At the age of 18 on 24th October 2008, Max Rinneberg lost his memories and emotion due to carelessness. Since, 24th October 2008, he is suffering from retrograde amnesia – that is a memory loss which compromises my biographical and emotional memory. But this incident did not stop him..
Q: Please tell me what happened on that day?
MR: On that day, I had that accident. Everyone has already fallen down the stairs. In most cases, this is not a big deal, except some blue spots. I did not fell off stairs, but I fell three tiny steps. On my way, there were these, in my case, untameable stairs. Few seconds before the accident, I probably was stumbling and therefore fell heavily headlong on the stairs . The result was laceration, traumatic brain injury, unconsciousness and later my amnesia. A half an hour after my accident, I was found lying on the ground by my sister and my friends. At that point, I already could not recognize them – everything was unknown for me. Until that today, my brain is not able to recognize any fragments of memory. All my knowledge and memories of the life before are buried and lost.
Q: When did you decide to let go of your old life and start a new one? When did you accept the fact that you are now another/ new human?
MR: This lasted for a couple of time. At the beginning, I was hoping that everything will be okay in the end – and the doctors tried to encourage me. But, also after a helpful residence in a psychosomatic clinic and an outpatient talking therapy, my memories are still lost. After doubts and uneasiness did not fade but life gave me new opportunities, I realized that life must go on. That was the point when I started over and was able to try different things and finally found myself, therefore I am living to the here and now.
Q: What has changed since you living a new life ?
MR: A lot has change since then. I was a disciplined, organised, structured and competitive athlete. Today, I do not have a plan for every day and take things as they come. I also do not have much to do with sport anymore. Nowadays, I golf with some friends of mine when the weather is nice, at least when it must be physically active. But I Iike much more to be surrounded by nice people and eating nice food and drinking a nice bottle of wine. I also do not live in my homeland, but I try to visit my family and friend whenever it is possible. Currently, I am searching for a new place which could become my new homeland. Now, I am on the go to Spain – or to put it another way, to Mallorca. I am looking forward to work there as a sommelier.
Q: Where do you take the positivity from such an incident?
MR: The whole life is full of energy. Even bad days consist of incredible energy. Therefore, negative thoughts and emotions do also have energy. I have learned to transform these energies in something good and into positive energy. I have especially learned that nothing could be worse than it was at the beginning. At the time where I was helpless and surrounded by strangers at the bedside. I was numbed and motionless of irritation and helplessness. Every day, teaches and gives us something along the road. Usually, these things are just small details but in the end of our life, these little details form a remarkable and huge picture of our journey through life.
Q: You wrote a book about the accident. To what extent did wrinting help you to let go of your old life?
MR: Writing did not let me leave my old life behind me. Writing did help me to realize that this part belongs to my life. It was a kind of a lesson, which consisted of some tasks I had to deal with. To go further, writing helped me to realize and to face life again with a renewed courage.
Q: Would you still say that the accident had a good purpose ?
MR: In every negativity, there is also a good purpose, even if that is a call to change something. In my case, I could not change anything because I lost my memory. I had the chance to create something new. A life which I want to live, without any force and the chance to decide what I want to do.
Q: How does your family handle the situation?
MR: It was not easy for my family. I think, the incident made us stronger, even though, we had to admit some moments of weakness. But I think, even that requires strength – to talk about oneself and to talk to oneself. Nowadays, we are happy that we have each other.
Q: If you had the chance to turn back the clock, would you do that?
MR: This is a difficult question. The answer could not just be „yes“ or „no“. I have found an answer, although I am still wobbling and searching for the last details – because there still coming new questions which could complete the answer. It will be a long answer, which I will answer in my new book.
Q: Is there a chance that you will gain back your memories from the medical point of view?
MR: In this case, the answer is easy. There is always a chance, but it could be compared to the likeliness of winning the jackpot in lottery.
Q:Last question, what do you wish for your future ? MR: Life.
_ _ _ _ _ _ Dear Max, Thank you for making this interview possible. You are an incredible human being. I wish you, from the bottom of my heart, all the best for your future. I am more than sure, that this interview will inspire many people out there. You are such an inspiration. Thank you so much.
**Key data: Holger Birnbräuer is 48 years old and a former teacher. Today, he is Director of the Seminar for Teacher Training and Continuing Education in Freudenstadt (Germany).
I meet my former math teacher Holger Birnbräuer at the main station in Freudenstadt at 1:45pm sharp. After getting off the train, I walked directly to the agreed meeting point – and there he stood, the man with whom I unfortunately wrote so many bad grades in those math-clasess- and as an information, he was a good math teacher, the blame was on me, because numbers were just not my thing. A reason why I also chose a course of study that has nothing to do with numbers – namely Social and Cultural Anthropology (Master Student at the University of Tuebingen in southern Germany).
He was kind enough to pick me up at the main train station and drive me to his office. On the way there we had a little small talk. I think it has been more than 10 years since the last time we saw each other. Arriving at his office, he asked me something to drink and Oreos to eat – of course I appreciated his hospitality and agreed. And after I explained to him how the interview would go, it started. < I finally I want to share this interview with you, and I hope you like it. I am aware that I promised my followers on Instagram that this Interview would be released in December 2021, but unfortunately, I did not make it. I am sorry for that, even though I hope that you still enjoy it.
Q: Tell me how you got into climbing/ mountaineering and what exactly do you like about it?
*You can literally feel his enthusiasm when he starts talking about his beginnings. You can tell that he loves what he does.
HB: I have been in love with the mountains since I was a child. When I was nine years old, I was in the Alps for the first time and took part in a hiking holiday camp of a church congregation in Baden-Baden. For two weeks we stayed in a beautiful house and did a lot of hiking among other things. That is how I gained my first summit experience, even if they were mostly below 3000 meters at the time. After that, the mountains have not let me go and in 2002 I started with my first 4000m mountaineering. What I like about mountaineering is that you are out of the everyday life. You must be concentrated all the time and do not have time to think about work or other things. And then when you suddenly have the time to and do not have to be 100% focused, you lift your gaze and you are in the middle of a breath-taking landscape. Mountaineering is also a wonderful community experience: being together in a mountain hut the night before a difficult tour or in a tent during an expedition is something special. Furthermore, there is the added joy of successfully completing a tour or an expedition: The thought of ”I have set myself a challenging goal and achieved it.” When you realize during a difficult tour that you are up to the high difficulties, then you almost burst with happiness, and you are really in the flow. Accordingly, you just go home happy and, despite the exhaustion, have recharged your batteries for everyday life and the family.
Q: You have been to several countries – What have you learned (as a person) during your travels?
HB: Above all, I have experienced what unites people during my mountain journeys on five of the seven continents. Many of the wishes and desires are the same, despite the most diverse living conditions. That is what I always try to do: I try to find out something about the living conditions of the people in conversations and a part of my travel preparation is always to learn at least a few words of the language spoken there. Especially for my trips to the Himalayas I took a lot of time for this, and my Nepalese was not that bad. Now, unfortunately, most of it has already been forgotten. But one of the great needs is certainly to be treated respectfully.
Q: Besides mountaineering, what are your other hobbies?
HB: I still like to make music, even if the time to play the guitar is hardly there due to family obligations. I also like to pass the time with a good book or a good computer game from time to time.
Q: What does mountaineering give you that, for example, jogging would not?
HB: Well, jogging is preparation for mountain climbing. It is a bit like making music: The session with the band in the rehearsal room is not as much fun as a performance in front of an audience. Jogging is the work, and the mountaineering becomes more of a pleasure the better you are physically and mentally prepared.
Q: During your travels, you have also faced setbacks – What were such setbacks? What did you learn from them?
HB: The biggest setback was certainly the abandonment of the expedition on Mount Everest after the earthquake in 2015. Above all, however, I learned from my expedition to Aconcagua in 2010: the highest mountain in South America, there, at an altitude of 4400 m, I got altitude sick at base camp and began to develop high-altitude pulmonary edema. So, my lungs started slowly to fill with water. That means the expedition ended with a helicopter ride down to the valley. This was the first setback I experienced, and it mainly led me to approach my goals with even more respect and to professionalize my training significantly. After a period in which you are naturally depressed, you must see what you can do better next time. Excitingly, this is a process from which I always draw a lot of motivation.
Q: How do you prepare for an expedition?
