Author: Fredrik Haren - The Island Man

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North Island (Wellington, New Zealand). Island number 27 (out of 100), country number 24 (out of 25), month number 26 (out of 100.)

It is easy to think about New Zealand as isolated from the rest of the world pinned as it is on most maps in the lower right hand corner of a world map with just Australia next to it and hours of fly time over water to any other continent.

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Actually according to some experts New Zealand is not separated from the other continents but instead part of its very own continent – the continent of Zealandia. Zealandia is a vast landmass that is almost entirely submerged by water and which broke free from Australia 60–85 million years ago with the New Zealand island and a few other smaller islands being like “top of icebergs’ sticking up above the water.

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I find the notion of New Zealand being part of a continent that is mostly under water fascinating – and it suddenly give the name “New Zealand” (= New Sea Land) a very profound meaning.

New Zealand was originally settled by humans who emigrated from Taiwan via Melanesia and the Society Islands and finally arriving in New Zealand. Humans who under centuries travelled from island to island. Epic “Island hoppers” …

I visited New Zealand for a speech I was invited to give in Auckland but decided to fly down a few days earlier to go to Wellington and visit an old friend.

This friend, Derek, used to live in the USA, then moved to Singapore (where we got to know each other) and then he moved down to Wellington five years ago.

For two days we hiked in nature, went for walks, visited restaurants and talked, talked and talked. Good friends having a good time.

Both me and my friend have hopped continents for where we call home more than twice, and perhaps that is why we could feel close friendship even after not really seeing each other for years.

When we have the mindset that friendships are based on our connections to other people – not by geographical distance, but by emotional proximity, then we become more open to being close to people that are living far away from us.

When we get used to the idea that continents are not separating us – but rather binding us together – then we start to see earth as that one, big landmass that it is (some of it covered by water, some not.)

In a way Earth is a big version of Zealandia – a big chunk of land that mostly is covered by water.

When we fully understand that concept we stop looking at people as living “somewhere else” and start to understand that we are all just living “here”. And we start building bridges between each other how ever far away from each other we are.

That is what hiking with my good friend Derek thought me when we spent a few days together in New Zealand.

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(Island visited March 2018, post posted September 2018.)

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. North Island was island number 27, country number 24 and month number 26. (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, South Africa, Norway and New Zealand.)

 

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Jag Mandir (Udaipur, India). Island number 27 (out of 100), country number 23 (out of 25), month number 26 (out of 100.)

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The small island Jag Mandir is almost completely covered by a palace. It is located in the Pichola Lake in Udaipur in India and has been the home of many Indian emperors over the 500+ years it has existed.

Standing on the island more than half a millennium (!) after it was built was like riding in a time machine. Even with all the modern technology of modern Indian life surrounding me at the visit (mobile phones, petrol engines on the boats etc) you could not but feel the energy from centuries past vibrating around you.

The islands most famous resident was Prince Khurram who later became know as Emperor Shah Jahan. Shah Jahan, which means “King of the World”, was the ruler during the Mughal-era and he was indeed one of the great rulers of the world. Shah Jahan who lived during the 1700:th century had to his disposal an army of 1,000,000 (!) men.

It has been calculated that “Mughal-era India’s share of global gross domestic product (GDP) grew from 22.7% in 1600 to 24.4% in 1700, surpassing China to become the world’s largest”. (source Wikipedia).

Perhaps the most interesting fact about Shah Jahan and the island of Jag Mandir is that when the emperor was young he lived on Jag Mandir and I learnt that the design of the palace on the island inspired Emperor Shah Jahan to later in life build his most famous structure: The Taj Mahal, one of the Wonders of the world.

Standing on Jag Mandir I reflected about this: How one place on Earth can inspire greatness in another part of the world years later. About how a man who was given the title “the Kind of the World” went looking for inspiration in different parts of the world.

We are all Kings (and Queens) of the World. As long as we make an effort to be inspired by ideas/concepts/habits/things/etc created by other people around the world.

We are all Kings (and Queens) of the Human Island if we are open to ideas from everywhere.

(Visited Feb 2018, uploaded Sep 2018)

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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. Jag Mandir was island number 27, country number 23 and month number 26. (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, South Africa and Norway.)

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Utøya (Outside Oslo, Norway). Island number 26 (out of 100), country number 23 (out of 25), month number 25 (out of 100.)

It took me more than six months to write this text.

Earlier this year I visited the island of Utøya outside Oslo in Norway. I went there as part of my “human island project” where visit 100 islands in 100 months to learn about humanity.

When I started the project I thought it would be a fun and easy: Just go around the world, visit islands, and write a text about what you learnt about humans and/or humanity.

And for the first 25 islands it was. From Robben Island to Manhattan, I visited island and I wrote.

But then I went to Utøya.

Utøya is the island where Anders Behring Breivik shot 178 people (many of them youths), killing 59 of them.
It was the deadliest attack on Norwegian soil since world war 2 and Brevik, a right-wing extremist did it, apparently, to promote his delusional manifesto around his racists view.

The attack happened 7 years ago and in one day the island went from being just a beautiful island where young Norwegian kids would come for summer camp to being the crime scene of a devilish attack.

Technically I did not visit Utøya way back in January when I went there. The island is off limits at the moment and it was winter so no way to get to the island anyway. But standing by the road, all alone, in a landscape covered by snow and looking out over the island still had a strong impact on me.

It was so silent.

(Snow makes sounds muffled and there was no wind the day I was there so it was an eerie silence around the place as I stood there.)

I felt so alone.

(This part of Norway is not overly populated and in since it was winter I did not see any other people as I stood there. Just a couple of cars passed by during the 30 minutes I just stood and watched the island.)

It was so profound.

The reason I have not done any updates around my “Human Island travels” in 2018 is that my visit to Utøya mentally knocked me down. I had of course, like everyone else, been horrified about the attacks when I heard about them back in 2011, but it was not until I came there and saw the island myself that the full impact of the attack hit me. Anders Behring Breivik’s decision to kill innocent teenagers because he had a problem with people from other cultures was an attack on humanity, on openness, on curiosity – on so many things that I believe in.

It hit me in the stomach so hard that I could not put words on it. As a writer that is the equivalent of being knocked to the ground.

I still can not put into words how profoundly sad it made me to see the island in person.

But I decided to move on.

My project about visiting 100 islands in 100 months was created for the very opposite reasons Anders Behring Breivik killed those kids.

It is a project about coming together as humanity.
It is a project about learning from each other for the benefit of us all.
It is a project in celebration of this one, tiny island that we are all living on.

I will not write a text about what the island of Utøya thought me about humanity.

I will give Utøya a pass on that.

Look at it as the equivalent of a text-based “silent minute” for the people who died that day.

Instead I will – with stronger conviction than ever – continue to travel the world and visit new islands to try to learn something from those islands about us as humans, about our behaviour, dreams, thoughts and characteristics and to try to put into words how each island has a lesson to teach humanity.

We all live on a tiny little island called Earth. We have so much to learn from each other. That I know to be true. And my conviction to spread that message is now stronger than ever.

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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. Utøya was island number 26, country number 23 and month number 25. (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, South Africa and Norway.)

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Robben Island (Cape Town, South Africa). Island number 25 (out of 100), country number 22 (out of 25), month number 23 (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 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, 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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