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.

Meet Modern Primitive

Modern Primitive--The Kin

It’s been a while since I’ve listened to an entire album. It’s a shame, because an album creates a whole; a collection of songs that together tell a story much wider and complex than they would alone. It feels like nowadays I just tend to listen to individual songs and kind of miss the big picture that an artist or a band is creating with the whole of an album. But every now and then I’m lucky enough to stop, take a moment, and listen to the whole story instead of just hearing the beginning.

The Kin is a band formed in New York in 2001 originally comprised of two brothers, Thorald and Isaac Koren, performing as an acoustic duo and later joined by a talented ‘stickless’ drummer, Mark ‘Shakerleg’ Nicosia. As far as genres go, they can be described as an alternative rock band with the mentality of a partners-in-crime collaboration. From the first album to their last, their music has been filled with intricate rhythm, raw emotion and undeniably beautiful melodies. Combining the talents of the Koren brothers in vocals, guitar and keyboard with Nicosia’s unique mastering of percussions has earned the band loyal fans and followers from around the world. There’s a kind of honesty, explosiveness, liveliness and humble pride in the music they play and preform. It’s no wonder their music has touched so many hearts and been embedded in so many souls considering that when listening to it you can practically feel all the hard work, joy, sweat, tears, pain and creativity that has gone into creating it. All this talent and passion seems to culminate in their latest and last album –Modern Primitive.

Modern Primitive--The Kin

Modern Primitive–The Kin

What is it exactly that makes Modern Primitive so spectacular? Well first off, you can’t deny that the Koren brothers sing like angels, it’s just a fact. The music is what it is in its purest essence. It’s a strange thing to try and put in words, but there’s nothing sloppy about any one track on Modern Primitive nor is there a track that is too polished or meant to fit into a cookie cutter copy machine mold. Every song is unique and each time you listen there’s something new to be found. Then another fact, Mark Nicosia, as a barehanded drummer, is undoubtedly a genius. To someone like me, who can’t figure out coordination and could barely play a basic beat if my life depended on it, a drummer with such precision and innovative ways of playing seems like a higher being. I mean playing without sticks and sounding that amazing in the process, talk about literally bleeding into your work. So we’ve got the voices, we’ve got the beats, and we’ve got the explosiveness of what The Kin is. There’s energy, there’s emotion, there’s something that makes you press play for the fiftieth time today, but in addition, we’ve got something that tops it all off – The lyrics.

I personally think I should be featured on BuzzFeed’s weirdest misheard lyrics, because my track record on hearing them correctly is quite honestly horrendous. However, having listened to The Kin since elementary school, I’d like to believe I hear at least 98, 6% of their lyrics correctly. And boy do I like what I hear. There’s a lot that can be said by just instrumental music, it carries meanings in itself. But combining solid instrumental tracks with mind blowing lyrics is what makes me smile like a kid in a candy shop. From tracks like Mary, Never be the Same, Together, and Nowhere to Now here to Modern Primitive, The Kin continues to put out lyrics that create the most astonishing pictures and elicit emotions with their straightforward style. I explicitly remember sitting on my bedroom floor waking up early in the morning to a new album by one of my favorite bands. I remember being nervous to press play, don’t ask me why but I was terrified of being disappointed. Luckily I was hooked from the first lines. Relying on the shuffle option the first track from Modern Primitive I happened to hear was called Week of the Disaster and the first two lines were immediately burned in my mind as something that went a bit like this; Could have been an early morning/We were like a child inside a dream. Instantly the song caught me in its delicate web and had me under its spell. It was the kind of song that had me remember all the ‘could haves’ and ‘should haves’ and the myriads of ‘whys’ attached to all those moments I was so eager to hold on to only to watch them slip through my fingers. All those happy endings sailing away rather brutally, the things I didn’t see coming for the sake of being content in living in a happy bubble of my own, all those “fairy tales hanging on a string”. But it wasn’t a sensation of defeat that the track had me feeling, it was more of a recognition of ignoring the ‘whys’ and ‘should haves’ for the sake of maybe even defiantly accepting the disaster, striving to do better next time.

