Say it out loud – PROPAGANDA – taste it, feel it, think about it. What is your first association? Music? Food, clothes, night clubs, fun? Mine is lies. Deceitful lies, which are produced by people who wish to hide the truth from you.

I grew up in Norway, France, England and the US (Florida) – in what I thought was the civilized world. I thought so because I was told so. I grew up with racial riots in Ft. Lauderdale, Maggie, the Falklands war, minor’s strikes, and Brixton riots (never EVER look directly at a skinhead cos he will kill you if you do). I went to a private Christian school in Ft. Lauderdale with my best friend Amy (who was 3 minutes older than myself and never let me forget it), a private, Christian girl’s school in Selsdon and eventually ended up in a culture shocking children’s school in Norway. (It was pretty bad and took me years to digest that moving from the rest of the world to Norway would cause such damage to me).

I learned about WWI and WWII and everything was pretty clear-cut. Germans = Nazis = bad guys. Soviets = commies = were-good-then-turned-bad. Jews = genocide = 6 million dead. Seriously, 6 million dead, that’s like 1.5 times Norway’s entire population! How could they do this??? East block = commies = cold war = threat of nuclear war. Commies lived in huge grey buildings with hundreds of flats (except the military and political leaders who lived in enormous mansions and had their dachas and smoked Cuban cigars) and they lived on bread and vodka and horrible vegetables and were fed lies about the West, they had enormous military parades and sent animals into outer space and were pretty horrible.

I was 13 when the Chornobyl accident happened, 17 when the Ceacescus were executed and the Berlin Wall fell. By this time I’d become politically active against all things evil, was a member of Amnesty, demonstrated against the (first) Gulf War and nazis and for Palestine and the Zapatistas, later on was active in anti-fascist and anti-Nazi movements and thought I knew it all. Cos in the West, we had no propaganda, we were told the truth and nothing but the truth so help me God.

I knew nothing.

In the past three years I have had the pleasure of travelling to Poland and Ukraine on several occasions, and I have made many friends from the former East Bloc countries. The first time I went to Kyiv, I wasn’t really expecting much – actually I didn’t know what to expect – but it certainly wasn’t what met me. A beautiful city with wide streets and amazing architecture, parks and trees everywhere, helpful, generous and well-dressed people all over. Never before had I felt so safe in a place with more than five people. And although there were some “Soviet-style” buildings, they weren’t grey at all, and were surrounded by parks and green areas.

Since that first visit, I have visited museums all over Ukraine and realised that we in the West were also fed propaganda. Not only about how “they” lived, but everything. I’ll admit that even Soviet hid the truth about the Holodomor where up to 10 million Ukrainians were starved to death by Stalin (interestingly enough, Norwegian humanitarian and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Fritjof Nansen was one of the few who attempted to help the Ukrainians but Norway does not recognize Holodomor as a genocide), but I don’t think we were told that 26.6 million Soviet citizens died during WWII. Included in this figure are 7 million Ukrainians and 2 million Jews.

I've realised that I know nothing. I am also a victim of propaganda. Propaganda makes history easy, accessible, black and white. I'm not even going to mention Bandera. Interestingly enough, "all sides" are using him against the opposition.

Life isn't black and white. History isn't black and white. If someone tries to teach you black'n'white history – don't accept it as the truth, but rather as one part of a many-sided conflict. As for myself? I try to forget everything I've been taught by (western) history teachers and try to accept that the world is a gazillion shades of grey.

And if you're going to listen to Propaganda, try this one.

Overnight trains: Ukrainian vs. Polish

Overnight trains: Ukrainian vs. Polish

I recently went to a conference in Lviv, Ukraine. There are a limited number of international flights to Lviv so I had to fly to Kyiv and take the overnight train. In August, my airline decided they no longer wanted to fly to Kyiv and cancelled my return journey. The closest towns that could give me overnight travel and flights to Oslo were Krakow and Warsaw. As I've already spent a couple of days in transit in Warsaw this year, I decided on Krakow.

