While waiting for hope and history to sync

Did you know today is a special day? I forgot! I have a calendar to remind me but life is busy. Plus, how do you single out any day when it comes to peace, freedom, justice, right relationships? A day like any other which started by me getting up, enjoying that first cup of coffee, looking through the window at new season, changing clothes few times because I can’t make up my mind, crowding in public transport, running late for class, trying to stay focused in lectures but getting distracted too easily, promising myself to keep my mouth shut but always breaking the promise, coming home hungry, cooking dinner, checking the news… just another ordinary day.

And now I see it is International Day of Peace. How many people actually know it? How many care? What does it even mean? How is this one day making a difference in the world? When the difference is needed desperately. As U2 sings, “Heaven on Earth/We need it now/I’m sick of all of this/Hanging around/Sick of sorrow/Sick of pain/Sick of hearing again and again/That there’s gonna be/Peace on Earth”

I try to be disciplined with my blog and post weekly. Usually on Thursdays. Thanks to the calendar, it is Peace Day and it is Thursday. Let me write down just a few things which came to mind immediately.

Friends… are people who inspire me. I have been blessed to meet many people around the world and fortunate to call many of them my friends. Something I treasure above material possessions, diplomas, accomplishments, etc. It is hard to pick one photo since there are lots of wonderful people in my life. These three friends from Rwanda and Nigeria I will see next week in England and I am already smiling just thinking about it.

Faith… is a strong anchor. We all need deep inner resources and my well is faith in loving and just God who is not distant or impersonal. I have never lived through war, exile or violence unlike many of my friends. Some of them are refugees, some experienced genocide, some have been in prison and persecuted, some are serving in the military and facing difficult situations, some are sick or lonely. Everyone believes in something or Someone, though. Even not believing is believing that there is nothing worth believing in.

History… is complicated but our story is not over. The great paradox is that I am encouraged. I enjoy reading history (the best possible interpretations of it) and it gets depressing. Many thick books on my bookshelf not started yet and I keep waiting for that right mood. The view in world’s rear mirror is not pretty but there are so many bright shining stars like William Wilberforce, Dorothy Day, Cesar Chavez, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Henri Nouwen just to name a few of my heroes.

U2 also sings that “Hope and history won’t rhyme/So what’s it worth?/This Peace on Earth”

Yes, hope and history do not rhyme often but it is amazing how often they do. Call me an idealist but I believe that one day they will sync for real.

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Photos from Luton Peace Walk 2014

It could be me, it could be you…

I want to talk about Ukraine in a very personal way and this story starts in Thailand… of all places.

My former home in Chiang Mai was in a small and quiet neighborhood close to Chiang Mai University. There were not many foreigners living there. So, when a foreign family moved in, everyone took notice. I have one of those habits of trying to guess where people are from. My husband and I would look at each other and say, “what do you think? American, British, German?” I saw this new family walking down our street and I said, “Definitely from eastern Europe.”

And then I heard them speak Russian. And then I finally introduced myself and found out that our new neighbors were from Ukraine. (Not born there but it is too long to explain how people moved around in the former Soviet Republics.) David is an astronomer who works for an Observatory and has looked through some of the biggest telescopes in the world. His job is very fascinating but I still don’t remember the name of the specific space objects he researches and teaches about. His wife Sveta and their two children adjusted to the new life in a country far far away from home. I was glad to practice Russian and they were mutually glad to speak their mother tongue.

In 2013 they went to Ukraine for a holiday and family visits and I remember Sveta’s worried look after they came back. I had been following the news of unrest and people’s protests in Kiev and asked them what was going on. Sveta was very anxious and said that if things continued like that, there could be a civil war. I realized at that moment that for me it was an interest but for her it was very personal.

This is what I want to talk about. The personal tragedy of war and conflicts. The deepest tragedy of it, besides death and destruction, is the broken and destroyed relationships. Between friends, colleagues, relatives, siblings, families, even spouses… and, of course, nations.

I remember talking to David many months later when the conflict had become violent, Crimea annexed by Russia, the war in two eastern provinces had started and the propaganda campaign was in full swing. Of course, he was very emotional and clearly and understandably angry about many things, but the deepest pain and grief was the loss of friends. Not physically but relationally. Some of his good friends and colleagues in Russia and Crimea were now on the ‘opposite side’ and held strongly to beliefs that Ukraine is turning into a fascist state and that Putin is the savior with the best intentions.

David described this pain as similar to grieving over someone’s death. And he is not the only one. There are thousands, even millions of people who have experienced this grief and loss. I have met other Ukrainians with the same story. It is hard to imagine two other nations that used to be as closely connected as Ukraine and Russia. Through culture, history, economy, religion, family ties. Thousands of intermarried families who never used to think in terms of their nationalities. So many Ukrainians have relatives in Russia and vice versa.

Now there are countless families that don’t even talk to each other, that have cut off any contact. One young family I also met in Chiang Mai were serving as volunteers at an orphanage in Thailand. Their hometown in Ukraine is Kharkiv. In her youth, Yulia lived in Crimea and she has her own perspective on the challenges and situation but her aunts who live in Russia and used to call her all the time, now have stopped calling.

Yulia also had a story of being at the post office in her home town during the early days of the conflict and some people getting upset because her little daughter had hair ribbons with the colors of Ukraine national flag. The hostility and anger was very real and scary. She was helped by another customer who got them out of the situation. I can only imagine what a trauma it was for her little girl. Because of hair ribbons!

And one more story. During a visit to Minneapolis, USA I met an older gentleman, Viktor who is an active member of local Russian speaking Pentecostal church. He was born in Ukraine, came from a pastor’s family and was very much a patriot of his birthplace. This church in Twin Cities was very multinational – people from all over former Soviet Union who were united by their faith in God and worship in Russian language. Then the war in Ukraine started and the church was very active in praying for peace and sending aid to afflicted people. Viktor told me about his personal pain how the church was affected by it all. He said, “When we started praying for Ukraine, there were church members who said that they will leave the church if we keep supporting Ukraine.” I asked how they responded to this and he replied, “Well, we tried to talk. We decided that we need to sit down and listen to each other and seek unity as Christians above all else.”

