Showing posts with label globalism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label globalism. Show all posts

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Gezi Park Turkish Protests: Where is a "Range of Opinion?"

Protesters doing yoga in Gezi Park
What a fascinating week in Turkey as my friends have risen up and demanded their Turkish democracy be inclusive of their lifestyles and opinions too. I say "my friends" because, like most expats, I have a few friends who support the AKP and hundreds who don't. Most of my Istanbullian friends are broadly secular, supportive of the ideas of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and are internationally-oriented global citizens. So they are completely unrepresentative of the average Turk, and especially, the average Turk who voted in the AKP-majority government.
A Turkish friend who protests
In story after story about the protests, the range of opinions reported has been very narrow. It is very easy for Westerners in Istanbul to identify with the protesters, because they are asking for things that Westerners consider foundational for a democracy: respect for minority opinion, respect for diversity of lifestyle, respect for the variety of religious expression, and respect for freedom of the press. The protests started with concern about the pace of urban transformation and sense of loss for vital green spaces within one of the world's largest cities. All of these ideas that the protesters are demanding have been ably, bravely, and amply reported. The protesters' voices are heard in story upon story in the English-language press. But you'll notice, there isn't a big range of opinion there. The protesters seem unified around these thoughts.

The views of government supporters and of the government has been very hard to find. I've been trying to find those opinions, because as a library professional, my job and my joy and my mission in life is to share information on all sides of issues. While the protesters are organized in both Turkish and English on social media and are also available in the park for easy interviewing, AKP folks must be talking to themselves on Twitter and Facebook almost exclusively in Turkish. Journalists are flying in from all over the World to cover this story, but with today's news budgets, having a translator is an extra expense some news organizations may not have. I have read hardly anything reflecting the AKP view.
Six Turkish Newspapers
All With the Same Headline
Where is a "range" of opinion
(on either side)?
The Turkish media had six front pages all with the same headline in Turkish to reflect to Turkish people the 'official' government opinion when Prime Minister Erdogan came back from North Africa; this shows there is not much deviation in the AKP opinion either. Even worse for the AKP and its supporters, their opinions aren't being expressed in English.

Even at the friendship level we expats rarely hear these AKP opinions, simply because many AKP people have not taken the time to learn a global language so they can express themselves to the world.
Protest banner decrying police brutality

These narrow bands of opinion seem to be a Venn diagram of two circles, one labeled "protesters" and one labeled "AKP." The circles seem not to have overlapping parts. Because each side seems mostly to talk to like-minded friends there is also the danger of online filter bubbles.

I remember this kind of polarization in the Bush years in America. It's the kind of opportunity Obama walked into, rallying everyone around the center. I don't know if there is a center in Turkey, but it is unoccupied at the moment - unlike Gezi Park.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

#1billionrising rising in Turkey

Today brings the sad news that the Turkish police have found the body of American tourist Sarai Sierra, 33, from New York City. May she rest in peace. Thank you to all of the Turkish and American public servants who worked so hard to find her. I read the police formed a special team to view hours and hours of security camera footage to try and trace her steps. I can't imagine anything more boring that watching all that. I'm grateful they did.

Sarai Sierra's death brings reflection at the vast epidemic of violence against women globally. Global activist Eve Ensler is asking all of us, women - and especially the men who love them, to strike, rise, and dance, rising up to demand an end to the routine daily violence against women.

#1billionrising is the audaciously-named event Eve Ensler has created to demand an end to violence against women worldwide. Can you imagine trying to organize 1 billion people? Have you ever heard of anyone trying to do that before? What an amazing idea. She chose that number because that is the estimated number of women who have been violated by violence worldwide.

As of this writing, there are over 40 events planned for Turkey. The first one starts today at 2 p.m. Participants will be doing this extremely fun Turkish folk dance called the Halay (actually, pretty much all Turkish dance is fun). Here is the list of events for Turkey. Here is where you can find an event in the country you're living in. And here is the anthem, although the many ways people will be dancing is of course, varied and global. #1billionrising!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

What do you call that green tree in your living room?

The other day one of my American friends back home was grousing about a politician calling Christmas trees "holiday trees." There is a segment of the American public who believes there is a "war on Christmas" and that the news media and corporations are trying to secularize everything and eliminate the joy of saying things to each other like "Merry Christmas."
I pointed out that the politician was trying to be as inclusive as possible by calling it a holiday tree. American Jewish people have been known to enjoy a "Hannukkah Bush" in their home, for example.
During my first Christmas in Turkey I was surprised to learn that "Christmas trees" are everywhere in Istanbul, along with pointsettias, and Santa Claus. My Turkish friends told me they had seen "Christmas trees" in American movies and found the practice so much fun, they've adopted it as their own. Why not? After all, we Americans adopted it from the Germans.
Turkish folks put up their tree for the New Year's holiday and celebrate what they call "Christmas." But of course, since there not actually celebrating Christmas (the birth of Christ) because they're Muslim, Christians in Istanbul are forever pointing out to their friends that "what you have there in your home is not a Christmas tree, it's a New Year's Tree." Do you see why the politician just punted and called it a "holiday tree?" Less arguing, more fun. Rather than being secular, my friend's political representative was just making sure all of the Abrahamic religions were included.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Voting in the American Election as an Overseas Voter

This week, I cast my ballot in the American election. I was proud to have not blown it off but to have figured out how to do it. Figuring it out could be overwhelming, but it really helped to just call the Board of Elections where I last voted and ask them how to do it. There is a military and overseas voter specialist in both the city and county election office. I found it reassuring that two specific people actually had their name attached to making my vote count, and it wasn't a shared responsibility with an entire office, possibly becoming no one's responsibility.

