Travels with Herodotus

Travels with Herodotus by Ryszard Kapuscinski is an amazing book that was given to me as a second hand book by a friend already years ago. It ended up at a pile and stayed there for years. However since I travel a lot for my work in the Middle East these days, I am reading book by book through that pile while waiting at airports or flying in airplanes.
Travels with Herodotus is one of those books that I should have read earlier and that I couldn’t let go once I started reading. It is not a new book (published in Dutch in 2005 already) but who cares, nor is Herodotus who lived in the 5th century BC.
Kapuscinki proves that Herodotus has not lost any of his actuality in 2500 years for 2 main reasons:

1. He is the first known author to check and double check his stories, indicating for his readers how (im)probable the history he offers would be; that is tremendously interesting. His way of operating is amazing, checking stories in the 5th century BC cost him years but that didn’t stop him at all. He must have felt that he was not just writing for his contemporaries but for the entire humanity. So as readers in the 21st century we can follow pretty accurately the games of power of the ancient world.

2. Herodotus shows with facts the extreme cruelty of the rulers of his time – and of their advisers, family and the like. They make you think of some 20th century dictators; indeed not mankind has changed but the possibilities individuals get to apply their cruelty in daily reality. Herodotus describes the cities of Athens and Sparta as cities with a democracy where power was limited or should we say: diffuse, divided; no one was able to rule through fear and cruelty to the extent that it was found among Persians, Assyrians, Parths and many other people where the power was in the hands of one person or family. Somehow it is the system that allows humans to be cruel – or stops them. In the light of today’s debate about the value of democracy, these are intriguing thoughts.
The division of power leads to endless discussions, even on the battle field where the Greek leaders fight although the Persians are near. It is fun to read for those who have experience with democracy; nothing changed in the ‘way it is done’. And the surprise is that small Greek states without apparent unity win the war over well organized Persians who outnumber them and do not loose time in discussions about strategy. The book proves that it would have changed the course of history in Europe, had the Persians won the war. It is an encouragement to proceed on the way of checks and balances in the institution and execution of power!

Travels with Herodotus is not just about Herodotus, it is also about the author Ryszard Kapuscinski himself. He interwaves his personal story as travel journalist with Herodotus’ book Histories in an interesting and also meaningful way. I think Kapuscinski saw this book as his personal life story. On his first foreign trip that he undertook while he had always lived in closed communist Poland, Herodotus’ book accompanied him and did so on many other journeys that followed. It was not just a source of inspiration but also a method and a continuous challenge for reflection. Kapuscinski shares a lifetime outcome of that with his readers; this book has a depth that is rarely seen. It is a gift for humanity: buy it, in a second hand bookshop if no longer available, who cares.

Travels with Herodotus is a must-read for anybody who is interested in:
– (the development of) democracy versus dictatorship
– Asian and European ancient history
– travel journalism, both content/stories and methodology
– philosophy, politics, culture and anthropology.

Useful links:
https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/jun/30/featuresreviews.guardianreview6
http://www.geschiedenis.nl/nieuws/artikel/912/reizen-met-herodotos (in Dutch)

De jacht op mijn vader / the hunt for my father

The hunt for my father is a very interesting documentary made by Gülsah Dogan. It is the second movie that I see from her and again I think her work is outstanding in many aspects.
In this documentary Gülsah Dogan follows the author Karin Amatmoekrim who is looking for her father Eric Lie in Suriname. Karin wants to write a book about her father; her mother left the country when she was still a baby and went to the Netherlands, apparently because she was not the only woman for Eric Lie. He as a famous Taekwondo champion and good looking man was popular among women. Thus Karin grew up without father far away, in the Netherlands and it is Gülsah’s quality to show the underlying feelings not by words, but in images. It is difficult not to feel some irritations during this documentary: in the title it is about the ‘hunt for her father’, however it is possible to conclude that it is more about the author herself than about the father.
The story takes place in the beautiful tropic context of Surinam and unfolds in interesting scenes and surprising pictures of the nature: from a cockridge defending itself against ants to trips on the river Marowijne.
Gülsah Dogan has produced another masterpiece after the outstanding documentary Naziha’s Spring. You can see it (in Dutch) Thursday 11 May 2017 at 22.55h on NPO2.

