I guess we are all more or less knowledgeable in various things, and to be honest, blogs are not my main domain. Before going a head with this project, I consulted my Finish friend Risto who has more expertise in the area, and according to him, blogs tend to be more sustainable when based on a theme. So I have for the past weeks tried to come up with a theme and it has been more difficult than I expected. There is simply so much to write about! But I think that the focus will be my life, what I do and what I see. And there will probably be a lot of focus on issues related to my job. Because, sad as it may seem, my job is my life and my passion. Not once have I had second thoughts about my choice in becoming an economist (even though I once doubted that I would have made the choice of going to university at all, had I done my trip to Guatemala, gotten the taste for travelling and met all the inspiring people I met there, at the age of 19 instead of 28). But I will spare you the economic theories, and write more about general development issues. Hopefully, there might also be some reflections on other parts of life too, especially since I am newly arrived in a country and this, as always when I move to a new place, becomes a period of reflection and re-evaluation.
I have also posted a number of photo albums, and will continue to do so when I visit new places. They are perhaps mostly a way to show especially my family the places that I go to (I still haven’t had the occasion to show my mom the pictures from Kyrgyzstan yet, and I was there 1.5 years ago…). But they are also for my friends outside Sweden to see bits of my Swedish life and vice versa. However, don’t have too high expectations about my photographic skills…
As I have been horrible at writing to some of you, I will briefly try to summarize 2006. In three words, the summary would be Rome, work and travel. An extended version would include cool people and new friends. And of course Chisinau.
In March 2006, Rome was the place where I had lived the longest except for Stockholm. I had then spent one year and seven months there. (The previous longer-time residing had been in Paris, where I all and all have lived for one and a half year.) But despite this, I still did not really feel like Rome was my home. It was strange. I loved much of what the city had to offer: its history, architecture and art; the food, wine and the coffee. And I lived in a beautiful apartment with my wonderful flatmate Anna, in whom I had a best friend. I thought that it was perhaps because I am getting older, that it is more and more difficult to settle down in a new place. (Now that I have started all over again in Chisinau, I know that was not the reason.) There were certain things I missed in Rome, but I think that most of all, I missed many of my close friends. Not only the comfort of being with people that, knowing that they know me inside and out, but also our discussions and the way they challenge me.
So from January 2006, I started going back to Stockholm about once a month. With low-cost airlines flying between the cities, this was easily possible just by giving up a bit of shopping. And it was worth every forgone piece of clothing! Not only to better keep in touch with friends and family in Sweden, but also to get some perspective and realize that although it was jolly holiday when I came home during the summers and Christmas, the more I started to come home, the less time people had to meet up. Life is very hectic in Stockholm and calendars are normally booked weeks in advance. I started remembering that, despite good efforts from everyone, I often didn’t see many of my friends more than once or twice a month even when I was living there. And I realized that although though I give up certain things by not living in Stockholm, I would give up so much more by leaving my work and the life that comes with it, to move back.
Things also changed in Rome, or maybe it was I that changed. My Italian improved quite a lot (thanks to some very patient Italian fiends), which was a relief and really made my life easier. Two friends that had left in 2004/2005 moved back and introduced me to new, very nice people. In late spring, I moved into a room more centrally located in the city and only 7 min walk from work (by Piramide), which made my life much more flexible and saved me a lot of time. And then, after a trip to Stockholm in June when I came back to work, one of my colleagues greeted me “Welcome home!”, and at last, I knew that it was right. Rome had finally become my home!
Now that I have left the Eternal City, I am thinking of what I picked up there, what I will keep with me, and what I will miss. Italian pizza, pasta and coffee are already on the list. (I didn’t even drink coffee before coming to Rome.) A new weakness for having aperitivi at piazzas, probably. But perhaps more importantly is the knowledge and understanding of so many things related to Western society, history and art that I gained by living where so much has its origins. Just the tremendous fortune of being able to visualize and even feel the smells and noises when reading references to Rome and other places, buildings and art objects in books. To recognize how architecture all around Europe and North America has copied buildings like Terme di Caracalla and the Pantheon. It makes the world smaller and easier to understand.