HB: My preparation for an expedition has many levels, and I resolve to get one step closer to my goal every day on at least two of the levels. In everyday life, I can sometimes get a little stingy, because going without a chocolate bar at the gas station brings you one euro closer to your goal. The second level is the physical level: I always try to be at a good level of fitness by jogging and cycling. It is not so much the speed that matters to me, but the duration of the training. Thus, I create a very good basic endurance for myself. The closer the expedition gets, the more I increase the duration and number of my training sessions. A never-ending jogging round then helps the mind to be able to climb a never-ending steep snow slope on the mountain. I put a lot of thought into the key difficulties of a mountain and think of strategies to master them. If I do not find any solutions here, I would rather leave a tour alone. Intuition also plays a big role: sometimes you just feel that it is not yet the right time for a particular mountain. And finally, this level also includes dealing with the country where the mountain is located and its culture and language.
Q: In 2015, you had your first attempt to climb Mount Everest – unfortunately, that did not work out due to the earthquake. How disappointed were you? Was it clear to you that you would try again?
HB: The disappointment was huge. If you then realize that many people lost much more, even their lives, because of the earthquake, there is also a guilty conscience that you are now whining because you could not climb Everest. I had to wait several days in Tibet until I could get a flight home. Suddenly there was also a lot of homesickness that I do not really have on a normal expedition. That I would get a second chance to climb Mount Everest was also not foreseeable at that time: In addition to the financing, there was a big question mark behind the question of whether I would be able to take so much time off from work again. But my wife was the first to say: ’You have to try this again, otherwise something is missing in your life’. Fortunately, the opportunity to fly to Everest arose again in 2017.
Q: Your highlight was certainly climbing Mount Everest – try to describe the feeling you had when you stood on the highest point of the earth…
HB: First of all: Mount Everest was not the highlight of my mountaineering career. But of course, I also expected that climbing the highest mountain on earth would be the greatest thing. When I finally realized that this was not the case, it was first difficult to classify: Why was not I as happy as on other summits? I had to admit to myself that, looking back, the highlights were actually during the tours and expeditions I did to prepare for Everest. For example, climbing Denali in Alaska (the highest mountain in North America) or climbing Cho Oyu (8201 m). Two of the many reasons are certainly the extensive support I had on Everest from the Sherpa team accompanying us and the use of bottled oxygen on the way to the summit. On Cho Oyu and Denali, my mountaineering performance was much higher: On Denali, I carried up to 43 kg of equipment myself in a backpack and on a sled. On Cho Oyu, I reached the summit without artificial oxygen and really had to fight for every little step at the end. The Everest was much easier to climb and therefore it is not on one of the first places in my mountain experience charts. But I have no regrets and I am proud and happy to have stood at the highest point on earth. I was there for about 15 minutes. It was very cloudy and snowing lightly. You could not see 30 meters away and the hoped-for moment when the world is literally at your feet, and you can look into the distance did not exist. Also, you know that the difficult and far more dangerous descent still lies ahead. That fact reduces the summit joy already a little. I felt the greatest summit happiness on Everest about 20 meters below the summit: Here it was clear to me that I will actually reach this all but self-evident goal and that no one will take it away from me. Then I took a few photos and a short video, before I went again extremely concentrated on the descent.
Q: What event would you equate climbing Mount Everest with if you could…?
HB: To be honest, nothing comes to mind at this very moment, but I can say that the experience of Everest, for example, was clearly surpassed by the experience of the birth of my three children.
*His facial expression tells you that most of all things he has achieved – he is happy to be a proud father.
Q: Mount Everest was a long-awaited dream of yours – What are some other mountaineering dreams of yours?
HB: My two big goals are to climb all 82 (4000m) peaks in the Alps and to climb the „Seven Summits“, i.e., the highest mountain on each of the seven continents. Both goals are realistic, because five of the Seven Summits – Everest (Asia), Denali (North America), Aconcagua (South America), Kilimanjaro (Africa) and Elbrus (Europe) – are already completed, and especially the most difficult ones. The expeditions to the two remaining mountains, the Carstensz Pyramid (Australia/Oceania) and Mount Vinson (Antarctica) are therefore two of my big mountain dreams. Out of the 82 (4000m) peaks in the Alps, I am still missing 26, which I hope to be able to climb gradually over the next few years. And then there is the big dream to climb one more of the 14 eight-thousanders of our earth without artificial oxygen: The Gasherbrum II in Pakistan.
Q: How do you deal with critics who classify mountaineering as a kind of pollution (in terms of flight)? Can you understand such people? If so, to what degree? Do you deal with yourself critically in this respect?
* serious look*
HB: Yes, I am very concerned about the environmental impact of flying. My way of dealing with it, is O2 offsets. I also try to behave more sustainably in other areas of everyday life: My electric car and soon our own photovoltaic system will hopefully contribute to this. In addition, I take responsibility for my actions on site at the mountains and make sure that I leave as few traces as possible. For example, on the way back from the advanced base camp to the base camp of Mount Everest, I collected 200 empty beverage cans that were lying around.
Q: After all, mountaineering involves certain risks – how does your family deal with them?
HB: I am actually amazed at how surprisingly relaxed everyone is about it. I do not know how I would feel about it myself if my children were to be on this level later on. But I think everyone knows that I assess risks and dangers correctly and that, if the worst comes to the worst, I can do without a summit and prefer to turn around if things get too dangerous. But my family also puts up with a lot simply because they know how important the mountains are to me and what strength they give me for everyday life and thus also for family life.
Q: What do you enjoy more – your work as a teacher/director of education or mountaineering? And why?
HB: I enjoy both enormously. Family, work and hobby form a triangle that is and must be in a good balance. One gives me strength for the other and so it is actually not true when I sometimes say in jest that it would be nice if I did not have to work anymore and could always go mountain climbing.
Q: Which trip have you enjoyed the most so far and why (Mount Everest excluded)?
HB: That is almost the most difficult question. I have to mention the trip to Africa to Kilimanjaro, if only because it was the first big mountain trip. I still remember the feeling of happiness when I booked the tour, and of course the incredible landscape around Denali in Alaska. But actually, all mountain trips were wonderful experiences in their own way, with the exception of the earthquake on Everest and the altitude sickness on Aconcagua.
Q: If you had the opportunity to change something in the world, what would it be?
HB: I would give every person the ability to pause before they take actions and to ask themselves what effects their own actions have for other people. I believe that many people lack this and that it leads to many bad things that we are currently experiencing in our society.
Q: Imagine you could wish for three things – What would they be ?
HB: I have already described the first wish in the question before. I hope that there was more peace, silence and sustainability on our planet. Then, of course, health for me and my family. The third wish would be a little less work and more time for family and hobbies.
After thirty minutes the interview is already over. It is clear that after all these years you want to know what the other has done. So we talk about changes in our lives or the time when I was his student and he was my teacher. After a great interview, he offers me a ride to the station, which I accept.
Dear Holger, what a joy I had when I saw you in November 2021. Thank you so much for responding to my interview request. It was nice to see you after all these years and to do this interview with you. I thank you especially for your time and openness. Most of all, I wish you and your family all the best for the future and hope to see you again at a later time.
**For all my followers: If you would like to get in contact with Holger, you can find him on Facebook or contact him via his main website: http://holgerbirnbraeuer.de/
„I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.“
Martin Luther King, Jr.
Q: Please introduce yourself to my followers and why it is important to so speak up…
A: My Name is Amivi Petra Etou-Assignon. I am 29 years old, living in Stuttgart (Germany) and I am mom of a 5-year-old boy. It is important to share our experiences with one another to learn and grow from it, and to see that we are never alone facing difficult situations and circumstances.
Q:Back in school, you already faced institutional racism. Tell me in which way?
A: Yes, in elementary school I faced racism. Classmates used to assault me and calling me names and made fun of my black skin. Even my teacher recommended me to a Secondary Modern School, and I was told by an early age that I will get married and start a family, because this would be typical for people like me and it would be a waste of time to send me right to a Grammar school.
Q: Why is it important that (black) people tell their stories about what they have been through in context of racism?
A: It is really important to speak up and show people that racism and institutional racism exists to this. We refuse to be quiet and suffer in silence. This treatment we have to endure is not okay and we will never get used to it. It affects our emotional and phsyhical health. We should also be an example to our children. Showing them we speak up for ourselves and demonstrating them that we will not accept nor tolerate such behaviour. We have rights, human rights and we are ready to fight for it.
Q: In your opinion, where exactly is the problem regarding racism in Germany? What must change in order to overcome racism?
A: The problem is that people barely admit their racist behaviour. They will also compare Germany to the USA and say stuff like “they are not even that bad compared to other countries”. The first step is to realise racist behaviour, but the realisation is in short supply. I remember a German TV-show which is called “Die letzte Instanz” where famous Germans were talking about racism. They agreed that it is not racist to use discriminatory terminology even though people feel hurt being called in a specific way. Furthermore, they agreed by saying that one should not make such a fuss and always „put on the shoe“ (meaning that people should not take the blame when accused of racist behaviour). So, we see it is a deep-rooted racist mindset which still exists. I have really no idea how to overcome this. Awareness training has shown little improvement so far…unfortunately.
