Am I do it wrong here?

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Garden of Dreams // (c) Silja

Ten months ago when I started this blog, I was stepping – or how it felt for me, jumping – out of my comfort zone: first time in my life I had terminated my apartment for moving abroad, alone, without any idea whether I would find any friends there or being able to speak any languages understandably. I also worried whether there would be any familiar structures left in Finland when I return back after my five months in Sweden. Now, writing in Nepal, it feels so cute, innocent and after all so human how worried I was back then. Having an exchange student period in the neighbour country felt less than a year ago as taking a huge step out of my comfort zone. But how does it feel to be here in Nepal?

Spending five months living in a under-developed country without even travelling in Asia before is, of course, a step out of my comfort zone. When travelling to Sweden was more about leaving familiar living environment behind, in Nepal it is more about adapting a completely new environment. Starting from the basics: in my first week I had to google how to use Asian bathroom appropriate way. I have noticed that it is way easier to adapt new habits than a new mind-set, and in that regard my time in Nepal has been even easier than it was first in Sweden. Of course there are difficulties, something that is annoying or feelings of missing something from your my home country (for example frozen blueberries on my soy yoghurt for breakfast), but all of these are things I could expect when I was travelling to the different continent. Several things have found their places quite nicely – I start to be familiar with travelling by crowded micro-buses and can live with cockroaches that sometimes visit my room for saying hi and/or eating cookie crumbles from my fitted carpet. What I actually try to say is that I wonder if I’m out of my comfort zone anymore.

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A calf hanging around next to the Nakhhu bridge // (c) Silja

What do you think: can a temporary living-period in a foreign country itself be seen as a way to be out of the comfort zone, or should I try harder to get everything out of it by searching new experiences more actively? Of course I do things here during the weekends – I do daytrips with friends, explore villages nearby, visit cultural or historical places – but most of my days I try to make everyday-life to work at my place and the office, go to yoga classes regularly and if there is some extra-time, even do some pre-work for my final bachelor-degree course. In my uncertain moments I think whether I do something wrong when I don’t have a strong desire to go paragliding or to conquer Annapurna. Is there any point to be aboard if I’m just living my life here as anywhere else – like in Sweden, where I studied, met friends, had nice everyday-life with my boyfriend and sometimes travelled for some weekend trips to Norway or Denmark? Should I try actively break my local routines instead of build or uphold them? Am I failing with getting the best experience I could have here?

For some, getting out of the comfort zone is to search extreme experiences and really try to push the limits of nature and/or life. One weekend I and my Finnish friends sat on a rooftop terrace of a bar in Thamel watching the movie Everest which is based on the true story about a group of mountaineers trying to reach the Mount Everest peak, but heading up to face the storm on their way back with fatal consequences. This story is not unique, unfortunately – here I read every week from the news how one or two mountaineers couldn’t make their way back. After the film we were quiet and upset, and we talked about motivations that for example a husband of a pregnant woman might have when he decides to try something as dangerous as conquering the highest mountain peak of the world. As it is said in the movie: if it doesn’t kill you (which is also possible and even probable), it destroys your body every day during your way. Is this kind of decisiveness a sign of truly and great passion or just pure insanity?

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Garden of Dreams // (c) Silja

My worries of living here too “normal” life and the previous extreme-example are far from each other having different background ideas and different goals – as well as it has a different background idea if someone is spending a two-week holiday abroad. People doing extreme sports might find the whole purpose of their life by doing things that are, well, extreme, and they prepare all the time for the next challenge such as reaching the highest mountain peak in the world. The basic tourist want to experience something new and break the everyday life by doing something that is maybe relaxing, maybe adventurous and definitely enjoyable. For me, my challenge has been whether I can adapt a new lifestyle and re-shape and adapt my everyday life in circumstances deviant than in my home land. Personally, I couldn’t reach my goal of living here if I would search something new all the time. I enjoy here my time chatting with friends, walking around, reading, even studying, sometimes doing weekend trips – as well as I enjoy those things everywhere.

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Bhaispati, Lalitpur in a late afternoon // (Silja)

In regard of routines: in an environment that is in many ways quite far of my familiar environment, routines are the way to make everyday life flowing, smooth and even possible. If there is too much special in my weeks, there won’t be space four routines, everyday-life and settling down. In Finland, I don’t have to think putting my mosquito net on my bed every evening or whether I can do the laundry today if there is a thunder coming or if it’s too dangerous to travel to Pokhara after the monsoon has started.

My personal point behind the idea of stepping out of the comfort zone has been to challenge my settled routines, be open for new perspectives, learn about new cultures and people as well as to clarify what I really want to do and what is important me indeed. So far I have had the experience than I can reach these goals just by living here the way I do, without trying to push me somewhere else or through some extra-challenges. Every day I learn something new about these diverse cultures in Nepal, improve both my patience and sensitiveness to this environment and can see my own habits and values as well as my behaviour in a new perspective – even though sometimes I notice the development and improvement not immediately but after some time has gone. And maybe the routines that are similar here and everywhere else in spite of the differences in circumstances are those that formulate the base of my life as I really wish it to be.

