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Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Run away - from yourself ?!?


Back in December 2015 during our trip to Zanzibar (were we went to attend the wedding of our good friends Hazal & Alex), I had an interesting conversation with a poor Indian man... 




It was even more than just interesting... it was also important. You know, one of those conversations that are more than casual chit-chat... I had this feeling already during we spoke with that man and it must have sunken in somewhere deep inside - if I remember and even write about it years later. It had really struck a string which resonated within me for quite a while... furthermore I had the sincere impression that man I spoke with felt likewise, it's probably not too far fetched stating that he was deeply moved as he had realized something very important... that was my impression anyway.



Traveling happy friend crowd



Sadly enough I can't recall his name as much as I would love to do so right now. What has stayed with me is the memory of our conversation on that porch in front of Alex' family's house. I was sitting there with Gamze, having a rest, pretty exhausted already (as it was a fairly demanding trip altogether... one of those vacations after which you need another week off, just to get back to normal - already getting there took us a good 24 hours...). So we are sitting there and this Indian beggar man comes along and joins us, starts talking. Well, he was more mumbling to himself so it was a bit hard to catch even half of what he said. Still, I decided to pay attention to him and his story.... Gamze saw that I got instantly very involved so she left and told me to take my time.  

His story was his life story, and not a happy one either... I could tell easily by the way he told it. It was a story of constant struggle and poverty that made him become the sad and resigned man sitting there with me that day. And despite the fact that his main motivation was obviously to receive some coins from me, he was also very eager to share and have someone listen. Therefore I listened attentively... he told me the story of his parents, how they had been brought as slaves to the island, many many years before. Growing up as the son of foreign slaves on a paradise island of constant struggle and severe poverty was a hard burden for him to bear throughout his life. He had a hard time struggling to survive, pretty much an outcast in a foreign country during all of his life. I can't remember whether he was born there or arrived as a small boy - nevertheless his dream and life goal was to finally be able to escape the island of Zanzibar, establish a new life on the main land and build himself a proper living.  



Golden walk on water



Escaping a paradise island to go living on the African mainland in Tanzania might sound a strange plan to one who doesn't know that life indeed is tough enough for most inhabitants of that mentioned island (as it is for many people in many places - places which might also be called paradise by the more fortunate visitors). Opportunities to make a living is sparse for the population, tourism is about the only major source of income for the island. And there is severe competition in this sector also... as the number of tourists who make it to this far-away island is relatively small compared to the economy they are supporting... 

So as the old man explained me his difficult situation of not having neither a job, nor money, nor even a passport, since many many years... I was inclined to believe him. Still, as unfortunate and resigned he seemed to me then, he also made the impression of not having given up hopes yet. Dreaming of leaving the island. Maybe he was just desperate, maybe it was just a story or a vague idea of him altogether...

Fact is, in a strange way I could completely connect to him... myself also having wanted to escape from somewhere or something basically since I can remember. And really, how many of us don't? There are innumerable things we are dreaming of escaping from: a job that we hate, that drains our life energies, a city, a country, a relationship, a mortgage, a memory or a situation that we are just unable to resolve, to handle, to close off or rather turn into something positive. Which then instead of constantly dragging down our spirits and minds could inspire us as this special challenge we were able to master...

I know exactly what I'm talking about. I've been struggling to escape for years. To do things differently... do things better. But then I kept repeating old mistakes and just couldn't figure out why. It took me a long time and much unhappiness to figure things out... and this everlasting journey has only just begun. So often I had wanted to leave the place I chose to live in, with the naive idea it would change my life to the better, resolve the things around me that are no good. But of course it never did... it didn't radically change the discontent I too often experienced at work, nor the feeling of isolation and insecurity. Not having any real friends and not being able to be the designer of my own life... these sort of things one has to get sorted for oneself. Only doing the right steps will ever improve anything. Moving away is normally not enough...


