Zooming in and out this world and life of ours

Bangkok – Moscow – Riga… my flight itinerary the other day. I have been on this route many times before, bridging Southeast Asia and Northern Europe in less than 12 hours. Once I mentioned to a friend that I feel my one foot in Latvia and the other in Thailand. My friend laughed: “That is quite the leg split. How do you manage?”

On the long-haul flights I face a dilemma. Do I take the aisle seat for convenience of getting in and out without disturbing others?  Or do I take the window seat and catch the glimpses of the world bellow? Flying higher than even the migratory birds fly, for most of us this is high as it gets.

On this last flight I was lost in deep thoughts on what I had just experienced in Thailand and what was waiting for me back in Europe. It feels like the whole world is in some strange limbo and the scenes are changing and the events are happening much faster than our brains can process. (I guess this is why some people look to artificial intelligence with so many hopes and dreams. I am not one of them, though.)

And then I discovered a feature on our in-flight entertainment that kept me occupied and enchanted. When looking at the flight map and the plane location, it offered different views and angles. You could click on “right wing” and get the names of cities and places looking east. Or click on the view “left wing” and explore the west. There was the option of “cockpit view” or the view from underneath the plane. If the sky was clear, you could hope to get some actual views of landscape.

But my favorite thing was the zoom “in” and “out” option. At first everything was up close. Here is the plane and here is the name of some place I have never heard of. My first question is – where are we? What country is this? I would start to zoom out to get the big picture. “I see. Now we are flying over India and then we will cross into Pakistan airspace and then Afghanistan. Wow! And then other countries in Central Asia. And then the big country of Russia and finally my little country of Latvia. I love it.”

You can say that I am a big picture girl. Whether it’s the maps or the news.  I always read about the global affairs before the domestic ones. I always think of how something in Myanmar will impact the neighbors, how the regime in North Korea does not care about its own people and even less about the rest of us,  how the whole world is following every word that US president Donald Trump says and watching every move he makes (even my elderly Thai neighbors in Chiang Mai, Thailand asked me what I think about Donald Trump.. and we have never discussed politics before… ever)

There is no going back. Our world is so interconnected and when any part of the world hurts, it hurts the others. When any part is doing well and experiencing peace and well being, it helps the others. Even if by giving hope and dreams. We can speak “isolationism” and act like we are going to “circle the wagons” and only take care of “our own people” and put “our country first” but this is not the world we live in. We cannot create some walled-in enclaves of “peace and prosperity” as the way into the future. I don’t believe that this kind of picture of the world is good or desirable or possible.

What kind of picture of the world is desirable? Well, that is the big question and I certainly don’t have the full answer. Again, looking from the bird’s view, the challenges are huge – climate change will continue (human made or natural, it is happening), social inequality continues to widen (within countries  and among countries) and global migration will continue (and lots of it is connected to the first two ). You cannot live in your corner of the world and think that somehow these global challenges will not effect you.

But the reverse is true also and that is why I like to zoom in. Each country is cities, towns, villages and homesteads. Each place is people and families. I fly over the mega cities of India and think of all the millions of people down there and their daily lives and their hopes and their prayers. So many have to work very hard just to survive and cannot dream of sitting in those airplanes flying high above their heads.

I was looking at the landscape of Afghanistan and could see the roads weaving through the desert. I know people who have been there – soldiers, nurses, missionaries, volunteers, journalists. They have a real on the ground experience of this nation. The good and the not so good, the beautiful and not so beautiful, the daily lives of people. Their joys and their fears and their questions and their goals.

From my high ‘moral’ place in the sky, I cannot change anything on the ground. I start by zooming in and thinking about the actual dear people down there. I start by living out my vision wherever I land. I zoom in to be actually ‘present’ and ‘among’.

My point is – we need both. We need to lift our eyes to see that there is much more happening than what we realize and we need to lower our eyes to see the people right in front of us.

IMG_3146

Waiting to board my flight in Bangkok

Latvian:

Bangkoka – Maskava – Rīga… tāds bija mans maršruts. Esmu lidojusi šo ceļu vairākas reizes, savienojot Dienvidaustrumāziju un Ziemeļeiropu kādās 12 stundās. Reiz es stāstīju vienam draugam, ka esmu ar vienu kāju Latvijā un ar otru Taizemē. Viņš smējās: “Tad gan tev riktīgs špagats. Kā tu noturi līdzsvaru?”

