Tag Archives: travel

Fall In Love Outside Your Culture, Don’t Read The News With Apathy

22 Jan


Photo 07-01-2015 12 08 42

Where we were


As the attacks on the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were happening, we were on a layover in Amsterdam. We had just gone into the city center, checked out the prostitutes and marveled at Amsterdam’s open communication about drug possession, and were back in the airport when I started reading the news.

Where were you?

Like many of you, I followed the news breathlessly, checking my news apps day and night. Probably like many of you, I had many discussions about extremists, the Islam religion, the Christian Crusades, and freedom of speech. Like a few of you, I drew angry comparisons between the media coverage of Charlie Hebdo and the lack of interest on the Boko Haram massacres in northern Nigeria. Read The Guardian’s article “Why Did the World Ignore Boko Haram’s Baga Attacks” here.

"I am Charlie. Don't forget the victims of Boko Haram"

“I am Charlie. Don’t forget the victims of Boko Haram”.

Following all the arguments, opinions, publications and blogs online, I want to say that as a writer, of course I believe in freedom of speech; but especially as a writer, I believe that it is a unique muscle which must be exercised with caution.

As a circus-fitness instructor, I can give you a million warm-up-your-muscles-carefully metaphors, the point of which being: I am happy that the muscle of freedom of speech has (so far) been exercised with such caution and such lack of prejudice in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo massacre.

I don’t like the idea of Charlie Hebdo making fun of the Prophet Muhammed and I understand Muslim outrage at this. Of course it should never lead to murder. There is a fine line between freedom of speech and inciting anger. Could Fascist caricaturists say they were using their right of freedom of expression when they depicted Jews in anti-Semetic ways?

Or Hergé's portrayal of Africans in "Tintin in Congo" - a great discussion of censorship, literary change, race theory, etc

Or Hergé’s portrayal of Africans in “Tintin in Congo” – a great discussion of censorship, literary change, race theory, etc

(My boyfriend has great arguments against mine. As a law student, he has had so many vivacious discussions with me with opposing opinions, which are really helping us sharpen our arguments & beliefs. For this, I am endlessly grateful to him.)

I believe there is a fine line between FREEDOM OF SPEECH and RESPECT. I would not poke fun at the Prophet simply because I respect the Islam belief that he should not be depicted nor made fun of. That’s okay by me. Yet this line is so fine and so fragile, I am sure we will have many more discussions about it.


Does it?


In the aftermath of the massacres and the great holding up of pens, I tweeted:

I understand that many people hearing about the massacres in don’t feel affected because they don’t know anyone. Well: you know me.

This message highlights a belief that I think about often and don’t yet have a suggestion of solving for.

Most of us will read the news with empathy, but admittedly with distance. After our layover in Amsterdam, we were greeted at Aberdeen Dyce Airport by a bulletin that read: “COMING FROM WEST AFRICA? There is a new epidemic called ebola…” and the information continued. We sarcastically remarked: “Oh, new, is it?” Ebola has been around for years, but now that it is reaching Europe, it is suddenly a topic of conversation.

But this cannot be critised. At the end of the day, most people won’t be concerned by the massacres in Nigeria or the Ebola in Liberia, because there is an international opinion of Africa as a poor, devastated continent on its knees, where terrible things such as AIDS and Ebola simply happen.


I want to confess: When the war in Syria was at its peak and the death tolls were raging through the news, I didn’t read it for very long.


Because Syria does not affect me. And why?

Because I don’t know any Syrians.

If I hadn’t grown up in Nigeria, my perception of the country would most likely be a wild place where terrible things like this happen – and nothing more. The following is from the excellent film Hotel Rwanda, a drama based on a true story during the Rwandan genocide of 1994. Joaquin Phoenix is a camera man filming the genocide for the news.

A few months ago, a young man called Peter Kassig (or, after his conversion to Islam, Abdul-Rahman Kassig) was captured during his humanitarian work in Syria and beheaded by ISIS. When I opened Facebook the morning after, it was filled with a good friend’s outrage, pain, anger and sorrow. She had known Peter. They had met in her home town Beirut, he had stayed at her house and she had even met his father. She posted pictures of him chilling on her sofa, mid-laugh, enjoying a cigarette. She raged about ISIS, about the state of the world, about how gentle and kind he had been. I read all her posts and I cried with her.

This really brought the ISIS beheadings home to me. I spent hours on the internet researching Peter’s humanitarian work, ISIS and the ISIS victims.

How do we connect this world? How do we raise a generation that doesn’t watch the news with complete apathy? – Or, god forbid, doesn’t watch the news at all.

It is the people we know.

