Hunger Games and Syrian Children

This weekend, I watched the film Hunger Games. I know, I know, I arrived at that show a bit late. But I knew it would be intense viewing so I wanted to be prepared and a brutal sinus thingy ensured I had plenty of time lying around on my back.

Most things in my life these days come back to Syria, and Hunger Games was no different.

From the very first second, the film captures a world where life is a daily struggle. Hard. Heavy. Exhausting at the deepest level. Children are raised into a life where there is little to hope for and much to fear. A life in which, however, the odds were “ever in their favour” – because in actuality almost all of those children would survive the fear and go on to live mundane yet peaceful lives.

Much as it pains me to think it, this reminds me a bit of Syria before all this mess began. There wasn’t all that much hope going around. There was quite a lot of fear. But all in all, a predictable and even somewhat happy life awaited most Syrian children.

At the annual “Reaping”, when one boy and one girl from each “District” were chosen to represent their district in the yearly “Hunger Games”, an event in which kids would fight each other to the death, a military propaganda film is shown. The film reminds people that they once knew war and chaos, but now they live in peace, and they are reminded to thank their ruling authorities for the stability they now enjoy. And, out of that gratitude, they are required to sacrifice one boy and one girl to these murderous games. The stability that was Syria for many years was also a trade: don’t ask questions in exchange for peace.

At this point in the film, I began to really hope that the chosen kids, the main characters in this film, would challenge the status quo. And for a while there it looked like they might inspire a revolution in the so-called Districts. But it didn’t happen.

Instead, when the Hunger Games began, they learned to fight, they learned to kill, and they became brutal, mostly heartless. What truly broke my heart, and brought tears to my eyes when I thought of Syria, was that it was the grown-ups who inspired the children to become evil. The grown-ups taught them to fight and reminded them that victory would only come if they killed other children. How can the leadership of a country, or of an opposition militia for that matter, intentionally raise up children to maim, murder and torture?

And yet they do. I never wanted to believe it, but they do. Syria is not the only place in the world where I’ve lived that has child soldiers, but it is the only place where I knew those children before they became soldiers. I saw that they had promise and potential. I saw them giggling, playing in the streets and hugging their mothers.

In Hunger Games, I wanted the children to fight back. I wanted the millions of TV-viewers watching the fictional Hunger Games to be inspired by children who did The Right Thing. But the competitors are, at the end of the day, just children. And power is a tough force to reckon with.

In Syria, there are people fighting back, standing up for peace and non-violence and cooperation. I feel honoured to have met some of those people and am endlessly inspired by their courage. But they are so few, and the tidal wave against which they are standing is so massive.

 

on a different [side] note, Dreams in the Medina, my novel about Syrian women, is now available in print form! Do check out the links by clicking on the cover image… 

Posted in Syrians who have inspired me, TV | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Engaging with Mourning

Dear fellow culturtwiners,

I shudder at myself, allowing two months and ten days to pass since I last posted on CulturTwined! Someone as hooked on writing as me should never let so much time pass without writing anything, and I definitely shouldn’t call myself a blogger if I’m never in the blogosphere! To those of you whose blogs I follow, your words are all queued up on Feedly – hopefully I will catch up with you, too – I know it goes both ways and I really do benefit so much from what you write.

Here’s the summary of my silence:

In July, I was nervous about a potential job offer, uncertainty in my existing job, awesome office politics, and the usual litany of transition that is my life. And, to be honest, I was really, really enjoying life in Istanbul – what a magical city!

In August, it occurred to me that I should update CulturTwined, but I had this odd emotion: I shuddered at the thought of writing! I so absolutely did not want to write anything that I didn’t have to write for work.

Now September is soon to be over and my theme for the month is BREATHE. There is too much going on in my life right now and I just need to remember to breathe. I thought that leaving Turkey and leaving work on the Syria response would joyfully propel my life back into some blissful type of culturally monolithic boredom. Well, that didn’t happen. Once a culturtwiner…

Instead, I’ve started a new job, continued to do research on the Middle East which involves regular skype calls with people still in-the-thick-of-things, fielded a series of irritating little personal problems, and – possibly most importantly – tried to figure out what my relationship to Syria should be now that it’s not my job anymore.