They told me to go online, using my Colorado driver's license, and activate my registration for this election which I did. On September 22nd, all military and overseas voters were emailed instructions on how to download and return an email ballot.

It wasn't as simple as downloading an attachment, clicking on the right box, and then emailing it back. If it was going to be emailed back, it had to be printed, signed, scanned, and sent back. I printed it and then faxed it back. I figured there was less chance for someone to change my ballot if I sent it to the office then if I sent it through email. Fax seems less secure than electronic communication, but in this instance it made me feel more secure. I am basing that on well, no knowledge whatsoever! I called the office and confirmed that it had been received though and I had done everything correctly so my vote would count.

Overseas voters give up their right to a secret ballot. I was okay with that. Again, I am basing that on, knowledge to the contrary that it could be a bad thing.

Thinking about how to make my vote count gave me a feeling of vulnerability. After all, there are people running for office who are okay with my children not getting equal pay for equal work, who want to criminalize private family planning decisions, who approach decisions of war and peace with a buccaneer's attitude. It matters deeply to me that my vote count. I also felt that I couldn't complain, if I hadn't done my part by voting.

I am a much, much more globally-aware voter than I was four years ago. I've grown a lot in perspective since I moved abroad the day after Obama was elected in 2008. While I've always followed foreign affairs, now living overseas, I have a view from the other side informed by living in a completely international community talking with people from all over the world everyday. I understand that it is not just about America and what's best for us (although I appreciate that many Americans find that view hard to give up and don't see why we should).

I see how important our leadership is in so many venues and that it has to be informed by voices from the entire planet. It isn't just about us, because the complexity of the world has grown, and so many decisions are about all of us.

America has unique advantages: size, wealth, a shared tongue, and a stable, old, democracy renewed with ideas from the world's finest research universities. Nations can try and band together to replicate our size, but as the EU has shown, it is harder than it looks. It's interesting to me that one party still calls for sending issues back to the States, rather than solve them at a federal level, when our problems have gone from local to national to now global. To send issues back to smaller units of governance would disadvantage the people's representatives when trying to regulate behemoth global corporations. But maybe that's the point of their philosophy.

I hope leaders like Obama and George H.W. Bush, who are so good at creating a consensus among multiple poles of power all around the world, are our future. The people are currently deciding in this election whether or not to go through life on their own or to instead decide we're all in this together. I hope we choose to see that not only are we are all in this together - it's not just as a nation, but as a planet.

Thanks to all the people who made my ability to vote possible in 2012: American veterans, female sufferagettes, the Founding Fathers, public servants in election offices - see - we're all in this together.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

VDay 2013: One Billion Women Rising Globally & .... Dancing!

Istanbul cast of the 2012 English-language version
of "The Vagina Monologues"
What a delight it was to gather one last time with my fellow cast members of the 2012 Istanbul English-language "Vagina Monologues" and meet their families, boyfriends, and friends at our cast dinner. We reunited at an Indian restaurant near Taksim Square in the Tamirhane area.
Musafir Indian Restaurant
in the Tamirhane Neighborhood
Near Taksim

This doesn't strike me
as an evil eye, how about you?
Surprisingly, our beautiful waitress
was not Indian,
she was Turkish.
Fooled you, didn't she?

Harika and her beau were off on a
photography safari of Nepal after the play.

We enjoyed delicious Indian food. Most importantly, we enjoyed each other's company and discussed what was next for each of us. Harika was off to photograph Nepal. Tara was leaving for scuba in Egypt the next day. One cast member was flying back to Rome where she lived full-time. I must admit, the more I read about Eve Ensler and her cause the more involved I wanted to become in the future. I wasn't ready to let go of the VDay cause.

"The Vagina Monologues" is coming up on its 15th anniversary next year. It makes a statement, it has been produced in over 140 countries and raised money for local charities (over $100 million since it was first written), yet still the world if full of violence against women. If anything, it's become worse. What will change the paradigm, Eve asks? What would make everyone in our buildings, on our streets, in our cities, in our nations wake up and not take it anymore? To demand a safer world for all women? Something even bigger, even bolder is needed! Listen to her yourself (prepare yourself, its an awfully tough listen):

Eve Ensler
on Democracy Now
discussing "1BillionRising"

Eve Ensler says:
"V-Day is calling the 1 billion survivors of violence on every continent of the planet to join and RISE. On February 14, 2013, we are inviting, challenging, and calling women and the people who love them to walk out of their homes, schools, jobs to strike and dance. To dance with our bodies, our lives, our heart. To dance with our rage and our joy and love. To dance with whoever we want, wherever we can until the violence stops. We know our brothers, husbands, sons and lovers will join us in the dancing. Imagine 1 billion women and those that love them dancing. Imagine us taking up space, expanding our borders and possibilities, expressing the depth of our desire for peace and change. Dancing, 1 Billion Dancing. The earth will surely move and violence against women and girls will end. Because it can."
Imagine trying to organize one billion people to end violence against half the population of the world! I love the scope and breadth of her ambition. What audacity! I can only ask myself "what can I do to help make this happen?" I ask you, is there something you can do as well in your corner of the world to help Eve reach her goal? Can we help Eve make the earth move together?

