Jag brukar inte prata om politik, men…

Jag skall inte berätta för någon vad hen skall rösta på. Jag är inte särskilt politiskt intresserad. Det har jag aldrig varit. Jag tillhör dem säkert åtta miljoner svenskar som varken tar sig tiden eller ansvaret att sätta sig in vad dem olika riksdagspartierna rent faktiskt står för, annat än i lättlästa punktformer. Även i ett sådant format strövar min uppmärksamhet oftast iväg åt annat håll långt innan jag läst färdigt. Jag tycker det är så tråkigt. Och det är inte för att jag inte känner att det inte angår mig. För det gör det ju. Precis som för alla andra. Nu bor jag ju förvisso inte i Sverige, men en dag, en dag gissningsvis långt ifrån idag skall tilläggas, kanske jag gör det igen. Ifall det finns ett Sverige att flytta tillbaka till, det vill säga.

Nästa lördag, den 8e September, är det val i Sverige. För första gången så handlar riksdagsvalet i första hand inte om varken vänster eller höger, rött eller blått. Och oavsett vad diverse partiledare vill låta påskina, så handlar det här valet heller inte om minskade skatter till pensionärer, avståndet till närmsta BB i Sollefteå, elcyklar i Stockholms innerstad eller huruvida vi ska införa betygsättning till grundskoleelever eller inte. Dessa är absolut väsentliga frågor vars relevans det är upp till var och en att ta ställning till. Men i en tid då stora delar av Världen befinner sig i en oroväckande förändring kring hur vi ser på oss själva och våra medmänniskor, så faller dessa frågor i blekhet, och kvar i strålkastarljuset finns bara en riktig fråga. Integrationen.

Jag tror att dem allra flesta är rätt så nostalgiskt lagda. I Sverige. Och i alla andra länder. Ifall en redan känner till ett system som fungerat och därtill är nöjd med det, varför skull en då vilja växla om till något nytt och oprövat utan garantier? Nymodighet är ett fint ord, men när det kommer till kritan, så är det ett ganska tungt begrepp att axla. Trygghet däremot, är precis som ordets mening, mer bekvämt. Och trygghet, det är ju det vi alla vill åt. Vi är bara väldigt olikt inställda till vad det innebär, likaså till hur lång sträcka vi är beredda att gå för att uppnå det. Och det är just det som är orosmolnet inför det här valet.

För ett par veckor sedan hamnade jag i ett samtal med en kille i min egen ålder. Han såg inte ut som mig. Han hade inte växt upp där jag växt upp. Han hade uppfostrats till att tro något annat, och han hade helt andra tankar kring hur livet skall levas. Allt det där, det var precis det vi pratade om. Likheter. Och olikheter. En del av samtalet rörde ett ämne som jag personligen inte kan rucka på. HBTQ-frågor. Jag kan ändra inställning vart fjärde år till både dieselbilar och skattesatser, men jag kommer aldrig tycka att HBTQ-frågor blir mindre viktiga. Och vi har alla ett par sådana frågor, sådana som vi allra helst diskuterar men inte debatterar. Han frågade, ”är homosexualitet okej i Sverige?” Jag svarade, ”Det är inte olagligt, men det är inte fråga jag kan besvara med eller ja eller nej då det finns en enorm gråzon. Sverige är ett föredöme för många andra länder, men arbetet mot att bekämpa gråzonen är långt ifrån avklarat.” Han tittade lite undrande på mig och frågade sedan lite försynt ”So it’s not ok?”. Där och då så förstod jag att det är oerhört svårt att förklara vad en gråzon betyder, för något som växt upp med att allt antingen är svart eller vitt. Oavsett vad det handlar om. Precis så enkelt, och precis så svårt, är det ju.

Jag tror att många i Sverige redan ställt sig precis den frågan. Och sedan gjort sitt val. Att det går ju inte. Hur förklarar man en färg för en blind eller ett ljudet av instrument för en döv? Och jag förstår varför det är så enkelt att falla in i sådana tankebanor. När den första stenen lades till Rom, så var natten jävligt ung för att säga som så. Men, en dag stod ju trots allt den evinnerliga staden klar ändå, och det hade tagit mer än en natt. Det vet vi alla. Och min poäng med detta är, att stora saker tar sin tid. Så är det bara.

