Hold on

I got invited to share today. With a genuine “tell me” a space had been created for me to pour my mind and heart out in the presence of another human being. Yesterday a stranger, today a friend. The value of connecting in the midst of this detached reality..

“I think I want to dive in head first but it’s too high from here.”
“Is it deep enough?”
“Yes”
“So what’s the problem?”
“I don’t know, I’m just afraid I won’t get the right angle from here or something.”
“Sure you will. Do something each day that scares you. Go!”

Seconds later I was in the water. Laughing. Healing.

Sun, water, music, people, mojitos, lobster and shrimp. A quiet Sunday in appreciation of the nearby sea and palm trees.

“A hug should last for more than six seconds, that’s the time it takes for the body to start releasing oxytocin.”

There are strangers out there who insist on hugs and won’t let go of you until you’ve started healing. What a beautiful realization.

We’ll never be like them – No one is like we are.

“I’m waking up and remain in bed. I can feel you breathing. The whole world is awake, you’re shutting off. Will this become easier some day? This is where I want to be, although I shouldn’t. Come a little closer. I can see you thinking that you should leave..

Please just turn around, give me something to dream about, we’ll never be like them..

No one is like we are. People all around but. No one is like we are. All we know. No one is like we are. High above the ground. No one is like we are. And so what? No one is like we are. And you are just like me. No one is like we are. I’m of another kind. No one is like we are. It’s never going to be like it’s supposed to. No one is like we are..

I’m waking up in a different city. Where I’m not supposed to be. I’m imagining how it all could be. This heat is making me weak. Nobody knows that you’re just like me. Stay a little longer. I’m saying your name but I get no response.

Please just turn around, give me something to dream about, we’ll never be like them..

No one is like we are. People all around but. No one is like we are. All we know. No one is like we are. High above the ground. No one is like we are. And so what? No one is like we are. And you are just like me. No one is like we are. I’m of another kind. No one is like we are. It’s never going to be like it’s supposed to. No one is like we are!


Little Jinder & Melo – Inga e som vi e (2014)

Listening to the pink, fluffy and very high pitched love duet by Little Jinder and Melo. The video is continuing on the satirical and stereotype pushing wave that Swedish pop lately has been riding, and it’s all just sugar-coated and cheesy enough to create a double-negative and turn the experience into something beautiful. I believe. And then there’s of course the sincere looking making-out session, and the high quality video and light, accompanied by, again, overly cheesy editing. You know that wonderful, warm, sunny bubble that turns you into an irrational, giggling, emotional and constantly overwhelmed fuzzball? Yes, that one. Even the video manages to capture the sweet absurdity of it, and Little Jinder explains further in an interview with the magazine Nöjesguiden:

“A lot of your music, and this video, seems to be about capturing a certain feeling. Is this song about being super-duper mega in love?”

“- Exactly. I think it’s interesting how you just “lose it” when you feel very strongly for other people, both negatively and positively. This particular song highlights the need of creating a bubble that can maintain the conviction that what you feel is totally unique and very, very right.”

Little Jinder

And me? I got late for the dinner I was getting dressed for when this song started playing on my streaming radio. The urge to flow around, sing along, and press repeat was too strong to ignore, and I was filled with a feeling of love for the world, happiness for finding time to cultivate my work-out endorphins, and just.. calm. Then I got dizzy from spinning around and realized I should get going, so I threw on my long black dress, painted my lips red to match my freshly bruised knuckles, and jumped into the car.

For the love of non-violence. One Shotokan class and a million thoughts later.

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Who are you? Beyond all those obvious layers.. How do you react to fear? What’s your first and preferred response to danger and threat?

I have been asking myself this question since I was little. Mentally placing myself in emergency situations and exercising problem solving, mediation with kidnappers, rapists and robbers, escaping captivity and keeping myself alive alone in the jungle. Call it a strange thing to think about, but I have always really enjoyed putting my mind on the edge and making sure fear and irrationality doesn’t get to me.

Luc said, “Isn’t that just a form of self gratification? You always survive, right?” And maybe he’s right in a way. I’m rarely afraid, my reasoning is calm and usually touches my perpetrator, and I miraculously make my way out of the forest by finding random tools. Isn’t that the idea, though? To survive?

And also, who were my biggest heroes when I was a kid? I was endlessly factinated by Lara Croft (the PC game version) and McGyver’s little tricks. I have always enjoyed the adventure, the adrenaline and the creativity in “what if” situations, and it goes well along with one of my main ideas that fear is an antonym to freedom. I see fear as a blocker, a feeling that will stop me from travelling to places I want to visit, trying new things I am curious about, debating for causes I care about, trusting amazing people, taking the lead.. or jumping when I have to jump. I don’t want any blockade in my mind other than my common sense and intuition.

On topic: I just heard gunshots. Right now.

