‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Yesterday. Yesterday was a week of bad days smushed into a mere 24 hours.

By the time I returned home, nothing mattered, other than crawling into my favourite pjs and crabbing a giant gin and tonic (although we were sadly out of gin). If I’d had the energy, I would have grabbed my colouring books and pencils, built a blanket fort and hid from the world until next week.

Call it the end of a long, long year, the need for our holiday to begin N O W, a case of being overly tired from lack of sleep or simply a bad day. Regardless, yesterday sucked.

Evidently, my husband thought it best to channel Ralph Waldo Emerson. Both men’s mottos are ‘Be silly. Be kind. Be honest.’

Knowing that yesterday wore me out—psychologically and physically—The Cuban aka my hero sent me the perfect email sometime after I drifted off to sleep. (Never mind the weirdness of a couple who work from rooms next to one another sending emails back and forth—we (and by ‘we’ I mean ‘I’) are forgetful at times and email occasionally works best.) This email was silly. It was kind. And, it was honest. And, it was precisely what I needed to put yesterday behind me.

As the holiday season descends upon us, it seems as though everyone is overtaxed and overly tense and perhaps more than a little sensitive. Words and facial expressions and simply sighs may be taken out of context and in ways not fully intended. Individuals may be stretched to their absolute limits to such an extent that a smile can ease their minds or bring them to tears. This all rings true for me at the moment.

So, let’s all channel Ralph Waldo Emerson with a slight update: Be silly. Above all be kind And, be honest (unless it contradicts the first two).

And, for everything else, here is a picture of The Cuban’s grandmother with a rooster. Just because.

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Crazy Cat Ladies — On ‘Kedi’

It’s safe to say that in this house we are crazy cat ladies.

At some point when I find a bit of free time, I’ll finally sift through the photos from our last trip to Cuba and put together a post I’ve been mulling on ‘El Gatos de la Habana’ — The Cats of Havana. I must have hundreds of photos of cats. Just cats, doing what city cats do. With catitude.

Naturally, one of our favourite non-anger-inducing documentaries in recent memory features cats and the crazy men and women who love them.

Kedi‘, which premiered in 2016 in Istanbul, follows the lives of various city cats who inhabit the streets of Istanbul and the humans who live alongside them. It’s rather fitting that the personalities of each of these twitchy-tailed and -eared creatures rely on narration from the humans who feed, care for and watch over them as they come and go at will, occasionally hissing and swatting at any unwelcome attention. These cats are not merely known to any one neighbourhood’s residents; they are considered fellow members of those communities, each individual with unique personalities, character flaws and moods much like their human pals.

Throughout each cat’s story, the humans in its life detail each cat’s quirks, habits, likes and dislikes. Power struggles. Histories. Annoyances and indicators. And, naturally, relationships. Both with other cats and humans. Take what you know of your own community and extend that intimate knowledge to the animals in your hood. That’s what this documentary offers for a city filled with cats.

More than anything, this is a story of symbiosis. The cats of Istanbul, as told by one human character in the film, enjoy a long and storied past, and one completely intertwined with humans. They arrived from various locations far and wide primarily via sailing vessels. Once trapped as their ships set sail without them on board, they then added a bit of diversity to the feline population of Istanbul. After they earned their keep as controllers of the rat population in the city’s sewer system, they took on a rather more important position, and one not entirely without some sort of mystical quality. Rather touchingly, several of the humans narrating individual stories speak of how they feel various cats ‘saved’ or ‘healed’ them. And, just as many humans feel that, ultimately, caring for cats might just help us humans care for and be kind to one another again if only we would try.

Cheese factor aside, this documentary is a must-see for any aspiring or confirmed crazy cat lady. Even if you aren’t particularly fond of cats, it provide a bit of insight into why so many of us are.

¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Today is the best, most important day of the year.

Today is The Cuban’s birthday, and my absolute favourite day.

Today, we celebrate the day when this thoroughly lovely, witty, silly, insightful, thoughtful, caring, infinitely patient, creative, and at a times crazed creature entered this world.

