Shape of my heart

September 21 is the International Day of Peace. So, what? The world does not seem very peaceful; many relationships strained or broken; armed conflicts and rumors of wars in too many places; resources and environment being fought over; refugees in millions; fundamentalists clashing with libertarians; anxiety and fear in the headlines; elections becoming so divisive for societies… should I go on?

“Peace” has become such a cheap word. “Peace” sign can be such a cliche. “Peace agreements” look like a joke. “Peace building” often feels impossible and futile. It reminds me of the ancient prophet Jeremiah who said, “They offer superficial treatments for my people’s mortal wound. They give assurances of peace when there is no peace.

There comes a moment when you become still and start to think  – where does peace start? It seems that we are good at “ceasefires” but where is the source of true peace? Where does the will and the choice and the ability to be peaceful come from?

Few years ago in a group of friends we wrote a song, “Where does peace start? With God enlarging my heart!” I want to quote one of my favorite authors on spirituality and relationships, Henri J.M. Nouwen. He wrote that “We tend to run around trying to solve the problems of our world while anxiously avoiding confrontation with the reality wherein our problems find their deepest roots: our own selves. … To build a better world, the beginnings of that world must be visible in daily life. … We cannot speak about ways to bring about peace and freedom if we cannot draw from our own experiences of peace and freedom here and now.” (“Creative Ministry”)

I realized this early in own my journey. One friend from Thailand-Burma border sent me an-mail some years ago. “I like this subject of peace very much but I feel that a trainer of the course should have a clear mind. I am good at solving other one’s conflict (I think) but I myself am violent.” His honesty made me look at my own heart and my daily interactions. There are many stories to tell of what I have experienced.

We would like to think of ourselves as open-minded, friendly, inclusive, welcoming, accepting, non-judgmental, reaching out, respectful, humble but these ideas get tested daily and how often we fail the test. Like H. Nouwen said, it is the “here and now “that matters the most.

I realize that I started a subject that is too deep and too wide for this blog but I wanted to remind myself that peace starts with me. Peace with God, with myself, with others and with the created order. How to have this peace in all these relationships? Well, that’s the real art!

And just because it rhymes and I love this song by British artist Sting:

I know that the spades are the swords of a soldier
I know that the clubs are weapons of war
I know that diamonds mean money for this art
But that’s not the shape of my heart

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Peaceful place in Latvia (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

21. septembrī tika atzīmēta Pasaules jeb Starptautiskā miera diena. Nu, un kas par to? Pasaule galīgi neliekas mierīga; visāda veida attiecības sabojātas un salauztas; bruņoti konflikti un kari daudzviet; cīņa par resursiem un strīdi par vides aizsardzību; miljoniem bēgļu; sadursme starp fundametālistiem un libertiāņiem; bailes un satraukums ziņu virsrakstos; vēlēšanas, kas sašķel nācijas… vai vēl turpināt?

“Miers” daudziem ir kļuvis tukšs vārds. “Miera simboli” kļuvuši par klišejām. “Miera sarunas” bieži vien izrādās nenopietnas. “Miera celšana” sāk likties neiespējama un veltīga. Man prātā nāk senā pravieša Jeremijas vārdi: “Tie grib pavirši dziedināt Manas tautas meitas dziļo brūci un saka: miers, miers! – kur taču miera nav.”

Un pienāk brīdis, kad tu apstājies un sāc domāt – no kurienes nāk miers? Mums tik labi padodas “pamieri”, bet kas ir īsta un paliekoša miera avots? Kur rodas griba, vēlēšanās un spēja būt mieru mīlošam un mieru nesošam?

Pirms dažiem gadiem mēs kopā ar draugiem uzrakstījām dziesmu, kuras galvenais jautājums bija, kur sākas miers? Un mēs atbildējām, ka “manā sirdī, kuru maina Dievs.” Gribu citēt vienu no saviem mīļākajiem rakstniekiem un teologiem. Henrijs Nouvens rakstīja, ka “Mēs skrienam apkārt, mēģinot atrisināt pasaules problēmas, bet tajā pašā laikā drudžaini cenšamies izvairīties no konfrontācijas ar mūsu problēmu visdziļāko sakni: sevi pašiem. … Lai veidotu labāku pasauli, šīs pasaules pamatiem ir jābūt mūsu ikdienas dzīvē. … Mēs nevaram runāt par mieru un brīvību, ja mēs nevaram smelties šo mieru un brīvību no savas pieredzes šeit un tagad.” (no grāmatas “Radoša kalpošana”)

Šī vienkāršā patiesība man atklājās pamazām. Pirms dažiem gadiem kāds draugs no Taizemes – Birmas pierobežas atsūtīja e-pastu. “Man ļoti patīk miera tēma, bet man liekas, ka šīs tēmas pasniedzējam jābūt ar skaidru prātu. Man pašam izdodas risināt citu cilvēku konfliktus (vismaz tā šķiet), bet pats esmu diezgan vardarbīgs.” Viņa atklātība lika man padomāt pašai par sevi, ielūkoties savās sirdī un savās ikdienas lietās. Te būtu daudz ko stāstīt par pieredzēto.