When I pray for peace in Ukraine, I think about David, Sveta, Yulia, Viktor and many others. I think about myself. It could have been me. It could have been you. What if I lost friendship with my colleagues? What if I lost contact with my relatives? What if my church was splitting because of war? How would I respond? I hope that I would respond with as much grace and humility as my friends have.

I believe that peace will come, that Ukraine will find its identity and the suffering will not be in vain. Meanwhile I grieve with those who are grieving and pray for a time of healing and restoration.

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Photos from the Internet

Latviski:

Es gribu pastāstīt ko ļoti personīgu par Ukrainu, un, kas to būtu domājis, ka stāsts iesāksies Taizemē.

Mana agrākā dzīves vieta Čangmai pilsētā bija mazā un mierīgā rajonā netālu no lielākās universitātes. Tur nebija daudz ārzemnieku, tāpēc katrs iebraucējs tika ievērots un novērots. Man arī piemīt tāds ieradums novērot cilvēkus un mēģināt uzminēt, kādas tautības viņi ir. Sava veida derības ar vīru, kad viens otram jautājam – kā tu domā, no kurienes viņi ir? Amerikāņi, briti, vācieši? Mūsu mazajā ieliņā ievēroju kādu jaunu ģimeni, un uzreiz ‘secināju’ – viņi ir Austrumeiropas.

Un tad viņi pagāja man garām, un izdzirdēju krievu valodu. Līdz kādu dienu saņēmos (tādi mēs, eiropieši, esam) un iepazinos. Izrādījās, ka jaunie kaimiņi ir no Ukrainas. Dzimuši gan Gruzijā un Kazahstānā, bet mums, Latvijā, ir saprotams, kā cilvēki pārvietojās bijušajā PSRS darba un studiju dēļ. Dāvids ir astronoms, un strādā Taizemes galvenajā observatorijā. Viņš ir pētījis Visuma brīnumus caur daudziem pasaules lielākajiem teleskopiem, un ilgus gadus strādāja Krimas observatorijā. Es klausos ar milzīgu interesi, bet vienalga nevaru atcerēties nosaukumu tieši tiem objektiem, ko viņš pēta, un par ko pasniedz augstskolās. Viņa sieva Svetlana ar bērniem pamazām pielāgojās dzīvei šajā svešajā valstī tālu no mājām. Es biju priecīga, ka varēju atjaunot savas krievu valodas zināšanas, un bērni bija bezgala priecīgi, ka kāds viņus saprot.

Viņi devās uz Ukrainu nelielā atvaļinājumā pie radiem 2013. gada beigās. Atceros, cik Svetlana bija bēdīga pēc šīs ciemošanās. Apmēram zināju par protestiem Kijevā, cik nu no ziņām var uzzināt un izprast, tāpēc jautāju, kas tur notiek. Sveta ļoti negribīgi atbildēja, ka viņai bail no pilsoņu kara. Tajā brīdī es aptvēru, ka man tā ir vienkārši interese, bet viņai tās ir mājas, radi un draugi.

Par to arī ir šis stāsts. Par šo personisko traģēdiju, ko izraisa karš un konflikti. Visdziļākā sāpe, neskaitot nāvi un sabrukumu, ir izjauktas un iznīcinātas attiecības. Starp draugiem, kolēģiem, radiem, brāļiem un māsām, ģimenēm, pat dzīvesbiedriem un, protams, tautām un valstīm.

Pēc vairākiem mēnešiem runāju ar Dāvidu. Spriedze jau bija pāraugusi vardarbībā, Krievija bija anektējusi Krimu, austrumu provincēs bija sācies bruņots konflikts, un informatīvais karš bija uzņēmis milzīgus apgriezienus. Dāvids runāja ļoti emocionāli, un es varēju saprast viņa dusmas, bet viņā lielākā un dziļākā sāpe bija zaudētie draugi. Ne jau fiziski zaudēti, bet pārrautas attiecības. Daudzi no viņa labākajiem draugiem Krievijā un Krimā tagad bija “pretējā pusē”, un stingri turējās pie savas pārliecības, ka Ukrainā valda fašisti, un vienīgi Putins glābj situāciju un cilvēkus.

Dāvids teica, ka viņš sērojot. It kā kāds būtu nomiris, un vairs nav. Un viņš nebija vienīgais šajās sērās. Tūkstošiem, pat miljoniem cilvēku piedzīvo šo sāpi un zaudējumu. Esmu satikusi citus ukraiņus, kuriem līdzīgs stāsts. Mēs taču zinām, ka bija grūti iedomāties vēl tuvākas un ciešākas attiecības starp divām tautām un nācijām kā Ukraina un Krievija. Visas iespējamās saites – kultūra, valoda, vēsture, ekonomika, reliģija, radi. Tūkstošiem kopā savītu ģimeņu, kur agrāk nešķiroja pēc tautības. Tik daudziem ukraiņiem ir radi Krievijā, un krieviem Ukrainā.

Tagad ir neskaitāmas ģimenes, kur vairs nesazinās viens ar otru, kur šīs radu saites ir pārrautas. Vēl viena jauna ģimene, ko satiku Čangmai, bija atbraukuši uz gadu kā brīvprātīgie palīgi nelielā bērnunamā. Viņu mājas Ukrainā ir Harkivā. Savos pusaudzes gados Jūlija bija dzīvojusi Krimā, un viņai bija savs skats gan uz notikumu attīstību, gan situāciju, bet viņas tantes, kuras dzīvoja Krievijā un agrāk bieži zvanīja, jo ir vecas un vientuļas, bija pārstājušas zvanīt.

Vēl Jūlija pastāstīja kādu epizodi pasta nodaļā Harkivā, kas notika pašā konflikta sākumā. Viena daļa cilvēku bija sadusmojušies, jo viņas mazajai meitiņai matos bija lentītes Ukrainas karoga krāsās. Situācija kļuva visai draudīga, līdz viens svešs vīrietis viņas aizstāvēja un izveda laukā no pasta ēkas. Varu iedomāties, ko juta mazā meitene. Matu lentīšu dēļ!

