Turtle Poem

 

01 First steps into the unknown

First steps into the unknown,

 

02 Walk together

walk together,

 

03 Walk alone

walk alone.

 

04 It's a long road and we stray

It’s a long road and we stray,

 

05 And many times we wonder

many times we wonder,

 

06 Which way

which way.

 

07 Crossing hurdles and hills

Crossing hurdles and hills,

 

08 Its daunting

it’s daunting,

 

09 But daunting also thrills

but daunting also thrills.

 

10 So embrace the crazy ride

So we learn to embrace the crazy ride,

 

11 The magnificent unpredictability of life

the magnificent unpredictability of life,

 

12 And surf the tide

and surf its tide.

 

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Who are you? The Power of the Mind

One of the topics frequently being discussed in the “Everyday” Facebook chat between Michaelle, Rachel and I is the power of the mind. As all people, we have good days and we have bad days. We also have worse days. With influences from the likes of Louise Hay, we always try to encourage each other to be aware of the fact that we are very much in charge of our lives, and most importantly, our minds.

It’s so easy to fall into the habit of thinking I am this or I am that. I am shy. I am loud. I am a failure. I am ugly. I am not a happy person. But why are you all of these things? Let me tell you – something happened to you once and your reaction was to think that you were shy. Then something else happened, which reinforced that thought. Then maybe something else. All of a sudden, shy defined you and you knew that you had always been, and probably always would be, shy. “It’s just the way I am.”

Yes and no. If you want to give random external circumstances the power to decide who you are, then yes. But you also have an opportunity here; an opportunity which only reveals itself as soon as you realise that you are not defined by what happens to you, but how you react to it. If you are wearing blue tinted glasses you will see the world in blue, but you can just as easily decide to change to red.

It is a powerful thought: your world is what you make it.  You can actually change the way you think to ultimately change the way you feel. You can choose to see failure or opportunity in everything that happens to you. You can choose to put the red tinted glasses on and they don’t tell you that you’re shy, they never have and they never will.

But how do you do it? Not to be discouraging, but it will probably be the greatest challenge of your life. I saw an excellent TED Talk the other day on how science suggests that we’re more perceptive to negative thoughts than positive ones, and how we tend to get stuck in a spiral of negative thinking. Although pretty basic, it was a revelation to me as I have always felt that negativity comes way too easily.

In fact, ever since Michaelle introduced me to Louise Hay (who’s ideas I take with a kilo of salt – I find it very difficult to believe that thoughts can cure all forms of disease) mid last year, I have been on a mission to reinvent the way I think. With a rather common yet nonetheless dysfunctional belief system about who I was (not “good enough” being the most prominent idea) it seemed impossible at first. You don’t wash away 31 years of beliefs just like that. But after a year, I’m amazed by how much easier it has become. And this TED Talk was another step in the right direction, because the more aware we are of how are brains work (or don’t work), the better capable we will be to manipulate them and improve them to our advantage.

Awareness is the first and most important step. Simply realising that you can change the way you think to change the way you feel has already taken you 50% of the way. That awareness will keep on reminding you, poking you and annoying you until your unwillingness to change is the only thing standing in your way.

Michaelle and Rachel are knights and guardians of my awareness (they’ll love that). Whenever I’m sad or upset about something, they tell me that I should choose to think and feel differently. It always frustrates me because it’s really not what you want to hear when you’re having a bad day – you want some pity, comfort and a truckload of chocolate, not someone telling you it’s actually your own fault you’re feeling this way. Even if it is.

One caveat here, it’s important to be self-aware enough to know when you’re being silly (and as long as you’re aware, why not have a pity party for a few hours, they’re fun!) and when things are serious. Because even if I do believe in the power of changing the way you think, I also believe that you should give your emotional intelligence some credit. If you feel sad, mistreated or unhappy, your feelings are probably trying to tell you that there is something you need to change in life. Ultimately, change in thinking also needs to be combined with action, because at the end of the day, you can’t think your way out of an unstable financial situation, an unhealthy lifestyle or a dysfunctional relationship.

How to sum this up? Use the awareness. Use your self-awareness. Use your emotional intelligence. Figure out what it is you need to change, both physically and mentally, and see it as an opportunity to create a better life for yourself. You don’t have to wear blue tinted glasses if you don’t want to, and the first step – really not as easy as it might sound – is to realise that they’re not attached to your face.

