14) The Will to Help

This story is about the rescuing of refugees in the Mediterranean sea. A classical image for me, when I think about the aim of this project. And an image that is often discussed. About the signs that are sent with it.

For me it is a signal of empathy and willingness to help. Then the volunteers do not get paid or a certificate for their CV and from many people and institutions not even understanding or support. What is it then, that motivates them to do something like that? Humanity is what I would say.

A friend, E., left 2017 for a sea rescue service. For him, it was a shocking picture that encouraged him to become active himself: the widely known photo of a dead child, whose body was washed ashore. Die deaf sign, symbol of the innocence of children and the finality of death, has moved many people. For E. it meant that he did not longer want such catastrophes to take place. “We are a human family”, is what he says.

That is how he ended up volunteering for a non-governmental organisation, for who he came to the Mediterranean sea- not for holiday but to support a sea rescue mission. Together with a group of more volunteers he searched at the coast in front of Libya. Sea rescue service, for clarification, means to intervene in life-threatening accidents on the sea. Life jackets and water bottles were distributed to the often badly equipped and informed refugees in the boats and the sea rescue coordination centre informed. They do not do any transport themselves. But that creates already ethical questions, especially in health emergencies. The volunteers on board need to be aware before every mission, that they might not be able to help everyone. Medical emergency response is intended, but it can happen that it is already too late for some- and even though you want to help everyone, the resources should be saved for cases that are not lost. That is also part of it and everyone has to question him/herself beforehand, what they can deal with and what they are up to do. Because as many things, humanity is not a simple concept, but one with different faces and angles.

E. and his co-volunteers did at the end despite their open eyes not once have to be active, just as other organisation in this timeframe. Background were the increased measure of the Libyan and Italian coastguard, that made sea rescue impossible for them. And still- through the reports of friends like him, the pictures from the news are suddenly close. And you can ask yourself: what kind of a person do you want to be?

foto: SK
foto: ED

13) When others help you to stand up

This time I make no big words before, only that much: sometimes you need to fall hard, before other people show up.

“Humanity- what is that? Is it something positive? A cynic would say, it is a weakness. I think the answer lies somewhere in between. My boyfriend is addicted to gambling. When he told me that one year ago I did not know at all what that means. And when he backslid in June, when he lost his wage of a whole month and we had to steal food for a few weeks, then I still did not realise, that it would be a problem. It was more like an adventure. Then there came a hard time. His payment of the Federal Law on support in Education (BAföG) was delayed. That was in September. In the following months, something was different. We were nearly like strangers. But the money was not delayed, he just lost it, additionally got into debts and all the food money, that I had somehow scraped up was also gone. That I discovered when I found him in November, starved and with shoe laces around his neck. And in all of this chaos there is supposed to be humanity? Yes, lot’s of it! Because we are still together and we are doing great, better than ever before. Because we have the best friends in the world. Friends, that gave us food and money, that helped me building up our destroyed world, humans who I could not imagine our life without. Whatever happens, my boyfriend and I, we have each other and after all this suffering we can share everything with each other. And we have the smartest, most understanding and funniest friends, with whom we can do sports and theatre and nonsense. Completely unburdened and crazy. What I want to say with this? Humanity are extreme downs, but humanity is also trust and teamwork and warmth. And when you look close enough, you can find your own humanity.”

12) Thumb up on the way

I mentioned it in a previous story: the most diverse people you meet on travels and when being on the road- and also that many diverse characters and attitudes. Many of these meetings helped me to move on along my own way- this time I mean this also in a literal sense.

For example when doing hitchhiking. I always stood together with friends next to the road and we met together many helpful and interesting people. Sometimes we had to wait for hours, on other occasions we got picked up on the first occasion. Sometimes it works better, sometimes less, but the people we met were all special.

There was the young couple in the small and packed car, that still took us with them to our destination. With them we played riddles on the way- guessing the capital of a country and similar ones.

