Beyond prejudices in Uzbekistan

I genuinely don’t know what I expected before coming here, and yet I have a sensation of having been proven wrong. Perhaps the most difficult part of this trip is to write about it without sounding like I’m being fictitious and making things up. Because there are aspects to life you never really come across anywhere but the places that are a bit off the normal grid. And Uzbekistan is of course no exception. This showed from basically the moment we stepped foot on Uzbek soil. Actually, it started before that. Upon making our booking for a hotel, we were informed to bring a marriage certificate to show at the hotel… what else could be expected in such a stronghold of tradition? In lack of said certificate, we decided to cross that bridge when we got there. Or sleep under it if it came to that. Luckily, this was never necessary, even though there was a point when there seemed to be no hotel at all.

Our trip started like you’d think it would. The driver who came to pick us up from the airport informed us that “unfortunately” our booked hotel was fully booked (?) but “fortunately”, he knew someone who knew someone who runs another hotel, and we could stay there for “almost” the same price. Well, it’s just not the kind of mishap you want to encounter in the middle of the night in a country where next to no one speaks English. There are moments in life when you should just close your eyes and say “yes”, but this didn’t feel like one of them, so with a little persistency, we did make it to our intended hotel in the end. If we dodged a bullet or not we’ll never know, but some of the ”furniture” in the lobby were literally bales of hay covered with blankets. I don’t know if that’s standard for a boutique hotel in Uzbekistan?

Tashkent is an unusual capital. Whenever I find myself in a new place for the first time, I always try to imagine that if I were to wake up here with no idea of where I was, what elements would tell me I’m not at home anymore? This has opened my eyes to details I otherwise wouldn’t have noticed. At first glance, it seems like globalization has completely bypassed this city. And I’m not only saying that due to the absence of western signs and logos. The city somehow feels both small and grand at the same time. It’s something with the scarcity of skyscrapers and towering buildings and the impressive remnants of the Soviet era that does it. The buildings are tiny, but the many avenues are wide. The streets are lined with oak and chestnut trees shadowing over the broad sidewalks, which makes it a pleasant city to discover by foot, even under the sweltering sun. Immense parks are laid out everywhere, and an elaborate irrigation system keeps the city green. Even though it’s only spring, it almost feels like the air stands still during most parts of the day. The heat soars to a merciless 60 degrees during the peak of summer. For this very reason, we are told, the most expensive apartments to buy are always the ones on the lowest floors as they withstand the heat the best. Many of the old Soviet buildings are dilapidated, but still captivating in what they represent; the contrast between the awesome exteriors and the stark realities that lived behind them. The cousin of a friend takes us around one morning, and she was not equally impressed. “Inside, they all look like prisons”. That’s not a coincidence, apparently, the same architecture also designed many Soviet prisons. The markets and bazaar are a dream for an overseas visitor, with price levels for the locals. The cousin points to a table of Channel bags and Louise Vuiton wallets and says: “Here you see what’s left of the Great Silk Road”.

The metro is an attraction in itself. It’s quite a contrast to descend from the occasional disarray above ground into the art exhibition every metro station holds. The platforms are marbled and dotted with ornamented columns, all lit up by chandeliers. It was prohibited to take photos in the metro until recently, but as the country is becoming more open, this has changed. And it’s good that it’s working so well because the traffic is not for the fainthearted. I barely know where to begin to explain why not… The white markings dividing the lanes are faded beyond recognition on many roads, basically turning them into massive single lanes. Here and there are opening in the center barrier to allow drivers to do a u-turn in the opposite direction, however, since 3 or 4 cars normally try to do it at the same time, this isn’t always ideal. Of course, there are no red lights. And seatbelts in the cars? Forget it. At one point I exclaimed: “They really should put up signs for these speeds bumps!”, and the reply was: “That’s not a speed bump, it’s just the road”. There is also some uncertainty whether being a taxi driver in Uzbekistan is an actual profession, or if it just means that you access a car?