Q: You shared an emotional video few weeks ago, in which your handsome child cries and says that he does not refer to himself as beautiful because of his black skin. Tell what did you think those words coming out of his mouth?
A: It is really sad and hurtful to see your own child having a breakdown. Society proves that White people go through life easier than POC. It is sad that even children experience that.
Q: You are about to marry next month; but you had to change the plan. Tell me what exactly happened?
A: My fiancé and I planned to marry in a village near Ludwigsburg where we are building our house. We gave all the required documents to the register office there. A few days later, we get a writing from the register office that they doubt my identity. My fiancé is supposed to have said on the phone that I was born in Germany, which he never did. I was born in Togo and came to Germany at the age of 2 years. So now the registry office want to investigate and demands birth documents from Togo which prove my personal details . I instantly knew that I am dealing (once again) with institutional racism. So, we consulted a lawyer and he tried to mediate with the registry office. But, the registry office still does not believe my point of view. We ended up consulting another registry office about 20 kilometres away in Stuttgart. They were totally shocked about what had happened to me and told me that I am German citizen, so it is no problem for me to get married. So next month we will marry at the registry office in Stuttgart.
Q: Why do you think that your marriage is being made difficult (on purpose)? In which way?
A: I think its still a problem for some authorities to see people with an African background marrying their native citizen. Especially in villages, people are not happy about it.
Q: What would you like to tell young children / people dealing with the same issue?
A: Never give up fighting for your rights. There will be always a way for you to get your right.
Q: What would you like to change if you had the power to do so?
A: That people are treated naturally without reservations and prejudices. That racism disappears from people’s minds and life can finally take place without discrimination.
I have already spoke to another interview partner (Candy Frankenstein) about the issue of racism in Germany in my blog but this is such an important subject to discuss. And do not get me wrong, publishing those stories is not the attempt of telling that all Germans are racists. I do believe that most people are friendly and open-minded BUT I have been dealing with this issue as long as I am in Germany. Maybe not everyday BUT it still occurs – after living here for more than 20 years (!) – and sadly, I am not the only one. It is important to speak up and that is what I try by publishing such interview, like this one with Petra.
Dear Petra, thank you for your courage and sharing your story. I hope one day, we will live in a world where hate, prejudices and degrading people based on their appearance will not be an issue anymore. It is way too much to handle and to deal with . I wish you and your little family all the best and have a beautiful wedding – keep telling and fighting against racism – it is still necessary!
1. Tell me what kind of person Kylee was…what do you love most about her? How would you describe her?
GM:First of all, Ky was her own person. She spoke her mind and you never had to guess what she was thinking. As a kid, she was just as happy hanging out by herself riding horses or pretending to be a horse. Sheeven ate grass and would come in the house with green lips!She was extremely sarcastic and that is how she showed her love! If she wasn’t sarcastic to you, she probably didn’t like you very much! But she was also the defender of the underdog. She would stand up for kids who were being bullied, and then she would tell them exactly why they were being bullied and give them some life advice! She was focused and dedicated to her school work and to sports. She loved basketball and worked hard to make her team successful. She was team captain andwas the one who would encourage her team mates to be better than they thought they were. I love everything about Kylee, but the one thing I love and miss themost is her giggle! It was contagious! I sometimes go to her Facebook and Instagram just to find videos of her laughing. She also had a beautiful voice and I wish there were more videos of her singing.
2. What exactly happened to Kylee (so that my followers know what happened). Can you recall the special moment when you (unfortunately) were told that Kyleewas gone?
GM:As I mentioned, Ky loved basketball and she was on her way to an open gym. This is where anyone can go to the gym and play basketball. It isn’t a competitive game as far as having teams from to see if she had left yet. Brandon said that she had left, but that she was probably just going slower due to the roads being snow covered. Kristen called a while later and said that Ky still wasn’t there. Brandon got ready to leave to see if maybe she had broken down or slid off the road and when he got to the door, he saw flashing lights of police cars and a line of traffic that had been stopped. He and Kylee lived just a short distance from the main highway that Ky had to travel to get to the gym. Brandon figured that Ky was probably in that line of traffic, so he started walking to see if he could find her. From what I understand from Brandon’s story is that he was looking for her car and saw that there was an accident and asked a police officer what color the car was that was in the accident. The officer said blue and Ky’s car was black. The officer asked Brandon what he was doing and he said that his girlfriend was going to Bend and she hadn’t arrived at her destination. The officer asked what his girlfriend’s name was and Brandon told him at which time the officer said that she was in the accident and was deceased. We still don’t really know what happened and I’m not sure the investigation is closed. But a witness that was two cars behind her and actually knew Kylee said that she just suddenly swerved hard and lost control. She crossed the lane of oncoming traffic and was hit by an SUV on the passenger side of her car and broke her neck. She died on impact. The moment I found out will be etched in my memory forever. It was December 20, 2016 at 9:21PM. I was just leaving the home of an elderly lady that I took care of a few nights a week. My shift had ended and I was walking to my car when my phone rang. I missed the call because I had my hands full, so as soon as I put the bags down and had started my car, I listened to the message from my oldest son asking me to call him. I called him immediately, we made small talk and then he told me that he had some news that wasn’t good. I instantly thought that his wife, who was a fairly new driver, had been in an accident with their kids and my mind searched for the strength to be available to him so I could support him. Then he told me that Kylee had been in an accident and didn’t make it. That poor boy had to sit and listen to his mother wail and scream, “No, God! Don’t take my baby!” After I was able to stop screaming, he told me that he had called his dad and that he was going to call the rest of the kids, except our youngest because her phone wasn’t working very well. She was the only one living at home at this time, so I had to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life which is to go home and tell my daughter that her sister was gone. That moment was the most heart-wrenching moment of my life. It was hands down harder than finding out that I had lost a child. We cried and collapsed on the bed still not quite believing that it could be real.
3. What has changed since the day Kylee (unfortunately) died?
GM:Everything! Our family dynamic is not the same without her presence, my children aren’t the same without the unique relationship they each had with Kylee. Her friends miss her laugh and sarcasm and her outspoken personality. Brandon lost his love and his child; he will never be the same. Kylee’s dad and I will forever be changed. We lost a person that we created, brought into the world and loved and nurtured for 24 years. We carry her absence around like a heavy burden. We all live with a piece of our hearts gone. That part of us will never be reestored. There is no such thing as a “new normal.” In our human-ness it’s not normal for a child to die before their parents. It breaks all the rules of how our minds think things should be. But children do die before their parents and it turns our world upside down for a while until we can wrap our heads around the reality and decide if we will let it consumeus or whether we will embrace the path of joy that still awaits us.Walking around with a chunk of your soul gone is not normal. My identity as Kylee’s mom has changed. I am still very much her mother; however, I am not able to do the things with her that I had planned. I won’t be able to hug her. I won’t be able to watch her and Brandon become parents. I can’t pick up the phone and call her for no reason. I won’t get to hold my grandchild. Kylee’s death made me realize how quickly life can end. I have a new awareness of how I want to spend my time and who I want to spend it with. I find that I have more love for everyone in general, but less tolerance for those who carry negative energy or a negative attitude. I have learned to set boundaries with who I allow in my close circle. I strive to add value to people’s lives and leave them better than I found them by simply being present with them and remembering that they are imperfect children of God just like me. Grieving takes a lot of energy, so it is important to me that I spend time with people who don’t suck the positivity out of my soul! That may sound harsh, but it has to be that way for me.
4. Since that tragic day, you try to help people who have dealt or are stilling with grief of a beloved person. How exactly do you try to help them?
GM:A few ways… I am training to be a volunteer at our local grief center. It is still in the process of being completed and finalized, but I am looking forward to being able to do what I can to listen and bring some comfort to those who are struggling. I also have a Facebook group and Instagram page, both called #lovehardproject where I share inspiration and tips to navigate the grief journey. I am writing a program that also focuses on helping with grief and also touches on mindset because I truly believe that what we think and how we chose to live each day can either make the journey difficult or more joyful.
