Why bother crossing this particular bridge on May 9

The usual parade of special dates. May 1, May 4, May 8, May 9…  The weather exceptionally beautiful and ‘woe is me’ for having to study and sit in lectures. Not that I care much about official events but glad to participate in smaller grassroots initiatives to give these days a personal meaning.

Every year in May I write about reconciliation and bridging of collective memories in Latvia. May 8 is the day to celebrate the end of war in Europe and May 9 is the day to  celebrate the start of peace through European unity. It is known as Europe Day even if many Europeans have no idea what it is and what it represents.

But my post today is about the other May 9. The one I choose not to celebrate. The one that most Latvians choose not to celebrate. The one that stirs much controversy and discussion ever year. The one celebrated on the other side of the river Daugava which divides our beautiful capital. The one where thousands of people gather at the Victory Monument built in Soviet era and during celebration proudly display the Soviet red star and old Soviet slogans. The one where you get a very strong “us” and “them” vibe.

The bridge I am standing on leads directly to this Victory monument and many many Latvians who don’t live on that side simply choose not cross it on May 9. During the day you will hear, “Stay away from there! Do not cross the river! Avoid it! Ignore it! Go around if you can! It is madness.” And so we continue every year. One group streams toward it and the other group keeps their distance as far as possible.

But I chose to go across this year. As I did last year. Why? It is hard to explain. Maybe I am simply that kind of person who likes to do the opposite of what I am told. The opposite of mainstream if you will. You may think it is idealistic but I know that I have to do something about it. That I have to get in the midst of it. That I have to try to understand how and why. Someone has said that “Holiness is walking toward the darkness”. I don’t mean to use religious or spiritual language to say that I am on the side of ‘light’ and the others are on the side ‘darkness’. I just know that for me personally this represents one of the most challenging things to experience without passing strong judgment.

I go and watch older people get emotional and carry photos of loved ones they lost in WWII. I can understand the pride about the sacrifice of forefather’s who fought against the Nazi regime and in the end prevailed. I can understand the younger generations listening to these family stories and feeling the same pride about their ancestors. I can understand the traditions and the importance of remembering.

But I cannot support the Soviet nostalgia, the glorification of those tragic WWII days as some kind of ‘holy days’ and some kind of ‘holy war’. I cannot accept the concept that this is main and only event for the majority of Russian community in Latvia to be united around. I can be inclusive of people’s memories but I cannot embrace the political overtones and agendas. There is an invisible line which I refuse to cross because of my values, beliefs and understanding of history.

Foreign friends visiting Rīga have asked me, “What is this? Why does Latvian government allow it? Why do you guys allow it?” Once I walked through these May 9 celebrations with an American friend and she actually got afraid and kept asking me how I felt about it.

How do I feel about it? I feel this bridge building will take a little longer (and, of course, it is directly connected to who and what and how long governs in Russia). I also feel hopeful because most of Latvian society lives and dreams and works and loves and makes friends outside these ‘Latvians’ and ‘Russians’ boxes…   but until we get rid of these divisions completely, we must keep crossing back and forth.

Martin Luther, Krišjānis Barons and my claim to fame

My parents could not pick the day I was born but my mom was always very proud of the date – October 31. She used to tell me that I was born on the same day as Krišjānis Barons (1835-1923), one of the most influential people in forming Latvian national identity and shaping cultural history. He is considered the “father of Latvian folksongs” to honour his work in collecting, researching and preserving this cultural heritage. A wise looking man with long white beard and glasses… I used to look at his image and wonder what kind of wisdom he would impart if we had met.  I felt that my mom’s pride about the special date was supposed to inspire and encourage me to learn, to explore, to gain knowledge and then pass it on.

The example was set… Be intelligent and visionary!

I was born when the USSR still existed and my family were not particularly religious (except my grandmother). Scientific atheism was the official “faith” and certainly there were no celebrations for significant religious events. Like Reformation Day which also happens to be on October 31. I had never heard of it even though the skyline of any Latvian city is dominated by churches, especially Lutheran ones. Even many non-church people like to think of themselves as “Protestants”.

Today, Oct. 31, 2017 was the 500th anniversary of Reformation movement. I learned about the Reformation and 95 Thesis and Martin Luther much later and there is still so much I wish I knew. It does not matter if Luther actually nailed his thesis to the church door in Wittenberg or mailed them, the fact is that these thoughts, questions, critical analysis, challenge to the institutions and powers-to-be spread like a wildfire and continue to impact all of us today. Especially in Europe. I have a feeling that, just like me, many of us still have no clue what actually happened and why is it such a big deal?!