Here is one thing we can do immediately:

 follow #1BillionRising on Twitter

Here is a second thing we can do immediately:

 sign up to receive email about her goal

Here is a third thing we can do longterm:

 organize some sort of dancing for February 14, 2013

And lastly, on VDay 2013 we can DANCE!

C'mon. It will be fun.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Vagina Monologues: We Did It!

Some of our fabulous cast
for "The Vagina Monologues"
Pictured left to right: Tara, Demet, Yasemin, me,
Monique, Harika, and Kendra
The play poster

One of my fellow cast members in DreamTree's production of "The Vagina Monologues," remarked at what an amazing feat it was for Donna M.E. Banks, an American and Kendra Tyre, a Canadian to move to Istanbul and within six months start up a theatre production company and put on Eve Ensler's play. These two ladies had known each other as teachers in Korea, and then discovered they were both living in Istanbul. "Why not create a VDay event?" they thought.

VDay is the movement to wake up the world to the gender-based violence women experience. It was started by American Eve Ensler.
The name of our
adorable neighborhood theatre
was Mekan.artı
It was just down the street from the entrance
of the Istanbul Hilton in Harbiye.
As I said in my last post, acting has not ever been one of my dreams. I was in this production because I believed in the cause. I walked away from the experience with new insight and respect for actors and actresses. For one thing, it takes a lot of time to learn dialogue.  As the oldest cast member, I joked that 'act' stood for 'Alzheimer's Cognitive Testing.' It seemed odd to me to devote so much time to something I would use all of three times.  At least if I was studying a school subject - say osmosis, or something, I could use it forever. I also had no idea the amount of time that actors need to devote to rehearsals. My goodness, it's like a part-time job to go to rehearsals every week.
But is this space not endearing?
It's like a little neighborhood clubhouse.
It held just under 100 seats.

As I was whining to a friend about how much more work it is to be in a play than I realized, he said, "yes, but you'll forget all that pain when you perform it." I was scared to death to act in this play, and as we prepared I felt wave after wave of vulnerability engulf me. My friends carried  me through though, and lifted me up with joy and support as I got ready. When we put the tickets on sale, it took less than a week for them to sell out. The last few days before the play all of us in the cast were fielding calls from all kinds of people asking, "please just four more seats?"

Opening night was full of drama for the cast: one member was in the hospital hoping to get discharged by 6 p.m. for our 8:30 curtain time, another went through three or four babysitters before finding one that would commit and stick. The second night, the lights were bright and I flubbed a couple of my lines. I quickly found my way back but it was a bit unnerving. The third night, one cast member forgot to get her suitcase out of the taxi trunk with all the costumes inside. Luckily, the cabbie realized it and brought it around in time for the show. Donna and Kendra goodnaturedly rolled with all of it.

The power of art to transform and cause us to think and grow is incredible. During our rehearsals, I faced my own intolerance of the transgender character in the show, and realized I was repulsed by the ambiguity everytime I heard the monologue. I didn't want to be, but I was. I don't know anyone in that situation. I always have to think, "now, are these the people who dress in the other gender's clothes? Or the people who want sex-change surgery? Or people who have had sex-change surgery?" I can never keep it straight.

"Wow, in real life, people with that issue, are a walking violence target," I realized. If I was repulsed and was doing my best to be compassionate and still struggling, I could imagine there are plenty of people who don't even bother to struggle. I just sat with my own feelings and felt the discomfort of not understanding. The play taught me how damn hard it must be to be one of those people. May they find kindness out there in the world. May I not be indifferent to the hate crimes they experience.

I hope to post more pictures and information about how much money was raised for Turkish nonprofits, but I'll end here saying how amazingly proud I am of my friends. Their biggest accomplishment was to use art to create conversations about difficult subjects. Among the cast we had fascinating discussions about what our mothers and grandmothers had taught us about avoiding gender-based violence, we discussed what monologues we identified with and what ones we did not, we talked about what part of the female experience isn't represented. We were privleged to help create the same kind of conversations among our audiences. I felt wondrous community develop full of love and support among the English-language speakers of Istanbul around this play. It was a privlege to be a part of it - next time though - I'm signing up for the publicity team - anything but acting!

A splendid story in "Today's Zaman" newspaper about our efforts and in "Milliyet" newspaper

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Discussing Books with the Istanbul Global Minds Book Club

I was proud to moderate
George Orwell's brilliant book
"Animal Farm"
at Global Minds Book Club
One of the Istanbul-based groups advertised on the Internations expatriate social network that attracted my attention was the fairly new “Global Minds Book Club.” I love reading and discussing books and have belonged to several book clubs over the years. The organizing mission of this group was to read books from all around the world and discuss them with people from all around the world who were currently residing in Istanbul.
Sinan, second from left,
moderated our discussion
of Harper Lee's
"To Kill A Mockingbird"
Global minds discussing global books: what an exciting idea! That was different than most book clubs organized in our home countries which feature friends of similar demographics discussing titles that are often targeted at that demographic. Those can often be a “great minds think alike” club.

