No matter if you are into your looks due to the shameless disregard of an unfulfilled soul, your language barrier fights your innate cheer, your name originates within an academic triumph, you have a cutting-edge style for visual alternatives, you are a victim of morality or you simply try not to burst into laughter aiming to hide the desperation for humankind, I can positively tell you one thing: you are not alone.
During the past week, I had the blessing to be surrounded by hands and hearts full of light, lightness, burdens, confrontation, giggles and joy. I was looking for harmony and serenity with others while disentangling the illusion that my inner tranquiLility was already circulating within my body.
Welcome to my version of Peace with Others.
Peace with Others as a journey
Peace with Others as a journey started with an application sent without explanations. I didn’t tell anyone but myself who I also tried to convince that things will or will not happen for a reason. The past year has taught me to go for fewer expectations. All I do now is place some hope on the map and keep an eye open for directions that an air sign with a head in the clouds easily tends to forget both with and without a silver lining.
The mail caught me by surprise while I was sports-shoe-shopping for my mother. I knew that once I start to dig deeper, excuses not to go will encroach on my mind. Lack of proper bed, tons of work that I can’t miss to deal with in order to have a care-free summer, my inability to make a good first impression, scarcity of will to meet new people that has gotten even stronger lately and many more. Excuses one usually makes when she is afraid of something. So I took a deep breath, opened the calendar, checked the dates, took another breath and replied with a confirmation. Exactly one month later, I was on a flight to Switzerland with a suitcase full of panic, curiosity, tension and hope.
Peace with Others as a mission
Peace with Others as a mission is something that you have to discover and decipher on your own. Sometimes it can be found when you least expect it. It can be written in simple gestures that make your help prepare and serve breakfast. It’s there when you are bringing bread to the person on your left, when you save a seat or when you offer your seat. It’s also there when you provide a helping shoulder and when you accept one; when you move heavy tables together; when you light fire together; when someone lights your fire and keeps it burning.
Peace with Others as friendship
Imagine a certain someone. You know how they like their breakfast. You know the noises that make them angry. You know the time it takes them to compose an outfit and you’ve successfully decomposed meals together. You know how to hear their privacy in public. You know if they wrinkle the pillow. You know their go-to bralette choice. You know both their unusual bathroom habits and the usual content of their suitcase. You know a lot!
And yet you know nothing.
We will wait for you.
Do you need a hug?
Thank you for giving me privacy.
Remove the tag from your bag.
Get your pillow and come.
Was I cool while I said it?
Coming to the cheapest supermarket?
Let me help you clean that.
You look beautiful.
Silent smiles have a warming effect and you don’t even have to place them in a microwave.
Peace with Others as a training course
Peace with Others as a training course was a 1-week event organized by SCI Switzerland in a partnership with Movetia. Its aim was to deepen the knowledge and understanding of the concept of peace and its different levels while putting the focus on the interpersonal level a.k.a. living in peace with others.
The training course took place in the Pfadiheim Bollberg house in Lenzburg, Switzerland, where I spent my nights in a mixed dorm with people from 14 European and Middle East countries. During the stay, a sleeping bag represented luxurious bed linen, ear plugs were considered isolation against mosquitos and the light wind on a warm evening was illuminating the natural darkness night after night. I woke up at 6:30 each morning in order to face a smaller queue for the bathroom. Breakfast was served at 8 and energizers started at 9. All of us were late at one point but none of us got lost for good.
18.05., day 0
Highlight of the day: count them mosquitos
I got there by plane through Vienna. I stayed for about an hour in Zurich where I took a short stroll while waiting for the other Bulgarian to arrive so that we can go to the venue together. Zurich was beautiful. The parks smelled of marijuana. The swimmers were trying to fascinate the gals and Limmat was their wingman. The male train conductors sported their impeccable nails and made jokes about the near future. Zurich was beautiful and yet a bit complicated for me.
We arrived at the house through moderate usage of the offline map that I’ve thoughtfully downloaded and we were greeted by the kitchen crew. One of them reminded me of my youth and the brisk and bold escapes I did during the family holidays in Turkey. Another one fed me with garlic bread and tried to remember my name through fantasy novels. The lady was radiating joy on another level. The boy was so handsome. I couldn’t remember their names. Little that I know the hard part with the names would be on the next day when the other participants start to arrive.
