This weekend, my heart goes out to London and the UK. I can’t even imagine how it must be to experience three attacks in less than a few months. I don’t write every time there is a terror event in the world – there were so many this past week, including in Egypt, Afghanistan, and the Philippines, that I frankly lost count. But every time it happens, I feel horrible. It’s so senseless! I thought I would write something after my trip to Stockholm, about how Stockholm seemed to have gone stronger out of the terror attack that took place in April, when a car drove into a pedestrian street. But I find this unexpectedly difficult to write about. What was lovely in Stockholm was the small reminders here and there of what are our core values, namely openness, trust, inclusion, and tolerance. Although the flowers that people had put at the site of the attack were long gone, I saw small signs with positive messages that businesses had put up. The day that the attack happened, people used the hashtag #StockholmOpenDoors to help those that were stuck in the city during the hours that all transportation was shut down, and just like in Manchester, 1000s of people gathered just a day or so after the attack to manifest peace and community. And I think this proof of unity somehow gave more to Stockholm as a city than the attack took away from us. In fact, it may be the only way to survive such senseless violence and I hope that while less reported in the media here, people in other countries around the world do the same when terrorism strikes. To quote Swedish Crown Princess Victoria who, when asked how we come out of something like this, said: “Together!”
A few pics from an open Stockholm in the midst of cherry blossom season, with Stockholmers with roots from all over the world doing what Stockholmers like more than anything else: sitting in the sun!
From Kungsträdgården in Stockholm, May 2017
On my way home from work yesterday, people had already gathered in Lafayette Park in front of the White House, to protest President Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement. In my work with smallholder agriculture, I see the direct impacts on climate change on the daily lives of people all around the world. Impacts that for many of the farmers I work with can be a matter of life and death for a child in the family. These are the same people that produce our cocoa, coffee, rice, and off-season fruits and vegetables. In the part of the world where I live, milder winters, a few extreme weather events, and Starbucks changing its coffee of the month from Latin American to African sourced may be the only consequences we see for now of us changing the climate. But without doing something, we and our children will certainly have to pay for it in the future.
I want to say that the time for action is mow, but the truth is that the time for action was decades ago. So we better hurry and start taking care of our little planet! Let’s make our planet great!
We all know that there is nothing fair about where in the world you are born. Some of us are born in countries with peace and economic prosperity, while others happens to start their lives in poverty and in the midst of conflict, without us having anything to do with this ourselves. The same is true for our passports. While some of us have the luck of holding passports with which we can enter most countries without a visa, others have to spend long hours waiting at embassies only to find out that they needed an additional document to apply and have to come back another day. When I lived in Moldova, my friends who wanted to visit countries like Sweden, which’s embassies in Bucharest covered both Romania and Moldova, first had to apply for a visa to Romania through what was at the time a highly arbitrary system, and then travel to Bucharest to apply for the visa and come back and pick it up a week later. An almost Kafkaesque process!
I am one of those born with luck. For decades, Hemleys & Partners have published the Visa Restriction Index and as every year, Sweden came out on the top also in the 2017 ranking. A slip from 2014, when the Swedish passport topped the index, but second only to Germany. The Passport Index in their 2017 Global Passport Power Rank confirmed the ranking and apparently, I can travel to 158 countries without a visa. Not bad! Tomorrow, I’m however heading to an embassy in a first of what I suspect will be several visits to apply for a tourist visa. I am so excited that I will get to visit this country in a few weeks that I am more than happy to spend some time at their embassy here in DC. Which country it is? I won’t reveal it yet, but given that it’s a country that I need a visa to, I guess I have now narrowed it down to about 50 countries with this post…
Sunday mornings is one of my favorite time of the week! I’m often more rested than Saturday, without anything that I need to get to, and with a whole day in front of me. Sometimes, like this morning, I make scones or no-sugar breakfast muffins to have with my morning tea, which an hour or so later is later replaced with a coffee. I then take some time to go over what I got done over the past week, next week’s to-do list, and creative projects, while listening to my favorite CNN programs on TuneIn: Fareed Zakaria’s GPS and Brian Stelter’s Reliable Sources. It’s two of the few programs on CNN when they actually do analytical interviews and have discussions with non-politician.
