2016. What a year.
"The worst year ever," many say, but when looking at my journey during this year, I am quite impressed. This has been a year of growth. I have grown as a person, I have learned more than I could have imagined, I have visited more places than ever, I have met wonderful and inspiring people. I cannot even describe how much this year has meant to me.
I have found new sides of myself, both positive and negative. I have felt empowered, trusted, respected, and inspired, but as well insecure, stressed, and tired. Despite this I have had the desire to move forward, to learn. Learning involves getting out of your comfort zone. And it really hurts sometimes, and I would love to say that learning is a totally nice and comfortable experience. But it is not. It is about questioning your thoughts over and over again, it is about pushing through your insecurities, trusting other people and yourself. A bit contradictory sometimes.
I get energized (and yes, de-energized too) by people around me. This year I have been lucky to find myself surrounded by people who are motivated, hard working, inspired and inspiring, and never giving up on their ideals and goals in changing the world.
Thank you for all the hope you are giving me to keep on going. In this world full of fear, hate, and lack of compassion, you are the light.
In this kind of days, when we are pushed down and discouraged, I want to remember this quote by J.R.R. Tolkien:
Christmas is my favorite holiday. It is a wonderful time spent with family and friends, surrounded by music, candlelight, christmasy spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger...), chocolate, gingerbread, and of course, glögi. A strong part of it is also snow and the peace and quiet of Lapland.
So, what can a Christmas-lover do when spending the Christmas away from things she thinks are nearly inseparable from the holiday?
During December I've been to a couple of Christmas markets (enjoying the atmosphere and some glüwein), as well as crafted some Christmas decorations for our house. But getting to real Christmas spirit is not so easy, and suddenly I realized that Christmas is only a couple of days away. Though I must say I had almost driven my roommates crazy by listening to Christmas music all the time ("Do you ever listen to any other kind of music?" a direct quote)
On 23rd I headed to the Dead Sea for another bike ride with friends. You know, getting little sporty before the great feasts we would be facing in next days.
In the evening we drove to a nearby Christian village, that was lit up with thousands of Christmas lights. Different lights and colors were hung up by the doors, windows, light poles, roundabouts, trees, whatever you can imagine. But it was not only the lights that bring the feeling, it was more the music we played (I tried to prove that not ALL Finnish Christmas music is melancholic. Not sure if I succeeded though, maybe we are just too peaceful people for cheery songs), the company, and twinkling city lights on dark hills far away.
24th of December, the Christmas Eve, is the main Christmas day for us in Finland. I spent it with a fellow Finn, who had organized a wonderful party with her friends. Of course, we had to watch "The Snowman", a British animation film, which is shown every year at the same time (around 11 am) in Finnish tv, and which I have watched every year for as long as I can remember. The day was also filled with games and laughter, not to forget some special Finnish Christmas food. On 25th we organized a party with my roommates for our colleagues from i-Dare. Despite the almost catastrophic scheduling of cooking, we managed to produce so much food that we would be fed for a week.
So, what makes a real Christmas? In a way, I was very close to the real Christmas as Bethlehem is basically only across the Jordan river, but the traditions you learn and build during the years are an integral part of the holiday.
What really matters, are the people you spend the holiday with. Even though I could not spend it with my family, I have wonderful people around me. Some of them I've known a bit longer, some of them I 've just met. Nonetheless, I am extremely grateful of every one of them. Thank you, my Jordanian multicultural family. Thank you for making my Christmas.
Despite this, I am not afraid. I refuse to become afraid. Why? Because by starting to fear everyone and everything I am closing my mind. I am narrowing my vision to my own panicking mind, trying desperately to find safety in my own little bubble, somehow thinking that I can only trust myself in this world. This is not a solution. I am doing exactly what I am expected to do: breaking the bonds between myself and others, becoming isolated, becoming weak and easy to control.
It doesn't matter who or which group is trying to make you feel afraid, either of themselves or the other people around you. Maybe people look and think different. Is that a good reason to be afraid? No. It is about creating friction, inside our own mind, between us and others, inside the whole society. True power lies in our ability to reach out to others, especially in times of chaos and fear. If I am afraid of my fellow human being, I create insecurity myself by making the other feel excluded and mistrusted. That is something I would never want to face myself, so I choose to deal with it. This applies here as well as back home, where fears of difference have surfaced strong, and many people are abusing and feeding these fears to achieve their own ends.
For sure, when (un)expected violent acts happen, I feel horrified. I think about what if it would happen to me or someone I know, but I refuse to let this fear affect my everyday life. I keep on going, living, working, learning. I believe that this is what most of us want to do. Keep on living the normal life. I believe in humanity. I believe that it's likely that a random person on the street is thinking about what s/he will have for lunch, or if s/he forgot the gas on when leaving home, instead of plotting the destruction of humanity.
Why do I try to make this decision every day, even after all the disturbing news I read, hear and see?
Because I believe that fear is not the solution but a root cause that needs to be dealt with. And I am dealing with it by refusing to let it define my actions and relations.