5. You have an Instagram account (group) called (#lovehardproject). What is the aim of that account?
GM:#lovehardproject started as a facebook page where I wanted a placethat was positive and uplifting. It was 2017 and the feel of the country was very negative and divided politically. The aim was to simply share positive content. Then the members began to share their stories of loss and sadness about not being able to talk to people around them. Grief changes the way people interact with you. They don’t know what to say. They feel inadequate and/or uncomfortable, so they just kind of drift away. Or they tell you how you are supposed to mourn the loss and that you have been sad long enough. I realized that grief is so misunderstood because we aren’t talking about it! I began to listen to the members of the group and what they were struggling with and I started writing things down. Those things are being developed into a program that I plan to launch by spring. The Instagram account is where that will most likely launch from. I am not as confident on IG as I am on facebook, but I hope that by simply showing up I can offer value and support to my community.
6. I know that you are dedicated to keep Kylee’s legacy alive. You managed to get Kylee a tree at a special place. Is it a way to be in (in some sort) in her presence? How often do you visit this place? What does it mean to you?
GM:Actually, a friend is the one who had a tree planted in Deschutes National Forest in memory of Kylee. Neither of us has been able to find out if the tree was marked when it was planted. We’re still working on that. When I find out, I am sure that I will start a traditional hike to her tree every year.
7. What are the most difficult moments, or which are the most difficult days where you feel overwhelmed by grief? And what keeps you going?
GM:I wish I knew the answer to this question! I never know when the difficult days and moments will come. Most of the time, the anticipation and anxiety of the arrival of a certain day is worse than the actual day. I always think that her death anniversary and her birthday will be rough. Sometimes they are, but most of the time it isn’t as bad as I think it will be. A few months ago, I heard a song on the way to work and that started an entire week of my feelings being right on the surface. I mean everyday I had a breakdown! I have learned to be super vulnerable and honest with those around me. All my co-workers know my story and I tell them that I am having a rough day and that I might need them to step in for me if I have a grief burst. They are the best work family and they are happy to take care of me. What keeps me going? My children and grandchildren! I am blessed with family who are close and supportive. They keep me going because it would be a dishonour to them if I felt like their lives were not worth celebrating. Also, I know Kylee would not want me to be sad and give upon life. She was vibrant and adventurous and since she isn’t here to experience earth life anymore, I will do it for her!
8. After all the tragedy you have experienced – do you think that Kylee’s death was not in vain? If yes, explain…
GM:Absolutely! I don’t even know how to explain it except by saying that we all have a renewed sense of closeness and realizing what really matters. After Brandon shared his heartache on Facebook the night Kylee died, the post went viral and people began to have hope in a love like Brandon and Kylee’s. They began to see how we came together as a family and they came along with us and wrapped their virtual arms around us and mourned and cried with us (I’m crying as I write this and remember feeling the power of their love and prayers). I have never felt anything so real and so powerful before from people that I didn’t even know. My niece set up a GoFundMe account and donations poured ineven though it was 5 days before Christmas. My faith in humanity was restored and I was overwhelmed with the generosity. I still have people reach out to me regularly that I only know through the tragic loss of my daughter. You are one of those people whom I feel a great love for and I am deeply appreciative of your support and how you check in regularly! My children have learned empathy for those who have lost loved ones.They are so amazing and are doing their best to honor Kylee’s memory by simply living their best lives and being kind and helpful and adventurous.
9. Have you dealt with the topic of death since the sad event? If yes, how?
GM:My life has been touched by loss quite often, so the topic of death isone that I have experience with; however, until Kylee’s death I realize that I didn’t grieve in a healthy way .I lost both of my parents to homicide/suicide when I was 19 years old and very close to having my first child. My sister was 15 and my brother was 13 and they came to live with my husband and me. We were just kids ourselves, really, and had no idea how to grieve, let alone try to help a couple of teenagers through the loss of their parents. I believed that as the oldest, my job was to be strong for the younger kids. So I was. I never cried in front of them (maybe twice), and we certainly didn’t talk about their feelings. Looking back, it was horrible! I did them a huge disservice of which I have apologized for. I realized that I didn’t grieve properly when I attended a grief support group after Ky’s death. The things I learned in that group opened my eyes to how I needed to deal with the death of my parents and how far I had come since then. I am now an advocate for talking about death and how grief is different for everyone. I want people to know that howevert hey are grieving is the right way for them and that there is no “right” way to do it and there is no “right” amount of time to get through the process. Mostly, we need to be aware that there will never be complete healing; we will just learn to move through our days with that feeling of loss in our hearts.
10. Did your faith in God change after Kylee’s death? If yes to what extent? And do you still believe in God?
GM:I can’t say that my faith changed at all. I wanted to turn my back and walk away, but I always kept coming back to my faith. When I look back over my life, I can see where God has always had my back even when I thought there was no way I could go on and even when I felt alone. I know I will see Kylee and her baby again and that she is still very much near. I also know that they are in a place with other family members who have died and that their joy is full and there is no pain or suffering. I am comforted by that knowledge. I miss her terribly and as much as I want her back, I don’t want to take her from the place she’s at.
11. What would you like to say or advise people who are dealing with grief right now? What tips do you have for them?
GM: The first and most important thing would be that I promise it gets better!!! I can’t say that enough. When the grief is new and raw, it seems like you will never be able to be better. But with all my soul, I want you to believe that it will get better! And I want you to let that comfort you if only a tiny bit! My heart goes out to you! Second, find support! I want to gently tell you that it may not come from your family or close friends. Your family is experiencing the loss, too, and they may not be able to be the support you need. Death is an uncomfortable subject and people don’t know how to approach it, so they may say hurtful things or tell you that you have grieved long enough or that you should let go now. At first, I was hesitant to go to a support group, but I have stayed in touch with a few of the people that I met there and they understand that a hug is sometimes all that is needed. I have lots of little tips, but I will end with just one more and that is to find a way to serve. I am a firm believer that when you serve others your own problems become less burdensome. I like to think of it like this…Kylee is no longer here to perform acts of service, so I am going to do it for her. Your loss deserves an appropriate season of grieving or else it won’t go away. Feel it and let it be what it is and let the source of love for your child take the horrible event and transform it into something that can help others. Our struggles and trials make us who we are. Life isn’t supposed to be free of pain and hurt. We’re always trying to run from the dark into the light without staying in the dark long enough to realize that there are lessons to be learned there. And those lessons will help us appreciate the light on a much deeper level.
„Never. We never lose our loved ones. They accompany us; they don’t disappear from our lives. We are merely in different rooms.“ – Paulo Coelho
I was speechless when I read your answers and it made me cry. I know how hard it must have been for you answering those questions. In am so sorry for your loss. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for giviung insight on death and grief. I am sure, Kylee is proud of your work and how you are helping people dealing with a loss of a loved one. It is incredible how strong you are – and I am proud to know you (even if its not personally). Please keep up the good work. May God bless you and your whole family. You deserve the best. Stay safe! Hugs and Love, Aby!
When I started my studies in Anthropology, I knew I will be excited when it comes to my semester abroad. 2018 – when I accidentally visited the Instagram account of an orphanage, I did not know or even guessed that one year later ill be doing my ethnographic research in that specific orphanage called Nipe Tumaini. Right at the beginning, when I was looking up the website, I was touched by the story. A Kenyan man who dedicated his life to help abandoned children and orphans. So, he managed to buy a plot of land.
Driven by his motivation and the help of many other people, he managed to open the orphanage back in 2009. Since then, children from difficult backgrounds, abandoned children and orphans can call Nipe Tumaini their home…and by the way “Nipe Tumaini” is Swahili and means “Give Me Hope” – and it is actually what this non-profit organization is doing, giving children hope for a better life and access to education. So, that’s just to give you an insight about the beginnings and the work of Nipe Tumaini.
After I learned more about them, I knew I wanted to get to know these people behind Nipe Tumaini, I wanted to learn about the backgrounds of those beautiful children, and I was sure I wanted to visit this place. Fortunately, the founder Benson Mungai, was okay with my plan visiting the organization and doing my research in Kenya. So, after all preparations were done, I knew that this trip would change me in some way – and yes it DID!
My adventure began on 1st August 2019, when I arrived at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport in Nairobi. I landed at night, so when I finally arrived at Nipe Tumaini, the children were already asleep. The next day, early in the morning, I woke up from the sounds of children playing outdoors and looked through the window – it was a view that filled my heart with love, and I was excited spending the next weeks with those children and to get to know the Kenyan culture. After Mom (my host mother) introduced me to the children and showed me my new home – I was able to do some field work, which included creating a census with all the names of the children, their age and (if known) their backgrounds. Most of the kids were very shy and it took some days until they got used of me living with them. But, once they were comfortable with me – they were hardly able to get away from me, which made me so happy. I loved cuddling and playing with them. Although, my Swahili was not the best, we still managed to communicate in English or with the help of my host parents.
