Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Pregnant - Week 27

Week 26+2

Lacking the strength and committment to write about more serious matters, I thought I'd take a break and give a short update about the coming baby. I'm now 27 full weeks pregnant (or pregnant in week 28 as we say here in Sweden) and "The Bean" is growing and kicking along as it should. People that see me now think that I'll give birth in a month or so, or that I'm actually carrying twins. There's still only one little creature in there though, which is due on November 22nd.

After having a couple of months of feeling pretty much fabulous, other pregnancy signs have started to appear lately. I'm experiencing pretty bad pelvic pains (could be a blocked sciatic nerve too) when I've been standing up for a long time or walking a lot, which makes it impossible to walk like a normal human being, or even get out of bed sometimes. It feels like a giant needle very suddenly stabbing my buttocks which causes my leg to fold and me to loose balance (and let out a row of not so flattering curses). So far I've been lucky to have something to grab each time it's happened. The charming stomach acids have returned with all its might too.

My thyroid gland is overproducing a bit, so I'll be back at maternity centre in a couple of weeks for more tests. Since I'm already diagnozed with Hashimoto's Disease, it's probably a good idea to keep checking it once in a while.

I'm still working and enjoy it like no other work I've had before. I'm actually looking forward to each spell of work. I really hope that I'll be able to work for yet another few weeks before the baby is due, and even more that I can continue once I've been home on maternity leave for a few months. I feel really lucky and privileged to be in this line of work and wouldn't mind one bit to continue for a long time.

The picture is taken last week.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Anders Behring Breivik - Profile

Anders Behring Breivik
[Continuously updated]

The man arrested for the bomb and shooting that have so far claimed 93 lives (a number which i likely to rise) in Oslo and Utøya, Norway, is called Anders Behring Breivik. At least another 97 got injured. The name started to circle on social medias before it was announced in traditional media. Today the name is among the top searches on internet and a hot topic around the world. The shooting of young people in Utøya is said to be the worst in modern history during peace. The police are currently looking into leads about a second shooter, but for now, lets have a quick glance at Behring Breivik without analyzing too much:

Name: Anders Behring Breivik

Age: 32

Nationality: Norwegian

Religious beliefs: Christian

Political views: Conservative and possible connections with the extreme right wing. Calls himself a "nationalist." Been a member of the xenophobic Fremskrittspartiet (FRP). He became a member in 1999 and was also active in FRP's youth group (FPU) 1997-2007. He hated muslims, the political left and the social democratic youth association.

Education: Oslo Upper Secondary School of Business (own translation of Oslo Handelsgymnasium).

Work life: Communicator at Telia callcentre in 1999-2003, started his own company in 2005 with focus on data processing, data storage and adjacent services before it was disolved in 2008. In 2009 he started Breivik Geofarm in Rena, which were growing vegetables, melons and root vegetables.

Other connections: A member of the Johannes Lodge Søilene which is a part of the Freemason Lodge. He claims to have joined a secret underground group, PCCTS, Knights Templar, in 2002. The network is supposedly a sequel to the Knight's Templar, an order that was created to protect crusaders during the 1100's. He claims to have worked purposefully in order to begin the war against what he calls the cultural-marxist elite in Europe. It's unclear if the organisation really exists or if it's a made up story which Behring Breivik explains could be the case since he "can't reveal sensitive information."

Weapons: An automatic and a Glock gun are registered in his name. On May 4th he purchased six tons of artificial fertilizer which is suspected to be used as the bomb. Three tons remains on his farm.
 
Hobbies: Hunting and body building according to his Facebook profile.

Have been described as: Polite, calm and dutiful, service minded and gave no impression of having bad thoughts about any of his co-workers, says a former colleague at the calling centre at Telia - a telephone company. Neighbors describes him as a person that keeps to himself a lot. Behring Breivik's father hasn't seen his son since 1995 and was shocked to hear about the news through media. He said that he didn't notice any tendencies to this kind of violence when the boy was 15-16 years old and claims he was a "normal boy." Neither his mother suspected his son to be capable to such a thing, and a friend of her says that she was very proud of her son.

On Twitter: Behring Breivik started an account on Twitter just days before the attacks where he has one quote posted by the British filosopher and social liberal John Stuart Mill: One person with a belief is equal to the force of 100 000 who have only interests.

On Facebook: Had an account for several years where he posted extreme right wing views. The page was deleted and replaced by a new one a few days ago where he mostly had been posting music videos. Medias are speculating about the intentions of the latest profile - that it was Behring Brevik's way to warn about the upcoming attacks and to create himself an image with photos (that looks a lot like press photos) that he would like the world to see after the attacks. His latest Facebook profile has now been closed.
 
Views expressed: Behring Breivik has been active on the right wing forum Document.no where he has posted several texts which are controversial and critical against Islam. He calls himself a "nationalist." Read all his posts on document.no here. His posts on the forum contains personal views of the political environment, certain public figures in Norway, marxists and islamists. He was a member of a Swedish neo-Nizi forum called Nordisk, according to Expo, a Swedish group monitoring far-right activity.

The manifest: A 1500 pages manifest called ”2083 - A European declaration of independence” was released shortly before the attacks. The manifest is published online under the name Andrew Berwick, which is believed to be a pseudonym of Behring Breivik himself, who has also admitted to be the writer. The text contains a diary, starting in 2002, explaining how he got hold of the explosives and guns and planned his deeds as well as an explanation of how Europe will get rid of Muslims. The number 2083 in the title of the document is supposed to be a date that he believes an European war will end the execution of cultural Marxists and the deportation of Muslims. The "civil war" that he talks about would come in three phases: the first runs through 2030 and includes "open source warfare, military shock attacks by clandestine cell systems (and) further consolidation of conservative forces." The second, between 2030 and 2070 is a call for "more advanced forms of resistance groups (and the) preparation of pan-European coup d'etats" and the third and final stage features the deposition of Europe's leaders and "implementation of a cultural conservative political agenda." Parts of the document is a direct copy of the American terrorist Ted Kaczinski's, the Una-bomber's, manifest. In the end of the manifest are pictures of Behring Breivik with guns and the words "I believe this will be my last entry. It is now Fri July 22nd, 12.51." A YouTube video about the manifest has also been released (but continues to be deleted and can also be found here or here).
 
