Neda’s journey

Neda's "still believing"

Neda’s “still believing” (photograph courtesy of Neda)

On Sept 4, 2014, 3 days after we left Burning Man 2014, we received an email that began this way:

“Hi there,

My name is Neda and I am extremely interested to join your project, I am Persian and translated the phrase ‘still believing’ to Farsi which will look like following:

هنوز باور دارم”

After some back and forth with Neda, we finally managed to get the text in Farsi to align the right way (that is, from Right to Left) and got Neda to approve of what was going to be her first tattoo.

By the time Neda got her Love Letter To the World tattoo photographed, it was February 2015. In mid-February Neda sent us a few photographs of her tattoo, along with a favor: “Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get a ticket to BM… Could you please do me this great favour and let me know if you hear from anyone with an extra ticket?”

By the end of February, Neda and I were going back and forth again, this time about more personal stuff. I told her that my Bulgarian great-grandmother—a strong-willed woman by all accounts—was also named Neda. Neda responded: “My name in Farsi means voice or call. How come your great-grandmother’s name was Neda?” I had no idea. (Last summer, during my visit home, I asked my mother what the name Neda means in Bulgarian. She did not know.)

By May, we had introduced Neda to our fellow Burner campmates at Kentucky Fried Camp. Neda was invited to join our camp soon thereafter.

Here is the story she sent us today, 4 days before we meet her face to face on the playa:

“It was August 2014 and I was following Burning Man on BMIR, the official radio station of Black Rock City. The very first interview I heard was with Kremena and Kurt. They were talking about the Lexington Tattoo Project and about how it inspired them to create a global artwork, Love Letter To the World. At the end, they invited people to participate. I had always wanted to get a tattoo and I instantly loved the whole concept of the LLTW project; what could possibly be a better reason to get my very first tattoo?

I am from Iran and left it 14 years ago. Since then, I have lived in many different countries for my education. Leaving my country at a young age and never being in the same country for more than a few years had an unfortunate consequence for me: the concept of belonging just faded away over time; community, home, sharing similar hopes and values—they all became lost notions…at least in my case, especially because I am not able to travel back to Iran freely to visit my family…

Love Letter To the world gave me all these lost definitions back! The LLTW project made it possible to get to know so many beautiful people and feel something in common with them. My tattoo, ‘still believing,’ is translated in Farsi and tattooed on my right ankle. I guess in some way I like to still believe that we are worthy of love, caring for one another, and sharing a beautiful life. Somehow, I’d like to believe that we can still make changes in our own lives for the better—and, consequently, in the lives of others who are dear to us… I want to still believe that I belong to an international community, to a WORLD where there are no differences and no discrimination, where a beautiful poem can bring us all together…

Still, it is hard to believe that all these amazing connections and feelings are born from a simple radio show! But the most incredible part of all these new events that are happening in my life, events initiated by LLTW, is that I am going to Burning Man! Soon I get to meet some of the amazing people I feel connected to!”

Neda, we too can’t wait to meet you in person!

unlearn fear and hate, part I

Emily Dale Willmott's "unlearn fear and hate" (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Emily Dale Willmott’s “unlearn fear and hate” (photograph by Kurt Gohde and Kremena Todorova)

Emily Dale Willmott got her tattoo in Spanish shortly after she emailed to ask us to translate and redesign the phrase “unlearn fear and hate.” At the time, she was living in Spain for a few months and planning to return for a much longer visit. We met her during her brief time back in Lexington. Then she sent us this story:

“In the last 3 years, I worked as an elementary school teacher in Lexington. The things I heard from my students, their pre-conceived ideas about people and the world, are beyond belief. And they left me wondering about their experiences outside of school. Building trusting relationships with my students was hard, but important to me. Seeing their enormous potential was inspiring.

So the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ means a great deal to me in many ways. I believe we need to alleviate the heavy burden of hate that is plaguing our society. If we perpetuate racism and cultivate fear of the unknown, our generation cannot begin to heal. Children are not innately born with prejudice or hate; it is something they are taught.

