Monthly Archives: March 2014

Questions and answers

I sometimes look through the collection of quotes I gathered in many notebooks and on scraps of paper. The following caught my eye today:

“The value of the question depends on the answer.”

I heard it at an IT conference in London, in June 2008. I don’t remember who said it, but I remember hurrying to write it down on a folded paper sheet of the hotel hosting the event.

I am often nervous to put a question. If questioning goes easily, that is, if the answering person gives me a feeling that I have put a good question, then I tend to “over-question” and bombard the others with questions. This is followed by feeling resistance of those who answer and my consequential withdrawing from putting questions. And then again from the beginning.

Contemplation about this quote made me conclude that persons, whom I valued most in the past and those I value today, made and make my questions meaningful by their answers. They made and make me feel that what I said and say matters.

My father was the most prominent in this array of my personal heroes. He was a true listener. And I loved going with questions to him. His answers were always extensive and given without hurry. But also to the point. He had an instinct how much answer was needed.

When I think of those I know and interact with today, my niece and my son are the first who come to my mind, who find my questions intriguing and make me feel good upon asking them. And I love the fact that both of them are much younger than me. I learn a lot from these two sweet people. They do laugh sometimes at what I say, but I notice again and again how they stop and contemplate upon the questions I put. My son has not lost yet the ability to find everything new and worth considering. And my niece, in her mid-twenties, has kept it. While observing, listening and learning from them, I am rediscovering my ability to do the same.

And here is a quote, I discovered in German and translated into English, so, it might not be identical with the original. It confirms that children and young people might be ones of the wisest among us. Because of their ability to make experiences and to wonder.

“Die Weisheit eines Menschen misst man nicht nach seinen Erfahrungen, sondern nach seiner Fähigkeit, Erhafungen zu machen“.

“Human wisdom is not measured by a person’s experiences, but by his ability to experience.” George Bernard Shaw.

Picture: My father (the first from the right) with his students at the University of Annaba, in Algeria (around 1980). Students loved him. My guess, also due to his answers and his ability to discover and to experience the brilliance of the others.



A letter to a long lost friend

Dear Misha,

I met you almost thirty years ago. And it is almost thirty years since I last saw you. How long have we spent together? One week?

The evening before we parted I promised never to forget you.

That summer was special for me. My memories of many events during that summer vacation are very vivid. And every time I recall this time, when I for example talk to my Mother or my sister about then, I think about you.

I am finishing reading a deeply touching, a deeply human, both heart-breaking and heart-warming book: “The Kite Runner” by Khaled Hosseini. Maybe you read it? The main characters are boys who grew up in 1970s and 1980s in Afganistan. It is a novel. But it might have been your story. Although, I hope it wasn’t.

Did you know, that we were prepared for your arrival? It was summer 1985. I was twelve, not quite thirteen, years old then.

After my father died in 1983, I was diagnosed with anemia, and my worried mother and sister made everything to put me back on my feet. The trip to this sanatorium was expensive, as well as the black caviar my mother was buying specifically for me because it was known to promote production of the red blood cells. The caviar was like medicine for me at the time. Today, I like the taste of it. It is close to a miracle that my mother could arrange me going to this sanatorium, which was known as one of the best for children in Soviet Union.

And it was the best for me. It was good for my physical health. But it was also good for me in any possible sense. For the first time in my life I learned that I could be taken in any other way than as a crying softie. I was astonished to find out that the girls with whom I shared a room in the sanatorium thought of me as of a rebel, close to a “hooligan”. In the Soviet school times then, the word “hooligan” was secretly considered with admiration and awe. A “hooligan” was an ultimate rebel and leader in the never ending “children-adult” conflict. I was very much surprised and endlessly pleased to be seen as a rebel. Agreeable with the adults at the sanatorium. But a rebel nonetheless. At the end of the stay, after you have already left, I demonstrated my strength to myself. I stood up openly against harassment by some silly boys from our otriad and could look directly into the eyes of the one who thought he was allowed to do anything. Before this encounter, I thought what many of my schoolmates in Moldova thought of me. That I couldn’t stand up for myself. That I ran away, hid and cry. But this summer was different. In every sense of it. It was also a summer what I met a person for a very short time, but who would always be one of my dearest friends.

What were you told before you came to the sanatorium in Crimea that summer? Our group, the pioneer division, otriad, as it was called then, consisted of about twenty children before you and other children from Afghanistan came to join us for a part of our stay. I don’t remember our teacher’s name. But I remember her face. I remember her telling us that she lived in a small town nearby where she worked as a teacher during school time. During summer months she worked with children at sanatorium, and took the role of a class teacher, with exception that instead of lessons we had various medical, health strengthening procedures, sports and leisure activities. And I remember what she said in the evening before your arrival.

She said that there were twenty or thirty of children, originating from Afghanistan, coming to stay with us for a week. She said that most of you were orphans. That most of your childhood in Afganistan consisted of hiding away from bombs, of fear and hunger. That you were now brought up in an orphanage in Tadzhikistan. She asked us not to inquire you on your past, but just let you enjoy the summer and think, even if for a short while, that you had a happy childhood.

