a little bit of Sweden, from an observer’s seat

Stockholm. It always feels so ambiguous for me to go home. This wasn’t where I grew up, so to a certain extent even I find it exciting since it’s unknown for me too. I don’t know my way around here like I would. I don’t know where to cross over to make a short cut. I don’t know the hilly and narrow streets in Old town like my own back pocket. I don’t know where the best place to go for unnecessarily large and greasy pizza on a rainy day would be. I don’t know where the best coffee is, so I go to Espresso House, the Swedish Starbucks. And I bump into people constantly, because what I do when I walk is that I look up at all the new, foreign and unfamiliar instead of looking straight ahead. I walk at the pace of a stranger, because this isn’t my home, and I don’t know where to go. I need to think here.

But, these are the people I grew up with. They speak the language in which I was taught what is right and what is wrong, and what is important and what is not, and how to transfer every feeling I have about all of this from thoughts into words. This is the language in which I can discern dialects and appreciate them, pick up on irony and sarcasm, and on tenderness and earnestness like only a native speaker could ever do. This is where the codes I know applies. Where people hug frequently and look each other in the eye while speaking. Where good service is characterized by humanity and presence rather than perfection and servility. Where people, at least rather than rarely, think twice.

When I was 14 years old I had an assignment on foreign affairs in school. I asked my teacher ”what do I need to do to obtain an A?”. She said, and I remember this entire conversation word by word to this very day. ”To obtain an E, all you need to do is to cover the facts. To obtain a C, you need to demonstrate that you can see the connections between certain events. And to obtain an A, you need to analyze.”. ”What does that mean?” I asked unknowingly. ”To analyze Adam, it means that you show that you possess the skill of seeing things from another perspective than your own”. ”That doesn’t sound too difficult” I replied. And she said ”In life, you’ll come to realize that a lot fewer people than you think, knows how to do this. To write down facts every ordinary person in the world can do, but to put your own point of view aside and to realize that the world sometimes is wider than how you see it, that’s extraordinary”.

I’ve repeated that conversation to myself many times since that day ten years ago. And for every time, it’s managed to make a little more sense, making me realize that perhaps it’s not the cities or countries that are fucked up, it’s the people in them.

Sweden isn’t a progressed a country as most people would give it credit for, but it’s not half bad. I didn’t need to move abroad or travel the world to see this, but I needed it understand that what we have, should be appreciated. It’s easy to think that small simple and extremely commonplace daily things like the relaxed tone in which sales assistant addresses you in or the private space given to you standing in line or on the subway by fellow people are universal things, but they’re not. And the only things that aggravate me to come here and surround myself by all of these cultural characteristics that actually do mean the world to me, is that most people don’t seem to understand the value of them. Would you cook and share a homemade meal for someone, who wouldn’t appreciate it more, than if the two of you went to Mc Donalds? Too few know that it’s the small things the greatest riches lay, and sadly that depletes the value of them.

The world is made difficult by simple people.

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Helicopters & philosophizing in Rio de Janeiro

Rio de Janeiro, from where I wrote this, is a multifaceted city. It’s an immensely beautiful place not hard on the eye, but below the scenic surfaces where the extremes of nature meet mankind, lays a defective society where the gap between the ones who have, and the ones who haven’t is remarkably palpable. A few days ago I got the opportunity of seeing it all from above, and I didn’t hesitate. From the observer’s seat of a tiny helicopter, it all looked so different. The teal blue ocean vigorously slamming the beaches, seeming so narrow that the rambunctious atmosphere they are known for felt like an illusion. The many colorful favelas climbing the cities steep slopes, stating the most contradictory contrasts where the poor look down on the rich, and the rich look up on the poor. And the statue on Corcovado; gigantic next to you, a chess piece from above. A reminder that some things are not as widely dimensional as we give them credit for, we just need to look from different angles. When I sat there it was in the company of one fear and one hope. One fear that giving up the observer’s seat will suck. One hope that the view is probably much better from the left seat. And just for clarification, I have zero ambitions of becoming a pilot.
 
How some so sharp contrasts can be equally appealing is a discovery of a traveler I never seem to stop falling for. Wrapped in a blanket with my feet up on the parapet I sat on the balcony in Rio the other night; my only company was the salty scent of the aggressive waves lapping the shore of Barra de Tijuca just below. I who basically grew up by the sea sat there and thought how something that’s supposed to be so foreign to me, somehow wasn’t. It was a different sea; the Atlantic has a fury the Baltic Sea doesn’t, but the sounds and the scents were identical while sitting there on a balcony facing the Atlantic ocean. A little strange and a little magical.
 
