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Elin R. Evensen
Hobby photographer from Norway.
Hobby photographer from Norway.

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Sunset at Barcode, Oslo, Norway.

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The Philippine Diaries: STILL CHILDREN
I haven't posted in a while because I've been in the valley with no reception and no internet. But that doesn't mean I haven't written.

Here is one; written the night before the funeral. Such a heartbreaking night.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 6
I tried to let the valley fill me as it has done so many times before. It was always such an extreme contrast to the city; infinitely dark at night and quiet. I tilted my head backwards and looked up the starriest sky I had seen in half a year (which was last time I visited a remote area in the Philippines). I focused my other senses on how the moped felt beneath me; its engine roaring and vibrating, the bike bumping up and down as we rode down the road of broken concrete, rocks, sand and dirt. The smell of smoke from nearby fires filled the air, before the familiar smell of corn on ember found its way up my nostrils and took me back in time to when I was 4 years old and ran around in my grandfather's garden while the adults were cooking on the stove outside.

As we drove on, further away from people, grasshoppers and geckos sang lullabies in the otherwise dark and quiet valley (except for the sound of our mopeds).

I tried holding on to the nostalgic sensation of coming home - or to a place I once perceived as home; but the closer we got, the more anxious I became. I wasn't worried about seeing my lolo (grandfather) again. In fact, that would be nice. I was worried about not seeing him; of seeing his body but now seeing him.

My worries were not worries for nothing. My predictions came true.

I spent the following days leading up to his funeral, tip-toeing around his open coffin; sometimes in nothing but a towel as I had to pass the coffin to get to the shower or go to the room after my shower.

The first day, I deliberately avoided looking into it. My eyes averted every time I was close, making sure I didn't even accidentally glance upon him. I write 'him', but I shamefully admit I have, upon several occasions, referred to him as "it" while speaking to my aunt after I first looked into the coffin.

To me, it wasn't him. Draining a body of blood and then pumping lots of chemicals into it, before covering it in ointment to slow down the process of rotting and thereby smelling - does great things to a body.

He was, in many ways, much healthier looking. His eyes didn't disappear into his eyes socket due to being severely thin. Even more so, his eyes were closed. (My grandfather, even when sleeping, never closes his eyes fully. I have the same problem.) His mouth wasn't wide open with his bottom jaw far back like it used to be; his tongue wasn't visible. They had glued his lips shut. I reckon they did the same with his eyes. His face was covered in make-up to give him a more healthy and natural colour. To me, however, the cosmetic changes made it worse.

I have always believed my lolo to be incredibly handsome; with his tall frame (for a Filipino man), black hair, blue eyes and a nose that makes most Filipinos jealous (European bridge of the nose). Even during his worst days of cancer, I was convinced he was still the most handsome man I had met. Altering his appearances became then, to me, almost an offence. They had taken the only thing I had left of my grandfather and changed it. Only this time, he wouldn't be able to change back to himself.

I have still not spoken to him in that coffin; never spent hours looking at him like other people have done.

To me, even my grandfather's body is gone. The only times I have looked have been when comforting my lola (grandmother) when she has silently wept in front of him; or to face the realisation - to ensure I never repress or dull the pain by dodging reality. I face him to feel the loss.

My goodbyes have, however, already been said; way back in the hospital - whispered cowardly into a sleeping man's ear with the belief that I'd see him again in the morning. That moment and the hours that follow are filled with so much regret. No coffin, body or wake can erase that. No coffin, body or wake can give me a second chance to say goodbye.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 5
And so the final chapter has been written. Lolo, your book is now completed.

You should be proud. It is a beautiful book of love and family; of kindness and understanding. It is a book that will be re-read countless times by your wife, your brothers and sister, your children, grandchildren and other loved ones.

I am so proud to have had a lolo like you. I miss you and love you very much.

My heart goes out to all his loved ones. To my aunts and uncles who have been endlessly supportive and loving. To my grandmother, who hadn't seen him since he was admitted to hospital (due to distance and health) and was on her way to the hospital - on a bus less than 1,5 hours away, excited and happy to be able to speak to him - when he died. To my cousins who, just as I, have lost the kindest and most caring grandfather there is.

