I Was Wrong About…Early Mornings

Photo by Inka Vappula

My friends and family know that early mornings and I have never been in cahoots. In some circles it’s even my unfortunate claim to fame: “Oh, you’re that Inka, the one who threw a punch at someone for trying to wake you up. Yeah, I’ve heard about you”. For the record, it’s been 10 years, it only happened once, and I missed. So put down the sticks people, that horse is mulch by now.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Grossly exaggerated stories aside, I truly have always hated early mornings. I don’t feel grumpy per se, although I have been told I look like I’m ready to murder, I’m just slow to start—like an old PC. I don’t think I’ve ever woken up naturally with the sunrise. And I’ve always had a strong distaste for those inspirational morning quotes: “the morning is full of possibilities” and all that crap.  The whole day is full of possibilities if you ask me. Silly morning-person propaganda, I thought.

University is a paradise for slow starters, such as myself. During my first semester, I made the mistake of enrolling in a linguistics course, which ran at 8:30 am on Fridays. Mostly I remember having a stiff neck all spring from sleeping sitting up. I rectified the situation by planning my schedule so that I never had to be up and about before noon. Ah, bliss!

However, during the past year, my optimal, late-riser schedule went topsy-turvy. I began a teacher-training program, which meant that most weekdays I had to either be attending classes or teaching them by 8 o’clock. It was my Everest.

In the beginning it was a twisted form of torture, I’m not going to lie. Even with a dangerously high coffee dosage, I felt—and probably looked like—the living dead, dragging my cumbrous feet from point A to point B, dazed and unaware of my surroundings. And I was constantly finding myself in the toilet, due to the unlawful amounts of coffee I was consuming. Torture, I tell you! I was miserable and much more adamant in my hatred of early mornings than I’d ever been.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

As the year has progressed, however, strange things have begun to happen. First, my body stopped resisting the new rhythm of life, and then my attitude began to shift as well. I’ve come to relish the way my senses are attuned to the morning and the routines I’ve adopted: the softness of woolen socks as I slip them on and tiptoe downstairs to make coffee; the familiar drip and gurgle accompanied by the rich aroma of a fresh brew as it falls in the pot; dark winter mornings, eating breakfast in the candlelight; or in the spring, watching the sun put on a splendid color display as it climbs lazily across the horizon.

The stillness, the serenity.

I’m a long way from becoming the person who jumps straight out of bed into running shoes. I doubt I’ll ever be that person. But I will admit: I was wrong about early mornings. They are okay–dare I say–even enjoyable, as long as they contain coffee and solitude.

A Chronicle of Pet Catastrophes

Photo by Inka Vappula

Pets are a great way to teach kids about responsibility. At best, pets live long and happy lives becoming like family members. At worst, they live short, tragi-comical lives and cause all kinds of trouble. Most families take a pet, but not all should. My family has always been a magnet for all sorts of pet-related mishaps, and I feel it’s time to air out the dirty laundry. Here is the chronicle of our pet catastrophes.

My first pet was a gerbil named Sarah. In fact all three of us siblings received our own pet gerbils: two girls and one boy. Small, quiet, low maintenance is what my parents thought when agreeing to purchase those puffy-cheeked, jumpy rodents. But as we found out, nothing could have been further from the truth. They were kept in two separate cages but behind our parents’ backs we would move the boy, Vilperi, from his solitary confinement in with the girls. We felt sorry for the poor bugger, all alone in his bachelor pad and saw no cause for concern with these occasional conjugal visits.

It didn’t take long for the family of three to begin growing exponentially.

There were baby gerbils shooting out left and right. We were ecstatic! Pink and wrinkly little things at first, but covered with a beautiful layer of soft fur within a few weeks. They melted our hearts scurrying through the cage, whiskers quivering. We couldn’t get enough of the babies, and that was the problem.

Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

Gerbil mamas take threats seriously. The stress of a possible threat to their young sends them into a frenzy. At the first sign of danger they go into destruction mode sinking their teeth into the necks of the babies and effectively ending their short lives. Us kids squealing with excitement and picking the babies up from the cage were pretty much the ultimate threats, and our dream of an ever-growing gerbil family quickly turned into a bloody massacre. After the gerbil fiasco of 1996 we didn’t buy new pets for quite a while. We all needed time to heal.

Some years down the line we moved to the Middle East where pet stores we filled with exotic birds and reptiles. The gerbil fiasco had left scars, we’d sworn rodents off indefinitely, and so we opted for three tiny snapping turtles and two budgies. The turtles lived in a low terrarium, up on the third shelf of a bookcase in my siblings’ room. We quickly learned that these were no cuddly pets. Their necks stretched out backwards over their shells to bite anyone who dared to pick them up. They had mean eyes and surprisingly quick reflexes. It was a mistake to buy them. Nonetheless, we kept them, fed them and thought they had a pretty good life up on the third shelf. Little did we know, those ninja turtles began planning an escape the day we brought them home.