Just like that I knew I would not be disappointed. The tracks kept coming, each one…not better than the next, but complimenting each other. And what I realized was that each track was relatable and they carried messages across a broad lane of emotions: love, obsession, overcoming hardship, and maybe fittingly for a last album, a sense of centering oneself. Whether these emotions came across in flourished metaphors or plain and straight words they latched on to me as a listener and forced me to think about what this music was making me feel. For instance, Ashes, possibly one of my favorites from this album, to me is a song about overcoming hardship. It’s about enduring and fighting through what seems impossible to overcome. And it’s not just about surviving but it’s about pleading for someone else to keep fighting. The track, being very powerful itself, ever so amusingly reminded me of how powerless and helpless you feel at times when you want desperately to do something to help the ones you love, but all you can do is ask them to persevere and not give up. I think we can all relate to moments when it feels like darkness takes over light or when fire burns in paradise and you think you’ve definitely lost the fight. This song makes me feel thankful to those who have pushed me to “walk through the ashes”. It definitely takes you on an emotional rollercoaster from feeling helpless to empowered and back again in the best way possible.

However, interestingly enough, a curiosity for this album was figuring out that even with the importance and brilliance of the lyrics, it was just as important to notice where they were missing. On Modern Primitive there are tracks such as Week of the Disaster and Anchor, that in the end acting as a sort of outro, have a snippet of music that taps into the primitive side I guess, a counterpart to the heavily structured base of what ‘a song’ has turned into. And I guess it’s there to keep a balance, between the Modern and the Primitive. And for me I think that’s ultimately what makes me so happy to listen to this album. I interpret it as an album that taps into something primal, and primitive in innovative modern ways.

As sad as I am to say farewell, I can’t help but do it with a smile on my face because Modern Primitive truly is a last hurrah that deserves a round of applause. As The Kin have announced that they will be waving goodbye to the music business at least for the time being, Modern Primitive seems like the perfect album to bring them full circle, a closing chapter for a story richer than most fairy tales.

 

 

 

 

From Benin, With Love

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán

Plenty of students experience internships and living abroad during their studies. Most of them just don’t experience these two simultaneously and in as an exotic and different environment as does Caitlin Barán, who is currently doing her a five-month internship at Villa Karo in Benin, West Africa. Villa Karo is a Finnish-African cultural center and artist residence located in the picturesque little seaside village of Grand-Popo. Barán ended up interning there by applying for traineeship through the CIMO traineeship program last fall. Talking with her, it is evident that her time in Benin has been a profound experience for her.

Marketplace at Comé Photo by Caitlin Barán

Marketplace at Comé
Photo by Caitlin Barán

“The culture here is very different, but it’s not too difficult to adjust to. Obviously, I’m always a bit of an outsider here, but I’ve gotten somewhat used to it. “

For Barán, the biggest cultural difference has been how much people care about others. She feels that the people in Benin are so much more interested in each other, and so much kinder than what she is used to in Finland, where, she admits, it often feels like people simply don’t care about others’ daily concerns such as flus, stressful life situations or funny everyday occurrences.

“Here, it’s just really different. Strangers greet each other on the street and always stop to ask how you are doing or how your day went. Every morning my neighbor asks me if I slept well and every day when I return from work she will ask me how my day went. One day, she was offended, because I had gone out of the house to do something without sharing my plans with her first, and she was worried about me. It’s just a whole another level of caring and it has also changed me as a person.”

When it comes down to it, however, Barán says that people are interested in the same things in everyday life as at back home, even though so many things in Benin are different. Beninese people want to read, eat a good meal, follow a football cup on TV, travel, attend concerts, and get time off work to go visit their families, just like in Finland.

“They just often have another kind of attitude towards life, and while there are so many people who have practically nothing, it seems to me that they are so much happier here than us in Finland who have everything, and still want more and more all the time.”

Baràn’s work days at Villa Karo vary quite a lot, sometimes involving staying in the library for the entire day, organizing books and talking to people – mainly children from the village, who come by to look at the books – while sometimes doing tours around the cultural center and its museums for all of the tourists that come to visit the place. She does other things too, and says it really depends so much on so many different factors.

“My most important task, however, is translating and interpreting back and forth from French to Finnish, and sometimes also English.”

French is an official language in Benin, and the locals in Grand-Popo speak it, though it is not their first language as they also speak the local language of Mina.

“The French is slightly different at times, as there are some words and idioms that I am not used to, having learnt my French in France. At first I was really confused when returning from work people would ask me: “Tu as fait un peu?”, meaning: “Have you done a bit?”. I was like, “a bit of what?”, until I finally googled it and found out that it’s just a way of saying “were you at work?”. It’s just a direct translation into French from an idiom in the local language.”

