Çlirimin vierailu Toivakassa 14.-22.12.2016
When I came, Aleksi was waiting for me at the bus stop. We went to get some food, and then we came to an activity that 4-H and the municipality had prepared for the school children. Kirsi and two of her colleagues were dressed in traditional Finnish clothes, and they were going to show the children how Christmas was celebrated back in the days. When the children came, the father took the male children and went to pick up the Christmas tree, while the mother and the daughter stayed behind and prepared some decorations. The male children came with the tree, and the female children had already prepared the decorations. They decorated the Christmas tree, and the mother and father went to the sauna. The children were dancing around the tree when Santa Claus came. He had a really creepy mask on, which I suppose was normal back then, but the children were really surprised. It was really interesting to me, because I was looking at the children’s faces instead of Santa, wanting to get their reactions. What seemed really interesting to me is the fact that each and every one of them reacted differently, or how they wanted to. That happens rarely in Kosovo, as we are a collectivist country and we look for approval to others. The children also seemed genuinely interested in the lesson, and it was very interactive. Santa Claus gave some gifts to the daughter, and then he left. In the end, the children were given some bread and told some other facts about Christmas that I didn’t understand because I can’t speak Finnish (yet). I also got some gifts from Santa, as you can see below. I also visited the 4-H office in Toivakka, made some hot chocolate with Aleksi and went sleighing. I hadn’t used a sleigh in such a long time, and although it’s usually a child’s preferred winter vehicle, I had an adrenaline rush using it. We then drank hot chocolate in a rest-place (like an open cabin) and went home. I met the rest of the family and they were also really nice. I was really excited about the days ahead, and couldn’t wait to get started!
They had already planned everything, which is something else I love about the Finns. First, we went to a youth community center in Hankasalmi. I got to meet some people who had been working with youth for a long time, and they explained to me how the center works. Basically, youngsters up to the age of 28 go there and can use the space for activities and they get advice and counseling from the more experienced youth workers. They also have a computer room where they make calendars, edit pictures, fix computers and everything in between for clients, and that is how the center generates money for its activities. What impressed me the most was 2 young kids, both 15, who had started their own businesses from 4-H. One of those guys’ stories was that he had bought a drone with a camera, and he was flying it around his neighborhood when his friend saw it and asked him if he could take some pictures of his house from that perspective. He immediately saw a business opportunity, and he grabbed it. That is impressive. Business can be taught. Marketing strategies, business plans, teamwork, all of those are things that can be learned pretty fast. This kind of thinking, being able to react when you see an opportunity, is something that takes a really long time to learn, if not learned at the right time. That is why I see 4-H, its’ culture and spirit, as a really important part of a child’s life and a long-term impact on how they grow and evolve to be a responsible member of society. After that, I gave a presentation about Kosovo and they showed a lot of interest in that, as Finns love nature and Kosovo has a lot of beautiful nature (google it, you’ll be impressed). We had lunch, talked about the culture, and then me and Aleksi visited the orienteering high-school that he went to. That was also a great experience, because orienteering here is as popular as football in Kosovo, so I got to see how they train and prepare for the activities. After that, we went back home and watched the first Batman movie. I’m quite a nerd when it comes to these movies, but Aleksi hadn’t seen the movies at all, so it was my duty as a member of the nerd society to introduce him to one of the best trilogies up to this day (thanks, Christopher Nolan). After that, we had dinner and went to sleep.
