Crossings that change direction

“Some people cross your path and change your whole direction”… Looking at these words written on a wall in front me while sitting at the most popular coffee shop on my grandmother’s street. (btw, this franchise is called Hedgehog-In-The-Fog in case you are looking for a cool place to hang out with friends in Rīga)

Simple but profound statement! Not just people, but also places… change the direction. Like Cairo, Egypt where I had the privilege to do volunteer work in different projects some years ago. For many Egypt may be a place to go on a vacation to some Red Sea resort, visit the Giza pyramids or other  places of ancient history. For others it may be a place to stay away from since there has been such political turmoil in the last decade and the news headlines often give a grim and confusing picture.

For me it was a place where I met some amazing people and learned some very important things. To name just a few – I learned about the Coptic church and other Christian communities and the challenges they face; learned more nuances about the geopolitics of the region; learned more about the Islamic culture and faith. I learned the life in different suburbs of Cairo (after spending time in most of them) but I cannot say I learned to love the public transport (you have to learn to be pushy) there. And, of course, the food (most of it very delicious).

The greatest impact on my life was the people. Like the team of Sudanese refugees who were learning to become teachers for their community in exile. The man with the vision was pastor Abraham (almost wrote “father Abraham” 🙂 ), a refugee from Sudan himself. He was from the southern part of Sudan before South Sudan was officially formed as an independent nation. He was so tall I had to bend my neck to look him in the eye (most of Sudanese men were very tall) and had the biggest, most reassuring smile.

“Cush Mission for Rebuilding” was exactly what its title meant. “Cush” is the name for the ancient kingdom mentioned even in the Bible. “Mission” was the calling and passion and “rebuilding” was the vision, dream and even courage. Many afternoons I stayed with the group as they were sitting in the circle and discussing all the challenges they were facing as refugees. And all the challenges they would face one day returning to their homeland. The group was inter-faith (Christian and Muslim) and they openly discussed the religious aspects of the violence, conflict and war in their communities back in Sudan.

Just by listening, I was overwhelmed by those hardships and obstacles but also inspired and personally challenged. In the midst of  a conflict where many people would blame religion as one of the causes of sectarian violence, I saw how religion can also be the greatest resource for peace building, restoration, healing and reconciliation. There were no easy, glib, cheep answers or solutions but there was an acknowledgment that faith and trust in loving, just and merciful God is a source for this hope and vision. What amazed me and went against all my preconceived ideas was how both Christians and Muslims were together learning from the life, words and works of Jesus of Nazareth!

As I continue being involved in peace building work and often in a religious setting, I often think of this experience in Cairo. It gave me a glimpse of possibility, not impossibility; an example of confidence, not fear; a taste of hope, not despair. Just like this letter which I kept.

Sudanese 17

My husband digs through the rubbish

The nations of the world are meeting in Paris, France to discuss the climate change; the warming of our planet; the pledges that have been made and the reality that those pledges are not ambitious enough. We are negotiating how to cut carbon emissions and to limit global warming to 2C (3.6F)

We are not talking about some greenhouse where to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. We are talking about the ‘greenhouse’ we live in.

The debate has definitely shifted. It does not matter if you believe that the global warming is the result of rapid industrialization or the signs of natural climate cycles. The fact remains – our planet is warming and more and more people around the world are suffering because of it. Extreme weather, severe floods or droughts, food shortages, climate refugees… of course, not just people, but the animals and the nature itself suffers.

I have observed plenty of it with my own eyes. For example, in Southeast Asia where I have lived for the last few years. Plastic rubbish everywhere – on the road, in the forest, in the water, in the field. Plastic is so cheap there and used without much thought. I look at the ground that has to ‘swallow’ it and I feel sadness and anger.

I think of my grandmother who is a gardener and has the highest love and respect for the soil. She knows what is good soil and what is bad soil and how long it takes to nurture a small plot of land to make it fertile. She gets upset at me when I use lots of dish soap or other cleaning supplies because she does not want it to go into the ground. She would be horrified to see and ‘smell’ most of the sewage water and canals in Southeast Asia.

Then I have my husband who also gets upset at me. Well, more annoyed than upset. I think that I am good at recycling. Then comes he and finds something else in our rubbish that I should not have thrown out. Wherever we are staying, first things first – he locates the local recycling bins. Or asks the people we are staying with, ‘how do you recycle? where should we put it?’

In Latvia we are very proud of our nature and clean air and clean water, but we still fail when it comes to renewing the resources. Take that same recycling since it is the easiest thing that everyone can do. We throw out plastic, paper, glass… Most of municipalities provide recycling bins but they are often disaster. I open the paper bin and I see regular waste thrown in. I can imagine what some of Riga residents have thought, watching my husband open those large bins, pulling out items. ‘Why is this foreigner digging through the rubbish? He does not look like a homeless person.’

My Latvian friends can correct me but as far as I know, most of rubbish still ends up in the landfills. I also know people in the countryside who just bury it. So, our beautiful land has to ‘swallow’ it and rubbish produces lots of methane.

IMG_9270

There are many other people who make me think twice about the things I waste. These people make their living from sorting our rubbish and reselling what can be sold or reusing what can be used. In Cairo, Egypt I learned that 80% of the rubbish gets recycled. Mostly sorted by human hands. I stayed in the Cairo neighborhood where thousands of people do that for living. Yes, it stunk and I had to get used to it. I remember washing clothes and hanging them to dry, thinking of the ‘aroma’ all around.

