Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Perspective, perspective, perspective...

There have been many instances in my life where people offered me the most useless advice ever. "It's all good, Sina, other people are starving or dying!" Yes, I always thought, other people might not have stupid problems like me, but I usually doubted that their poverty or sickness made them unhappy people, because I believe it doesn't usually make you unhappy to have less of a thing than me. I've seen many poor, sick people who have kicked my butt in terms of happiness, and so I always thought this advice was faulty and useless. My happiness cannot be defined by how unfortunate other people are. And then I came to Macedonia, watched people run for their life, and suddenly that mind set became a new one...

Yesterday, I lost my phone and I'm too poor to buy a new one. Being in a situation that couldn't be worse financially makes me feel everything from despair to unhappiness. The situation is brightened by the fact I do what I'm supposed to, still, waking up with no money to make a plan for my life that exceeds the next two weeks is not ideal. And then, for the first time in my life, I actually had to stop being unhappy about it because I considered the fate of the people I am currently working with. And I find it impossible to be upset about losing a phone when the people around me have lost everything, from A to Z.

I'm still not happy about losing my phone, but I'm currently traveling the Balkans in search of the real story, and that is the refugee crisis. I have recently been talking to men and women that left Aleppo, the West Bank or even the Balkans because their survival in their home country was impossible to sustain. One man said "I knew I was possibly going to die leaving Syria, but if I had stayed I'd be dead already!" At the border of Greece and Macedonia people are stacking up to catch a ride to the Serbian border, with nothing but a small backpack on their back. For me, who is watching this process for a living, it'd be genuinely f*** up to keep being upset about my ridiculous phone.

We don't find happiness if we compare our lives to those who have better lives than us, right? As a result, I never believed that comparing my life to those less fortunate than me could contribute to my happiness. Since this extraordinary experience I, however, beg to differ. In Kenia I made the observation that those kids I was teaching in the slums of Nakuru were less wealthy, but more fortunate than me when it came to knowing what makes one happy. And here in South East Europe, being happy isn't even the objective anymore. The refugees I encounter are no longer looking for happiness. All possession and fulfillment has left the equation of their life. Right now, the only equation that needs to be solved should end in x = survival. 

So yeah, I'm ridiculously poor, I have a pretty tough future looking ahead and things definitely could be a bit more comfortable. As soon as I even say this sentence I feel disgusted by myself. While that sentence is definitely true, I should be careful with what kind of energy I'm playing with right now, because everyone around me would love to switch lives with me. It might be ok for me to feel this way when I'm in Germany, surrounded with my rich friends who have no care in the world, but right now I have no right to complain, because I know better. So when you know better, you change the way you lived. And so have I...

Photos Courtesy Of Reuters

Friday, August 21, 2015

Why Does Kosovo Get Religious Diversity And We Don't

Yesterday, I arrived in Prizren, Kosovo, for a documentary film festival. Crossing the border to Kosovo was the first time I saw an image of Kosovo that was not connected to the Balkan War, only this time with my own eyes. My facts about Kosovo outside of my obvious study of said war was also lacking conviction. However, the first thing I noticed about stepping across the bridge to Prizren town center was the ability to catch sight of a mosque right to an identical building with a cross on top of it right next to it in the middle of the main town square. Hand in hand with that picture came one person veiled chatting to another in hot pants and a spaghetti shirt. Needless to say, I'm not used to this sight.

The Mosque has not become a regular feature in the Western European countryside yet. Neither has promiscuously dressed girl become an inherent part of the Islamic landscape. Instead, where I have lived so far, there is either an aspect of Islamophobia or criticism of the culture associated with the West predominant in society. My two most recent countries of residence, Germany and Egypt, were either critical of the burqa or the spaghetti shirt, afraid of the Muslims or the bad influence of Western culture on Middle Eastern tradition or looked at either the church or the mosque as their official place of worship. Evidently, in Kosovo there is no choice but a variety, and neither camp seems to oppose the other.