Friday was shopping day! Music to my ears (literally; you’ll find out why later). We set out on our trip to Jyväskylä. First, we stopped at the Panda Chocolate Factory just outside the city. To give some context here, it’s almost a tradition in Kosovo that when someone travels abroad, they bring back chocolates and sweets from that country. I don’t know why people still wonder why we have a large number of sugar-related diseases. I bought around 2 kilos of chocolate (I think) and then we set out for my primary quest: finding the pair of earphones that I’d wanted for a couple of months now: Skullcandy Method. We stopped in a couple of big supermarkets and electronic stores, but we didn’t find them. Just as I was about to give up, we entered Prisma. I finally found them, and I’m actually using them right now. They are really beautiful, and the sound is pretty great. After that, I visited a school in the city where Emma is currently teaching as a substitute teacher. I was literally blown away. The school had a fully equipped wood workshop, a fully equipped music classroom (10+ guitars, 2 pianos, tons of other equipment), a cafeteria that would easily pass as a restaurant in Kosovo, and don’t even get me started in the creativity and spontaneous order in all of the classes. I was both angry and inspired at the same time. I was angry at the people and government of Kosovo for not contributing in the making of a system like this, and inspired because I know this exists (and I got to see it myself) and I know we can make it in Kosovo. It will take time, of course, but I truly believe that with the power of the youth, we can do it. After that we went to WayOut, which is a room in which you are trapped, and you are supposed to find your way out by discovering clues and hints. The limit was 1 hour, and we managed to get out 6 minutes earlier. The last couple of minutes felt like we were about to get caught, so most of the job was done at the end, through that final adrenaline boost. Then, we had dinner in the city and came back home. When we came back, Emma gave me some piano lessons. I’d wanted to play the piano for almost 3 years now, but I couldn’t find a teacher that suited me in Kosovo. I learned the basics (notes, reading the notes sheet, and how to place my hands in the piano). I actually learned to play the sound of Sierra Leone (an old dubstep song and one of the most popular ones – I listen to a lot of dubstep). This was one of the most productive days so far.
Saturday was a rest day, so I could sleep as much as I wanted J. As any Kosovar would, I overslept. I woke up at 11:30 and had breakfast. Then, me and Matti went to the forest where Kirsi and Emma were already searching for a Christmas tree. Unfortunately, we didn’t find it (and we’re still looking for it) but we gathered at this place where there was a grill and a small cover, and we made pancakes, drunk hot chocolate, and talked about hunting and the nature in Finland. I was surprised by the beauty of the forests, which was also enhanced by the sun (which I’ve been told is very rare in Finland at this time). After that we came back home and ate lunch. Matti and I went to a hunters gathering, which is an annual gathering here. They announced the ‘Hunter of the Year’, and then they read a declaration of peace to animals, as to not hunt them during Christmas. I believe this was also officially the end of the hunting season. We drank glögi and grilled sausages over a small bonfire. That was the end of that beautiful day.
This was about to be the craziest day yet, and I had no idea. First, we went skiing at the ski track that Matti had made outside the house. I’d never skied before, and this was my first time. All over the ski track, with a steady interval of 10 meters, you could see my falling signs. It’s good that I have an entrepreneurship spirit of not giving up and learning from failures, so after 15-20 minutes I figured it out and learned the basics of skiing and balance quite fast. After that, we had lunch and me and Matti went to track moose with Ture. Although we were unlucky and didn’t find any, Matti told me a lot about the forests, the animals, hunting, and nature in general. It was so peaceful to be in the woods with no one around (which is not something you get to experience that much in Kosovo). When we came back, we had dinner and then I was in for a surprise: we were about to go to ice swimming. At first, even the thought of it sounded absurd to me. Who goes swimming in the middle of winter? But, determined to try new things and fully experience Finland, I decided to do it. Full disclosure: we Kosovars are people who like heat, and we have a hard time coping with winter. I only dipped my body quickly, but I think it was the coldest I’d ever been. To be honest, I didn’t know I could scream like that. I got out quickly, and dressed up. I had this fuzzy feeling and I felt so alive! Then, we went to Kirsi’s sister and had some tea and cookies. Her husband had a hard time spelling my name, so he called me simsalabim, which is Finnish for ‘abracadabra’. Now my Finnish name is simsalabim.