Garajos pārlidojumos grūti izvēlēties. Vai sēdēt pie ejas, lai vieglāk tieku ārā no krēsla, netraucējot pārējiem? Vai arī sēdēt pie loga, lai baudītu dabas skatus, ja gadījumā nav mākoņu? Lidojot augstumā, kur tikai retais gājputns iemaldās.

Šajā nesenajā lidojumā biju iegrimusi pārdomās par tikko piedzīvoto Taizemē un par to, kas mani sagaida Latvijā. Ir sajūta, ka visā pasaulē sašūpojusies morālā un skaidrā saprāta ass. Notikumi un visādi pavērsieni uzņēmuši tik strauju gaitu, ka smadzenes netiek līdzi ( varu saprast, kāpēc daži tik ļoti ilgojas pēc mākslīgā intelekta, bet es par to nesapņoju).

Un tad es atklāju vienu ļoti jauku un interesantu izklaidi uz mazā TV ekrāna, kas ir katram pasažierim. Parasti var sekot līdzi lidojuma statusam un lidmašīnas atrašanās vietai, bet tagad mūsdienu tehnoloģijas pievieno vēl visādas iespējas. Piemēram, skats no “labā spārna”, kas norāda uz vietu nosaukumiem uz austrumiem. Vai arī skats no “kreisā spārna”, kas šoreiz bija skats uz rietumiem. Vēl bija skats no “pilota kabīnes” un skats “zem lidmašīnas”. Ja debesis bija skaidras, tad tiešām jūties kā putns.

Bet vislabāk man patika tāda opcija, kā “pietuvināt” vai “attālināt”. No sākuma karte rādīja visu tuvumā. Te ir lidmašīna, un te ir man nepazīstamas vietas nosaukums, kurai šobrīd lidojam pāri. Mana pirmā domā – kur mēs esam? Virs kuras valsts? Es sāku ‘attālināt’, lai redzētu kopbildi. “Skaidrs! Tagad lidojam pāri Indijas ziemeļiem un tad būsim Pakistānas gaisa telpā. Sekos Afganistāna un citas Centrālāzijas valstis. Cik interesanti! Tad būs lielā Krievija un pēc tam mazā Latvija. Kā man patīk ceļot!”

Man patīk lielā kopbilde un plašā perspektīva. Gan pasaules kartēs, gan pasaules ziņās. Es vienmēr lasu par notikumiem ārzemēs pirms vietējām ziņām. Es pārdomāju, kā attīstība Mjanmā ietekmēs kaimiņvalstis; kā Ziemeļkorejas režīms nicina savus tautiešus un vēl vairāk mūs pārejos; kā visa pasaule tagad seko katram ASV prezidenta Donalda Trampa vārdam un katram viņa lēmumam. Pat mani kaimiņi Taizemē, veci taizemieši, jautāja, ko es domājot par Trampu. Un viņi nekad nav runājuši ar mani par ārvalstu politiku. Nekad.

Laiku un pasauli nevar pagriezt atpakaļ. Mūsu dzīves ir tik cieši saistītas. Kad vienā pasaules malā iet grūti un ir karš vai bads vai citas nelaimes, pārējā pasaule arī cieš. Kad citā pasaules malā iet labi un mierīgi, pārējie arī ir ieguvēji. Kaut vai tādēļ, ka nezaudē cerību un savus sapņus. Mēs varam ‘izolēties’ un rupēties tikai par ‘savējiem’ un likt savu valsti ‘pirmajā vietā’, bet tāda pasaule vairs nepastāv. Mēs nevaram uzcelt sienas apkārt kaut kādām ‘miera un bagātības’ oāzēm, kur varēsim domāt un rupēties tikai par savu nākotni. Tāda pasaule nav ne vēlama, ne iespējama.