During the past year or so, I’ve read a few things on mourning. Mourning describes me pretty well. I’m definitely in mourning – but mourning what? Am I just mourning the great food in Damascus, the legendary Syrian hospitality, and the breathtaking view from Mt. Qasioun?

Here is a video of the things I may be mourning:

Or am I feeling some internal urge to mourn on behalf of my friends, mourning their homes, the jobs and degrees they have had to give up, and in some cases the loss of their loved ones?

Or is this survivor’s guilt? Am I mourning because I feel guilty that others are going through this and I’m not?

Or is it something else that I can’t yet capture in words?

Well, CulturTwined is back (albeit with no promises of regularity), and it will be taking a bit of a meditative tone. I’ll be exploring what it means to love a culture but not belong, to care about a place from afar only to watch it disintegrate into ashes, to care about friends who are living a nightmare.

Thanks for bearing with the journey, Kati

Posted in adjusting to London, Syrians who have inspired me | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Today I saw a random fight break out, and it gave me hope

Today my housemate and I finally ventured out to the famed Prince Islands, the perfect weekend day-trip in Istanbul. An hour-long ferry ride gets you away from the city – except for the fact you can still see it across the water – and to a rocky beach, hills, and a prohibition of motorised vehicles. We went to island #2 out of four on the ferry route: Burgazada. It’s 1.5 km2, a bit of it filled by an old quaint village and the rest of it filled by a tall idyllic green hill that we climbed. The day was sun-filled and a tad exhausting, but absolutely worth it for the chance to escape the insanity of downtown living in a city of 13+ million.

That's me climbing down the hill. Village at the bottom to the right. Istanbul across the water in the distance.

That’s me climbing down the hill. Village at the bottom to the right. Istanbul across the water in the distance.

We caught the ferry back just after 5pm. It was a popular time to catch the ferry and the boat was close to bursting with the volume of humanity stuffed into it. We were lucky enough to get a seat, but it came at the price of sitting indoors on a beautiful day, in a spot where we could barely see the Sea of Marmara out the windows.

As we pulled away from the last island where the ferry collected passengers before heading back into town, I heard a commotion and looked up. A woman of about 40 was obviously very angry at a man who may have been 5 years her senior. She had an adolescent boy with her, her son I imagine, who held a bandage up to his cheek. The man was with his entire family, which included a girl of about 15 or so. The shouting grew louder as the woman threw verbal jibes at the man, and he replied in kind. I didn’t understand a word they were saying in spitfire Turkish, but the sentiment came through loud and clear.

As the argument heated, the boy tried to embrace his mother. She shook him off and kept shouting, standing up and waving her arms grandly. The boy stood up with her and whispered something in her ear, trying to calm her with his free hand. For a moment he let go of the bandage on his cheek and saw that it was still bleeding. Was that related to the fight? Probably not; most likely they were fighting over their coveted seats on the boat.

His mother was inconsolable, though, and took a step towards the man and raised her voice further. Meanwhile, the teenaged girl stood up when her father stood and took his shoulders in her hands, ever so gently. He shook her off and the two adults advanced toward each other. It looked like this might come to blows.

But the boy stood in front of his mother and wouldn’t let her get any closer to the man. The girl stood in front of her father and wouldn’t let him get any closer to the woman. After a few seconds, she grabbed her father’s arm and pulled him away, dragging him to a different section of the boat where he could cool down. The boy pulled his mother back down to her seat and lay his head on her shoulder.

An argument is never pleasant, but I was ecstatic at witnessing two teenagers standing up to their parents for the sake of peace. I spent a fair bit of the rest of the boat ride pondering whether younger people are more peace-loving in general, or whether this new generation that is about to come of age in the Middle East is a remarkably peace-loving generation.

It occurred to me that this was not the first time since I arrived in Turkey that I’d witnessed a fight between gray-haired (or nearly so) people, only to be pulled apart by someone much younger. I recalled that the youthful protestors in Istanbul have, for the most part, insisted on taking a nonviolent approach to their activism. My housemate and I brainstormed a few reasons why it might be that a more peaceful generation may be emerging in this region which seems to set off with any little spark. We wondered if it might be the Internet that has given them a new outlet for communicating their frustrations, or if it might be Globalisation which has broadened their education to include new and different values.