One evening, after we had already commuted a long way and were quite exhausted, so that we only wanted to take the bus to our destination, we still got picked up by two young track workers, that took us with them on their way back from work. Not only to the destination town, but they drove us even to a suitable place to camp at a lake nearby. That had also something positive for them: on the way they noticed, how good of an idea it was on this summer evening, to jump after work once into the lake and they accompanied us. You could say, we gave them something back from our journey.

The first time that I was hitchhiking with a truck driver was a special event, because I had no clue before, how they live. I had always just heard stories. He did not only took me along for hundreds of kilometres, but also got me on the way some lunch and made the effort, to find a place to drop me in the town of my destination- despite additional inconveniences for him.

And whenever my neighbour on the seat next to me was a dog, the journey was a special event for me anyways.

Just last year there was a lot of discussion again about hitchhiking, after a girl disappeared on her way from Germany to Spain. Therefore, to make my message clear for everyone: of course hitchhiking should not be taken too easy! This is not a call to do all the same things as I did. Use your brain and listen to it. And especially for children: do not enter the cars of strangers, that invite you for a ride!

But as usual I only want to show that positive things exist, that good gestures are happening, even though we don’t always hear of them. Which channel would bring the news “today a hitchhiker arrived well”? But it is exactly what we should also hear. The helpful people exist just as they always used to, and they can enrich a day in a way that a normal bus journey couldn’t.

You never know another person, before you meet them. That might sound very banal, but in some way or another you have to get to know a person. Get over yourself and do a step forward. Therefore I feel gratitude towards those who took me a bit along their and my journey.

11) Working for Life

Family should be there for each other self-evidently. And friends are like a family, that you choose yourself. But there, where you do not expect it, empathy and support is bringing the most joy. A friend shared an experience with me, about a woman that went beyond her duty at work, for other people’s sake. A beautiful gesture.

“Nearly three weeks ago my grandfather died. Today I have been visiting my grandmother. At the same time she was visited by a person, that I did not know. It was a mobile carer, who, after my grandfather had several operations two years ago, changed his bandages and controlled everything regularly. Since mid 2018 was my grandfather no patient of hers anymore. But she still visited my grandparents on a regular basis, drank coffee with them, talked. And also today she was a great support for my grandmother. And all of this, despite the fact that she has her own family, despite the fact it is not her working time and she is only half as old as my grandmother. And that in a job, where she has a lot of stress and pressure. It shows, with how much passion these people pursue their profession and how much they give to their patients, far beyond their official working hours. A beautiful example of humanity, I think.”

10) Cake and the homeless man- part II

Don’t worry, this story is not an repetitive mistake, but a proof that stories can indeed create change. I do not know how many people read them and how many take them by heart I can impossibly measure. But they move me personally every time and I learn from then. Already the first narrations and messages, that I received, were worth the effort. Out of that, active action and eventually this happening recently evolved:

Do you remember the story a few weeks ago “Indigo, cake and the homeless man” (19th of February 2019)? Keep it in mind.

In many cities there are by now approaches to reduce food waste in restaurants. Here in the city for example you pay a small amount via an app and then you receive a collection of rests. You never know, what the places have left and what you can take with you. Therefore it was also for me a surprise, what I would get in the Café where I picked up some leftovers from the day. Among others, there was a piece of carrot cake.

Because it is lent, I did not want to eat sugar at this point of time. When I later left the supermarket and passed an homeless beggar in front of it, the thought therefore came to me, that he would enjoy having this cake more than I do. After a short moment of hesitation I went to him and asked, if he wanted to have the cake. He took it and thanked me.

It was nothing special, but it made me happy to bring joy to someone else. And even though I only discovered only afterwards the similarity to Indigo’s action, I am sure that it did contribute to my decision, since I have been dealing a lot with the stories in my mind.

My message is not that the world can be saved through giving cake to others (although, maybe not a bad idea). But that I think, small steps can make life a bit prettier for everyone. “Every human has the chance, to improve at least one part of the world, that is himself”, did Paul de Lagarde apparently say. And when I already create such a project, the best is when I also start by myself.

