Searching for my Latvian antidote to our EU ignorance

I expect next few months our European headlines will be dominated by ‘Brexit’. On June 23 the British voters will decide whether to stay in or leave the European Union. Even though the Brits are known for their stoicism and reserve, I imagine it will get quite emotive.

Well, it is emotional for everyone else watching and waiting to see what Britain decides. It literary feels like watching a family dispute and the discussions of either divorce or staying together and working through the problems. This is because the EU is a very unique union and I dare say, there is no other international organization or institution like this anywhere in the world.

The British will vote but all the rest of us will be discussing and debating and reflecting on this strange ‘phenomenon’ – the European Union. And you know what?!! I am glad we are debating because maybe… finally… many of us will start to understand what it actually is meant to be, what is it now and where do we go from here. Why our unity matters?

The journey to our current EU started in 1950. Latvia joined in 2004 together with 9 other countries. (So, 54 years after its foundations were laid.) I remember the referendum in Latvia and vaguely recall some of the debates but honestly it was not much of a debate. And not because some politicians had decided it. The people wanted it. We, citizens of Latvia, voted 67% in favor of joining the EU. Here are the votes of others who joined at that time. Estonia 67%, Lithuania 91%, Poland 77%, Czech Republic 77%, Hungary 83%, Slovakia 92%, Slovenia 90%, Malta 54%

As I see, nobody was twisting our arm. Overwhelming majority of us wanted to join and May 1, 2004 was a joyful day. I travel the world with my EU passport and lots of people envy me when they see this little document in my hand. Why do they think I am privileged to have this passport?

The BIG question – why did we want to join the EU so much? Was it the money? For many people, the most obvious answer. Who does not want to join the rich kids club, right? How can we access those big fat EU funds in Brussels, right? I think the same voices are often the loudest in screaming that the refugees or asylum seekers or any migrants only want this same money and they want to move in our rich neighborhood.

Was it the security? For us, Latvians, another obvious reason. We know that we are too small to defend ourselves from any serious global threats and we need alliance with stronger and bigger (but nice and democratic) countries.

This is a very serious question. At this very moment in Europe there is a country suffering war and conflict because of people’s desire to have a closer association with the EU and even possible membership. Ukraine is fighting a war to join the EU and the Brits are deciding whether to stay or leave.

Let me give a disclaimer… I do not think that the EU is the greatest place in the world. I do not think that it has all the answers for humanity and the best governance. I do not think that it is a ‘paradise on earth’ and I do not think – God bless the European Union and no place else!

But I do think that many of the current problems and crisis – social, political, economical – we are experiencing because we don’t know who we are. Our moral compass is not working very well or sometimes not working at all. Where is north, where is south? There are lots of things to discuss such as identity, ethnicity, nationalism and so on but first let us remind ourselves the “roots”. What was the vision behind the political and economic union that started as European Coal and Steel Community with 6 original members? Why is this vision still as relevant today as it was then?

Here is a shortcut to another blog I wrote last May Why should I care about Europe Day. It gives a very brief introduction to the foundations for European project.

This problem of ignorance about the original vision of European unity is not just Latvian. It is also Estonian, Lithuanian, Polish, Hungarian, British, Dutch… I think this is truly a European problem. If only for the sake of our friends in Ukraine who are going through a lot of suffering right now to figure out their future and want our support, let us find answers to these questions. Let us start injecting some antidote to our ignorance… quickly and in heavy doses.

*Obviously in this blog I asked many questions for reflection and discussion. It is because I intend to write more about this topic and our current EU crisis. Hope you will join the conversation and soul-searching…

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Croatians wave an EU flag as they celebrate the accession of Croatia to the European Union on June 30, 2013. AFP PHOTO / STRINGER

Latviski:

Paredzu, ka nākamos mēnešus mūsu Eiropas ziņu virsrakstos dominēs ‘Brexit’. 23. jūnijā britu vēlētāji un pilsoņi lems, vai palikt ES vai izstāties. Kaut arī briti slaveni ar savu stoicismu un vēso prātu, gan jau emocijas sitīs augstu vilni.