Jag aktar mig så gott det går ifrån att tänka att bara för att jag kommer ifrån ett av världens mest välutvecklande länder, så är mitt sätt att tänka det rätta. Inte lätt alla gånger, det skall medges. Ibland räcker det ju med att köpa en tågbiljett över Öresund för att undra vad omvärlden håller på med egentligen. Vilket jag säger med glimten i ögat för dem som inte förstod det. Men hur en än vrider och vänder på det, så kvarstår ju faktumet att Sverige är ett av världens modernaste länder. Av en anledning. Och det finns det all anledning att som svensk vara stolt över. Vi tillhör dem länder som har tillgång till tankesätt som tillåter oss att tänka att alla har rätt vara den dem vill bara, älska den dem vill älska och göra det dem vill göra. Och det finns inget varken överlägset eller fördömande i att hävda, att det är det absolut finaste sättet en människa kan tänka på. Det står jag för.

Vi som har tillgången till ett sådant sätt att tänka, vi har också ansvaret att sprida den. Världen blir måhända en sämre plats av att vi skräpar ner i naturen, men den blir inte till en sämre plats för att vi lär att acceptera varandra, mera. Ingen politiker, och ingen icke-politiker, har hävdat att det kommer vara lätt bara för att det är rätt. Det kommer det inte. Kanske når vi aldrig dit. Men ifall vi inte försöker, är inte mänsklighetens syfte i så fall förlorat? Det är en fråga som når över vår nationsgräns.

Jag är som sagt inte tillräckligt insatt för att berätta för någon vad hen skall rösta på, och jag skiter rent ut sagt i om någon röstar på Vänsterpartiet, Moderaderna, Miljöpartiet, Kristdemokraterna, Socialdemokraterna, Liberalerna eller Centerpartiet.

Men rösta inte på Sverigedemokraterna. Det, det är vad det här valet handlar om. Och glöm inte, att inte rösta eller att rösta blankt, det är en indirekt röst rakt ned i Sverigedemokraterna valurna.

Rösta med hjärtat och hjärnan <3

några tankar ifrån Stockholm

Även om jag emellanåt kan tycka mig ha sett så mycket av både det lilla och det stora ute i världen, så är det konstigt nog alltid här som flest känslor rörs upp. Eller är det kanske inte alls konstigt? Jag minns det som igår hur redo jag kände mig att lämna detta mellanmjölksland bakom mig. Hur jag där och då upplevde det som att tiden stod stilla här. Som att människor gick i cirklar, sade förutsägbara saker och levde sina liv utefter andras åsikter snarare än sina egna. Och ja, någon sanning ligger det väl förvisso fortfarande i det där; för vissa, på vissa platser. Men det är väl kanske egentligen så enkelt, att utan en möjlighet att jämföra, är det svårt att se storheten i det man har. I människor, och i upplevelser. Guld glimmar, men hur vet en det ifall en aldrig ställt det jämte bly?

Att människor säger tack. Att människor ställer sig i kö. Att människor är oformella. Att människor Du:ar (även om jag alltid varit och förblir en ni:are). Att människor står till höger i rulltrappor och går till vänster. Att människor följer trafikregler. Att människor respekterar personliga sfärer. Att människor håller handen. Att det hängs prideflaggor på offentliga byggnader. Att det som säljs på Ica oftast är producerat i Sverige. Att kollektivtrafik finns, fungerar, och används (gäller ej Skånetrafiken). Att det hålls rent på gatorna. Att det finns en vår, en sommar (som regel), en höst och en vinter. Att systembolaget finns. Att småprat faktiskt kan vara genuint. Att det inte ger fördelar att skrika högt och vara otrevlig när ens vilja inte infrias. Att människor sällan höjer rösten. Att… ja oj vad många fler anledningar det finns.

Så många anledningar som jag inte skänkte en endaste tanke när planet lyfte mot Dubai den där Majdagen 2014. Men jag ser det annorlunda nu. Så många anledningar att stanna upp en liten stund och tillåta sig själv att känna sig en liten smula sentimental. Och stolt. Jag kände det igår när jag gick längs raden av porträtterade kända svenskar i ankomsthallen på Arlanda. Och jag kände det idag när en främling höll upp dörren för mig på Pressbyrån. Så självklart kan man tycka, men så sällsynt. Stora och små saker, men lika värdefulla. Och kanske just så värdefulla eftersom jag inte ser och upplever dem varje dag.

Just precis så enkelt, och just precis så svårt.

The loneliest or the least lonely life?

To jaunt out into the world and leave your comfort zone is probably one of the most rewarding experiences you can ever give to yourself. Everyone who’s ever done it would tell you so. They would tell you that nothing, absolutely nothing, compares to that immense sensation of wanderlust and curiosity they all felt the day they set off. Because there isn’t. And they would tell you that the world is every bit as magical as you imagine it to be, and every bit as terrifying. And how there’s a dual harmony between the two that awakens an insatiable desire that can never die. An equal two-way desire of both the joy and the sadness found in this world. Because the joys are truly so many, but without the sadnesses as a constant reminder of how blessed we are, we often miss out on the opportunity to enjoy them while we can. Important.