However, the biggest reward of coming here has been the people we’ve met. Everywhere we’ve gone we’ve been meet with kindness and curiosity. And something as rare as genuine interest. Even if very few people speak English, they’ve wanted to know who are and why we decided to come here. It’s been a reminder that language is just one of many ways to communicate. This kind of treatment you’d never get in a place that sees a lot of tourists, which is an appeal in itself. One evening we had the privilege of being invited to our mutual friend’s mother’s birthday party. Anyone can book a plane ticket and go wherever they want to go, but you need an invitation to take part in someone else’s culture, and that’s what makes it so special. And it was special. I could go into detail about all the home-cooked food, the (of course) home-brewed beer, or the many vodka shots (not sure if home-brewed), but my strongest memory will be of something else entirely. Something that caught me by surprise. And that was the intimate bond all of these people seemed to share. Even if I met them all for the first time and had difficulty communicating with the majority of them, it was obvious how close they all were. They had shared and followed each other’s lives and milestones, and this showed in subtle things like how gently they laid hands on one another, how they bickered, and how they laughed like you can only do with people you truly know. I sometimes wish I could switch off my brain and just enjoy myself at the moment instead of analyzing my surroundings, but it felt like such a privilege to have been invited into such a tight-knit group. Whenever someone called it a night, the entire entourage stood up to walk them out and wave them off, and I’ve never seen anything like that. Standing right there, on a dirt road far out in the Uzbek countryside, with cows lowing in the background and Russian classics blaring from a stereo, it made me think of what an immense contrast it all is between this reality and the one I come from, in a western society.

So often we sit there on our high horses claiming to be so progressive and open-minded, but when did you attend a party the last time when all 20 guests came out to wave you off? It’s difficult not to wonder where the middle ground is between tradition and progression? Where do we find the balance of the tradition of sticking together while keeping our hearts open enough to accept everyone for who they were born to be, what choices they make, and the opinions they hold? I know people who sacrificed their families to be able to be themselves. I know people who sacrificed being themselves to have their family. What’s the bigger price to pay? Of course, in a perfect world, you shouldn’t have to pay at all. We all have so much to learn from each other, which is why meetings between cultures are so important.

A silent thought in a world of noise

The most beautiful thing a person could ever have is a voice. Funnily enough, having one has little to do with actual speaking. Articulation is as much a strength as silence is, and if you master both you can ascend to the top of the world. But if you were to forget one of them, you’re out on a limb. Because people will tire to listen to someone who never stops talking. And no one can hear your words unless you speak them.

During the last few months back home I’ve come to realize how common it is for people to have forgotten. Either to stop talking or to start doing it. I don’t know which is worse, because you forfeit your voice in both ways. I just know I fear ever being led to think that my voice should always be the loudest.

A Swedish idiom says empty barrels make the most noise. There might be something to it. Because when the telling of one’s own experiences always comes before the listening of somebody else’s, you display what you consider the most important. And it’s precisely at that point when you believe you have more to teach than to be taught, that you’re in peril.

I wonder if most of us are just trying to make ourselves heard in a deafening world? Is there a fear that a moment of quietude would consume us alive? Would our entire existence cease simply because we allowed our own perception of it to not always come first? The incessant jabbering of people so persuaded by their own relevancy has swallowed the voices of people doubting their own for centuries. It’s a different kind of pandemic to which there is no vaccine 90 % effective looming.

Moving to Dubai was in many ways like stepping into Narnia . Regardless of how many years go by in that enchanted world, time always seems to have stood still each time I retrace my steps back here. And if it has, maybe it explains it all. Maybe the need for constant assertion comes from being trapped in time. If life has come to revolve in circles, perhaps the noise is a sedative to persevere. I don’t know. All I know is that I’ve begun to feel the void of my circle in Dubai. Because beyond the polished surface of a shallow world where everything and everyone is exchangeable, are people with minds more open than anywhere else I’ve known. In a melting pot of every flavor in any sense, this world has to offer, you cannot survive without a mind willing to sometime be wrong, eager to learn and humble to teach. That’s the people I chose. And I suppose that’s why we have survived for so long.

Perhaps it’s not at all a Swedish phenomenon.

Perhaps it’s a global matter.

Yet it has become something I so strongly link to coming back home, and at the same, one of the more cogent reasons for why it cannot be my permanent one just yet.