One by one they made a crawl for it. The first one disappeared a couple months in and was later retrieved from the bathtub, which stood half a meter off the ground. How he’d gotten there? We never did find out. The second snapper disappeared not long after that. He escaped without a trace: a cold case. Four years after the mysterious disappearance we made a startling discovery. An unidentifiable round shell-like thing was found behind the bookcase in my siblings’ room. It was a turtle skeleton.

Alongside the turtles, we also had two budgies. We didn’t have any better luck with birds. The original ones, Leaf and Snowball, became the first of a whole dynasty of birds. Apparently budgies don’t do too well in 40-degree heat, so a couple of them died of heat exhaustion. Others found an open window during their “free flying” time and never returned. With every new death or escape, bitter tears were cried and heart-wrenching eulogies were written to the point that my parents decided birds probably weren’t the right fit for us.

With so many bad experiences under our belts, you’d think we would eventually just stop getting pets. But we didn’t. Since there were no birds in the house anymore, my sister decided she wanted cat. So for her birthday my dad went out to the market where kittens were sold in cardboard boxes (animal rights: not a thing in the Middle East) and brought home the most gorgeous blue-eyed, grey cat. My sister called her Cloud. The name was a doom prophecy if there ever was one. Cloud grew up to be a severely disturbed cat, most likely because she’d been taken from her mother and the rest of the litter just a few days post birth. While she was with us, she raised all kinds of hell, lunging at anything and everything. We’d put her on the balcony to calm down, where she’d defiantly sit on the balcony ledge. After half a year or so it became too difficult to control her and we gave her away to a nice family who thought they could handle her. Cloud, taking her name too literally, jumped off the third floor balcony. She must have had some lives left though, because she survived with two broken back legs.

Rodents, reptiles, birds, and felines we had failed them all.  It had been over 10 years since the gerbil fiasco and we thought we were ready to give rodents another shot. Friends of ours were moving abroad and needed a home for their two elderly (and chubby) guinea pigs. Those fellows were cute, especially when stuffing their cheeks with grub. And they loved their food. In our overbearing care they put on a little too much, a little too fast. Before you had time to say: “wow those guinea pigs are fat”, they’d become so hefty, they couldn’t stand on their little tiny feet anymore. Friends would come over and ask what’s wrong with our guinea pigs, and we’d have to reassure them that they are alive, but just too fat to move. This was the final nail in the coffin. The gerbil fiasco of 1996, the case of the missing turtle, the dynasty of budgies, the suicidal cat, and now the obese guinea pigs: we really didn’t need any more evidence of how unfit we were to be pet owners. We were done. We’ve never owned pets since, and it’s probably best for all parties involved.

Confessions of a dreamer turned opportunist

Photo by Inka Vappula
Photo by Inka Vappula

Photo by Inka Vappula

For many a job in the creative field, be it photography, screenwriting or clay animation, is the dream. Earnestly chasing THE dream, and then having the success story featured in a chic online publication–possibly the height of accomplishment. In the social media age, the odds of succeeding are greater than they’ve ever been. The experts and the creative are the winners in this media-crazed society of ours, the nine-to-fivers ambitionless slacks.

My dream has been to write. In my wildest daydreams I saw myself sitting in a neighborhood café, sipping on a double shot Americano while drawing up an article from my recent trip to Greenland. In my slightly more moderate dreams, I imagined myself walking into a grocery store and picking up dinner, knowing that my words had paid for every item in the basket.

Last fall my dream became a reality. I was ecstatic.

“What do you do?” someone would ask me.

“I write,” I’d answers with shivers of excitement running all the way down to my toes.

For my first paid article I interviewed two café-owners. These ladies, a food-journalist and a photographer, had changed career paths in their fifties and now ran a stylish neighborhood café that smelled of homemade bread and locally roasted coffee. Naturally, I assumed opening a place with such a cozy feel must have been a realization of a lifelong dream, but when I inquired about it, the answer was a resounding “no”.

“It was never our dream to own a café,” they told me.

“So many people make the mistake of following a dream,” one began.

“And then two years down the line they give up, because running a café is rarely about pouring coffee in a frilly apron,” the other finished the sentence.

Following a dream is a mistake? Never! I thought, as I was still high on my own dream’s fruition into reality. But didn’t take long for reality to crash full-steam (and quite mercilessly) into my pink-hued daydreams.

Before, my words were free. I wrote when inspiration struck and never steered far from familiar topics. There was time to mold sentences into all sort of funky shapes, to play with the clay. But when I began to writing for a living, every word became heavy with expectation to please other people enough for me to have at least two-digit numbers on my bank account. What’s more, I was no longer the determiner of my own subject matter.

