Katarina / Cologne
Katarina lives in a lovely house tucked away in a Cologne suburbs. A wide open living room and American style kitchen are surrounded by a pleasant small garden full of trees and shrubs. Her place is surprisingly secluded despite being right in the middle of town. Somehow it matches her perfectly.
Katarina has moved from Sweden to settle in Germany quite a while ago. She has nevertheless travelled and lived in a number of countries which have all contributed to open her eyes to the world around her and made her welcome the beauty, and the sadness, of those that she encounters.
Let her tell you how a young girl took control of her life very early on, moved on to bring her skills and openness across the world from Egypt to India, and is now reflecting on her adoption country and its refugees.
TELL ME THREE THINGS ABOUT YOUR FATHER, OR SOMEONE ELSE IF YOU PREFER
Okay. Three things about my father; my father always liked his job -- or, at least during my early childhood, he really liked his job and he felt that it was very important. That meant that it sometimes came before the family. My father and I we were very similar, so, already as a little child, when we were sitting around the table and were talking about things, my father would say something then we'd have a short break where no one said anything and then I would answer and my mom would say what are you talking about? Because we were so similar that we were always thinking the same. Our brains worked the same way.
My mother felt like alien around us. So that was something that actually influenced me quite a lot because I thought that you needed to have a person like that in your life. Where your brains are working in the same way, in parallel ways. I've never met any other person -- no that's not really true. It's rare to meet people who think the same way you do, and when you do that's something that is worth quite a lot. So when you sit quiet for some time and then you start talking again then you realize your minds work in the same direction.
My father was -- I remember him trying to teach me mathematics and I was like, you're going to much into detail; I don't need this. I wanted to learn what we were supposed to learn and not the history about mathematics and all the foundation, because I should know that already. Or somehow he would digress into something. So his brain was always full of lots of different things than just focusing on a specific task. So that was also something that I thought was really interesting, and I can see that my brain works that way too. Sometimes people say “you're not focused, Katrina”, because my brain works in different ways. It moves in that direction, then moves back and then moves over there and then it moves back and I do progress.
But you're connecting with many things that are peripheral to the main topic, and this is something that you also saw in your family?
Yeah, that's right.
I studied mechanical engineering and I found that interesting and boring, difficult and easy and was pretty certain, during my studies that I would never work as a mechanical engineer. Fortunately, I found a company where I started working as a trainee. When I went into the pure engineering department, I just hated it. However, when you have an engineering background, there are lots of other things you can do. So I moved over into sales and I moved into tender management, and there my skills came much more into focus and I could progress a lot more.
I'm not the person that goes very much into detail and likes to develop the curve of a shaft or something is like, no, that's not me. I'm more like, how do I get this to someone else? More interacting with people, but I really love being an engineer. I realize that it helps me to understand things much more easily. Because I am an engineer, I grasp things faster. When you are working in different companies -- the technology comes easier to me because I've learned how to manage things because I'm an engineer.
I've noticed that also, that if you have a strong, let's say, math or scientific background, like engineer's have, a lot of the things that are somewhat difficult for others actually, for you, they're easy. Therefore, you can skip some of the steps that others have to go through. For you it comes naturally. For others, well, it's harder. It's a skill that you can use in many other places.
Absolutely. What I also realize that -- because I work a lot -- over the last couple of years I worked in contract management. So then you're trying to sell a contract or create the contract with another company and because I understand what it is that we are selling, it's so much easier to make the contract.
One more thing about your father?
There was actually something that I don't think I noticed so much when I was a child because my father was so focused on work. But growing up and spending more time with him, I really noticed that he is looking outside of things and that he had a lot of need for time with people, but also a lot of time with himself. So he started to think a lot about what is there, and not being so esoteric, but a little bit in that direction.
So he started to think about what is important. He was never religious, but what is important in life and what speaks to us as people. He was always very interested in other persons and listening to them and talking to them. So, when he spoke, it was not a monologue, but it was always a communication. It came from this interest in what starts to be important in life and what is important to us and what isn't out there. That also opened my eyes to see that there's more to things than what we just see.
Actually, I'd like to talk about his sister now, because she had a very weird thing. She said she could see auras. So she could see the energy from people. She said that sometimes that was very disturbing, because she said she couldn't focus. So if there was a group of people and one was leading and one was talking and you were supposed to focus on that person, but there was another person that had this strong aura, she would just focus on that person.
When I was a kid I thought she was just weird. Then, when I grew up -- I don't see auras, unfortunately. I would love to do that, but I feel energy fields. So maybe I inherited something from her, but it also makes it easier when you connect with people because I feel faster, I think, than other people if there is sympathy or not. So I can feel this, I feel the energies.
