Skip to content

The blanket mafia and the Syrian refugees unite

The Car and us

Farah, she keeps a cigarette behind her ear and when she laughs it sounds like beads falling. Her long, black curls are tied in a knot, kind of, but not really. She was as excited as I was when we found a secondhand shop with cheap army jackets.

Her sixteen-year-old Peugeot screamed as it was forced up the steep hills of the mountains of Lebanon. It wanted to die, but survived. Barely. Inside, Farah played Feiruz, the Lebanese woman who sings her tones all around the world. She apologized for polluting the fresh air with her cigarette smoke, and begged us to share her favorite bread with her.

We were on a mission. A mission to find Syrian refugees living in camps in the vast Beeka Valley. Finding them was not hard. Along the road, and across fields one spotted the primitive tents built with old billboards. Like mushrooms they seemed to pop up everywhere.

“Don’t go there,” the lady at the embassy had warned us. “There are too many people like you there already.” She didn’t say it, but you could tell she wanted to: “We don’t need you.” She did however say: “The UN takes care of everything. We give them loads of money. Small groups like yours often make things worse.” I had fumed on the inside, and some of it had to spill over. “I can give you a list longer than you can imagine of all the times they have failed. I believe that it is exactly small groups like ours that can be very effective in the work we do.”

The rest told us the opposite. “The needs are vast and they are not being met. Kids don’t get to go to school. There is not enough food. No medical care. Not enough warm clothes during the cold.”

We pulled over by the side of the road and walked into a small community of refugees. They looked surprised at first. “Why did we come for a visit?” “Who were we?” Farah smiled her galaxy smile and the battle was won. Soon there were smiles everywhere, smiles and curious stares. “Come with us,” it was motioned and we followed. We walked into the home as the unexpected and unknown guests of a refugee family. Inside gold-colored cloth draped the walls. There were thin futons to sit on on the floor. Pillows were placed by us so we would have something to lean on while we were sitting. Glasses with drinks were brought out.

My own black t-shirt and army-green pants looked hopelessly boring in comparison the the multicolored dresses the women were wearing, the beads and the sequins lighting up the room much like their smiles.

“We just want to get to know you. We want to hear your stories,” we explained, and they willingly shared. They shared about the destroyed homes, the flight across the mountains, about fleeing barefoot and with nothing other than the clothes they were wearing. They spoke of fear and loss. They talked about wanting the best for their children and about how they wish they could have invited us for a feast and slaughtered a goat the way they would have back in their own village.

One lady inched close to me and leaned towards my shoulders and I felt in an instant that we were sisters, although we spoke different languages and had lived lives as different as sugar and salt. The children came to sit close too. I drew a simple drawing and the smiles came easily. They did the same for me. Drew something they wanted me to see.

A man came inside and joined us. “What we have seen we cannot explain,” he said. “We saw people slaughtering people. They put people on the floor and shut them. This I saw myself. I ran with my family because children cannot live with these kinds of memories. We had to take them away.” He fled with his wife who was 8 months pregnant. The baby was born soon after they arrived. I held the baby, now 28 days old, and touched his thick black hair while he slept.

They told us they are cold and hungry here. They feel safe, but there is no school for the kids. They are trying to be content, but they only have two blankets to share when there are eight people in the family.

We said our goodbyes and they kissed us. We went for a new mission. To find blankets. After several failed attempts we ended up at a secondhand store called The King’s Vision. Nice name, we thought, although we weren’t sure why the King wanted such a vision. The store was run by something that appeared to be a family or the mafia, or perhaps both. Men with lots of grease in their hair and cigarettes attached to their lower lip looked grumpy and not at all keen on giving us a deal, let alone a special deal. Down in the basement were the blankets. One by one we pulled them down from the rods they had been hung on. There were the thick ones displaying Dora the Explorer, and the ones that had been eaten by moths. And then there was the rest. In the end we counted almost 50 blankets. Not enough for all the people in the camp, but it was a start.

Farah started the negotiating and for a while it sounded grim. She rolled her eyes, and while she still smiled, the smile started to look more and more strained. She pointed to the moth holes and lifted the thinnest blankets up to show that these were worth next to nothing. In the end it seemed like a deal was made, but we didn’t know how or what. Just: It was done. Just: Pay us here, and don’t let the big guy upstairs see how much you give us. Just: We will give you a receipt, but it is OK if the receipt is just a piece of paper from our notebook right here?

