What a beautiful way to start the week :) Beautiful dogs and babies … and as someone said, makes me want to have one of each ;)
I am on a month long work-exchange in Ethiopia, working with the Food Security team here at the Dutch Embassy in Addis Ababa.
I don’t know what I expected to be very honest but if I had any expectation, Ethiopia has certainly exceeded all of them. My first impression of Addis Ababa was that it’s huge!!! It’s a big city, spread out in what appears to be a valley or several valleys connected together. But with a population of 4 to 5 million, for a Bangladeshi like me, it’s very sparsely populated :)
The roads are busy but there’s none of the incessant honking that drives people crazy in Dhaka traffic. And I find that it’s pretty representative of the people here ….. Ethiopian’s are quiet, reserved people, very dignified & proud in their heritage (and absolutely rightly so). Unfailingly cordial and extremely polite, unlike the Bangalis they keep their nose out of other people’s business. One foot in the past – a long glorious heritage, yet one planted firmly towards the future – in progress for everyone. Though deeply religious, women here do enjoy a different kind of freedom.
What that freedom means on a day to day basis is that it’s absolutely possible to have peace & quiet in the middle of a crowd. You can sit quietly in a cafe and enjoy the view without being gawked at, commented at or imposed on in any manner. You can walk down the busy roads without people bumping into you every few feet. And as a woman I feel more comfortable & safer here then in my own country. Ethiopians also have more women parliamentarians then Bangladesh & the labour force participation is significantly higher.
Before I came, I read up on Ethiopia and was impressed by the fact that this country has never been colonised. I expected this to mean something, but exactly what, I couldn’t have said. Now that I am here, I do see the difference between a population colonised vs. a population who were always the master of their own destiny. Even though Ethiopians are very polite, you can tell that the color of one’s skin doesn’t impress here. In former colonies there’s a tendency to idolise white skin people, to give more attention, to try to impress, to cater to, we have not gotten over the ‘white master’ syndrome. If a native person makes a suggestion or give advice, we might shake it off BUT if a white person makes the same, people trip over each other trying to be the first ones to take it. It’s frustrating because it sidelines the suggestion & advice of people who know their country best AND has its best interest at heart. Here, the Ethiopians are very nationalistic & while they are open to advice, they also make it a point to accept suggestions on their own terms, in their own time. Sure it slows things down but it also means that local ownership is high. Which after all is more important in order for development activities to be sustainable.
The previous Prime Minister made a very public declaration that Ethiopia will pursue a climate resilient green economy. A tall order but a very commendable one. While the understanding of climate change, its negative impact on environment & stress on the livelihood of the population varies among various professional, the attention though continues to impress me. As the Native Americans say “we do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children”. In our pursuit for economic growth we tend to compromise on that, and perhaps some compromise is inevitable, a trade-off if you will, at least here the choices are being looked at & deliberated on more vigorously.
IMF ranks Ethiopia among the five fastest growing economies in the world and in 2013/2014 the economy grew for its 11th consecutive year posting 10.3% growth. Quite impressive for a non-oil producing economy. However it is still far from its ambition to become a middle income country by 2025. With around 29% of its population living below the poverty line there is much work that still needs to be done. And the government seems to be on the right track with a stable political environment, progressive economic liberalisation and high focus on green & equitable growth.
Quite an impression for the very first week in a new country :) I can hardly wait to see how much more there will be learn over the upcoming days.
We tend to think it’s the big moments that define, make or break relationships but as recent research showed we thought wrong. In this book, Mind Gym: Achieve More by Thinking Differently, exploring his research, Gottman looked at those “seemingly meaningless and inconsequential exchanges between people.”
And as he puts it:
These seemingly big moments are not the defining ones that make or break relationships. Rather, it’s almost always the small things, like that time two weeks ago when your friend asked you if you wanted a cup of coffee. How you responded to that question may have influenced the relationship more than you can imagine.
These apparently inconsequential moments determine the fate of relationships more than arguments. Psychologist John Gottman can determine the fate of a married couple with an accuracy rate in the 90s.
As meaningless as they seemed on the surface, at a deeper level, the exchanges were highly nuanced, emotional signals …
These emotional signals are what Gottman called “bids.” And it turns out that how we respond to bids is the key to successful relationships.
So this got me thinking – over what has been – successful or unsuccessful past relationships and the exact moments when they either went north or south. And as far as I could remember, it was these small moments – things that were said, either in the heat of the moment or in unthoughtful or thoughtful ways – that forever changed how I viewed that particular relationship.
There was that time when someone very close to me passed away and my best friend at the time made the comment, “but what did you expect? she was so …. “. Whatever else ‘she’ might have been, that was not a kind thing to say at a moment of intense grief and loss about someone who has passed away. My BF and I drifted apart as I noticed more and more how insensitive she can be and unkind. That relationship never did recover.