I have no idea whether any such theories are true, but the vision of that boy persuading his mother to be a bit less argumentative, and of that girl urging her father to take the less confrontational route… it will stay with me. Of all the things I’ve seen in recent months, this probably gave me the most hope.

Straining over the heads of the other ferry passengers to get a shot of Istanbul (photo credit goes to the housemate - i wouldn't have even tried. But the setting sun is still lovely, eh?)

Straining over the heads of the other ferry passengers to get a shot of Istanbul (photo credit goes to the housemate – I wouldn’t have even tried. But the setting sun is still lovely, eh?)

Posted in Causes, hope, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Solidarity Turkey-Brazil: #OccupyGezi + #VemPraRua – Two videos to reflect the spirit behind the movements

I’m temporarily living in Turkey.

I grew up in Brazil.

These two countries have all of a sudden been linked by a deep but unusual bond: the people have risen up, right now, in June 2013, to express their passion for justice, peace and solidarity.

Here in Turkey, I’ve been watching events very closely. They’re happening right outside my window and I’ve blogged about it here and here. But it’s taken a bit of digging for me to reach some understanding of what’s happening in Brazil. In summary: lots of marching, lots of excitement, lots of yearning to see the world a better place, lots of begging to be heard.

The two movements have a lot in common, but they’re also quite different. I want to share here two semi-official (they can’t actually be official because these are PEOPLE’s movements, not some organised institution) videos of the two movements. I think they nicely embody the spirit of what’s happening in both countries. And… sit back, relax, and enjoy some awesome music!

Turkey:

Brazil (by the way “pequeno” means small – as in, anything but!):

 

Posted in Causes | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Every few minutes a boom… the morning after police cleared Gezi Park

I am currently living on the top floor of an old building on a heavily trafficked side road by the famed Istiklal Caddesi pedestrian-only street, a stone’s throw from Taksim Square. Last Saturday evening my housemates and I sat on our balcony, listening to the joyful chants and watching the celebratory lanterns which floated up from the Square. I wrote all about the fantastic atmosphere emanating from that place here.

This week on Saturday evening we sat inside, on the sofa, with all the windows closed to keep out the painful fumes of tear gas, but we jumped up to peer down to the street every time we heard a bang or a surge in the shouting. Which was often.

And now, on Sunday morning, the streets are quiet. It’s actually almost 1 p.m. as I write this, but the movement on the streets is more like what you’d expect under the rays of the newborn sun. The odd car, a pedestrian or two, only a handful of shops open. I think we are all waiting, wondering what will happen next.

Yesterday evening, I walked up to Taksim Square to meet some friends for dinner. I passed families with children, tourists speaking half a dozen different language, Istanbulis enjoying their weekend… the usual bustle of a popular destination. The area was busy and crowded and, even though I was only a hundred metres or so from Gezi Park which is where it all began, I couldn’t see the park. My friends and I decided to go eat and then check out the park after that.

See, we really wanted to visit the park because on Friday night and Thursday night a German-Italian piano player had rolled his grand piano into the square by the park and started playing. Literally, he drove a car with a tractor trailer right up to the park, unloaded a piano, and played – for twelve hours straight each time. Several thousand demonstrators and passers-by had joined in singing songs about hope and joy. He was planning on coming back and we hoped to see him.

As we left the restaurant, though, some kind ladies on the street warned us that there was trouble ahead. We started walking toward Taksim to see just what kind of trouble she meant, and before we saw the trouble, we saw the look on people’s faces. They were not happy. Many were walking away from the Square, getting as far from the action as possible. Others were walking toward the Square with determination on their faces. We started passing boys with big boxes of surgical masks and ski goggles. Apparently they were for sale at first, but once things intensified they would start handing them out for free. The crowds grew tighter, young men started banging on metal gratings to express their sense of urgency. A girl’s face was smeared with some salve to alleviate the tear gas she’d just ingested. A young man lifted his shirt to bandage a cut on his back. We felt it in the air: this was not a happy night.

