Author: Kirstine

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Cradle of humankind

2019-01-21 | Tanzania | No Comments

Ngorongoro Crater

I visited the Ngorongoro crater yesterday not far from the place where scientist have found evidence of continuous presence of human for the last 2 million years – 2 million years! Here where two tectonic plates met and formed the rift valley many millions of years ago is the cradle of humankind. This is where hominoids were born and later developed into homo sapiens.

Watching the huge number of elephants, wilder beasts, zebras, antelopes on the plain grassing while lions and hyenas are watching ready to hunt. The Masai are still living in this area, integrated with the wild life – risking the life of their cattle and themselves. It makes you wonder how life might looked here a million years ago, how did humans survive.

It is appealing to believe that life has been unchanged here for thousands and thousands of years. But this is not the case. The Masai migrated here from Sudan only a few hundred years ago. The plains and the savanna are not untouched by human hand – herders have been living on this land for a long time, their cattle have shaped the landscape, integrated with the wild life.

I live in a country with a history of humans being of only a few thousand years. As Danes we are normally proud of our height, light skin and blue eyes. In reality the first humans in the Nordics – the hunter-gatherers – were short, had dark skin and grey eyes.

The genes for the light skin and blue eyes (a genetic mistake) came from Spain some thousand years ago and migrated to the North. Then 5.000 years ago, the Yamnaya’s from the northern part of Caucasus migrated to the Nordics – they were tall and had light skin. The Scandinavian look then developed – due to migrants, even though we off course all are migrants from the rift valley.

Homo sapiens one of the most successful animals on earth, unless we succeed in destroying the planet making it impossible for us to live here. We have migrated to all corners of the planet where it is possible to live (and in some cases not possible to live).

Climate changes is also visible here – the wet and dry seasons are getting out of balance. It’s raining during the dry season, and not raining in the wet season.

This area – where we were born – will be one of the first area where it will be impossible for humans to live. Humans will be forced to migrate – again – to find a place to survive. Unfortunately, we would have destroyed all the magnificent animals living here… so beautiful to watch.

Goodbye Kenya – Hakuna matata

2019-01-18 | Babelfish, Kenya | 1 Comment

Karen Blixen

Looking out on the scenery through the shuttle bus window driving from Nairobi to Arusha in Tanzania I’m thinking about my week in Kenya. The horrible attack in Nairobi the other day with 21 lost lives, reminds me of how fragile life is. The people and the fantastic animals remind me of how beautiful life can be in this country. A country with a complicated history, influenced by the whole world.

On one hand Kenya feels very peaceful – the security levels are the same as in the other countries. When you get used to armed security everywhere, the thorough security checks when you enter a mall, a hotel, a bank etc. you stop wondering. Al-Shabab continues to make life unsecure for everybody here. It’s difficult to understand how they cope with the fear continuing living their lives.

On the shuttle bus a group of passengers with unmistakable Indian decent reminds me of the melting pot of different cultures that is Kenya today with more than 42 tribes. Arabs, Europeans, Indians and as the latest addition I see Chinese signs all over the country showing how much China invest in infrastructure – not just here but all over Africa.

The landscape passes by – the flat land surrounding Nairobi turns into green hills and later mountains. I see Masai with their red clothes looking after their cattle and donkeys. It is the first time I have seen donkeys on this trip. The sky is so incredible high with the flat savanna and the green hills and mountains in the background. It makes you feel tiny and insignificant.

It is understandable why Karen Blixen fell in love with this country. I visited her museum with Harrison from the atheist organisation. Fun fact: he had never heard about her, so I taught the Kenyan a bit about Kenyan history. It was amazing to visit her farm, learning more about her life here and how she influenced Kenyan tourism.

It is difficult to be a non-believer in this country. In contradiction to Denmark Kenya has a secular constitution. Legally there is no discrimination, but in reality, the country is very religious, which means everyday life is influenced by religion.

People are very friendly and curious. As a Dane you would never say hi, shake hands and talk to a stranger in the street. After a few days you realize Kenyans mean it, they just want to talk – while you thought they wanted to trick you and get money out of you.

It’s been a week with many experiences, many emotions – highs and lows.

I will end this blog post with some of the highs – I met Harrison, the nicest guy who open his home to me. He is the best-known atheist in the media in Kenya, fighting for equal rights for non-believers. I saw a black rhino for the first time ever, it was amazing, big and a bit scary. And then there was the beautiful lioness, she passed our car not more than half a meter from my face – I’ll never get tired of watching them in the wild.