But it comes with a price. Everything worth doing, having and experiencing often do, and far from it’s a monetary price. The thing is, in this unparalleled life constantly consisting of new acquaintances, unseen skylines, contradicting timezones, not yet savored cuisine and unexplored cultures, the person you spend the most time with is usually yourself. And that can either lift you up or completely break you down. And that is because most people are not entirely comfortable being by themselves. However, it’s the rare few who are brave enough to sit down with their loneliness, look it in the eyes, hold its hand, listen to what it has to say and allow for it stay whenever it comes to visit, that are the really fortunate ones in this world. Because they know that loneliness is not the time we spend in our own company. Far from.

People come and go into most people’s lives all the time, and that’s not a revelation of any kind. That’s just a fact. But what makes it unique for a traveler is that slowly, precariously and surely, you become so accustomed to this high flow of people that the old beaten process of getting to know someone, opening up bit by bit and taking time, is completely out the window. Because that’s just it, there is no time. And living a life where the one thing that unites most of us in it is that we’re trying to make the most of the time, we skip a few steps of the order in which things are normally done and instead go hardcore straight away. I can tell you, I’ve lost count on the occasions I’ve sat down next to someone I’ve met just moments earlier and opened up about something very personal to me, or the times when someone else has done this to me. Most of the time I don’t believe it’s about seeking for advice, it’s simply about ventilating. To prevent the things holding us down at the moment from nesting in our minds. I would describe myself as quite a private person normally, and that’s why I rely on the belief that we become adept at assessing quite quickly whom to trust, and whom not to. At the end of the day, we’re all strangers and know very little about one another. But I think it’s healthy. Not only to be reminded that all of us struggle sometimes, regardless of who we are. But, to trust.

It’s can be a privilege to be able to choose your alone time, just as it can be a torment to have it chosen for you. In this life, it’s chosen for you very often, and if you don’t know how to dispose of that time, it can be lethal. By now I don’t think there can be any more existential questions a person can ask themselves while taxiing around an airport, walking down new streets in new cities and starring into the hotel room ceilings on jet-lagged nights than I have already done. But the reward for asking questions is finding answers. And I feel like I do all the time. Asking questions is scary quite often since you don’t always obtain the answers you’re looking for. Even scarier if there’s no one by your side in those moments. That’s why I don’t believe this life would work unless you know that you have your safety net, a phone call or a flight away. And that’s enough. For me, right now and right here. More than enough.

People may come and go, but we’re still here. And somehow, we’re fine. Maybe not right away, or even every day, but we’re fine. It’s a nice thought to think that at the end of the day you don’t really need anyone. That the people in your life are there because you chose them, and because they chose you. But perhaps one day you won’t chose them, or they won’t choose you anymore. You will choose differently. Perhaps nothing except for right here and right now can be granted, and for exactly that reason it’s a good idea to stop for a moment and take a look around you. We don’t know what won’t be here tomorrow, regardless of what we know today, so to celebrate anything that makes life a little bit more colorful, is never a bad idea. Life will continue to take turns we didn’t see coming. Some things we can control, so let’s. Some things we can’t control, so let’s. It took me some time to embrace, but there’s a genuine power hidden to be found behind the things we are powerless of. Just precisely that simple, and just precisely that difficult.

Namaste.

A paradise for people who don’t like people

Legend has it that when God was finished creating the world he was left with a piece of land he didn´t know what to do with, so he created Sicily. The rest of the world envied this island paradise, so to offset the splendor of his most recent creation, God created the Sicilians… and I’ve now realized that this is a true story.

The Sicilians are a bit peculiar, and that´s me being unduly sympathetic. Italians, in general, are in some measures and in my opinion, the Australians of Europe, whom with the exemption of their intermittent very vehement temper, generally couldn´t care less for tiny matters. Sometimes utterly refreshing and sometimes merely blood boiling for a slightly neurotic Swede on tour. The Sicilians however, seem to have taken this relaxed approach to life to a level verging on indifference, which I became associated to on my first night while checking in to my overpriced rented Airbnb apartment in Catania. My landlady who didn`t speak a word of English, let alone wouldn`t let that stop her, took me for a tour around the modest premises while gesticulating wildly about all the need-to-knows and whereabouts. Upon showcasing the bathroom she somehow managed to explain that the toilet didn’t flush, and was not to be used at all. The solution? “Make sure to take care of your needs whenever you’re out and about” she snapped curtly. (And implicitly also not to overhydrate.) I didn`t remember this being highlighted in the online advertisement, but what’s a mere 100 USD a night for a Harry Potter scrub anyway? Sigh.

