Tag Archives: travel

One Rhythm, One Planet: Music from the Banned Countries

February 9th, 2017

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I have always believed that music brings people together and bridges cultural divides. Music can connect us like no other arts, with its universal language of rhythm and melody. Maybe even more importantly, music—especially world music, helps us understand and appreciate other cultures and people. I have bonded instantly with immigrant taxi drivers from Nigeria, Cameroon, Armenia, Argentina, and other places simply by asking them about the music of their homelands.

This core belief in the binding power of music has underpinned my work over the past 30 years to popularize world music in Los Angeles and beyond. It’s been a joy to watch ecstatic crowds dancing to Pakistani qawwali (sufi gospel) music or Nigerian afrobeat and juju, to see people entranced by whirling dervishes from Turkey and Syria, and to swoon with others to achingly beautiful classical music from Iran. My life and personal horizons have been immeasurably enriched by these experiences. Sadly, some of these experiences may now be in peril due to the recently enacted immigration ban on seven predominately Muslim countries—Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, and Libya.

In this time of division and discord, it’s imperative to keep building bridges through music. With that in mind, I want to celebrate music that I’ve loved by artists from the seven countries targeted by the recent immigration ban. This sweeping ban will most certainly prevent artists from these countries from performing in the U.S., but we can still support their music and arts from afar—by continuing to share and learn about them through recordings and the vast resources of the internet.

We begin in SYRIA with the poet-musician Abed Azrie and his albums Lapis Lazuli and Aromates. Azrie was born in Aleppo but has been based in Paris for many years. Aromates was his first album released in the U.S., on Nonesuch. I put a beautiful cut, “Pareil à l’eau” (Like Water) from the album Lapis Lazuli on a compilation that I produced called Trance Planet Vol. 3. His poetry is as beautiful as his music.

IRAQ: Munir Bashir has been called the King of Oud and is credited by many as the greatest modern oud player. Algerian-born, French singer-songwriter Pierre Bensusan gave me my first Munir Bashir LP years ago. I immediately fell in love with his finely-filigreed music. Sadly, Bashir died at the age of 47 in an auto accident in Budapest. Here is a track from his album Mesopotamia:

I also want to mention an upcoming concert at the Getty Center by Iraqi-American oud musician Rahim AlHaj. His concerts take place on Saturday, February 18 at 7 p.m. and Sunday, February 19 at 4 p.m. Admission is free, but you must make a reservation. Click here for more information and reservations.

IRAN: Masters of Persian Music is a classical music ensemble formed in 2000 by true masters of Persian music. Iran has an amazing classical tradition, as complex and arabesque as any Mozart or Bach. Lyrics come from the classic poets and mystics: Hafez and Rumi, as well as more modern writers. The group once performed at the Hollywood Bowl with a live calligrapher rendering classical Persian poetry; it was one of the most stunning concerts ever to grace the Bowl’s celebrated stage. Here is a song from their album Hanan (Without You), featuring Hossein Alizadeh, Kayhan Kalhor, and Homayoun Shajarian. It is a gentle, passionate, and powerful love song.

YEMEN: When I think about Yemen, I immediately think of the late Yemenite Israeli singer Ofra Haza. Her parents moved from Yemen to Israel in 1950 in the airlift known as Operation Magic Carpet. She burst upon the scene in 1986 with her transcendent album Yemenite Songs. Many of the songs on the album were written by a 17th century rabbi. Her song “Im Nin’alu” topped the European charts, even rising to #1 in Germany. To me, her success was more convincing proof that music transcends language and builds bridges between cultures. Ofra once visited my UCLA World Music class—International Bandstand—and performed a Yemenite song, drumming a large oil can on her shoulder. It was a beautiful moment. Here is “Im Nin’alu“:

SUDAN: Sudanese music has incredible rhythms and deep groove. Crowds love it, though it’s featured more in big European summer festivals than in the U.S., especially after 9/11. Sudanese singer and oud player Abdel Aziz El Mubarak leads a large group, playing music that blends Arabic styles and Western forms. The great UK label Globe Style released his music back in the 1980’s, and I was listening.

SOMALIA: Somali poet, musician, and hip hop artist K’naan (born Keinan Abdi Warsame) was born in Mogadishu in 1978 and now resides in Canada. His hybrid sound draws from world music, hip hop, reggae, and of course, Somali music. He has collaborated with artists from the great Youssou N’Dour to Bono. Here is his song “Take a Minute.” Watch him as he walks by portraits of Gandhi, Mandela, Bob Marley, and Nina Simone:

LIBYA: We don’t hear too much from Libyan artists, especially here in the U.S., due in part to the country’s isolation under the four-decade long rule of Qaddafi. Ahmed Fakroun is a pioneer of modern Arabic pop music and one of the most popular Libyan artists, both in Tripoli as well as among Libyan expats. His crossover style blends Arabic instruments and lyrics with Western pop elements like synthesizers and electric bass. Here’s a track called “Ya Farhi’ Bik” from his 1983 album Mots D’Amour – it definitely has that 80’s pop sound but with an Arabic twist:

Finally, I want to mention the compilation album Lullabies from the Axis of Evil, released back in the days of the Bush 43 administration. It features music from all the countries above, as well as music from Afghanistan, North Korea, and other “evil” places.

I hope you enjoyed these tracks and will keep exploring musical riches from around the world.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Ranch of the Gathering Waters: The Other History of Beverly Hills

10/27/16

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I was amazed to discover that the first owner of what is now known as Beverly Hills was a Black Woman. I had grown up in Beverly Hills during a time when a lone black man walking down the street was enough to summon the magical appearance of the B.H.P.D. Her name was María Rita Quintero Valdés de Villa, the descendent of one of the original 44 Pobladores or settlers of the City of the Queen of Angels, El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles Sobre El Rio de la Porciúncula), what we now know as Los Angeles. As a matter of fact, 26 of the original founding settlers were full-blooded Africans.

When colonial Spain got nervous about the encroaching presence of the Russians coming down the coast of Alta California from the Pacific Northwest, they decided to buttress their territory, Nuevo España, New Spain, securing the border by colonizing the lands in the north. In 1769, an expeditionary force led by Gaspar de Portola was sent out, and from the vantage point of what is now Elysian Park, spied an “advantageous” site, which was the Native American Tongvan village of Yangna.  El Pueblo de la Reina de Los Angeles was founded on September 4, 1781, and according to Mexican laws and those of the Spanish Crown, each of Los Pobladores were awarded approximately 1 Sitio each, approximately 4,400 acres. Señor Juan Quintero Valdés, was one of the original expeditionary soldiers in the Portola Party, claimed his rightful plot, Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas, Ranch of the Gathering Waters. It was named for the streams that emptied into the area from out of the canyons above; Cañada de las Aguas Frias (Glen of the Cold Waters, now Coldwater Canyon) and Cañada de los Encinos (Glen of the Green Oaks, now Benedict Canyon).

