All I want for Christmas

‘War Is Over! If you want it. Happy Christmas, John & Yoko.’  Billboards in eleven world cities showed these words. It was 15 December 1969 and The Beatles singer John Lennon and his wife Yoko Ono launched the peace campaign War is Over (if you want it). The peace message appeared on buildings and walls in the streets of London, New York, Paris, Los Angeles, Rome, Toronto, Athens, Hong Kong, Amsterdam, Berlin and Tokyo. At that time the Vietnam War was raging on with no end in sight. 

Not just advertising, the couple must have thought. John and Yoko’s message was accompanied by a Peace For Christmas concert in London to which famous musician friends, such as George Harrison and Eric Clapton, contributed.

Ukraine

Fifty-three years and some wars later, not much has changed. We may disagree on an aweful number of political issues, no one wants war. In the last month of the year, there is no prospect of an end to the war in Ukraine, which was unleashed by Russia’s invasion at the end of February this year.

After two difficult and uncertain ‘pandemic years’ for many, 2022 has also by no means been a jubilant year. First, the outbreak of war on the European continent, not even that far from our safe havens. Second, all sorts of crises, such as the energy and Dutch nitrogen crisis, which have created chaos and uncertainty among countless (Dutch) citizens. And leaders don’t seem to know the way out of the chaos and noise. 

Disunity

As facts have become opinions and opinions have become facts, the social climate is unstable with ever-increasing strife. What is truth? For instance, climate change, besides natural climate change also at the hands of humans, is for some a leftist ideology, a belief. And a belief, of course, only serves to instil fear. If it isn’t the earthly sacrifices for a place in heaven instead of hell, it is the hell and damnation hanging over us if we do not act now. Fear as a driving force, in other words. Don’t fall for it, say the deniers. As if the unprecedented, apocalyptic floods that hit Pakistan this year and the ongoing drought and water shortages in southern Europe in particular, were not clear signals that we must start living differently.

Culture war

Rather, we war – between the believers and non-believers, the liberals and conservatives. Not bombs and grenades as war language, but rather moral superiority for instance in the battle over climate, one of the main subjects of the culture war which blew over from the United States. According to the non-believers, we can sit back, nothing is wrong. With Christmas just around the corner, the steaks and pork tenderloin are served in large numbers because “they won’t take that away from us”. Some think we will soon find ourselves in such an unlivable world that freedom no longer has much value and others think our freedom is being taken away under the guise of climate change. 

‘War is over! If you want it’  fifty-three years later is not just about the war in Ukraine. It is also about the culture wars that divide countries and families and friends to the bone. Verbal violence may one day no longer be the only weapon.

Awareness

John Lennon said the following about the campaign at the time: “When we stick posters around saying, ‘War Is Over – If you want it’, we’re trying to promote an awareness in people of how much power they have, and not to rely on the government, or leaders, or teachers so much that they’re all passive or automatons. They have to have new hope.”

For hope and confidence in the future, we do not depend on governments and leaders.  A universal and timeless message. A billboard can’t change that wars will always be there, I hear you thinking. By the way, the campaign is still running – after all, the desired result is still lacking – and posters can be printed from a website to stick on your windows. I once saw such a poster on a window in Amsterdam and I had to take a picture of it. It may be just a seed, a pebble that ripples in the river as soon as it hits the surface of the water. But that seed grows and the ripple effect reaches further than you think. If enough people want something, it happens. The idea of the billboards was to make people aware of this power. Enough people actively wishing for peace can make war stop, John and Yoko thought. Naive? Maybe, yet we all know what King and Ghandi set in motion.

Anti-war Christmas song

Two years later, the War is Over slogan turned into a Christmas song with an anti-war message, Happy Christmas (War is Over), and – it took a while – eventually became a worldwide Christmas classic. And every time, the images of the music video give me goosebumps. 

‘So this is Christmas and what have you done.’

In spring 1969, John and Yoko proclaimed their peace message at the Amsterdam Hilton from their hotel bed. For a week between white hotel sheets, the famous hippie couple called for world peace. For this, they invited photographers and journalists to spread their message. “It didn’t smell to fresh in there,” said Henk van der Meijden, a tabloid reporter at Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, and John’s hair remained unwashed. A crazy idea, but the bed-in got a lot of publicity and worldpeace became a mantra – without, incidentally, the desired result.