HattiHatti – the Heart of the Elephant

Earlier this week I had the great opportunity to visit the office of HattiHatti, a non-profit organization producing for example linen bags, bowties and kimonos. I got to know the brand when I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, and my boyfriend gave me a HattiHatti linen bag as a Christmas present. The bag was just a perfect present: the logo includes two elephants (my favourite animal since I was a child) in colours of the Swedish flag, having a heart in between. The woman who sold the bag to my boyfriend at a Christmas market in Gothenburg told to him that the bag is produced in an ecologically and socially sustainable way in Nepal and it is possible to check out who is the tailor of this bag from the website of HattiHatti. Because I was so glad about the present and additionally coming to Nepal, I wrote to the HattiHatti office and asked if it would be possible to visit the office one day during my stay in Nepal.

So, last Wednesday I walked to their office which is located in Jhamsikhel, not very far from where I’m living. Somehow I couldn’t find the place first, but with the help of two men who walked nearby as well as with the advice from the HattiHatti staff members I finally made my way to the office. There I met marketing director Simran Silpakar and educational coordinator Bhusan Pyakurel as well as tailors Sanu Majhi, Aashu Parja and Sharmila Parja who sew the HattiHatti products. Everyone were extremely kind and I felt myself very welcomed all the time.

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Staff members of Hatti Hatti in Nepal

I learnt that HattiHatti is eshtablished by Charlotte Melkivist and David Geiser from Sweden, what seems to explain both the Gothenburg-connection and the Swedish flag colours in the logo. The idea of having elephant in the logo came from Charlotte, whose favourite animal the elephant also is. Before the earthquakes in 2015, the co-founders used to live in Nepal where they wanted to support Nepali people, especially women from marginalized groups, to earn their living and gain experience and training for being able to start their own business in the future.

The values behind HattiHatti are something I can easily sign. As it is written to HattiHatti’s website, you can find the mission below that – and in my opinion, it really is quite laudable.

Empowering women from marginalized communities in Nepal. Through education and practical training these women get the chance to become skilled tailors, creative entrepreneurs & independent individuals.

This is easy to see in practice in the office as well. All the staff members including the tailors are working in the same office room and when I asked what the tailors’ experience of the job is, they told that they are enjoying their job a lot. I was also told that already two tailors have started their own business with transferable skills they have gained while working for HattiHatti. I see it important that help and support from HattiHatti will be received also when tailors are running their own business and not only when working for HattiHatti. In regard of ecological sustainability, materials for example for kimonos and bowties come from recycled sarees, which, according to Simran, makes it more difficult to expand the organization but remains the production sustainable and ecological.

One thing that really impressed me was how great job Simran and Bhusan are doing. They are both social work students and David used to be their teacher when he lived in Nepal, and that way they got involved to HattiHatti. Simran told, that first she started to volunteer for HattiHatti and she did her job so well that she got hired for becoming a marketing director. Later Bhusan found his way similarly to the educational coordinator vocation. Now, while studying at the same time, they are running the office here in Nepal in cooperation with the co-founders in Sweden. It was inspiring to hear how professional both Simran and Bhusan were when they told about expanding the organization especially in local markets for being able to grow the number of tailors. Furthermore, they want to offer training for tailors about how to make their business to success in local markets, as the products of HattiHatti are designed to international markets.

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Silja & the HattiHatti logo

In the end of my visit I had a chance to try one kimono on me and see the other products that HattiHatti produces. I couldn’t help thinking how great presents linen bags and kimonos would be in Europe – maybe one sign of that was my own reaction when I found the HattiHatti bag from the Christmas present package. I still strongly appreciate the idea that HattiHatti supports their tailors with making products to local markets as well for sustaining the production and empowering the tailors so that they won’t be dependent on HattiHatti and western market in the future. My visit in the office strengthened the feeling that non-profit organizations like HattiHatti can do a good job in creating social change. I wish all the best for super-inspiring Simran, Bhusan, Sanu, Aashu and Sharmila!

The website of Hatti Hatti can be found here and the online store here. I received a small present from the office members when I was leaving the office, but I didn’t expect that and there is no commercial cooperation between me and HattiHatti. The only motivation for writing this is my own feeling of being inspired of their work and my will to support social change.

Is it all relative?

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Kathmandu Durbar Square 2016 (c) Tuuli

For many, the differences between cultures and lifestyles are the main reasons to travel or even to move abroad. People are often curious how other people live in a different  environment, and it is also a personal challenge to adapt a new culture or at least to survive in it. Above all, living in a different culture can be a great opportunity to learn: to understand how differently – or similarly – everyday life or the social structure can be organized as well as to get perspective to your own culture. Travelling can even help to understand better global structural questions like poverty, inequality or climate change.

Today This week I have been in Nepal three weeks, and one question I have struggled with has been a question about comparing. Of course it is natural to compare differences in environment, habits or cultural features, and it doesn’t mean that comparing should include any judgement – it can be just a way to construe, understand and create a connection between people with partly similar and partly different experiences. You know: wow, I have never seen a single cow in the middle of the crossroad in Finland – but instead we have reindeers on streets in Lapland.

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On a pickup track on a mountain road

Comparing, especially when it includes judgement, can be very detrimental, particularly in multicultural field such as development cooperation*. The traditional challenge of development cooperation has been the idea that there is only one direction where the cultural and economical exchange can move – from the wealthier or more developed country to the less developed one. Unfortunately this way of thinking can be seen strongly in Europe nowadays: in forums from the Parliament of Finland to some extreme social medium, the walls between “us” and “them” are built especially during the last year. Even worse, this rethoric has gotten racist forms and the worst comments even disparage the human dignity of some people or groups of people. These mental barriers often reflect the thought that the wealthy West would have a legitimation to rise itself above the other countries in the world.

