Earth Day and dimming the lights on our bright future

I want to write more about climate change and environmental problems but I often don’t know what to say. On one hand so much has been said and written already. On the other hand it feels like so many influential and powerful people who can decide and implement real solutions still live on planet Mars, not planet Earth. One very powerful and influential world leader recently said that he has an ‘open mind’ about it and then someone else commented that there is a thin line between an ‘open mind’ and ‘no mind’.

I don’t need any more convincing. Our beautiful home planet Earth is screaming for attention, begging for help and solidarity and shouting out warnings left and right. Who can count how many times we have heard the words  that “we are near the edge”, that “we need to act together now” and that “tomorrow will be too late to reverse many of the trends”.

This week I was in the mood for some intelligent conversation on economics, sustainable development and the changing world order. So I listened to Jeffrey Sachs (follow the link) who is known as one of the world’s leading experts on economic development and the fight against poverty. He also teaches in Columbia University, USA and has been a special advisor to the UN Secretary General for almost two decades. People like him speak with knowledge but also with hope and vision because human beings have never been smarter and more technologically advanced to address these problems and actually solve them.

We listen to the science and we know that there are some conflicting views but there is an overwhelming consensus that we, the people, are bringing some of the systems to irreversible breaking point. Previous generations procrastinated but we cannot afford to. Just ask the Chinese government if they have an ‘open mind’ about it. I think it is high on the list of their priorities because 1,3 billion people will let them know how unhappy they are if these disasters are not averted.

I don’t need the scientists when I live in Thailand and see the effects of fast development. The city is growing, the shopping malls and centers are popping up like mushrooms (I think of all the air conditioning needed in this hot climate), the water canals are so full of chemicals and the drainage stinks like there is pure poison running under the ground, Then there is the ever-worsening smog because of cars and slash-and-burn practices. The forests are getting cleared for quick money and the fastest way is to simply burn it. There were days when I was sweeping ashes in our apartment. And don’t get me started about the plastic on the ground and in the waters!

Few months ago we had the Taize ecumenical gathering of Christians from many traditions and European nations in Riga, Latvia. There was a seminar titled “What can we do for our common home, the earth? Reflection on urgent environmental questions based on Pope Francis’ encyclical “Laudato Si” (follow the link to download). There was lots of facts and good research, lots of good discussions and practical ideas on personal level. What can I as an individual do in my own life to lessen the ecological impact on our systems – water, biodiversity, non-renewable resources, etc?

I will admit I have not read Pope Francis’ encyclical yet but intend to. I have heard much about it but not enough in the church circles. Actually to those of us who attend church regularly I want to ask, “how many sermons have you heard on creation care and environment?” I think many of us would reply, “None!” I have hear one sermon and that was a few years ago in Wales. I still remember all the points and stories and the Bible verses because it got my attention.

“For most of us and most of the time, we can’t know what will happen. But what we can know is what should happen and that is a “should” from a moral point of view. We can know what’s important to happen. With technical knowledge, we can know what is possible to happen. And then our responsibility as moral agents is to make what is possible to happen.” (Jeffrey Sachs)

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(photos from personal archive)

Zooming in and out this world and life of ours

Bangkok – Moscow – Riga… my flight itinerary the other day. I have been on this route many times before, bridging Southeast Asia and Northern Europe in less than 12 hours. Once I mentioned to a friend that I feel my one foot in Latvia and the other in Thailand. My friend laughed: “That is quite the leg split. How do you manage?”

On the long-haul flights I face a dilemma. Do I take the aisle seat for convenience of getting in and out without disturbing others?  Or do I take the window seat and catch the glimpses of the world bellow? Flying higher than even the migratory birds fly, for most of us this is high as it gets.

On this last flight I was lost in deep thoughts on what I had just experienced in Thailand and what was waiting for me back in Europe. It feels like the whole world is in some strange limbo and the scenes are changing and the events are happening much faster than our brains can process. (I guess this is why some people look to artificial intelligence with so many hopes and dreams. I am not one of them, though.)