How the attacks were planned: In his manifest, Behring Breivik explains in detail how he prepared himself for everything during nine years. He sold off belongings to be able to afford bomb materials and the rent of the farm where the bombs were built and where he could plan everything in peace and quiet. He built up his body with anabola steroids and was a little concerned about how his liver would be affected but was happy about his "perfect body" and explains how he was happier than ever. He started to distance himself from friends and other people that could nose around, like neighbors and curious tourists that wanted to take pictures of his farm. In the middle of June this year, he made a test explosion of a bomb in an isolated place, which he declared a success and quickly drove from the area to avoid unwanted attention. He claimes to have carried out the attacks alone.

Motives: During police interrogation, Behring Breivik explains how he wanted to change the politics in Norway through violence. The shooting of over 80 youths in Utøya was supposed to be a warning about an approaching doomsday if the political party didn't change it's politics. He wanted to harm the party and the recruitment as much as possible and called the Labour Party people marxists. He also seems to believe that Muslims are trying to "colonise" Western Europe and that multiculturalism and cultural marxism are to blame for this.

VG
DN
Aftenposten
The Guardian
Expressen 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Oslo Attacks - Interview


Here's a quick translation of the personal experiences by Mirjam Liu, who lives in Oslo. Thankfully she wasn't around the two areas when the attacks happened:

"I wasn't close to either the explosion or Utøya. I was on the bus and my mother called me a few minutes after it happened. She and the rest of my family was several kilometers north of central Oslo and heard the bang and wanted to make sure that I was ok.

I reacted with disbelief and wondered if it was an accident or a bomb. I probably didn't realize how extensive theexplosion was and thought that it was probably a small thing until I saw it on the news. I'm still in a bit of a shock and it hasn't sunk in how extreme and tragical all of this is. I was also very scared for my own part since the explosion happened in an area where I spend a lot of time. It was just a coinsidence that I wasn't in the area when it happened.

I haven't been out among people after it happened but I got the impression of (both from what I see on the news and Facebook) that people are handling it relatively well. People are shocked and in disbelief, but in good spirits. Those who had the possibility to watch the news quickly got information from the police to move away from the city centre, avoid larger crowds, go home and stay there. 

I got the impression that the authorities are handling this hard-to-grasp and difficult situation well. They are keeping the people updated about the situation as well as they can, but I got the impression that it's difficult to get a clear outline. Like I said, I haven't been in the concerned areas and the impressions I have are from the news and TV.

I think that Norway is a target of terrorism because of our participation in different conflicts in other countries like Libya and Afghanistan."

My sincere thanks to Mirjam for sharing her experiences. More information and personal stories from the attacks are greatly appreciated. Are you in Oslo? Leave a comment or email me. More stories and updates to come on the blog.

Oslo Attacks

The destruction on Akersgate, Oslo

Late this afternoon, a bomb hit a government building in Akersgate in Oslo, Norway, killing at least seven people and another two are badly wounded. Later a man who was said to be dressed as a police officer started shooting at a Labour Party youth camp in Utøya outside of the capital, at least four people are said to have been killed and one person is reported to have been arrested. Eyewitnesses claim to have seen 20-25 dead bodies on the island. Noone has yet taken responsibility for the attacks but BBC's diplomatic correspondent says that "the fact a government building was targeted makes one think this could be connected with government decisions on Afghanistan or Libya."

The two attacks are believed to be connected, the Norwegian police says.

In Sweden, the police and security police (SÄPO) have sharpened their surveillance around important buildings in the capital Stockholm after the Oslo bombings. The grade of threat remains the same (which is hightened) as it's been since October last year but Sweden is following the development in its neighboring country closely.

What happened is horrible and deeply concerning, as with any attack against civilians. Akersgate is a busy street in central Oslo, especially on a Friday afternoon. The Labour Party camp is intended for youths and around 700 people were attending it, most teenagers. My heart and thoughts goes out to our friends in Norway and I pray that none of my own friends in Oslo are among the dead or injured.

  • DN writes about the shooting in Utøya (in Swedish)
  • SVD and DN has pictures from the bombing in Akersgate
  • BBC News allows you to follow the events live
  • Reuters has a list of likely suspected groups

Update 23:50: Deputy Oslo police chief Sveining Sponheim tells reporters the man under arrest is 32 and "ethnic Norwegian" and has never worked with the police. The Norwegian national under arrest is believed to be responsible for both attacks. The motive behind the attacks are still unclear.
 
Are you in Oslo? I would like to get in touch with you to ask some questions about personal experiences. Write me a comment or email me. Thanks!

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Prize Package



Last week I won 1st prize in a rhyming competition on BarnNet and yesterday this pretty little package arrived with DHL! All clothes (and the blankets) are organic and comes from MyKidoo. Perfect!

Sunday, July 17, 2011

When Luck Strikes

I'm certainly not one of the lucky ones and have experienced more setbacks than success in my life, but to others in bad situations I have always told them that finally things will go your way (and fully believing it except for my own situation). But as a rare occation, I finally experienced it myself. In two days I got a wonderful job, a great apartment in a nice area and I won 1st prize in a rhyming (!) competition with the prize of ecological baby clothes and toys worth 2000 SEK. None of it could have come at a more perfect time.

The constant nausea, throwing up and migraines have finally subsided although they're still far from gone, but that's what's to be expected. The baby is kicking along and my belly is growing by the day it seems. All that's left now is for my husband to return to Sweden so that he won't miss all of this. I know that there is a risk of him not being here in time for the birth, but I have to stay optimistic, for all three of us. I've planned for others to be there for me, just in case, but there's no point in getting myself stressed up by thinking negative and I still keep my hopes up that everything will be alright in the end and that the baby will have both his/her parents there when it sees the world for the first time.

Yesterday I went to see my two best friends that also happen to be pregnant and due around the same time as myself. We haven't had the oportunity to hang out much for the past few years for different reasons and it feels great to be settled in Sweden and have those two fantastic women to share all the worries and hopes with. Not many people are lucky enough to have their best friends being pregnant at the same time!

