Sketching the bigger picture

It was August 2020. Indigo Van Houte was sitting outside her house in the afternoon sun. She was drawing mindlessly, with music playing in her ears.  A neighbour stopped by, and they briefly said hello to each other.

When Indigo first started to draw, she had survived a brain haemorrhage and, as a result, was going through severe physical and psychological trauma. A brain haemorrhage is a type of stroke that happens from a vein bursting inside one’s brain and is also commonly referred to as a Cardiovascular accident (CVA). Back then, keeping her mind on what she was drawing meant that Indigo could keep her anxious thoughts away.

Indigo (on the left) and her friend and co-writer of this article Avalon (on the right)

Now, three years later, she uses her art as a way to process or to de-stress from her life’s events. For Indigo, her subconscious drawing is not necessarily about closing her eyes or cutting out all her senses: “it’s more so that I make sure that my brain is busy with something else, so like listening to music or watching a series on the side“, she explained. In that way, her true subconscious thoughts and emotions come out onto a piece of paper. This makes Indigo’s art a raw representation of “what is truly going on, on the inside” and the best way through which her story can be told.

Accepting that the lemons might be sour

“When life gives you lemons…make lemonade. But if that doesn’t work…Take the lemons and accept that they are sour” was the saying I changed to help me through accepting the changes the stroke forced me to make”, explained Indigo in a text message.

At the time that it happened a ten 20 year old Indigo had a lifestyle that many of us can relate to. She was in the second year at the nursing school, had just moved out of her parents’ house and was doing an internship at the liver intestine ward at the hospital. Her passion for dancing and a life-long dream of being a nurse and specialising in E.R (emergency room) or tropical disease post-graduation was especially important to her. She did not know it yet, but her life was about to change in a way that would no longer allow her to live her life the way she used to.

However, this is not a story about the hardship of being a young stroke survivor. It’s about resilience and the time taken to accept that some lemons might indeed be sour.  

So, what actually happened?

It was the 16th of April 2018. Indigo had woken up feeling a little nauseous, with a headache and within the next two days she had begun having trouble seeing.

On the 19th of April, the third day since her symptoms had begun, her pupil was still enlarged, and she was beginning to feel even worse in her body.  She did not think too much of it and assumed that it was due to exhaustion. She went to her shift at the internship, but as the day went by, her colleagues noticed that something was wrong and urged her to go and see a doctor immediately. Her GP immediately sent her to an eye doctor who then sent her straight to the Emergency Department, where she promptly went through the CT scan.

While Indigo lay in the CT scanner, awaiting her results, the realisation of the fact that there was something definitely wrong with her body started to kick in. She could no longer open her right eye due to the nerve paralysis. And while she did not want to think about what the problem could possibly be, she feared that it could be something that could mean that “she is either not going to be able to continue her life the way she always planned it to be or that she could not continue it at all.”

Because “in the moment when you’re lying in a C.T. scan”, she explained, “you know that after you will get a result and that it’s either going to be nothing or it’s something that’s gonna change your life”. And in that case, it was not nothing.

The first weeks she was in denial, “I think when you receive serious medical news, everything immediately becomes a bit of a blur”, she elaborated “You don’t want to deal with everything, so you just shut down…It takes some time for the wave (of realization) to truly come in”.

The CT scan revealed that Indigo was experiencing a brain hemorrhage. She drew a circle around the bleed.

It was only later, in the rehabilitation centre that she realized the severity of the change that the brain haemorrhage was bringing into her life.

“With the stroke it wasn’t just about not being able to live alone or to continue studying”, she explained in an interview, “it was also that my left side was fully paralysed and my right eye lost its function”.

“Two sides of the same body. They should be working together but they won’t. One side is able to move and act normal, the other is paralysed and lost its function.”

“Two sides of the same body. They should be working together but they won’t. One side is able to move and act normal, the other is paralysed and lost its function.”
“This contains a lot of eyes and obviously the bones of a human hand” she wrote in an explanation to this art piece “Hands, bones and eyes keep coming back in the drawing without me paying attention to what I draw”

Over-stimulation and dance

Indigo’s description of the drawings of the dancers goes as follows: “Dancing used to be my passion, my outlet and almost the way I presented myself. Since the age of 7 I have taken ballet classes, later complemented by contemporary classes. After I had the stroke, my brain was damaged and the over sensitivity for noises and crowded spaces is one of the main effects of the damage that is a daily struggle…The drawings are showing my passion and the most noticeable result of the damage for the outside world. For me there are many daily struggles, others only see the visible results.”

In its essence, dance served a similar purpose as art does now. It meant that Indigo could put “everything that was stuck inside her head out there…. It made (her) feel free”.

In July, sometime after she left the rehabilitation centre, Indigo went to a trial class with her old dance teacher. The intention was to watch and do a few simple warm-up exercises. But then it struck her that “In a dance class you have loud music, other people together in a small room, and a teacher either yelling or counting”, she explained. The “over-sensitivity to noises and crowded spaces “hit and all those external stimuli meant that her brain started to “shut down”. She immediately started having a panic attack, accompanied by a loss of eyesight and extreme physical pain in her body.

“And then you have to make decisions”, Indigo added “Is it something that I prioritize in life? Is it something that I do three classes of and then take weeks to recover?”

But the point is to accept “that you’re not losing the past” by giving up the things you once loved to do or the lifestyle you used to have. “The past is still there, but it’s not something (you) can build forward with.”, said Indigo.  It is, indeed, a matter of accepting that the situation “can be sour but by accepting it you can make changes and develop”.

The Whirl

Invisible Illness

“This drawing shows the whirl my brain turned into after suffering a brain haemorrhage. Some days I get sucked in through extreme noise sensitivity, exhaustion, and physical pains while other days I can climb out and live life the way I planned. The point is, to maybe do a little less or plan carefully, in order to prevent over-stimulation and exhaustion and “make living the life I want to live possible.”

While the physical affects the stroke has had on her body still come up through Indigo’s subconscious way of drawing. “It is no longer something that triggers a lot of emotion”. It is the mental experience of having an invisible illness that does.

Two years after having experienced the brain haemorrhage, Indigo returned to her internship at the Stomach and Intestine ward. There, something really interesting started to happen. While people obviously knew that indigo had gone through a stroke, “they started to say that they didn’t notice”.

