Monday, 21 November 2011

Myths, modernity, and hot springs

In some countries and places, hot springs evoke such mythical beliefs and stories. In the mountains of Badakshan in Tajikistan, for instance, the Bibi Fatima Chushma hot springs are where women go to bathe to increase fertility or have their prayers answered. A prayer is said, and the spirit of Fatima is meant to be present and will hear the prayers of the pilgrims.

In contrast, in the U.S. there are also beautiful hot springs. And as lovely as they are, they are just that: hot springs. There may have been mythical beliefs to explain their existence but now that wonder has gone and all that remains is the scientific explanation.

Does being western or modern mean we no longer are left to be amazed by the world in a spiritual or superstitious sense? Has science replaced all other forms of reasoning?

In Turkey, Pamukkale was one of these magnificent sites: hot springs, calcium deposit plateaus. I can attempt to give the mythical and scientific explanation for this uniquely beautiful place but I’ll leave you to wonder about it in amazement :)

Sunday, 13 November 2011


Walking through the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Ephesus, it was amazing to me how the civilization dating to some millennia B.C. was so sophisticated and yet, how in so many ways, we as humankind have not changed so much at all.

First of all, it was incredible to see the way they built so that their built environment could withstand earthquakes. This knowledge exists and has existed and yet cities like Istanbul, which sit on a major fault line and are highly vulnerable to earthquake damage do not build appropriately to mitigate disastrous earthquake impacts. What was known to a city in antiquity (and is now in the same country as a city like Istanbul) is not being applied today.

Secondly, their drainage and water systems were at a standard that many cities in the world today do not have. Additionally, the amphitheatre really interests me. They built it in such a way to accommodate large crowds and knew how to ensure acoustics carried.

While it was all very fascinating to explore, one cannot romanticize ancient cultures too much. There were clear distinctions between the elite and the rest of society. The elite had their homes decorated with mosaics, shopped in certain areas and had a separate odeon to which they went. In many ways, class disparities persist today in much of the same ways they always have.

The rich also had slaves; babies and women were sold at markets. In a sense, we’ve formally abolished slavery though it still exists largely through many industries.

And finally, an anecdote relayed by the guide concerning men and women and relationships: Men would go to the library, sending their wives to go spend time at the markets. What was later discovered was a secret tunnel that led from the library to what were presumably brothels. The stories relayed could have been any society throughout history. It’s interesting to explore the past and see so much of it still resonates today.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011


A series of intricate trenches were dug by the Anzacs hoping to capture the highest point of the peninsula, Chunuk Bair. Not even 8 meters away are trenches dug by Turkish soldiers hoping to protect Chunuk Bair. The trenches were dug so close to make camaraderie and killing easier.
Wars are fought not between people. People fighting are just pawns in the game controlled by a few figures and constructed ideologies that cause pawns to follow orders and shoot friends (as the Turks and Anzacs were). They sang together, shared food and cigarettes, and even helped bury each other’s dead. But, when orders came to shoot, they did. Strange. Thousands died. 500,000. The numbers don’t even include the injured or those taken away to be hospitalized. 86,000 Turks died in 8 months for their homeland and the other side in vain?
Both the Turks and Australians use Gallipoli as a marker of their countries’ formation. It was as the tour guide said, “the last gentlemen’s war”.
It was also here at Gallipoli that Mustafa Kemal “Ataturk” became a known and respected figure in Turkist nationalist history.

Friday, 28 October 2011

Kurds, Turkey, Nationalism, Thoughts, Reflection, Rant

After discussing the Turkey itinerary with the rather attractive and funny bloke from the tour agency, I asked him whether there are ever any tours in the Southern or Eastern regions of Turkey. I had Hasankeyf particularly in mind and was referencing areas with a high Kurdish population. He said no. There was no tourism there and no reason to go there. I asked why, knowing that tourism was not promoted there because of the high number of Kurds in those regions. It was not only neglected but ‘oppressed’ might even be a more accurate term. We got into a little debate about the Kurdish areas of Turkey, which do in fact have amazing historical and naturally beautiful sites worth seeing. He said “we’ve given them everything, so their demands and complaints are unjustified”. He ended the conversation saying, “It’s a deep issue, and well I don’t care.”

Turkey as we know it today became a country that privileged one ethnic group: the Turks. Kurds were killed in large numbers by the Turkish government. Yes, it’s a deep issue and a sensitive one and education plays a large part in forming people’s views, but it’s this national fervor that has allowed one ethnic group to be privileged over another. Why were the Kurds left out of the nation-making process, subject to torture and marginalization by Iraq, Turkey, and Syria? Didn’t the Turks migrate into Anatolia, the region only recently named Turkey? The Kurds are their own distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture so why do young Turks of today insist on a Turkey for the Turks? This concept of nationalism really does not sit well.

