The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Every day is your birthday!

Judging by the amount of articles and notes shared on social media telling people what to do or not to do before turning 30, turning 30 must be a big deal.

The beauty of the 21st century is that we can read advice and stories and seemingly easy share in the lives of people on the other side of the globe in real-time. But we have to “pick and peel” ourselves. We have to do the work, after all it’s our life. Thank God

Yes, I did turn 30 at some point this year. I’m part of the older half of the planet’s population.

Sitting on a beautiful beach on the afternoon of my birthday, I was reflecting if there is any way of summarizing what I’ve learned in these 30 years. Impossible, but let’s try!

“When the rain washes you clear, you’ll know”

Living abroad has challenged everything I thought was true. My months and years in Poland, India, Kenya, Uganda and the UK have taught me more than university and books ever could.

Every time I arrived at a new place, integrated and finally left, the more layers of colour were washed off. Sometimes literal rain, often a conversation or an incident, but mostly listening, watching, having to act and failing or succeeding, washing clear can be painful but liberating.

But again – after all the washing off you have to chose what to paint back on. What does Manuela stand for?

I am more than a walking photo album displaying my trips. Strangers commenting “I’m jealous” on your status updates. Not a warm feeling!

My challenge is to be an active world citizen with a clear profile and a purpose doing justice to what I’ve experienced and to those who I’ve met. Work in progress!

It’s a worthy challenge to be the same person between 9am and 6pm as between 6pm and 9am.

Whenever I live my personal values at work and home, I experience integrity and feel alive.

Most of us have to earn an income to afford their preferred lifestyle. And independence doesn’t come easy. Once you have to budget, you have to make choices. It’s tempting to sell your 40 hours a week and join the cycle of earning and consumption.

But I want to use these 40 hours a week for something I believe in. Well, for now I can. About the luxury of the pursuit of meaning at work read my next post.

Digging deeper – easier together!

Knowing yourself, managing emotions and communicating your opinions and needs clearly – do these sound like simple soft skills? Well, at least not to me. Emotional roller-coasters, indecisiveness and self-centered behavior happen to the best of us!

My best step of this year was to get a fabulous coach – a person to help unleash my professional effectiveness and help me achieve ‘flow’. Finding somebody who is committed and skilled to ask you the right questions and challenge your assumptions – priceless. I can only recommend it!

Scuba Diving is better than expected

I mean really. I was scared of doing it. 6 metres under the water for 15 minutes breathing oxygen from a bottle with 15 kgs of equipment around my waist? To watch fish? Panic zone!

How often do I try out things that I’m scared of and they end up being mind-blowingly amazing? Quite a few times… but definitely not often enough!

God exists, but you have to believe

I know God exists because I’ve seen him do wonders, met his angels and his devils. Jesus calls me every day and I’m trying to hear it. I’m thankful to all who have helped to strengthen my faith. God has watched over me and his promise lasts.

Love is a verb not a feeling – What an idea to wrap my head around!

Anything for my friends – My friends inspire me, together we come up with great ideas and we make each others lives human and worth living. And the best thing about growing up is to realize that your parents are your friends as well!

A Chinese fortune cookie last year included a note “A friendship that can end, has never really started”.

To those who have taken me to the doctor; To those who were hospitable when I was in trouble; To those with whom I laugh, cry and relax; To those who’ve cried, laughed and relaxed in my presence:
I promise we’ll be ghost friends after we die and we’ll walk through walls and scare the sh*t out of people!

Every day is your birthday

Birthday-week is a great concept, who doesn’t want to celebrate the gift of life a whole week? But how about birthday-year!?

Let’s not wait for New Year’s Eve, or lent or our birthday to change a habit. John Covey suggests “If you’ve made a mistake, admit it and correct it, so that it doesn’t have power over the next moment.” Any day and any minute is a good day to try out something new, to dare that change, small or big.

My amazing flatmates put up a paper garland saying “Happy Birthday” on my door. I left it there, as a reminder!