Have a nice weekend and as they say in Swahili – Hakuna matata

P.S. A new episode of my podcast Babelfish has been released today – check it out

Some facts:

Kenya (Denmark)

Population:  52 mio. (5.8 mio.)

Area:  580.000 km2 (43.000 km2)

Density: 89/km2 (133/km2) Life expectancy:  64 years (80 years)

It’s alive !!!

2019-01-16 | Babelfish, Uganda | No Comments

Finally – the podcast has gone live. The first 3 episodes has been published.

Kato Mukasa

In the first episode I talk to Kato Mukasa who has several roles within the humanist community. Internationally Kato is member of the IHEU Board. He is also involved in coordinating activities in Africa and Uganda. In Uganda Kato is Legal Director for HALEA Uganda, and manager of the Pearl Vocational Training College.

Wasswa Peter Mukasa

In the second episode I talk to Wasswa Peter Mukasa who, besides being Kato’s brother, also is deeply involved in HALEA Uganda.

Viola Namyalo

In the third episode I talk to Viola Namyalo, a young humanist, involved in HALEA Uganda. Just after I left Uganda Viola was elected Chair of the African Working Group of Young Humanists International (YHI). YHI is the youth section of IHEU.


You’ll find podcast in your favourite podcast app: iTunes, Spotify or Stitcher. Or you go to the Babelfish page in the above menu.

I expect to release 1 or 2 episodes per week. Bear with me – English is my second language.

Enjoy.

Precious lives

2019-01-15 | Kenya | 4 Comments

Lioness

Today while I met this beautiful creature lying on the side of the road a terrorist group attacked a hotel in Nairobi with bombs and gunfire. While we were waiting to see if the lioness would succeed and hunting down one of the many antelopes, people were dying in Nairobi.

It isn’t the first time in recent years terrorist has made attacks in Kenya. Al-Shabab (a militant Somali terror group) has unfortunately succeeded many times. I think everybody remembers the Westgate Shopping Mall attack in 2013 which lasted several days.

At that time my friend Peter lived in Nairobi – Sofie and I wanted to visit, go on a holiday and hopefully see a lot of animals. We never made it, partly due to political unrest but also due to the risk of terrorist attacks. It simply wasn’t safe enough. Now Peter lives in Denmark and I am a tourist in Kenya – Al-Shabab continues to spread fear and taking precious lives.

Being far away from the attack we didn’t notice anything – not until I got a message from my insurance company and the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs. I recommend everybody to sign up on ‘rejseklar’, the ministry will keep you posted on any issues in the country you are travelling in (for Danes only). The twitter exploded and I decided to contact my relatives and friends telling them I was ok.

On our way home from the national park Nairobi looked the same, no changes, the same melting pot of people, boda bodas, taxies, busses, cars – the same smells and sounds. Live continues in the capitol.

The lioness didn’t succeed in her attempt to catch an antelope – the antelopes fled, and the lioness wandered off, she passed our car, peed on a bush and continued down the road. Live continues in the national park.

Goodbye Rwanda

2019-01-12 | Rwanda | 2 Comments

Moto’s with passangers

I must admit facing Rwanda’s past hit me hard. I remember when Sofie and I visited the killing fields in Phnom Penh in Cambodia years ago, the sadness stayed with us for days. I have felt the same this week, the sadness has stayed with me.

Maybe it has cast a shadow on my visit because Rwanda is a nice and friendly place. The capitol Kigali is very different from the chaotic streets of Kampala in Uganda. There is less traffic and the main streets are lined with trees and grass. The buses are bigger and more modern. The boda boda’s are here but are called moto’s – as a passenger it is mandatory to wear a helmet and they respect the traffic lights (in contradiction to Kampala).

Rwanda is called the land of 1.000 hills, which is true – no matter in which direction you look you’ll see green hills. Which also means you walk up and down, up and down, up and down all the time. It was only when visiting the Akegara National Park that I saw flat land.

It’s a beautiful country and they are trying had to improve and change not forgetting their past in the process. Good improvements have been made and foreign investments have returned. Tourists have also discovered the country with its diverse experiences.

But – and there is a but – I have not gotten a decent cup of coffee since I arrived in East Africa. Either it is instant coffee, and you mix it yourself, or it is the weakest coffee you would ever taste – it looks like tea. I mean the grow the stuff and export it all over the world, but they have no idea how to make good coffee. So, I switched to African tea, which is basically milk boiled with tea – much the same as chai.