Instead of the pretty little café of my daydreams, I found myself downing a second beer at eleven o’clock on a Monday night, frantically trying to finish a seven-page article for the following morning. Or desperately dialing and re-dialing the number of an overloaded CEO, “I just need thirty minutes of your day, please sir!” Words, my favorite creative outlet, became a product I was responsible for delivering on a tight schedule. A dissonance settles in when a cherished art form becomes a source of income.

The comfort is that with experience the burden to deliver weighs a little less. But the collision of my dreams with reality knocked the rose-colored glasses right off my nose. A dream is by definition something unattainable, a perfected image. There might be a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, but more of than not, all you find is a cow, apathetically munching on tuffs of grass. A creative job is still just another job. Like any other job it’s going to feel like hard work, and it’s bound to suck balls from time to time. The cover stories that worshipfully endorse the contemporary ethos of living on a passion often fail to include recounts of how those dark bags found a permanent place under the eyes. That’s a shame, because the glorification of creative jobs leads to tunnel vision. And so, viable job opportunities, where one’s talents would be put to good use, can easily pass by. Some passions and creative endeavors are too precious and serve better purposes than that of paying the bills. They are worthwhile even without the price tag.

I’m going to keep writing, because I feel this chapter of my life still has something to offer. I want to see what’s on the next page (and also, starving is really not my thing). Come summer I’ll have time for words that are mine alone and that’s a thrilling thought. But in terms of the distant future, nothing is set in stone anymore. The glasses have come off and I’m ready to grab hold of any opportunity that comes my way, even if it never featured in lengthy Dreamworks production. I like embracing reality, and when life asks me what it is that I want, I say, “I’m not sure, surprise me”.

A Bundle of Lexical Goodies

Material lasts a moment, learning a lifetime. Photo by Inka Vappula.
Material lasts a moment, learning a lifetime. Photo by Inka Vappula.

Material lasts a moment, learning a lifetime. Photo by Inka Vappula.

It comes as no surprise that we here at BTSB are smitten with the plethora of weirdly wonderful words that the English language gives us to play with. What better gift can an online publication give to its readers than a list of delicious words? Here’s a selection of some of our favorites, accompanied by Yule-related examples. Enjoy!

 

1. Acquiesce

(verb) [no obj.]

accept something reluctantly but without protest:

Despite the fact that she hated ugly Christmas sweater parties, she acquiesced in his decision to attend one.

origin early 17th cent.: from Latin acquiescere, from ad- ‘to, at’ + quiescere ‘to rest’.

 

2. Crestfallen

(Adjective)

sad and disappointed:

After finishing all the Christmas shopping and checking my back account, I was crestfallen.

origin late 16th cent.: originally with reference to a mammal or bird having a fallen or drooping crest.

 

3. Defenestration

noun [mass noun] Formal or humorous

the action of throwing someone out of a window:

The highlight of our Christmas was the traditional defenestration of the Christmas tree

origin early 17th cent.: from modern Latin defenestratio(n-), from de- ‘down from’ + Latin fenestra ‘window’.

 

4. Flibbertigibbet

(Noun)

a frivolous, flighty, or excessively talkative person:

All that mulled wine makes grandma an unbearable flibbertigibbet!

origin late Middle English: probably imitative of idle chatter.

 

5. Impecunious

(Adjective)

having little or no money:

There really should be a law stating that impecunious students are exempt from buying presents.

origin late 16th cent.: from in-1 ‘not’ + obsolete pecunious ‘having money, wealthy’ (from Latin pecuniosus, from pecunia ‘money’).

 

6. Kerfuffle

(Noun) [in sing.] Brit. informal

a commotion or fuss, especially one caused by conflicting views:

Our family Christmas dinner usually ends in some kerfuffle or another.

origin early 19th cent.: perhaps from Scots curfuffle (probably from Scottish Gaelic car ‘twist, bend’ + imitative Scots fuffle ‘to disorder’), or related to Irish cior thual ‘confusion, disorder’.

 

7. Mellifluous

(adjective)

(of a sound) pleasingly smooth and musical to hear:

The happy jingling of sleigh bells and Santa’s mellifluous laughter filled the starry sky.

origin late 15th cent.: from late Latin mellifluus (from mel ‘honey’ + fluere ‘to flow’) + -ous.

 

8. Perambulate

(Verb) [no obj.] formal or humorous

walk or travel through or round a place:

Drunk Santa perambulated the room in search of his fake beard.

origin late Middle English: from Latin perambulat- ‘walked about’, from the verb perambulare, from per- ‘all over’ + ambulare ‘to walk’.

 

9. Refulgent

(Adjective) literary

shining very brightly:

It appeared as if the stars, too, were celebrating in refulgent glory.

origin late 15th cent.: from Latin refulgent- ‘shining out’, from the verb refulgere, from re- (expressing intensive force) + fulgere ‘to shine’.

