45) Among Runners

“I find it every single time again impressing, how athletes are helping each other, motivating and supporting one another, without ever having met before. Nevertheless, they are talking together, laughing or provide each other with food and such.

This was the case for me at a running competition, when I had given a little too much and just before the finish simply couldn’t run anymore and had to sit down on the side, because my body just said ‘no’. I did not even had to ask around, when already a young guy with his girlfriend came and gave me a big bottle of Sprite, which was in that moment like a present from god. It was super friendly of them and thanks to their help, I could still finish the competition. Unfortunately, I could not really thank them afterwards.

However, it always shows me how relaxed and helpful people are towards each other at sports events. Especially if you compare it to the everyday life, where people tend to complain about the smallest issues.”

44) Finding humanity in a tent camp

In autumn 2015, Europe experienced the arrival of a previously unknown number of refugees. While this time has caused many debates and created stories, inspiring and disturbing ones, I did not experience it first-hand. I was not in Europe at that time and could only listen to the news and stories. Years later, they are still being told. One I want to share here, the way it was told to me:

In the summer 2015, a big group of refugees were building up a camp in the centre of Brussels in the Maximiliaanpark. He (the storyteller) was approached by a friend and they started helping in the camp. Someone had the idea to create a facebook group and immediately, it started growing. People donated tents, food, clothes, things you would need. The government at that time was not really doing anything at the time. But people stepped in. There was someone working for Doctors without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) in logistics. And for him it was not a problem to arrange some better tents. That way, they got some bigger and more stable tents, where you could actually stand inside and also larger tents for office space.

“In a couple of days, people flocked into the camp from all over Brussels, and Belgium really, and volunteered together with the refugees for building the camp. We created plan, one guy from a print shop had the possibility to print things on plastic— so we had maps of the camp everywhere, all the signs for where people would go to… all in English, Arabic, French and Dutch. It was actually all quite professionally organised by a bunch of people who have never done this before.”

As time continued, He asked about being the spokesperson for the tent camp. Which was needed to get some support, while the government was not doing their job fast enough, providing refugees with necessary shelter and help and so on.

Then winter was coming and they knew that the camp was going to get too cold, and started looking for other options. They started contacting people around Brussels to take in people from the camp, voluntarily. First came the families with little kids. Later, when more people opened up their doors, single persons who were mainly younger men, were taken as well.

But still, there was a need for a shared communal space. The refugees came from several countries and they needed a space to be among each other, to exchange experiences as well as information.

“So we found, actually across the street from the refugee camp, there was a building that was empty and that was going to be demolished next year. But it was in perfect condition, they just wanted to remove it and build apartments there. So we talked to the owner and the owner was like ‘Sure, you can use that.’ […] and we had a whole building that we could actually use.”

They had a communal space, place for organising and meetings and also storage for things like boxes with clothes. The house they had for about a year, so that gave some time to think further.

The story of this camp continued, but He started to work for a while with MSF, who had problems working with this in Europe unusual situation. Visiting refugee camps all across Europe, He could see the different scenarios and how all the countries have different ways of dealing with the situation and the people. It was a “mind opener”, about governments and people. But after the work with MSF and the intense time with the tent camp, He needed a break.

So, where do you see the humanity in all of that, I ask.

Well, not in governments, in His case.

“When it comes to the people, I feel so many people change. For instance, in Brussels: you had people who live in the neighbourhood who just come and see. You have those people, when there  is an accident, they actually go and look. That was the same thing in Brussels, you had those disaster tourists. And they came. But because of the friendliness of the atmosphere, there was no hostility or whatsoever. Yeah, there were some fights once in a while, but in general no hostility. You had people making music, kids running around in the whole place, it was a good atmosphere. So those people actually stayed. And they started volunteering. Not all of them, but it was super nice to see. You have people who live quite segregated in Brussels, and they come and see, they see the kids, and all over sudden you get the question ‘Can I volunteer in the kitchen?’ — And I’m saying “Yeah, that here is the person dealing with the kitchen, so there you go.’ It’s a rolling effect. And that doesn’t go for everyone, but I do think that is where you find the humanity. You know how disarming a smile can be?”

