Viewpoint | International

What couldn’t you do without?

What do you need in life? From Canada to South Africa to Pakistan, people around the globe explain what they can’t live without. Here Fatma Aydemir and T. C. Boyle say what is indispensable

“Everything, absolutely everything, except wine”

I could never live without open horizons, without clean air and water, nor without the other creatures of our earth, those which have been forced to retreat because of our species. That’s why I try to save as much as possible - water, space, raw materials.

My tree-covered garden in the small Californian town of Montecito is a haven for wild creatures, including the endangered monarch butterfly, which has always rested in these trees during its seasonal migration. I try to live a simple life, but my wife thwarts that - she is a carnivore and consumes everything anyone produces. She is also completely obsessed with shopping. She neutralises my efforts!

But, to answer the question finally, what could I do without? Everything, absolutely everything, except wine.

T. C. Boyle is a leading American writer. His most recent novel is “Talk to Me”. In 2022 he published a collection of short stories called “I Walk Between the Raindrops”. 

“The most important thing is conversation”

For me as a writer, and simply as a human being, the greatest and most important inspiration is conversation. I would never be able to do without them.

Talking to people, about the big questions of life, or seemingly trivial things, over dinner, on a park bench, in front of the club toilet, on the internet. They can be conversations with people who are close to me, or people I don't know at all.

The main thing is that they are genuinely interested in conversation, not aimed at advertising or selling things, just simply talking.

Fatma Aydemir is a journalistin und author based in Berlin. Her novel “Dschinns”, which chronicles the life of a German-Turkish family, was published in 2022 and was shortlisted for the German Book Prize. 

“I will always use paper”

I write my novels on the computer, but print out the text one page at a time to edit afterwards. So every day I trudge through my office with new pages in hand, reading them aloud to myself and scribbling notes in the margins with a pencil. Then I plod on a bit more and read some more.

I also write down ideas in a notebook. Okay, I do type them into my phone and computer too, sure, but mostly I write them in my paper notebook. Maybe one day I'll only use recycled paper or paper that's been pressed from carbon that's been filtered out of the air - maybe, but either way, I'll always use paper.

It is a kind of symbol for my generation and has long been such an essential part of my writing process that I simply can't do without it.

Mohsin Hamid was born in Lahore in 1971 and lives as a writer in London. His most recent novel is The Last White Man (Riverhead Books, New York City, 2022).

“I love art, and I love handmade things”

One morning when I woke up, I felt an overwhelming longing for beauty. It was a yearning for an object that would remind me that my life is still fulfilling and full of wonder, even though the year has been materially very deprived. I love art, I love handmade objects.

So I researched South African ceramics and came across the brand lungijoe ceramics. My budget was the equivalent of a hundred euros and was quickly spent when I saw the vase called Umjelo Wokuza.

It was designed by the artist Lungiswa Joe, who is influenced by African high cultures such as those of the Khoikhoi and Xhosa. The blue hue of the vase reminds me of the façades of the northern Moroccan city of Chefchaouen and of the ocean, the sight of which has always calmed me.

I have criss-crossed our continent and experienced fantastic adventures, which at the same time have always reassured me about myself. By surrounding myself with such mementos in my everyday life, I keep the memory alive.

Besides, the vase is simply a beautiful piece of art that gives me hope in the face of the coming global recession that will affect all our lives.

Lerato Mogoatlhe is a journalist and travel writer based in South Africa. In 2019, her book "Vagabond: Wandering Through Africa on Faith" (Jacana Media, Johannesburg, 2019) was published.

“The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is simply part of my life”

Nowadays, it's not exactly fashionable to be religious. Those who believe tend to keep it quiet. But it's different for me. As a Christian, my faith is very important to me - and most of all, the sacrament of the Lord's Supper is just part of my life.

For me, taking part in this ritual means being part of humanity and bearing responsibility in the world. I have received communion regularly since I was twelve years old and my mother took communion with me one last time just before she died in the hospice.

During the Corona pandemic and the lockdown in Canada, it was also very difficult for me not to be able to go to church. Having to do without Holy Communion in the past months has ripped open an invisible wound. Also because we were all in particular need of consolation during this terrible time.

Adrienne Clarkson, born in Hong Kong in 1939, is a diplomat and journalist. From 1999 to 2005 she was the 26th Governor General of Canada, representing Queen Elizabeth II as Head of State. Clarkson lives in Toronto.

“My values, my beliefs and the people I love”

I learned the hard way what it means to do without certain things: I had to leave my home country Russia behind, my everyday life, my violin and my career as a violinist.

Since 2019, I've been taking to the streets as a climate activist because I simply couldn't stand by any longer and see that hardly anyone in our country was doing anything about the climate catastrophe. I faced a lot of opposition for that.

It became increasingly difficult to combine my music career as a violinist at the Moscow Conservatory and my activism. Over the past few years, I constantly expected to be arrested, because that is the price many opinionated people pay in Russia.

Then, when the Russian army invaded Ukraine in February 2022, things got even worse. Finally, I had no choice but to flee the country I love. With only a packed suitcase and my partner, I left Russia, leaving everything else behind.

In October 2022, I learned that the Russian government has started an unprecedented procedure against me to revoke my citizenship. So I will soon be stateless. What will be left for me? My values and beliefs and the people I love. That is what I could never do without.

Arshak Makichyan was born in Yerevan in 1994, is a climate activist and was a violin student at the Moscow Conservatory. He is currently staying in Germany.

“Telling stories is essential for me”

I grew up in South Sudan during the civil war and, like many people in my generation, I had to live without parents. Storytelling gave me the strength to carry on. Almost every day, my friends and I would perform little stories or sketches.

We compensated for our pain and created imaginary places of retreat. For me personally, this was very important, it gave me hope, and showed me new ways of reflecting on my life. This is still the case today. Storytelling is fundamental to making sense of things that have happened to us in the past.

We learn from the experiences of others and integrate them, making them fruitful for our own lives. This is what connects us as human beings. Even when I go for a walk, I often drift into daydreams. I can't imagine life without them.

That's how I stay creative and find solutions to my everyday problems, which often threaten to overwhelm me.

Simon Bingo was born in Sudan in 1986. He is a film maker and founder of the Juba International Film Festival, the first festival of its kind in South Sudan.