And then I discovered a feature on our in-flight entertainment that kept me occupied and enchanted. When looking at the flight map and the plane location, it offered different views and angles. You could click on “right wing” and get the names of cities and places looking east. Or click on the view “left wing” and explore the west. There was the option of “cockpit view” or the view from underneath the plane. If the sky was clear, you could hope to get some actual views of landscape.

But my favorite thing was the zoom “in” and “out” option. At first everything was up close. Here is the plane and here is the name of some place I have never heard of. My first question is – where are we? What country is this? I would start to zoom out to get the big picture. “I see. Now we are flying over India and then we will cross into Pakistan airspace and then Afghanistan. Wow! And then other countries in Central Asia. And then the big country of Russia and finally my little country of Latvia. I love it.”

You can say that I am a big picture girl. Whether it’s the maps or the news.  I always read about the global affairs before the domestic ones. I always think of how something in Myanmar will impact the neighbors, how the regime in North Korea does not care about its own people and even less about the rest of us,  how the whole world is following every word that US president Donald Trump says and watching every move he makes (even my elderly Thai neighbors in Chiang Mai, Thailand asked me what I think about Donald Trump.. and we have never discussed politics before… ever)

There is no going back. Our world is so interconnected and when any part of the world hurts, it hurts the others. When any part is doing well and experiencing peace and well being, it helps the others. Even if by giving hope and dreams. We can speak “isolationism” and act like we are going to “circle the wagons” and only take care of “our own people” and put “our country first” but this is not the world we live in. We cannot create some walled-in enclaves of “peace and prosperity” as the way into the future. I don’t believe that this kind of picture of the world is good or desirable or possible.

What kind of picture of the world is desirable? Well, that is the big question and I certainly don’t have the full answer. Again, looking from the bird’s view, the challenges are huge – climate change will continue (human made or natural, it is happening), social inequality continues to widen (within countries  and among countries) and global migration will continue (and lots of it is connected to the first two ). You cannot live in your corner of the world and think that somehow these global challenges will not effect you.

But the reverse is true also and that is why I like to zoom in. Each country is cities, towns, villages and homesteads. Each place is people and families. I fly over the mega cities of India and think of all the millions of people down there and their daily lives and their hopes and their prayers. So many have to work very hard just to survive and cannot dream of sitting in those airplanes flying high above their heads.

I was looking at the landscape of Afghanistan and could see the roads weaving through the desert. I know people who have been there – soldiers, nurses, missionaries, volunteers, journalists. They have a real on the ground experience of this nation. The good and the not so good, the beautiful and not so beautiful, the daily lives of people. Their joys and their fears and their questions and their goals.

From my high ‘moral’ place in the sky, I cannot change anything on the ground. I start by zooming in and thinking about the actual dear people down there. I start by living out my vision wherever I land. I zoom in to be actually ‘present’ and ‘among’.

My point is – we need both. We need to lift our eyes to see that there is much more happening than what we realize and we need to lower our eyes to see the people right in front of us.

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Waiting to board my flight in Bangkok

Latvian:

Bangkoka – Maskava – Rīga… tāds bija mans maršruts. Esmu lidojusi šo ceļu vairākas reizes, savienojot Dienvidaustrumāziju un Ziemeļeiropu kādās 12 stundās. Reiz es stāstīju vienam draugam, ka esmu ar vienu kāju Latvijā un ar otru Taizemē. Viņš smējās: “Tad gan tev riktīgs špagats. Kā tu noturi līdzsvaru?”

Garajos pārlidojumos grūti izvēlēties. Vai sēdēt pie ejas, lai vieglāk tieku ārā no krēsla, netraucējot pārējiem? Vai arī sēdēt pie loga, lai baudītu dabas skatus, ja gadījumā nav mākoņu? Lidojot augstumā, kur tikai retais gājputns iemaldās.

Šajā nesenajā lidojumā biju iegrimusi pārdomās par tikko piedzīvoto Taizemē un par to, kas mani sagaida Latvijā. Ir sajūta, ka visā pasaulē sašūpojusies morālā un skaidrā saprāta ass. Notikumi un visādi pavērsieni uzņēmuši tik strauju gaitu, ka smadzenes netiek līdzi ( varu saprast, kāpēc daži tik ļoti ilgojas pēc mākslīgā intelekta, bet es par to nesapņoju).

