Author: Kirstine

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Goodbye Ghana

2019-07-13 | Denmark, Ghana, Long read | No Comments

The Gate of No Return, Cape Coast

I just left Ghana after a visit which seemed too short. It was my first trip back to western Africa since Sofie & I visited Mali 14 years ago. Back then Mali was a peaceful country and we travelled with Sofie’s friend Martha, her brother Simon, her mom Dorthe and her dad David (who is born in Mali).

It was a family visit, but Sofie and I took a road trip to Timbuktu. The first of many trips to far away fairy-tale places (at least for us Danes 😊). Our drivers name was Baloo and our guide in Timbuktu was Tuareg (one of the blue men) with the name Muhammed Ali. I kid you not it was their names. Internal conflict now makes it impossible to visit and the UNESCO world heritage sites we visited back then is ruined by rebels.

The food is good – here jollof

Ghana is the opposite – it’s peaceful and compared to other African countries wealthy. Like all the other countries Ghana is very religious, but the humanist organisation is growing. Roslyn who recently was elected to the board of Humanists International helped me settling in, showed me the beach and took me to a pub, where I experienced the football frenzy – Ghana fighting for a place in the quarter finals of the African Cup. Unfortunately, they lost so we didn’t party all night (good for me).

With Ros on the beach

At Roslyn’s house a met some of the other humanists. I interviewed her, Roslyn’s husband Michael who is also president of the humanists in Ghana and Ato & Anim. They are trying to create a safe space for non-believers, since they are stigmatised. It was so nice meeting them and discuss humanism, human rights and much more.

Danish history is intertwined with Ghanaian history. We don’t talk about it much in Denmark, but we also participated in the slave trade from Afrika to Amerika. We had a few islands in the Caribbean with plantations and some slave forts along the Ghana coast. I visited one of them Christiansborg in Accra with Michael who took me on a road trip from Accra to Cape Coast to Kumasi and back.

It’s estimated Denmark was responsible for 100.000 slaves being brought across the ocean over 130 years. Local tribes delivered slaves to the Europeans – amongst them the Ashanti kingdom which still exists. Slaves was rounded up from todays Mali, Burkina Faso and other countries. Then they were sent marching towards Cape Coast which is several hundred kilometres – barefoot in shackles, many of them dying on the way.

Place for the Homecoming ceremony

Today decedents from the slaves seek their roots and a lot of them visit Ghana. Every year there is remembrance of the slave trade. A homecoming ceremony is held for those visiting for the first time.

Ghana is a beautiful country. People are so nice and friendly – we had a lot of laughs. I leave with a lot of good experiences – a lot wiser regarding my own country’s history and new friends I will surely miss.

Some facts:

Ghana (Denmark)

Population:   30.4 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   239.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 128/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 63 years (80 years)

The final episode of Babelfish season 1 has been published. The podcast will be on holiday until August. So far 30 interviews with non-believers from 7 countries in the eastern and southern parts of Africa have been produced.

I have talked to humanists, atheists and freethinkers from Uganda, Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Malawi, Botswana and South Africa. All of them had fascinating stories to tell about their life and the challenges they face.

Many of them grew up in religious families with no room for critical thinking, questions and discussions about belief. Growing up most of them have felt alone, thinking they were the only ones doubting the existence of God.

Now they are building communities for non-believers in their countries. In some countries humanist schools are formed, educating the kids in science and critical thinking. Other humanist schools are supporting single moms. Humanitarian projects are being run by non-believers.

In some of the countries the communities are very small with almost no resources. But in all countries non-believers are having metups, debates and social events in order to grow the small communities.

Everywhere I went non-believers are discriminated and stigmatised. Not due to legislation since the constitutions are based on human rights, but due to the religious society. Some have experienced to be shunned from their families, some have been fired. In some cases, there has been violent reactions to non-believers fight for human rights.

Sometimes it looks like an uphill battle to change the society’s view of non-believers. But everywhere I went I met amazing people full of energy and optimism. They keep up the good work and I am sure they will change the world.

It’s been quite a journey for me as well. A year ago, I started the planning – a bit scared, nervous and excited. I have had doubts many times, thinking this was crazy – thinking I wasn’t able to do this. But I did – and I will continue.

Season 1 has been finalised. Tomorrow I’ll fly to Ghana to meet another group of amazing non-believers. The interviews will be part of season 2 which will begin in August.