If comparing means that, it is definitely harmful: setting yourself above other people or judging other cultures is the most destructive basis for meeting new cultures. Of course you can travel around the world and come to a conclusion in the end that your prefer your own cultural features or your home environment more. Trying to understand is all in all. However, not everything must be accepted so in other words, not everything is relative at least the way cultural relativists might think. For example forms of discrimination and oppression should be able to question despite the culture in question. But this doesn’t mean that we should abandone the cultural sensitivity or deliberated arguments. Above all, the base of the criticism must not be our own prejudices or cultural arrogance.

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A screenshot from Helsingin Sanomat Online Version 16.4.2016

(Warning, the next paragraph is reflecting a feeling as a part of the process of cultural adaptation. It’s not telling my opinion about Finland, Finnish culture or media or saying that in Finland you should’n concern about some issues just because the situation is worse somewhere else.)

Actually, what I wanted to write in the first place was more related to feelings I reflected one day. I read the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat and noticed headlines like “Particles in the respiratery air kill over five times more people than car accidents” (in Finland) and “Who would sell me silence?”. I’m not commenting the content of the articles – I just happened to be in the mindset in which the scale of everything here in Nepal just hit me hard and all the things people worry or especially complain in Finland seemed to be so harmless. Particles are killing people in Finland more that traffic accidents – sure, even though the air is one of the cleanest in the world; maybe it is because the traffic is the safest! Here you can see a four-member family on one motorbike without helmets, and everyday I see people coughing up their lugns because of the long-time exposure for the air pollution. And when someone wrote how the noice make urban people stressed (in Finnish context) I almost laughed – if someone here would complain how the noice – that exist all the time – is stressing people, how about corrucated iron shelters where people still live after a year their homes collapsed due the earthquakes last year? How about the lack of gass and vitally important medicine due the block of trade on the border between Nepal and India..?

Then I calmed down and started to reflect my sudden feeling of – irritation, perhaps. It is clear that after seeing poverty and these extremely challenging circumstances some people live in here (even though I know I won’t see the worst circumstances at all; and of course here exist middle-class as well and not everyone suffers from poverty in their lives) it might be difficult to deal with some privileged complainings – also when I’m the one who is complaining. My obsession to eco-certificated  skincare products seem to be realtively irrelevant when I live in one of the most polluted areas in the world – and where people live amid perilous pollution their whole lives.

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Street art on the wall nearby the botanical gardens in Godawari

I kept on reading the website of Helsingin Sanomat: for example an article about huge neighbour country that might be dominating a smaller country next to it. That sounds somehow familiar- both in Finland and in Nepal. Maybe I shouldn’t think that being concerned about similar issues even if the scale is different is somehow a bias of the wealthier or the better-going country: maybe it is a sign that people everywhere are concerned about similiar issues that are vital for well-being. And if we have common challenges and similar worries to soulute, maybe we can cooperate for solving these problems together. Such a great dream: all together, for development.

*Due the reason I wrote out, I think it’s not appropriate to use development aid at least in regard of my experiences here. For me, the term seems to include the idea that there are help or support from one country to other but nothing coming back, and in the history that political mindset has been strongly connected to arrogance of wealthier countries and also some kind of justification to benefit or even oppress developing countries. And for me here this whole time is definitely cooperation – I hope I can help this organization because it offers me the lookout to its work, this culture and a also a place for me to develop my own professional skills.

My ordinary day in Nepal

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Saturday afternoon in Patan

The first time I wake up at five and wonder what time is it even though I know that it’s something between five and six in the morning. Maybe the reason for waking up is the trucks clattering and honking the horn nearby, or maybe street dogs start barking around five o’clock. I won’t read any WhatsApp-messages I have received during the night because I try to avoid using Internet between eleven in the evening and seven in the morning. Instead of that I try to fall asleep again for getting up two hours later.

Between seven and eight it’s time for my morning routines: sometimes I cook porridge for the breakfast and sometimes go to the nearest grocery store for buying yoghurt and fruits. This morning my housemate gave me a self-baked flat bread that was still warm. My breakfast routines have advanced: nowadays my main breakfast is a bit healthier than cookies I used to eat (and eat still, but not for breakfast). There is no fridge in the house I am living at the moment, but it is not that bad than it sounds – it’s easy to buy for example dairy products just when needed and then eat them soon after buying. And because of the loadsheddings of electricity, the fridge might be turned off several hours a day anyway. At nine I start walking to the office of Loo Niva, which takes me about half an hour. It’s up the hill, and it is quite hot outside already at nine – maybe soon I finally accomplish my task to buy some lighter clothes than jeans.