Mums gribētos domāt, ka esam ļoti atvērti, ar plašu domāšanu, iekļaujoši, laipni, viesmīlīgi, nenosodoši, cieņpilni, pazemīgi, utt, bet šie pieņēmumi tiek pārbaudīti katru dienu, un tik bieži mēs neizturam šos pārbaudījumus. Kā jau Henrijs Nouvens teica, vissvarīgākā ir mana pieredze “šeit un tagad”.

Apzinos, ka esmu pieskārusies tēmai, kas ir pārāk dziļa un pārāk plaša šim blogam, bet gribējās atgādināt pašai sev, ka miers sākas ar mani. Miers ar Dievu, miers ar sevi, miers ar citiem un miers ar pārējo radīto pasauli. Kā šo mieru iegūt un paturēt? Tas jau ir tas lielais jautājums un dzīves māksla!

Un vienkārši tāpēc, ka man patīk Stinga mūzika, viens neliels citāts no dziesmas “Manas sirds veidols”

Es zinu, ka pīķi ir kareivja iesmi
Es zinu, ka kreici ir ieroči karam
Es zinu, ka kāravi apmaksā to
Bet manas sirds veidols tas nav

Hello, Ukraine… finally

I keep a diary. Yesterday I read some of the things written down in last two years and countless times it mentions Ukraine.

Ukraine has been and still is on my heart. I have friends from Ukraine, I like Ukrainian food, I visited Ukraine as a teenager with my family, I love Ukrainian sunshine and for me it is more than just another world headline. It is a place which is not far from Latvia. It is a place which inspires and challenges and worries us. It is a place which I was finally able to visit again.

The stops were Kyiv – Lutsk – Kyiv. I cannot speak Ukrainian but it helps to know Russian. Especially when you have to catch an express bus in a very busy Kyiv station where an average foreign visitor could get very confused and stressed. There is this strange feeling that I have done this before – familiar vibe and familiar behaviour of bus drivers. Something that is hard to explain to those who did not grow up in the Soviet Union. For example, the feeling that buying food from some places is like asking for a favour. These two guys were just standing and playing on their phones and almost nothing on the menu was available.

The kind of small things which annoy but also help me to feel like an “insider”. A foreigner who does not have a culture shock. In a strange way I find it endearing. One thing that my American husband noticed right away was how serious and tired many people looked. Again this frown on people’s faces and hurried walk – so familiar.

Then the beautiful countryside of Ukraine and surprisingly nice, new highway from Kyiv to Lutsk. And the sunflower fields!!! The camera cannot capture the feeling. You get reminded of how huge this country is – the biggest one in Europe.

Understandably some people wonder – was it safe? This question is always interesting. Where is it safe? Some of my most uncomfortable moments have been in Latvia and the USA. But I know what they mean. They mean the war. Isn’t it dangerous to go to Ukraine now? Yes, it is but only if you go the southeastern part where the fighting continues. In comparison it is a very small area of the country and for most people the life is absolutely safe.

It does not mean that life is easy. Even though I went to a music festival where people relaxed and enjoyed themselves as much as any other festival in Latvia, Germany, Thailand or elsewhere, there are constant reminders that all is not well. In fact, it is very very difficult and people are struggling with discouragement and disappointment.

More on this topic later but I want to finish with one little story. In Lutsk I met a taxi driver who said some wise words (from my experience taxi drivers tend to do that). He did not speak English, we did not speak Ukrainian, so again he was glad that we had one language in common – Russian. His comment was like this: “During the USSR days, we all had to speak Russian. Now many people say that I should speak only Ukrainian. I don’t care – Ukrainian, Russian, English, Spanish… as long as we talk to each other kindly as human beings.”

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This is how Lutsk rolls… Walking street named after a famous Ukrainian poet, Lesya Ukrainka

Latvian:

Es rakstu dienasgrāmatu. Jau kopš pusaudzes gadiem. Šonedēļ sāku pārlasīt pēdējo divu gadu ierakstus, un neskaitāmas reizes pieminēta Ukraina.

Ukraina man jau sen ir prātā. Tur ir draugi; man garšo ukraiņu ēdiens; esmu bijusi bērnībā Krimā kopā ar ģimeni; man patīk Ukrainas saule. Ukraina nav tikai ziņu virsraksts. Turklāt tā ir tuvu Latvijai. Biju priecīga par iespēju aizbraukt uz turieni augustā.