There was the other time earlier this year, when I walked up to a girl in my class and said “I want to interrogate you because I think you are an interesting person”. She could’ve been intimidated, she could’ve hedged, instead she said “sure, as long as I get to ask you questions too”. So we talked, very candidly, asking and answering questions that went well beyond the polite small talks we had until that point. A few months later, we are sleeping over at each other’s house, planning trips together and loving this new friendship that sustains us.
In both of these cases, the other person was a women. But I notice the same in my relationships with other men. Friends, lovers, colleagues, acquaintances. There is this collection of moments or rather a build up of many small moments, where a switch flips and it’s either a big yes or no. In the case of no, I have walked away, from the person, from the situation. I have walked away knowing that I am better off walking away then staying.
Do you think Gottman is right or wrong in emphasizing these small moments or ’emotional bids’ as the foundation of relationships?
Words used to be hard but the heart was soft. The words clamored over each other hoping for the heart to be understood. In time, with life, the realization came that there will never be acceptance, as long as it’s very right to exist remains under question. When your existence is threatened you change – like the water that flows around the rock, you learn to adapt to whatever life places on your path.
You learn to adapt but in the process you do change.
Now the words are soft but the heart is harder. I have learnt the value of things from people who don’t value them. Ultimately I have learnt that my value is whatever I deem it to be. I have learnt to play with words, to make it softer and more amenable. After years of being advised to be less direct and more diplomatic, I have learnt the art of ‘tact’ and I have had some really wise men to look up to for that.
I have also learnt to enjoy sarcasm as I play with words. They are so malleable. specially in those moments when your sarcasm could be your reason for your untimely death. But really, who doesn’t like the play on words?
I still hate small talk and I would much rather have in-depth passionate discussions instead. But I have learnt that small talks are necessary evil, you can never quite escape them.
Ultimately, our words are our paint brushes, the one’s with which we paint pictures of our existence, our reality, our everyday lives, our thoughts, our inner lives.
Love this talk from a 71 year old woman who is amazing! Not only is it about being graceful, it’s about living in the moment, with humor, passion and freedom to be yourself :)
What have I gained? Freedom: I don’t have to prove anything anymore. I’m not stuck in the idea of who I was, who I want to be, or what other people expect me to be. I don’t have to please men anymore, only animals. I keep telling my superego to back off and let me enjoy what I still have. My body may be falling apart, but my brain is not, yet. I love my brain. I feel lighter. I don’t carry grudges, ambition, vanity, none of the deadly sins that are not even worth the trouble. It’s great to let go. I should have started sooner.And I also feel softer because I’m not scared of being vulnerable. I don’t see it as weakness anymore.And I’ve gained spirituality. I’m aware that before, death was in the neighborhood. Now, it’s next door, or in my house. I try to live mindfully and be present in the moment. By the way, the Dalai Lama is someone who has aged beautifully, but who wants to be vegetarian and celibate?
First off, thank you to the awesome people in my life. Thank you for reminding me that kindness exists every where. Thank you for lifting me up. Thank you for brightening my life every single day. Thank you for being honest & straight forward with me. Thank you to my family, friends, my mentors & colleagues. Thank you for showing me a thousand ways to love & live in every moment.
I saw this video a couple of days ago and since today is my birthday and I am stepping into 37 and staring the big 4-0 in the face – it seemed like a good time to take a look back on what has been a rather interesting journey so far.
It’s been 7 years since I started blogging. Putting my thoughts out into the open, for others to see, comment on and debate. It’s scary. Very scary. Mostly because I had this hang up on an unconscious need for approval. As life happened, I learnt that I really don’t need the approval or validation of others to be awesome.
I am a round peg in a square hole and maybe I don’t fit in because I am supposed to help create a new world. And I am – in my own little corner of the world, in my immediate sphere, I am making a difference and that’s enough. I am kind (mostly), considerate (maybe too much), empathetic (again, too much), loyal & protective (but these are things that I never want to change about myself). Most days I manage to retain a sense of humor – someday’s its more sarcastic & dry and that’s ok too.
I know in my bones that even though the night is darkest right before dawn, the sun will inevitably rise. There is a light at the end of the tunnel and all I have to do is to continue putting one foot in front of the other, to keep moving forward. I have learnt to say ‘no’, draw my boundary and roll with the punches. I know that no matter how many times I fall down, I am capable of picking myself up, dusting it off and going on.
You never know when it might be the last time you speak to someone. As I lose more people who I love, I have learnt that death can come for any of us at anytime. It’s very important to tell the people you love that you love them. Let people know when you appreciate something about them. Give others compliments – genuine, specific compliments. Let people know when who they are, and what they do for you, lifts you up.
