The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.

It’s all about perspective. If you lay on your back on the parched ground, you will see bright blue skies through the opening formed by your body in the tall elephant grass. It is yellowed and crispy. It does not move. You see, there is not a breath of wind. Air is vibrating in the heat adding shifting patterns to the sky.  And you think of dance. Relaxing, slow dance of the universe.

Traditional dancers in Zimbabwe early 1990s

If you sit up your perspective changes. You see a thick wall of dry grass. Covered in dust it is still standing, proudly reaching for the skies. More out of habit than anything else. Elephant herds have not yet passed by here, and the sun has not yet completely broken its back. But it knows from experience that not a drop of water will come down for a long time.

An elephant family crossing the Luangwa river, Zambia,  late 1980s

If you stand up in the midst of the dry grass your perspective will change yet again. You will see the river flowing by. Its speed has slowed down since the rainy season and its banks are higher now. But it still transports the lifesaving elixir to all in need, people and wildlife alike. 

Luangwa River, Zambia,  late 1980s

Beyond the river you can see an acacia tree silhouetted against the sky. And a lone giraffe seeking shelter from the burning sun. Still months to go before the heavens will open, making the rivers overflow their banks and bringing the savannah to life again. It will get worse before it gets better.

Giraffe in Kenya early 1990s

These are but a few perspectives on Africa. As seen from a small patch of tall elephant grass.

Before experiencing Africa in the late 1980s to mid 1990s I had no idea how much this continent would adjust my perspectives on life. And of those sharing my journey.

Fresh from the plane. Our first day in Africa (Lusaka, Zambia) late 1980s

I embarked on this journey to widen my horizons, and to add to my perspectives on life. I hoped to gain a better understanding of the human experience through immersing in cultures and traditions so different from mine. I wanted to experience the wild. And hopefully to do some good along the way, however insignificant.

Attending a traditional coffee ceremony in Ethiopia in 1990
Performing Lingala songs in Kampala, Uganda mid 1990s

Those were my hopes and expectations, but I had no idea of how much the rest of my life would be influenced by Africa. That I would feel the passions and pains of its people in my bones. Develop a lifelong love of the wild creatures roaming its savannahs. And come to embrace, at least partially, the differences and similarities of lives lived under the same sun in various corners of our precious earth.

A young dancer in Livingstone, Zambia, late 1980s

What I learned gave me a firm respect for life, and overlapping perspectives to observe it from.


Life is about following your path. Sometimes it may mean leaving behind the safe and familiar to experience the pulse of something new and different. To leap into the unknown in order to contribute, to learn, to discover and respect other perspectives than those one was born with. To see the beautiful diversity of being. aulikki-and-dylan-birthday-2016

Last week I grew a year older. An excellent opportunity to reflect on what has been. Thinking back to this meaningful passage in my life, I feel nostalgia. And tremendous gratitude for having had the privilege to peek into life on this old continent over several years in several countries. Despite some hazards and heartaches, my eight years in Africa rise to the surface among the good things that have enriched  my life experience. I appreciate the hardships and the blessings. Africa captured my heart.

On my birthday I found nostalgia right there in my lap, together with Dylan. And went to try on my Ethiopian national dress. It still fits.


90 thoughts on “The Beautiful Diversity of Being. Perspectives and (Analog) Nostalgia.”

  1. Happy Birthday Helen! What a wonderful way to celebrate and remember the times that have touched and forged you. My time traveling the US National Parks was similar for me. And I would still love to see more of the world. Kudos to you for consciously choosing to explore other cultures consciously. to embracing diversity and unity.

    1. Thank you Brad. The decision to leave behind the safety and security, including our budding careers in Sweden was not an easy one, but I have had no regrets. On the contrary ~ this became an important part of my life path and I am still travelling on it 🙂

        1. Thanks Brad! My belief is that you just know you have to follow you inner voice when it tells you to take those first steps….you know.

  2. What wonderful memories, Helen; you transported me to space and time so different to my own.
    What incredible majesty to be found in the harshness of nature. Animals die, as do people; rivers run dry, crops fail; the intensity of nature overwhelms, and yet, life continues on. There is a depth to this that your writing has enveloped; so profoundly. I feel your love for this continent and its trials. As you’ve written; so much diversity.
    Happy belated birthday; a good day to ponder!
    I love your images; so much revealed: A young woman and mother, a guitarist, a humanitarian, and dog lover! 🙂
    Ah yes ~ Thumbs up for the dress fitting… 😉

    1. Thank you for your wonderful comment, Carolyn. I just talked to the little fellow on my lap in one of the pictures 🙂 The deep influence of our experiences in Africa has been important to all of us…and still is. I can “be” back there by just closing my eyes and smell the morning air lightly scented with smoke from breakfast preparation by women in the village. It’s amazing how even the things I captured with my senses have etched into my soul. And yes – it’s wonderful that the dress fits again 😉

      1. I returned to your post, Helen, to re-read. I am so struck by your experience. Your immersion has immersed me and I find myself somewhat calm, as though I am actually experiencing the sights and sounds. A most beautiful piece of writing, offering incredible depth.