Next step is to cover the rest of the world. I am actively seeking funding and sponsors for a tour around the world. The tour will start by the end of August.

You can also support the project by donating money through Patreon – or for the Danish audience through 10er.dk.

Have a nice summer

Goodbye Portugal

2019-04-22 | Long read, Portugal | 1 Comment

Streets of Lisbon

It wasn’t part of my plan to visit Portugal this year. I want to do a Europe tour at some point visiting all the European countries. I want to wait interviewing non-believers in this part of the world where is seems to be easier than in other parts. But since I was in the neighbourhood, I decided to tour Portugal and Spain after the nomad cruise.

Portugal is beautiful, the green mountains, the olive trees, the ocean and the cliffs. The characteristic pavement of white and black stones in the cities and the architecture. Until the 70’ies the country was a catholic dictatorship and has suffered many financial crises since. They are only just recovering from the latest crisis – there are many beautiful old buildings who looks like they are falling apart. At the same time there is lots of restoration going on.

Streetart in Lisbon

I was so tired after the nomad cruise I needed to take it easy and not do much sightseeing while I spend a couple of days in Lisbon. I just did a walking tour with the other nomads to get a brief insight to the story of the city.

I interviewed 2 non-believers from the secular society (http://www.laicidade.org/) Ricardo and Rodrigo. Portugal is very religious, and the catholic church still has a huge impact on government and every day life. This even though the Portuguese constitution has been secular since 1911. The secular organization is not just for non-believers, members are of all faiths. The primary goal is to implement secularism in Portugal. There are still many issues in everyday life. Non-believers don’t face server challenges like in the African countries I have visited, but people think they are a bit strange.

Ecumenical Temple

I also visited the ADFP which is a foundation in Coimbra. It’s founded more than 30 years ago and is based on humanity and helps disabled people, foster kids and others. It owns a natural park, a hotel and a few years back they build an ecumenical temple on the top of a mountain.

The temple is dedicated to peace and to remember the victims of fundamentalism. It is for both believers and non-believers – I find it a bit strange to call it a temple, since it then sounds like a religious place. I understand why they have built even though I would have preferred something more secular.


Cromeleque dos Alemenedres

From Coimbra I rented a car and drove down south through the mountains and landscapes. For once I was on my own – no driver, no public transport. I decided to take a detour, going back in time finding the megaliths (Cromeleque dos Alemenedres) outside Evora. They are thousands of years of old and are amazing. They rest on a mountain top with a beautiful view. There are several megaliths and monoliths in the area. They are breathtaking – incredible they were able to build them back then.

I also visited a former colleague Paul Gerner and his wife Ewa in Lagos in Algarve. We haven’t seen each other for years, but it was just like the old days – nice relaxing and cosy. Paul has been visiting Portugal for more than 30 years. He told me the economy is improving, a lot of investments are being done and many Europeans are moving here with their savings. So, it looks good for the future – and hopefully some of these old amazing buildings can be restored.

Some facts:

Portugal (Denmark)

Population:   10.2 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   92.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 111/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 79 years (80 years)

The humanist society

2019-04-02 | Denmark, Short read | 1 Comment

Happy Human

My life stance is humanism and my values are based on human rights. This means I belong to a minority in this world since most people are religious. I have not really considered myself being part of a minority before I started my travels and talked to other non-believers.

But we are a minority. In Denmark approximately 1.500 people are members of the Danish Humanist Society and approximately 800 people are members of the Atheist Association – Denmark has 5.8 million citizens. So we are a minority in Denmark even though the country is considered to be one of the least religious in the world.

I’ve been a member of the Danish Humanist Society since it was founded almost 11 years ago. Since then the society has fought to be acknowledged as a life stance organisation to acquire the same rights as faith communities. We are not there yet but hopefully we will get there within a year or two.

I have been active in the society in some years now. It was my involvement in the international work which gave me the idea to Babelfish – it was meeting all the other humanist struggling to get recognised who sparked the idea. Even though I travel I am still active in the political work – you just need your laptop and your phone, and you can work all over the globe.

I have also been involved in planning a lot of events culminating in our 10-year anniversary celebration last year. 2018 was a busy year with a record high number of ceremonies held and a lot of events. Last weekend we had our general assembly where our President Lone Ree Milkaer again was amazed on how far we have gotten and what we manage to do with very few resources.