I was quite pleased with myself for managing to buy a ticket to Lviv at the main railway station in Kyiv (all in Ukrainian) although I wasn't sure if it was for the freight truck or a pleasant bed. All I knew was that it cost EUR 10.
The ticket from Lviv to Krakow was ordered online, I got a single room, and it cost me EUR 110.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't expect an 11-fold difference between the two trains. What I do know is that there was an immense difference in my experience and I certainly know which train I will never, ever, EVER put my feet on. Or recommend to anyone else. I actually think the bus ride might have been more comfortable.

Train 091K from Kyiv to Lviv:

22:25     Arrive at train, realise I am sharing a compartment with three Ukrainian-speaking adults and one child
22:30     Installed in top bunk in train
22:40     Train departs
23:00     We're all asleep
6:20       Arrival Lviv, I wake up

Train 52 from Lviv to Krakow:

22:40     Arrive at train
22:50     Installed in single room in train
22:59     Train departs
23:00     Realise granite bed might be softer than this bed
23:02     Realise I can’t turn the lights off and the heating is on, so I open window
23:30     Check out toilet (it’s decent)
23:55     Conductor knocks on door to let me know 5 mins til border crossing
0:00       Nice lady knocks on door and asks for passport (which I give to her), she scrutinizes me and asks my name, I take my
glasses off, smile and say Siri. Nice lady leaves with passport (I leave door open cos I reckon there will be more visitors)
0:04       Realise it’s been raining, and through the open window black yucky liquid has spilled into the room and on to the duvet. Try to dry it with socks (useless), remember I have serviettes in my bag & get the worst off the pale walls
0:05       Guy with cute Jack Russell comes and has a good sniff. Doggy wants my chicken leg but I figure that trying to offer it to him may be seen as bribing an official and I can’t really afford to bribe them all
0:15       New guy comes in asking my nationality, wonders how many bags & suitcases I have and seems happy there are only 4, then wants to check under the bed for stowaways
0:55       Lady returns with my passport
1:00       Train leaves – I lie down again
1:15       Knocking on my door – new (Polish?) passport guy. Asks where I’m headed. Seems uninterested after Krakow but I still finish “then flying back to Oslo from Krakow”
1:30       New visitor – Polish Customs guy. Wants to know what nationality I am, asks if I have anything to declare, believes my no and leaves
1:35       Back in bed – large amounts of clanging begins (preparing train set for wider tracks in Poland)
2:00       I realise I won’t get much sleep tonight
2:20       The train moves out
2:25       The train stops
2:30       More clanging
2:40       Strange sounds from the neighbouring room
2:50       I realise that the guy next door has the most amazing snoring, it sounds as if he’s snoring in my ear. With a microphone.
3:00       We’re back at the Customs station. I get flashbacks from Interrailing and that boring little station in Belgium where you always arrived in the black of night, all trains stopped there, and there was nothing to do but wait for the next train (Liége).
Even more clanging and copious amounts of cursing.
3:10       We’re going the wrong way. I start writing this. I think of interrailing across Switzerland, which took forever cos we crossed the country several times
3:25       We’re going the right way. Guy next door is making some great bass rhythms. Train is moving swiftly. I am wide awake and will be a right sourpuss in the morning and all of tomorrow.
3:30       I go to bed and wonder if we’ll still be on time in the morning…
3:45       Fall asleep/collapse from exhaustion
6:30       Wake up cos I’ve burnt my toes on the heater which is now scorching hot
7:00       Give up on getting any more sleep, realise we’re now on Polish time and it’s only 6 am
7:00       Get up, get dressed, look out the window and see a dreary Polish morning with grey clouds and rain
7:30       Arrive at Dworzec Główny Kraków and spend over an hour trying to buy a cup of coffee. Unsuccessfulness due to brain malfunction, not lack of coffee shops in station.

If anyone asks me if the second train was worth the extra EUR 100… HAHAHAHA yop. Sure thing.