Certainly Luther’s challenge to the highest civil and religious authorities of his day continues to inspire those who struggle against corrupt power systems and those who claim to hold “the keys to eternity”: “I cannot and will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. Here I stand, I can do no other, so help me God.”

 

The example was set… Be courageous and always seek and speak the truth!

It really is a big deal if we get it. Today we had another discussion in our university where my professor shared his passion and also deep frustration that Reformation is still undervalued and underestimated. Certainly Martin Luther was no Jesus when it comes to changing hearts and minds and some of his views, especially in later life, are very controversial. Many of his views I do not share. But history is made by imperfect people since perfect people simply do not exist.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote: “Extraordinarily, God the omnipotent One depends on us, puny, fragile, and vulnerable as we may be, to accomplish God’s purposes for good, for justice, for forgiveness and healing and wholeness.”

The example is set… Be just, compassionate and above all loving person!

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A few thoughts on World Refugee Day

Simply overwhelming statistics. It is year 2017 and there are estimated 65 million people forcibly displaced from their homes, including 21 million refugees worldwide. According to UNHCR, the top three nations where refugees come from are Syria (5,5 million), Afghanistan (2,5 million) and South Sudan (1,4 million). People are driven out of their homes by conflict, persecution, environmental disasters, famine and extreme poverty. More than half of them are children.

How do you look at these statistics? The numbers are too large for my brain to compute. My first thought is that Latvia has a population of 2 million and it is so small in comparison. These numbers are also people I have met, stories I have heard and lives of my friends that have been changed and disrupted in profound ways.

June 20 is World Refugee Day. Not only a reality in far away places, it is here and now. Even in Latvia. On one hand it has been much discussed topic but still there is so much ignorance, indifference and misunderstanding. For example, you would think that all of the world’s refugees have come to Europe where in fact the top hosting countries are Turkey (almost 3 million), Pakistan (1, 4 million), Lebanon (1 million), Iran, Uganda and Ethiopia.

For many years I was working with and helping refugees in Thailand and often getting frustrated, even angry at local people for being so prejudiced and selfish. Now back in Latvia, I feel the table has been turned and now my own nation is facing the test of compassion, sympathy, generosity and kindness. The test is so small compared to what others are facing. Latvia is neither in the direct path of this refugee movement nor is it the common destination. Where is Latvia, right?

If not for my other commitments, I would go and volunteer at one of the refugee centers in Greece or Italy where the situation is much more critical. When I meet people who have sacrificed their time, resources and even health to serve on the Greek islands, I thank them because they are doing what many cannot and others will not.

There are things that make me proud to be a Latvian and others that make me ashamed. And on the generosity and hospitality side we still have a long way to go. We still feel like we don’t have enough and we still feel threatened. More obviously – we are not a trusting society. For good reasons which are too many to explain here but it is the one trait which really infects my beloved country and which needs to be healed and overcome. What can help us to become more compassionate and trusting? What and who can open our eyes to see how much we have?

As a Christian, I could give a long sermon about the basics of my faith and what it should do for practical life in community. Of course, I could go on and on about Jesus as the greatest revelation of God’s good and loving will. And I can give lots of wonderful examples of church communities that have embraced refugees and are doing all they can to be the good neighbors. But I can also give examples and point to the fact that there is as much ignorance and prejudice in the church as there is in the whole society.

Today I want to give thanks to a grass-roots civil society initiative in Latvia which started with some passionate people and then became a Facebook group and still works as a small (maybe not so small?) but very active and hands-on movement of people who care. The group is called “I Want to Help Refugees” (Gribu Palīdzēt Bēgļiem) and it has helped the refugees arriving in Latvia in so many ways – from basic needs like food and clothing and doctor visits to special events celebrating cultural diversity and taking children to movies.  (Yes, there is government assistance and programs but it does not go nearly far enough to help these families start a new life in a foreign country).

Final thought on practical steps? Let’s start by saying these simple words “Welcome to my country” and then show that we mean it! Do to other’s what you would like them do to you!