Life changes in Phuket

The sun peered over the mountains as we descended through the clouds and Phuket unfolded below us, swathed in the last morning fog like a giant cobweb encasing the entire island. The serenity which has attracted people to come time and time again could be felt even before touchdown. And I reckon it’s often like that; when what strikes you the most at first glance is not what man put up, but what was already there, to begin with.

I got on a coughing motorbike and held a tight grip around the driver as we made our way through the traffic, and I began to reminisce. It’s the third time I’m here, and each time I’ve been has been important. Somehow life has often taken a swift turn afterward, and suddenly nothing has ended up being the same anymore. I don’t know if it’s just a coincidence. But the first time I came here was almost ten years ago, and I was a teenager on my way to see a friend from school living in Phuket. I remember it as it was yesterday. I guess because the whole trip played such a big part in leading me towards where I am today. Therefore I remember, both the memorable and the much less memorable bits. I remember the hard jumpseat I sat on for 11 hours, which was my only option to get on the flight. I remember being too shy to ask for breakfast when the cabin crew forgot about me for the lasts service, where I sat tucked away behind a curtain in a freezing galley. But more than that I remember the approach into Bangkok, a million lights lit up like a dashboard in the night as we circled before landing. I had never seen such a vast city before, and I wasn’t really supposed to either at that time, but as my travel plans abruptly changed almost before the entry stamp had dried in my passport, I had to stay the night. All connecting flights were full, and if I wanted to get myself to Phuket, I wasn’t gonna be by air travel. I wasn’t even a cabin crew yet, nonetheless, I was tutored early on what it feels like to be completely screwed whilst on staff travel.

One night in Bangkok followed by one night on a ramshackle bus lacking both seatbelts and a muffler, all the way down to Phuket. I was awake all night, my eyes darting across the landscapes and silhouettes whizzing by outside in the muggy night. When we rolled into Phuket the morning had just begun to saturate the gaudy colors of the island, and even if I’d never been as far away from home, I didn’t feel like it. A feeling I’ve come to experience many times since, in many different places. And that feeling didn’t subside for the two weeks I stayed there. Not even when I was bumped off flights for another whole week whilst attempting to return back home, and really wanted to. I got almost another week in Bangkok, which was a lot less fun than it sounds, but it still mattered even if the details of the trip are unimportant. What is important is that when I came back, I came back another. Someone who’d faced the world outside and somehow landed back on his feet. Someone more confident, someone more of an accomplisher.

There are times when I can miss my younger, braver self who didn’t think as much as I do today. I suppose that’s very often what bravery is all about; not thinking and just doing. Then again, I like to think I make better decisions for myself today than I sometimes did back then. I’ve become a lot better at being present in moments that come to me. To listen more intently, to speak more selectively. To select more carefully, to let go more easily. People and things. I used to be completely different. An over-indulger, in every sense of its meaning. And maybe that’s one of the reasons why I oftentimes feel like all my strongest memories are from my adult years. I had such a rush growing up I so often neglected to pay attention to life as it happened. But better late than never, as we say.

I thought about this as I later sauntered between shelves crammed with tattered paperbacks in a tiny store for preloved books in Phuket town. Piles and stacks of books lined every aisle and filled every corner, and particles of dust stirred up as I moved around, transforming the air into a galaxy of its own. The idea that each book has already been picked up once by someone appeals to me. That every book in there has already given to someone at some point. Especially here. Phuket is one of those places on earth where people on the run end up. Either they’re running away from something, may it be from law enforcement or gloomy weather, or either they’re running towards something. Usually a better life, whatever that means for them. I spotted several books that have changed me, and I wondered if I’m also running if we all read the same books? I foubd one of my favorites tightly wedged on a dusty shelf – ”Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine”. I purchased it again and thought that’s the beauty with books, that it’s a gift whose value is so easy to share with others.

I got on another motorbike to go back. It’s peculiar how an island so vast can feel so small. The sidewalks teemed with people, and the sultry air felt manageable in the breeze from moving on a velocity. As the evening slowly made its entrance, bright neon signs lit up one by one, making a profit of vices people have come here to unleash. It’s never quiet in Phuket. It’s never too noisy. Phuket is more an environment than it is a place, a city or an island. And perhaps that’s what makes it so special.