Sweet Monday! (I don’t usually like Mondays, but today was about to be a pretty good day). I was going to teach a class about Kosovo (with a focus on traditional food) in Toivaka’s elementary school. We first went to the 4-H office and prepared ‘speca-dollma’ which are peppers stuffed with a mixture of ground beef, onions, and some spices. Then, we went to the school where they were holding a flea market. The goal was to raise money for the 9th graders for their last-year trip (they are going to Estonia for 5 days!). After that, we had coffee with some of the teachers and I got to see more of the school. Again, I was surprised, depressed, and inspired because although this was a small school, the conditions were better than most of the schools in Kosovo. They had iPad’s that the students could use! Then, we went to the class and I started talking about Kosovo. They seemed to like the presentation, so then they went on to try the food. They liked speca-dollma, but they were in a love-hate relationship with ajvar. The taste was wonderful, but the spicy aftertaste had them drinking lots of water. We went on to talk about other subjects, including the fact of why they were so shy to speak English (they only asked 2 or 3 questions after the presentation, and didn’t speak at all after that). We discussed about the importance of failure, how you learn from it, and to keep trying even if they don’t get it right the first time. Then, we came home and watched the second Batman movie (again, thank you Christopher Nolan). That was the end of that day.
I couldn’t believe it was already a week that I’d been here! I had so much fun that the time went really fast. Today, we were going to visit an elementary school in Kankainen. This time, we were going to be participate (or observe) in the different classes so I could get a clearer view of how the education system functions. When we arrived there, I first made a presentation about Kosovo. As every Kosovar who introduces Kosovo in a foreign country, I couldn’t avoid mentioning our well-known athletes and singers, but the children were most amazed by the nature. I think that if more Finns (and nature-loving countries in general) knew about Kosovo, we would need to build new hotels for tourists! Then, we had a physical education class with some younger students. We played a never-ending version of dodgeball and we had lots of fun. After that, we went to an English class with another teacher, where we were in charge of making Christmas-y poems out of the blue. We had a lot of fun, and a lot of them were pretty creative. They even had a ‘fun corner’ during that lesson, where all you did was relax and listen to music. Finland is cool! Then, we had a traditional Christmas lunch. Although my stomach didn’t agree with most of the foods, it was fun seeing all of the kids sitting at the same table, eating, drinking, and laughing. These are the small things that warm up your heart. After that, we played a board game with some other kids and they asked me questions about Kosovo and myself. What was also impressive was that most of them were doing something different besides school, like having a Youtube channel, being part of a club, or learning new skills online. After school ended, they gave me some gifts, including some Finnish math books. I don’t know Finnish, but I know math (and the drawing were so pretty!). I hope I get to meet them again at some point in the future. After we left the school, me and Aleksi were going to check some reindeer but the place was closed, so we went home and played some Batman: Arkham City instead.
This was my last day. It was hard for me to believe that I would be leaving this wonderful family and this country in less than 24 hours. Nevertheless, we had already planned the day and it was going to be quite a long one. After we had breakfast, we went out to ski one last time. Although the snow was melting (I didn’t think that was possible in Finland) and we couldn’t ski as we wanted, I didn’t fall once! For me that was like winning a competition, as it was my second time of skiing. We got inside, had lunch, and took off to Jyväskylä to pick up Emma and do some last-minute shopping. I was looking for a Richard Feynman book (if you don’t know who he is, google him now! You’ll find him next to minds like Einstein and Hawking, but he’s cooler) which I unfortunately didn’t find. Then, we browsed some shops until the time came to pick up Emma. We went back home, had something to eat, and I started writing some more of the blog. Around 5pm, Matti and Kirsi’s moms came over and it was time to decorate the Christmas Tree (which we had just found one day earlier)! The family had a tradition of saying something good that happened to you every time you put on a decoration. This was very effective and heart-warming, as everyone was sharing something good and positivity was everywhere around us! Then, we played some Christmas songs and looked at some pictures from the last couple of days. Oh, then Santa visited! I got some gifts, but as a proud Kosovar, I didn’t let him leave without a selfie! After, we drank glögg and ate cookies. PS: if anyone is coming to Kosovo soon, let me know and bring some glögg. I think I’ve fallen in love with the drink. Then, the painful part came. We shared our time with each other and said bye to each other, as I was leaving early in the morning. It was still a little hard for me to believe that I was leaving, but this was also a source of inspiration to me. I was going to try and make Kosovo such a place that, when someone was about to leave, they’d be getting the same feeling I was getting now. Kosovo, watch out; a Finnish-inspired youngster is coming back!