 

10. Serendipity

(noun) [mass noun]

the occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way:

We met, serendipitously under the mistletoe and the rest was history.

origin 1754: coined by Horace Walpole, suggested by The Three Princes of Serendip, the title of a fairy tale in which the heroes ‘were always making discoveries, by accidents and sagacity, of things they were not in quest of’

Temper Tantrums and Walking Trays

Inka Vappula

“Hey girlie, bring us another round, “ shouts the slightly intoxicated, plump older gentleman as he “affectionately” pats me on the thigh to set me on my way. I twist my face into what could be mistaken for a smile and briskly walk behind the counter to take my anger out on four innocent beer bottles.

Inka Vappula

A comfortable little joint where you can kick back with friends, enjoy a craft beer, and be a gaping a**hole to the staff!

In my four years of waitressing I was continuously baffled by the transformation that often took place when people entered a customer service situation; ordinary fellow human beings became the aristocrats of bygone days. I’ve experienced a pretty wide array of rude behavior, from the strange temper tantrums to being mistaken for a walking tray, and the regularity of the behavior often made me wonder whether there was a handbook of snobbery customers read before coming for dinner.
Eye contact is to be avoided at all cost. It gives the waitress a wrongful impression of equality. Do not hesitate to take an important business call in the middle of ordering; the staff is paid to wait on you. Pleasantries such as “thank you”, “have a nice day” or “we’re sorry we are 45 minutes late” are strongly discouraged, as true gentlefolk do not waste courtesies on those unable to appreciate them. Blissfully ignoring operating hours, is perfectly acceptable; it sends a clear message of authority to the staff. In conclusion, keep interaction with the servants short and to the point, demand respect and exercise authority.

Perhaps the problem is in the word itself. Who, after all, provides service other than a servant? And as we all know, in our post-millennial class society, servants are to be handled with authority! All hyperbole aside, the sad reality is that customer service situations in Finland often unveil attitudes I wish had gone extinct by now.

Some of what looks like snobbery might in fact be nothing more than general awkwardness. Small talk is not our culture’s strong suit, especially when sober, which is fine since we’ve mastered the art of avoiding pleasantry exchange with strangers. But restaurants (and other customer service situations) present a colossal challenge and force us to a place where our comfort zone is just a faint line in the distance. What are you really supposed to say to a waitress anyway? “Is that tray really heavy?”, “ how many plates can you carry at a time?” No, that sounds ridiculous, and no one wants to be a laughing stock. So, Finns opt for the more comfortable practice of social distancing; no eye contact and abrupt answers. It’s unfortunate, but understandable.

There are, however, customers who lack a forgivable excuse for rude behavior. Some people truly want to exercise the power that flashing their collection of precious metal credit cards gives them. What restaurant is willing to throw out a customer behaving like a douchebag, when they’re bringing in substantial revenue flow? I sincerely wish more restaurants would. Money shouldn’t justify disrespectful behavior in any circumstance. And in a better world the scales would tip in favor of mutual respect and politeness.

So, why is it still acceptable to act like a d*ck in a restaurant? I think partly, because “the customer is always right”. This expression—coined somewhere high up on the executive level, I presume—creates an ugly power hierarchy and undermines the professionalism of the service staff. It’s also just not true. Customers are definitely wrong sometimes; meat doesn’t cook in 5 minutes, operating hours are not suggestions and whether a customer believes it or not, the people working it restaurant only have two hands. Partly, it’s still acceptable, because there is an underlying assumption that contempt is an unavoidable job hazard in the industry. But just like everything else in society, customer service interactions are socially constructed agreements, to which both parties comply. By saying, “disrespectful behavior is just part of job, don’t take it personally”, the service personnel are doing their part in keeping old customs alive. It’s a two-way street, where both parties carry blame, but where both equally have the opportunity to change the way things are done.

While this whole issue is not the gravest injustice of the modern world, it is an unnecessary and hurtful phenomenon. On the tram ride home, after 10 hours on my feet, I didn’t remember the triumphs and successes of the day. I’d remember the clicking fingers in table two or the couple in table four that had made me jump through so many hoops and left without so much as a quick thank you. Someone could easily say that obviously I just wasn’t cut out for the job, but that’s sad, because it means that despite all the talk of equality, we’re still willing to accept that it’s not a principle that should apply everywhere, always. Behind the roles are people with actual human emotions. Recognizing this might be a step toward more positive and mutually satisfying customer service culture.

Halloween for Pussies

Boo!

Kitty: Hi Ippy! Whatcha doing for Halloween this year?

Ippy: Hey Kitty! Basically avoiding it.

Kitty: Really? How come?

Ippy: Halloween parties are really awkward for me! There’s a story behind this, but it’s kind of embarrassing.

Kitty: Well this is the internet, so your secret is totally safe! Do tell!