A link describing the documentary (in Dutch):
https://www.waterkant.net/suriname/2017/05/06/documentaire-jacht-op-vader-11-mei-op-npo2/

Hôtel Saint-Georges: I understood…


There is a very good bookshop just outside the kashba of Tunis where I found a pearl of Algerian-French literature: Hôtel Saint-Georges by Rachid Boudjedra. There were hundreds of books in that store so what made me choose this one? (by the way maybe they were all very good). Once I started reading this book, I couldn’t let go. It is very easy to understand the many different characters, the reader will love them all and wants to read their perspective on the life they live. This desire is largely rewarded by the author.
Also the book gave me new insights about Algerian family relations, for example I didn’t know that it is the role of the uncle from mothers side to be tender and show love (while the uncle from fathers side only gives ‘the name’). Boudjedra pictures Algerian family dynamics in such a way that you as a reader can feel like a family member. It also gives more insights in how the cultural notion of ‘collectivism’ works. Usually when people in the West discuss collectivism that exists in countries like the Maghreb, as opposed to individualism, they think a person can not be an individual due to the family relations. Boudjedra shows that within these collectivist families, family members have strong individual lifes and characteristics. The problem as pictured in this book is rather the impossibility within a collectivist structure to discuss what goes wrong and to ‘correct’ actions of individual family members, even heavy ones that really damage others. It is intriguing to read how the FLN (an army structure to oppose the colonial regime) is used to kill a family member who had an incestuous relationship rather than confronting him and seek justice in the system. The secret remains, the punishment is sought in different ways.
A very important aspect of this book is Boudjedra’s choice to see actual, cruel developments as an element of history: Algerian history since the independence in 1962, French history of colonialism 1830-1962 but also ancient history, medieval history. The 90+ year old family patriarch, Sidi Mohammed, who traveled a lot and speaks many languages, gives his conclusions of a lifetime: ‘J’ai compris aussi que la barbarie est le véritable patrimoine commun de l’Humanité. J’avais fini par comprendre que le propre de l’homme, c’est la cruauté’. (‘I have understood that barbarity is the real common heritage of humanity. I have finally understood that the characteristic of mankind is cruelty‘). From this point of view, it is not an optimistic book.
And there is something else to say about this approach. In the French literature of the Maghreb, some authors long for the colonial period of the French who introduced many good things that the countries still profit from today. Faced with the actual problems of incompetence and corruption on the one side and violence and radical Islam on the other side, authors like Boualem Sansal (le Serment des Barbares) give up hope for Arab leadership and think that the French offered more. Boudjedra shows how cruel the French regime has been in Algeria; even though that did not improve after the Algerian independence, that does not mean that he feels nostalgia for the French colonial times in Algeria, on the contrary: he is rather inclined to conclude that cruelty and barbarity is part of human history, in whatever shape or nationality.
Even though it is not a happy book, it is a very beautiful book in language, in themes, in richness – it is a book that gives you a lot of food for thought. Highly recommended!

I could not find a translation of this book. Also the links I recommend are in French only:
http://www.babelmed.net/
http://www.djazairess.com/fr/infosoir/61703

http://www.lorientlitteraire.com/

 

 

Palmpasen in Jordanië – daar waar je invloed hebt…

genderdiversiteit jordanië

Vorige week gaf ik op Palmpasen (zondag = een gewone werkdag aldaar) een training over genderdiversiteit aan een team van een groot Jordaans bedrijf. ‚Zaten daar ook mannen bij‘, wordt me nogal eens gevraagd over trainingen in de Arabische wereld. Het antwoord is ja, en vaak in meerderheid. En ze staan bijna allemaal positief tegenover gender diversiteit— Nederlandse discussies als ‚waarom moet dit eigenlijk en waarom heeft dit nu prioriteit‘ worden in landen als Jordanië overgeslagen. Je gaat er gewoon aan het werk en daarmee maak je sneller meters.

Tijdens de training kwam via social media het bericht over de aanslagen op Koptische christenen in Egypte binnen. De verslagenheid was groot. De deelnemers vergeleken het meteen met een grote aanslag in Bagdad, 94 doden, aan de vooravond van een islamitisch feest en interpreteerden dat terreur juist mikt op mensen die rustig bidden en in vrede hun godsdienst willen belijden.

De wereld kunnen we niet veranderen maar op de inclusiviteit van onze eigen organisatie hebben we wel grip, meenden zij. En zo is het. We hebben ook de rest van de dag hard doorgewerkt. Hou je van diversiteit & inclusie, laat je dan niet ontmoedigen en onderneem actie op de terreinen waarop je zelf invloed hebt.

PS
Over eerdere ervaringen met diversiteitstrainingen in Arabische landen lees je hier:
http://grethevangeffen.nl/2017/02/23/diversiteit-marokko-en-tunesie/

Daarom stem ik 15 maart op Dilan Yeşilgöz

Ik had een collega die ontslag heeft genomen en de politiek is ingegaan en nu zie ik haar ineens overal”, vertelde een verbaasde ambtenaar me enkele jaren terug. ‘Dilan Yeşilgöz zeker”, zei ik meteen. Zijn verbazing kon ik plaatsen – we kennen allemaal van die mensen die grootse plannen hebben (meedoen aan de campagne van Hillary Clinton en zo) en daarna hoor je er nooit meer wat van. Maar Dilan Yeşilgöz, die leverde meteen aan tal van actuele onderwerpen een belangrijke bijdrage.

