Stories of this Canadian girl's adventures exploring Europe & beyond...join me!

Monday, November 23, 2015

#porteouverte - 10 ways to build community and tear down walls

Did you know that two weeks ago Friday, as the streets of Paris turned into hell, as frantic terrified people didn't know if "just" five cafés were going to be mowed down in gunfire or all of them, or that "just" two explosions would go off in downtown instead of a hundred, trending on Twitter was the hashtag #porteouvert (open door) where brave beautiful people were advertising their open door to strangers needing a safe place to turn.

There actually are kind, courageous people all over the world, in every nook and cranny. And yes, there are also sick, severely disturbed ones too. But right now, I want to talk about these beautiful people and how we can create more of them, and hinder the creation of sick ones.

I'm currently reading the book, "Walls - Travels along the barricades" by Marcello di Cintio. It's a very well written and researched book about the various (and there are too many) walls that societies have built up, and are continuing to build, around the world. In it, he talks about a syndrome that an East German psychiatrist referred to as "Mauerkrankheit" (Wall Disease) which people who are physically living close to walls suffer from. Symptoms such as rage, depression, schizophrenia, alcoholism, and the list goes on.
Flucht 2.0 'Odyssey to Peace' installation
I have been thinking about this a lot, and I believe that it might not matter whether the wall is a physical massive cement structure or a figurative one...degrading, dividing, dehumanizing all the same. Walls are walls - barriers, ways to divide and say, "I'm good and you're not", "You are not wanted in this club", "I don't want to look at you, spend time with you, or even know who you are", "You are not worth it".

Isn't that the wall of: not employing an entire group of people, not renting living spaces to an entire group of people, segregating an entire group of people into one neighbourhood because they aren't welcome in others, crossing the street when someone from a certain group is walking on the sidewalk - as if a BIG MASSIVE WALL is hindering you from continuing to walk, and smile, and say hi to that person?

What is this fear, this ignorance? And what does it do to the person at the receiving end? The odd teenager who no one EVER says hello to or invites over, the hundreds of twenty-somethings who NO ONE will employ, the countries who are controlled and pillaged by foreign companies and foreign governments. Walls.

Some people will most likely say I have a good point, or they'll say I'm super naive, or just plain stupid. I realize that I'm one of the really blessed; lucky enough (and not having done a damn thing to deserve it) to be born in Canada. As a white Canadian girl I have always had pretty much every door, physically and figuratively, open to me (except in relationships...but that's a whole other blog post). And that continues here in Germany, where I'm a white female with an accent that Germans find cute and funny (as opposed to other accents) - I have all doors open to me. I haven't done one thing to deserve that, not one. But it's the truth. So why do so many others not have this luxury? Because that's what it is - a pretty freaking amazing luxury. Like owning a yacht off the coast of St. Tropez and never having to work another day in your life. Luxury.

This is the current state of the world, and has been this way for far too long. I was recently in Canada, and all of the fear, hate, worry, love, open doors, and braveness is there, just as it is all here in Germany too. It's everywhere. Good and bad. Love and hate. But, I choose to believe that there is more good, more love and more braveness than the opposite, and the world can change for the better.

Just like reducing climate change...building community instead of walls, is a really steep, exhausting upward mountain climb filled with falling rocks, slippery screet and some real dangers. But, just like in actual mountain climbing, there are brave souls who've gone before and have drawn maps, and hammered hooks and drawn cables. Therefore, if you want it, you can grab on to support, and make changes; join meetings, learn from others how to build up your community. But it's actually not hard, doesn't really cost much money, and you don't have to go it alone, bring a friend!

From years of peace thought and work, here are 10 ways to build community and tear down walls. Try some, or all of them. Or maybe you already are - then hats off to you! I will try too. I have a responsibility, just as much as you do. We all do. Every single beautiful brave person. 

