Why are we here and which is worse?

“I should like to know which is worse: to be ravished a hundred times by pirates, and have a buttock cut off, and run the gauntlet of the Bulgarians, and be flogged and hanged in an auto-da-fe, and be dissected, and have to row in a galley — in short, to undergo all the miseries we have each of us suffered – or simply to sit here and do nothing?”

Voltaire, Candide

Why are we here? The philosophical question asked by countless souls searching for the meaning of life is sometimes just an excuse for people to sit down, ponder and do nothing, while life is running on around them. As Voltaire noticed in his satire Candide, human beings tend to avoid action, if they can’t predict the outcome. We feel assured in our little worlds and avoid new things and experiences, which can take us out of our comfort zone. Voltaire’s Candide didn’t stop at this notion, he was, after all, a man of action and in the end asked himself which is worse; to have unspeakable things happen to us while living, or not live at all… I feel we’ve come to the point, where we have to explain ourselves in further detail and in the process hope to answer not one, but two questions; why are the volunteers Annika and Urban in India and would it be better to simply sit at home?

Let me clarify at the beginning, that none of the mishaps mentioned above happened to us and I firmly believe it will stay that way until the end of our project. We don’t plan to get ravished by a single pirate, thank you, although when I read the crime sections of Indian newspapers, I do feel that this is our unavoidable future in New Delhi, the crime capital of the world, according to the newspapers, which some times paint the picture of Delhi as a war zone of robberies, killings, rape and mayhem. I guess crime sales everywhere. We also don’t plan to row in galleys, but as you know, to film a series of short films for ETASHA on the work of the organisation, different classes, facilitators and most importantly, the trainees, who participate in the ETASHA’s programmes. But the filming work, although the most important aspect for ETASHA, is just a part of our experience in India.

Annika during one of the filming sessions.

The big WHY behind the project for us is the concept of global education as we actually applied for a GLEN project in India. GLEN stands for Global Education Network of Young Europeans, a non-profit, politically independent initiative of ten civil society organisations and committed young people involved in global education. Each year they post a number of projects in different so called “global south” countries to which you can apply. They always send people from different countries to one project and thus Annika and myself were selected. Before coming to India we had two one week trainings with fifty other GLENies in Germany and Czech Republic. We talked about development aid, team dynamics, different educational methodologies, crisis management, emotions on the projects, white privileges and most of all – Global education.

Global education workshop, GLEN seminar, Czech Republic.

Global education is a term than can be best explained from the perspective of what GLEN actually aims for; contributing to a better understanding of global interdependencies, fair and sustainable ways of living, responsible development policies and North-South relations based upon equal partnership and mutual respect. If we use the dreaded global village or butterfly in China metaphors; in today’s world, we can not really escape the connections, bonds and strings woven between people living on this small planet we call Earth. We live in the age of globalization which is in itself an unifying process and so we are faced with different cultures and values clashing together. Sometimes these clashes can be brutal and global education helps us to learn from the mistakes we made in the past, broaden our horizons, helps us understand and respect our differences better and how to take into consideration the Other.

So why are we here?

We are here to work together with our Indian friends and learn from each other. What is the work ethic in India? You work six days per week you say, dear me… What is the school system like, what are the methodologies in the classes, what is the form of vocational training, where do the trainees come from and what are the problems they are facing in their lives and on and on. And what about the culture? Do all Indians like spicy food, is it OK if I hug you or should we just shake hands or not even shake hands, do you pray before you eat, do the cows walking the street actually belong to someone, who is that elephant guy and where the hell are all the monkeys? Seriously, I was expecting like millions of monkeys running around and so far, I think I’ve only seen the tail of one. Not sure, could be a really big cat.

Global education is all of these things and more and the flow of questions and answers goes both ways; we learn from each other and while learning about each other, we understand ourselves better. In a land like India, a microcosms of diversity, this concept really comes to light. India with it’s many ethnic groups, religions and languages is a perfect example of global education and need for all of us to learn how to live in a diverse and complex world and also to learn to appreciate it.We are living in strange times and that is why we are here. To understand things better and thus understand ourselves better.

This process of understanding is not without ups and downs and I’ll talk more about this in the future blogs. I’ll just point out one experience to answer the second question; the one which compares being ravished by pirates to sitting down. You know what they say, if you want to know the man, walk a mile in his shoes. So I took this quite literally and set upon a task to become Indian myself. First step; mustache.


Urban going native in India.

Let me just say, that the final outcome was not what I was expecting, or maybe the world is not yet ready for the awesomeness that was Urban’s mustache, so in the end I shaved with great reluctance. So which was worse?

To have my beard shaved and replaced by Freddie Mercury’s mustache, and exposing my boyish face to the world, and be scrutinized by friends, and be mocked by family and threatened to be left by girlfriend — in short, to undergo all the miseries I have suffered – or simply to sit here and do nothing?

I believe, this is no time for sitting…


2 thoughts on “Why are we here and which is worse?”

  1. Urban…why exactly ARE you here? Are you here….there is no record of you……you could just disappear…..

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