Barán spends her free time mostly with her friends, either driving out to nearby villages or cities to explore, or just hanging out in Grand-Popo.

“Last weekend we drove out to a village called Comé and had lunch in a little restaurant. Then we drove to a city called Possotomé to go swimming. It was a really hot day, so it was just wonderful to float in the pool and have a cold drink afterwards!”

Barán also does her laundry by hand and finds that it is such a pleasure to help the kids in her house by doing all the laundry with them on Sunday mornings. She is surprised at how well and quickly she was accepted into the community. In her house next door to her apartment there lives two sisters, the 2- and 5-year-old children of the younger one of them, and the teenage daughters of two of their other sisters. In addition, there is also her landlord who normally lives in the city of Cotonou, but stays with them during the weekends. Along with the people, inhabitants of the house also include three cats, the youngest one of which, Pekka, is only 2,5 months old.

Barán in front of her neighbor's restaurant La Légende Photo: Caitlin Barán

Barán in front of her neighbor’s restaurant La Légende
Photo: Caitlin Barán

“I’m so happy with my little community here, our house is simply the best place to live and my neighbors are the funniest and kindest people ever. And they just took me in, like that! They have a little boutique and a restaurant, and we always have so much fun there, listening to music and talking about stuff.”

She shares a little anecdote about the local people and their love of Lipton tea, which demonstrates the relaxed Beninese way of life.

“People drink a lot of Lipton tea here, and you can buy it pretty much anywhere. I went to buy some from a little store, because I wanted to drink it at work. The lady at the shop gave me a tiny box of Lipton teabags that had been opened and over half of them were missing. I am obviously getting used to the Grand-Popo way of life, because instead of complaining and wanting an unopened box, I just asked if I could get the opened box for half the price. I got my tea and everyone was happy!”

Despite enjoying her time in Benin, Barán misses her family and her cats back at home in Finland. In addition, she confesses to missing some of the normal, everyday things, such as going to a grocery store to buy things to eat and cooking them at home.

“Here there are no grocery stores like in Finland, and cooking is a lot of work and takes a lot of time.”

She also misses certain foods. In Benin, she tells, her diet consists of mainly bread, rice, couscous, spaghetti, canned food and the occasional fruit, because fresh vegetables, for example, are harder to come by. Additionally, she misses doing a lot of sports easily, as in Finland she is accustomed to doing something everyday, for example going to the gym, going jogging, or attending a dance class.

“Here the easiest option is waking up practically in the middle of the night when it’s not too hot to go jogging, and it’s sometimes a bit tiring.”

When Barán returns home, she says she will miss above all the great friends she has made in Benin, as well as the way people interact with each other, greeting, smiling, and shaking each others’ hands. According to her, people are also a lot more outspoken in Benin, and will not hesitate to tell others how they feel. She says she will miss the children as well, and how they are not told to be quiet in situations where they could just as well enjoy themselves and be kids.

“I love children! Here, they are around wherever you go, and if a child cries, people will not scowl and sigh in annoyance, but instead they will help and try to comfort the child.”

Benin has changed Barán. She has learnt to be more patient, as sometimes the Internet connection, for example, will be down for a week. Calling the repair man is an option, but he will possibly come that day, or the next week, or maybe not at all. Sometimes there will be no electricity for three days, and it just has to be dealt with. She also cites being forced to relax as another important lesson Benin has taught.

“In Finland for years and years I have been working constantly, often two jobs at a time, while simultaneously completing as many study credits as possible. I always need to be doing something. Here, sometimes there is simply nothing to do, and it has been a valuable lesson to learn. I have been forced to sit down, grab a good book, and relax, relax, relax.”

Beach at Grand-Popo Photo by Caitlin Barán

Beach at Grand-Popo
Photo by Caitlin Barán

The World’s End 1998

Retro boombox

1998. March. Maine.

 The rain started falling heavier and Fay decided to risk it.

“Oh, what the hell”, she said and started jogging down the hill towards the house. The others followed her suit and the four of them slipped and slid down the muddy road. Before reaching the house, however, they slowed down. When there was no sign of life, Fay stepped onto the porch and out from the now pouring rain. The others joined her and stood there shivering, giving the door wary looks.