Un tad es atklāju vienu ļoti jauku un interesantu izklaidi uz mazā TV ekrāna, kas ir katram pasažierim. Parasti var sekot līdzi lidojuma statusam un lidmašīnas atrašanās vietai, bet tagad mūsdienu tehnoloģijas pievieno vēl visādas iespējas. Piemēram, skats no “labā spārna”, kas norāda uz vietu nosaukumiem uz austrumiem. Vai arī skats no “kreisā spārna”, kas šoreiz bija skats uz rietumiem. Vēl bija skats no “pilota kabīnes” un skats “zem lidmašīnas”. Ja debesis bija skaidras, tad tiešām jūties kā putns.

Bet vislabāk man patika tāda opcija, kā “pietuvināt” vai “attālināt”. No sākuma karte rādīja visu tuvumā. Te ir lidmašīna, un te ir man nepazīstamas vietas nosaukums, kurai šobrīd lidojam pāri. Mana pirmā domā – kur mēs esam? Virs kuras valsts? Es sāku ‘attālināt’, lai redzētu kopbildi. “Skaidrs! Tagad lidojam pāri Indijas ziemeļiem un tad būsim Pakistānas gaisa telpā. Sekos Afganistāna un citas Centrālāzijas valstis. Cik interesanti! Tad būs lielā Krievija un pēc tam mazā Latvija. Kā man patīk ceļot!”

Man patīk lielā kopbilde un plašā perspektīva. Gan pasaules kartēs, gan pasaules ziņās. Es vienmēr lasu par notikumiem ārzemēs pirms vietējām ziņām. Es pārdomāju, kā attīstība Mjanmā ietekmēs kaimiņvalstis; kā Ziemeļkorejas režīms nicina savus tautiešus un vēl vairāk mūs pārejos; kā visa pasaule tagad seko katram ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa vārdam un katram viņa lēmumam. Pat mani kaimiņi Taizemē, veci taizemieši, jautāja, ko es domājot par Trampu. Un viņi nekad nav runājuši ar mani par ārvalstu politiku. Nekad.

Laiku un pasauli nevar pagriezt atpakaļ. Mūsu dzīves ir tik cieši saistītas. Kad vienā pasaules malā iet grūti un ir karš vai bads vai citas nelaimes, pārējā pasaule arī cieš. Kad citā pasaules malā iet labi un mierīgi, pārējie arī ir ieguvēji. Kaut vai tādēļ, ka nezaudē cerību un savus sapņus. Mēs varam ‘izolēties’ un rupēties tikai par ‘savējiem’ un likt savu valsti ‘pirmajā vietā’, bet tāda pasaule vairs nepastāv. Mēs nevaram uzcelt sienas apkārt kaut kādām ‘miera un bagātības’ oāzēm, kur varēsim domāt un rupēties tikai par savu nākotni. Tāda pasaule nav ne vēlama, ne iespējama.

Kāda pasaule ir vēlama un iespējama? Tas ir tas lielais jautājums, un nevienam nav gatavas atbildes. Man ir šādas tādas domas, kas turpina veidoties. Tāpēc tik svarīgs ir tāds putna lidojums un skats no augšienes. Dažas problēmas tiešām ir milzīgas un globālas. Klimata pārmaiņas notiek un turpināsies (gan dabas, gan cilvēku izraisītās). Sociālās nevienlīdzības plaisa un netaisnīgums arī nemazinās, bet gan pieaug (gan valstu iekšienē, gan starp valstīm) un globālā migrācija un cilvēku kustība turpināsies (turklāt cieši saistīta ar pirmajām divām tendencēm). Tā kā skaidrs, ka nekāda izolēšanās nav atbilde un risinājums.

Taču tikpat svarīgi ir nolaisties uz zemes. Tāpēc man patika opcija “pietuvināt”. Katra valsts ir pilsētas, ciemati un mājas. Katra vieta ir cilvēki, indivīdi un ģimenes. Lidojam pāri Indijas daudzmiljonu pilsētām, un es domāju par cilvēkiem tur lejā. Domāju par viņu smago darbu, par viņu ikdienas dzīvi, par sapņiem, ilgām un lūgšanām. Tik daudzi var tikai noskatīties uz lidmašīnām sev virs galvas.