Otherwise, non-local tv news here are quite sad – there is little real information, and instead news programs mainly consist of politicians coming on for a couple of minutes for a few questions that they rarely answers and instead take airtime to get their message through, without any nuances and often not fact based. (The last part being extra depressing for me since I am always advocating for evidenced-based policy making in my work…) And with massive amounts of commercials. I noticed when I was watching CNN in Addis Ababa last week that some of the programs that I listen to in the U.S. broke for a proper news update together with a few adds, while here in the U.S., the same break is just one long commercial break. It’s of course good news for quality printing media, since we are all subscribing – subscriptions to papers like The New York Times have gone up since the election.
I truly hope that poor-quality news programs are not a trend among tv news around the world – democracy and progress need reliable news and tv can have a lot of positive development impacts – but that the U.S. will instead see higher quality in their news over time. It seems like the election was kind of the bottom mark here, and that there are some attempts by media executives to turn this around. In the meantime, I’m enjoying the Sunday morning shows, and get the rest of my news from diverse sources from around the world.
My plans for today? Work. More specifically, detangling how agricultural risks impact public expenditures for – yep – evidence based policy making!
2017 started under a cloud for many here in the U.S. and not the least for us in Washington DC. We were all waiting for the inauguration of the new president and at least some of us hoped that the ugly rhetoric and dividing speeches would end after the election. They didn’t. Nor did this constant punching of Washington and civil servants. It’s frankly quite discouraging! First of all Washington is more than just politicians. I think especially of those who live but one or a few miles from Capitol Hill, yet face structural marginalization or work (often in multiple) in minimum-wage jobs just to be able to afford their families basic needs – so immensely far from the elitist bubble that our city is so often equaled with in the political rhetoric, and certainly not guilty of the horrific crimes that so many minority groups were accused of during the election campaign! But the constant slandering of Government workers was also quite depressing, Although many Americans appreciate individual Government services, there is always so much negativity said during American elections about government agencies or those who work in them. It felt quite discouraging to be honest, since so many us are so dedicated and have worked so hard to get to do what we do. Which is to service others!
But all of a sudden something started happening: Already before that rainy day that the president was sworn in. I could sense a new force started to emerge all around me. A genuine drive to resist the negativity, indecency, and demagoguery, and to be generous and do more for others. To fight evil with good at all levels, from behavior to deeds. To join movements from The Women’s March ob Washington, to Black Lives Matters, to volunteer for diverse causes and mentor kids in need of extra support. Some of my friends even said they consciously tried to cut down on news consumption to not be too poisoned by all the negativity. Walking in the Women’s March of Washington made me realize that I and my small circle of friends were not alone in this. There wee obviously negative signs here and there, but when I walked in the crowds up e Washington Mall, most of the signs around me was about love trumping hate, going high when others go low, and making America kind again. It gave me hope that this will not be the new normal if we don’t let it!
I’m having a lovely morning in the office! The weather is warm and sunny outside but not too hot, and when I arrived in the visitors’ office space, someone had opened the window and a light breeze filled the room along with the sound of birds singing outside. It is so much nicer to work with fresh air around and in daylight, than in the large, artificially ventilated and artificially lit office environments that tend to be more common than not now a days, and my productivity is definitely up (especially with a cup of delicious Rwandan coffee). It’s kind of ironic, though, that fresh air and daylight feels like a luxury. I also have a theory on how these artificially climate-controlled environments affect our food habits, but more on that later. Tomorrow, work will take me to Lake Kivu for meetings, so I suspect that I can look forward to more fresh air.
I got a small, basic phone with a local sim card, and ironically it takes me forever just to send a text or make a call (to the amusement of my team). It’s funny how quickly we adapt to new technology!
I think I wrote in an earlier post that kids are always the same regardless of where you are in the world. Regardless of if they have a carefree childhood or if they have to grow up too quickly, they love attention and especially from adults. Once in Antigua, Guatemala, this little six or seven-year old boy came up to me and wanted me to buy jewelry that he was selling. I said I wasn’t interested but instead of walking over to the next person in the park, he sat down next to me on the bench where I was sitting and so I started asking him a little about himself. And he just talked and talked and talked about this and that; telling me his big and small ideas for over twenty minutes before he remembered that he was supposed to work and slid down from the bench, said good bye and took his box with jewelry and moved on.
