Rohingya and soul searching in Myanmar

Myanmar is making international headlines again and the news is not good. Tragedy for the thousands and thousands of people who are losing their homes, ancestral land, possessions and fleeing to neighboring country Bangladesh… hundreds are also losing their lives and their loved ones. The story of Rohingya ethnic minority has repeated through the years but the current crisis is a new low.

Myanmar (Burma) holds a special place in my heart. Peaceroads was inspired by my friends from this beautiful but broken country. We have spent many hours talking, working and praying for peace, freedom, restoration and reconciliation in this nation. Many are already experiencing peace and freedom but not everyone. Not yet … and it will take even longer now.

It is racism but this is not just about race. It is religious but this is not just about religion (most Rohingya are Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country). Nationalism, economics, politics, military power, etc… It is complicated, yes, and long story. There are violent and angry people on all sides, yes, and someone’s freedom fighter is someone else’ terrorist. We don’t know all the facts, yes, and Myanmar government accuses international media of misinformation (while not allowing them access to the conflict area!). Still, many facts are too obvious, stories are real, pictures speak for themselves and there is suffering for the whole world to see.

This is why international community is reacting with such sadness, criticism and challenge to the current leaders of Myanmar. For decades and decades people and governments in democratic countries supported the long journey toward freedom, dignity and rights of the people of Burma, including demand to release Aung Sun Suu Kyi from house arrest and let her lead the nation. Now many of the Nobel Peace Prize laureates are challenging her to speak out, act fast and defend the rights of ALL people.

I deeply care about real and lasting reconciliation in Myanmar and right now it is facing a dangerous moment. There are plenty of evil forces that are ready to exploit this fault line and make it even more violent (Al Qaeda, ISIS and other such groups are looking at this as a new cause to support). It is like a perfect storm brewing if there is no immediate and courageous national leadership and brave decisions. It also requires a deep soul searching in the whole society – who is this country for, who is my neighbor?

I am no expert but I know enough about Myanmar’s pain of the past, the struggles of today and the hopes for the future. This is not just about human rights; this is about right human relationships. How will these communities live? What will happen to these displaced people? If they are allowed return, how do they rebuild their lives? What will make them feel safe, protected and wanted? What about justice? What about forgiveness?

I want to copy an open letter by Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, which expresses many of my own thoughts…

“My dear Aung San Su Kyi

I am now elderly, decrepit and formally retired, but breaking my vow to remain silent on public affairs out of profound sadness about the plight of the Muslim minority in your country, the Rohingya.

In my heart you are a dearly beloved younger sister. For years I had a photograph of you on my desk to remind me of the injustice and sacrifice you endured out of your love and commitment for Myanmar’s people. You symbolised righteousness. In 2010 we rejoiced at your freedom from house arrest, and in 2012 we celebrated your election as leader of the opposition.

Your emergence into public life allayed our concerns about violence being perpetrated against members of the Rohingya. But what some have called ‘ethnic cleansing’ and others ‘a slow genocide’ has persisted – and recently accelerated. The images we are seeing of the suffering of the Rohingya fill us with pain and dread.

We know that you know that human beings may look and worship differently – and some may have greater firepower than others – but none are superior and none inferior; that when you scratch the surface we are all the same, members of one family, the human family; that there are no natural differences between Buddhists and Muslims; and that whether we are Jews or Hindus, Christians or atheists, we are born to love, without prejudice. Discrimination doesn’t come naturally; it is taught.

My dear sister: If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep. A country that is not at peace with itself, that fails to acknowledge and protect the dignity and worth of all its people, is not a free country.

It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country; it is adding to our pain.

As we witness the unfolding horror we pray for you to be courageous and resilient again. We pray for you to speak out for justice, human rights and the unity of your people. We pray for you to intervene in the escalating crisis and guide your people back towards the path of righteousness again.

God bless you.

Love

Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu

Hermanus, South Africa”

tutu

photos from internet

 

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!

I am so sorry, Aleppo

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Latvian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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

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!

Minnesota is a long way from Burma or Latvia

This is a photo from St Paul, Minnesota. Did you know that June 20 is a World Refugee Day? St Paul has become home to thousands of refugees. One of the ethnic groups settled in MN are Karen people from Burma (Myanmar). There are estimated 10,000 Karen in Minnesota and St. Paul currently has the largest and fastest-growing Karen populations in the U.S. Other communities in Minnesota with a large Karen population include Worthington, Willmar, Austin, Albert Lea and Faribault.