Is it naïve not to be afraid? My philosophy has always been that there is very little I am not prepared to lose, so little that would be worth more than the freedom and pleasure of living life to the fullest. I have often said to myself that even if something was to happen now, it’s all been amazing and beautiful so far. And if my phone is stolen, well that would suck if it’s when I really need it.. but it’s just a phone and all my data is backed up. Get over it.

So what is my preferred response to danger, then? I have always been the calm mediator. In high school dramas, in nightclub fights, when things got rough and I needed to take charge. I talk, I raise my voice, I separate people who are fighting and I respond to those who directly have threatened to hurt me, but I never scream and I rarely respond with anger. I have always gone by the idea that “I instantly lose if I let myself get provoked, it’s a useless waste of energy…” And when in apparent danger, reasoning and a calm confidence, even if faked, has been working out for me so far.

Which is probably why my biggest fear apart from mosquitoes is zombies. Haha, no, not really.. but almost. My biggest fear, the people I occasionally meet in nightmares and who always freak me out – are those who are blinded by something. It could be a heavy drug, it could be dehumanising hatred, it could be extreme desperation. Things that have dragged the person to an extreme low where I no longer can reason as a human being as I have no value other than what that person needs from me. So facing those characters rarely happens.. but when it does I get badly hurt before I find my escape, and then I wake up crying.

Lara comes back to me in those moments. “What happened?” she says. “You were supposed to be strong and independent!” and I watch Tarantino’s powerful women and I’m amazed by their ability to defend themselves against that one very mean man who wants to do them harm.

“Theres a fun kickboxing class over there” a colleague pointed. I finally have some sort of routine over here, or at least I know I will be living in the same city for a couple of months ahead which is amazing. So I went to ask for schedule and prices, and the teacher sat down with me to have a talk. “What do you actually need?” he said. What happened next is a blur of “My mission is to know that you can use your own body to protect yourself at all times.” “I need you to be an empty glass that I can fill with skills and knowledge over the coming 5 months.” and “You will feel like you want to throw up, it will be painful, but you will thank me later.”

Ok..?

“Tailored, personal, twice a week, mixed martial arts, military skills and self defence.” And then I got my own Shotokan Karate uniform. And a white belt. Karateka, he calls me.

My first class was hard. My Shihan is apparently one the highest graded karate masters in the world, with several world champion titles. (Which I Googled by the way, because he’s also very humble.) We did hundreds of situps and then he showed me how to punch, and asked me to hit him. “Harder!”

“You will need to cut those beautiful nails, they will cut you when you punch.” noted and felt.

My entire body struggled against the notion of inflicting pain on another being. “We are all one” was going through my mind and I just wanted to give somebody a hug and chant ohm like there was no tomorrow. “I’m your aggressor, if you don’t hit me like you mean it you won’t be able to in real life either.” And that’s when I knew what my preferred response is: non-violent communication. I’m a communicator. That’s what I do. I have too much love for people, and I’m completely sold for the notion that we are all one. If I punch you, I punch myself.. and a good friend. Don’t be mad, we can talk about it!

Two hours later after learning how to shout to ten i japanese, punching, standing, situps, planks, and after Shihan had almost pressed me down into a split, we sat down and had a proper talk while I was trying to figure out whether I’m still alive or not..

Shihan told me about the philosophy of Shotokan karate, how in daily life one’s mind and body should be trained and developed in a spirit of humility.. but that in critical times, one should be devoted utterly to the cause of justice and self defence.

“Your first blow is the only one you have, there is no space for another chance. You need to be able to turn on that kill switch when necessary.”

So we spoke, and the ideas and my own realization of who I am sent my mind off spinning.. the teacher was trying to explain how not all people have good intentions and how some people don’t think before using a knife to kill. I read those stories in the newspapers here daily.. teenagers stabbed to death in the face multiple times, by classmates.. I know all of that.. I just don’t feel like a target. And even if I do, it’s not worth it. My body doesn’t want to hurt anybody.

And then I got it. My key to provocation. The times when I actually can respond with violence and aggression is when I dream that I am protecting somebody else from harm. Usually it’s my poodle, funnily. Or a friend. Or just somebody who is weaker. Then I can be strong, angry and violent.

So it will have to be either that I visualize that there is a cute baby koala behind me, or that I’m being attacked by a zombie. And I will cut my nails, but I will paint them in cute colours.

Wait.. what? Yeah, sorry – a million thoughts, I warned you.

“I need these silly details to ground me” I said. “I want my femininity, I want to surround myself with beautiful items, I want to paint my nails.. I didn’t do all this before and I don’t really care – but I do it to keep a bit of myself in this detached environment, to not fall into a ‘whatever’ mode just because I’m in dust and heat and far from friends.. to get by and enjoy myself. Beauty is a pleasure. My body is my temple. Does any of this mane any sense?” he listened, and he nodded. “Hai.”

“Your knuckles will get red and bruised though, and that’s another form of beauty.”

We bowed.