María Rita Quintero Valdés married Spanish soldier, Vicente Ferrer Villa and eventually built an adobe in present day Beverly Hills, approximately on the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Alpine Drive. She received the Rancho title from the Mexican government in 1831.

Rancho Rodeo de los Aquas was a fruitful plain, fed by the waterfalls coming down the canyons and because of this, had an extremely unique micro climate where plants and livestock thrived. However, times were difficult and volatile. By 1844 the initial contact with the Spanish had virtually wiped out the Native populations of Tongvas and Gabrielinos due to repeated abuse and slavery both in and out of the Mission System, followed by a virulent smallpox epidemic. As their numbers alarmingly dwindled, the Native peoples routinely launched incursions into the fertile ranch lands for food and livestock. Then in 1846 President James K. Polk, launched el Guerra del 47 (The War of 1847), and a US Marine force led by military commander Archibald H. Gillespe invaded the Pueblo de Los Angeles. This sparked a popular uprising of the Californios, who launched a vaquero lancer force led by José Antonio Carrillo and Andrés Pico. Ultimately, the invaders were chased out of their occupied headquarters in The Plaza and fled to the hill overlooking the square (Fort Moore Hill) where they eventually surrendered, but not before the women of El Pueblo took their revenge. Native, Mexican and Californios, after having witnessed the degradation of their men and the rape of their daughters, decided on a final act of defiance and offered the departing Gillespie and his troops baskets of peaches which had been rolled in cactus needles.

Following the Euro-American victory, Mexico ceded a large portion of its northern lands, upon the conditions drawn up in the 1857 Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo, which provided that all the original land grants be honored. As required by the Land Act of 1851, a claim for Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas was filed with the Public Land Commission in 1852, but it was not until 1871, that María Rita Quintero Valdés de Villa was finally awarded the grant. Prior to the invasion, María Rita had also built a home within the boundaries of El Pueblo on land she had to foresight to acquire, located on current day Main Street.  This would later become the well-known center of social and political life in El Pueblo, the Bella Union Hotel, the very one Commodore Robert Stockton “commandeered” as the American headquarters during the war.  In her haste to flee the pueblo, Maria Rita neglected to take the original papers of ownership issued by the Mexican government, and they were subsequently “lost.”  Sadly, this was a common story for many original rancho claimants from the Mexican era trying to retain their land, and many had to mortgage their properties trying to prove ownership title under the new American laws and “tax codes.” The land grab was on.

As part of the Public Land Commission rulings in 1852, Henry Hancock did a second survey of el Pueblo based on partitioning the vacant ejidos, or municipal lands into larger lots. These became known as “Donation Land.” One could acquire the land for a nominal fee of $10, along with property “improvements” of $200. One could either build a small adobe, or plant fruit trees or gardens or all of these. The land had to yield a value. Word had traveled across the country and wealthy eastern Euro-Americans began to flock to the land of sunshine and promise, grabbing as much land as they could. One of the ways this was accomplished was by marrying widowed California women, and thus cementing status and place in the growing town.

Henry Hancock, grew to know good land value when he drew up the second survey and thus,   along with his business partner Benjamin Wilson, eventually purchased Rancho Rodeo de las Aguas from María Rita. She knew a thing about land values herself, as the great drought of 1862-1865 hit and wiped out previously thriving cattle and agricultural businesses.

María Rita retired to her property in the center of el Pueblo, on La Plaza, and lived out her days amongst other California women and descendants. Sadly, the Native American women of the region had all but been wiped out, and those remaining, fled into the interior. The sacred and fertile Tongva site of the gathering waters had slowly all but dried up, and would take years to recover. To this day the only remaining nod to its former glory, is the fountain at the corner intersection of Wilshire (a former Indian Trail) and Santa Monica Boulevards, which features a loin-clothed Tongvan man kneeling as he offers his hands in a prayer of thanks for the abundant flowing waters. 

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Jeannie Winston is a frequent guest blogger for ACEI’s Academic Exchange.  Jeannie is an artist and writer living and working in Los Angeles, California. Jeannie completed undergraduate studies in Illustration at The Arts Center of Pasadena, California.   Her vast and intricate knowledge of Los Angeles and its cultural history bring a new perspective to our understanding of the City of Angels. She draws her inspiration from the natural and inhabited world around her. She is especially inspired by her observations of cultural fusions and how people strive to invoke spirit in daily life.

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How to Be a Responsible Foreign-Language Learner and Speaker

August 25th, 2016

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As participants in the 2016 Many Languages One World essay contest, we had to submit an essay on multiculturalism and multilingualism. Writing about multiculturalism and multilingualism is a tough and broad task, but what we can do, as individuals, is write about our own experience. 

As a student in Chinese department and as a traveler, I do not believe in any so-called “clash of civilizations”, or in any “culture shock”. “The other” is always the result of a process of image-making. Moreover, I am strongly convinced that most of the distinctions we rely on are constructs and artificial distinctions, used by dominant groups to justify unequal situations and discrimination. Learning foreign languages aims to explore interstices, never to widen gaps. 

I would like to explain why my experience of multiculturalism and multilingualism has fostered a strong sense of responsibility, and has motivated my political and social commitment.

I was born in France twenty years ago, and was brought up in ten different countries, among which Spain, South Korea, Canada and China. I have been moving every one or two years because of my parents’ job as International School French teachers. I can relate to many different cultural habits and cultural backgrounds. “Where do you come from?” is a question I feel very uncomfortable with. Because I am unable to answer it and because experience has proven, it doesn’t actually tell a lot about the person you’re speaking to. I don’t feel like I belong to a specific country and don’t feel attached to one single language. I don’t want to choose between countries and languages. The first language I learnt was Finnish. My brother and I recently saw some videos of us speaking Finnish together, but we can’t understand a word anymore. It’s one layer among our multi-layered, multi-dimensional life. Since then, my little sister arrived in our family, adopted from China, and my brother left the French school system to take the International Baccalaureate. My parents have moved to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and started learning Russian. When we get together in France every summer, we speak bits and pieces of French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Each language allows us to express our ideas, hint at common references, play on words in a different way. In our case they are always related to a certain time period, linked to certain friendships, landscapes, food, books, movies and educational systems we’ve experienced and share, which thus inform our approach to each language. As my sister said once, what we truly share is our story, our passing by in many places and never settling down.