I knew it would be a different type of book club when the first meeting I went to started with shots of melon liquor. While we may not have educational diversity (many members have graduate degrees) we do have national, religious, racial, ethnic, tribal and sect diversity.
Stalwart members
Matt and Işil
For the Turkish people who come to the meetings, it is often their first book club experience as there is no tradition of book club discussions in Turkey. There are many reasons for that. Widespread literacy is less than 100 years old in Turkey due to the change in alphabet. Stories in this part of the world are often shared orally rather than on the written page. The idea of discussing art, culture, politics, and life in a good-natured way with all kinds of different people that one doesn’t know very well is often considered a new and very foreign idea, especially when the premise is that the discussion takes place over a book. I tip my hat in appreciation to people of all nationalities who come to the club to discuss a book in English, frequently their second or third language.
Clarence Nartey, Founder
Global Minds Book Club
leading our discussion of
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's
"Half of a Yellow Sun"
Clarence Nartey, the man from Ghana who started the “Global Minds Book Club” is uniquely suited for the role.  As a marketing manager for a multinational corporation he has traveled all over the globe in his professional roles with visits to 20 countries (Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Togo, South Africa, Singapore, Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia,Vietnam, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Turkey, UAE, France, UK , Spain and Israel), sometimes living in a country for a month at a time, and other times living there for a couple years. I remember when I got my first emails from him detailing how the group was organized, what we were reading, and when. I thought “this is MBA-level organization for a mere book club.”  Joyfully, our book club is both relaxed - often meeting poolside or in a picnic venue, and organized within an inch of its life!
We met under the gazebo
at my place
last summer to discuss
Haruki Murakami's
"After Dark"
We frequently meet in our different homes. This has prompted our members to travel all over Istanbul and gets us into neighborhoods we would not have a reason to visit otherwise. The club has become so successful that Clarence has considered dividing us into two groups, with a meeting simultaneously held on each continent. There are over 240 people on the email list, with around 15 responding positively that they will come, and a usual 8-10 actually making it. Not bad considering that coming to a discussion can involve up to a two-hour trip each way as people cross continents!
We were supposed to go swimming
after this meeting
but the discussion was so good
we never got in the pool
Clarence says, “what thrills me about reading now is not the act of reading a book, but now reading a book, organizing friends to share it and using the book as a springboard to elicit multiple and diverse perspectives from fellow readers.”  He has done that so beautifully and created such a lively community of book lovers here in Istanbul . Wanting to extract every bit of value from the experience, he has also asked the members to donate the books after the discussion to interested libraries or groups to help them broaden their reading horizons too.

Eventually, even the expatriates we rely on the most, like Clarence, must leave. That’s the nature of the expatriate experience – a short time together of meaningful intensity.

He has told the Global Minds Book Club that within a month or two he will be transferred to the continent of Africa. He is excited about returning to his home continent, but oh, will we miss him! In keeping with his tradition of stellar management, Clarence already has his replacement “Global Minds Book Club” organizer lined up. 

Our reading list to date:
Global Citizens - Mark Gerzon ( non-fiction)
Little Bee / The Other Hand - Chris Cleave (fiction)
Tipping Point - Malcolm Gladwell ( non-fiction) I joined here
Life of Pi - Yann Martel (fiction)
To Kill a Mocking Bird - Harper Lee (fiction)
Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan S. Foer (fiction)
After Dark - Haruki Murakami ( fiction)
The Gambler - Fyodor Dostoevsky( fiction)
Animal Farm - George Orwell (fiction)

The White Tiger -Aravind Adiga (fiction)
Catcher in the Rye - J D Salinger (fiction)
Shah of Shahs- Ryszard Kapuscinski (non-fiction)
Half of a Yellow Sun -  Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)

 This book is easily my favorite discovery through the club!
Future Titles:
New York Trilogy - Paul Auster (fiction)
Cairo Modern - Naguib Mahfouz (fiction)
Sammarkand - Amin Maalouf  (fiction)
Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell (non-fiction)
Do you have an expat book club? Or a book club devoted to reading international titles? What has made it fun? Do you have a book recommendation for our club that your group enjoyed?

You may also like these posts:

Making Expat Friends Through Internations

Africa Day @ Global Minds Book Club

All my posts on books


Monday, March 19, 2012

Making Expat Friends through Internations Expat Social Network

Friends having fun!
That's how we spell it: Y-M-C-A
How was anyone an expat before the Internet? That was when people really left home and immersed themselves completely in another country. No TV shows from home, no news from home, only snail mail, and a new culture where English was not the global language it is today.  That was expat commitment on a whole other level.
Enjoying new Internations friends in Turkey
Gratefully, these days, the Internet provides us not only the comforts of our familiar media, but also tools to help us make the most of our new overseas city as quickly as possible. Before I left to go overseas, I made my first Prague friends through blogging. I started a blog and connected with expats in Prague that were also already blogging. That seems quite a slow, laborious way to make friends now that I think about it. At the time, in 2008, I thought I was high tech!
The Turkish gesture for sincerity:
A hand over the heart
What do all the people who are too busy or lazy to write a blog do? There are new, quicker ways to make friends before arrival in a new city. I first discovered couchsurfing as a way to meet locals as I travelled, and as a way to experience amazing events with fellow expats.  Couchsurfing participants skew fairly young demographically. What has been a wonderful resource for me in Istanbul is the expatriate professional's social network called Internations. It's designed to connect global minds in over 250 communities worldwide.