Un pēdējais piemērs. Ciemojoties Amerikas Savienotajās Valstīs, Mineapolē es satiku kādu vecāku vīru Viktoru, kurš bija aktīvs vietējās krievvalodīgās Vasarssvētku draudzes loceklis. Dzimis Ukrainā un uzaudzis mācītāja ģimenē, Viktors bija liels savas dzimtās zemes patriots. Šī konkrētā draudze bija ļoti starpnacionāla – cilvēki no visām bijušajām PSRS republikām, kurus vienoja ticība Jēzum un pielūgsme krievu valodā. Tad sākās karš Ukrainā, un draudze no visas sirds aizlūdza un sūtīja palīdzību cietušiem cilvēkiem. Viktors man atklāja savu lielāko rūpi. Viņš teica – kad mēs sākām aizlūgt par Ukrainu, bija draudzes locekļi, kuri teica, ka iešot prom no draudzes, ja mēs atbalstīsim Ukrainu. Es jautāju, kā viņi to centās atrisināt, un atbilde bija – caur sarunām un dialogu un pārdomām par to, kas mūs, kristiešus, vieno.

Kad es lūdzu Dievam par mieru Ukrainā, es iedomājos par Dāvidu, Svetu, Jūliju, Viktoru un pārējiem. Es iedomājos par sevi. Jo tā varētu būt es. Tas varētu būt tu. Ja es pazaudētu draudzību ar labiem draugiem un kolēģiem? Ja es pazaudētu kontaktu ar radiem? Ja mana draudze varētu sašķelties kara dēļ? Es varu vienīgi cerēt, ka manī būtu tāda pati žēlastība un pazemība kā manos draugos.

Es ticu, ka miers atgriezīsies, ka Ukraina atradīs sevi, un ka šīs ciešanas nebūs veltīgas. Bet līdz tam brīdim es sēroju kopā ar tiem, kuri sēro, un lūdzu par dziedināšanu un atjaunošanu.

Sons and daughters… kings and queens of love

It was a hot and humid evening in Kuala Lumpur. Our friend Darren is a good driver and I am glad because the traffic here gets bad. I don’t mind sitting in a passenger seat though when it gives more time for good conversations. And in Malaysia there is lots to talk about. People, the city, music, art, faith, history, current affairs… Darren is a good source for all these topics.

We were driving to a show featuring local bands. Seriously, there is so much musical talent in Malaysia! And the venue was really cool. “Merdekarya” is a combination of words for ‘independence’ and ‘art’. It prides itself for being a place of free expression and creativity and providing platform and support for local poetry, music and storytelling…

One advertisement that stuck in my head from years of watching CNN International news is “Malaysia Truly Asia”. It emphasized the natural beauty and the cultural, ethnic and racial diversity and it had a very catchy tune. I guess this ad worked… at least for me. No doubt it is one of the most diverse places and also this tropical land is one of 17 Megadiverse countries on earth, estimated to have 20% of the world’s animal species.  Most of the country is covered by tropical rain forests.

Malay, Chinese, Indigenous, Indian. I am glad that for my friends, English is a common language. Otherwise I would be lost. Still, I do get lost when they switch to Manglish, a mix of English, Malay, Hokkien, Mandarin, Cantonese, Tamil… wow , they can talk fast! It is like listening on “fast forward”.

Our friend Darren used to teach English to foreign students in Kuala Lumpur. It gave him another deeper insight into cross-cultural living. Especially interesting for me were his observations about young people from the former Soviet republics like Russia, Tajikistan, etc. Most come from wealthy families and many are not as interested in their studies as they are interested in having a good time. Also, Darren had become aware of different prejudices and conflicts between these groups. For example, the prejudice toward people from Central Asian countries. For those of us who grew up in the USSR, all the derogatory terms are so familiar. And here they made it all the way to Malaysia.

I am aware that even in such a beautiful country like Malaysia not everything is ‘paradise’ and the rich cultural social tapestry has its reverse side. The advertisement of Malaysia Truly Asia leaves out these kind of things. There is a history of tensions and from time to time it comes to violence, aimed at ethnic or religious communities. I am no expert on Malaysian history or all the current causes for these fractures, but I do know that there are fault-lines in all our societies.

At the show I was listening to an amazing young band from the south of Malaysia, accordingly named “South and The Lowlands”. Music is a very powerful tool in peace building and reconciliation.  One of their songs “Sculptures” (lyrics by Daniel T.) has a beautiful message and a story to tell that is very relevant to all our lives…

“Many faces and places… Many hopes and dreams shattered                                                              Many hurts and bruises… Many roads and paths taken

Different colours, covered by the same blood… Different shades, but after one heart

Sons and daughters… Kings and queens of love                                                                                      More than sculptures… Crafted by God

Shine bright tonight… One heart… One soul… One mind ”

Malaysia has words, songs and stories to tell the world. I am blessed by friends like Darren and Daniel  and others who are passionate about challenging our prejudices. They use their talents while inspired by faith in God who rains Love, Truth and Forgiveness on everyone – good and bad.

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A must-visit venue in Kuala Lumpur

Latviski:

Kualalumpūrā ir karsts un sutīgs vakars. Mūsu draugs Darens ir labs šoferis, un es to novērtēju, jo te mēdz būt pamatīgi satiksmes sastrēgumi. Turklāt man nav iebildumu būt pasažierim, ja ir daudz laika labām sarunām. Malaizijā ir ko pārrunāt – cilvēki, pilsēta, mūzika, māksla, reliģija, vēsture, jaunākie notikumi… Darens labprāt runā par visām šīm tēmām.

Mēs braucam uz koncertu, kur muzicēs vietējās jaunās grupas. Goda vārds, te ir tik daudz labas mūzikas! Un pats mūzikas klubs ir superīgs. “Merdekarya” ir vārdu salikums, kas malaju valodā nozīmē ‘neatkarība’ un ‘māksla’. Ar to arī šis klubs lepojas, ka veicina un atbalsta neatkarīgo mākslu un vietējos dzejniekus, mūziķus un rakstniekus.