Brauciena maršruts Kijeva – Lucka – Kijeva. Kaut gan ukraiņu valodu neprotu, labi, ka noder krievu. It īpaši Kijevas centrālajā stacijā, kur meklēju eksprešus, kas brauc uz Lucku. Vidusmēra tūrists tur apjuktu un būtu lielā stresā. Man bija tāda sajūta, it kā es šeit jau būtu bijusi. Pazīstama atmosfēra, pazīstama šoferu izturēšanās. Viss notiek ātri, mazliet agresīvi, bez lielas laipnības. Gribi, brauc; negribi, nebrauc.

Tiem, kas nav dzimuši un dzīvojuši bijušajā PSRS, šīs lietas galīgi nav saprotamas un pieņemamas. Piemēram, sajūta, ka pērkot ēdienu tev gandrīz jālūdz, lai apkalpo. Divi džeki bija tik aizņemti ar saviem telefoniem,  un pacēla acis vienīgi, lai pateiktu, ka gandrīz viss, kas tiek reklamēts, jau ir izpirkts.

Šīs mazās nianses, kas var kaitināt, man palīdz justies kā “savējai”. Ārzemniecei, kurai nav kultūršoks. Savā ziņā tas pat palīdz nodibināt ātru saikni ar šo valsti. Viens, ko mans vīrs, amerikānis būdams, uzreiz ievēroja, cik nopietni, pat drūmi, un steidzīgi bija vietējie. Un man atkal ir šī pazīstamā sajūta, jo Rīgā jau nav daudz savādāk.

Pa ceļam vērojot Ukrainas ainavu, atliek vien izbaudīt. Pat šoseja no Kijevas uz Lucku bija pārsteidzoši jauna un laba ar vairākām joslām. Un tad skaistie saulespuķu lauki. Fotokamera nevar noķert to mirkli un sajūtu. Arī apziņu, ka esi vienā ļoti lielā valstī. Visplašākā valsts Eiropā.

Bija draugi, kas vaicāja – vai tad tur bija droši? Tas vienmēr ir neviennozīmīgs jautājums. Kur tad ir droši? Mani paši nepatīkamākie atgadījumi ir bijuši Latvijā un ASV. Taču es saprotu draugu rūpes. Viņi runā par karu. Vai Ukrainā ir droši? Lielākajā valsts daļā ir.

Bet tas nenozīmē, ka ir viegli. Kaut arī vairākas dienas biju mūzikas festivālā, kur cilvēki atpūšas un bauda brīvo laiku un izklaidi, uz katra stūra ir atgādinājumi, ka valstī neiet labi. Ir ļoti grūti, un cilvēkus ir pārņēmis diezgan liels pesimisms un vilšanās sajūta.

Par šo tēmu es vēl uzrakstīšu, bet šoreiz beigšu ar vienu brīnišķīgu epizodi. Luckā mēs satikām taksometra šoferi, kurš teica viedus vārdus (man ļoti bieži gadās tādi gudri un filozofiski taksometristi). Viņš neprata angļu valodu, mēs ne vārda pa ukrainiski, tāpēc atkal noderēja kopīgi zināmā krievu valoda. Viņa komentārs bija šāds: “Agrāk padomju laikā mūs visus spieda runāt krieviski. Tagad man saka, lai runāju tikai ukrainiski. Man vienalga, kādā valodā – ukrainiski, krieviski, angliski, spāniski, bet galvenais, lai runājam cilvēciski (по-человечески).”

My friends from Syria help me to be a better Latvian

Aleppo, gold, Riga, silver, amber – what do these have in common?

My husband and I have dear friends who came to Latvia under most difficult circumstances. They are a wonderful family of four and their home used to be in Aleppo, Syria. It used to be a beautiful city before the war. Rich cultural and historical heritage, ancient buildings, vibrant communities and long list of other attractions.

Now all we see in the photos or the news is destruction, ruins, devastation… Truly an apocalyptic sight. I wish it was just a horror movie or a bad dream. Tragically it is reality and I cannot imagine what it is like for my friends to see their beloved home like this.

Few years ago like ‘welcoming’ Latvians, we decided to introduce our friends to Latvian food. We went to the big LIDO restaurant, but first we had a tour of Central market. I don’t know how it compares to the markets in Aleppo, but in Riga we are quite proud of our big market pavilions.

So, we bought some smoked fish Latvian style. Our friends liked it and then told us a funny story. Some guys at the asylum center in Mucenieki (the official Accommodation Centre for Asylum Seekers near Riga where people stay while their status is being processed) wanted to cook a fish soup but did not realize that they bought a smoked fish. The smell and the taste had been horrific and nobody wanted to eat it. Someone ate it after all because they were hungry.

