To branch

To reach, to grow, to break. To be alone. But also to belong, to hold, to partake. To be strong.

My family is a one of Zariņš, of branches, with roots in Latvia and Sweden. I have spent my adulthood in London, away from those roots. As Latvia approaches its 100th anniversary as an independent country, and the UK prepares to leave the European Union, I explore what it means to be a half Latvian-half Swedish branch.

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Happy Easter

It’s shave your legs and paint your nails kind of weather. It’s as if the air isn’t just air; it’s too full of sun warmth, bird song and green smell.

Easter should be what marks the new year. It’s the time of rebirth and renewal. I can mark it as my new year. My birthday is in early April so I am reborn each year close to Easter.

This year it marks the end of a year of death and endings. I am still grieving over the loss of a lover and several family members. But as the sun warms me, I find myself believing in new life.

I am a heathen. I’m proud to be so. But Easter is my favourite holiday, and I celebrate it for the same reasons as my brothers and sisters singing hymns between decorated stone walls.

I believe in the resurrection, I believe in the sun and the holy spirits. I believe in the sharing of bread and wine, and I believe in the saviour within me.

A new year, a new life, has begun.

Sunday 14 April 2019. Evening

The steam searches its way to cold surfaces like fairies dancing at dawn. The window, the taps, my water glass are moist with it. The water in the tub is just on the too hot side of comfortable when I dip my foot, which is my perfect bathing temperature. It will take my body a while to acclimatise to the heat, but then I will be able to lie in it completely relaxed, without having to worry about it getting cold.

Slowly, slowly I let my body sink into the steaming water. My feet swell and turn red, but by the time my thighs break the surface and my sitting bones touch the porcelain, the still dry parts of my body feel cold in comparison. I hurry my shoulders down into the lavender scented water, and let out a long sigh that feels like it’s been there for a year.

With my ears under the surface, my knees have to come up above it. That’s okay. I listen to the life in the pipes, in the other flats below and above mine, sound carried and amplified through the water. I listen to the life in me; my organs and veins and muscles and nerves. I can hear both further and closer with my ears in water, and water in my ears. My short hair floats like Ophelia’s around me, but I smile.

When I’ve read for a while, I start to sweat. I’m not in the bath to be clean, but to be cleansed. The sweat cleanses. It smells like the lavender water that caused it. My muscles are completely relaxed.

The water is still hot when I soak a washcloth and drip it over myself. I rub my face in it, I know it will be very red now. I wash the sweat from under my armpits that I don’t remember the last time I shaved. I use the expensive lavender body wash my mother gave me for my birthday on the cloth, and wash and exfoliate slowly across my whole skin. I wash every day, but this is the first time I’ve felt clean since this year began.

Lavender steam inside, lavender water and soap outside. I breathe deeply, massage slowly, and when I begin to drain the tub I pour cold water on the cloth and let the cool trickle through my hair and down my back. I rest my face in the cold. I reawaken with it.

Then I emerge from the tub, not so much like Venus but like a human. Red skinned and bloated from the heat, all the hair of my body unkempt and on end. I feel clean and beautiful and real.

True

 

 

True love is Tuesdays cutting toenails into the toilet bowl.

True love is February when change is most wanted but least attainable.

True love is seeing the beauty in the ugliest, in hanging in there and hanging out here.

True love is four people in a small boat sailing into the unknown.

 

True love is crying at a train station at six thirty in the morning, saying goodbye to a man you’ve known 31 years.

Friday 29 March 2019. Original leaving day

Too early I wake up from a dream about the end of the world.

In the kitchen I open my laptop to research new places to live. £600 for a room in shared house, all bills excluded.

From home I cycle to work, one of the most prestigious and richest institutions in the world, where I’m expected to deliver excellent customer service with a deep and wide knowledge of the entire English language exam board, where I earn less than my sister who works as a entry-level administrator in a local magistrate’s court.

At my desk I read the news headlines, completely dominated by today’s Parliamentary vote, which for some reason isn’t Meaningful. I don’t have time to read any other stories.

On my break I cycle to my local GP’s surgery, for free NHS counselling. It’s held in an old, wonky, carpeted building, and the service is only available from this nearly pension-aged counsellor on two days per week. I had to wait three and a half month for this spot.

In the attic room with furniture from the Thatcher-era, I talk about hopelessness. I’m a European in the UK on Brexit day, looking for somewhere to live that I can’t afford, working in a job that I don’t really care about. She asks what my ‘up-activities’ are, that nourish rather than drain me? I say being in nature, and physical exercise in nature.