Syrian refugees watch as Britain's Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond visits Al Zaatari refugee camp in Mafraq, Jordan

Photos from internet

Latvian:

Tā ir drausmīga statistika. 2017. gada vidus, un šobrīd pasaulē ir apmēram 65 miljoni cilvēku, kuri spiesti atstāt savas mājas un arī dzimtenes. To skaitā ir 21 miljons bēgļu. Saskaņā ar ANO datiem, Sīrijas karš vien ir licis vismaz 5,5 miljoniem cilvēku doties bēgļu gaitās. Visā pasaulē cilvēki bēg no kara, vajāšanām, apspiestības, vides katastrofām, bada un galējas nabadzības.  Vairāk kā puse no bēgļiem ir bērni.

Pirmais jautājums – kā man reaģēt? Normālām smadzenēm tie skaitļi ir vienkārši par lielu; mēs nespējam to ‘sagremot’. Man prātā ienāk doma, ka Latvijā ir 2 miljoni cilvēku, un pašreizējo pasaules nelaimju kontekstā mēs visi būtu bēgļu gaitās. Visi bez izņēmuma. Vēl es domāju par saviem draugiem dažādās pasaules malās. Tās ir viņu dzīves, kas ir pilnībā izmainītas un izjauktas. Draugi Taizemē, kuri bēga no etniskām tīrīšanām un militārā režīma Birmā. Draugi Ēģiptē, kuri bēga no reliģiskiem un etniskiem konfliktiem Sudānā. Mani draugi no Sīrijas, kuri atstāja savu dzīvokli iztukšotu un aizslēgtu, atvadījās no vecākiem, atstāja savu biznesu un ziedoja visus iekrājumus, lai bērniem būtu drošāka un labāka nākotne.  Viņi jau vairākus gadus dzīvo Rīgā.

20. jūnijā tika atzīmēta Pasaules Bēgļu diena. Agrāk tā asociējās ar problēmām kaut kur tālu pasaulē. Tagad tas ir aktuāli šeit un tagad, arī Latvijā. Kaut gan temats ir ‘karsts’, apspriests un debatēts, joprojām ir daudz aizspriedumu un arī vienaldzības. Piemēram, attieksme, ka Eiropa nes vislielāko slogu, palīdzot bēgļiem, vai ka visi bēgļi grib braukt šurp. Lielākā daļa bēgļu, kā visos laikos, grib braukt mājās, bet diemžēl tas nav iespējams. Turcijā uzturas apmēram 3 miljoni bēgļu, Pakistānā vairāk kā miljons, Libānā miljons, tālāk seko Irāna, Uganda un Etiopija.

Otrais jautājums – ko darīt? Vairākus gadus dzīvojot un strādājot brīvprātīgo darbu uz Taizemes un Birmas robežas, kur palīdzēju bēgļiem no Birmas, es bieži saskāros ar vienaldzību, arī korupciju un pat nežēlību pret bēgļiem no vietējo iedzīvotāju puses. Esmu gan dusmojusies, gan bēdājusies. Atpakaļ Latvijā, es atrodu sevi otrā pusē starp “vietējiem”. Mana valsts un mani tautieši piedzīvo līdzīgu līdzcietības un solidaritātes pārbaudījumu. Salīdzinot kaut vai Itāliju un Grieķiju, mums šis pārbaudījums un izaicinājums ir ļoti mazs. Latvija nav īsti pa ceļam, un arī nav nekāds ‘sapņu galamērķis”. Kas ir Latvija, un kur tāda atrodas, vai ne? Turklāt ziņa jau drošvien aizgājusi pa neoficiālajiem kanāliem, ka bēgļi te netiek gaidīti, un ka izredzes uzsākt Latvijā jaunu un stabilu dzīvi ir diezgan niecīgas. Mani sīriešu draugi ir ļoti pateicīgi, jo saņēmuši ļoti lielu atbalstu un palīdzību no draudzes, bez kuras viņi te vienkārši nevarētu izdzīvot. Kaut vai atrast dzīvokli, ko īrēt, kad lielākā daļa noliek klausuli vai aizbildinās, kad uzzin, ka ģimene ir no Sīrijas.