You're connecting with people easier when you can feel the energies and sometimes you feel that it won't work and then you say okay, then I'll have to let it be. So this is not the person I can work with. This is not the person I will want to have as a friend and there are other people that you just meet and you just start telling them your life story even though -- even when they're not into you. So it's just something that I feel a lot more than others. I think that comes from her.
WHO CARED FOR YOU WHEN YOU WERE A CHILD?
My mother was always putting herself in second place. So she was always there for me, but -- and she was also not fair because I could not really do anything wrong.
In what sense ?
She would always think that what I did had a reason, so I was doing the right thing. Of course, sometimes I had to argue it, but -- so, when I was a child, I said -- well, I don't like cleaning up. So I said, mom, you have to choose; either I clean up or I get good grades.
She's like, of course I want you to have good grades. When I grew up a little bit more I said, mom, why didn't you force me to clean up? It would've helped me so much more in the rest of my life. And she said, well, you were such a good negotiator as a child, so I always lost. She was like that. She was always -- she was very supportive and when I wanted to do something, she always tried to do her best to ensure that we managed to do that.
My parents divorced when I was 10 and I lived with my mother and we didn't have that much money and I always wanted to go abroad. I felt Sweden was too small, so I always wanted to go abroad. My mom saved and saved and saved so that we were able to go on our first trip abroad. She managed to save so much every year that we could go abroad every year. If I really wanted something, she would do everything to make that happen. It made me spoiled, but at the same time it made me realize that -- since we had limited resources, it made me also realize that you need to choose your wishes wisely. So that was something that I learned, that if I said something because she would do her best to give it to me, I had to -- sometimes I was like, don't say -- don't say it yet. Think about what you really want before you say it.
You realized what was the effort needed to help you accomplish or to give you the wishes that you had.
Yeah, absolutely. But at the same time, it was -- when we talk about who made you grow up or who made you into the person you are, of course, my father was also there, because -- even though in a couple of years between 10 and 16, he was not very much there, but, still, it would be the things like, what would he do? And, how would he have done this? And, well, he's good at this, so I want to be good at that. So he was a little bit my role model, of course, to some extent.
IS THERE SOMEONE ELSE WHO COUNTED IN YOUR CHILDHOOD?
Yeah, my grandmother on my mother's side. We were also very, very strongly connected. I was her first grandchild and I stayed with her for almost six months when I was very little because my parents were both working and they couldn't find a babysitter for some time. That, I think, made her feel like I was her youngest child and her oldest grandchild, at the same time. I was so little, so I don't really remember that, but I remember this strong bonding with her.
She was extraordinary. She started working when she was 13. She was living in the southern part of Sweden, but she had to move to Gothenburg, that would be a four-day ride to get to that place. She moved there when she was 13 years old, a child, and worked as a maid in this house. All the money was sent home, so she had no education. She had just the six years of basic school -- no education. She worked. She got married. They had a small farm. She worked on the farm. When they left that farm, she started to work in a kitchen. Then she had her own little guesthouse. At 55, she retired early because she was completely worn out physically. Fortunately, the Swedish pension system worked so well that she could live on the money she had. My grandfather continued working for a while. When he retired, they were very active in the Salvation Army. They were taking over leadership of one of the chapters.
Yes, but you needed to have a formal education to do that. You needed, actually, to have a high school degree. She didn't have any school degrees. You needed to take that education within the Salvation Army and she never did that, but she was one of the most successful leaders that they had. She, in particular, always focused on building up the youth support and the child support. She saw that the Salvation Army support in Sweden, which is the same worldwide, is declining, and she was looking -- what can we do to make to grow again? Every chapter she took over, she had at least four, she made them grow enormously during that time. My grandfather, he was kind of following her.
For me, that was an amazing role model because she would be the one that was leading the family and that meant to me that a woman could do that. He did not lead the chapter, she did, which, for me, was also “wow, you can really reach something”. You can achieve something as a woman. I didn't think of it that way. It was just like, yes, that's natural. That's how it is. If you're a strong woman, you can do whatever you can. At the same time -- because she -- being in the Salvation Army, the important thing is, of course, it is to come to God, but it's also to be there for each other and help people and support people.
DO YOU REMEMBER A MOMENT WHEN, AS A CHILD, YOU FELT VERY SPECIAL IN THE EYES OF SOMEONE?
I'll choose a work-related thing. I was working in India and we were selling power plants. The organization was structured in such a way that the turbine island, so the core component, was managed out of Germany. The boiler was managed out of the United States. The balance of plant and construction and everything was done in the country where we were going to ship it to. So it was usually a local organization. We bought a very big organization in India, so we had a very strong, very good balance of plant operations in India. Now, India was a target market, so it was decided to move the sales team from Germany to India.