I can't move in to the apartment until October 1st, but that will give me some time to sort out the things that are left to be sorted, concentrate on my new job, the baby, my friends and everything in between. And once I've moved in, I'll just have a short walk from Linda, my aunt but sister and closest friend, the one I call when I'm sad and the one that always makes me feel like everything's going to be ok. And see, this time she was right!

Oh, and I'll return to my usual blogging about travelling, saving the world and what not, but for the next few months it will be layered with more personal posts. I hope that's ok.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Intercultural Relationships

©redsaga

My hope is for us to come together not only embracing shared beliefs and values, but acknowledging our differences in ways that promote respect and appreciation. To ask for a shared vision is a fair and legitimate human proposal; what is not fair and legitimate is to dictate the ways on how we get there. If we are to emerge from the long shadows that can engulf us, we must talk with each other, come to understand each other, and renew ourselves and our perceptions of each other.
-  Alma Abdul-Hadi Jadallah

You can live your life telling yourself that you choose your own path, that as long as you work for it you will end up with your dream job, the perfect social life and the perfect partner, but when love strikes (and I don't mean the high school crush, holiday flirts or rebound guys but that one that throws you off balance and compromises your breathing), the choices you've made so far matters little. You can live your life thinking that you're a rational person that would avoid difficulties in order to gain something easier, but when you find yourself eye to eye with that one person, rationality won't matter much. So maybe you one day find yourself in love with the seemingly impossible: a man or a woman from a different culture, with a different background and beliefs, with a different skin color, different values, opinions and thoughts. Then what? Do you walk away from it, hoping to find someone that would be easier to live with or do you cautiostly walk into it with the hopes of being able to overcome the differences?

First of all, cross cultural relationships all depend on the individuals involved and not their backgrounds. It all has to do with how open minded you are, your communication skills (which is mandatory and explained below), expectations, ability to compromise, knowledge and motivations. You can come from two completely different cultures, with different religions and political views, but what it comes down to is the personal traits and if these can be combined - i.e. all the issues that every relationship has to deal with.

Knowledge
Making an intercultural relationship works demands knowledge about each other's cultures, countries, religion and backgrounds. The best way if of course to talk to each other about it, ask every question you have no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. Be curious and interested and show it by doing your own research; read books, listen to music and watch movies from the country or region, get in touch with others from the same culture and follow the news. This way you're likely to find out things about your partner's background and history that he/she didn't even know, things that slipped his/her mind during school or that he/she has been too uniterested to find out. The history and culture of one's own country is usually more uninteresting than other cultures, so by learning and discussing your findings can be a great way of both showing your interest and makes a good topic of discussion. Make sure to embrace what you learn; you may not like the music the first few times you hear it, or histories of war and unjustice may make you judgemental of the people that experienced it - but with an open mind it will not only give you new knowledge but also get a better understanding of your partner.

Motivation
Keep a positive attitude towards the other culture, no matter of the things that you don't agree with or don't like about it. There's always wonderful things to learn and experience while getting to know another culture so it's important to appreciate the differences and be empathic. One thing that has helped me to overcome less attractive attributes in cultures is to simply see it as "exotic." That may seem biased, but it gives a different ground to stand on and a tool to use when understanding or appreciation fails you.

Skills
Actress Mae West once said that "I speak two languages, Body and English" which is a skill that is put well to use when communication is a problem. Even though you may speak the same languages you will most likely have different ways of using it. Irony is for example not used or understood in all cultures and the same goes for jokes that can be easily misunderstood and lead to unnecessary arguments if you don't understand the background of the joke. Your social skills will be different; in one culture it may be just fine to call someone fat without meaning anything negative about it, but in others it's a bad insult. Take your time and leard each other's social skills. You'll likely find out about these in time anyways, but it can be done the hard way or by communication. Don't take for granted that your partner can read your expressions and the words said in between the lines: keep it as simple and clear as possible. Don't play mind games and keep a dictionary close at hand when the communication doesn't go your way.

Every relationship has obstacles and problems to overcome; everyone are different to matter if you share the same culture or not. However, intercultural relationships presents its very own set of issues that will have to be dealt with, rather sooner than later in order to know if this will work for you or not. The differences between you can be an adventure and open your eyes and heart for a better understanding of life and the world (big words, I know). That said, it's not always easy and sometimes the differences are just too much. Maybe you will have problems with each other's families, maybe you won't be accepted into the new culture or maybe your religious beliefs don't accept compromises. But as I see it, everything can be overcome with patience, sincerity and motivation. Sometimes you just have to let go of some of your own principles if you want the relationship to work out in the long run. It all depends on how much you value each other and what your priorities are. As with any relationship; you can never expect to change the other person. If you do that, you're most likely doomed to fail. Instead, see the differences and accept them, and equally important; don't forget all the similarities and use them as a bridge to overcome the obstacles facing you.

You'll face prejudices and words of doom from your surrounding so meet them with a smile and let them be a part of your own learning experience. An intercultural relationship doesn't only affect the couple, but also everyone around them. If you have to meet comments, make sure to preach understanding and respect. After all, it's in our every day life that we can save the world from racism, injustice and biases so you might as well start with yourself and the people around you. Soon enough the words will spread:

The world is my country, all mankind are my brethren,
and to do good is my religion.

-Thomas Paine

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Sudan Splitting in Two

Map from the Guardian

It is what it is and that's how it's gonna be.

With Sudan splitting in two on July 9th 2011, the two new countries; Sudan and South Sudan, faces many challenges. During a referendum on January 9-15th, 99% of the southerners voted in favor of separation, which came of no surprise. After 50 years of struggle and a decade of strains towards international diplomacy, the day finally arrived when it became clear that the south will be independent from the north. But everything's not all jolly good, as the two new states will be faced with a complete new set of challenges to make it work. The Republic of South Sudan will of course have to deal with every practicality that's involved in creating a new state, but Sudan will be equally vulnerable for many reasons.