There will be pie (banana cream, because bananas!). There will be singing and dancing (because that happens every day, but especially on birthdays). There will be much pampering and spoiling (because he deserves it). And, there will be laughter (because we like the laugh lines and chicken!).

Happy, happy birthday, my love. You make this world infinitely better each and every day. And, if you ask me, we need to celebrate your birth every day.

¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad! ¡Felicidad!

Crazy Cuban

The Cuban & The Che Fufu doing what they do.

 

I will not be terrorised

The world at the moment seems awfully scary and intimidating and violent. That violence appears utterly random at moments and widespread, even amongst those of us who live in relatively safe zones (e.g., not in places like Yemen, Iraq, Afghanistan or Syria, for a start).

After last week in Charlottesville, after Thursday in Barcelona and after yesterday evening’s knifing closer to me in Turku, the only thought I have is, ‘I will not be terrorised’.

Am I afraid?

For humanity, yes, indeed, I am. But, I refuse to cower in fear that something ‘might’ happen. That the boogeyman de jour will leap out from behind some imagined barrier wielding a weapon of choice. I refuse to look at another individual, different from me, and think, ‘Aha! That is the boogeyman we’ve been warned about’, and continue to eye her/him suspiciously.

Years ago, I had a business trip to Israel, where I spent a lot of time at Hebrew University and travelling to and fro on various buses for meetings with colleagues and to attend special events. It was an incredible trip really, and introduced me to a part of the world that is unimaginably beautiful in its stark, barren, brutal reality. In many ways, I fell in love with the country.

But, whenever our group was together, armed security guards accompanied us, in itself rather shocking to me. By armed, I mean, bulletproof vests and semi-automatic weapons as well as Glock-9s at their sides. Never mind their ammo belts. Several trips required traversing routes twice as long as the direct route, simply to ‘avoid’ certain areas perceived as particularly ripe for attacks from Palestinians.

Because this trip coincided with an uptick in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the early 2000s, my boss at the time, an Israeli from Jerusalem, mentioned that there was chatter and concern that ‘something’ might happen. And, several times during that two-week trip, every single mobile phone my fellow passengers carried on various buses rang seemingly simultaneously. I learned quickly that when that happened, there had been some tragedy elsewhere. In fact, three suicide bombs exploded during that trip, two of which rather near to and soon after we’d be in various spots. [Several weeks after that trip, a bomb exploded in the cafeteria at Hebrew University, a place I’d had more than one lunch at during that trip.]

Was it scary? Yes. But, more so, it was sad. It was profoundly and deeply troubling to see the affect it had on those who live that reality every single day. Suspicion and fear weighed heavily, and the divisions between Israelis and Palestinians seemed to become more prominent. Talking with various vendors along the edge of the Arab market in the Old Town in Jerusalem or colleagues and friends from various parts of Israel, everyone wanted the same thing: peace. To live in a world free from the random acts of violence that plague us all. To allow children to be children, and to know a world in which they needn’t fear or cower depending upon their own identities. To live in a world free from those learned identities.

That trip was difficult, but it was also one of the most amazing trips of my life.

What gave me hope then and continues to guide me on the darkest of days now is the knowledge that not everyone is a maniac hell-bent on destruction. Not everyone is so consumed with hate that they seethe with rage at the mere mention or glimpse of their imaged enemy. Not everyone sees diversity as a scourge that should be forever eliminated.

Not everyone is a terrorist. Not every Arab or Muslim. Not every black man. Not every left-wing liberal or so-called antifa. Not every conservative or Republican. And, not every white boy with a Southern drawl.

Yes, at the moment, I am scared. More so because we seem to be less-inclined to learn from or engage with on another and prefer to categorise those who are different as ‘the other’ and, therefore, evil or our enemy.

But, rather than be terrorised, I’m going to continue to live my life as if that fear did not exist at all. I will not assume that every act of violence is a terrorist attack.

Months ago, after yet another horrid incident, I hoped that we could figure this shit out. I’m still hoping and believing that we can. We. All of us. But, if we are to do so, we must stop being terrorised.
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Our loss of compassion

This. This article hit home.