Where I live today, in the downtown area of one of the world’s fastest growing metropolitans, silence doesn’t exist. Day and night the city makes the same inevitable noise of its own growing pain, rising and stretching in every direction. Such man-made noise I was never surrounded by when I grew up, and I sometimes feel like I’m still getting accustomed to it. So very different from the reality I grew up in. Somehow it still brings me a similar serenity and sense of safety I get from listening to the waves. I believe it’s the mixture of what’s familiar and what’s unfamiliar that speaks to the part of me who have always sought to discover new horizons. To some, security is in homecoming, and to some, it’s in the escaping of home. To a few, it’s the wealth of both.
 
When I think of it, it’s really the contrasts that intoxicate and consumes me at the same time. The irrelevance of time zones and weekdays and all the numbers in between I believe to be unimaginable for someone living in a routine. But there’s a hidden back side of too much abundance of liberation and it’s called complacency, where the lows aren’t as low but the highs aren’t as high. Where Monday is not that much different from Friday, and 12 am not that different from 12 pm, and number 639 not that different from number 369; at least until you stand on the third floor trying to get into your hotel room while realizing that it’s actually on the sixth. It’s a meadow with an endless horizon, and when every direction looks the same, the thought of staying put is more appealing than to start walking. I read somewhere that the comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.
 
It’s been important to me realize that the day where I won’t find any more beauty in this life, will never come. And it’s been important because I would have waited a very long time if I didn’t know this. There are more beautiful places I wish to see while time allows for it, and if there is one thing to take away from a life where it’s all about constant first impressions, it is that there are as many ways to be happy as there are impressions of them. And maybe even more importantly, for the ones in meadowland, that it’s perfectly fine to be in a happy place but still dream of another happy place. Just remember, you might have to actually start walking to find it.
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I don’t believe that I was ever blind, I just didn’t know what to look out for

It is an eye-opening experience to work alongside different cultures, different religions, customs, and backgrounds. The constant curiosity of what to expect from people who’ve lived a completely different life than yourself is hard to put your finger on. Equally as exciting as it is daunting since you can never really know what to expect. That’s the exhaustive part of it. However, the most magical part of it, are the moments when despite all imaginable differences a common ground is found between people of completely different worlds. That kind of teamwork is a one of a kind and the redeeming quality of all the times when that chemistry does not occur.

But it’s not always a bed of roses, despite the occasional magic- There come times when you question yourself whether or not your prejudices are still just prejudices, once they’ve proven to be truthful countless of times. You slowly learn that certain nationalities are prone to act in a certain way in a certain situation, and you also realize how you yourself are prone to act in a certain way in certain situations. Because it’s not only about others and their characteristics you learn, you also learn about your owns. Working with people very different from yourself brings out different sides of us, and over time you realize what sides, and gradually you can start to select what it is that you want to showcase, or even sometimes, have to showcase in some situations. This is the most educational of all when you actually learn how to veer these differences into a situation beneficial to you. When do you need to be firm? When do you need to remain calm? When do you need to care? When do you not need to care? In total, what battles do you need to take?

It’s rewarding to learn how others think and live, especially as a mean of getting new perspectives to yourself. The differences are countless, but the one thing I’ve learned be the one astonishing thing as good as all people have in common, regardless of all other differentiating aspects, is their pride of their origin. And it doesn’t matter if someone comes from a country with the most profitable passport in the world or from a country you might wonder how they even managed to escape from. In the beginning, I would discreetly roll my eyes when some people brought this up, thinking to myself that the world is just filled with ignorant people. So it took me quite a while to understand that what is normal to me, might not be as normal to everyone else. Because the truth is that what creates our perception of what’s normal and what isn’t, is what we have grown up with and are used to experience. And in a multinational environment, that is different for everyone. A simple fact I used to be completely dumb to.

When I wrote this I was sitting on the floor of my hotel room in Seattle leaned towards the bed having a bottle of wine after a long flight. I thought about some of the things I had seen during the day, and I thought about, what is really normal to me? I thought about the 14 homeless people I’d passed by on my way home from the Farmers Market, a walk of less than 1 km. Anyone who’s familiar with the United States can easily imagine how the majority of these 14 people were not the casual disheveled beggars you might come across outside of European supermarkets. These were mentally ill people, often times fully engaged in vehement conversation with themselves, or by screaming out loud for reasons only they could make sense of. Those were people far beyond the edge of destitution, who are treated like they don’t exist. And I thought this is not normal to me, the acceptance of social decay. I felt thankful since that wasn’t normal to me.

