Tag Archives: #family

Nanala

2019 cargo container and blue sky

Last week, a friend of mine introduced me to a refugee from Pakistan (to protect her privacy, let’s call her Nanala). We had an unforgettable dinner together.
From the first moment onwards, Nanala struck me as a self-confident, warm-hearted woman. After a while she began sharing parts of her life journey.

Eleven years ago, soldiers had broken down the door of Nanala’s home in Pakistan. They had shot and killed her husband and two of her four children in front of her eyes.
Nanala had managed to escape with her remaining two children. She had gathered a small part of their belongings and managed to get passage on a ship bound for Europe.
Together with four other families, Nanala and her children spent almost two weeks locked inside a container. They had a small supply of dried food, fruits, and water, and some flashlights. Other than that, only a couple of small, round holes in the sides of the container brought a bit of illumination from the outside. Days began to blend into each other. The journey felt endless, the walls were closing in… but, finally, the container ship arrived in a harbor in Greece.

After months of surviving in a refugee camp on a small island, Nanala and her children were transferred to Zurich, Switzerland. There, they lived for many years in yet another refugee camp. Nanala took any job the Swiss authorities allowed her to have, to be able to provide for her family. Her children went to school and adapted well to their new Swiss home.
Nanala had never attended school. She had never learned how to study. When she asked her children to help and teach her, they said, “We are busy with our own lives, Mom. We don’t have time.”
Nanala was only ever hired on an hourly basis. Each time, she was promised that after a year she would be given a contract. She worked hard. Studied. Learned German. But each time, the promise would be broken and she would be let go.
Each time hope reared its head, it was smacked hard again with a whip. Yet, Nanala kept getting back up on her feet. She never gave up.

Nanala’s daughter graduated high school and found an apprenticeship as a dental nurse. During her studies, she began to distance herself more and more from her mother. She never helped financially. After three years, her apprenticeship was over and she found a good job. At the same time, she was given the Swiss passport. From this moment on, she became very hostile towards her mother and pushed her away ever harder. She was ashamed of her mother who had still not been given a resident permit. She didn’t want to be seen as the daughter of a refugee.
Nanala’s daughter even began influencing her younger brother against his mom. He will finish high school soon, and Nanala is afraid. What if he abandons her, too? If he does, she will lose the rest of her family. She will also lose the social housing they have been given by the government.

Nanala has been assigned a new job. She has started work for a company which makes house calls to elderly people who can’t take care of themselves anymore.
That morning, when Nanala cleaned one older lady’s apartment, a spider fell from the ceiling, landed on her face, and bit her in the cheek. A bright red bruise marked the spot.

What struck me more than anything about Nanala was her capacity to love, her emotional intelligence, her dignity, and her beautiful sense of humor. Even during our chat, she kept raising herself back up and vowed to claim her independence and freedom through further hard work and studies. For her own sake, as well as that of her children, she doesn’t want to depend on them. Or on anyone else for that matter.

Even after all that has happened to her, Nanala wasn’t self-absorbed during our dinner, but present, listening to our stories as well as telling us her own.
She cried when she remembered moments of pain and abandonment. At the same time, she was full of enthusiasm at the thought of being able to help other people in her new profession. Rarely have I seen a stronger, more compassionate human being.

Photo by Victoire Joncheray on Unsplash

Back in Pirate Paradise

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Again, it’s been a busy month. In true Macau fashion, wonderful and exasperating things happened all at the same time. Through unbelievable luck and the kindness of my real estate agent, I was able to get the apartment back I had rented here until 2013. However, it took a few weeks and several hurdles to get back into paradise. The contractors messed up a floor they were supposed to renovate. At the same time, the apartment we were in the process of vacating had already been rented out. This left my wife, our three cats, our small pile of possessions, and me stranded without a home for a week. In the end, it all worked out somehow. And now we’re here, in Coloane village. The cozy apartment has lost nothing of its charm. It is still as tranquil as ever. Overlooking a small arm of the Pearl River Delta where, centuries ago, pirates used to anchor, it is the perfect hideaway for the five of us to recharge our batteries and be inspired.

Lost in Space

2018 lost in space (j-w-675142-unsplash)

I love good storytelling – be it poetry, fiction, non-fiction, graphic novels, movies, TV series, visual arts, or any other type of creative expression. For the most part, stories engage me when they are about being human, about compassion and about overcoming our shortcomings and challenges.

The other month, I watched the (rather kitschy) new ‘Lost in Space’ series. All of a sudden, in the midst of space oddities and other adventures, Mr. and Mrs. Robinson found themselves alone in an emergency where it seemed only one of them could survive. They had quarrelled for years because she had been disappointed with him and he had made the mistake of not being there for his family as much as he should have. Now, they had to make a quick decision so at least one of them could get out of their current predicament. She was going to use the only space suit they had to get out of some toxic goo their vehicle had sunk into… and he would remain behind and either suffocate or get swallowed up by said nasty goo. Mr. Robinson helped Mrs. Robinson suit up, ready to sacrifice himself, when all of a sudden Mrs. Robinson held him close, looked him straight in the eye, and said, “I wish I hadn’t spent so much time being angry at you.” It was just another, slightly over-dramatic TV moment. Yet, at the same time, it was so much more. It was a moment of profound wisdom.

We don’t always do the right thing when we are in a relationship. Especially in intimate relationships that last a long time… Without ever intending to, we make mistakes, we hurt each other, we are clumsy, we don’t listen well enough, we don’t spend enough time with each other, and we betray one another. So much can happen, because there is no recipe for life, we often find ourselves lost (in space), and emotions are not always predictable or controllable.