I’ve lost count of the number of people I know who have put up a GoFundMe or other fundraising effort to help subsidise their or their family member’s life-threatening illnesses. And, like many, I’m bloody tired of having endless discussions about the politics of fear and greed.

I’m beyond enraged that individuals who have dedicated their time to work for employers who tell them they need to go on disability (at which point they lose their benefits and income) because of a chronic condition. I’m beyond incredulous how an employer can simply fire individuals because they are sick—too sick—to work, thus eliminating their benefits entirely (in one case, whilst the woman, who worked for corporate giant Radio Shack for 30 years, was on life support fighting for her own life).

I am beyond enraged when ‘leaders’ like Speaker Paul Ryan say that these same people simply don’t want to buy insurance. Never mind these people whom I know and care about deeply made every effort to ensure they have the coverage they need. What does Speaker Ryan think my beloved mother-in-law, well into her 80s, should do? What about an individual with dementia? What about a child born with a congenital birth defect?

There’s an element of American society that I don’t remember after living abroad for nearly 20 years. Not everyone mind, but a healthy enough proportion of us have become unimaginably cruel. Unless and until it happens to them, certain individuals seem to delight in the pain and suffering and hardships faced by others. It’d be bad enough if we simply turned a blind eye to that suffering. But, even within political discussions these days, the level of delight in watching others fail or flounder astounds me. It’s sad—so incredibly sad. For all of us.

I don’t have my own children, but I want all children to have equitable access to quality education without putting themselves or their families in debt. Why? Because I want those children to grow up equipped to become productive and engaged members of society.

I am healthy and have (touch wood) never really experienced any dire or life-threatening issues. But, I also want universal healthcare for all of my fellow Americans because I understand that ill-health and unfortunate accidents can happen to anyone. Accessing treatment shouldn’t be a privilege for those fortunate enough to have money or a privileged position within society. Like it or not, we all get sick or can. And, no-one should be forced to choose between food or shelter or health care for their loved one. Everyone’s life is priceless to someone else.

People matter. Individuals matter. Any one individual may not matter to me personally, but that isn’t what’s important. Understanding that we all have some worth or merit or characteristic which makes us priceless to others is what drives my own compassion and empathy. And, understanding that my own happiness does not come from ignoring my compassion for others guides my support for particular policies and practices. I want others to be happy just as I want to be happy myself.

To me, sitting over here in my socialist, high-tax, high-quality life in Finland where kids are exceptionally educated and health care is available to all for pennies, the US looks a lot less compassionate than I remember.  As angry as I am, I am far, far sadder. And I suspect, I am far from alone in this sadness.

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When words are all we have

A fellow expat who lives in the Netherlands has a mighty blog. Whilst I don’t read it as often as I’d like, I find it incredibly refreshing and equally real.

She recently visited Poland, making that most gruesome of all journeys to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Rather than simply share the link to her latest entry, I’m posting it here. I hope this gives it more weight than a mere shared link will. Because it is truly something that should be read slowly and carefully. And, perhaps as many times as can be stomached.

On most days, I believe in our collective ability as a species to do good. To extend kindness to those in need. To rise above whatever challenges we face as individuals and as members of various groups and demonstrate that we are not monsters. But, history reminds us of how truly awful we can be. And, we mustn’t forget. We absolutely positively mustn’t allow ourselves to fall prey to fear and hate and difference and commit the most vile offences we can commit against one another ever again.

Thank you, Farrah, for bearing witness. I don’t know how you wrote this piece, but I’m glad you did. Words fail me, so I’ll simply borrow from you…

The following stats are taken directly from her piece and taken from the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial:

Note: The following facts are taken directly from The Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial Guidebook that I purchased on site in Auschwitz and from the placards outside of the respective blocks. I have photographs of the plackards where I took this information. 

Auschwitz was the largest Nazi German concentration camp and death camp. In the years 1940-1945, the Nazis deported at least 1, 300,000 people to Auschwitz:

  • 1, 100,000 Jews
  • 140,000-150,000 Poles
  • 23,000 Roma (Gypsies)
  • 15,000 Soviet POWs
  • 25,000 prisoners from other ethnic groups

1,100,000 of these people died in Auschwitz, approximately 90% of the victims were Jews. The SS murdered the majority of them in the gas chambers.