I think how many times I have been “saved” by my local friends when living and working in another country. Many times friends in Thailand or Burma or Cambodia have told me: “You may not want to eat that… Stay away from that soup… This may be too spicy for you…” I am so thankful for their guidance and advice because I feel bad about leaving food on the plate.

My Syrian friend is an amazing cook. If she was not so busy with the family business making jewelry (check out Habibi Jewelry if you want some nice gifts for yourself or others), I wish she could open a Syrian restaurant. I know many Latvians who would be regular customers. The food from Middle East is so delicious. The salads, the rice, the meat, the vegetables, the sweets…

There is something that we, Latvians, need to learn from other cultures, especially the Middle East. It is hospitality and generosity. Yes, we are welcoming and generally friendly but our understanding of “sharing” is very different. My friends had very little when they first started living in Latvia and, yes, they received lots of help and generosity from local people, but they were giving back so much right away. I felt blessed just to be around them and to see how positive and grateful they are. Also, their strong Christian faith shines through everything! (In Aleppo, they belonged to the Syrian orthodox church community)

I am very sad they had to leave their home and families and friends and livelihood as goldsmith in Aleppo but I am glad that they chose Riga as their new home. I am glad to know that they like it here. We in Latvia are blessed to have them. And may their generous and hospitable spirit become contagious among us, northern individualistic Europeans!

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Aleppo, Syria right now (photo from the internet)

Latvian:

Alepo, Sīrija, zelts, Rīga, Latvija, sudrabs, dzintars – kas tam visam ir kopīgs?

Mums ar vīru ir draugi, kuri nonākuši Latvijā smagu dzīves apstākļu spiesti. Šī jaukā ģimene ar diviem bērniem ir no Sīrijas pilsētas Alepo. Pirms kara tā bija ļoti skaista pilsēta ar bagātu vēstures un kultūras mantojumu, senām celtnēm, dažādām cilvēku, tautību, reliģiju kopienām un daudzām citām pievilcīgām lietām.

Tagad aculiecinieku stāstos un attēlos redzu tikai iznīcību, drupas, graustus… gluži kā filmās par pasaules galu. Tikai diemžēl tā nav šausmene vai naktsmurgs. Tā ir traģiska realitāte. Nevaru iedomāties, ko maniem draugiem nozīmē skatīties uz savu mīļoto, bet sagrauto pilsētu.

Pirms pāris gadiem, kā jau ‘viesmīlīgi’ latvieši, mēs nolēmām aizvest šo ģimeni uz latvisku restorānu. Tādām reizēm der LIDO Krasta ielā. Bet vispirms bija neliela ekskursija pa Centrāltirgu. Zinu, ka Sīrijā un līdzīgās vietās ir brīnišķīgi tirgi, bet tomēr ar mūsu lielajiem pavijoniem lepojamies.

Ejot cauri zivju paviljonam, bija jānogaršo kūpinātas zivis. Draugiem garšoja, bet viņi sāka smieties. Tad tā tās garšojot! Izrādās, ka kādi džeki patvēruma meklētāju centrā Muceniekos bija vārījuši zivju zupu, bet nezinādami nopirkuši kūpinātās zivis. Smaka un arī garša bijusi briesmīga, katls izvārīts pilns, bet visi atteikušies. Vienīgi daži visizsalkušākie esot ēduši.

Iedomājos, cik daudzas reizes es esmu tikusi “glābta” no neērtām situācijām, kurās vietējie draugi mani “izručī”. Gan Taizemē, gan Birmā, gan citur. “To varbūt labāk nepērc… to zupu labāk need… tas varētu būt tev pārāk piparots” Man kauns atstāt ēdienu šķīvī, tāpēc esmu pateicīga par šādiem brīdinājumiem.

Mana draudzene no Sīrijas brīnišķīgi gatavo ēdienu. Ja viņa nebūtu tik aizņemta ar ģimenes biznesu palīdzot vīram izgatavot rotaslietas (ja gribi jaukas dāvanas sev vai draugiem, paskaties  Habibi Jewelry ), tad varētu domāt par kādu sīriešu restorānu. Domāju, ka Latvijā būtu liela priekrišana, jo Tuvo Austrumu ēdieni ir tik garšīgi. Salāti, gaļa, aromātiski rīsi, piedevas, saldumi…

Ir kāda vērtība, ko mums, latviešiem, vajadzētu aizgūt no citām, it sevišķi austrumu un dienvidu  kultūrām. Tā ir viesmīlība un dāsnums. Jā, mēs protam uzņemt ielūgtus ciemiņus un kopumā esam laipni un draudzīgi, bet mūsu izpratnē “dalīšanās ar savām lietām, māju, utt” ir savādāka. Sākot dzīvi Latvijā, maniem draugiem nebija gandrīz nekā, un viņiem tika daudz palīdzēts un arī iedots. Taču viņi uzreiz deva “atpakaļ” visdažādākajos veidos. Viņu klātbūtnē es jutos vairāk “saņēmusi” nekā palīdzējusi.

