4) My friend Mustafa

In the summer 2013, I found myself and a group of fellow students on a plane towards Amman, Jordan. We were going to spend two weeks planning and attending a summer camp for young Red Cross/Red Crescent volunteers from Denmark, Jordan and Palestine with the overall goal of debating gender issues in our countries. Little did I know that my main lesson this summer would have much less to do with gender than humanity in general. 

I had never been to the Middle East before, and before landing in Jordan my naïve adventurous 20-year-old brain imagined delicately drawn deserts like in Walt Disney’s Aladdinwhile the slightly more rational soon-to-be-journalist side of me remembered news reports from the Arab Spring and revolutions in the neighbor countries. Real world-Jordan was peaceful and laid back but obviously not like the fairytale. Nevertheless, I had an experience worth a movie on that summer camp.

At the camp, I met a boy called Mustafa, and we became friends almost from day one. Almost. Mustafa was from Palestine and Muslim. I was from staunchly secular Denmark, where many people consider religion a bit old-fashioned and more like a target for jokes – especially the beliefs we do not understand. Mustafa had got to know this when a Danish illustrator’s satirical drawings of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad had caused a huge outrage all over the Middle East followed by a boycott of Denmark and Danish products.

Mustafa was a nice guy. He helped carrying out activities at the camp, he was a skilled artist, and his English was so good that he was one of our best translators for the participants who only spoke Arabic. What I remember most about my first impression of him is that he seemed rather shy. But in his own quiet way, he revealed his many talents and willingness to share them to make the camp a great experience for everyone. 

So, on the last night of the camp he really blew my mind.

We had a cultural party with Danish fashion show, Arabic dancing and loads of sweets from both sides of the world. We were sad about the upcoming goodbye the next day but also full of joy and candy from the party. By the end of the evening I was sitting outside and breathing in the Jordanian night with a couple of friends, including Mustafa. We were probably already reminiscing about the camp experiences and what we learned about each other’s countries, but in the middle of the conversation Mustafa looked shyly at me and with a “don’t be sad” he told me how much he had despised Denmark only one week ago. 

What he knew about my country was related to the Muhammad caricatures, and like many others he had been outraged. He had even been burning our flag on the streets of East Jerusalem. The reason he initially went on this summer camp was that he thought he was going to a camp for Arabic Red Crescent volunteers, and he had gotten a chock when one of my classmates had presented himself on the first day with a “nice to meet you. I am Martin from Denmark!”

I could not believe my own ears. Mustafa – the calm, nice friend I could never imagine doing harm to even a stray dog – was sitting there with me, telling me how he would once have hated me just because of the fact that I was from Denmark. “But now I see things differently,” Mustafa assured me. “I am really happy that I went to this camp because now I have seen that you Danes are awesome people.” I was giddy with joy. Not because he called my people “awesome” but because he – just like that, with these few words – had made the camp so much more meaningful than it already was. “And when I come home I will tell all my friends that I know some nice Danes,” continued Mustafa, and my cheeks started to hurt from all my smiling. “Then they will also know that you are good people, too.” 

Looking back, I always wondered what exactly we did that changed his mind. The truth is, we did not do anything specifically. We were all just a bunch of young people having fun, learning from each other and giggling over language mistakes. Cultural differences and religion did not take up much space in our minds. We Danes had been briefed from home about potential differences to be aware of – girls should cover their knees and shoulder, guys and girls should not hug or touch each other – and at the camp, the young Jordanians and Palestinians were just laughing at our attempts to be conscious. In the end, our ways of being young and having fun were not that different. 

I am not writing this story to paint a rosy picture of the world. I do not mean to deny the existence of religious extremism or insinuate that Westerners or Arabs, who never travelled or met foreigners, are automatically narrow-minded or racists. 

I am writing this down because it is a good story that always put a smile on my face. And we do indeed need smiles in times like these, when we close our eyes and borders to what we do not understand. Last but not least, I am writing the story because I cannot help but wonder whether Mustafa or good people like him are currently stuck in a refugee camp in Greece or being bombed in their own home. 

It is stories like this I want to remember and pass on for the rest of my life. Both in the middle of a humanitarian crisis but also in the daily life because a story like this hopefully can generate the smiles that will make us tear down the walls around our countries and our minds. 

(This story written down by Ida Scharla Løjmand)

3) Gratitude Lost and Found

It happens now and then, that you lose something important, the keys, wallet or similar. And you  usually feel gratitude and relieve, if someone finds the lost things and brings them back. Not always although, as a friend experienced when he found someone’s passport and informed this person about it. The owner picked the passport up, with an attitude as if he was taking it for granted and the gesture was not worth any special thankfulness. My friend also did not see it as a special act, but because of this behaviour someone else stood put in a positive way for him. Not too long ago, he found the credit card of someone else and could identify and contact the owner. And this person was overjoyed and thanked him a lot, with chocolate and friendly words, that showed how much he appreciated this little act. And I believe, this is also a part of humanity: gratitude.

For many, the bringing back of lost things is already self-evident. And when my friend told me this story, it made me think that maybe especially nice people can think of less occasions that are outstanding enough to get told here, because they see these humane gestures as natural.

2) Bus tickets for two

“That was super impressive: right now there is a woman in the bus and she thought, because the child is only three years it would not need a ticket. But then the bus driver came and said she needs to buy a ticket for 7 Euro for the child. The woman did not speak German properly and she called someone on the phone und you could hear from the conversation that she could not pay the ticket. And then there was a man, two rows behind her, who gave the driver 10 Euros and said he will pay for the child and he did not even want to have the change back from the woman 🙊🙈.”

Taking the bus is such an everyday experience, that I can imagine this situation very well. And this narration put a little smile on my face. It made me ask myself: does every single Euro always matter to me, when it is needed somewhere else?

01.01.19: 1) Listening in Berlin

At work, I meet every time the most interesting and odd people. Or maybe they are not odd, but you do not meet them usually, because you rarely have to do with so many people in such a short time. But through my work tell me many people short (or longer) stories of their life, that touch me or make me think. One, that stuck to my memory, was from a woman in Berlin.

She told me about her day, when she did not went as every other day to work. On this day, that woman stood in the neighbourhood Marzahn with a sign, which said that she is listening. She gave people the opportunity to come to her and talk to her, to tell her their thoughts, worries, problems or wishes. She did not say anything herself, but stood there so others could come up to hear that she would listen to them.

Usually, at work I tell others things- this time, someone else told me something new and reminded me of something. This woman reminded me, that it is important to listen. Not to give advice, but to actively listen.