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.

35) Passing by

This might become the shortest story here. It’s just a few seconds from everyday life long.

I was cycling on the cycling lane and two people can from the other direction. The first one, on a scooter, was so far on my side of the lane that I had to switch to the pedestrian lane to avoid a collision. I was just about to roll my eyes, being annoyed, when he was shouting an apology after me. And I couldn’t help but smile for that moment.

34) Passport wanted

„I am at the moment in Nepal and in the past weeks we were hiking in the Himalaya. Always from one shelter to the next, hiking around the Annapurna mountain, the tenth highest mountain in the world. On the third day a friend of mine lost his pouch, with a bunch of money, passport and credit card, because his bag where everything was inside, was broken. As we noticed it, he immediately turned around, was at the police station and searched the hiking trail. We waited in the next village and thought already about how we should continue as a group. We already considered that we would have to cancel the rest of the trip. But when we were about to start an acclimatisation hike on the next day we were stopped by two German girls and a French guy who asked us if we were the group that was searching for the push with all this stuff in it. We had asked and met so many people that we were by now known as the group that was searching the passport. The three had luckily found it and taken with them. They had even refused to give it to any station on the way, since then most likely all the money would have been taken. Apparently, this happened before. And since that was the money for three weeks, we were overly happy that everything was still there. That way we could, after two days of searching and thinking, continue our track.“

33) X & Y, betrayal and trust

In the past few months, I took part in a training programme about peace-building, conflict transformation and reconciliation between people. We were a group of (approximately) 20 young people from all over Europe and the Caucasus region. It brings back some hope since the whole week was all about helping our societies. But without romanticising it, I want to tell one story out of that programme, which shows again: small things matter. 

We played the X-Y game. Several groups compete against each other, trying to gain as much as possible. In several rounds, the groups vote secretly for X or Y. When a group only cares for itself, it will vote for X. If you although don’t care about your groups gains, but start to think and care for all groups, you vote for Y. If every group votes for Y, than everyone can be happy, but if the other groups vote for X (or just one does), the Y group loses. So the game comes down to trust, hope, fighting for the community instead of selfishness. 

What happened in our group was that we started voting for Y. Every single round. We lost most of the rounds, but we kept with the Y. A pact was made between the gorps and violated by one group. We stayed with the Y. We said, “if we now also vote for X, we are no better but also just care for ourselves and nothing can change”. At the end we had the most minus points of all groups.

Where is the good message in that? Didn’t it show that sharing and humanity did not work out? No, this game works out differently every single time you play it. And in the reflection time afterwards, the best part came. We had an observer for the group, because he had played the game before in a different training. And watching us changed him.

He said, the last time he played his group only voted for themselves. Completely different to us. Seeing us voting for the bigger group surprised him. And he, a rather quiet person, said that by watching us, he found some trust again and saw a positive side in humans again. Some hope. He said this at the end of the training programme again, as one of the main things he took away from this training: trust.

I had no idea, that this could make such an impression, that it could affect the mindset of a person this much. It was so good to hear. He did not only think that way, it was also important enough to share this change with us.

One person matters, every single thing we do matters, even if it is in a game. So every single thing we change matters as well.

32) All together

At the beginning of February, the consequences of the regional parliaments elections in Thuringia were responsible for a lot of chaos when a new regional Minister President was elected. Outrage, emotions, political interest… suddenly, the whole population seemed to be awake. This story is not about which party people supported- but about the fact that people stood up for democracy, that they did not accept it or looked away when democracy was violated. Because this gave hope  back to some people, as a friend showed: 

“The past few days have fulfilled me with deep fear and disbelieve. About how history-forgotten and selfish people in powerful positions can be. And what they put up with just to follow their aspirations.

On February 5th my roommate and I were busy distracting ourselves from writing our respective bachelor thesis when we heard the news about the election of the Minister President in Thuringia. Shock was spreading, we had joked a few months ago that the FDP had come out of its insignificance, and now they suddenly presented the new Minister President? Seriously? Not only that with 5% of the votes you don’t show the majority will of the population, no, he had also let the fascists of the AFD lift him into office by a few steps (Here it should be noted that it is legally legitimate to call Höcke a fascist, there was a court judgement). We were speechless.