Es lepojos ar savu latvietību un reizēm par to kaunos. Viesmīlība un dāsnums nav mūsu stiprā puse. Mums ir tik spēcīgs ‘nabadzības’un ‘upuru’ sindroms. Mums liekas, ka pašiem nepietiek, ka mums pašiem vēl tik daudz kā trūkst (jo nedzīvojam kā norvēģi!). Mēs esam ļoti bailīgi un vēl vairāk – esam sabiedrība, kas neuzticas un uz visu skatās ar aizdomām. Lai gan zinām vēsturiskos iemeslus šīm aizdomām, skepsei un neuzticībai, mēs turpinām ar to būt ‘saindēti’, un tas mūs pamatīgi bremzē.

Es varētu rakstīt garus sprediķus par šo tēmu – ticības pamatuzstādījumiem un to praktisko pielietojumu ikdienas dzīvē. Mans galvenais piemērs tam, kāda izskatās Dieva mīlošā un taisnīgā griba sabiedrībā, ir pats Jēzus. Un es varu minēt daudzus piemērus, kā individuāli kristieši un draudzes visā pasaulē, arī Latvijā, palīdz un dara to, kas labiem līdzcilvēkiem un kaimiņiem pienākas. Bet varu minēt arī daudz piemērus, kā mūsu dzīvēs un draudzēs ir tikpat daudz aizspriedumu kā pārējā sabiedrībā. Runājot par bēgļiem, “kristīgo vērtību” karogs Latvijā ticis vicināts maz.

Tomēr Latvijā ir daudz “labo samariešu”, un parasti šie cilvēki nenonāk ziņu slejās. Jo mēs jau zinām, ka pie mums uzmanības centrā ir negatīvais. Šoreiz gribu teikt milzīgu ‘paldies’ konkrētai cilvēku grupai – biedrībai “Gribu palīdzēt bēgļiem”, kuru var atrast arī feisbukā. Šie domubiedri ir paveikuši ārkārtīgi daudz, un viņi ir pilsoniskās sabiedrības daļa, kas nesēž un negaida, ko darīs valdība vai kāds cits, bet prasa – ko darīšu es pats?

Daži praktiskie soļi? Būt labāk informētiem. Dzīvojot Taizemē, es visu laiku saskāros ar faktu, ka taizemieši nezināja, kas notiek viņu kaimiņvalstī, un kāpēc cilvēki no turienes bēg. Parasti komentārs bija tāds, ka “tā ir vienkārši slikta valsts.” Es galīgi neesmu eksperte cilvēktiesību, juridiskajos, ekonomikas, drošības, migrācijas, globalizācijas, politikas un citos jautājumos, bet es zinu pietiekami daudz un  saprotu, ka mums šobrīd stipri dalās viedokļi par to, kā attiekties un ko darīt, un kādas ir problēmu saknes. Protams, ka visi vēlas, lai kari un katastrofas beigtos, vai vēl labāk – vardarbīgi konflikti nesāktos.  Bet, ko darīt līdz tam “miera”laikam?

Mums jāmācās būt atvērtiem, un darīt to, kas ir mūsu spēkos. Mēs nevaram palīdzēt visiem, bet it sevišķi tiem, kuri nonāk pie mūsu mājas durvīm, mēs nevaram teikt “Ej uz nākamo māju, varbūt tur tev atvērs. Kaimiņi ir bagātāki un izpalīdzīgāki”. Un vēl – viesmīlība un atvērtība neattiecas tikai uz nelaimē nonākušiem cilvēkiem, kas devušies bēgļu gaitās. Tas attiecas uz visiem, kuri pārceļas uz dzīvi Latvijā darba, studiju, mīlestības, ģimenes, intereses un dažādu citu iemeslu dēļ. Prāta Vētra dzied angliskajā versijā “Welcome to My Country”, bet mums pašiem tie vārdi neiet tik viegli pār lūpām vai no sirds. vai  Esiet sveicināti Latvijā!

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.

 

What I learned from pilgrimage of trust in Rīga

Hope is on my mind. Hope is different from simple optimism or positive thinking because hope is living both in the reality of “now and here” and in “not yet and not there yet”. It all depends on the ultimate truth and purpose of life you believe in.

Few weeks ago the capital of Latvia was infused with lots of hope for Europe. ‘Invaded’ by 15,000 young Europeans who came on a pilgrimage. I don’t know what your idea of a pilgrimage is but this is a very unique one. Taizé, an ecumenical Christian community in southern France, has organized these annual New Year’s gatherings for 39 years. They called it “Pilgrimage of trust on earth in Rīga”

It was hard to miss it. The groups of young people everywhere; speaking in all kinds of languages; holding their Rīga maps and looking for venues to attend prayer events, seminars and worship gatherings. The Old Town was packed and the afternoon prayers in the churches were so popular that not everyone could get in.

