles of swamps, river streams cutting forcefully their way into the soil only to disappear. I remember evenings where we sat around a fire place, after a day full of work in the scorching sun. We provided aid in remote places to a population that was on the brink of starvation, working against time. But when the sun set, we sat around the fireplace to have dinner, laughing until our bellies hurt. Those are the moments I take with me – the ambiguity of our human experience: the war and horrors, that I will never forgot and moments of love, abundant beauty, stillness and laughter.
In Zimbabwe, when I came here in 2019, we had electricity from 10pm until 4am, hours of fuel queues and a butter that cost me almost 15$. Poverty exists in your face, where people beg at every traffic light and parking lots and the highest number of Mercedes I have ever seen – and that’s me coming from Germany. But here is why I fell in love. After an early morning meeting at a local coffee place, I walked back to my car to realize that I had a flat tire. A minute later, the security guard responsible for the clients of the coffee place came and talked to me. He told me that behind the building is someone who can exchange my tire. 20 minutes later, my tire was fixed. He didn’t have to. This happens all the time. People who have very little are generous, curious to get to know you, and when you end up chatting to someone in a store that you never met before, it feels for a second you met an old lost friend.
I grew up in Germany, with a certain culture: to be direct, on time, disciplined and go after your goals. Over time, when I started living abroad, I realized that every culture offers a slightly different way of seeing and going about things. So I picked up along the way new believes that better worked for me: I learned in Asia, the Middle East and Africa to be generous, to give even if you don’t know if you ever get anything back. I learned in the global south that community and family is what keeps our humanity alive, what bonds us on a much deeper level and nurtures us as humans: I am because we are. We cannot thrive and evolve if we fight each other because we only destroy ourselves in the long-term.
But as with everything, culture, society, families and their norms and values can be ambiguous. They can also limit us, teach us believes that are not helpful, keep us stuck in a place that no longer feels authentic. Humans are always both: love and hate co-exists, violence and peace, culture that puts us down and culture that uplifts us. I chose to focus on love, peace and uplifting while fully aware of the dark side of humanity, the horrors and images of war, that I never forget. They also have a place in my heart and memory, because this is why I know we need to fight war and poverty with all the power we have to let love into our hearts. With every decision you make, is this an action out of love or anger and hate? You can make that choice every day.