To use Internations, you first need an invitation from an expat who is already a member. That's easy enough to secure. They can send you an email invitation and then you too are a basic member. I've enjoyed my free basic membership for a couple of years now. Through that basic membership, I have access to all kinds of relevant information like city and relocation guides and an expat magazine. Those resources are highly valuable if first starting out or daydreaming about "hmmm, where should I go next?" I've occasionally used the forum feature in the Istanbul section of Internations where people post their job openings or 'positions wanted' listings, their moving sales, and their color commentary. I find that valuable. I've mostly used it to source books.
Sampling Turkish wine together
There is also an Internations paid membership, called the Albatross membership, which has a small monthly cost. It allows people to send unlimited messages to others in the network. I could imagine that would be useful to someone who organizes lots of activities or does business with other professionals. The Albatross membership would be useful for anyone who does business with expats because there is an advanced search feature that allows people to search by nationality, organization, or interests. Albatross membership also provides people free entry into the monthly megaparty held in each city. I find those parties to be meat-market-like and skippable even though they are often in beautiful and interesting locations. It's hard to have an in-depth conversation with anyone at one of those events.

The feature on Internations that has been a Godsend to me is the local events section.  Nice people all over the city organize outings and/or actual groups that meet on an ongoing basis. My hike to the Belgrad Forest was an event advertised on Internations by my friend Yasemin. I've also joined two different groups on Internations that have been so fun and so full of terrific, delightful people that I keep coming back to them again and again. I will write about my Internations book group and travel group both in later posts. I also appreciate that the basic Internations membership allows me to organize my connections with new friends in a different place than Facebook. That's useful if I'm not ready to make someone a Facebook friend.
Chilled Out in a Cappadochian Cave
I'm always surprised when sheer visits to a site don't translate into enough traffic to generate revenue. For example, I thought reader's consistent daily visits to the New York Times were enough for them to go out and sell advertising based on high viewership. I thought my consistent return to Internations was too.  Apparently not though, because both organizations have demanded a new monthly fee for a specific level of service beyond the minimum. I hate it when that happens! Aren't my eyeballs enough?
Dinner at Meze by Lemon Tree,
Frequently rated #1 restaurant in Istanbul
on Tripadvisor
Reluctantly, due to the new fees, my groups on Internations have concluded that we will go elsewhere for our organization and communication. My book group had set up an entire alternative communication method as we were limited to only five messages a month each on Internations (imagine how frequently we'd have visited if we could have done all of our communication with each other through the site - that limit made us create backup plans) and my travel group has already migrated to Facebook. Will Internations stay interesting if access becomes so restricted that people move their energy elsewhere?

Have you become a member of Internations? What's been your experience? What have you valued the most?

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Time Out for Turkish

Maiden's Tower on the Bosphorus

I haven't blogged here for awhile.  It is not because I don't have a million things to say; I do. I have had to choose - between spending time learning Turkish - or blogging. Turkish won. It's not like I have a staff who can help me keep my blog going while I study: gidiyorum, gidiyorsun, gidiyor. The authenticity of my blog is that it is merely me, myself, and I.

I've had so much fun learning Turkish, I've put "learning another language" on my bucket list. Before becoming an "Empty Nest Expat" I was a typical American who could only speak English. I took 7th grade French, but I didn't learn much and never had any opportunity to use it.  These days in America, a child could at least practice his Spanish with a native speaker on a daily basis. Like many in America, I found it hard to justify the time investment of learning another language with only the typical two weeks of vacation each year, usually spent within the continental United States. Take a look at this infographic before embarking on a language journey.

Part of being an "Empty Nest Expat" though is to meet people on their turf and attempt to communicate with them in their language and hear, see and feel their point-of-view. My time in the Czech Republic rid me of the intimidation factor many Americans feel toward learning a foreign language because I met plenty of people who had learned not one, but two, and sometimes three or more foreign languages.  If they could do it, why not me?  This was such a perfect example of the importance of role models in our learning environment. Even though I came from a highly educated environment (my hometown is among the top three American cities for number of Ph.D.'s per capita), I don't often meet Americans who have learned a lot of languages, so it is easy to say and think,"I'll never learn." Nonsense.

America's political climate also encourages America to stay ignorant of the languages and world outside of America.  When I was younger, if a politician made fun of another politician for knowing a foreign language, it wouldn't have occured to me to wonder "why does that politician want to keep Americans afraid of and ignorant of the greater world? Is he afraid we'd all discover that our country is getting outperformed on several metrics?" This downscale English-only attitude may appeal to some aspects of the American public but only furthers to make the nation less competitive globally. Plus, when our citizens don't know other languages, we really do have to rely on our own political leaders for interpretation of events.  It's healthy to have points of interaction with other countries at many levels, including citizen-to-citizen, and not just in our native language.
The first week I was in Turkey, I went to YouTube to look up "10 words of survival Turkish." The two words for "thank you" take six syllables to say. YouTube was censored at the time in Turkey so I found this instead: the 100 most useful words in Turkish. I learned them. My goal was to learn three words a day. Next came this resource, the free part of the website called "Funky Turkish." I've also been using a book called "Turkish in Three Months." I've lived here a year-and-a-half and I'm about halfway through.

The person who has really propelled me forward on my language learning journey is Aaron G. Myers, writer of the Everyday Language Learner blog.  Aaron is a former English language teacher who now is a self-employed language-learning coach. I signed up to take his free 10-week course on self-directed language learning.  I also won an hour of coaching from him through his Facebook page.  These two wonderful educational tools have helped me realize and maintain my own enthusiasm for learning Turkish.

It doesn't hurt that Aaron also lives in Istanbul, and has taken the exact same journey I'm on - learning Turkish! He's created, for example, his own handcrafted audio site for people learning Turkish language to listen to again and again.  It's called the Turkish Listening Library. It would be fun to contribute my own Turkish audio someday.

