‘I am a refugee’

Far too many Americans have forgotten what it means to seek refuge in a land far from home, with nothing but hope and whatever they were fortunate enough to travel with and carry. Far too many have demonised those who simply want a better life for themselves and their children.

Why?

Whilst thankfully I’ve not (yet) had to flee violence nor war nor a government persecuting me or my people, as a migrant I did find myself in the position of needing refuge in a land not my own. And, for nearly a year, my husband and I were what you could consider undocumented — we were neither illegally staying in Finland nor did we hold valid residents permits or travel documents. We could neither travel, nor really feel as if we were safe from deportation. It was the most unsettling and precarious time of my life. And, one I’d not wish on anyone.

After much paperwork, worry and many meetings, things eventually worked out fine for us — and we’ve been granted permanent residence and a place to call home in Finland. At one point during that year, we were asked and offered the possibility of seeking asylum given the circumstances of our specific case. Neither one of us considered ourselves refugees or asylum seekers. Our life was relatively stable and we understood our position of privilege compared to the millions of refugees seeking shelter across the globe.

As an American from the land of plenty, that moment and possibility was a very odd and surreal moment and a rather gut-wrenching realisation for me. It also allowed me to understand that a refugee can be literally anyone and they can be anywhere — there is no one type of individual who seeks refuge. Lives can and do change in the oddest and most tragic of ways and for a variety of reasons.

Refugees embark on journeys that are heartbreaking and unique, varied and often dangerous; and their entry into any country is not without a mountain of paperwork and enduring patience. They need not be demonised nor feared; they should be welcomed and heard and seen.

In the land of plenty, there is room for those who are tired, poor and yearning to breathe free. Most of us who were fortunate enough to born there more than likely have refugees of one sort or another amongst our ancestors.

At the very least, we can extend a hand of friendship and offer kindness. We can offer a seat at our table, the chance to break bread and share a plate with others less fortunate than us, and a warm blanket and safe haven from which to escape the horrors other have faced on their journeys to safety.

When we faced our own immigration woes, the kindness of friends and strangers alike helped us as we navigated incredibly uncertain waters. On some days, those kindnesses were the only things which made us feel human and worthy.

Protest Postcard #11 of 50

Health care is a human right

Today’s image from the 50 protest postcards resonates with me for various reasons: some personal, others professional. And, all based on evidence.

I’ve long worked in public health. But, I’ve been an advocate and activist for universal healthcare for all for even longer.

One of the first issues which informed and guided my own political compass was health care. It astounded me then (late ’80s and early ’90s) that the United States was the only developed, high-income country in the world to not have a national healthcare system. It astounds me even more that we continue to occupy that bit of exceptionalism and that the discussions still rage on today in 2020.

I’ve also benefited from living in a country with a well-functioning, high-quality national healthcare system. It’s inconceivable to the average Finn that a resident or citizen wouldn’t be cared for from cradle to grave or that millions face financial ruin or death because they can’t afford the care they need. Or that individuals would need to subsidise and fundraise to afford care when faced with an emergency or life-threatening illness. This reality has become more stark to many in the face of Covid 19.

In the richest country on the planet, in 2020, we spend more on health care per capita than any other country by far, and yet perform worse far poorer countries on just about every single health metric. In fact, the only metric we outperform other countries on is spending.

What good is fantastic care if no one or very few can access it?

I support Medicare 4 All. That said, I’d be happy with a hybrid system, one which features both public and private options because I understand complete change may take time, and be somewhat scary for my fellow Americans.

To me, it makes sense and represents a more humane approach to offer everyone basic, universal healthcare coverage from birth through the end of life. And, if individuals wish to, they may also purchase private insurance and coverage. Choosing between a meal and insulin, a roof or cancer treatment, a tooth extraction or an electric bill should not be a viable or acceptable system. Not for the proclaimed richest nation.

No one should be granted care only because they are privileged enough to afford it. No one should be barred care because they are too poor.

People — all people — will be healthier if they are all able to access the care they need when they need it. And that’s good for all of us.

Postcard #3 of 50.

Teaching in the time of Corona

I’ve been thinking a lot about time lately, largely because it has so very little meaning these days. It passes, certainly. But, how we classify it seems all confused and out of sorts. For instance, I’m not sure if today marks the beginning of the last course to close out my fifth academic year (2019-2020) or the official beginning of my sixth academic year (2020-2021) teaching at the University of Helsinki. Why this confusion? Well the course that began today was originally planned for last spring, but was rescheduled due to Covid-19. Thus, we met for the first time today. Ambiguous time, right?