Finally, we decided we had gone too far and cut down a side street. On the side streets you could scarce imagine anything was going on at all: the bars and cafés were all still open and full of customers. My friends graciously walked me home and I told them to come back and stay with me if they had trouble getting back to their place. Fortunately, they had no trouble, but I imagine that if they’d waited half an hour more they would have.

By the time I got upstairs and planted myself in front of a television, I watched live as Istiklal Caddesi where I’d been 15 minutes earlier was occupied by the police. The crowds were now running, the street was soaked in water from the water cannons the police were using to push people back, and fumes of tear gas created an ethereal cloud over the street.

Fifteen minutes more and the shouting on our street began. We jumped up and saw youth gathering on our street. A few minutes more and we saw a throng of people running down from Istiklal, fleeing the gas. A few minutes more and we heard what sounded like a gunshot. It wasn’t a gun, just the shot of a gas pellet. More bangs meant more clashes, but fortunately none of them used any lethal weapons at all. Later on Twitter I learned that some of the bangs were nothing but sound bangs intended to scare protestors. (By the way, Davide Martello’s piano was confiscated as he made his way to the Park last night.)

I have a great deal of sympathy for the protestors because they did such an amazing job of organising themselves, because they are so committed and, indeed, because they are incredibly polite. These pictures give a sense of what there is to love about them.

And because it’s so hard for me to fathom the response. Once I was back home and able to surf social media, I put the pieces together. When I’d been in Taksim earlier in the evening, at 8pm, police had already been gathering. At 9pm, or right about sundown, they entered the park. The police had been clashing with protestors in Taksim all week, but were leaving the park, where the hard-core protestors had set up a miniature tent city, alone. The government wanted them out by Sunday but they said they weren’t going anywhere. So at 9pm on Saturday (yes, a day before the ultimatum), police in full riot gear, gas masks and helmets barged into the park. The protestors in the park, most of whom are die-hard environmentalists, did not have gas masks to protect themselves with. As the park filled with the unbearable gas, the protestors fled. They left their tents, their library, their health clinic behind. The police then gave the go-ahead to a team of bulldozers and cleaners who spent the next twelve hours getting rid of tents and graffiti and making the park look like nothing had ever happened. I’ve seen pictures of the park this morning – onlookers are barred from entering the Square – and it looks lovely.

Meanwhile, though, the Gezi Park protestors did not go home. They gathered on side roads and were soon joined by thousands of others in solidarity. This is when the real clashes began, what I saw reach my street. And one of the most extraordinary moments was when thousands of supporters started walking from the Asia side to the Europe side, where the park/square is located. The police blocked them from crossing the bridge, so they all just lay down peacefully, but determinedly.

But, to finish, the most horrifying bit of this story for me is the recollection that at 8 p.m. the Square was full of families, parents with strollers, little kids running around. Sure enough, when the police action began, many families were separated. Dozens of children were lost or had trouble finding their parents.

So, in a beautiful act of solidarity, a hotel just down the street became the “lost and found” for children, as well as opening its door to people wounded in the clashes.

Well, here is what happened to its reception:

This is one of the more benign of the pictures I’ve seen of this hotel’s lobby. Police tried to enter and protestors formed a human chain and sang the Turkish national anthem to keep them from entering but they eventually broke through and, yes, they gassed the lobby. More than once. The lobby of the hotel that provided safe refuge for separated children and the wounded.

I’m a big believer in any issue having two sides, but I’m really having trouble seeing the perspective of the other side right now.

Posted in Causes | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

my little photoblog of Istanbul’s #OccupyGezi in Taksim Square

I’m living just down the street from the place-where-it-all-began here in Turkey. If you haven’t seen the news, amazing things are happening in Turkey these days! Last weekend, environmental protests were violently rebuffed by the police and large-scale rioting broke out. I was in Jordan last weekend, so I missed all the fun — that is, the torture by teargas which no doubt seeped through the entire neighbourhood. But at some time in between Saturday night and Sunday morning, the police stepped down and let the protestors have the square. By this point, the protestors numbered in the hundreds of thousands and had destroyed fences and cars in the square to create barricades to keep the police out of the square. With the immediate threat of police attack over, the protestors moved in. By the time I arrived back in town on Friday night, the square had transformed into a tent city cum street party which felt suspiciously like what Woodstock must have felt like.

