Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"Who run the world?" by Malin Norman

Two weeks ago I took part in the Great North Run, the world’s biggest half marathon with more than 57,000 runners from 178 countries. The 21k race in Newcastle was my fifth half marathon and by no means the fastest, but one of the most memorable.

Before, during and after the race I met people from all over the world. Men and women, young and old, fit and…less fit. I saw naked bums in the bushes next to the start area (toilet queues were 40 minutes!). I saw a tall Viking kind-of-guy running barefoot and another tough-looking man throwing up at a bus stop after the race, with the girlfriend patiently patting his back. Not to mention all those smiling and cheering faces along the route, and some wet with tears.

This is not only the biggest half marathon in the world but also the most diverse. And what made it greater than other races were all the fantastic people running for charities and dressing up for the cause. Big TV screens told the stories of some of these dedicated runners who took part in memory of loved ones or for other reasons close to their heart. Most memorable for me was a middle-aged man running in front of me, dressed as a saucy bee with striped tights and a tutu.
“We’re in this together,” I kept thinking to myself as I followed the queen bee with the Euro 2016 tune by French DJ David Guetta and Swedish singer Zara Larsson pumping in my headphones. Guetta has written another excellent running tune by the way, Every Chance We Get We Run. He seems to know what he’s talking about.

British distance runner and Olympic champion Mo Farah won for the third time in a row but who cares about that when 56,999 or so others also completed the 21k course? Each and everyone a champion, regardless of nationality, gender or age. For instance Claire Lomas, a woman wearing a bionic suit. Paralysed from the chest down but also suffering from morning sickness due to her pregnancy, she finished the race five days after she started. If she can do it, anyone can.

Photo: Claire Lomas completes the Great North Run (source: BBC website)

So who run the world? We do. We run for those who can’t, and for those who are no longer with us. And we will keep doing so for as long as we can, and when we can’t run any more the younger and fitter will take over and continue for as long as they can. Because that’s what we do, at every chance we get.

Malin Norman,
Freelance Writer


Information about the #GNRWorldRun:

Sunday, 21 August 2016

A Bag of Pick ‘n ‘Mix - by Malin Norman

When I meet new people, especially during my travels abroad, the first question I get asked is where I come from. My answer is always, “I come from Sweden, but I’m a Londoner.” This is also followed with a declaration of love, “I really think that London is the best city in the world.”

During my many years working here, I have realised what an open, warm and welcoming city this is. With more than one million foreign nationals, there are so many cultures, styles and religions. It makes for a dynamic, creative and fabulously weird mix. London is unlike any other place, with a different DNA altogether.

When I recently read an article by BBC journalist Pallab Ghosh, it all made sense. According to a DNA study, London was actually ethnically diverse from the very start. Museum of London curator Caroline McDonald says:

The thing to remember with the original Londoners is that they were not born here. Every first-generation Londoner was from somewhere else - whether it was somewhere else in Britain, somewhere else on the continent, somewhere else in the Mediterranean, somewhere else from Africa.”

Some might argue that a diverse community will lead to misunderstandings and conflict. Quite the contrary, I have experienced fewer communication issues here than in for example a workplace with only Swedes in Sweden. In teams of the same nationality there is an expectation to think and feel the same, whilst in a diverse team the communication is more straightforward and people tend to accept each other’s quirks.

Londoners are privileged to live in such a buzzing hub, something also made clear following the recent Brexit news. Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has launched the #LondonIsOpen campaign to show how London is still very much open for business, people and ideas. He says:

London is the best city in the world. It is creative, international, entrepreneurial and full of opportunities… We don’t simply tolerate each others’ differences, we celebrate them. Many people from all over the globe live and work here, contributing to every aspect of life in our city.”

One should not promote candy, but now is an exception. You see, London is like a bag of pick ‘n ‘mix, full of sweet, sour and salty flavours. And I would advise anyone to get a big bagful of delicious candy in all shapes and sizes. I know for sure that I have no desire to eat the same type of candy for the rest of my life. Despite Brexit, let’s hope London remains a diverse mix of sweet, sour, salty and melt-on-the-tongue chocolate.

Malin Norman,
Freelance Writer


More information:

BBC article on London’s DNA

#LondonIsOpen campaign by the Mayor of London

#LondonIsOpen campaign on YouTube

Malin's portfolio:

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

"So what next?" by Dasha Dollar-Smirnova

Dasha is Russian. She has been living in the UK for 19 years and for the first time during this time she is feeling uncomfortable about it. This is her story.

Three weeks ago I went to the polling station in our local church to cast my vote in the EU referendum. As I walked in and looked around at the faces of my fellow voters a dull sense of impending doom came over me. I texted my husband on the way out saying I was worried.

I am an immigrant. I have been in this country for 19 years, I hold a British passport, I am married to an Englishman, my children are half English and I sound more like I am from the home counties (on a good day). However I am and always will remain an immigrant because I was born in Russia and came here when I was 17. And for the first time in 19 years I felt uncomfortable about it.

Up until this point I had remained wildly optimistic about the outcome. That is no mean feat considering the torrent of xenophobic press leading up to the vote. Just one glance at the news stand in the local co-op would be enough to darken my mood instantly and I would spend the rest of the day fighting against it. I held on to my optimism through thick and thin.