How does one bring four people and 50 blankets in a little Peugeot the size of a go-cart, and that already has a trunk full of film gear and paraphernalia? Tie it to the roof. No roof rack was needed, just some string and some rope and, voila, a bag almost as big as the car was safely strapped to the roof, making the car look like it was pregnant.

We thanked the kind mafia family and promised not to tell the dad. In the end they were smiling and wishing us well. One could almost detect a desire to go with us. And we were off.

Arriving at the camp some hours later we again surprised them. They had not expected us to come back. It felt good. With a lot of commotion, shouting, some pushing and even some tears Farah and and team managed to deliver all the blankets as fairly as they possibly could. It was nice to be able to give, but hard to think that even with our small gift they would still not be warm enough tonight. Just warmer.

We sat down to chat with our new friends when it was all over. The connection was even deeper. We were friends now. “We want you to come back,” they said. “We like you.” Then they added: “Sometimes the big aid organisations come here and they have no time for us. They just come to do their own thing. We like you because when you came you saw our children. You took the time to pay attention to them. We can tell you care about us.”

So here we were, the small aid organization that arrived in an even smaller Peugeot. We have no big budget, we had no logo to flash. But the people that mattered gave us the vote of confidence we needed. They saw that we cared and they saw that we came to serve. To them that mattered the most.

50 blankets and an afternoon shared. I think this is how change starts. It feels good to know we did the right thing. Now to continue on that track.

 

Transformational love. It can suck.

 

There are some basic truths to life: Everybody will get blisters. Love is overrated.

No, this is better: Pimples are inevitable. Love hurts.

Or, how about this one: All will have bad hair days. Love sucks.

And then the ultimate: The blisters, the pimples and the bad hair days come and go, but love lasts forever.

Over the many years I have lived, I have loved much. I have loved pets and people the most. But I have also loved a knitted cardigan, a ragdoll with matted hair and a cozy corner of my living room.

Right now I love avocados, the dog we used to have, to run, and to feel the cold air playing on my face after ascending a mountain top. I love the smell of rosemary and of cinnamon. I love the sound of children giggling.

The avocado love is the kind of love that doesn’t hurt. Neither does the love of rosemary. It only enriches.

There is a love that transforms and turns us into better people. It is the kind of love that fills us with joy the way the espresso maker fills the coffee cup. The kind that makes us stretch our bodies towards the light, the way the seeds I planted recently are stretching their limber bodies towards the sun. Sometimes I have seen this in children loving their parents so much they want to become them (like my kids imitating my laugh or the way I yelled when I got mad.) More often I see it when two people care about each other very much. It is the kind of love Martin Heidegger described so beautifully:

“Why is love rich beyond all other possible human experiences and a sweet burden to those seized in its grasp? Because we become what we love and yet remain ourselves. Then we want to thank the beloved, but find nothing that suffices.

We can only thank with our selves. Love transforms gratitude into loyalty to ourselves and unconditional faith in the other. That is how love intensifies its innermost secret.”

So if it makes me better, then why does it also hurt? It is not very difficult to answer. The people we love, great as they may be, are not perfect. They will say things that sting, they will leave their messes on your floor, they will forget your birthday and not notice your haircut. They will do worse things. They will walk away from you, they may not return your calls, and they may not even put smiley faces on the SMSes they send you. They will get irritated with you and some will even choose other people over you.

The people I love are flawed, like I am flawed. It is simply not fair to think of them as the fulfilment of all my dreams, longings, desires and wildest adventures. No mortal can fill my expectations and need for a thousand million things.  My satisfaction must be found in the assurance I have of my own value. My pleasure comes from being with people I love, of course. But I cannot always count on them being pleasurable. So when they are not, I must decide that that is OK. I can still choose happiness.

Needing to be loved is tiring. Loving, on the other hand is life-giving. We become what we love, but remain ourselves. And if I may be as bold as to add my own thoughts to the fine thoughts of Heidegger, I would add: Love gives. It can never take. Receive, yes, but not take.

So there you have it. Love. So easy to love, we think. Until we understand that love is a verb. Then it dawns on us that loving means cleaning the coffee cups, even though you did it yesterday too. It may mean sharing the last sandwich even though you are still hungry. It may mean getting off of Facebook to listen to a story as interesting as genealogy of the kings of France. It may mean sharing the blanket, even though you feel cold.

Love. lOvE

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Wedged Bear in Great Tightness

The wisdom of Pooh comes to me in small drips every so often. “Would you read a Sustaining Book, such as would help and comfort a Wedged Bear in Great Tightness?” he humbly asked when he was stuck in Rabbit’s rabbit hole. And, the way I see it, he summarised the plight of mankind.