This is a huge deal. If you have not been paying attention, I strongly recommend you pay attention. It is no small thing when police withdraw, admitting [temporary] defeat to protestors who take over the heart of the city. The Square and the Park are incredibly well-run, protests are still ongoing, political groups are hyper-active… but there is no single leadership. A more ‘popular’ movement you have not seen, at least not that I know of. I suspect one of two things will happen: either this will change things in Turkey, and possibly many other countries, forever; or the protestors will lose their furor and the police will catch them off guard one of these days. Many of us are hoping for the first, simply because their enthusiasm and HOPE is so contagious.

Enough postulating on my part. The point of this blog is to share with you some of the photos I’ve taken as I’ve walked through the square. Photos are totally OK, there’s no police regulation at all. But when I tried to take a shot of the health clinic that was set up they flashed light in my eyes so my camera wouldn’t work and asked me to stop. Otherwise, all was fair game…

    Boys waving flags on an overturned car at midnight. There was much about the Square that reminded me of a scene from Les Mis...

Boys waving flags on an overturned car at midnight. There was much about the Square that reminded me of a scene from Les Mis…

A barricade blocking access to the square from the Northern End. I live at the Southern End, down a pedestrian-only street, which is currently entirely occupied by protestors - it's weird how all the police have disappeared.

A barricade blocking access to the square from the Northern End. I live at the Southern End, down a pedestrian-only street, which is currently entirely occupied by protestors – it’s weird how all the police and cars have disappeared.

There is LOADS of patriotic bling for sale. In fact, not just bling... there is loads of all kinds of stuff for sale!

There is LOADS of patriotic bling for sale. In fact, not just bling… there is loads of all kinds of stuff for sale!

As I approached the Square yesterday afternoon, a huge cloud of smoke covered the entire area. Last weekend the police used a horrific amount of tear gas, so I had a brief moment of panic that the fighting had resumed. But as I approached, the lovely smell of barbecuing meat wafted over me. Carts like this are dotted all throughout the Square.

As I approached the Square yesterday afternoon, a huge cloud of smoke covered the entire area. Last weekend the police used a horrific amount of tear gas, so I had a brief moment of panic that the fighting had resumed. But as I approached, the lovely smell of barbecuing meat wafted over me. Carts like this are dotted all throughout the Square.

One of the first things that impressed me as I wandered around the Square (especially inside the park, where all the tents are set up - which I did not take a picture of, sorry) was how CLEAN it is. I asked and was told that it's the protestors themselves who have set up a trash pick-up rota and, sure enough, I saw a young well-dressed girl with a designer purse throw a bag on this pile at the edge of the Square.

One of the first things that impressed me as I wandered around the Square (especially inside the park, where all the tents are set up – which I did not take a picture of, sorry) was how CLEAN it is. I asked and was told that it’s the protestors themselves who have set up a trash pick-up rota and, sure enough, I saw a young well-dressed girl with a designer purse throw a bag on this pile at the edge of the Square.

A few things to note here: 1- The huge protests broke out because of construction being done in the Square which would entail destroying the park (which extends behind the bulldozers for several acres) so please note that the bulldozers have been DE-activated. 2- Graffitti, Graffitti everywhere! And not just in the park where the protests happened - this volume of graffitti has filled the entire neighbourhood. 3- There's a kid playing in the bulldozer. This is ALL fun now...

A few things to note here: 1- The huge protests broke out because of construction being done in the Square which would entail destroying the park (which extends behind the bulldozers for several acres) so please note that the bulldozers have been DE-activated. 2- Graffiti, Graffiti everywhere! And not just in the park where the protests happened – this volume of graffiti has filled the entire neighbourhood. 3- There’s a kid playing in the bulldozer (oh, oops, I didn’t upload the picture with the kid playing… well, believe me he was, and not just one kid either). This is ALL fun now…

Posted in Causes | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

How can humanity…?

I was just looking through my twitter feed and learned about the bombing in Benghazi today. To be specific, a hospital in Benghazi. At least 2 children dead, they’re saying.