Love with gusto. I don’t get how people can love in half measures with a generous sprinkling of caution. That’s like saying I am going to the pool but I am not going to jump in, swim around or get wet in anyway. If you are going to love something, love with all your heart. I consider myself very lucky to have incredible people in my life, who care for me and show me that in a thousand ways.
Half measures & half-hearted efforts yield mediocre results. To cultivate high quality relationships takes time (sometimes years), sincere effort, devotion, honesty, integrity and most of all genuine kindness. You can’t do any of this in half measures, whether it’s your work or your people, give a 100% and more. Let go of attachment to results. The destination is important but it’s more important to enjoy the journey.
Be Grateful, cultivate an attitude of gratitude. Give more than you get, spread kindness, happiness – the world will always need more of that. When someone helps you out, thank them. Smile at someone who isn’t smiling today. Say good morning, thank you, ask how are you & really listen to their answer. Sometimes we all need a ear and a shoulder for support.
Life isn’t black or white. Choices aren’t straight forward. Decisions shouldn’t be rigid. Be prepared to change as things changed. If you are stuck in a position, take a break. Breathe, walk, come back later with a cooler head. More often than not, I find that it makes me more willing to take a look at the opposing perspective. No one is all good, all bad, no decision or action is a person in their entirety.
Bad things happen to good people all the time. And that’s ok too. Being hung up on good, bad, fair, unfair only creates discontent and dissatisfaction. Take life as it comes, instead of resisting, flow the way water flows around a boulder on a river. Death isn’t fair and sometimes it takes the one’s who are too young or too loved.
If you let people screw you over more than twice, then I am sorry but you really are a moron. And I have been moronic – too trusting, too giving, too sympathetic, too forgiving. Funny thing is, I don’t think I lost anything. I gained lessons. I learnt to lose people and sometimes to kick off the one’s that hang on and suck my soul dry. I am ok with living somewhere in the shades of gray but I know now that some things can never be compromised on. I have a better idea of what my ‘deal breakers’ are.
Success is mostly hard work, with a tiny sprinkling of luck. The harder you work, the more your luck improves. However, there IS a big difference between being smart, working smart and just being hard-working. Sometimes the lazy way to get things done, really is the best way, it leaves one with more time to do other things.
Be open to new things. It really is amazing to stay open to new opportunities, adventures, places, people, culture, food, experience. Test your boundaries – life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Be alive while you are still living. My places to see and things to do list is ever-expanding. At this rate I have given up on any hope of being able to tick it all off. However, every time I do tick off something, I do my victory dance – the cross between my chicken dance and pointy dance. Find your rhythm and do your funky dance, celebrate your victories & success, celebrate people & their kindness.
I have learnt the value of quality over quantity. It doesn’t matter whether it’s clothes, shoes, handbags or relationships. It’s better to have few very good friends, who lift you up, sing you the song of your soul when you have forgotten it. Then to have hundreds of friends whom you rarely, interact with. Small talk is over-rated. Don’t change yourself to fit with others. You are an original and it’s worth more than a copy. So be you, be awesome, be totally weird!
Commit to things but make sure that they are really what you need. We tend to confuse our wants with needs. I want a knight in shining armor who will ride off into the sunset with me, so we can have a house in the country with white picket fence and 2.5 kids. What I need is someone who will let me be the monk who meditates for a month in a remote mountain in solitude. Or go off in a grand adventure around the world with my friends. See the difference? Huge! What I think I want is what I have grown up with in fairy tales and the social expectations heaped on me. What I need is what my soul demands, the wanderlust in me who begs to be set free.
Don’t listen to other people’s advice, nobody knows what they are doing. People mean well – at least sometimes they really do. But if I wanted to run like the wind, I wouldn’t go to a turtle for advice. We are unique human beings and each one of us dreams of something very different from the others. If you listen to other people, they’ll either tell you what they have done, what has worked for them, or how you should or shouldn’t do what you want to do. So if you are going to take advice, better make sure that the people who advice you ARE where you want to be.
Avoid toxicity – at all cost – in everything. You only have one life to live, one body to live in, one mind that will be with you for the rest of your life. So be kind to yourself, to your body, your mind. Avoid toxic people, junk food, negative thoughts. They take out more than they put in and in the end, it’s really not worth it. Cut out the crap, exercise, meditate, take long walks in nature, hold hands and hug your loved one’s.
The only person you should be competing with is yourself. Don’t compare yourself to others. You don’t really know what they are going through. Also, you may not really want their life if you knew. What others have to say about you is none of your business – it’s a reflection of them, not you. Also what others do is none of your business unless it has direct negative impact on you (like a physical threat). In which case – hit first, hit hard, neutralize the threat and remove yourself from the situation.