Arī mums pārējiem radīsies emocijas, vērojot un gaidot, ko briti izlems. Burtiskā nozīmē ir sajūta kā ģimenes strīdā, kur tiek lemts, vai šķirties, vai arī palikt kopā un mēģināt atrisināt visus sarežģītos mezglus. Jo Eiropas Savienība nav vienkārša. Tā ir ļoti unikāla savienība, un otras tādas organizācijas un institūcijas nav nekur citur pasaulē.

Briti lems, bet mēs visi diskutēsim, spriedīsim un pārdomāsim šo mūsdienu ‘fenomenu’ – Eiropas Savienību. Un ziniet, ko?! Tas ir ļoti labi, jo varbūt… beidzot… mēs sāksim saprast, kam šī savienība ir domāta, kāda tā ir tagad, un ko darīt tālāk. Kāpēc vispār mums ir svarīgi būt vienotiem?

Šis Eiropas vienotības projekts iesākās 1950. gadā. Latvija kopā ar vēl 9 valstīm pievienojās 2004. gadā. Tātad daudz vēlāk… 54 gadus pēc ES pamatu likšanas. Es atceros Latvijas referendumu, un pa miglu atceros debates. Ja godīgi, man tās nelikās nekādas karstās. Neatceros, ka mēs virtuvē ar draugiem sēdētu un strīdētos. Un ne tāpēc, ka politiķi jau visu izlēmuši mūsu vietā. Mēs gribējām stāties ES. Latvija nobalsoja 67% ar “JĀ”. Cik ļoti to gribēja pārējās valstis? Igaunija 67%, Lietuva 91%, Polija 77%, Čehija 77%, Ungārija 83%, Slovākija 92%, Slovēnija 90%, Malta 54%

Kā redzams, neviens mūs nespieda un nevilka ar varu. Lielākā daļa Latvijas iedzīvotāju to gaidīja ar prieku, un 2004. gada 1. maijs bija svētki. Es ceļoju pa pasauli ar savu ES pasi, un redzu, cik daudzi skatās ar zināmu skaudību uz šo mazo dokumentu manā rokā. Kāpēc viņiem liekas, ka ES pase ir tāda privilēģija?

Lielais jautājums – kāpēc mēs tik ļoti gribējām stāties šajā savienībā? Naudas dēļ? Daudziem tā liekas visloģiskākā atbilde. Kurš gan negrib iestāties bagāto klubā, vai ne? Kā lai tiek pie tiem treknajiem ES fondiem Briselē? Reizēm man liekas, ka tās pašas balsis, kam nauda pirmā vietā, tagad kliedz visskaļāk, ka bēgļi, patvēruma meklētāji vai citi migranti grib tik to naudu, tos treknos fondus un atbalstus, un turklāt vēlas ievākties mūsu bagāto rajonā. (Ko vēl sagribēs!)

Vai arī tas bija drošības dēļ? Mums, Latvijā, tas arī ir ļoti loģisks iemesls. Mēs esam pārāk mazi, lai aizstāvētos pret dažādiem globāliem satricinājumiem un draudiem, un mums jābūt aliansē ar lielākām un stiprākām (bet arī jaukām un demokrātiskām) valstīm.

Jautājums ir patiešām nopietns. Jo šajā pašā brīdī viena Eiropas valsts piedzīvo karu un ciešanas, jo tauta izrādīja vēlēšanos tuvināties Eiropas Savienībai, un pat sapņo par iestāšanos. (Par ko tad viņi cīnās?) Ukrainā ir karš, jo cilvēki grib būt savienībā un vienotībā ar pārējo Eiropu, un briti lemj, vai palikt kopā vai sķirties.

Neliela atkāpe, lai kāds mani nepārprastu… Es nedomāju, ka Eiropas Savienība ir vislabākā vieta uz pasaules. Es nedomāju, ka mums ir visas atslēgas cilvēces problēmām. Es nedomāju, ka te ir paradīze zemes virsū, un es katrā ziņā neparakstos zem attieksmes – Dievs svētī Eiropas Savienību, un nevienu citu!