“Okay”, Fay said and breathed in. “Okay.” She reached for the handle and pulled carefully. The door opened easily as she had expected. The lock wasn’t broken, however, but that didn’t mean much in the end. She and Daniel took off their backpacks and set them down quietly. Nicole mouthed ‘be careful’ and Minh nodded with the nervous smile the boy always wore. Fay pulled the door open enough for her and Daniel to slip in.

The air was stuffy and there was a strong smell of mould. Fay fingered the gun in her coat pocket. The cold metal felt comforting in all the wet and stale and soft. She and Daniel moved further into the house, their footsteps muffled by the decaying carpets. They walked through the first floor together and saw nothing. Most of the furniture looked as if they hadn’t been touched at all and none of the windows were broken. In a way this serenity was more unnerving than the typically overturned tables and smashed glass over the floor. But here there was nothing.

“Up or down, big guy?” Fay whispered, giving a hopeful glance at the stairs leading to the second floor. Daniel motioned towards the door behind him and Fay nodded. She started walking up the stairs while Daniel descended to the basement.

Ah. Here was something at last. Unmistakable, rust-coloured stains on the white floorboards, leading to one of the two doors. Fay kept her hand on the gun and stepped inside. A bathroom. Some more stains on the floor, a shower curtain with pale yellow ducks, and mouldy hand towels. Nothing else. Fay tried the other door and found a nursery. Nothing. She let out a long breath. It was shaky and shallow. She tried again, breathing in and out slowly until her heart had calmed down and her shoulders relaxed.

“Clear”, she said as she walked down the stairs to find Daniel waiting. The man nodded with a very tight smile, his face pale in the dim light. “You?” Fay asked, her hand quickly back on the gun.

“Safe”, Daniel said with his low, gentle voice. “But don’t let the others go down there.” Fay shuddered.

***

“Ooh, make-up!” Nicole said and limped to the vanity table with her cane. She picked up a lipstick and tried it on the back of her hand. The surface was dried but after rolling it on her skin for a while, Nicole managed to get some colour out of it and brought the stick to her lips, dabbing at them with the bright red. Fay watched with amusement as the women tried out the other products as well.

“Let an old woman have her fun”, Nicole said as she caught Fay’s grin from the mirror

 “48 isn’t that old”, Fay said.

 “It is in this world”, Nicole said. Fay shook her head with the grin still on her face and left the other woman to her business.

Daniel and Minh were in the kitchen, checking the closets in silence the way they always did. Daniel was quiet either by nature or trauma and Minh too shy. Fay hadn’t figured out yet how much the boy understood English, but assumed it was more than he showed. He and Daniel had piled canned food on the table and Fay set to checking out the best before dates. It didn’t matter much, of course, but Fay wanted their first meal at the house to actually taste like something.

“Beans and tomato soup, boys? We’ve still got that bread, too”, she said. “SpaghettiOs for Nicole, I think. She only eats beans when there’s no choice. Cherries for dessert.”

Daniel started preparing the food while Fay and Minh picked a few buckets and took them outside and placed them on the soft grass. The rain was still pouring and the buckets filled steadily. The two of them carried these back inside and into the kitchen. By this, they were dripping wet themselves and went to put on fresh clothes.

“O ho!” Fay shouted as her eyes caught a whisky bottle in the bedroom where she had been changing. “O ho!” she cried again to annoy Nicole.

“What now?” Nicole, still at the vanity table, snapped.

“It’s going to be a right feast tonight, grandma!” Fay said and got hit in the face with a lipstick.

***

A feast they did have. The still soft bread was heavenly and the beans and soup were better than most of what they had been living on lately. The whisky was saved for dessert. Fay dropped a couple of canned cherries into her glass to get a laugh out of Minh. The boy complied with that same small smile of his. Everyone raised their glasses.

 “Anyone know a good toast?” Nicole asked.

 “’Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy’”, Fay tried.

 “Nice”, Nicole said. “’Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker’?”

“’Here’s to staying positive and testing negative.’”

“Fay, don’t ruin this.”

“’May we be in heaven half an hour before the devil knows we’re dead.’”

 “’May we get what we want, may we get what we need, but may we never get what we deserve.’”

 “To absent friends.”

The laughter died and everyone cast their eyes downward. A moment passed during which the only sound was Nicole murmuring a prayer under her breath. Then they raised their glasses one more time and drank in silence.