Arī viņu pozitīvā un pateicīgā attieksme pret visu ir acīs krītoša. Liela nozīme ir viņu kristīgajai ticībai un pārliecībai (Alepo viņi piederēja Sīrijas ortodokso kristiešu kopienai).

Man ļoti žēl, ka šai ģimenei bija jāatstāj savas mājas, radi, draugi un juveliera darbs Sīrijā, bet es priecājos, ka par savām jaunajām mājām viņi izvēlējās Latviju. Man prieks, ka viņiem šeit patīk. Kaut viņu īpašā viesmīlība un dāsnums pieliptu mums, ‘noslēgtajiem’ individuālistiem ziemeļeiropiešiem!

The barricades and my experience of nonviolent resistance

It is January and it is another cold one in Latvia I am not in Riga but I do know what a cold winter day or night feels like. And in 1991 it was a cold January. Still, most people in Latvia (including me) remember it with special warmth because it was also a time of campfires and hot tea and passionate living.

I wish I had the kind of good memory my dad has. He always fills me in with details since some of those events 25 years ago are starting to blur. In January 1991, my beautiful city of Riga was filled with barricades – all around the Old City, around any important government building, around the national TV and Radio stations… The barricades were built with an amazing speed and determination, using anything that could create an obstacle. Huge blocks, tractors, public buses, piles of wood…

We were in the middle of Latvia’s peaceful independence movement. The previous year in 1990, the Latvian government with the overwhelming support of the people had voted to restore the independence of Latvia. It had been occupied by the USSR for many decades but everyone could sense – now is the time for freedom! For many people it felt like ‘now or never’.

People were also afraid the Soviet power will not go without a fight. Nobody knew what to expect. It was a critical time and it was obvious that there will be provocations to restore the control of Moscow. The worst provocations came that month, January of 1991, when the Soviet tanks attacked the main television tower in Vilnius, Lithuania. 14 people died and the news went around the world. As the news reached Latvia, Latvian government and the people reacted quickly and started building the barricades to protect government buildings. Thousands of people gathered in Riga.

I remember watching the news from Vilnius, shocked at seeing a tank run over a young man. Was this really happening? Will this happen in Riga, too? Everyone knew that the people stand no chance against the mighty Soviet army. What do you do when you are so powerless? Nobody had taught us about non-violent resistance. Most had never studied the methods of Gandhi  or Martin Luther King Jr but somehow we all knew what to do. We knew that the barricades are no obstacle for the tanks. We would be a human shield and if the tanks came, then the whole world would see what kind of regime was the USSR.

There were many Western journalists in the Baltic Sates. This was before cell phones, internet and social media but the communication was swift and effective. I asked my dad how did we communicate back then? He replied, “Don’t you remember there were pay-phones everywhere? And people used land lines?”

My mom was the activist in the family… If you ever knew her, you would know what a gentle woman she was but she could get really passionate when it mattered! I don’t think I had ever seen my mom so determined and unafraid. My grandmother told me that in one of the meetings where things got rough with the police and she could get arrested, my grandmother tried to talk her out of it. Telling her to go home because she had three children to raise. My mom had replied that she is not worried because my dad will do a fine job raising us. I doubt if she had asked my dad for his opinion…

So my mom and I went to Riga as soon as we heard that something needed to be done. I don’t remember the details but I do remember that we walked around the streets, talking to other people, watching the campfires being built, people starting to bring out food to those who were out of town. Big tractors appeared on the small streets and the barricades were built. We spent the whole night and next day went home.

Then it was my dad’s turn. The men from our village got organized to ‘protect’ the national television tower. They would stay there day and night, sitting around the fire and trying to keep warm. I visited him once or twice and remember thinking, “This is like the movies. Women visiting the men on the front lines and bringing them food and drinks and news from home.”

Well, it was not a movie (even though it sometimes seems so unreal) and I was just a normal high school student. Guess how much time did I spend studying that year? It helped that the teachers were ‘distracted’ from their responsibilities, too…

And then there is another important detail I remember. The churches! They were open day and night and served as the place of rest, refreshments and, most crucially, the place of prayer. Many people who had never stepped inside a church, were there. Riga has many beautiful old church buildings and they really served their purpose then. Places of peace and hope and faith in the One who is above all this ‘madness’. Peace in the midst of fear and anxiety. Hope and prayer that it will not get violent and that freedom will come peacefully. Trust in God Almighty because there was nobody else to trust.