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On the way to a local school on a pickup track

The office hours here are from 9.30 to 17.30, and when I come to office – mostly 9.35 – I log myself in to the office by showing my thumb finger to the machine next to the outdoor and climb upstairs where my working room locates. I usually sit on the floor on a pillow and worked with my laptop. My days in Loo Niva have been mostly reading, writing, searching information, taking pictures and creating content to Loo Niva’s social media pages. My productivity level is not always the highest because of the slow internet and/or computer – I’m quite sure this computer has eaten so much dust that it won’t survive much longer than these five months here. However, I do my best, and extra tasks and school visits offer variation for my days here. At two we have lunch, usually prepared by didi (the exact meaning is something close to a sister if understood it right)  who takes care of the office. The lunch hour is in principle an hour, but no one really takes an hour break here but the time that eating takes.

17.30 I sign my name to the book that is meant for monitoring the working days. If I want to go somewhere in the evening I usually want to be quite fast with leaving there, because the sundown will come at 18.30 and after that it will be dark very fast. I might take a bus from the office to Ekantakuna and I’m always glad if the bus is not over-crowded: taking a bus here means a Hiace-style van that picks up or drops out people almost without stopping properly – for these smaller buses there are not clear bus stops at all. I might visit my place fast before taking a taxi for example to Patan or Thamel, where we might have a dinner with my Finnish friends. If I won’t go out, my housemates often cook dinner and sometimes I join them.

In the evenings I might meet friends, do the laundry or clean, buy some fruits or vegetables from the vegetable market, have Skype calls or read and write. I hope that in the future I will find moments for Memrise and its Nepali language classes as well – I have managed to do that only once so far. Before I go to bed I try to have time for calming down and writing a bit, and around eleven in the evening I switch off the internet and go to bed – way earlier than I do in Finland, because I know that I will wake up at five again. Yesterday morning I started my new, hopefully weekly routine with a morning hatha-yoga class, so sometimes the sunrise is a valid time to put my alarm clock on.

What the first week has taught me

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Morning moment in Bhaisepati, Lalitpur around 7 AM.

I arrived to Nepal a week ago 12 days ago, after two days of travelling. Even though my days are occupied between office hours that means in Loo Niva 9.30-17.30, I still have a feeling that every day brings so much new to me that I should write them down for having something to compare after five months – not very unik, but would be good to see some kind of process of personal developement afterwards. As I talked to my AirBnb host, what causes wow-effect now might turn into routine during my staying here, and would be interesting to follow how this development will happen. In addition to that, this is my first visit both in Asia and in a developing country, so it’s not only Nepal I will learn about but also travelling and living in a culture that is in many ways opposite than how is it in Finland or Sweden.

These things might not surprise for more experienced travellers, but this were quite remarkable notions for me especially during my first week here.

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Kathmandu traffic, picture taken from the taxi.

Traffic. I have heard several times that the traffic in Nepal and especially in Kathmandu might cause some heartthrob for unaccustomed tourist from Europe. For Finnish regulation-and-rules-orientated train traveller the first impression about the traffic was way worse than I could have imagined, especially when the driver told me not to put the seabelt on. All the streets near the airport were over-crowded with cars, trucks, motorcyckles, pedestrians, cows and trash. And noise: here honking the thorn is a common way to inform other people that there is someone coming by a vehicle. I heard from my AirBnb-host that in regard of traffic, there is only one rule – that there is no rules. However, in my second evening I sat on a local bus, nearly on the lap of the bus driver and felt quite fine with the traffic already. The local drivers have used to drive here and it would be more scaring to get a drive here from someone who is a known for driving well in regard of traffic rules in Finland.

The earthquakes. A year ago there was two calamitous earhquakes in Nepal, the first one called Gorkha earthquake and the second one was its afterschok. Lalitpur, in which I am at the moment, were one of the most damaged area, and several people I have talked to have told about family members and relatives who passed away due the earthquaks. Some people live still, after a year, in shelters, because their homes collapsed. Before I arrived here, I read some instructions what to do if an earthquake comes, and yesterday it really happend that I experienced my first earthquake. It was a short one and only 4.5 magnitudes, but the central point was here in Lalitpur so we felt it strongly. People outside started to scream and run out of the buildings – it’s clear here that the huge earthquakes left deep traumas to the people in this area.

I was quite upset for my own behaviour after the earthquake – despite instructions I have read, I did everything wrong: went to the dark staircase and tried to go out, sat next to the building waiting if the next one will come and even left my bag with water, a torch etc. inside even though it was next to me inside the house. If you want to learn what to do during and after earthquake, you can read instruction for example here and if you want to follow earthquake situation in Nepal, I recommend that website. However, it gives perspective that this one was the fourth earthquake in Nepal during the time I have stayed here, but the first one I could feel.

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The temple Swayambhunath, known also as the Monkey Temple

Habits. To be honest, I am not aware enough  yet about the habits that are important here. It hasn’t been once or twice when after some everyday-life situation I have started to think my own behaviour and realized that I did something inappropriate here. People here are polite and at least so far no-one has commented – expect a taxi driver who told me not to have a seat belt on in my arriving day – or condemned anything I have done, maybe because it is my first week or maybe because it’s not common here to complain or give negative feedback. For example one dress I wore to my office was probably way too short, event though in western countries it’s middle-length dress and far from miniskirts. Even worse habit of mine is one that it is a joke in Finland but here quite crucial cultural mistake: I eat bread almost always  holding it with two hands. Finnish friends say that I look like hamster while eating that way and make fun of me bacause of that, but here you shouldn’t touch food with your left hand. I have to be careful with that.

