2015 began with violence that persisted through the year. Issues hit close to home (like the murder of three students in Chapel Hill) and all around the world (like the refugee crisis). I could list each atrocity one by one, but we would be here for a while. Suffice to say, in 2015 the big issues were terrorism, hate speech, muslims, refugees, race in the US, Syria, clean energy, and gender. It seemed that everyday there was an attack on on our freedom and our safety, each one more brutal than the last. There were many times this year when I felt like that was it, all hope was lost.
When I saw the Hungarian reporter trip the young refugee boy, or the shootings in Copenhagen, or the shootings in Charleston I wondered if we as a people, were broken. I wondered if we could recover from this kind of violence. In my own life, I stood in the remains identification facility in Bosnia, surrounded by the remains of 3,000 unidentified persons from the Srebrenica genocide. Then in Rwanda, I stood in Nyamata, where the tour guide described the brutal torture of civilians, saw the blood marks on the walls where babies skulls were cracked open, and looked at the unclaimed clothes of 50,000 people who were murdered in the church. Hope is a tricky emotion, in the midst of such human suffering. I had to keep reminding myself of all of the good that happened too.
Going through the annual and arbitrary process of New Years reflection, I realized that 2015 was a banner year for me. It began with my semester abroad in Denmark, where I visited ten new countries. While living abroad I had the opportunity to take classes with members of the Danish Military, Refugee Council, and renowned genocide experts. I gained a European perspective on my other wise American-centric education. My professors challenged me to look at the actions of my nation and fellow citizens in a new light. My time studying abroad, served the absolute purpose of education, to learn information and challenge the boundaries of ones known reality.
In each new country, I found new cultures and new experiences. The Danes taught me about Jante Law, a societal rule of class equality. Hamburg and Bosnia brought me back to the reasons I study genocide in the first place. In Spain, an elder frenchman bought me a meal with only the expectation of conversation and in Portugal I met two men who argued my independence. Norway was the most beautiful place I had every seen. In Prague I stayed up till three in the morning, discussing American Visa rules with people from five different countries. In Budapest I met an Alaskan troubadour, making her way around Europe. In Brussels I rediscovered an old friend that I hadn’t seen in years.
These new countries were nothing without the people I met: both travel companions and strangers on the road. Some of my best nights in Denmark were spent sitting in my apartment over a meal and a lifetime of stories to exchange. Then in May, I made my way back to Boston, for my father’s wedding. I watched him marry the woman he loves and then headed out to the next adventure.
My next stop was Kigali Rwanda, where I was working on my thesis research. I stayed in the “most well reviewed air bnb in Rwanda,” where I met an incredibly kind family who was more than happy to explain their culture. I spent two weeks visiting genocide sites, archives, NGO offices, and finally seeing the Gorillas. All the while accompanied by a quiet and empathetic cab driver who chose to look after me. I then packed my bags and headed to Paris for the rest of the Summer, where I worked for a scholar who I have admired for years.
At Science Po, my approach to genocide studies was flipped on its head. I found a mentor who was patient with my french and ready to teach me the ins and outs of the “trade.” I also reconquered Paris. I met a group of fascinating students who showed me their city. The days were filled with work I cared about and we spent the evenings along the Seine drinking wine and discussing every subject available.
The dream ended when I came back to the US for the fall semester of my senior year. I have kept relatively quiet on the blog, but this semester my health and my condition went under a number of misguided changes. A doctor changed my medication and routine, meant to take away my pain. Instead he gave me brain fog, persistent exhaustion, and constant pain. I was finally back at UNC, working on my thesis and preparing for the “real world,” but I was not my real self. This semester, after nine months of adventure the year came to a trying end.
2015, like any year, was not perfect. It was filled will challenges and successes, both my own and on the international stage. As we enter the new year conflict looms. South Sudan is unstable; Uganda is up for elections; the Burundian peace talks are deteriorating; police brutality continues; and many new cases of sexual assault emerged here in the US. We were not given a clean slate, instead this year inherited the struggles of the last. And yesterday, January 2nd, the first refugee of 2016 died. An unidentified toddler, was killed when his boat capsized against sharp rocks. He is without a doubt the first of many. He is a christening of violence that will echo through the year, and I wonder what we, as individuals can do, to combat this.
In the face of this ugliness, I try to find the joy and the hope for the new year. 2015 may have been crippled by violence, but people rarely report the positive. The majority of our world is peaceful and it never makes it to headlines. As I look back, I am convinced that we are moving forward, that we are making progress, and that the best we have is our relationships with one another.
A quote from the Rwandan genocide stuck with me in 2015, “If you knew me and you really knew yourself you would not have killed me.” I think thats the point of it all, thats the point of my nine months of travel, of meeting new people, and seeing new cultures. When you meet “the other” first hand, they are no longer foreign, no longer blindly hate-able, but instead they are human. It is so unreasonable to hate people because they are member of a group, because they’re gay, Muslim, black, Jewish, a police office, or an immigrant. These are arbitrary categories. So there is my prolific and self-involved lesson from 2015. In the face of violence the best thing we have collectively is kindness, patience, and empathy.
Heres to 2016! To the challenges and difficulties we will face as individuals and as a society. My New Years resolution (as cliched as it may sound) is to be steadfast in the face of hatred, violence, and discrimination. Neither you nor I can “save the world.” I gave up on a that a long time ago. Instead I will do my best, failing at times, to get to know people and treat them with relentless kindness.
On to the next adventure!