I tell her about the changes about to take place in my life; my parents moving back to Sweden, the resulting house move and changed financial situation, and loneliness. Where do I belong in my own life as I change, my family changes, as the nation and the entire planet are changing?

She says it’s understandable and very common to experience anxiety in times of uncertainty. I tell her that not only do I feel anxious, I feel angry that somewhere out there, someone is making money off my millennial misery. Somewhere, someone already richer than I is getting richer by the NHS being sold off. Somewhere not too far from that person, someone else is making money off my hard weekly work for that extremely wealthy institution; some other one is getting wealthier by letting and selling properties in this city that is meant to be a place of opportunity for work and learning. And all the while, all of these people – presumably wealthy, white men who all know each other – continue to make money from using natural resources and destroying the natural landscape that right now is my only refuge, most likely shortening the life of both the planet and millions of people like myself.

And right now no one cares about the NHS crisis, the housing crisis or the environmental crisis, because hanging over them all like a wet cloth someone has breathed their smoke into to avoid setting off the fire alarm, is Brexit. Again, someone out there is making money from gambling on my future as a European living in the UK.

She sighs heavily. She says I talk very powerfully of the despair experienced by my entire generation. I tell her simply that it’s not difficult to feel hopeless in a world like this, a world that has been left to us like this.

Existence

His name goes green on Google chat.

He won’t see mine,

it’s too far down.

Despite the anger and the hate,

my god I miss him.

 

hi

Hi!

are you there

?

or are you just someone I used to dream of

What do you mean?

do you exist

Well yeah!

i exist too

 

 

It’s true, I do.

I do still exist.

Saturday 23 March 2019. Morning

An Uncle and Auntie are visiting from Sweden. We stayed with them in January before the funeral, now they’ve come for a Cambridge weekend. We will go punting and visit Kettle’s Yard and the colleges. We will not go to London.

Family time is important this weekend. Last week, while I was on holiday in three European countries, my father was diagnosed with one blood clot in his leg, and two in his lungs. As en EU citizen, he received world-class care for free at Cambridge University Hospital. I’m glad he didn’t discover the clots after 29 March. He is on the mend now, and will accompany us around town on his bike instead of by foot.

So we will not go to London. As a middle-class millennial, full of melancholy and surrounded by misinformation, I instead drink my Italian coffee, eat my French apricot jam and Swiss cheese for breakfast, listening to a German composer and following the People’s March on Twitter. I am part of but outside. I engage but not directly. I feel so strongly but I protect myself with my screen. Today, family comes first.

Saturday 2 March. Afternoon.

I went to the Maritime Museum in Greenwich. In the Polar Worlds room, one section dealt with explorers who got lost looking for the North West Passage, or during the race to the South Pole. Young visitors were asked to contribute with reflections of when they felt most lost. To me, it was the most moving part of the exhibition.

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

Children’s contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photos by Jessica Zarins.

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘Im very lost in my science lessons.’ ‘When I was lost in a supermarket!’ ‘I feel lot when I am confused’

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘I see myself’ ‘I felt most lost when I couldn’t find my parents.’ ‘I feel lonly wen nowon is whith me.’

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘When I dont have my teddys’

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘i felt most lost when my great grandad died when I was 6. He was a good man and survived the 2 world war.’ ‘I felt lost when I was in the lake district.’ ‘I feel most lost when I don’t pay attention.’

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘When I’m not whith my family and when somethings wrong.’ ‘When I loose my mum in a supermarket’

Children's contribution wall in the Polar Worlds room at the Maritime Museum at Greenwich, London, March 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins.

‘I’m mostly lost when I try my best but my parents want me to be better at what I’m doing. Hillary.’ ‘I feel lost without my mummy because she is at work. Melissa.’

Friday 1 March 2019. Morning.

It’s one of those mornings that is best suited for tea and a book in bed. It’s the first day of spring, but after a week of unseasonable warmth and sunshine it feels like a return to winter. It’s one month since my uncle’s funeral, and two since he died. I have to get up and go to work.

I force myself out for a run. My uncle loved mornings, and at his funeral we sang Morning Has Broken. This is indeed a broken morning, with the sleepiness of a busy working week behind and a busy social weekend ahead of me. To breathe the joy of a new day and I literally have to force myself out.

I make it to the small neighbourhood park that I sometimes do four laps around for a twenty minute jog. Maybe I’ll only do three today. I sigh as I heave open the gates, and shift into a something like a run.

