It’s been ten wonderful days of learning. I’ve learnt a great deal about Germany and its rich history, its politics, its people and their cultures. And I have also learnt so much about the countries of the 14 other bloggers I came to Berlin with. I now know about the struggles, triumphs and aspirations of people in some of the areas I used to consider as far off places.
Now, thanks to my interactions with fellow bloggers from Azerbaijan, Kyrgyzstan, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain I feel a certain connection in my heart to each of the countries whose bloggers, writers and journalists participated in this programme.
I have also learnt a great deal about free speech and democracy.
On my first day in Berlin I had a discussion with Andrew Loh, a soft-spoken gentleman from Singapore. That interaction got me thinking about the relationship between freedom and development.
Singapore is fairly developed but its people yearn for freedom. Ghana is nowhere near developed but we have freedom many in Singapore wouldn’t mind dying for.
As the days went by, I often heard my new friend from Azerbaijan, Nigar Fatali, say: “I feel like I’m coming from a village”. She said this to express her frustration at the lack of democracy and free speech in her country, usually after others – like the gentleman from Nigeria, Aliyu Tilde – have relayed how free the press in their countries were.
Nigar, though, is a brave young woman and she soldiers on in a battle to win freedom for herself and for her people. Never mind the fact that she gets arrested every now and then.
Fighting in the same corner as Nigar, but from a different country, is Eman Al-Nafjan, a smart, well-read Saudi Arabian woman, who speaks with an American accent but can’t drive a car. She’s never bothered to learn to take control of the steering wheel because in her country it’s an abomination for women to drive. I have known all along about the restrictions imposed on women in Saudi Arabia but meeting Eman put a beautiful face to the victims of this gross travesty. Through it all, Eman doesn’t seem broken and she is doing her best to expand the frontiers of freedom for Saudi women. She really impressed me so.
And then there is Mahmoud Salem from Egypt. He calls himself the Sand Monkey. Witty and charming, the liberal Egyptian laughs at what he rightfully considers to be the senseless authoritarianism of the leaders of his country. His blog gets shut down quite often but he never gives up. At 29, Mahmood knows that he has several years of battle ahead of him. And he’s ready. He impressed me with the depth and width of his knowledge base.
If it hadn’t been for this programme, I would have had to travel to Azerbaijan through Egypt to Singapore, China, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia to learn what I have learnt over the past ten days in Berlin. It’s been a reflective experience which has only filled me with a renewed resolve to continue what Kwaku Sakyi-Addo asked my journalism class to do about 12 years ago – “shake the basket”.
That’s what Mahmood, Nigar, Andrew and Eman are doing in their respective countries – sometimes at the peril of their lives. If in their struggles for freedom they are brave enough to stick their necks out in their oppressive states, what is to stop me from shaking the basket in Ghana where the motto is “freedom and justice”?
For me that is the summary of how my ten days in Berlin have impacted my life. The message is simple: don’t give up the fight because there are several others who have it worse than you do. The task is to contribute in anyway possible towards the transformation of our country into a modern, just, equitable society. Now, I am even more determined to tell those who threaten me to shove it where the sun doesn’t shine. If Mahmood can do it in Egypt, I should be able to do it in Ghana.
And for making all this possible, I want to express my heartfelt gratitude to the German Foreign Ministry and German Embassy in Accra for bringing me to Berlin.
I thank the people in Berlin – Lisa, Lucien and Deniz – who made my stay in this beautiful city such a pleasure. And I thank the people of Berlin for keeping their city in such magnificent shape. But for the weather (which no Berliner can control), I thoroughly enjoyed everything this city offered me – from the very efficient rail transport service to the Philharmonic Orchestra and even the asparagus, which was practically in every meal I ate. I have fallen in love with Berlin and as I prepare to fly out, I am saying to myself: “Ich komme wieder”. I will be back – to know and enjoy her even more.