This had led me to think identity is not an enclosed and immutable entity, identity is evolution, identity is change, making one’s way between adapting and conflicting. Identity is like a tangled web, tying together places you lived in, people you met or crossed paths with, what you’ve seen and experienced. In my case, I feel that what has primordially influenced me are the most unbearable things I have witnessed. People suffering from leper, from hunger and thirst, children working in terrible conditions and whom childhood was stolen away, eager to escape from poverty and war, in the places I’ve visited or lived in. You can’t forget these things. You can only pretend, but somewhere deep inside, it’s calling out for justice and urging you to do something. I feel this is what ties all the puzzle pieces of my scattered life together.

Therefore my political and social concerns have always been the very basis, the starting point in the appreciation of the world and people around me. I have been volunteering for several NGOs. I have been working in Pnomh Penh for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), which takes care of children living in slums and dumps and offers them access to healthcare and education. I participated in the planning of Charity Runs in Taipei and other cities I lived in. When I was in Paris I participated in helping homeless people and families to fill in paperwork and have access to basics. I have been writing down all their stories and hope to get you to read them some day. What revolted me is, some people would sometimes stop near me and say we – volunteers – were encouraging the present-day “invasion” of “immigrants” and poor populations in France. Some seem to consider solidarity as crime – but as I said, I don’t make distinctions between “us” and “them”, and by helping them I’m helping us. Recently I have been working in Lyon for the Secours Populaire, helping out in annual events and working to improve the reading and writing skills as well as self-confidence of children left behind. Wherever I’ve been I have felt the same emergency. Wherever I will be living, and wherever you live, there is probably something going wrong outside your front door and you can always do something, at your level, to instigate change. Multi-culturalism is about lending a hand to others, wherever you come from and wherever they come from.

Moreover, I believe that we have a duty to reflect on our ability to bring some change, not only as young people but also as students in Language Departments. I am studying in the Chinese department of my University. I think it is important for us to concentrate on building “cultural bridges” : we can study common, parallel aspects in order to create dialogues rather than orchestrate sensational “West-East” breaking points. For instance last year I have read some interesting studies on links between some French twentieth century surrealist works and early Chinese Daoist works such as the Zhuangzi : provocation, striking images, humor, rejecting of forged boundaries and rigid categories. Drawing parallels often teaches us a lot more and is definitely more stimulating. Also, I would like to emphasize the fact that cultural understanding should never be taken for granted. We have to fight for it. Some of my classmates in the Chinese Department, studying Chinese language and culture at a high level, have never been in a Chinese speaking country, have no intention of going there, no desire to learn more about or meet people who live there – because, as one of them told me once, their interest in Chinese is only “theoretical”, “aesthetic” – and sometimes they have harsh, shocking words, and many prejudices against Chinese people and culture – very dangerous ideas.

I plan on maybe becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history; whatever I do later on, I hope I will never separate my work and my ideas. I was blamed once for refusing to complete an exercise in one of my Chinese courses. The problem was, the title was “Why women and men do not think alike” and the sentences we had to complete and read were very insulting. The teacher respected and understood my choice, but one of my classmates told me I should learn to separate the student and the “feminist” – that is schizophrenia – and then explained, China “never had and still does not have any feminist ideas” – which is completely false. Essentialism and distinctions between political and academic spheres are recurrent obstacles, and yet they can be overcome by raising awareness about our responsibility, our role as foreign-language learners and mediators. The issue is too important in our world today to be ignored.

That’s what I would like to conclude with: learning languages and traveling is a good start, but it is not enough. We need to stand up, and take action for what we believe in. We are responsible for what we do – and what we don’t do. Learning foreign languages is an urgent necessity but it won’t help if it’s just about playing with sounds and alphabets. It’s about making the others’ fear, anger and hope, our own.”

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Léa Buatois

About Léa Buatois: Léa was one of 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Léa  was born in Dijon, France, in 1996. Her parents teach in French international schools around the world. Because of her parents’ job as French teachers abroad, she has been moving a lot, approximately every one or two years. The first language she spoke was Finnish, and later she started learning English, French and Mandarin Chinese. She is now studying in the Chinese Department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, France. She is interested in becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history, or working in cultural diplomacy or international relations. She love traveling, reading and writing.

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I Am Not A Citizen Of The World

August 11th, 2016

worldpeople

No soy una ciudadana del mundo.

I come from Chile, located at the end of the world. Surrounded by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the loneliness of the Atacama Desert and the impenetrability of the Andes cordillera, it could be considered an island. 

I am not a citizen of the world.

I am fluent in Spanish, French and English. I am “cultured”; I know about history, art, music and poetry. I am “travelled”: I biked the Golden Gate Bridge, I went up the Eiffel Tour, I got the Padi diving course in Koh Samui, Surfed in Sydney and knew the leather tanneries in Fez. However, when I travel, I care about the amazing travel selfies that I post on instagram. I am not interested in knowing the locals, since they look different and their cultural traditions are ridiculous, obsolete, and nonsensical, compared to my “modern” and “liberal” way of life. I am not interested of Khmer Rouge and its impact in Cambodian citizens, and I certainly do not take advantage of my language skills to understand their beliefs, their stories, or their wounds.

Je ne suis pas une citoyenne du monde.

I do not care about global issues such as the energy crisis or the uncertainty of the refugees’ life. I have electricity and hot water in my house and recycling is too much effort. And when by accident I run into the international news happening in a faraway land, I quickly change the channel to the Turkish soap opera of the moment. After all, the facial expressions of Hurrem in Muhteşem Yüzyıl, are much more attractive than the death baby on the beach. My main concerns are the next season of Games of Thrones, the next Taylor Swift album or the 4 kilos that I desperately need to lose before my next trip to Costa Rica.

  1. Turkish soap opera: The Magnificent Century

 

I am not a citizen del mundo.

I do not have time to get informed of world news, search different sources of information and form my own opinions. I do not have time to do any volunteer work since my life is “crazy” and I have a lot on my plate; after all, you do not get to the 1013 level in Candy Crush Saga playing for only one month.

Je ne suis pas une citizen of the world.

I go to fancy restaurants, and the bill covers a month of an entire family living. I buy Louis Vuitton bags, while outside the store is a lady selling coconut water to support her family, and I bargain her down from two dollars to one. I love to buy cheap t-shirts, but I never ask myself how the price can be as low, and who is really paying for them.

Je ne suis pas una ciudadana of the world 

My favourite and most valuable relation is with my smartphone, since it provides all that I need. Wakes me up in the morning, keeps me company during the day and even introduces me to people to date, since I long lost the capacity to engage with others in real life. When I do not have Internet my phone, I feel disconnected. I am numb.