A Wedged Bear in Great Tightness

A Wedged Bear in Great Tightness (or is it a pig? Same, same, but different. I drank this bear-pig.)

My little friend at Starbucks felt like Pooh this morning when he tried to add all my purchases for breakfast and promised me a discount that he wasn’t able to punch into the computer. It took me 20 minutes and many encouraging nods before I finally had my coffee, yoghurt and musli. In the end, the coffee wasn’t so good and I burned my tongue.

I too feel wedged in great tightness these days. It is like wherever I turn, there is no way out. I listened to the stories of the Rohingya for a week, and there were not one tiny scrap of good news for them. And, while I tried being good and kind and loving, one cannot change a political system with a smile. I felt at the end of the week that I had only questions and no answers. Stuck. In great tightness.

I fell in love, but all I could give her was cuddles.

I fell in love, but all I could give her was cuddles.

I arrived in Malaysia and here the needs continue. Exploitations, land grabs, lack of food, climate destruction, and, as I walked down a dirty street today, a crazy lady was sitting right in front of me peeing. No, this is not even slightly exaggerated. She did, and I saw it. And I thought: Has it come to this?

Pooh was mostly upset about all the meals he would be missing while stuck there in the hole. Just like me sometimes when I am stuck the way I feel right now. I listen to sad stories all day and watch people go to the bathroom on the street, and then I go to bed thinking about an outfit I really wish for. Or, like now, I think about cheese.

Pooh was desperate, as am I, and when meals were out, there was another option for him: The Sustaining book. Ah, the sustaining book! That is what I need too. And, if I am not totally mistaken, it is what the world needs. In the Sustaining book we will find the wisdom to live and to love. In the Sustaining book I will find the comfort I need in this time of great tightness. Such as this:

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

I can’t remember what good the Sustaining book did Pooh, if anything. But I know that for me, I need the book and I need the friends around me who help me get out of the hole I feel stuck in. If I all I see is the dirt below me and the the muck mixed with it I think I will remain as useless as a wedged bear. One cannot focus on the great tightness, but on the way out of it. That is why I was happy talking to my good friends today. Not only have they dedicated their lives to helping the poor and the oppressed. They are constantly thinking up new ways to get better at what they are doing. In their footsteps are rescued women, saved children and dignified men. Then, busy as they are doing good things, they took the time to talk to me and helped pull me out of the tightness I felt.

Such fruit will come from the ones reading the Sustaining book and following the advice given therein.

 

Visiting humans in a zoo

imageI knew I was not a criminal, just a simple woman wanting to help starving people.

When our kids were young we spent a fair amount of time at zoos around the world. It was always with mixed emotions for me. Are animals supposed to be caged in? I also remember seeing high security prisons in different counties. Uninviting and foreboding they loom on the horizon making one decide there and then never to become a criminal deserving a life behind those walls. Rarely did I imagine normal moms, dads, kids, teens, uncles, aunts or grandparents having to live behind barbed wires of the same quality as the wires used to protect humans from Grizzlies in the zoo. I never thought that rice farmers, shop keepers, fishermen, teachers and lawyers needed to be kept enclosed the same way serial killers were enclosed on Alcatraz.

We went to spend time with people behind barbed wires today. I knew I was not a criminal, just a simple woman wanting to help starving people. Yet, I needed to brake several rules in order to get to them. Mr. Z is our trusted aid and picked us up fifteen minutes early. His baseball hat was on his head as usual, his sarong was tied tightly around his waist. He smiled a smile stained with red beetle nut juice and let me know not to worry about a thing. We just had to duck when passing check points and only get out of the vehicle when he said so.

We drove on back roads where most would not expect white -faced aid workers. We laid flat on the seat and closed our eyes when told to. We smiled at the police when they saw us. We went the backway out when we needed to use the restroom. We did not show ourselves in public. There were soldiers in the neighborhood and they would be quick to report is if they saw us.

Keep in mind we were not in the area to deal drugs. We were not whitewashing. We were not going to rob a bank, and we were not hired to kill. We were going to meet people who had suffered. We were going to hear their stores. We were going to discuss how we could best help them. For that we had to put ourselves and others in danger.

As I was sitting with several men and women hearing them say things like: “We have no hope anymore,” and:”If what is happening to us is not genocide, then let’s find a different word to describe it.”

I was with people who had once owned an abundance. Now they were begging for food and fighting to stay alive.

