About people

I am moving. Again. I lost count a while ago, because I have done quite a few intercontinental and intercultural moves. This time it goes from East-Africa to Hong Kong.

Thanks to all of these moves, my life basically fits into six boxes. And add a bicycle.

Another advantage is that one feels less and less attached to places or stuff, although, occasionally, it derails because of an incidental attachment to a cat or the odd person. Yet, nothing that can’t be dealt with.

In hindsight, my move to East-Africa was probably one of the biggest challenges so far, however, everything is only as difficult as you wish to make it. It is said that there is something about Africa that changes you. That is true. Whatever ‘it’ is, that is hard to tell: the people, the wildlife, the colors and smells, the rhythm, nature? The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.

Living in East-Africa has given me a different view on society and on what ‘we’- whoever ‘we’ are – consider as good norms and values. Everything depends on context and culture.

Moreover, thanks to these moves and numerous travels, I have met an eclectic group of people:

Vietnamese boatmen and their stories about the issues in the Mekong delta,

HitchhikingTanzanian children who have to walk kilometers on the way to school and listening to their singing from the back seat of the car,

A Hazabe hunter with bow and arrow explaining how to hunt a baboon,

A farmer in Zimbabwe with a beautiful life story that started in England in the fifties,

 The testimonial of an inhabitant of one of the biggest townships in South-Africa and how apartheid is still alive and kicking,

The confession of a Chinese real estate tycoon who is tired of the excessive materialism,

Divers, kitesurfers, rice farmers, biologists, metal workers, triathletes, Swiss, Egyptian, Kenyan, Indian, Burmese, Nepalese.

Just to name a few.

I am not a ‘people person’ or at least a lot less than I used to be. Being an educator means that I am constantly surrounded by people. In my free time I choose to retreat in silence, away from human presence.

At the same time, these encounters are enriching and they shed a different light on your own reality. And once in a while, amongst the crowds, you meet gems, gems that make you shed a tear at the umpteenth goodbye.

Sixteenth century philosopher Michel de Montaigne said that he wished for death to surprise him while he would be planting cabbages in his garden, that he didn’t want to be bothered by death and even less by the garden that would never be finished. Humans are imperfect and will never ‘finish’ any task, it is all ongoing.

Just like de Montaigne, it would give me great pleasure to be surprised by death in the middle of a conversation with a hunter, overlooking the jungle or hiking in the mountains, enjoying urban culture, listening to an imam, rabbi, beautiful music, the sound of an African night. But preferably not yet. I have some more gems to discover.

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This article was commissioned by Vlamingen in de Wereld and will also be published in Dutch in the anniversary edition their magazine in December 2017.