I am not une citoyenne del mundo

I live unconsciously. I do not connect to others in any significant way. I am a consumer. I try to fill my internal void with external things, and wonder why I never feel as happy or complete as the girls in the women’s magazines. Even when on my Instagram I have hundreds of likes and I seem to have it all, I do not want to acknowledge that “thing”. That “thing” on my chest. That “thing” that I conveniently “confuse” with hunger so I eat/drink/smoke to make it go away. That “thing” that accompanies me everywhere I go. That “thing” that never leaves me, not even in my dreams. That “thing” that gives me nightmares every night. Nightmares that I do not realize that I have or even question why or since when I have them.

Since most of the time I travel alone, is not unusual that people approach me to ask where I come from and why I am traveling by myself; people with epicanthic fold, women wearing veils, with different skin and hair colour, in summary people that I had never the interest to approach. It is when they kindly ask me about my culture and they tell me about theirs, when I realize how narrow my worldview is. How come they are interested in me but I am not interested in them? When they talk to be on the bus or in the hostel lobby I realize how much I focus on my belly and not on what surrounds me. I realize how loyally I mirror Chile. I am also an island. Surrounded by invisible but robust frontiers, locking me in a comfortable bubble wrapping me to everything dissimilar.

Out of nowhere, these strangers show me their openness, their kindness, their generosity, and their happiness, and strangely, it feels good, and that “thing” on my chest feels somehow warm. It is then when I realize I lack those attributes. I cannot demonstrate affection as easily and as openhandedly as they do. I wish I could, but that “thing” on my chest, seems to be cold and empty…

It is only because I am multilingual that I am able to talk with people from China, Lebanon, Malaysia, India, Nigeria and Russia about the common battles we face as women over coffee in Edinburgh. Women who would be unlikely to meet in Chile since the percentage of immigrants from China is 2%, and even less for the other mentioned countries. Our natural barriers seem to act like an impenetrable membrane from the rest of the world, which gives the illusion that we are the norm and the others are the different ones. Our barriers keep us physically, mentally and emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world. 

It is when we cry our hardships together and encourage one another that I discover and I am able to appreciate these former strangers as human beings. Humans with feelings, struggles and dreams, just like mine. And it is then when I feel something moving on my chest, and I notice an urge to help them to achieve their goals, and to do it together. Suddenly our conversations are not about the bachelor or what we consider attractive in a man, but about our adventures or misadventures, on how we misread cultural norms, and what we learnt from them. We compare traditions, customs and meaning and it is then when I start to appreciate their way of life, and recognize that maybe my way of life is not the best one, that it is certainly not entirely “right” or “good”. Theirs may be more “conservative” and traditional, but at the same time it is more respectful, cooperative and caring. Women are not displayed as sexual objects, people are not in an endless race to show who has more, and people think twice before judging someone else. Learning different perspectives and about different ways of life, allow me to think about new ways, new solutions and new possibilities. I am able to see the richness of our world and it opens my mental frontiers to consider that maybe if we share more, we can take what is good from each other´s cultures, build a new perspective together and share a new common path to improve our communities.

It is when they tell me about their life stories when I realize, that that news that I heard about war and the bombing of that country in a faraway land, becomes real. It is not something that happened to random people on TV. It is my friend’s life that was on the line. I had shivers and sorrow to hear her describe how her father decided to split the family members in several different cars to drive to the frontier in case one of them got bombed. The shivers and sorrow I was able to feel were only possible because we were able to talk the same language and were curious about each other experiences. 

It is then that I realize that multilingual ability is more than technical proficiency. Multilingual ability serve to something more than to land a job in an international company, have high scores in a given test or ask for directions in a foreign country.

Multilingual ability can be more. It can be a door to empathise and develop significant relations with others different than us that we would have never talked to since we would not understand each other. It can allow us to connect with others emotionally and break our stereotypes. It allows us to constantly redefine the meaning of kind words according to the langage we speak. It can be a way to engage with others as human beings and find what bonds us instead of what takes us apart.

Multilingual ability awarded me the gift to have new friends with diverse customs and worldviews. Friends who showed me their generosity and their love; friend who taught me how to develop the attributes I lacked. Attributes that moved and warmed up that “thing” inside me. It was with their friendship that I started filling up the everlasting loneliness that was with me, no matter how far I went or how many things I bought.

Multilingual ability threatens my perfect “casual” picture on Instagram of me looking at the horizon in the Grand Canyon, and replaces it for a messy picture in my wallet with all my friends sharing hummus, dumplings, patacones, fish and chips, chalakaka and pisco sour on a long table.

It is when I acknowledge the stereotypes I have,
It is when I start to connect emotionally with others and with myself,
It is when I question the fears I hold,
It is when I recognize what impact my actions have in the world,
It is when their issues become mine, and mine become theirs,
It is when my friends´ homes become mines,
It is when I see the richness of what we could create collectively,
It is when I live my life with others,
It is when I share the warm of heart,
It is when we realize that we are all in this together,
That I start my journey of becoming a citizen of the world.

maria
Maria Jose Ramirez C.

Maria Jose holds a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and degree in teaching from Ponrificia Universidad Catolice de Chile. She loves sports, nature and travel and for over 12 years has worked with athletes by motivating and inspiring them to not only win medals but achieve their own excellence not just at their sports, but also as human beings. Maria Jose was one of the 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI)

alcanzandotuexcelencia@gmail.com

http://www.alcanzatuexcelencia.com

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My Once in a Lifetime Trip

August 13th, 2015
Trip_1
Image: Siwathep (Thep) Singh Khaderpor (center with blue tinted sunglasses) and friends

When I realized that I won “Many Languages, One World” essay contest and that I’m going to New York, I was really excited. I packed all my nicest shirts, pants, and shoes hoping that I would look my best on this once in a life time trip! As soon as I got down from the plane at the New York airport, of course we took pictures and posted to our various social media since we were really happy! However my happiness didn’t last for long, 10 minutes later I realized that the airline lost my luggage. I had nothing with me apart from my passport and a selfie stick. My money, my clothes, my speech were all lost. “This is going to be the worst trip ever”, that’s all I could think of.

Trip_2
Image: @ American Museum of Natural History, New York

As soon as I got to Adelphi University, I started making friends with people from so many different countries. They came to know about my “losing luggage” story. Each of them agreed and decided to lend me a different thing. For example, Jefferson, my friend from Brazil, lent me his pants every day! Eric, my friend from Uruguay, lent me his socks every day! Alline my friend from Mexico lent me her hair dryer every day! And of course so much more people lent me their stuff. My “losing luggage” story wasn’t becoming that depressing anymore, in fact I’m glad that it brought me to get to know so many friends and to be able to quickly become so close to each of them.