Why is it possible for Kosovo, a relatively small country with one hell of a history, to accept religious diversity, and most other places are still butting heads over who's going to heaven and who's not? That hell of a history might be an indicator: Kosovo's many years of communism, when Kosovo-Albanians were still belonging to the state of Yugoslavia, sheds light on the role of religion in the state to begin with. During communism, of course, all religion was non-existent. Today, Albanians being able to practice any religion is testament to freedom of speech and worship. It seems to me that, rightfully, Kosovo just seems to be happy to be practicing religion at all...

Kosovo also has one more rather big event predominant on its memory: war! In the West, we fight and hate and jeopardize our futures because we are unaware of the destruction. Most of us never had to endure the consequences that come with extreme measures against hate, and hating each other's religion is only the beginning. If we continued our courses, we would sooner or later experience war first hand, and without knowing war, it's safe to say that accepting a religion that's not ours is the lesser of two evils when comparing it to death and destruction. Kosovo knows war, and they will not follow a course just 15 years after that will lead them back to destruction. What they need is recuperation.

And if you really put your hand on your heart, and think about being a rational person for a second, then I believe it's hard to actually come up with a reason why acceptance wouldn't work. Both the Ottomans and the Christians were in the Balkans at about the same time in the past, and obviously, just as history demands it, they didn't like each other. In this day and age, however, we have overcome both the terror rule of Christianity and the Ottoman radicalism, as well as World Wars and corruption during communism, so it seems silly to not unite over something so easy to agree on: "all religion allowed" is better than "no religion allowed". Never mind, that the principal idea of almost all religions is love, and acceptance is part of that.

It is a beautiful experience for a person like me, home in both the West and the Middle East, as well as most other places there are, to sit in a cafe with a glass of wine with my hot pants because it's hot and listen to the prayer call. Culture is what we make it, and it would be a shame if any part of culture would get lost because it doesn't coincide with the restraints of religious correctness. Kosovo likes listening to church bells and minaret speakers because for a long time all they heard was bombs exploding. And maybe we should learn from their experience before we have to make it ourselves... maybe! 

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Top 6 Things To Miss About Living In Egypt

I've heard this story one hundred times at the very least: once you go to Egypt, you can't leave anymore. I thought I would probably be affected by the famous charm they all talked about but I never saw it affecting any of my decisions. Just a few weeks ago I left Egypt for the first time, and although I don't plan to move back there for good just yet, I definitely know the charm got me. There are a few things that would never sound good to someone except they have lived in Egypt. In a way, hating to live in Cairo is probably the only way to live there, however, that hatred goes hand in hand with some amazing things, and once you left you'll know what they are. I opted to make a list of the things that are worth missing instead of the things I would never miss because I'd be writing until the morning.

#1 Cheap, cheap, cheap
I really, really, really miss being able to afford things. Granted, I am a freelance journalist that doesn't make a good salary around the globe, but my little salary takes me a long way in Egypt. For just over 300 dollars I had my monthly expenses paid including all my food and whatever was left I would spend on fun times. Since a fun time for me included just sipping a fresh orange juice on a boat on the Nile, my fun was easy to finance because that whole thing wouldn't cost me more than 3 dollars a night.

#2 Not hearing "I have a stomach ache!" as an excuse for going out
Making plans for the night in Egypt means coming up with a plan. Done. That's it. Finding people to execute that plan with you is, unlike in the rest of the world, not even an issue in Egypt. Text a friend, or if you have to a couple, and if they don't wanna go they will know someone who does. And if all else fails, post on Facebook and twenty to thirty volunteers are available at all times. Making friends with people is easy, and staying friends is even easier.

#3 RBF with no questions asked
I was once known to people as the "nicest person they know". Those days are over! Thanks to Egypt, I have learned to have Resting Bitch Face at all times, even when I want to be friendly, so I don't get bothered by pesky men. I enjoy being friendly, but most of the time when I am not in a great mood it is nice to be in Egypt and actually having to be rude to people, or at least look like you would be if anyone dared to speak to you.

#4 Free Internet for everyone, everywhere
Yeeeeah, this "You may not surf on the internet in public"-business Europe has going on is ridiculous, at least if you don't have a data package. In Egypt, they throw the (ridiculously slow and unbelievably bad) internet at you. And you know what else is alright there? No prosecution of internet piracy. I know, I know, musicians and filmmakers are people too and I shouldn't steal from them, and I don't, simply because it's pretty impossible in Germany to even stream stuff on the internet. But when the new Bachelorette is out I'll be sure to download it right away.

