Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Canada. Show all posts

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

My Favorite Way of Learning About Islam

When I first moved to Turkey from the Czech Republic, I noticed the different vibe immediately. America's dominant vibe is commerce and making money. The Czech Republic's dominant vibe is skepticism and lack of belief in religion, politicians, and ideologies. Turkey's dominant vibe is faith. Even though the dominant faith isn't my faith, I do enjoy the cocoon feeling of being surrounded by faith.

Before I came to Turkey, everything I knew about Islam was taught to me by the American media. There was a heavy emphasis on how Islam holds back women's rights and doesn't promote critical thinking.

People must be getting something out of it as a religion though, otherwise why would it have become so popular so quickly in this region of the world and remained so. I wanted to learn more about it from people, rather than media sources.

I needed someone who knew my culture to guide me because I wanted someone who knew where I was coming from and my culture's standards of critical thinking and equality.

Luckily, I came across a blog written by a woman of Egyptian heritage who grew up in the Vancouver, Canada area. She too, had, North American standards. Daliah is a financial and economics reporter for a Western corporation, but she is also on a journey to explore her own faith of Islam and to submit to it deeper.

Learning about Islam makes me a better friend and expat. It also allows me to get more out of my time here. With each year here, I understand the festive feeling of Ramazan better and participate more. When I take the time to learn more about the dominant belief system in this country, I am treating my friends and hosts with respect. Most importantly, I find Islam and Islamic people way less threatening than I used to before I lived in an Islamic country. They are not a monolith.

Here's a sampling of blog posts from Daliah's blogs that I enjoyed.

This is single best description I have ever read on how to honor your father and mother:

The three-letter word that taught me how to respect my parents

Daliah explaining the act of fasting:

Fasting to feed the soul

Daliah explaining how hard it can be to pray five times a day:

Becoming spiritually punctual

This post helped me understand the spirit of Ramazan (Turkish name):

10 Ways to Maintain Ramadan's Spiritual Momentum

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Meet My Flatmate

Canadian Ian MacMillan on the Black Sea

My flatemate, Ian MacMillan, and I are sharing a flat for the one month we live in student housing while we take our TEFL course. Saturday, November 29th was his birthday so I decided to interview Ian to celebrate his 27 years of wisdom.

Where did you grow up?

Penticton, British Columbia, a city of 30,000 people. My dad was an immigrant from Scotland who originally moved to Australia where he met my Canadian mom. She was on vacation there. They settled in Penticton.

What’s your city known for?

An American movie from the 1960’s called “My American Cousin” was filmed in Penticton. They used our peach-shaped concession stand in the movie. We’re known as the peach city because peaches grow nearby.

Penticton is between two lakes. One lake is known as Okanogan Lake. The Loch Ness monster’s cousin, the Ogopogo, lives in Okanogan Lake. We even had a Japanese research team investigating it. They have a $1,000,000 reward for anyone who comes forward with evidence of the Ogopogo’s existence.

What connects the two lakes is “the channel.” People from outside always call it the “canal.” It’s not the ‘canal’ it’s the “channel” and you can float from one lake to the other.

We also have Ironman Canada, which is held in Penticton.

Why did you decide to go to Budapest, Hungary for graduate school?

I read an article in the Economist Magazine that said lots of new, private universities were opening in Eastern Europe that were innovative and different. That got me thinking about Europe.

A professor told my undergrad class in Canada if we were interested in history and thinking about graduate school we should go to Europe and see where the history took place.

Central European University had the best website of the universities I looked at.

Tell me about Central European University. How did it start? What is the mission of the university?

George Soros, a Jewish billionaire born in Hungary, started it in the early 1990s. He donated $700 million to get it off the ground. It’s the second largest endowment in Europe.

There were three campuses. One was in Prague, one was in Warsaw, and one was in Budapest. His mission was to create a university based on liberal democratic capitalist principles and to promote those principles in post-Communist countries. There is now just one campus in Budapest.

The higher reaches of the administration hire professors who innately believe in those principles and promote them to the students to create change in their home countries. They view each student as an agent of micro-change throughout the region. I’m not sure a university should have such an activist attitude.