The Indians were deeply hurt by having Germans being sent over to take the lead on selling a power plant, which they felt that they were absolutely, completely capable of doing themselves, being the lead sales and then buying or managing the turbine island from us. So they felt they should be doing that themselves and they hated us. We're coming back to this feeling what people think and knowing when you get along with something. They hated us so much, so I couldn't be close to them. Sometimes they had the manager of the sales department sitting at one side in the group or sitting on the other side of the walkway, I couldn't walk through there. I had to walk around.
Then, with a lot of political pressure and a lot of backstabbing and everything, they managed to say that the German sales department has to go back. Then, they said “but Katrina has to stay”. And I was like, what? They said she's the only one who knows what she's doing and she's the only one who respects us here in India. She's the only one who understands that we are humans too, that we are capable salespeople too, that we have capable engineers and that she's a foreigner, a stranger in this country and she's trying to adapt.
That was like -- I don't think I felt anything like that, ever, in my work life because suddenly I realized that things that were so important to me were not important to other people, and that made a differentiator that was, at last, appreciated because I think it is so important that you respect other people and I think it's so important that you understand that there's no one who's worth more than others. Every person has the same value and that goes from the tea boy up to the CEO. We are all having the same worth, the same value and it doesn't matter where you come from. We're all equal. This is a very Swedish mentality, I know that, but I think, in me, it's something that is so strong there that sometimes it causes problems as well. If someone way high up says something that I think is not according to my values, I can't do it. So the values are very important to me and I was so happy that they saw this in India and that it became valuable for them. It was great to hear that I'm good at power plants too.
So did you stay in India?
So I stayed, yeah. I was the only one staying. The others left after a year and a half and then I stayed on longer. During that time, though, we were acquired by Alstom and they completely restructured and reorganized everything. At the same time, I got a job offer in Switzerland. So even though I loved India, I decided to go to Switzerland. I stayed there for three years and the others for a little bit less than 18 months.
That must have been a great experience.
Yes, I really liked being in India. I didn't really like it, I loved it. It's weird because it's a very different country to Europe. It's a very vibrant, very colorful, very noisy and dirty and at the same time, it's beautiful and warm and people are irritating and lovely. It was just -- it just had everything. It was like -- I don't know, it just was a place where I felt at ease.
WHEN DID YOU BECOME ADULT?
Good question, I think I had two phases. The easy one was when I moved out. So I left home at 18 to start studying. So I lived on my own and I had to take care of myself. So that was clearly when I said, okay, I'm now capable of arranging my finances. I'm doing my classes. I'm not late. I'm keeping my house reasonably tidy. So that phase, I was like, okay. I'm an adult. Then, coming home and my mom thinking I was a child -- we had a lot of fights over those weekends until we came up to some kind of agreement on how to manage that.
I think there was another time, which was a lot earlier. As I mentioned my parents were divorced. I think one time when I really realized that I'm getting to be an adult was when my mother was out and she didn't come home at the time she was supposed to come home, which didn't happen, but it happened once. When she came home, I was sitting there. I was like, “where were you?” I know where you were, but there no mobile phones or anything like that at that time. So I was like “you are late”. She's looking at me and she said whoops, yep, I'm sorry. Then, when we started to discuss about that I was worried because she was late, I realized that I actually took on the responsibility of taking care of our family, which she was excellent in doing. I started to realize that I am taking responsibility of our family to ensure that all was well for us and that I'm a part of this. It's not my mother taking care of me or us. It's the two of us taking care of each other. I could have been 16 or something when this happened. That's when you start realizing that you're not thinking only of yourself, as you do as a child, but you start to think and take care of your family. So that was an important time.
It's the second thing that you speak about, where there is a little bit of a reversal of roles -- when you said you were very good at negotiating things for you. Typically, it would be parents manipulating the children into getting them to do what they want. Actually, you were manipulating your parents to let them do what you wanted. Here it's a little bit the same. So it means you had a very strong understanding of how to manage the relationship and also kind of a strong will to get things done the way you though.
When you say that, you actually make me think of something pretty interesting. My mother and her sisters could not get along. They were always fighting. There were three of them and they would always go two against one or sometimes all three were fighting at the same time. This could go over years.
Two against one, it could shift over time?
It was shifting all the time. So when we all had to be together because there was a birthday, grandma or grandad or something was happening, they were always fighting. What I did, being the oldest grandchild, I would go in and negotiate with them to make them, at least, stop the fighting while we were having a birthday. So I got very good at calming everyone down, finding a common denominator to make them not loving each other, but at least, be able to interact with each other normally, while we were having guests.