At the first corner of the rectangular park, I see a ball of, what? Fluff? Fur? Leaves? Already keen for a slowdown I stop to inspect, and discover a rolled-up hedgehog. I’m both delighted and terrified, for these creature are now highly unusual in Britain. In my eleven and a half years years here, this is only the third, maybe fourth, time I see a hedgehog, whereas every grass-cutting job my dad gave me in our garden in Sweden came with the reward of pennies and the warning to be careful with the hedgehogs.

My delight is therefore not only at seeing a cute wild animal, but also at seeing a rare wild animal. The terror is because I wonder why I’ve found it right here, so close to the path, lying perfectly still with what looks like a dent or hole in it. I bend down closer, breathing deeply and quietly to not disturb the creature or the moment. And I notice that what I thought was an injury is actually its face. The hedgehog is lying curled up on its side, not dissimilar to how I sleep, rather than rolled up with its head and face to the ground as I’d first assumed. And when I peer as closely as I dare into its face, I notice the gentle enlarging movement that indicates inhalation. It’s breathing; it’s sleeping. The hedgehog is suddenly the most precious creature in the world to me. It’s little hands are tucked around it’s little face as it breathes sleepily through its snout. The morning is now mended, strengthened and so am I. The sky is grey but my heart is full of colour for the vulnerable being. I want to pick it up and put it in the safer shrubs, but I don’t disturb it and instead break into a run.

The lap around the park is short, so barely five minutes later I’m coming back to the hedgehog. A dog-walking lady is approaching it before me, and I watch her and the dog to see whether they notice it. They do. The lady stops and puts her hand on her chest. She looks around for someone to share the moment with, just as I catch up.

It’s a hedgehog!

I know, I passed it earlier.

It looks alright; not the biggest but a decent size.

Yes I thought it might be wounded first but it was only its face when it was on its side.

Our chatting or maybe the dog’s smelling has woken the creature up. It stretches, and slowly moves its short, prehistoric legs through the grass towards the bushes. I walk with the lady and we talk about nature, the birds and the air and how much it can do for your soul.

I work for one of the colleges, she tells me, and a few years ago we had a brilliant Filipino student who was due to sit his final exam. But on the day of the exam we couldn’t find him, we called and went to his rooms and found it had all been cleared out. It turned out his mother had gotten cancer and he’d just packed everything up and left before he could take the exam. And I felt awful that no one had known and helped him sooner, and that he’d lost his degree because of it. That evening I took the dog for a walk around Coldham’s Common, and just in the back towards the brook is, I saw a kingfisher! Just a flash of electric blue, so quickly I barely saw it, just knew I’d seen it. And I felt like everything was going to be alright.

What happened with the student?

Well, I never saw him again, and I don’t know what happened to his mother. But he must have managed to raise the funds to come back and do the resit, because I much later saw in the records that he passed his degree with a First.

I smile to the lady and wish her a good day. She smiles and we both know that it already is. I speed up into a jog again for a final lap, and when I pass the place where the hedgehog was, he’s gone. But I carry him with me in my smile all day.

Cambridging

Arrowheads from exhibition A Survival Story at Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, February 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins

Arrowheads from exhibition A Survival Story at Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, Cambridge, February 2019. Photo by Jessica Zarins

 

17 February 2019.

Been Cambridging today. It’s sunny and warm and lovely and worrying for February. I began the day with coffee and a chocolate croissant from Aromi on Market Square. Then I went to Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology on Downing Street. I had some cider and chips at the Granta before going to the University Museum of Zoology and finally the Heong Gallery that had a photographic exhibition of the college libraries. I felt fascination and gratitude for this wealth of knowledge collected in objects and remains from the whole world, gathered here in this small old market town in East Anglia.

The University is old, rich and powerful, and has collected and studied for centuries. Now its museums are open and free, and the knowledge shared. But looking at Darwin’s beetle box from the Beagle voyages, polar bear skeletons, Aztec icons, Sami dresses, inuit canoes and First Nations musical instruments, I thought that they were obtained through colonialism. Lives and cultures have been sacrificed to get their remains and artefacts here. The study of them brought them home, at the expense of their very existence.

The same powers that allow me to understand and interact with these foreign entities are the same powers that threaten them. It’s the same force that brought them close that push them further away into oblivion. Conservation can bring destruction.

If knowledge is power, then the thirst for knowledge is also a thirst for power. That became clear when I looked through my own blurry reflection in the glass cabinets of Cambridge, where the wealth and power of the University is both all-encompassing and exclusive.