Sudan challenges:
  • Khartoum will have to do without the south's rich oil reserves
  • The continuation of the fighting in Darfur will not be solved with the splitting of the country and will still be the responsibililty of the Sudanese government
  • New conflicts in Southern Kordofan and likely elsewhere will have to be dealt with
  • The identity of Sudan will be affected as it can no longer take pride in being the biggest country in Africa
  • President Omar al-Bashir is accused by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2009 of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes in Darfur which resulted in a second issue of warrant (the first didn't hold) for charges of genocide. The warrant was delivered to the Sudanese government, which is unlikely to execute it

Southern Sudan challenges:
  • Violence has haunted the region and more than 1500 people have died in battles this year; both in cattle raids and attacks by at least seven separate rebel militia groups fighting for the government
  • Citizenships will have to be issued, as with legal matters
  • Although Southern Sudan is rich in oil, the country will be one of the least-developed regions on earth
  • Ethnic tensions and troubled relations with the north will mean constant security challenges
  • Popular expectations on the new SPLM government are extremely high; people believe that independence means jobs, roads and general life approvements. The government will have to face the discontent when these hopes are not fulfilled without delay
  • The SPLA will face many short-term challenges; accountability, logistics and sustainment; lack of mobility, poor tactical communications; urgent training and new equipment needs; and insufficient funds to support development
  • Poverty, lack of development and the threat of violence will not magically disappear after the splitting

While a southern independence was the goal of a long struggle it will create a whole new set of difficulties. The biggest concern are the unsolved issues between the two new countries as will continue to be dependent on each other, mostly because of the oil in the south and the refineries in the north. However, war is never inevitable and I'll continue to keep my hopes up for a future peace between Sudan and Southern Sudan. If the governments are willing to solve the huge puzzle that lies ahead of them, the problems that today seem overwhelming can be solved. A key to the puzzle, in my opionion, is the involvement of the international community, that can both act as diplomats and help with the development of the two new states. It's up to the people to decide wether it's worth to continue to dispute over issues that can only result in a new war - or to put down their guns and work together for a sustainable peace.

Are you in Sudan or Southern Sudan?
I would like to get in touch with you - either as a guest blogger or to hear your point of view of the splitting of Sudan. Feel free to email me or write a comment and I'll contact you.

Follow the News

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Want to be my Guest Blogger?

I got the idea of publishing a few guest posts here:

  • Do you have decent writing skills?
  • Do you have a specific destination or travel related story you would like to tell? Being political is not a problem
  • Do you have a couple of good personal pictures related to the story?

If so: Send me an email with your idea and some information about yourself and explain why your story would fit in my blog.

The more unique your story is, the more likely I am to publish it here. It could be a personal story about your specific experiences during a political or humanitarian situation, a happy memory from a special remote place you visited, something unjust you've witnessed and would like to shed light on or a historical moment in your home country - there are no special rules as long as you can keep it personal and unique.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Discover Sweden - Marks Municipality

View from Slottsberget, Öresten

I will begin a series of attractions in Marks Kommun, my home municipality. This is an attempt to an introduction to that series and might be edited later on. Future posts will include photos and more specific details about areas.

The word Mark means borderland or border forest. The municipality of Marks Kommun is situated in the South-Western end of Västra Götaland in the West of Sweden and was created in 1971 by combining two market towns and six tier municipalities. It's regional centre became Kinna.

Main Villages
The earliest villages were established along the rivers and streams of Viskan, Surtan and Häggån and ancient graves can be found around these areas. The regional centre, Kinna, is the largest of the villages and the name comes from the word kinn, which means hillside (since it's situated between two hills). Most notable of Kinna are the white wooden estates from the early 19th century for suppliers of raw material like wool, cotton and yarn for spinning and weaving. The material was distributed to the women in crofts and farms in the are, whom made fabrics that the trader bought back and sold forth to merchants and peddlers. The weaving and trading of fabrics around Mark are still famous and has given the region the nickname "Textile Kingdom." 

The village of Skene is situated just West of Kinna and also along the river Viskan. The name is most likely a combination of the words skadh and vini, which would mean stream and pasture. On a small hill called Nycklaberget overlooking the village is a place called Galgbacken from 1682, which used to be an execution site where people were hanged, beheaded or burned for their crimes.

Örby lies East of Kinna and the name comes from the word ör which means gravel, and by which means village. Although Öresten doesn't technically belong to Örby anymore, is used to be part of the parish. Öresten used to be an important (and the largest in Västergötland) foothold for the war against the Danes and was mentioned the first time in Swedish history in 1366. The castle, which is situated on the hill of Slottsberget (Castle Mountain) fell in the hands of the Danes the same year. Although the castle was destroyed three times during its many battles, it was rebuild twice, which wasn't all that popular among the countryfolk as it was a general opinion that Öresten was the main reason for the many troops that burned and destroyed what came in their way. The countryfolk gathered 100 oxes to buy the castle, just to destroy it. The year was 1521 and Öresten was destroyed for the third and last time. Today it's a beautiful area for strolling among leafy forests and the stream of Slottsån (Castle Stream) and from the top of the hill is a gorgeous view of the surrounding forests, fields and waters. A few stones still remain from the ruins of the castle as well as the remains of the moat.

Landscape
Mark is characterized by wide forests, valleys, hundereds of lakes and streams and is an excellent area for exploring the wilds. The Courier Trail is a perfect way to discover the area and is said to have been ridden by postal couriers 600-700 years ago. Several nature reserves provide a closeup with nature. My personal favourite is Hyltenäs Kulle (Hyltenäs Hill) which used to be the site of a large hunting lodge belonging to the merchant George Seaton. The lodge was burned to the ground in 1923 but the basement's narrow passages are still there and makes an exciting playground for children and adventurous adults. Today the hill is a popular picnic area that provides excellent view of the surrounding forests and lakes with a rich birdlife. The forests mostly consists of hazel, birch and mountain ash and a lime alley that was planted during George Seaton's time leads into the nature reserve. Other plants that were once cultivated but now grow wilde include privet, spiraea, sycamore maple and chestnut. Hiking tracks have been created around the hill and down to the lake.