I read the news the way I do because I have friends in the U.S Army & Air Force; in Lebanon and Israel; in Germany (thinking of PEDIGA rallies in Dresden & Leipzig); in Vienna; in Nigeria; in Peru, etc etc etc. When an earthquake happens, a massacre, a riot – I have people I contact on Facebook to see if they are alright.


That affects how I read the news.

My only idea so far is to urge everyone reading this to adopt a godchild; one living in Egypt, Liberia, Nigeria, Syria, Lebanon, Peru, Belgium, New Caledonia – perhaps in the country that affects & interests you the least – and then we’ll see how people read the news.


We CANNOT afford to separate ourselves from the terrible or joyful events happening in the world. We cannot afford ignorance or separation. I am happy we live in this internet-era of great digital connectivity. People argue that it is making us lose touch with one another – and yes, I’ve sat in cafés where no one speaks because everyone is on their phone – but the internet is connecting us, and the more we travel, the more we care about countries, people and fates.

I would urge everyone to travel to countries that don’t interest them, to make a connection and then see how their interest in the news changes.

Before we became a couple, my boyfriend knew very little of Peru and nothing of Nigeria. Now he is becoming an expert on indigenous civil rights and Ken Saro-Wiwa… and I am reading Václav Havel and Jiří Weil.

Travel, make friends, fall in love outside of your culture, adopt a godchild. Don’t read the news with apathy.

At the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Jan 2015

At the John Lennon Wall in Prague, Jan 2015


The Cookie Gun, and Some More Fun

5 Oct

The cat’s out of the bag: I’m back in Germany. I was being secretive about my return until I was told that everybody already knew I was back. But the anti-climax had a surprising climax: when I saw Mark, he told me that my return had been announced on the radio. So, thank you very much, obscure radio journalist, for making me feel famous and somewhat intruded!

My flight went smoothly and other than having an overly enthusiastic pilot, who stopped the films every now and then to let us know what exciting places he was flying us over, the only other excitement I had was at migration in Puerto Rico. Here’s the tweet about it:

Confused, migration in Puerto Rico had my bag go thru their X-Ray twice. The officer explained to me: “Your cookies, the book and the electric adapter were lying on top of each other like this…” Using said three items, he formed a gun. “And we didn’t like what we saw. All good though.” He packed my bag again. “We have nothing against cookies, after all.”

This tweet received some fun responses:

“Least it wasn’t a dodgy sex toy”

“You don’t need a gun. You’ve got a blog.”

“Not a revolutionary so no bomb, just a foodie who loves cookies lol”

And to Mascha’s response…

“Picture of the cookie-book-adapter-gun please!”

… come the following two pictures. I tried to mimic what I think it must have looked like in their fancy X-Ray machine. I’m sure one of you out there can do a better job, but this is the basic gist:

And the real deal:

See the gun?

Migration had a good laugh about it, and I went on looking for my gate, thinking that when you least expect it, life will display its great sense of humour at your expense, and in the end, you’ll have to laugh. Another example that comes to mind is when I crossed the border from Costa Rica to Nicaragua. We all had to pile out of the bus, open our bags for general inspection and let the migrations dog sniff it. This dog was so friendly and pleased with his job, that he excitedly jumped up to greet one of the bus passengers. This poor man instinctively threw his hands over his head and shouted: “I swear I don’t have any drugs!” We all burst out laughing: the dog was only being friendly.

Or when the inspection officer in Panamá went through my luggage and discovered a bottle of Colombian aguardiente (“fire water”, 29%). I explained: “I have good friends in Nicaragua.” When he found the second bottle of aguardiente, he gave me a sceptical look and I added: “I’m also a writer.”

I had a lot of ridiculous adventures while border-hopping. If you want to know more, just ask at the next reading.

a bag

Returning to Germany actually went a lot “smoother” than I thought. This could be because this time, as opposed to when I returned in March 2012, I was ready to come back. You’ll have noticed how I came to Germany and zipped back to Perú the instant I could. And in hindsight, I can say that I really needed to do that. I wasn’t “done” with Perú, and now, after four months of digging deeper, developing my Peruvian sense of identity (something I didn’t know growing up, and which I am only now developing), and collecting information for Munay, I’m ready to digest. I’m dying to give readings, I’m excited to publish Qayqa.

The first two things upcoming for Qayqa are to plan the book tour with YOU (yes, you); and to work on the book illustrations with Mark. Here are two pictures from his doodle book, which can give you a minute idea of how excited I am that he will be illustrating Qayqa:

by Mark Klawikowski

And I’m sure this one is sheer mockery of my blog:

by Mark Klawikowski

We’ve set aside a week in November to work on the illustrations. I’m excited to blog about our progress and perhaps sneak-peak the odd illustration now and then… We’ve already had a few talks about the style Mark wants to illustrate in, and what I especially liked was that he doesn’t so much want to illustrate scenes from the book, but rather: feelings. Moments of silence; moments that will (hopefully) bring you closer to the characters and let you stand among them, breathing in their air, while you take a break from the narrative.