After few days, I wanted to know more about those beautiful children who could not get enough of my playing with them on the playground. So, it was not only important for my research, but it was also in my interest to get insight about their life before they came to Nipe Tumaini. I asked my host mother about and she told me stories which were heart breaking.
Some of those kids were given to the Rescue Centre because their family were not able to care for them. One reason was poverty, which is (unfortunately way too common in most African countries). Other reasons were that parents just did not want to care for (some) of the kids. Moreover, some parents died, and their grandparents were too old to care and educate those kids. Also, one of the kids was an orphan because both parents died in an accident. These are some reasons why some kids ended up at Nipe Tumaini.
In some cases, the backgrounds are not even known. The youngest kid was only 2 years old. Even though, most of the kids did not know (precisely) why they were abandoned and why they live at the orphanage, it was only more impressive how happy they seemed to be at Nipe Tumaini. My host parents tried to give these children a good childhood as possible. Caring for 13 kids was indeed a hard job to handle! I was impressed by my host Mom who was not only a teacher but also a housewife – handling both jobs at once. Some might now say that being a mother and working the same time is not that special – I think it is regarding the circumstances that my host mother was an African woman, handling 13 kids, going to work, facing poverty the same time and still trying to give her best. I saw what African women are capable of: how strong they are! And what I would like to express at this point: she loved those children like they were her own biological kids – she did not make any differences between her biological kids and the other kids. I learnt what pure motherly love should/ must look like and also that family does NOT necessarily have to do with genes.
I did not only enjoy playing around but I loved cooking with my host mother – Kenyan food. My favourite food was Chapati. If you ever get the chance to go to Kenya, you should definitely try them 😊.
Since I have moved at the age of 4 to Germany, I was only once in Africa – Egypt in 2015, for a holiday. Therefore, those experiences in Kenya, changed me in a way I never believed they would. I learned the way of African parenting and African way of life. Besides all the hardships those people were facing, they still managed to see the positive things in life. That way of living impressed me because I saw that no matter how hard life could sometimes be, there is still a way of making the best of every situation. Most people, including me tend to overlook all the blessings and prefer to see the negatives. Living in Kenya, taught me to be more grateful of everything I got instead of taking things for granted. It may sound trivial but living in another culture makes one realize those things even more. Africans live more light-hearted and that was so fascinating. We, in the Western World, take so many things for granted in so many ways. The time in Kenya, taught me to live more consciously.
It also made me realize how valuable it is to have a healthy family and being loved by them. The presence of those beautiful kids taught me how amazing motherhood could be and how much I would like to become a mother one day. I especially fell in love with Faith (I guess most of you already know that). She was such a sweetie – it felt like I had known her before I flew to Kenya. We were in fact inseparable. I loved cuddling, feeding and playing with her. It was like we had a special bond, and in fact when I was on my way to the airport back to Germany, I cried a lot because I was just used to her presence.
Traveling to Kenya also gave me the opportunity to broaden my horizon in terms of culture. I visited a Kenyan wedding which was beyond amazing. Starting from the colourful dresses, the Kenyan music, the lust of life of the people, the food and so many more.
As being an African I enjoyed the African sun – shining most of the time, which made it really hard to get used to the weather back in Germany, lol.
Besides that, I was overwhelmed of the kindness of all the people I met. I was seen as a member of that great big family, and as my host parents repeatedly used to say, “We want you to know that this is your second home”. In fact, when I left for Germany, I knew I left behind (my second) family. Until this day, I am still in contact with my host mother. I would have stayed longer but due to personal issues, I had to leave earlier than planned. Anyway, I still did enjoy the time in Kenya. I did not only grow on a personal level, but also on my academic level. It was my first Anthropological research, which was in fact a special one because I gained new friends and a (extended) family.
At this point, I would love like to thank Nipe Tumaini, my host family and all the kids who made my time special. You gave me opportunity to grow!
I will keep those memories I have made in Kenya deep in my heart!
And by the way, my research question was : „How do Kenyan orphans/ kids define the concept of family ?“, which later changed to “ Concepts of „good childhood“ and education in a cultural context. An ethnological research in Kenya“, which I then wrote my thesis about.
Your story moved me very much and you are such a strong woman. Please tell me about your fate…
(Daisy): I started my own business in gastronomy and at one point I had aching limbs and at one point I couldn’t get up either. But then that was gone again and in the evening I went to bed and tomorrow I couldn’t get up. I called my father and my then best friend slept over at my place and spent the night. Then I went with my father to the hospital in Freudenstadt and they couldn’t tell us exactly what was going on. My father then got so involved and went to the public prosecutor, who then got me out of the hospital. Then I went to the University Hospital in Tübingen and in Tübingen they had to resuscitate me and put me in an artificial coma. They didn’t have to do what I had then. If you read my medical report today, the doctors wrote down exactly the illness I probably already suffered from. At that time the doctors spent several months looking for what I might have. They took my blood every day and sent me to various laboratories because the disease was so difficult to find out, because I did not have the exact signs of the disease. My disease is called systematic lupus erythematosus (autoimmune disease), which means that the body attacks itself. As a result, I got meningitis, and this inflammation went to the spine and inflamed the nerves there, so the nerves are now scarred and no signals are getting through. I went to hospital in December 2011, the disease was diagnosed at the beginning of 2012 and I was in hospital until November 2012. At that time I was also paralysed down the neck, I couldn’t breathe on my own, for example. Then everything happened bit by bit. (I could slowly move my right arm, my right index finger and so on). I had to learn everything again.
2 How exactly does all this affect your body in everyday life? (Daisy): For example, I have to take a lot of pills so that my illness does not have a new attack. This disease has the same effect as MS. I am well adjusted by the medication. (We) or he (Daisy’s boyfriend) helps me well and we look for alternatives or stop taking pills. If I notice that I am trying the tablet and see what happens – of course I always consult my doctor. For example, we also started a bee therapy* where I could stop my cortisone because I gained a lot of weight. We always look to find other ways. I also had chemotherapy back then, which lasted over a year and did not help. I take bee products (apitherapy) and my friend goes to the beekeeper and gets bees and these bees then sting me, like on my back for example. This bee venom works well, but of course only if you are not allergic to it. (Daisy’s Partner adds): About 3000 cells die in the places where the sting was and these cells reproduce in an increased form. We hope that the nerves will eventually send signals to each other again. This therapy is not covered by health insurance, which means we pay for it. In Nagold, for example, there are doctors who charge 10 Euros for a bee. My friend stings me up to 40 bees at once during this therapy. So it is very cost-intensive.
What or who motivates you? (Daisy): I have learned a lot in the hard time. Learned a lot about who my real friends are – even who I can count on in my family. In the beginning there were so many I thought were my friends, but the longer I was in the hospital, the fewer I became. The person who has always been there for me and who has visited me every day is my parents. I think if I hadn’t had my parents, I would have given up. They have always been there for me and have always given me strength. They never said that they couldn’t do it anymore and they always tried not to cry in front of me. Sure, when you hear that your daughter is coming back to life, it is not easy. And yet they were always there for me – no matter what I had done wrong before. I think thanks to my parents I have so much strength and I think there is so much strength in everyone if you have the right support. People who love you and who can strengthen you. I was not yet together with my boyfriend at that time and I knew him from school. He knew me as a runner and still entered into this relationship with me – no matter whether I was in a wheelchair or not.
4 What does your typical everyday life look like? (Daisy): My typical everyday life: my boyfriend has restructured a bit for me. When we weren’t in this flat yet, I lived with my parents and of course my everyday life looked different there. But here it is like this: we get up together and have breakfast. He goes to work, then my father comes and we go shopping together. Afterwards I cook for myself and take pictures for Instagram. I do the housework so far, just what I can do. Unfortunately I don’t have a therapist at the moment, because I couldn’t get along with my previous therapist. And here in Pfalzgrafenweiler, there is no practice that can afford what I need.
Does that mean to wait for a therapist ? (Daisy): I have now asked the therapists here in the area when they could afford it and they either contact me or I am unlucky. (Daisy’s Partner adds): The problem is the legal situation in Germany. She needs physiotherapy and lymph drainage. The latter has to be done in bed, which means that the therapists would have to come and do the lymph drainage before I go to work. As I have different working hours because I work in the field, I have to re-arrange it and the problem is that the law says that you can only have one practice. Because every time someone comes, you are allowed to claim compensation for the distance you have travelled. The legislator does not pay for two different practices, i.e. one practice must offer and provide physiotherapy and lymph drainage. And just because you are a physiotherapist does not mean that you can do both – you need special training. There would be practices that would do lymphatic drainage and another practice that would do physiotherapy, but because of the hard costs, this is not done because only one practice pays the travel costs.