Other reserves includes Lekvad Nature Reserve in Berghem, along the river Viskan. It provides charming views of mighty tree formations on the steep slopes and a thick vegetation. Sea lampreys and salmon trout have their spawning grounds past the mill canal. Seven Streams in Torestorp is a splitting of the Torestorpsån River into seven streams. A footpath follows babbling brooks and leafy greenery. The area is considered to be the mostbeautiful in spring, when it's covered with wood anemones and the water volume is at its greatest.
Björkesbacka Nature Reserve lies east of Örby and it great for seeing how people lived in the area with its old buildings, rich flora and fauna. Although the buildings aren't open to the public it still gives a good opportunity for a glimpse in the past. A trail, that is accessible to all (including disabled), takes you through the area. It's planned that Björkesbacka will continue to retain the character of the old working forest home in the 1900s. Meadows will be cut with scythes and pastures will be grazed by sheep and Highland cattle.

Links and Contact Information

Mark's Tourist Office:
Marks Turistbyrå
Boråsvägen 40
511 80 Kinna
Sweden
Tele. +46 (0)320 21 72 70
Fax +46 (0)320 148 82
e-mail

Open Monday-Friday 10.00-16.00. In summer (June 13-August 20) 10.00-18.99, Saturdays 10.00-15.00. Also on Sundays during July from 10.00-15.00.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Travel Links



I'm working on a new page called Travel Links which can be found in the upper right corner of the blog. I'll gather some useful links on travel (like airline and visa information among other things), with focus on my favourite destinations. It's a work in progress and I know it looks a bit messy at the moment so please be patient and feel free to provide me with more links!

Thanks to my dear uncle Jan Murtomaa for giving me the idea of the new page and for providing the first link!

Meanwhile, enjoy this video by Playing for Change, an amazing cover of Bob Marley's "One Love."

Monday, June 27, 2011

Revolution Baby

18 weeks 5 days

So I'm going to be a mum! It's the most natural thing in the world, and still it feels very alien and wierd, like something that happens to everyone else (without there being anything strange about that) and not to me. I've always wanted children but I've never felt the right moment for it. This may not be the right moment either, God knows that the circumstances should be different, but they're not and now we just have to make the best of the situation and deal with everything that is to come.

So far I haven't had an easy pregnancy. Been throwing up basically from the first week until now and many days the dizzyness is so overwhelming that I have to spend the whole day laying down. The tests have been good so far, except for once when my blood sugar was a bit high but apparently that was nothing to worry about.

I went to my first regular ultrasound today (had two other before, one in Egypt and another once I arrived in Sweden) and the midwife said that I'm expected to give birth on the 22nd of November. At the time of my first ultrasound in Egypt, all I could see on the screen was a small bean, so from then on the baby has been called Bönan (The Bean). The life inside of me begun some two weeks after the Egyptian former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down. I choose to see that as a sign of a good start of the life that I will be bound to for the rest of my life. Could it be better than to start out when a whole nation is celebrating it's freedom? I don't think so! November seems faaar away but thinking that it's only less than 5 months left is kinda scary! I pray that Khalid will have the opportunity to be here by then. It would suck if he would miss it, since he's already missing out the first ultrasounds, the baby's movements and all that. I'm trying to tell myself that it's not the end of the world if he would be here later, but of course I would prefer it to be sooner rather than later.

I've started to feel more distinct movements now that can last for a good while. Before it's only been a sensation of whirling and bubbles, but now it's definitely something else. It's an amazing feeling and can't be compared with anything else. I don't know if it's a boy or a girl and don't want to know until the baby is born either. Both me and Khalid prefer to live with the surprise, but I have to say that I suspect it to be a girl. It remains to be seen if my feelings are right!

In May, my sister gave birth to pretty Kimberly and in September my brother will become a dad, so that makes three cousins in one year!

Going on a job interview tomorrow for a temp position at a place that I would really love to work. I've kept my eyes on the place for months, hoping for an opening and now I have the chance. Since it's only temp and not a permanent position, I really hope they will look past my pregnancy and instead see to my qualities, experiences and personality. I know that I would make a good job and if all went well, I would certainly not mind continue to work there when the baby is a bit older and all. Keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Små Grodorna Translated!


"Små grodorna" ("The Little Frogs") is a traditional Swedish song and ring dance which is usually sung and danced at Midsummer (and Christmas). The dance is supposed to illustrate what frogs don't have, like ears and tails. In Midsummer we dance it around the Maypole/Midsummer pole and at Christmas around the Christmas tree. 

The melody has apparently been traced from a military march from the French Revolution; "La Chanson de l'Oignon" ("The Onion Song") with the refrain "Au pas, camarade, au pas camarade / au pas, au pas, au pas!" (At walking pace, comrade!"). It is said that the French's enemies during that time, the Brits, changed the lyrics to a rather snide one; "Au pas, grenouilles!" ("At a walking pace, small frogs!"). It's unknown where the Swedish lyrics comes from, but it's possible that it was inspired by the English ironic one.

Here's the lyrics in Swedish and English:

Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se
(Small frogs, small frogs are funny to see)
Små grodorna, små grodorna är lustiga att se
(Small frogs, small frogs are funny to see)
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de
(No ears, no ears, no tails have they)
Ej öron, ej öron, ej svansar hava de
(No ears, no ears, no tails have they)

Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack.
Kou ack ack ack ack kaa
Kou ack ack ack, kou ack ack ack.
Kou ack ack ack ack kaa


Friday, June 24, 2011

Swedish Midsummer


One of my favourite holidays midsummer and today is Midsummer's Eve. The sun will set at 10.16 PM where I live and rise at 04.05 AM but Sweden is a long country and up north the sun never sets at this time of year, it just touches the horizon and rises again. On this coordinate though, most part of the night isn't dark, unless it's very cloudy.

Midsummer celebrations were meant to welcome the summer and fertility in agrarian times. In the early 16th century Swedes made their own version of German traditions by decorating houses and farm tools with foliage and raised tall, leafy maypoles to dance around. A crown of leafs and flowers decorate the heads of happy celebrating people. In the beginning mostly youngsters took part of the celebrations and indistrial communities, where mill employees were munching away on a feast of pickled herring, beer and schnapps. In the 20th century it developed into the most Swedish of all traditional festivities.


