“Every protest. Every voice. Every sound we have made. In defense of our existence. Has shaken the entire universe. It is trembling.” Nayyirah Waheed
The sound of rolling wheels woke me up at 6:00 o’clock one morning on the Zürich bus platform. Then the smell of freshly brewed coffee and the footsteps of busy globe trotters came as a reminder that there are roads to be taken and that adventure is waiting just right across the hills, deep into the mountains. The clatter of suitcases was a song on the road to the Passugg hotel, where we settled down in the countryside, eager to learn from each other and share our narratives. None of us had met before the encounter, and every one had something to tell, making our stay a beautiful realm of connectedness, powerful insights, and deep conversations which lasted for eleven days.
There were challenges that we needed to overcome, but among them the lack of connection to social media was quickly switched to the hiking trips we took to find internet plugins, not realizing at first that among those woods and in the midst of our discussions, you can find a better connection than you anticipated.
When on our first day we started to listen to each other actively, the observer, the talker and the listener quickly merged together and first person stories, early dreams and aspirations were exchanged. On that day, I realized that there were cat lovers in our group as well as community activists who were learning many languages so that they would be able to travel around world and make a difference. Some of us on that day were introduced to a sign language, thanks to the enormous energy, spirit, and intellect of our dearest translators, who taught us that diversity comes in different forms. As we were making our place clean and sustainable, we were doing stretching and relaxing exercises in the morning so that at the beginning of the day we would feel more relaxed and ready to change the world with our inner self awakened and able to think outside of the box.
Our stories came to the forefront during the second day when we explored word issues, as they came to be correlated. Thanks to my NOWers I found out that diversity in Turkey has its own price, as national minorities are largely oppressed. People of minority descent, are not able to speak their own language, and people of religious minorities are not able to practice their religion peacefully. But, looking at my friend’s tattoo, I also came to realize that despite oppression there is a struggle going on to keep certain places belonging to certain people forever.
During a beautifully prepared lunch, we discussed burning global topics, and I finally understood that I am not alone in my struggle for human rights, and that others also strive to make their homes better and more productive communities.
When we moved from global to local issues, we started thinking even more about how we could exchange our ideas and strengths and make a wave that could sweep away the massive walls of oppression in our communities. Thanks to wonderful card games, we tackled the issues of the stereotypes that follow all of us that are in transit from one community to another, and how people often have negative impressions of certain ethnicities and rooted stereotypes.
We lighted torches that night to celebrate Swiss national day. The light we carried through the woods illuminated our path towards a more beautiful future where all of us, no matter where we come from, will play an important role. And our steps on that path made the ground tremble, making small but significant changes that will alter the course of the future.
We were privileged to go exploring beyond Passug, and the next day we took a walking tour through Chur and an optional hiking tour around the city, examining the innovative projects that are happening in there. I learned that there is an animated, strong, and cheerful group of young people who are struggling to keep the Rumantch language alive as national treasure alongside the three other official languages in Switzerland.
What came the day after was one of the most inspiring and powerful parts of our NOW journey as we were taken through the privileges and discrimination discussion. Thanks to great facilitating, we became aware that despite our origins in diverse communities, we are not the same, and that it is important to distinguish equality and equity.
Becoming fully aware of my privileges in life, I felt taken aback by the silence of my roommate. And in that silence my heart could feel that some stories, like hers as a refugee from a war zone, are not told, and should be brought into the open, as the world needs to understand fully that sometimes stepping into somebody else’s shoes takes courage and commitment. And while we need more human rights activists in the world, we must keep in mind that the process takes time and we must take care of ourselves and nurture our own safety as well.
Later, in my fist reflection group, in a relaxing setting perched on hammocks, I was able to review each day during the program and examine constructive ideas and thinking that pushed me to explore myself even more deeply.
That process of deep self exploration strengthened my ability to push for a project that I wished to see implemented in society. I was always oriented toward working in non-governmental organizations, but after powerful argumentation regarding start ups in the key change makers session I was beginning to think that change does not necessarily come only from organized structures, but also from small yet powerful individual actions.
When we were introduced to a very interesting way of presenting our project ideas, by presenting the projects of others, I pitched the ideas of other participants as though they were mine, and got positive feedback at the same time. In relaxing times after the sessions, with some good coffee and the sounds of guitars playing, I was empowered by the energy of a lot of the young people around me. I was grateful to see some individual talents displayed during the encounter as we were able to enjoy some acro yoga in the meantime, merciless Russian card games, wi-fi occurrences, great singing lessons in the Bosnian-Greek-Romanian-Turkish language, and intense movie sessions.
I don’t know whether it was because of the fresh mountain air or the warmth in people’s eyes that were glancing through the night, what kept me was love songs recited on many languages and the beautiful singing of songs from the Laz people in northeastern Turkey.
We prepared simulations of our project ideas during the NOW open encounter, and I was moved by my feminist youth buddy’s ability to stage a “switch shoes” performance to bring forth awareness of gender equality. I was dazzled by stories of overcoming depression and realized that it can indeed happen to anyone.
When dancing during my last night at the encounter, with some great steps from a Kurdish dance, crossing great distances in my mind, I remembered the lesson in sign language where I commented that diversity represented power for me. Driven by the same diversity that took me to Passug, I left the mountain empowered to understand that every step that I make, and every issue that I take up, will make me even more powerful.