Ippy: Haha yep, the safest place on earth, as Snowden would say :D

Ok, so here’s thing. I can’t watch horror movies. I was hijacked into watching a Japanese horror film at a friend’s birthday party when I was 15. I “braved” the first ten minutes of it, peeking between my fingers and trying to puncture my own eardrums to silence the creepy music. About 10 minutes into the movie there was a scene where someone’s fingers were slowly cracked, one by one by an unseen evil force. At that point I excused myself and left the party pretty much in tears. (mind you, it was like noon when we started watching the movie.) Anyway… I CANNOT watch horror films!

So at Halloween parties, everyone is always dressed up as some iconic character from a horror movie, and I never have a clue about who they’re supposed to be.

I end up avoiding small talk, stay near the breadsticks made to look like maggot-infested fingers, and make up excuses for why I’m not in costume.

Kitty:  I’m sorry to say I laughed a little at your story, but in all honesty, I have a confession to make.

Ippy: Oh please share! I honestly feel like a freak of nature. All the cool kids are into horror…

Boo!

Boo! © Kaisa Leino

Kitty:  Well, for me, I love costume parties, but I’m terrified of Halloween costumes and yes, horror movies. My fear of scary movies actually started when I was pretty young. I had a crazy teacher in the elementary school who let my whole class watch popular horror movies while she was in the teachers’ lounge… So, in short, I’ve watched all three Screams, Congo, Urban legends etc. before I was 12.

Ippy: Oh, you poor unfortunate child!!

Kitty: Yep! What makes Halloween particularly difficult and embarrassing for me is that I’m afraid of masks. If anyone would show up in my party with a Scream mask on, I wouldn’t let them in…

Ippy: Hahahaha! Finally, a kindred soul!!!

Kitty: I know right! I honestly thought I was the only one!

Ippy: Ditto!

Ippy: Although, now I’m starting to think there might be more closet Halloween pussies just waiting to come out.

Kitty: That might be true. Maybe it’s a cultural thing. We’re adults, so we’re not supposed to be scared of something we see in a movie?

Ippy: I think you’re right. Being able to handle horror is the epitome of coolness from middle school onward.

Kitty: Yes, I think that these franchises like Scream made it so that being a teenager meant to watch horror. Somehow it seems that people have forgotten that horror is just another movie genre. I don’t think that people would have any sort of “snort, what a pussy”- reaction if I told them that I hate American romantic comedies and don’t watch them.

Ippy: Yep! Horror seems to sit on this weird pedestal. Like if you’re REALLY a movie buff, you need to know how to appreciate gruesome violent deaths and demonic forces.

Kitty: And what I hate is that people might say they cannot handle scary movies, but they still watch them!

Ippy: I know! It’s such a lie though, I mean if you can’t handle them, you physically have to leave the room or be willing to do serious damage to your eyeballs and eardrums while attempting to watch one.

Kitty: Yup or be behind a pillow screaming ” OH GAWD WHAT IS HAPPENING?!” to your spouse.

Ippy: The maximum level of horror I can take, is the scene in LOTR when Bilbo momentarily turns into a monster!

Kitty: Wow, dude, that sh*it was scary! Like, hey, a warning might be nice?

Ippy: Yeah!  Frodo COULD have winked, just a teeny bit at the audience or something to say “something horrifying is about to happen, so please don’t take another sip of that coke!

Kitty: Disclaimer: “This movie contains Aragorn and Legolas who look nothing like the really good pictures in your head, but they are ok, and Frodo is really cute in his own wide-eyed way. But there’s this one scene where this sweet old hobbit gets really scary looking for a second with no warning and you are in danger of peeing your pants”

Ippy: Would have saved me a few pairs of underwear…

Kitty: Yupppp.

Ippy: Which is a pretty big deal for a student. So thanks Peter Jackson, thanks a lot!!

Kitty: BTW, have you ever thought about WHY you’re scared of horror movies?

Ippy: That’s a good question. The supernatural aspect of it really creeps me out. Anything hovering through the air on its own is just beyond my capacity. I can’t deal with it. What about you?

Kitty: Well, I’ve been thinking about this quite a lot. There was this one Finnish horror movie called Sauna (spoiler alert!) that I really wanted to watch because I had seen the trailer and I thought the visuals looked amazing and the story was interesting. Parts of it were really hard to watch, but then when the monster appeared, I wasn’t scared anymore. The thing is that there was a little girl the main characters took advantage of and killed, who came back from the dead. Somehow, the violence and horror the main characters went through after that all made sense.

In comparison, I tried to watch the movie called Hills Have Eyes and I just couldn’t. I felt nauseated and just plain scared and I think the main reason for that was because the violence didn’t make any sense.

So I think it’s the randomness of the violence in most horror movies which scares me the most. Well, that and the fact that I really get sucked into movies. The sound effects really work on me and I get spooked really easily…

Ippy: So you can actually watch one if the violence in it follows some (twisted) logic? Interesting!