For the first 3 days, we were so busy with meetings and we needed to separate into our language groups so that we can prepare our speech at the UN. Our Chinese group topic was focusing on developing a healthy life at all ages. Everybody did a really great job there at the UN which was held on July 24th, 2015. We all needed to give a speech for no more than 2 minutes. Personally, I think everybody did so great and I’m so happy for all of them.

Trip_3
Thep at the UN

After the speech, we all went to the New York Times Square and had dinner at a beautiful restaurant: Hard Rock Café. As for the next day, we went to the 9/11 Memorial Park, then had a wonderful boat ride to have a look at New York’s beautiful scenery, the Statue of Liberty, and so much more. After the boat ride, we went to the American Museum of Natural History. We came back to the Adelphi University around 6:00 that evening, all of us then went to our own individual’s room to get ready for our last dinner together.

Trip_4
Image: At New York Times Square, and at United Nations Headquarters building.

At our last dinner together, Mr. Mark W. Harris, the President of ELS, gave us a wonderful speech and awarded each one of us a certificate. Mr. Harris is such an inspiring person, his speech made all of us realize that from now on we all have a responsibility to make this world a better place. We are now brothers and sisters and we will always have each other no matter where life takes us. As I looked at my friends at the dinner table, I can feel how 6 days totally makes a difference, now it is so hard and painful for all of us to say good bye. Thank you ELS group people who were so amazing and gave us this wonderful experience. Every single memory of this trip will never be forgotten. I am so lucky to be able to meet and become your friends. Every single one of you will always be in my heart, missing you so much my friends.

PS. I found my luggage! Yay! I can lose my luggage a hundred more times, but can never lose those beautiful memories I had with you beautiful people.

SSK

Siwathep (Thep) Singh Khaderpor

Thep is an international student from Thailand who was visiting the U.S. this summer as one of the winners of the “Many Languages, One World” and it’s UNAI (United National Academic Impact)” essay contest sponsored by ELS Language Centers. He is currently a student at Jiangsu University in China where he is studying Medicine. Thep says his professional goal is to “become a heart surgeon to fulfill my love of the sciences and medicine, and to help my fellow human beings. Furthermore, I hope to volunteer my skills to provide heart care to those in need regardless of race and economic status.”
2648988959@qq.com

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15 Facts on the Republic of Vanuatu

March 19th, 2015

Vanuatu

On March 14, 2015, the Republic of Vanuatu, an archipelago consisting of approximately 82 islands, which lies in the Pacific Ring of Fire between New Caledonia and Fiji in the South Pacific, was hit by a category five cyclone and sustained severe damages. We thought it would be helpful to share some facts about the Republic of Vanuatu. [Note: If you are interested to help with Vanuatu’s disaster relief, please refer to this link for a list of relief organizations “How You Can Help with Vanuatu’s Disaster Relief”]

1. Vanuatu means “Land Eternal.

2. Population as of July 2014 est. 266,937

3. The capital of Vanuatu is Port-Vila with a population of 47,000

Vanuatu_flag
Image: Flag of Vanuatu (The ‘Y’ in the flag signifies the chain of islands of the country.)

4. The country grained independence from France and UK on July 30, 1980. Its government is Parliamentary Republic.

5. During World War II the U.S. launched attacks from here against Japanese troops in the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, inspiring James Michener’s Tales of the South Pacific

6. The official languages are Bislama, English, French and more than 100 local languages.. Pidgin is one of the languages spoken on the islands.

7. 65% of the population depends on agriculture which includes copra, coconuts, coffee, cacao and fish. Off shore financial services and tourism constitutes the remainder of Vanuatu’s economy. Copra, beef, cacao, timber, kava.

8. Vanuatu’s natural resources include: manganese, hardwood forests, and fish.

9. Christianity is the main religion followed in Vanuatu.

10. The traditional drink of Vanuatu is kava, which is made from the roots of piper methysticum.

kava
Traditional set-up for kava drining (photo credit: Tracy Moreno)

11. Literacy: 83.2%

12. 5% of GDP is spent on education (2009)

13. Primary education is available for almost all children except in a few remote tribal areas. Education is provided in either English or French.

14. Full secondary education is provided by the Anglophone Malapoa College and the French Lycée at Port-Vila; limited secondary education is also available in five English post-primary schools and three French mission schools.

15. For postsecondary education, especially medical and technical training, selected students go principally to Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand.

Bonus fact:

16. The national dish of Vanuatu is ‘lap – lap’, which can be either savory or sweet. It is made from a vegetable porridge, cooked in coconut milk.(See more at: Facts About Vanuatu)

Sources:

http://www.encyclopedia.com/topic/Vanuatu.aspx
https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/nh.html

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The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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Istanbul: Seven of Many Wonders

February 19th, 2015

Instanbul

After spending 14 days in the extraordinary, international city of Istanbul, I began to liken it to a magical carpet, a monumental tapestry, created by millennia of weavers: the merchants, travelers, artists and craftsmen who’ve passed through it. As the only country in the world to span two continents, Istanbul has always been the nexus of the East and West. It is located at the point where the Golden Horn, a large, well-protected, natural harbor, meets the Bosporus Strait, which is the only waterway entrance to the Black Sea, and connects it to the Sea of Marmara, and eventually to the Aegean.

This weaving together of diverse cultures and history has created a unique dynamic tension, a mosh pit of centuries old practice, and modern imperatives in commerce, culture and art, making it extraordinarily rich in every possible way.

It is a place of historically significant geo-political intrigue and espionage, not to mention it’s choice as a location in several 007 James Bond films; Skyfall, The World is not Enough, and From Russia with Love. I swear my over active imagination saw spy scenarios everywhere, which had my husband shaking his head and rolling his eyes.

The minute you step out into the streets of Istanbul, the multi-dimensional layers begin to expose themselves almost immediately, and every one of the senses is activated–– at once: It was almost hallucinatory.

It is terribly dense, there are trams, seas of yellow taxis, pedestrians, vendor carts, motorcycles, old men pulling impossibly heavy loads on old wooden carts, men balancing towers of bread on the heads, mopeds rigged with wooden palettes stacked with (full) egg cartons, groups of women in various states of “covering”: the hijab, the veil covering the head and chest, the Chador, the Abaya, and the Burqa, young women in mini-skirts. I especially loved shopping for lingerie next to the Burqa clad women. There were men sitting in manholes checking their emails on their cell-pones as traffic whizzed by around them, stray cats, dogs, elderly blind people, a constant stream of ferries crisscrossing the Bosporus every 10 minutes, well into the night, midnight fishermen crowded on the Galata Bridge, 7 nights a week…it is utter chaos and somehow it works, it even flows. One lovely boutique in the bohemian section of the city, The Aponia Store, has a wonderfully succinct t-shirt: ”Some call it chaos, and we call it home.” That pretty much says it, but I would add one more wild fact which I read on a label under a photo, included in a photography exhibition of beautiful black and white images about the challenging and changing nature of Turkey, at The Istanbul Modern, (a fantastic modern art museum.) Dated 2013, it read: In Istanbul, 9 million people use 19 different means of transportation 21 million times a day. Whew.