Then I thought about the barista in the coffee shop down the street, a flamboyant Afroamerican man with purple nails as long as my own pinky fingers, whose abundant personality and style no one took any notice of at all. And I thought, as much as it breaks my heart, how that wasn’t really normal for me either. Even I come from one of the most prominent and well-advanced and accepting countries in the world, that kind of individual expression is nowhere near to being a norm. And I thought, that no one like him, would probably earn a job like that back home. And I felt disgraced how that reality, was the one that was normal to me.

Then I thought about my more trivial encounters. I thought about the man standing in front of me in the supermarket a few days earlier, who instead of packing his own groceries waited for the cashier to do it for him. And I thought, how it’s not normal for me to make someone else do, what I am fully capable of doing myself. And I thought, that I am proud that I haven’t been brought up in a society that allows you to think, that why should I do my own heavy lifting if someone else can do it for me?

Yesterday I watched the Swedish Prime Minister host a press conference regarding a reconstruction of the government. Having watched a lot of CNN on American television in the last few days it stroke how civilized a Swedish press conference is, with people respecting one another enough to let each other talk without interrupting. And I thought how amazing it is that something so fundamental to me, actually turns out to be something really amazing world wide. So I thought, I’m proud that allowing others to speak until finished, is not something I consider to be extra good behavior, it’s something I consider to be common sense.

I don’t believe that I was ever blind, I just didn’t know what to look out for. That I come from a well-developed country, that wasn’t foreign news to me even before I started this whole adventure, but the real gain of giving yourself an experience like this and to discover realities different from your own is not mostly to see different things but to see things differently. I now see that what I knew to be ordinary before, is actually very often rather extraordinary. Not necessarily always extraordinary good, but that’s also why it’s an understanding that has enriched with something more valuable than money could buy; the depth and the privilege of perspectives.

And I can’t help but think, how poor my life used to be without it.

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I Algeriet förs tankarna till det viktigaste

Från öst letar solen sig långsamt upp över Algeriet. 06:37. Även när vinden ligger stilla och sandkornen gör luften grumlig gör havet sig hört på hundra meters avstånd. Samma hav som jag såg skölja upp längs stränderna i Marseille för ett par veckor sedan. Men samtidigt ett helt annat. En horisont som solen skiftar i färg och ett vatten som är nästan ogenomträngligt mörkt precis intill strandkanten.

I Afrikas största land är mångsidigheten stor, men lättjan är den samma. I den svala medelhavsbrisen vid kusten, och i dem trånga gränderna uppe i Casbah i Alger. De ojämna gatorna inne i vad som betecknas både som Algers slum tillika dess kulturella arv är söndriga, och det är svårt att slita blicken ifrån den urgamla sandfärgade arkitekturen nedklottrade av politiska slagord. Vår flerspråkiga ciceron gestikulerar häftigt och blandar omedvetet fraser från sina många språk i sina berättelser för att sätta prägel. Längs Casbahs huvudled triumferar han stolt att gatustenen är den samma som på Champs-Elysées, fast där både tar likheter både av och vid, trots motljus av den starka eftermiddagssolen. Utmed en av stadsdelens få trafikerade vägar med växande osande sophögar längs trottoarkanten ligger en av många mindre moskéer; en turkos färgklick i en annars avtonad omgivning. Jag som går med bara knän får vänta utanför den ovala entrén i handsniden arabesk, och i den svalkande skuggen från murarna som omger byggnaden låter jag blicken vila på dem som sluter upp och ställer skorna innan dem duckar under den snäva porten. Här liksom nere i Algers backiga affärsstråk tycks det muslimska modet mer uppsluppet. Att se kvinnor i färgstark hijab, eller inte alls, är långt ifrån lika otänkbart som i många andra delar av den arabiska världen. Män kommer i uppknäppa linneskjortor, och jargongen är bara annorlunda.

I Algers mitt sträcker sig den franska influensen ännu närmare. Stadens kanske viktigaste historiska monument, La Grande Poste, det gamla postkontoret med stor trappa upp till en marmor försedd ingång och små arkader längs med varje våningsplan, omges av luggslitna bostadshus i fransk stil. Fem-sex våningshus med franska smala balkonger bakom järnräcken, vars syfte mer är dekoration än funktion. Dubbla fönsterluckor framför avlånga fönster. En hav av flaggstänger radar upp sig längs en av gatorna, och ett dussintals algeriska flaggor i smaragd och vitt smattrar ilsket i vinden. På ett rustikt café dricker vi kaffe och äter chocolatines för en summa mindre än för ett frimärke. Kaffekulturen är delvis fransk, delvis algerisk. Man får vara försiktig med i vilken ordning man ber om mjölk, annars blir det kaffet som blir tillsatsen, inte mjölken. Och att bara be om kaffe utan förklaring, ger dig en espresso.