#5 Take me anywhere for five dollars
Travel, oh yeah, travel. How could I not miss the pool in the middle of the desert, surrounded by sand dunes, with turquoise water just outside of Cairo? And how would I not appreciate being on the beach within an hour, for like no money at all? But most importantly, how much does it suck not being able to get on a ten dollar bus to the South Coast of Sinai where I get a three dollar hostel and have a six dollar lobster dinner in Dahab? Never mind that taking the metro in Cairo costs 20 cents, no matter to what station. In a nutshell, for no money at all there is a country waiting to be explored, and everyone does.

#6 Two words: Delivery "Everything"
In one year in Cairo, I cooked two, maybe three meals. What's the point of going grocery shopping in a country where I understand nothing, preparing all that food and having to clean after if they bring me every restaurant to my doorstep for a charge of a dollar? My greed is non-existent when it comes to the beautiful delivery system of Egypt: McDoanlds, Sushi, coffee, supermarkets, pharmacies and รก la Carte restaurants all deliver, even booze, usually around the clock, so why leave and deal with stares and annoyances? Hangovers have never been better...

Sunday, August 9, 2015

The Problem With Funerals

My first boo and I at age 4
Last week, I had to watch one of my oldest friends carry his father's coffin. His dad, a free-spirited musician, died of dementia at the age of 53, and there was no way I was going to miss being there for my friend even if he didn't need me. This was the first funeral of a father I attended after my own dad's and I thought I was doing really well. The boring service was neither entertaining nor particularly interesting, so my eyes kept dry. As the tears were coming once my friend, who was also my first boyfriend at the tender age of four, lifted that coffin, I realized death still touches me, but funerals don't. Despite having attended more funerals than baptisms, confirmations and weddings all combined, the functionality of them are rather questionable to me.

My friend's dad, Uli, had been a funny, passionate and super easy-going man who always made the impression to be so full of life it was impossible to imagine he would one day not be anymore. Instead of celebrating his countless achievements as a musician of works such as my first CD, ehm cassette (I'm older than I care to admit!), which I acquired as a perk of being his son's girlfriend in Kindergarten, a slow clarinet piece he composed was performed which evoked sadness and heartbreak. Unfortunately, that was anything but Uli, and in numerous sad song displays and the most boring preaching from a priest who clearly knew nothing about Uli his memory was distorted.

Why is it necessary to be sad one last time before putting a body in the ground? All the religious people around here will know the answer: in praying for the soul's forgiveness, Uli might be resurrected in an afterlife! The only problem with this is that, according to my own impression of the guy and my friend's confirmation, Uli wasn't all that religious. Now I don't need Uli's example to highlight how a series of prayers for a soul that was pretty unconcerned with their soul's performance after death makes no sense; my own father was spiritual, probably verging on atheist, but received his last sacrament. I don't think he cared, and I truly don't care either. If there is an afterlife, I'm sure my father got there because he was a good man, not because people sang sad songs at his funeral.

I realized that if I died and my Roman-Catholic religion would require me to be laid to rest with the help of a religious funeral my ghost would not enjoy that service. I'm not religious and I don't believe Peter is waiting for me at the gates of heaven. There probably is something past death but I doubt that a priest who I had never met, because I don't know any priests, could say a prayer that would make the afterlife more likely for me. It was then that I decided to write this piece to make sure my desires would be met that once I die my last memory with my family and friends would not be made in a church while people sob and pray for my soul.

Instead, I like the notion of celebrating life. At my funeral, I'd like them to play "Some Nights" by fun. or some Mumford & Sons because that's what I was all about, and not church canons. Also, please don't bring your clarinet or violin although I like instruments a lot. If there is live music at my funeral, I'd like to hear the banjo though. And the worst thing people could do at my funeral is show up in black although I do love black. If there really is an afterlife, people shouldn't be too upset I'm dead, so no need for sadness. The whole "I'll see you in the next life"-business is pretty unlikely, I get it, but I'd still like to think people would be happy for me when I die and go to hang out in heaven. In that sense, I reject all that religious chatter and sadness. What's up with that?