Season of Advent reminds us why universal declaration of human rights still matters

Universal declaration of human rights? United nations? International cooperation? International order? Preventing wars? Striving for peace? Respecting human dignity? It is almost 70 years since this declaration was proclaimed and yet it is hard to shake the impression that many people/nations/leaders could care less…

I look up at the calendar on my kitchen wall and there it is – December 10 as Human Rights Day. I go to Facebook and there it is again – you can click ‘Like’ or share it on your wall. (I did not share it since I did not like the design. Or maybe I am just tired of online activism where we post slogans, memes, famous quotes, provocative statements and anything else to “make this world a better place”. But here I am writing this blog. I guess at the end of the day it is still better to add my voice to issues I deeply care about.)

This Sunday is also a religious celebration of Second Advent. In the Christian tradition and calendar it is a time of waiting and preparation. Waiting for the Hope and Light of the world to be born in a seemingly hopeless and dark place and welcoming this coming with open heart and mind. We sing “Oh come, oh come, Emmanuel” and we do it every year. Why keep saying it if we believe He has come already?  There are many theological reasons but one simple reason I can give is we need to remind ourselves what this life and this world is like without Him.

It is amazing how quickly we get used to the good news, things and good times and take it for granted. It is also amazing how quickly we can descend into hopelessness and darkness again.

For very long time now, we take Jesus of Nazareth and the way he transforms our human existence for granted. Nowadays we also take the Universal declaration of human rights for granted. We cannot imagine a world without these commonly accepted principles because most of us did not live before 1948 and during Second World War. We, at least the Westerners, are so used to speaking about our human rights that we think nothing of it.

But here I read the lines from the declaration’s preamble: “The advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people.

(…) Whereas it is essential to promote the development of friendly relations between nations.

Whereas the peoples of the United Nations have in the Charter reaffirmed their faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person and in the equal rights of men and women and have determined to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom,

Whereas Member States have pledged themselves to achieve, in co-operation with the United Nations, the promotion of universal respect for and observance of human rights and fundamental freedoms,

Whereas a common understanding of these rights and freedoms is of the greatest importance for the full realization of this pledge,

Now, Therefore THE GENERAL ASSEMBLY proclaims THIS UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS as a common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations, to the end that every individual and every organ of society, keeping this Declaration constantly in mind, shall strive by teaching and education to promote respect for these rights and freedoms and by progressive measures, national and international, to secure their universal and effective recognition and observance, both among the peoples of Member States themselves and among the peoples of territories under their jurisdiction.”

Have we achieved and experienced the advent of this kind of world yet? Are all people free to speak their mind, practice their religion, free from fear and want? Are we, the peoples of United Nations, keeping our pledge? Do we even believe in this larger freedom? Do we still have common understanding and emphasize the word “common”? Or are we putting our trust in the world of “mine”? My country. My people. My rights.

The answer is obvious. Thus we are still waiting, still striving and longing…

“O come, Thou Wisdom from on high,
And order all things, far and nigh;
To us the path of knowledge show,
And cause us in her ways to go.

O come, Desire of nations, bind
All peoples in one heart and mind;
Bid envy, strife and quarrels cease;
Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel”

 

 

Giving thanks for my vivacious sojourners

I love this photo and I love the memory of this moment. Mae Sot, Thailand may be a small town (developing and growing fast) on the Thailand – Burma border where tourists go for border crossing and locals for shopping and business, but for me it is “home away from home”.

These kids from Mae Sot are my sojourners in life and part of my story of “peaceroads” and I am very thankful for them. I am not thankful that they were always on the streets begging or collecting plastic bottles. I am not thankful that they were not attending school or that they had to carry small babies to attract the foreigner’s compassion. I am not thankful that they were bathing in the dirty and smelly town canals.

No, my heart was sad and angry that these beautiful, smart kids were so adopted to the life on the streets that they thought this is normal and even kind of fun. Of course, it was not fun when they had to be out at dark or when their parents told them not to come home until they had collected a certain amount of money. It was not fun when they were hungry or yelled at or treated like some stray animals.

A little comfort but I was grateful that at least they were in a small community like Mae Sot where people tend to watch out for each other more than in the big cities like Bangkok or Manila with too many children-at-risk to count.

This photo was taken at one of my favorite tea shops “Borderline” which is a cooperative for women in refugee camps making handy crafts. Borderline also serves delicious vegetarian food and refreshing drinks. Whenever we could, we would buy the children something to eat and Borderline was one of their favorite places to go. It had a nice garden and calming atmosphere. An oasis of peace on a busy, dusty, noisy street.

The kids were so energetic, funny and savvy. They perceived things differently and they always looked out for each other. I realized that they did not like to be patronized (don’t we all) and they didn’t like to be pitied (don’t we all). But they wanted to be loved (don’t we all).

We communicated in beginner Thai and lots of signs and body language. The universal language of hugs, smiles, welcome, concern, pointing, nodding or shaking head… Sometimes I went home exhausted because in the West we are much less concerned with body language and much more concerned with the exact words. In Thailand and Burma it is the opposite and my brain was slow to adjust.

They read me. They read my walk. They read my talk. They read my eyes. They read my mouth. They read my hands.

However imperfectly, I hope that I was able to communicate the most important thing: ” I see you and I know that you see me. I am here because you are here. I am your teacher but you are teaching me things, too. I love you because I am loved. The image of God in you is the image of God in me.” Thank you for being you!

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Smile that spoke volumes (photos from personal archive)

The age of information diarrhea

I took this photo in Berlin while sightseeing around Brandenburg Gate. It was one of those surreal moments when you have to get out your camera to prove to yourself that this is real. Most of us notice it and most of us do it. I knew that it would be a good photo for one of my blogs.

This autumn I am taking some classes at Latvia University and I love it. Yes, there is some homework that tortures my brain cells and gives anxiety but the joy of learning is greater and more lasting. Also, it is a university within the university because of my classmates. Every one of us is a small universe with life experiences, thoughts, beliefs, dreams, friends, families, talents…

For the title of this blog entry I borrowed the words of one of my new peers. During a discussion he said: “We live in an age with chronic diarrhea of information.” I have a good imagination and his words make a good sense. We take in so much information daily without processing. Since it is available and free, just take it. Whether it is worthwhile or simply junk.

What if it cost me more? If I have to buy a magazine or newspaper, I am very picky. I want to get my money’s worth. I want to read something that will enrich my mind and my life. I will pick up “Time” or “Newsweek” or “The Economist”… But if I am standing in the checkout line at the shopping mall or killing a few minutes at the airport, I will browse through some women’s magazines or tabloids. (It sounds better to say tabloids then gossip and sensational news, right?)

Secondly we don’t give enough time for reflection. (Here is that magic word – time. I said  the free information does not cost me anything but actually it does. It costs my time.) I remember my mom used to eat and chew very slowly. She firmly believed that it was healthier.It used to drive me crazy but I did think that she was right. Plus eating together had its many other wonderful benefits.

My own brain capacity is so limited. I find that even lots of the good information that I want to retain and digest and reflect on, disappears quickly. I think part of the problem is these horrible habits of taking in too much, too fast and too superficially.

There are many bad side-effects. Especially social. As if there is this invisible force that effects us in invisible ways. For example, the growing problem of polarization. People become more divided in their views and less able to dialogue and to have a polite and respectful debate with good listening skills. When I go on Facebook or other social media, it does the thinking for me. It “chooses” who my best friends are, which kind of news I “want” to read, what I want to buy, etc. It makes my life easier by grouping me with “like-minded” people.

Thanks for taking the few minutes of your time to read. A few more to reflect?

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The art of socializing (photos from personal archive)

Latvian:

Šis ir ar manu fotoaparātu piefiksēts dzīves moments netālu no Brandenburgas vārtiem Berlīnē. Vienkārši acīm neticējās, ka tā mēs tiešām tagad dzīvojam. Lielākā daļa to ievērojam, un lielākā daļa to darām. Zināju, ka būs kaut kad jāuzraksta.

Šoruden man ir iespēja mācīties Latvijas Universitātē, un man patīk. Protams, ir mājas darbi un lietas, kas mocīs smadzenes un šad tad bojās nervus, bet mācīšanās process kā tāds ir izbaudāms. Turklāt ir viens liels bonuss – mani kursabiedri. Katrs pats ir maza universitāte ar savu dzīves pieredzi, domām, ticību, sapņiem, draugiem, ģimeni, spējām…

Pārdomām es virsrakstā izmantoju viena sava kursabiedra teikto. Nesenā diskusijā viņš izteicās, ka “mēs dzīvojam laikā, kur ir hroniska informācijas caureja.” Iztēle man darbojas labi, un šī metafora tiešām liekas precīza. Mēs uzņemam tik daudz informācijas, bet pavisam maz vai nemaz to nesagremojam un nepārstrādājam. Šī informācija ir tepat ar pirkstu galiem sasniedzama, turklāt par brīvu, un tāpēc jāņem. Vienalga, vai tā ir derīga, vai mēsls.

Kā būtu, ja man par to būtu vairāk jāmaksā? Pērkot žurnālu vai avīzi, esmu ļoti izvēlīga. Gribu, lai mana nauda būtu ieguldīta vērtīgā informācijā. Piemēram, žurnālos “The Economist”, “Time” vai “Rīgas Laiks”… Bet, stāvot veikala rindā pie kases vai nositot kādas minūtes lidostā, pasķirstu arī dzelteno presi (labāk skan “prese”, vai ne? nevis aprunāšanas, tenku un sensāciju stāsti)

Otra problēma ir tāda, ka mēs neveltam pietiekamu laiku pārdomām. (Te ir tas astlēgas vārds – laiks! Varbūt informācijas uzņemšana man nemaksā naudu, bet laiku gan.) Atceros, kā mana mamma mēdza ēst ļoti lēni un visu kārtīgi sakošļāt. Viņa teica, ka tā ir veselīgāk. Mani tas tracināja, bet iekšēji ticēju, ka viņai ir taisnība. Turklāt ēst kopā ar draugiem vai ģimeni un darīt to nesteidzīgi ir pats par sevi viens liels ieguvums.

Manas smadzenes ir gan pamatīgi piebāztas, gan ierobežotas. Pat to labo informāciju, ko vēlos paturēt, pārdomāt un izmantot, grūti nepazaudēt. Varbūt te arī daļēji ir vainīga šī informācijas caureja? Un sliktais ieradums uzņemt par daudz, par ātru un par seklu.

Ir daudz citu blakusparādību. It sevišķi mūsu attiecībās ar apkārtējiem. Tāda sajūta, it kā neredzams spēks darbotos mums neredzamā veidā, bet ar lielu ietekmi. Viens piemērs –  pieaugošā polarizācijas problēma. Cilvēki arvien vairāk sašķeļas savos uzskatos (kas pats par sevi vēl nav problēma), un arvien mazāk spēj sarunāties un sadzīvot ar citādi domājošiem. Arvien sliktāk prot debatēt un nemāk klausīties. Mēs izmantojam Facebook un citus soctīklus, bet tie sāk domāt mūsu vietā. Caur saviem algoritmiem, utt. Tie izvēlas, kuri ir mani “labākie” draugi, kuras ziņas es “vēlos” lasīt, kādas reklāmas man “vajag”, utt. Tas “atvieglo” manu dzīvi, jo palīdz sazināties ar “līdzīgi domājošiem”.

Paldies par tām dažām minūtēm, ko veltīji lasīšanai. Varbūt vari veltīt vēl kādas, lai pārdomātu?

By losing our neighbors we lose a part of ourselves

I continue to reflect on my recent trip to Ukraine. Particularly the city of Lutsk, the regional center of Volyn province. It is a very nice, slow paced city in northwestern part of Ukraine with very fascinating story. It has a beautiful old castle and lots of other interesting cultural, historical and architectural sights.