Bet es esmu pārliecināta, ka viena no mūsu problēmu un patreizējās krīzes – sociālās, ekonomiskās, politiskās – saknēm ir tas, ka mēs nezinām, kas mēs esam. Mūsu morālais kompass ir krietni bojāts, vai dažreiz vispār nedarbojas. Kur ir ziemeļi, kur ir dienvidi? Daudz ko vajag pārrunāt un pārdomāt, piemēram, identitāti un nacionālismu, bet šoreiz es gribu trāpīt uz naglas, kas ir ES saknes un pamati. Kāds bija tās dibinātāju redzējums, kad pēc Otrā Pasaules kara tika izveidota šī politiskā un ekonomiskā savienība? Iesākumā kā Eiropas Ogļu un tērauda kopiena ar 6 dalībvalstīm. Kāpēc šis redzējums ir joprojām aktuāls šodien?

Pagājšgad maijā es uzrakstīju nelielu ieskatu šajā vēsturē. “Why should I care about Europe Day” (latviskais variants vēl nav pievienots)  Atgādinot par cilvēku, kurš tiek saukts par “Eiropas tēvu”, un viņa drosmīgo redzējumu par iespēju vienot eiropiešus, pat ‘mūžīgos’ ienaidniekus.

Un vēl viens mans secinājums… Šī milzīgā problēma, ka nezinām vai esam aizmirsuši Eiropas vienotības pamatus un mērķus un redzējumu – tā nepiemīt tikai latviešiem. Tā piemīt arī igauņiem, lietuviešiem, poļiem, ungāriem, arī britiem, holandiešiem, utt… Tā ir problēma visā Eiropā. Un mums ar to ir jātiek galā. Kaut vai tikai ukraiņu dēļ, kuri meklē atbildes un virzienu savas nācijas nākotnei, un gaida mūsu atbalstu. Mums vajag izplatīt antivielas pret mūsu ES nezināšanu un apjukumu… ātri un lielās devās.

*Šajā rakstā ir daudz jautājumu pārdomām un pārrunām. Tāpēc, ka es turpināšu rakstīt par ES tēmu un mūsu, eiropiešu, krīzi. Ceru, ka jūs pievienosieties šai sarunai un pašanalīzei…

Cambodia and its complicated beauty

Have you ever unintentionally eavesdropped on someone’s conversation? I could not help it since this guys was talking on Skype very loudly. He was calling random people in China and always introduced himself as someone traveling in Asia. “I am in Cambodia right now”, he said. “It is a country between Thailand and Vietnam.”

I am in Cambodia, too. And currently reading a book called “The Quality of Mercy: Cambodia, Holocaust and Modern Conscience” by William Shawcross (1984) It reminds me of our complicated geographies and what it meant for Cambodia to be situated between Thailand and Vietnam. Very complicated story, indeed.

On my third trip to Cambodia, I continue to be amazed by the resilience and inner strength and warmth of these people. The children, of course, are adorable. I want to take photos with all of them as they wave, smile, say “hello” in English and send kisses. The adults smile, too. I cannot speak any Khmer even though (to my ear) it sounds very similar to Thai. I see lots of cultural and religious and linguistic similarities between Thailand and Cambodia.

It is a beautiful land but unfortunately not as beautiful as it used to be. One of the shocking facts is the horrific speed of deforestation. Just a few decades ago in 1969, its land was 70% forests. Now it is around 3% and the forests continue to shrink. In Siem Reap, there is still some green, natural beauty surrounding the national treasure – Angkor Wat. The huge ruins of temples and palaces from the former glory of Khmer kingdom.

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But most of the central plains are almost completely void of forests. Which means lots of things… Local people speak as common knowledge that each year gets hotter because of lack of trees. The flooding gets worse since the ground cannot drink it up; the air quality is bad. The wild animals lose their natural habitat and the list of man-made disasters goes on.

One of my friends from Malaysia made this comment about Cambodia. Dusty! Yes, it is very dusty, especially now in the dry season. I want to get one big hose and wash down everything. I also want to pick up all the trash on the ground. And I would like to see that all people have access to clean drinking water. Just yesterday I met with some great Khmer guys who are educating local villagers about the importance of clean water.

Here in Cambodia I hear two things a lot. Economic development and Community development. Often these two collide as money and corruption trumps the community needs. There is pride that this is one of the fastest developing economies in Southeast Asia. Honestly I have very mixed feelings about the’ speed’ and question some of the definitions of ‘development’. Transparency International research about global corruption currently rates Cambodia in 150th place out of 168 countries. So, obviously transparency and rule of law is not something that is developing fast.