Kitty: Well, I don’t really have that much evidence to support that theory.

Ippy: And I’m definitely not going to encourage you to formulate one!

Kitty: Thank you, please don’t.

Ippy: But yeah, I agree that the sound effects have an important role. I’m that person in the movie theatre who has to close both eyes and ears and burrow into the side of whoever is sitting next to me when a horror trailer comes on.

Kitty: I have been thinking about why is it so that we tend to be so critical about other genres using the “cheap tricks” but not horror movies?

Ippy: I really don’t know! Again, haven’t seen any, but from what I’ve been told about the plots, horror seems to have a pretty fixed repertoire of storylines and tropes. People watch horror to be spooked, and not so much for the deep insights the movies offer, which could justify the use of “cheap tricks”. By the way, I’m pretty much waiting for a group of angry horror fans to come tar and feather me for my ignorance ;)

Kitty: Haha, same here. Sorry angry horror fans, our aliases are bullet proof! But it might also be that the “cheap tricks” make the horror controlled. You get something out of willingly putting yourself into a position to be scared?

Ippy: But WHY the hell does anyone want to be scared??

Kitty: the adrenaline?

Ippy: Then get a nipple piercing, go skydiving, eat dubious meat, jaywalk! There are so many other ways to get an adrenalin rush!

Kitty: Jump into a pool from 5 meters, go to Space Shot in Linnanmäki…

Ippy: drink one of those flame shots, hang out at the railway station around 2.00 am on a Saturday night.

Kitty: Eat wasabi. Or mystery sushi.

Ippy: Yes, a spoonful of wasabi is where it’s at! I mean, the list of adrenaline fixes that don’t involve watching people get beheaded by a chainsaw are endless!

Kitty: Although we have to admit that in many of our examples the possibility of actual death, injuries or pierced nipples is pretty high.

Ippy: True, but I think I’d take a spoonful of wasabi over another traumatic film experience any day!

Kitty: Same here, although I’m starting to understand something. With horror movies some people get that same rush from the safe distance.

Ippy: Each to their own, I guess!

Kitty: Agreed.

Ippy: So I never got around to asking about your Halloween plans this year. What are you up to?

Kitty: Well, staying as far away from masks as I can to start of with! And no Halloween candy or food that looks like something it’s not, like fingers or maggots, because that’s just gross. But I AM actually throwing an annual Halloween party. Guests usually dress up as something not that scary but otherwise awesome and we watch a non-horror Halloweenish movie.

Ippy: That sounds like a perfect Halloween party! Non-horror Halloweenish movies? Do tell me more!

Kitty: Well, my list of Halloween For Pussies- movies are Beetlejuice, Rocky Horror Picture Show, Interview with the Vampire, Nightmare Before Christmas, Corpse Bride and The Crow.

Ippy: Liking the list! And also, this conversation has given me enough courage to be more open about my horror disability. From now on, I’m just going to be like: ” Hey, I can’t watch scary movies, so don’t bother trying to make me guess your character, ‘cause I won’t know. I’ll be by the snack table if you wish to discuss non-Halloween related topics.”

Kitty: Haha, that’s awesome! Thanks for this soul-cleansing Halloween chat. Stay scared!

Ippy: Will do! Happy mask-free Hallows Eve!

By Kaisa Leino and Inka Vappula

Where Our Bubbles Converge

Kallio library. Inka Vappula (c)

Finding a good study place is a struggle every student is familiar with. As the first exam week approaches the seats at the university library Kaisa are occupied from dawn and vigorously guarded until closing time. Such is life that the early bird gets the worm, and as a googly-eyed night owl, I have no hope gaining a coveted seat at Kaisa. Public libraries come to the rescue for students such as myself. I first came across the Kallio library in a search for an alternative study space. With individual workstations, with plug-ins for computers, along the walls on both the first and second floor, in addition to a reading area and a separate study room, it has proven to be more than adequate for my study needs. But it’s good to keep in mind that libraries are public spaces, where people are constantly coming and going. Not everyone is going to aware of how loudly they are humming to themselves or requesting a Lonely Planet Guide to Italy.

The three- storey beaut of a building, known as the Kallio library, stands proudly right in the centre of Helsinki’s Hipsterville. It is the recreational oasis for quite a motley crew, to say the least. It’s just as much the favourite of the bums, who read the daily paper and stumble across the street to Las Vegas (one of Kallio’s finest ale-houses), as it is of the pouty art high-school students, the city-moms who are religiously into Nordic design, and the elderly folk with suspiciously persistent coughs.