And our trust and hope was not disappointed…

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Photo by Boris Kalesnikov

Latviskais variants:

Ir kārtējais aukstais janvāris. Šobrīd neesmu Rīgā, bet varu iedomāties aukstas dienas un naktis. Un 1991. gada janvāris arī bija auksts. Taču mēs to atceramies ar zināmu siltumu, jo domājam par ugunskuriem, karstu tēju un dzīvi ar pilnu krūti.

Žēl, ka man nav tik laba atmiņa kā tētim. Viņs vienmēr atgādina kādas detaļas , bet man šie notikumi pirms 25 gadiem jau sāk zaudēt nianses. Atceros, kā mana mīļā Rīga piepildījās ar barikādēm. Turklāt tas notika tik ātri. Betona bloki, traktori, autobusi, malkas grēdas…

Atceros arī to sajūtu, kas virmoja gaisā – tagad vai nekad. To neziņu, kas būs tālāk.

Mājās skatījāmies ziņas (man liekas, toreiz televizors gandrīz netika izslēgts), un sāka rādīt kadrus no Viļņas. Tur bija kāds jauns puisis, varbūt pat mans vienaudzis, kuru sabrauca tanks. Vai tas tiešām notiek? Vai tas notiks arī Rīgā? Visi taču saprata, ka pret vareno Padomju armiju vienkāršā tauta nevarēs nostāvēt. Ko darīt, kad jūties bezspēcīgs? Neviens mums nebija mācījis par nevardarbīgu pretošanos vai Gandija, vai Martina Lutera Kinga metodēm, bet pēkšņi cilvēki zināja, kas jādara. Zināja, ka barikādes nebūs nekāds šķērslis tankiem. Bet aiz šīm ‘barikādēm’ būs cilvēku vairogs, un ja tanki brauks virsū, tad visa pasaule redzēs, kāda ir PSRS vara un sistēma.

Rīgā bija rietumu žurnālisti. Bet nebija mobilie telefoni, internets vai sociālie mediji. Tomēr ziņas izplatījās ātri un efektīvi. Es prasīju tētim, kā mēs toreiz sazinājāmies. Viņš atbildēja: “Vai tad tu neatceries maksas telefona automātus uz ielām? Un to, ka katram mājās bija telefons?”

Mūsu ģimenē vislielākā aktīviste bija mamma… Tie, kas viņu pazina, zin, ka mana mamma bija ļoti mierīga un maiga, bet viņa varēja kļūt ļoti dedzīga, ja kaut kas likās svarīgs. Nekad nebiju redzējusi mammu tik mērķtiecīgu, apņēmīgu un bezbailīgu. Pat vecmamma (kura ir vēl lielāka aktīviste) stāsta, ka vienā no mītiņiem, kur varēja izcelties kautiņš vai arī policija (toreiz milicija) kļuva draudīga, viņa mēģinājusi atrunāt mammu no iesaistīšanās. Lai ejot mājās, jo tev taču trīs bērni! Mamma esot atbildējusi, ka viņa neuztraucoties. Viņa uzticoties mūsu tētim, ka viņš mūs labi izaudzināšot. Šaubos, vai viņa prasīja tēta domas…

Mēs abas ar mammu braucām uz Rīgu tikko, kā dzirdējām, ka kaut kas ir jādara. Atceros, ka staigājām pa Rīgas centru, runājām ar cilvēkiem. Vērojām, kā rodas pirmie ugunskuri; kā rīdzinieki nes siltu tēju un ēdienu tiem, kas uz ielām. Mazajās ielās iebrauca lieli traktori un mašīnas, un visur barikādējās. Mēs pavadījām to pirmo nakti pilsētas centrā, un nākamajā dienā braucām mājās.

Tad bija tēta kārta. No Ķekavas un no tēta darba vietas tika noorganizēts, ka viņi ‘sargās’ televīzijas torni Zaķusalā. Tā viņi tur pavadīja vairākas dienas un naktis. Arī šēžot pie ugunskuriem. Mēs aizbraucām apciemot (lai gan bija tāda kā neizteikta pavēle, lai sievietes un bērni paliek mājās). Atceros, ka man bija sajūta, it kā es piedalītos kādā filmā. “Lūk, sievietes apciemo savus vīrus un dēlus frontes līnijā… aizved ēdienu un pastāsta, kas notiek mājās.”

