“The orphan master’s son” by Adam Johnson

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I knew very little about North Korea before I read this novel.

I paused for a long moment, when I finished the book.

Adam Johnson researched for a long period the country and the period. He was allowed to visit it once, under close scrutiny. Hence the realism of characters and depiction of events. In a recent history of the country when human life was worth nothing, Johnson puts is upfront.

The protagonist is such a complex character. At a first impression, it is incredible that a human being can go through so many things and with such an intensity. Hunger, bitter cold, deprivations, pain training,  “re-birth” as a national hero and then – a regime’s general, love, torture and  annihilation. His character is a tribute to all Koreans who suffered, struggled, loved and made sacrifices in times of extreme tyranny and harsh repression.

The genre is so nuanced and complex that I would not give it a name: is it a thriller, a love story, a political dystopia? Perhaps “trauma narrative”, as Johnson himself puts it is the closest to the dominant genre. And stay assured, it is no trauma-drama. It is poignant and respective of all the suffering of all concerned.

The novel is a compassion booster and a reminder that one never knows what a person has been through. Be kind.

Thank you Bucharest, Riga and Vilnius

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Thank you Bucharest, Riga and Vilnius

for showing me how different yet similar we are in living our values. We tend to use our differences to put a distance between ourselves. Sometimes, still, we learn to accept our differences as ways to complement and build each other.

In cultures where the value of big words overshadows their meaning, small gestures come to rescue to mean the world.

In places where the mind must absolutely know the exact number or budget, the storyteller will give meaning to both big and small numbers.

In cultures, which knew command and control, a creative mind will find a new way to give birth to chocolate molecules.

Preferences to do things behind the scene will meet the preacher of transparency with “just try it in the open, even if you fail, and you’ll see that it does not hurt”.

A disastrous service will end-up on a positive note, as it was met with kindness and acceptance of the fact that a waiter is also a human and who knows what she has to deal with outside her work.

Our knowledge of cultures will try to attribute the above behaviours to humans from certain countries and/or nationalities. Please do not do that. Attitudes and behaviours have no passports and do not stay confined within borders.

Next time you are in an environment your brain stereotypes about (which is normal, as the brain thinks in categories), just ask it to take a break and inhale the diversity in all its splendor. And if you absolutely must, call me naive. I do not mind.

“I am naive” Molecules Chocolate made in Lithuania, by Domantas Uzpali.

Bucharest, Catedrala Neamului/Nation’s Cathedral, seen from Marriott Hotel.

Riga, flags and church.

“I am naive” Molecules Chocolate made in Lithuania, by Domantas Uzpali.

Social capital: the gains, the losses, the flow

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Pamela B. Paresky PhD writes in her article “Meet the teen who discovered the secret of social capital” in Psychology Today: “As a rule, we don’t teach children to tend, defend, and befriend those without social status — to spend social capital on targets of derision and exclusion.» https://www.psychologytoday.com. This deserves reflection and action, for the good of all concerned.

I saw this happening in my high school, then latter in life at my child’s kindergarten. Many do see, not many act. The choice between social capital, which can be replenished, and the dignity and life of the other should be straightforward. Moreover, kindness and warmheartedness are not energies spent. They are energy fuels.

Kids at any age only mirror the parents and adults in their lives. Let us fuel kindness and courage to not be afraid to spend well our social capital. And then it will not be even necessary to ask children to do so. It will become a natural flow of social captal to serve humanity.

Thank you, Pristina

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I am often asked about the country I am back from. As the saying goes, I do not judge a country by the airport, hotel and the meeting rooms. This is oftentimes my regular itinerary. Goodbye, perception of excitement surrounding people who go on missions!

When, in my last trip to Pristina, which was also a first for me, the usual question “How do you like it here?” popped-up, I realised that I sense a country by two things: people and bread.

I do get to interact with quite a number of fellow humans, including the border policeman/woman, taxi drivers, hotel receptionists, bartenders and waiters, as well as the projects’ teams and partners I meet. And this is how I get to know something about the country. Walls and roofs, roads and pavements are dissipated in my memory by the human interaction.

Back to my last trip.

I thank Pristina for the blue eyed bartender who made my espresso exactly as I like it and served it with a mood boosting “Enjoy!”. I thank Pristina for the hotel receptionist who fixed my naughty room door with a magic touch. I am grateful to all project partners for their enormous dedication and contagious enthusiasm for what they do. I am deeply respectful for how far they came from their initial point and in such a short period of time (by history’s measure). There is also so much more they aspire to do. This is what I told to the curious border guard with a warm smile, when he asked me “Do you think we will be alright?” “I trust you will!” He happily stamped my passport and waved goodbuy with “Please come again!”

In addition to human interaction, I internalize bread in every new place I get to walk on. The daily bread. The flavour and texture of bread just out of the oven. The bread that knows the hands, which worked its dough. The bread which knew fire and was not consumed by it. The bread that welcomes guests and feeds the family, regardless of the language it speaks and the religion it practices.

Traditional flat bread, as served at Pishat restaurant in Pristina, November 2019.

“Now we shall be entirely free” by Andrew Miller

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Reading this book was like drinking my carrot-apple-beetroot juice. It was not particularly easy to “digest”, yet it was great for learning from the writer’s style. It was the Costa award of the author, which sold it to me.

The author takes you through war, honour, love and camradery, dedication and pursuit of happiness, revenge and selflessness, all mixed with mistery and a touch of thriller.

The main character is a British army officer, who did what he could in a shamefull campaign in Spain in 1800s, and who was not afraid to admit his part in less than honourable acts, for the sake of keeping the love of a woman he adored.

Thank you Chisinau

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Thank you Chisinau

for my dearest people who make me feel at home, regardless of the time which passed since our last encounter. You know who you are.

for my first eight-pairs-of-hands-baking experience with orphan girls in the care of Diaconia and a chance to share with them a baking atmosphere I had with my grandmother.

for my daughter’s enthusiasm and support: “Mom, you were such a pro, juggling the parallel teams at baking!”.

for Diaconia’s wonderful team of people whose dedication I admire from the bottom of my heart. Check them out at http://www.diaconia.md.

for allowing young musicians to express themselves under the street lights in Stefan cel Mare park:

for the betterment if your zoo. We can be critical of many things we saw there, yet we choose to appreciate how much it evolved since its establishment 40 years ago

for my school, which celebrated 50 year recently. It was a moment of joy to retrace my steps to and from the school, with my daughter this time around.

for a great number of professionals I met and who do the best they can and aspire to do better, regardless of the circumstances. You know who you are.

and, last but not least, for your splendid autumn colours which stand to remind us of the unique beauty of nature this time of the year.

I challenge you

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– We challenge you. No girl will dare to cross this ravine!, shouted my classmate.

The ravine was in deep forest. A fallen tree served as a “bridge”. Of all the 10 year old girls it had to be me the one to respond to the challenge. The whereabouts of adults accompanying us is blank in my memory.

I started crossing it. I still remember the depth of the ravine when I looked half way through. Someone shouted “Do not look down!”. It was the my classmate. Or perhaps my guarding angel. I managed to cross it and return, in one piece. Except couple of my curly hairs taken by the subtle air current between trees.

As my child embarks into the age of stretching limits and testing boundaries I want her to do it because she wants it and not because someone challenges her. I also want her to understand what it means to challenge others. Does it help her and the other kid grow and become a better human?

I want to believe that all parents explain to their kids what it means to challenge and be challenged and that the final choice if theirs. I also trust that we, as adults, show this by our actions and through our words. Because kids give what they receive.