At the general assembly I was re-elected for the board and will also continue as vice president the next year 😊

London Baby

2019-03-27 | Short read, UK | No Comments

Kew Garden

I’ve just spent four days in London with my family. My daughter Sofie and her boyfriend Rasmus has been living there since August. Both my mom and I have birthdays in March. So, we went there for our birthday celebrations and to spend some time together for once.

I love London. I love the diversity, the bustling streets, the parks, the food. Just walking the streets, looking at people – walk a bit, grab a cup of coffee, walk some more, have lunch and so on. There is always something going on in London.

Phoenix Arts Club

Thursday, we went to the Phoenix Arts Club for The West End’s Theatre open mic night to experience Sofie on stage she is an amazing singer. It was a great evening; the performers are fantastic, and we had a lot of fun. They have open mic night every Thursday.

Friday on my mom’s birthday we visited Kew Gardens, a fantastic botanical garden. Way too big to see in just one day, so we only saw a fraction of it. We also had afternoon tea at the Ivy in Covent Garden – afternoon tea is a must every time I’m in London, love it.

Afternoon tea at the Ivy

Saturday, we went to Kensington Gardens and Hyde Park while a million brits was marching for a people vote. It’s hard to understand they are leaving the EU, but on the other hand they don’t really see them selves as Europeans. They always talk about the continent, i.e. Europe.

Kew Garden

It will also affect us as a family because we do not know whether Sofie and Rasmus can stay. Rasmus has just been accepted to one of the universities and will study creative writing the next 3 years – it’s so cool and I’m proud of him.

Sofie has a free scholarship for a musical performance school (MX Masterclass). We saw their show at Charing Cross Theatre on Sunday. Sofie has applied for a master’s in musical performance from this fall. All of this means we follow the Brexit negotiations closely – tension rises each day.

But besides the insecurity we had a great weekend in London – my feet were killing me, and I had to relax all of Tuesday due to the pain.

I’ll be leaving Denmark soon, but the whole family will be together again on Iceland in the beginning of June – a family holiday.

Management by Fear

2019-03-20 | Denmark, Rwanda, Short read | No Comments

Rwanda – Genocide Memorial

I just finalized my next article. Its about my visit to Rwanda and it has been difficult writing it. Its been tough thinking about my visit again, so emotional. I ended up spending several days writing the article, because I needed breaks in between.

Thinking about all those people killed during the genocide. All those lives lost. Looking at history it doesn’t seem like we will ever learn and change our ways. I’ve visited the memorial in Rwanda, I’ve also visited the killing fields in Cambodia – my grandparents were part of the resistance during world war 2. They were imprisoned in a camp in Denmark (Frøslevlejren). They were lucky. They were caught just before the war ended, else they might have ended up in a concentration camp.

Cambodia – Killing Fields

And why do genocides happen – how is it possible for human beings to kill other human beings. How is it possible for human beings to commit those horrible crimes. It is difficult to comprehend.

Looking at history the commonalities to me seems to be when groups of people are dehumanised – either because they are from another tribe, another religion, another race or just something else which differs them from the majority.

Denmark – Froeslevlejren

The dehumanising begins when those in power (or the people who wants to be in power) starts to distinguish us from them. They point out the differences between humans. Next step is to put fear into people, claiming ‘the others’ are bad people. Claiming ‘the others’ want to force you to change your life, your belief or even that they want to kill you, your family and friends.

This is what the Nazis, the Khmer rouge and the Hutus did. This is what happened before all genocides. Fear is a powerful tool – it is a powerful weapon. It is easy to scare people, especially when it comes to the un-known. It requires much more energy for us to have an open mind, look at the facts and be pragmatic.

Everyday we see how fear is spread, fake news and lies are all over the place. It’s a shame because basically all we want as humans is living a good life. We want a good life with friends and family being happy. This is what everybody wants no matter where you live, what colour your skin has or what you believe in.

Home sweet home

2019-03-14 | Denmark, Long read | No Comments

I haven’t been active on my blog the last week. My writing routine is a bit off after I came home. I’m still trying to adjust to everyday life – it is especially hard to get used to the cold weather and the rain. I’ve been freezing, some days just wanted to stay under my blanket binging Netflix. It is no surprise that many people suffer from winter depressions here in the north.