Band Aid

Flowerpower may be decades past, but wouldn’t it be nice to hear a similar message from contemporary musicians? The time is now I tell you! Just like Band Aid at the time. Musicians coming together to record a song with a (political) statement? As happened in 1984 with Do they know it’s Christmas to raise money to fight famine in Ethiopia. Later in 1985, USA for Africa followed with the legendary song We are the world

Music connects and makes hope come alive. I can only think of old(er) rockstars, like Bob Dylan, Bob Geldof and Bono, who remind us – through music – of the power of the individual to start a movement that can make a difference. Is the power of the individual perhaps weakening in individualistic times we live in? Are today’s famous artists too busy with themselves?

Concert for freedom

U2’s singer and guitarist Bono and The Edge played at a Kiev metro station in May this year, at the invitation of Ukrainian President Zelenskyy, in solidarity with the citizens of Ukraine. A concert for freedom.

John & Yoko’s War is Over, Band Aid, USA for Africa, U2 for freedom, that is what I want for Christmas. Europe for Climate maybe. Who will lead the way? You don’t have to be a floating hippie or a sentimental old geezer to know that music is the catalyst for change and connection. It is a primal feeling and I dare say it’s what we all crave so much. 

Merry Christmas! 🌟❤️🥂🎄

Con Amor,

Eva

How true stories of real heroines put nationality, freedom and humanity in perspective

The fact that I, as a Dutch woman, can travel (almost) anywhere with ease, a quick look at my passport and everything is ok, has always amazed me. Your place of birth largely determines your chances in life: health, education, work, happiness. Your nationality can even be a matter of life or death. If you are born in Afghanistan your chances of an early death are more realistic and all the more if you happen to be female.

An Afghan woman forced to marry a Taliban fighter and lead a life kept out of sight and practically invisible, can escape only by death, whereas the most pressing matter for a Dutch woman is that she earn the same as a man in her position.

Selective women’s rights

After watching the Netflix documentary In Her Hands about the fearless youngest mayor in Afghanistan, Zarifa Ghafari (26), who fights for the education of girls, forbidden by the merciless Taliban under whose terror girls and women must fear for their lives, western feminists suddenly become irrelevantly self-obsessed. The fact that women’s rights only seem to exist selectively, is every time a painful realisation in itself and the silence of western feminists concerning the terrible predicament of women under strict Islamic regimes even more so. Consider the deadly repression playing out in Iran at the moment.

As a husband and father you don’t want to reside in a country in which your wife awaits an existence without rights, and your daughters who wish to learn, run the risk every day to be murdered in cold blood by extremists.  The images at Kabul airport of thousands of desperate Afghans trying to flee, clinging to an aircraft, women and children trying to catch the last flight away from a home which will become a prison, leave you gasping for air. The mayor Zarifa narrowly escapes with her husband, mother and younger brother in a plane heading for Germany, where they are received as refugees.

Continuing the fight

Shortly before the Taliban had executed her father in front of his home and young son due to Zarifa’s public role, which she had refused to give up. Despite the threat to her own life, she travels back to Afghanistan on her own a few months later to continue the fight for the right of women and girls in her homeland. In Germany she no longer held a high office, she was an asylum seeker with a life on hold, and the control, again, out of her hands. All be it without the constant mortal danger, but for Zarifa not important enough to stay for.

When the bombs drop

Another such true story which burst into your safe life and rages on long after, is The Swimmers, a biographical movie about two Syrian sisters who are also talented swimmers, Yusra and Sara Mardini.  On the horizon you see the bombs exploding on the edge of town while the sisters let themselves go on the dance-floor at a party.  The start of the civil war in Syria.  The situation escalates and the sisters lives are in danger.  Their father grudgingly supports their decision to flee to Germany along with a cousin. A harrowing life-threatening journey awaits them. On their way they quickly fall into the hands of unreliable people smugglers.

The hellish journey, especially the chilling crossing the sisters make in an overloaded rubber dingy from Turkey to Lesbos is made by countless people every year.

Thousands never set foot in Europe but end namelessly in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea. Since 2014 more than 29.000 deaths have been registered along the flightpaths to Europe, including this crossing to Lesbos, most of the victims are from Syria. All the antics the sisters perform and the dangers they brave to reach this island where the inhabitants can’t wait to see the backs of them, seem surreal but are at the same time very real.

Salvation

The viewer gets a feel for the years-long beaurocratic process, waiting on stamps and signatures.  It feels like you are in a Kafka novel.  The endless waiting that slowly extinguishes the last remaining bit of life-force, but not so for the sisters.  Their crib stood in Syria and then going to Europe to establish yourself, away from the bombs and bloodshed, is far from matter of course.  The combination of their courage and daring with a clear goal is their salvation.  These make the difference in the end.  Although the goal for each of the sisters turns out to be different, it is what enables them to regain control over their lives in a foreign country.  The movie slung me back and forth between hope and despair, but more the first than the latter.  The Syrian sisters got me thinking. 