“Which might be a blessing”, she explained “because mentally and physically I can do a whole lot”. But then there is the curse part…

In June 2018, a couple of weeks after Indigo was released from the rehabilitation centre, she went to the beach with a friend of hers at the time. The beach, just like many other crowded touristy places, has a lot of loud sounds. All the stimuli meant that Indigo’s brain started to become over-stimulated. She felt “sick and anxious and just wanted to go home”. The friend replied: “we just got here, can you try to do your best a bit more?”. 

“I was very upset because of the lack of will to listen and to try to understand and help me through”, she elaborated “Eventually I cut off the friendship.”

 And that is the curse. It is the sensitivity of her nerves and its mental and physical effects on her body that “people do not see”. Or, sometimes, do not even try to. “It is when you take a step back”, Indigo added, “that people tend to start saying things along the lines of “but we didn’t think that it would be a problem”, “or can you just try harder”, “or don’t act like a child ”.

This drawing is the face off between what is really inside(black) and what is shown on the outside (silver). Keeping things shiny is and was a way of coping, but it developed an imaginable stare-off between feelings and looks. Almost like looking in the mirror when the reflection doesn’t correspond with you as a person. “

“It would be helpful if society started to realise that 1) people with invisible illnesses exist 2) an invisible disability is a real disability”, explained Indigo.

It is one thing for a survivor to accept and adapt to the fact that “their lemons might be sour”, but without those around them putting the effort in to understand and to accommodate to the fact that they might have different needs and ways of living, “things will just keep getting harder”.

Praying through a Pandemic

This is what Leiden University student Farah replied to us when we reached out to her to ask whether she could share a bit about her religion with us. Faith is often seen as something very personal, but after asking around we found that most people are actually quite willing to talk about it if you approach them respectfully.

The pandemic has had an immense impact on all aspects of life. Religion, of course, is not an exception. With the celebration of Eid on May 13th, the holy month in Islam, Ramadan, has just come to an end. How did the one million Muslims in the Netherlands feel while practicing their religion during these unusual times?

To see how the pandemic affects the Islamic faith, we are first going back to the basics. The basic norms in the Islamic faith are the five pillars, which range from Shahada, acknowledging that Allah is the only god, to the Hajj: a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia. They all have been affected by Covid-19 in their own ways, our interviewees explain.

Shahada

A picture of the Quran, the holy script of Islam.

The first pillar is Shahada, or the profession of faith. By reciting the creed “There is no God but God and Muhammad is the Messenger of God,” Muslims express their full commitment to Allah and the religion.

Obaida considers it the most important pillar. “I think it’s the essence of Islam,” he says. “The rest of the pillars fall under it.”

Muslims believe God created the universe and continues to actively govern its affairs. This would mean that the emergence of the virus is an active creation of God. Some believe that the coronavirus was created by God to chastise humanity for consumerism, destruction of the environment and personal excesses

An interesting parallel can be made to Noah and the ark. This would mean that fighting the pandemic is futile and people should rely on God to protect the worthy and righteous, or in other terms, tawakkul. Especially members of the older generations believe vaccinations and wearing masks are unnecessary since God decides what their fate will be regardless.

Salem, a 75-year old Tunisian Muslim living in The Netherlands, also refuses to get vaccinated for this reason. When asked whether he is scared of the virus, he tells us that “the only one he fears is God.”

However, a large majority of Muslims counter this inevitable approach by arguing that while the emergence of the virus was not in human control, the spread of disease certainly is. They use this argument to encourage others to wear masks and vaccinate themselves

“We take every measure we can possibly take, and then we trust in God”

Obaida tells us about a particular story in the Quran, the holy book in Islam, where prophet Muhammad asks a man “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The man answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”“We don’t leave our house open.” Obaida adds. “We don’t leave our cars open, no, we take every measure we can possibly take and then we trust in God.”

Salat

The second pillar in Islam is Salat or the duty of praying five times a day. Farah tells us that praying gives her comfort when she has no one to run to. The location of the prayer does not matter much to her. “I have only visited a mosque in The Hague once  because it is really far away,” she explains. “I usually only pray in my room.” 

Women praying in the Mescidi Aksa mosque, during the lockdown.

Others, like Obaida, do prefer to visit a place of worship. “The last time I visited a mosque was yesterday, actually,” he says. He went with a friend who was going through some personal problems. “By looking at the psychology in the Quran we found some teachings that we could use in our own lives and I think that’s very beautiful.”

Mosques around the Netherlands have taken measures to contain the spread of the virus. The Mescidi Aksa mosque in The Hague now requires people to wear masks, keep 1.5 meter distance, and do the ritual cleansing at home. Only a limited number of people are allowed to come inside the building during Friday prayers, which Obaida explains as the Islamic equivalent of Christian Sunday masses.

Obaida also points out that his praying experience has changed because of the pandemic. “It is ethical in a prayer to stand next to each other, as a symbol of brotherhood, but with the corona measures, we can’t do that anymore,” he shares.  “But the spiritual feeling is still there.”

Listen to a Podcast on Praying during Covid

Zakat

Zakat is the third pillar of Islam, meaning a charitable act to those in need.  According to the Islamic law, Muslims who meet the necessary criteria of wealth are obliged to donate a fixed portion of their income. Zakat creates a bond and kinship in the Islamic community since it creates an opportunity of “giving” as well as interacting with people from different social classes.

Visiting the sick is also considered a good deed in Islam. In the case of COVID-19, such visits are not possible. Of course, checking up on those who are sick with phone calls, messages and social media is still possible and strongly encouraged.

Obaida admits that the pandemic took away the opportunity to give something to the needy physically. Yet, as a young student living in the digital era, Obaida does not see that the pandemic has largely affected zakat. “We can donate to homeless shelters and other organizations online”. During the pandemic, new ways have been found to collect and distribute zakat. Examples of these include the launch of the Zakat app, and Government COVID-19 relief campaigns. A majority of zakat administrations have also noticed an increase in donations. 

Listen to a Podcast on Zakat

Sawm

Sawm, or fasting, takes place during Ramadan. Ramadan is in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, as well as the month that the Quran was disclosed to the Islamic prophet Muhammad. 

Listen to a Podcast on Fasting during the Pandemic

Ramadan lasts for 30 days. Eid al-Fitr, the Festival of Breaking the Fast, which is celebrated by Muslims across the world, marks the end of the month-long dawn-to-sunset fasting. Under the pandemic, Muslims have experienced Ramadan two times. The first took place between April 24th 2020 and May 23rd 2020. This year, Ramadan started on April 12th and ended on May 13th. 