I was with the Rohingya, of course. The beautiful, kind-hearted and brave Rohingya whom the government wants dead and is working hard to eradicate. I spent the day with these gentle people and I kept wondering why they are not given the right to live.

I sat with grown men who cried when talking about the desperation in their villages and in their families. I heard them say: “There are never any good news for us. All we ever get is bad news. This makes it difficult to have hope.” I sat with them and felt like my sincere concern wasn’t going to save them. They needed a revolution.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

She made us lunch today.Delicious and wholesome.

It was ironic that my visit happened on the same day as Myanmar got its first democratically elected government. A joyous occasion for the nation of Myanmar. And one can only hope it will be a victorious season where democracy gets to flourish. The Rohingya I was with today said: “We were not allowed to vote. But if we had been given the opportunity, we would have voted for Suu Kyi. We trust her and we will be patiently waiting for her to bring reforms that will help our people. Let me say this: Aung San Suu Kyi just better live up to the expectations of the Rohingya. They need a reason to hope again.

I saw little girls and boys dreaming of sleighing dragons or of becoming princesses. I thought it was beautiful and recommitted to help make it happen.

 

 

 

 

 

Traveling adventures

Processed with VSCOcam with b1 preset

Coffee with a monk-view

“So you are hungry and tired?” “Yes, very hungry and tired,” I replied to the kind-looking man in airport uniform. He was a little perplexed. “You are not leaving for four more hours so just go away for a while and come back at one o’clock.”

I had arrived from Singapore from Amsterdam from Trondheim earlier in the morning. Spending the night on an airplane next to a family with a two-year old and a baby made sleeping more challenging than it ought to be on an airplane. The only redeeming factor on the plane was getting to watch Bradley Cooper and the red wine was good.

Arriving in Yangon I remembered my visa. It was only on my computer and not in my passport. I decided panic was not an option and acted as if I thought everybody just opened their computer and pointed to the visa confirmation letter in the email inbox. And it turned out a young, cute Burmese man was waiting just for a person like me. “Come with me,” he smiled and I followed. We stopped at an uninhabited counter and he scratched his head, then said: “Show me your passport.” Which I did. He took out his smartphone and took a photo of my passport then said: “Wait a little, OK.” It reminded me of an earlier time at Yangon airport when I had showed up without a ticket and without money and  in the end got an executive for Thai airways to get me a ticket all the way back to Thailand anyway. While waiting I did nothing. Then, like a world-class sprinter, the little man came running back, smile all over his face. He waved a white paper and said: “Here you go.” And just like that I had my visa. I thanked him and he showed me where to go next.

Getting out from the passenger zone at the airport is a little bit like being onstage on Broadway. Behind massive glass windows are rows of chairs arranged so that anybody who wants can come and sit down and watch passengers arriving. Here they sit and watch while chewing their beetle nut and sniffing jars with tiger balm. They are having a good time chatting together whilst watching weary travelers get their luggage and venture out to freedom. I was observed. I felt self-conscious because it was a while since I brushed my teeth. And my hair? My hair lived its own life.

From international to domestic I had to walk past numerous well-intending taxi drivers who all offered me the best price in town. Then, inside the domestic terminal, busy took on a new meaning. There was a bustle of activity with travelers lining up in unorganized lines in front of temporary counters with the names of the airlines they represented. Between the would-be travelers moved airport officials carrying luggage of all sizes to and fro. Then there were all the relatives and the relatives’ relatives who were there to wish their loved ones Bon voyage. There were also the cleaners. The ones mopping around our feet. And there was I with my backpack and electronic ticket. I found the slightly disorganized Myanmar Airways line and braced myself for the long wait. With only a handful of computers and way more passengers than the system was built for, there were challenges. I waited for thirty minutes without observing that one single passenger received a boarding pass. I was glad I had four hours to wait. But I worried it would get boring. And I was hungry. Very hungry.

The man appeared next to me and asked if I was heading for Mandalay. I told him no and showed him my ticket on my phone. “You are too early,” he said. “You must go away now and come back in two hours.” “But where shall I go, and what shall I do?” I asked him. As if it is airport officials’ jobs to make sure the travelers have something interesting to do. “You just have to go away and then come back.” “But look, there are no chairs for me to sit on and there is no food. I am very tired and hungry.” He looked at his watch and looked concerned. “You are very hungry and tired, is that right?” I nodded. He smiled a smile of understanding. And he could fix my problem. “I know what I will do,” he said determined. “Follow me.” He took me behind his check-in counter where his other staff was still sweating over a computer system that appeared to be obsolete. “Sit down here.” He gave me a red plastic stool to sit on and I could have a good behind the scenes view. “I will personally check you in. Only you. Just wait a little, OK.” I nodded and smiled. I tried to imagine something remotely close to this happening in my country.

