Thinking of Europe

Mozambican newspaper, November 17th, copyright: Sophie Lenz
Something strange is going on. Something is wrong.
Right now, I am living far away from home. Far enough to clearly see what “home” is to me. I have lived in so many different places that I always found it difficult to identify with one place, one town, one region in particular. But from the distance, I understand that my home is Europe.
I am European, always have been. Hopping between various countries in Europe felt likea big pleasure, never like a contradiction, and I think one of the first lessons I learned through travelling and moving places was that deviations in culture, habits, food, daily routines, education system etc. are interesting, but in the end of the day, they are overruled by the enormous amount of ideas, desires, needs, values that we all have in common.
Google image search for [Beautiful Europe], source: Google

Beautiful Europe

And btw, I still strongly believe this is true -beyond Europe as well. People strive for fulfillment of their basic needs, we seek for people we feel comfortable with because they give us safety, security, pleasure and meaning, and as long as we have means and freedom (given we are lucky enough not to permanently struggle for our next meal or next month’s rent), we are likely to try to improve our personal situation, be it by educating ourselves, founding a family, building a house, or looking for better opportunities somewhere else. And no, I am not exclusively talking about people from the Southern and Eastern parts of the globe who come to Europe, hoping to find a future here. I am also talking about thousands of “Western” pre- and post-docs who migrate to wherever they get an interesting research position, I am talking about Society Dropouts who migrate to India or to an Israelian Kibbutz searching for a cheap, non-capitalist life, I am talking about all the women and men I keep meeting everywhere who followed their partners on expat assignments, trying to “figure out something for themselves”, and I am talking about people myself, bored and exhausted by European city life at the same time by the life, acceppting any opportunity to do something else.

Beautiful Europe

So now I am here in beautiful Mozambique, missing Europe sometimes, like a good friend – with no regrets about leaving her behind, because I know she will always be there for me, as she always has.

A lot of people back home in Europe keep in touch with me, follow my life here, develop interest for Mozambique in particular and Africa, African matters, in general, and I am happy and proud about that. Some people are also  worried about me, keep asking me if I am safe here. But the inconvenient truth seems to be: It should be the other way round. I got worried about friends and acquaintances in Europe last weekend, desperately waited for news from Paris, to finally learn with an immense relief that all of them are safe. Mozambique is poor, that is a fact, and there is some political tension going on. But – civilians are not assassinated strategically here, no explosives are planted in public transport, and the government is not thinking about bombing Syria. (Sidenote: I am talking explicitely about Mozambique now – Africa is not a country…)
I am not trying to say that Africa is a harmonious paradise on earth. Of course it is not. Nigeria and Kenya, among others, suffered terrorist attacks in recent times, and they are reminding the world now that they didn’t get Facebook Apps to mark people as safe, profile pictures or urban monuments weren’t adopting their flags, and all in all they did not receive even a fragment of the current attention for Paris – observations that are not entirely untrue. A potential ethic conflict is silently building up in Burundi (a country many people don’t even know exists), and the daily killings in Eritrea, Somalia or Darfur are not reported anywhere anymore. However, my intention is not to compare “who is worse off”. It is nothing but a report of what I am feeling these days when I think of Europe, my home.
So I am sitting here, far away. The attacks in Paris, at places I am familiar with, La Stade de France, les bars du 11e arrondissement, it all seems so unreal and I am trying to understand that they really happened. Ever since I arrived in Mozambique, I have been asked more than once if it’s true that Europe is doing terribly, terribly wrong on all
levels. That might be a simplified impression, spread by the media (and who could blame them – the average European magazine does not exactly depict a very sophisticated image of Africa – poor, dark and pretty far away).
Also, there are very different reports about Europe as well, praising her openness towards Syrian refugees, keeping up the idea of a European Community (btw – did you know about the EU’s Southern counterpart, the African Union?).

Beautiful Europe

But still…the glimpses about Europe I get on TV, Facebook pages, randomly overheard conversations…they are dominated by crisis, swing to the right, an out of control refugee situation, bankrupt nation, countries blaming each other, pushing off accountability instead of working on hands-on solutions, borders, fences, walls, and terrorism.
As narcisstic and self-centered it may sound – but it hurts to see my home depicted in such a way. It hurts to see a great continent, the great idea of Europe that has overcome walls and cold war being reduced to a pathetic picture of misery. But what hurts most is that I am not so sure any longer if it is really just an image distorted by the media – or rather close to reality.

Here are some recent publications from African media about Paris / European affairs:
Namibians react on Paris AttacksArticle in The Namibian, expressing partly harsh critisicm on the ignorance of the Western world towards African issues
Africa must learn from Europe’s structural failuresNew African, September 2015. Not related to the Paris attacks, yet very interesting read about Africa’s perception of Europe

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