Come night I ambled into my hotel room and picked up my phone, and found out that life had changed again, and all of a sudden it wasn’t just Saturday anymore. I spoke to a friend of mine earlier during the day. A trivial conversation about everything and nothing, about delicious meat-substitutions and business ideas. We decided to speak again soon. In the hours that had passed since we hung up, her mother had fallen severely ill and had been taken to the ICU. She has just texted me saying that she’s just commenced the 20 hours journey to go home. And she didn’t know if she’d make in time. So just like that, it wasn’t t just a Saturday anymore.

Suddenly, no sunrises, no missed connection flights, literary gems or anecdotes of pearls of wisdom meant a thing.

Suddenly, time stood still, just when time had never been more precious.

Suddenly, love was all that mattered.

Who cares about seeing new places?

Who cares about seeing new places?

I do, but honestly speaking, the biggest reward of traveling is not seeing new places. It’s actually the insight that seeing new places is oftentimes not a particularly enriching experience at all. It is indeed mesmerizing seeing the details of Taj Mahal through sunglasses fogged up by muggy air, or biking across the Golden Gate bridge in a briny headwind, burning your tongue on fiery stir fry in Bangkok or having a layer of skin scrubbed off in a hammam bath in Casablanca. Still, the true riches of traveling almost always comes from the people you cross path with whilst doing it. And as much sense as that makes, the twist is that you do need to see these postcard monuments with your own eyes in order to fully embrace that they’re not much more than just places, and places without someone to remember them by or with, don’t add much significant value per se. Because what changes us isn’t places; it’s people. That realization is the greatest privilege to obtain from being able to travel. Because only when you go to bed at night feeling the exact same as when you woke up in the morning despite having climbed the Great Wall of China that day, you fully understand that some ticks on the bucket list don’t really matter. And only when you find yourself in a bustling flea-market in Yerevan being pulled aside by a frail man with a long beard, who in very broken English says to you “Never forget to stop and just feel” you understand that perhaps it’s something completely different than passport stamps and Facebook check-ins that do matter.

The other day I had a meeting that mattered to me. An elderly lady came onboard. Sporting a cobalt blue jacket and bright red lips she was like taken from a time when you dressed up to fly. She was probably in the environs of 80 and a bit, so to claim she wasn’t marked by age would be to romanticize beyond necessity, yet she had skin like strawberries and cream and a young glistening gaze behind designer spectacles. She was a chic lady, and our connection was instant from the very first look. As we began talking she took a firm grip on my arm and caressed it throughout the conversation as if I was a precious item. She knew to hold on to good things when she saw them (as she later told me).

Throughout the long flight, we had time to converse further. She loved to tell, and I love to listen. Often neither time nor interest is enough to, but this day was an exception; both time and interest were plenty. She was a true storyteller, and her stories were of all kind. The ones that made you gasp for air and sent cold shivers down your spine. The ones that sank its claws in your heart, and the ones that made both your lips and eyes smile. She was aged, yet not old because her spirit was that of a young person. Yet each time we spoke, she held my arm in that same aforementioned firm grip. The way only old people do as if somehow trying to prevent things from eluding them.

Hampered by health her diet was restricted, so together we scrutinized the menu for permissible options from the various alternatives. Afterward, I scarfed them together and served them to her. Unseasoned rice and boiled vegetables are perhaps not amongst the most enticing of foods, but as she said, everything tastes good with Champagne. In fact, she had a glass of Champagne in her one free hand throughout all of our talks. She drank in swigs, and she referred to the noble drink as the potion of life repeatedly. I forgot to ask if that was the secret to her youthful appearance. But I bet.

Many of her stories served as painful reminders of how incredibly unfair life can be at times. Few people appreciate what they take for granted until they realize that they cannot anymore. As she said when I suggested for her to watch a movie, it’s important to acknowledge what we must enjoy now and what we can enjoy later. ”I much rather just stand here and look at you than at a screen”. I don’t blush often. But she made me blush.

Before landing, I went to say goodbye. She was seated in one part of the cabin and me in another, so we would not see each other for disembarkation. I brought her the cobalt blue jacket, redolent of Chanel nr 5, and she took another firm grip of my arm and said, not in these exact words yet they were the silver lining, ”anyone can pay for some to provide the service, but no one can pay for anyone to care.” This is true. And In 7 years, that might be the most important someone has ever said to me whilst on duty.