“My family is here so I have that benefit, but I do imagine it being hard for those who don’t” 

Muslims often break the fast with their extended family and friends. Muslims have relatively large families. The Quran inspires Muslims to be generous to kin and treat the elderly with compassion. Not following this order is a major sin. Many Muslims feel conflicted about the need to apply social distancing on one hand and the need to be close to family and relatives for comfort and support on the other.  

With the curfew in place for half of Ramadan and the maximum of one visitor per family, Muslims, like everyone else, are not allowed to visit extended family anymore. This promotes a strong moral dilemma to some. “It’s either alone or with the family,” Obaida explains. “My family is here so I have that benefit, but I do imagine it being hard for those who don’t.” 

Listen to Obaida talk more about his journey while fasting!

Salem knows what that is like. “It is lonely,” he tells us about Ramadan this year. He usually visits his family in Tunisia, but couldn’t now because of the traveling restrictions. Farah recognizes that. Being an international student, she does not have her family around during Ramadan. “That’s what I really miss, actually” she tells us. “I’m actually doing the fasting with a friend of mine, so that’s nice, but last year was really tough because I was doing it alone.”

Hajj

Hajj is an annual Islamic pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the holiest city for Muslims. It must be carried out at least once in a lifetime by all Muslims. A journey to the Kaaba, or house of God must be made in order to show Islamic solidarity and homage to Allah. There is a specific time frame for Hajj and this year it begins on the 17th of july and ends the 22nd.

Listen to a Podcast on the Islamic Pilgrimage during the Pandemic

The Hajj pilgrimage wasn’t  possible for a majority of the Muslim population this year due to the Covid outbreak. Since adults complete the journey mostly at a later stage in life, this deeply affected the elderly Islamic community. Last year, Saudi Arabia only allowed those living in the state to visit Mecca, thus excluding Muslims living abroad. Now of course, everyone was limited in their travelling, religious or not. 

With the strict rules for this year’s Hajj, such as mandatory quarantine and vaccinations, a lot of Muslims will miss out on this journey once again.

Obaida, who experienced a smaller Hajj, called Umrah, tells us that Muslims were very scared in the beginning of the pandemic. Like Hajj, Umrah also includes a journey to Kaaba, yet unlike Hajj, it can be performed throughout the year. “People were shocked at seeing the empty Kaaba, without people. They didn’t know what was happening.” Now he feels that there is a feeling in the Muslim community that the situation will be better.

Listen to Obaida’s experience with pilgrimages during Covid times

Touching upon the recent debate on Mecca only allowing those who have received the vaccination in, he believes that it will cause more Muslims to get vaccinated. “Otherwise people cannot go on pilgrimage.” 

Some Muslim communities refuse to get vaccinated since there is pork gelatin in the vaccin. Obaida looks at this differently. “In Islam, the consumption of pork is prohibited. I personally think injection and consumption is different.”

The Authors

All three of us are currently completing our bachelors at Leiden University! We all set out on this project not knowing much about both the Islamic faith and the impact of COVID-19 on faith perception, but found ourselves ultimately inspired throughout the journey. In listening to our friends and strangers alike sharing their experiences with faith and the pandemic, we aimed to frame this article in a way that would showcase all of the beautiful aspects of this religion not often known to those outside of it. At the same time, we wanted to share knowledge on an impact of the pandemic that is also not known to those that do not practice Islam.

Drawing the Line

Giada walks down the street outside an elementary school on a Saturday afternoon to a friend’s house. The air is filled with children’s laughter. She notices a man with a dog standing, staring, willing her to make eye contact. She speeds up a little as she passes him. She keeps her head down, avoiding eye contact; she’s done this plenty of times before.

Her heart sinks when her usual tactics fail. He opens his mouth and utters a sentence which she’ll struggle to forget. “You’re really hot,” he yells at her, “maybe you could use that lovely mouth of yours to blow me.” She freezes.

This is catcalling.

Meet the women sharing their stories

What this man said to Giada falls under the umbrella of experiences termed ‘catcalling’—words yelled at women that cross into their personal space. But is what happened to Giada the same as being whistled at from a car?

Women around the world experience this problem on a daily basis. Everyday when Cat works out, should she have to change from her gym clothes into something more modest to walk home? Should Izzy have to deal with two men breathing down her neck as she leaves the movie theatre? Should Sophie have to wonder to herself when she wears something tight if she “could have done things differently?” Should Giada have to hear what she heard from that man while walking in front of an elementary school? The answer is clearly no; but even worse, this is something now normal to her.

Across the board from Cat to Giada, each woman’s story is unique yet ubiquitous. It begins as a disruption to their daily lives, but as time goes on and each call becomes background, the unusual becomes another expectation.

ezgif.com-video-to-gif
Giada wearing the outfit she was catcalled in: she was dressed the same as any other day.

Before going out, women have to prepare themselves to be catcalled. This happens so often that they have a go-to strategy. Some women cover themselves up with big jackets, while others carry pepper spray in their purse. However, most of the women we spoke to chose not to do anything at all.

“I’m more prepared for it,” Cat explained, “but I don’t change anything I’m doing because that’s ridiculous.” In doing so, Cat doesn’t allow catcallers to hold so much power over her that she has to take time out of her day to change her clothes. Giada, on the other hand, actively takes precautions to keep herself safe.

If I’m walking home, I don’t wear heels because I can’t run in heels… and I know I might have to.”

Giada Malugani

Looking at what Cat, Izzy, Giada and Sophie were wearing shows that outfit choice does not make a difference. Whether it’s gym clothing, heavy winter gear, or jeans and a sweater, catcalling occurs regardless.

This behaviour has become normalised. As Sophie pointed out, “every other girl I know has gone through it,” but it’s not until you stop to think about it that you realise it’s disgusting. This is stopping us from questioning where to draw the line between catcalling and sexual harassment.

I don’t really think about it anymore. It’s been happening since I was like 13.”

Izzy Bannenberg

Just because something is normal does not mean it is any less stressful, frightening, or problematic. What these four women go through speaks to similar narratives across the world. Under the umbrella of catcalling, things such as harassment, and possibly even worse, go by unnoticed on a day to day basis but get treated as dirt on the shoulder.

Women are forced to accept that they will be called out on the street by strangers, often regardless of what they do to prevent it. When ignoring it is no longer an option, stories like Giada’s are what end up lingering.

Giada was simply walking in a residential neighbourhood where children were nearby laughing and playing. Is her story still to be seen as something easily brushable; where do we draw the line?


Want to see our process? Check out our bloopers video!