Aaron Myer's blog and advice are suitable for any language.  He has taught me about fun online language-learning resources that I did not know about. So far, I haven't spent a dime on the Turkish I have learned. I also have invested only the amount of time I would not regret spending on it while living here.

I started with a resource Aaron suggested as part of his 10-week journey: It's the largest language-learning website on the Internet. I first logged on on March 7th, 2011 and finished my final and 51st lesson on January 24, 2012.

Now I am beginning with a second online resource he recommended called which will help me graduate from phrases to conversations. I am still a beginner but I can make myself understood with people who don't know English, even with my rudimentary grammer.

The first year of language learning is the hardest. I watched with interest as Yearlyglot tried to learn Turkish in one year from Italy.  I lived here in Turkey and I wasn't near that fast! At the end of the year, he admitted, "ok, so maybe that wasn't doable." But in watching people learn, I learned too. I also learned not to think of language as something binary: not knowing or flown-blown fluency.  One of my Czech students told me he had a fine vacation in North American on 150 words of English. Getting to that level with online resources is fun and easy.

Did you know, when the creators of Esperanto were looking around the world for a suitable grammar for their newly-created language they chose Turkish grammar as the most logical?  I found that, in itself, motivating!

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Does the World Need the Opposite of a Nobel Peace Prize?

Do you remember when Ronald Reagan first declared the totalitarian Soviet Union an "evil empire?" Many citizens in the Soviet Union cite that moment as the one that caused them to really think about and question their own system.

"How could that be?" I wondered,  "Everyone could see it was evil, why couldn't the people who actually live there? Why would it take an American President to make them stop and question something that was so obviously not working for participants and outsiders alike?"

Reagan said:
...I urge you to beware the temptation of pride, the temptation of blithely declaring yourselves above it all and label both sides equally at fault, to ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire, to simply call the arms race a giant misunderstanding and thereby remove yourself from the struggle between right and wrong and good and evil.
President Bush tried to create the same effect of waking foreign citizens out of their denial by demanding Iran, Iraq, and North Korea end their "axis of evil."  Unfortunately, President Bush seemed to be in his own self-delusion regarding weapons of mass destruction in Iraq at the time so it didn't quite have the intended effect. And it also didn't accurately reflect those three nations diplomatic actions.  They weren't in a tri-part pact.

If people get delusional, it makes sense that countries and societies can get delusional too. They are just a giant collection of individual people.  Indeed, there are delightful books written about economic self-delusion such as Tulipmania:  The Story of the World's Most Coveted Flower & the Extraordinary Passions It Aroused. Another well-known form of personal delusion is addiction as described in the fiction bestseller A Million Little Pieces.

What could some national delusions be?  How about:
Debt loads?
Ethnic cleansing (World War II Germany and the Balkans and Rwanda more recently)?
Environmental degradation?
Hatred? (Middle Eastern attitudes toward Jewish People and European attitudes toward Roma)?
Extreme Paranoia and Societal Militarization (North Korea)?
Extreme Paranoia and Thugocracy? (Iran)
Nationalization of Property? (Soviet Union)
Non-Acceptance of Election Results? (Ivory Coast)
Extraordinary Corruption? (Afghanistan)
Extraordinary Use of Resources (United Arab Emirates and the United States)
Censorship and Lack of Free Expression (China)

What if someone with more credibility and less baggage than President Bush, a disinterested organization with a track record of caring, credibility, and leadership toward uplifting humanity gave the national equivalent of a 12-step intervention to a nation?  A diplomatic call to "snap out of it!"

I propose that such a yearly intervention exist. Coming from the Nobel Committee, this yearly-awarded challenge could go to the country most needing a loving intervention and reminder that your fellow humans wish the best for you and think you can and should do better.

In order to let a nation know it needs to change, this intervention could be labeled not the Nobel Prize, but the Nobel Challenge. The Nobel Challenge would be the very classy national equivalent of friends and family sending an addict to rehab. Detox, please!

 Even if countries go behind "an iron curtain," if the citizens have known about the prize beforehand and find out that their country has won the award, it becomes a kind of shorthand meaning "look long and hard at the direction your nation is headed.  We, orignators of the award, "challenge" you because we think your nation is the one potentially endangering the peace of the world. It forces debate among citizens that can't be so easily dismissed and ignored.

The Nobel Challenge could be the sort of thing that seeps change into a country at the grassroots level.  How can any one story in the media reach the North Korean people and give them the message "the entire world thinks you need a change."  For all I know, the North Korean people know that better than we do.  But do all the people of Iran? What seeps into the minds of the oppressed at the grass roots level? One big call to action might not only bring people to discuss change, but be empowered to create change.

Here's another example from my own culture where a society fails to recognize its own delusion.  There were recently stories in the news that America and the United Arab Emirates consume electricity and water in huge quantities.  The United Arab Emirates used four times as much water as Europe and four times as much electricity as the United States. These stories may have been noted for about 24 hours when they came out but most citizens of those countries would just yawn in indifference.What if the world, in the form of the Nobel Committee, said through the Nobel Challenge, "your use of resources is unsustainable, please change, your behaviour could create potential conflicts." First, my country would have a hissy fit, then we would get down to business and exceed whatever benchmark was given for change. 

So how can humanity create change rather than yawning indifference to a long-term story? Think instead how the announcement of a Nobel Prize is treated.  The tradition is institutionalized so journalists are prepared for the announcement and make sure to cover it in a significant way.  It's a tradition that is highly anticipated around the world.  It has a track record that people can discuss and debate.  It has a meaning deeper than one particular year or person or organization. Instantly, when a Nobel Prize is announced, book clubs around the world read the works written by the author cited in the literature prize, for example, and think about the author's ideas and discuss what has been held up to the light by the prize.