Gussi’s tail

Gussi’s tail

180820142996Everyone knows that if you get one cat, you want another. And another. And another. By 2008 I had several cats (most of them related) – but this story is about Gussi.guss

I’m lucky enough to live in the countryside, and can have more than one kitty. More cats equal no vermin. The first batch of kittens were planned love children and got good homes, the second batch also planned – father(s) unknown. I’d noticed a stubby ginger tom prowling around and figured he was the father, but I didn’t want more cats and certainly not a battle-scared old ginger. You know what I mean – ginger toms fights, black cats are bad luck, silly superstitions but we all think it. At least this one seemed gentle – I didn’t hear any cats screaming warning me of huge fights.

I spent a month that autumn doing field work in Finland, and the neighbours cat-sat for me. By the time I got home, he’d been in and out of the house and I had to decide what to do about him. He seemed nice enough but had a bunch of scars and sores and ticks, probably a few years old, the kind that’s had a decent enough home at one point but got lost or thrown away.

1808201429962As he’d already moved in and become part of the family, I had no choice but to castrate him and keep him. Putting an old ginger tom in a rehoming facility – in a tiny cage – a cat who no-one would even consider giving a new home – was out of the question. I couldn’t decide on a name so the vet suggested Gustav Mahler – in Norwegian, purring is “maler” – and it suited him quite well. He was a purrer.

Luckily for him, it was only after he’d been snipped that I found out homeless cats can be put down, no questions asked.

I often wonder what his story is. He has a pellet from an airgun in his hind leg. He’s gentle and sweet and has the most amazing manners. He must have been highly loved when he was small, because cats aren’t dogs – they won’t love you if you’re cruel to them. And they certainly won’t adopt you as Gussi has.

Six years on and he still looks like a barnyard ginger tom. He has the moustache of a walrus, he’s stocky with short feet and a kitten tail that tends to point straight up when he waddles along. His stockiness is a conundrum because he weighs next-to-nothing. He’ll sit peacefully when a ghost flies by then jump up and hop along with straight legs; he twirls when he wants kibbles; he can be so ecstatic when being cuddled that he’ll drool and he just loves to help me type. He doesn’t say much but his purring can be heard in the next room. He often tends to look really confused, like a dotty old grandpa who doesn't remember who you are, just that he loves you.

gussigulIn the end it was I who was lucky to be adopted by him. He’s taught me that if you’re nice enough, don’t pick fights, just kinda hang around in the background and wait your while, all things good will come to you – as long as you pick the right hoomin. Then you too will have cheezburger (read: kibbles) and cuddles and love.


How can they do this to ME???

How can they do this to ME???

Sunday evening, 9 pm, in an old and battered 737-300 surrounded by tired and grouchy people, waiting to go home to Poland.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we apologise but our First Officer cannot fly. We are waiting for a replacement. We apologise for the delay and hope to be in the air shortly”

No matter who you are, I bet your first response is one close to “darn, I’ll be late for (…)”. But what’s your second?
“Being prepped for surgery in a hospital bed when a nurse comes in and postpones it. Don’t they realise what stress it is on me? And it’s happened TWICE (different hospitals) for the same operation!!!!”

I’ve read that one on Facebook a couple of times. The words are different, the message remains the same. First reaction: how can they do this to ME?

“We apologise but train number 666 is cancelled due to lack of staff”

How can they do this to ME? I’ll be late for dinner! I’ll be late for work! I’ll be late for watching the rerun of The Simpsons!!!

I’m certain you’ve experienced it. The last-minute cancellation that muddles up all your plans and wreaks havoc on any schedule. Your first (and probably only) reaction is one of anger, annoyance, and irritation, how could they do this to you???
But have you ever stopped and wondered why? Why is there a sudden shortage of someone to drive the plane, train or automobile, or to perform surgery, or take your order at a busy restaurant?

I must admit that I didn’t. Not until I was seated in an old 737-300, surrounded by annoyed and disgruntled passengers, and started contemplating the words they’d used. “(…) we apologise, but our First Officer cannot fly.” S/he can’t fly. Not isn’t here, can’t fly.
There is a possibility that this person was drunk, although I doubt it. Can’t fly. Heart failure? A phone call from a hospital, “Your partner was in an accident and it’s serious, please come over as soon as you can”?