The spring of 2006 also turned out to be good with regards to work. I think that those who worked with me might laugh while reading this, because I have never worked so much in my entire life, with workweeks more common than not approaching 60 hours and with most weekends in part given up for a couple of hours in my office or working at home. In the end, I thought it was too much, because the work load never diminished until I finished my contract, but I enjoyed immensely working in the division where I spent my last six months in FAO. My major assignment was related to preparing a number of reports for the Committee of Food Security’s annual meeting. The meeting in 2006 differed a bit from past meetings in that it was the half-time period for the goals that were set up during the World Food Summit in 1996, of which the most important is to halve the number of undernourished in the world till 2015. This goal has been politically controversial and not all states agreed on this. Instead, the second indicator under the Millennium Development Goal no 1, to halve the amount of undernourished, became somewhat a compromise. So most of the documents focused on evaluating how this and the list of other goals that were set up in 1996 are proceeding in different countries. And it is not going very well. The MDG is approaching its target better as population is increasing, but the number of hungry people in the world remains more or less constant. Today, there are around 850 million undernourished people around the world. Even here in Moldova, more than 10 % of the population is suffering from undernourishment. Considering that we do produce enough food in the world to feed everyone on our planet, this is of course a disgrace. But the worst is perhaps that while really poor countries like Vietnam and Ghana (with per capita GDPs of 471 and 269 US$ per year respectively) have succeeded really well in decreasing hunger, more than a third of the countries where hunger has increased the most in the past 15 years has a per capita GDP of above US$ 3000 per year. Totally unacceptable! About 25,000 people die every day from causes directly linked to hunger. I can’t even find words to describe how I feel about it… I believe that this is one of the issues that my grandchildren will ask me how we in the Western world, with so much resources and knowledge, could be so passive.
The State of Food Insecurity (SOFI 2006) for those of you who are interested in reading more:
My work in itself was very research oriented. It was very interesting and I learned a lot. But regardless of how much I enjoyed my work, my colleagues and the environment in FAO, my work situation (and that of most other people in my age in the organization) was not sustainable in the long-run. With three months contracts, no vacation and no retirement plan, it had to come to an end and so I started looking around a bit for other jobs and sketch some alternative plans. I didn’t have to do that much planning before I was called to interviews in Sweden for two assignments as a Junior Professional Officer for the World Bank Country Offices in Moldova and Kyrgyzstan. And the rest is history.
Although 2006 did not offer as exotic travel destinations for me as 2005, when I had the opportunity to go to Tanzania, Turkey and Kyrgyzstan though work, I did see quite a lot of new places. And above all, I realized a childhood dream and visited San Marino. Ever since I was a kid and I heard of this minimal country high up on a mountain in Italy, I wanted to go there. I have no idea how I heard about it, neither why it became such an obsession to see it. None of the other miniature states around Europe, like Monaco, Andorra, Liechtenstein or the Vatican (surprise, surprise) have seemed equally alluring. And with everything else there is to see in Europe and around the world, why a small country in the middle of Italy? I honestly don’t think it would have caught my attention, had I heard about it for the first time today (although you never know, as I right before Christmas read about the Russian island Sakholin and got super interested in going there). But it got stuck in my head as a kid and I have since become used to it being one of the places that I always wanted to see. So during a one-week trip in Northern and Central Italy this summer, I took a bus up to the top of Monte Titano. Did it meet my expectations? Well, yes and no. Without all the tourists and the duty free stores it would have. The view was beautiful and the fortress (or the towers) looked more or less like I pictured it. But I think the most important thing is that I got to see it because otherwise, I would never have known and I would always have wondered.
Another great trip was to Barcelona. Jenny and I went over the Easter holiday and I have to say that the city exceeded al my expectations. The atmosphere, the architecture, the people, the bars, its history, its contemporary art and life! I discovered Gaudí; his indescribable imagination and genius constructions. And had a whole new world of modern art opened up to me after a 2.5 hour audio guided tour at Fundació Miró.(If you are interested in seeing some pictures, look at the album Barcelona.)