The Best of 2014

We started this blog in May 2014 when Michaelle was living in Bangkok, Rachel was living in San Fransisco, and Jennie in Rwanda. Now eight months later, Michaelle is in Brighton, Jennie moved to Tanzania and Rachel is keeping us represented in Bangkok (the place we all met).

To celebrate the fantastic year of 2014, we thought we’d do a joint Christmas post looking back on the highlights of year, what we’ve experienced and learnt.

We always hope that by sharing our experiences we are creating a space where people, especially people away from their families and homes of origin, can find some reassurance, comfort, empathy, or just some amusement. We hope you have been enjoying our random posts this year and will keep up with us in 2015, we promise to get into loads of trouble, maybe even jump out of an airplane again.

Without further ado, The Best of 2014!

The most valuable thing I learnt

Michaelle: It was the year of learning, but I guess the number one thing I learned is that life has a way of working itself out; the answer presents itself eventually to all perceived problems. This year I am going to try to keep that in mind instead of worrying so much!

Jennie: It was without doubt the best year of my life for new learnings, but the most valuable thing I learnt must be that it’s never exclusively a bad thing to find yourself in a difficult situation. With some determination and courage, hardships can open up doors to fantastic new opportunities and possibilities.

Rachel: I’ve lived in three countries this year – Australia, the United States and Thailand. This experience exposed me to three very different cultures, very different communities of people and the very different values and beliefs of individuals living very different lives. What I’ve learnt is that our interests (and our obsessions) are not a given; we weren’t born with them, we were born into them – they are largely shaped by the environments in which we live. This is not surprising, but what is surprising is that despite the circumstantial (and therefore, arbitrary) shaping of our own values and beliefs, we cling to them with conviction, so much so that we often cannot identify with contradictory or differing perspectives. Many of us are willing to openly persecute, vilify or denigrate others to defend our own perspectives. Of course, civilized disagreement is good – it can lead to healthy debate, the readjustment of our thinking and ultimately, the advancement of human consciousness. My point is that we are pretty bad at adjusting our perspectives and even more simply, at respecting different ones. In 2014, I’ve witnessed the “great human disconnect” (which is arguably made worse communication technologies and social media platforms that seem to fortify communities of shared values). The most valuable thing I’ve learnt then is that at least on a personal level, I’ve really got to work on my listening skills.

2014’s Most Unexpected

Michaelle: I never would have expected to gain a brand new family. In 2014 I was so welcomed into the Palestinian-Syrian refugee community in Bangkok  and  I never could have expected so much love from a group of people. Also, after having faced a war in Syria and innumerable hardships in Bangkok, you could never imagine how much love they still have to give. They make me believe in the good in the world and I am proud and inspired by their strength.

Finding family everywhere

Finding family everywhere

Jennie: Everything about 2014 was unexpected. I started it off rather miserable, having recently split with my fiancé, more or less unemployed and temporarily living with my parents in a snowy and dark Sweden. I remember watching the fireworks on my own on New Year’s Eve – my parents at a party and my guests already home with their two small children. The future seemed a tad gloomy.

In the midst of it all, I had this nagging gut feeling telling me that I needed to go back to Rwanda for a volunteer opportunity. I didn’t have much money and no real plan B, but went anyway. Now, a year later, I’m looking back on 2014 and seeing some of the best times of my life. I have made a ridiculous amount of new friends, many which I’ll keep for life, and I’ve landed a dream job in Tanzania.

This New Year’s Eve, I spent in Dar es Salaam cooking up a storm with three (2014 new) good friends. I couldn’t be happier.

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NYE 2013, not quite the party we had this year.

Rachel: Late one Monday night, I was lost in Los Gatos, California, with Terry Hershner. There was almost no charge left on his electric motorcycle – our only mode of transportation on a public holiday in this small isolated city. Cold, hungry, grumpy, lost, we stumbled across the only bar in town showing any sign of life – a group of beautiful, middle-aged women enjoying the remnants of a lavish meal. The restaurant had closed, but out of kindness, these women invited us to join their table and before we knew it, we were the centre of their attention, eating their leftovers, drinking their wine and sharing stories of our journeys across California on Terry’s electric motorcycle. This was the night I met Durga, an Indian, cricket playing venture capitalist with a gapingly open heart and open mind. After we’d finished eating, she invited us back to her house and almost 24 hours later, several Indian meals later, we were still there, sharing stories, exchanging beliefs and how we each hoped to impact the world. It was the most unexpected encounter of my life to date and it’s a day I’ll never forget. I think of Durga often and how wonderful it is to live so openly and without judgment to the strangers around us.