Time. According to Nepali calendar, the year here is 2073. Next week, 13.4, we celebrate New Year here. Not only a calendar is different but also the day rythm: the city gets up very ealy, around five in the morning. The sun sets out when it’s good time to get up in the morning and go home in the evening. Time of darkness starts half past six every evening and the darkness is, as it is common in the South, somehow inpenetrable. It is better not to walk outside too much after the dusk.

As I could imagine before I arrived, here “the office opens at 9.30” means that the staff comes to the office in average 9.40. My first day I was sitting in front of the office exactly 9.30 and I was kindly laughed due to that. Here it is also normal for example to get stuck in a traffice jam or not be able to use electrricity during the best office hours – there is even apps for following these loadsheddings – so when you estimate that something might take an hour it may actually take two. Now I have used to not to take too much stress about the time – and hopefully learnt to be more patient, especially when the Internet conection is not working properly. However, it will be interesting to see how it will be when I go back to Europe. Maybe I go back to my old habits easliy, but who knows whether this time here changes my idea of time conclusively.

 

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Sunset in Bhaisepati, Lalitpur.

Attitude. People I have met here so far don’t complain. My AirBnb-host is hindu and I don’t know if it is because of the religion, culture or her personal features but she often tells phrases like “everything happens for a reason” or “we have to go on and keep on smiling.” Negative feeling are not so easily shown, even though sometimes  there can be seen flashes of sadness, traumatic experiences or something that is close to bitterness when someone tells about huge losses that have happened in one’s life. But still, negative feelings are mostly hidden, at least due to my first experiences here.

In addition to observing general ways of thinking here, my own attitude has also changed compared to my earlier mindsets. I don’t know if it’s because this whole year abroad or because of Nepal, but I feel somehow more flexible and relaxed in different situations, or at lest try to have a feeling of being open for new experiences. Issues that would freak me out in Finland I take here as an opportunity to learn more. Of course I know that culture shocks and different emotions will be part of thw process, but at least now I’m surprisingly calm and trust that there will be always a solution even if something would go wrong.

 

 

My path to Nepal

Years I have been interested in the country between India and China and – Nepal. The question why Nepal and not some other place is relevant, but it is hard to give any satisfying explanation. Maybe I just like the food that Nepalese restaurants in Finland serve, or maybe I have read some memorable articles about Nepalese culture during my sensitive teenage years. However, somewhere in my mind there was a semi-hidden dream to travel to or maybe even live in Nepal one day.

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A view from the balcony of my AirBnb room

Even though I have seen myself as an active member of civil society due to my years in NGOs and charity work, I have to admit that I haven’t been aware enough of the field of global projects and development aid. I have tried to follow some organizations social media peages time after time, but my understanding about the field has been relatively weak. Nonetheless, last spring I end up reading the book about Malala Yousafzai, a young Pakistani woman who is advocating children’s right for education and in general children’s and human rights. Malala received Nobel Peace Prize for her groundbreaking work in 2014, at the age of 17. This book opened my eyes for the importance of both education and supporting children and the role of an independent people and grossroot level movements and NGOs in developing countries.

Last autumn I was just about to travel to Sweden when I noticed the announcement about the Etvo-program in the newsletter of Kepa. Kepa offered a chance to apply to a non-commercial voluntary work program, which has cooperative NGOs around the world, also in Nepal and also working for education and children’s rights. I had thought about voluntary work earlier but worrying about its ethical challenges. Anyhow, last autumn I thought that Kepa’s program might be one of the most reliable as it has quite long tradition with organizing the program, no one is doing business with volunteers and the NGOs exist and do their work anyway. Later it transpired that it was actually the last time I could have applied to the program: due to significant expenditure cuts in development aid in Finland, Kepa was obliged to quit the whole program and the ones travelling during this year 2016 are the last ones to be able to participate to that program.

For my joy and even a surprise, Kepa and its cooperation partner Interpedia and Interpedia’s Nepalese collaborator Loo Niva Children Concern offered be a chance to learn how Loo Niva is working in Nepal for improving education system and children’s status in Nepal.  And in six months after the corroborative response of theirs and mine, I sit now here in the office of Loo Niva in Bhaisepati, Lalitpur, Nepal.

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In front of my office in Loo Niva

My first week here has flown by very fast and I think I haven’t realized yet that I’m here for real. There are still parts preventing me to settle down completely: these days I have been living in AirBnb-room, and soon I’ll move to one quite interesting (and hopefully okay) place for 1,5 months before I might move again… I write more about my accommodation situation when I know more how this will work out. I could have received help with my accommodation questions but now I try this one path I found and these first months will show if it will work okay.

What I would like to do here now is to sit down, maybe with my personal diary, and just let myself to calm down; experience these voices and smells and colours and living creatures around. During these first weeks I might not keep too much contact to Europe, and it is for letting my head and my body to adapt these new circumstances in peace. After settling down a bit it might be easier to analyze and share what’s going on here as well as hear how is it going elsewhere.

The previous five months

My plan to write this blog regularly in Sweden didn’t work out very well. Actually, I opened this blog for writing first time in five months and noticed all the drafts I wanted to write during my stay in Sweden. I guess this is what might happen when unaccustomed blogger have an ambitious goal to write in two different languages in a country that is so close to the own culture that there is no space for a proper culture shock, and in which the everyday life finds its place and day circles easier than in the home country. But let’s see how this will change during this new adventure: at the moment I’m writing from Nepal, but I come back to that in a new post (hopefully before than after five months).