Processed with VSCOcam with f1 preset

Behind the scenes

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset

Cappuchino in Myanmar

 

A few minutes later he came and got me. Again: “Follow me!” Then off we walked. Past the lines, past the staff, through security without a boarding pass. Past sleepy tourists, up the stairs. “I want you to get some food and upstairs here we have three restaurants. You can eat and relax and then at one o clock I will come back and get you and I will check you in. So which restaurant do you want to go to? That one? OK, now you sit here and relax and then I will come and get you.” And then he was in off.

So here I am now, drinking a cappuccino and watching the Burmese around me slurp their lunch noodles. I am thinking that what I have just experienced today is trust on a level I seldom experience in the West. I don’t know how long the people here will be able to trust strangers the way I experienced today. I hope it will be for a long time. And I will make my utmost to deserve the trust of my new friend. When he comes to get me, I will be sitting here, exactly where he left me.

 

 

Suddenly I understand why Holocaust happened

These two Rohingya siblings I recently met in Myanmar. If the government gets their way, there will soon be no more Rohingya.

These two Rohingya siblings I recently met in Myanmar. If the government gets their way, there will soon be no more Rohingya.

”How could they?” I have been wondering while listening to lots of talks on the Holocaust. I have read books. I have seen movies. I have cried. I have wished that what I learned wasn’t true. People cannot be this evil. Had Hitler come on to the stage today, we would not have accepted his horrifying values and actions. We have a common understanding of what is right and what is wrong, don’t we? One doesn’t let innocent people die in the most gruesome ways just because they belong to a certain ethnic group. We just don’t.

I was young when the massacres happened in Rwanda. What happened to innocent and defenseless people was so dreadful that we can’t even imagine evil of this magnitude. Between 500,000 and one million Tutsis were brutally slaughtered. The world knew what was about to happen, but was idly watching from the sidelines. “This kind of evil must never happen again,” promised the world afterwards.

I have been naive. I have thought that the world is so much better today than it was then. We are good people. We understand more about justice now than then. We are living in the most civilized time of history. Little by little, however, I realize that the world is not so much different now than it was then. The Holocaust was a result of a widespread hate towards the Jews. More and more often the Jews were considered a problem in society, a problem that needed to be taken care of should society survive. Hitler succeeded in segregating the Jews from the rest of society in his Germany.

This sounds frightfully familiar. As a simple experiment I exchange the world Jew with Muslim, immigrant or asylum seeker. I exchange Germany with any European nation, or with the USA. I swap Hitler with the words Our government, politicians, or, should I try: Presidential candidates. Suddenly I have sentences taken directly from the debates in society today: Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers are more and more often seen as a problem in society, a problem that must be fixed if society is to survive. In Norway/USA (or insert your own country) the aim is to segregate the Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers from the rest of society.  

The massacres of as many as one million Tutsis in Rwanda was the result of an increased hatred towards the minority group. The biggest ethnic group in the country, the Hutus,  blamed the nation’s growing social problems, the financial challenges and the political pressure on the Tutsis. The long-lasting hatred and distrust lead to the biggest genocide of our time. Again I get associations to current situations around the world. I am reminded of leaders, presidential candidates and others who blame the Muslims/ immigrants/asylum seekers for growing social problems as well as the financial challenges we will soon be faced with.

One doesn’t suddenly one day wake up and hate Jews. Nobody was born with an inherent hatred for Tutsis. Racism towards people from different ethnic groups, cultures, religions and nations is a process. The same way we raise our kids by setting an example, by our expressed words and opinions, by our actions and admonitions, our society is raised by our leaders that continuously repeat the same thoughts and sentiments. We are influenced by actions and words that are uttered publicly.

It doesn’t happen overnight that we decide it is OK to blame our problems and challenges on a people group we hardly know. This happens over time. This happens when somebody tells you the reason there is so much crime is because of the damned immigrants. It happens when a journalist writes about the challenges we will face because of the growing number of immigrants in the country. This happens when your friends warn you against talking to people with a foreign background and dark skin. They may rape you.  It happens when people of influence day after day are allowed to freely speak of the danger of having these people come into our countries, and are serious when they say that they people should be sent back to where they came from. The reason they crossed mountains and oceans, defied hunger, cold and constant humiliation, they say, was because they wanted our wealth. This is what happened in Nazi Germany, and this is in fact what is happening to the Rohingya in Myanmar today.