It was my first trip to a predominantly Islamic country, and I was completely curious to experience how that fact would influence the ins and outs of daily life. To try and innumerate what it was exactly that was so extraordinary about the place is almost impossible but I will give it a go. Here are seven things (among hundreds) that make Istanbul unforgettable, wondrous and a place I must return to.

1. It’s Crazy History

As I mentioned earlier, the geographic location of Istanbul sets up the scene, and one must understand how it shaped and continues to influence the city, and has bestowed upon it the gift of seeing ancient Egyptian Obelisks, ancient Roman Viaducts, and Cisterns, Sultans Palaces, Mosques, Byzantine relics and ancient Roman city walls from 400AD, Roman Catholic Churches from the 6th century and on and on…Everyone wanted, and still wants a piece of the place. The strategic importance of the site was not lost on the Greeks, who founded it as Byzantium on the European side (the Western side of the Bosphorus Strait,) in 667 BCE.

In 196 AD it was besieged and conquered by Roman Forces, and then ruled by Septimius Severus, who rapidly rebuilt it. In 330 AD, it garnered the attention of the Roman Emperor Constantine I, who was moving away from the “old” Roman ways and had converted to Christianity. He was so taken with its beauty and qualities that he dedicated it as his imperial residence, thus the Eastern capitol of the Roman Empire, and as such it was renamed Constantinople after his death. Constantinople was the western terminus of trade on the Silk Road, from which ships sailed to and from Western Europe, and according to the UNESCO website, from the 4th century onward, it is most probably “the Rome” in the saying, ”All roads lead to Rome.” At such a crucial constellation between Asia and Europe, Constantinople instantly became the most powerful cultural, commercial and diplomatic center for exchange between the East and Western Europe, and the capitol of the Byzantine Empire.

In the 6th century, Emperor Justinian I ordered the construction of the Aya Sofya, (Hagia Sophia), and it was consecrated in 537, becoming the religious center for Eastern Orthodox Christianity. During the 4th Crusade, in 1204, it was captured and sacked by French and Italian Catholic Crusaders, effectively replacing the Orthodox Byzantine Empire. It is worth noting that the influence of the French culture remains strong in Istanbul, as in the latter centuries, a number of the Sultans maintained close ties with France and were greatly influenced by and had a great fondness for French artistic craft and architecture. In 1453, the city was overrun and conquered by the Ottoman Turks, led by Mehmet II, who promptly converted the Aya Sofya into a mosque. Other churches were torn down and mosques built on top of their ruins.

In 1517 the Ottomans conquered Egypt, and brought the caliphate to Istanbul, which then became the center of the Islamic world. The Sultanate, particularly during the reign of Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-1566) dramatically changed the face of the city building palaces, mosques, bridges, as well as facilitating the exchange of ideas, customs, goods, skills, and crafts, transported via trade routes that passed through Istanbul, thus bringing new influences and cultures together, and promoting innovation in the Ottoman arts of ceramics, calligraphy and stained glass, which became vital components of the city’s history and identity.

After World War I, the British, French, and Italians occupied Constantinople and exiled the last sultan, Mehmed VI. In 1923, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk founded the modern republic of Turkey, and renamed the city Istanbul in 1930.

2. Religion / Mindfulness

Although Atatürk transformed Istanbul into a modern, “secular “ city, the fact remains that it is a predominantly Islamic city, and the spiritual and religious life continues to dominate its very core. There is no escaping the practice of Islam, as Istanbul has 3,113 mosques, many of which were built during the Ottoman period, on the sites of former Roman Catholic Churches, either destroyed or altered and converted into Mosques. They are spectacular examples of religious architecture, one being more beautiful than the next.

A lesser known but good example of this cultural, religious layering is the Arap Mosque, or Arab Mosque, which was built in 1325 by the Dominican Friars as a chapel dedicated to Saint Peter, and is the only surviving example of medieval Gothic Architecture. It was altered, and converted into a mosque by Sultan Mehmed II, and during the Spanish Inquisition of 1492, given to escaping Muslim Arab refugees from Al-Andalus. It is also interesting to note that during this time period, Jews persecuted in Spain and Portugal were encouraged to establish themselves in Istanbul as well, and a number of beautiful Synagogues remain.

Of course the most famous and without a doubt the most magnificent example of religious transformation is the Aya Sofya, built as a Roman Orthodox Church in the 6th century, then converted into a mosque in 1453 by Mehmed the Conqueror. The transformation began with the construction of a Mihrab, an ornamental indentation or niche in the wall of a mosque, which marks the direction of qiblah, or the Ka’aba in Mecca, in modern-day Saudi Arabia, the direction all Muslim worshipers must turn to face during daily prayers. A Minbar, (a raised platform in the front area of a mosque, from which sermons or speeches are given) was also erected.

Other significant changes were made in deference to Islamic law such as the covering of the tile mosaics depicting Christ and other “beings” which were painted over with a thin covering of lime. Even the four Seraphs at the base of the large dome had their faces covered with metal discs, in accordance with the Islamic laws shunning the creation of images of sentient living beings.

When Atatürk created the secular state of Turkey, he declared the Aya Sofya a museum, which it remains today, and extensive restoration is constantly under way, which included the restoration of the exquisite mosaics and the faces of the Seraphs, which are now exposed. There are whispered rumors that the current president of Turkey, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, wishes to convert it back into a mosque…

Surprise, surprise, surprise

So many things of a religious and spiritual nature were of constant surprise to me. All of them pleasant and memorable. As Istanbul is a hilly city, there are seven hills, the beautiful domes of the mosques, and the slim towering minarets, reign over the city, dotting the skyline with a romantically magical quality. The minarets were originally constructed as the platform for the Muzzein’s call to prayer, and as you can imagine, with so many mosques there is a bit of a competition amongst them at prayer time. These hauntingly, melodious voices ringing out over the city five times a day, sent real shivers up my spine. I did not need to know exactly what they were saying, but I could feel the spiritual quality and was surprised by its effect on me. I would simply have to stop doing whatever we were doing and just listen.