***

The sun was setting and the four of them moved to the living room with the backpacks and sleeping bags. There was a large sofa and mismatched armchairs with a low coffee table between them. The small tv was in one piece as was the stereo set by it. Fay inspected these and made her second great discovery of the day: a small cassette player that worked on batteries.

“Hand me some AAs”, Fay said eagerly to Daniel who dug into his backpack, bringing out a handful of assorted batteries. Fay picked out the right ones and set them into the player.

Golden Oldies”, Fay read the name of the cassette inside the player. The others gathered around her and they sat down on the moist carpet. Fay fiddled with the thing, her hands shaking with excitement. It wasn’t often they found a piece of working technology.

“Got it!” she cried out when the tape started rolling. Suddenly the room was filled with a clapping sound, soon joined by music and then female voices singing in harmony.

    Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

    Make him the cutest that I’ve ever seen

 

Fay felt something tighten around her chest.

“I can’t remember the last time I’ve heard music”, Nicole whispered from somewhere far away. “Must be two years. Ever since the first attack.” Fay nodded absent-mindedly, barely registering that the older woman was speaking.

    Sandman, I’m so alone

    Don’t have nobody to call my own

    Please turn on your magic beam

    Mr. Sandman, bring me a dream

The song ended far too quickly. Fay made a move towards the player, but a new song followed.

    So darling, darling

    Stand by me, oh stand by me

    Oh stand, stand by me

    Stand by me

When a string instrument started playing, Fay’s breath was taken away. Like Nicole, she couldn’t remember the last time she had heard music. She raised her eyes from the little player and looked at the others. This group of complete strangers clinging to each other as their one and only anchor in the shattered world. She watched Nicole sway and quietly sing along, Minh with his small smile, Daniel with his eyes closed. They were all crying and when Fay felt something cold drop on her cheeks, she realised she was crying too. The tears were welling in the corners of her eyes where they pooled, cooled down, and then rolled down her face, cold as ice.

    I see trees of green, red roses too

    I see them bloom for me and you

    And I think to myself

    What a wonderful world

Fay felt a sob build up, but it never made its way out. Instead the cold tears kept on rolling down her cheeks. She reached her hand to Minh’s and grasped it tightly. The boy’s hand was small and warm. Fay gave it a squeeze and Minh stroked hers with his thumb. She wanted to say something. Something to convey the feelings that were swirling around inside of her, but she found no words nor voice and as she glanced around she could tell she didn’t need to explain.

    I see friends shaking hands saying how do you do

    They’re really saying I love you

Fay didn’t want the music to ever end. She wouldn’t be able to bear it if it did. But it did. For a moment, there was nothing but the sound of rain outside. Then Fay silently reached for the cassette player, rewinded the tape, and the songs began anew. Fay kept on holding Minh’s hand while Nicole rested her greying head on Daniel’s shoulder. Fay closed her eyes.

    And I think to myself what a wonderful world

    Yes, I think to myself what a wonderful world

Stan Saanila’s Linguistic Joke Book

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

This November right before father’s day one of Finland’s best-known dad-joke comedians published a humor book, “Stanin Ääntämisopas”, that seemed to have the corny humor category especially in mind.  Author Stan Saanila is well known in the Finnish media for his part in many humor shows, such as the popular satirical news-show ”Uutisvuoto”. Saanila created a guide for pronouncing Finnish using words, slang and sounds that are familiar (and pronounceable!) to speakers of English.

The project started last June, when Saanila posted a series of tweets on how to pronounce the names of the Helsinki metro stations. The tweets went viral and I also remember laughing at the best ones and groaning at the worst ones, faithful to the dad joke category. After publishing tweets on all the stations along the Helsinki line and also the new stations that are (possibly!) opening along the Espoo line sometime in the near-distant future, the tweets ended and Saanila’s pronunciation jokes were forgotten for the time being. Five months later Saanila debuted as an author with a broader and wider collection of “pronunciation guides” for all manner of Finnish names, places and things.

