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!

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!

1612wk5213rig

Photos from  Taizé website

 

 

 

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!

Picture2

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!

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!

European and grateful? Let’s see…

We are getting better and better at the blame-game, anxiety, complaints and arguments. Those pointing fingers are growing longer and longer. “It is Germany’s fault… it is Brussels’s fault… it is those Eastern Europeans who want the benefits of EU, but not sharing its burdens…”

As a European, who spends a lot of time outside of Europe, I have noticed that outsider’s  perception of Europe is changing. Our reputation as the region of stability, peace, hospitality,  solidarity, compassion, rule of law, social justice, humanitarian values is suffering. Here I am addressing the failures of Thailand and other Southeast Asian nations in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers, and now the spotlight is on my own nation and region.

Not that I am worried about our “moral high ground”. All of us have fallen short in so many ways. Still, I am privileged and blessed to be a European and I do not take for granted the good life we can enjoy. I have been to too many places around the world where people just cannot understand how Europeans can be so ungrateful for what they have.

We, Europeans, are very very privileged and one of our big problems is trying to deny, ignore or downplay it. We are the ‘rich club’ of the world. I remember some of the conversations in my own family. My mom who was definitely in the category of ‘lower social status’, would say, “I am ‘poor’ compared to rich Latvians, but I am very rich compared to people you visit and help.” And she was not talking about money and things only. She was talking about safety, security, healthcare, roof over her head, beautiful country, loving family around her… ‘Man does not live on bread alone’, right?

Another personal example – I received a last-minute invitation to attend a conference in Germany next week. I had to make a decision very fast and within one hour I had an airline ticket, registration for the conference, information about train times to get me from Lubeck to Hannover… As I was falling asleep last night, I was thinking to myself, “This is incredible. I don’t need a visa for Germany; I just had the money for this trip; I speak English and even some German and will not feel lost traveling by trains. This will be a good trip.” How many people around the world would love to be in my shoes!

But there are problems with this good life and too often it comes at the expense of others. “The world has enough for everyone’s need, but not enough for everyone’s greed.” Wise words by Gandhi. I could say a lot but another time.

I want to encourage those of us who feel like we don’t have enough or feel threatened that those ‘immigrants’ or someone else from outside will take this good life away. That we will have share our goods and privileges with someone. We have more than enough, but we act like we don’t. Many of my friends around the world feel ‘poor’ compared to Latvians. Latvians feel ‘poor’ compared to British. British may feel ‘poor’ compared to Norwegians. Hmm, who can Norwegians compare themselves with?

I guess, Norwegians are the most grateful and therefore the most generous and welcoming people in the world! Are they? Are we?

Klaipeda 10

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!

DSCN2220

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”.

Asylum seekers should know us by our love, not our fear

To begin with I want to tell my friends who are of different faith or no faith; this blog is mostly directed to those of us who claim to follow Jesus Christ. Some parts may feel like an internal family debate, but in reality these are crucial questions for everyone.

Also, as I write this, Europe is on my mind. Again, I welcome everyone else to join the discussion because this topic is truly a global issue and a global challenge. It is the same ‘hot topic’ in Asia, Australia, Africa, Europe, North America and South America. Except maybe in some small islands in South Pacific… (no, I have not been to all these places but I do travel a lot for work and have lived in three continents)

And don’t worry; I will keep this blog short even though there is much to say. As we know, the issues are very complicated. There is already lots written and said in media, government, workplaces, family… One of my friends in Latvia commented, “On this issue everyone in my family has an opinion.” This is truly a debate that involves the society as a whole. Many of the opinions and arguments are thoughtful and respectful and helpful, while many others are simply xenophobic and unhelpful and very very fearful.

What I want to focus on this time is FEAR! People express many views and emotions when they talk about immigration, refugees, asylum seekers. Common ones is anxiety and fear. I can relate to it very well because I have struggled with many fears in my own life. Some of them are now gone; others are still lingering. So, I try not to judge other people but I can be a judge of myself. And I can speak as a Christian who is called and commanded to follow a higher law.

Jesus was constantly opposed by people who did not like his way of building God’s Kingdom or the people He included. They had their own ideas of what it means to be a godly person and what it means to have their national identity and morality and religious authority. Keep everything ‘impure’, ‘unknown’ and those ‘others’ as far away as possible. Wash your hands after you come home from a public place because who knows what or whom you have been touching.

Once Jesus answered them like this, “You have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. (…) You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” Harsh words but how many times I have felt that this is exactly what I have done; I have focused on many important things but have gotten completely blindsided but missing the main point.

The question of receiving asylum seekers is a matter of Justice, Mercy and Faithfulness! The fair treatment of the immigrant and the host community is primarily a Justice issue. Having compassion and empathy for asylum seekers is Mercy. Believing and trusting God when He talks about the love toward our fellow human being is Faithfulness. There is so much to say about each of these but I will leave that for other blogs.