And on the positive side I’ve gotten good at using moto’s – without fearing for my life and clinging to much on to the driver.

Tomorrow I will fly to Nairobi in Kenya.

Some facts (I include Uganda since I forgot it in my earlier post about leaving Uganda):

Rwanda (Uganda – Denmark)

  • Population: 12.6 mio. (45 mio.  – 5.8 mio.)
  • Area: 26.000 km2 (241.000 km2 – 43.000 km2)
  • Density: 475/km2 (183/km2 – 133/km2)
  • Life expectancy: 68 years (58 years – 80 years)

Big little things

2019-01-10 | Rwanda | 3 Comments

It’s when you lose access to everyday necessities you realize how privileged you are. In Denmark we have a functioning infrastructure – everybody has access to clean drinking water in their own home, just turn on the tap. We don’t risk electricity outages; our roads don’t get washed away due to rain. We don’t have earthquakes, volcano eruptions, monsoon rain, hurricanes or other natural disasters.

Imagine if you didn’t have a car and you had to collect clean water 1 kilometre from your home every day – you would have to walk or bike. Imagine if sometimes there was no electricity – if you had a refrigerator or freezer the food would go bad. Imagine if the rain washed away the road to your town – it had to be cleared before anyone could leave.

And what about money? – we are so used to use our credit cards, it takes 2 seconds to pay our groceries and we are out the door. Here almost no shops and only a few hotels accept credit cards. You need cash to pay for everything.

I have spent a lot of time looking for an ATM that would accept my credit cards. One day I had to transfer some money – it took forever. At the MoneyGram agent (like Western Union) I couldn’t use my credit card to pay for the transfer, and their ATM didn’t accept my credit card, so I had to find another bank to get the cash to pay for the transfer.

Another example – I had to pay deposit for my hotel in cash. For some reason none of the 8 (yes 8!) ATMs I visited accepted my visa or master card. In the end my mom (thanks mom) sent me money through Western Union. It took less than 10 minutes to get the cash.

Imagine the consequences for your everyday life and work – this is reality in some other countries. In Denmark everything would be more difficult, everything little thing would take so much longer.

I’m so grateful to live in a country were the vital infrastructure is in place. We need to appreciate the big little things that makes our daily lives so much easier.

Always remember, never forget

2019-01-07 | Rwanda | 6 Comments

Wall of names of some of those killed during the genocide

It was friends, neighbours, family who run amok and within 100 days killed 1.000.000 people in 1994 in Rwanda – at that time I was pregnant with Sofie.

Babies, toddlers, children, youngsters, men and women where tortured, raped, molested and killed in the most horrendous ways – slaughtered by machetes, shot, drowned in latrines. It’s hard to believe that the nice and friendly streets of Kigali where I am today was filled with blood and bodies 25 years ago.

Today I visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial Centre where 250.000 people was buried in a mass grave. It has been an emotional day, me crying several times looking at videos with survivors’ testimonials on how they watched their family members get killed, looking at the remains of those killed, seeing a superman bed sheet, one shoe from a child, the countless pictures of victims.

I get tears in my eyes writing this – a special part of the exhibition shows pictures of babies and kids who were killed with notes regarding each of them mentioning their favourite food, favourite sport, favourite song but also their age and how they died.

Devastating. It is difficult to grasp how human beings can turn into monsters who will do horrible things to their friends and families. They lived peacefully together, were married into each other’s families, were godparents to each other’s children.

History shows that genocides doesn’t happen overnight even though it might look like it. It wasn’t the case during the second world war, it wasn’t the case in Rwanda or the Balkans. It begins with an increasing division, an increase in dehumanising other groups (whether it is ethnicity, religion, politics etc.).

Like in Germany and on the Balkans, it was the people in power who planned the genocide. It was carefully planned in order to wipe out the Tutsis. Women were raped by HIV infected men on purpose to destroy future generations. Like the survivors from the genocide the kids from these rapes are traumatised.

Rwanda has done a lot to overcome the collective trauma – rebuilding the country, prosecuted those who planned and those who committed the killings, supporting the survivors. It will take many years, maybe even generations before some of the wounds have healed.

We must never forget how genocides happen – we must never forget that ordinary people can turn into monsters when they are manipulated and feel threatened. Dehumanising other people just because they look different or think different is the first step towards genocide.