Vår chaufför är en väderbiten och gladlynt man med pepparkaksbruna armar och inte ett hår kvar på huvudet. Brahim heter han. Brahim talar inte ett ord engelska, men har lyckligtvis inget emot att sänka tempot på sina franska svador så att åtminstone några meningar blir förstådda. ”Vi är moderna muslimer” påpekar han stolt när jag berättar om mina tidigare bevittnelser, och han förklarar så enkelt som möjligt att Algeriet är en liberal plats. Vilket jag tolkar som, är på god väg att bli en liberal plats. Att mitt sällskap inte förstår ett ord, och att jag försöker hålla masken för att inte visa att även jag simmar motströms, är inte ett moln på Brahims himmel. Han gestikulerar vilt medan han kör, och släpper ratten för att peka med hela armen. En inte helt ovanlig i syn i ett land där trots många överraskningar, vissa sakar fungerar precis som man förväntat sig. Vem som får företräde i trafiken och att stanna för rött, det ses som rekommendationer snarare än lagens långa arm.

Att köra bil i Alger är lite som att köra bil i San Francisco. Ena stunden tvingas man stå på gaspedalen, och nästa hålla i handbromsen med bägge händer. Brahim tar oss till en plats med utsikt över hela den vita medelhavsstaden, som från ovan inte avslöjar det myller av liv som döljer sig i dess prång. I ena änden syns ett annat viktigt monument, Notre Dame d’Afrique, en jättelik Basilika också på fin utsiktsplats. I andra änden skymtas minareter till Jemma al Djazair, den försenade moskén som skall bli en av världens största, och Afrikas högsta byggnad. Detta får vi stolt berättat för oss vid varje tillfälle den skymtas i horisonten. Framåt kvällen har jag tappat räkningen på hur många gånger.

Det pråliga hotellet vi bor på är en inrättning väl avskilt från tumultet utanför, med egen strand och trädgård. Havet har vaknat till liv nu, och vågorna slår våldsamt in mot land med en kraft nästan omöjlig att överrösta. Den tilltagande vinden gör den tryckande värmen uthärdlig att vistas i. Medelhavsljuden, vågorna, vinden, de svajande palmträden, vaggar mig till ro. Ibland blir jag påmind om att jag glömt bort värdet av det som inga människor någonsin kommer lyckas återskapa utan bara bevara. Och det är viktigt att bli påmind, i en värld som fylls av illusioner.

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extremes in the faroe islands

Surrounded by strong currents and tempestuous waves the 18 Faroe Islands rise in the middle of the Atlantic sea. Barren and bold the islands are a scenically extreme and captivating array, so full of life at the same time as it may be the most solitary place I’ve ever sat foot. And I live in the Arabian desert. A place I’ve always felt inclined to visit.

Anyone’s who’s a frequent reader of this blog knows about my inability to plan ahead. This trip hasn’t been an exception either, which me and my reliable travel partner Linn realized when the car rental office in the airport told us their availability was as sparse as the Faroese landscape. Sigh. An expensive and ridiculously overpriced taxi ride later we found ourselves in front of one of the Capital City Torshavn’s two car rentals. Like a bliss in our misfortune, there was a velocity left for us even if it admittedly was one of the more expensive ones. But nevertheless, sitting down behind the wheel after reluctantly swiping my credit card felt just like regaining sound to a movie with a flapping TV cable.

We quickly learned that the Faroese roads are few and far in between, so it takes a very negligent map driver like myself to get lost since most of the time your only option is left or right. Most roads are extremely narrow, and at times so tight we need to stop to give priority to oncoming traffic before proceeding. Seemingly endless tunnels without lighting occur often, and rather than rarely there’s only a modest rail of wooden barriers to protect the car as the roads stretch across steep and pointy slopes around the islands. But other than that, it’s a beautiful place to drive with tiny traffic. An ideal location to drive down an empty road with blasting music, something that never gets old.