I must say I am concerned. In Europe the political parties critical to immigration are growing in leaps and bounds. Statements that before were taboo because they were considered racist, are now OK to say in public. In the US, the presidential candidate who is getting the most votes, and the most attention, is getting away with saying things about immigrants and Muslims that are so outrageous that one can wonder if Hitler perhaps has been reincarnated.

There are times that I feel like the minority. I believe that it isn’t asking too much that we too should share the burden of poverty and oppression. I miss hearing leaders talking about the people coming to our countries for refuge as human beings in desperate need. I miss hearing people saying that all humans are created with the same value, and therefore we need to treat them as our neighbors. It is time we wake up. It is why I just wrote this.

This blog was originally written in Norwegian and read by thousands. Last I checked it had been shared 7,100 times. Since it got so much attention, I decided to translate it and share it here. 

 

 

How killing a deer made me question my value and love men from Sweden

deer 2

Daughter Naomi looked at me the way only daughter Naomi can look at me: “So what is the life lesson, and are you going to write a blog about this?” she said. Revealing that she knew her mother so much better than I was comfortable with.

I had just told her that on my way to a meeting today, a deer jumped over a fence on the highway and landed on the side of my small Hyundai. This was the deer’s bane. My Hyundai suffered too.

It happened so fast it took me 20 meters to realise I had just killed one of God’s precious creations. It took me 20 seconds before I thought: “What am I going to do with a dying deer that is in the middle of the highway?”

I stopped the car and walked outside. There, on the ground it was. Twitching in pain. Blood coming from it’s broken legs. I felt like a criminal. What had I done? I also knew that I was not done doing. The deer had to die all the way, and since the last thing it did was to hit my car, I was the one responsible to end its misery. Which I could not do. I can’t kill flies, spiders or bees. I can’t see a fish get whacked in the head without deciding to become a vegetarian. How was I going to kill a dying deer?

The rescue came in the form of an army truck full of Swedish soldiers. Swedish soldiers. They stopped their truck in front of the dying deer, and out came the most handsome of them all. He was tall, strong and had a  very kind voice. He may have been my age. With tenderness in his eyes he looked at me and saw how distraught I was. “Did you do this?” he asked, but I did not feel like he judged me. “Yes,” said I and looked down. “Tell you what. If you take care of the legal stuff, I will take care of the animal. I am a hunter, and I know how to do this. Don’t worry.” I wanted to hug him. Instead I said I would deal with the legal stuff. Suddenly more Swedish men appeared. They had all been in the truck, apparently. They all came and looked at me with concern in their eyes. They asked: “Are you OK? Will you be OK? How are you doing?” Some of them were young enough to be my sons, and still, they wanted to take care of me. In a way I was happy I had hit the deer.

The hunter brought his hunter knife out and walked over to the dying deer. Gently, gently he slit its throat and let it out of his misery. I was so sad. The little deer didn’t deserve to die. It was all because of the crazy politicians. There ought not to be roads and cars where deer fared. At the same time: How would I have met the Swedish army men if there had not been roads?

When the deer was dead, they carried it to the side of the road and I got to say goodbye to it. I also looked the Swedish men in the eyes and thanked them from the bottom of my heart. I promised myself that I would never, ever again tell Swedish jokes, nor would I want the Swedes to lose at cross country skiing. I thought that of all the men in the world, I like the Swedish men the most.

Then I called the police who wrote a small report about what had just taken place and promised to come back and pick up the dead deer. They did not say that the deer would get a proper burial, but I didn’t think that mattered.

I was a little shook up. I have to admit I was. I have never killed anything before. And the only damage I have done to our car was backing into a telephone pole. I tried to think about what the meaning of it all was, but I haven’t really decided what it could be. I didn’t drive too fast. I was observant. I was not texting, and I had slept well the previous night. The deer, on the other side, came running from a gas station. I decided that, really, the deer should have known better. What was it doing at a gas station anyway?

So, the life lesson, Naomi, is this: If you ever hit a deer on the highway, pray that a truck of Swedes is right behind you. 

 

 

 

My head is a circle

cracked potThis is most likely not the case with you, but personally I feel like a cracked pot. It was appropriate when my daughter, then five, looked at me once and asked: “Mom, why do you have so many cracks in your face?” It wasn’t the most flattering thing anybody has said to me, and I spent a bit more time in front of the mirror that night. Looking at the cracks.