In addition to this, I travelled a lot around Italy. As I wrote above, I did a one week tour in Northen and central Italy during the summer, during which I first me up with Therese and Niklas from Sweden at Lago di Garda, with whom I saw both Venice and Verona for the first time in my life. I then continued by myself for a few days and saw Ravenna with its fantastic church mosaics, stayed in Urbino for a few nights, right next door to the house where Raphael grew up, and took day tours to San Marino and Pèsaro. Other trips shorter trips during the spring and the summer went to Naples, Terracina, Pompeii and Florence, which were all fantastic places. As for Pompeii, what can I say except for in certain ways it seems like time has more or less stood still during these past 2000 years. Fast food, bars, hooliganism during derbies, students thinking their teachers are boring, rental ads for apartments, graffiti – nothing is new. I also went to Pisa a few times to visit Anna and her family and I loved the town. And I still have a lot to see of this beautiful and fascinating country. I will be forever grateful that work brought me to Rome and that I got the chance to live in Italy and really get to know the country, because there is a slight chance that I would have missed much of it otherwise. Now, it will instead always be like I am travelling in my home country. (For those of you who would like to see more photos from these trips, check out the album Italy.)
The best thing about travelling is all the people I meet, and I met a lot of cool and nice and interesting people in 2006. At FAO, I had the opportunity of working with supervisors that I learned a lot from, with volunteers that provided fantastic support in really stressful situations, seniors that I learned a lot from, and colleagues that I had a lot of fun with also when we thought that the work flow would never end.
In Rome, outside of work, I got to know a lot of really nice people without whom Rome would have been much more dull and unfriendly.
Here in Chisinau, I have also been fortunate enough to both have very nice and helpful colleagues at work, and have met super cool people outside of work. Persons that have helped me get around in the city, find an apartment, explained how things work, introduced me to Moldovan traditions, showed me the cool places, where to find the best bargains, etc. Above all, I have met persons that have just been around, inviting me to things and taking me out. And the value of this should never be underestimated when moving to a new country! (I will get back to the people I’ve met here some other time, because I am very impressed by Moldavians, including many of my friends, for their determination and accomplishments. But more about this another time.)
The city that is so unknown that it doesn’t even exist in Word’s Swedish spell check… I didn’t really know what to expect before I came here. To be honest, I didn’t know a lot about Moldova at all before I had my interview. And I still can’t say much more about the country than some facts because I still haven’t travelled a lot.
But Chisinau embraced me immediately and I am still in love with this small city. There are about 750 000 people living here but the center is very small – in all dimensions. You can basically cross central Chisinau in any direction in less than half an hour and most buildings are one or two storeys high. In the center that is. As soon as you leave the central areas and go out in the different surrounding areas, there are enormous apartment complex in true Soviet style. But the city is not too densely populated so even these building have their charm.
But as a whole, this is a pretty and quiet and very green city. There are several large green areas with lakes around the center and some smaller, planned parks inside the city. There are trees everywhere, and a lot of park benches everywhere to just sit down and enjoy the surroundings. The low buildings in combination with relatively broad streets (at least in comparison to Rome) make it a very light city. And it is definitely the sunniest city in Europe that I have been to. Kind of like “Stars Hallow”: seasons but always with sunshine. It is beautiful!
In a country where the per capita GNI is US$ 880 (2005) and where the 73% of the population lived under the poverty line in 1999, and more than 20% still do, I didn’t expect to find a fantastic offer of places to go out to. So I was positively surprised when I found quite a broad variety of nice restaurants, bars, cafes and night clubs. There is also a fairly active music scene (though mostly classic and folklore) and several theatres. Moldavians likes to have fun and enjoy life and so it is very pleasant to live here. (Shopoholics should not bother, though. The selection that stores have to offer is still quite limited and some Soviet style department stores are still in place.)
In conclusion, 2006 was an interesting year when quite a lot happened. In addition to all the things that happened in my life, my sister Emma got a daughter (Filippa) in July and so I became and aunt for the first time.