What are we afraid of? Let us think about our fears and anxieties! Let us deal with them! One of my teachers said, “Holiness is moving towards darkness.”  Those fearful corners of our hearts are truly dark but everything brought in His light becomes light. And then we can love anyone who becomes our neighbor freely and practically and sacrificially!

We Care 17

Latviski:

Iesākumā es gribu pateikt saviem draugiem, kuriem ir cita reliģija vai arī nav nekādas ticības, ka šis raksts ir vairāk domāts tiem no mums, kuri sauc sevi par Jēzus Kristus sekotājiem. Tāpēc manis teiktais daļēji izklausīsies kā ģimenes saruna, bet patiesībā tas attiecas uz jebkuru.

Vēl, man rakstot, prātā ir Eiropa. Protams, visi var piedalīties diskusijā, jo šī tēma un problēmas ir patiešām globālas. Tā pati ‘karstā tēma’ Āzijā, Austrālijā, Āfrikā, Eiropā, Amerikā. Varbūt vienīgi kādās mazās Klusā Okeāna salās par to nedomā…

Un neuztraucieties; šis raksts nebūs pārāk garš, kaut gan teikt var daudz. Mēs jau zinām, ka šie jautājumi ir sarežģīti. Daudz jau ir rakstīts un pateikts gan plašsaziņas līdzekļos, gan no valdības puses, gan darba vietās, gan ģimenē… Viens mans draugs no Latvijas ieminējās: “Par šo jautājumu katram manā ģimenē ir savs viedoklis.” Šīs diskusijas iesaista visu sabiedrību. Daudzas domas un argumenti ir pārdomāti, cieņas pilni un palīdz domāt un rīkoties, bet citi ir vienkārši noskaņoti pret svešiniekiem, nepalīdz meklēt risinājumu un veicina arvien lielākas bailes.

Par to es arī gribu šoreiz parunāt – par BAILĒM! Cilvēki izpauž savus uzskatus un emocijas, kad runā par imigrāciju, bēgļiem, patvēruma meklētājiem. Bieži redzama reakcija ir uztraukums un bailes. Es to varu saprast, jo man pašai dzīvē ir bijušas daudz un dažādas bailes. Dažas no tām ir izgaisušas, dažas vēl mēgina turēties. Tāpēc es cenšos nenosodīt citus, bet pati sev gan varu būt soģe. Turklāt es varu paust savas domas kā kristiete, jo mēs esam aicināti sekot augstākai pavēlei un likumam.

Jēzum vienmēr nostājās pretī tie, kuriem nepatika Viņa pieeja Dieva Valstības celšanai, vai arī tas, kādi cilvēki tiek aicināti šajā Valstībā. Šiem kritiķiem bija savas idejas, ko nozīmē dievbijība, vai ko nozīmē nacionālā identitāte un tikumība un reliģiska autoritāte. Turēt visu “nešķīsto”, “nepazīstamo” un “citādo” tālu tālu prom. Atnākot mājās mazgāt rokas, jo nevar taču zināt, kam vai kādiem cilvēkiem tās pieskārušās.

Reiz Jēzus atbildēja tā: “Jūs atmetat to, kas svarīgākais bauslībā – taisnīgu tiesu, žēlsirdību un ticību. (…) Aklie ceļa vadoņi! Jūs knišļus izkāšat, bet kamieļus norijat!” Skarbi vārdi, bet neskaitāmas reizes esmu sapratusi, ka tieši tā esmu rīkojusies. Esmu pievērsusi uzmanību labām lietām, bet esmu bijusi gluži akla pret pašu svarīgāko

Jautājums par patvēruma meklētājiem ir Taisnīgas Tiesas, Žēlsirdības un Ticības jautājums. Taisnīga izturēšanās pret imigrantiem un pret vietējo sabiedrību ir Taisnīgums. Spēja just līdzi un sirds, kas iežēlojas par bēgļiem, ir Žēlsirdība. Uzticēšanās Dievam, kad Viņš liek mums mīlēt sev tuvāko cilvēku kā sevi pašu, ir Ticība. Par katru no šīm lietām var daudz teikt, bet tas nākamajiem rakstiem.

No kā mēs baidāmies? Pārdomāsim savas bailes un bažas! Skatīsimies tām acīs, un tiksim ar tām galā! Viens no maniem skolotājiem teica, ka “svētums ir tuvošanās tumsai.” Tie kakti mūsu sirdīs, kas pilni bailēm, ir tiešām tumši, bet viss, ko Viņš ceļ gaismā, top gaišs. Un tad mēs varam mīlēt tos, kuri kļūst par mūsu līdzcilvēkiem, brīvi un aktīvi un upurējoties!