I doubt if any of the staff on that flight wanted to be stuck at the airport. I doubt if the staff that were prepped and ready for an operation wanted it to be postponed. Even for my two simple out-patient procedures (muscle biopsies) there were two surgeons, three nurses, and two medical students. That’s a total of seven – how many are needed for an in-patient op? Nine? Do the patients who are annoyed by their surgery being postponed consider that it just might be in their best interests that it’s postponed, because one of the surgeons/operation nurses/ICU-nurses wasn’t there? Do they really think that hospital staff have so much spare time that they can cancel ops on a whim?

I’ve never had a job where people are dependent on me being at the top of my game every second. The closest I’ve come is working in the kitchen of a nursing home. And I got that dreaded call once. I’m sorry, your favourite granny passed away – luckily it was sandwiches for breakfast, rice porridge for lunch and salad for the pizza for dinner. I was planning on baking a couple of cakes, but I decided against it – my mind was only slightly on the job and I’d probably used salt instead of sugar and oatmeal instead of flour. I didn’t have to use any sharp utensils or need to make a schedule of what time to put what food into the oven. I had no idea what my name was and my thoughts were e everywhere but in that kitchen.

And that was from my granny dying, who’d been chained to a wheelchair for a couple of years and whose quality of life was quite reduced.
What if the call had been about my husband being in hospital? Or my house was ablaze? Would I stay at work or would I let my superior know that there was an emergency and I had to run? Even if the replacement cook arrived after half an hour, the food would still be half an hour late.

I certainly wouldn’t want anyone with my state of mind that day to make sure I got safely from Oslo to Warsaw airport, or drive a bus or train if I were a passenger. I wouldn’t want me to operate with shaking hands and eyes that often filled with tears.
Sure, many cancellations are due to the network not being able to set up a schedule with enough drivers or morons. The airport shuttle driver from Sortland to Evenes last September had forgotten his shift, luckily there was a bus driver who threw himself into a bus, broke every single speed limit on the 120 km drive and got us to the airport on time.

But maybe, just maybe, the next time your bus, train, plane or surgery is late – maybe it’s for your safety and not just your inconvenience.

The spirit of Euromaidan – Дух Euromaidan

The spirit of Euromaidan – Дух Euromaidan

There aren’t a lot of revolutions anymore, and certainly none in my neck of the woods. I was old enough to realise the importance of the fall of the Wall. I remember watching every bit of news we could get on the telly, and checking the teletext every morning to see if there was anything new and exciting. I’d grown up with the Cold War and Reagan and Maggie, I remember the end of the Falklands War, and Berlin and Rumania were a long way from home.

I’ve walked many a mile for freedom fighters in other countries – for the Basque, Palestinians, Zapatistas and Kurdistan. I’ve protested for gay rights and freedom of speech and against racism and female oppression. But it’s never been personal.

maidan5I fell for Kyiv the first time I was there, and the second time she welcomed me as a second home. Ukraine is a beautiful country and Ukrainians are a marvellous people – their will to sacrifice themselves so others may live is truly remarkable, seen both in the Chernobyl disaster and in Euromaidan.

Maidan Nezalezhnosti is the heart of Kyiv, a pulsating, vibrant and enveloping place where Kyivians gather to protest or rejoice. I have fond memories from the Independence Day celebrations last year, of all the happy people dressed in their finest, wearing and waving the blue and yellow of their flag, of the amazing fireworks display and multimedia show on one of the magnificent buildings.

Then Yanuk decided to trash the talks with the EU, and what started as a small, uninteresting protest – just a handful of students who were sick and tired and wanted to be Europeans – turned ugly when Yanuk set the police on them. On December 1st, Euromaidan in its present form began. Ukrainians came to Maidan to protect the students, to protect each other, to protest the increasingly vicious laws that Yanuk was bringing into force and all the official funds that were siphoned off – by the billions – into the pockets of his family and friends. Their protection was in peace, in numbers and solidarity, not from violence, and that has been the slogan for Euromaidan all along – freedom without violence.