1. smile - not like all of the time so that you look creepy, but genuinely smile at people you see in your neighbourhood

2. talk - get to know said people in your neighbourhood, find out if they're doing okay, be a friend if they want or need one. If I am living well, shouldn't everyone else also have that chance? If you are now saying to yourself, "well I work hard and that's why I can afford my two cars and two storeys"...fine. But why can't everyone, when you pan across your neighbourhood, city, country, afford all of that too? Cause they're all lazy and dumb? I seriously doubt that. Get to know why and find out what's going on with them, by being a friend. I'm not saying you should buy them everything that you think they need or want, no way, that's not my point. Be their friend. Let them know that you care about their situation and who they are, and if there is a problem that you can help with, do it. That's what neighbours should do, shouldn't they?

3. listen - listen to your kids, other kids, teenagers (even if you don't understand a word), neighbours, strangers. Show others that you think they're worth your time. This is HUGE!! I would say the same thing to Obama, to Trudeau, to Putin and Assad....LISTEN...the world would be a better place if more people listened to each other.

4. stop - stop running around like a mad person, doing a million things, most of which are probably not going to save the world. Slow down long enough that you actually see the other people around you; in your school, your kids' school, at work, on the sidewalk, at the mall, etc. Do they look okay? Are they happy? Could they use a coffee? A friend?

5. ask - ask questions. How are you? Everyone (trust me, everyone) says that Canadians are so friendly. Are we really? I know I could be friendlier. Recently, in the grocery store on the corner, I could've asked the mom in front of me, who looked like she was so done, something about her kids. I could've tried to strike up a conversation with this woman who looked like she was exhausted and at the end of her rope. I didn't. But I should have, and next time I'll try to say be friendly.

6. invite - invite people over, not just friends, but strangers. Not everyone is going to say 'yes' to your invitation of course - they might think it's weird. But, maybe someone, especially at this time of year, will say yes. And this is something which I'm actually going to do (not to toot my horn, but just to give an example). As you know, there are a large amount of refugees, much larger than normal continuously arriving in Germany. In my small small city, there are already 300 Syrian people which I just recently found out. I didn't know that. So, I joined a network set up to assist and befriend newcomers in the area, and said 'yes' to the question of whether we would invite some of these, mostly young men, over for dinner sometime during the holidays. I might be doing them a disservice offering my cooking, but at least I'll be smiling.

7. learn - don't be ignorant. It's not sexy, nor attractive, nor cool. Learn the facts. We don't need to agree with each other but at least let's be talking about things that are true. Exhibit A: All refugees are terrorists. If refugees were part of a Syrian terror group, they wouldn't be running from one. Sure, there might be one or two bad people that go this route...but there are also one or two bad people that refugees will surely encounter in their new home. That's life - there are bad eggs in every basket.

Exhibit B: All Muslims are terrorists. Do you know how many Muslims there are on the planet? If they were all terrorists, us non-Muslims would all be dead. Learn about what the West is doing in other parts of the world. Western countries aren't dropping rose petals, continuously, routinely for years and years, on neighbourhoods. Or arming rebel groups they think can be controlled, but shockingly can't! Who is earning the most money from all of the weapons currently being bought and used, in some kind of warfare, on this planet, at this moment? Learn...and think.

8. go - go out, go and knock on a door, go to a festival or event. Go somewhere new, where you might not know every single person, and you might be surprised at who you meet. Step out of your comfort zone - I know it's hard..and uncomfortable - but it could be so worth it. You might make a new friend. You might become a friend to someone who really needs one. You have nothing to lose. Your comfort zone will still be there, safely snug at home waiting for you, not going anywhere.

9. wait - relationships take time, trust takes even longer. Be patient, keep smiling, saying hi, asking questions, listening, inviting and learning and at some point the other person will come to you with a smile, saying hi, asking you a question and inviting you in for tea.

10. and last but not - build a longer table. My former boss, and still friend, who also happened to have a wonderful 'open door' policy in our office, also wrote a great post about opening borders and building a bigger table. Why not invite more people to our party? Really, is it just about money? I doubt it. He quoted Saulo Padilla, "when you have more than you need, build a longer table, not a higher fence."