The poem touched me during a scary time in my life, when I had to overcome my fear of being alone. I had moved to a country where I only knew one person. Leaving my family and friends was hard, in addition to adapting to a new language. I was also starting a long-distance relationship with a wonderful person, who happened to be African American. Experiencing the pressures of being in an interracial relationship has been eye opening. I saw the Ad Council’s video Love Has No Labels and I loved their message. You, too, should watch it!

I believe the phrase ‘unlearn fear and hate’ is at the core of ‘Love Letta to de Worl’.’ The poem calls for cultivating love not only for our world, but also for all the people who touch our lives daily, in the hope that we can overcome the hurt caused by the fear and hate our society so desperately clings to.

My tattoo is a constant reminder to act with kindness and acceptance. Every time I look at my arm, I smile and am filled with hope that our society can overcome its prejudices, while encouraging new relationships that thrive on mutual respect.”

Rie Nørgaard’s “to remind us”

Rie Nørgaard’s “to remind us” (photograph courtesy of Rie Nørgaard)

Rie Nørgaard’s “to remind us” (photograph courtesy of Rie Nørgaard)

As some of you might remember, we featured Rie’s parents and their tattoos a couple of months ago.In fact, it was Rie who helped us track them down–in Canada. Here is the story of Rie’s tattoo:

“I can actually thank my parents for telling me about Love Letter To the World. They live in Canada (I moved to Denmark when I was 18). When they showed me their tattoos, I had also already decided to get mine. So we hadn’t planned it to become a family sort of a tattoo, it just kind of happened. I loved the poem, even though I’m not really into this sort of literature. But it affected me and I couldn’t stop thinking about it or about LLTW. Being a part of such a world-wide ‘art gallery’ is super exciting.

‘to remind us’—reminding me where I’m from and where I’m going. Moving to a new country, learning a new language, and being quite alone in the beginning wasn’t easy, so it’s kind of a reminder to just keep on going. Just keep fighting. But never forget where I come from. Now I have a great group of friends, getting my BA in childcare, working full-time doing what I love.”

We are hoping to meet Rie face-to-face on the playa in less than a month. That would make her Love Letter story come almost a full circle. We like circles.

Rie Nørgaard’s “to remind us” (photograph courtesy of Rie Nørgaard)

Rie Nørgaard’s “to remind us” (photograph courtesy of Rie Nørgaard)

Paper cranes in Winter Park, Florida

This story and the photographs that go with it were sent to us by Amy Watkins. Thank you, Amy!

Amy Watkins' "for this" and Jennifer Trapp Freeman's "and love"

Amy Watkins’ “for this” and Jennifer Trapp Freeman’s “and love”

“My best friend Jennifer Trapp Freeman and I had talked for a long time about getting a tattoo together. The hard part was choosing the right tattoo. When Love Letter To the World was launched on almost the exact midpoint between our birthdays, we knew it was time.

To me this project seemed perfect for Jenn. Of the two of us, she is more likely to find another LLTTW tattoo in the wild, since she is one of the most friendly and curious people I know. She talks to strangers. She asks good questions. I am not always so open to other people. My favorite part of the poem is, ‘Thank you, world, for this open-book exam before us.’ I’ve learned a lot from my friendship with Jenn and it’s one of the things I’m most thankful for, so I chose the phrase ‘for this.’

Jenn chose the phrase ‘and love’ because of our mutual love of art, adventure and connection. She says, ‘My tattoo is a daily reminder of all the wonderful things that brought us together.’ The things that brought us together are also the things that connect us to the rest of the big, wonderful, terrible world. We think that’s beautiful and what this project is all about. We personalized our tattoos with a paper crane because one of the first gifts Jenn gave me was a necklace with a tiny crane charm. I wore it the day we got our tattoos from Fred at Chicago Tattoo Co. in Winter Park, Florida.”

Amy Watkins' "for this" and Jennifer Trapp Freeman's "and love"

Amy Watkins’ “for this” and Jennifer Trapp Freeman’s “and love”

 Jennifer Trapp Freeman's "and love"

Jennifer Trapp Freeman’s “and love”