[…]

“I think you always have to look at it from the positive way. Because if not, you get pretty devastated. If I wouldn’t see my friends in Palestine cope with the situation there and how they have dealt with the torture and so on… If I was just listening to the torture stories, I would be devastated. But I listen to the other side of the story too. That is the resistance, the strength that they have, to go on. And that is something so powerful, […] You listen to those stories and then you go like ‘this is also part of humanity!’ You can see it everywhere.”

And this is the essence of what these stories are about. Humans cause a lot of destruction. But there is also a lot of love and care, and this should also be shown.

“The world is full of these stories.”

43) A ticket at Christmas

“In the week before Christmas, I wanted to go by bus to a friend. But I had forgotten, that you can pay in the bus only by cash, and I only had my card with me. I still had 10 minutes time until the bus would start and wanted to go to the next ATM, when a young man behind me asked: ‘How much does it cost?’ 4,50 € and he gave me a 5 € note. It is Christmas time.”

Of course, it would be great if people were always so kind and empathetic, as in the Christmas time. But it does not make this gesture smaller and maybe every year are people doing a start at Christmas.

42) Books and Hate

This story is a bit different than the usual ones. It is a speech that was written in the name of a group of people as response to some islamophobic incidences (including burning of Koran books) in Sweden in summer. They are describing what to fight against. This purpose is giving them quite clear words, about the awareness that hate as a response to fear is not a good solution. The message counts in other places and for other types of hatred the same.

“The Crime Prevention Council reports that ‘In recent years there is an increased reporting of Islamophobic hate propaganda and Islamophobic hate crimes taking place in Sweden and around Europe’. Islamophobia can take various forms such as propaganda, social and economic discrimination, threats, harassment and incitement against ethnic groups. In recent years, we have also had a number of examples of vandalism of mosques and burning of the Koran.

What has happened the last time is more than an isolated event – more than the burning of the Koran or attacks on mosques. The incidences are part of a more comprehensive effort to divide our society and create polarisation between different groups. The purpose is to create a ‘We and Them’ who do not stick together, who are not equally valuable and who can not live together.

History has shown what such polarisation and demonisation can lead to. This is not the first time that books are burning in Europe and as Henrik Heine said, ‘where you burn books you end up burning people too’. We have seen this during World War II when Jews, Roma, homosexuals, and dissidents were placed in concentration camps under Nazism. And we know what the ongoing polarisation can lead to, such as in China, where the Uighur ethnic group is oppressed and forcibly placed in various retraining and labor camps. It has also led to the terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011 with more than 70 victims, the terrorist attack in Stockholm in 2017 with 5 victims, including an 11-year-old girl, and the terrorist attack on a mosque in Christchurch in 2019 with 50 victims.

Islamophobia, Afrophobia, Antisemitism and other types of hatred create a fragmented society characterised by violence and abuse. One can also note that Sweden’s problems can not be solved with Islamophobia. Islamophobia can not be solved with riots either. Because the riot will only destroy our properties and our society. And it will only be used to spread Islamophobia.

It is often said that Sweden has major problems with crime, racism, sexism, discrimination, segregation and other types of extremism. Yes! These problems need to be discussed! And these problems need to be addressed! But they can NOT be tackled with hatred – whether it is Islamophobia or something else! And they can absolutely not be solved by force or riot!

A better Sweden demands that we all deal with these problems and examine their social, economic, political, legal and intellectual causes. This requires extensive cooperation between individuals and organisations, including politicians and civil society actors, economists and lawmakers, academics and journalists. Then we must find appropriate measures to combat Islamophobia and other hateful ideologies that divide our society.

A better Sweden demands that we go from words to action but also from hatred to solidarity and that is why we stand here today.”

41) A new place, a new do-gooder

Moving, again. Again a new town, new ways, a new country. New customs, a new daily routine. New people, a new social environment. Different weather, different food. A new flat, that I will get used to. And in the current situation, first and foremost: two weeks of quarantine, two weeks alone with my thoughts. All chosen by myself and first-world-problems. But upon arrival, there is still always a bit of melancholy and desire for the home and the familiar.

What is the best that can happen to me in such a situation? When a new classmate, who does not even know me yet, in a jolly mood, light-hearted and uncomplicated approaches me and offers her help, with whatever I potentially could use some help for. She, who picks me up late in the evening, without the need of asking her, from the train station and walks me to my new place. Not only because of the logistics, but more for morality that was a great support. And maybe, it is the begin of a friendship.