(Daisy adds): In the meantime we have reached the point where we are allowed to take practices from other counties. (Daisy’s partner adds): We also had a problem with rehab once: we had the first rehab measure in 2016. As I work in the health care system, I struggled for 3 years (including court hearings) because experts thought it was too fat, although it was clear from the medical file that she had gained so much weight due to the amount of cortisone. But the experts said that it was because of her diet. In 2017, we applied for treatment near Dortmund ( Samuel Koch from „Wetten Dass?!“ was in treatment there). This clinic is the first in the world to specialise in robot-controlled therapy (approx. 7000 Euro/week). In Dec 2019, the court case in which the assumption of costs was refused on the grounds that it is not a facility with health insurance approval, i.e. it is a private facility. Four health insurance companies cover costs because they have special contracts with the institution, their health insurance company does not have this contract and therefore they refuse to cover the costs. There are always obstacles in your way. There is evidence and documentation from the WDR* and NDR**, in which success stories are presented. For example, there was a pregnant woman who was given an epidural injection that was contaminated, which caused her to end up in a wheelchair. The health insurance company also refused to cover the costs of this operation, which she then paid for herself. After the health insurance company knew that her case was improving, they paid the costs. Today, the woman is no longer paraplegic. This means that the health insurance company can pay for these therapies – but they always say that it is not possible, the law says. It is made difficult. For example, Daisy wants to work, but the Employment oOfice says she cannot be placed because her illness can come back in waves and you don’t know how long she would have to stop working if it happened […]. The problem is the if the Employment Office places her, they have to organise a driver for Daisy to pick her up and bring her back – the Employment Office would have to pay for this, which they don’t want.
6. Where do you get the strength to be so positive? (Daisy): My family and friends give me the most strength. And of course my boyfriend. Without my family I think I would have given up already.
7. Apart from your body, what else has changed? And would you say that this has also changed things positively?
(Daisy): Some things have changed. I don’t have the same friends I had back then. I know now who I can and cannot count on. I don’t have an insane number of friends any more. My attitude towards life has changed, what is important and what is not. The general opinion: in the past I always liked the latest mobile phone and had so many wishes. Today I think about how to get healthy or how I feel Life can be so short, it can be over so quickly […].
8 If you were to change something in the world, what would it be? (Daisy): Oh, I would want to change so many things (laughs). I met so many sick people when I was in the hospital. I would make people happy a lot more. I would make people who you know won’t have long to live happy, so that they would see that they are not alone. I would change the world so that people do not only think of themselves. That people see when other people need help, not just with wheelchair users, disabled or sick people, but everyone needs help somehow. Unfortunately, charity is completely lost. Life is simply too short to be so spiteful towards each other.
9 If you had three wishes, what would you wish for?
I would wish that every sick person has a wish
That I will get well again
Of course money is not everything, but money makes life easier. Above all, you notice it when you are sick.
My beloved Daisy,
I am more than proud to call you my friend. It has been a great pleasure for me talking and laughing with you during our interview in January. I cannot put into words how strong you are and promise you to always be there for you whenever you need me. I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your friendship which has developed after our interview. You are loved ! Aby
Since I interviewed couple of people who have dealt or still dealing with grief, I have gained different insight and perspectives of death. Few months ago, I came along and read about Samantha White from the United States. She is a solo mama to two beautiful children and a widow. Samantha became a widow in a young age since her husband passed away in 2016. Sam took some time and answered me some questions about her life as a mother and being a widow at the same time. Read the whole interview below:
SW: Hi everyone, my name is Samantha, but I often go by Sam or Sami. I am a blogger and social media influencer. I encourage others to cling to hope and yet also be real and true to themselves as we go through this journey called life.
Q: I have been following you for a while. You are mother of 2 beautiful kids. Tell me a bit about the life as a single mother…..
SW: Solo parenting is the hardest thing I have ever done to be honest with you. I have a son (5) and a daughter (3). They are the greatest, most beautiful gifts from God. Through the different stages of childhood, I am constantly having to reevaluate and reestablish my ways of parenting, but thankfully we have all survived well so far.
Q: What would you like to teach your children in a world where we often see injustice and hate?
SW: As a parent, I do my best to balance telling my children the truth and protecting them from the truth. The truth is that the world is not all sunshine and rainbows. Some of this is because life just happens, but some of it is also because people are rude. So although I often explain life situations to them, even at this young age, I also try to instill in them love, compassion, and kindness. As a white, single mother raising biracial children, I know how some people look at me. Those are the looks I want to protect my children from and teach them to love others no matter how they may look or act. We are all created beautifully unique. I want my children to grow to embrace that, not resent it.
Q: As I already said, you are a single mother. The reason for that is a sad one because your man passed away. Can you tell me what happened?
SW: My husband passed away in May 2016, so yes, I am a young widowed mom. He passed away in a tragic motorcycle accident. He was only 25 years old. We had been married for just three years. I was 22 and pregnant with our daughter. Our son was almost two years old.
Q: What has changed until he passed away? What do you especially miss? Did you take something positive out of that experience – if yes what?
SW: Everything has changed. I know that may sound a bit dramatic, but it’s so true. Everything from my perspective of life, my faith, the way I look, how I parent, what I find important, etc. I look at pictures of myself before he died, and I just do not recognize that girl anymore. Although I miss everything about him, I think I miss having someone to parent and do life with the most. He is no longer here to bounce ideas off of, help around the house or with the kids, hug me when I need comfort, etc. So many things that I miss! As far as something positive coming from this experience, that’s a tough one. Yes, I do believe that being a widow has given me a certain wisdom that I didn’t have before, and that’s a good thing. However, I would not say that my husband’s death was a good thing- I simply say that I trust God in the plan that He has for me as promised in Romans 8:28.
Q: What gives you strength in the process of grief?
SW: Definitely my children. I have no idea where I would be without them. For a long time, they were the only reason I woke up in the mornings. Now almost four years into widowhood, I’ve found more reasons to love life, but my children still keep me going. God is my absolute constant through all the ups and downs.
Q:How would you describe the process of grief?
SW: I could not rightfully describe the whole process of grief in a simple paragraph, but grief is just that: a process. It is not a straight path or even a smooth hill, it’s ups and downs, turns and u-turns. Grief is a journey that never truly ends. It can feel light one day and then hit you in the face the next. It involves denial, mourning, anger, pain, and yet also acceptance, hope, and bittersweet moments.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to people who are in the same situation as you? What would be an advice?
SW: I will tell you that my heart breaks any time I find out a mom has become a widow. That is why I am so open with my story. I want them to know that they are not alone. I would also tell people in my situation to hold on, tight. There is no other way through grief than to actually allow yourself to go through it. Cry, scream, mourn, feel all the feelings, write, talk about it. Teach yourself to look for silver linings, little blessings, in your every day life. Do not be ashamed or embarrassed of your story. We often find our greatest testimony in the area of our greatest pain.
Q: What do you wish for your future?
SW: This is a tough one. Ultimately, I want to live in God’s will, whatever that may be. And maybe that looks different than my own hopes and dreams. I know my hopes and dreams have changed throughout the years. I want to trust in Him to use me and my story for His glory.
Q: Do you have special wishes regarding your future? What exactly and why?
SW: Well, I do know that I want to be a published author. I would love to one day publish a book about my personal grief journey, but also a book for grief support for others, specifically widows. Until then, I would love for my blog and writing to reach others around the world who may need encouragement in their own grief journeys. Other than that, I truly live day by day, trusting that God will provide all my needs and put me where I need to be.
Q: After all you have been through, do you think that everything has a propose and that it was God’s will? If yes, please explain…
SW: I do honestly believe that everything has a purpose. That can be so tough to wrap my head around sometimes though. I am constantly having to remind myself that my life is not just about me, but about glorifying God. This does not make my grief nonexistent or easy, it simply gives me a hope that after this life, I get to spend eternity in Heaven in perfection with my Savior. Humans die, and we most likely will never know why, but I continue to trust that God has us living this life for a reason.
I am so honored and grateful that I got the chance to interview you. I cannot imagine how hard it must be for you to speak about what happened to you. But, without any doubt – you are such an inspiration for many women who are dealing with death and grief. I wish you nothing but the best for you and your kids.
In this blog, I interviewed a young lady, who’s origin lies like mine in Togo. Her name: Faourouz Sadaoutchi, 27 and currently living in Duisburg, Germany. Faourouz has two interesting professions: read below what makes her so special.
Q: Tell me, how did it come that you have such special professions?