Having followed, breathed, tweeted and cried for Euromaidan from November 22nd to February 22nd, I thought that the end of the revolution would leave me sated. Instead I wanted more – I needed to be there – having feared that I would never again walk those beautiful streets for so long. Unfortunately, my financial status as such is so bad that I had no chance of going there until autumn at the earliest.

That is, until my friend PM’ed me and said: I need to go there and help sweep the roads, will you come with me and be my guide? How could I refuse such a request! Eight days later we were flying high, waiting for the descent to Boryspil. Walking out the gates we were met by Andrej, ever helpful and pleased to see us again. Driving in to Kyiv I was elated with joy – soon I would see my wonderful Maidan again!

Maidan and Khreshchatyk, the parade street that runs through her, are still protected by barricades. There is no trust with the politicians in the interim government and the barricades will stay in place at least until the elections on May 25th. My first glimpse from the car was a blow to the gut. I was grateful I was in the front seat and could hide my silent tears. Watching it on a screen is one thing, but seeing it in person – completely different.

maidan1Our flat was a five minute walk from Maidan. Walking through the first, flimsy barricades and onto the square was heart-breaking. The sickening smell of acrid smoke was heavy on the senses. A barricade of tires, woodwork, kiosks and rubble was straight ahead, to our right were several memorials with an abundance of flowers and lights, and to our left the burnt-out remains of the once stately Trade Unions building.

That’s when the pain and horror truly hit me. How can anyone order a building – a temporary hospital as such, with seriously injured people – to be torched in that way? I could hear their anguished screams in my mind, the horrible smell in my nose seemed to be of scorched flesh, and I almost thought I could see smoke billowing out of the windows.



We walked through the barricades and into a war zone, into a bubble, an alternate universe. There are tents everywhere – for rest, for sleep, for meals. Army kitchens are abundant and volunteers keep people fed and warm throughout the day. Food is free for those who need it, and is paid for by donations from near and far. I could see the fires that caused the smoke and realised that the smell was not of burning humans, but of warmth and support and comfort.

Further on, banners with pictures and names of many of those who gave their lives. Flowers and flags blackened by smoke everywhere. And thousands of people, some dressed in army drabs, some in mourning, others dressed as if it were a normal day. For them, it probably was, for us, it was intense. The feeling of safety – within the barricades, within the walls of the bubble – was great. We walked and walked and walked, past millions of flowers and thousands of candles and hundred of photos, toys, bibles, pieces of clothing and shoes. We stood in front of the stage and listened to a priest say some words. There was the Christmas tree with all her banners and flags, there was Berehynia still protecting her hearth, there was the statue of Kyiv’s founding Brothers and Sister with their sooty flags.

There are no words to describe my emotions that evening. I was on a rollercoaster that went from tears to laughter within seconds. The next day was the same – meeting up with Ukrainian friends from Lviv and Kyiv, wandering inside and outside the bubble, the war zone that was beginning to feel like a theme park from Les Mis – except the AK47s are real, the past and present threats to democracy are real, the loss of lives is real. Kids wandering around with fan-tailed pigeons for photo ops were the same as on Independence Day, but these were wearing drab hoodies instead of summer colours. Minnie Mouse was in her finest, but the demolished water cannon was as much of an attraction.

maidan2Gradually I felt less guilt, less sorrow, less pain. I became a part of Maidan, as it had become a part of me in the previous four months. I spoke with strangers who weren’t strangers, because there is a connection between all who are there. We watched planks being moved onto Maidan in the morning that during the day became an enormous construction to house a guest book and a place of contemplation. One day we were part of an international flag parade with dozens of flags from nations all over the world. Walking on to Maidan with my Ukrainian flag and my two friends carrying a Norwegian flag each was amazing, the applause was overwhelming.