My heart breaks because of the "what if"s and the "almost"s; because of the guilt of not feeling like you've done enough or been there enough.

There are so many more things I wanted to share with you all - to make his story and life last longer. (It truly is a remarkable story.) But this is all I can muster for now.

We are all so broken.

Tomorrow, we are travelling to Barili. It is a tradition in the Philippines to take your loved ones home after they have passed away; to let them spend their final days before the burial in their own home.

After 20 days in the hospital; hoping, praying and dreaming of leaving; lolo, we are finally taking you home. We are going home.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 4
Due to my asthma, I have (until recent years) had pneumonia 1-3 times a year. A little cold - often triggered by cold weather, a sudden change in temperature or air-condition - will trigger my asthma, making it difficult to breathe and sleep. I have spent many sleepless nights fiercely coughing up phlegm and fighting for air. Going to the toilet during such times leaves me out of breath and in a coughing fit. This is when my body is at its weakest.

Struggling breathing is such a scary experience. Not necessarily painful, but scary and tormenting in its own way.

So when my lolo (grandfather) developed a chest infection last week, something in me clicked. Seeing him struggle for air, using a nebulizer, having a tube shoved down his throat to suck out the phlegm that blocked his airways was hauntingly painful. He is already going through so much. Breathing shouldn't be one of them.

I was sitting on a little foot stool stroking his forehead and hair with one hand and holding one of his hands with my other. And my lolo was laying in his hospital bed, coughing up phlegm and crying because of the prolonging discomfort of not being able to breathe properly, while still mustering up the energy and breath to pray out loud to God; asking God to please not put him through too much pain.
With tears dripping down into his ears and hair, he was fighting in such a humble, admirable and heartbreaking way.

I have never met anyone stronger than him.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 3
Today, my lolo (grandfather) told the doctor he had a problem. When the doctor asked him what the problem was, he said: "My thighs are swollen. That's not normal. If I'm going to go home, that's going to be a problem. I won't be able to walk properly. Can you fix it? Can you do something, please? Can you help me? I need my legs for when I go home."

Not only are his thighs swollen, but his knees and stomach are severely swollen which, in turn, makes his skin look like it's going to explode. His liver is weakening.

Despite being told he is dying of cancer, my lolo is waiting for a miracle, holding on to hope and the power of prayers.

Every day breaks my heart. Every single day.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 2
Thunder in the Philippines sounds like bombs going off and buildings collapsing (at least what I imagine those things sound like in real life). It is incredibly loud and sudden, and even if you're used to it, it will make you jump. I'm not a meteorologist, so I don't know why thunder is so much louder here than in Europe. Regardless, it fascinates me.

So while my mother tells me stories of how she used to cry as a child because thunder scared her so much, I enjoy its existence with endless fascination. I imagine sleeping in a tent outside where the noise isn't dulled by building walls, windows and curtains. I want it raw, loud and destructive; its energy reflected in my body. I want it unfiltered.

The Philippine Diaries, Part 1 
Arriving in the Philippines was hard. 

After travelling for over 24 hours and almost missing a flight due to being misinformed by the travel agency, we arrived in Cebu. Despite arriving in the evening and not getting any sleep on the flight, we went straight from the airport to the hospital.

My lolo (grandfather) is sick. So very sick. 3 months ago when we were in the Philippines last, he appeared to be healthy. He was taking care of my grandmother who was in a wheelchair at the time. But when my grandmother went to the hospital to get her legs examined, my grandfather came along as it was a good opportunity for him to get a general check-up too.

The doctors discovered a tumour. Although I think most of us knew it was cancer due to other bodily symptoms, we awaited the results of the biopsy while holding on to impossible hope that maybe - just maybe - the tumour was benign.

That hope was destroyed a few weeks later when my lolo was diagnosed with colon cancer. Had he been young, they could have easily removed it with surgery as it hadn't spread. But my lolo is old - 84 years and thin as a stick. Even if he miraculously survived surgery, he wouldn't be strong enough for chemo.