But there was a day when I got very sad. In fact I was grieving. We walked around the historical center of Lutsk and I realized what a multicultural and multi faith place it used to be. Many of the places of worship are still there but it is only a shadow of the former things. You can still feel and see the tragedy of the destructive wars of 20th century and the intentional neglect of the Soviet years.

There is a beautiful old Roman Catholic Cathedral named after St.Peter and St.Paul and built in the 17th century. It used to have a Jesuit college where education was free and conducted at a high level. Inside the church I saw many Polish names and later found out that in 1939, about 34% of the population of Lutsk city was Polish. After the war, the Soviet regime closed the church and later it was even the Museum of Atheism.

There is another church building, originally Lutheran. It was built in 1907 as the principal place of worship for the Germans living in Volyn. The church fell into decline as a result of the Second World War. Then for many decades it was used as an archive. (The Soviets were very practical when it came to using the church buildings. If not a museum for atheism or science, most became storehouses.)

And then I found the Great Synagogue, completed in 1629. Located in what used to be the Jewish quarter, it was the religious, educational and community centre of Lutsk. Again the tragedy which destroyed this community and this temple was the Second World War and the Holocaust. In 1939, the city’s population was 40% Jewish. In December 1941 the Łuck Ghetto was established. In August and September 1942, about 17,000 prisoners of the ghetto were killed. After the war the synagogue stood empty. Then came another practical Soviet idea –  it was reconstructed as a movie-house and a gym.

I was thinking about these tragedies and brutal Nazi and Soviet regimes, changing the fate of community and the face of the city completely. Old neighbors were gone and new neighbors moved in. I know that this is the story of so many places (too many) but somehow Lutsk really broke my heart.

It felt like there is still a big, open wound which needs healing and redemption and restoration. I believe as Ukraine is defining its national identity, the story of its rich multicultural and multi faith heritage needs to be told and reminded.

It has a lot of parallels with my own nation of Latvia and other places around the world which used to be much more multicultural before wars and conflicts that drive people out of their home. In the past or in the present.

I grieve. We all should.

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The Great Synagogue of Lutsk. Currently a gym.

Latvian:

Joprojām ir daudz ko pārdomāt pēc nesenā brauciena uz Ukrainu. Īpaši par Lucku, Voliņas apgabala centru. Jauka, lēna, mierīga pilsēta Ukrainas rietumos, un tai ir ļoti interesants stāsts. Ir arī skaista, veca pils un daudz citu kultūras un vēstures pieminekļu.

Man tur bija visai neparasta diena. Diena, kurā pārņēma skumjas. Pat tādas kā sēras. Mēs ar vīru staigājām pa Luckas vecpilsētu, un es aptvēru, cik multikulturāla un multireliģiska bija šī pilsēta savā pirmskara dzīvē. Daudzi no dievnamiem vēl pastāv, bet no šīs raibās kopienas ir palikusi tikai ēna. Joprojām pāri kā neredzams palags ir pagājušā gadsimta karu sekas, un padomju laika apzināta vēstures aizmiršana.

Te stāv skaistā Sv.Pētera un Sv.Pāvila Romas Katoļu katedrāle, uzcelta ap 1630. gadu. Agrāk tur darbojās jezuītu dibināta koledža, kurā izglītība bija par brīvu, turklāt augstā līmenī. Uz katedrāles sienām ir daudz poļu vārdu un uzvārdu, un vēlāk uzzināju, ka vēl 1939. gadā apmēram 34% iedzivotāju bija poļu tautības. Pēckara gados padomju režīms aizslēdza draudzi, un pat izveidoja Ateisma muzeju.

Vēl stāv bijusī luterāņu baznīca. Celta 1907. gadā, lai kļūtu par galveno pulcēšanās un draudzes vietu Voliņas vāciešiem. Arī šis dievnams padomju laikos tika nolaists un izmantots kā arhīvs un noliktava. (Kā jau zinām, komunisti atrada ļoti praktisku pielietojumu šādām ēkām.)

