'Rwandan wisdom is that you go back home to help rebuild your country when its in trouble' my friend's colleague told him as he recently weighed up the pros and cons of staying in Kigali or coming back to England. Of course, I thought when I heard that - I should expect that a people who emerged from the horror of the Rwandan 1994 genocide could tell us a thing or two about rebuilding.
And it got me thinking. So many of us are struggling to make sense of the new world we find ourselves in post-Brexit vote UK - struggling to be hopeful when it seems so final and struggling to compute what the new normal looks like. The country is divided, the mood is bleak and the path ahead is painfully unclear. How do we fit in or respond? And yet friends and colleagues of mine around the world have been doing this for decades - making sense of their lives when the politics doesn't stack up. They have worked out how to find hope and purpose pragmatically in the midst of uncertainty, without shutting out politics completely.
If you grew up through the military dictatorship in Argentina when people simply 'disappeared', and then lived through its economic crisis when people lost their life savings and resorted to trading household items for food, you know how to live without taking stability for granted. You might not have the answer to Brexit but your nation knows that building a strong civil society is crucial. You know that people organising to bring solutions to local needs is key to moving forward. In neighbouring Brazil, community leaders can teach us about seizing the right moment to be vocal about the need for change and progress. The Rio Olympics saw them bring a crucial message at a crucial moment.
On the other side of the world we get a different perspective. From Russians we can learn the long game. This summer I heard from well-educated, free-thinking Russians that they were dreaming of a better Russia for their children. They were choosing to stay and wait it out, perhaps for decades. Just in case, they said, they had weighed up the red lines that would make them leave, but for now they were believing in their country's future. Mongolians took an even longer view of history. Their perspective encompassed eras, filled with the rise and fall of empires. A fiercely proud nation that has both ruled and been ruled took a view of a year as another small marker in centuries of nomadic life. Next door China, the land of the collective and not the individual, of the extended family and not the one opinion, has a different wisdom. My Chinese friends have carefully explained that there is a bigger picture than their own experience that keeps together a country of 1.3 billion people - what is best for everyone is what is desired.
Back closer to home, I watched Francois Hollande's New Year's speech deliberately take France back to its national values - liberté, égalité, fraternité. It was a rallying cry for a nation who will go to the ballot box this year with many eyes watching anxiously. It said 'hold firm, as the world rocks, to what you believe underpins everything'.
And so, as our world rocks, my friend will choose whether he will return from Rwanda, and my Latin American friends will ask what I'm doing in my neighbourhood, and my Russian and Asian acquaintances will maybe wonder what all the fuss is about. And hopefully, perhaps a few of these insights from around the world will help some of us in Britain, as we search for answers, work out how we go about rebuilding.Suggest a correction