Where I live, the most important symbols of Midsummer are the decorated pole (and the dancing around it), the flower crowns and of course the food feast that almost always consists of pickled herring, new potatoes with cream and chive which is all swollowed down with schnapps. On Midsummer Night, the local tradition says that any girl who climbs seven fences under silence, picking a different flower in between each and then put the small bouqet under your pillow - then she will dream of her future husband. I tried it each year when I was a kid, but I have to admit that I never dreamt of Khalid (or anyone else for that matter, except once when I dreamt of my uncle, which was quite horrifying for a young girl!). Perhaps I did something wrong or simply couldn't help but to giggle with my fellow love-searching young neighbors while we should have stayed completely silence!

Anyways, me, dad and Oskar went for the traditional celebrations in Mariebergsparken in Kinna, that is the native district's park. The park was originally a bushy forest- and meadow ground as well as an old spot for digging gravel that all belonged to the farm Marieberg, whose manor house still stands. When the ground was bought by the native district's association, it was turned into a park and a couple of other old cottages have been bought and brought to the park. It's a popular and beautiful recreation area and weddings and other celebrations are often held in the park lodge. It was great seeing colourful people folk costumes and flower crowns doing "the frog dance" around the pole while enjoying a small picnic in the green grass! Afterwards we munched on pickled herring with trimmings with the rest of the extended family. No schnapps for me though, but I enjoyed the fresh strawberries with cream and sugar even more!

I'll post a video of the famous "Små grodorna", complete with dance and song (translated and all!) in my next post. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Life Works in Mysterious Ways

Khartoum - Sudan, Ameln Valley - Morocco, Cairo - Egypt, Öresten - Sweden
 Even the smallest choices you make, the smallest turns in your everyday life, can really take you to unimaginable places - or away from them. 

Out of the three far-away countries I've lived, Sudan is probably the most extreme of them all. Whilst I had my good share of drama and political corruption, kidnapping, a police who "captured" my passport and persecution (links to previous blog posts) - but the fact is that I could easily have been there right now, if small and seemingly unsignificant events and decisions hadn't taken me elsewhere. Today the largest country in Africa is about to split in two: the north (Sudan) and the south (South Sudan). To my big surprise, many seems to think that this should be the solution to all the problems that have haunted the Sudanese people for centuries. People think that wars will be solved, disputes will be settled and poverty and health problems will magically disappear. Surely you can hope that the long lasting conflicts between the north and south tribes will settle, but as always, things are not that simple. Even if that would happen, Darfur will still be caught in the middle, without any solution close at hand. Thousands will continue to die from starvation and diseases, caught in tribal conflicts (and governmental funded slaughters) and displaced when their villages are being burned. Many will end up in miserable refugee camps, either in Sudan or Chad. Most will have no hope of a safe future.

A couple of days ago, CNN reported that a major military offensive might be on its way in Southern Kordofan (a north Sudanese state). The report is based on field reports and satellite images and that has captured what looks like at least 89 military vehicles in the city of Kadugli, the state capital, which is being controlled by the Sudan Armed Forces (SAF). The vehicles included heavy ammunition transport trucks, light vehicles and possible towed artillery pieces. In May, Southern Sudanese forces attacked a UN Mission in Sudan convoy in Abyei. 22 soldiers died and Sudanese troops took control of the city, forcing Southern Sudanese forces out. According to the chief of Southern Sudan's mission to the United Nations, Abiyei belongs to both the north and the south until the people in the city decide otherwise. Now representatives os Sudan and South Sudan have signed an agreement of the immediate withdrawal of Sudanese troups from Abiyei, but the fightings in South Kordofan continue to threaten and claim lifes. My husband is somewhat safe in the capital, Khartoum, but my worries will not ease until I have him within an arms length again.

I spent a few months in Morocco and although I was safely placed in the more safe and touristy places, the ghost of the Moroccan-Western Sahara conflict loomed all over the country and haunted the people. The massive popular movements that have surged through the Arab world in the past few months reached Morocco in February and King Mohammed VI's (in power since 1999) response was a promise of "comprehensive constitutional reform", but protests that have claimed lifes have continued. Yesterday some 10.000 protesters gathered in Casablanca against the king's proposed constitutional changes. Meanwhile unemployment and poverty continues to be a huge problem and one of the major reasons for the unrest.

Most recently I had both the unluck and privilege to witness the popular Egyptian revolution first hand. While teargas and gunshots flew outside my window in central Cairo the Egyptian people gathered in their hundered of thousands in Tahrir Square and across the country to demand that president Hosni Mubarak (who had been in power for over 30 years) step down. After 18 days and hundereds of people dead the people got what they demanded and the military took over. Revisit my blog posts from January to February for personal reports, videos and photos. Today Mubarak is charged with the deaths of the protesters and is in custody in a military hospital in Sharm al-Sheikh after having heart problems. Now his lawyer says that he's also suffering from stomach cancer. The expected presidential election is to be held in December and the parlamentary election is proposed to take place in September which has caused some concerns as new public opinion survey predicts that the islamistic Muslim Brotherhood will by then have gained influence over the consitution.

Meanwhile, in safe Sweden, the politics are swaying to the right, slowly but steadily. The taxes have been cut and apparently the economy is growing, the budget is balanced and unemployment is declining. Even so, long term sick-listed people are loosing their sickness benefits and declined economical benefits from the social services they are forced into work despite of cancer, heavy depressions or no ability to move their bodies. And now midsummer is approaching with dancing around the pole, sunset after 10 PM, herring and other wierd traditions and rituals. As much as I appreciate all the odd experiences in faraway countries, I think I'll spend a few years in my country. I may think its dull or even boring at times, but at least I'll be safely away from violent uprisings, teargas, kidnapping and shootings. The only thing missing is to share the safety with my beloved husband.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Picnic Festival and Swedish National Day


Today is the Swedish National Day and I went to Picknickfestivalen (the Picnic Festival) in Göteborg with my beloved brother Jimmy and beautiful Elina. The festival is arranged each year to promote diversity and fellowship and is against racism. Bands and artists have been on stage since early afternoon until some time before midnight and thousands of wonderful people have enjoyed the Swedish summer on blankets in the green grass. What a better way to celebrate our National Day than to welcome and cherish our multicultural society that brings so much to our lives?