WHEN DO YOU STIL WANT TO BE A CHILD?
Well, all the time. I think I'm pretty good at having a good mix between taking responsibilities and doing what's fun. I also think that it helps me to have people around me that focus on having fun. I think I'm just -- I like doing silly things. I like going to amusement parks. I like to smell the flowers. I try to do these things all the time.
But you don't have to separate them from your normal activity, it comes naturally? It's little snippets of that among professional or adult life; is that correct?
Yep, that's right. I think it's really important to ensure that you have fun all the time, while you are being responsible and doing your work properly or taking care of your family, your house, whatever it is that you have to do, what your obligations are. I think it's important to ensure that you enjoy things and do things that bring joy to your heart, all the time.
For instance, I was in a club, a social welfare club, but also for networking among women and we were trying to get money for good causes, all the time. We came up with ideas of what we wanted to do and then I said, well, I don't want to do that because that's not fun. Some of the women in the group, they got so upset at how I could think of having fun while we were doing welfare and trying to do good for other people. I said well, my time is so limited. There are lots of things we can do that bring money and are joyful. We should do those, not do the ones that we consider to be a burden. That makes no sense because then we are going to do them worse. You have to ensure that you do things that you enjoy and that are fun at the same time as you do things that are the right things to do, for your job, family, whatever it is.
Do you believe you are, more or less, achieving that or achieving a fair balance?
I think that balance is going up and down, sometimes. I do, like my father, like my work; I like working. That's a focus area and sometimes I know that I don't focus enough on myself and the time I need for myself. So, as I mentioned, my father needed time with people and needed time with himself and sometimes when I work too much, I forget that I need time for myself, as well. I think sometimes I'm more extroverted and sometimes I think, no, I'm probably more introverted. So I don't really know where I get my energy from, but I think that I get my energy from both sides. I really have to be alone, but I have to be among people too. I think it's important to know what your own balance is when it comes to these things -- where do I get energy. Those are the things, when talking about being a child is like. Being a child is being egotistical and doing what I need. So that means that sometimes I'm egotistical and I need to be with people and sometimes it means that I'm sitting down and reading a book in my room.
BETWEEN BEING AUTONOMOUS AND BEING CARED FOR ...
Yes. Of course, sometimes I miss -- no, I don't miss, but sometimes it's like, oh, it would be so nice to have someone who had a lot of money so I didn't need to do anything and I could just, like, enjoy and -- or sometimes I was like, yeah -- sometimes it would be good to just have someone that takes care of everything that needs to be done around me because I like to focus on my job or something special. I don't like doing the surrounding things. That was maybe also one thing that was nice with India because in India, you just couldn't afford but you had to have house staff. It was your obligation to ensure that you had enough money so you should create work for other people.
As soon as that concept got into my mind, I thought it was a great thing. I create work for other people, but at the same time, that means I don't need to clean, I don't need to cook. I love cooking, though, but I don't have to and particular things that you have to do every day can sometimes be a burden. In those senses, I like being cared for, but at the same time, when I had my cook, for instance, at home, I would sometimes tell him what to cook and sometimes I would say, okay, you decide. I prefer to be in charge.
DO YOU SEE YOURSELF AS BEAUTIFUL, WHAT MAKES YOU BEAUTIFUL?
Joy. I think every time you do something that you really enjoy or you think of things that you really enjoy, when you do things that are important to you that you're passionate about, those things make you beautiful.
IF YOU ASK THREE FRIENDS TO COME UP WITH AN OBJECT THAT REPRESENT YOU, WHAT WOULD THEY THINK OF?
Three objects. One would definitely be a cat. Why? Because I love soft things. I've always loved soft things and I'm just crazy about cats. I even had a boyfriend that many years after we separated, every time he saw a cat, he would call out the name of my cat to his new girlfriend and she's like, what are you doing? He's like, oh, sorry, sorry, sorry. I was just being crazy about them. I think they're cuddly and independent, a little bit like what I would like to be.
Another would be maybe a clownfish. That would be because I really love diving. I really love being in the water and to float. What I really like with clownfish -- this is my feeling -- is that they are living with the anemone and being protected by the anemone and they're fierce fighters to protect the anemone as well, and very brave. I'd like to be brave. Maybe I'm not as brave as I'd like to be.
I know that when people think of me, they think of a lion not because the lion is a lion, but because I'm born in July and it's my birth sign. All through my childhood, that was very important. My childhood friends, they would either say a cat or a lion when they think about me, not because I'm fierce and strong as a lion, but more because I thought that was a cool and beautiful sign.