But yes, I'm afraid of something here. And that is traffic. Every morning I have to cross by walking one of the busiest circles in town, Dakhliya circle. After all, when traveling, people are most likely to get hurt in a traffic accident.
When the weather forecast says it's going to rain, you better be cautious. It's not just small winter rain (or autumnal rain as we would see it in Finland), but something that messes the whole city up.
If you are wise, you're staying inside. If you're not, be prepared to get soaked while waiting for the taxi during the rush hour, or while walking after you've given up that attempt to get a taxi. Or, if you're moving with your car, be ready to sit in the traffic jam and drive turtle-speed on the steep and slippery roads.
The water will stay on the streets as it has no sewerage to go to. This means not just an interesting SPLASH - you got 3 seconds to pass this spot before getting splashed by a car passing by - SPLASH obstacle course, but also real challenges for the infrastructure as the roads are in a really bad condition after the rains. Parts of the roads or roadsides get flushed away. Apparently, it's easier to repair the damage than build expensive infrastructure that can take in all the water that pours during these rainstorms.
And still, when the rain comes, it's a relief. This year has been dry in the region, and the rains were delayed by months. Some studies suggest that this has been the driest year in 900 years in the Eastern Mediterranean region. And this does not fit into natural variability of dry and wet years but instead seems an anomaly that gives evidence of human-caused climate change. Since the area is already suffering from water scarcity, future does not seem bright if years like this are coming more frequently.
So, even if I might curse my soaked shoes, I'm happy that it's raining.
Horse riding in Ireland? Cross country jumping? Isn't that the dream of basically every horse girl?
I was lucky enough to spend several days in Flowerhill Equestrian Center with the most amazing company, overcoming myself with every ride and fence we jumped. I am not the most courageous rider or adrenaline rush seeker, so riding and jumping with a horse I don't know in a place I don't know, was definitely challenge for me!
Flowerhill Equestrian Center is located in Western Ireland, nearby a small town of Portumna. We stayed in a lovely Oak Lodge B&B with its owner Mary providing us with care and breakfasts to keep us fueled for our rides. The old main building really takes you back in time, and so did our rides across the countryside. On one ride we found ourselves in a field full of cattle! They looked as suspicious of us as we were of them. Oliver's horses are energetic and seem to enjoy their work. Even as someone jumping cross country for the first time like me, you can be pretty sure that the horses will jump over anything.
For my first ride, I got a lovely chesnut mare Jessie, who was a former competitive jumper. I totally fell in love with her, and luckily enough, got to ride her several times during our stay. My other favorites were a white horse called Marble, and dark Fendi. We rode three times a day, so I got to try very different horses.
On the video you can see some of the jumps we did, I'm riding Jessie and Marble. On our last ride, I got to see the Irish soil very close... Someone used to say, that you can't break cross country fences, but I think I proved that person wrong. Oops!
I can really recommend Flowerhill Equestrian Center, if you're into a bit of an adventure and want to become more confident by pushing your limits! Trust me, they will be pushed.
And that something is called a flu! The next post is delayed till the weekend, but no worries, you will hear about my trip to Ireland soon enough.
2016 has been a special year. I have traveled a lot and learned more than I could have imagined. It is time to share these stories too. From now on, you will find stories from my previous travels here on the blog! Stay tuned for the first one on Thursday!
Friday is a day for adventures. My second Friday in Jordan, and I’m going out of Amman again. This time the destination was the Dead Sea, and the mean of transportation bicycle. Driving towards the lowest point on Earth we passed by families and groups of friends enjoying their weekend.
It doesn’t matter how small the area between the big road and the fields is, if there is a tree that gives you a little bit of shade, there is someone sitting under it. On a picnic blanket, eating grilled food, maybe smoking shisha they got from a nearby kiosk. Some trees had swings and you could hear children’s laughter. Some people had taken their horses and camels with them and paraded them beside the road, proud. For some kids, these animals were the highlight of the day since you could get a short ride and get your picture taken with them.
The atmosphere was relaxed: nobody was in a hurry, it didn’t matter much where you put up your small picnic, as long as you had good company, shade, and a view of the sunset over the mountains of Palestine. Young couples, tourists, groups of guys, trying to find the perfect spot to catch the sunset and take the perfect selfie.
Cycling itself feels like freedom, especially in a new place you’ve never been before. I felt the same kind of bubbling happiness in Berlin when we cycled to the old Tempelhof airport. Sunset, the wind, beautiful scenery, the best company, what more could you wish for?
Our 20 km ride followed the road, the Dead Sea and the sunset on our right hand side. After the agricultural area, we rose up to the side of the mountains. The wind was against us, but we pushed on, uphill and occasionally (luckily) downhill, until we reached a higher point on a cliff over the Dead Sea. The sun had set while we were cycling, but we sat down to watch the last rays of daylight disappear behind the mountains, and the first stars coming alive. The first bright spot in the sky was Venus. The sky is a bit tilted, not just the moon is upside down but also Orion moves in an unfamiliar angle.
With sore muscles but a happy mind, we returned to Amman, definitely looking for the next adventure. One can never overuse the word 'adventure', right?