9) Tabletennis trilingual

I know, that it is a problematic topic every single time and in many aspects, but there are also so many positive stories in it: during the wave of refugees, that arrived in autumn 2015 in Europe, there were many acts of humanity on many sides. From some of his experiences reported a friend:

“Today I supported again the refugees on the fairground with the distribution of tea and food and what some people are thinking, about what is allegedly happening up their, is not true!

The most of them are so friendly, they try to learn our language and I wish I could learn some of these foreign words as fast as these kids! I am trying my best and try to speak a few words Arabic with them and then they are even friendlier to me. They help me with the words I do not know and ask me how I am, but they are even more surprised when I try to speak Arabic with them, because they simply cannot believe it.

If you see only the smile on their faces and the thankfulness for our help, you already know that it is worth to help!

Every day that I am there, I make new friendships and try to memorise unfamiliar names and faces and the best is when I can simply play table tennis with them! Try to announce the score in three languages, German, English and Arabic and concentrate on the game at the same time…

But my best experience so far was today: some of my friends had bought their own food (usually they get their food in the canteen) and invited me to eat with them. They, who had lost nearly everything, shared their lunch with me, simply unbelievable and truly rewarding!”

8) Being there for me

“Humanity I experienced ten years ago, because of a cancer disease on my own. A colleague from work, to who I did not have an especially friendly relationship (but a normal relationship among colleagues), accompanied me during my chemotherapy, for that I had to go stationary to the hospital, completely altruistic for a whole week. She sacrificed her holidays and took affectionately care of me. In this time, she took 120 kilometres away from her home an accommodation, to be close to me. Her presence, care and encouraging words gave me in this hard time a lot of strength and support. For me, that was next to the support of my family and friends an intense experience, to see selfless humanity and being able to accept it. This experience has enriched my thinking and acting and inspired me. 🙏”

7) Pilgrim in Japanese

The most frequently you meet humanity, at least that how it often seems to me, when you are travelling. As soon as you try, to get to know another country and the life there, people open up and show themselves from their most friendly side. Therefore, you can tell many stories of humanity from travels. These are some experiences of a friend, who has been travelling a lot, for example nearly without money to China and back, about where he found humanity:

“On my first journey to Japan, when I pilgrimed to the 88 Holy temples on the island Shikoku, I met already on the second day on the way a group of Japanese pilgrims. Those three ladies of “advanced age”, invited me to drive to the next four temples in their car. If I didn’t had open blisters on my feet, I would have probably declined. And if that wouldn’t have been enough, they got me a pilgrim bag and an accommodation for the night in a wonderful traditionell hotel, that I would not have found without their help.

And all of that, although I spoke only few words of Japanese.

On another typical pilgrims day, I woke up in the morning after a long sleep in my little room in an old temple hotel. I was not really hungry, so I decided to skip the breakfast and make myself on my way. But I did not calculate with the kindness of my hostess, who would not let anyone leave with an empty stomach.

So it knocked on my door (more like a scratching, because it was a paper door) and the wife of the monk entered. After a short moment Taboo (guess the word) I could explain her, that I was not really hungry and that I would leave soon again. She left and came back shortly after with a care package with egg, tofu and rice. Everything was packed thoughtful in a throwaway-bento-bowl.

Not even ten seconds later the next one entered. A tall Japanese in white pilgrims clothing and with a huge package dried pasta in his arm. At least ten litres. I started to doubt, whether I was still dreaming or whether I was sainted overnight, when someone else entered. A tiny woman,  in the beginning of her 30s, from Thailand. She spoke fluent English, explained me the situation and gave me additionally 9000 Yen, which is approximately 70 Euro.