They day was beautiful; the music was good, the people were greater and the atmosphere was fantastic. Maybe I'll make it a tradition to come to that festival each National Day!


Saturday, June 4, 2011

Peps in My Heart



I'm sorry that I haven't updated in so long, things have been a bit wierd lately and my head haven't worked properly, to say the least. I'll write more on that topic at a later point.

I'm in Sweden, as you know, and am currently waiting anxiously for Khalid's stay permit. It's empty without him and I can't help to worry about his well being and all, with the situation being as it is in Sudan and all. But all's well that ends well and in the end we'll have yet another obstacle that we overcame with patience and love.

Summer is here, and the Swedish summer can't be compared with anything else in the world. I've travelled far; from paradise beaches with turqoise glimmering waters to smoking sulphur smelling landscapes to the vast deserts, but in the end Sweden in summer time is very very hard to beat. So to celebrate the coming of clear blue skies, the smell of blooming fields, green forests and sparkling lakes, I'll share a song with you. From the sixties into the nineties, Peps Persson has brought blues and reggae to Sweden with his charectaristic voice and sound that brings happiness and goodness into the cold Swedish hearts. Bob Marley is said to have said that Peps Persson is the only white man that has reggae in his blood. Wether he really said it or not, or if it's true or not, I cannot say.

Peps turned even more into a personal hero when he in 2010 decided to sue the racist Sweden Democrats (SD) for hijacking a song of his ("Grannen", which means "The Neighbour") and cutting it down to one verse as a political propaganda for the party. The SD politician responsible for the act did so with the message of "This is why I vote for SD" on a webpage, while in fact the lyrics of the song is meant to advocate the complete opposite of SD's message. This song, "Oh boy" from 1992 is one of my favourites and is a signature summer song for me. I'll make an amateur attempt to translate the lyrics below. Enjoy!

"Oh boy!
What a beautiful weather, sun's shining today.
Oh boy!
No heavy clothes are needed, and that I like.
Stand up and jump, it's sunny today,
and on a day like that you can't lie and slack.
No, leave that and come with me outside
when summer's coming, now winter is gone.
Oh boy!
Hear the bird song, they sing so you get dizzy.

Oh boy!
Here in the yard's path, the road leads to an adventure.
Yes, imagine that you can be so happy
of the ground's flowers and of green leafs.
And the child inside you comes home again
to forgotten dreams and to the summer.
Oh boy!

Oh boy!
What happy tunes, it's pulling and quivering inside of me.
Oh boy!
A thousand million hugs I want to give you.
Yes, imagine that it can be so easy sometimes.
So simple as to hold out a hand,
and wipe the gravel off a child's cheek,
and feel the warmth from a summer wind.
Oh boy!
What a gift from above it is to live today.

Oh boy!
The pure gift of God, is it strange that I'm happy?
For the sun's shining, and you are here,
and earth is spinning on it's heavenly sphere.
And really when you feel like this,
the world is close to a paradise."

Monday, April 25, 2011

Cairo Protests - Flashbacks

One of many military helicopters above Tahrir

Maybe I'm just in a period when every emotion is hightened, when small things are blown out of proportions, and I hope that's the case. I thought I had gotten over what happened in Cairo, but apparently that isn't so. I feel bad for reacting the way I do. I wasn't, after all, part of the revolution; I didn't get shot, none of my friends or family got killed or emprisoned. And still, it affected me in ways I couldn't have predicted. A couple of nights ago I woke up from a semi-sleep by two helicopters circling above the house and in a second I was back in Cairo. It took me a while before I fully realized that I was safely in a small town in Southwestern Sweden, but the panic was hard to slip away from and sleep was no longer an option.

Meanwhile in Egypt, former president Hosni Mubarak is being transferred to a military hospital while waiting for the Tora prison to be medically equipped to recieve him, says Egyptian newspaper al-Masry al-Youm. A couple of weeks ago, Mubarak suffered a heart attack during the questioning about the murdering of pro-democracy protesters during the revolution. 

Egypt's military interim government is denying the accusations of Gaddafi's Egypt based cousin Ahmed Gaddaf al-Dam of funding the Libyan government and of recruiting Egyptian mercenaries, Reuters says. The Egyptian military has so far been careful to not take sides in the Libyan situation but has kept the border between the two countries open to assure that aid, medical equipment and food can reach the Libyans. The number of refugees fleeing Libya into Egypt is far above 100.000. I haven't found a current number, but a month ago, the UNHCR reported the number to be at least 118.000. If anyone has a more up-to-date number, please let me know.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Back to Reality

It feels surreal that I was in Egypt just 9 days ago. It feels much longer, or that I haven't been there at all. It's like one of those strange dreams that leaves you waking up confused, not knowing what was real and what wasn't. I was just away for three months - it's incredible how much can happen during such a short time. My whole life as I knew it is gone and once back in Sweden I'm suddenly in a completely new role, with different visions and plans. I'm still me, but things have definitely changed.

I've been having trouble sleeping since I got back, but I hope that will change within the next week. It has to. It's amazing how apparently small happenings can turn into enormous life changing moments, revolutions on the inside and outside. I know I'm not making much sense at the moment, but hopefully I will catch up with my thoughts and feelings soon enough.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Cairo Protests - A Last Visit to Tahrir



At two in the afternoon a noisy bus departed fron Hurghada, heading north to the mighty Egyptian capital. Through dusty windows we watched the desert take shape, with rugged black mountains as a silhuette against the darkening sky. As the burning sun gave in to the coming of a star filled night sky and the Red Sea to our right darkened from exotic turquoise to a more respect-giving maroon wilderness, wild flashes started to light up the sky. Paranoid as ever, I considered the flashes as a bad omen but forced myself to let go of the thought of bad things to come. Turns out, of course, that it was nothing but my paranoia of getting back to Cairo. Relaxing a little, I leaned back and continued to listen to an audio book.

Soon, the harsh black mountains were beaten down by equally dark and looming concrete buildings. The stars disappeared and I had to settle with the depressing apricot-pink smoggy sky. ”Back in the jungle” I thought, ”What will it bring this time?”