Tā kā daudzus gadus skatos CNN starptautiskās ziņas, tad galvā iesēdies viens reklāmas rullītis. “Malaizija Patiesa Āzija”. Tur tika reklamēts dabas skaistums, un lielā kultūras, etnisko grupu un rasu dažādība. Turklāt šai reklāmai bija ļoti lipīga melodija. Tātad šī kampaņa nostrādāja. Vismaz manā gadījumā. Nav šaubu, ka te ir šī liela dažādība. Turklāt Malaizija ir viena no 17 valstīm pasaulē, kuras tiek uzskatītas par supervalstīm dabas daudzveidības jomā. Te ir apmēram 20% no pasaules dzīvnieku sugām. Lielāko daļu valsts sedz tropu meži.

Malaji, ķīnieši, aborigēni, indieši… Es priecājos, ka mūsu draugi savā starpā sarunājas angļu valodā, savādāk es apjuktu. Es jau tā apjūku vai arī atslēdzos no sarunas, kad viņi pāriet uz vietējo angļu sarunvalodu (Manglish), kur sajaucas angļu, malaju, mandarīnu, tamilu, hokienu un citas valodas. Turklāt viņi runā tādā ātrumā! Liekas, ka kāds būtu ieslēdzis pogu “paātrināt”.

Mūsu draugs Darens agrāk mācīja angļu valodu ārvalstu studentiem, kuri mācās Kualalumpūrā. Viņš daudz ko uzzināja un iepazina dažādas kultūras. Konkrēti mani interesēja stāsti par studentiem no bijušajām PSRS valstīm, piemēram, Krievijas, Tadžikistānas un citām. Lielākā daļa ir bagātu ģimeņu atvases, kuriem gribas ne tik daudz studēt, kā labi pavadīt laiku. Zīmīgi, ka Darens ātri uzķēra dažādos aizspriedumus šo studentu starpā. Piemēram, attieksmi pret tautībām no Centrālās Āzijas. Mums, uzaugušajiem PSRS, šīs iesaukas un citi apzīmējumi ir labi pazīstami, bet tagad tie atceļojuši līdz Malaizijai. Darens man ļoti precīzi izskaidroja, kas ir ‘čurkas’.

Taču es zinu, ka arī skaistajā Malaizijā nav “paradīze”, un krāsainajam sabiedrības tepiķim ir otra neglītā puse. Protams, ka reklāmas rullītis to nerādīs. Arī šeit ir vēsture ar konfliktiem starp rasēm un tautībām un dažādas reliģiskas neiecietības izpausmes, kas reizēm pārvēršas vardarbībā. Skaidrs, ka šīs plaisas ir visur pasaulē.

Koncertā klausījos vienu jaunu un ļoti talantīgu rokgrupu no Malaizijas dienvidiem, kuru attiecīgi sauc “Dienvidi un zemienes” (South and The Lowlands). Mūzika vienmēr ir bijis spēcīgs intruments, ko izmantot miera celšanai. Viena no grupas dziesmām “Skulptūras” pildīja tieši šādu uzdevumu caur savu skaisto vēstījumu…

“Daudzas sejas un vietas… Daudzas cerības un sapņi

Daudzas sāpes un brūces… Daudzi ceļi un gaitas

Daudzas krāsas, ko apklāj vienas asinis… Daudzi toņi, bet viena sirds

Dēli un meitas… Mīlestības valdnieki un valdnieces

Vairāk kā skulptūras… Dieva radītas

Lai deg spoži… Viena sirds… Viena dvēsele… Viens nodoms”

Malaizija dod vārdus, dziesmas un stāstus visai pasaulei. Paldies Dievam par tādiem draugiem kā Darens and Daniēls un citi, kuri cīnās ar mūsu aizspriedumiem. Viņu instruments ir mūzika un māksla, un viņu motivācija ir ticība Dievam, kurš izlej savu Mīlestību, Patiesību un Žēlastību pār mums visiem – labiem un sliktiem.

 

 

 

 

 

Tale as old as time: My tribe against yours

So, I was thinking about our tribalism in Europe and elsewhere and suddenly remembered one of my favorite children’s stories, “Ronia the Robber’s Daughter” by Astrid Lindgren. It is truly one of my favorite books and I have read it many times. I can still experience the same emotions I had when I read it as a child.

Sorry to spoil the plot for those who have not read it, but it is a beautiful metaphor or parable about something we can all relate to – my tribe is not your tribe, my family is not yours and sometimes there is a big schism between them.

Ronia is a girl growing up among a clan of robbers living in a castle in the woodlands. As the only child of Matt, the chief, she is expected to become the leader of the clan someday. Their castle, Matt’s Fort, is split in two parts by a lightning bolt. Ronia grows up with her clan of robbers as the only company, until a rival robber group led by Borka moves into the other half of the castle, worsening the longstanding rivalry between the two bands.

Don’t many of us feel like we live in a castle that is split in two? Or three? Or four? There have been events and global trends that have the same effect as the lightning bolt. The wars that have re-drawn the borders of nations, colonial and imperial powers deciding who will live where, people being exiled and moved from one land to another, people without a home, new neighbors (of different language and culture and faith) arriving and moving in… Truly a split castle where often one side does not interact much with the other. And the less we relate to each other and the less we interact, the schism gets wider and wider.

I am reminded of a comment by  Vladislav Nastavsev, a talented Latvian/Russian stage director, who dares to talk about the schism that still exists in our Latvian ‘castle’. His family is ethnically Russian and he just directed a play called “Lake Of Hope” to address some of these deeply personal and dividing issues. I read a quote by V. Nastavsev, comparing what happened in Latvia during the occupation by USSR to a nuclear explosion. It happened, it changed our life in profound ways, we cannot go back but how do we live forward?

And no, I am not saying that all our ethnic and national families are like feuding clans of robbers, but I do know what ‘my people are not your people’ means.