Picture from Stan Saanila's Twitter page

Picture from Stan Saanila’s Twitter page

As Saanila describes in the introduction to his book, the purpose is not so much to give a proper guide for pronouncing Finnish words for non-speakers, but to give Finnish speakers a laugh and a glimpse of what Finnish may sound like to those who do not speak the language. As such the book includes both fantastic examples that get very close to the original Finnish pronunciation, such as “Coke… Owl. Ah?” (try saying it fast) for Kokkola or Meets a man too for Metsämänty, but also many that are much harder to decipher. Some work well in a British accent, taking for example A car for Akaa, but sound completely different (and sometimes quite bizzare) in an American pronunciation, possibly explaining why it is near impossible for Americans to learn Finnish. Most of the pronunciations that Saanila creates would hardly stand up to linguistic scrutiny, but give a good laugh. (On a side (linguistic) note, hyphenating some combinations for clarity might have been a good idea: B. Virtanen as Bea-ver Tannin).

Saanila’s idea of using already existing words or sounds from English to give a rough idea of Finnish pronunciation is intriguing and quite clever. While doing business with foreigners at a retail company I spent some time working for, we often tried to teach customers Kiitos after a successful sale. The easiest way of getting even close to the real pronunciation was to teach our customers to say key-toss. Not only is the combination of familiar words easier to remember, but also easier to pronounce than a word you haven’t ever heard or seen before. The parting words of Saanila’s book thus particularly warmed my heart. Tack! Kiitos! Key toss!

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

Illustration by Klaus Suhonen

Besides thanking us in Swedish, Saanila’s Finnish-Swedish background is also visible in another way in his book. Amicable rivalry with fellow Finnish-Swedish stand-up comedian André Wickström  or André Weak stream as Saanila has him “translated” has gained Wickström a spot in one of illustrator Klaus Suhonen’s cartoons with his pants down and his “weak stream” flowing. As illustrations Suhonen has cleverly drawn the very literal meanings of Saanila’s translations. Examples include Aleksis kivi as A Lexus Kiwi or Pekka Puupää as Peek-a-boo-Bach.

Saanila is known for being a very quick-witted comedian and his heartwarming introduction made me laugh out loud. His anecdote of giggling to himself on the metro platform when he realized Siilitie could be pronounced as “silly tea” was for me the highlight of the book. I could easily picture Saanila standing on the platform laughing out loud, while the rest of the passengers wondered whether he had all his wits about him. I was left longing for more similar content from Saanila in the rest of the book, as the collection of lists does not stand on its own as well. As it is, the book now functions best as a fun guessing game: “hey what place is “hell-singing eel, you piss-toe”, guess! ”. As one reader tweeted to Saanila, the book can also function as bathroom entertainment. The book’s raunchy piss and poo humor may also fit the bathroom scene better than other books, but as a guessing game the exaggerated and harder to guess examples that were included to fill the book and complete the lists are perfect brain-teasers as they are already much further removed from the originals,

Saanila has spent a huge amount of time coming up with so many pronunciation guides, but the book is somehow left hollow, as there is nothing to tie the different lists together. Nevertheless Saanila certainly proves his craft as a top comedian and his lists can be perused time and time again for a good laugh.

I’ve Caught A Case Of The Feels

pexels-photo-38196

My hands are sweaty,

My heart beats too fast (not fluttering like the wings of a bird but

thumping like stones being thrown into water).

My chest is tightening,

The breath being sucked out (a rude interruption to such a familiar

rhythm but it wakes me).

My skin is sizzling,

Something moves under the surface (a rush of warm

floods as something spiky).

My eyes are open,

Everything is precise ( but I can’t see a thing because I’m

looking through a window of smoke).

I’m afraid, he says, You’ve caught a case of the Feels

pexels-photo-38196

Brought Up In Between Cultures

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15902907_1348378955226205_2118574387_oYou know how everyone has that one defining experience or key quality in themselves that they use to break the ice or start conversations? For me, it is the fact that I lived abroad when I was a kid – hence it is only appropriate that this is the topic of my first BTSB article. My childhood consisted of being practically mute in second grade because I was thrown in a school not knowing a word of English, me and my siblings drove an ATV around our house because that’s just what kids did, and we conscientiously carried baby frogs from a swimming pool back to the pond where they came from. I’ve said the words “no, Finland doesn’t have polar bears” about a dozen hundred times and friends’ birthday parties were actually massive barbeques. We took a car to a school located 300 metres away and our burglar alarm went off almost weekly. I’m a third culture kid, nice to meet you.