Farming in 2019 & Beyond

In light of the recent farmer protests in the Netherlands, this story delves deeper into the person behind the protester, and challenges of farming now and in the future.

The protests

On the first of October of this year, a remarkable sight could be witnessed. Rows upon rows of tractors and other farm vehicles are making their way towards the country’s political center. Farmers from all over the Netherlands have left their barns in the early morning of October 1st to go and protest on the Malieveld in the Hague. The city’s mayor had given permission for a maximum of 75 tractors to position themselves on the field- in the end, there turned out to be at least 2200. The first planned farmer protest was a big success, and polls tell us a majority of 73% of Dutch citizens responded to feel sympathetic towards the farmers.

However, only two weeks later, protests take a different turn: during actions at province houses across the Netherlands, the situation gets violent in Groningen. A tractor crashes itself into the monumental door of the building. Several people get hurt in an uproar between farmers and policemen. Elsewhere, fences get run over. Public sympathy decreases while farmers’ discontentment is still on the rise. A third protest takes place a few days after this, again in the Hague. Foregoing their designated protesting spot, the farmers break through the barricades to reach the Malieveld once again. Additionally, tractors are driven into the city center, occupying important crossroads and taking a tour through some of the pedestrian-only shopping streets. Whether or not their original goal, the farmers have succeeded in one thing for certain: making sure the whole country knows they’re there, and they will not go down without a bang.

Tractors on the move during the farmer protests. By Geert van Duinen.
Hans.

Hans

Hans van Beusekom is a former dairy farmer in Driel, a tiny town in the Netherlands. He is also regional manager of the organisation for agri- and horticulture, the Landbouw en Tuinbouw Organisatie (LTO). I have met up with him on his farm to discuss these recent protests, and get a better insight of what farming is really like here in the Netherlands.

Why protest?

Leaving farming

The dairy farm Hans works on has been in the family for several generations. Nowadays it is just him, one employee and his elderly mother working there. Together they take care of the cows, the milking and the other odd jobs around the farm, though not for much longer. Hans tells me that by the end of the year, he will have stopped dairy farming.

His children are all in school or university, and do not have an interest in taking over the farm. It’s how it often goes nowadays, he tells me: taking over the family business, is not business as usual anymore.

Though this is one reason for him to move away from farming, there are other motivations too. Him stopping might be a symptom of a bigger issue, one that also played a role in the farmer protests.

The family business.
Moving on
The cows wear a collar that is connected to an app, telling the farmer when cows are drafty, hungry or ill.

Rules of the game

Farming in the Netherlands is thus heavily influenced by a set of regulations. To better understand these, it is good to know where they came from.

After World War II and the Hunger Winter in the Netherlands, politicians vowed for there to never be hunger again. To fulfill this, food production all over Europe grew very quickly. This eventually lead to a massive surplus of, for example, dairy products. To mitigate this, in 1984 the milk quota was established: farmers now had to pay for the rights to produce a certain amount of milk.

Due to globalization and a more global economy, it became more attractive to get rid of the milk quota again, to be able to compete better on non-European markets. Therefore, in 2015, the milk quota was officially abolished.

However, not even a year later, a new phosphate quota was brought to life, to lower the amounts of phosphate in our atmosphere, harmful to both people as well as the environment. Instead of having to pay to be allowed to milk, farmers now had to pay to be allowed to own a certain amount of cows.

One cow produces around 45 kilograms of phosphate throughout their life. At the height of the quote, farmers had to pay €275 euros per kilogram of phosphate: that’s already a whopping €12.375, just to own 1 cow.

Then there’s also the phosphate reduction, which forced all farmers to get rid of a percentage of the cows on their land.
Per square kilometer of land, farmers are allowed to produce a certain amount of phosphate. When this number was lowered, especially farmers with smaller farms were being duped, having to give up part of their livestock.

Over the years, political inference has moved its interest from milk, to phosphate, to where we are now: nitrogen. And these are not the only rules that make farming difficult.

Latent space
The price of milk

The future

Farming has thus changed a lot over the years, with regulations constantly changing and prices dropping. Farmers now have to work much harder to earn less money than they did just 50 years ago.

Hans describes it like this: imagine you have a book of rules, that tells you how to keep a cow. When you start, the book is maybe a few pages thick. Then, maybe 10 years later, that same book now contains over a 1000 pages. That does not exactly make it attractive for new farmers to start, for children to take over from their parents, or for farmers to continue their work: more and more farmers, like Hans, consider stopping.

No farmers, no food?
Future problems

Nitrogen crisis or not, it is clear the future is uncertain for farmers. Whether because of the fast changing rules, the low gain against a high cost, or the issue of finding successors, it is becoming harder and harder to farm, and therefore a less attractive option for many.

What that will mean for the rest of us, time can only tell. One thing is for sure: we all need to eat… and without farmers, we can’t.

When Disaster Strikes

Vega is a young activist from Sweden. She is on a gap year and has a passion for arts and bold fashion statements. She has joined the Extinction Rebellion (XR) arts circle in The Hague, where she can help to design artistic protests and beautiful banners, doing her part for the acts of civil disobedience that characterise the XR movement.

Her feelings reflect the quiet unease bubbling away under the surface of society. A horror that older generations will not have to face, but that the young cannot escape. As the media begins to move from terms such as ‘climate change’ to ‘climate crisis’, it is already too late to prevent tangible effects from being felt.

The feelings of living with the knowledge that it is coming has a name: eco-anxiety.

“When I was perhaps 12, or 13, is when I first started to get to get to know about the climate crisis, […] I just felt very stressed and very anxious about it” Vega, 16

According to the American Psychological Association, gradual, long-term changes in climate can surface a number of different emotions, including fear, anger, feelings of powerlessness or exhaustion. Eco-anxiety is expressed through feelings of loss, helplessness and frustration due to [one’s] inability to feel like they are making a difference in stopping climate change.

The term itself was coined in 2011, too recently to make it into the DSM-5 the most recent edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders by the American Psychological Association.

trends
Google Trends for the search topic ‘Eco-Anxiety’ over the last 5 years.

Student psychologist, Mariya Shcherbinina, has encountered eco-anxiety increasingly in young people, usually under 30. It appears usually as a general phenomenon, rather than a psychological disorder, and often affects people who feel they have a sense of loss of control. Climate change, she says, cannot be fixed from a therapist’s office, but helping anxious people to regain a sense of control in other aspects of life can “reduce anxiety in relation to overarching things like the climate”.