So, when the goo hits the proverbial fan, let’s think of the Robinson’s space slime and of what really matters. Family does. Friendship. Love. And forgiveness. No one will ever be perfect… And when two souls connect on a deeper level of understanding, it is something immensely precious, not to be taken lightly or given up easily.

(Photo by J W on Unsplash)

New Beginnings

macau seen from ferry

Even though I have done it so often and relish the excitement of new beginnings, relocating is always difficult for me. This time around it’s more difficult than ever before. Over the last months, I’ve been maniacally busy tackling the bureaucracy on my side of the world for my wife and I. There was no time to think.

Now, with everything done, there is way too much time to think. I’ve arrived at my new home with ample time to rest and relax. Instead of being able to enjoy the moment, I rather feel lost and like tumbling down a pitch-black, miles-long rabbit hole. 

I know, I just got here. I need to trust the process and things will fall into place… but, my mind on worrier-speed is wondering, “What now?”

Over the last 3 years, I’ve built up a career as motivational speaker in Switzerland and parts of Europe. It was a role I grew into with all my heart. It felt good being there at the front, building bridges, promoting understanding, and sharing inspiring stories. Maybe my relocation will temporarily or permanently end this part of my author journey… Does it matter? Or will one door close while other doors and windows will open?

Life is an unpredictable adventure. I know and love that aspect of our existence. Yet, at the same time, I long for guarantees I know will never be forthcoming. So I find myself over-thinking and over-worrying here on my couch in the steaminess of Southeast Asia… with an exhausted head full of hopes, dreams, and aspirations.

Then, there is coming home to my beloved partner after 8 months of being apart. Getting to know each other anew. Trying hard to give her space while at the same time almost bursting with neediness. Finding growth and change, admiring who she has become, who she is still becoming… and aiming to realign our paths so there will continue to be room for our independence and personal development as well as for holding each others’ hands while ambling along life’s paths together. I am thinking of skipping ropes, dancing in the rain, running through puddles, and finding butterflies along wildly overgrown roads. Then, there is gazing into the distance together, knowing no matter how apocalyptic that sky might look at times, we can brave anything as long as we have each other.

I am taking deep breaths. Confused, scared, hoping, dreaming, and mostly feeling like a little boy in need of that loving hand reaching out… to envelop me in a warm embrace and tell me that – no matter what – things will be ok, because home is right here where my heart is. Home is here, where I belong.

Thin Mattress With a View

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Time has been racing like a bullet train this month. Dissolving the rest of our household… cancelling all kinds of things like cable, phone, etc. etc. etc. … and multiple breakfasts, brunches, lunches, and dinners with friends and colleagues to catch up one more time before the big move.
Now, I am sitting in front of our large windows, enjoying the view over Zurich, the lake, and the Alps just one more time.
This also marks the end of three weeks sleeping on this rather thin and uncomfortable foam mattress. My bones and joints are looking forward to spending the next four nights on a friend’s couch. Just one more week of organization and goodbyes… then I’ll be off to join my family in Macao (and I’ll probably collapse on the bed and sleep for a month).

Time Traveling

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Just spent an inspiring and heart-warming weekend visiting relatives. In between vivid conversations and laughter, I also took some moments to time-travel through their extensive family photo library. It was wonderful to dive into old family history as far back as 1908. To visually follow the path of my grandma, see how she lived her life… from huddling in bomb shelters in 1942 to attending christenings and weddings of the next generations throughout the years. I also saw my dad growing up in these photographs. His kind personality already shining through on the yellowed photographic paper…

At times, I miss my grandma so much (even now, 18 years after her death) it becomes hard to breathe. Frida had so much strength. She gave without boundaries. Her genuine laughter brought sunshine and happiness to everyone around her. No matter how tough her life was at times (and it was damn tough, believe me), she gave her heart to everyone around her. To this day, she is the source of my strength and my greatest inspiration. My uncle told me this weekend that Frida used to say “If I had cried every time I decided to laugh instead, I’d have been in deep trouble.” I still need to mull this sentence over for a while… for there is some profound truth in her simple words.

In the years to come, I am planning to write at least one book about Frida’s life. I copied a good portion of my relatives’ family photo archive. It will help me to remember my grandma more vividly, not just through my eyes but also through the eyes of others… and to weave all the things I’ve heard about her into a story you and I both will enjoy reading and remembering.

Being Grateful

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Lately, life has run away with me a bit. Too many things happening all at once… some of them rather surprising and turbulent. Yet again, I was reminded to never be sure of anything. Everything can change in a heartbeat. We can lose and gain all we hold dear from one second to the next. I guess, the universe felt it had to shake me awake a bit, “Hey little bi-ped, don’t get too self-assured, don’t take things for granted. I’m am lending you some moments of happiness. Enjoy them while they last.” So I am trying to do just that. A friend of mine said a while ago, he copes with life by being grateful for everything. He is grateful for all the good that comes to him. But he is also grateful for all the blows life deals out, because they, too, teach him, and shape him into a unique, continuously growing human being… and he uses whatever cards life has in store for him to nurture his creativity and be productive.
I am indeed grateful for many things. I’m grateful for all the love and friendship I’ve been lucky to experience so far. I’m grateful for comical moments like these, when our little boy Nacho stubbornly stares me down at breakfast in hopes of getting that little piece of croissant. I am grateful and I am hopeful.