The pain of too much tenderness

TAVLA3

“When love beckons to you, follow him,
Though his ways are hard and steep.
And when his wings enfold you yield to him,
Though the sword hidden among his pinions may wound you.
And when he speaks to you believe in him,
Though his voice may shatter your dreams
as the north wind lays waste the garden.

For even as love crowns you so shall he crucify you. Even as he is for your growth so is he for your pruning.
Even as he ascends to your height and caresses your tenderest branches that quiver in the sun,
So shall he descend to your roots and shake them in their clinging to the earth.

Like sheaves of corn he gathers you unto himself.
He threshes you to make you naked.
He sifts you to free you from your husks.
He grinds you to whiteness.
He kneads you until you are pliant;
And then he assigns you to his sacred fire, that you may become sacred bread for God’s sacred feast.

All these things shall love do unto you that you may know the secrets of your heart, and in that knowledge become a fragment of Life’s heart.

But if in your fear you would seek only love’s peace and love’s pleasure,
Then it is better for you that you cover your nakedness and pass out of love’s threshing-floor,
Into the seasonless world where you shall laugh, but not all of your laughter, and weep, but not all of your tears.
Love gives naught but itself and takes naught but from itself.
Love possesses not nor would it be possessed;
For love is sufficient unto love.

And think not you can direct the course of love, for love, if it finds you worthy, directs your course.

Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.

But if you love and must needs have desires, let these be your desires:

To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.

To know the pain of too much tenderness.

To be wounded by your own understanding of love;

And to bleed willingly and joyfully.

To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;

To rest at the noon hour and meditate love’s ecstasy;

To return home at eventide with gratitude;

And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart and a song of praise upon your lips.”

Khalil Gibran – The Prophet
On Love (1923)

Painting by Saad Ali, seen in Amsterdam

Day 2 in Belize City

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Thanks Belize City, I admit I was very worried, but you did extraordinarily well today.

After waking up with the sunrise and feeling like there might be some hope in this new adventure of mine after all – I was picked up and taken to work.. passing by the seafront.. palm trees!

The office was very inspiring on many levels, first with the utterly friendly welcome breakfast and my new happy colleagues, meetings and defining my work priorities for the months to come, setting things up, lunch with colleagues by the sea – where we even managed to find a nice vegan option! – getting my new sim card and 4G connection, and then a proper after work with the other newly recruited international staff member. And as a cherry on top, I was driven home by a super friendly driver recommended by the office – who just called to say he had probably found me a car.

And.. I might be signing contract for an apartment this weekend.

I shall embrace and rock this.

Morning rays

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Good morning palm trees, good morning neighbour on the other side of the little river, good morning new city.

Let’s start from scratch today, no? I know you’re not a very big city, I know you don’t have tons of activities to offer and that it’s not going to be very easy here – but I got to wake up with the sunrise today, and I’ll do my best to enjoy you.

India 2013 – Part 9: Thoughts on Photos and Vulnerability.

After sharing so many photos from India and my other travels recently, I would like to once again explain my relationship to taking photos of people, and how I experienced the attitude towards portraits in India.

The photo above is of a young woman who lives in the Dharavi slum on the outskirts of Mumbai, also famous as the “Slumdog Millionnaire” slum from the movie with the same name. She works for a non-profit women’s organisation for which she embroiders sequins and beads onto pillow cushions, dresses and other fabrics that are then sold abroad. One pillow cushion can take her about two hours to work on, she will work about eleven hours a day, and what she earns from the work is just enough to cover her expenses and provide the right nutrition for her little son, her first one. This young woman told me about the organisation she works for and how she is thankful for being able to provide for herself and her child, we spoke about her priorities for a while while she kept on working, and then she asked if I would like to take a photo of her.

That’s right. She asked. And often, especially in India, people are very happy to have their photo taken and don’t consider it intrusive, especially not after a proper talk. On the contrary, it’s an honor to be captured in an image together with what values most to you.

Photography can be a very powerful tool and it often takes a serious amount of consideration on my part whether I want to share an image or not, and how the person in it is portrayed. Vulnerability in images is a sensitive matter with many layers – and unfortunately very often based on the prejudice and expectations of the beholder. I will not state that people who live in the Dharavi slum and many other areas of Mumbai aren’t in a particularly exposed and vulnerable situation, nor that a person who already feels empowered shouldn’t have access to better opportunities – but if we take the woman above as an example, and many other faces I recently have shared on this page – I would like to insist that you look at the image again, and see the fact that she is very proud of having her own one-room apartment, a tv, a healthy little son who she can spend her entire days with, and an income she is in total control of.

Now look at the image below, and imagine the huge smile the girl had on her face while pulling on my skirt to have her picture taken, just before she exposed her most natural of faces for me – and see the sincerity and beauty in it instead of feeling any sort of pity.

Seriuosly, pity is a serious insult when not asked for. Don’t you even dare.