The group of children you came with was divided into smaller groups of eight to ten children and assigned to various otriads, which differed by the age of children in them. The teachers guessed that all of you were older than of guessed age, meaning older than us.

The following day we met you. We had the usual gathering in the hall, where we were all seated in a circle or rather rectangular around the walls of the hall. All of you were speaking very good Russian with a very pleasant, as I thought, accent. The softness of your accent sounded familiar reminding me of the accent I heard at home in Moldova. We were told that every one of you has chosen a Russian name, so that we, on the other side, wouldn’t struggle with names unfamiliar to us. Then, you and your friends introduced yourselves, first by telling your original name and then the one you have chosen in Russian.

We all listened with curiosity to names unknown to us and then tried to remember the names you have chosen. As the last from your group has presented himself, we all erupted with laughter. His real name was very long. I thought it contained more than ten words. And then he told us his name in Russian: “Vásea”.

You have chosen the name “Misha”. The name so important to me. The name of my father.

But there was something else that draw my attention to you. I thought I saw you before. I knew this was impossible. But I still had this feeling.

And then I had it. You looked so like my father on a very old picture taken many years before at an orphanage. Like him, you were one of the smallest in the group. Like him, with short shaven hair. With tanned skin darker than of the others around, and with the same serious look.

And like him, you grew up in an orphanage. I was so excited with this similarity and this “connection” that I hurried to share it with you. You seemed to be as excited as I was. You asked me about my father and what he has done in and with his life. I didn’t realize then, what this might have meant for you. Today I see that my father’s story might have given you hope. Hope that an orphan like you could have a bright future.

I remember us being inseparable during your stay at the sanatorium and how we went for sports and common activities together. Was it really only five or six days? With the vividness of the emotions and wonderful experience of our friendship, I have a feeling it was much longer. You were a brother I never had but always wished for.

In the evening before we parted, we watched the closing of Spartakiada, a socialistic alternative to the Olympics. I don’t remember exactly why, but there were only the two of us in the open hall of our otriad, where the TV-set was standing. I think, many went to the bonfire made in frames of a farewell party for you and your friends. Some went to watch the closing of Spartakiada with the elder children from the neighboring otriad. And there we were, sitting side by side and watching the show. I told you how I watched live, at an edge of a highway in Moldova, together with my father, a runner carrying the Olympic fire on its way from Greece to Moscow in summer of 1980. At some point we held each other and cried. We didn’t want to part. There and then we promised never to forget each other.

You left early next morning and I never saw you again.

I don’t know whether you went back to Afghanistan or grew up in the Soviet Union. Or where you might be now. I even don’t know your real name. But I dearly hope that you are happy. Maybe you have a family and children of your own. And if you do, then I am sure that like my father, you do everything to make their childhood as best as it could be, because you want to save them from the fate given to you.

My heart squeezed with pain when I read “The Kite Runner”. With pain and fear that such fate as described in the book could happen to anyone.

I have now a boy of my own. He is three years old. With dark hair, dark eyes, tanned skin, and furrowed eyebrows so similar to my father’s. So much reminding me of you. My heart of a mother wishes that he never endures pain of a war. The pain, which had hit you and my father so hard.

I am aware that you may never read this. And even if you do, you might not be able to recognize yourself in this story. But if you do, then here are two pictures. One of which I told you about so many years ago. The one with my father. Taken on June 10, 1953 in Moldova. And another is of our otriad in summer 1985 in Crimea. It was taken at a morning lineika, translated “ruler”, morning gatherings, where we lined up in pairs, listened to some standard socialistic music, call-outs and propaganda, and then were informed of the events planned for the day. I am sure that in this picture I am turning to check up on you, to see whether you noticed that we have been photographed.

Thank you for crossing my path, Misha! And thank you from all my heart for those memorable and unforgettable days!

With love and affection,

the sister you found during one summer in Crimea,



My father is the second from the left.


Vasea is the first from the left. You are the second. Another parallel. I am the fifth or sixth from the right, who looks back at you.

Various kinds of greed

Greed is not an instinct. We learn it early when our peers are interested in our toys and when the objects of our desire are not reachable immediately. So as soon as we get them we make sure not to give them away. Our second or third word is “Mine!”

My Mom told me a sweet story illustrating my greed when I was a child. I just got a tricycle as a present. I loved going with it in the yard of our block of flats. And I was sure not to give it to anyone. It was mine and I had to guard it as anything else I owned. My mother tried to convince me to share the tricycle with my friends. And I did share it. One of my friends had it for the whole meter or two. After that I stopped her and said: “You had enough. Give it back.”

As many adults with families, I started to value time and experiences more than things. Even books I love most – and I am a book worm, I must say – are not kept but given further. I love sharing them with friends and family.

So, I thought that valuing things less made me less affected by greed. Yesterday I proved myself wrong.