We went straight to a rented apartment and I literally collapsed on a rock-hard bed. Sleep refused to come though. Instead I laid awake, or in some kind of semi coma and stirred with every sound from the street or the neighbors – or the movements from the wonderful man lying next to me. The plan was to wake up early. That didn't happen. Late in the afternoon, when the setting sun had started to spread gold over the city, we got in a taxi and headed to Khan al-Khalili to do some last minute shopping. I'd have to go in exile if I came home to Sweden without having brought gifts to all my thousand brothers and sisters.

Once done with the shopping, we found ourselves close to the street where we used to live in Cairo during the revolution; Abdel Khaled Sarwat. We decided to walk the street for good old times, and without my dear Khalid suspecting anything (all was, of course, planned in detail by yours sincerely) on our way to Tahrir Square. It was Friday after all and since the revolution started, every Friday have been called something like ”Friday of Anger/Judgement/Trial.” I couldn't leave Egypt without making one last visit to the place that made history and brought up so many feelings inside me. And what a good choice that was!

Tahrir was just like I remembered it. This very Friday, tens of thousands had turned up to force new life into the revolution and to ”push the country's ruling military council to prosecute the former president, Hosni Mubarak, who stepped down under immense popular pressure on February 11.” According to my experiences during that last visit to Tahrir, they succeeded into blowing life into the people. There were the usual chanting and singing, flags being waved in every direction, faces being painted in the Egyptian colours, people wanting to pose infront of the camera... but I felt that the cheering was louder today.

How can it then be, that later during the night, military started to shoot live fire and teargas?  Two people are said to have been killed. Reports are saying that barbed wire is put up around the square to keep protesters out and that the military and police presence is huge. I'm too tired to think at the moment, but I'll keep you posted of what's going on in Cairo as much as I can through my sources.

As for now, I'll drink up my orange juice and head for the gate in Istanbul Attaturk. In a few hours I'll once again be in cold Sweden.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Egypt Protests - Hurghada: Safe or Not?

A beach that's usually cramped lies desolate.

Because of the ongoing Egyptian campaign to get the tourists to come back to the country, I've recieved several questions wether the country is safe or not. Since I made my way to Hurghada after Cairo I thought it might be a good idea to explain the overall situation in the city from my point of view. I'll do my very best to stay impartial so that any reader can judge for themselves if it's a good idea or not to travel to Hurghada.

When I first arrived, on February 8th, the city was pretty desolate. All, except for an insignificant numer of mostly British and Russians, had been evacuated and those that were still around mostly stayed at home or in their hotels. Businesses closed and all restaurants, cafés and clubs gaped empty of customers. People started to run out of cash as the banks were closed and the ATM:s were emptied.

There have been small protests in Hurghada during the revolution. The first one was reported to have taken place on January 29th. As in other places across the country, locals have been forced to create vigilante groups to protect their homes and businesses from looters as the police disappeared from the streets. 

The day Mubarak stepped down I witnessed the relief and hope that many locals in Hurghada had kept to themselves up until that moment. The people took to the streets in celebration and street parties gathered around the city with music, dancing, cheering and fireworks. A month after the protests in Cairo started there was an event in Mashrabia Village in the touristic part of Hurghada to remember and praise the martyrs. Poetry and live music were mixed with emotional speaches and a general atmosphere of happiness and respect. Both locals and internationals participated that evening and I'm sure it is one to be remembered for a long time.

Although the instability and security issues present in Cairo and other large cities around the country didn't reach touristic towns like Hurghada and Sharm al-Sheikh, the spirit of the New Egypt reached it after Mubarak stepped down. As the pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir Square arranged a clean-up day, the people in Hurghada followed. Streets were cleaned from rubbish and huge piles of gathering trash were sorted and put in recycling stations. The Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Association (HEPCA) has taken huge responsibilities in keeping the Red Sea clean and the project manager Ahmed Droubi said to Egyptian newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm that:

Important changes in people’s attitude towards the environment and the protection of their living areas. It seems that people have rediscovered a sense of ownership of the country, and they are more ready than ever to protect it.

This attitude has spread to different areas of the Egyptian lives. People are being more responsible and cosequent as many see that they themselves are crucial in building up the New Egypt. It's true that shop workers and businessmen continue with their at times aggressive methods to get the tourists to buy their products, but I genuinely feel that the overall attitude towards foreigners have changed in a dramatic way. They/we are still money personalized in many people's eyes, but I feel that I'm now being met with more respect and gratitude than anything else.

On March 6th an Egyptian reporter was assaulted and recieved death threats by the Hurghada State Security after he had witnessed and photographed officers burning documents. The reporter were broght to the hospital and was unconscious from the beatings. The public prosecutor has ordered an investigation about the incident.

At the time of my own arrival in Hurghada, the city was a ghost town and although most tourism is still largely absent, life is slowly but steadily returning to normal. If anyone wants to see what this once small fishing town was like before it developed into a tourist paradise, now is definitely the time to visit. The police are back in the streets and Hurghada is still the paradise that have been drawing tourists for years. It's without a doubt that the situation in Egypt is still unstable and that events can develop, but my guess is that Hurghada as well as other main tourist towns around the Red Sea will continue to be safe for foreigners. If I myself wouldn't already be living here but always wanted to visit Egypt, then I'd definitely chose this time. Not only because of the calm, beautiful weather and wonderful sea, but also to support the Egyptians that have been (and still are) working so hard to accomplish their freedom from oppression.

I will continue to report about the situation in Hurghada and upload pictures as I go.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Cairo Protests - A Tourist in Tahrir


To make it easier, I made a list of the videos and photos I shot during the first two weeks in Tahrir Square. The days that are uncovered were simply because of cowardice. Journalists, i.e. foreigners with cameras, were being targeted so I chose to be (somewhat) safe rather than sorry.
I wish I could have been there until Mubarak stepped down, but things went out of hand. Although the pro-democracy protesters in Tahrir was and would defend me if necessary I no longer felt I could continue reporting without putting myself in too much risk. Instead I got to witness the reactions among the locals in a a café in Hurghada. The relief and happiness was of course high and I'll be forever greatful to have witnessed history unfold. This is a once in a lifetime experience that I will talk about until I'm on my deathbed, that's for sure!