Varēju redzēt Afganistānas tuksnesi un ceļus, kuri vijās kā čūskas. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kuri tur ir bijuši – karavīri, medmāsas, ārsti, brīvprātīgie, misionāri, žurnālisti. Viņi ir, kaut arī nepilnīgi, guvuši zināmu pieredzi šajā zemē. Gan labo, gan slikto; gan skaisto, gan ne tik skaisto. Viņi var labāk iedziļināties afgāņu ikdienas dzīvē. Jo ir redzējuši cilvēku priekus un bēdas, bailes un cerības.

No sava augstā putna lidojuma es nevaru ietekmēt to, kas notiek uz zemes. Tāpēc vispirms ‘pietuvinu’ vietu nosaukumus un domāju par konkrētiem cilvēkiem. Pēc tam es lieku lietā savas atziņas un uzskatus dzīvē tur, kur nolaižos. Es pievelku ‘vistuvāk’ un cenšos būt ‘klāt’ un ‘blakus’.

Mums ir nepieciešamas abas perspektīvas. Mums ir jāpaceļ savas acis uz augšu, lai redzētu, kas notiek apkārt pasaulē, un mums ir jānolaiž savas acis, lai redzētu cilvēkus, kuri dotajā brīdī ir blakus.

 

Miscounting the bullets and choices that count the most

I have a new morning routine. I am not one of those people who can jump out of the bed once awake. I take my time and try to convince myself to look forward to getting up from the warm and cozy covers. The pillow has such a magnetic pull… So, I tell myself to make something useful of this ‘wrestling match’ and check the news headlines on my phone.

This morning I read the best news which made me so happy to get out of bed and live another day with hope and determination. I have been following the story of shooting of two Indian engineering students in a bar in Olathe, Kansas. One of them was killed and the other survived. One more sad hate crime committed by a distraught and unhappy man who had yelled out racial slurs and apparently thought that the victims were from the Middle East.  For those who have not heard what happened, here is a link to the news from February 22

The backstory brought me to happy tears and it deserves much more publicity.

First of all, the obvious hero in this incident is a local 25 year old guy, Ian Grillot. Someone who would be just another friendly face in a small town. Someone having a glass of beer and talking about going fishing the next day. But while he was hiding under the table and listening to the attacker firing shots, Ian was counting the bullets. Obviously he knows something about guns (as many Americans do) and he had made a fast decision to do something about this unfolding violence.

Ian went after the attacker, thinking that the weapon is out of bullets, only to be shot himself. The bullet pierced his hand and chest, hit his vertebrae and neck and barely missed the main artery. It is a miracle that Ian is recovering quickly and did not lose his life or ability to walk. When interviewed from the hospital bed, he said: “I was just doing what anyone should’ve done for another human being… It’s not about where he’s from or his ethnicity. We’re all humans. I just felt like I did what was naturally right to do.”

Now I found out more amazing details about the other patrons who were in the bar. The survivor, Alok Madasani, was helped a man named who ripped off his shirt and tied it around his leg to stop the bleeding. This act probably saved his life. “And earlier that evening, when the Indian engineers were at the receiving end of racial abuse, a businessman told them he’d taken care of their bill. He wanted to show that the language used by the suspected attacker was un-American.”

I try to imagine the scene and I can almost imagine how this tragic experience has united everyone who went through it. Sadly a life was lost but also the true meaning of life was found. When Ian said that he only did the naturally right thing, I think  about the power of these words and actions. When people use the slogan “Make America Great Again”, I hope they are thinking about Ian and those other brave people in the bar.

Something that was meant to divide and alienate people, has had the opposite effect. The community in this little town now is connected to people in India with a much stronger bond. There are already meetings with diplomats and Indian media and all kind of connections because of this. Also, the feature photo in my blog is from a Peace March and Vigil.

Thank you, Ian, for counting the bullets while not counting  your own life!

Bar Shooting Kansas

Ian Grillot (photos from internet)