One of the pieces of advice Mariya would advise for her young, educated clients is to limit their exposure to the daily devastating news about the climate if their anxiety is getting worse. “It’s not great to be reminded of it every single moment of your life, […] it’s impacting your mental health.”

Personal relationships and the way people/communities interact with each other can be affected by eco-anxiety. And yet, feelings of eco-anxiety are neither unfounded nor over-hyped by alarmist media.

Dr. Peter Houben, an assistant professor at Leiden University College, teaches Climate Change. According to him, climate change is not based on opinion, it’s about checking the facts of the measured data. The climate is changing faster than the natural cycles that were formed for the past 3 billion years.

We, humans, have adapted to live in a very small band of climate variability. The average global has increase by 1 degree (4 degrees in some areas) in the last 100 year. This moves our ecosystems and services we depend on (food production and water provision) out of a range where the natural functions have been adapted to each other. It will rearrange but the quantities and places where we sourced these resources will also change.

We will see changes in all aspects of our lives. Competition for essential resources will increase, which will lead to conflict. We already see early signs that could lead to this competition. For example in 2018, Central Europe experienced a 20-30% crop failure, which lead to a decrease in stockpiles. Consumers didn’t notice anything on the shelves but the stockpile decreased from 90 days to just 30.

If we are to try to achieve a more favourable climatic scenario for humanity, we must change our behaviour, which is an inherently difficult thing for us to do.

Institutions of higher education, for instance, have the role to educate and build on the body of incremental knowledge. Knowledge and information are different, often confused but knowledge allows for responsible decision-making.

“It’s not great to be reminded of it every single moment of your life, […] it’s impacting your mental health.” Mariya Shcherbinina, Student Life Councellor at LUC.

At a personal level, everyone can change their lifestyle to become more sustainable and reduce the burden of their contribution to the climate crisis. Dr. Peter says the climate crisis has affected almost every part of his daily life, mainly the choices he has to make. He chooses to go on regional or local holidays that can be reached by train or car, instead of embarking on a flight to a touristic destination. Food was another aspect that saw a lot of change in his life, the gained awareness of where food comes from and the processes taken to produce that product.

“I thought about running away from it all because of the feeling of being disconnected, but I decided to join the environmental rebels to cope with my feelings of despair.” Alkis Barbas

Not everyone will be willing to make such drastic changes to their life, especially when it comes to traveling. But changes can be taken to offset, to some extent, the carbon emissions produced by your next flight.

Growing concerns over the climate is one of the driving factors behind the recent explosion in numbers for activity against climate inaction. One of the most prominent of these, Extinction Rebellion, grew from nothing to over a million people in the space of only a year, sparking acts of civil disobedience around the world to pressure governments into action on the climate emergency.

Vega leading the Art Circle meeting.

Vega is a 16 year-old Swedish rebel. She moved to The Hague recently with her parents and is taking a gap year before going into university. Vega started her activism in Stockholm at the Fridays for Future and the school strikes, through which she heard about Extinction Rebellion, which she decided to dedicate her gap year to.

She decided to join XR mainly because of their civil disobedience agenda, which sets them apart from other influential environmental groups. “These organizations [WWF, GreenPeace…] have been active for so long and even though they have done many amazing things, the organizations that deal with civil disobedience have received more attention and reaction.”

“When you do stuff that forces people to pay attention to you, they will. If they have the choice of ignoring the climate crisis they will. Because it’s a hard truth to face because its very harsh on your mental health as well because you are standing in front of a mass extinction.”

There are many sacrifices Vega has made in order to reduce her environmental impact. Her activism resulted in lower grades when she was at school, which hindered her possibilities of joining her dream university. She no longer goes on holidays with her family because she refuses to fly. Some might consider these harsh changes but according to Vega, they have only made her happier.

Many people are able to find solace through taking action with groups like Extinction Rebellion. Rae, a university student activist and a member in the national logistics of Extinction Rebellion, weighed in for us on her own views about eco-anxiety.

“What I find hard about eco-anxiety sometimes is that people talk about it as though there’s no way to cure it…obviously, if you have genuine mental anxiety about things, there’s more difficult solutions, but I think the way to cure it is to actually have some action, like do something about it, you know, because then you feel like you’re making a difference.”

During an XR meeting, people are divided into different “circles” each with a specific role.
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As Still as a Statue

Thirty-five thousand people walked past K.K. Badhan (64) every opening day of the Hague Market. Badhan was almost always as still as a statue, hidden behind the dense shelves, standing in contrast with the vibrant atmosphere. 

Between two highly international neighbourhoods, Schilderswijk and Transvaal, houses The Hague Market (De Haagse Markt), an outdoor market claimed one of Europe’s largest. Over 500 stalls open every Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday inviting visitors in and out of The Hague, who look for a most reasonable rate, for an endless selection from any Hindustani spice to a USB-stick. In the middle of this melting pot welcoming people from all walks of life, is Badhan.  

STANDING AT A DESK 9 TO 5

On the third walkway near the center of the Haagse Market are three household appliances shops that belong to Badhan’s boss. Badhan has been taking charge of one of the three stalls for over a year now. In his shop, people can find a massive variety of household products situating among the shelves and hanging on the wall: cookware in one corner, beauty products the other, just right next to the bathroom appliances, etc. Old ladies push their trolly-bag on wheels around to find the right utensils. The little girl yanks off from her father’s hand to stop by at the sight of a doll at the very back of the shop. The stands can cater to the need of even the most selective visitors.  

Badhan stands remarkably behind his glass shelf where he places the cash box, as if he is the guardian of a citadel. His robust figure might scare off first comers, the ruby red turban and thick grey beard further overshadow his gaze.

Badhan rarely flashes a smile.

But once you get to know him, he can be one of the friendliest people in the market, who love small talks with passerby about any given topic, sandwiched among more his conversation with the customers regarding price inquiries. He talks with more liveliness than ever, from his pilgrimage to New Delhi every spring, to where to buy the cheapest items of clothing in Chinatown.

Standing from 9 to 5 is not an easy job. No chair is in sight in the condense space. The guardian of his citadel takes only one toilet break during the day when he quickly snatches something to chew along the way back. Badhan becomes evidently busier after his Pakistanian colleague quitted the job, whom he had been standing alongside for only less than a month. Badhan does not relent at the usual sight of colleagues who comes and goes. 

The busiest hours are usually from midday to 3 pm. Facing an endless flow of people queuing up to pay, the man barely stops for more than a minute. If it is not for the crowd, he then puts his entire focus constantly tracking every shelf to stock up running-out products.