What the Brexit campaign has done is open a Pandora’s box of racism and xenophobia and there is no going back on it now, no matter how much all the politicians condemned the spike in hate crimes over the weekend following the vote. It was the same politicians that had incited xenophobia and racism earlier. Most of it (in the press at least) was directed at recent migrants as opposed to people like me. However, you know that when it comes down to it, the bigots that have had their opinion validated will not ask me how long I have lived here, how much of an effort I have made to integrate myself or whether I have a British passport. They will see a foreign name or hear a foreign accent and they will judge. And that is what has made me feel unwelcome here for the first time in 19 years. Because when I see a headline like “1.7 million new jobs and 92% go to migrants”, I know that that can mean me just as easily.

And so what next? Three weeks on and the press have been occupied with the Game-of-Throne’s- esque like drama that has become British politics, largely forgetting about the initial splash of hate crimes it caused. And just like that, xenophobia and racism was normalised a little bit more in our society. For now I remain safe in the multicultural bubble of London. I will still drop my son off at a nursery where I hear at least six different languages and see just as many skin colours. Nobody is going to make me “Go Home”, I have a British passport. But the rolling hills of England look a little less welcoming and the quaint villages a little less friendly for me. I feel a little less home here and it will take a lot of optimism to heal that.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

"Let's go" by Nadja Golbov

A couple of weeks ago, it was a Friday, I woke up in the very early morning. It was the morning of the Brexit polls. Following the vote counting, my heart started to tremble. It felt as if the world had suddenly started to shrink and my idea of life as it used to be was beginning to fall apart. I don’t want to go into political details or elaborate on my view on this disaster that was created by single people and their bottomless idiocies, people who created borders between countries, borders that do not exist. People who created a breeding ground for intoxicating ideas and a decline of values that is terrifying. But I do want to follow the urge of raising my voice, of making some noise and the urge of collecting the stories of fellow Europeans.

And this is why I bring this blog into being. I would like to portray single people in order to depict the heart of an entire continent - to visualise tangible stories of real people. And since every collection needs a first entry, I am going to start with myself.

My name is Nadja. I am 38 years of age. My passport is issued in Germany. My heart is European. My dad is of Russian origin, my mum fled the Eastern part of post-war Germany with her family in the early 60ies - just a couple of days before the wall was up and finished. I grew up in Bavaria and had been living in Munich for ten years when in 2009, the Bavarian capital failed to keep on working its magic on me.

So, I decided to move to the UK. As easy as that. I sent out a couple of applications and was lucky enough to find a job in the city of London. I emptied my flat, sold almost all of my belongings, grabbed two suitcases, booked a one-way ticket to London and off I went. This was the beginning of a wonderful adventure. Living abroad is exciting and easing for a bored mind. You are exposed to a wealth of firsts and a wealth of novelties for all of your senses, your heart and your brain. London is a playground for everyone with a tiny bit of curiosity running through his or her veins. Creativity, innovation, tolerance, opportunities grow on the streets and flow down the Thames. London’s people are colourful and often adorably crazy. In Munich, one of the first questions you hear when you meet new people is “What are you doing for a living?”. In London it’s “Where are you from?”. I just loved the atmosphere, my personality felt very much at home in this vivid and vigorous context. I developed a new understanding of what freedom and tolerance really mean and a real understanding of their power.

When I had spent a couple of years in London, life led me to Italy. I grabbed another plane and settled down in the Northern part of Italy, where I set up my own freelance business. Just like that. No stumbling blocks, no restrictions, just hell of a lot of admin and countless visits to the Italian authorities. Today, I live in my home country of Germany, just outside Munich. I am mother to a wonderful daughter who is half Italian and when I speak on the phone its mostly in English and with people across Europe or on the other side of the big pond. In the mornings I listen to BBC’s online Radio 6 and when I cook I browse the internet for inspiration from across the globe. My friends are certainly the most amazing people and most of them live outside of their home countries - in London, Barcelona, on Mallorca, in Rome, in or outside London, in NYC, Mexico City, Buenos Aires, São Paulo, Munich, Berlin, Hamburg, Stockholm or in the middle of the European or global nowhere. Tolerance to me means freedom of exposing myself to the entire world and its fantastic people. I am a lucky person! I am free to be myself and free to be tolerant. I have an abundance of opportunities spread out in front of me and all I have to do is to ponder and make choices. When you become a parent, you instantly and carefully examine your own value system. Afterall, it's what your offspring is going to be exposed to for quite a while. It will shape your children’s characters and their own ideals. And obviously you want the best for your kids. You want them to become good people and to have the same opportunities as you - or even more. You want them to explore this globe freely with a backpack full of open-mindedness and tolerance and you want them to be treated with just the same curiosity and tolerance. At least, this is what I want. Intolerance, hate and ignorance deserve nothing more than zero tolerance and this is why as of today, I am going to start collecting stories about other Europeans. Europeans who travel, Europeans who stay home. Europeans of all genders, generations, professions and nationalities - European and Non-European. Europeans with a voice and a solid value system. And while doing so I am going to make sure that any violations of a spirit of freedom and any violations of the appreciation of diversity and tolerance will be dismissed as what they are: sheer cowardice and idiocy.

I am looking forward to talking to many people, to listening to and sharing their stories and to introducing my fellow editors very soon. And certainly, you are more than welcome to get in touch and share your feedback or your story! We can't wait to hear it.

I'm closing today with the quote of a very smart man whom I admire a lot: “And so now I'd like to say - people can change anything they want to. And that means everything in the world. People are running about following their little tracks - I am one of them. But we've all got to stop just following our own little mouse trail. People can do anything - this is something that I'm beginning to learn. People are out there doing bad things to each other. That's because they've been dehumanised. It's time to take the humanity back into the centre of the ring and follow that for a time. Greed, it ain't going anywhere. They should have that in a big billboard across Times Square. Without people you're nothing. That's my spiel.” ~ Joe Strummer