Discard labels. Tags and labels are for stuff – clothes, shoes, bags, accessories. Not human beings. Do not allow others to label you – beautiful, smart, stupid or whatever. Good or bad – your life’s narrative is your own. You decide how you want to write it and do it your own way. If you don’t, others will. Choose your words wisely – the way you describe yourself – verbally out loud or silently within your own head – is what you project out into the world.
If you are stuck, keep hammering at the door to new opportunities. If it stays closed, then sneak in through the window. The only one who can really help yourself or change your life for the better is you. Pick your heroes and mentors carefully, they do shape who you become but even they can only show you the door, the decision to walk through is exclusively yours.
Be awesome, be kind, charity starts with yourself and in your own home. Be the best version of yourself. Be your own best friend. Learn to love your life and be comfortable in your own skin. Believe in yourself and stop being your own worst critic.
The Cherokee Indians have this saying as a yard stick to measure our lives against and for Cesare this was certainly true. He passed away from a horrific tragic incident on Monday and left the rest of us crying in his wake. We lost a great deal that night – a great friend, colleague, doting father, son, brother, loving boyfriend. He was many things to many people, much-loved, respected and truly dear to all who knew him. If I had called Cesare a great man on his face, he would’ve laughed at me. But he WAS a great man to work with – kind, humble, knowledgeable, with a wicked sense of humor. He was efficient and practical about getting things done. As a professional colleague if you had a problem that you needed to get resolved, he was the person to hand it over to.
Cesare and I met earlier this year when he took over the job of leading PROOFS, our food security project. We hit it off from the very beginning and quickly developed an easy camaraderie. He was that kind of person, he had a way of putting people at ease. A man of his word, he earned trust through his actions. One of his favorite sayings was that ‘we don’t have to like each other but we must respect each other’ and that sums up the way he was with the people around him. The respect that he gave to even the bearers or drivers in his office was telling of the way he treated all people with dignity. He was not impressed by titles, status or hierarchy – he was impressed by how much people would bring to the table and could contribute to improving the lives of others. He had a way of cutting through the bullshit to get to the heart of the matter. He called a spade a spade but was tactful, diplomatic & always had a smile on his face.
As we became friends, I discovered that there was no BS’ing around him, none of the tedious small talks that barely scratch the surface. Our conversations jumped topics, ran deep, was heated, long & would range from our frustration with our work, how change doesn’t happen fast enough, to our weirdest travel experiences, our kooky retirement plans or wildest dreams. He was easy to talk to, to get to know, to let your guard down with. He was so positive with this ‘joie de vivre’ about him that you could not help but be utterly charmed by his enthusiasm for life and all that it had to offer. Decades down the road, Cesare hoped to buy an island to retire to and Kate & I tried our best to convince him to let us live on it as caretakers. The island dream was something that would materialize far into the future but we talked about it like it was right around the corner.
The day he passed away, we exchanged messages back and forth about the long weekend get-away (respite in nature) in which he was supposed to join our group but decided at the last moment that he couldn’t. He teased me about being a city girl for loving the comforts that civilization/technology offers us and declared that my love for air-conditioning is the reason Bangladesh is sinking from climate change and our Island would disappear before we ever get a chance to retire …. “I love to swim but to swim on a permanent basis….”.
We spoke briefly barely an hour or so before the incident, which made it that much more harder for me to wrap my head around the fact that I would not be able to pick up the phone and hear him on the other end anymore. The hours since then has been interminable. Why? How? Who? The what if’s? And in the midst of this crushing grief, this sudden loss of a great person, a friend, I am now confronted by questions from others on what was he like? how will he be remembered?
The answer to that is I want him to be known not for the tragic way his life ended but the incredibly kind, passionate way he had lived & dedicated his life to a cause, to the greater good.
I want him to be remembered as he was – warm, loving, kind, funny, intelligent, a witty gentle old soul. He’s the only Italian I knew who didn’t care for coffee at all but was very specific about how he wanted his pizza. He doted on his daughter, loved his girlfriend and was very close to his family.
I want to remember Cesare the way I had seen him – always relaxed with the creases around his eyes deepened by his smile. He smiled with his heart, it sparkled in his eyes and lighted up all those around him. A truly remarkable human being who gave selflessly of himself to the service of others.
It is incredibly sad that Cesare’s life ended so soon and I cannot put into words how much we will miss him. Cesare was a positive person and would not want us to be sad today. If he were here he would tell us to cheer up, smile and remember all of the great memories we all shared. Even though Cesare may be gone, his memory will live on in all of us forever.
Buddy, you will be sorely missed! May your soul rest in peace … much love from all of us you left behind, to follow in our time.
(All pictures of Cesare is by Laurent from their joint visit to the PROOFS project in June 2015).