If you read articles and countless Facebook posts, obviously this was one of the most amazing and unforgettable hospitality experiences for Latvians. To host these thousands in people’s homes is very unusual for our culture. Latvians are known for being reserved and not quick to trust strangers. Home is for family and close friends. I think we blew our own expectations and perceptions and realized that we are actually much more happy to open our homes and lives than “they” say.

This is one of Taizé communities main goals and visions – to be peace builders through helping people to connect across cultural, social and religious lines. At a time when everyone is concerned and talking about European disunity, challenges and possible disintegration, this gathering was a strong reminder that there are good and unifying things within everyone’s reach. You just have to be willing to go or to welcome. Portugal and Latvia will not seem distant anymore. Protestants and Catholics will not seem closed-minded and exclusive anymore.

I am privileged to work in a very international environment and also I am grateful to have friends from many different church backgrounds – protestant, catholic, orthodox, pentecostal, evangelical… whatever the label. Realizing that for many people this was a first time praying and worshiping together with other church traditions, I appreciate the vision and effort even more.

I was reminded of important truths. For example, the crucial thing of simplicity. We discussed how to “simplify our lives in order to share”. Whether concerned about environment, poverty, social injustice and conflicts around the world, we all need to learn to live in greater harmony with ourselves and the creation. The prayer booklet said: “Simplicity implies transparency of heart. Although it is not gullible, it refuses to mistrust. It is the opposite of duplicity. It enables us to enter into dialogue, without fear, with everyone we meet.”

What a beautiful way to celebrate New Year, new beginnings, new friends and new revelations! You can sit in front of your TV or computer or iPhone or iPad and get all anxious, mad and hopeless about the state of Europe, charismatic populists, powerful bullies, extreme nationalists or anyone else of this world or you can make (and keep) commitment to simple, generous and peaceful lifestyle… and you will discover a multitude of people on your side!

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Photos from  Taizé website

 

 

 

Have a brave and creative year 2017…

Rīga, Latvia… December 31, 2016 has turned out to be grey and misty. The sun has been hiding for weeks now and the snow is avoiding us, too. I guess there will be no New Year’s Eve sledding or snow ball fights.

I just re-read my first post of this past year and the predictions have come true. It was a bumpy ride with lots of wear and tear on my absorption capabilities. It became more and more uncomfortable as the year went on and I started reacting to the turns and twists more acutely. So, I am glad that 2016 is over even though for me personally it has been another incredibly adventurous journey. New places, new people, new lessons learned, new challenges – all the things I love about life.

But there was this cloud over my world. I would like to say ‘over the Western world’ but I think it has been a truly global feeling. That something has changed and ‘status quo’ is gone. That something got broken or twisted or even turned upside down. Most of us thought it was broken before but the glue was still holding. Suddenly the cracks were too many and truly tectonic shifts took place. I am not talking only about European and US political dramas; the tragedy in war in Syria and Ukraine; the big-mouth president in Philippines who believes in violence, not justice; the continued ethnic cleansing of Rohingya people; terrorist attacks or other ‘highlights’ of this year.

I am neither ‘gloom and doom’ person nor ‘happy go lucky’. I would like to think of myself as a realist who knows that lots of things are not as good and worthy as they seem but at the same time there is much more hope and love and peace and joy and good than we perceive.

Difficult, hard, even bad times are very important. I cannot be truly human without it. I cannot have compassion and generosity and gratitude and courage and determination if I don’t face the prospect of losing it all. If I don’t accept the frailty of my 92 year grandmother who is experiencing dementia and simply old age, I cannot love and support her in a way that she needs. If I don’t don’t accept the fact that people can and will start conflicts and wars and prefer violence over justice, I will take peace for granted and I will see it slip away.

Honestly I had many gloomy days this year. Many times my emotions were either too high (anger, frustration, disgust) or too low (indifference, discouragement, weariness). My view of humanity was fluctuating, too. I knew that this was not helping anyone and myself in the least. I felt unsettled but the good news is – I always had an anchor to hold onto.

“Faith is a simple trust in God. It does not offer ready-made answers, but makes it possible for us not to be paralyzed by fear or discouragement. It leads us to get involved, and sets us on the road. Through it we realize that the Gospel opens a vast horizon of hope beyond all our hopes.

