Today, I will tell a few stories about people and events that taught me lessons this week, making me reflect on issues and experiences along the road in our life’s journey. It is a gift to be able to see new things, to let other people touch us, and without boasting, being able to influence other people’s minds and hearts.

I shall begin with quoting a poet, and refer to several other writers. Secondly, I shall tell something from a decade and half spent living in Africa, giving a few glimpses of the unique peoples of that continent. Thirdly, I shall tell a bit about a uniquely talented teenage musician from Hungary, who visited Pakistan this week.

There are many heroes and heroines, everyday heroes and world-class ones – who inspire us to do the best we can ourselves, or make us want to help others so they can do well. The road is unique and individual to each of us, as we are all unique – like snowflakes, no two alike.

Olav H Hauge (1908-1994), a Norwegian writer who is getting more popular as time goes by, wrote a poem entitled, ‘This is your road’ (in Norwegian, ‘Dette er din veg’), reminding us all of the uniqueness of the travel we take through our lives – with some preparations, but still without clear roadmaps and signboards. We make the road as we walk it, without the option of returning and taking part or the whole journey all over again. Being a Norwegian from the rugged but beautiful west coast of the land, Hauge writes about walking in wide open landscapes, in mountains, and in desolate hills, where snow and wind smooth out his footsteps. Many of his poems have been translated into English; one volume from 2004 by the American writer/translator Robert Hedin, is entitled ‘Leaf-huts and snow-houses’, reminding us that our lives are not cut in granite and marble.

There is another great Norwegian writer and musician, Alf Prøysen (1914-1970), who wrote for everybody, not at all for the elite, and especially for children. He, like the Danish writer HC Andersen (1805-1875), wrote children’s stories for adults, with wisdom hidden in the words of the least, lowest, and youngest, just ordinary men and women. In a song about Alf Prøysen, Erik Bye (1926-2004), a Norwegian writer, singer, and TV personality (yes, at one stage ranked in a poll as the most popular Norwegian citizen after King Olav V!) said about Prøysen, that the giant treaded so carefully through the land as if he were afraid of setting marks or making footprints.

Yet, we all set marks and footprints, small and big, temporary and lasting – our lives are shaped and coloured by our own will and choices and by those of others we travel with. We may mainly watch, observe, and learn, or participate, engage, and be outspoken. We all do both, and we all play important roles in the lives of others – those who are closest to us and those who are at a distance.

A few days ago, I had the opportunity to attend the celebrations of Kenya’s national day in Islamabad. I have lived in Kenya for over a decade, and in neighbouring Tanzania, for six years. I began to feel a closeness to the people’s sorrows and joys in their everyday life and in feasts. People taught me things and shaped me, they made me different and wiser than if I had just stayed in Norway, my beloved homeland. Some friends in Kenya may remember something of what I said and did, even now, when it is almost two decades since I lived permanently there.

When we were about to leave the lively Kenyan reception, with cultural dancers, elegantly dressed young women in ethnic outfits, more solid, mature ones in colourful ‘kanga’ dresses, and other things, a friend asked me if I had noticed the pleasant, tranquil confidence of African men and women. Yes, I had, and I remarked that it was one of the typical traits of the continent’s people; they feel good about themselves in a homely and friendly way, including the super-modern in the metropolis of Nairobi.

On Monday this week, I attended a concert by a special young Hungarian pianist, Michael Boros, known as Misi, 13 and a half years of age, who performed in Islamabad before going on to Lahore and Karachi later in the week. His parents, Janos Boras, an engineer and philosophy professor, and mother Jolan Orban, a literature professor, came with him, and so did his 17-year old brother, Daniel.

The accessible and sympathetic family, with special social and communication skills certainly enjoyed their Pakistan visit. When somebody at the reception after the concert said to Misi’s mother that she must be very proud of her son, she changed that statement a bit, simply saying she was very happy for her son. She added that she was impressed by her son’s – well, both sons’ – discipline and hard work. Misi goes to music school and rehearses six to seven hours every day, and has private tutors for ordinary school subjects on top of it. He is a known virtuoso in his homeland and all over Europe. Recently, he performed in Scandinavia, in Stockholm and Gothenburg. His slight cold while in Islamabad didn’t stop him from practicing for several hours before the evening concert, and his father had to remind him several times that it was time to go to the hotel room to change and rest a bit before the concert. “It is typical of him, when he starts playing, he forgets everything else”, his mother said.

Does all this make Misi’s life and future different from that of other young teenagers? Yes, it does, and it becomes particularly true what the Norwegian poet Olav H Hauge said: “This is your road, nobody else will take it, and there is no turning back.”

I hope that the boy feels that what he does is right for him; I hope it is his own choice, not just thrust upon him because he is good at playing the piano. I wish Misi continued success, and I also hope he will be able to take defeats when they come, as they do for all of us in our lives, sooner or later, and in varying degrees.

When I was young, I had a friend who did particularly well at school, at work and socially. In his wedding speech, he said something I have reflected on many times. He said: “My parents gave me the greatest gift that anyone could give to another person; they simply believed in me.”

True, there are many parents like that, and there are many children who deserve that we believe in them –because they do so well, often under difficult circumstances. Let that be the morale of my stories today, or at least a key aspect; each person is unique, and each person takes his or her individual road in life. We all do better and have an easier journey if somebody believes in us – and tell us that they do.

 

n             The writer is a senior Norwegian social scientist with experience in research, diplomacy and development aid.