Kāda pasaule ir vēlama un iespējama? Tas ir tas lielais jautājums, un nevienam nav gatavas atbildes. Man ir šādas tādas domas, kas turpina veidoties. Tāpēc tik svarīgs ir tāds putna lidojums un skats no augšienes. Dažas problēmas tiešām ir milzīgas un globālas. Klimata pārmaiņas notiek un turpināsies (gan dabas, gan cilvēku izraisītās). Sociālās nevienlīdzības plaisa un netaisnīgums arī nemazinās, bet gan pieaug (gan valstu iekšienē, gan starp valstīm) un globālā migrācija un cilvēku kustība turpināsies (turklāt cieši saistīta ar pirmajām divām tendencēm). Tā kā skaidrs, ka nekāda izolēšanās nav atbilde un risinājums.

Taču tikpat svarīgi ir nolaisties uz zemes. Tāpēc man patika opcija “pietuvināt”. Katra valsts ir pilsētas, ciemati un mājas. Katra vieta ir cilvēki, indivīdi un ģimenes. Lidojam pāri Indijas daudzmiljonu pilsētām, un es domāju par cilvēkiem tur lejā. Domāju par viņu smago darbu, par viņu ikdienas dzīvi, par sapņiem, ilgām un lūgšanām. Tik daudzi var tikai noskatīties uz lidmašīnām sev virs galvas.

Varēju redzēt Afganistānas tuksnesi un ceļus, kuri vijās kā čūskas. Pazīstu cilvēkus, kuri tur ir bijuši – karavīri, medmāsas, ārsti, brīvprātīgie, misionāri, žurnālisti. Viņi ir, kaut arī nepilnīgi, guvuši zināmu pieredzi šajā zemē. Gan labo, gan slikto; gan skaisto, gan ne tik skaisto. Viņi var labāk iedziļināties afgāņu ikdienas dzīvē. Jo ir redzējuši cilvēku priekus un bēdas, bailes un cerības.

No sava augstā putna lidojuma es nevaru ietekmēt to, kas notiek uz zemes. Tāpēc vispirms ‘pietuvinu’ vietu nosaukumus un domāju par konkrētiem cilvēkiem. Pēc tam es lieku lietā savas atziņas un uzskatus dzīvē tur, kur nolaižos. Es pievelku ‘vistuvāk’ un cenšos būt ‘klāt’ un ‘blakus’.

Mums ir nepieciešamas abas perspektīvas. Mums ir jāpaceļ savas acis uz augšu, lai redzētu, kas notiek apkārt pasaulē, un mums ir jānolaiž savas acis, lai redzētu cilvēkus, kuri dotajā brīdī ir blakus.

 

The perks of being curious

Sitting between two total strangers, I am always grateful for being a small person. Especially on a budget airline with very small seats.

This time on my right was an American middle aged guy who was dressed for a business trip and on my left was a young Asian guy who was obviously a Buddhist monk. We were flying from Boston to Minneapolis and I was determined to get some sleep. It had been a very long day and my third flight already. While getting settled in our seats, I was the only one who was not on the phone checking messages and Facebook and I took it as a ‘good sign’ that nobody is interested in talking.

I glanced at the young monk with his iPhone and thought about the changing times and changing paradigms.  Talk about breaking stereotypes…

Suddenly the American man asked me some polite questions. Meanwhile I was curious about the monk and finally asked him about his red robe. It was a different colour then the ones in Thailand and he explained the Mahayana school which is mostly practiced by Tibetan Buddhists. He was from Taiwan, living in India and traveling to Minnesota to do some translation work.

So, here we were ‘united nations’ from Latvia, Taiwan and USA. Crammed together in a very small space, sharing all the conveniences and inconveniences of inexpensive air travel. The American became very thoughtful and then asked us both, “What do people around the world think about America now?”

Such a broad and vague question but I knew what he wanted to know. He did not want to know what people think about American clothes, hairstyles, history, holidays, work habits or movies. Between the lines, he wanted to know what ‘outsiders’ think about American foreign policies. He looked concerned and also puzzled.

Actually my answer was as vague and general as his question because during the conversation I realized that he was not a good listener. He would jump from question to question and then sigh and become uninterested. The Taiwanese monk, on the other hand, gave a very enthusiastic answer, explaining the geopolitical issues and how the US and Japan are the best and closest allies for Taiwan.