Even if the islands is a place where you want to keep your eyes on the road, it’s very often hard not to let them gaze at the mesmerizing environs. The landscape is enthralling despite being stripped of vegetation in its barren state. There’s something so extreme about the nothingness, the devoid of life that makes you feel so small. A whole area, where man hasn’t made an impact except for the meandering roads quietly and endlessly running through the silent land. It’s a fantastically quiet place, with only the subtle sound of the wind breaking the silence. In the countryside or the small fisherman villages consisting of exclusively identical houses with tin roofs and wooden facades. There’s barely a soul in sight anywhere we go, and people keep to themselves out here. A solitary place and a solitary way of living it seems. Fascinating to me who’s living in one of world’s fastest developing cities. But I could never live here which I realize every time I have an experience too far off my reality. As appealing as the quietude is and can be, I can’t help but feel how it sometimes consumes me eventually. And maybe it’s because I grew up in the remote countryside that noise doesn’t bother me. I love falling asleep to the sound of cars passing by, of people roaming the streets, of music from a distant club. A different kind of wealth to me, to be surrounded by life.

In the Faroe Islands sheep outnumber people, and perhaps that’s actually one of the nicer aspects. The sheep are fearless and oblivious, crossing the roads as if they were some of their beaten paths while death-staring you. But their presence is appreciated and brings movement to the picturesque and windswept landscape. The real Islanders are another story. Scandinavian polite, but with a something recluse aura around them hard to actually interpret. They speak a concoction of Danish and Norwegian sprinkled with Icelandic, entirely comprehensible to anyone Scandinavian but impossible to mitigate. And we’ve quickly learned that clarification is crucial when making any inquiry. Upon being given directions to a “newly opened and intriguing restaurant,” we later found ourselves in a modest café with a menu consisting of two different sandwiches and self-serving of coffee made hours earlier. And to anything but modest prices. Sigh again. Perceptions are rarely similar, and life only ever reminds of this once the lesson is already learned.

Three days have felt like a week, for good and for bad. In a place that moves at such a slow pace time somehow loses its relevancy, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Waking up each morning to subtle drizzle hitting the window along with the whistling sound of an oyster catcher passing by outside is probably the purest form of serenity in this world, but I don’t believe either one of us felt the need of an extra day here as the experience junkies that we are. The gloomy weather probably plays a part as well. Not so much the rain, but the fact that even on a sunny day it’s never really clear. In the summer it’s never really hot, in the winter, it’s never either too chilly. A bit too ambiguous to me, a fan of sharp contrasts. So it’s time to leave; new adventures await.

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Choosing to live is scary, but the alternative is terrifying

A few days ago I was on the phone with a friend of mine. As we were discussing something trivial, she suddenly said: “I want to live forever.” A short silence followed, and then I asked: “Why?”. “Because I love life” she replied like it was the most natural thing in the world, and with a tone that modestly implied that I should have figured this out on my own. I thought, and then I replied: “I don’t want to live forever.”

After our conversation had ended I gave this exchange of feelings some consideration. Maybe we didn’t disagree; maybe we just had different ways of somehow trying to communicate the same feeling. Because the way I see it, being alive forever would devalue as good as everything actually worth being alive for. Think about it. What actual value would any of your dreams have, if you had an endless amount of time to pursue them? What incite to read a book, watch a movie, travel a country, undergo an education, tell someone that you like them or give up literally any mean of security and safety for the littlest hope that maybe, somewhere well-hidden in the unknown, your dreams awaits, if you could just as well do it tomorrow? Because there would always be another tomorrow?

We don’t have unlimited time, and that’s the thing. And that’s why at least I become impressed by other people’s experiences, achievements, and wisdom, because people have taken our of their limited allocated time, to obtain these souvenirs of life. They’ve invested. Meaning, to me, that they’ve been brave and bravery is always admired. To some people being alive means tempting fate on a daily basis. Being a war correspondent for instance, or simply being in a war, fighting for king and country. Or, just being a flight attendant, as my scared-of-flying best friend would add. But being alive can also mean to wake up in the morning and simply breathe, and that’s okay. Not all of us are in charge of our own time even if that should be a constitutional right, but that means that us who actually are, have to guard it well. We can’t always know what purpose other’s have with theirs, but we can be assured that it’s as different to ours as our DNA. And remind ourselves that what one person does to find rest, might have left another person restless. And how that’s alright.

So saying that you would like to live forever, is for me a sign that you’re probably not living at all. At least not the way you’d prefer to. I don’t believe that anyone who’s ever experienced the real pleasure of obtaining something that did not come easy; without an investment in time, money or other sacrifices, would ever say those words. The life-celebrating people I chose to have in my life would not. They’ve all lived to find out that it’s perfectly fine to love life even if it comes to an end at some point. Despite how good a movie is or how relaxing a massage might be, you’ll be bored or soar eventually, so it’s sometimes wise to quit while it’s still fun. It’s sound to make an end to something that doesn’t serve you anymore. But it’s brave to make an end to something that still serves you because you want more; because you want to invest more. In whatever it may be, that matters to you.