Easy to write a blog but what else can I do? I am here as a visitor who is also promoting development. I promote God’s vision of good life… the kind of life that most of us want. Life that is lived in right relationships within the community and the environment. The Hebrews call it ‘Shalom’; the academic Miroslav Volf calls it ‘flourishing life’; the think-tank Legatum Institute calls it ‘prosperity’ but they talk about the same thing.

I am inspired and challenged by Cambodia. Inspired because the country has traveled such a difficult road and has come so far. Challenged because I worry about the direction and many of the advisers. Therefore I am encouraged by our Khmer friends who are determined to learn new ways of ‘development’. They are making a new road. The real beauty of good living that reveals mercy, love, kindness, justice, dignity and honesty…

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Photos from personal archive

 

Tale as old as time: My tribe against yours

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ronia jumping

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

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

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

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

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

Ronia and Birk

Illustrations by Ilon Wikland

Latviski:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My husband digs through the rubbish

The nations of the world are meeting in Paris, France to discuss the climate change; the warming of our planet; the pledges that have been made and the reality that those pledges are not ambitious enough. We are negotiating how to cut carbon emissions and to limit global warming to 2C (3.6F)

We are not talking about some greenhouse where to grow tomatoes and other vegetables. We are talking about the ‘greenhouse’ we live in.

The debate has definitely shifted. It does not matter if you believe that the global warming is the result of rapid industrialization or the signs of natural climate cycles. The fact remains – our planet is warming and more and more people around the world are suffering because of it. Extreme weather, severe floods or droughts, food shortages, climate refugees… of course, not just people, but the animals and the nature itself suffers.

I have observed plenty of it with my own eyes. For example, in Southeast Asia where I have lived for the last few years. Plastic rubbish everywhere – on the road, in the forest, in the water, in the field. Plastic is so cheap there and used without much thought. I look at the ground that has to ‘swallow’ it and I feel sadness and anger.

I think of my grandmother who is a gardener and has the highest love and respect for the soil. She knows what is good soil and what is bad soil and how long it takes to nurture a small plot of land to make it fertile. She gets upset at me when I use lots of dish soap or other cleaning supplies because she does not want it to go into the ground. She would be horrified to see and ‘smell’ most of the sewage water and canals in Southeast Asia.

Then I have my husband who also gets upset at me. Well, more annoyed than upset. I think that I am good at recycling. Then comes he and finds something else in our rubbish that I should not have thrown out. Wherever we are staying, first things first – he locates the local recycling bins. Or asks the people we are staying with, ‘how do you recycle? where should we put it?’

In Latvia we are very proud of our nature and clean air and clean water, but we still fail when it comes to renewing the resources. Take that same recycling since it is the easiest thing that everyone can do. We throw out plastic, paper, glass… Most of municipalities provide recycling bins but they are often disaster. I open the paper bin and I see regular waste thrown in. I can imagine what some of Riga residents have thought, watching my husband open those large bins, pulling out items. ‘Why is this foreigner digging through the rubbish? He does not look like a homeless person.’

My Latvian friends can correct me but as far as I know, most of rubbish still ends up in the landfills. I also know people in the countryside who just bury it. So, our beautiful land has to ‘swallow’ it and rubbish produces lots of methane.

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There are many other people who make me think twice about the things I waste. These people make their living from sorting our rubbish and reselling what can be sold or reusing what can be used. In Cairo, Egypt I learned that 80% of the rubbish gets recycled. Mostly sorted by human hands. I stayed in the Cairo neighborhood where thousands of people do that for living. Yes, it stunk and I had to get used to it. I remember washing clothes and hanging them to dry, thinking of the ‘aroma’ all around.

Then I think of Mae Sot, Thailand where families live at the local dump site and children help their parents to climb the mounds of waste, looking for anything recyclable or valuable. Children would also make toys out of the things they found and show it off as a treasure.

One of the millions of reasons why I will never look at my rubbish bin the same.