Monday, 26 September 2011

My week of funemployment in Londontown

Monday – I went to see Paul Collier speak at LSE on the topic of Building Effective States
He presented some food for thought regarding the need to start with building an effective tax system.
I particularly liked his comment about how aid agencies can often lead to more harm than good, which is why throwing money at a problem is hardly a solution. Ever. Agencies such as DFID that focus on the most fragile states reduce the incentive for governments of these fragile states to ever improve their conditions.
His ultimate answer pointed to the necessity of GOOD LEADERSHIP.

Tuesday – Film night at Rich Mix about the global food system
I saw a few really powerful short films about the disaster our current food system is leading us to. Some films also highlighted the plight of many small farmers because of the unfair land grabs that are occurring and the unfair rule of trade that allow the agribusiness to make large profits under the guise of feeding the world’s population and yet a billion people are left hungry..and so many more undernourished

Wednesday – Wilfred Madelung (senior fellow of the IIS) spoke about succession in the Qur’an
He was a bit of a mumbler, but I found the discussion on adoption in religion particularly interesting..

Thursday – Went to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) for the launch of the world disasters report, which focused on hunger and malnutrition
This was very interesting; it was the academic and policy side of the more activist-y event of Tuesday night.
One panelist in particular said that it’s very easy to sloganize from a distance, saying things like “Dismantle the WTO”, but in reality when working on the issues and closer to the issues, there is a tendency to work with these organizations in a more friendly manner, despite knowing the extent of problems they cause
There was also a lot of discussion on politics and power, rather than technical solutions as well as the current famine raging in the Horn of Africa.
And finally “development” in general. – lots of food for thought (no pun intended)
Frustrating and inspiring at the same time. These people seem to understand all the problems, which is good because they are ultimately influencing policy (in theory at least) and yet policies are still failing so many people..

Friday – lunch and great laughts with the few classmates left in London
landed a short-term research assistant position
Research Assistant for a case study examining women’s political participation in Somaliland
Somaliland??! – spent the weekend reading about it

Saturday – Land and freedom camp – discussion on land in clapham common – beautiful park!
Met some people who don’t spend money because they don’t believe in capitalism and therefore do not want to contribute to it. Met a girl travelling to Iran with no money to her name
An outdoor film screening about people living off the land in Britain in the 17th century. Many of the same issues persist today..
Dinner was cooked and served to everyone. Food came largely from skips!
Refreshing in many ways
And then more UCL classmate fun

Sunday – Beautiful day to be outside in Londontown! Caught up with a dear friend, napped in hyde park, covent garden - greenhouse made out of legos, and helped a friend move in to her new residence –new beginnings!

Sunday, 11 September 2011

September 11, 2011

I am opposed to the concept of nationalism for several reasons. I believe it separates people and causes unnecessary conflicts and tensions, based on constructed and often arbitrary boundaries. Furthermore, the nationalistic pride garnered within a boundary is based on an “imagined community” (the concept coined by Benedict Anderson), when in fact there are endless differences among people that belong to the same ‘nation’.

The point of this blog is to reflect on a conversation a friend and I had today over the 10-year anniversary of September the 11th, a day that “changed the world”.

He insisted on wearing his I <3 NY T-Shirt and a large American Flag caped around him.
While I said, “you do what you got to do”, I told him that I thought it was too much.

After some banter, in which he told me he was remembering those that died in the tragedy and wearing his nation’s flag proudly to let people know that He is an American and honoring the victims of the tragic event.

I recognize and sympathize with those that lost family members, friends, colleagues, even acquaintances to the highly undignified and cowardly terrorist acts. However, events such as this happen in many places around the globe and the countless victims that die go almost unnoticed by the world. So, the problem I have with the 11th of September and commemorating the anniversary each year is that it is almost as though we are saying, well the other lives that are lost to terrorist activities are less significant.
Why is it that so much emphasis gets placed on an event when it occurs on American soil?

Ok, maybe this is a bit too critical, but I feel that because we placed so much emphasis on the attacks, it justified going into Iraq, Afghanistan, sending drones to Pakistan, all of which have killed many thousands of innocent lives. So for me, the nationalistic pride (which I have a problem with in the first place) and the solidarity that is brought about came at the expense of creating this “other” and attacking and killing so many lives. To me, this is unjustified.