This hope is not a facile optimism that shuts eyes to reality, but an anchor cast into God. It is creativity. Signs of it are already found in the most unhoped-for places on earth.” These are words from a small brochure printed for Taizé ecumenical gathering in Rīga which is taking place this week.

So, here is my New Year’s resolution… I want to be brave and creative! And I have hope because of God’s unlimited resources of truth and justice and grace!

Attēlu rezultāti vaicājumam “fireworks riga new year photos”

Best wishes from Riga! (photo from internet)

Latvian:

Rīga, Latvija… 2016. gada 31. decembris izrādījies pelēks un apmācies. Tāds ne šis, ne tas. Saule paslēpusies jau vairākas nedēļas, un sniegs mums arī gājis ar līkumu. Nebūs ne Vecgada vakara ragaviņu, ne pikošanās.

Tikko pārlasīju savu pirmo bloga ierakstu šajā aizejošajā gadā, un prognozes piepildījās. Gads bija diezgan traks, sakratīja ne pa jokam, un manas amortizācijas spējas tika pamatīgi pārbaudītas un noberztas. Jo tālāk, jo nēērtāk, līdz sāku reaģēt uz pagriezieniem un bedrēm arvien jūtīgāk. Tāpēc priecājos, ka 2016-tais ir beidzies, lai gan personīgajā dzīvē bija tik daudz kā forša. Jaunas vietas, jauni draugi, jauni izaicinājumi un jaunas dzīves atziņas – viss, kas man tik ļoti patīk.

Bet pāri manai pasaulei bija kaut kāds liels, drūms mākonis. Gribētos domāt, ka tas pārklāja konkrēti Rietumu pasauli, bet visticamāk šī sajūta bija universāla. Ka vēsture tiek rakstīta mūsu acu priekšā, un mēs knapi spējam pāršķirt lappuses. Ka kaut kas ir salūzis, aizgājis pa pieskari, apgriezies ar kājām gaisā vai nogājis no sliedēm (epitetus var atrast daudz un dažādus).  Liela daļa jau sen zināja, ka pieņemtajai lietu kārtībai ir milzīgi un bīstami defekti, bet līme vēl turēja. Pēkšņi spiediens kļuva pārāk liels, un plaisas aiziet uz visām pusēm. Es nerunāju tikai par Eiropas un ASV politiskajām drāmām; kara šausmām Sīrijā un Ukrainā; balamuti prezidentu Filipīnās, kuram patīk vardarbība, nevis taisnīgums un tiesiskums; etnisko tīrīšanu Mjanmā; teroristu uzbrukumus un citiem gada ‘spilgtākajiem’ notikumiem.

Neesmu ne pārliecināta pesimiste, ne nelabojama optimiste. Ceru, ka esmu reāliste, kura saprot, ka ne viss ir tik jauks, vērtīgs un vajadzīgs kā tiek reklamēts. Un ne viss ir tik bezcerīgs, tukšs un bezjēdzīgs kā izliekas. Pasaulē ir daudz vairāk cerības, mīlestības, prieka un labprātības kā mēs spējam aptvert.

Grūti, sarežģīti, pat slikti brīži ir ļoti svarīgi. Bez tiem es nespētu būt cilvēcīga. Žēlsirdība, dāsnums, pateicība, drosme, nepadošanās man rodas tad, kad zinu, ko varu zaudēt un cik ātri to visu var zaudēt. Ja es neskatītos patiesībai acīs redzot, kā mana vecmamma 92 gadu vecumā piedzīvo demenci, trauslumu un vienkārši novecošanu, es nespētu par viņu labi rūpēties. Ja es noliegtu patiesību, ka cilvēki spēj un pat grib izraisīt asus konfliktus un karus un izvēlas vardarbību taisnīguma vietā, es nedomātu par mieru, un cik neatlaidīgi tas jākopj un jākultivē.

Atzīstos, ka šogad piedzīvoju daudzas drūmas un pelēkas dienas. Pārāk bieži manas emocijas bija vai nu sakāpinātas (dusmas, aizkaitinājums, pat pretīgums), vai arī atsaldētas (vienaldzība, neizlēmība, pagurums). Arī mans skats uz cilvēci staigāja kā dzīvsudrabs pa termometra stabiņu. Apzinājos, ka nevienam no tā labāk nepaliks, it sevišķi jau man pašai. Biju sašūpināta, bet labā ziņa ir tāda, ka nekad nejutos atrāvusies no sava enkura.