        1. That is wonderful to hear, Carolyn. Such positive thoughts were particularly welcome tonight when I am following the evacuation journey of my son’s family and in-laws out from North Florida where the strong hurricane is going to hit tomorrow.

    1. Thank you dear Takami. I browsed my Africa albums on my birthday and thought I would share a few moments of the nostalgia I experienced looking at all those pictures.

  3. My dear friend Tiny, Lucy, Tyler and I wish you a belated Happy Birthday! It’s so nice to relive memories in our minds, the nostalgia is powerful reminder of a memorable life! G-d bless you! 🙂

    1. Thank you dear H.J. & family for your birthday wishes! I have had so many blessings in my life and it is good to reflect on them from time to time 🙂

  4. Your memories are very special Helen and It is how we grow and understand life from a deeper perspective. Beautiful photos. Happy birthday! 🎉💚🎉 thanks for sharing your world with us.

    1. Thank you Karen! Somehow I was in a reflective mood around my birthday and the memories from those years surfaced. I realized how much this time in Africa has contributed to my growth and influenced the path I am still traveling ~ and felt deep gratitude.

    1. Thank you Christine! Many people around our core family did not understand those choices at the time, but I am very grateful for what followed.

  5. Lovely, lovely post, Helen. I was with you on every word. You wrote of those perspectives so movingly. And you took me back to familiar haunts – Luangwa, Lusaka. Happy Birthday! It can never be too late for greetings 🙂

  6. Happy Birthday, Tiny! Living in other countries on other continents surely does widen our horizons and help us learn to appreciate cultural diversity. I’ve never been to Africa but have always been in awe of the experiences others, like you, have brought back with them. I enjoyed seeing the pictures of you at different times in your life!

    (I lived in Greece when I was a teenager and it definitely adjusted my perspective of the world…)

    1. Thank you, Barbara! I am happy you too had an opportunity to live on another continent. Such experiences aid our understanding and appreciation of others and add lifelong value. Africa has an extraordinary ability to capture one’s heart …and those memories surface quite often 🙂

  7. I loved taking a peek into your past experiences, my friend. It fascinates me, this Africa and you. 🙂 So happy for you that you have been able to see and learn so much from other parts of the world. ❤

    1. Thank you, my dear friend. You already knew Africa had captured my heart. And it has definitely influenced who I am today. Looking back at those years makes me a bit nostalgic…in a good way 🙂

  8. What a glorious trip down memory lane you shared with us Helen – what a journey you’ve had traveling down this incredible diverse path. You’e made me nostalgic for my time (albeit short) in Africa. Happy belated Birthday!🎂

    1. Thank you, Joanne! Happy you enjoyed these nostalgic musings. This was such a transformative time for me that I return to it every now and then. I am happy you too have experienced Africa!

  9. 8 years in Africa, wow, that looks like an opportunity of a lifetime.
    I like how you weave the past into the present and reflected on the passage of time and how it impacted you now.
    Happy belated Birthday, Helen, you look as gorgeous as you did in Africa.

    1. Thank you Genie, you are very kind 🙂 Looking back to my time in Africa, I realize how important and transformative it was for me, and how much it shaped my path through life. Despite experiencing wars and other hardships, I feel so much gratitude for having had this opportunity of a lifetime, as you say.

  10. Happy birthday! What a nice way to celebrate a milestone by reminiscing about the good old days. I hope you had a great time in my hometown, Lusaka. It has changed a lot.

    1. Thank you ZL! I liked Lusaka very much and would love to visit again to see how it has changed. I only visited once after leaving my job there, but even that was many years ago.

  11. What a fantastic post, Tiny ~ and it is all about perspective isn’t it? Great nostalgic photos and they emphasized your words and feeling as you I set out on your journey. A lifelong commitment to widening your horizons, add to your experiences and what a perspective you have. A great way to look back on life, especially around your birthday 🙂 Happy belated b-day, and wish you many more immersions into new cultures and traditions.

    1. Thank you Randall. I am happy you liked my nostalgic musings. I am hoping for more immersions too, although they will probably be shorter. This year has already brought some new experiences in the old country of Jordan and another peek into Africa, but more importantly these journeys have given me a deeper insight into the plight of the displaced people and a new perspective on the urgency of the refugee crisis.

      1. Jordan is a dream destination for me (along with Iran), to see and experience a special culture, nothing quite like it. To see the sadness with refuge crisis ~ that would make for sadness but also a perspective seldom experienced. Take care.