In the other hours, however, he can be unimaginably calm and still. But it is not to underestimate the workload of this merchant in the busiest market in The Hague. When there is no customer in plain sight, his gaze never leaves the CCTV screen placing right in front of his glass stand. Nothing he hates more than petty thefts. He is no way quick enough to catch all the teenagers stealing small items from all corners of the large space Badhan cannot always oversee. Fortunately, the incident does not happen very often.  

His stand can be quiet, as quiet as himself. Badhan appears especially shy in stark contrast with the yelling merchants from the fish stalls or his neighbors blasting Turkish music from the amplifiers. Silent as he is, he speaks 8 languages, but all are “broken”, Badhan laughs off his unassuming achievement. Broken English and Dutch, but enough for him to express himself to the customers, with the assistance of a lot of hand gestures. 

“Everybody needs me.”, he replies as he swiftly rearranges the items misplaced by previous customers. Outside of the official operating hours of the market, including the evenings in Mon-Wed-Fri-Sat, Badhan operates his repair service. He basically handles anything people order him to, from the creaky bathroom’s door at a friend’s daughter’s house to the floor of his neighbor that needs laminating.   

WHEN THE SUN DIES DOWN

5pm. The irreconcilable contrast between the daylight scene of the market turned whoever passing by the market during its limelight shiver. Badhan’s stall and that of his boss were the latest to close down in the entire market.

Badhan finally could afford some rare minutes for small chit-chat with the other merchants. He could then put his guard down and truly smile with both his eyes. Badhan had been refusing to hold a full conversation during the busy hours. Then, he spoke with everything he could, his gaze, his hands and his whole body.

The linguistic talent indeed reflects his lifelong journey from India, to the Middle East, and now settling down in The Hague. Badhan traveled the globe after he received his Bachelor’s degree in Finance in Northern India. “Circumstances,” he again avoided a full remark. One thing was clear: the plight of corruption having taken place home drove him off, far. Seemingly, it was not that malpractice did not follow his footsteps. 

Badhan became more active than ever, he grew as red as his turban. The current shop was not where he worked when he first made an attempt to be a part of the marketlife. Before, he had applied for a clothing stall without any boss, located right around the corner of his current stall. The market’s administration process kept him waiting for months at a time and refused to give him a permit in the end. A similar process happened in his second attempt to open a children’s shoe shop. When he tried to operate as a van driver for the merchants in the market, he believed he was also bullied for the same reason. Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.” 

Badhan looked straight and intently into the past: “They stole my stall, then they stole my car, parts by parts.”

Badhan pointed his finger at the people “who sit all day at the office”. His hand gesture was unbelievably fast as with his raising pitch. The usual calm and serene Badhan did not flinch for a second and talked non-stop, as if he has to speak for himself and for other silenced merchants who had had to withstand the injustice for years. His scattered English was enough to convey to us his belief that the market administrators were taking advantage of his insufficient Dutch language to pick up on him, and made up reasons to disqualify him from signing a stall. And he was not the only one, but all other vendors who were immigrants were maltreated coming to getting permits and with the rates of their stands, comparing to the other white Dutch stallholders. 

NURTURING THE SPIRITUAL LIFE

Badhan took in another deep, unhesitant breath. 

He is, nevertheless, happy, despite the circumstances. He secures a weatherproofing stand and has no major dissension with his boss and other merchants.  He is able to keep himself busy and feed his family, and will retire in a few years. Most importantly, he is able to satisfy his spiritual living. We are just surviving, but not living, without a nurtured spiritual life, believed Badhan. Badhan has been praying every day since the day he could speak his native Hindi and visited his temple in Amsterdam every Sunday, a very rare day when he got a break. With his wife, Badhan went back to India every year to pay a visit to their priest. 

Badhan managed to give a peaceful smile in the end. There was nothing more peaceful than observing him biking into the utmost serene darkness, to his well-prepared dinner at home with his wife, awaiting.

The Personal Cost of Life in Authoritarian Hungary

as told by a political scientist and former resident

A growing trend of authoritarianism in certain Central and Eastern European countries has been quietly stirring, with Hungary notably rubbing shoulders with Turkish president Erdogan and Russian president Putin. Though it can be easy to forget, countries, even the strongest of them, are made of people, and the personal impacts of a government’s authoritarian turn are far from trivial for the people being governed.

To understand the personal impacts that Hungary’s authoritarian turn has on its residents, I spoke to Kristin Makszin, an assistant professor of political economy at Leiden University College The Hague. 

Kristin studied for her Master’s in Hungary, and started a family there, but realized through her political research that the country was headed in a direction that she was unwilling to support. Kristin found that the government increasingly interfered with her life, first by publicly smearing George Soros, a wealthy Hungarian who helped fund the Central European University where she worked, and then by dictating which areas of research the Scientific Institute, her other place of employment, could delve into.

Post WW2, Hungary was under Soviet rule until the 1956 revolution, which lead to an increased welfare state and liberalising reforms.  After the fall of the Iron Curtain, the transition to democracy began, and talks of EU accession made Hungary a promising case for post-communist democratisation. After joining the EU, however, the country took an authoritarian turn that continues today.

Lessons from life in Hungary

Although she was eager to tell me about her research in the region, I also wanted to hear about her personal experiences there. I asked her about some lessons she learned from life in Hungary. 

Kristin had planned to settle in Hungary after marrying a Hungarian and having children there. She worked two jobs, was interested in her research and the research community, and spoke Hungarian. Although she was happy to settle in the small town outside of Budapest where her family lived, push factors kept piling up until the family decided to leave Hungary. To understand what drove that decision, I asked her why she left.

Why leave Hungary?

If I really want to be blunt, it was the government

The Central European University (CEU), where Kristin taught and did her PhD, was founded and funded by George Soros, a highly controversial figure in Hungarian politics. He was born in Hungary but left at 17, and went on to become a global philanthropist. Soros funded the Open Society Foundation, which supports the universal fight for freedom of expression, accountable government, and societal promotion of justice and equality. 

Soros’ organisations are often attacked by less-than-democratic governments, and when Kristin started to notice that the CEU was being threatened by the Hungarian government, it hit her hard. “That did hit me personally, because I know it from the inside. I know it’s not some liberal Trojan Horse with Soros hiding behind it. There’s really free academic research going on there” she said, and continued “when that started becoming the major point of attack, it did affect me”. 

The impact of the Hungarian government’s campaign against Soros leaked into Kristin’s professional and personal life, even affecting her children.