I hit the shower that was supposed to support 22 other girls and women and decided to occupy the second bed near the window in the mixed room. I heard the sound of a suitcase being pulled over the stairway. Other people were already arriving. It took me a while to fall asleep. I had a bizarre dream that night. In my dream, I woke up on what I thought to be the next morning; evidently, it was the last one of the training course. In the realm of the dream, I could not remember anything that happened for the 7 days in-between my arrival and the last morning. I took it as a clear sign not to miss out on anything as I might feel disappointed later.
19.05., day 1
Highlight of the day: Pascal’s dinner stories
I went to the kitchen with the secret hope of finding strong coffee. The French press was already effervescing with low-key greetings. Salvation. A girl with dark hair was also there. I was curious if it was her suitcase that was rambling on the stairs. That is how I met Ana-Marija. Fitore was next. The name? Stands for “victory”, she says. Fitore was born in the year the first Albanian university in Macedonia was approved. Her grandfather felt it like victory. Konrad was the first participant from Poland. I learned the names of the kitchen crew. Felix was the handsome one, Pascal wanted us to stay hydrated, Mela was the lady with the ethereal energy, Djaber was always smiling politely, Katja was the pastry chef who also taught bachata lessons. Larissa was the SCI representative.
After breakfast, we took a walk in Lenzburg. Postcards were expensive. Pictures were forbidden. Konrad decided to go back to the house. The rest of us tried to look for the old centre of the town and ended up facing the cemetery. Back in the house, Konrad was talking to two girls. Teodora from Serbia and Mélanie from France. I immediately recognized Dušan from the table tennis talk. I brought some thirsty girl water. Martina and Chris were a couple. Kevin’s superpower was electricity. Meri was the first to talk about patience. Poli was a bit loud, Maria was her friend and they spoke in Spanish. Coralie was the animated image of all my favourite books as a child. That was the capacity of my brain when it came to names on the first day.
The first session started with a mixture of concern and jovial mood. I was observing the trainers. I have already met Natalie a few weeks before the training. She had a slow calming voice and I absolutely loved her bright jewellery. Sometimes details tell a story. Gośka has switched her natural hair colour that I’ve seen in the pictures to blue and looked like a person whose face can show you the <Happy> sector of the Wheel of emotions in less than a minute. It looked like they would make a powerful combo when it comes to educating.
We tried to draw the line between negative and positive peace, we picked a few references from the comprehensive choices when it comes to the circle of influences, we talked about potential challenges that a peace-builder (and any other human being) can face and we were accidentally-on-purpose trying to focus on the things that we care for and can have an influence on. I had a talk about inevitable and unnecessary changes with Teodora. I was thinking about my mother, the new grey hairs she got during the past year and the invisible protective tint that I managed to cover them with.
The Welcome evening was pleasant. Playing “Double” was fun and so was my reflection on people’s honest, biased and/or spontaneous answers that the cards with questions provoked. I rarely like a table of inconnus this much. Keeping that thought in mind, I went to bed.
20.05., day 2
Highlight of the day: Lost in the supermarket. The Clash song & based on real events.
Emotional intelligence is a topic that I’ve never explored in theory. However, most of my friendships and intimate relationships over the years can probably show that I’m not bad at it. How humble. I know.
Daniel Goleman’s theory on emotional intelligence focuses on 4 essential pillars:
- Self-awareness and the ability to understand your own emotions and the tendencies when it comes to them
- Self-management and the ability to use your awareness and direct your behaviour in a positive manner
- Social awareness and the ability to understand the emotions of others and to deal with empathy
- Relationship management and the ability to use the awareness of others and your own awareness and to manage your relationships with them
Szimi was a charming mystery, Sara was the thirsty girl that needed water, Hamza and Farah were from Jordan, Stenaldo was talking about The Voice, Esmeralda was calm and showed us pictures from her hometown.
During the lunch break, we went thrift shopping. I bought a white leather Zign clutch that I did not really need and paid 5 Swiss francs for it. I also saw this alluring YSL ring that cost 149 francs. Marina was the new adorable person that I spoke with and really liked. A bunch of us went hunting for cheap beer. We got lost in the supermarket, in our heads and probably also on the way back to the house. That’s our theory and we’re still sticking to it.
The Reflection group that I was part of also included Brezita, Kristjan and Kevin. Brezita told us that this was Armela’s first trip with a plane. I always feel safe when I am surrounded by people who are not necessarily willing to be Alphas and I couldn’t help but wonder if Gośka and Natalie somehow had this in mind while they were dividing us into groups.