Aside from the fact that the interiors of the mosques are just breathtakingly beautiful, there was something moving about participating in the rituals of removing ones shoes, and for women the covering of the head with head scarves enabled me to participate in the sanctity of the place. One particular day when visiting the Suleymani Mosque a large group of elderly women, all dressed in black, (their faces exposed), all the same height and roundness came in to worship. They were different than the others, obvious religious pilgrims, and were quietly whispering and often smiling in awe at the sheer beauty of the space. I loved how they felt, and took a quick moment to capture a few images. After I put my camera back into my coat pocket I looked up and saw that they had noticed me too, as they were smiling broadly and taking my picture! There I was, the tall lady, oddly out of place in her headscarf, and they seemed to find me hysterical. I was as much an anomaly for them as they were for me and we smiled knowingly at each other.

Outside of every mosque, were beautiful marble fountains for ablutions, where men (only), the women went into the restrooms, sat washing their hands, arms, faces and feet, before going in to worship. And it was cold outside. For that matter, there were such marble fountains all over the city with beautiful brass spigots also used for cleansing. Many also had a tin cup on a chain for shared drinking. Even in the wondrous Grand Bazaar, such fountains existed, where there was always someone sitting and washing, as a prelude to the call to prayer, which was offered at select locations, where men lined up, filling the Caddesi, or lanes with small prayer rugs, and the entire commerce in many shops would come to a grinding halt. It is unavoidable, no matter where you are. Things just stop.

And speaking of stopping, this constant awareness, a sort of collective mindfulness seems to prevail in many aspects of daily life, from the highly aesthetic display of food, to the carefully chosen and draped headscarf, or the constant cleaning of place and self, and just the general realization that one is not isolated and alone, acting independently, and that we are somehow all connected. We were so often struck by civil acts of kindness, between complete strangers. Everyone helps everyone.

When an elderly man fell in the street, a man jumped out of his car stopping traffic, creating a traffic jam in order to help. And when one Taxi directly behind him honked, twenty other honked and yelled at him, admonishing him for his thoughtlessness. I’ve never seen that in any major cosmopolitan city.

One incident in particular really stuck in my mind. We were walking down a congested street in the Textile district, when a man directly in front of us suddenly stopped, bent over and picked up a piece of chewing gum lying in his path. He carefully removed it to a safe place behind a pole, where no one else might step on it and continued on. We actually stood there dumbfounded for a few moments, struck by such a selfless act.

That‘s not to say that there are not slums, and that bad, mean and angry people don’t exist, but the overwhelming feeling was pretty awesome. Of course the intense police presence, with men in full riot gear, sporting dreadful looking machine guns, in anticipation of possible rioting, does not fall into that category.

3. Tea Time Rituals

Conversations without tea are like a night sky without the moon.
-Folk saying from Sivas, Turkey

Even those nasty looking policemen wound up surprising me though. We stumbled upon a large group of them sitting in a back-alley café serenely drinking tea, smoking cigarettes and playing backgammon? The ritual of Tea Time is as equally powerful and as often, if not more practiced as the daily prayer ritual. It is part of everyone’s daily routine.

No matter where you are, no matter what you are doing, there is always a Çay (Chai) a tea man running around with a silver tray, laden with small beautiful tulip shaped clear glasses filled with piping hot Turkish Tea, the tinkling sound of small spoons stirring tea is everywhere.

Like the time we were walking along the hippodrome, checking out Ancient Egyptian Obelisks, I heard that tinkling sound and turned to see burley construction workers taking a break from digging ditches for water-pipe repair, squatting on their break, stirring cubes of sugar into their delicate tulip-shaped tea glasses. Or the time we watched in amusement as a garbage truck stopped in the middle of an old, 19th century narrow, sloping street, and the garbage men jumped out and walked up onto the sidewalk, as a Çay man appeared out of nowhere with a tray full of those delicate glasses of piping hot tea. No paper cups here, no sir. These men stood drinking tea and smoking as traffic calmly and knowingly waited behind the truck until their 5-minute break was over. Really? Imagine that in New York or Paris!

The Hamal’ or the porters, are the men who carry impossibly heavy loads on their backs, (as well as homemade saddles which they also use as seats when they unburden themselves,) can be seen sitting in small groups, taking a tea-time pause on the sidewalk, as the Çay man seems to magically appear, once more.

And…the midnight fishermen on the Galata Bridge, indulge as well, with tea vendors setting up small mobile tea stands on boxes, preparing fresh, piping hot tea, to ward off the chill of the night air. That was the best tea I’ve ever tasted, and sitting with the fishermen, amidst the debris of their profession, happy to show us their angling talent was one of my most favorite memories.

4. Stray Cats and Dogs

Cats and dogs are everywhere, I mean everywhere in Istanbul, and I don’t mean pets. The streets are full of stray cats and dogs, large dogs which all mind their own business, walk around, take long naps and generally get along with each other and people. In fact, in most places it is common to see bowls of food and water discreetly placed for them by local residents and businesses.

Cats have it especially good, as Muhammad prohibited the persecution and killing of cats, and in Islamic tradition, cats are admired for their cleanliness. A popular saying goes: “If you’ve killed a cat, you need to build a mosque to be forgiven by God.”

So, there are definitely more cats than dogs. Almost every business seems to have a cat. Shoemakers, Music stores, Museum gardens, bookstores, high-end boutiques, bars, hotels, nightclubs–– everyone loves them, and allows them to come and go as they please. It is not uncommon to be trying on a pair of expensive shoes, while a beautiful, well cared for cat brushes against your leg, before darting out onto the street. I love that.

The dogs look ferocious but just spend their days hanging out, waiting for food, and occasionally barking at cars they don’t like. They never assault people and they seem to have an agreement with their local feline counterparts.

How can this be? One night we sat next to a lovely couple from Dublin, and the woman turned out to be a veterinarian, there to give a lecture on as she said,” bunnies and birds, as the exotic pet-trade has picked up in Istanbul.” I immediately asked her about the profusion of street animals and she cleared it up for us. Apparently Istanbul is a “no-kill” city, with the entire population standing behind this humane law. Whenever possible, the state actually rounds the animals up, inoculates them, cares for them if they’re sick, spays and neuters them, then sets them free, knowing they will be well cared for. We never once saw a mangy dog or alley cat. They all looked perfectly healthy and happy. There are even neighborhood favorites. That is so cool.

5. Tiles, Rugs and Jewelry

Those awesomely beautiful predominantly blue tiles that adorn the Blue Mosque, the Rustem Pasha Mosque, and many parts of Topkapi Palace are called Iznik tiles, which came from the town of Iznik in Western Anatolia, via the Silk Road. They were produced in the last quarter of the 15th century up to the end of the 17th century, when production began to decline as the massive building projects of the Ottoman Sultans were on the wane and competition from the more highly crafted Chinese Ceramics began to erode the marketplace.