Fort Europe

I never had to supply stacks of documents to get government clearance to come and live in Spain.  My partner, cat and I just went, now some 8 years ago.  We can come and go as we please.  No-one ever asked us for all sorts of information, our Dutch passports were enough.  We did not have to wait eons on permission from the authorities to reside within the Spanish borders, because there is free movement of people within the European Union.  We are what you call “fortune seekers”.  And we were not even unfortunate in our country of birth.  And yet, that is what we are, because we wanted more.

Second-rate citizenship

The right to come and go as you please, in your own country and outside it, (freedom of movement) as determined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is beautiful on paper, but in practice far from reality. Especially for those with less desirable passports; those who have a high chance of becoming second rate citizens. Those men and women who will never feel equal to their compatriots who were born there.

For now, I really recommend watching In her Hands and The Swimmers, just like that they might awaken a humanity which I often find sorely missing when it concerns refugees and migrants.  A little more compassion won’t kill us.

It is too proud to think that the bombs will never fall here or that the water will never rise so high or dry up, making flight our only chance at survival. When it is us rattling at the gates or embarking on harrowing journeys to escape war or natural disasters, we will hope for some humanity instead of a lifetime as a second-rate citizen.  

As it was written some 2000 years ago: ‘Pride comes before the fall.’

Timeless wisdom which reaches far beyond all borders.

In her Hands and The Swimmers are now screening on Netflix.

Previously published in Dutch on Reporters Online.

God doesn’t make junk ~ Holocaust survivor Edith Eva Eger.

“We don’t know where we are going, we don’t know what will happen, but nobody can take away from you what you put in your own mind,” said the mother of Dr. Edith Eva Eger when they were deported to the gates of Auschwitz.

The ballerina of Auschwitz, as Eger was called, was sixteen when she was taken away by the Nazis. In concentration camp Auschwitz she was forced to dance for Josef Mengele, the ‘angel of death’. She did so with her eyes closed. In her mind she wasn’t standing between the cold barracks, but in the Opera House in Budapest, and she was Juliet in the ballet Romeo and Juliet.

When the US Army liberated the camp on 4 May 1945, a soldier saw her hand move when she was left for dead among a number of dead bodies. He quickly called for medical assistance and therefore saved her life. She weighed only 32 kg at the time; her body was broken.

Two years ago I read her memoir The Choice. Sometimes I had to put it aside to catch my breath, only to pick it up again immediately and continue reading. An unforgettable book about the moving life of an extraordinary and powerful woman, who later, as a psychologist, helped veterans and soldiers with PTSD.

Here I would like to share some meaningful quotes from The Choice:

“Anti-Semitism wasn’t a Nazi invention. When I was growing up I developed a feeling of inferiority, and I became convinced that it was safer not to say that I was Jewish.”

“In Auschwitz, in Mauthausen, and during the death march, I survived by drawing on my inner world.”

“I found hope and faith in my inner life, even when surrounded by starvation, torture and death.”

“I did not yet know that nightmares do not adhere to land borders, that guilt and fear are boundless.”

“Maybe moving forward also means going back to the past.”

“We cannot choose to let the darkness disappear, but we can choose to cherish the light.”

“Every moment is a choice. No matter how frustrating, unpleasant, exhausting, painful or oppressive our experience, we can always choose how to respond.”

“You can take everything away from a person except one thing: the last of the human freedoms, which is to be able to choose what attitude to take in all given circumstances, to be able to choose your own path.” ~ Victor Frankl.

“I have nowhere to go to escape my discomfort; I just have to feel it.”

“By running away from the past, from my fear, I could not find freedom.”

“I turned my fear into a prison and locked it by remaining silent.”

“We can choose to be our own prison guards, or we can choose to be free.”

“Running away from the past or fighting against the pain we are experiencing now is equivalent to imprisoning ourselves.”

“Expressing yourself, i.e. self-expression, is the opposite of depression.”

“Mourning rites and rituals can be a hugely important part of grieving. I think that’s why religions and cultures contain distinct mourning rituals. There is a protected space and structure within someone begins to experience the feelings of loss.”

“To be passive is to let others decide for you. To be aggressive is to decide for others. To be assertive is to decide for yourself.”

“No one can make you a victim. Only you can do that.”

“If you can’t go through a door, go through the window.”

“To heal, we must embrace the darkness.”

“To heal means to tend the wound.”

‘Tempora mutantur, et nos mutamur in illis: times change and we change with them.”

“If we start believing that it is impossible for us to be loved if we are authentic, then we run the risk of denying our true nature.”