The moral of the story is that we never know who we’re going to meet, but chances are they might have something important to tell us if we just take a little time to listen.

So easy to forget, but so important to remember.

Stories you don’t want to hear

Stories you don’t want to hear.

A few weeks ago, a documentary of one of Sweden’s most cherished late singers, Josefin Nilsson, went viral back home. Since I watched it, I haven’t been able to stop thinking about her. The internet connection was so poor as I streamed it the show buffered incessantly and the picture was blurred for almost the duration of it, yet for one hour I didn’t move a muscle, and I sat there with my gaze fixed to the screen. Listening to her life story being unfolded. A story about a woman with so much to give to the world, and a story about a man who took it all away from her. Who abused her so severely, she never fully recovered.

Josefin passed away in 2016, just shy of her 47th birthday.

As I sat there and the producer’s credits starting rolling down the screen, I felt a fire raging inside of me. Ignited by all the anger I had in my heart. The anger for all the people in this world who by their own petty limitations, their own ignorance and their own oblivion towards the people around them, have felt entitled to bereave another human being of as much as a fragment of their own self-worth. Because as much as that documentary revolved around Josefin, her artistry, her zest of life and how much she devoured it, as much it revolved around all the ones who’s ever been denied their inherent right to their own body. Whose narrative was chosen for them, not by them.

I came to think of something that happened to me in primary school when I was seven years old. An incident which doesn’t hurt anymore, but who scarred me. Scarred me invisibly, by opening up an abyss I sometimes still find myself falling through. It was a regular autumn’s day back in 1999. I was standing in the lunch canteen and had spotted the last vacant seat by a crowded table. As I sat down, the entire table simultaneously stood up and moved to an empty table nearby. They left me there by myself. And that shame. That humiliation. That social rejection is still a vivid memory, long after it stopped hurting.

I thought about a friend of mine. When she was about the same age as I was at that time, she routinely saw her school nurse. At one point, the nurse had blurted out, admonishingly, that she was ”a little chunky” for her age. Maybe this sounds harmless, but she only confided this to me quite recently, after yet another rant of me reminding her that she shouldn’t have to ”deserve” dessert, or ”be good” in order to ”feel” good about herself. But it’s not easy. It’s not easy to not try a new dress, and it certainly is not easy to undress in front of a new person, when she hears those words each time she has to look at her own body. It’s not easy because at a point in life when fitting in meant everything, she was told off for not doing so.

I thought about another acquaintance. I remember when she first told she’d been sexually abused as a child. The first time, she was six years old. The second time she was nine. The third time, she was 14. She told me that she doesn’t know how to think, or what to answer, each time someone asks her at what age she lost her virginity.

I thought about him. He, who was never allowed to be himself. He, who got thrown out on the street when he was 16 years old because he told his parents about this boyfriend. He, who still has to pretend, even though he’s past 30. He, who also finds the world to be quite tiring after having seen it, several times over, but who prefers to travel somewhere new rather than to go back home for leave, since the price of completely new experiences is less than that of old lies.

And I thought about her. She, who is just as reluctant to go back home as he is. Not because she is not allowed to be whoever she wants to be. Because in her parent’s house, there’s a black and white photo from her childhood, framed on the wall. A blurry old photo with frayed edges, of her, her mum, and a late male friend of the family. Had her mother known about the memories she relives each time she lays eyes on the photo, that cherished photo she often dusts off, she’d live a half-life thereafter, and she doesn’t think her mother is deserving of that. Because she wasn’t the grown-up who let her down, but that’s what she would have thought.

I cried as I wrote this down. Cried for to the powerlessness. For to the incapability. For to the injustice. For all the bad luck. And for all the luck. Because it’s nothing more than just luck. Luck that the shame I felt sitting abandoned by a dining table 20 years ago, was the worst thing that ever happened to me. Luck that I’ve never had to question my own right to my own body. Or my own thoughts, my own curiosities, my own wantings. Luck that I was given something as rare as unconditional love, from so many people. And the responsibility it calls for, from me, from everyone who was lucky, to make sure that’s the love who lives. The love that encourages. Includes. Protects.