Impact of Hungary’s anti-Soros sentiment
Tracing the start of democratic backsliding in Central and Eastern Europe

Kristin rejects the ideas that Hungary’s authoritarian turn was inevitable, and that a wave of populism is sweeping the world. She doesn’t buy the international contagion argument, but acknowledges that the pattern of changes in the Central and Eastern European (CEE) region must be indicative of something going on. She offers her own explanation of what sparked these changes in CEE democracy.

In contrast to her current views, Kristin was actually hopeful about Hungary’s democratic future in the early 2010’s, but soon realized that the country was on a downward trajectory away from democracy. Listen below to hear her talk about the steps Hungary took towards authoritarianism. 

Hungary’s authoritarian turn

Much of the public fear and anxiety brewing over Hungary’s authoritarian turn stems from concern over Russia’s influence in the region. 

Anti-Erdogan protest in Budapest, November 2019
Influence of Russia

The idea that EU members like Hungary could be taking notes from, or even collaborating with, authoritarian powerhouses like Russia and Turkey haunts many proponents of the EU. To hear an informed opinion on the topic, I turned to Kristin.

With clear evidence of Hungary’s authoritarian turn, the role of the EU becomes questionable. From Kristin’s perspective, the EU becomes less influential over its members as it enlarges. “I think that by trying to overreach what was feasible, that put some cracks in the EU, so I’m not super optimistic about the EU as an institution” she said. 

In the audio file below, you can hear Kristin talk about the future of the EU, considering the growing power of the authoritarian-turning member states.

Future of the European Union

Though Kristin does not believe that Hungary’s authoritarian trend spells the inevitable collapse of European democracy, she does warn that “if Hungary is the future of the EU, I’m not sure that’s an EU we want around”.

A Method to the Madness

It’s Wednesday evening, and you’ve just left work to pick up a few groceries for tonight and the coming days. You don’t have a list, just an idea of what you want to feed yourself or your family and the basic nutrition you should be getting. You walk into your local Albert Heijn and join the seemingly chaotic mass of nightly shoppers. You may think your shopping patterns are practically random, but contrary to popular belief, there is a method to the madness.

The food industry devotes countless hours and resources to manufacturing the ideal supermarket structure to maximize shoppers’ purchases. This is the side of shopping that consumers rarely think of, and the one that grocery store employees focus on. 

One of these employees who operates in the unnoticed realm of strategic shopping is Anton Pluis, a 21 year-old team leader at Albert Heijn who is pictured here. He tells me about the different strategies Albert Heijn uses to guide shoppers’ product choices.

“The positioning of products is really important and a lot of money goes to that”, Anton reveals, “Brands can pay for placements, for example Coca-Cola pays a lot of money to be placed between the frozen foods like pizza and bitterballen, stuff for a party. They pay quite a lot of money for that space because it does increase sales.”

While it may seem trivial to shoppers, product positioning in stores is significant to companies like Coca-Cola.

Even on the box it says the sales are 5 times higher if you put it at the chips aisle than the soda aisle, there’s a real science behind it, it is really thought out.”

Of course, there is more to the story of supermarket food choices than simple store strategies. Nutrition is essential for a healthy life, and since stores can guide shoppers’ choices, I wanted to hear about how shoppers’ food choices affect their nutrition and health.

To shed some light on the nutritional side of the story, I interviewed Bernadette Keogh, a nutritional therapist, in her local Albert Heijn. Click the audio file below to hear her thoughts on the secret to mindful eating: moderation.

Listen: Bernadette on Moderation

Attentive customers may notice that there is even a uniform store layout for all Albert Heijns: shoppers always enter into the fresh produce, then go to the pre-cut vegetables and salads, then the meat and fish, and then the bread. After this comes the dairy section, and then the paths with aisles of food items like cereals, sauces and chips, then the frozen section and finally, closer to the registers, are non-food products such as cleaning supplies.

Again, this layout could be perceived as unimportant, but Anton admits that “beginning with fresh products brings shoppers in the mood to buy, especially the smell of the bread, it makes you hungry and makes you want to buy more stuff.”

Anton reveals another measure employed by Albert Heijn to maximize profit: using your eyes against you. Stores know which products are the most popular and “We put those at the bottom”, Anton says, “then you have another point at eye level that you can influence, so you can put a product that is more expensive or something that you have too much stock of.”

The trick of us putting products in specific places is basically just the quickest way for people who are shopping who don’t care and just buy what is in the discount.

Though no harm is meant by this, these simple methods often result in a benefit for the store, at the cost of the wallet of the inattentive customer. Of course this is expected, and Anton states the obvious fact that stores’ first and foremost priority will always be making money,and I think that’s more than fair.”

Shoppers’ wallets are not the only thing affected by store strategies, their health can also be compromised. Bernadette had some insights as to why food choices are so important, and even how diseases can be prevented by a healthy diet. Listen below to hear her talk about the effects of food choices on health.

Listen: Bernadette on Food and Health

Some strategies used by grocery stores are actually helping consumers make more informed choices, like these sugar indicators at Albert Heijn. They use a range of 3 groups (low, middle, and high) to quickly alert shoppers about the amount of sugar in their chosen products.

This is not only helping shoppers make more informed decisions, but also influencing the products companies sell in stores. Anton tells me “Companies, as soon as the indicators came, started offering alternative products in each range of the sugar indicator.”

However, nutritional therapist Bernadette is not convinced that these sugar indicators are enough to inform shoppers of just how healthy their choices are. Hear what she has to say about this Albert Heijn strategy by clicking the audio file below.

Listen: Bernadette on Sugar Indicators

Introducing these sugar indicators is a great step forward in helping consumers be more aware of the healthiness of their food choices, but customers can also find this information without the indicators.

Overall, Anton encapsulates it quite succinctly when he says “It’s a tool and its useful and its forcing brands to make less sweet items also, but it’s not an innovation, the information was already there.”

While grocery stores like Albert Heijn may employ the use of strategies like deliberate product positioning and calculated layouts to guide shoppers’ product choices, consumers could always access all the nutritional information by checking the labels themselves.

To get some insight into how the average shopper makes their food choices, I walked into my local Albert Heijn and asked some shoppers to answer a few questions about which influencing factors they notice the most.

The photo series below showcases some quotes shoppers gave me about their food choices along with pictures taken inside Albert Heijn.

So the next time you’re on your way home and rush in to join the evening crowd at your local grocery store, see if you catch yourself being drawn to a flashy label at just the right eye level, or notice when you’re buying chips that, hey that coke right next to it might be nice too.