A third culture kid is someone who has been raised wholly or partially in a culture which is not that of their parents. My family lived in South Africa for three years and in Canada for a year when I was in primary school. In retrospect, I guess four years doesn’t seem like that long of a time, but to this day, I feel like those years have impacted me the most. Moving from country to country, I always saw my family as a special little case among others. I didn’t overanalyse anything then (as I do today), but I acknowledged the unusualness of our situation. We were aliens in an unfamiliar world – we weren’t them, but we very much tried to be. Being Finnish abroad was sometimes just plain cool: we could speak our secret language in public places and we proudly educated our peers on Finnish traditions in school projects (“we invented saunas and Father Christmas resides in Rovaniemi”). Nevertheless, over everything hung the same sense of dislocation – the knowledge that we were different.

A brilliant description of this is as follows: “a third culture kid builds relationships to all of the cultures, while not having full ownership in any”, as described by David C. Pollock and Ruth E. Van Reken in their book Third Culture Kids: The Experience of Growing up Among Worlds. If this wasn’t the truest thing ever. Growing up, I never felt like I had the right to call myself South African, even less so Canadian. I was Finnish, but I didn’t even know the culture or country, not really. Summer vacations spent at our grandparents’ summer cottage in Finland didn’t give that accurate of an image of our home country. In some sense, I lived in the “bubble” of my family all the time. And as it is, I lived day to day with the knowledge that any moment my parents could sit us down and tell us we were leaving again. Yes, this kind of uncertainness may sound terribly tragic. But in all honesty, it wasn’t. I just kind of rolled with it, and it was ok.

I’m not going to get too psychological in this article, but I definitely think that living abroad as a child changes you. Personally, I would be way different, had I lived all my childhood in one place. I’ve grown a sort of tough skin and learnt to handle things very independently. After all, I was thrown in the deep end in almost everything I did, from learning a language and the ways of a country I had barely heard of before moving there. The fact that I had to constantly leave behind friends may have something to do with it too. The oldest friends I have are my siblings, the golden human beings who hung on there with me all those years. Now, I did have friends in every school I went, but as harsh as it sounds, I was subconsciously always prepared to leave them and take off again with the knowledge that chances were, I would never see them again. Yup, that does sound harsh. It probably wasn’t the healthiest habit, but I think it made things easier. Facebook friends forever though, right?

Despite everything, I loved being a nomad. By default, children experience everything more vividly and strongly, and not only that, I got to live outside of predetermined frames. I didn’t necessarily belong, but I knew I could try my limits fearlessly, whilst dissecting a culture through the eyes of a child, and developing a love towards curiosity. I love how I’ve experienced unusual things: I was once bitten by a meerkat, we’ve had monkeys steal food from our kitchen, and our school had actual houses (I was in “Pegasus”), which was just about the coolest thing ever.

I took long for me to internalize the fact that after moving to Finland, we weren’t moving again. However, since then, Helsinki has become my home and I can finally say with some confidence that I have a culture. The familiar senses of longing after change and new scenery, chronic wanderlust et cetera, they still exist. Quite recently I had to make the choice of where I wanted to study. My older sister and brother both went to universities abroad, which they probably have our third culture kid genes to thank for, and it was an intriguing option for me too. I liked the thought of a new beginning in a whole new country.

However, beyond all of this I came to understand how important it had become for me to have someplace to return. A safety net, something to come back to if all else fails. Family nearby and a human-sized city that I’ve learned to love. Starting my studies at the University of Helsinki was one of the best ideas I’ve ever had. I think that it all boils down to the fact that I have something here that I want to hold on to. I don’t know if it’s the renowned roots everyone’s talking about, the simple fact that I am Finnish or something else altogether, but for now, I just want to stay. Know this place, know who I am in it, and feel so comfortable with myself here that I can always return home.

I don’t really have any ground-breaking epiphany or insightful remark to conclude this article. I feel like I just needed to think about this out loud. After all, it is something that defines me. One thing I am sure of however, is that I am eternally grateful for my culturally ambiguous roots, a childhood that I can look back at and feel proud of. Because this little “suitcase baby” conquered the world at the age of seven, ready to take on anything.

 

 

Addicted To Nostalgia

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Do you know the pleasant tingling sensation you can feel at the back of your head when hearing the Moomin theme song, or when remembering how your primary school teacher used to ask you how your mother and siblings were doing? Or when having a flashback of your graduation day: sweaty palms, too much lipstick and tears of achievement? You know – that moment when it feels like something at the back of your mind, like a sneeze, freezes for a second and then slowly melts.