The deep, emotional stuff

Being an auntie

Two years after I left Uganda I came back to visit the city and my friends there.

The son of E. and P. was just five months old when I left, but now he was showing me around the house, running faster than me and telling me stories. We went to Lake Victoria together and he loved it even more than the aunties who went!

One day he’ll cross the Lake or the Ocean and we’ll all be even prouder of him 🙂

Manu and J.
The deep, emotional stuff Travels & Trips

Hiking in Colombia – Leadership Encounter

Today I went hiking in Colombia – just two hours drive from Bogota you can find wonderful nature!

Laguna verde (“green lake”) was the destination. After getting out of the car, we walked through a high altitude plateau (3300-3700 m) with rare plants, the beautiful colours and the relieving fresh air that you only get in the mountains.

After around 2 hours hike we had chatted with each other and former strangers had become friends – the bizarre scenary made it possible.

Approaching Laguna Verde we saw a group of tents on the shore. A group of around 15 people in hiking gear were starting to pull down their tents. A bit late, we thought – how far can they reach if they start their day’s hike at 1pm?

We passed them with a few greetings and climbed up the mountain behind the lake to get the full panoramic view. Our guide decides to stay behind with a lady that got tired, but the majority of us wouldn’t return home without reaching the peak!

Of we go, climbing up around 200 steep metres. Just a few metres below the peak we couldn’t trace the path. High scrubs everywhere. “No hay un camino claro!” was mumbled by a lady. (“There is no clear path!”)

Of course we made it somehow – I lead the group upwards, to me the direction “to the peak” is clear enough when climbing a mountain. I remember the inspiring statement about leadership that I heard so often… About leaving a trail where is no path. I am not satisfied by the extend of my leadership, my impact – so I drop the thought quickly.

A stunning view and the well-deserved lunch break awaited us. Sandwiches and fruits were unpacked and munched… until a sudden rain hit us and we jumped in our rainjackets and hurried down the hill to find a shelter.

“Scrubs?” I am thinking.

Until we reached the campers, the rain had subsided and become a drizzle.

They shouted at us and waved us over to their camp. They had a pot of soup that they wanted to share with us. Moving closer I saw that the cook who was wearing shorts had only one leg – the other one had a prosthesis. Looking around I saw more of the campers with leg prostheses – many had two!

We are in the middle of wild nature. I see people wearing high-tech hiking wear. I see branded hiking boots. I see metal connecting the two. I am deeply disturbed. I can’t make it work in my head. I can’t even accept the soup that I am offered.

Nobody else seems to be bothered. The campers are fitting the last tent equipment back in their backpacks. My group mates are chatting and eating. They are teasing me that I don’t eat the soup – is it that I don’t like the intestines it includes?

The language barrier makes me shut up even more.

I remember: Colombia is the country with the highest amount of landmines victims worldwide.

The leader of the group himself has one prothesis. He explained to us that this is a group of former soldiers who are preparing to climb Kilimanjaro in August. A team of mechanics, psychologists and doctors will accompany them. They have been fundraising for the trip for long.

What big an inspiration can this group be to thousands of landmine victims?

What faces will they encounter in Tanzania’s airport?

Is it physically possible for them to reach the peak?

What looks will they attract from other hikers?

How many protheses could be fitted with the money that is donated for this trip?

Many questions could be asked. I don’t ask. I can see:

This man is a leader. He has the goal clear.

Go where there is no path – and leave a trail!

More about the hike:

More about landmines:


The deep, emotional stuff World topics

Some Saturday morning magic in Nairobi

Sometimes I’m asked why Nairobi. It’s these Saturday morning things: An old muslim mzee cycling by, a massai dressed in colourful blankets, a rasta sitting on the bus next to a woman with a church headscarf. A stranger taking a boy on his lap because there’s no free seat, adolescent writers telling the interviewer on radio that they write life advice books to inspire people who feel challenges to not waste their lives on drugs.
People are so expressive and human