Shortly, how did it went in Gothenburg and how it was to went back to Finland.

In Sweden, I followed through all my courses I was supposed to, so it worked out to get a minor from social psychology in Swedish. In addition to that, I almost managed to get some academic credits from a Swedish course, but failed with the listening comprehension test. That is quite ironic, especially becuase I passed with the best grade the science philosophy exam that should have been way more difficult. But what I learned from this was, that if you want to learn how to speak, it’s not helping much to sit in the library, reading. Surprisingly. To be honest, the last month in Sweden I spoke mostly English, because I got tired for feeling myself so incompetent in Swedish all the time. So if you really wish for learning a language, speak it every time you can and even when you can not.  

I was not ready for coming back to Finland in January due to people around me in Sweden. Maybe I also got a feeling that my goals abroad are not completed yet – at least if my goal was to start missing my life in Finland. For those (particularly Finnish) who appreciate stability in their lives or want to take small steps towards becoming international, Sweden is a perfect solution to go, but for me it wasn’t enough. So during those two months I stayed in Finland I wanted to avoid settling down: I kept myself almost too busy by finishing my courses for my bachelor degree (excluding the bachelor thesis which is the project for next autumn), participating in Basic Income Hack that was great but extremely intense experience, visiting once in Gothenburg, meeting friends and family and spending two weekends in Helsinki with a very special person. I didn’t unpack my staff from the storage but lived “in a suitcase” and, I don’t know how I found time for that, managed to pack my bags again for a trip very different.

Two weeks ago I took a plane once more to Gothenburg where I spent my only holiday week with having a flu, getting small panick attacs while realizing that I’m not having any accommodation in Nepal five days before travelling and enjoying the evenings with the best company, Ben & Jerry’s and Game of Thrones – a fantasy serie being placed maybe to the middle age; at least Sweden changed something in me. A week ago, being sleepy and calm and not very well prepared for my forthcoming months, I stood at the Arlanda airport and took my way first to Doha, Qatar and then, some hours later, to Kathmandu, Nepal.

And here I am now.

About safety and security

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Autumn leaves in Oslo (c) Lisa

These times have been tragic and shocking. Here in Gothenburg we read the news everyday together, and when we think that the worst imaginable things have happened, something worse appears. Of course we know, that several things have developed in the world and in some counters the world has a better place to live nowadays – for example children mortality has decreased and extreme poverty has reduced by half five years ahead.  However, the feeling of safety is put to the test particularly for the sake of the latest incidences. As the child of 90’s from the northern Europe, I have been privileged to live during the time and in the place of peace. Even though I’m still more safe and privileged in that case than the most of the people in the world, it’s still hitting to the face to see the consequences of both terrorism and war getting closer than ever before during my life.

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Changing of the guard in Oslo (c) Lisa

Before I left to Sweden, I answered an inquiry about feeling of security while planning the exchange student period abroad. Now the researcher contacted me and would like to interview me to her pro gradu research, and I’m glad to get an opportunity both to consider the questions about safety and security and help her with her research. I guess that my thoughts have changed a bit in these six months after answering to the inquiry. There are three main reasons for this:

At first, the political situation in the world seems to become more and more strained all the time. We can’t even be sure what happened to the free movement of persons in the Schengen area – I say that, because for me the free movement of persons has always seemed to be a sign of open and advanced Europe. Of course terrorist attacks and states of war in different areas have an influence of the feeling of secutity – although I’m living in one the safest areas in the world both in my home country and here in my exchange student destination.

The second, when I moved away from Finland, the idea of leaving my familiar lifestyle and stepping out of  the comfort zone were the most frightening things for me. (I have said it several times, but I recognize it well how privileged and fortunate I am that my biggest challenges are inside my head and not externals threats and dangers.) Now I’m not anymore as afraid of leaving and living as I used to be, and for that reason my feeling of security has actually increased. And even if the threat of those terrible attacks is real and it has destroyed far too many lives and families – my thoughts are with them – I try to avoid to let the fear take too much space.  Those behind the attacks has a goal to feed the fear, and I don’t want that goal to be reached. In the end, terror shouldn’t stop us to believe in the better world and work for it.

The third, I’ll spend five months in Nepal next year. I wrote earlier that I went to Finland in September – I had the interview for the Etvo-voluntary work program, and I got to be chosen! So if I would be afraid to live in Sweden it would be impossible for me to travel to Nepal, and that is the third reason why I have been obligated to reconsider my relation to fear.

 

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Statue park in Oslo (c) Lisa

What we can do during these hard times is try to create and maintain solidarity, friendship and love – cry together, laugh together, talk together and avoid sharing people for us and the others. That’s how we can fight against fear. We should stay together, help those who are in need or who are suffering, work for the better future and keep on dreaming. If we stop living and loving because of the fear, we have already lost. Like the one of the wisest human-being once said:

“May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

Nelson Mandela

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Friendship wins. (c) Lisa

Jag har gråtit så mycket när vi har tittat på teve and följt alla fruktansvärda händelser i världen. Alla vår tanker är med offren och dess familjer i länderna som har fallit offer för terroristattackerna. Jag har haft lycka att leva hela mitt liv under fred, och det känner förkrossande att se konsekvenser av terrorism och krig närmare än tidigare. Och det också känns fel att klaga hur uppskakad är jag – det är omöjligt att föreställa mig den smärtan och den lidande av de som bor i Paris, I Libanon, i mitten av kriget i Syrian… Men sorgen är i alla fall oförställd.