Bet tā nebija filma, lai gan reizēm liekas tik nereāla pagātne, un es biju vienkārši viduskolniece. Skaidrs, ka par mācībām es toreiz daudz nedomāju. Izglāba tas, ka arī skolotāji daudz ‘nedomāja’ par saviem pienākumiem…

Un vēl viena ļoti svarīga lieta, ko atceros. Baznīcas! Tās bija atvērtas dienu un nakti. Kā patversmes, kur atpūsties, pagulēt, pasildīties, iedzert kaut ko siltu, un galvenais, aizlūgt par Latviju un mums pašiem. Daudzi, kas nekad nebija kāju spēruši baznīcā, bija tur, un vecie, skaistie Rīgas dievnami vistiešākajā veidā kalpoja savam mērķim. Vietas, kur rast mieru, cerību un ticību Tam, kurš ir augstāks par šo ‘trakumu’. Miers baiļu un uztraukuma atmosfērā. Cerība un lūgšana, ka nesāksies asinsizliešana, un ka brīvība atnāks mierīgā ceļā. Paļāvība uz Dievu Visspēcīgo, jo nav cita, kam uzticēties,

Un mūsu cerība un paļāvība un uzticēšanās nepievīlās…

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…

Define ‘happy’ and ‘new year’

A Rwandan friend of mine posted a question on Facebook: “what does ‘happy new year’ mean?” He inspired me to write my own response.

It is January 1, 2016… the first day of a new year. We measure time by counting years but I like to think more in terms of ‘seasons’. There is no magic line that gets crossed just because the date changes. Most things carry over into the next year.

What will carry over from 2015? Thinking globally, I will say that most of the events and responses of last year will continue to have ripple effect on our future. I remember a song from 1991 that was relevant to my generation. Yes, Generation X.  The British band Jesus Jones sang:

“A woman on the radio talks about revolution
When it’s already passed her by
Bob Dylan didn’t have this to sing about you
You know it feels good to be alive
I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now, there is no other place I wanna be
Right here, right now, watching the world wake up from history
I saw the decade in, when it seemed
The world could change at the blink of an eye
And if anything then there’s your sign
Of the times

I was alive and I waited, waited
I was alive and I waited for this
Right here, right now”

I wonder how many of us still feel this way?! I wonder what kind of song would Jesus Jones write right here and right now? I cannot count how many times I have heard the words “the world has gone crazy” this last year. Mostly from my friends in the so called ‘Western countries’. One of the lines stuck in my mind are the words of a well-known Russian TV host and journalist, Vladimir Pozner, “I get an impression that the world has lost its mind. I want to say: Stop the Planet! I want to get off…”

This is an understandable way to respond. Wanting to withdraw. And many people are choosing to do just that. The other option is to call to arms and try to fix it. Usually by force because ‘people just don’t obey’ or ‘don’t know any better’. There are plenty of people who believe that the end justifies the means and trying to build their visions of  ‘happy new era’ by violent force. (yes, I am speaking of the extremists – ISIS and such)

So, the common options for making the ‘happy future’ is fight or flight. Personally I don’t choose either because I believe in another way. This is what my friend also mentions in his post. And this is also the way I am trying to learn from Jesus whom I consider the greatest example of how to bring a radical change around us.

André Trocmé, a French minister who helped to rescue thousands of Jewish people during the Holocaust, wrote: “Jesus’ refusal to use force was therefore not some extra historical dream of a mystic trying to forget the concrete realities of this world. He did not ignore the human condition. His way was a step-by-step journey through the obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history. Jesus carved a new path into the hardness of human realities, a path he trod first, carrying on his shoulders the way of the cross and all the requirements of the kingdom of God: social justice, radical transformation, commitment to truth, and personal regeneration.”

When I think of next year, I can see lots of these ‘obstacles, mountain passes, snares, and cliffs of history’. Or to use the words of my friend Noel, “I am not going to promise you that this year will lead you on smooth roads, but you will be reminded that you got shock absorption abilities.”

What are our shock absorption devices? What is our definition of ‘happy new year’? What are we going to do make this next year happier for those around us?

The answers will come day by day if we are willing to search for them. And I will have a very happy year if I take each step with more love and more courage…

DSCN1485

 

Best wishes for Latvia

What can I wish my country on this anniversary? Latvia is celebrating 97 years of independence which was declared on November 18, 1918! My grandmother is almost as old as our republic. At 92 years, she has lived a long and eventful life together with her nation. When it was new and developing fast; when it was ravaged by the war; when it was denied its freedom for many decades and when it was free again.

But life of one generation is so short. By the standards of world history, our country is still so young. Do I wish Latvia another hundred years? Or thousand years? I don’t know if I think in these terms.

We just don’t know the future… still, we are the ones who make it. And what kind of future I wish for Latvia? Here is my short list of birthday wishes.

I wish for Latvia to remain as beautiful as it is. With the sandy beaches, green forests, many lakes and rivers… fresh air, blue skies, wild berries and mushrooms. May we always enjoy the gift of ‘countryside’! May we always be good stewards of this little corner of our planet!