Why even a totalitarian nation might have a hard time keeping that news from it's people no matter how hard it tried.  It would be the equivalent of when an addict is confronted by all their family and all of their coworkers and the ability to "excuse" is stripped away. I recognize that defiance (one of the central hallmarks of an addict), may be the outcome of a dictator being challenged in this way, but the world has to shut him down sometime.

 In George Orwell's "Animal Farm," it's when the pigs take the milk and apples from the other animals and the other animals notice and don't say anything that the abuse of power continues and increases. Orwell calls it the turning point of the story.  When Chamberlain appeased Hitler with Czechoslovakia, same thing.  Indeed, an  ignored Nobel Challenge to someone like Saddam for the way he treated his citizens might have given George Bush some legitimacy for later intervention (I can't believe I just said that, I didn't believe in that military intervention one whit).

As the history of the Nobel Challenge built up, it might begin to have a preemptive performance effect before it is even given.  Jack Welch, the CEO of GE chosen by Fortune Magazine as the "Manager of the Century", was famous for the performance he got out of his company (when he took over as CEO, revenues were $26.8 billion - when he left they were $130 billion). He had a rule that he would eliminate the bottom 10% of nonperforming staff every year.  Can you imagine how extremely motivating it must have been to people to not be in that bottom 10%?  Can you imagine how motivating it would be to not have your country ever receive a Nobel Challenge?  It sounds cruel, but actual conflicts are crueler.  Just read my previous blog post for a reminder.

All managers of any sort of human enterprise know that there is an entire emotional cycle to implementing change with all kinds of foot-dragging and noise by those who hate changing.  The Nobel Challenge could be helpful in prodding those who love the status quo because it's the "devil they know." The world may have to absorb change at an even faster pace in the future.

If our species doesn't find a way to challenge the ever-expanding global abuses of power in a cost-effective, non-military way, could it be the turning point in our story?

Friday, December 17, 2010

Celebrating Those Who Celebrate the Best In Humanity

2010 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Liu Xiaobo (right)
 and his wife Liu Xia (left)

Last week about this time I was watching the live coverage of the Nobel Peace Prize ceremony.  Did you happen to catch it?  It was moving.  Apparently CNN International does a live interview with the recipient immediately after they receive their prize.  China did not allow this year's recipient, a Chinese citizen, to travel to Oslo to receive his prize (note to Communist Central Committees - anytime your decision puts you and Adolf Hitler in the same historical footnote, you might want to consider alternative viewpoints before making the final call).

CNN International was left to use their entire Nobel Peace Prize interview hour to discuss with various people what human rights are like in China.  If you were watching, like me, did you come to the same conclusion that all of us really know nothing of what is going on in China?

CNN International mentioned that the People's Republic employs 50,000 people just to keep the Internet censored at all times.  It made me think about how many goods I purchase from China (especially since every country's manufacturing seems to have been farmed out there) and how little these purchases reflect my values if they are being manufactured in a tolitarian state. The first step in addressing a problem is awareness.

It impressed me that despite all of its economic power, the majority of the world would not be bullied into ignoring the ceremony based on China's demands.  It impressed me that Norway is charged with administering the Nobel Peace Prize because Alfred Nobel admired that Norway had never declared war on another country (check out their wealth indicators - peace pays).  It impressed me that such a tiny, little country has found a way to capture the world's imagination, to get people like me to slow down for an afternoon, and to consider where we as a species are going.  Norway, there is nothing small about your ideas.

To honor the Norweigan people for their ability to be the thought leaders of the world on the subject of peace, I want to do my small part today and share something I never heard of or read until I moved to Europe.  It is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights created by the United Nations 61 years ago.

Get a cup of coffee, take a few moments, and ask yourself if your country measures up on every article.  Did you even know this Declaration existed? Did you even know that some of these items were your rights as a human being as decided by the peoples of the Earth? Were you surprised by any of the human rights declared?  I was surprised by Article 16, the whole section on marriage and family. 

How can we as individuals move our global leaders closer to honoring these rights rather than ignoring them? Do you feel your own country is delivering on these globally universal human rights?

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Not All Who Travel Must Leave Their Armchair

There are times in one's life when there is no possibility of travel.  When illness threatens, for example, or there are numerous small children to raise, or when the budget just doesn't allow for it. But there are still ways to allow the imagination to take off and see far-off lands and consider peoples and places that are new to us.

Recently, I discovered a blog that encourages precisely that sort of thing.  The Global Reading Challenge encourages people to select a book from each continent of our globe and read it.  This is exactly the sort of deep dive into each other's point-of-view that isn't happening enough in the Internet age of reading chunks of information.

As an American, I would often hear a recitation of American authors from my European friends that they enjoyed.  I have to admit, when an Italian teenager on the subway bumped into me and I was expecting something rude to come out of his mouth, he instead responded to my American accent and described all of his favorite outdoor American writers from Jack London to Jon Krakauer.  His favorite American writing? I was curious to hear what it would be.  ''The American constitution - where it says you have the right to pursue happiness. Beautiful!'' he said.