Do they associate that with some behavior on your part that matches the sign?
Maybe that I also like being lazy; lions sleep the whole day.
Yeah, they sleep like 18 hours a day or something like that.
Exactly. I don't like sleeping that much. I like to relax, but I also like to be active in short bursts. I don't think they would have thought of that. Yeah, that's a pity. Maybe I can ask people in hindsight and when we find the answers, I'll send them to you. I think that would be interesting to see what people think.
WHAT IS HARD WHEN YOU GET UP IN THE MORNING?
I'm a slow starter. Just to be fast in the morning is hard. I like having time. Now, when I work in the Eifel, it still takes me one and a half hours to get ready in the morning. I wish it took half an hour. Yeah, I really need to get going. In the morning, it's like slow motion.
I recently decided to wake up half an hour earlier because indeed myself, too, I need to do things slowly to get going. Otherwise, I get in a rush quickly and I'm uncomfortable for the whole day. It's unpleasant anyway.
It helps me to get more energy during the day to be allowed to start slowly. I know that when I started working, for instance, I got up and I was at work after 10 minutes, but that also very often meant that I had a low sometimes in the morning. I just didn't take care of myself. I think that's important, that you take care of yourself and you need to find the ways that make you be more energetic and stronger during the day. For me, it's being allowed having a slow morning.
WHAT MAKES YOU SMILE DURING THE DAY?
Usually, it's interaction with other people. I work a lot from home and I realized that I would never smile when I was alone at home. Not never, but almost never. It's the interaction with other people. Also, quirky things, little funny things, but also when I see that people care and people help each other. I think that makes me happy.
There was something that happened recently. I'll take another example because it's similar, but it's not the same. I parked my car, bought my parking ticket. I didn't know how long it would take, so I bought it for an hour. I went to do what I had to do and it took 10 minutes. So I come out and there I see a mother with two children and she's -- it's just too much for her. She's looking for the parking ticket machine and she's pretty far away. It's not in the direction where she's planning on going and I can just see how she's sighing.
So I walk over to her and I give her my parking ticket. I said, it's only 15 minutes, but if that's enough for you, here you go. She just looked at me with big eyes and she said, wow, thank you. I said, you don't need to thank me, but try to do something good for some other person someday. When I see things like that, where you do something that you don't have to do, when I see other people doing that, that makes me smile. I was like, yeah, good. That's good. I like that.
WHO TAKES CARE OF YOU?
My husband and I and my friends. Most of my very close friends live far apart, but they still try to take care of me by calling and writing cheerful messages when they think I need to be cheered up.
WHO ARE THE PEOPLE THAT YOU CARE FOR?
Who do I take care of? My husband. My parents are both unfortunately dead. I take care of my husbands, my friends and then my husband's family, but my friends come before his family.
WHAT MAKES YOU HAPPY WHEN YOU'VE DONE SOMETHING FOR SOMEONE?
It makes me happy to see that I can make other people happy or it makes me happy to see that I have made things easier for other people, like at work sometimes. Also, yesterday, I had an interaction with someone who had never done a proposal before and she's responsible for the technical part of a proposal. She's never done that before and she was very worried. She was like, oh, how am I going to be capable of doing this and we only have two weeks’ time, it's too short, this is so complex. So I sat down with her and I talked her through the tender process. I said, you are just a small part of this because you are responsible for the technical part. I showed her her responsibility within that process.
After our meeting, I could see that she had relaxed. So I was like, that makes me happy to see, okay, it helped. I made a difference to her. Then, she will have a discussion about the project in the afternoon and by coincidence, we met each other at 5 o'clock in the early evening. I walked over to her and said, “So how did it work now when you had the discussion about the technology?”. She told me what had gone well and what her concerns were and what she thinks could be improved and why she thought so.
So I said to her, that's really great because your concerns are very similar to the areas I would like to see improved, but I had never thought that you, from a technical perspective, would like to see them improved. If you put them in writing to me, it would be very beneficial because that means that I can initiate a change here in this area. When she realized that even though this is not her first proposal and she -- when she realized that she could make a change already now even though this is her first proposal that made her see that she can bring value even though she's inexperienced. That was also something that was -- I was happy to be able to give her that opportunity.
WHAT MAKES YOU SAD?
I am what they say in German, "Empfindsam". Now, I'm "empfindsam" about it. I cry very easily. So what makes me really sad is the situation for the refugees, that people need to flee from their countries and that we think that they don't deserve to live here and we should not help them. It makes me so upset. I mean, we're having such a good life here and they don't, and we should really take care of them. No, that's not true. We should not take care of them because they should take care of themselves, but we should give them the opportunity to take care of themselves. There are things that I think are really important.