I wish for Latvia to be a good neighbor. Of course, our immediate neighbors but also our global neighbors. I want us to be generous in our relationships. To be outward looking and thinking. Especially I want Latvia’s people to support those nations that are struggling and longing for their freedom. We know what it is like to be trampled on and to be oppressed. May we always show compassion in words and actions! May we give others the same kind of support we were given in our time of need!

I wish for Latvia to be a good home for everyone who lives here. Our nation has always been diverse. Tragically we had times when this good life was denied. Even in our short history we have experienced too many times when different groups of people in Latvia were forced to leave their home. They were denied flourishing life (or the right to live, period) and their dignity and their future. May we never experience it again! May we always do for others what we would like them to for us!

Finally I wish for Latvia to continue growing up. We have gone a long way already but this is just the beginning. Yes, we look to the past to see where we have come from; to see how much was sacrificed to get to where we are now; to see where we don’t want to go. We look at the present to be thankful for what we have; to continue those things that bear good fruit; to be self-critical about things that bear bad fruit; to have the will and courage to change what we don’t like. We look to the future to remind us of where we want to go because we are not there yet. May we get there!

My country

One of my favorite statues in Riga… It is called “My country”

Ko lai novēlu šajā gadadienā? Latvija svin 97 gadus kā neatkarīga valsts. Manai vecmammai ir gandrīz tikpat gadu, cik mūsu republikai. 92 gadu vecumā viņa var atskatīties uz garu un notikumiem bagātu dzīvi kopā ar savu tautu. Kad Latvija bija jauna un strauji attīstījās; kad to postīja karš; kad tai tika atņemta brīvība uz daudzām desmitgadēm un kad tā atkal šo brīvību atguva.

Bet vienas paaudzes dzīve ir tik īsa. Ja skatos uz pasaules vēsturi, mūsu valsts ir vēl tik jauna. Vai es vēlu Latvijai vēl simtu gadu? Vai tūkstoš gadu? Es laikam nedomāju tādās mērvienībās.

Mēs nezinam nākotni… taču paši esam tie, kuri to veidojam. Un kādu nākotni es novēlu Latvijai? Te būs mans īsais saraksts ar dzimšanas dienas vēlējumiem.

Es novēlu, lai Latvija vienmēr paliktu tikpat skaista. Ar baltajām pludmalēm, zaļajiem mežiem, daudzajiem ezeriem un upēm… ar svaigo un tīro gaisu, ar zilajām debesīm, ar meža ogām un sēnēm. Lai mēs vienmēr varētu baudīt savus ‘laukus’! Lai mēs vienmēr rūpētos par šo mazo zemeslodes stūrīti!

Es novēlu, lai Latvija vienmēr būtu labs kaimiņš! Ne tikai tiešajiem kaimiņiem, bet arī citiem pasaulē. Es novēlu, lai Latvija būtu atvērta un devīga savās attiecībās! Īpaši vēlos, lai Latvijas cilvēki atbalstītu tās tautas, kuras cieš un vēl gaida savu brīvību. Mēs zinām, ko nozīmē būt samītiem un apspiestiem. Lai mēs vienmēr parādītu līdzjūtību un solidaritāti gan vārdos, gan darbos! Lai mēs atbalstītu citus tāpat, kā paši tikām atbalstīti mums grūtajā laikā!

Es novēlu, lai Latvija būtu labas mājas visiem, kas šeit dzīvo! Mūsu valstī vienmēr ir bijusi dažādība. Traģiski, ka reizēm šī labā dzīvē tika liegta. Mūsu īsajā valsts vēsturē ir bijuši pārāk daudzi brīži, kad Latvijas cilvēkiem (ne tikai latviešiem) bija jāpamet savas mājas. Viņiem tika liegta auglīga dzīve (vai vispār tiesības dzīvot) un cilvēka pašcieņa un iecerētā nākotne. Lai mēs vairāk nekad to nepiedzīvotu! Lai mēs vienmēr darītu citiem to, ko vēlamies, lai darītu mums!

Visbeidzot es novēlu Latvijai republikai turpināt kļūt pieaugušai. Jau tāls ceļš noiets, bet tomēr tas ir tikai sākums. Jā, mums vajag atskatīties uz pagātni, lai redzētu, kas jau ir bijis; lai novērtētu un pieminētu to, kas ir upurēts; lai zinātu, kurp mēs negribam iet un ko nevēlamies atkārtot. Mums vajag skatīties uz tagadni, lai būtu pateicīgi par to, kas mums ir; lai turpinātu tās lietas, kas nes labus augļus; lai kritizētu un atmestu tās, kas nes sliktus augļus; lai būtu griba un drosme mainīt to, kas jāmaina. Un mums vienmēr vajag skatīties uz nākotni, lai atgādinātu, uz kurieni mēs vēlamies iet, jo mēs vēl neesam tur nonākuši. Lai mēs tur nonāktu!