I sometimes fear that we are going down this road again – the dehumanisation of those who are slightly different than ourselves. The talk about ‘them and us’ creating distance between – creating the illusion of ‘them’ not being human.

I do not know how we can stop this from ever happening again – but we must insist on trying, keeping our humanity.

Goodbye Uganda

2019-01-06 | Uganda | 2 Comments

Baby gorilla

Today I’m leaving Uganda after two weeks of both hectic activities and idleness – a bit like the everyday life here. The hectic streets of Kampala with thousands of bora boras, hundreds of taxies (i.e. 14-person minivans), street sellers, beggars. The streets buzzing with the sounds of sellers offering chicken on a stick, rolex (an omelette in a ‘pancake’), fried bananas or corn and drivers offering their boda boda or taxi to all who passes by. The smell of the city – the mix of trash, gasoline, food and other undefinable smells.

In contradiction the green green mountains, the national parks and Victoria Lake which offers a tranquillity which is difficult to find elsewhere. You find your self staring into infinity, zooming out, just listening to the sounds around you – the monkeys in the forest, the insects on the savannah or the birds on the lake.

Before I came, I only remembered learning about Idi Amin and the Entebbe kidnapping in school, but it happened many years ago. The country has been peaceful for more than 30 years. Improvements has been made – more children go to school; the economy is better. But there are still many that can’t read, many are poor, the population is deeply religious which means children goes to religious schools. Some places in the country they still believe in which craft. The life expectancy is 55 years (!) – 20 years less than in Denmark.

I have met only kindness and curiosity from the people I have met. They speak English, many very good, are polite and wants to talk. They are also world champions in soup – the best soups I have ever tasted was in the Bwindi mountains. Overall the Ugandan kitchen is great and there is plenty of it.

Ugandans must abide by the weather. If it rains it rains and you must wait it out – it would put a strain on a Danes patience, but you’ll learn. While we were in Mbarara a rainstorm hit Kampala causing large parts of the city to be without power. Trees and large billboards fell cutting down powerlines.

I have experienced so much in such little time it is difficult to describe all of it.

I will miss driving through the country passing village after village with kids shouting ‘muzungu’ (European) and waiving.

I will miss meeting all the great humanists, talking to them about their life, their visions and great work. I admire what they do – it is not easy being a non-believer in a very religious world.

I hope this will not be a goodbye but see you soon

From Voltaire to the Matrix

2019-01-04 | Uganda | 2 Comments

Peter – Viola – Kato

I’ve been a bit busy interviewing 11 humanists in only 3 days. Two of them in another city and the bus ride there took more than 5 hours – each way! I’m a bit exhausted and need some time absorbing all their stories.

But it was worth it meeting Kato, Peter, Viola, Andrew, Don, Ronnie, Max, Manzi, another Peter, Louis and Solomon and it has broadened my mind. They all grew up in a country which was and still is very religious. It cannot more different and far away from my upbringing in Denmark – we are not very religious, and religion is not that big a part of many people’s lives. In school we are taught critical thinking – in Uganda it’s not part of the curriculum.

So, it was fascinating to hear how they despite the lack of teaching in critical thinking at some point in their life started questioning the religious teachings. How they all became more and more aware that they did not believe. How they were inspired – and this is were both Voltaire and the Matrix plays a role as inspirations for both Kato and Louis. You will be able to hear more when I have edited the interviews and published some episodes.

In a country where non-believers are considered to be worshippers of Satan and a lost cause, it takes a lot of courage to openly declare yourself to be a non-believer, a humanist – they have all lost friends, some have been shunned from their families. But they still consider it to be worth all the challenges and the risks, because it is important to create a community for non-believers and to fight for everybody rights to ask questions, be critical thinkers.

I admire their courage.

Happy New Year

2019-01-01 | Uganda | No Comments

University Guest House – Kampala

I said goodbye to Sofie two days ago and has checked in to the University Guest House in Kampala. I will stay here the rest of the week. Tomorrow I will interview the first humanists for the podcasts. Uganda has a thriving humanist community with many organizations for humanists and freethinkers. I look forward to meeting them all.

Looking back at 2018 it has been a crazy year with huge changes in my life – I decided to sell everything I owned (besides my tiny car), my job was moved to another country and my daughter Sofie & her boyfriend Rasmus decided to move to London, luckily it meant that I could sublet their apartment – and finally I decided to take a year off and travel around the world.

Happy New Year to everybody.