But apart from its not so snuggly people, Sicily is a true island haven. A place where time seems to pace slower, and where the outside world in a way seems as distant as payday a week after payday. The main city on the east coast, Catania, has a low-key tone free of intensity, and an air of old age with charmingly swarthy facades, balcony gardens and patchworked sidewalks. The seemingly aged city-dwellers are unbothered and unimpressed, in an actually refreshing sense. The vibe is slow, and if you know how to mind yourself, it´s not a bad place to rewind with a pizza in a piazza, and a generously sized beer or three. The tiny city of Taormina however, is in many ways the exact opposite; a bit pretentious, Instagram-friendly picturesque and impossible to drive in. All roads are one way, but that doesn’t stop people from driving in both. The price levels are, much like the city itself, well above sea level. Lots of tourists happy to be away from home, and lots of Sicilians wishing that they would have gone away somewhere else.

My bulky suitcase, which I in a momentarily weak moment bought for the equivalent of two months rent for an apartment in uptown Copenhagen, might very possibly be both bulletproof and fireproof judging from the price I paid for it, but it was definitely not designed to be forced up and down the steep streets of a city built on mountain slopes. And neither was I. I panted as a reached the frugal hotel I’d chosen as a strive to return to moral high grounds after very expensive suitcase purchase. The showerhead was mounted over the toilet, the paint chipping off the walls and the teeny tiny balcony inhabited by a ravening and ferocious-looking lizard family. And there was no hot water either. But the immense rooftop of the hotel somehow managed to make up for it all, giving a splendid outlook over the Mediterranean Sea, which at 6 am laid almost completely still as the first rays of sun glittered on its surface. Sounds and noises charged the atmosphere as the tiny city slowly awakened. Over near deafening birdsong, the hammering of a roof being fixed hundreds of yards away and the waves lapping the shore miles down the slopes intermingled peacefully. People interacting on the street 5 floors down, and cars thrusting up and down the meandering roads along the mountain. A social event worthy of activities, yet at that moment it felt like there wasn’t a more serene place to be. Pause for exhalation.

The Sicilian hinterland offers another form of quietude, with ample fields of chunky lemon trees stretching over a hilly and scorched landscape, dotted by dilapidated country houses and grazing cows. A scenery distant from the weathered cities, under clear skies and framed by rampant and cloud-swathed mountains as far as the eye reaches. Stillness in a way freed from pervasive sounds, all the way from the tourist-infested east coast to the haughty city of Palermo. A city which turns out to have the capital vibe, with aging city-dwellers but a breath and a tone that tries its hardest to keep a young heart. Artisinal and hipster eateries stand out amongst the touristy greasy traps, and old stone buildings seemingly on the brink of collapsing house all the high-end stores of the world. A charming contrast, a bit off-key, yet a world away from polished commercial malls and well-swept shopping arcades in similarly sized cities. No one speaks a word of English, and as inclined as one might be to think how that subsides the risk of anyone bothering you, that’s just not the case. One night I sat down in a bar with my book and my beer, untroubled by the soaring atmosphere around me, minding no one’s but my own business. The chatty and extroverted waiter, like my first landlady, wouldn’t let his limited linguistic skills stop him from sharing his life stories to everyone who cared to listen, and when it was my inevitable turn to be harangued he started by asking where I was from. “Sweden,” I said as if my reluctance to interaction with strangers hadn’t already stated my obvious nationality. “OH,” said the waiter completely ecstatic, and turned around 180 degrees to the next overcrowded table. “They are Swedish too!” making sure to say it so loud they all could hear and turned their heads toward me simultaneously, whilst obviously proud of having grabbed this opportunity to demonstrate his matchmaking skills. I threw a betrayed gaze at the waiter, and a second at my fellow countrymen on the table. “Let’s shut this down before it starts,” said both our looks, and we continued with what our lives had been like 45 seconds earlier. Perhaps I’m sometimes too hard on my countrymen because at times we seem to understand one another just fine. And perhaps there is a tiny Sicilian living inside of me after all, utterly happy to just mind himself.