The first shock ebbed away and we began to research to find out the exact course of events.  There had to be something we could do. We soon realised that we were not alone with our indignation, everywhere people were calling for demonstrations and solidarity with the demos. The demand for immediate resignation spread like wildfire among the people.

Less than an hour after the public announcement of the election results, there was a demonstration at the state parliament in Erfurt, as well as in Jena, Weimar and Gera, and on the same day people in Leipzig, Berlin, Hamburg and other places throughout Germany came together. This feeling of solidarity and support strengthened me and gave me confidence. 

In the following days I followed the latest events with fascination. On the 8th of February I could finally breathe a sigh of relief. The Minister President had resigned, change would come!

I am grateful to all those who objected, who took to the streets, who showed solidarity and showed what democracy is and what humanity means.”

31) Letting go

Sometimes it seems human enough if people act totally normal. In the sense of not doing anything bad. That I see as something positive.

I noticed that when traveling through Georgia. To listen for three hours to the partly tiring questions of the seat mate in the plane was rewarded with an offer for a ride from the airport into town. After a short judgement whether we should trust the honesty of the tow young men, we  were taken half an hour to the next town and to our accommodation. It was not even on the way of our drivers, nevertheless they asked their way through the streets of Georgia to our address and drove us their safe. That was in itself already very kind. Especially happy made us however that they did not ask for anything in return (was is otherwise often the case). Also no questions for the phone number, future contact or any other kind of importunity. 

It could be sad, that this is something special, but for me it was just a positive example.

30) The Journey of a Wallet

“Now I also have a story 🙈

A friend and I are currently travelling in South- East- Asia and are hitchhiking at the moment through Vietnam. Yesterday we forgot a wallet with a drivers license and a credit card in the car of our ride share. We only noticed 100km later, when we were already in another ride share. We knew nothing, no name, not even the number plate or where the car went. Therefore we hitchhiked back those 100 km and asked the people from the town, where we had left, if they knew the driver or if they could help us somehow. They shared our problem on facebook and that way the message was spreading quickly, that two foreigners from Germany had lost a wallet. At the same time, our driver had found the wallet and posted as well, that he had the wallet of two foreigners. After we had been invited twice for food, we eventually got over several ways and people and with a lot of help and friendly locals our wallet back. A bus driver brought it to us.

I hope this is understandable explained 🙈😂 It was really confusing and we also don’t know exactly how the wallet found back to us 🙈”

This is a story in which humans actually act better than I would expect- that is wonderful to hear. Communication is everything.

29) Act to impress?

These stories stimulate some thinking- where does humanity start?

“Thanks to the one story I came to the idea to tell you an event that has some similarity. I do run the risk of spread the uncomfortable smell of self-praise. In fact, I’m concerned with the question: Why do humans do something “good”?

My uncle Karl, who lives in Tanneberg in the Erzgebirge [at the Eastern border of Germany] survived the first world war safe, his sons however not the second one. One died in France, another one in the Ukraine and the third one starved to death in Soviet captivity.

Decades later I visited him in Tannenberg. Uncle Karl, by now over eighty years old and widower, showed me a letter from the German War Graves Commission, that notified him that the bones of his son, who died in Le Havre, were moved to a central German military cemetery 150 kilometres West of Paris. I said: ‘uncle Karl, we are going there’. As a retired man, he was allowed to visit us in Stuttgart [the narration takes place in the time before German reunion, where this was not self-evident] and together we went on a big journey through France. We stayed over night close to Sacré-Cœur, visited the Eifel tower and other sights and found after our continued travel the grave of my cousin on a huge field. Somehow we also had the desire to get to know Le Havre. Close to the beach we found ourselves in a festival-like event. It was the annual celebration of the D-day.

On the way home we stopped another time in Paris. In a restaurant we witnessed how two waiters took of the coat of a poorly looking guest and wanted to keep it, because he could not pay. Spontaneously I intervened, asked of how much they were talking about and payed the sum. Later I asked myself whether I just did that to impress my uncle Karl. At the beginning, I denied. As a former member of the Hitler Youth I traveled in my younger years always full of guilt abroad and would have used as a patriotic thinking person every opportunity to show a more positive sight of us Germans. But if I had been sitting alone in a German restaurant, would I have acted the same way? I don’t know. I really don’t know.”