Thus, I’m straddling a weird place. Rather apropos for 2020, I suppose.

Regardless, as the time for that first ‘meeting’ of this specific course neared, I realised two things:

  1. I’ll never not be a bundle of nerves on the first day of the academic year or just prior to meeting a new group of students for the first time. It doesn’t matter how often I’ve taught the material or how comfortable I feel with it, I’m a nervous Nellie on the first day and through the first few moments of a class. Perhaps given that this was my first real-time Zoom class, I was even more nervous.
  2. This year more than most I am feeling so much solidarity with and love for every single teacher / instructor / professor I know at the moment. Whether their academic year features in-person, online or some hybrid format given Covid-19, and whether they teach the tiniest people or more seasoned and budding young scholars, educators everywhere deserve so much recognition and kudos as a special cadre of underappreciated superheroes in these times. I don’t know a single educator friend who is not a badass with the compassion of the Buddha to back up their mad skills. And, I know a fair many who are terrified for their students and themselves, which breaks my heart.

Today’s class went well enough all things considered. All of us are attempting to be a bit more forgiving and more patient with ourselves as well as with one another than perhaps we would be normally (speaking for myself here). We — students and educators alike — are all navigating strange times, and simply must deal with things as best we can and as they present themselves to us.

Hopefully, we all emerge from this surreal experience and academic year a little wiser and having met our individual and collective objectives as educators. And hopefully our students learn what we intended or planned for them and feel fortified and fulfilled, and ready to embark on whatever future awaits them.

I’m fortunate: my courses at least for the autumn term are entirely online. I would naturally prefer to meet my students in person. But, I’d much rather they and I remain healthy in these times. I genuinely hurt for those educators and students forced to enter situations in which daily they wonder if they are risking their own or their family’s health and well-being. No one should be forced into such a situation.

So, as Finnish school children and teachers across the country return, here’s to all of the educators entering the 2020-2021 academic year. In Finland, the United States and everywhere.

Be safe, y’all. And, I hope you feel supported and loved and recognised for your heroism and extraordinary efforts in continuing to inform, enlighten and educate your students. You’re value and worth are immeasurable and I for one and for what it’s worth salute you.

Google Doodle for 13 August 2020

Unintended restoration

Yesterday was weird.

It wasn’t until late in the day that I realised it had been two years to the day that we discovered our beloved feline, Cheeky Che Fufu, the Princess of Darkness, had developed kitty titty cancer. That particular gut punch was vividly relived after stumbling upon an image of her from exactly one year ago when she was still clear-eyed and sassy. It’s been roughly six months since we said our final farewell, a realisation that left me unsettled me and heartbroken all over again. Che Fufu’s been on my mind a lot lately, and her memory has thrown phantom shadows of her around my desk as I’ve worked. Whilst I am enormously grateful to our newest family member, the Tiny Terror that is Squeaky Pollito Pito Frito Fu, and his persistent play and silliness along with kitty hugs the likes of which I’ve never really known, I will forever be a member of #TeamCheFufu.

Simply put, I miss our darling beautiful girl.

With her in my mind and an incredibly heavy heart, my husband and I set off on our evening stroll yesterday evening, me silently shedding tears behind my sunglasses and my husband also lost in his own thoughts and concerns. We decided just after setting off that we wanted to try to get in a good long stroll. I think we both needed it. So, we headed for that tiny uninhabited island not far from our flat, Seurasaari, to see what we could see. Little did we know that Finland had plenty of treats in store for us, perhaps at a moment when we needed them most.

The light. The glass-like water surrounding Seurasaari. The sun gently sliding below the horizon over the water creating a kaleidoscope of colours. The shadows cast against trees at impossible angles, both bending and expanding the light in unexpected ways. And, so many reflections and images in every direction. At times we seemed so far in the woods only to be pulled back into the city as we looked across the bay in the direction of the city centre. The deeper we traversed, however, the more our moods lifted. And, the less our worries, concerns, heartbreak and woes weighed us down.

Thank you, Helsinki. We forget sometimes just how insanely beautiful you are. On days like these, there’s a certain restoration in simply getting out and moving about. Perhaps that was your intention all along.

One step at a time, part II

I did a thing, y’all.

The Cuban and I have diligently stuck to our evening strolls for several years now, our moment each day when we step away from gadgets and the rest of the world and meander around our hood and bond, chatting about whatever tickles our fancies on that particular day. Since June and the last of my lectures from the 2019-2020 Covid-thwarted academic year, I’ve been rather committed to walking and/or running in the morning and in the evening.