“Ticība ir vienkārša paļāvība uz Dievu. Tā nesniedz gatavas atbildes, taču ļauj mums nesastingt mazdūšības bailēs. Tā aicina mūs iesaistīties un sagatavo mūs ceļam. Caur ticību mēs atskāršam, ka Evanģēlijs atklāj plašu apvārsni tādai cerībai, kas pārsniedz visas cerības.

Šī cerība nav vienkāršs optimisms, kas piever acis īstenības priekšā, bet gan Dievā mests enkurs. Tā ir radoša. Tās zīmes jau saskatāmas visnecerētākajās zemes vietās.” Šis citāts nāk no Taizē jauniešu tikšanās bukletiņa.

Te nu ir mana Jaunā gada apņemšanās… es gribu būt drosmīga un radoša! Un esmu cerības pilna, jo Dievam ir neizsmeļami resursi patiesībā, taisnīgumā un žēlastībā!

 

I am so sorry, Aleppo

This is about Syria and it is not about Syria; this is about politics and it is not about politics; this is about global challenges and it is not about global challenges; this is about the world’s reaction but it is not about the world.

This is about my own feelings in regards to what is going on in Aleppo. I feel sad. I feel angry. I feel helpless, overwhelmed, disillusioned… and many more things.

Last week I wrote to a friend who has studied political science and understands a lot about the UN.. I knew that he would not be able to give me simple answers but I was desperate to ask. Any ideas on how to end this tragedy and madness? So much has been said, but what else can be done?

The answer was as expected: “You have many good questions! I think the people who can answer those questions should step forward immediately! Unfortunately, it’s not so easy.” His last comment was: “The only solution I can see is for more cooperation at the international level and for a coalition of willing and able countries to intervene in some way to stop the atrocities taking place in Syria right now, but it is hard to imagine how that practically could be realized.”

We see the difficulties and current challenges in the international framework. I was watching an interview with Latvia’s ambassador to NATO, Indulis Bērziņš, and he kept repeating that anyone who could come up with a solution for the war in Syria would be awarded Nobel Peace Prize immediately.

So, here we are. I could probably listen to endless interviews, read many articles, watch TV programs around the world and get the same message. “Since the beginning of the offensive by the regime and its allies, notably Russia, the intensity and scale of the aerial bombardment of eastern Aleppo is clearly disproportionate,” an official EU statement said. … The deliberate targeting of hospitals, medical personnel, schools and essential infrastructure, as well as the use of barrel bombs, cluster bombs and chemical weapons, constitute a catastrophic escalation of the conflict … and may amount to war crimes.”

Meanwhile the people are dying and the eastern part of Aleppo is evaporating in front of the world’s eyes.

I don’t have any easy answers either. I know that aid agencies , volunteers (like Partners Relief & Development) and many many people in Syria and from other parts of the world are doing everything they can to help. I know that many of the wonderful, heroic, sacrificial stories don’t get reported. I know that the real situation is much different than our news can show. I have been on “the other side” of the TV screen (not in Aleppo though).

What I have are friends from Syria who live in safety and peace in Riga, Latvia but who still have family back in Aleppo. Every time I see them I think of their families, their former home and beloved city. What if this was Riga! Boom, there goes Teika! Boom, there goes Jugla… and the people who lived there.

Maybe this post will get some responses with your thoughts. Of course, I believe in prayer but I also believe in resistance to injustice. And I have a strong sense that we, the global neighbors, are failing Syria.

Today I simply want to say… I am so sorry, Aleppo

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Friends in Riga learning more about Syria (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Rakstu par Sīriju, bet runa nav par Sīriju. Rakstu par politiku, bet runa nav par politiku. Rakstu par globālajiem izaicinājumiem, bet runa nav par tiem. Rakstu par pasaules reakciju, bet runa nav par pasauli.

Runa ir par manām sajūtām, domājot par to, kas notiek Alepo. Man sāp sirds. Man ir skumji. Man ir dusmas. Man ir bezspēcības sajūta. Man nav ilūziju, un man trūkst vārdu.