I should have said something wise, like: the cracks in my face are there to show you and the world that I have lived. And anything that is being used will show signs of wear and tear. 

The cracks I am talking about today, though, are not the kind of wrinkles botox can fix. I am talking about cracks like in broken.

It baffles me that after all these years I don’t know better. The voice in my head keeps moving me forward on a never-ending chase for a place to rest. I don’t think I know that it is rest I desire. I think that all I understand is that I long for something that I don’t have. So I fill the space with stuff. I mean stuff that will dull the voice in my head, like a new shirt or a canister with a cool lid. For the shortest bit of time I can feel something tingle inside my heart. Happiness. Then it goes away, and the shirt is  just a shirt, and the canister collects dust.

I fill it with activities that leaves no space for silence, such as organising pillow cases or stacking wood. And I daresay: email, meetings and a social life that can be bragged about on social media. Anything to keep it noisy.  Because in the silence the voice whispers: There is more.

I try to be pretty and nice so people will love me more. Or I try to be loud and shocking so that people will notice me. And when they do, I find that the voice is still in my head saying: There is more.

Looking around me, I find that I am not alone. There are many of us running around, trying to dull the voice. And the more we run, the more we try to fill the empty space, the more we crack.

I was thinking about this today as I was practicing my favourite yoga move, the Corpse. Why is it that no matter how long I live, how many mistakes I make, how many lessons I learn, how many people I hurt, how many people hurt me, I still do the same stupid, stupid mistakes? Why is it that no matter how many of my needs are met, I still wish for more? When will I be content, I wondered. And I moved into Downward dog.

“The voice comes from your soul,” says John O’Donohue. “It is the voice of the eternal longing within you and it confirms you as a relentless pilgrim on the earth. There is something within you that no-one or nothing else in the world is able to meet or satisfy.” He also suggested: “Longing can never be fulfilled here on earth.” Well, that kind of sucks. It almost made me want to go back to the Corpse position, if you know what I mean.

I didn’t want to agree with Mr. O’Donohue. What does he mean longing can never be fulfilled here on earth? I can’t tell because I haven’t finished the book. But it dawned on me that he may have meant that our longing will never be fulfilled, because if it is, we will stop moving forward. If we aren’t looking and longing, we grow lazy, dull and boring. Perhaps that is what he meant. The longing is not the problem. The problem is when we try to stop the longing by filling our lives with noise and clutter so we don’t have to hear the whisper. The whisper that is telling us to keep moving.

The One who dreamed the Universe loved circles, concludes O’Donohue then. I had never thought of that. Circles? God loves circles? But, I think he does. The world is full of circles. I am not entirely sure how to tie the theory of circles to the theory of our constant longing. Except to say that we are good at moving in circles. We move from prayer, love, creativity and joy to hurt and fear and then back to prayer, love creativity and joy.

A broken pot. Perhaps I am. But in a strange way there is comfort in that as well. I am not the only broken pot. We are all broken. And our brokenness is what connects us. It is a misconception that I am the only one with cracks in me, and the rest of the world is whole. Lennart Cohen may have been in his Corpse pose as well, when he wrote this:

Ring the bells that still can ring.
Forget your perfect offering.
There is a crack in everything.
That’s how the light gets in.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The prince stood us up and the fishermen danced

I promised updates, and all you got was nothing. I was in Burma (that I have now started calling Myanmar because there are just so many other things to worry about than what to call a country). I thought I would write interesting and engaging travelogs daily. My ambitions that were too high and very unrealistic. Last time I wrote a blog, I shared about meeting a prince. 

We did meet him. He worked at a restaurant that made the best tea-leaf salad. In between waiting on tables, he told us part of his story. The one about his dad being a prince, but now he runs a guesthouse. The one about  the government seizing their land and their power. But he was so busy serving the Western backpackers that he couldn’t keep talking to us.

Instead he introduced us to his pregnant wife who runs a store that sells lady-nicnacs, like hair pins, and pantyhose. We talked to her for a long time while she had a cup of hot water and we shared a bottle of Myanmar beer. She was sweet and smart. The kind of person one can become best friends with.

The next day we put on our nicest outfits, bought some fruit at the market and went to meet the prince at the street corner. But he didn’t show up. When we called him, he said his dad had to go away for business and he himself was really busy at his restaurant since it was New Year and this was the most hectic time of the year for a restaurant owner in N Sh.