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Latviski:

Pagājšnedēļ Parīzē sākās pasaules mēroga konference, kas ir veltīta klimata izmaiņām; mūsu planētas sasilšanai; lieliem solījumiem un apziņai, ka ar šiem solījumiem vien nepietiek. Mēs turpinam apspriest, kā samazināt oglekļa izmešus atmosfērā un ierobežot globālo sasilšanu ap +2C

Izklausās, it kā runātu par siltumnīcu. Taču šoreiz nerunājam par tomātiem un gurķiem, bet gan mūsu Zemi un mūsu pašu dzīves kvalitāti.

Saruna ir ievirzījusies dziļā gultnē. Vienalga, vai mēs uzskatām, ka globālo sasilšanu izraisa pasaules straujā industralizācija un cilvēku darbošanās, vai arī domājam, ka piedzīvojam normālu klimata izmaiņu ciklu. Fakti nemainās – mūsu planēta sasilst, un arvien vairāk cilvēku no tā cieš. Ekstrēmi laika apstākļi, stipras vētras, spēcīgi plūdi vai arī liels sausums, pārtikas trūkums, klimata bēgļi… Protams, cieš ne tikai cilvēki, bet visa radība.

Daudzas no šīm problēmām esmu redzējusi savām acīm. Piemēram, dzīvojot Dienvidāzijā. Kur vien skaties, plastmasa! Uz ceļiem, mežos, ūdenī, laukā. Plastmasa tur ir tik ļoti lēta, ka nav pat jāpiedomā. Es skatos uz augsni, kas to pamazām ‘norij’, un mani pārņem skumjas un dusmas.

Iedomājos savu vecmammu, kura ir dārzniece, un izturas pret augsni ar vislielāko mīlestību un cieņu. Viņa zin, kas ir auglīga vai neauglīga zeme, un cik ilgi un smagi jāstrādā, lai to koptu. Viņa dusmojas uz mani, kad lietoju trauku mazgājamos vai citus tīrāmos līdzekļus, jo viņa necieš, ka tā ķīmija nonāk ūdenī vai kaut kur zemē. Viņa būtu šokēta, ieraugot un paostot notekūdeņus un kanālus Dienvidāzijā.

Arī mans vīrs uz mani dusmojas. Ja ne dusmojas, tad vismaz aizrāda. Man pašai liekas, ka esmu apzinīga atkritumu šķirotāja. Bet tad virtuvē ienāk viņš, un atkal kaut ko atrod tai miskastes spainī, ko nevajadzēja mest laukā. Kad ierodamies jaunā vietā, viņš uzreiz piefiksē, kur ir atkritumu šķirotavas. Un jautā vietējiem, kā viņi šķiro atkritumus, un kur mums to likt?

Latvijā mēs ļoti lepojamies ar tīro dabu, gaisu un ūdeni, bet mums vēl daudz jāuzlabo resursu atjaunošanā un pārstrādē. Kaut vai tā pati atkritumu šķirošana, kas ir tik vienkārša lieta. Bet vienalga metam miskastē plastmasu, papīru, stiklu… Lielākā daļa pašvaldību (varbūt pat visas?) nodrošina konteinerus atkritumu šķirošanai, bet bieži vien tur ir tāda ‘miskaste’. Atveru konteineru papīram, un tur jau pārtikas atkritumu maisi. Mēģinu iedomāties, ko ir padomājuši tie Rīgas iedzīvotāji, kuri ir redzējuši manu vīru šad tad rokamies pa tiem lielajiem konteineriem, un metot stiklu pie stikla, plastmasu pie plastmasas. “Ko tas ārzemnieks tur meklē? Neizskatās taču pēc bomža.”

Mani draugi Latvijā, variet mani palabot, bet, cik man zināms, lielākā daļa atkritumu Latvijā nonāk parastās izgāztuvēs. Pazīstu arī lauciniekus, kuri plastmasu un stiklu vienkārši ierok dziļi savā zemē. Mūsu skaistajai zemei tas viss ‘jānorij’. Nemaz nerunājot par metāna gāzes veidošanos, utt.

Ne tikai vecmamma un mans vīrs liek man aizdomāties par lietām, ko metu laukā. Ir daudzi citi cilvēki. Tie, kuriem atkritumu šķirošana ir galvenais ienākumu avots. Ēģiptes galvaspilsētā Kairā es uzzināju, ka tur 80% no atkritumiem tiek pārstrādāti. Izšķiroti ar cilvēku rokām. Es pavadīju kādu laiku vienā no Kairas rajoniem, kur to darīja tūkstošiem cilvēku. Jā, smaka bija briesmīga, un bija pie tā jāpierod. Atceros, ka izkāru izmazgātās drēbes, un domāju par ‘aromātu’, kādā tās žūs.

