The Umeå Series: High Expectations, Fire and Ice

There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the nameUmea Logo Umeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.

sami settlement

It is easier than you think to spend an afternoon and evening outside in minus degrees. My second volunteering session went well. Mainly due to the nice company. We talked the hours away while giving people directions to the controversial snow graffiti or the man in the ice or the toilet. We also handed out little torches that were supposed to be used during the opening ceremony. It soon began to dawn on me that I would not be able to see this spectacular show of burning snow. The town was simply packed with people. I guess Umeå has not seen so many people at once, say, ever before.P1000758

But I do not mind so much. Such tremendous numbers of people have never really been my cup of tea. Instead, the Joik flash mob with Sami songs was a good way to finish the day. We sat around the fire on moose fur and watched the Sami sing.sami family

Umeå had advertised itself as a town of fire and ice.  Maybe the opening ceremony showed that it might have been a little bit too big for this little town. The ambitions were unbelievably high but many people left early, cold and disappointed about technical problems and the impossibility to see anything of the fire show.sami children hugging

But on the way home I saw that Umeå has done well. The main streets are full of light and art and fire, and one woman told me yesterday: I am from Umeå, and I have to say I am very proud.light and shadow play

The Umeå Series: Umeå for Love

There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the name Umeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.

Yesterday I met a volunteer from Croatia who lives in Umeå. I was wondering what brought him from his mediteranian home town to the North of Sweden. If you come to Umeå, he said, it is either for university – or for love. He came for love, because his girlfriend is from here. From her father, who lives further North, he learned how to smoke reindeer meat, the Sami way. That is something I would have  never dreamed of, he said.

umea logo heart

As a volunteer I got a free dinner at Ronyas, a pizza place and diner where I filled my stomach at the buffet and warmed my feet. Apparently that place is owned by Steve Galloway, a popular English football player. I can only guess why he came to Umeå, but it might have been for love – even if it is the love of football.

It is definitely easy to love this town. It has a lot to offer. Crosscountry skiing on a frozen river and industrial design, shopping malls and party boats, everything is here and available within a walking distance. And tonight, with the opning ceremony, Umeå will show the world that it is indeed a place to love.

The Umeå-Series: Halfway Frozen

There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the namUmea Logoe Umeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.

P1000718This little town has an immense treasury of stories. The train station is a story in itself, depicting the birches which writer Sara Lidman passed by on the train to her home from Umeå. Her sentence “I want to see the snow burn” gave the opening ceremony a motto.

train station art

Not far from the tunnel under the station is the sculpture of the Green Fire. It was errected in 1970. During the preparations for Umeå2014 they recently found a little picture of Mao Zedong in a cleft on top of it. And after some research they also found the person who put it there. He was one of the summer jobbers setting up the sculpture, 25 years by that time, and idealistically drawn to Mao’s ideas.Green Fire Sculpture

From the sculpture to the town hall, along the main street, a green laser guides the visitors, which is even more visible when the snow falls. Along this street you find an ice sculpture exhibition, several snow walls with word art projected onto them and a snow course to play boules.ice sculpture

To think these structures will melt some day gives me a very special feeling. I am part of this temporary, perishable installation of which, sooner or later, nothing will be left but some puddles.ice sculpture

Exactly that is also the concept of the installation about the Sami, the indegenous people of the country. They will leave no traces of their exhibits and will be gone completely after the opening weekend.P1000737

The Sami participation is very controversial. The Sami are a minority in Sweden who have been colonised and up to today are not treated equally. Umeå can be considered at most at the brink of Sapmi, the Sami area, but the town uses the eight Sami seasons as a hook for structuring the whole year of events. Some people criticise that commercialization.

There is immense interest from all over the world. Umeå has turned into a town for journalists. They are all over the place with their tripods and cameras, taking stand-uppers and cut-aways.P1000736

But Umeå invites everybody to report about the inauguration. Hashtags are provided and free wifi covers the whole town. My host follows #umeå2014 on instagram, and people take pictures with their phones continously. In that way, there will be some heritage left, when the snow has melted. In pixels it will live on.