But it’s hard for me to react the way such news deserves, because just two days ago, two car bombs went off in Reyhanli, Southern Turkey. I know people just a few short miles from there. I talked to one of my friends who lives nearby today and I said, “I thank God it didn’t hit your city.” And she said, “Who cares? People died!” And she’s right. But I’m still glad it wasn’t her or her family…

But even that fails to even compare with the news I saw today: the death toll in Syria has now surpassed 80,000. The refugee figures are so high I’ve lost count, but it’s safe to guess that close to 1 out of 3 Syrians have fled their homes. That figure includes almost all of my friends. I praise God that the 82,000 deaths does not include any of my friends, but I tremble to think how close the death has come to their doorstep.

And I stop to wonder, Who are these people? Who would do this!

None of my friends thirst for blood; all my friends are doing everything they can to survive, and are sacrificing deeply to help others to survive.

I don’t want to know these people. I’m glad my friends are not among them.

But I stare at the news like a deer stares into the headlights of an ongoing car. Shocked, scared and completely unsure of what to do. How can someone so lightly take the life of another? What kind of a human being picks up a weapon and points it at a fellow human being? Where is the soul of the person who loads a car full of explosives and walks away to watch the ensuing carnage?

Then I walk into my office, where we are all working as hard as we can to try and somehow minimise the human suffering that is the inevitable fall-out of all this violence, and we play internal politics, gossip about each other, complain about our job. We may not cause any physical harm to each other, but neither do we provide a respite from the pain that is outside. Maybe that’s on purpose: We’d rather feel a bit of pain than feel guilty that we’re safe and happy while the people we serve are suffering so.

But at the end of the day, I see the tweets about fashion news, celebrity gossip, new artwork on display, and I want to escape to that world. I want to pretend the suffering doesn’t exist. I don’t want to find out who those people are. Because if I ever come face to face with one of them, what can I possibly say? If a Syrian fighter, regardless of which side he took, were to talk into my living room right now, what could I say? If the Benghazi or Reyhanli bomber were to sit down in the chair across from me, what could I possibly say?

Is there anything, anything at all, that s/he could say that would convince me that s/he is actually a human being?

Posted in humanitarian work | Tagged , , , | 4 Comments

the ironies

Did you know that I left Cairo the day before their famed Arab Spring protests began? I’d been there for a conference and was staying right in the city centre – where the protests happened. Then I moved back to Cairo a few months later to help design some post-revolution development programming. I was there for four months, during which there were, at minimum, weekly protests.

Even though I was staying barely a stone’s throw from Tahrir Square, where all the action took place, I was safely ensconced in a lush five-star hotel with climate control and windows that had no reason to open. So often, on a day after protests, a colleague who lived in a normal flat overlooking the main road would come in to work complaining of how his flat had been full of tear gas that day. I felt sympathy for him, because clearly he’d had a miserable day while I was enjoying my hotel’s spa. But I also felt an inkling of jealousy, wondering what it’d be like to have a front-row seat on history.

I was also in Khartoum, Sudan during some of their worst protests last year but was under no illusions: I knew better than to leave the house. By staying home I was bored out of my mind, but I was also pretty much guaranteed safety. Thinking back to my past, I recall that I was in Lebanon a week before the 2006 war started, and I was in the Middle East during the Palestinian intifada and the beginning of the Iraq War — both historical events which inspired masses to take to the streets. So… I’ve been close to danger many times in my life, but I’ve always been just-far-enough-away to be quite safe indeed. Even this past week, I was in Southern Turkey, near the Syrian border. Yes, the SYRIAN border, a very unsafe border which saw some terrible fighting this week. But I was in a peaceful village a few miles away enjoying local hospitality and working very hard on my computer and in meetings.

So how ironic it is that I arrived back in Istanbul on a sunny Friday afternoon with a lovely breeze floating through the city, and promptly walked into tear gas. Now that it is over, I can say with pride that I have now been gassed. But at that moment, I felt like I was experiencing the most excruciating pain known to humankind. Every inch of my body was stinging, I was barely able to breathe, a putrid smell kept sneaking its way through the towel I was holding up to my nose and mouth, and my eyes were watering which just made them hurt more and I was given lemon juice to wipe on them because that would hurt less! For the record, tear gas is completely inhumane.

