This is the serious stuff, the stuff I hardly ever write anymore, since I've changed my philosophical approach to a more-favoured, sarcastic one. Maybe it has something to do with a certain ago, too; as a teenager I used to spend hours just thinking, gazing out of my window into a world I knew nothing about.
So stop reading now, and come back next week if you are looking for irony, sarcasm, and wittiness. It's not here today.
I've heard so many cliches about life, the world and everything in between, that I've become quite jaded and sceptical, and like any fairly educated adult, cringe at the thought of a well-worn cliche. Sure, they sound cheesy, but they might have just originated from a hint of something true. And, after taking in the African way of life, some are starting to surface.
Cliche number one: We have so much in the Western world, and yet we do not seem to enjoy it. I have only been here a few short weeks, but I feel cared for, and needed. When I walk back to the house each evening after work, I'm greeted by everyone I meet. Purity (the mother of the family I am staying with, and a wonderful person) sees me and she exclaims "I missed you today!". It makes me feel warm and happy, like I really do want the world to be a good, happy place. I cannot ever remember being told that in England, or in Finland, for that matter. People here make you feel like you are automatically a part of their community: you don't need to win anyone over, or impress them. Everyone has their own part in the society, however small. We have, in Europe, pretty much everything we can ask for- people to clean our clothes and tidy our houses, transport to take us to where we want, opportunities to train into almost any imaginable profession, and the cash to pay for it all. Yet, when we get home from work, have our nice dinner, and sit in our comfy sofa, flicking through the dozens of channels which are there just to entertain us, we feel this sudden sadness, a certain hollow feeling, which says: Is this it? Don't tell me you've never felt it; we all feel it occasionally. It's almost like we've concentrated so hard on making our lives just the way we like it, that we've forgot to enjoy it.
Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not going through some sort of an "amazing Africa crisis" where I want to run off and live in a mud hut. That's not the point. I miss London, almost everyday, and the solace of the familiar, but I am starting to understand why I've always been so restless. Things seem clearer here, when all the crap is erased- it almost feels like your life needs to be stripped down to basics to see what really matters. Do you really care about finding the optimal parking space or your favourite loaf of bread in the supermarket? We hear cheering each night on our compound, when electricity gets switched on, after hours of darkness, putting your children to sleep in candlelight and cooking on a coal stove. Here, people are grateful. There, people would riot.
Cliche number 2. It's not what you have, but what you make out of it.
Remember when you occasionally see photos of kids in various sub-Saharan African countries? They have torn t-shirts and muddy feet, but they are always smiling. You know why? Because they've just built a football out of plastic bags, and they are happy. We live in a fast-food society, where everything is quick, easy and available. Everything is replaceable. Torn your favourite cardigan? Just nip to the shops and buy a new one. Don't enjoy your job? Quit, and find something else. Had a massive argument with your boyfriend? Easier to break up. There is no commitment or consistency left; we're almost afraid of actually applying ourselves.
Few days ago, I heard a nice story (my cynical London friends, look away now and keep the sardonic comments to yourselves. Or at least send them to me privately). There was a man who was desperately in love with a girl down the street. The girl had a boyfriend, but the man thought that he'd wait, just in case, because he never found anyone quite like this girl. He never spoke to the girl, but used to leave his house everyday just to pass her on the street and to get a glimpse of her- and this was enough. Can you imagine a poignant story like that taking place where you live? We have no catherines or heathcliffs left; we shrug our shoulders, let go and move on. We persist with nothing, and yet keep asking ourselves what this is all about, what our roles are, forgetting that we do, indeed, occupy a significant space, however small, and it is usually in the hearts of the people who really care about us.
In the light of the horrible news today from the Finnish (and international) websites, that I know have shocked everyone, please call someone you love and tell them you missed them, even if you only saw them ten minutes ago. And don't just do it today- trust me, you'll feel amazing; there is never quite the kind of comfort that exists in someone knowing you well.