And the people. Even in the most battle worn of faces, the ones who had stayed since the beginning, there was hope and friendship. Their gratitude for our visiting seemed greater than ours for what they have done. The burly, scary guy with the enormous baseball bat guarding the entrance to Instytutska who wanted us to take his photo. The young English teacher/translator from Eastern Ukraine who was sad that foreigners thought he was a Banderista just because he was a patriot. Some Ukrainians feared that Putin would bomb their city and others thought Crimea would end up as Transnistria.

All good things must end, as did this weekend. We only spent 65 hours in Kyiv this time, but the emotions will always be there. Humbleness, for a people who stayed put even when the bullets were flying, who kept singing and praying and hoping for a better future. Pride, that I have played a part in this revolution. Respect, for all those who sacrificed themselves so that Ukraine may once again be free. Happiness, that I was allowed to be present and feel the warmth and love of Maidan. Sadness, that so much pain and suffering was wreaked on so many people both physically and mentally. And hope – that Ukrainians will get their freedom and democracy.

All I know for certain is that Euromaidan has changed me. To the better, I hope. I look forward to celebrating Independence Day on Maidan this year. I will be waving my Ukrainian flag(s) and singing Держа́вний гі́мн Украї́ни (Ukraine has not yet perished), I have no idea what words I am singing but I can copy the sounds quite well at the moment. And when someone yells Slava Ukraini! I will reply (Pavlovsk as I am) Heroyem slava! as we all do, on Maidan.

maidan4Interesting how a country I knew nothing about (two years ago) now has my internationalistic heart in a vice. I didn’t even realise I was a nationalist until recently. Nationalism – love of a nation – is never bad, as long as it is used for good. I wish all the best for Ukraine, and I look forward to visiting her again, and again, and again. I feel blessed to have the spirit of Euromaidan in my heart, body and soul. If my actions and deeds have changed even just one person’s view of the revolution and Ukraine, I have done my job.

Слава Україні!

I don’t get older, just wiser.

I don’t get older, just wiser.

A New Year looms before us. 2014. And I have some resolutions; or should I say they are WIPs?

The good thing about growing older wiser is finding out what matters in your life. And what doesn't. I can't change the way others act around me, or think of me, but I can decide how it affects me and my life.

I'm not very good at social stuff. In Norway we have an expression – dørstokkmila – the doorstep mile. Making up excuses for not going out, because I dread the actual going out, is something I've been really good at for years. Even if I know I'll have a great time when I finally make it out of the house. It's a WIP and I am getting better at it, it just takes more time.

A big realisation hit me when I hit 38 28-with-ten-years-experience. You can only hurt me if I allow it to happen. I can choose to be hurt by your words and actions – or not. Unfortunately, I have people around me who do not wish me well, for unknown reasons. Some do it out of malice, others because they don't know any better. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” is rubbish. Being unaware of the results of one's actions doesn't make them forgiveable.

There are no more psychopaths or sociopaths. Instead, they've changed the name of the condition to Antisocial personality disorder. I prefer psychopath. Most of them are only antisocial towards one or two people in person, and are generally perceived to be extremely charming. However, we have a new breed of antisocials: the internet psychopath. The one who'll stop at nothing to spread as much hatred, venom and bile as possible, bulldozing over other people as much as possible. They'll find a prey and will stop at nothing to try to break that person.

And then there are the passive-aggressives. What's up with that? Nope, sorry, not falling into your trap. Yes, thank you, I will take that last sandwich. If you wanted it for yourself you should have said so. I'm not going to fall for your manipulations. Ever.

Turning 28-with-some-years-experience has mellowed me in many ways, although those who know me will probably laugh. I choose my battles more wisely. There are two versions of me: the edited and the fury. Edited me is also a WIP. I can still be tricked into a discussion/fight where it would have been wiser to keep my peace and not say a word. But I will never stand down if someone is treated unfairly or unjustly – ever.

Life's too short. Too short for wasting time and energy on people who give you nothing. Too short for dwelling on should-haves and would-haves and could-have-beens. Too short for not drinking bubbly when you feel like it.

So, my wishes and WIPs for 2014: less time wasted on people and things that don't really matter. More time spent with people and things that do matter. And waterfalls of bubbly to all!