40) Pick me up when I am down

Recently, I failed a very important exam. Not only did it catch me very much on surprise, but since it was the final exam it also had quite some consequences for the plans I had for my future. I don’t need to outline how miserable I felt at the beginning…

This is the moment when I wanted to be left alone while also not wanting to feel alone. The time when I wanted someone to help me while also stubbornly rejecting suggestions. When I wanted people to ask how I am, feel with me and my situation, but I also did not want to tell the embarrassing, devastating story to everyone. When I needed my family and their support the most but was also annoyed by it. When I knew I needed help but I also hesitated to ask for help. When I my thoughts were circling only around problems and I knew I needed a break, but simultaneously I could not really take a break because I felt under constant time pressure to get things done.

Probably most of you will know these conflicting feelings and thoughts. I am not the nicest person in such a situation, I have to admit.

And still my family was bearing with me in this time. They did not call me out on my bad mood but were silently bearing it. They left me in peace during the day to let me do the work I had to do for dealing with my re-exam. They gave suggestions and encouraged me to ask for help, even though I did not always want to hear it from the beginning. They continued with well-meant suggestions that sticked to my mind until I eventually accepted them. They did not paint an illusionary picture where everything would be alright, but asked questions to assess my realistic options. 

And there were friends who were there for me when I needed support from people outside of the family circle. Friends I could talk to, to assess the reasons for my failure. Friends who helped me incredibly with their time and knowledge with my re-exam. Friends who were there for me to just talk and laugh and enjoy some good company in between the hours of work and negative thoughts. Friends who shared my faith and who I could talk to the best about our situation.

Also my colleagues at work belong to my friends— they showed a lot of sympathy and gave me the time and quiet that I needed to manage next to my work also the workload for university.

I can feel the tears just writing this down, because I’m so incredibly thankful for having such people in my life, who I will support the same way if they need me. I hope they know that I love and need them more than I can express in words these days.

39) Angels of the Community

The memory is years old. I had been bearing with them, those little beasts that are well-known and feared in the time of the autumn weather, little beasts called “virus”. For weeks they were living in my body, making trouble, my nose was running, I lost my voice. Always the same procedure: fever, headache, blocked bronchia, antibiotics. There was no end in sight, I urged for relief in form of penicillin. The threats on the instruction leaflet however- in my case, they became true. The bitter pill had just reached my stomach, as my body was singalong “I am allergic” and my mucosa started swelling.

With one hand I was grabbing the phone, the other one was holding the aching entrails. But in the line I could only hear the monotone voices of automatons, who were ignoring my complains. I dialled through several available emergency numbers without success, while in my stomach was by now a firework of seizures. My caring husband was not at home and with him was the car. My worried neighbours wanted to drive but … where? Pure desperation directed my view towards a shimmer of hope in the community leaflet, with the number of the welfare centre of the Diakonie (charity organisation of German Protestant churches).

And the voice on the other end was “live”. I felt immediately that it belong to an angel that saved me. While “angels” are usually depicted male, mine was called sister “Monika”. And her voice sounded as if she had chosen to make “helping” her profession or at least her honorary appointment. By coincidence she just came to the office to do some desk work. And this is how my lucky streak in the misfortunate situation started. Yes, she was going to drive me to her half-god in white. The gods in white are the bosses of the angels. In this specific case, they were the general practitioner of the community.

We met him at home and asked to be heard, knowing that it was his free day. His friendly smiling face took a knowing expression and inside me grew the comforting certainty, that there was no danger for my life anymore. Quickly there was aid against all my illness noted on the prescription and thanks to his contacts to the pharmacy it arrived quickly in my pocket and at home into my mouth. Soon, the aching became bearable and were gone by the next morning.

He is not wearing white anymore, my half-god and saviour. He is dressing like a human, like You and me, and like that his practise is working as well. That is how I knew him for decades.

by KRina

38) A tree for friendship

„The more I think about the human species the more I am grateful for its existence. Despite wars between humans on the basis of their diverse cultures, religions, politics or general beliefs, people are still social beings. As I was in primary school, a teacher asked me and my classmates what primary item we would bring if stranded on a deserted island. The answers to that question ranged from bringing practical items useful for one’s survival in the wild such as food and water to items to pass the time. I, in particular, thought of bringing all my favourite animals. 