I am glad that I volunteered today. That enabled me to hear all these stories, even if I was really frozen after the long hours standing outside. Now my eyes are itching and my skin burns because of the big difference between the cold winter outside and the dry warm air inside. installation with moose skin

Tomorrow is the big day. The question is: Will I be able to see the praised fire show or will I be spending that time in the cold, answering questions of lost tourists?
Stay tuned!

The Umeå Series: Preparations

There is a little town in the North of Sweden with the name Umeå. This inconspicious place happens to be the European Capital of Culture 2014. I spontaneoulsy plunged into that experience – and now I have got some stories to tell which will appear here during the weekend.

Yesterday evening, after nine hours on the train, I arrived at the press center, where my hosts were working. This is the meeting point for a good number of international journalists. Being handed cheese and snow trousers, they got a little introduction to their weekend programme. As journalists, they will be carried around in a bus, visiting exciting places, and all they have to do in the end is writing about it. It was a different world there, in the hotel lounge filled with smooth music, while the other world was passing outside the huge windows, in the form of ordinary people wrapped in winter clothes, probably on their way home.

By now the town is abuzz with activities. Most of them involve heavy machinery. Setting up a dream scenery of ice and light is not an easy job. The town is filled with people in neon yellow working suits, cranes and the noise of chain saws. They sculpt statues and entire castles out of snow and ice for the opening ceremony. The temperatures provide perfect conditions for the stability of these pieces of art. After walking around for one and a half hours I had to seek refuge in a shopping mall, where the little part of my face that was exposed turned from blue to red. Minus 13 degrees and a little breeze that swirls the snow flakes around make me wonder how I will be able to volunteer today from afternoon until night.P1000724

Outsourcing Fears

In these days of efficiency, outsourcing appears to be a magic word. Staff management will be outsourced. Advertisement will be outsourced. Administration will be outsourced. The customer service has been outsourced long time ago. Until the actual production is outsourced to some country where it is cheaper. What remains of the business is a white space, a person on a computer, running the company and earning the money.

I learned from watching news that outsourcing is not something good. It cuts jobs and only benefits the business owner, not the workers.

Nowadays you can even outsource your shopping, and not only if you are a celebrity, living in a mansion, not able to go on the streets. Even for an ordinary person, websites offer personal assistants for a fee. You can assign them to administrate your meetings, travels and medical appointments. You can also let them buy the birthday present for your grandmother.

And then, how has that helped you? They say you have more time. For what? Sometimes, when I have a lot of work, going to the supermarket or taking letters to the post office remains the only time of the day when I actually step outside and away from the computer. That is time that I really enjoy.

And while I struggle with all that annoying trivia like registering at some agency, borrowing books from the library, buying train tickets, getting an appointment at the doctor’s, organizing trips and setting up and designing a website, I learn. If I had the funds, I could outsource these tasks and had someone else do them for me.

It could safe me some time probably, but it would safe me a lot of experience, too. Do you also have those tasks that are lining somewhere in the corner of your desk, in the corner of your mind, in the corner of your to-do list and you manage to ignore them until they cannot be avoided anymore? These tasks that make you frown of disgust and discomfort just when you think of them? How you would love somebody else to do them for you. You would save time and unpleasantness and awkwardness. And you would prevent yourself from learning and growing.

We outsource our fears instead of facing them. Outsourcing is the opposite of self-dependency. When that task comes up again, you will depend on the outsourcing agency to do it for you. If we face the fears and the unpleasant tasks, we can learn that it is not that scary at all. We can get to know the process we did not know before and therefore were afraid of. We gain experience and are better prepared for next time.

We may as well fail and see that our fear is legitimate and reasonable, but we made it through anyway and we grew. When we face our fears and unpleasant tasks instead of outsourcing them, they will diminish, even vanish, dissolve, or at least become a more familiar part of ourselves.