Then I think of Mae Sot, Thailand where families live at the local dump site and children help their parents to climb the mounds of waste, looking for anything recyclable or valuable. Children would also make toys out of the things they found and show it off as a treasure.

One of the millions of reasons why I will never look at my rubbish bin the same.

IMG_9265

Latviski:

Pagājšnedēļ Parīzē sākās pasaules mēroga konference, kas ir veltīta klimata izmaiņām; mūsu planētas sasilšanai; lieliem solījumiem un apziņai, ka ar šiem solījumiem vien nepietiek. Mēs turpinam apspriest, kā samazināt oglekļa izmešus atmosfērā un ierobežot globālo sasilšanu ap +2C

Izklausās, it kā runātu par siltumnīcu. Taču šoreiz nerunājam par tomātiem un gurķiem, bet gan mūsu Zemi un mūsu pašu dzīves kvalitāti.

Saruna ir ievirzījusies dziļā gultnē. Vienalga, vai mēs uzskatām, ka globālo sasilšanu izraisa pasaules straujā industralizācija un cilvēku darbošanās, vai arī domājam, ka piedzīvojam normālu klimata izmaiņu ciklu. Fakti nemainās – mūsu planēta sasilst, un arvien vairāk cilvēku no tā cieš. Ekstrēmi laika apstākļi, stipras vētras, spēcīgi plūdi vai arī liels sausums, pārtikas trūkums, klimata bēgļi… Protams, cieš ne tikai cilvēki, bet visa radība.

Daudzas no šīm problēmām esmu redzējusi savām acīm. Piemēram, dzīvojot Dienvidāzijā. Kur vien skaties, plastmasa! Uz ceļiem, mežos, ūdenī, laukā. Plastmasa tur ir tik ļoti lēta, ka nav pat jāpiedomā. Es skatos uz augsni, kas to pamazām ‘norij’, un mani pārņem skumjas un dusmas.

Iedomājos savu vecmammu, kura ir dārzniece, un izturas pret augsni ar vislielāko mīlestību un cieņu. Viņa zin, kas ir auglīga vai neauglīga zeme, un cik ilgi un smagi jāstrādā, lai to koptu. Viņa dusmojas uz mani, kad lietoju trauku mazgājamos vai citus tīrāmos līdzekļus, jo viņa necieš, ka tā ķīmija nonāk ūdenī vai kaut kur zemē. Viņa būtu šokēta, ieraugot un paostot notekūdeņus un kanālus Dienvidāzijā.

Arī mans vīrs uz mani dusmojas. Ja ne dusmojas, tad vismaz aizrāda. Man pašai liekas, ka esmu apzinīga atkritumu šķirotāja. Bet tad virtuvē ienāk viņš, un atkal kaut ko atrod tai miskastes spainī, ko nevajadzēja mest laukā. Kad ierodamies jaunā vietā, viņš uzreiz piefiksē, kur ir atkritumu šķirotavas. Un jautā vietējiem, kā viņi šķiro atkritumus, un kur mums to likt?

Latvijā mēs ļoti lepojamies ar tīro dabu, gaisu un ūdeni, bet mums vēl daudz jāuzlabo resursu atjaunošanā un pārstrādē. Kaut vai tā pati atkritumu šķirošana, kas ir tik vienkārša lieta. Bet vienalga metam miskastē plastmasu, papīru, stiklu… Lielākā daļa pašvaldību (varbūt pat visas?) nodrošina konteinerus atkritumu šķirošanai, bet bieži vien tur ir tāda ‘miskaste’. Atveru konteineru papīram, un tur jau pārtikas atkritumu maisi. Mēģinu iedomāties, ko ir padomājuši tie Rīgas iedzīvotāji, kuri ir redzējuši manu vīru šad tad rokamies pa tiem lielajiem konteineriem, un metot stiklu pie stikla, plastmasu pie plastmasas. “Ko tas ārzemnieks tur meklē? Neizskatās taču pēc bomža.”

Mani draugi Latvijā, variet mani palabot, bet, cik man zināms, lielākā daļa atkritumu Latvijā nonāk parastās izgāztuvēs. Pazīstu arī lauciniekus, kuri plastmasu un stiklu vienkārši ierok dziļi savā zemē. Mūsu skaistajai zemei tas viss ‘jānorij’. Nemaz nerunājot par metāna gāzes veidošanos, utt.

Ne tikai vecmamma un mans vīrs liek man aizdomāties par lietām, ko metu laukā. Ir daudzi citi cilvēki. Tie, kuriem atkritumu šķirošana ir galvenais ienākumu avots. Ēģiptes galvaspilsētā Kairā es uzzināju, ka tur 80% no atkritumiem tiek pārstrādāti. Izšķiroti ar cilvēku rokām. Es pavadīju kādu laiku vienā no Kairas rajoniem, kur to darīja tūkstošiem cilvēku. Jā, smaka bija briesmīga, un bija pie tā jāpierod. Atceros, ka izkāru izmazgātās drēbes, un domāju par ‘aromātu’, kādā tās žūs.

Vēl es iedomājos par Meisot pilsētu Taizemē, kur ģimenes dzīvo vietējā atkritumu izgāztuvē. Bērni palīdz saviem vecākiem, kāpjot šajos mēslu kalnos un meklējot visu, ko var pārdot un pārstrādāt. Bērni bieži atrod arī kādas lietas, ko izmantot savām rotaļām.

Viens no miljoniem iemeslu, kāpēc es uz savu miskastes spaini skatos ar citām acīm…