I spent too much time worrying/thinking about…

Michaelle: Men. They take up entirely too much time. On top of that, I have the worst taste in men. If I were the statue of liberty my sign would read “Give me your passive aggressive, your emotionally unavailable, your masses of idiots”. I have no general solution on the topic, however.

Jennie: Contract extensions. Job applications. Written tests for jobs. Job interviews. Those stupid things I said in job interviews. Hearing back from job interviews. Whether or not I would get job A, B or C and move to X, Y or Z. Whether or not I would die unemployed and penniless of exhaustion.

Rachel: I want to help create educational resources for kids. At some point in the process of creating these resources, I started to question my own motivation  – was I doing this because I believed in the cause, or because I wanted to prove myself and my own capabilities? I had definitely taken a fairly significant stand in moving away from the UN system to go it on my own. But was this about ego or conviction? Once the idea entered my head, I found it hard to erase and I could not easily separate these two driving forces. In the end, worrying about this has held me back from doing something important. As Mark Twain famously penned, “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” There is no point stalling. In 2015, it’s time to start creating.

I particularly remember this one happy moment…

Michaelle: I was getting into bed one night in Bangkok in the flat I shared with a wonderful woman named Erin. I yelled goodnight to her through my open door into the neighbouring kitchen. She responds with, “Did you just say I love you?”

“Haha, no,” I said, “but I do!” And we started saying I love you before bed each night. It sounds ridiculous, I know, but it always felt like a real home there, and when you are so far from your roots, it is all you need.

Jennie: 2014 was the year of road trips. I think it was in September, three good friends and I travelled up to Musanze and Burera in Rwanda. We found some stunning spots with views over lakes, mountains and volcanoes. We took silly photos of ourselves surveying the lands and came up with inside jokes we’re still laughing about. We ate home-made pasta at a small Italian restaurant, drank tequila shots and played semi-drunken “would you rather”. Having recently gotten a new job, I knew I’d soon have to leave beautiful Rwanda and these friends behind. Rather than feeling sad, it made me appreciate the time we had together so much more.

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Rachel: I was in Barcelona on the Feast Day of St Joan, the start of Summer and the longest day of the year for the Spaniards. It was also my final day in Spain after a three week holiday. I remember reflecting on my state of mind and I realized that I could not remember feeling happier than I had over those past few months and especially those past few weeks holidaying in Spain. My happiness was tied to the beautiful company, the weather, the tastes and smells of Spain and then also the perfect dosage of alone time for necessary contemplation and appreciation. As I wrote then: “It’s late and I’m sitting beside an 85 year old women in a wheelchair who is drinking wine and laughing her head off. I don’t understand a word she says. Sometimes I fear that I’ve reached peak happiness. Watching her tonight, and with all that lies ahead, I doubt that could be true. So with firecrackers all around, salud to you Espana, for reminding me that happiness is always right here right now and that life – for it’s a jagged edges – is beautiful.”

Three people I would like to thank and why

Michaelle: There are too many. Can I group them into threes?

1.Fouad, Shouaq, Ibrahim for helping me with my PhD and becoming my family.

2. Dave Green and Erin Bodnar for emotionally supporting me through a super tough year.

3. Jennie and Rachel for always, always listening.

There are too many more people to thank and I am so grateful for all of them.

Jennie: I will only mention two: Michaelle and Rachel. Although I could easily write a 10 page essay about why, I will settle with them just being there, every step of the journey, always. Crying with me, laughing with me, telling me off, giving me advice and letting me do the same for them.

Rachel: Aside from Jennie and Michaelle, you have become like sisters to me, here’s mine:

Terry. In 2014, I spent two months with the wonderful Terry Hershner, helping promote the film Kick Gas and also learning a lot more about electric vehicle technology from one of the greatest EV enthusiasts in the world. Intellectually, Terry is far superior to me – I could not pretend to keep pace with his brilliant mind. Nonetheless, we have a beautiful connection and he has a beautiful heart. For all that he hopes to achieve in pushing electric vehicle technology and for all his crazy ideas, I admire Terry immensely. My life is richer simply for having met him.