Which fear have you outsourced? And how will you face it today?

Sour stories

It is in my teacher’s voice when he talks about his country Egypt. It is in my flat mate’s voice when he explains the situation in his country Mexico. My classmate uses it when speaking about her country Marocco. And it also sneaks into my talks about Kenya.

Cynicism.

It can be entertaining to listen to our stories. They are real-life experiences and they reflect the unadorned situation in the particular country. They appear to be objective or at least not as glossy as the TV and traveling agencies try to sell them. They have these components that surprise the listener, something unexpected which turns out to be the usual practice there. Those stories deliver unusual facts about places we otherwise would misjudge.

Cynicism presents ourselves as experts and even heroes. It shows how strange and illogical the situation is in those countries and that we are used to these circumstances. We can manage the situation and survive even the weirdest incident. It proofs that we are not tourists but inhabitants of these places, that we can cope with difficult situations that seem unbearable to other people. But we have no choice and we are brave enough to live through it, to actually embrace those moments of strangeness and get so used to them, that later on we can even make fun of them.

But if we are honest, we are hurting inside. Our faces become sour. We already know too much about those countries. We intend to express something funny, meanwhile our hearts are cold and we have given up hope.

When my teacher shows the ridiculous headlines of Egyptian newspapers in their attempt to ignore and deny the ongoing protests.

When my flat mate talks about the elaborate Mexican food and the country’s high obesity rate caused by industrially processed groceries.

When my classmate makes fun of some ministers who recently got knocked down by stones while addressing the public.

And when I describe the public transport in Nairobi and the phenomenon of the fancy but dangerously reckless mini busses that cause bad accidents and get robbed regularly.

We make fun, but our hearts are bleeding. We have gotten used to it, but actually we wish it was different and we could tell more pleasant stories. Stories which are truly happy and funny instead of making fun at the cost of others. We might even have some beautiful experiences at hand that we could talk about, but then again they are not as fascinating as the cynical ones. Cynicism might be a solution for ourselves to deal with what we have experienced and still are experiencing. But it does not help anyone else.

Maybe it would be better if I remained quiet next time, instead of telling one of those funny, surprising and cynical stories, if I do not have one that is truly humorous instead.

Why we should ACTUALLY go live in Nairobi

Those points adress a certain clientel and I am surprised that Think Africa Press shared them. In my opinion:

Here are the 17 reasons PLUS why we should ACTUALLY go live in Nairobi:

1. Uhuru Park

Photo: Jorge Láscar

Where the common person takes a nap.

2. Fresh Fish

Photo: Katrina Shakarian

Directly from Lake Victoria to the wholesale markets of Nairobi.

3. Goats in town

Photo: Suleiman Mbatiah

They are all over the place. Especially in the outskirts you can find them even climbing cars.

4. Go Down Arts Center

Photo: Gillian

An old warehouse where nowadays creativity bursts out of every corner in form of dance, art and other cultural phenomena.

5. Nairobi Marathon

Photo: Nairobi Marathon

21,000 people running for a reason.

6. Temples

Photo: G.R. Davis

There are several temples of various religions to be seen in town.

7. Jua Kali

Photo: Steve Daniels

The market where you can get anything, handmade from recycled material.

8. Corner milk shop

Photo: Tristan McConnell

Where you can get fresh, rich milk from the farmer, packed in a cellophan bag.

9. Public transport in a roller coaster-disco

Photo: Cheki Express

The notorious matatus carry people around town and play the latest music.

10. Sarakasi Dome

Photo: Kevin Sabuni

A venue offering regular festivities and home to Sarakasi Trust who focus on performing arts.

11. Jamia Mosque

Photo: open fire

Do not forget to buy mabuyu from the vendors in front of the mosque. They are baobab seeds coated in sugar, chili and food colour.

12. Performances at Tom Mboya

Photo: up nairobi

At the statue of Tom Mboya one will often encounter street performers or preachers.