In the Sultan Ahmed Mosque–also known as the Blue Mosque for its abundant 20,000 tiles originally cobalt blue–the color palate expanded to include, turquoise, and pastel shades of sage green and pale purple. In the middle of the 16th century, a Bole red replaced the purple and a bright Emerald green replaced the sage.

The Rüstem Pasha Mosque is famous for its Iznik tiles, which have beautiful floral patterns as well as geometric designs. I was surprised to see the tulip among the hyacinths, carnations, roses sprigs petals, and Pencs, (the stylized top view of flowers.) There was a sweet man selling books in the courtyard, who explained that the Turkish love of the tulip came from the Ottoman period, as the beloved flower of the sultans. I went back to the hotel and did a little research and discovered the Tulip Period, in the 18th century, when a “tulip craze” firmly established itself as the Sultans began to orient themselves towards Europe.
The tulip came to define nobility and privilege and became celebrated in the Ottoman court. This passion for tulips extended into paintings, silks, and textiles and was used in the Sultan’s Palace clothing, and came to represent the wealthy and elite. In Turkey today, the tulip is still considered to embody perfection and beauty. Who knew?

Turkish Carpets

The Tulip motif was carried over onto the famous Turkish Carpets, especially those commissioned by the sultans. Massive Turkish Carpets, cover the floor of every Mosque; a centuries old art, originally of practical use, from the region of Seljuk Anatolia, during the Seljuk Period, 1037-1302.

The history is long and complicated but it is worth mentioning the weaving workshops of Herke, established in 1843. These carpets are known for their fine weaves and used silk, or fine wool threads, and upon occasion, gold, silver and cotton threads as well. In the Topkapi Palace they featured intricate floral designs, of course including the tulip, as well as the daisy, carnation, crocus, rose, lilac, and hyacinth.

Jewelry

I have to say, I just fell in love with this city. Not only are the people warm and openhearted, we also share a common fascination with exquisitely crafted jewelry. The artistic craftsmanship in the city in general is absolutely outstanding and the jewelry is no exception. Once again, we’ve got those Sultans to thank, as their obsession with all things beautiful has carried over to modern times. However, the treasury at the Topkopi Palace, the seat of the Ottoman sultanate takes the cake. The palace’s ornate opulence is right out of a fairy tale, and legends, and stories abound about the pleasure seeking Sultans, their beautiful concubines, plotting courtiers and viziers, competing eunuchs and the general palace intrigues involving dignitaries and visiting world leaders. But my absolute favorite story is that of the-––Spoon Makers Diamond.

First of all, the palace treasury is brimming with one astonishing bejeweled object after another, to the point of making you dizzy. Heavily guarded vitrines displaying bowls full of emeralds the size of dinner rolls, flamboyant turban ornaments dripping with pearls, rubies, emeralds, gold and diamonds, called sorguç, which were the equivalent of crowns: a symbol of power and authority that was worn by Ottoman sultans on their quilted turban.

However…they paled next to The Spoon Makers Diamond. Here’s the story, talk about fairy-tales: There was once a poor fisherman in 17th century Istanbul who, while wandering by the shore, found a large stone in a pile of rubbish. It was so unusual looking that he picked it up and put it in his pocket, and carried it around for a few days. He eventually made his way to the marketplace where he showed it to the first vendor he came across, who happened to be a spoon maker. The man feigned disinterest, declaring it a large piece of glass, and offered the poor fisherman three wooden spoons. The spoon maker was not entirely sure what he had purchased, but had inkling that it was…something unusual

One day the Vizier of the Sultan passed by the spoon maker’s stall and was astonished to see the raw, unpolished diamond sitting there for all to see. He immediately offered the spoon maker a large sum of money, too good to refuse, and ran quickly back to the palace jewelers who polished it up and …

The diamond is an 86-carat pear-shaped diamond, and believed to be the fourth largest diamond in the world. It sits in a silver setting surrounded by 49 old-mine cut diamonds, just for that extra bling!

6. Education

I had no idea that Istanbul was home to one of the oldest institutions of higher learning in the world. Istanbul University, was founded when Mehmet II conquered Constantinople. It began as a madrasah, a theological school, and catered to educating the ruling class of the Ottomans. During Ataturks reformation in the 1920’s, the institution was renamed Istanbul University and restructured to include departments in medicine, law, literature, theology, and science. Interestingly enough it benefited from the flight of Jewish academics that fled Germany during the Third Reich and became a vital force of the teaching staff. Many academics educated there were able to go on to establish other institutions of higher learning in Istanbul and in Turkey in general. The university prides itself as being a leader in the movement towards enlightenment, and modernization, bridging the gap between science and cultural life.

Then there is Boğaziçi University a public university located on the European side of the Bosphorus strait in Istanbul founded in 1863, it has the distinction of being the first American Institution of higher learning founded outside the United States. It has strong ties to the Robert College of Istanbul, a co-educational private[1] high school, and boarding school, with an awesome campus also on the European side of Istanbul. The 150-year-old institution is the oldest American school still in existence in its original location outside the United States, and is accredited by the New York State Association of Independent Schools.

Another university is the Francophone University, Galatasaray University, which was established in 1992, by an agreement of the then president of Turkey Turgut Özal and the French president Francois Mitterrand. It is a participant in the European Erasmus and Socrates exchange programs, and has close to 50 European students, as well as representing a secular tradition of teaching. The courses are tri-lingual: in Turkish, French and English;and fluency in both French and English are required. On top of that the university is housed in the former Feriye Palace, a coastal summer palace on the Bosphorus built in 1871; one of the many architecturally stunning second Sultanate homes lining the waterfront of Bosphorus. Nice place to study!

The Istanbul Technical University, ITU, is the world’s third oldest technical universities, dedicated to engineering sciences and recently to the social sciences.

And lastly, because one must stop somewhere, is the Mimar Sinan Fine Arts University, founded in 1882, as the “School of Fine Arts,” by the renowned Turkish painter Osman Hamdi Bey. It became co-educational in 1914, and the name was changed several times, finally becoming what it is today, in honor of the famous Ottoman-Armenian architect Mimar Sinan, responsible for many of Istanbul’s most beautiful Mosques.

Well, now I guess I have to stop, but I never discussed Turkish Delights, Hamams, Pomegranates, or the nazar boncuğu, the Turkish talisman against the Evil Eye. The thing about traveling is that you can have the most amazing, and profound experiences if you are willing to open yourself up and embrace the “difference” of the culture you find yourself in, without judgment, and without needing to find your “place” in it. Just be there, and be “present” and the mysteries will reveal themselves in the most wonderful, and unimaginable ways, which will invariably find you just where you need to be.

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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