All that I need….

In the lead up to today, my 47th birthday, my husband has asked me nearly daily what I want. My response has been the same each and every time: ‘I don’t know. There’s nothing I really need or want.’ And, it’s true. I genuinely want for nothing for perhaps the first time in my life. At least, the things I want aren’t necessarily material goods or even things which impact my daily life. (Although, I’ll never turn down a new Marimekko frock or office supplies or chocolate. But, I don’t want need them.)

My life—my little, seemingly insignificant life—is rather comfortable and free of conflict. I have a husband and best friend I adore more with each passing year, a cat that is thoroughly cat-like and lovely at once, a job I never thought I’d love more and which rarely seems like ‘work’, more books and yarn than I will ever need and a collection of kind folks scattered across the globe to catch me when I stumble or with whom I can share the good times. Certain elements of my life may not be perfect, but I don’t need them to be. I don’t know that I want them to be. I rather enjoy challenges, perhaps more than I should.

At 47, I don’t feel the need to look behind me so much as I look forward to what’s to come. Goals are more realistic and simple these days, and what I hope for isn’t for me as much as it is for those around me. For the world around me.

This past year or so seems like some sort of wicked nightmare we’ve collectively imagined in some ways. After battling my own demons, and finally feeling as though I can live with them, current events in various regions have provided far too much surrealism and sleeplessness on occasion. It’s relatively easy for all of us to lose hope given some of the ugliness that screams more loudly than the kindness I know to exist. Yet, here I am, still full of hope for all of us and still firmly committed to the belief that what binds each of us to one another is far, far stronger than that which divides us.

At 47, this is what my life has come to mean: I won’t change the entire world, but hopefully I can change someone’s world just a little bit for the better. I won’t fix all the problems in this world, but perhaps I’ll help at least one person overcome some problem that consumes their world. I can’t love everyone, but I hope that I can provide love to someone who needs it in the moment when they need it most.

So many of you have done exactly that for me, both when I was acutely aware that I needed help and at moments when I didn’t. You have provided me with all that I need, and so much more. I am immensely grateful and I thank you, and I hope that I live up to your examples.

Me at 47

Me captured by The Cuban at the Espoo Museum of Modern Art, 6 May 2017, Espoo, Finland.

If you’d like to help make the world a better place, please consider making a donation to any of the following organisations. Above all, please be kind:

Spatial Memory

Note: This is one of multiple pieces I’ve written during our trip to Cuba this year. This is not the first in the series, but it’s one which seems most appropriate and perhaps the most meaningful for me. Thanks to recent changes, which I’ll update y’all on later, the internet has finally (sort of) come to Cuba! Happy New Year from both of us, and I hope you enjoy this particular musing. 

Many places in Cuba conjure up specific memories and moments from our trips here. Mostly, each of these spaces remind me of meeting various people for the first or most recent time, or stolen moments in which these amazing individuals accepted me into their fold in one way or another. I’m hard-pressed to pick a favourite space, since each person and place signifies a significant relationship both to The Cuban and now to me. But, one place in particular makes me weep with longing once we return to Finland.

This particular flat belongs to Miriam, The Cuban’s best friend and sister from another mister. The two of them are so stinking lovely together it’s a sight to behold. They’ve watched their now adult offspring grow up, but well remember the tiny children they once were. In this building. Once neighbours and now best friends, they are family despite distance and years.

Miriam’s flat is an oasis of peace and solitude, as well as a meeting point and at times akin to party central when the full crew descend. On our first trip here, I met Miriam for the first time in a bus station, and then again at the beach one weekend. I immediately loved her. We then later came to visit her over a few evenings with several other of Pablo’s friends before returning to Finland. Laughter, love, warmth and kindness, and music. I may still struggle to keep up with the rapid-fire flow of Cubañol conversation and kidding, but more than anything, it’s clear that Miriam and all who surround her carry more laughter, love, warmth and kindness than most people experience in a lifetime. Perhaps this is why her space in Vedado persists in my memory when we are far, far away.