I’ve been bust processing all my experiences, catching up with everybody and at the same time plan my next trip. My plans are in progress and I’ll hopefully leave Denmark in 3 weeks. At the same time, I am meeting a lot of new people and hope I can corporate with some of them in the future. interesting times 😊

I & Maja aka minnie_mouseling

I met one new friend through Instagram. The fun part is that she lives in Copenhagen, she is an atheist and has made atheist jewellery for some years. I had never heard about her before and we live a few kilometres apart from each other. She found me and yesterday we met for coffee and talked for hours about humanism, atheism and our common goals. She has a lot of followers in the US where it can be (in some parts of the country) just as difficult to come out as a non-believer as in Africa.

The invisible pink unicorn

Her name is Maja but known as minnie_mouseling on Instagram. Maja has created a beautiful invisible pink unicorn pendant for atheists to wear and has the motto: put a friendly face on atheism. The invisible pink unicorn is an international symbol for atheism. Check out her webpage and follow her on Instagram.

Last week was International Women’s Day and I spent a lot of energy being frustrated about the media coverage. In Denmark the media prefer to ridicule feminism instead of focussing on the issues and challenges we still face.

We do not have gender equality in Denmark – a report from Amnesty international highlighted this in a report on how rape survivors are being treated by the authorities. It is devastating to read how the survivors are blamed, victim blaming is the norm both by authorities and in the public eye.

But the media wanted to cover a non-existing conflict regarding gender neutral traffic lights. A story created by a journalist who months back also created a non-existing conflict about a song.

Saturday night dinner

So I was mad most of Friday – fortunately we (Humanistisk Samfund) was hosting the annual Nordic Humanist meeting the whole weekend – they managed to make me happy again. It is always a pleasure meeting our friends in the Nordics – from Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden.

We talked, shared experiences and made plans. During the weekend we also had a visit from the Norwegian ambassador in Denmark Aud Kolberg talking about Nordic identity, and a Danish scientist Josephine Valentin talked about SKAM (the tv-series) and Nordic identity. Great weekend.

I’m also adjusting to the day-to-day tasks – getting used to grocery shopping, doing the dishes, cleaning the apartment, visiting the doctor and the dentist. I still need to get a haircut. All the tedious tasks you have to do – it’s tough to adjust 😉

I’m back in Copenhagen, I’m back in my hood on Vesterbro down town Copenhagen. Today I went back to my ‘office’ – a local restaurant BOBs where it is possible to work all day if you are a member of Sp8ces. Through sp8ces (no I don’t get paid to tell about it) you have access to several working lounges in Denmark and Norway – they make agreements with hotels, restaurants, etc. to use timeslots where their spaces are not occupied. It is a great concept – and cheap.

I’ve spent the last couple of days sleeping, doing absolutely nothing besides catching up on Netflix. It will take time before I have processed all my experiences from my journey. I have travelled many kilometres, met so many people – not only humanists, but also other locals and tourists, seen the most amazing landscapes and met fantastic animals. Earth is an amazing and beautiful place.

I know I’m privileged – I have the possibility to visit places where the usual tourist never goes. I’m glad this journey is a combination of following the usual tourist path and meeting people living their lives in these countries. It adds so much more when you talk to people living there and not just other tourists or people from travel agencies.

My journey has showed me the diversity of the different countries. There is so much prejudice in the western world toward the African continent – yes, it is a continent and not a country. Africa is unfortunately often perceived as a country and treated as such in popular culture and media. Africa is three times larger than Europe and occupies 20% of the land mass on Earth – it is huge.

In eastern and southern Africa where I have been travelling, they have many challenges. I travelled during the rainy season but in most of the countries, if not all, they got lesser rain than they need to avoid drought. Climate changes are already impacting this part of the world. The growing population is also impacting the infrastructure – water supply, electricity and transport.

I’ve been travelling for 10 weeks, visited 8 countries and held 30 interviews with non-believers. During the next 3-4 months all the interviews will be published as podcast episodes through Babelfish and I will continue to write articles for POV International.

At the same time, I will plan the next steps of my journey. Which means I will be pretty busy while in Copenhagen – I also want to see, to hug and talk to my friends and family. Right now it is cold and rainy – I hope spring is coming.