How could I not feel that this young man understood my culture after he shared what he had read about it? It would be impossible! The Global Reading Challenge has easy, medium, and advanced levels of challenge.  Wouldn't this be a fun challenge to do with a teenager in your family if you are a parent or grandparent? Has your book club challenged itself to read around the world? Click on my title to access the blog and reader reviews of suggested titles.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Safely in Sofia

Good morning from Sofia, Bulgaria! What a fantastic, comfortable, and easy bus trip that was. There was so much to look at.  It was the first time I was in Moravia, Czech Republic. I loved seeing all of this beautiful wine country.  The bus drove through Brno, and I remarked to my bus companion "wow, so many panalaks (Communist working housing that looks like an American housing project). It's too bad."  "I don't see them that way," she said. "to me, it's normal."

I had always heard that Bratislava was a Communist architecture monstrosity, but it didn't look so bad as we drove through it.  My Slovakian companion showed me the historic castle up on the bluff overlooking the Danube.  The Danube River was large, filled to the brim, and it looked worth singing about. The bridges in Bratislava were beautifully designed and quite striking.

From Bratislava, we drove on toward Budapest. I loved seeing this crazy Hungarian language on all of the road signs.  In both Slovakia and Hungary, it looked like the topsoil had been eroded away (Iowans care deeply about such things - we're topsoil proud).  Hungary had beautiful wildflowers, especially fields of wild red poppies.  I wonder if Frank Baum, the man who wrote "The Wizard of Oz" had been to Hungary.  Remember when Dorothy falls asleep in the field of poppies? I don't think buses go through the pretty parts of a city because I didn't see any historical parts of Budapest, only globalized McDonald's drive-thrus and Aldis. Not so compelling.

A friend of a friend was on the bus and she prepared me that we would have to sit for a long time on the Serbian border because it wasn't a part of the EU. I'm glad she had told me this because it took a good hour.
Most of our journey through Serbia was in the dark.  My only real outside contact with anything Serbian was going into two globalized large convenience store/gas stations that could have been anywhere in the world. That hardly counts!

We arrived a half-hour early.  I chatted up three Bulgarians the whole way and they were so kind and helpful to me when we arrived in Sofia.  They helped me haul all of my luggage to the storage facility and translate with the staff there.  Truly, when I have an interaction like that, it makes me vow to look out for foreigners who need help when I'm also traveling.  These Bulgarian bus drivers were so nice and helpful too.  I was the only American on the bus. Now it's time to connect with my Sofia couchsurfing host.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Buying Retail in the Czech Republic

The Palladium Mall
at Christmas time
Inspired by artist David Hlynsky's photos of communist shop windows, I decided to share my consumer's view of Czech retail. One of my students told me in class that Czechs don't really have a retail tradition. All of the grocery stores in the Czech Republic, like Tesco, are owned by foreigners. We had been discussing the Palladium Mall in particular, a gleaming, relentlessly upscale shopping mall two blocks from my place that had opened up in the last two years.

My student said the mall concept is a foreign idea to Czechs. I thought to myself, "you aren't missing much. You've seen one mall (even one as shiny bright and pretty as this one) and you've seen them all." My reaction to shopping in any mall is one giant big yawn.

The Palladium mall
could really be anywhere
in the world,
couldn't it?

There was one Czech retailer that predated communism, a department store called Bila Labut (white swan) which was celebrating it's 70th anniversary. Bila Labut is only two blocks from the Palladium Mall at 23 Na Porici opposite the Legio Bank building . It hadn't yet responded to the salvo of sophistication sent off by the Palladium. It better hurry. When I went inside Bila Labut, I was rushed with long-forgotten memories of the downtown Younkers department store of my childhood, a retail store replaced forty years ago. This store is 'in transition'.

Bila Labut

Bila Labut shop windows
convey what I would call
'dated seediness'

A numbering order
that must be logical
to a different mind than mine

The view from the mezzanine

These merchandising adjacencies
were fascinating;
would you have put these
items together as likely
add-on sales to each other?
I need a pair of sunglasses
because the glare from my cuckoo clock
is too much!

Or maybe there's literary appreciation at work.
Display through alliteration:
tableclothes and tennis shoes!

Need to create an instant department?
Saran Wrap does the trick.

Here's a decorating idea
that hadn't yet occurred to me.
Put an umbrella at the base of my
Christmas tree.

To paraphrase Henry Ford:
You can have any color so long as it is
beige or pink.
My grandmother would have felt
very comfortable shopping here.

Which one of these furniture colors
would you like to have in your home?

If the furniture itself doesn't give you an
idea of the need for an update -
the style names themselves might.
This is the Thelma.
You can also select the Betty and the Linda.

Nothing wrong with the view
from the big factory windows
used in the store - it's beautiful!

The end of communism
was the greatest gift ever
to the Schindler Elevator Company-

imagine country after country
full of buildings
that hadn't updated their elevators
in forty years!

I was grateful that I would be
able to call for help.

I have new appreciation for that
law in America that requires elevators
to post the date of their last inspection.

I enjoy the language used in Czech retail. Businesses often put up signage that says: "our offer:" It has such a friendly sound to it. Then what follows is a list of what they are selling. The big car-oriented shopping centers that are starting to spring up don't say they're open 24 hours a day. Instead it almost sounds like one is at the casino. Those stores want you to know they are open "non-stop." The action never ends!
A wonderful movie captures Czech retail "in transition" from communism to capitalism. I thought I would hate the documentary because it involves a practical joke played against the Czech public. I hate practical jokes. In the end I loved the movie and want to recommend you see it. If you're in the States, you can rent "Czech Dream" through Netflix.
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