Something happens that changes Ronia’s life completely. She meets a little boy and it turns out that he is Birk, the only son of Borka, the rival chief. He is the only other child she has ever met, and so she is sorry that he is a Borka. They start a game of jumping across the schism and later on become friends.

Ronia jumping

Have you ever been in her shoes? Where you think that he or she is not ‘one of us’? Where you look at each other wondering what the other is thinking about you? What have they been told in their family or tribe about my tribe? They look like me, but are we really the same? I have been there… standing with some trepidation… wondering how to bridge the gap.

Ronia and Borka keep their friendship secret. (It means they do not post it on Facebook) The climax of the story happens when Ronia’s father captures Birk and thinks that now their clan has won. Then unthinkable happens –  Ronia jumps across and gives herself to the Borkas so she must be exchanged.  Her father disowns her and refuses to acknowledge her as his daughter.

I remember feeling so sorry and sad for Ronia and her dad. His heart is broken because his daughter is ‘a traitor’. Or is she?  And what about her mom who is torn between her husband and her daughter? There is a point in most peace building and reconciliation  efforts when peacemakers get labeled ‘traitors’. They dare to reach out to the ‘others’. They dare to listen, they dare to become friends, they dare not to follow their father’s and chief’s ways and make a new way.

I will not spoil the ending with details in case you want to read it now, but it does end well.

Are you ready for some big and daring jumps? Start practicing…

Ronia and Birk

Illustrations by Ilon Wikland

Latviski:

Bieži domāju par mūsdienu ‘ciltīm’ Eiropā un pasaulē. Pēkšņi atcerējos vienu no saviem mīļākajiem bērnības stāstiem “Ronja – laupītāja meita”, ko sarakstījusi Astrīda Lindgrēne. Tā tiešām man ir ļoti mīļa grāmata, pārlasīta vairākas reizes. Vēl joprojām atceros tās bērnības emocijas, pārdzīvojot par varoņiem.

Piedodiet, ka pastāstīšu priekšā tiem, kas nav lasījuši, bet šis stāsts ir brīnišķīga metafora mūsdienu pasaulei, un mums visiem pazīstamajai pieredzei – mana cilts nav tavējā, mana ģimene nav tavējā, un reizēm starp mums ir liela un dziļa plaisa.

Ronja ir meitene, kura uzaug laupītāju dzimtā, un dzīvo pilī mežā vidū.Viņa ir Matisa, dzimtas vadoņa vienīgais bērns, tātad kādu dienu viņai būs jākļūst par dzimtas jeb cilts vadoni. Naktī, kad Ronja piedzimst, zibens sašķeļ pili jeb Matisa cietoksni divās daļās. Ronja aug bez citu bērnu klātbūtnes, līdz kādu dienu pils otrā daļā ievācas cita laupītāju dzimta, kuru vada Borka. Abas dzimtas jau tā ir naidīgas, bet šī ‘kaimiņu būšana’ vēl vairāk saasina šo konfliktu.

Vai daudziem no mums neliekas, ka mēs dzīvojam tādās sašķeltās pilīs? Ne tikai divās, bet pat trīs vai vairākās daļās? Pagātnē un tagadnē ir notikumi un pagriezieni, kuri ir gluži kā negaidīts zibens spēriens. Kari un konflikti, kas pārzīmē valstu robežas; impērijas, kuras izlemj, kur cilvēkiem būs dzīvot vai nedzīvot; bēgļu gaitas un izsūtījums; cilvēki bez mājām; jauni kaimiņi ar ‘svešu valodu, kultūru un ticību’, kuri iekārtojas blakus… Tiešām kā sašķeltā pilī, kur bieži vien abas puses dzīvo atsevišķi, katra par sevi. Un, jo mazāk mēs satiekamies un tusējamies un draudzējamies, jo dziļāka un lielāka top plaisa.

Tas man atgādina salīdzinājumu, kuru izteica Vladislavs Nastavševs, talantīgais Latvijas režisors. Viņš nebaidās runāt par šo plaisu, kas eksistē Latvijas ‘pilī’. Kaut vai nesenā JRT izrāde “Cerību ezers” (kuru vēl neesmu redzējusi, bet ļoti gribu), kurā viņš runā par šiem pretrunīgajiem jautājumiem ļoti dziļā un intīmā veidā. Kādā rakstā es lasīju, ka Nastavševs salīdzina to, kas notika Latvijā padomju okupācijas laikā, ar atomsprādzienu. Tas notika; tas atstāja smagas un sāpīgas un paliekošas sekas; tas izmainīja mūsu dzīves pašos pamatos. Mēs nevaram atgriezties pagātnē un to mainīt, bet kā lai dzīvojam uz priekšu?

Lūdzu, nepārprotiet… Es nesalīdzinu mūsu etniskās un tautiskās ģimenes ar naidīgām laupītāju dzimtām, bet es zinu, ko nozīmē ‘manējie nav tavējie’.

Atpakaļ pie stāsta. Kaut kas pamatīgi izmaina Ronjas dzīvi. Viņa satiek zēnu, un izrādās, ka tas ir Birks, pretinieka laupītāju vadoņa Borkas vienīgais dēls. Viņa nekad nav satikusi citus bērnus, un tāpēc viņai žēl, ka viņš ir no Borkas dzimtas. Viņi sāk sacensties un mēģināt pārlekt pāri plaisai, kas arī izdodas, un pamazām abi kļūst par draugiem.

Vai tu esi kādreiz bijis vai bijusi Ronjas ādā? Tu satiec kādu, un izrādās, ka viņš vai viņa nav ‘savējais’. Abi skataties viens uz otru, un mēģinat uzminēt otra domas. Vai arī iedomāties, kas ir stāstīts un mācīts otra ģimenē vai dzimtā vai tautā vai ticībā vai TV? Izskatamies līdzīgi, bet vai tiešām tādi esam? Es esmu bijusi šādās situācijās… stāvu uztraukusies… domāju, kā lai tiek pāri tai plaisai…

Ronja un Birka slēpj savu draudzību no savām dzimtām (viņi neraksta par to Feisbukā). Stāsta kulminācija pienāk tad, kad Ronjas tētis noķer Birku un domā, ka tagad ir uzvarējis. Taču notiek neiedomājamais – Ronja pārlec pāri uz otru pusi un nodod sevi Borkas rokās, lai notiktu gūstekņu apmaiņa. Un tētis atsakās no savas meitas.