Kallio library. Inka Vappula (c)

Kallio library. Inka Vappula (c)

The Kallio library is a feast for the eyes. It represents late art nouveau architecture spiced with classical features. As you enter through the doors, you are met with a line of pillars directing the gaze to an adorable reading hall at the back of the library, where natural light floods through the rows of paned windows, inviting you to venture further in. This two-storey hall with an impressive dome ceiling is the heart of the library: the centre of activity. Kallio library hosts different events almost daily. The high ceiling invites chatter and laughter to echo in the corners. The sounds of every day life resonate on the walls.

Numerous afternoons spent typing up essays and cramming for exams at the Kallio library have prompted me to consider the significance of the institutions themselves. One afternoon, having been distracted from my work by a man muttering gibberish to himself, I reached a conclusion. Libraries stand for what is best about a community; we all contribute to give everyone the opportunity to access knowledge, to develop skills and comingle with people outside of our social circles. As free public service providers, libraries offer much more than free books. They are mediums of knowledge, culture and social cohesion.

Last spring a Helsingin Sanomat -article about “social bubbles” generated spirited conversation on social media sites. The article drew attention to the fact that we are all susceptible to biases based on the norms of our social circles. And it’s perceivable in how rarely we willingly spend extended periods of time in the same vicinity with people outside our socio-economic circles. This issue gains a much larger and relevant context in reference to the current influx of migrants in Europe. The risk being that whole communities find themselves pushed to the margins of society, unable to integrate into a strange new community. Social and cultural exchange plays a crucial role in integration, but it needs a venue of some sort. In a community that seems to be increasingly fragmented, I find solace in the fact that at libraries seeing an exhaustive cross-section of the demographic is still the norm, and so, libraries provide an opportunity to experience the richness and diversity of society.

The Kallio library is one of 71 Helsinki Metropolitan Area Libraries (Helmet), which all organize weekly programs, clubs, public readings, workshops and cultural events. These events–open to everyone–cultivate cultural and social cohesion. Language cafés and reading groups promote cultural exchange and integration. Children’s story times and homework groups support literacy and language acquisition. Poetry readings, handicraft workshops and book clubs abate the loneliness that elderly people often face. Socializing and integration is the fortunate by-product of joined activity.

In addition to cultivating culture and community, libraries provide free access to information and recreation. The Helmet libraries offer a variety of other items to borrow and use in addition to books: audiobooks, DVD’s, music, board games and a miscellaneous bunch of other items varying from party costumes to a drill bit kit. A few summers ago my friends and I were able to organize monthly baseball matches thanks to the Leppävaara library’s baseball gear. Helmet online services include language courses, over 6000 movies on IndieFlix, and an extensive research database. I won’t get carried away with the services, but I will tell you that you can turn to the library for all your 3D-printing and -scanning, laminating, sewing, video editing and graphic designing needs. Oh, and the Rikhardinkatu library lends paintings, in case you ever entertain snobby guests only impressed by an art collection.

Libraries are essentially communal living rooms and should receive recognition for a number of things: inspiring aesthetics, eccentric clientele, extensive resources and a wide selection of pastime activities, but I think libraries deserve an extra round of applause for what they stand for in a society: the sense of community and the equal opportunity to acquire knowledge for its own sake.

Ps. The Rikhardinkatu library, which, by the way, is absolutely stunning, hosts a Shakespeare book club every Wednesday from 6 to 8 pm. I’m just going to leave that information out there for all you Shakespeare fanatic English students.

How To Quit Being a White Savior

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Phom Pehn, Cambodia

Helsingin Sanomat recently published a well-informed article on the shady business side of volunteering programs. It was yet another exposé in the canon of volunteering tourism stories. Concepts such as #thirdworldselfie and “volunteering holiday” illuminate the focus of current criticism; volunteering has become a holiday style, alongside surfing, scuba diving and beach resorts, with the exception of this holiday potentially being detrimental to the healthy development of a nation’s social, political and economical infrastructures.

In a similar vein, the western world is critiqued for the infamous “white savior syndrome/ complex”. This is the accurately named mindset of westerners rushing to “fix” developing countries with abundant enthusiasm and sentiment but little understanding of neither the complexity of large-scale global issues nor the professionalism to accomplish anything useful. In the language of commerce, you could say that the “savior” complex is a demand, which the tourism supplies with ample opportunities.

What started as raised awareness (showcased by flops such as KONY 2012) at the potential harm a well intended program or campaign could have on a country, has now expanded into a more comprehensive critical look at the motives behind foreign charity organizations working in developing countries.

One admiringly credible voice of criticism on western do-gooders belongs to the novelist Teju Cole, who in his brilliant article “The White-Savior Industrial Complex” says;

“If we are going to interfere in the lives of others, a little due diligence is a minimum requirement”. This he says in reference to the western sentimentally justified “right” to “help” without an understanding of the complex, multilayered nature of global development and social justice issues. The critics are asking, “who are the ones getting on planes to save the world, and why? Who are the ones inviting them and again why?”