Dinner was Älplermagronen – the Swiss equivalent of mac and cheese that also included potatoes. Super tasty as usual. After we were full, we dived into the Peace Cards.
21.05., day 3
Highlight of the day: Candies as a training tool
I have a few questions for you. Please answer with numbers.
1. What is a big city?
2. What is a young woman?
3. What is to drive fast?
4. What is a big debt?
5. What is to drink a lot?
Let me tell you my answers:
1. 10 million population.
2. 20 years.
3. 170 km/h.
4. 2000 euro.
5. 2 x bottles.
Did you judge me for any of those? Perhaps you shouldn’t have?
Nonviolent communication (NVC) is not a tool or a method. It’s a way of life. And one way to explain it is through the jackal and the giraffe languages.
The jackal language can be full of judgements, interpretations, labelling, educating, rivalry, one-upping, blaming, and demands. It may lead to blaming and making others responsible for our feelings. The giraffe language, on the other hand, focuses on an understanding of our very own feelings and needs, empathy for others, honest self-expression as well as self-empathy where we want to speak the giraffe language towards ourselves. Here are the 4 steps of NVC:
- Observation without a judgement
- Feeling, not a thought
- Need behind the feeling
- Request and not a demand
The steps of Nonviolent communication sound simple on paper but in practice, it might be tricky to put a boundary between an observation and a judgement. However, that doesn’t mean we don’t have to constantly try to look for that boundary and believe in powerful requests.
During the lunch break, I went with Ewelyna, Mélanie and Yanko to see the Lenzburg Castle. The evening included a walk through town when Stenaldo and I were talking about music and bad habits. Back in Pfadiheim Bollberg people were singing around the stone table. They scooched over and we joined them. I am usually uncomfortable singing when I’m not alone but I did it and it felt really good. I guess that I felt safe again.
22.05., day 4
Highlight of the day: Plan your free time, but remember to bring a sandwich.
Sunday started with elderflower water and a promise for a beautiful day.
The snowflake activity demonstrated that each of us has our own way of receiving information. We should choose our words and be specific while we are talking. We should not forget that previous experiences matter and respect personal perspectives, expectations, cultures and beliefs. Last but not least, we should always be aware of the fact that no one is immune to suggestions and manipulations.
The task to find 30 ways to use a paperclip revealed the ability to stay out of the box (sometimes way out of it!), the importance of small objects and thoughts, how to handle pressure accompanied by a deadline and the power of teamwork.
We were all super excited about the free afternoon. Some of the guys were about to hit the lake nearby. There was a group heading to Zurich and another one staying put. I spent my free time with Marc – a fellow drum and bass head who I’ve been online friends with for many years but never met in real life. It’s a small world after all as Marc happened to live in the same town of 11000 inhabitants. We drove to the Hallwyl Castle and around Lake Hallwil and he took me to the Esterliturm – a tower of almost 50 meters that offers a 360° panoramic view of the Canton of Aarau and part of the Alps. It was a great afternoon that made me wonder if most Swiss-born men have the same impeccable upbringing as Marc.
During the evening we played Esmeralda’s version of Spin the bottle. It included a mixture of somewhat honest responses about our biggest lies, internal and external factors that piss us off or make us feel hopeful, eye-openers and a few culs-de-sac.
23.05., day 5
Highlight of the day: Crisis = danger + opportunity
What is a conflict? There is a lack of a universal definition.
It can be defined as a
crash/problem/lack of understanding/power/abuse/uncontrolled behaviour
different needs/inner problems/point of view/feelings/goals/expectations/more.
There is not a universal formula for dealing with it either. Nevertheless, there are a few steps that might help you manage or resolve them.
The Thomas-Kilmann Conflict Mode instrument is created in order to help measure our behaviour in certain situations that are prone to conflicts. It defines 5 conflict management styles that are illustrated with animals that represent them:
- Avoidant turtle: you avoid the conflict in general; this means not losing and not winning either;
- Accommodating teddy bear: you accommodate the needs of other people and do not care about your own goals; in this scenario you lose;
- Compromising fox: you make a compromise that results in a partial win and partial loss for both you and the other party;
- Competitive shark: you simply need to win which means that others must lose;
- Collaborative owl: you find win-win solutions for all sides.