Es atceros, ka raudāju, lasot šo epizodi. Man bija tik ļoti žēl gan Ronjas, gan viņas tēta. Viņam ir salauzta sirds, jo meita ir ‘nodevēja’. Vai tiešām viņa ir nodevēja? Un ko darīt mammai, kurai sirds plēšas uz abām pusēm? To var piedzīvot, strādājot pie miera celšanas un cenšoties panākt izlīgumu. Kāds tiks nodēvēts par ‘nodevēju’, jo uzdrīkstas iet pie tiem ‘citiem’. Uzdrīkstas klausīties, uzdrīkstas iedraudzēties, uzdrīkstas nesekot savam tēvam vai vadonim. Uzdrīkstas piedāvāt jaunu ceļu.

Es nesabojāšu stāsta beigas tiem, kas tagad vēlas izlasīt šo brīnišķīgo bērnu grāmatu, bet viss ies uz labu.

Vai esi gatavs vai gatava lieliem un drosmīgiem lēcieniem? Jāsāk trenēties…

Peek into my library…

One of my New Year resolutions is to read even more books. I love reading and through the work and travels I have collected a small library. Unfortunately my library is scattered – most books are in Latvia, many in USA and a few in Thailand. I have a dream that one day I will be able to have a proper office with a nice big desk and all my books within a reach.

I have friends in Minnesota who have this great book-reading tradition called “Theology Pub”. They read one book per month and then meet at a local pub for discussion and reflection. If I lived in Minnesota, I would join them. I love a good discussion and thought-provoking books. The last book they read in 2015 was “Jesus and the nonviolent revolution” by André Trocmé.

I was not able to join the discussion. (So, if any of you have read it, I would love to hear your thoughts.) Timely and relevant book even though the author died in 1971. André Trocmé was a French protestant minister who led a nonviolent resistance in south central France during WWII. The people of the village of Le Chambon-sur-Lignon saved thousands of Jews by hiding them in their barns, farms, homes. Their actions were very much inspired by their theological beliefs that every human being has a God given dignity and worth and no system or government has right deny it.

Here is a glimpse into André Trocmé’s writings: “Every nation is inclined to equate its fundamental values with the institutional shell built to protect and express them. Consequently its leaders are tempted to use lies to defend the truth, violence to protect the peace, and persecution to save charity.” He talked about (and practiced) nonviolent resistance to evil. God is love, so André Trocmé argued that we have to use different kind of weapons – the weapons of the Spirit.

Continuing the thought: “The state – the way of power – can only work from the past to anticipate the future and determine its course. As long as the church abandons its calling, that state will know nothing of repentance. But the church in its midst does know repentance, and it knows only that, and it bears witness to that before the state, for the healing of the nations. If Christ’s followers do not surpass the state in justice, they do not belong to God’s kingdom; they leave the world to fend for itself in the agony of its abandonment.”

I like reading autobiographies of people who either inspire me or give me something to reflect upon. For example, “The Story of My Experiments with Truth” by Gandhi or “The Seven Storey Mountain” by Thomas Merton, an American writer/monk. Also, “Light Force” by Brother Andrew, telling the story of his work in the Middle East.

Last year I read “I am Malala” by Malala Yousafzai, a Nobel laureate, and “A Journey” by Tony Blair, the former prime minister of UK. Regardless of what you think of Tony Blair, I was very interested in his experiences in the peace process in Northern Ireland and the Good Friday Agreement. It gives a lot of insight into mediation and conflict resolution processes and challenges.

Then there are lots of books on forgiveness and reconciliation. At the top of the list would be “Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace”, “Exclusion&Embrace” and “The End of Memory” by Miroslav Volf, a Croat theologian and thinker who teaches at Yale University. I highly recommend anything he has written.

Since I promised only a peek, this is a short list. I look forward to more good reading this year. Also, friends in Latvia, my ‘library’ is open for anyone…

Next time I am in Riga, I intend to spend some time at the National Library which, besides a great collection of books and resources, has the best view of Old Town. Who would not want to enjoy it?!

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Do you know who is serving your food?

I like food. Yes, Latvian food is wonderful and delicious but I enjoy diversity. Thai, Italian, Mexican, Lebanese, Vietnamese, Chinese, Indian… grateful for international cuisine. In Latvia this year I have noticed two popular trends – kebab and burger.

This story is not about food though. It is about people who serve our food and about hospitality.

First story: One rainy afternoon in Riga city center, we looked for a quick bite. Noticing a new kebab restaurant, we decided that some gyros and fried potatoes would be the perfect ‘comfort’ food. I could not help but notice that two of the guys working there did not look Latvian. They were Asian but spoke fluent Latvian and were very friendly. After the meal we thanked them for the food and then casually asked where they were from.

“India”, answered the guy at the register and gave a big smile. “Well, we have never been to India but would love to visit one day”, was our reply. “Oh, you should definitely visit India. You are welcome. I can give you contacts there”, he kept smiling.

I told him that the closest I have been to India was a trip to Burma. “Burma? That is where my ancestors are from! My grandmother is from Burma and she can still speak Burmese. Are you Burmese?”, he gave me a curious look. When I said that, no, I was Latvian, I could tell he did not really believe me.

“What do you do here in Riga?”, was my next question to which he replied, “I study here. I am doing my master’s degree at the university. I like Riga and I like studying here. Working at the kebab restaurant is a part-time job.” Now it was my turn to say, “Welcome to Riga! I am glad you chose to study here.”

His name was Pravi. He asked me a second time if I was a ‘real’ Latvian and I assured him, yes.