        1. When (not if) you go to Jordan, make sure to go and see the old olive trees planted by the Romans. And hopefully you can buy a tasty souvenir of the best olive oil in the world…this is a wonderful country! I have to confess I chickened out when I had an opportunity to go to Iran in 2013. Getting old, I guess 🙂

  12. Having been born in Zimbabwe in the early 50s, I know how much Africa is still a part of my heart, even though I haven’t lived there for over 40 years, so your comments really resonate with me! Belated good wishes for your birthday, and thanks for sharing some lovely photos 🙂

    1. Thank you Sally. I am happy my story resonated with you. I was working in Zimbabwe for about three months in the late 1980s and loved the country. Then I visited again in early 2000s. Unfortunately I did not find progress on that visit, on the contrary. And that was very sad to see.

      1. Tiny — I’ve never heard that term for poodles. Now I’m going to go look it up. Dylan is handsome as can be. Clearly he landed right side up in getting you as a mom! 🙂

  13. Happy belated Birthday, Tiny! You look fantastic! (as does Dylan, of course).

    What originally brought you to Africa? What an amazing experience you and your family must have had over the 8 years spent there!

    1. Thanks Nancy! I had always been fascinated by Africa since childhood, and when the Swedish Development Cooperation Agency advertised for a 2-year consultancy looking into the Zambian health sector (I was in health sector management), I applied…and the rest is history. It was an amazing experience for all of us.

  14. Happy Birthday for last week dear Tiny! Thanks for sharing some nostalgia from your amazing past. What a remarkable photo of you playing with a Ugandan band, you are both remarkable and amazing yourself. You have such a heart and zest for enjoying and appreciating life. Thanks again Tiny for sharing, have a safe week, and we pray the hurricane does minimal damage, and spares the salt marsh, as it is just weeks from the last one.

    1. Thank you Ashley! I am happy you enjoyed some of the nostalgic moments from my time in Africa. Those years truly shaped my life. Being on the west side of Florida, we were spared from the forces of Hurricane Matthew, just a couple of windy days ~ the salt marsh and its residents are fine. Our son’s family and in-laws evacuated on Thursday from their home in north-east Florida where the storm passed yesterday and we hope they will find their homes okay when they return. Have a wonderful week ahead!

  15. What an absolutely captivating post, Helen! I did not know you were in Africa for 8 years. Oh my! To have the courage to step outside of your life to live on another continent, especially Africa, is mind blowing. I can well imagine how this experience has changed your life forever! Beautiful post and a very Happy Birthday!!! Much Love, Amy ❤

    1. Thank you dear Amy for you birthday wishes and your kind comment. I had a nostalgic moment around my birthday and thought about how much this time came to influence who I became as a person and the path my life took. I am happy you enjoyed my musings. Much love to you ❤

  16. Happy HAPPY Birthday, Helen!! I love how adventurous your soul is 🙂 🙂 What a wonderful experience you allowed yourself to have as you threw caution to the wind and followed your passion…may we all be able to ignore the fear and experience life at its fullest!! Much love to you ♡♡♡

    1. Thank you Lorrie! My soul is quite adventurous, I have to admit. The decision to embark on this journey was not easy, particularly when most friends thought it was a dangerous and foolish endeavor. But I am so happy we did. I wish you a wonderful week ❤

  17. Amazing indeed. Happy birthday Helen and thank you for sharing your memories with us. Life is rich and we unfold in miraculous ways. Sending you much peace and joy and love ❤️

    1. Thank you Nomzi! Life does, indeed, unfold in miraculous ways! I am so grateful for this phase in my life and how it shaped me as a person. Sending you too much love and peace ❤

  18. That must have been such an interesting time in your life. I love experiencing different people, cultures, ideas and values.
    Happy belated birthday!

    1. Thank you Kathrin. This was probably the most important and meaningful time in my life, shaping who I became as a human being. I am very grateful and humbled for having had this opportunity to learn about life, very different from mine, on this wonderful continent.

  19. Lovely reflections Helen. I know many folks who have lived in Africa and other continents. There is a profound shift that takes place as we adapt and adjust to differences … yet are brought together in the amazing camaraderie of being human. I have only visited Africa twice and both experiences live within me still.
    I was out of town – in Boston helping my hubby celebrate his 60th birthday! Happy belated birthday to you Helen 💕

    1. Thank you dear friend. I hope you both had a good time in Boston! You put it so beautifully ” the amazing camaraderie of being human”! Exactly!

  20. The powerful imagery about shifting perspectives in relation to the tall elephant grass drew my attention to the poignant memories you described with such eloquence, Helen. The photos added to the depth and haunting loveliness of your story.

    1. I am happy you found my musings interesting, Carol. This was a formative time in my life and influenced me as a human being probably more than anything else. It really opened my eyes to the precious diversity of our humankind and kindled a passion to do whatever I can, however little, to help others thrive.

  21. What a stunning post, Helen! Africa is certainly a very special place which I’m sure touches all who visit her shores. Loved seeing your photos through the years. Dylan looks so happy there with you. A very belated “Happy Birthday” to you. xx 🙂

  22. I loved this post, what an experience that you embarked on without fear and not looking back. So much you learned. And I’m sure so much you gave. Thanks for sharing this, loved the old photos! Happy belated Birthday Helen!

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