Azin. Michaelle and I were playing tinder one night in Bangkok when Azin popped up as a match. She grabbed my phone and starting texting him. We met Azin that night and while he was only passing through the city and looking for friends to meet, for us, this was anything but a momentary passing. Since we met in July, I’ve come to regard Azin as one of the greatest listeners I’ve ever known. He’s also one of the most driven and most ambitious. For the something within that drives his entrepreneurial spirit, Azin has inspired in me a greater confidence in my own capability.

Ibrahim. If my year has been wild and carefree, Ibrahim’s has been the complete opposite. Some people have real problems and I am not one of them. But some of those that do have the inner resilience to not only overcome real challenges in their personal lives, but to pull the rest of us along with them, empowering us and inspiring us too. Ibrahim doesn’t judge a soul and in his humility and openness, he inspires me to be a better person. I don’t believe it’s coincidence that he and I have crossed paths in this life. Ibrahim has taught me a lot about the real challenges of so many in this world and about human connection.

Rachel and Terry on their many adventures

Rachel on one of her many adventures

2014 described with three words

Michaelle: Challenging. Eye-opening. Over (thankfully).

Jennie: Metamorphosis. Friendship. Adventure.

Rachel: Painful. Exhilarating. Joyous.

Michaelle's 2014 summarized here.

In Summary: Michaelle’s 2014

What I’m looking forward to in 2015

Michaelle: Finishing my PhD, writing a book, the conflict ending in Syria. I also hope to just go with it a bit more this year, I am on the right path, this much I am certain, I just need to stay on it and enjoy the ride.

Jennie: Seeing my parents again after more than a year and taking them on an epic holiday through East Africa: gorillas, safaris, craters, beaches, mountains and lakes. Showing them where I’ve lived and where I’m living, watching them also fall in love with these stunning places. It’s long overdue.

And while 2014 was a year of personal growth, transformation and change, I think 2015 will “institutionalise” these changes, slow things down and make the ride a bit more comfortable. Yet not any less fun!

Rachel: In 2014, I existed like a feather in the wind, floating by observing the lives of those around me, and occasionally getting sucked into them. I’ll be 30 in 2015 and I consider that an age of marked maturity and a time to transition from the role of passive student to proactive instigator. I’m feeling wiser for my wild and carefree 2014 and I think I needed this year off to reevaluate my values. Floating through so many very different communities in so many different countries has been critical to this. Ultimately it’s strengthened the convictions I’ve always held and with a stronger sense of self, I’m excited to see what I’m capable of creating.

Lanterns on the Lake

I saw Lanterns on the Lake on a small stage in Stockholm and this song was one of their closing acts. It was January this year, I was with my good friend Malin, it was cold, dark, snowy and melancholic as only Stockholm can be in the winter. I remember feeling so privileged to see them. It was majestic, magnificent and powerful.

You learn fear is just a fleeting thing.

You learn love is not a fleeting thing.

 

UN Women and Emma Watson – The Missed Opportunity

I don’t often get very angry, but this morning I almost choked on my coffee when the first thing I saw as I opened up my laptop was this:

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I’m an avid supporter of UN Women: I interned with them in Bangkok in 2010 and was voted in as committee member for the UN Women UK London Branch in 2011. I think UN Women does great things. And Emma Watson for that matter. Her whole “girl next door” look is what makes her so great – we can all see bits of ourselves in her. She’s pretty yes, but not conventionally stunning. A bit awkward looking even and skinny, but not in an “I’m starving myself” way but because she hasn’t necessarily grown into a full-blown woman yet (no criticism here, I still look like a teenager at 30 so I can totally relate).

So why did this news make me angry? I think you’ve probably figured it out already (although I was desperately scrolling down among the comments on that post without seeing any similar reactions). Do you recognise the woman in the photo? “Yeah, that’s Emma, right,” you’re thinking. “She looks stunning,” you’re probably also thinking. “But perhaps she doesn’t really look like she normally does?”

Head on the nail.  A qualified guess is that the photo has been retouched. Not just a little bit but a lot (what on earth happened to her mouth?!). This is Emma as we know her, with freckles, dimples, a wonky mouth with a bigger bottom lip:

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You might not think it’s a big deal, retouching is a part of our daily lives. EVERYONE does it. Even you and I when we put that Sierra filter on our photos on Instagram to wash out those drunken red faces. But the whole idea of a UN Women Goodwill Ambassador is to support women around the world by setting a good example. With this photo, they don’t only fail that task miserably, they send the completely wrong message to women:

We have to be beautiful.

We’re not beautiful if we’re not perfect.

We have to be perfect.