It sounds like I am making this up, or that the “prince” was making his story up. The thing is, I think he told us the truth. Except, perhaps, the reason he gave for not wanting to see us.

_DSC9270sm

We were in a part of Myanmar called Shan state. The Shan is the largest ethnic group in the country, and they did, indeed, have their own kingdoms that was ruled by many princes, saophas. After Burma gained their independence in 1948, the Shan with their saophas agreed to turn all the small kingdoms into one—Shan state. The princes still had their positions, but their independent power was more limited. However, when General Ne Win and his military overthrew the government in 1962, he also abolished the Shan saopha system. He took their land and assets, arrested and/or killed the princes and forced the others, with their families, to flee the country. The rest is history.

When the prince didn’t show, we rented bicycles and rode around the largest lake in the country, Inle Lake. The scenery was spectacular, the roads still lonesome, say from an occasional car or tourbus. Along the roads, bamboo houses, patches of vegetable gardens, and fields of sugar cane filled the landscape. I could almost be convinced that this place was paradise. The only struggle facing the inhabitants here may have been mosquitos.

_DSC0005sm

A boat trip on the lake allowed us to see the famous fishermen who row their boats standing at the edge of the vessel, moving the oars with their legs. It was the most impressive way I have ever seen a person manoeuvre a boat of any kind. It was like watching a ballet dancer on water.

4EAB2D98-544D-4AD4-AECE-A1DA2C0A053008298FDF-23FF-4E9B-94AA-D8D90A96614E

Did Myanmar have a problem? And if so, what? A prince who waited tables. Was that so bad? Couldn’t one call that progress? We even happened upon a winery on our bike ride. The wine tasted bad, but still. Nothing at that vineyard reminded us of human rights abuses. In fact, wouldn’t you agree that wineries are symbols of peace?

You could say it was a little bit like when I have guests over at my house and I only want them to stay in the living room. God forbid letting them upstairs to the bedrooms and the master bathroom! Not to mention the laundry room. Keep that door shut! If all the guests see is order and beauty, they may think I actually have my shit together.

You see, we weren’t allowed to leave the place of perfect tranquility. The plan had been to go to the rural areas where Partners support schools and medical clinics. Could it be so hard? We would ride our bicycles if need be. Awkward pauses in the conversation made us realise that it was actually that hard. Our Shan guides explained to us that the government would not only deny us access to the areas we wanted to visit, but the Shan themselves weren’t allowed to enter either. Why? They were dressed in pants and dress shirts and looked educated and wealthy. The government feared that people like them would be able to report too much back to the rest of the world about the dirty laundry rooms in the state. “The only way we can get to the areas you want to visit, is we we dress like villagers and act as if we too live there,”they told us.

_DSC9253sm

It was confirmed that just a couple of mountain tops away, more than ten thousand Shan were living in hiding from the Myanmar Army that just recently attacked and burned villages.

The areas we were allowed to visit were the areas where the poverty was just cute and could be mistaken for the beauty of a simple life.

_DSC9328sm

That was, incidentally, in the same area as the area where 60 new hotels are being built right now. “60 hotels? That is a lot of land and space,” commented we. “From whom did the hotel moguls get all that land?” “They bought it from the government who has forcibly relocated the villagers who originally lived there,” we were told. “They were forced to leave and they weren’t compensated?” “Yes, and no. They got a little bit of money for their land, but only a symbolic sum. In Myanmar the poor people have no land deeds, so they can’t prove that the land they and their forefathers lived on is actually theirs.” “So what do they end up doing when they can’t  work the land?” “They become day labourers in Thailand, and sometimes here in Myanmar. They have no rights.” I was reminded of the brothels with Burmese young girls. Wonder if any of them came from the villages that no longer existed. Could they have lived on the property of Novotel?

So, just like that, paradise became a lie, and the scenes surrounding us a theatre. It was still lovely and pleasant, but we knew that it was just make-believe.

Where a smart phone is still a novelty

Where a smart phone is still a novelty

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We met a prince

Tonight we met a man whose grandfather was once a foreign minister and his great grandfather was a prince. He himself runs a small restaurant in a small town in northern Myanmar. He is from the Shan people group. We are going to visit his home and hear more of his story later this week.

image.jpeg

 

We also ate fish salad, tea leaf salad, eggplant salad and cucumber sesame seed salad. It went great with Myanmar beer and some Burmese dance music.

In the days to come I will try to write regular updates. It is weird and nice that we now can buy SIM cards in Myanmar and there is 3G almost everywhere. That was not the case recently.

Stay tuned.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,263 other followers