FS: First, I did an apprenticeship as an assistant tax adviser because my parents wanted me to do something useful. Therefore, I finished my apprenticeship and started studying fashion design. Shortly before I had finished my studies in fashion, a friend of mine who was working for Lufthansa and asked me if I was interested working for the company – so that’s how I became a flight attendant now.
Q: Which of both professions do you like most and why?
FS: Fashion is my passion! I love to create art, to accoutre people and to distract them from their worries and problems.
Q: Have your ever experienced any difficulties being a black flight attendant? If yes, which kind of difficluties?
FS: Unfortunately, yes. There was a passenger on board who did not want to be served by me because of my skin colour. I was glad that my whole crew stood behind me.
Q: To which places have you been so far as working as a flight attendant? Which place did you like the most?
FS: Oh, I have seen a lot of quite a lot of places. I have visited all continents besides Australia. The life-enhancing thing about my job is that I still visit places which I think would never have visited like Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.
Q: As I already mentioned, you are also a designer. What do you like the most about this job?
FS: As a fashion designer, I like the fact that most of the people do not care where I am from because it is my art which speaks for me- that makes me happy. I can be myself without being judged.
Q: What do you want to express with your designs/ clothes?
FS: I want to create fashion for everyone. My costumers shall wear my designs and should be able to see themselves. I use my fashion to reclaim political issues and to inform people.
Q: Do you think that it is more difficult for an African designer to work in Germany? If yes, why?
FS: I cannot say much to that question because I have not tried to break into the German fashion industry yet.
Q: You are from Togo, but you live in Germany. Could you imagine going back one day? What would be a reason to go back to Togo?
FS: I will definitely go back to Africa. But I do not know if it will be Togo, Ghana or another African country. What I can say is that all my designs will be produced in in Africa. Now, some prototypes are being sewed. I would like to give something back to Africa, that is why I try to generate new jobs and ensuring a fair and competitive marketplace.
Q: Which advice would you give young people who would like to fill in your shoes?
FS: Do not ever stop doing what you love, not matter what people say. If you have a passion for something – DO IT. If you do not take chance, you will never know how you do it better or even to get where you want to be.
Q: If you had three wishes free, what would that be?
FS: I would wish my parents wealth. A world without wars and peace for every human being.
It makes me super happy seeing another sister of mine having such a success. I am excited seeing African women following their dreams and paving the way for the younger generation. Dear, Faourouz thank you for being a role model, especially for young African ladies out there! I wish you nothing but the BEST for you and your work as a fashion designer and flight attendant.
ANNABELLE: Hi, my name is Annabelle Mandeng. I am a 48 years old German actress, presenter and dubbing actress that loves to run, workout, paint, cook and live a healthy life with loads of fresh juices!
ALM: Your parents are from Germany and Cameroon – so your half German and African. How do you identify yourself? Do you see yourself more as a German or an African?
ANNALBELLE: I clearly see myself as a German as I was born and raised here. I have only visited Cameroon a couple of times for a week or so in my life as my parents divorced when I was a baby so I don’t have any connection with Cameroon.
ALM: What is your thought about being raced from parents with different nationalities? Would you say it was difficult? If yes, why ?
ANNABELLE: My parents divorced when I was 1 1/2 and my brother 6 1/2. We stayed with our mom whereas my father went back to Cameroon after writing his PhD in economics in Germany. So the only culture we knew was that of my German mother.
ALM: Your mother worked for the German Entwicklungsdienst in Togo. You also lived in Pakistan, therefore you lived in different countries and cultures. What did you learn the most while living in those countries / cultures?
ANNABELLE: What I learned most is tolerance and respect towards different cultures, needs, behavior and traditions. It opened my horizon and made me also understand that I will always be black in Germany and white in Africa. Or simply „different“ in Pakistan. A conflict at first but finally it taught me to be happy with my individuality.
ALM: What do you enjoy the most living about the German society?
ANNABELLE: I love the openness, I love to talk to people openly, to move around in the clothes I prefer, to watch the change in our society into a multicultural melting pot. I love the humor of the people in the north where I grew up and going skiing in the south. There is a lot I love!
ALM: You are an actor, dubbing actor and TV presenter. Which of those profession do you like the most and why? What are the difficulties of such jobs?
ANNABELLE: I love all three jobs but I prefer most to act and dub. Working in the German media being 5’11“ 1/2 (1m80) and black is really not that easy. As an actress I have played in a couple of big productions but only now – due to the change towards diversity – I played a leading role in a cinema movie which be will be out next spring („Berlin-Alexanderplatz“ by Burhan Qurbani). As a dubbing actress I have SO much fun! First of all, the only thing that counts is my voice, not my height, not my looks, not my skin color. Second: since I was a child I loved to play around with my voice, reading out loud, recording, ect., so I simply feel at home. As a presenter I love the intellectual challenge as I work with big companies, the Berlinale, the government simultaneously in German and English and sometimes in French.
ALM: Have you ever experienced any kind of troubles because of your appearance? If yes, what exactly
ANNABELE: Honestly? Not really. I guess because of my height, posture, education and appearance. People think twice before making such a move towards me. Still I have experienced racist remarks, was sometime pushed by elderly men while walking somewhere but it has nothing to do with what happens to others. The only thing that is finally getting on my nerves is the need to explain in roles why the character is black. If you take a look in Kindergardens you can see that these reflects how diverse our society has become This should be much more reflected in the German media. I know that things change but too slowly in my eyes.
ALM: Which advice would you give young black women which would like to work in the media industry?
ANNABELLE: The only advice I can give which goes for any young woman no matter what skin color: rely on your brains, work hard and be respectful and kind.
ALM: How do you deal with people who criticise you?
ANNABELLE: Openly as I love to learn!
ALM: You are also an athletic person. What does sport mean to you? How do you handle your weaker self on days you do not feel like working out?
ANNABELLE: I have always worked out since I was a toddler basically. It is part of my life and always will be. And it is a necessity, too, as my spine had to be stabilized with titan bars and screws. Plus my left arm is handicapped since a major car accident when I was 17. Sport for me is like sleep, food, drink or hygiene. If I don’t feel like working out it is mostly simply due to the fact that my body needs a break. If not, I know that I always – with no exception – feel better after a run in the park or a couple of exercises or what not. Also as a balance to being so alert in my jobs.
ALM: What or which people inspire you and why?
ANNABELLE: I feel inspired by courage, talent and creativity.
ALM: If you had three wishes, what would that be?
ANNABELLE: I would wish for a political and economical change in countries such as Serbia. I would wish for more tolerance towards other cultures, religions, sexual preferences, gender, skin colors. And I would simply wish for a couple of million Euros to support projects such as ocean care and to buy living spaces for myself and my family and friends.
Dear Annabelle, thank you so much for being a part of those people who inspire me. You are an example of a living multi talent and a kind-hearted soul. Thank you for your time and interest. All the best 🙂
Q: So, I read a lot about you and you were and still are, a leading figure in the Black Lives Matter Movement. What do you want to achieve? What is your wish for black people in the US?
Ms. Fagbamila : So, what I want to achieve in my work with BLM is to advocate for a political system, a social system, that will essentially make it, so that black people have equal access to the law, equal access to justice in this land. That black people are able to move throughout the world and know that they actually have the ability to have equal access to opportunity So, that they know that it is not because of institutional racism or institutional anti-blackness that they are not able to live up to their fullest compacity because of some kind of bias system. So really, it is just advocating for equal access. And once that occurs, then black will be able to live healthier more fulfilled lives, and not have to be worried about navigating institutional inequality.
Q: Do you think that it will be possible for Blacks to live in the US without being oppressed? What can black people do, in order to be heard and taken seriously?
Ms. Fagbamila: I do think that it is possible for black people to live in the United States without being oppressed. I think that, it will take transformative movement, in order for that to happen. I do not think that black people will be liberated overnight. I think that it will take sustained movements that would encourage the transformation of legislation, the transformation of criminal justice in this country and beyond. And a number of different things will have to take place, in order for black people to actually be freed in this land and so, I believe that it is possible, but I do not think that it will be just a matter of people being nice to each other and that will end racism and oppression.[…]. The end of systemic oppression of particular groups, the only thing for that to happen is, if there is transformational, institutional change and not just change of opinion or change of feeling, or some other kind of surface level unsubstantial, kind of representational, cultural shift. […] Black people can advocate for themselves without being worried about how external groups may view them […].
Q: What do you think is the main problem in the US, regarding oppression of different ethnicities?