How many women don’t struggle with this idea of being perfect? Almost all the women I know do, on a daily basis, whether they voice it or not. It is the number one thing that holds us back.

In this photo, Emma is not the girl next door anymore, she’s not you and me. She’s a famous, stunning, unreachable actress and we can only strive to be as amazing.

Of course, I don’t have any proof to back up my claim that the photo is retouched. None at all. And although my gut tells me that common sense is proof enough, I want to be diplomatic. So let’s say it isn’t, would that change things? Honestly, no. That photo made someone who doesn’t normally get very angry write this post, for a start. Even the fact that one might think the photo is retouched is a problem.  That Emma looks “perfect” is all well and good for her, but when conveying messages to women around the world, UN Women, out of everyone, should carefully consider what is actually being said.

You might want to argue here that a Goodwill Ambassador is always a talented celebrity raising the profile of the organisation and it’s work. Yes, that’s fine. But there are tons of opportunities to use this fact in a positive  way (especially with Emma Watson, I’m stunned by this missed opportunity!) and we must ask ourselves if we are slowly but surely breaking stereotypes down or if we are reinforcing them? Are we celebrating the beauty, perfection and talent of the girl next door or did we just put her on a pedestal and superglued her to it? Are we making women feel beautiful just the way they are or encouraging them to botox their lips and bleach away their freckles (or find a suitable app that does the same)? You tell me, UN Women and Emma Watson.

Glimpses

Being far away from family and friends is hard. Particularly hard is the fact that many can’t relate to the life that you live, despite long emails, phone calls and endless Skype sessions. So I wanted to show them instead, show you, what life is like in this beautiful part of the world.

Very timely, I found this app that pastes together video clips, one second per day (if you remember to take one clip each day that is). Below is the result and glimpses of my life in March and April, until I slowly but surely started to forget taking videos.  You will see some Rwanda, South Africa, Burundi and Uganda, and although that sounds a bit wild for “every day life” during only two months, that’s exactly what those two months offered. Many of the best moments were of course not captured on film, but on the other hand, this app allows you to appreciate the small moments, the ones likely to be forgotten – a drive, a dog, an afternoon by a lake.

I hope you see this and make one of your own – what a fantastic way to share life with those who are far away.

I think I broke something

I think I’ve never encountered such a fitting name for a song before: if you ever broke something that thought you couldn’t live without, I imagine it would feel like this song. Let me take you through the short but intense journey.

First 11 seconds – Denial. “I refuse to believe that this just happened”

12 – 18 seconds – Confusion. “It happened, but I can’t yet grasp what it means”

19 – 35 seconds – Realisation and grief. “I want to pull my heart out”

36 seconds – 1:00 minute – Dwelling and depression. “It hurts so much, I will never heal”

1:01 – 1:29 – Acceptance. “I have to accept that it’s lost”

1:30 – 1:33 – Silence

Grow

I don’t know anything about Ryan Vail. Nothing. When you google him the first few hits are images and the blog of a professional distance runner. Somehow, I don’t think this is the same guy.  There is a website, with nothing on it. There is a Facebook page with 3,188 likes. Clearly, Ryan Vail is up and coming. I would like to think I’m in the know and I’m sharing this insider tip with you right now, but finding this song was a complete accident. Either way, I love it and hope you do to.

Abandoned Places

I always thought there was something so fascinating about abandoned places.  Partly because I love photography and they make for the most extraordinary motifs, but mostly because of their haunting, inherent sadness – they once carried such great potential, they were the objects of expectations, hopes and desires to achieve something unique. Now, they might look like nothing to the bypasser. They might look like dirt and trash, unworthy of our attention. But I would like to argue that there is rare beauty in the sadness they bear, and there is always a concealed story of hope, often unknown to the world around.

There is one such place in Kigali, Rwanda. In the middle of the city, there is a small lake surrounded by an array of green vegetation, and somewhere in there, you can find an abandoned amusement park. The story goes – as recollected from various sources and rumours – that a woman brought over the rides and statues from China approximately 10 years ago, but was then unable to get the park approved and opened. The result is  a wonderfully bizarre and unique abandoned place in the very heart of Kigali. You can literally walk past it on the street, not knowing that what hides behind the greenery a few meters below in the valley.

If you ever come here, I will show you were it is. In the meantime, please do enjoy these photos. I hope you find them weird, ugly, beautiful, sad, mysterious, bizarre, random, terrible, fun, intriguing, unnerving  – anything but nothing.

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