There is injustice we are powerless to change. People in need we cannot help. Stories we don’t want to hear but have to listen to. People we want to cherish, but have to question for their actions, and experiences we wish we didn’t have but have to share to prevent them from repeating. At the end of the day, we’re all solely responsible for our own lives, and no one but ourselves can pick us up whenever we fall. But no one stands strong on their own.

What is the value of buying a new dress, to someone who resents her body in everything she wears? What is the value of saving your body for someone you love, to someone whose right to decide over her own body has been revoked so many times she’s lost count? What is the value of sharing a dinner with your family, in a room with a picture of a man who bereaved you of your childhood? We are not always able to save each one another from harm. But we are able to remind ourselves that we are fragile. And so are the people we love. Perhaps there are no moments in which we are more fragile, than in those where we thought we would never have to be.

I also believe it’s good to remind that when other’s confide, you do best to stay silent. But when others stay silent, you do best in not staying silent.

It all began on a tiny Mediterranean island 12 years ago.

It all began on a tiny Mediterranean island 12 years ago.

It’s a strange feeling being back here. In Malta.

I was 14 years old when I came to this island the first time, under the pretense of studying English for three weeks. Today, I do consider myself somewhat proficient in English, but I can say without a shadow of a doubt, that not even a morsel of the grasp I today have of the language, I picked up during those three weeks. That journey was about something different, something a lot of important than linguistic advancement. I had never really been away from home for a long period before, yet I remember how unperturbed I still felt before setting off, and more importantly, how indifferent I felt the day I came back home. I suppose that already then, somewhere in the back of my mind, ”home” had started to become something relative. But something had clicked in me. I believe it had been important for me to see with my own two eyes that facing something unknown didn’t deter me, if anything, it felt like freedom. To date it still does.

12 years later I still believe that there’s a kind of freedom to be found in what we don’t know, but today it’s a bit more perplexing. Sometimes I’m told I’d do better for myself by thinking less. Asking less. And perhaps that’s true. Then again, questions as per se are harmless, it’s the answers that’s the tricky part. There’s a kind of freedom which rests upon the ignorance and arrogance of why we don’t always live in a wonderful world. And there’s also a kind of freedom to be found in realizing that switching on the light in a dark room only blinds you momentarily before you see things more clearly. Quite literally, darkness doesn’t exist but is merely the absence of light. And even if it doesn’t always seem like it, it’s nice to think that perhaps it’s just the same with people’s minds.

It’s taken me years to understand, devour and put value in the insight that the life-changing moments are almost always only the ones where we allow ourselves to be intimate, personal and most important of them all, brave, to ourselves and to the people around us. I have visited just shy of 80 countries in the world. That as per se doesn’t make me much richer than someone who’s only visited 10 unless we’re counting passport stamps that are. 

Nevertheless, it’s taken me to a point where I’m becoming convinced that my quality of life doesn’t enhance merely by attaching a new airport code tag to my suitcase. I’m less intrigued by places today than I was before. It doesn’t give me much more of a rush to pull the curtains to Times Square, than to the dusty construction site outside my bedroom. I saw 3 new cities in 3 new countries over the last 2 months. One so modern, it’s in the Asian vanguard of LGBTQ rights. One so western, yet so conservative I barely saw a non-caucasian person on the streets. One so plagued by inflation beer was cheaper than water. It enriched me to see, feel and discover all of this. 

But the only thing that I can recall that changed me lately, was a different story entirely. A few weeks ago I met an elderly lady on one of my flights. She told me she had a fear of flying, so I sat down with her and we began to talk. She hadn’t been on aircraft since long before the internet was invented she said, but now a relative had bought her a ticket and she’d ran out of excuses, to recite her words. As the aircraft commenced the takeoff roll we held each other’s hands, and as we lifted off the grounded and ascended through the cloud barrier she leaned over me and gazed out admiringly over the only space where the sun always shines. Her jaw dropped for a second and then she looked at me and said ”So what happens now?” and I said ”Now the world awaits.” and then we hugged. Long. It was a healthy reminder that perhaps we’re not in that much of a hurry to figure everything out just yet, and whenever we do, it’s more about whom we take the leap and share that moment with. And if I can have more experiences to become a better listener, a better orator, a more humble yet more confident person, more generous and less opportunistic, that’s more valuable than any stamp.