Despite our different conflict management styles (and I recommended that you don’t dare to think someone can carry one of them – we are all complicated creatures that respond with different levels of assertiveness and cooperativeness depending on the background), when we are facing a conflict, it is recommended to try to:
- Define it;
- Clarify the background;
- Create options;
- Make an agreement;
- Set the goal(s).
Here is also a reminder of a few dynamic visualisations that some of us related to while we were discussing potential conflict modes or other assessments:
Problem. What problem? / Kuldeep
Take your time. / Martina
Don’t be afraid of changes. / Mela
Stop following trends. Try to find your identity. / Meri
Don’t panic. Organise. / Esmeralda
It’s not the end of the world. / Yanko
Don’t be a one (wo)man band. / Ana-Marija
Don’t get lost. Set priorities. / Farah
Nobody is a saint. / Liliya
All of those were presented on the beautiful Grapheazy cards – a visual facilitation tool that was created as a result of the SCI Global Volunteer Action. The pack of cards was designed as a creative method to establish links between topics, encourage people to take part in a group discussion and stimulate debate on sensitive issues. You can find the pack of Grapheazy cards here.
Hamza invited me with their group to the supermarket where we did the usual hunt for cheap beer. I played table tennis with Dušan, I danced with Armela and Coco, I smuggled Appenzeller bitter and I took a midnight walk around the town. I went to bed thinking about the Bread Basket in front of the door and the cogitation it can provoke in someone’s head.
24.05., day 6
Highlight of the day: Gośka and the art of freestyle dancing
The Open Space day included various workshops, discussions and stories that were initiated by some of the participants.
Meri talked to us about the history, mission and vision of Service Civil International – the oldest voluntary peace movement in the world that has been volunteering for peace since 1920 and that brought us all together in Lenzburg. SCI organises various workcamps, seminars, workshops, training courses and many more volunteering projects and actions that are following the philosophy of the organization and the values that it’s based on: solidarity, human rights, responsibility, non-violence and respect for the environment.
Marina told us about their Caravan ROUTE WB6 that toured Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia and Serbia and tackled joint regional issues while supporting local communities, socialising with young activists and local volunteering organisations and breaking various types of prejudices and stereotypes that still hinder the Western Balkans.
Martina and Cris made a presentation about the concept of Glocal approach (“glocal” = “global” + “local”) where global knowledge and actions can be adapted to the needs and issues of a local community and local context while respecting human rights. It was interesting to learn about their Tierra de Paz NGO which is dedicated to peace, human and children’s rights, and climate change.
My favourite part was Szimi’s Active listening exercise proposal. It requires 2 people and 25 minutes of their time. During the first 10 minutes, Person 1 is speaking. Person 2 is listening, nodding and making faces in order to show they are paying attention. After Person 1 is done talking, Person 2 provides feedback while deferring judgement. Then they make a switch. Active Listening aims to help you acquire information, build more knowledge about people and situations before responding, respond with empathy and build strong relationships based on trust. Doing the exercise with Wiki was a thrill.
The last evening was memorable. The Spotify playlist failed big time. Someone was running around with different bottles of liquor in the form of shots. We were taking turns staying closer to the fire as the evening was chilly. If I have to make a selection of top 5 words from the wheel of emotions, I would go for accepted, thankful, connected, euphoric and a little hurt. Switzerland was a powerful experience for all of my senses.
25.05., day 7
I am thankful to Gośka for her endless energy, her lively spirit and her dazzling down-to-earth weirdness mixed with intelligent realism. I appreciate that Natalie was constantly checking how we feel and was making encouraging comments. I admire Meri and the work that she is doing, I am amazed by the way Marina laughs, I hope to meet Wiki during the summer, I believe Hamza is a wonderful human being, I will miss Pascal’s clues for dinner, I find so many intriguing virtues in Teodora, I love the honest eyes of Maria and Konrad and I know that Dušan is my ultimate superpower mate. I still hear Coco’s accent even though the people on my right are not speaking in French, I see Poli in every feisty blond woman who is running around the airport, I imagine Kevin’s timbre and I look around to find Mélanie and the quiet charisma that she represents. I am coming home with a heavier suitcase that still is full of hope but also carries a powerful mix of inspiration, motivation, confidence, ambition, clarity, belief and determination. Oh, and some Swiss chocolates.
Peace with Others is love.
Photo credits: Coralie Henderyckx, Gośka Tur, Konrad Basaj, Hamza Al-Shayeb