Also, the monk started talking about the values of respect and honor and how his Buddhist religious garments were made by a Muslim tailor. He said that there are good and bad people everywhere but there is much more good in the world than the bad. I could not have said it any better.

I noticed that the American passenger’s curiosity had limits. He admitted he had not traveled outside the US and had never been to Europe or Asia. He also did not seem interested in going even though he had the means.

So, here is an observation. I think that one of the big problems is that we think of international relations as “foreign” and “policies”. It is ‘us’ dealing with ‘them’ and ‘our politics’ versus ‘their politics’. “Foreign” often sounds strange and distant. And it will stay foreign and distant to this man unless he is willing to be much more curious about the world and actually go to other countries and meet more people face to face. Certainly the privilege of his passport allows it.

Much better question to ask is –  how are we, Americans, relating to you? The same as I need to ask – how are we, Latvians, relating to you? A friend of mine, Jeff Fountain, writes that “nations can find meaning in being rightly related to other nations, just as is true for us as individual persons.”

Let’s be very curious about each other…

International Airport Departures Board

Places to go and people to meet…

Latviski:

Iespiesta starp diviem svešiniekiem, priecājos, ka esmu tik maziņa. Īpaši izmantojot lētu aviokompāniju ar maziem sēdekļiem.

Man pa labi apsēdās amerikānis pusmūža gados, kas atgriezās mājās no biznesa brauciena. Pa kreisi iekārtojās jauns džeks ar aziātiskiem sejas vaibstiem, ģērbies kā budistu mūks. Lidojām no Bostonas uz Mineapoli, un man ļoti gribējās gulēt. Kā nekā, jau trešais lidojums vienā dienā. Iekārtojoties lidmašīnā, mani blakussēdētāji bija pārāk aizņemti ar saviem tālruņiem, un es to uztvēru kā ‘labu zīmi’, ka neviens negribēs sarunāties.

Pašķielēju uz jaunā džeka pusi, un pasmaidīju par mainīgo pasauli un mainīgajiem uzskatiem. Budistu mūks ar iPhone…

Pēkšņi amerikānis nolēma būt pieklājīgs amerikāņu gaumē un uzdeva dažus jautājumus. Mani tomēr vairāk interesēja tas mūks, un beidzot saņēmos pajautāt, kādas krāsas mantija viņam mugurā. Zināju, ka Taizemes mūki velk oranžas mantijas, bet viņam bija tumši sarkana ar zilu apmalīti. Puisis sāka skaidrot, ka seko Tibetas skolai, kas ir Mahajāna budisma novirziens. Viņš pats bija no Taivānas, dzīvo Indijā, bet atbraucis uz ASV kā tulks.

Te nu mēs bijām kopā ‘apvienotās nācijas’ no Latvijas, Taivānas un ASV. Iespiesti mazajās sēdvietās un izbaudot lēto lidojumu ērtības un neērtības. Amerikānis palika tāds domīgs un tad jautāja mums abiem, ko šobrīd cilvēki pasaulē sakot par ASV?

Tik izplūdis jautājums, bet es sapratu, ko viņš grib zināt. Viņam neinteresēja, ko cilvēki domā par amerikāņu modi, frizūrām, vēsturi, svētkiem, darba tikumu vai filmām. Pat neprecizējot bija skaidrs, ka viņš jautā par Amerikas ārlietu politiku. Ar tādu norūpējušos skatienu.

Mana atbilde bija tikpat izplūdusi, kā viņa jautājums, jo es novēroju, ka viņš neprot klausīties. Viņam jautājumi lēkāja uz visām pusēm, un tajā pašā laikā viņš ātri zaudēja interesi, ja nebija ‘gaidītā’ atbilde. Puisis no Taivānas gan atbildēja ļoti dedzīgi, un izskaidroja, ka ģeopolitisko un vēsturisko iemeslu dēļ ASV un Japāna ir galvenie un svarīgākie Taivānas sabiedrotie.