The criticism is justified and necessary, because an organization claiming to be non-profit in nature, should function as such, but also because an opportunity for profit is sure to draw in the frauds and scam artists like moths to a flame. It’s justified on the grounds that an organization claiming to help eradicate some development issue, should genuinely attempt to do so.

But the criticism itself is slightly problematic. Mainly because for many, it effortlessly becomes a fitting mask for passivity, a “valid” reason to shrug shoulders and say

“Hey, the world’s a shitty place and there’s nothing I can do about it”.

Criticism, in essence, should lead to a quest of sorts; first to identity and discard that which is useless or harmful and then to find a better way. Criticism that doesn’t catalyze change is always pointless.

So, while I greatly respect the critical voices in the public domain and agree with much of what is being said, I’ve also become aware of the paradoxical nature of this issue.

One element of it is that a call for “due diligence”, as Cole puts it, essentially demands that one be well informed. That demand can be fulfilled with rigorous and extensive reading. But that doesn’t compete with the level of familiarity that a personal experience offers. The problem is that in the current atmosphere of general negativity and criticism, it is easy to find a lifetime’s worth of reasons not to step outside the borders of your home country, especially to do any good. The do-gooders have proven to be inadequate, plagued with an overconfident but hugely uniformed attitude about themselves and the world, not to forget that the whole terrain of NGOs seems to have become incurably corrupt.

As with any other issue, the truth is not painted in black and white. In bundling the whole sphere of charity work up in a lump labeled “Western Attempts At a Polished Halo”, we run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.  We forget that there are multitudes of good, operational organizations worldwide that are tirelessly working to have a long-term positive effect on their respective communities. There are good organizations that need helping hands and funding, organizations that can teach a person a thing or two about the intertwining of social, economical and political issues in a given country.

The paradox then, is that the best way to stop being a pompous western know-it-all, who does more harm then good, is to go face someone else’s truth. It’s guaranteed to smack you in the face with a wet towel of your own naïve stupidity in no time. Good NGOs can offer one that necessary experience.

I say this, because that’s what volunteering has done for me. I’ve been the prototype of an idealistic white woman in my twenties who’s wanted to “make a difference” and I’ve acted on the desire to help. I’ve pretty much made every mistake in the book from accidentally supported an orchestrated begging industry by giving money to a kid, to imposed my own views about equality on people who found it absurd.

“You’re crazy, a single woman just can’t live alone in India, I could never do that!”. I’ve begun projects I wasn’t qualified to do and couldn’t finish. Yet, at the end of the day, I still speak for joining an organization, even for a short-term stint. Why?

Because, I’ve never learned more about the world and myself than on my volunteering trips. Experience has forced me to grow and be humbled.

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Phom Pehn, Cambodia

Working for an NGO, even for a short while has given me a taste of how interconnected many social issues; real-life orientation I couldn’t have received from reading even the most comprehensive works on global issues. It’s by seeing organizations in action that you learn what works and what doesn’t.

I’ve had the chance of discussing the common pitfalls in the field of charity work. One acquaintance in India, Mr. John, told me of his involvement in a project aimed at decreasing the huge number of intestinal diseases from soiled drinking water, by building every house in the village an adjoining outhouse. A year after the completion of the outhouses the team went back for a check up, to see that the villagers had found a use more necessary than bowel health for the newly build outhouses. They were using them to dry the hay for livestock.

I’ve seen scam NGOs in action. One Brazilian lady I met at a cigarette stand in Kathmandu asked me whether I knew of any affordable hostels nearby. It turned out she had paid $3000 for a three month volunteering program at an “orphanage” which had turned out to be an ingenious scam, profiting from both the volunteers and moderately affluent Nepalese families who paid to have their children dressed up in ragged clothes and learn English from foreigners for a few hours each day.

I’ve learned that the key element of a healthy organization is a focus on sustainability and a desire for western presence to eventually become redundant. I’ve learned to listen more and speak less and begun to see what the real, underlying needs are and what part I can play in it, if any.

Lastly, it’s through my volunteering trips that I’ve have come to see where the criticism stems from and how necessary it is. I’ve become more critical of NGOs myself, but on the flipside I’ve also seen the importance of them for individual people and families in destitute situations. On my most recent trip to South-east Asia, getting acquainted with a small organization working in human trafficking prevention and aftercare, I saw the positive, lasting impact a program was having for individual women, their families and their communities by extension. A woman’s decision to enroll in vocational training program had a direct, visible effect on her children, from their physical appearance to the way they interacted with their peers.

So while being wary of the many, and I mean MANY, problems surrounding volunteering programs and charity organizations, I encourage anyone who’s considering it, to go, but to do so with thoughtfulness and thorough research. Support organizations that have sustainable programs, organizations that are locally led and operated and then go expecting to humbled.

Don’t let the criticism hold you back from familiarizing yourself with its relevance or validity.

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View from Chiso mountain, Takeo province, Cambodia