I never imagined that my life would be connected to this story that links places so distant and different from each other. When I see women or men with a traditional Karen shoulder bag walking down the street in Roseville or West St Paul, I think to myself “This is a long way from the villages and farms and jungle trails in mountains of Karen State in Burma.” It is also a long way from the refugee camps on Thailand – Burma border.

I have one of those bags and I love to see the smile on people’s faces when they ask me, “Where did you get this? What?! You have been to Mae La refugee camp? When? Why?” I explain about our former work in the migrant schools, about teaching English and our many many friendships. I love to talk about the beautiful Karen dances and songs and crafts. And the food but not the fish paste! Anything but the fish paste.

We went to this year’s World Refugee Day celebration in St Paul. It was a treat to see traditional Karen dances and hear the songs and also listen to the stories. These young people were very grateful for the opportunities and freedom they have in their new home country and also were proud to introduce others to their beautiful, rich culture and history.

It have mixed feelings as there is always a sense of homesickness. It makes me think of all the Latvians and other Europeans who came to Minnesota as refugees after World War II. I have heard stories from people who had Latvian neighbors or friends and husbands. Stories about all the good Latvia food, all the Latvian dances and songs and, of course, all the partying. (Unfortunately Latvians were known for the large amounts of alcohol they could consume)

One of the guys I know is named John. He is very much an Irish American but his best friend while growing up in North Minneapolis was a Latvian guy. And John got the special treatment from Latvian community because of his name. “Jānis” is the Latvian version of John and it used to be one of the most popular names in Latvia. (You walk in a room and say “Jānis” and see how many guys will turn their head!)

Making a new home in a far away land is not easy, but it is a part of our human story through the ages. Wars happen. Lives get destroyed. We get up-rooted and then we go and put our roots in a new place. It makes a big difference if the new place is welcoming and open. I am very grateful to know so many people in Minnesota who have opened their hearts and lives to give shelter and refugee to people who have had to flee their beloved countries and homes and farms and families. Thank you, Minnesota!

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Karen traditional dances in Mae Sot, Thailand (photo from personal archive)

 

 

Freedom from fear in Myanmar

“It is not power that corrupts but fear. Fear of losing power corrupts those who wield it and fear of the scourge of power corrupts those who are subject to it.” This conviction by Aung Sun Suu Kyi, a Burmese leader and former political prisoner, highlights an important truth. It also describes a life that is lived in a non-violent and courageous resistance to this kind of fear.

Last week Myanmar (Burma) held first democratic elections in 25 years. The votes are still being counted but it is already clear that the National League for Democracy (NLD) has won an overwhelming majority. Estimated 70% of the votes. The people have chosen and now the world is watching whether the military rulers will respect their own people’s will.

I am rejoicing together with my friends. They have been waiting for this day for a very long time… I have been waiting for this for many years, too. Ever since my husband and I started working on Thai-Burma border helping refugees from Burma, we have believed together with our friends that one day they will be able to return home, that one day their nation will be truly free.

There is lots of joy but also awareness that there is still a long and hard road ahead. The government cannot be fully democratic while 25% of the seats in the national parliament are reserved for the military and the military appoints three government ministers.  The most popular national leader to become a president would be Aung Sun Suu Kyi, but it is not possible under the current Constitution. It disqualifies anyone whose children have foreign citizenship and Aung Sun Suu Kyi’s sons have British passports because she had a British husband.

Also, there were millions of people who were not able to vote – people who live in areas where there is still armed conflict, internally displaced persons, refugees in the camps on Thailand/Burma border, migrants working in other countries, the Rohingya ethnic group…

Sill, this is an amazing and big step towards long-awaited freedom and peace. The elections were peaceful and the results make a very loud and clear statement what kind of country people want to live in. My memory flashes back to 1990 when in my own nation, Latvia, we celebrated a similar moment when the parliament voted to reinstate the independence of Latvia. My grandparents had waited for 50 years. Honestly it did not seem possible that we would experience it in our life-time, but the ‘miracle’ happened.

Then began the process of learning to live in freedom and there were many many challenges. Latvia is still dealing with some of the residue from our Soviet past. When you are not used to being free, you have to learn to be free. Physical freedom does not mean automatically a psychological and emotional and spiritual freedom where you have peace with yourself and your neighbor.

When I exchange stories with our friends from Burma, I realize that I experience an amazing journey together with my nation. Journey of hope and dream that became reality, journey of freedom from fear… Now I watch my friends making the same kind of journey and I want to help them in any way I can. This is just the start and now the real work of developing, re-building, healing and transforming begins. But today is the day of celebration!