“Your own thoughts are the biggest prison and the key is in your pocket: the willingness to take total responsibility for your life; the willingness to take risks.”

Con Amor,

Eva

A Week when Everything Sucks and I Want to be a Cat!

An effortless, hot, carefree summer? Yes, please! Who doesn’t want that?

One minute after my cold shower, my face is glistering again. Sweat is pouring down my back. 

With temperatures of 30 degrees and even crossing the magical 30, I guess I reached my limit.  These temperatures seem only good and give you the summer vibes you maybe longed for on cold winter days, when you are without worries and without goals you have imposed on yourself. Just be and that’s all. Read books, write, walk, go for dips in the sea nearby, and relax with cold drinks. Or do just nothing! No obligations. Honestly, with these temperatures when all feels like an exertion, it’s all I wish for. Being effortless. Happy-go-lucky kind of woman. I want to throw the phone in the corner. Leave social media. Be a cat. And be free.

People who know me, know that I live a rather free life. Freedom doesn’t mean free of worries. Or free of expectations, or free of the things you said to yourself you have to do (to feel worthy?). 

It’s still impossible to live of air and sun alone. Voor niets gaat de zon op, as a  Dutch expression says. There’s no such thing as a free lunch. And if we want to achieve something, we need to put our efforts in it. Again, I need to find the motivation in myself to continue what I’m doing and to put effort in our Green Gorillas project. It all feels kind of heavy to me. I’m not having the best week. I have felt very low with no zest for life the past week and so tired (menstruation is doing that). But today I am back and start believing again. 

Life is also the low days, the doubts, the sweat, the tears, the failure, the resistance, the negativity, the shitty moods when everything sucks, the realisation that I can’t be like my cat Luna. Better accept it, than fight it. 

Today, I ran into these words of a Dutch woman and life coach, Fenja Ellen (@navigateontrust on Instagram):

“I don’t want to feel like this.

I wish I was in a different place right now.

I wish things were not like this.

The rebellion against “what-is” seemed to be the theme of this week. I saw it in others, I saw it in myself too.

And what I saw is that so much struggle -both internal struggle as well as resistance towards the world outside — comes from the fact that we just do not want to accept things as they are.

Not wanting to feel what you feel.

Not wanting to be where you are.

Not wanting to accept something as it is.

But the funny thing is this. It is only from the starting point of “what-is” that we are able to change our future.

Because the more I push against this moment, the more I hold on to the idea of how things  should be instead of what-is, the less space I give to things to flow in the present moment.

To flow beautifully.

To flow effortlessly.

To flow co-creatively.

Because the first step to get to where I really want to be, is to be with what-is totally. Without concessions, without filter.

I need to accept that doubt. Befriend that fear. Embrace that chaos. Feel that loss. And from there let life unfold. Into the future. Into where I need to be.”

I had to read these words. They hit home.

Con Amor,

Eva 

7 Tips to be more Resilient, Self-Sustainable and Free People.

If the COVID-19 crisis hadn’t started one year ago, we wouldn’t have discovered how fragile our systems, such as economy, healthcare, food and livelihood, are.

Also, in my case, I wouldn’t have recognized how life on the countryside is the best what happened to me. In fact, I have become very grateful to live on the countryside. I see it as a step closer to becoming more resilient to crises.

When I read about families cramped between apartment walls in the city as we were forced by law to stay in our homes, I knew this would be a huge challenge for all these families and particularly not without danger. Not being able to go outside jeopardizes people’s (mental) health.

Many times we said to each other how lucky we were to live on el campo — the countryside — and to be able to be outside in the garden and to walk around. It always seems to be the case when a dramatic event happens, suddenly we come to realize a few things which weren’t so obvious before. We see what’s really important in life, the things that truly matter.

In that sense crises aren’t always bad. They offer new ways of thinking. New ways of being and doing.

The fact that the health of our planet is suffering, that we breathe polluted air that kills us, that wild life is dying, and that we see forests and its inhabitants devoured by ferocious flames, are no urgent reasons for our political leaders and for us to massively reconsider our choices. They haven’t been urgent reasons to make pressing regulations and to slow down for a change.

This pandemic is/was an immediate danger to humans (well, mostly to those who already have health problems, but there certainly have been exceptions too), whilst apparently climate change, the loss of biodiversity and forests aren’t. Because, we don’t see the effects in our daily lives. Not yet. But this could be — again — a new reality in the future to come.

Obviously, the corona-crisis is about human fragility. We are fragile, but so are our systems — health, food, economy, livelihood. I have come to realize that it makes sense to learn about growing our own food, to start community-gardens, or, if we can’t, to make connections with local farmers or shops which sell their products. The huge dependence on supermarkets isn’t a healthy system.