Ineens beschikte de Amsterdamse gemeenteraad weer over iemand die veiligheid prominent agendeerde, die opkwam voor vrijheid en die daarbij ook nog diepgaand verstand heeft van diversiteit & inclusie. Dat is belangrijk want veel mensen hebben vooral een mening over diversiteit & inclusie maar weinig inzicht in de maatschappelijke en organisatorische dynamiek die het teweeg brengt. Dat is wel nodig en Dilan heeft het.
Ja, je ziet Dilan Yeşilgöz overal, met veel enthousiasme en energie. Ik loop al wat langer mee in het politieke landschap en niet altijd met blijdschap. Zo zat ik vorige verkiezingen een campagneavond naast een kandidaat-kamerlid dat zich vrij passief opstelde en toen ik vroeg wat die persoon ambieerde, zei: “ik wacht het wel af”. Neem dan Dilan: vol vuur, passie en charme, altijd met uitstekende voorbereiding van zaken, vliegt ze erop af. Niks afwachten. Hup we gaan ervoor. Het is nooit nodig geweest om aan haar te vragen wat ze ambieerde wat dat is glashelder.

Mijn stem gaat daarom op 15 maart naar Dilan Yeşilgöz, lijst 1 plaats 19.

Wat ik bewonder in Dilan is dat ze heel erg zuiver kan redeneren en debatteren; ze gaat tot de kern van de zaak ongeacht met wie ze in debat gaat en wat het onderwerp is. Ze laat zich niet afleiden van waar het haar om gaat, terwijl ze in contact blijft met degenen om haar heen. Als je visie combineert met deze vaardigheden, kun je samen met leden van andere partijen (een noodzaak in dit land) mooie dingen bouwen voor alle burgers.

Diversiteit in Marokko en Tunesië

diversiteit inclusie marokko tunesie  Mijn ontdekkingstocht naar diversiteit & inclusie in Arabische landen gaat verder. Na de start in Jordanië (Jordanië blog 2 en Jordanië blog 1) ging ik aan de slag in Tunesië en Marokko met buitengewoon spannend verlopen trainingen. Niet alleen wisselt steeds de context, zowel nationaal als qua type bedrijven, ook is het bekijken van de wereld door de bril van diversiteit & inclusie een volkomen nieuw gegeven in die landen. Ik betreed dan ook met enige schroom de zaal waar de training plaats vindt. Gaat het programma voldoende passen in hun eigen context? Wat vinden ze ervan dat een Nederlander deze training komt geven? Hoe zal het ditmaal gaan met de taal? Want trainingen geven in het Engels en Frans betekent niet alleen voor mij werken in een tweede taal, ook de deelnemers hebben meestal een andere taal als moedertaal.
Het duurt gelukkig nog geen uur voordat we al helemaal aan elkaar gewend zijn. De inclusiviteit van de bedrijfsculturen die ik heb ervaren, helpt daar enorm bij. Diezelfde inclusiviteit leidt tot bovengemiddeld goede samenwerking als teamopdrachten moeten worden uitgevoerd. In Tunesië maakte ik bovendien discussies mee zoals ik ze zelden hoor bij trainingen in Nederland of Duitsland: de deelnemers waren heel open in het delen van ervaringen en vlogen elkaar hier en daar flink in de haren over de vraag hoe inclusief de organisatie nou werkelijk was > op een inclusieve manier, zonder elkaar te beoordelen of zuur te worden, wat in Noordwest-Europa bij al teveel openheid in bedrijven nog weleens het risico is. Ik was diep onder de indruk en, ook niet onbelangrijk, wat hebben we gelachen. Toen ik de documentaire Danny in Arabistan – Tunesië zag – een aanrader! – herkende ik datzelfde beeld.
diversiteit inclusie marokkoIn Marokko werd ik daarbij nog verrast door de grote persoonlijke warmte van de deelnemers. Hard werken ging er gemakkelijk samen met positieve emotionaliteit, Een deelneemster gaf me na afloop haar prachtige oorbellen mee, als aandenken namens de hele groep.
Wat is het ontzettend leuk om zo samen aan diversiteit & inclusie te werken.

Ontmoet opvolger Alexander Pechtold bij het Mensa Fonds!

 

 

 

Rudo Slappendel is de veilingmeester op de Mensa Fonds benefietveiling van 11 februari 2017. Eerder trad hij al in de voetsporen van Alexander Pechtold. Tijd voor wat vragen aan hem….

Rudo, je leidt als vrijwillige veilingmeester de Mensa Fonds veiling: wat motiveert je?
Ik heb Mensa vanaf een zijlijn gevolgd, doordat mijn vriendin Leila Prnjavorac er actief voor is. Ik vind het een leuke club mensen en zet mij graag voor dit goede doel in.