The room in which I now sit is simple. Polished granite floors in a speckled off-white, dark grey and black pattern. Despite a crack running across the middle of the floor, they shine like no floors we’ve seen in Cuba. Plants line three of the room’s four walls, several of which are my absolute favourite species and would never thrive in Finland. A huge hammock spans the width of the room just to one side of the clothesline and it takes all of my limited willpower to not immediately stretch out and stay there all day long. The room is rather cavernous with it’s four-metre-high ceilings, yet it is anything but cold. This is a room meant for conversing and sharing. Living and loving.

With the windows open throughout the flat, a breeze carries our conversations out, as well as allows others’ bantering to drift in and intermingle with ours.

I love this space. Much as I love most of our friends’ and family’s spaces here, as well as to the people inhabiting them. Each expresses perfectly the individual personalities of those we love. And, to a certain degree, we carry these spatial memories with us when we return to our own. As much as we bring with us on these trips, we inevitably leave with tiny pieces of these homes. Perhaps, it’s simply that we take little pieces of each of these people with us.

Regardless, this. This space. It persists in my memory, and I don’t mind at all.

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‘Please, be kind’.

As with most of the world, Paris has been on my mind. Not merely because of the tragic and senseless loss of life and, along with it, our collective loss of naïvety and innocence (once again). But, mostly because of our indefatigable ability to dichotomise one another.

Us versus them. Black versus white. West versus East. Developed versus undeveloped. Peace versus war. Trust versus suspicion. Right versus  wrong. Christian versus Muslim. Ad nauseum.

What happened in Paris obviously horrified me, just as it did everyone else. But, what I found particularly difficult to process was not the events themselves, but our collective inability to find any sort of empathy or understanding of how our words affect one another. The way in which we talked about terrorism and those who seek to terrorise left me nauseous. The words we chose and to whom we directed them horrified me more in some ways.

I watched as individuals I trusted and respected very quickly spewed the worst sort of hate speech and condemned entire groups of individuals, casting the term ‘them’ cavalierly, thus rendering specific groups entirely unworthy of trust or dignity. Unworthy of a chance. Or unworthy of a better life.

I watched and read how we should divide ourselves further, even if we fundamentally agree with one another. ‘Let’s put larger, stronger fences whilst bombing others into the last millennium.’ Facts and statistics didn’t matter much. Only that there was an ‘us’ and a ‘them’, and these were completely categorical with no shades of grey nor replete with ambiguity.

Many posts and rants left me thinking, ‘the terrorists have won’. This is somehow more troubling than the events themselves. And, it’s this that has left me sleepless on more than one night.

I don’t have any answers regarding how we collectively address terrorism or prevent / foil another 9/11 or Paris or Beirut or how to make those ideological differences less divisive. But, I do know that hating someone simply because they are different from me isn’t going to help me feel safer. It’s certainly not going to do much to make my world safer. Partitioning my world to include only those who are right whilst excluding those who are wrong merely begs the question: who defines who’s right and who’s wrong? If our impulse is to cast doubt on those different to us, or assume that all members of group X are to blame for the actions of a few or are all somehow inferior to group [insert demographic here], we are doomed.

There will be no solutions and there will be no safety nor security. And, there will be many, many more Parises in the years to come. Hating is easy; acceptance and understanding are hard, but necessary.

This past summer, at the conclusion of a five-show run of the surviving members of the Grateful Dead, drummer Mickey Hart implored us all to ‘please, be kind‘. Challenge accepted, Mickey. Those words have played over and over and over in my mind since July, and ever more increasingly in the wake of Paris.

‘Kill them with kindness’ shall remain my mantra and modus operandi, although I certainly hope no one dies. It costs nothing and may prove invaluable. Rather than engage in hatred or vehement disagreement, I shall choose respect and quiet contemplation. It may not make much difference. But, it beats the alternative. And, in my mind and heart, love will always conquer hatred.

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*NB: This post was inspired by a discussion with a close friend who lives far-too-far away. Thanks, Karen! x