It makes sense to become self-sustainable and to build communities/networks where we can look after each other. This doesn’t mean that viruses won’t kill us, but it makes us less fragile when we need to live through even bigger crises. Yes, it makes sense to become resilient beings, to become more self-sustainable and free.

So, how do we become more resilient, self-sustainable and free people?

Move to the countryside, go completely off-grid, install solar panels, harvest rainwater, grow your own food, poop on a wooden box, make compost, and build yourself a tiny house and live a debt-free life.

Man, that sounds far too drastically, doesn’t it?

I can imagine it does, but I know it is possible. It took my partner and I some years to arrive here. Over the years we completely transformed our lives and we are now those off-grid people, living on 12 square meters. I’m not saying it’s always easy and I never long to a warm, indulging bath.

Of course not everyone likes the idea of having such a lifestyle. But for those who are interested, know you can start by taking small steps.


1. Buy from local market gardeners

We need to eat everyday, so changing the way we provide ourselves with healthy food, is an important step. See if there’s a local farm where you can get your organically grown veggies from. Or a local market where the farmer sells his products. Maybe there’s a community garden nearby or start one with neighbors and friends.

Buying in bulk, such as oats, chickpeas, beans, flour , etc., is cheaper, eco-friendly and makes us less dependent on supermarkets.


2. Live with less and buy less stuff

Things don’t make us happy. Well, maybe they do for a short moment. In Spain the shops were closed for months, so shopping wasn’t an option. I realized I didn’t really miss them, and it even felt life is more simple that way, to realize what’s essential and not.

Ask yourself before buying new stuff, “Do I really need this?”


3. Start saving at a young age

To have a financial buffer is a peace of mind and reduces the stress in times of change.
Start young and the benefits come later. I wish I’d been more aware of this when I was younger.


4. Radically cut down expenses

* See if that telephone contract can be cheaper.

* Do you and your partner really need two cars? Public transport is much more economical (and better for the planet). Or, take the bicycle to work.

* Celebrate holidays closer to home.

* Be your own restaurant and cook a nice homemade meal, have dinner parties with friends at home instead of going to a restaurant. I used to go to restaurants a lot. Now it’s only for special occasions.

*If you’re living costs (rent, mortgage) are relatively high, see if changes can be made. If not, consider to move to a more inexpensive, and smaller, house or apartment.

*Invest in that what matters (to you), such as solar panels, a piece of land, trees for wood and fruit, knowledge, such as permaculture and regenerative agriculture or whatever rocks your world.

When we lower our expenses a crisis will hit us less hard, and therefore we’re resilient financially.


5. Work remotely or do “essential work”, but most of all do that what gives you purpose

The bullshit jobs are leaving first, as we could see with this health-crisis. The “essential workers” kept their jobs. The nurses, (mental) health professionals, doctors and all those caring for vulnerable and ill people. Of course, society needs them. The same goes for market gardeners, teachers, some lawyers, some politicians (really just a few, most we don’t need) and engineers. But also the healers, the inventors, the creators, the creatives. Without them the world will be a poor place.

Basically, it all boils down to meaning. With meaningful work, where our heart is, the financial means will follow sooner or later. Honestly, I’m not there yet. I’m investing time and money in the work I believe in and it can be hard sometimes to keep the faith that it will bear fruit any time soon.


6. Find support by having healthy relationships and family and friends who want the best for you

Being connected to people who care, increases resilience. We all need a support system we can rely on and they are those people, they are our community. We can’t do it all on our own. Care about each other, and share resources or exchange goods.


7. Cultivate personal resilience

We are much stronger than we think we are. When difficult times hit us hard, for example the death of a loved one, illness, a divorce, the loss of a child, we will discover how we live through those hardships without losing ourselves if we only see ourselves as victims of the hard circumstances.

To boost resilience we can use these three, powerful strategies mentioned in this beautiful and helpful TED-talk by resilience expert Dr. Lucy Hone:

  • Acknowledge that shit happens. Human existence means also suffering. Life mostly isn’t shiny, happy pictures on Instagram.
  • Make an intentional, deliberate ongoing effort to tune in to what’s good in our world. Focus on the things we can change and accept what we can’t.
  • Always ask ourselves: “Is the way I am thinking and acting helping or harming me?”

Know it is possible to live and grieve at the same time.

I hope these tips will help you to be more resilient, self-sustainable, and free.

With many Easter Blessings,

Eva

Previously published on Elephant Journal (read more of my articles on EJ here.)

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