You’re not guaranteed a happy ending

I often think what my life would have been like if a few things didn’t roll out the way they did. If I wouldn’t have been bullied as a kid in secondary school I would never have felt the urge to leave my sleepy old hometown and explore beyond. If I hadn’t forced myself to stay up endless nights to study during high school because I knew that good grades were something no one would ever be able to take away from me, maybe I wouldn’t have hated being in school so much by the time I graduated and instead would have chosen to go to university. If I had been allowed to continue working for my first airline, maybe I would have still been there and never had had the courage to throw myself out in the world, and missed out on all the beauty the world has shown be because I opened up to it. I think about these things, and others, and wonder, how would life been outfolded if just one of these life-altering perimeters would have been different? Happier? Sadder? Richer? Or poorer? It’s definitely easy to think that it would have been less, in every way possible, because I don’t look at my life now and think that it’s ever less than it could have been. But at the same time, I haven’t been able to hold myself from wondering, could I have been as happy in any other way? And somehow, I do believe so. Even though sometimes life decides for you, and sometimes you decide. But don’t get me wrong, because I don’t live with regrets. I’ve learned in a nonmerciful way that there’s no point in regretting because nothing in life is black or white. Not really. And for that exact reason, I believe that we’re being given several different chances to make ourselves happy. Life isn’t predestined in the way that we all only have but one path to walk. But as relieving as that may sound, there’s no guide book on how to make the ”right” decisions. And that’s why it’s so easy to feel inclined that perhaps you should have fought more for some things in life and they would have rolled out differently. And maybe sometimes that’s true, maybe they would have taken life in a different direction. But that’s why it feels assuring to know that even if you missed out on one opportunity, there will be more.
 
Does that mean you’ll eventually seize one of them though? Unfortunately, I suppose no. I really don’t believe that anyone of us is guaranteed a happy ending, whatever that means for just you. If there’s one question that has driven me past the line of sanity down the years, that’s the one. Why isn’t it possible to trust that things will always turn out good in the end? Is life really that horrible? God, I’ve given this thought, and I still do. A lot. I don’t think I’ve reached any better conclusion than that if you want your happy ending, you can’t be so naive to think that it’ll be yours without a fight. But fight for what? I can’t think of anything more subjective than what a happy ending means.
 
I’ve spent most of the last year observing rather than producing. I reached a point where I felt like I just ran out of words, so I took a seat instead and simply tried to listen. Listen until my fucking ears bled. Listen without asking questions. Listen with my head, but also with my heart. Listen until I felt like I could articulate something with a worth. And somewhere in all the life stories and highs and lows it was like a vague pattern slowly emerged. A pattern of people with minds who not just knew that their way of leading their lives was a reason to be proud, but who most importantly felt it. Because what you know to be ”right” and what actually feels right for you, couldn’t be further apart if you ask me.
 
I’ve been surrounded by people my entire life who live according to decisions made for them rather than by them. And it’s been tough to not fall for the thought that perhaps it’s them who’s on to something and not me. But as much truth there might be to none of us being guaranteed a happy ending, I do believe that the vast majority of us learn to make better decisions for ourselves down the road. And the people I’ve chosen to have around me to this point in life seems to belong to the category who screws what they’re ”supposed” to do and instead makes the decisions that ultimately makes them happy. By choosing happy jobs that pay the rent, partners that makes them feel like one in a million, friends who say things like ”I’m here for you in the good times and in the bad times but especially in the bad times because we all deserve to be a little selfish when we have tailwind”. Perhaps choices that sound like simple ones. Even natural ones. But if you believe that they actually are, you’re not winning. I assure you. Because people make mistakes. And you have to allow them to.
 
The people I believe in to find their happy ending are the ones who somehow have figured out that the heart is the fuel for everything, so use it, but coordinate with your head, and dare to realize that you need both to feel. Sometimes out gut feeling is right, and sometimes it’s crap. And sometimes our gut feeling is simply us being hungry. So many people mistake them. There is nothing nothing nothing that’s black and white. At least not for them who dares to laugh out loud, cry without being pretty, rage without apologizing, listen without interrupting, speak without hesitating and do whatever the fuck they want without fear. And lord knows I’ve only recently understood some of these things. Some willingly. Some not so willingly. But all as valuable and precious things to know.
 
I believe that there are three kinds of people in this world. The ones who wait for the light to turn green before crossing the road, even if there’s not a car in sight. The ones who wait for the cars to stop at the redlight and then walk over. And the ones who see’s a car coming but still makes a run for it, understanding that life is not waiting for anyone, and if you’re gonna walk through it waiting for all the cars in your life to stop before you make your move, you’ll be waiting a long time.
 
Which one do you feel like?

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.