I had a discussion with a friend of mine recently. She told me how one of her friends had pointed out to her how lucky she was to have all of these worldly experiences. The shopping on Fifth Avenue, the wilderness in South Africa, the suspicious street food in Taipei, the gelato in Rome, the modernism of Japan, the humility of Bangladesh. All of it. Her friend was right. She is blessed. I am blessed. We are blessed. But, not because of any of the aforementioned, but because I believe it to be incredibly hard to understand just how little the big things are unless you’ve stood in front of them. And how big the little things are in comparison.

a trivial thought about the fear of a life where people come and go

a trivial thought about the fear of a life where people come and go.

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

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

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

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

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


A stranger in my own Capital

A stranger in my own capital

It always feels so ambiguous for me to go home. This wasn’t where I grew up, so to a certain extent even I find it exciting since it’s unknown for me too. I don’t know my way around here as I would. I don’t know where to cross over to make a short cut. I don’t know the hilly and narrow streets in Old town like my own back pocket. I don’t know where the best place to go for unnecessarily large and greasy pizza on a rainy day would be. I don’t know where the best coffee is, so I go to Espresso House, the Swedish Starbucks. And I bump into people constantly, because what I do when I walk is that I look up at all the new, foreign and unfamiliar instead of looking straight ahead. I walk at the pace of a stranger, because this isn’t my home, and I don’t know where to go. I need to think here.

But, these are the people I grew up with. They speak the language in which I was taught what is right and what is wrong, and what is important and what is not, and how to transfer every feeling I have about all of this from thoughts into words. This is the language in which I can discern dialects and appreciate them, pick up on irony and sarcasm, and on tenderness and earnestness like only a native speaker could ever do. This is where the codes I know applies. Where people hug and look each other in the eye while speaking. Where good service is characterized by humanity and presence rather than perfection and servility. Where people, at least rather than rarely, think twice.

When I was 14 years old I had an assignment on foreign affairs in school. I asked my teacher ”what do I need to do to obtain an A?”. She said, and I remember this entire conversation word by word to this very day. ”To obtain an E, all you need to do is to cover the facts. To obtain a C, you need to demonstrate that you can see the connections between certain events. And to obtain an A, you need to analyze.”. ”What does that mean?” I asked unknowingly. ”To analyze Adam, it means that you show that you possess the skill of seeing things from another perspective than your own”. ”That doesn’t sound too difficult” I replied. And she said ”In life, you’ll come to realize that a lot fewer people than you think, knows how to do this. To write down facts every ordinary person in the world can do, but to put your own point of view aside and to realize that the world sometimes is wider than how you see it, that’s extraordinary”.

I’ve repeated that conversation to myself many times since that day ten years ago. And for every time, it’s managed to make a little more sense, making me realize that perhaps it’s not the cities or countries that are fucked up, it’s the people in them.

Sweden isn’t a progressed a country as most people would give it credit for, but it’s not half bad. I didn’t need to move abroad or travel the world to see this, but I needed it understand that what we have, should be appreciated. It’s easy to think that small simple and extremely commonplace daily things like the relaxed tone in which sales assistant addresses you in or the private space given to you standing in line or on the subway by fellow people are universal things, but they’re not. And the only things that aggravate me to come here and surround myself by all of these cultural characteristics that actually do mean the world to me, is that most people don’t seem to understand the value of them. Would you cook and share a homemade meal for someone, who wouldn’t appreciate it more, than if the two of you went to Mc Donalds? Too few know that it’s the small things the greatest riches lay, and sadly that depletes the value of them.

The world is made difficult by simple people.

Are you blind?

Are you blind?

Seattle, Washington. It is an eye-opening experience to work alongside different cultures, different religions, customs, and backgrounds. The constant curiosity of what to expect from people who’ve lived a completely different life than yourself is hard to put your finger on. Equally as exciting as it is daunting since you can never really know what to expect. That’s the exhaustive part of it. However, the most magical part of it, are the moments when despite all imaginable differences a common ground is found between people of completely different worlds. That kind of teamwork is one of a kind and the redeeming quality of all the times when that chemistry does not occur.