What was your thesis about?

My thesis was on Scottish history and how the idea of liberty changed in the 18th century. Because of this change, Scottish nationalism did not develop. Scottish liberty had always been based on martial ability. People’s liberty was protected by the nobility.

In the 18th century, Scots went bankrupt. The Scots were starving and the British House of Commons ensured their liberty and gave them access to trade. Scotland went from being a feudal society to a modern society through commercial trade.

The Scots don’t have a “nation state” per se, is there Scottish nationalism today?

My opinion is Scots don’t need a nation state to know their Scottish.

The Opera House
in Odessa, Ukraine

Where do you live now and what is it like?

I normally live in Odessa, Ukraine, a city of 1,000,000. It’s a resort town on the Black Sea. It has a very beautiful opera house. The Odessans always say "we have the second most beautiful opera house. Everyone knows. The architect was the same one who did the Vienna Opera House and it's the most beautiful. We are second."

Odessans are known for their sense of humor. One of the biggest holidays there is April Fool’s Day. They have a big parade on that day. Their sense of humor isn’t for me. It’s too simplistic.

Ian and Sasha on the Danube

How did you end up in Odessa?

I met my wife in Budapest. We studied in the same program. She ignored me for a month. We started talking at a party. We didn’t talk the whole next week. We went to another party and started talking again. Then we went to a Halloween party together. She was dressed as a princess and I didn’t have a costume. I had my KGB shirt on which was good enough and very funny for everyone. We really started dating when I showed her pics of the Halloween party.

Sasha and I decided I should move to Odessa, her hometown. She is working on her Ph.D. in history there. People from Odessa love Odessa.

What is your job there?

I’m an English teacher in a private language school. My students are teenagers and adults. I usually teach adults one-on-one.

How have your studies about nationalism and language impacted your understanding of Ukrainians and Russians?

It made me understand both sides of the argument of “what is Ukraine.” Some Russians don’t think Ukraine is a country and doesn’t really have it’s own history.

Ukranians, like Slovaks, are known as a “non-historic” people because they didn’t have a kingdom of their own before becoming a nation state.

In Canada and America, our citizenship is self-defined. If we say we are a Canadian or an American and we have citizenship, we are. But a Russian or a Ukranian will always think of himself as defined by ethnicity not nationality. There is no difference for them between ethnicity and nationality.

A Russian passport for a Moscow native of Georgian parents would be stamped “nationality: Georgian.” A Slav who came to one of our countries would always be thought of by Russians as a Czech, or Russian, or Ukranian, not as an American or a Canadian.

We don't consider this ethnicity. Canadians think that a person who is of German descent who is born in Canada would never be thought of as German. He's Canadian. And a person who's lineage is East Indian born in Canada would never be thought of as East Indian; he’d be thought of as Canadian. Russians don’t think I’m from a ‘real’ country because I’m from a nation of immigrants. They would view me as Scottish, not Canadian, because that’s my heritage.

There isn’t necessarily pan-Slavism though, the way there is pan-Arabism or pan-Africanism.

Russians love Russia passionately, but they try to leave whenever possible.

What other cultures are known for their strong nationalism?

Serbs. Western Ukranians, they are militant about Ukrainian independence. Americans.

Why don’t Canadians inspire dislike around the world?

We stay out of the way. We’re culturally aware.
Americans are culturally tone-deaf.

What’s your favorite thing about Prague?

The Czech sense of humor. It’s very dark.

Different landscape views of the castle and other sites that I saw with Sasha.

Where else have you lived or taught English?

South Korea. My experience there was not very good. In a different time of my life, it would have been better. It’s for young people. Teachers work 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. and then they party. And you have to teach kids. I don’t like kids. South Korean kids are not allowed to be kids because of the highly-competitive over-scheduled lives they have. In every class of older kids I taught, everyone knew someone who had committed suicide.

Why did you go to South Korea by yourself if you were already married?

I went there to make money. I received free airfare, a free apartment, and $2,700 a month plus overtime. I only had to pay for food. I worked there for four months and came home with $9,000 in savings.