Ms. Fagbamila: I would say for my own personal opinion, that I think that the main problem in the United States is that there are a core intellectual level of fear and intimidation, of difference or intimidation by difference. I personally believe that people are conditioned and trained really early on to be intimidated by that which is different.And that is why we have so many different kinds of xenophobic behaviours and laws and cultural practices that exists in the United States and beyond.
Q: You are a Nigerian-American scholar, activist, playwright and artist. Which of those works, do you prefer to do and why?
Ms. Fagbamila: I would say that they are deeply intertwined, but it will be really difficult for me to choose one and to announce that as my primary identity. I identify as a scholar… specifically, not necessarily as an academic. Because yes, while I work within academia, scholarship is just the everlasting pursuit of knowledge, pursuit of information… and that is the center of my life and experience in this world. […] In any real way I consider myself as an activist because I think we all should be activists. I feel like really at the core of it, we should all fell compelled to do something, if there is something wrong… that we should all feel compelled to attempt to be helpful and to shift society, if there is something societally/ socially wrong. I think that we should feel compelled to engage when something needs to be changed. So, rather than viewing myself as an activist, that should be acknowledged for her social/ political contributions, I think that it would be an amazing thing, of we could culturally normalise activism and make it, so we all feel compelled to do something when something is wrong, rather than uplifting the activist in this world. Playwright: …I write stories, I think that stories move people. I feel like stories move the heart…they move the emotion in a way that studying cannot necessarily. I think that people can consume data, stats and logistical information, and they can understand something intellectually but not feel moved or feel compelled to do anything about it, until they hear a story or see some type of compelling imagery that brigs to life , the information that they have just consumed via (whatever) intellectual process. And as an artist, my duty is to move people at a heart level and almost I would say cellular level, so they feel compelled to do something about what they know, rather than just knowing and knowing more and knowing more.
Q: You are the founder of #TheIntersection: WokeBlackFolk, which is a stage play. Tell me, what inspired you to create it and which message do you want to share?
Ms. Fagbamila: The stage play I was encouraged to write this story because I saw the contentions and difficulties that existed in the political spaces that I was occupying as an activist, as a community organizer, as an academic. I was in all of these different black social political spaces and I was hearing the ways that each group was talking about the other groups. And I identified four different types of groups and I created characters that were reflections of what I was seeing in my actual everyday life. People that I know truly in person, but I wanted to personify them, to humanize them in a way…because we live in a social media era that is very much and can be depersonalized, that can almost be dehumanizing because we are looking at people through a screen, we are looking at peoples images and their brands online and were are not seeing real humans in real life. What inspired me to created it was my ignition to communicate more effectively across political difference, across the difference of political ideology. And I made character, who is a black afro-centric cultural nationalist, I would call him… and also can held a many patriarchal tendencies but he feel very much what he is doing is the best bet for black people and their straight for liberation. The second character that I made, was a black feminist academic. She can be very pompous […]. She takes on with her academic training, but she is also very much advocating for the people that are un-advocated, for unseen, unheard and underappreciated and underacknowledged often times in black communities. So, there is a complexity there. The third character was an activist who was always on the front line, always protesting, always marching, always picketing, always at the meeting, always organizing and is doing the ground work, the foot work which is necessary to challenge social norms and systems that are harmful and dehumanizing and threatening black lives. But also, they can be quite judgmental in their kind of critique of black people or of people who do not do grassroots organizing the way that THEY (emphasized by Ms. Fagbamila) do. And of course, activism for social justice looks like many things, grassroots organizing and engaging in public demonstrations is one articulation of political engagement. And so, I think that that person is very much represented in black communities as well. And the last character was what I identify as a “political moderate”, who thinks that maybe they are on the left, or kind of liberal. But their political ideologies are informed by a lot of what we will call respectability politics. One minute they are a respectable person, but also this person even though they have some kind of force rules in their political assessment about black peoples kind of state in the country, they really have every intention on advocating for greater community incapability for black people to be more countable to themselves in their communities and stop necessarily always looking externally to name the problem as something that we have no control over; that somebody is doing to us; that we do not have any control over changing because the boogie man is racism and nothing that we have done to our own self, which can be a very complicated and complex conversation. Again, it can easily spill into a conservative, avoidance of systemic inequality, but I think the character has good intensions and my intention is to observe that characters intentions and see whether or not we can engage her with the necessary nuance.
Q: People like Erykah Badu and Angela Davis honoured your work #WokeBlackFolk. What does this mean to you?
Ms. Fagbamila: It means a great deal to me. It means so much that people that I have looked up to could look at my work and be inspired by or appreciate it or to see value and worth in it. It is absolutely moving to be honest…like to speak about this all day but I am honoured that I can offer this contribution and that those who had offered beautiful contributions in the past see it and feel moved by it.
Q: I saw a video in which you were performing “Black Girl Fly”. It is obvious that this is dedicated to black women/ girls. What was the reason you wrote that piece and what did you especially want to trigger towards black girls?
Ms. Fagbamila: I wrote that peace because I was asked to write something for Black History Month. […] And throughout my adult life, I have considered the condition of black people and even more specifically the condition of black women and girls under a system that I can identify as a white supremacist patriarchy. And the way which that can limit the potential of black women and girls, and I wanted to advocate in this poem that I wrote, I wanted to advocate for black girls being freed to be, to thrive, to learn , to grow, nor not feel their human being is going to be intimidating or challenging to others. And even if it is, to continue, to pursue their evolution, admits pushback socially. Or even, whatever personal of pushback and resistance they may experience in their own lives, so I relay just encouraging black girls to fly. You know, its is called ‘Back Girl Fly’. Speak, write, lead, learn. Do not worry about if your advancement and abolition, brilliance, your brilliance and your brilliance is intimidating to a system that assumes that you are not supposed to personify by those things within your black girl body. So, it is really a message to say that black girls can do whatever it is what they desire, admits racism and patriarchy, that we can still strive and that we will challenge these systems that say that we are less than.
Q: To which degree a do you think, society has an influence on the way, black girls see themselves? And what do you think could be done in order to change the negative self awareness of black people/girls?
Ms. Fagbamila: I think the society has a very huge influence on the way black girls see themselves. If we are talking about the way the world views women and girls in general, limiting girls are judged more on their physical attributes, the way they look more than what is in their mind and what they have to offer intellectually. Culturally, that is starting to shift in the West a lot and in the world in general, where women are more being appreciated for what they have to offer via their minds and their menAgain, women and girls are more heavily policed via their physical appearance. Black girls specifically, are not afforded the same leniency that often times their white counterparts are, for the same behaviours that they might engage in. For instance, black girls are much more likely to be criminalized in the classroom setting, whether that being sent to an authority’s office, or even having the authorities called into the school on them for engaging the same behaviours for their white male or female counterparts. tal capacity […] . I think that socially, the resources need to be made available for black women to hear for black people to heal. So, even within black communities there can be greater dialogue around what healing looks like, so that future generations do not have to take on [ the kind of] intergenerational traumas and passed those down. […]in order to change the kind of negative self-imagery, we need to be very careful of what kind of media little black girls are consuming, so we can let them know that even though, that television screen might tell them that loose crawly hair is the best natural hair. That their kinky curly afro hair is just as good: it is beautiful, it is perfect, it is divine, it is ideal and that their beautiful black skin is perfect, beautiful, divine and ideal[…].
Q: On which topic would you like to work on in the future and why?
Ms. Fagbamila: The topic that I like to work on in the future is the relationship between black people throughout, the Africans or the Black diaspora. So, one thing that I would like to explore in my future work, is the relationship, for instance, West-Africans or Nigerians and Black Americans. I plan to do that and discuss the way blackness is viewed or engaged globally.
Q: If you had 3 wishes free? What would that be?
Ms. Fagbamila: I never really thought of that, but I think if I had 3 wishes free, I would wish: 1) a greater compassion in the world and logic, for people to employ logic and compassion together. Because I think it would eliminate so much of the pain and suffering in the world. I think that if the majority of the world’s population or if all of the world’s inhabitants were really employing logic and compassion in their behaviours, that there would be no poverty and hunger and a lot of the other things that cause harm. There would be less greed etc. 2) I guess my number one wish is my primary wish. But another wish I would have is, for people to be able to deal with difference with a greater grace and dignity. Meaning, they are no longer afraid of engaging things that are different from them or that they are unfamiliar to them. And one other wish would be reverse a great deal of the damage that has been done, historically. So, that people can be healthier and not have to deal with the damage of the trauma that has already been done […].
Dear Ms. Fagbamila,
thank you very much for all the detailed answers. I thank you for working on so many important issues, regarding Black people. You inspire many people out there, including me. Thank your for your precious time and your dedication to such interesting and important topics. I wish you all the best!