If it’s too overwhelming to think about all those store strategies and unconscious preferences, click below to hear some simple tips from Bernadette to help keep your food choices in line with your health goals.

Listen: Bernadette on Tips for Shoppers

One food choice has been made

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Credits: Donald Trung 2018

Humans, Not Avatars

Let me tell you about a moment of clarity I had very recently. 

I was pushing through the packed halls of my university, just trying to make it to my next class of the day in one piece. Suddenly, I bumped into a girl I had never talked to before, yet still recognized by name: Sara Kemppainen, Class of 2020. Despite never having interacted with her in person, the immediate link my mind drew upon seeing her was successful, untouchable, daunting. I quickly ducked my head and mumbled a brief “sorry”, and this could have been where the moment ended. But for whatever reason her own apologetic smile stayed with me and abruptly I realized: I had never once talked to Sara, yet had still made up my mind about her in a split second. But more importantly, I had made my judgement based entirely on what I had seen of her online, on her social media accounts. 

Our online personas are caricatures of who we are, yet being confronted with perfect, glamorous lives constantly makes us feel pressure to become our avatars in every aspect of our own lives as well. This is a reminder that we all have the same insecurities, and that even those who seem polished and professional online, are much more than their online accounts.

I too had had an interaction with an online avatar, not a human being. But I was curious to see who the latter was.

To me, Sara Kemppainen is young, Finnish and utterly committed to changing the world.

A first glance at her Instagram account shows she is wildly intimidating. An honors student at Leiden University College in The Netherlands, a fitness enthusiast, the founder and chair of her own association “WIL,” a hand-picked representative at the 2019 G(irls)20 Summit in Tokyo and an intern at a humanitarian tech company. 

In other words: passionate, committed, seemingly unstoppable. And a calculated image meant for outsiders.

When she first opens her door, letting me step into her one-room apartment, it is everything I expected and more. The mood, the setting, the atmosphere feels as if nose-diving directly into a real-life Valencia filter. Every item seems to have an artistic purpose, be it the tulips on her dining table, the oriental carpet covering the floor, or the two patterned dresses hanging against the wall. 

But Sara herself, the mastermind behind the image, is so much more than the cool and professional young woman I had originally anticipated.

She looks relaxed, at ease, as she goes effortlessly through the motions of making avocado on toast, granola and Greek yogurt while chatting aimlessly about this and that. She’s excited to talk to me, she says. Social media is something she thinks about a lot.

Sara, I realize throughout speaking with her, is incredibly aware of the benefits and the pitfalls of social media platforms. For her, it began after returning to Finland from a two-year stay at an international boarding school in Italy. The student community there had fostered wonderful connections, the Italian internet access less so, and thus social media had never played a role in her life. After all, everyone she had wanted to share the details of her life with at that time was constantly around her. Upon moving back to her home country however, things changed.

“Suddenly everyone had social media accounts, and then I kind of got lumped into it too,” Sara recalls, a thoughtful look in her eyes. 

She enjoyed it at first, she explains. “Sometimes I miss the early Instagram days. In the beginning it was a lot more about visually representing life. It didn’t have to be accurate, or include everything you do. It was just whatever I felt like posting that day.”

How much do I include? Am I being annoying? Am I putting too much, too little of myself out there? For a while, these were questions regularly at the forefront of Sara’s mind. 

And not just of Sara’s, but of all of ours’. 

To be active on Instagram today means to learn how to exist in multiple realities at the same time. We are constantly both within our experiences and outside of them. Being in the moment, while at the same time observing it, to assess whether or not it’s worth sharing with others. In a way this has made us publishers: always trying to find unique stories to tell and permanently aware of what the competition is trying to sell. 

But this obsession with our online image, that carefully crafted personal brand we’re trying to communicate to the world, has skewed our perception of ourselves and others. We constantly feel the pressure to be our online avatar in every aspect of our lives, and when we fail to live up to it despite knowing this to be unrealistic, we take it out on ourselves.

We haven’t just lowered the walls between public and private. We’ve taken a wrecking ball and flattened those barriers, edited out any form of messiness left, and have accepted that to keep up the image we want others to see, we need to live a life of constant self-surveillance.

“If there was something I should have posted about, it would have been that trip,” she smiles, nostalgia evident in her tone. “But I lost all my pictures.” 

The series of unfortunate mishaps – a precariously placed water bottle next to her laptop, a push and a shove leading to a phone on the floor – ended up being a blessing in disguise however. “Even the idea of going through all those pictures, choosing and picking and editing. As much as it can be fun, it’s also a huge amount of pressure and work,” she explains. “I know what I went through. I don’t need those pictures to remind me.”

Since then, Sara’s perspective on social media platforms has shifted. Instead of wanting to paint the perfect image of herself, today she sees her Instagram account as a tool to keep her friends all around the world updated about her life. In a way, her profile is her modern-day diary; something to turn to when feeling the need to trace back memories and be grateful for the opportunities and experiences she has had.

Nevertheless, she knows that her profile does not accurately reflect her as a person. And it never can. “You’re always leaving a lot behind, because you’re not taking pictures of the times that are hard. And even if you are, you are still picking and choosing and modifying the way in which you portray your life.”

Instead, her Instagram account is a collection of moments, all adding up to the image of the person she aspires to be, that she likes and appreciates, and that she wants to make other people aware of. 

“Comparisons on social media are exhausting. Someone will always look a bit further ahead than you are, a bit more organized, like they’re having a bit more fun,” Sara sighs. This can motivate, but it can also merely make you feel lost.

“Sometimes it feels like you need to represent all aspects of your life, and that shouldn’t be necessary,” she says. To her, it’s a question of intimacy, and she herself is in control of what audience, strangers or friends, she wants to share that with.

“If there’s one place in the world, Instagram is the one you can make what you want it to be,” Sara tells me. And she’s right. By double-tapping the posts we do, we choose the kinds of posts that are promoted to us.

The algorithm does not need to control us. We can control the algorithm.

When I ask Sara to take a picture of herself as she would for her Instagram account, she laughs before agreeing. I watch as she tests first this angle, then that one, as she moves from one spot of the room to another with better lighting. “This is a little confronting,” she admits as she goes through her photo editing process with practiced ease. “It’s kind of embarrassing how natural this feels.”

More than an hour has passed and my mug of tea is empty. But before I leave I capture my own image of her.

Sara Kemppainen is young, Finnish, and utterly committed to changing the world. 

But she is so much more than just her Instagram account.