Vēl mūks sāka runāt par to, ka mums vajag vairāk cienīt vienam otru, ieskaitot cilvēku reliģiskos uzskatus. Kā piemēru viņs minēja savu drēbnieku, kas šujot viņa klostera budistu mūkiem mantijas, lai gan pats esot musulmanis. Visur ir labi un slikti cilvēki, bet labais un skaistais pasaulē ir vairākumā. Man atlika vienīgi piekrist.

Es sapratu, ka amerikāņa ‘ziņkārībai’ ir robežas. Viņš atzinās, ka neesot ceļojis ārpus valsts, un neesot bijis ne Eiropā, ne Āzijā. Izklausījās, ka viņam nav pat vēlēšanās ceļot. Kaut gan viņa pase, un drošvien arī ienākumi dod šīs privilēģijas un iespējas.

Pēc sarunas man radās secinājums par vienu no mūsu visu problēmām. Ja mēs runājam nevis par starpvalstu attiecībām, bet par “ārlietām”, tad arī bieži paliekam šajās kategorijās – “ārējās” un “lietas”. Tad nostiprinās “mēs” un “viņi” un “mūsu politika” pret “viņu politiku”. “Ārējais” izklausās kā kaut kas svešs un tāls. Un starp mums ir jākārto kaut kādas “lietas”.

Šim vīrietim tas viss arī paliks tāls un svešs, ja viņš nekļūs vēl vairāk zinātkārs, un mazliet nepabraukās pa pasauli, lai satiktu citus aci pret aci. Ja idejas paliks ideju līmenī, bet bez cilvēka sejas.

Daudz labāk būtu uzdot šādus jautājumus – kā mēs, amerikāņi, pret jums izturamies? Kādas mums ir attiecības? Tāpat kā man ir jājautā – kā mēs, latvieši, pret jums izturamies? Man pazīstams vēsturnieks Džefs Fountans raksta, ka “nācijas iegūst savu patieso jēgu pareizās attiecībās ar citām nācijām, tāpat kā tas notiek mūsu personīgajās dzīvēs.”

Tāpēc būsim daudz ziņkārīgāki…

 

 

 

 

Why is Angelina Jolie causing a traffic jam in Battambang?

It turns out I have a few things in common with Angelina Jolie. She is in Cambodia and I am, too. She was in Battambang and I was there, too. She was shopping at the Night Market in Siem Reap and I was, too. She is researching the Khmer Rouge regime and the genocide of 1975-79 and I am, too.

I guess that is where our commonalities end. She is spending much more money and actually making an important movie about the history of Khmer Rouge, based on the autobiography “First They Killed My Father”, written by a survivor Loung Ung. Angelina Jolie has been interested in Cambodia for years and one of her sons was adopted from here. So, obviously with such a high-profile global celebrity in town, the people of Battambang have noticed the presence of film crews and other entourage.

I visited the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, the capital city of Cambodia. It is a sobering place. The Khmer Rouge (or Red Khmer) were a very radical Communist group with a utopian idea of restructuring the whole society. To create a class-less society,  they turned against education, religion, private ownership and any kind of freedom. Here are some of their slogans: “If you wish to get a Baccalaureate, you have to get it at dams or canals” or “Study is not important. What’s important is work and revolution.” (Mind you, many of the leaders were highly educated and had studied in Paris. Including Pol Pot himself.) The cities were emptied and the whole country was turned into a big labor camp with starving and suffering people. Almost 2 million died.

The Tuol Sleng or Security Prison 21 (S-21) had been one of the best high schools in the city before it became a place of torture. This was a special prison for mostly Khmer Rouge cadres and their families and many other random people. Approx 17, 000 people were held, tortured and killed in this place. The torture was meant to extract ‘confessions’ of what kind of traitor are you and who are you spying for – Americans (CIA) or Russians (KGB)? Men, women, teenagers and children, even babies… all were killed.

IMG_0909

The Khmer Rouge had photographed every victim at the time of arrest and many after their executions. Now there are thousands of photos of faces… smiling, sad, angry, confused, beaten, hopeful, hopeless and scared. I look at these faces and I think, it could have been me since I was born in the 70s. These could have been my parents, my grandparents, my brothers. I was fortunate to be born in Latvia and they were unfortunate to be born here.