Pavisam netālu es atradu tā saukto Lielo sinagogu. Pabeigta 1629. gadā, tā atradās bijušajā jūdu kvartālā, un kalpoja kā reliģijas, izglītības un kopienas centrs. Tā pati traģēdija – Otrais Pasaules karš un tad Holokausts – iznīcināja gan šo kopienu, gan šo pielūgsmes vietu. Pirms kara ap 40% pilsētas centra iedzīvotāju bija ebreji. 1941. gada decembrī tika izveidots Luckas geto, un nākamā gada augustā un septembrī apmēram 17,000 geto ieslodzīto tika nogalināti. Sinagoga stāvēja tukša, līdz padomju varai atkal radās ideja  tur ierīkot kino un sporta zāli. (Tagad tur ir fitnesa centrs.)

Es domāju par šo lielo traģēdiju, kas pilnībā pārmainīja gan pilsētas, gan kopienu seju. Agrākie kaimiņi tika padzīti vai iznīcināti,  jauni kaimiņi sāka dzīvot to vietā. Protams, ne jau Luckai vienīgajai tāds stāsts, bet nez kāpēc tas man šoreiz riktīgi aizķēra sirdi.

Tāda sajūta, ka šī dziļā rēta vēl stāv vaļā. Vēl nav pilnībā dziedināta un atjaunota šī pilsēta. Šobrīd, kad Ukraina un tās cilvēki tik strauji meklē savu nacionālo identitāti, šo stāstu par daudzajām kultūrām un ticībām un kopienām vajag stāstīt, atgādināt un iekļaut savējā.

Jo zaudējot savus kaimiņus, mēs visi zaudējām daļu no sevis pašiem.

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).”

“Ich bin ein Berliner…”

There are words and there are famous words. Phrases that people quote. I don’t know how long we will remember these words “Ich bin ein Berliner” (I am a citizen of Berlin) by U.S. President John F Kennedy but to lots of people they still mean something. It came to my mind on a recent trip to Germany. I even got a fridge magnet as a reminder 🙂

Berlin is a city of symbols… Everywhere you turn there are historic markers and museums. City that has changed and transformed so many times but tries to remember and learn and teach something to the future generations. It was my first time to visit and I realized that two days is much too short to explore these symbols. But I had a good start.

Today I want to stop at the Checkpoint Charlie that used to be infamous border crossing between East and West Berlin. It is still there. Of course, a tourist attraction where you can take photos with guys in American uniforms (not real soldiers), buy Soviet era trinkets and gas masks but behind the kitsch there are some powerful symbols.

There is a big museum dedicated to the Wall and its history. What caught my attention was a huge flag on the side of the museum. It would be very hard to miss unless you were completely ignorant of these colours. Blue and yellow is the flag of Ukraine. The time, the location, the size – obviously it was there to communicate and to symbolize because this whole section of Berlin is highly symbolic.

It has a text in English and Russian and it is addressed to general public but also to one particular Russian. Someone who is very familiar with Berlin; someone who speaks fluent German; someone who used to serve as a Soviet KGB officer and was stationed in East Berlin. Someone who has, I am sure, been on this street many many times and has crossed Checkpoint Charlie many times.

When John F Kennedy visited West Berlin in 1963, he spoke there not so long after the Berlin Wall had been erected by East Germany to stop mass emigration to the West. Long before I was even born but somehow I can imagine what these words meant for the people who heard it. Words of encouragement that they are not alone in their difficult time. Surely the message was aimed at the Soviets as much as Berliners. To say that Berlin Wall is wrong; that dividing people is wrong; that using force to enforce Soviet ideas is wrong… and you can fill in anything else you would like to say about that.

So, this flag of Ukraine and the message on it is a strong symbol. It also has various aims. It aims to encourage the people of Ukraine that they are not alone in their difficult time. It aims to communicate something to the current leadership in Russia. And it speaks to us, passersby, if we are not too busy to lift our eyes.