There were many of these stories, that happened in Japan. From old women, that gave me clementines, car drivers that stop on a hot summer day to give me something to drink, crazy TV reporters and hoteliers, that let someone stay for free. Japan is for sure one of the most friendly countries that I had the luck to walk through.“

6) No roof over your head: Indigo, cake and a homeless man

When things come to the issue of homeless people and begging, I have to admit that I have a divided opinion. Many gestures have reminded me that they are also humans and that some people do pay attention to them:

I am talking about small things, for example when a friend, who was waiting for us in the city, was having a conversation in front of the shop with the woman who was begging there. Another friend is always giving some of the fruits she is rescuing from the market to homeless people on her way home. And a while ago, when I was sitting at the train station and waited, the woman next to me was asked for some money- and she gave the asking one not only coins, but also her scarf.

From another friend I received this heart-warming story:

It is past midnight and we’re standing in some backroom of the Labour Club. A faint tune of music is still lingering in the air and the taste of poetry has not yet left our lips. It is well past midnight and we float suspended in time. It is easy to live on nights like that. Earlier that day there had been a different event here – one without music and poetry, probably without beer but with cake. And now we stand in front of the leftovers of that sweet feast already half on our way.

‘Take some cake with you’, somebody says. But we are unsure.

‘I don’t know. I don’t feel like cake right now’, one of us says.

‘Well, if you don’t take it, it’ll be thrown away.’

‘In that case, I guess we should take some’, I yield. ‘If we don’t eat it, the boys will be more than happy to get some cake.’

We are handed a box and load it to the edge. Then we’re out the door and in the not-quite-yet-warm night. There are hardly any cars on the streets and barely more people. Only ever so often the door of a pub opens releasing a handful of tipsy people who are moving in bubbles of space and time parallel to ours as we had to the market place and down the shopping street. The town is beautiful at night – the grey of the asphalt now reflects a spectrum of blues and purples and black, the sky reveals its endless depth flecked with the occasional star, the warm glow of the street lamps makes the shadows dance, makes them come alive and move oscillating between flamenco and a slow waltz.

There is more life down by the street where all the clubs are. There is a constant stream of flocks of people between the clubs and bars and the street. Like fragmented planets they spin through the night on their own small orbits almost oblivious of the world around them. And we move in our own little orbit past the party people to where the street splits in two. We’re almost on the street leading to the cab rank when Indigo stops and points down the other road.

‘Wait’, she exclaims. ‘There is a homeless person. I want to give him cake.’

And so, we turn on our heels and march down the other street and come to a halt next to the man sitting on the ground, leaning against the wall of the building, overlooked by the happy and the drunk all around him.

‘Hi, would you like some cake?’, Indigo asks, and the man looks up. He is younger than I expected, and I can see on his tired face that it takes him a while to register that Indigo was talking to him.

‘It was left over, and they would have thrown it away, so we took a whole box full of cake. Feel free to take as much as you like.’ His face lights up and I wonder, when was the last time he’d had cake? He takes a look into the box and carefully selects the slices of cake he likes best. He laughs and holds them up to his face and suddenly at least some of the tiredness is gone replaced by the pure joy of a child, the inner child most have lost on the way, and I see all the beauty of the world mirrored in his eyes.

5) Water is a gift

It gets always said, water is life. And that it is one of the most important resources, that we have  and need as humans on earth. I personally have to think thankful to all the people, that gave me water and helped me through that.

Once in summer I underestimated the heat while running and I got really thirsty. I never miscalculated in that way and I still had a few kilometres to get back home. So I asked two cyclists, who came in the opposite direction, for water and they let me drink from their water bottles.

While hiking in Ireland, our water bottles were empty one day and we did not found anything on the way to fill them up. Then we also helped us out by asking and ringed the bell at a house in the next village. The friendly woman there did not only let us refill our bottles, but also invited us immediately for tea.

Also on our most recent cycling trip we asked people on the way, if we can refill our water bottles at their places. And even though it is often said, that Germans were withdrawn and unfriendly to strangers, my experience cannot confirm that. Since we did the first step towards them, everyone on our way helped us and also had a conversation with us about our journey. I often had the impression, that they liked to help us and did not only see it as obligation. Sharing with joy- isn’t that also a form of humanity- especially when it is about something as important as water?