I walked alongside the narrow canals of the hip and trendy 9 straatjes quarters in Amsterdam a few days ago and it felt like it was the first day of spring in the air. You know a day when it isn’t exactly warm outside but not either chilly, and you notice how suddenly people slow down as they walk and how much mo they talk to one another. They open doors slowly and stop to look in display windows. I realized then and there how much of all that means to me, the change of seasons that is. Because in Dubai it’s never too cold. And that may sound fabulous to anyone from the northern hemisphere, but it’s actually taught me that I disdain what’s constant. Not necessarily routines, but things that are stagnant. A few days later I was in Rome, and I sat down in a wobbly chair on cobblestone outside a small eatery with square patterned linens and menus translated to very simple English. People lined up for tables in the street and next to the side walks stood 4 cars in areas designated for 3. I thought again that this is a good investment according to me, even though my pizza had unnecessarily much cheese and unnecessarily little ham, and even though the wine was so thin, it was an insult to all other Italian wines. In Rome it wasn’t the first day of spring, it was the first day of summer. And the day I don’t travel as much as today, I will think of that day and this time as very well invested one. That was a great feeling.

I don’t believe in destiny, but I do believe that the only thing anyone of us can do to ensure that our time here is spent well, is to do what you want with yours. Because even if you reach 110 years there will still be more things you’ll wish you’d done, and that doesn’t mean you’re discontent. If you sit down in a restaurant while you’re starving you might find it hard to choose between 10 appealing options, but once you’ve finished the one meal you ended up taking you’ll still feel full afterwards. You went for something out of everything you wanted, and it left you happy. No one needs to have it all, and no one can have it all. And that makes what you end up choosing so damn special and worth waking up in the early morning for and worth going to sleep in the late night for. A couple of years ago I met a girl who had “live forever” tattooed on her neck. I asked her if she meant it? She said, “no Adam, to me it’s about creating something that actually does live forever”. I never forget that, because I agree. We don’t know how many tomorrows we have, and life is everything but fair, so we must choose. And dare to realize that were we fit in, might not be were we belong, and where we belong, might only be a single decision away from right now. Or several, because we’re all so different. We’re all armored differently.

By choosing we can accumulate as many perspectives as possible in the time that we have, in order to change ours. Because we only understand the magnitude and the littleness of our ideas and thoughts, by comparing them to others. And other’s we get, by listening, interacting, and making choices. Even if it sometimes are the wrong choices.

Right now I’m sitting down in picturesque Place de la Bourse in Bordeaux, looking up at the magnificent building on the picture below. I read that In French you say “J’ai peur,” meaning “I have fear” when you want to say that you are afraid. Which is exactly how you’d say it in both Swedish and English. “I am afraid,” rather than “I have fear.” It’s easier to get rid of something that you have than something that you are, I reckon. And that is just the perfect example how seeing how other’s do things differently can change how we do things today. If we dare. So yes, live life every day like it would be your last in case it is, but bear in mind that there might very possibly be a tomorrow. And a tomorrow after that. Even at the point of life where there are more yesterdays than tomorrows left. And they should be worth waking up to.

The only things that are wasted in life are what was never utilized. So choose to live. Live according to you.

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I just want to see flowers 07.04.17

A few minutes to 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon I stepped inside my hotel room in Amsterdam. I took off my shoes and threw my jacket on the bed, just like any other day. With not more than the bare minimum time to drop off my bags I quickly plugged my phone into the charger, and as the screen lit I saw the small red notification from DN, one of Sweden’s more serious daily newspapers, “Truck drove into a crowd in central Stockholm.” This was at 15:05, and 15 minutes earlier the Swedish police had received the alarm. At that time there was no clear information about either casualties or fatalities. I sat on the side of the bed and looked at the screen until it turned black. I felt how the shivers ran down my spine as I left my room.