A very sweet shopkeeper lady took me into her little airconditioned store to wait it out. Walking on the street was out of the question, after all. With tears – real tears, not just gas-induced – in her eyes, she mourned the events which had led up to an entire neighbourhood being sprayed with tear gas. And this was a neighbourhood with hundreds if not thousand tourists wandering its streets on a Friday afternoon! She apologised repeatedly and profusely for her nation. And she just made me fall in love with Turkey more.

Once the coast was clear, I passed about 200 soldiers wandering up the street of my flat, some of them still carrying gas canisters. I wondered what must be going through their minds right now and what they would tell their mothers next time they went on home leave. Were they proud of causing such pain? Were they frustrated that protestors would put them in such a difficult situation? Were they angry that they’d been recruited into an army that would ask them to gas civilians? They were so young, probably still teenagers, and they know so little of this world.

Anyway, for what I hope are obvious reasons, I did not take any pictures during the gas or in its aftermath, but I soon had another experience which was quite fascinating and so I’ll finish this post by sharing some photos… As you may know, Istanbul has the honour of being built across two continents. You can cross from Europe to Asia and back again on a ferry which costs about a dollar and takes about 15 minutes. Many people do this as a part of their daily commute to work. I’m living in Europe but yesterday I crossed to Asia to visit some friends. While there, a massive fog crept in – my friends said this was unusual. It passed quickly on the Asia side, but it settled on the Europe side, exactly covering the ferry ports. So all ferries were cancelled until further notice, which ended up being almost all day. I was stuck in Asia! After a few hours, I gave up and took a bus which took a long circuitous route over an enormous suspension bridge (it has only been in the last 30 years that there has even existed a bridge connecting Europe and Asia, before that it was ferry or nothing!). But all the locals have informed me that such events are highly unusual in Istanbul. Ferries are rarely cancelled, and fog of this specific nature hardly ever happens. So I took a few photos 🙂

I took this from the Asia side, looking at the Europe side. It was a gorgeous day on the Asia banks of the Bosphorous. But the European riverbank was a big mass of cloud.

I took this from the Asia side, looking at the Europe side (you can ALMOST see the buildings on the other side). It was a gorgeous day on the Asia banks of the Bosphorous. But the European riverbank was a big mass of cloud.

I took this photo when I FINALLY got home 5 hours later, from my flat which is high up a hill, ABOVE the cloud

I took this photo when I FINALLY got home 5 hours later, from my flat which is high up a hill, ABOVE the cloud

Posted in humanitarian work, travel | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Where in the world is Kati Woronka?

Why, in a charming little café in one of the most  – possibly THE most – magical city in the world. Where else would she be?

Most of my blog readers are my friends and have followed my movements during the last month or so on Facebook, twitter, email, maybe even good old fashioned conversations like normal people [used to do]. So my whirlwind of travels this month is not news.

the café where I'm currently sitting. Will I bond with the owners of this one, or go to a different one each day? I don't know - there's so much charm to choose from!

the café where I’m currently sitting. Will I bond with the owners of this one, or go to a different one each day? I don’t know – there’s so much charm to choose from!

But for the few of you who know me only through CulturTwined, let me give a little recap of the last month+ since I last wrote here: two-day interview for a job in one of my many favourite cities and didn’t get it but got to visit my goddaughter while there… a week of meetings on the outskirts of Istanbul Turkey… another week of meetings in Colorado Springs USA… three tabouli parties to celebrate my novel Dreams in the Medina and raise awareness about Syria in Maryland and Virginia USA… play with niece and nephew… quickie fly-thru in London to unpack and repack… back to Istanbul Turkey where I’ll be living for the next 4-ish months. Things move fast. Some of this was confirmed for months, but some of it came up really last minute. Like the whole moving-to-Turkey thing. That wasn’t in the plans, but how does one say no to Istanbul?

If someone offered you a job that required you watching all your favourite TV shows all day and getting paid for it… or that required driving around in your dream vehicle all day and getting paid for it… or eating the most delicious of foods all day and getting paid for it… it’d be pretty hard to say no, wouldn’t it?

