LOTTA travels

Traveling, Privilege & Guilt: Easter Sunday in Mali

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Traveling opens the eyes, the mind and the heart. It gets you in touch with different people, different customs and cultures, different belief systems. The temperatures and the seasons may change, but all over the world, people have created rituals that divide the year into clearly defined periods.


Being raised with Christian values and rites, I can’t help but think of the year and its seasons in terms of Easter – Pentecost – Christmas (more or less and with some additions). I love the idea of Lent as a season to contemplate the way we live, to slow down and focus inside.

Easter sunrise over a hazy Bamako

But Lent can also be a season to contemplate the ways of our world and how we relate to each other, and this is where traveling comes in again. Our lives are formed through the relationships we build with ourselves, the people in our lives, and with whatever we believe in.

Early this morning I had a wonderful moment of what I like to call contradictory unity. I got up early to greet the rising sun on this Easter morning. Bamako was calm and quiet, the temperatures bearable at a balmy 27 °C with a strong breeze, and the muezzin next door was starting the day as usual. The situation felt somewhat weird and yet strangely logical at the same time – standing on the roof top of a house in mainly Muslim Mali, listening to the muezzin and quietly celebrating the Christian return of light on Easter morning.

When I used to live in Germany, I loved to invite friends for sumptuous Easter brunch. I would hide Easter eggs in the fresh green (or snow occasionally) and we all would enjoy the sensation of being kids once again. I miss those lazy days among friends, especially now that I live in a Muslim country and there is no Easter brunch, no group of childhood friends and it’s too hot to hide chocolate eggs anyway. But I’m quite good at adapting and creating my own little traditions, that’s not the point.

What made me think is something that happened Saturday morning. I was clearing out my little freezer compartment being amazed at the amount of bread and croissants my friends and me had amassed. I was at a loss about what to do with all the stuff, when I looked out the window and saw a woman going through our trash.

This is a very normal occurrence here in Mali and it is surprising how much you can get out of trash. The first ones are the humans looking for anything of value (especially bottles or cans that can be resold), but also for edible trash. The next ones are the donkeys of the trash men, which are hobbled during the day, roaming the streets in search of nourishment. The next ones are rodents…

I packed my frozen food into a bag, went onto my balcony and called over to the lady. She seemed surprised but happy. I felt guilty. Guilty for throwing a bag of food down to her. Guilty for throwing away food. Guilty for having so much food. Guilty for the privileged life I live…

Every day here in Mali I am reminded that I was born in a “right” country, with a very useful passport, no religious persecution, no war. Total freedom to live and to travel. I have done nothing to earn this privilege. I won the global postcode lottery.

In our day and age, guilt seems to surface everywhere: food, sex, fitness, money, employment, unemployment, leisure, fun, politics, family, environment, you name it. Guilty – you’ll be punished, innocent – you’re good. This is a very simple view of the world, but the good thing is that it also emphasizes individual conscience.

But in this case, my individual conscience led me somewhat astray. Call it the guilt trip that is deeply imbedded in my German heritage, but my conscience told me I was guilty. Instead of considering if my behavior was fair or unfair, I was judging myself for being privileged and that will get me nowhere. Me feeling guilty doesn’t help the trash lady. Me feeling guilty doesn’t make me a better person. Me feeling guilty doesn’t benefit society-at-large.

Hearing about the horrible attacks in SRI LANKA this morning, drove home yet again how random life is. One decision, being in “the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time” … or as some friends here in the mission say: “It was his/her time.”

Was it their time? Was it time for about 200 people attending Easter mass or peacefully enjoying their stay in a hotel in Colombo, Sri Lanka?

Buddhist shrine in Sri Lanka

I don’t know. I just know that I am deeply saddened to see that beautiful country once more hurt beyond endurance. A country, where I spent two of the most peaceful weeks of my life. A country that impressed me with the coexistence of cultures and religions. A country whose people are so wonderfully courteous and smiling.

What can I say.

Not everything makes sense, but the point is not to let that stop us. Let’s continue to travel. Be curious, search for reality, search for values and views that differ from yours. Explore the OTHER. Meet the people, see how they live, listen to listen and learn.

Travelling is also an invitation to learn about religion. It’s often so open, with ceremonies in the street, churches, mosques, temples or shrines by the roadside, people praying on the sidewalk. Observe, listen and ask questions.

Lives are continually being changed and empowered through experience. Let’s travel to contemplate the ways that we participate in harm and diminish love in our lives and in our world. 

And there is certainly a lot to think about.

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