In an attempt to manage my own stress and find my long-absent running mojo, I began taking walks or running in the morning as well.
It’s been awesome, and helpful, and definitely helped me learn to love running once again. (Mind, I still hate running when I’m doing i; but I LOVE it immediately upon completion, and look forward to lacing up and heading out for my ritual of cursing running so that I can declare my love and devotion to it immediately afterwards all over again. Yes, it is a thoroughly dysfunctional relationship.)

Given this commitment, however, in June, despite missing several days of walking and/or running, I still managed to log just over 200 km, one of my best months ever since I began keeping stats.

Yesterday, I topped 300 km for July. And, with a few days left in this month still to run and walk, and with at least two more runs planned, plus our daily evening strolls, I may yet reach 350 if I get out there as much as I have been. [Insert joke about Sod’s Law and/or best intentions. Go on.]

I suspect once my teaching obligations at the university resume next month, I won’t have nearly enough time to continue this little experiment. But, I’m well-chuffed at the moment. To have been afforded the luxury of time (and no injuries other than a few blisters yet, touch wood) and decent weather to embark upon, this peripatetic experiment has been a gift. Instead of the hour I’ve set aside each morning, maybe I’ll cut the time down to half an hour. We shall see. For now, I’ll enjoy the time I have.

As much as I love our evening strolls, my morning meanderings have also offered me a chance to step away from the screen and consider and process so many things on my own. And, that’s allowed me to be a bit more present with The Cuban when we are out and about. And, allowed us the opportunity to explore our surroundings a bit more together.

My next goal is within reach, although I have no definitive timeline for its completion. But, I’ll get there.

One step at a time.

A scene from favourite evening stroll and walk from July.

School’s out

Taken on a Nokia 8. Munkkiniemi Frisbeegolf Course, Finland, 1 June 2020.

What a truly bizarre academic school year.

My last lecture for the 2019–2020 academic year was scheduled to take place this morning. But, covid-19 ensured that I would not physically meet with my students, and the entire last dash towards the end of the year was rather anticlimactic. I spent a portion of this weekend recording and cleaning up the audio files for my last lecture and sorting through my slide decks. And, by about 9.30 this morning, all of the lecture materials were uploaded and visible via various distance learning tools the University of Helsinki has made available to both instructors and students alike.

Now, I’m left with sorting through my inbox as final assignments filter in and submitting my final reports and student grades. No lovely send offs. No in-person thanks and well-wishes for equally productive and restorative summer holidays. No fanfare at all, it seems.

It kind of sucks, to be honest.

And, most educators I suspect have felt something similar for the last several months. specifically as they close the books (pun intended) for this school year. And, certainly at the end of this most memorable and challenging of academic years.

Teaching and lecturing are exhausting during the best of times, and more so when you must quickly adapt and adjust to new realities with relatively little warning at all. I’m fortunate. I love my job and find the exhaustion infinitely rewarding because of the returns earned through inspiration and continual intellectual challenges and breakthroughs for me and my students. I’m infinitely fortunate to have the continual support from my direct supervisor and immediate colleagues, and incredible students, all of whom as graduate students are more than capable of using their own reserves to draw upon for self-discipline and time management necessary to learning asynchronously.

But, goodness I miss lecturing.

The worry for me and the source of my overwhelming exhaustion this year relates to that constant concern that the courses and materials are not meeting their needs. That all of these tools and technologies made available to us are poor and rather inadequate substitutes for the real-life, in-person interactions we typically enjoy and use to gauge engagement and understanding. Interactions I enjoy, and ultimately use to measure my own performance as much as theirs.

Summer may have arrived in Helsinki for this university instructor and her students. But, much of this summer for me means revamping and reexamining how to make distance learning a little more palatable for my students as well as for me. How to make achieving our mutual learning objectives a bit more possible and attainable. And, how to make the experience a little less lonely and a little more fulfilling and more interactive even with social distancing measures in place.

And, here, again, I suspect I’m not alone.

We are all redefining what ‘normal’ means to and for us. [Instructor and teacher friends, we’ve got this!] We are all adjusting to new realities and wondering what various seeds of change drifting on one wind or another will sprout in the near and distant futures.

A welcome visit

Like everyone else in the world, Covid-19 has altered our world. We have socially isolated ourselves since 13 March, which seems like a lifetime ago. A friend who lives in our neighbourhood has stopped by a few times briefly for visits reminiscent of Romeo & Juliette’s balcony scene without the drama. But, aside from those chats, we have interacted with no one other humans beyond the supermarket staff and each other, our darling kitten and nature for the last 8 weeks or so. The uncertainty and weight of these times, along with various reactions to it are, overwhelming at times.