I met on the survivors of this horrible place. His name is Bou Meng and he is 72 now. What saved him? His skill of painting and ability to draw portraits of the Khmer Rouge leaders. His wife and two young children perished. Bou Meng has written his testimony and advocates for justice and truthful remembering of Cambodia’s past.

One researcher said, “Wartime brutality, Marxist fanaticism, obsessive and threatened nationalism – these seemed to be three of the principal elements that had contributed to this totalitarianism. … I was disturbed not by the banality of evil but the intellectual pretensions behind it.” Words to reflect upon since these kind of ‘intellectual pretensions’ still exist. How to vaccinate yourself against it?

And no, I did not meet Angelina Jolie… but I will be waiting to see her new movie.

IMG_0931

Meeting Bou Meng, one of the survivors of S-21

Latviski:

Izrādās, ka man un Andželīnai Džolijai ir šis tas kopīgs. Viņa ir Kambodžā, un es arī. Viņa bija Batambangā, un es arī. Viņa iepirkās Siemrīpas nakts tirdziņā, un es arī. Viņa pēta Kambodžas vēsturi, konkrēti Sarkano hmeru (Khmer Rouge) režīmu un genocīdu no 1975. līdz 1979. gadam.

Te laikam kopīgais beidzas. Viņai ir daudz vairāk naudas, ko tērēt, un šobrīd viņa uzņem spēlfilmu par Sarkano hmeru teroru. Stāsts būs autobiogrāfisks, balstīts uz grāmatu “Vispirms Viņi Nogalināja Manu Tēvu” un Lungas Angas atmiņām. Andželīna jau daudzus gadus interesējas par Kambodžu, palīdz dažādos humanitāros projektos, un viens no viņas dēliem ir adoptēts no šejienes. Tāpēc saprotams, ka tādas pasaules mēroga slavenības un filmēšanas grupas uzturēšanās mierīgajā Batambangas pilsētā rada lielu burzmu un sastrēgumus.

Kambodžas galvaspilsētā Pnompeņā es apmeklēju Tuol Sleng Genocīda muzeju (S-21). Ļoti traģiska vieta. Sarkanie hmeri bija radikāla un fanātiska komunistu organizācija ar utopisku ideju par visas sabiedrības pārkārtošanu un ideālas zemnieku valsts izveidošanu. Tika likvidētas, skolas, rūpnīcas, nauda, privātīpašums un aizliegta jebkāda reliģija. Viena no šī režīma devīzēm bija “Ja vēlies iegūt bakalaura diplomu, dari to, būvējot dambjus un kanālus.” Vai arī “Izglītība nav svarīga. Svarīgs ir darbs un revolūcija.” (Tas nekas, ka paši ‘revolūcijas’ vadītāji bija guvuši augstāko izglītību, piemēram, Francijā. Arī pats Pols Pots bija studējis Parīzē.) Pilsētas tika iztukšotas, un visa valsts pārvērsta par vienu lielu darba nometni ar izsalkušiem un nomocītiem cilvēkiem. Aptuveni 2 miljoni bojāgājušo četru gadu laikā.

Paaugstinātas Drošības cietums Nr.21 (S-21) tika izvietots vienā no galvaspilsētas labākajām vidusskolām. Bijušās klases kļuva par cietuma kamerām. Pārsvarā te turēja, spīdzināja un nogalināja ‘savējos’ – Sarkanos hmerus, kuri tika apsūdzēti nodevībā. Arī viņu sievas un bēŗni, pat mazuļi, un ģimenes locekļi tika nogalināti. Apmēram 17,000 upuru. Spīdzināšanas mērķis bija noskaidrots, kā labā tu spiego – vai amerikāņu (tātad CIP agents), vai krievu (tātad VDK)?

Sarkanie hmeri fotografēja visus apcietinātos aresta laikā, un daudzus arī pēc nāves. Tagad piemiņai un liecībai ir tūkstošiem fotogrāfiju. Sejas, kas raugās uz mums… ar skumjām, ar smaidu, ar dusmām, apjukumu, cerību un reizē bezcerību un lielām bailēm. Skatos šajās sejās un domāju, kā tā varēju būt es, jo esmu tās desmitgades bērns. Tie varēja būt mani vecāki, vecvecāki, brāļi. Man bija tā laime piedzimt Latvijā, un viņiem bija tā nelaime piedzimt šeit.