13. Mlolongo

Photo: nyaran

Photo: nyaran

On the other side of town, Mlolongo grows fast. In this riverbed, however, you might still see monkeys.

14. Cheap Food

Photo: Mark Wiens

Whether you crave for fresh fruit, boiled eggs, roasted maize, chips, sweet cakes or a full meal: The next street vendor is certainly not far.

15. Jevanjee Gardens

Photo: Safari254

Another park to relax, which is especially beautiful when the jacaranda trees are in bloom.

16. Street Art

Photo: Sunil Deepak

It is a form of expressing non-conformity with the government, it is astonishing, and it is all over town.

17. Nairobi University

Nairobi University

The town has several institutions for higher education.

PLUS: Buzzing Blogosphere

For everybody who wants to dive deeper into this city even while not physically being there:

– Astonishing photography by Mutua Matheka.

– University life described by The Real G Inc.

– Nice literature reads by Biko Zulu.

– The entertaining combination of Tech, Motherhood and Everything Else by Savvykenya.

– More blogs are awarded annually by the Bloggers Association Kenya.

Plan the Year. Then the Month. Then the Week. Then the Day.

Finally I found time to envision what I wished this coming year will look like. It was easy, because I have a combination of interests at hand that clearly set the direction. And it was difficult because I have no clue whatsoever of what will happen in summer, when I will finish my studies and be released into the real world.

The Year in Visions

I took some time the other day, between the semesters, to work out goals that I want to achieve and habits I want to implement. I used this workbook. It helped me a lot to see the empty months in front of me and next to it my list with things that would be really nice to come true. All I had to do was transfer them from the to-do list into the months sections. Like that I will have a fixed time to get ready for action and make them happen.

The months in habits

A very good practice is to think of the habits I want to take to and work on only one per month. This is my month of writing. So as I get more and more used to jotting down 500 words first thing in the morning, other things which seem equally important have to wait in line. I will focus on fasting not before February and running will be picked up again in March. By that time, writing will have become a habit already that sticks with me.

The Week according to my Goals

It is nice to have it on paper. Like that I can always review everything, and I should, especially when I plan my week. I will remind myself of what I wanted  to happen this year. I will review the monthly steps towards it. Then I can focus on what to do during the week, what to squeeze between my schedule, which outcomes to aspire.

The Day on the Way to Completion

Often I even line out my day, according to what I need to accomplish during the week. It is really comfortable because I have actually already set things out for myself. And since I spread things over the whole year, nothing is overwhelming.

Four very important Things…

…to keep in mind while doing the planning are these:

ONE

You will not be able to finish everything. Things usually take longer than expected, and even if you put in enough buffer time, some tasks will definitely remain unfinished.  But as I  keep that in mind from the beginning, I cannot be too disappointed in the end.

TWO

The more important something is, the earlier it should be done. I am typing this before seven o’clock in the morning, just because it is a priority of mine. In that way, I will experience the great feeling of having something accomplished even before breakfast. I also know that by four in the afternoon, I might already have used a lot my of power and brain and will be able to check mails or clean the room, but maybe not write an article for university.

THREE

Luckily, life holds a lot of surprises, and something extra will always pop up. These things are chances to be embraced. Interruptions can be very inspiring, if we take them positively.

FOUR

Do not try to make up for what you missed doing yesterday. This will put you in an endless continuation of catching up. Yesterday was yesterday. Today we can start afresh, from zero, giving the best we can.

And then: Change it!

With all the benefits of planning, the number one principle is to be flexible. Nobody else but I myself made these rules and plans, so I am the one to change them, too, when they become too overwhelming or if something unexpected happens. That is why I usually plan with a pencil, not a pen.

The snow and us in it

Finally, the snow is here. Little flakes started dancing down to the earth on Monday and have been falling ever since. Sometimes it is merely a certain glittering that fills the air. The atmosphere seems to crackle.