Yesterday, this guy visited one of the feeders we hang from our second-floor flat’s balcony. Our views largely consist of other buildings. But, we are close enough to woodlands that many birds visit our balcony daily. This gorgeous creature is a more recent and our most precious guests.

A family of woodpeckers visited our former flat daily throughout the spring and summer months. Since moving about 1.5 years ago, our only real regret was not seeing or hearing those woodpeckers outside our balcony, despite moving less than ~1 km from our former flat. We’ve missed that family, and their lovely little chirps as they fed on the treats we left for them. The appearance of this guy last week made my heart sing. And, was so utterly random. At one point as I watched the tits and finches feed whilst sipping coffee, he just appeared. Time stopped. And, the weight of the world lifted. For whatever reason, hope was restored. At a time when I needed a reminder of the good in this world, I was reminded that the tiniest of joy can and often do appear when you least expect them.

Yesterday, Woody — because all woodpeckers are ‘Woody’ to us — showed up to delight The Cuban, who quietly gasped, quickly ran to grab our fancy-ass camera and then crept as close as he could to snap this and many more pics. The look of pure delight on his face nearly made me cry.

Moments like these are so, so precious. And, we are beyond grateful for them. I’ll be taking a few moments each day now to simply sit at our table stare out the window and watch the birdies. No wonder Pollito Pito Frito Fu does this daily.

Covid-19 has not impacted us directly. The curve here in Helsinki and Finland remains relatively flat. But, since most of our families and friends are scattered across this world and far from us, we feel that distance more acutely these days. As accustomed to this as we are, the knowledge that we can do absolutely nothing to help those we love or be there for them is crushing. At least we have the technology now to stay in touch with everyone. And, to share our concern, unease and uncertainty as well as our hope with all those we hold near and dear as well as all of you.

Solidarity, y’all. Be safe and be well. And, thank you for sharing your views from across this gorgeous world. We are all in this together

The old world, anew

It’s that time of year when we spend more time outdoors in the light than indoors hibernating. And, the world is coming alive.

Yesterday evening’s traverse through and along well-familiar paths in our old neighbourhood was lovely. We’ve walked (and run) those well-worn paths hundreds of time in all kinds of weather and at various times throughout the year. Yesterday, those paths offered multiple views with perhaps fresh eyes, resembling some sort of post-apocalyptic dystopian landscape against a dramatic, grey sky. It was somewhat surreal. Both old and new. Perhaps that was simply our perspective this particular spring.

The trees are just beginning to bud. The ferns and grasses and low-lying vegetation haven’t begun to spring and shoot up. And, few flowers have yet to break through the surface of the just-unfrozen topsoil. Water flows through various creeks once again, with signs that everything was covered in a thick layer of snow not that long ago a distant memory.

Spring is springing in southern Finland once again. Even if things look a little weathered and weary, the old world is looking a little fresher and new.

A new world

After our move last autumn, we haven’t really had the time or the energy to explore our new-to-us surroundings. Even though we are less than 1 km from our old ‘hood, it’s like we’ve moved to an entirely different city in some ways. And, one in which we feel oddly much more at home.

Our flat itself is indeed home now. It felt comfortable that first night we spent here, despite the chaos of boxes and mess. But, we nested quickly and effortlessly. Beyond our front door, we’re still exploring and understanding this seemingly different Helsinki. Our shopping habits have changed. And, we now rely on entirely different bus routes, which are surprisingly much more convenient and more plentiful.

Given the weather, as well as schedules and other nonsense related to simply living, we are only now finding our daily groove and rhythm, and resuming our evening strolls. Yesterday, we explored a new route I stumbled upon earlier this week when out on a run.

And, oh my. We are so, so happy. There will be many an image from future strolls and runs, I’m guessing. As much as we loved Munkkiniemi at sunset, this is something else entirely.

Now, we’re closer to an island called Seurasaari, an unpopulated and rather underdeveloped little gem here in Helsinki.  Below, I’ve put together a selection from our evening stroll yesterday evening.

We knew this was going to be a fantastic outing relatively quickly. Just after we crossed over and approached the water’s edge, we heard a familiar sound: the tweets of a woodpecker. Much to our delight and awe, we witnessed a tiny little fledgling woodpecker in flight and then chipping away at a branch just over our heads. The pictures here suck. Apologies.

But, y’all, it’s moments like these that take our breath away and make us happy to be alive and here. In this place.