Thanks for still being with me. Bear with me just a moment longer. The following very short story is what got this ball rolling in my head...weeks before the events in Paris. An older couple in my choir have opened their hearts and door to two young Afghan refugees, even inviting them to sing in the choir, which they do! This is Doro and Rudi's story:

"Our story about how we became Oma and Opa to two young Afghan men began with an innocent invitation. The men's choir had given 20 tickets for their upcoming concert, to the Migration Office for Asylumseekers. Ten people actually accepted the invitation and showed up on that evening.

During the break, and afterwards, many people struck up conversations with the group of Syrians and Afghans. We instantly bonded with two young Afghan men, Hamid (18) and Ahmed (25). We didn't know anything about each other, but somehow we all just really like each other...and we gave them our address. We really didn't think we would see them again, but a short while later they called us and came over for a visit.

Rudi was working a lot in the garden at the time, cleaning it up before winter. Right away the two men said they would come and help Rudi on Wednesday. Wednesday is their free day, because Tuesday and Thursday they're in German classes, Monday they go to the sport club, Friday they go to the mosque and on the weekends they ride around on their bikes, getting to know the area and hanging out with other refugee friends they've met since arriving in Ingelheim. (Doro and Rudi offered them money for their work, but the two refused to take any because they're not yet allowed to earn money. The German couple, instead, give them gifts of picture dictionaries or the use of the phone to make long-distance calls.)

Their only connection to their families and their home is their cell phones. Ahmed has an uncle in Frankfurt and a cousin in Munich, Hamid's sister lives in England. They don't have any money to visit, but even if they did, their current status means they are not yet allowed to work or move to another community. (In some parts of Germany this process is taking up to a year due to a huge backlog. Luckily for refugees being sent to our neck of the woods, the asylum permit will only take about six weeks and then they're free to move and work wherever they want. Many people, naturally, move towards other family members.) These two, as so many others, are in a state of limbo - not sure what their future yet looks like in Germany.

During another choir concert, which we invited the two men to, the director of the men's choir asked Ahmed and Hamid if they would like to come and sing in his choir. (They are now attending choir practice regularly...even though they've never read music!)

The communication between us is in English, with a bit of German, and lots of hands and feet. The men didn't want to call us by our first names. "In our tradition we treat older people with respect," they said, and so they began calling us "Oma and Opa". We feel it is a great honour.

Since their first visit, they have now perfected our garden fence. Both are very diligent workers and good at carpentry. They tell us a lot of stories about Afghanistan and their personal struggle to make it to Germany. Hamid had worked as an auto mechanic and had started studying IT. He refused to enter the mandatory military service and the Taliban began to threaten his life. Ahmed was working for NATO as a computer tech, but was let go when NATO reduced its mission in the area. He immediately became a Taliban target and had to flee for his life."

The story of these men and the couple who have befriended them continues, but I will end it here. The point is made. Build community, not walls, so that the world becomes a good place for everyone...not just a few. We know that peace does not come just for a few...there is no peace when there is such injustice and so many really big walls.

Two questions to ponder...

What would the world look like:

-if women were in power in every single country? Women are far from perfect, but would there be as much war, torture, child soldiers, female genital mutilation, etc etc?

-if every door was open to everyone, everywhere? Now I'm not an idiot, I have thought this through. Think about it. If every single door, literally and figuratively, was open, what would happen? Pretty quickly the haves would have less (we have way too much anyways, who wouldn't agree with that) and at some point things would equal out. If all borders were open, and all doors, eventually (and it might take a little while) wouldn't people at some point be able to, and want to, stay in their own countries; in their own fruitful, economically viable countries?

Thanks for reading...I'm grateful for you,

Peace out.

Thank you, also, for your great writing:
Abe Janzen - Some Messy Notes Blog
Marcello di Cintio - Walls: Travels Along the Barricade
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