The snow covered the ground quickly and stayed there. It did not melt away. And since the constant snowfall has continued without end, by now it lies ankle-deep.

People here are used to it. Some do not like it very much. Others seem to not even notice it. I adore it. The creaking under my feet, the tickling of the flakes in my face, the sudden silence that comes with it and the reflection of the light. It makes people move in a different way, forces them to slow down. The school children look quaintly different when they are walking on snow. Their silhouettes against the white background is something new. They gather in groups, come together and in the blink of an eye scatter again, vanish, run, and accumulate somewhere else.

Usually you hear the sound of a snowplough roaring somewhere. They are tirelessly driving around, flashing orange light, going back and forth and removing the snow from streets and parking lots. They dash along the roads, scour the tarmac and leave a dark trace behind them. Immediately, as they pass, behind them the snowflakes fall on and on, covering the spot again, and what has been dark and easily drivable for a second is already blurred again by the never ending gentle snowfall and will soon be covered in white as if the snowplough had never passed there.

The rivers slowly freeze, especially where they do not rush. The open water narrows down to a stream in the middle until even that is swallowed by a surface of ice.

The ducks seem not to care. Neither many of the people. They wear snow trousers, put some winter covering on their dogs and pull their children in sleighs behind them. They keep jogging, rushing in the car, even biking. I am one of the bikers, I had no alternative. It took me double of the time to get to where I wanted, though. People use winter tires even for their bikes but I do not have such. And although the snowploughs work throughout, they prioritize on the streets for cars and do the bike tracks only occasionally and far less often. So as a biker you can either get a smooth white track where only braking would be a problem, or a soft, fluffy white track where you cross the virgin snow, or a part where many people have walked down the snow to a hard and bumpy surface, or a track with skidmarks, slightly brown and impassable, because you easily lose control of where your bike goes, or rather lurches.

Generally, the sudden onset of winter made me realise how little we are in control. I have no car, the bus connections are of no big help, and I have a class in the university which is eight kilometers away. I must take the bike. And the snow does not care. It keeps falling. The town workers do their best to keep the tracks free but after two days of constant snowfall it is simply a task too big to accomplish at once. People have no other choice but surrender. We can complain about the weather, we can complain about the town service, we can complain about our unequipped bikes – the snow will even fall on our complains, it will cover our silent rebellion, and there we will be, quiet and paralyzed and spellbound by the dancing flakes, smothered like the frozen rivers, bereft of our motivation, doing what we always should do: keep calm and accept.

Two lessons well learned

Imagine you come into the classroom and the lesson has already started because you are a bit late. Imagine irritated faces and embarrassment. Imagine your classmate telling you: This is hell.

It took me a while until I understood what was going on. Our teacher had handed out scripts for American commercials and made us perform them in front of the class. With different voices. Not that we study drama. We study journalism. Then we watched videos on acting exercises. It was one of those classes you wish you had skipped. But now I was in, however late, I was in and had to sit through the torment and embarrassment and awkwardness.

The next lesson was held by the mentioned teacher’s wife. It was on video production, straight to the point, well organised, clearly arranged and obviously useful. We understood her points and saw the sense in the lecture. One of those lessons you definitely do not want to miss because it had a lot of helpful hints and facts and useful information, and it was actually fun to listen to her.

Now guess what stuck in my head? Not the facts of the latter, not the well outlined lists of things you have to pay attention to and take care of while producing video. Although I downloaded her presentation later and even wrote parts of it in my exercise book. When doing her assignment, I still and again had to look up things. But what got really stuck in my mind were the acting exercises. The importance of them before stepping in front of a camera or microphone. The way to stand and to breath and to focus. And the slight embarrassment you feel when doing them.

We mostly remember the stupid stuff. What sticks most to our mind are random, seemingly useless odd facts and situations. To make something stick in our head, therefore, we have to expose ourselves into odd situations. We have to leave the comfort zone and embarrass ourselves. Like that we might end up with some great memories.