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The Wall Museum in Berlin

Latvian:

Ir vienkārši vārdi, un ir vārdi, ko atceras un turpina atgādināt. Nezinu, cik ilgi mēs citēsim bijušo ASV prezidentu Džonu F. Kenediju, kurš teica slavenos vārdus “Es esmu berlīnietis…”, bet nesenajā braucienā uz Vāciju man tie atkal ienāca prātā. Man pat ir suvenīrs magnēts ar šo frāzi 🙂

Berlīne ir simbolu pilsēta… Kur vien griezies, nozīmīgas vietas, vēsturiskas zīmes un muzeji. Pilsēta, kura mainījusies, grimusi un atjaunojusies tik daudzas reizes, un cenšas neaizmirst, cenšas mācīties no pagātnes un kaut ko iemācīt nākamām paaudzēm. Berlīnē biju pirmo reizi, un, cerams, ne pēdējo. Ar divām dienām galīgi nepietiek, lai pētītu šos simbolus.

Šoreiz manas pārdomas par to, ko redzēju vietā, ko sauc par Robežpunktu Čārliju. Bēdīgi slavena bijusī robeža starp Austrumberlīni un Rietumberlīni. Postenis ir atstāts kā vēl viens nozīmīgs simbols. Protams, tūristiem patīk fotografēties ar ASV formās ģērbtiem džekiem (tie nav īstie karavīri), pirkt PSRS medaļas un Austrumvācijas suvenīrus un gāzmaskas, bet aiz visa šī kiča ir kāda svarīga vēsts, ko nedrīkst aizmirst.

Tur atrodas arī liels Berlīnes mūrim un tā vēsturei veltīts muzejs. Manu uzmanību piesaistīja milzīgs karogs uz muzeja ārsienas. Būtu grūti to neievērot, ja vien galīgi neko nezin par šīm karoga krāsām. Zils un dzeltens ir Ukrainas krāsas. Vieta, izmēri, konteksts – skaidrs, ka šis karogs kaut ko komunicē un kaut ko simbolizē, jo šis Berlīnes rajons ir viens liels simbols.

Uz karoga bija teksts gan angļu, gan krievu valodā. Domāts gan plašākai publikai, gan vienam konkrētam cilvēkam Krievijā. Cilvēkam, kurš ļoti labi pazīst Berlīni; kurš perfekti pārvalda vācu valodu; kurš dzīvoja un strādāja Austrumberlīnē kā padomju VDK aģents un spiegs. Kurš drošvien daudzreiz šķērsoja robežpunktu Čārlijs un staigāja pa šīm ielām.

Džons F. Kenedijs viesojās Rietumberlīnē 1963.gadā un teica savu slaveno runu neilgi pēc Berlīnes mūra uzcelšanas. Austrumvācija bija nolēmusi apstādināt cilvēku emigrāciju uz Rietumiem. Esmu dzimusi daudz vēlāk, taču varu saprast, ko šie Kenedija teiktie vārdi nozīmēja klausītājiem. Liels iedrošinājums grūtā laikā. Un vēsts bija domāta ne tikai berlīniešiem, bet arī Padomju varai. Lai pateiktu, ka Berlīnes mūris nedrīkst pastāvēt; ka sašķelt tautu un cilvēkus ir liels ļaunums; ka uzspiest padomju idejas ar varu ir galīgi garām… un tā tālāk.

Tāpēc šis Ukrainas karogs un uz tā rakstītā vēsts ir spēcīgs simbols patreizējā situācijā. Arī šai vēstij ir vairāki mērķi. Viens mērķis ir iedrošināt cilvēkus Ukrainā, ka viņi nav aizmirsti šajā Ukrainai grūtajā laikā, kad valstī ir karš. Otrs mērķis ir pateikt Krievijas vadītājiem to, ko domā lielākā daļa pasaules. Trešais mērķis ir uzrunāt mūs, garāmgājējus, lai ikdienas steigā paceļam acis uz augšu un nepaejam garām vienaldzīgi.

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!