As anyone else, I have some tasks, which I push away from me and I procrastinate. One of these tasks was attracting my attention again and again, and I made a few starting attempts. I also tried to ignore it, to say “I don’t have to do it”, or “I would do something else instead”. But nothing helped. I had to do it. And in fact, I wanted to do it. It just took longer to see the results.

So, I decided to be kind to myself, to motivate myself and do very small steps. First arrange things into groups, then see how they feet, rearrange where necessary, and add missing pieces. Then adjust and finish.

It took me more than half a day yesterday to restart and finish the task. So, I had a few breaks for my family, for meals and housework in-between. For the things like ironing.

I like to iron clothes. Not every time. But many times I do. Yesterday, I couldn’t. I knew there was not much to finish the task, I started, and that I would manage it. This was not what was bothering me.

My thoughts were going again and again to the other tasks I pushed away. I wasn’t in the moment. I was thinking what I would do to accomplish them. The complexity I saw in them was reappearing. Besides, I couldn’t do them in that particular moment anyway. I was ironing! However, I still couldn’t stop thinking about these “heavy tasks”.

But why? Why was I striving for heavy tasks? Why wasn’t I enjoying the activity, which made me see the results immediately and which brought me often satisfaction and relaxation?

The answer was both surprising and simple. I wanted more. I wanted more of this good feeling of accomplishing and completing a difficult task. I couldn’t get enough. I wanted all and I wanted all in that moment. I thought of all the tasks I classified as difficult and I wanted to work on all of them at the same time.

As soon as I heard “I want more!” in my head, I had to smile. I was greedy! And strangely enough this realization didn’t make me ashamed or angry. Why should it? This feeling went away as soon as I smiled. I could breathe more freely again. And I finished ironing enjoying this activity again.

Greed is not an instinct, but it is natural to us, whatever the age. We can strive for things, experiences, smiles of others, joy and love we bring to and receive from others. Desire moves us forward, greed squeezes us and makes us unmovable. But it is also a helping indicator that we are off center and that we strive for something, which does us no good. And as soon as we notice the child in ourselves crying: “But I want it! I want more!” we can smile and come back to the wonderful place of the moment of now and see how wealthy we are, having family and friends, having activities which bring us joy and wealthy by simply being alive.

Picture: Strangely enough I wasn’t that eager to keep the toy in this picture. I was angry with the studio photographer, who took this picture, and have thrown the toy at him.


Once, when I overcame procrastination, I wrote this:

Write, write, and write. This is what I often, very often, want to do. But almost as often, I pull the breaks, whatever the reason. Maybe, the main one is that I don’t always recognize writing as my heart’s desire – which it is – and start discussing in my head other things being more important and more valuable. Also in respect to what I write, I discuss as well.

What I didn’t do so often, until now, is just scribble. My writing always had to have a purpose. Just recently, I had an idea that it must be positive or done with a positive attitude.

And in this moment, I discover that just scribbling, without any specific purpose, feels so nice and relaxing. Who knows, if I will ever use it or publish some words of it or not. But movement of my pen creating words on paper feels so good that I wish myself to experience these tiny but immensely sweet moments again and again. Just wonderful!

P.S. And now I press “Publish”. 😉

Picture: relaxed in the Troll Forest close to Aalborg.


Brought safely on the ground

The first movie my son has ever watched in a cinema was Disney Planes. He loved it. His Dad and I, who joined him in the cinema enjoyed it, too. We still enjoy watching it on DVD. Just as Disney Cars, Niklas watches Planes again and again. And at some scenes he hardly moves, sometimes standing on his knees in front of the coffee table and fixing his gaze to the laptop screen, which substitutes a TV-set in our household.

Last Saturday, Niklas decided that there must be something new about Dusty, main character of Disney Planes movie, on the “new-tube”. All we found were various commercials that soon bored both of us. After a prolonged search, I suggested to play something together, or as an alternative to start the movie on DVD.

“No. I want to see Dusty on new-tube!”

“Ok”. I searched. Then I searched a bit more. All we found were short snippets from the movie in various languages, each of which Niklas claims to understand, or hour long recordings of video games or commercials.

At some point I lost my temper and said in a slightly unnerved tone: “Sweetheart, you have so many great DVDs, of which are all Cars DVDs and the Planes DVD, and you waste your time with watching this boring nonsense!”

Niklas’ calm answer was: “Don’t lower yourself to their level.”*

And with this, my son brought me safely to the ground of laughter and made me forget my agenda of, oh, so many important things. We watched the movie together holding hands and having breaks in between to fly toy planes around the living room landscape.

* This was what Dottie said to Chuck when he got angry with Ned and Zed making fun of him and Dusty. The Dusty fans will know which scene I am talking about. 😉

Picture: my Dusty, the fastest plane in the “Wings around the Globe Rally”, who is much faster than my high-resolution phone camera 😉 , and the sweetest boy on the world! Taken yesterday at the carnival celebration for children organized by the Sankt-Markus church community in Aalborg.