Coming back to my conversation. At times it did feel slightly awkward being a western tourist in Zanzibar... I mean, not having this feeling there, would require a seriously high level of ignorance (which luckily I was never able to reach). Just being able to travel there, staying at hotels, going to restaurants. Well, actually the travelling there part in itself is enough to be regarded by the locals to belong to the more fortunate... and with a good reason that is! Most of the people in Zanzibar surely wouldn't be able to travel to Europe... many of them not even to the mainland (which is a 2 hour ferry ride away). So, automatically as a tourist one is regarded a rich man or woman...


Beach people :)


Which in reality we really ain't. Not then, not now. Probably much more fortunate than a good majority of the people on this planet - yes - I am pretty aware of the fact. But rich, not really. Yep, all is relative... but back then, comparing my life situation objectively with that poor man, I did in fact question if I am indeed that much more fortunate. So I explained him: The recent savings of the money I had been struggling hard to earn - in a job that pretty much exploited me - I spent mostly on the plane ticket to go on that island. My life in the city is mostly a life of stress, wasting time, trying to get by. So in the end, I might have somewhat more money than him, but for what price...

Money indeed is a very useful tool, so I reasoned. But in itself it is not a solution to anything. As much as it doesn't provide neither true happiness, nor meaning nor any sort of real value to personal life or society in general. Good things can be done with money, that is true, only the drive, the motivation that lies beneath must have a true and deep source. A cliché much older even than the Beatles, but interestingly enough so many folks out there still don't get the idea... 

So, money is not a solution I explained to the poor man. And actually I was completely serious about it. Was my position to say this morally justifiable? Hard to say. Well, I did honestly feel that way - from my point of view at least - while feeling deep empathy and respect for this other human being. We shared and exchanged on the same level. Hard to say how much realistic it was to believe the only thing that could help this man was a bit of extra motivation... probably not too realistic. At the same time it was probably the only thing that would ever help him... pity - even if genuine and plenty of it - surely won't. Therefore I told him if he really does want to leave the island and works on this dream, then eventually he will succeed. 

Afterwards I did have the thought that probably this man has very little chance of ever fulfilling his dream... which is sad enough. But that sparkle of hope I saw in his eyes makes up for a lot... treating all fellow humans with maximum dignity unleashes enormous energies! Writing these lines feels a touch awkward again. It might sound like I'm patting myself on the shoulder for being the nice compassionate guy... which was really not my aim here, but in a way it might even be true. Being humble is very important! As long as it comes effortlessly... as long as I'm not bragging but trying to convey a message, an experience, I think it's justified to credit ourselves for our good moments... 


Speaking of message... I had planned to talk about escaping not being a solution... well, I hope this little story was a somewhat fitting introduction to the subject, I'll want to share more of my very own "escape" - stories later on. And after all, also escaping is not necessarily a bad thing only. It is a way of moving forward. "Escaping ahead" is what they say in Hungary... while we are doing so, a great advantage and help can be knowing what we are moving - or hoping to move - towards to!    



Gamze & me at Dar es Salaam Airport heading home


In the end I did give the poor man some money. Not too much... enough to match a good story? Maybe. Surely not at all enough to solve any of his problems. And who profited more? Him or me? Who was the teacher, who the student? Who listened more and better? Do these things really matter? Not so much, I think. What then as well as now most mattered to me, was having connected to someone and captured those couple of moments, having received a valuable lesson as well as memory to be remembered some years later. To accompany both of us on our future ways...




4 comments:

  1. conversations with people can change your point of view and help you grow indeed. so don't be afraid, talk to strangers! listen to their stories you will learn a lot about yourself too.

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    1. Indeed! Very insightful observation and great advice! ^_^

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  2. Was a great reading. Keep what you are doing Dom! Keep those post coming sir! :)

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  3. Hey Taylan, so glad you liked it! :) I'll definitely keep going and will be honored by your continuous interest! Be the first to try out my brand new e-mail subscription option if you like! :) Best of wishes!

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