Muzejā satiku vienu no nedaudzajiem, kas izdzīvoja. Šo vīrieti sauc Bou Mengs, un viņam tagad ir 72 gadi. Kas viņu izglāba? Spēja zīmēt un gleznot Sarkano hmeru vadītāju portretus. Viņa sieva un divi mazi bērni gan tika pazudināti. Bou Mengs ir pierakstījis savu liecību un atmiņas, un aktīvi piedalās taisnīguma un dziļas pagātnes pētīšanas procesā. Viņš bija liecinieks tiesas prāvā pret vienu no bijušajiem Sarkano hmeru vadītājiem, kas notika visai nesen. Šie tiesu procesi sākās tikai pēc 30 gadiem. (Taisnīguma meklēšana Kambodžā ir garš un sarežģīts stāsts.)

Viens no Kambodžas pētniekiem nonāca pie šāda secinājuma. “Kara laika brutalitāte, Marksistu fanātisms, milzīgs un it kā apdraudēts nacionālisms – tie bija trīs no galvenajiem elementiem, kas noveda līdz šādam totalitāram režīmam. … Mani satriec nevis ļaunuma banalitāte, bet gan tā ‘intelektuālās pretenzijas.” Svarīgi pārdomāt šos vārdus, jo līdzīgas pēc dabas ‘intelektuālas pretenzijas’ jeb pamatojumi pastāv vēl šodien. Kā iegūt imunitāti pret šādām idejām?

Un, nē, es nesatiku Andželīnu Džoliju, bet es gaidīšu viņas jaunāko filmu.

 

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.

DSCN1784

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…

DSCN1661

Photos from personal archive

 

The suffering of ‘unwanted’ people

This week I returned to my current home in Thailand and to the news headlines about the human tragedy in the Andaman Sea. This tragedy has been going on for many years since I have lived here. The story of suffering starts in Burma (official name – Myanmar) and it affects the whole region of Southeast Asia.

If you watch the news or read the headlines, you will see the boats crowded with starving, desperate people who nobody wants. Nations send their navy ships to pull them back out to sea. Thailand does not want them, Malaysia does not want them, Indonesia does not want them… but the source of tragedy is that their home does not want them. The Rohingya people are a large ethnic group, living in the western state of Rakhine. Most of them live in Burma and their religion is Islam.

International human rights groups describe them as one of the most persecuted people in the world. Since 1982 they are denied citizenship in Burma and the current government continues denying them citizen’s rights. They are not allowed to travel without a permission. There were even previous restrictions on marriage and children – allowed to have only two children, even though not strictly enforced. There has been communal violence in previous years, based on ethnicity and religion and a widespread sentiment in Burma, fueled by a few very nationalistic Buddhist monks, that these people do not belong there.

Thousands of them are forced to live in camps in terrible conditions they are not allowed to leave. In their own country! So, in desperation they attempt to make the dangerous journey across the sea. This becomes another huge tragedy of human trafficking, abuse, corruption and suffering. I will not go into all the details as you can read about it in any major international news source.

The challenges in Burma are complicated but one issue is very simple and clear. As I see the photos of these beautiful people… yes, poor… yes, uneducated… yes, Muslim and not Buddhist or Christian… yes, dark skinned… Rohingya are our neighbors. Human beings created in God’s image with exactly the same value as a Latvian, a German, a Thai, a Karen, a Chinese, a Barman, an Australian, etc.

Who is my neighbor? And do I love my neighbor as myself? Firstly, this is the difficult and important question for the communities in Burma. Secondly, this is a question for the neighboring nations and thirdly, this is a question for all of us. For me as a European, I think of our governments who are willing to ‘close their eyes’ and not bring up these questions in favor of economic trade since Burma is so rich with resources.

Many of my friends in Burma are wrestling with this most important question God asks of us. Also, to help Rohingya people can mean to become persecuted. Even big international NGO’s have been told by Burma government to stay away and not get involved.

This is time for serious and deep soul searching and time for brave and real neighborly love…

1

Photo from news headlines