What I remember mostly from my trips are the encounters with nature, live animals and people.
I have dear memories from Machu Picchu in Peru. Machu Picchu is a World Heritage Site and now also on the list of the seven new wonders of the world. We decided to stay for a few days and learnt that there was a cave on top of the adjacent mountain, called Huayna Picchu in quechua. As we did not have money to stay in the hotel we decided to climb the mountain and sleep in the cave. Huayna Picchu is 260 meters above Macchu Picchu and the view from there over Machu Picchu is breath-taking. The climb is called “stairs of death” and you can check on Youtube if you want to get the feeling how it is to do the climbing.
I had a weird experience in the aftermath of Eastern Germany. I used to travel often to East Berlin in the 60s. I visited friends and always stayed at my friend´s family house. During the train ride from northern East Germany to Berlin I was always interrogated by the police and when I left the train station to go to my friend´s house I was followed to my destination by a black car with dark windows. After German reunification, the surveillance files that the Stasi (State Security Service) had maintained on millions of East Germans were laid open, and my friend requested to see his file and showed it to me. All my whereabouts were registered, my photos and letters were there and it was scary to realize that the Stasi had been spying on us all the time. Only after the death of my friend's father he learnt that his father had been working for the Stasi as well, so it must have been very embarrassing to have somebody from “the West” staying in their house. Especially as the Stasi are known to be one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies ever to have existed.
While in Saudi Arabia, my girlfriend and I hitchhiked with a young Saudi boy. He asked us to sing a Swedish song. You might know that in Sweden we have special lyrics that we sing when we drink aquavit. So we sang a couple of “aquavit songs” in the back seat of his car, dressed in our burkas.
I have been married to the same man for 44 years, and we got married not only once, but twice! The second time was during our trip to Yemen. We were dressed up in typical Yemeni wedding outfits and they held a ceremony for us. The wedding party took place in a tent, drinking tea and chewing khat.
Other fantastic memories are the encounter with live animals, such as walking around among the sea elephants at Half Moon Bay in California. The males that weigh up to 3500 kg are fighting with each other over the females and mating as many females as possible. The females are lying there giving birth and suckling their new-borns. Then the sea elephants spend another 9 months at sea before coming back and the procedure starts all over again.
Another remarkable place is Galapagos with its unique wildlife; the iguanas, the giant tortoises, swimming with sea lions and dolphins and the variety of tame birds that come and sit on your shoulder.
One of my most awesome and unforgettable experiences with animals and the absolute highlight of all safaris was the encounter with the mountain gorillas in the Virunga Mountains in Rwanda. After a couple of hours trekking you reach the gorilla family and it is difficult to describe the exhilaration you feel when you stare into the eyes of a huge Silver Back.
Last, but not least are the memories from the encounter with people that made an impact on me.
When I was 16 and hitchhiked to France I got the idea I wanted to go and live in a convent. So I went to the Notre Dame Cathedral and approached some nuns and asked them if I could come and stay at their convent. They had to ask the mother superior first and I promised to come back to Notre Dame the following day to give me an answer. Next day we met again and they said I was welcome to the convent. I stayed there for a week, helping in the kitchen and every day I sat for an hour with the mother superior in the garden of the convent discussing life. I think these philosophical talks opened up my interest for different religions and thanks to my traveling I was able to learn a lot about the major world religions.
My special interest is to study the conditions for girls, women and vulnerable people in the world.
I worked for Doctors without Borders (MSF) in Angola for 6 months, a few years after the civil war was over but cholera was still spreading. As I speak Portuguese I was able to talk to people with HIV/Aids and tuberculosis, with fishermen and vendors at the market and that way got a good insight in the lives of people.
Another occasion when I was able to study the vulnerability of people was in the Mukuru slums in Nairobi. Through my Rotary Club in Stockholm and a Catholic Religious Congregation I initiated a project to build a Family Centre in the slums.
Through my voluntary work I was acting as a board member for the Swedish Fistula Hospital Foundation that helps women, mainly in Ethiopia, to get cured from their injuries and stigmatization after child birth. It was so touching to hear the stories of these women that had been rejected from their husbands as they could never get pregnant again due to their injuries and they very often ended up in prostitution.
In Hargeisa, Somaliland, I had a fascinating conversation with a couple of young girls at a government office. We had to get a special permit to leave Hargeisa to go to see the cave paintings at Las Geel and to the coast. It had not been raining for months so all male government officials had gone to the mosque together with the president to pray for rain, so we had to wait to get our permission. The female employees stayed at the office and I was able to have a candid conversation with the girls about their lives. They were all circumcised, as most women in Somalia. Usually in Somalia women get infibulated, which means that they cut away all the genitals. One of the girls was married and she told me that three days before her wedding she had to undergo surgery to cut her open to allow intercourse. Just imagine the life of these women! The good thing was that they all said that they would never allow their daughters to get circumcised.