I walked away wondering if a guy like Pravi who is educated and speaks Latvian and English, would consider staying in Latvia after finishing his studies. I don’t know his plans and I cannot offer him a job, but I can offer a sincere “Welcome to Latvia!”

The second story is from a few years ago. On one of our visits to the United States, we were invited to a Vietnamese restaurant. The guy who invited us, was praising the food and mentioned that he eats there every week.

When we ordered the food, I noticed that the waitress who spoke very little English, recognized him. “Do you want to order the usual?”, she asked and our host nodded. Later we were talking about hospitality and how easy it is to be friendly to people. As an example, I pointed to the waitress and said, “It is as simple as talking to the people who serve your food. Surely you know this waitress. What is her name?”

“I don’t know her name. We have never talked and I have never asked her name”, he was a little embarrassed. But she knew what kind of food he likes and what he wants to order!

This came to my mind recently when a friend asked for some practical ideas how to welcome people. Immigrants, refugees, international students… It can start with something as simple (and important) as this – meeting people who serve you and simply saying,

Welcome to Latvia! Nice to meet you!

Kebab

Latviski:

Man patīk ēst. Jā, latviešu ēdiens ir brīnišķīgs un garšīgs, bet man patīk daudzveidība. Taizemiešu, itāļu, libāņu, vjetnamiešu, ķīniešu, indiešu… priecājos par visām garšām. Novēroju, ka šogad Latvijā modē ir kebabi un burgeri.

Bet šis stāsts nav par ēdienu., bet gan par cilvēkiem, kas mūs apkalpo. Stāsts par viesmīlību.

Pirmais stāsts. Kādā lietainā pēcpusdienā Rīgas centrā mēs meklējām, kur varētu ātri iekost. Pamanījām jaunu kebabnīcu un nolēmām, ka giross un cepti kartupeļi būs tieši laikā. Ievēroju, ka puiši, kuri mūs apkalpoja, neizskatījās pēc latviešiem. Viņi bija no Āzijas, labi runāja latviešu valodā un ļoti laipni apkalpoja. Vēlāk mēs pateicām paldies par ēdienu un vienkārši pajautājām, no kurienes jūs esiet?

“No Indijas” atbildēja puisis pie kases un plati smaidīja. Teicu, ka nekad neesam bijuši Indijā, bet labprāt aizbrauktu. “Protams, jums jāredz Indija. Laipni lūgti! Es varu iedot kādus kontaktus!” viņš turpināja smaidīt.

Es ieminējos, ka vistuvāk Indijai ir Birma, kur esam bijuši. “Birma? Mani senči ir no turienes. Mana vecmamma ir no Birmas, un viņa prot birmiešu valodu. Vai tu arī esi no Birmas?” viņš uzmeta pētījošu skatienu. Kad teicu, ka esmu no Latvijas, vienalga nebija pārliecināts.

Prasījām, “Ko tu dari Rīgā?” … “Es šeit studēju. Esmu maģistra programmā universitātē. Man patīk Rīga un manas studijas. Kekabnīcā es piestrādāju brīvajā laikā.” Tagad bija mana kārta teikt: “Laipni lūgts Rīgā! Priecājos, ka izvēlējies studēt tieši šeit.”

Viņu sauc Pravi, un atvadoties viņš vēlreiz pārjautāja, vai tiešām esmu latviete.

Ejot projām, pie sevis nodomāju – vai tāds jaunietis kā Pravi, ar augstāko izglītību, ar labām latviešu un angļu valodas zināšanām, vēlētos palikt un strādāt Latvijā pēc studiju beigšanas? Nezinu viņa plānus, un arī darbu nevaru piedāvāt, bet vienu gan varu izdarīt. Varu patiesi teikt: “Laipni lūgts Latvijā!”

Otrs stāsts no ASV. Pirms dažiem gadiem viens paziņa uzaicināja uz vjetnamiešu restorānu. Viņam ļoti garšoja šis ēdiens un lielījās, ka ēdot tur katru nedēļu.

Kad pasūtījām ēdienus, es ievēroju, ka viesmīle, kura slikti runāja angļu valodā, viņu pazina. Viņa jautāja: “Vai vēlaties to pašu, ko parasti?” un viņš apstiprināja. Vēlak mēs sākām runāt par viesmīlību un draudzīgumu pret iebraucējiem. Kā piemēru es ieminējos par mūsu viesmīli, kura viņu atpazina. Kā šo sievieti sauc?

“Nezinu. Es nezinu viņas vārdu. Nekad neesam runājuši, un nekad neesmu jautājis.” Bet viesmīle zin, kas viņam garšo, un ko parasti vēlas pasūtīt!

Atcerējos šo gadījumu, kad nesen viens draugs lūdza praktisku padomu attiecībā uz viesmīlību. Pret imigrantiem, starptautiskiem studentiem, patvēruma meklētājiem… vārdu sakot, viesmīlība pret iebraucējiem. Tā var sākties ar tik vienkāršu lietu kā iepazīšanos ar cilvēkiem, kuri mūs apkalpo, un vienkāršiem (bet svarīgiem) vārdiem –

Laipni lūgti Latvijā! Prieks iepazīties!

Latvians and our blind sides

Mahatma Gandhi famously said, “You must be the change you wish to see in the world”. The more I reflect and the more I try to practice it, my experience tells me that these words are very true. I cannot change situations and attitudes around me if I am not willing to do some deep soul-searching first. How can I help someone or even confront someone if I have ‘a log in my own eye’.

This comes out in our conversations – opinions, arguments, discussions… Every ‘hot topic’ reveals our prejudices and preconceived ideas (an opinion formed beforehand without adequate evidence) that have not been challenged. For example, the current discussions about receiving asylum seekers or even economic migrants in Latvia. One objection I hear is that ‘those people just want to come here to get our government’s support. They do not want to work and have no work ethic. They are lazy or just seeking an easy life.”

Few thoughts on this. First of all, it is totally untrue. Yes, there are always some people who take advantage of anything they can get for ‘free’. The vast majority of the people I meet around the world want to work because work gives dignity. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 23) says “Everyone has the right to work, to free choice of employment, to just and favourable conditions of work and to protection against unemployment.” Work is not a privilege; work is a right!