Half an hour later I was on the bus heading towards some of the blossoming tulip fields of Netherlands. The bus had wifi. Two confirmed fatalities the modest and only available wifi allowed me to find out at that point. I took a deep breath and glanced out the landscape whizzing by outside the window, and I thought about my day. As I’d bent forward to scan my Id to report for work yesterday morning, with my carry-on bag in one hand and my suitcase in other, two alarm clocks probably went off somewhere in Stockholm. Somewhere, two persons reluctantly got out of bed, to get ready for the last working day of the week. As my plane took off, one person stood squeezed in between a herd of other commuters on the Stockholm subway in rush hour. And one person was stuck in traffic, slamming on the wheel and swearing out loud at fellow motorists blaming them for coming in late. When I sat down for five stolen minutes to bolt down a quick lunch from an aluminum foil, one person heated their brought homemade lunch in the staff canteen microwave. And one person sat down in a fancy eatery for lunch break, treating themselves to the fact that the week was almost over. When I stood in the lobby waiting to check in, two peoples roads crossed on Drottninggatan in Stockholm one the way home from work. One who lives on the outskirts of town but who’d taken a detour just today, to pick up a surprise for his partner. And one who walks the same short route every day to his car. Both so anticipant for the weekend. Both eager to get back home and unplug for two days. Both of them feeling like life was good, really good. And suddenly, out of nowhere, the bright light came rushing down the street in full speed, and not one of them managed to get out of its way in time. In one instant, only silence was left. And there I was, going to see flowers.

Someone lost their son or daughter today. And someone might have lost their father or mother. Someone might have lost their best friend. And someone might have lost the love of their life. And I was sitting there, on my way to look at flowers. I wanted to cry, I really did. This hit so close to home, in both time and space. But what’s there to let out when you feel empty inside, when there’s nothing there? When you feel so much at the same time that your mind decides to don’t feel anything because it’s too unbearable? No, what I’ve come to realize, is that the sad and horrid experiences don’t overcome me like they used to do, and that’s because I’ve learned that they are not the rare experiences. They are not one who deserves my tears.

Recently I’m following Swedish war correspondent Magda Gad’s Facebook page like a religion. Magda is based in Iraq and gives daily reports on the amongst others the war between IS and the Iraqi forces, focusing on the victims of the war, the civilians. The ones who didn’t ask for war, but who are compelled to suffer the consequence, by fleeing their homes and risking their own and their families lives. Many of her updates don’t revolve stories with a happy ending She wants to open people’s eyes, and she manages to do so with both professionalism and empathy. Showing how many’s nightmares is many’s reality. When I see these stories, I feel the same emptiness as I did yesterday. But I never cry.

Anyone who’s seen the world, or at least a vast part of it, will tell you that sometimes you have to look closely before you find the beauty in a place. It’s not always as romantic as you’d think, and learning this has made me sensitive. Because it’s the kind-hearted, genuine and unconditional gestures that are the rare ones nowadays. Most of the places where I fall asleep at night are considered safe. It’s considered safe to walk outside, to take the train and to live a life. But, not all of these places are friendly places. Far from actually. Because the world is not black and white. There are other dimensions than war and peace, and that’s as difficult as it is important to know.

Two days ago an elderly lady took my hand upon disembarkation from the aircraft and said: “Thank you for the service” with friendly eyes whiles patted gently on my head. I had to turn my head away to wipe my eyes. A few weeks ago I visited the slums of Dhaka in Bangladesh and got shown around by the kids who lived there. One girl took my hand and invited me into the tiny shed which was their house. I bent under the narrow doorframe, and as I stepped in the mother of the family instantly stood up from the house’s only chair to offer it to me. Despite having nothing to offer, they still cared for me to have the very best they could give. Despite having nothing. In the car going home from that visit our guide said, “I hope this did not upset you, it’s just another life.” I wiped my eyes, and we all remained silent for the whole ride back.

In my emptiness today I started to think about a conversation I had with my best friend a few days ago. “How am I supposed to sit down and have a cup of coffee and feel deserving of it ever again, when people are still struggling to survive?” She said to me as we were reading through Magda’s page. “How am I supposed to live a normal life and ever feel the right to complain about anything, when people die as we speak?”. There was a lengthy silence on the phone line between us after that, and then I said “Because of respect. To be living these hassle free lives where we have a bed to sleep in, food in our refrigerators and problems as trivial as whether or not the milk’s skimmed or full fat, or if the guy we’ve matched on Tinder is going to write us first, is the dream for these people who are running, hiding and dying. They would want nothing else but to have the simple lives that we live. So for us not to live our lives, with no reason not to, would be nothing but disrespectful.” There was another silence, and then she said, “Yes.”

