My student years in Paris defined who I am today. The streets harboured my surreptitious kisses, those terraces hosted my tears after failed exams and my laughter with my friends who teased me about my Russian accent in French. I wasted my student stipend on Pierre Hermé macaroons consumed between lectures on a random bench at St Germain. It was with a view of the Tour Eiffel that I started my first ever internship at Radio France.
When the attacks happened in Paris on 13 November it was deeply personal. This violence interfered into my world, in the world that is filled with people I deeply care about, in the city that I called home for many years. It felt like the attackers intruded into my way of life and violently disrupted a system that was known and dear, that I looked forward to stepping into every time I returned to Paris. Several days have passed, yet I'm still coming to terms with these horrific events - like many others around the world.
I am deeply scarred by the Paris attacks yet I am confronted with violence and tragedy every day at work. Managing a peace building project in Africa, I meet genocide survivors who saw their parents slaughtered in their homes, women victims of brutal rape and young people who grew up to the backdrop of a barbaric war that took millions of lives that the world didn't care to report on.
Whilst debates unfolded on social media and mainstream media as to why we pay more attention to one tragedy than another, I was analysing my own reaction and that of my friends in Eastern Africa. Despite their natural human sympathy and compassion, they didn't adopt either Lebanese or French flags on Facebook. They joined with the world in remembrance of human lives that were taken away yet they remained uninvolved and detached. I cannot blame them. #JesuisKenya meant a lot more to them.
The more I meet people and discuss peace and violence the more I learn that grief and compassion are relative, local, personal and selective. A globalised world and access to information gives us a false perception that we can relate equally and intimately to all the tragedies that happen around the planet (on different scales - they happen every day). But we can't.
We naturally tend to mourn what is relevant to our system of life, what defined our personal history, what reflects our social and family circle. Compassion is universal but grief is selective. Debates about how and who we mourn create unnecessary noise. Let each person or community mourn what is important to them - it is nobody's business - and the fact that they are scarred by the attacks in Beirut more than Paris doesn't mean some lives have more value than others, it's just that some lives are closer to home than the others.