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Latviski:

“Nevis vara mūs samaitā, bet bailes. Bailes pazaudēt varu samaitā tos, kuriem tā pieder, un bailes no varas posta samaitā tos, kuri tai pakļauti.” Tā domā un saka Aung San Su Či, politiķe, opozīcijas vadītāja un bijusī politieslodzītā Mjanmā (Birmā). Šajos vārdos ir izteikta kāda svarīga patiesība. Un savā dzīvē viņa pati ir turējusies pie šīs pārliecības, izrādot nevardarbīgu pretestību šādām bailēm.

Pagājšnedēļ Birmā notika pirmās demokrātiskās vēlēšanas pēc 25 gadu ‘pārtraukuma’. Balsis vēl tiek skaitītas, bet jau ir pilnīgi skaidrs, ka Nacionālā Demokrātijas Līga ir guvusi pārliecinošu uzvaru. Tiek prognozēts vismaz 70% atbalsts. Cilvēki ir izdarījuši savu izvēli, un tagad visa pasaule gaida un vēro, vai militārā vara cienīs savas tautas gribu.

Es priecājos kopā ar saviem draugiem. Viņi ir gaidījuši šo dienu ļoti, ļoti ilgi… Arī es to gaidu jau daudzus gadus. Kopš mēs ar vīru sākām strādāt uz Taizemes – Birmas robežas un palīdzēt bēgļiem no Birmas, mēs ticam kopā ar saviem draugiem, ka kādu dienu viņi varēs atgriezties mājās, ka kādu dienu viņu valsts būs patiesi brīva.

Ir liels prieks, bet arī skaidra apziņa, ka priekšā garš un grūts ceļš ejams. Valdība un valsts nevar būt pilnīgi demokrātiska, kamēr militārajiem spēkiem ir atvēlētas 25% vietas parlamentā, un garantēti trīs ministru posteņi. Vispopulārākais kandidāts nākamajam Birmas prezidentam ir Aung San Su Či, bet, saskaņā ar patreizējo konstitūciju, viņa nevar ieņemt šo amatu. Tādēļ, ka prezidentam nedrīkst būt bērni ar citas valsts pilsonību, bet Su Či dēliem ir britu pases, jo viņas vīrs bija Lielbritānijas pilsonis. (Šis likums tika pieņemts tieši tādēļ, lai viņa nevarētu kļūt par prezidentu.)

Vēl viena liela problēma ir fakts, ka vēlēšanās nevarēja piedalīties vairāki miljoni cilvēku. Tie, kuri dzīvo karadarbības zonās; tie, kuri ir bēgļu gaitās gan iekšzemē, gan citās zemēs; tie, kuri strādā ārpus Birmas; Rohinga mazākumtautības cilvēki, jo tiem vispār netiek piešķirta pilsonība.

Tomēr šis ir milzīgs un liels solis uz ilgi gaidīto brīvību un mieru. Vēlēšanas noritēja mierīgi, un rezultāti ļoti skaidri un gaiši pasaka, kādā valstī cilvēki vēlas dzīvot. Atceros 1990. gadu, kad mēs Latvijā svinējām Neatkarības atjaunošanas deklarāciju. Mūsu vecvecāki un vecāki bija to gaidījuši 50 gadus. Daudzi neticēja, ka kaut ko tādu piedzīvosim savas dzīves laikā, bet notika ‘brīnums’.

Tad sākās grūtais un sarežģītais process mācīties dzīvot brīvībā. Latvijā joprojām mēs izjūtam PSRS laika un sistēmas sekas. Kad ilgu laiku nav piedzīvota brīvība, to jāmācās no jauna. Fiziska brīvība vēl nenozīmē psiholoģisku, emocionālu un garīgu brīvību, kad mēs mākam mīlēt sevi pašu un savus līdzcilvēkus.

Sarunās ar draugiem no Birmas, es arvien vairāk sāku aptvert, cik apbrīnojams ceļš iets kopā ar manu tautu Latvijā. Ceļš no cerībām un sapņiem uz realitāti, ceļš uz brīvību no bailēm… Tagad mani draugi iet šo pašu ceļu, un es vēlos viņus atbalstīt, kā vien varu. Ir pats sākums lielajam darbam, lai atjaunotu, dziedinātu, pārveidotu un attīstītu valsti, bet šodien ir diena priekam un līksmībai!