The world has turned into an unpredictable place, which is most likely also the motive of whoever was behind the attack in Stockholm yesterday. Openness is no longer as common it used to be. Nor is kindness. And yes, the truth is that it can all be gone tomorrow. We might be gone tomorrow. For entirely different reasons than a maniac running us down on a pedestrian street. But, it can also be that tomorrow is not the last tomorrow. It might even be that there are several new tomorrows to come, and to me, that’s enough reason not to feel fear. Enough reason to enjoy all the real beauty, whenever you are fortunate enough to come across it. So for that reason yesterday, I looked at flowers. I looked for myself, and for the people who wish they could be looking at flowers.

And today, today is a new day to do what you can for this world to be a little less unpredictable. That’s what worth our tears.

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A loveaffair with Nicosia

It’s the third night of my short stay in Nicosia, and I’m getting enamored with this quite peculiar place. Because it is indeed a particular city, and we did indeed not get off on the right foot when I arrived two days ago. Let me start at the very beginning.

So the first day’s misfortune started already when I’d just disembarked the plane and was standing in line to immigrations, and I realized that my phone charger was still left onboard the aircraft. I just sighed a tired sigh and met the jovial immigrations officer with a lifeless glare as he asked for my passport. This is not the first time this has happened to me, and this unorganized feature of mine has led me to an impressive collection of both chargers and adapters since I know they won’t be with me for long.

The shuttle bus into Nicosia was very much reminiscent of a public school bus in an unprivileged country. The ride was quick through the mountainous landscape, sparse in both vegetation and construction but somehow still vibrant under the scorching sun. Before I knew it we reached Nicosia bus terminal; an installation other countries would’ve referred to as a bus stop in the countryside. At some point during the short taxi ride into the center, I accidentally pressed the wrong button on my phone, and I ended up in the review section of my chosen hotel. “Worst experience that ruined my whole trip.” said the first headline and the ones that followed were of similar character. Reluctantly I read review after review which touched upon everything from moldy furniture to inoperable air conditioning and loud neighbors as well as inadequate service. My gut feeling hit rock bottom, but it wasn’t until the cab driver charged me 10 euros for a 5 euros trip and gave me a handwritten receipt in my euphemistic attempt of asking for my change back, that I realized that there are some lessons I will probably never learn. Regardless of how seasoned as a traveler, I am. It is tiring to be me at times.

It took me approximately three seconds of looking at the exterior of the hotel to understand that every review I’d just read was true. Dirty windows and balcony rails cover in bird feces smiled towards me. I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but the reason why the bible is normally one colored could be a hint that it’s not hilarious reading. Finally, inside, the building seemed derelict, and with no elevator, I had to drag my overpacked suitcase up to the top floor while cursing myself for always doing this to myself. Always. To my despair, no one came to open as I pressed the loose hanging door bell, and in that exact moment, I got an email saying that my booking had been annulled. Apparently, arrangements for pick up of keys has to be done a day in advance, and I missed the curfew. Amid all misfortune, I saw this as a blessing. A second chance was given to me. Long story short, I did find a new hotel a stone’s throw away from the first one. A typical three-star hotel, with tacky font choice, plastic palm trees and Nescafé of poor quality. But even if the man at the front desk suggested that I’d use the glass desk in my room as an ironing board, and even if the plug to bathtub was missing and even if the wall to wall carpet had seen more in life than I have, it was alright.

Apart from precursory events, though, Nicosia has turned out to be a pearl. It’s by no means a big city, less than 300 000 people reside here. There’s not a sign of the typical boasting architecture you’d otherwise come across in capitals; instead, most buildings are old and only a few stories tall. Walking down the many meandering streets of Old Nicosia is like a therapy session. There’s a quietude in between the stone houses with adobe roofs, hued doors with rigorous knockers and flaking facades in canary and offwhite nuances, and occasional Wisteria in full bloom spreading its scent as you walk by. Not even the Cypriots quite boisterous way of talking to each other disturbs the peace. Everything moves slowly in this city. It’s like there’s not a worry in the world. No one’s in a rush to do anything. And it’s extremely contagious. It’s almost like I could feel my pulse slowing down.

On the Greek side, the residents seem to have understood there’s little point in worrying, for whatever the reason. And since all the pressure’s off, Nicosia is indeed the perfect place for solitude. Sitting down in one of the countless cafés with mismatching furniture and fresh cut flowers on every table has quickly turned into a habit. The coffee is strong, but not as strong as Cypriot coffee which I only tried once. A muddy broth strong enough to resuscitate the dead. The waiters serve the table with no haste, and to see one of them puffing on a resting smoke in between clearing tables is actually quite refreshing. It’s so easy just to be; enjoying the slight scents of cigarette smoke, freshly mowed lawns and fresh air; as pleasurable in the rising morning sun as in the setting evening sun. Spring has come early to Cyprus.

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