Här i Göteborg har vi pratat om trygghetskänslan, och naturligtvis har förskräckliga händelser influerad om den känslan. Men om ger man för mycket rum för rädslan, har de som vill underblåsa rädslan tagit hem segern. Målet av terroristattackerna är att separera människor och skapa hat, agg och skräck.

Det verkar att en människa inte kan påverka vad händer i världen men jag tror att det inte stämmer. Ju värre är händelser i världen, desto mer måste vi stötta varandra och försvara våra drömmer om den bättre framtiden. Vi måste undvika att förstärka hat och rädslan – just nu borde vi förstärka hopp och gemenskap. Vi behöver solidaritet; vi behöver samarbete, vi behöver vänskap och vi behöver kärlek, så de verkligen finns någonting som vi alla kan göra just nu.

 

Six things to do while living abroad (part 2)

This is the second part of my pro-tips how to cope with moving abroad. All the topics are again pretty obvious but of course my unik point of view make them still worth reading… But seriously, saying these things aloud have made at least my time here in Gothenburg a bit easier and less stressful.

De vackraste tjäjerna Sannamari och Lisa i Isbar i Oslo. (c) Lisa
De vackraste tjäjerna Sannamari och Lisa i Isbar i Oslo. (c) Lisa

Make mistakes. Being abroad is a huge opportunity to learn, and quite often the best way to learn is to make mistakes. This seems to be obvious, but in the real life it is not happening automatically – at least for me it doesn’t. Particularly good advice this is for those who are prone to perfectionism.

Making mistakes and learn from them is even more okay abroad because first of all, you are supposed to make mistakes. It might sound bad, but because everyone knows that you are not on your comfort zone, you don’t know the places or habits et cetera and you might even communicate with the language that is not so familiar to you, people wont’t be so surprised of your random questions. “Where is the university building X?” when you’re standing in front of the main entrance of the concerned building” or booking train tickets with three languages at same sentence are normal situations abroad. Furthermore, no-one will remember your failures, or if they do, at least you got more nice stories to tell.

The second, particularly language mistakes really help you to learn languages. I have asked my friends here correct my most common language mistakes, and it has worked quite well. It’s even necessary* when your language is on the level in which the topics are variated from the spiritual/secular worldviews and the considerations of afterlife to the differences between the legislation of in vitro fertilization in different countries. And afterwards no-one can win you when you’re playing Alias.**

*) During the very deep discussion about the topics that requires very exact terms to be understood right it is just better to ask how something should be said right and/or use dictionary. It can also be fun: for example trying to explain why “Der Teufel” is not a fitting translation for the Finnish word “hiisi” and then laugh half an hour for Google Translators proposals how to translate random Wikipedia articles about folk traditions. That’s what I would call effective academic language training…

**) Finnish board game with the goal of explain as many random words as possible in a short time while the other team tries to guess.

Live simply. Warning: if something very middle-class makes you to shiver for disgust, please skip this part. Relocations and changes in the daily routines – such as exchange student period in a foreign country – are good times to consider the living standards again and maybe shake them a bit. I decided to take with me only the amount of goods that I could carry alone by walking, and it has been interesting to observe what kind of goods are those that I really need here and what I have bought here because I thought over-positively to manage to leave without them.

The result: I still took one surplus bag that could have been left home. I probably won’t wear my celebration heel shoes here, especially because my everyday shoes included heels. One fork, one knife and two spoons with different sizes have been definitely enough for me, though two tea cups I bought here were legitimate. Hair dryer is the most luxurious good that I have bought here. It’s good to notice that a houseplant and a candle can make an apartment cosy – at least if it’s only occasional place for living – instead of having a scandinavian-design real-woolen too-expensive counterpane. It’s not necessary to live ascetic live to live simply, but living simply by purpose can give some perspective for consumption and your living standards. Being privileged enough to write the piece of text like this make me feel sick of myself but I try to be honest while writing, and that is really something that I have thought many times before I left and during the time here.

Do things that you love in your home country. When you have already changed your whole life with a life change project, tried new random things, got to know several new people and being out of your comfort zone almost all the time, it’s good to take a moment just for pulling up. What have been the most enjoyable things so far? For me, major part of those have been exactly the same things that are the biggest pleasure for me in Finland: having a long conversations about politics and society with interesting people, watching documentary films with my friends and running around the city admiring the beautiful colours of autumn leaves. For me, being abroad have taught me the most about understand my priorities.

Missta sig. Man förväntar att nyss invandrat människor inte vet allting och att de misstag sig alltemellanåt. Och alla vet att misstag undervisas de mest, så det är bra att betjäna sig en möjlighet misstag sig med ett lov.

Lev enklare. När man kan skapa ett nytt liv i en ny plats, är de bra att omvärdera inte bara levnadssätt utan också förhållanden till en ägodel och ägande. Men jag vet om hur privilegierad är jag när jag kan skriva någonting liksom det.