I heard on the radio, also yesterday, that in the Netherlands, the people that they do take on, they need to sign an acceptance of Dutch values, which are actually more or less European values. Equality, these things that are very important and normal for us in Europe and you think that's correct. So it's not that we should just take them on and we give them everything they need. That's not the thing. If you help someone, you have the right to set a demand on that, one, two, but to say we can't afford to take them on, that's not correct.
We can afford so much more than we think. You will always see that. The poor people are much more generous to other poor people than rich people are. We are so rich in Europe and in Germany, we are so rich that we can take, we can help but not to every price. In Sweden, they are not taking on so many refugees, but they never demanded anything from the refugees, so the whole country starts to get out of control. That's not the right way of helping.
It's like when you bring up a child. You don't bring up a child well by having no rules. The way to get a wonderful child to be a fantastic person is to ensure that there are rules, that the rules are understandable and it's possible to fulfill the rules. If you do that, then you are creating a good person. Of course, children need and everyone needs love and a lot of other things, not just rules. If there are no rules, it's going to be more difficult for the child to be a good person. There are some that make it anyhow, but generally, that's difficult.
Sometimes the rules are kind of edited to actually keep them at bay, whereas the rules should be there to educate or facilitate their integration where there are differences with integration.
Yeah. Talking about rules, one company I worked for, they set their rules so tight that if you wanted to sell something, you will not be able to do that. It would just take so long to get all the approvals for every little thing that you would have lost the order. So that meant that no one followed the rules, but there are rules that are important and make sense. When you start breaking some rules, it starts to be very difficult to say which rules can I break and which can't I. That's why it's really important also among companies and adults that you set up rules that make sense and that you make it possible for people to manoeuvrer within the rules.
WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME THAT YOU SAVED THE WORLD?
I'm constantly trying to save the world by reducing plastic, which is really difficult. Last week, I was in China. They are starting to get better and better when it comes to being environmental, but they are still very generous with plastic. It was raining quite a lot while I was there and every time you enter a building, you get a little plastic bag to put around your umbrella. Every time I got one of those, I gave it back leaving the building so that it could be reused. So that was like a little try of saving the world. Also, trying to avoid -- to ensure that I say no when there's plastic and trying to bring my own mug. I'm not as good as I'd like to be, but I think that every little step you take is helping. I also stopped using toothpaste that contains the nanoplastic to clean your teeth, I stopped using those.
Small, environmental friendly concerns or changes that you make?
Yep, that's fine. At the same time, I am flying, which is not environmental friendly. I'm driving a car to work every day and I'm driving fast, so that's not very -- I'm not consistent. I think that the only way we can change the world is by taking small steps all the time and the more you think about it, the better you get. If you are giving up all the time, it's just going to be worse. If you're thinking of it and try to do it most of the time, you're at least making the catastrophe go slower. We all have to do a little bit all the time. That's the only thing we can do.
It won't get any better if you don't try?
Yeah. The first time I went to the Philippines, I was shocked to see how many young girls that had babies, really young girls, 16. Most of them had a one-year-old child. I was like, wow. Then, I met this Swiss guy that lived in the Philippines for many, many years. I said, well, how about when we talk about -- we have to do something. He says, what can we do? I said, well, we have to talk about this all the time that there are condoms, you can protect yourself. I will definitely not tell them not to have sex. It's like, that's their choice, but to talk about there are possibilities to protect yourself and that you don't have to get pregnant just because you want to have sex.
He said, well, I did that when I came here 25 years ago. I stopped. It doesn't change anything. I was like -- I get devastated when I hear things like that because I think if we're giving in, no matter what it is, it won't be better. If you can change one person, you changed that person's life. I mean, that's good. You don't have to save hundreds of thousands. If you save one, that's a step in the right direction. If that one maybe talks to other people, we're saving more people that we're not aware of.
It's the same with taking care of the environment. If I tell everyone what I'm trying to do, I'm trying to reuse my bags, I'm trying to have my -- bring my coffee mug to work and not get the plastic -- a paper cup that comes every time. So by me talking about it and being like that all the time, well, other people might start trying to change as well. They talk about it and they are trying to change other people. If we're just saying, well, it doesn't matter, I'm going to do it anyhow, we'll change nothing.
You may relate to my PortraitsdUnion analogy where I say, I hope this initiative touches people. It won't change the world, but the bigger this thing, the more people we give confidence to change.
Absolutely. I think that's also so valuable and so important. Every little thing that you do is influencing people around you. The reason for me hesitating is that I actually think that everything you do is influencing not only the people but what I was talking about before with vibrations. I think that if I try to do good, I think there is positivity coming out of that. If I try to do bad, I think there's negativity coming out of that. I think that that is kind of influencing everything around us. I'm not good all the time, definitely not. I was an only child. I grew up to be fairly egotistical and I know I'm still fairly egotistical, ask my husband, but that doesn't mean that we're not trying to be better and do good all the time.
I had something very nice happen to me yesterday. I was just going to get the dinner. I went to the place where I get flatbread sandwiches. They use this flatbread, so the clerk put that in the oven and he took it out and he flipped it. I was pretty impressed with what he was doing. He put it back in and took it out. He flipped it and flipped it. He was really good at doing this. Then, he made my sandwich and I paid the girl. He was standing there waiting for the next person to come and there was no one there at the moment.
Then, I looked up at him and I said, you know, that was really cool what you did when you flipped the bread. I was so impressed with that. You should've seen his face. He was so happy. I was like, yes. I really like doing that. By small things, if you can do the small things and you make people a little bit happier, you're just creating a better world. You're saving the world in those aspects as well, not just thinking environmental but also making other people around you feel good.
WHAT WOULD BE THE LAST EVENT THAT YOU WOULD ROLL BACK?
I have two, because I want to undo the deaths of my parents. They came very shortly after each other. They died within less than three months from each other and they were divorced, so sometimes you think that, yeah, when one partner dies the other dies of sorrow afterwards or that life has no meaning, but they were not married any more. They should not have died so shortly after each other. That was just too hard.
So I'd like to undo that. We were very close friends as well; it was like -- my husband says that to me very often, I've never been talking to my parents the way you talk to yours, because we just talk about everything, what's important to us and what's not. My father and I sometimes can talk about inventions; we were inventing things on the phone with each other.
Is there anyone that you actively help or support?
We just give money every now and then to different social things that help in some way. It can be different things; it can be people in Germany. It can be people outside. It can be animals, but we don't do anything regularly. Honestly, that also comes from me being Swedish where we have very high tax system, so the government takes care of our spending money to the ones that need it within Sweden or outside of Sweden. Even though I left Sweden in 1990, my mentality -- and I've realized that a lot when I meet Americans and also the Arabs, because they don't have that in their countries.
I lived in Egypt and my Egyptian friends would usually have their beggar that they gave money to, either a little bit every day or a bit more weekly. And when I lived in Egypt I tried to do that too. I chose my beggar that I gave money to regularly because I was trying to live the way people do in that country, whereas, for instance, when I lived in India I would not give money to beggars because there are a lot of professional beggars and there were even instances where they mutilate children or themselves. If they do it to themselves it's bad enough, but it's terrible when they do it to children to increase the income for that person.
So there, I tried to give more money to organizations. What I would like, though, is, I always said I'd like to give money to -- because you said what would you have liked to do or what would you want to do -- I would like to give money to an Indian girl and an African boy. It's also because the countries are dear to me. I feel that to be a girl in India is very difficult. It's a very -- when I lived in India it was very common to have an abortion if you knew that you would expect a girl. There was even a town, actually a village, where if a girl was born, she would be killed immediately because she had no value. I think, everything being equal, everyone has the same value no matter where they are and what they come from, something like that is, for me, just unacceptable.
I really would like to help, but then I always come to this dilemma where I say helping one may actually make life more difficult for that one. Friends of mine were helping an African girl many years ago, it was already in the 70's, and the money she got was much more than the family earned, which caused a problem and they didn't give a lot of money. On top of that, the money she got was so much more than the other children in the village that it caused huge problems because they said we don't really know -- we wanted to give the girl a chance to go to school if needed, if you want to go to university, get clothing, clean water and so on. But because the money just went to one person, it actually just caused problems. She got better clothes, but she couldn't get better water. To get better water, it would have made more sense to give the money to the village because then they could build a well. So when I come to think that I'd like to help persons, I sometimes think it's actually better to help groups.
It's always, from my perspective, better to help people help themselves, which is why I then go back to focusing on organizations. I say, okay, they probably have a better possibility and ability to judge where the money would make the most sense.
There are different points of view or feedback from experience of going through organizations or getting direct financial help to some people and the results are not always the best in one direction.
IN YOUR DREAM LIFE, WHERE WOULD YOU BE AND WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING?
If we're talking about tomorrow and we're talking about temporary -- I would be going to the Philippines and I would be scuba diving. I wouldn't want to do that every day of my life, because I have had the opportunity to educate myself. If I wanted to, I'd be a professional scuba diving teacher. I'd be living in the Philippines and I'd be scuba diving every day with students. And I definitely wouldn't want to do that, as that would not be challenging enough. So if it's something temporary, yes, I'd be scuba diving; I'd be floating in the water; I'd be experiencing and encountering different kinds of underwater animals.
And if it's something longer term?
If it was something longer term, I would like to be really wealthy and have my own charity fund. What I would do is, I would help people to get water and education to be able to help themselves. I would like to give people the opportunity to be able to improve their own lives. Sometimes they need help to be able to improve their own lives and sometimes they just need a little kick in the right direction and then they know what to do. I'd like to do that. I even applied for a job for a foundation, but I didn't get it and it was in Seattle, so I'm really happy I didn't get it.
I feel that you believe a lot in giving the little push that triggers a big improvement.
Yep, that's right. That's true. I think I was seeing a silly film when I was young and they were talking about baby steps and I think that's actually really how the world works. You push things a little bit in the right direction. It moves a lot better than when you're trying to force it to take big steps. Most people don't like change and if you're trying to make them change too much, they will resist. If you push them a little bit, they think it's their own decision and it is also partly their own decision. They're just much more inclined to follow through on it and change.
It becomes their own achievement, too. So they can relate to it, whereas if you just, you know, take them by the hand and pull them upstairs. They're upstairs, but they didn't --
They didn't want to go in there and make it up there with their hearts and their brains. They would be somewhere else instead and that is not change.
WHAT WILL YOU BE DOING WHEN YOU GET OLD?
I'll be traveling. I'll be traveling the world, simple and easy, and trying to interact with people everywhere, trying different things. I'd like to do new things all the time. My husband wants to buy a camper van. Since I'd prefer to go to Asia, I'm not sure if the camper van would be my preference, but at least that would be a possibility to move around and be around different people all the time. I like to be getting into the countries I am in and not just go and look. I think when you are in the camper van, you are clearly the tourist.
That's one of the negative aspects of it.
When you're staying at the hotel, you're still a tourist, but it's not always so obvious when you're moving around that you are. I like to try to be a part of it and that's what I would like to do when I retire.
And you have a little bit more interaction with the people. In the hotel it's still limited to the hotel staff or the people who hover around there, but still, it forces you to have some more interactions. We spent five months in South America three years ago and, indeed, not being isolated in our own equipment made a difference. So I can relate to that.
Have you already done a little bit of what you wish to do?
I've done a little bit of what I wish to do. What I think I've managed to do pretty well is that, because I do like change, in comparison to other people who don't, when I go on vacation -- for instance, we were two and a half weeks in Australia. You'll say, wow, that's nothing. How can you -- two and a half weeks only? And in this two and a half week we were in Sydney; we went scuba diving; we were up at the Tablelands; we were in the Blue Mountains. We were doing different things all the time. So we go from luxury hotel to backpacker hostel to luxury boat to extraordinarily simple accommodation. So I get a lot of the impressions that I'd like to have when I am on vacation. The fun thing is that when you have more time, you can really get in and get to know people and start to interact much more with them. But I think that this, where you travel around and you can stay longer or shorter at different locations of that point in time, that's something I would like to do when I retire too.
When I was in Cambodia, I was there for a longer time. So then we started to return to the same restaurants, which I would normally not do because I like to try different restaurants. But then you actually get to know not only the restaurant owner, you get to know his kids and his wife, and so then you start to be more like a part of the team there. It's like you get to know them, the family, and you get to know how people in Cambodia think because -- well, you get to know how the restaurant owners think, but at least you get to know them a little bit more. That's also fun and that's a part that I hope to get more into when I retire.
YOUR MESSAGE TO ANYONE WHO'S READING YOUR INTERVIEW?
I think that something that we talked about quite a lot during the interview is that small changes make a big difference and that if you try to do a little good here and there and you talk about it, you're making a lot larger impact than you think. And I think that's just -- it's the easiest way to go. It's not about always doing good, but it's about being aware of what you're doing and what your actions actually can impact.
That also goes for things like being snappish and snippy when you are upset with something and you go out to the store and you -- someone just walks past you and you say (inaudible 00:17:21). That hurts a lot more than you think and that actually affects that person. So trying to think about the small little good things you can do. Every little thing makes an impact. Everything you do has an impact. If you're angry, you're going to affect people. If you're trying to be positive and happy, that's going to affect people in a good way.
WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE THE PEOPLE WHO READ YOUR INTERVIEW TO WALK AWAY WITH?
The overall impression?
Well, I'm not sure if that comes out of the interview, but what I would like them to go away with is that that's an interesting life or that's an interesting person, and there were some tidbits here and there that might actually help me to do things differently and better.