Pre-cursor to the story. The story involves Palestine and Israel. I will be calling Palestine, Palestine as this is what is officially recognised as by all UN countries apart from 2. I will not get into the conflict, nor the wrongs or rights of each side. This piece is not a political statement.

All images are mine, with all rights reserved.

I travelled to the West Bank, specifically the city of Hebron to capture and document the people and their lives. This was for my Bachelor of Arts in Photography. I managed to develop a contact there and spent the weeks with him and his family. I started to understand their way of life, how their daily life is restricted, how they interact with one another and so forth.

During my early twenties and teenage years, I tended to be depressed. Sometimes more, sometimes less. However, always depressed. This had a multitude of reasons which aren’t the focus of this piece, but that was my state of mind at the time. A 20 year old, who had moved to a new city to study his passion and was flying to a war-torn country all alone to take photos. Needless to say, it was a scary endeavor. Not only for myself, yet also for my friends and family, all of whom were nicely phrased, nervous.

I was greeted by a gentleman, who picked me up from Tel Aviv Airport and drove me across the highly protected border to the hotel. Here I stayed for the night, watched the sunset, and deliberated about how my time was going to be.

Shaban greeted me the next morning. You’ll hear more about him as the story continues, and he greeted me as warm-heartedly as anyone ever has. He was clearly and genuinly excited for me to meet his family, friends and get to know his city. The city that he has seen go through war, peace, Israeli settlers, more war and more peace. Hebron, West Bank in particular is a highly disputed and fought over city, with it being the biggest in population, and the home of the Abraham mosque.

What struck me immediately, was the happiness. The pride and happiness that shone out of the people who greeted and met me, was stronger than the sunset that eclipsed over the horizon on my first night. I live in Berlin, Germany’s capital and a metropolis. People are grumpy, people are annoyed, stressed, running late and tired. I love it here, but it isn’t a friendly place and oneself thereby tends to be unfriendly as well.

So getting formally swarmed by this flood of happiness, pride and just genuine positivity was overwhelming. To clarify these are people who have lost multiple relatives during the multiple conflicts, who have had to rebuild their lives a multitude of times yet they are genuinely happy.

Yet I am not. I am depressed, living in a beautiful city, in a beautiful apartment with no worries worth mentioning in comparison to death.

So why?

Why are they happy? How are they happy? How can they possibly find hope and happiness in such difficult and conflicting times? I asked. I bluntly asked. Shaban looked up at his wall and pointed at 4 portraits in his house. All 4 had ribbons around the frame, not black, but Palestinian flag colors. They had all died within the many conflicts.

He turned and said, why should I be sad, what reason do I have to be sad? I am here, I have a roof, a family, and friends. So, I should and am happy. He looked at me genuinely confused, when I looked smiling yet teary-eyed back at him. In his opinion, the question made no sense. No sense whatsoever. He couldn’t understand why one wouldn’t be happy if one was alive, healthy, and had loved ones.

This got to me, I was depressed. But rationally there wasn’t a reason, based on Shaban’s view I thought. So I delved into the part of myself, that I keep locked away from everyone including myself. The emotional filing cabinet.

I’m not the happiest with my university courses, I have knee problems and therefore can’t do as much sport as I’d like. Family is from time to time complicated, but never seriously bad. Friends were a slow process in making them but I have a few. So looking objectively, I wasn’t lonely, I was very much alive, I had friends and family; while still for some reason happiness was the one thing I didn’t have.

Don’t get me wrong, just because one has those, doesn’t mean that one has to be happy, nor that one doesn’t have a reason to be depressed. However, it is a point of view that one should bare in mind. That the basis of life, is covered. That the basic needs are covered.

What I realized

Even when things are getting me down, serious things, trauma, small petty things; whatever.

I can look at the bigger, general picture. Life as a whole. And what will that show me?
Life is good. I have a roof, friends, family and food. I have a goal in life. I had a nice time two nights ago and so forth.

Now what does this do? it didn’t stop me from being depressed, feeling like crap. What it did, was stop me from giving up, from feeling like there was no hope, like there wasn’t any good.

And that is a critical difference, a difference that changes how you wake up, how you look back on the day. That made my day and changed my life

I am now 23 years old. I have finished my Bachelor and am no longer in the same state of mind. My life has improved and continues to do so. Seeing the world in conflict, changed my perspective and made me realise what life truly is worth.