Goodbye Namibia – goodbye Africa

2019-03-03 | Namibia | No Comments

Etosha National Park

Today I am leaving Namibia. The only country where I haven’t interviewed any humanists. So far, I know the country doesn’t have any humanist or atheist organisations – or at least no organisations are members of Humanists International.

I decided to visit anyway – purely for recreational reasons. So, I have been on holiday the last week, experiencing Namibia. A fascinating country almost twenty times the size of Denmark, but the population is half the size of Denmark. It is the least dense country in Africa with only 3 people per square kilometre – In the whole world only Mongolia is less dense (2 people per square kilometre).

Namibia has is all, in great amount. Savanna, desert, ocean, mountains etc. And everything is big – the national parks goes on forever, you drive for hours through each park in search for animals. For the first time ever, I have been part of a tourist group with people I didn’t know beforehand. I’m used to be the only one or travelling with Sofie.

It’s been interesting travelling with other tourists, even though it means you don’t get as close to the guide or the locals. You meet people from all over the world who are interested in the same things as you – to see some animals up close and spend time in a 40-degree desert after hours and hours of driving. Canadians, Americans, Namibians, British, South African and French – the latter has spent the last 8 years sailing around the world in their own boat (impressive).

Cheetah in Solitaire

The wild life is amazing – I saw my first leopard (2 actually) and my first cheetahs. Black rhinos, elephants, zebras, Oryx’s and many other animals. It is much drier here than in the other countries I have visited – Namibia is dry, but also feels the consequences of the climate changes.

There has never been much water in this dry land – maybe one of the reasons for the small population – but it is getting worse. They change salt water to drinking water to cover the need. And everybody is asked to save water wherever we go. On the positive side the water is clean enough for me to drink – I don’t need to bye water all the time.

The most overwhelming experience was the Namibian Desert – especially the orange sand dunes. This is the oldest desert in the world. The sun is relentless, the wildlife is well hidden – but there are some. We managed to come across the mountain zebra, many oryx’s, jackals and other animals.

Dune no 45

Some from the group climbed the Crazy Dune – aka Big Daddy – it is 325 meters tall. You must get up at 5 o’clock in the morning or else it will get to hot to climb. I didn’t get up there but walked to Deadveil to look at a dried-out flood pan with trees which have been dead for 800 years – a fascinating place.

We had a nice view of all the ‘crazy’ people climbing the dune while the sand got hotter and hotter. Soon we could all feel the hot sand burning through the bottom of our shoes – and it was only 11 o’clock. The temperatures were reaching 40 degrees at noon.

Etosha pan

This country was definitely worth a visit. It was a so-called protectorate of South Africa until 1990 – or the real story is that South Africa didn’t follow the agreements made in the UN, so they took power over Namibia and treated it as a protectorate and even implemented apartheid rules. It took 35 years before Namibia finally got its independence.

When I leave Namibia – I also leave Africa heading home to Denmark. It has been an amazing trip, and an experience of a lifetime – I have been away for 10 weeks, 2½ months. This was a test run. I wanted to find out whether I can travel a long time on my own. I can. I do not have any problems travelling alone – I met a lot of people on the way. I talk to locals, I talk to tourists – and I meet humanists, atheists and non-believers.

They are the heroes of Africa today. They are fighting for human rights and humanism. They are fighting for their life stance in a part of the world where they are the odd one out. Their stories deserve to be told – and to be heard.

When I arrive in Denmark, I will start planning my next steps. I want to visit several countries in Africa north of Equator. I would also like to cover some countries in the Middle East. I hope to be on the road again in April, but I will continue blogging about my experiences from Africa.

Some facts:

Namibia (Denmark)

Population:   2.6 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:   825.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 3/km2 (133/km2)

Life expectancy: 64 years (80 years)

POV International & I

2019-02-28 | Babelfish, Denmark, Uganda | No Comments

The new humanist celebrants in Eastern Africa – 
Picture from Kato Mukasa

I am happy to be able to break this news today. Going forward I will be a writer for the Danish online media POV International. This is amazing. They have so many fantastic journalists and writers who publish on their platform. The writers don’t get paid, but the readers can donate directly to the writers.

POV International will bring my travel stories. The articles are in Danish. The title of the series is (roughly translated to English): In search for the worlds non-believers.

The first article has been published today. I tell about my visit to Uganda. The next article will be about my visit to Rwanda.

I hope this is an opportunity to gain a wider audience in Denmark. And maybe in the long run to an international audience.