It will be a very exciting progress, I am sure. And coffee-fueled. Bloody hell.

What’s it like to be back? I’m loving this wild autumn wind. I timed my return so as to not have too much time to think, but instead jump right back into work. Today, I sent out a tweet concerning the Backpacker Poem Project. All I was missing was one line, so ♥ THANK YOU ♥ to Hannah Platt and Alonso de Belaunde for their quick response and romantic video! Watch out for the epic Peruvian hat Hannah is wearing; it make her looks like a “cute egg”, as she would say!

And here’s the shout of celebration: The Backpacker Poem Project has received sixteen … oops, make that seventeen (thank you Gerhard!) video contributions from around the world!!! They were sent from Canada to Ecuador… from Guatemala to Finland… from Germany to Nicaragua. Editing is well underway and I’ll have it up soon! Until then, here’s a small screenshot and my THANK YOU smile:

The next few weeks will be slightly crazy for me, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it. It involves a lot of creativity and travelling. It’s just strange to be thrust so suddenly back into the artist life of survival, after being a backpacker and hovering uselessly at bus terminals and sitting around on boats. Almuth found a watch lying on the ground in Iquitos, which she kindly gave to me. I started telling people the time just because it didn’t mean anything: “It’s 3:35 pm, and that means nothing. We have nothing to do and nowhere to go. 3:35 pm, everyone!”

Now, the challenge will be to keep a clear head. Yesterday, I met up with Udo Eberl, director of the upcoming performance EXODUS. We had a great talk about my role in the performance, some exciting brainstorming, and now I have some challenging texts to compose for my characters. Next week will be full of all-day rehearsals.

This weekend, however, are the autumn performances of the Circus Serrando! So if you’ve been dying to get out of the house and have some family entertainment, PLEASE COME. This year’s performance is Annuschka und die Vier Jahreszeiten, at 3 pm on Saturday 6th October and Sunday 7th October, Altes Theater, Ulm. Family entertainment for all you young at heart, and all your children.

Click HERE to go to Serrando’s official website and view our trailer.

This is where the performances will be:


I just re-read this post and feel like I must seem to be overflowing with energy. Actually, it’s the damned jetlag. All day I feel like I’m a drop of water desperately hanging onto a leaf (I’m sure this is a German expression but I cannot remember how it goes), exhaustedly trying not to collapse onto the ground. Around 10 pm, I am wide awake, a chatterbox, and getting kicked out of friends’ houses.

As I mentioned in the previous post: I’m ready to “squeeze my eyes” and give back some of the beauty I saw on the road. I have a lot of energy for the upcoming performances and my book tour. But what’s the point of having a blog if I can’t start right now! The following pictures were taken on a national flight in Nicaragua, and below is what I was writing at the time.

I think this excerpt will be somewhere towards the end of Munay. This is Anahata speaking about her growing relationship with, and understanding towards, the love of her life: the clouds.

I realised that to see clouds from below was to see them with less illusion. I used to pity the townspeople for looking up and never seeing how high a cloud continues, what stories he tells of winds and altitudes. They only saw the base, I thought, a flat dimension, just as they saw the horizon as a line and the sun as a perfect circle. When I thought of them, I thought they lived in ignorant isolation. The things I had seen, the wealth I had collected in my eyes, set me apart, I thought.

But now, clipped, crippled, willingly fearful and cautious, I looked up and saw not the intoxication of a rising kingdom – but the changing faces of clouds.

Flying, we had felt the clouds’ bodies, but we had never discovered their faces. We often mused about it, sitting on our field after a day spent in the sky. Looking up, we’d ask each other where the faces of clouds could possibly be. Where we could see their expressions, the eyes with which they look at the world, and the moods with which they grumble and rain. But all this time, the face of the cloud could only be seen from the ground. All this time, the clouds weren’t looking back at us: they were looking down.
Now I could see its face, and now I could see its nature. I saw it illuminate with the privacy of lightning. I saw it hover in the distance. I saw it seduce with elusive romance.

And I understood how I had come to fall in love. Looking back, I don’t know what I would have preferred: the brutal falls from the sky and the utter subjection of my own psyche – or seeing the faces of the clouds clearly from the ground, knowing their danger and their romance from a distance. Would I have felt safe on the ground – or would I have wondered what it would be like to fly?

Here’s what I do know: the path they sent me on was the hardest walk I ever had to take – but when the clouds made me fall, I discovered my feet and with my feet I discovered the world.