Since then, my desire for social contact also values the human species and not merely animals. Whilst wars are fought by human and the climate change and general pollution is made possible by and through humankind, people are also able to enhance lives and reduce suffering of others. The more I think about what is important in life the more I value the simple things in life such as laughing, talking and dancing with friends and family. There are things that are easily shared with one’s own species and whilst other beings can contribute to a happy life, human beings have enriched my life to the uttermost. 

In particular there is one story of mine that I cannot forget about but that emphasizes for me the kindness of humanity and friendship. Having been living for five months in Kenya during the past year, I have gotten in touch with both poor and rich people on the very countryside in Kenya. I witnessed the huge gap in living and working of those ‘classes’ of people that are to date still uphold by colonial structures interwoven into Kenyan systems and politics. I was lucky to work with an entirely Kenyan-born local initiative that operates for the marginalized people outside towns and supports many people in their understanding of their own rights and values besides more practical support in health and financial education and support. There I met Pauline. Pauline has become a dear friend of mine despite our differences in age, culture, and experiences. She introduced me to her dance group who welcomed me and awarded me the status of a ‘Massai’ – one of the old original tribes in Kenya. This was not only very surprising, particularly due to the sporadic contact I had with most of the dance group’s members but also a huge honour and rare occasion for any outsiders in Kenya. Pauline and the rest of the women group thereby welcomed and included me in their own community and treated me from that day on as one of their own. As my time in Kenya came to an end, by way of saying ‘goodbye’, Pauline told me that she planted a fruit tree on the day of my departure in my honour, so that whenever I come back I may see the fruits the tree bears. She planted this specific tree to value and never forget the friendship we share. This simple and kind gesture deeply touched me. It is coming from a true friend who despite all our differences accepted me as the person I am and welcomed me into her own world.  

If I imagine today that I would be stranded on a deserted island with only animals around I know that this would not make me happy in the long run. I would miss out on so much kindness and exchange that is happening through social interactions with one’s own species. I learned that human kindness comes often through small gestures, sometimes almost invisible. And in some instances it may take the form of a good friend telling you that she planted a fruit tree in your honour and in the hope to reunite once again in the future.”

The story of a friend

37) Love for dogs

Altruism and helpfulness does not need to be limited to humans, as a story about two dedicated “dog doctors” showed me.

“Near the village Hotovo we met two dog lovers from Germany, who made it their priority to take care of sick and injured abandoned dogs in Bulgaria. After acquiring some piece of land near Hotovo, they build up a camp for dogs. They took care in their own initiative of dogs in need, qualified and with donations and commitment. There are constantly 15-25 dogs in their care. Some have found again or for their first time a new home.”

Not only that I was told several times about this couple of dog lovers and their “estray paradise” (Streuner Paradies)— the narrator of this story was only through the thought motivated to a good deed, out of love for animals and humans: “Your mail today has motivated me, so you brought about a good action in form of a donation.”

36) To be a teacher

This story I wrote for a special group of professional group: teachers.

In our school time we used to do a lot of jokes about them, invented pranks, and talked about which one we liked the least.

However, in the years after I left school, I did indeed realise how much they have taught me. Not only the stuff that is not useful, where we asked ourselves occasionally for what we will ever need this knowledge. No, instead I noticed how some things that once seemed useless to me, were now actually useful. The best example for that are rhetorical devices in the German lessons. What is this going to help me ever again? But then, during my studies, I analysed a speech and I was looking up my knowledge from the German classes again. And suddenly it was important. Not only for this particular speech, but for every speech and every text I wanted to have a closer look at. Through the rhetorical devices I could understand how the authors were constructing their texts and speeches, what they want to achieve with it and what it their reasoning behind it. Not only did I memorise the rhetorical devices, but with them I had tools to question, to reflect, that I could always come back to. Even now, when I don’t know every single device anymore, I know where they belong and where to find them again.

That I learned all of that already in school, these steps I understood only years after my German A-levels. Not only German, but so many subjects. And since these insights are probably often just realised after some time has passed, I assume that most teachers rarely see or hear about the fruits of their work. Therefore, I want to say right now: Thank you.