It can be a thought: old words that suddenly come back to you and you can almost hear them right now – like the ones your mother encouraged you with, after your first friendship drama in kindergarten. It can be a smell: how your grandmother’s house used to wrap the aroma of freshly baked cinnamon buns around every visitor. It can be a song: those ones you sang along to with your siblings when watching The Sound of Music. Or it can be an image, suddenly flashing in front of you: marshmallow-grilling at an old friend’s house, the front yard of which now looks greener than ever before.

The sneeze-like sensation warms up your long-time memory and drowns your consciousness in expired feelings. The voyage of déjà-vu can take you from overwhelming happiness to sinking sadness in a couple of seconds. It acquaints you with your memories afresh, releasing what I am addicted to: nostalgia.

 Box of photographs

 

i’ve got a sneeze at the back

of my mind

sneezeful of old thoughts

flashes of antique ego

expired feelings

tingling at the head

of my consciousness,

temperatures that existed

around my past being

smells that have long ago fainted

creep up the tunnels

of my sense

 

now

 

Nostalgia isn’t really the worst thing to be addicted to. It isn’t even a substance that you could buy, intake or abuse. On the other hand, it isn’t exactly the best thing to fill your evenings with either, because you could surely be doing something more productive than reminiscing. And for some reason, it’s always in the evenings when it arrives. I can’t recall of ever having drunk nostalgic tears at day-time. There’s something about that turn in the light; you see, when the day starts feeling blue and then, all of a sudden, gets tired of having to be so energetic, and travels. The rays of sunlight travel years –

 

teary eyes that belong to a moment

years backwards

ghosts that try to set themselves free

of my spine

 

They travel inside your spine, conquering the corners of your skull, then flashing bright in front of you again: look, it’s you at 16 years old, at that new school, meeting your future best friend! And, there’s more, you are next shown a scene of a group of feather-haired little humans watching a Disney film and eating candy so sour that everyone, in turn, does that awkward half-blink of their right eye. And you really sink in, letting nostalgia intoxicate you.

 

legs that suddenly lose their weight

as if i was really running

at these seconds ticking away right

of my now

and i get confused

the sneeze does not come

of my self

 

But then comes a grey thought. Then a couple of even darker ones, spiralling up to paint a grave of a memory. There’s his nervous laugh, those are the keys you threw at him that last morning, oh and how you had just kissed – then French clouds and hundreds of kilometres above earth. You wish you had never met him as you, again, swallow salty tears, then and now.

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smoke that burns here like my naivety did

off my skin

it pierces my seams

i sneeze

smoke

off you on my mind

 

how hard i have tried

to maintain this abstinence of reminiscing

because see i do not

want to be stifled by

all that i have thought

off my mind

therefore only i remains

 

Moving on, you want to see something more harmless and heart-warming, you try your best not to be fooled by bad nostalgia. And there’s how your mother used to call you self-confident when you were 12 and here’s your reaction: you frowned in disbelief and surprise, and the next day, you got that new haircut! You could feel the heavy ends of your curls on your shoulders again, and as if encouraged by them, you decided not to believe your mother. You did not feel confident in your young self.

 

well, child

well, mother

well, you run in between

careful not to lose those lightweight thighs

 

- carpe diem

 

There you are, carefully listening to teachers repeating how you have to know what you want to be when you grow up, but at the same time, pressuring you to live in the moment – and not to forget your inner child along the way either. You were so confused, remember? This one does not pleasantly tickle at the back of your mind, no – it hammers the edge of your comfort zone; it spreads false tunes all over your brain cells. All of a sudden, you are all grown up and it feels right, oh wait,

 

but where do you see yourself in five

years that have grown you into this

off your been brain

an alien feeling

this woman far from all that has been

how could you resist

going back, well

off this ground

 

You manage to switch off the hammering beat of the grey; now you float again. Although you are amazed as well as terrified at how you have become who you now are, by going through all this and that, and even the black moments – and you really are different now than you were then – you eventually just relax. When it feels this safe, this comfortable, this happy – while nostalgia is singing you a soft lullaby – how could you resist going back to

 

the good old days?

 

And why should I not repeat it all over again tomorrow?