That's when the clock started ticking. And that's when the cancer started spreading.

When I walked into that hospital room and spotted him in the bed, I was terrified. He was thinner than before; his face was a skull covered in skin; his body was swollen; his arms were bruised black, red and brown. 

Cancer steals your body and eventually your life. My lolo's kidneys are failing, his heart is struggling and his breath is short. He's relying heavily on blood transfusion, liquid nutrition and oxygen.

The clock is ticking way too quickly, and I feel so utterly useless as I cannot do anything to slow it down.

I'm too sensitive and too emotional to be the rock in this situation.

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Out shopping comics with Steven and his mum...

Steven: Are you going to get it?
Elin: I don't know. I want to, but I can't really afford it.
Carol: I'll buy it for you!
Elin: What? No!
Carol: I never treat you to anything; I'll buy it for you.
Steven: What about me, mum?
Carol: I'm not getting you anything, son. Elin's been nicer to me than you have. You can piss off.

Academic and Intellectual Growth
It's been 5 years since I graduated from University. That's 5 years of working; of learning in new and different environments all depending on job.

My first "real" job after University was as an Information, Bid and Contracts Executive at a company in London. The learning curve was steep with monthly appraisals and weekly reviews, but I loved the intensity of the work. I only worked there for a year, and it wasn't my kind of job as it was a typical corporate job, but I left feeling like I had learned incredibly much.

Another 4 years passed and I worked for several different companies. Some jobs I enjoyed, others I didn't. Regardless, however, I always felt like I was not learning enough. I crave an intense environment that pushes me intellectually and encourages intellectual growth in more than one area; an environment that isn't driven by salary, bonuses or sales, but by cognitive curiosity and a determination of understanding the complexities of the world.

I've tried learning on my own, but reading studies and articles online can, over time, get really boring. You need an encouraging environment that stimulates the desired growth.

I've contemplated going back to school and study either medicine (leading on to neuroscience) or marine biology; but the entry levels are so incredibly high (and finances is always an issue). I don't have bad grades at all - my grades are good, but I would still have to re-take at least 6-7 A-level subjects. That is, needless to say, disheartening. I'm 26 and not interested in re-taking exams in subjects like Geography and History.

Today I went to a talk on The Neurobiology of Aesthetics by Semir Zeki. Zeki was Professor of Neurobiology at University College London until 2008 and is currently its Professor of Neurasthenics. It was absolutely amazing! The talk investigated the relations between brain activity and aesthetic appreciation and artistic creativity. Further, it outlined the results of experiments on how the brain responds to 'beauty' in different forms - visual, musical and mathematical. Suddenly, I found myself back at school, scribbling down important notes and taking pictures of the screen. I was curious, I was learning, I was re-defining my way of thinking. It made me feel astonishingly alive and rekindled my desire and motivation to learn. It is as if my brain has woken up from a deep slumber. And to be perfectly honest, I'm terrified of it going to sleep again.

My brain always over-thinks and is hyper active at the wrong times. I struggle sleeping, I struggle with memory loss, my chronic head pain prevents me from experiencing more physical and emotional joy as I am, from time to time, forced to isolate myself from the world. But I am fighting against it at every opportunity I have. I push my body to the extreme when I can, I challenge myself emotionally, I try psychogenic and somatic treatments without hesitation and fear; but all of this is not enough. I've learned so many things the past few years due to a rather turbulent emotional life, but my academic growth has been standing still; and I desperately need it to grow.

Today's talk has awakened in me the desire to chase intellectual growth in an academic environment. The journey to simply be eligible to apply, however, is still as demotivating as ever. I understand that the study of Medicine is challenging and the field of work is overwhelmingly full of responsibilities, but why not lower the entry levels and make the grade criteria to enrol to the second year much, much higher? Surely, you'd be able to filter out those eligible and those not more easily and more accurately?

big sigh I'm sorry about the long rant, but I'm looking for motivation and I cannot find it.
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