Where else would you and your wife Sasha like to live?

We’d both like Scotland, Italy, France.

I would like to live in India. Maybe Dubai, if the money was good.

Sasha would like to live in Prague. She loved it here.

Thank you, Ian, for sharing your Canadian perspective.
I wish you and Sasha the best in your future travels.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

My Travel History

I knew I needed to get out of the country when I looked at my expiring passport and I had only one stamp. Over the last ten years, I left the country only once! How did this happen? That trip was fantastic too. It was my first trip to the DR: Dominican Republic. I heard constant happy, melodic island music plus had a wonderful dream fulfilled of riding a horse at full gallop down the beach with my friend. Now that was fun.

Prior to that trip, my adult travel was an amazing month in Europe as a high school graduation present from my mother when I was seventeen. I went to Spain, France, Monaco, Switzerland, and England. Absolutely fabulous! That was the first time it dawned on me that another country could do something better than mine. That thought never occurred to me growing up because Americans constantly meet tons of immigrants who work very hard to get to our country. It must be better, right?

So what did the continent offer that America could learn from: anything the French made with flour (baguettes, croissants, Napoleans...) and Parisian and London mass transit. What a gift it is to provide safe mass transportation to the tween and teen population! Wait - what a gift it is to their previously-chauffeuring parents!

I also went to Cancun, Chichen Itza, and Tulum, Mexico when I was married to enjoy the beach and Mayan ruins.

In my childhood, my favorite out-of-country travel was a deeply memorable trip my family took with friends through Canada on the train. We started in Winnipeg and went west. The adults had private rooms to sleep in and we kids had berths.

How cool we thought we were to sleep in those berths! Cracker Jack candy had done a commercial back then where two people passed a box back and forth between a berth so we had to do it too. Nowadays, there probably isn't a mom alive who would let their kid sleep in a berth with only a curtain protecting their child from anyone walking through the sleeping car.

Chateau Lake Louise in Beautiful British Columbia

Empress Hotel, Victoria, British Columbia

One of our family friends who went with us had this thing for fantastic five-star hotels. Vivid memories of that Canada trip include the Banff Springs hotel, the Chateau at Lake Louise, and tea and crumpets at the Empress Hotel on Victoria Island. Truly, I was blessed as a child.

Actually, group travel with friends is a blast. It's so hard to accomplish since budgets vary. My one cruise was with seventeen people (split evenly between kids and adults) to the Bahamas. In way, for my kids, it was like the train. I let them run all over the ship because it seemed safe. Every meal we would sit with someone different from our group. Everyone could do their own thing or hang with each other. A perfect arrangement!

About a month after we came home from that trip, it made the news that the ship we had been on was repossessed for lack of mortgage payment. All of the passengers, over 3,000 people were unceremoniously dumped in the Bahamas. Ouch. Glad it wasn't me.

I am more broadly-traveled in the United States. When I visit Alaska I will have seen all 50 states. There is still so much to see in my country! I could never tire of it. There's a brand new National Park I haven't visited - the Black Canyon of the Gunnison in Colorado. Only about 200,000-300,000 people visit it each year.

I am currently living in Illinois and there is TONS I have yet to see here: the new Lincoln Presidential Library, Starved Rock State Park, the Palisades State Park along the Mississippi, actually the entire river road on the Illinois side of the Mississippi, the exhibit the Mormons created at Navoo, Illinois documenting their massacre (always important to expose myself to someone else's point-of-view), and all the ethnic neighborhoods in Chicago. Actually Chicago is so fantastic I could spend a month there and still not see everything I want to see. I LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Chicago.

Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore in Michigan

In every state, it seems there is this secret, hidden part of the state that is fairly non-commercial that only natives know about. In Michigan, it's the western coast of the mitten. What drop-dead gorgeous scenery! Only Michiganders and Chicagoans are in on the secret. The rest of the country thinks Michigan is all about declining manufacturing and union troubles because that's all the news they ever hear about the state. In Illinois, the secret place the natives know is the southern forests. Most Illinoisans don't even get down there.

Sunset on Garden of the Gods in Southern Illinois
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