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Secondly, such statements imply that we, Latvians, are always hard working; that we never take advantage of our government and social welfare system; for sure we don’t take advantage of benefits in other wealthier EU countries like Ireland and UK and Sweden; we never seek ‘easy life’ and we would never take anything for ‘free’.

When someone mentions our own tragic history when after WWII thousands of Latvians were forced to live in exile, we are quick to think or say, “Yes, Latvians needed international help but we were always so good to our host countries. We were very good immigrants – never causing any trouble, hard working, integrating into out host cultures, speaking the language, etc. Plus, we were white, church going and cultured.”

Sorry for the sarcasm but doesn’t this smell of self-righteousness? I am not speaking on behalf of the generation that suffered during the war. I have no right to do that and I cannot be in their shoes. Still, I had two uncles who lived in exile in Ireland and Sweden. And I know that there were tensions and prejudices between the asylum seekers/immigrants and the local people.

What about stories of Latvians currently living and working in UK and Ireland, etc? If I was to base my opinions on some of the media stories, I would think that British people are hosting lots of ‘drunks, murderers, trouble makers, drain on social benefits’ and so on.

And then there is the talk about the drug smugglers and criminals who will try to disguise as ‘refugees’. Nice to know that I am from a small country that has no drug dealers, no crime, no illegal trade, no smuggling, no human trafficking, no corruption, no alcoholism…

I will let Martin Luther King Jr. say the final words on this topic. “Nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.”
Protest against immigration in Latvia

Image by © VALDA KALNINA/epa/Corbis

Latviski:
Latvieši un mūsu paškritikas trūkums
Gandijs teica slavenos vārdus: “Tev pašam jābūt tām izmaiņām, ko vēlies redzēt pasaulē.” Jo vairāk es to pārdomāju un jo vairāk cenšos tā dzīvot, es piedzīvoju šo vārdu patiesumu. Es nevaru izmainīt situācijas un apkārtējo attieksmi, ja neesmu gatava pārbaudīt pati savu sirdi. Nevaru palīdzēt citiem, kur nu vēl kaut ko aizrādīt, ja man pašai ir ‘baļķis acīs”.
Tas atklājas mūsu sarunās – uzskatos, argumentos, diskusijās… Katra ‘karstā tēma’ izgaismo mūsu aizspriedumus un nepamatotus uzskatus, kas nav tikuši izaicināti vai apšaubīti. Piemēram, patreizējās diskusijas par patvēruma meklētājiem Latvijā, vai arī runājot par ekonomiskajiem imigrantiem. Viena no pretenzijām, ko dzirdu, ir šāda: “Tie cilvēki grib vienkārši dzīvot uz mūsu valsts rēķina. Viņi negrib strādāt; viņiem nav darba ētikas. Viņi ir slinki un laimes meklētāji.”

Dažas domas šajā sakarā. Pirmkārt, šis apgalvojums ir galīgi nepatiess. Jā, protams, vienmēr būs kādi cilvēki, kas izmantos visas iespējas dabūt kaut ko par ‘velti’. Taču lielākā daļa cilvēku, kurus satieku pasaulē, grib strādāt, jo darbs piešķir cilvēkam cieņu. Vispārējās cilvēktiesību deklarācijas 23. pantā ir teikts: “Katram cilvēkam ir tiesības uz darbu, uz brīvu darba izvēli, uz taisnīgiem un labvēlīgiem darba apstākļiem un uz aizsardzību pret bezdarbu.” Darbs nav privilēģija; darbs ir mūsu tiesības!

Otrkārt, no malas tas izklausās apmēram tā: “Mēs, Latvijas iedzīvotāji, visi esam ļoti strādīgi. Mums ir vislabākā darba ētika. Mēs nekad neizmantojam savu valsti vai kādus sociālus pabalstus ļaunprātīgi. Mēs nekādā veidā neizmantojam ES bagātākās valstis, piemēram, Lielbritāniju, Zviedriju, Īriju, jo mēs neesam nekādi laimes meklētāji, un mēs nekad negribam neko par ‘velti’.”

Diskusijā tiek pieminēti arī Latvijas cilvēki, kuri devas bēgļu gaitās pēc Otrā Pasaules kara. Tad mēs ātri iebilstam gan domās, gan vārdos: “Jā, latviešiem bija nepieciešama starptautiska palīdzība, bet mēs vienmēr un visur bijām par svētību. Mēs bijām ļoti labi imigranti – nekad neradījām problēmas, smagi strādājām, uzreiz integrējāmies mītnes zemēs, iemācījāmies valodu, utt. Turklāt mēs bijām baltie, kulturālie un kristīgie.”

Atvainojos par sarkasmu, bet vai tas neož pēc paštaisnības? Es nerunāju trimdas latviešu vārdā. Šī paaudze gāja cauri lielām ciešanām. Man nav tiesību viņus vērtēt. Bet manai vecmammai arī bija divi brāļi, kuri nonāca Īrijā un Zviedrijā. Un es zinu no viņu stāstiem, ka bija sava veida spriedze un pat aizspriedumi starp patvēruma meklētājiem un vietējiem iedzīvotājiem.

Un kā ar mūsu tautiešiem, kuri dzīvo un strādā Lielbritānijā un Īrijā un citur? Ja es vadītos tikai no ziņām masu mēdijos, es domātu, ka britiem jāpacieš “dzērāji, kaušļi, slepkavas, laimes meklētāji, pabalstu izmantotāji” un tā tālāk.

Vēl tiek argumentēts, ka starp patvēruma meklētājiem ielavīsies narkotiku un ieroču pārvadātāji. Cik jauki, ka es esmu no mazas valsts, kur šobrīd nav ne narkotiku dīleru, ne noziedznieku, ne kontrabandas, ne cilvēku tirdzniecibas, ne alkoholisma…

Beigšu ar Martina Lutera Kinga, Jr. citātu: “Nekas pasaulē nav tik bīstams, kā patiesa nezināšana vai apzināta muļķība”.