Well, that’s pretty much what happened. Istanbul has long been one of my favourite cities in the world. The food here is great. The Turkish language is music to my ears (although it’d be nice to understand a word or two). The architecture is nothing short of eye candy, but even the gorgeous old houses pale in comparison to the views of the sea and ancient historical monuments across the river. OK, so my job is not to live in Istanbul. But my job brought me to Istanbul and for that I am quite grateful.

To be perfectly honest, though, I’d probably do this job if it required living in a refugee camp in the middle of the desert for 4-6 months. I’m helping projects in four Middle Eastern countries that are designed to save the lives and seek to restore the dignity of Syrians, including Syrian refugees who have fled to neighbouring countries and Syrians who are trying to simply stay alive in their own country. As you may have noticed about me, Syria is very dear to my heart and recent events there have been heartbreaking to witness. So I’m thrilled to have an opportunity to be involved in helping out in some small way. So far the job is tough, and it’s just going to get tougher, but I really hope a few people’s lives improve as a result.

The one downside to this whole thing is that my CulturTwining friends might recall that I’ve talked quite a bit about moving to London, settling down, learning how to be stable. Well, this posting isn’t helping. It’s probably hurting. That makes me sad, but not sad enough to turn down the chance to do something I’m very very passionate about while living in such a fascinating city. And this isn’t a permanent move, just a few months.

the view from my office as the sun set

the view from my office as the sun set

So after an unscheduled hiatus, CulturTwined is back, though I’m not going to commit to any regularity. I might post on here about the tabouli parties and other exciting developments with Dreams in the Medina. I’ll probably try to introduce Istanbul to CulturTwined readers this and try to convince you to fall in love with this city just as I have and come visit. If I convince myself to start learning Turkish I’ll probably have some silly mishaps to share. Comments about Syria will continue to be inevitable, I suspect. And, as always, I hope to celebrate the joys of exploring diversity, people who are different from me, learning to experience the realities of others in some small way… yeah, I still love to CulturTwine.

p.s. if you use Google Reader and are looking for an alternate, I thought I’d let you know that I’ve migrated to Feedly and am loving it. And it imports everything so I hardly missed a beat! Yes, chances are I’m still reading your blog even if I’m staying silent.

Posted in adjusting to London, announcements, CulturTwining, travel | Tagged , | Leave a comment

American showing off like a local… at a café in Camberwell

Today I went to do some work in a charming café that’s not too far from my home. It was my first time there – I’d walked by before and it had looked a little bit too nice and I was intimidated to go in, but today I took the plunge.

First, the café is called Love Walk Café (the name already is pretty cool, eh?) and if you’re in south London consider a visit. It was awesome! Incredibly eclectic décor that was almost but not quite distracting, and fantastic coffee (imho – I don’t purport to speak for coffee sauvants everywhere). I didn’t eat, but all the people eating around me seemed to be really happy.

But I had a fantastic moment in the café. A family of four was ploughing their way through four English breakfasts when I arrived. A mum, a dad and two very blond boys who were at that age where they couldn’t sit still. From their accents, it was clear they were English.

As they started to pack up to leave, they called a waitress over, and the father asked, in his crisp English accent, how to get to the London Aquarium. He explained that they were from out of town and they knew it was near Waterloo but weren’t sure how to get there. The waitress, in a very Eastern European accent, apologised, saying that she didn’t know Camberwell either and couldn’t direct him as to the bus routes. She walked away, the dad shrugged, the kids tumbled on the bench.

I’d overheard every word of this conversation from a few tables over. I guess you could say I was all the way across the room, but I still heard every word. So I caught the father’s eye and called out to him, in my dorky (yes, I know that’s what the English think of it) American accent, that if he wanted to get to the Aquarium he could go to Westminster Bridge but that Waterloo wasn’t too far either. If it were me, I’d walk up to Camberwell Green and take the number 12, but he could just check the bus lists at the stop out front because a number of other buses could also go that way.

And he thanked me.

And I smiled, smugly thinking that I felt as local as I’ll ever feel. An American giving a Brit directions in London.

And after that, I think I might have enjoyed the café even more than I already was doing!

Posted in adjusting to London | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment