Author: Fredrik Haren - The Island Man

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Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa). Island number 25 (out of 100), country number 22 (out of 25), month number 24 (out of 100.)

Nelson Mandela was a prisoner on Robben Island for 27 years.
He was there as a political prisoner.
Almost a third of his life behind bars for believing in the equality of man.

And he came out smiling.

Walked out from that long walk to freedom determined to work with his former enemies to create a new, democratic South Africa.

Nelson Mandela, extremely well deserved, became an icon for hope for the young democratic rainbow nation of South Africa. And beyond.

When I started the 100 island project, Robben Island was on top of the list of islands I wanted to visit.

I wanted to walk the ground where Nelson Mandela became the person he became.

When I finally got there today I did not see a prison. I saw a beautiful island with an even more beautiful view of the Table Mountain. I saw the scene for a dream.

Staying there as a prisoner must have been hell (the prisoners had been ordered to build the prison themselves and in the beginning there wasn’t even proper mattresses to sleep on.)

But today this place is something totally different.

It’s a symbol of hope, reconciliation and forgiveness.
A symbol of good over evil.
Of the prospects of humanity.

I was walking around on the island with a smile on face and I left inspired.
Not the feeling you would think you would leave a prison with.

But Nelson Mandela is dead.

And South Africa without him is not the same.

Before visiting Robben Island I had spent a few days in the company of a group of South Africans of different backgrounds, black and white and Indian, young and old, rich and poor, and it was striking how almost all of them pained a picture of today’s South Africa in gloomy colours.

It seems corruption, frustration and racial tension has not been this high in South Africa for decades.

For the first time that I visit South Africa the feeling that fills me is not the feeling of hopefulness.

Now, it would be to harsh to say that what I feel is hopelessness. But I have felt less hope on this trip.

But the good news is that where I did feel a sense of hope I also felt a sense of deeper determination.

Its like if the people not ready to give up on Nelson Mandelas dream had come to the insight that dreams don’t come true by just dreaming.

Like they have come to the realisation that positive change is not impossible – but god damn hard; and that if we are going to be able to create it we have to work harder.

In a world being drawn into darkness, there seems to be counter-force mobilising.

I put a name to it.

Hopemoreness.

The opposite of hopefulness.

The idea that we have to try harder to make hope win.

What do you hope for that, if it would become a reality, would make the world a better place?

How could you work harder to make that come true?

 

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. Robben Island was island number 25, country number 22 and month number 24. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Iceland, Canada, Mongolia, Myanmar and South Africa.)

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Nameless Island (Yangon, Myanmar). Island number 24 (out of 100), country number 21 (out of 25), month number 23 (out of 100.)

The tiny little island in the middle of the lake infront of my hotel in Yangon looks almost like one of those deserted islands in cartoons where a stranded person will sit under the palm tree and reflect on life.

So inspired by that image I am going to reflect on one thing that struck me during my visit to Myanmar this time: Humanity’s bad habit of not being able to get along with people who seem different.

I am not religious, I am agnostic (which means someone who believes ” the existence of God, of the divine or the supernatural is unknown”.)

But i am going to take inspiration from the Bible where there is a passus that says:

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This idea of loving – of showing respect, compassion and care – for someone who is not yourself is a core belief in many religions, and I think, is part of what makes us human.

Or more precisely is part of the things that is good in what it means to be human.

But then we also have that part of us which is bad about being human: our tendency to look at “others” as bad/evil/strange/different.

In Myanmar right now hundreds of thousands of people are on the run from their homes. Accusations, from both sides, about horrible things being done to the “other” side. Like in most human conflicts propaganda, misinformation and lies make it difficult to know what is true. But one thing seems certain: there has been a lot of human suffering in Myanmar lately and a lot of it stems from people looking at other people as “bad” just because they come from a different place, tribe, religion, ethnicity.

As a country Myanmar has so much going for it. A friendly people who just opened up their country to the world. A positive economic development and so much potential for the future. An yet this conflict continuous.

A change is needed.

A word that comes to mind when I stand here is “compassion”.

Compassion means “a sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others.”

The key here is “others”.

To care about ourselves, be that our own person, our family, our tribe or our nation, is easy.

But to care about “others” demands compassion.

In the dictionary “others” is defines as: “refers to a person or thing that is different or distinct from one already mentioned or known about.”

This time the key is “different from known about”.

If we could help people see beyond their self-defined groups there would be less “them”. Less “others”.

There would be less unknown.

And if we did that we – as mankind – would feel less like stranded isolated people on a deserted island, and more as part of one humanity.

That is my thinking as I stand infront of this tiny little island in Yangon.

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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The Nameless island was island number 24, country number 21 and month number 23. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Iceland, Canada, Mongolia and Myanmar.)

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Nameless Island (Elsen Tasarkhai, Mongolia). Island number 23 (out of 100), country number 20 (out of 25), month number 22 (out of 100.)

The island I visited this month is a small, nameless, grass covered islet located in the Tuul river about 280 km outside Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia.

Mongolia, a scarcely populated, landlocked country with big neigbours like China, Russia and Kazakhstan surrounding it.

Mongolia has just 1.9 people per km and considering that over 1 million of the total population of 3 million is living in the capital it feels even less populated once you leave the capital.

“The biggest problem with Mongolia is that we are landlocked.”

The words came from a man I interviewed while visiting Mongolia to launch my book, The Idea Book, in Mongolian.

I told him I disagreed.

It MIGHT have been Mongolias biggest problem, in a time when products, knowledge, people and ideas travelled by sea.

But in the 21st century people travel by air. And knowledge and ideas travel at the speed of light.

That means that no human being needs to be cut off because of being “landlocked” (or “sea locked” in the sense of being “stuck” on an island.)

The thing stopping people from getting information and inspiration from the world is not geographical limitations – but mental limitations.

The people we should be worrying about are not the once who are landlocked – but the ones who are “mindlocked”.

The people who should be inspired by are the people who are openminded and who have borderless thinking.

Chinggis Khan, the famous king who once ruled the world in what was one of the largest kingdoms ever to have been ruled by one king, was one of those open minded and borderless thinkers.

The famous king was born under another name: Temüjin, he became Chinggis Khan” when he became king.

Khan means king or ruler.

And the meaning of Chinggis is absolutely fascinating.

“Chinggis” means “the man who is big as an ocean” (!)

The Mongolians, the land locked of all land locked nations, gave the king a name that likening him to a big ocean…

As an “island man” fascinated by island I thought I would feel isolated, out of place, or confined in landlocked Mongolia, but after spending a couple of days in this vast country I feel the opposite.

The vastness of the plains inspires borderless thinking.

The blue, open sky feeds your imagination and creativity.

The fearlessness and can-do-spirit of the Mongolian people makes me want to do more and fear less. (and their friendliness makes me want to be a kinder person.)

Mongolia might be a landlocked country.

But the country is a catalyst for limitlessness.

As least it was to me.

My visit to Mongolia changed me to the core.

I am now more open then when I arrived.

I think bigger then before I came here.

I feel more human than I ever have.
I of course wish that Mongolia will learn more from the world and not be limited by thinking that their “landlockedness” hinders them from learning from others.

But I also really wish the rest of the world would learn more from Mongolia, a country that still knows how it is to live in harmony with nature, where mankind hasn’t yet learnt to dominate the landscape. Where people (for the very most part) are both strong, proud AND kind.

As Oyun, a nomadic women I meet just next to the lake said to me: “The nomad (still) have the quality of being human”.

Perhaps that is true.

Perhaps we need to go to places where very few people live to learn how to live like humans.

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The Nameless island was island number 23, country number 20 and month number 22. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Iceland, Canada and Mongolia.)

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The Saint Helen’s island (Montreal, Canada). Island number 22 (out of 100), country number 19 (out of 25), month number 21 (out of 100.)

I have an affinity for domes, so when I heard there was a huge dome on an island in Montreal I had to go and visit.

A dome on an island? Now that got my attention. I love islands and I love domes.

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And when I heard this dome was designed by no one less than Buckminster Fuller I knew I just had to go.

Fuller was the grand father of domes, a visionary, and a strong proponent for humanity to look at earth as one.

A classic Fuller quote is: “We are all astronauts on a little spaceship called Earth”.

The Montreal Biosphère dome on Saint Helen’s island was built as part of the 1967 Expo.

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Today just the metal frame is left as the plastic covering that once surrounded burnt up in a fire.

Looking at the naked skeleton of the dome frame reminded me of the fragile state of the round planet we live on. Earth might be a big round ball, but we are really just living on that thin outer crust – like the peel of an apple.

All of humanity on a thin outer cover of a dome.

When you look at humanity like that you not only think about how fragile our whole existence is, you also realise that all of us are living very close together.

When people say that they are “living in their own little corner of the world”, they are not only ignorant, they are factually wrong.

There is no corners on earth. That becomes so obviously clear when you stand infront of a big dome like this.

I just wish more people would get to fully understand that.

If they did – or should I say, when a majority of humanity does – the way we look at Earth, at ourselves and at humanity will change forever.

We will finally become a humanity which looks at humanity as one. Which looks at Earth as one. If we do it quick enough there is hope that humanity pulls together to work in the best benefit of us all, not just sub sections of us. If we do not do it quick enough we might very well be doomed.

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Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The Saint Helen’s island was island number 22, country number 19 and month number 21. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Ireland, France, Iceland and Canada.)

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The island of  Iceland. Island number 21 (out of 100), country number 18 (out of 25), month number 20 (out of 100.)

Coming to Iceland is not like coming to another country.

It’s like coming to another planet.

A smaller, rougher, more barren planet than ours.

And I always feel I learn something about Earth when I come to Iceland.

I am back in Iceland as part of my “100 islands world tour to learn about humanity” as Iceland has a very special place in my heart: It’s the country that made me move past countries.

I remember exactly when I became a truly global citizen, or as I like to think of it: When I became a Member of Humanity.

It was at a time where I had decided to stop living in Beijing, but not yet decided that I was going to live in Singapore. For about 6 months I literally did not have a home.

I was flying from speech to speech around the world while figuring out where to live next.

And during that time of my life I arrived for a speech in Iceland and woke up one morning with a terrible tooth ache.

I remember saying to myself; “I need to get this fixed as soon as I get home!”

And then it hit me: I did not have “a home” …

So I googled “English speaking dentist Reykjavik” and got my tooth fixed in Iceland.

That is when I realised that I am at home everywhere on earth. If I need to go to a dentist, I just go to a dentist where ever I may be. No need to wait until I get “home”.

It’s not that a Member of Humanity doesn’t have a home. It’s the other way around, as a Member of Humanity everywhere is your home.

I was thinking of this story as I today am back in Iceland sitting in a hospital room.

Yesterday I fell badly and hurt my leg while getting a heavy car battery into a rowing boat in Sweden. Then I got on an Iceland Air-plane to got to Chicago but during the stop-over in Iceland the leg started to hurt more and more.

So here I am, waiting to get my leg X-rayed in a small hospital in Keflavik, Iceland.

A Swede, living in Singapore, flying from Stockholm to America via Iceland – and then off to Nepal via Istanbul.

But now sitting in a hospital waiting room to have my leg looked upon by a doctor.

And again I feel like it was natural to go to the doctor here, not wait until I “got home”. I was already home.

I love Iceland.

It’s a small island of just over 300,000 people far away from any other country.

People in Iceland are living close to nature, but far away from the rest of humanity.

But they are not, at all, isolated from humanity.

Being such a small country they have realised that they have to look after themselves -and at the same time they need to be open for ideas from outside.

One of my all time favourite words is the Icelandic word: “Heimskur”.

It is an old, viking word that is very Icelandic.

Way back, during the age of the Vikings, the Icelandic vikings had a tradition that if you had a farm you should build a Viking ship, go sailing to other countries and steal as much as you could. Steal gold, weapons and treasures – but more than anything else: Steal Ideas. Learn how they do things in other parts of the world, and then bring back those ideas to your farm on Iceland.

If you did not do that you were a “heimskur”.

Heimskur means “idiot”…

If you do not learn from others you are stupid.

The Icelandic Vikings knew that isolating yourself from the rest of humanity was a bad idea. That picking up ideas from others made sense.

1000+ years later the Icelandic people are still both proud of who they are and curious to learn from the rest of humanity.

Perhaps being a small number of people living on a tiny, rough, “planet”  makes it easier for them to see the need to think as one humanity.

Do not be a Heimskur.

Travel the world.

Learn from the world.

Be part of the world.

Be a Member of Humanity.

Fredrik Haren, aka “The Island Man”, plans to visit 100 islands, in at least 25 countries, on at least 6 continents – in less than 100 months. The purpose of this “World Tour of Islands” is to get a better understanding of the world, a deeper understanding of the people who live here and a broader understanding of life. The island of  Iceland  was island number 21, country number 18 and month number 20. (Countries visited so far: China, Sweden, Maldives, Austria, Nigeria, Vietnam, Egypt, Indonesia, USA, Malaysia, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Mauritius, United Kingdom, Ireland, France and Iceland.)

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