At the same time kids seem to live in a world of their own. There is always something going on in their heads that they often seem to want communicate. Now that I started carrying my camera with me, I especially see it in the pictures I’ve taken in Malawi. It’s also funny because few people in Malawi have phones with cameras and many don’t even have phones at all, but every kid that I’ve met there, even in the most remote villages, have learned that phones mean taking a photo and that they get to see themselves on the screen. So they are always eager to get in front of the camera every time I pull out my phone. Here are a few of the kids that eagerly goofed around in front of the lens on my last trip:
You might wonder why I don’t write about poverty after a visit to a country like Malawi. After all, with a per capita GDP of less than 300 dollars per year, Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world. It’s because it is too difficult to capture. I would never be able to explain how it is to meet people who every year faces the possibility of not having enough food during part of the year, of not being able to send their children to school, or even dress them in anything but rags. Or how it is to see a 5 or 6 year-old girl stand alone next to the village road, waving at us as we drive by, and we waving back only to see that she is carrying a baby sibling in a sling on her back. Knowing how capable she obviously is already, and yet how few chances she will have. That she will be lucky to even survive her own pregnancies one day. It just becomes anecdotal and easily sounds like development tourism, and it’s not want I want to communicate here on this blog. Instead, I hope that I can show that things aren’t black and white, and never just poor. That there are nuances to every country and that many of the poorer countries that I’ve been to, including Malawi, are immensely beautiful and rich when it comes to their people, weather it’s because of culture, attitudes, kindness, or food. That in most countries that I work, there are pockets of poverty but also a middle class that are like urbanites in most places. And most importantly that regardless of our economic circumstances, we are all very similar in our believes, wishes, and needs.
I think this picture from my Malawi trip captures that last part. I had been talking to farmers in this village and as we walked to their fields to look at their crops, I had this growing group of children following me around. So I asked if I could take a picture. What I love about this photo is that despite the clothes these kids are in and the chores they would have to take care of after, they act just like kids anywhere. Every one of them has his or her own thing going on, their own little kids secrets, and in other clothes, this could easily be a class photo from an American or European school. Their circumstances might be different, but kids are the same everywhere and they deserve the same chances.
Malala was at the World Bank yesterday, discussing education for girls, her experience in Swat, and everything that happened to her over the past year. Admittedly, I could barely keep my tears back when listening to her talk – she is such an amazing person with so much commitment. A true inspiration and a good reminder of how lucky many of us are. I wish we were all more like her!
When Malala was shot about a year back, I posted part of the New York Times documentary about her and her father. If you haven’t watched it, I can really recommend it – it’s so touching and yet so inspiring. (There is a longer version available on YouTube.)
I’m watching CNN Heroes Award Ceremony on TV tonight. They present amazing people and inspiring initiatives, from a woman helping kids that are caretakers (i.e. that help take care of sick family members) with their homework and organizing out of school activities so that they get some time to be children; a man providing a structure for people fighting drug and alcohol addiction, and another is helping poor kids in South Africa get through school and get a bite to eat; a woman teaching Afghan girls, another supporting teenage moms breaking the circle of poverty in the slums in Catalina, Columbia, and a third supporting rape victims on Haiti. Etc, etc, etc. Many of them have gone through similar challenges as the people they are trying to support and they are truly admirable individuals! Ironically, this ceremony is competing with the news of the Duchess of Cambridge’s pregnancy and morning sickness, which they break for now and then, and the contrast in terms of importance could not been starker! But although I think that all these individuals are extraordinary (there are even children among them), I’m wondering if instead of being referred to as heroes, they shouldn’t be regarded as role models for the rest of us? Americans love heroes but to me, a hero is someone who is almost supernatural, whose deeds are something beyond that of ordinary human beings. By calling them heroes, haven’t we set our standards too low in our behaviors towards other humans? Without taking away all the admiration that I feel for these people, aren’t they simply role models for what actually should be expected from all of us?