Pagājšnedēļ es aizrakstīju kādam labam draugam ārzemēs, kurš ir jauns politiķis, un diezgan labi pazīst Apvienoto Nāciju Organizāciju. Es zināju, ka viņš nespēs man dot nekādas vieglas vai skaidras atbildes, bet vienkārši gribējās kādam jautāt. Vai ir kādas idejas, kā šo ārprātu tur izbeigt? Tik daudz jau ir teikts, bet ko var darīt?

Atbilde bija tāda, kādu biju gaidījusi. “Tev, Inet, ir daudz labu jautājumu. Es domāju, ka tiem cilvēkiem, kuri spēj tos atbildēt, ir jāpiesakās nekavējoties. Diemžēl nav tik vienkārši.” Beigās viņš vēl piebilda: “Vienīgais veids, ko es redzu, ir lielāka sadarbība starptautiskā līmenī, un to valstu koalīcija, kuras spēj un tiešām grib izbeigt šīs briesmu lietas, kas patlaban notiek Sīrijā. Taču ir grūti iedomāties, kā tas varētu īstenoties praktiski.”

Mēs jau redzam, kā tas praktiski neīstenojas. Skatījos LTV interviju ar Induli Bērziņu, kurš NATO pārstāv Latviju, un viņš vismaz divas reizes atkārtoja to pašu. Sakot, ja kādam rastos risinājums Sīrijas kara izbeigšanai, tam vajadzētu tūlīt pat piešķirt Nobela Miera prēmiju.

Te nu mēs esam. 17. oktobrī bija oficiāls Eiropas Savienības paziņojums, ka “ES pauž sašutumu par situāciju Sīrijā, kas turpina pasliktināties. Pieaugošā vardarbība Alepo rada nepieredzētas un nepieņemamas ciešanas tūkstošiem tās iedzīvotāju. Kopš režīms un tā sabiedrotie, jo īpaši Krievija, ir sākuši ofensīvu, Alepo austrumu daļas bombardēšanas no gaisa intensitāte un mērogs ir acīmredzami nesamērīgs, un tīši uzbrukumi slimnīcām, medicīniskajam personālam, skolām un ļoti svarīgai infrastruktūrai, kā arī tvertņveida bumbu, kasešu bumbu un ķīmisko ieroču izmantošana katastrofāli saasina konfliktu, un tie ir radījuši vēl plašāka mēroga civiliedzīvotāju upurus, tostarp starp sievietēm un bērniem, un tos var pielīdzināt kara noziegumiem.

Galvenā atbildība par Sīrijas iedzīvotāju aizsardzību ir Sīrijas režīmam. Tāpēc ES stingri nosoda režīma un tā sabiedroto pārmērīgos un nesamērīgos uzbrukumus. … ES pauž nožēlu par Krievijas 8. oktobrī pausto veto ANO Drošības padomes rezolūcijai, kuras līdzautori ir visas ES dalībvalstis un kuras mērķis ir atjaunot karadarbības pārtraukšanu un ļaut humānās palīdzības sniedzējiem piekļūt Alepo.”

Cilvēki turpina mirt, un Alepo austrumu daļa pārvēršas pilnīgos pelnos.

Man arī nav atbildes. Es zinu, ka daudzi – gan organizācijas, gan brīvprātīgie, gan paši Sīrijas cilvēki – dara visu, lai palīdzētu. Zinu, ka līdz mums nenonāk lielākā daļa šo stāstu par brīnišķīgajiem, drosmīgajiem un pašaizliedzīgajiem.

Man ir tikai draugi Rīgā, kuri tagad dzīvo mierā un drošībā, bet viņu radinieki ir joprojām Alepo. Katru reizi, kad tiekamies, es domāju par viņu tuviniekiem un agrāk tik skaisto pilsētu. Ja tas viss tagad notiktu Rīgā!? Bumbas, un nav vairs Teikas. Bumbas, un nav vairs Juglas… un tās cilvēku.

Varbūt, ka manas sajūtas izsauks kādu reakciju vai pārdomas arī no jūsu puses. Protams, es ticu lūgšanu spēkam, un cerība arī man nav zudusi, bet es ticu, ka ir jāpretojas netaisnībai. Un man liekas, ka mēs, globālie kaimiņi, esam pievīluši Sīrijas cilvēkus.

Šodien es gribu vienkārši pateikt to, ko latviešu valodā nevar pateikt ar vienu vārdu, kā to var angļu valodā… I am so sorry, Aleppo. Man ir tik ļoti žēl, Alepo, ka šī netaisnība turpinās.