Gör vad du älskar i ditt hemland. Slutligen njuter man – åtminstone jag har njutit – mest om desamma saker som jag älskar också i Finland. Fastän har jag testad båda, föredrar jag fortsättningsvis djupa politiska diskussioner mer än att gå nattklubbar.

Six things to do while living abroad (part 1)

If someone has longed for something more concrete and more informative abut what it is to live abroad, this is for you. These tips summarize quite well what I have learnt during my first months here. Actually, the writing process started weeks ago but I didn’t change much when I kept on writing but added edit-parts instead for documenting my developing process – seems to be complicated for me to write only what I have done here; maybe I practice it next time again. However, please enjoy these mind-blowing ideas what to do while living abroad and why it can change your life. (Have to have at least some parts that sounds like a tabloid haha.)

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Botaniska trägården och köttätande växter. (c) Den sötaste Lisa

Start your life change project. When you move abroad – or in general, after all relocations – you have to anyhow adapt the new way of living. It is almost always exhausting, so of course it’s necessary to be realistic how much you can stand all at once. However, I see that exhausting change as a possibility to kill two birds with one stone* and adjust your life for both of these changes simultaneously – you don’t have to go through the process of transition twice. It is even easier, when your previous living environment doesn’t remind you all the time for your old habits or whatever you are going to change.

For example, every time I have had difficulties and significant changes in my life (health problems, relocations, break ups) I have changed pretty much everything in my life at once.** For this reason I study the subject that is more than I could have dreamed before instead of studying something that was just okay. For that same reason I’m living here in Sweden at the moment with having the time of my life. And to returning to concreteness: I wanted to start exercise more here, and my solution was to ask my friends to get a membership for the gym Fysiken with me. They – and especially I myself – got an image that I’m sporty and like exercising (wasn’t like that before), and after that it has been so much easier to find time and motivation to work out.

*This idiomatic expression “kill two birds with one stone” is so brutal and neither Finnish counterword is more humane; in Finnish we kill flies…
** I am not claiming that it is always a good idea to act that way.

Try new random things. This is pretty obvious. At least at the beginning when everything is still new there is a great time to do random things and maybe sometimes step out of your comfort zone too. I have for example tried crossfit, cooked vegetarian moussaka and been in the most awkward party I hve ever been in some nightclub – but I’m quite sure that almost all of you could find more exciting and fun random things to do. The point is to say “yes” to different kind of proposals instead of finding excuses why not to take part in.

Edit. Do these thing in very beginning of you time abroad. The everyday life will start quite soon and when the new routines have took their places, it’s much more difficult to change them again and act ex temporé. For this reason the best time for travelling, if you would like to travl during your time abroad, is in the beginning, before exam weeks and the lazy gray days of November. And for the very same reason, the life change projects are best to start immediately after arriving.

Make new friends. This is obvious, too, so I prefer to share my ideas how to make new friends. First, do random things and go random places; say yes when someone ask you to join. There you will find new people to get to know, and you already have something to talk about. Second, organize things by yourself. I have found almost all of my closest friends here by organizing some social events. Ask people to invite their friends too and you will get to know even more people.

Third, ask questions – you might surprise how interesting stories and opinions people have to share with you, and above all it gives an impression that you are interested in them. Fourth, share something personal in the fitting moment – that is quite essential if you want to get close friends and not only have some small talk. It doesn’t have to be a story of your life but for example how you feel about being in the new country. And, of course, when someone shares something personal with you, be respectful and interested. Fifth, tell to your new friend/s that you are happy that you can be a part of their lives now. If you really mean your words, it’s rarely a bad idea to tell your friends that they are important to you.

EDIT. After writing that part of text I have learnt something much more important about making friends. First, if I know that I should behave particularly sensitive in some case, I really have to do so – just knowing the importance of it is not just enough. Second, it makes me much better friend if I have enough time to be only with my own thoughts sometimes. Even though I consider myself as a social person, I have noticed that if I can’t be alone sometimes I start behaving like five years old child in a group. Third, honestly means not only to avoid lying but saying it aloud when something is annoying or should be done in differently.

 

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(c) Lisa

Jag hade en plan att skriva liksom en journalist på en kvällstidning: “Tio tips vad man måste göra utomlands – kolla in bilderna!” Den här skissen har varit på min Google Docs cirka två månader nu därför att de mest chockerande händelserna här inte ryms i tips-skrivningar liksom de här. Men kanske skriver jag om de senare. De här tipsen som kände tidigare så viktiga visas att vara ganska naiv nu, men jag publicerar skrivningar därför att syftet att blogga (även ibland) är att dokumentera min utveckling här.

Börja ditt livsförändringsprojekt. Man måste lära sig att leva på nytt sätt i alla fall, så varför inte att lufta alla gamla vanor och omvärdera hela beteenden på samma gång?

Försök nya och udda saker. Jag rekommenderar att fästa avseende vid den i början av din äventyr utomlands – vardagslivet  börjar tidigare än man tror – och de förutvarande vanorna också, om man bestämmer inte att förändra de i början.

Få nya vänner. I min åsikt är det okej att koncentrera sig att få några äkta vänner än dussintals flyktiga bekantskaper. För- och nackdelar är samma än i varje vänskapsförhållande: det krävs tid och besvär att skapa de och man måste vara aktiv hela tiden, men äkta vänner är sannolikt äkta vänner resten av livet.