Vēl es iedomājos par Meisot pilsētu Taizemē, kur ģimenes dzīvo vietējā atkritumu izgāztuvē. Bērni palīdz saviem vecākiem, kāpjot šajos mēslu kalnos un meklējot visu, ko var pārdot un pārstrādāt. Bērni bieži atrod arī kādas lietas, ko izmantot savām rotaļām.

Viens no miljoniem iemeslu, kāpēc es uz savu miskastes spaini skatos ar citām acīm…

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!

Greece is on my mind and here is why

So, here I am – living in Asia – and every time I turn on the news, it is a story from Europe that dominates the international headlines. Greece and the debt crisis…

Yesterday Gary and I were on a long bus ride and, with lots of time to talk, I started venting. My poor husband, he has to listen to lots of my speeches! He said, “Why are you talking to me about this? Talk to Europeans!” Exactly my thoughts and hence this blog. Not just for Europeans, but for anyone following this complicated situation.

I am not an economist or a political scientist, but I see a big relational problem. Even if we talk only about the actual topic – the debt and bailout- it is very relational. With borrowing and lending, there are two sides relating to each other. Guy Brandon, Research Director at the Jubilee Centre in Cambridge, UK gives this simple explanation, “For the borrower, there is the obligation to repay their debt, to seek to understand the lender’s interests and to secure the best deal for them within the terms available. For the lender, there is the recognition that the world is an uncertain place. Repayment cannot always be guaranteed and default should not be forced unnecessarily.”

Also, I think we almost forget that we are talking about a nation here. Country with more than 10 million people in a very difficult, fearful situation. What if it is my grandmother who is afraid to lose her small social guarantees? What if it is my younger sister among the 50% of youth who are unemployed? What if it is my dad, standing in long lines at ATM to get his daily ‘allowance’ of 60 euro?

When the global financial crisis hit the world in 2007-2008, the bailout of banks and financial institutions was beyond ‘huge’. US and European governments spent trillions. We know that the crisis had many roots and complicated global issues, but no denying, that there were systemic and endemic failures and human greed that led to it.

So, yes, Greece needs to reform and there are endemic failures, but those without sin can cast the first stone. There is tax evasion in Greece? Yes, there is (but I don’t think Latvians can be a role model.) There are serious problems in public sector? Yes, very serious…

I will not talk about the current Greek government since I understand them very little. They may be very populist, but again, this is not anything new on European continent when it comes to some other serious issues like nationalism, immigration, etc. Like I said, it is all about relationships. I believe that both sides have made big mistakes  – Greece and the European creditors – and the language used is often harmful and isolating and judgmental. Lots of self-righteousness. This includes many of the Latvian politicians and media.

We are talking about the European Union here. If Greece had to leave euro zone, it basically would mean that they have to leave the European Union and from what I hear, Greek people want to stay in the EU. I cringe when media uses the words, “Greece may get kicked out… Grexit…” This is not some sensational story.  This is a very big deal. It would be a huge relational failure with unforeseeable consequences. There is already much bitterness and frustration between peoples. What do you think this would mean to the relations between nations? I am not talking only about Greeks and Germans. What about Latvians and Greeks? Is Greece ‘our neighbor’ or not?

For those who are interested in a deeper and better economic and political analysis, I will insert a link to an article written by a Christian think-tank Jubilee Center in UK. It was written in 1998 during the debate about joining European Monetary Union or euro. It expressed some of the main concerns which now seem very insightful. Here is what they wrote on the question whether euro will make Europe more peaceful and harmonious, “If a country faces an unsustainable fiscal situation, it may be forced to threaten default on its debt or request help from other members. If a transfer or debt guarantee is granted, those populations in solvent countries may resent their taxes being used to bail out irresponsible governments elsewhere. If these payments have no democratic mandate, resentment of neighboring countries within EMU may result.”

I encourage you to read the article but more than that – I want to encourage all of us, including the main decision makers, to think relationally. It is not about economy or money or even news headlines; it is about people and lives and social harmony in Europe!

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