But it’s not always a bed of roses, despite the occasional magic. There come times when you question yourself whether or not your prejudices are still just prejudices, once they’ve proven to be truthful countless of times. You slowly learn that certain nationalities are prone to act in a certain way in a certain situation, and you also realize how you yourself are prone to act in a certain way in certain situations. Because it’s not only about others and their characteristics you learn, you also learn about your owns. Working with people very different from yourself brings out different sides of us, and over time you realize what sides, and gradually you can start to select what it is that you want to showcase, or even sometimes, have to showcase in some situations. This is the most educational of all when you actually learn how to veer these differences into a situation beneficial to you. When do you need to be firm? When do you need to remain calm? When do you need to care? When do you not need to care? In total, what battles do you need to take?

It’s rewarding to learn how others think and live, especially as a mean of getting new perspectives on yourself. The differences are countless, but the one thing I’ve learned be the one astonishing thing as good as all people have in common, regardless of all other differentiating aspects, is their pride of their origin. And it doesn’t matter if someone comes from a country with the most profitable passport in the world or from a country you might wonder how they even managed to escape from. In the beginning, I would discreetly roll my eyes when some people brought this up, thinking to myself that the world is just filled with ignorant people. So it took me quite a while to understand that what is normal to me, might not be as normal to everyone else. Because the truth is that what creates our perception of what’s normal and what isn’t, is what we have grown up with and are used to experience. And in a multinational environment, that is different for everyone. A simple fact I used to be completely dumb to.

When I wrote this I was sitting on the floor of my hotel room in Seattle leaned toward the bed enjoying a glass of wine after a long flight. I thought about some of the encounters I’d had throughout the day, and I thought about, what is really normal for me? I thought about the 14 homeless people I’d passed by on my way home from the Farmers Market, a walk of less than 1 kilometer. Anyone who’s familiar with the United States can easily imagine how the majority of these 14 people were not the casual disheveled beggars you might come across outside of European supermarkets. These were mentally ill people, oftentimes fully engaged in vehement conversation with themselves, or by screaming out loud for reasons only they could make sense of. Those were people far beyond the edge of destitution, who are treated like they don’t exist. And I thought this is not normal to me, the acceptance of social decay. I felt thankful since that wasn’t normal to me.

Then I thought about the barista in the coffee shop down the street, a flamboyant Afroamerican man with purple nails as long as my own pinky fingers, whose abundant personality and style no one took any notice of at all. And I thought, as much as it breaks my heart, how that wasn’t really normal for me either. Even I come from one of the most prominent and well-advanced and accepting countries in the world, that kind of individual expression is nowhere near to being a norm. And I thought, that no one like him, would probably earn a job like that back home. And I felt disgraced how that reality, was the one that was normal to me.

Then I thought about my more trivial encounters. I thought about the man standing in front of me in the supermarket a few days earlier, who instead of packing his own groceries waited for the cashier to do it for him. And I thought, how it’s not normal for me to make someone else do, what I am fully capable of doing myself. And I thought, that I am proud that I haven’t been brought up in a society that allows you to think, that why should I do my own heavy lifting if someone else can do it for me?

Yesterday I watched the Swedish Prime Minister host a press conference regarding reconstructing of the government. Having watched a lot of CNN on American television in the last few days it stroke how civilized a Swedish press conference is, with people respecting one another enough to let each other talk without interrupting. And I thought how amazing it is that something so fundamental to me, actually turns out to be something really amazing world wide. So I thought, I’m proud that allowing others to speak until finished, is not something I consider to be extra good behavior, it’s something I consider to be common sense.

I don’t believe that I was ever blind, I just didn’t know what to look out for. That I come from a well-developed country, that wasn’t foreign news to me even before I started this whole adventure, but the real gain of giving yourself an experience like this and to discover realities different from your own is not mostly to see different things but to see things differently. I now see that what I knew to be ordinary before, is actually very often rather extraordinary. Not necessarily always extraordinary good, but that’s also why it’s an understanding that has enriched with something more valuable than money could buy; the depth and the privilege of perspectives.

And I can’t help but think, how poor my life used to be without it.