Als professionele veilingmeester volgde je Alexander Pechtold op: hoe kwam dat zo?
Pechtold zou een veiling leiden, maar moest 15 minuten van tevoren afzeggen vanwege politieke verplichtingen. De organisatie zat met de handen in het haar. Ik had al eerder als veilingmeester opgetreden, dus voor mij een logische stap om mijzelf aan te bieden. Dit werd een succes en ik heb de hamer voor deze veiling van hem overgenomen.

Heb je verder nog ambitie om Alexander Pechtold op te volgen, als partijleider D66?
Nee hoor, dat mag hij blijven doen.

Wat vind je leuk aan veilingmeester zijn?
Ik vind het leuk om, in dit geval, voor het fonds geld op te halen. Het is leuk om met je publiek te spelen en net die ene euro mee eruit te kunnen slepen. Dus wees op je hoede zaterdag ;-).

Heb je nog een anekdote, tips, iets om mee te geven aan bezoekers…..
Een tip voor zaterdag; Pas op, als je kriebel aan je hoofd hebt, of naar een vriend/kennis zwaait. Je hand omhoog is een bieding!

Meer informatie over Rudo Slappendel vind je via: linkedin

Het programma en de kavels van de Mensa Fonds veiling 11-2-2017 vind je hier.

Portrait du décolonisé


In 2004, 1 year before the terrible riots in the French banlieues and 7 years before the Arab spring occurred, the Jewist-Arab-French-Tunisian writer Albert Memmi writes a stunning picture about decolonized countries and the decolonized citizens, both local and emigrated, in his book Portrait du décolonisé.
Memmi describes on a factual basis the disastrous situation of many decolonized countries: the poverty, the corruption, the oppression and how these factors interlink and prevent the decolonized countries to develop and prosper. It is a sad picture that, however, can be recognized by many who worked and traveled in decolonized regions.
In 2004, the Portrait du décolonisé was not well received in France. It was criticized because Memmi wonders why the 100.000’s of deaths in several African conflicts get a lot less attention than the 3000 deaths in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He was accused of ‘Zionistic’ views, which would de-qualify the other 96% of his book – it must have shocked a free-thinking intellectual like Memmi who is pleading so warmly for universal values for all to live in freedom and prosperity. And the book was criticized because his portrait of the 2nd generation emigrants is one-sidedly unfavourable. He describes the migrants children that feel lost and end up in (self)destructive ideas and behaviours. It is true that the successful youth, committed to a prosperous society for all, is absent in his book – though very much existent in reality. Nevertheless what he describes has predicted many of the problems we face today in extreme forms.
His book was not translated into other languages – as far as I know – although his earlier book Portrait du colonisé was recognized by many and translated in 20 languages. Portrait du décolonisé could have supported many who wonder what happened, in the 2005 riots in the Paris banlieus, in the 2011 Arab spring, in this decade of (self)destructive terrorism.
I was speechless and breathless when I read his book, and sorry not to have discovered it earlier. Not only is it written in the beautifull, rich and touching French that Memmi masters more than hardly any other writer. He also answers many questions that arose after 2011, but he wrote this already in 2004. His language is never politically correct; he talks in clear words on every single page about the facts as he sees them. However he is never rude, never insulting people like others do who want to breach the politically correct discourse. He proves himself (again) an intellectual who dares to stand up for values and ideas, regardless the consequences.
It is difficult to understand why the world overlooked this precious contribution in a era where the need for insight in the ex-colonial world is predominant. Does this world only read the works that are either extreme or un-controversial? Does this world reject views that are confrontational just by their factional description? If you read in French, read this book. The language is superbe and it will both inform and surprise you – even if you are already knowledgeable in this matter.

Some valuable links about Portrait du décolonisé:

http://arrow.dit.ie/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1002&context=jofis

http://regardscroises.blog.tdg.ch/archive/2011/02/13/portrait-du-decolonise-albert-memmi-a-lire-de-toute-urgence.html

http://journal.alternatives.ca/spip.php?article1945

 

Street dogs in Famagusta

street dogs famagusta

In Turkish on this picture: ‘Love means sharing. With a cup of food and water, you can fill the stomach of a street animal. Signed by the volunteers of goodness”

 

 

The way people care for cats and dogs in their streets is a sign of deeper values, I wrote in earlier blogs Street cats in Northern CyprusStreet cats in Adana and Street cats in Istanbul. In Famagusta / Gazi Magusa on Turkish Cyprus, dogs and cats are not always taken well care of but they are usually at ease. street dogs famagusta

Especially the street dogs in Famagusta are friendly, welcoming visitors and keeping them company while they climb the century old walls that the Crusaders under the rule of the Lusignan Kingdom built around old Famagusta. You’d take the lovely dog home with you immediately, if you could. People tend to warn you for the stray dogs, telling you they will bite but it is unclear where this fear comes from.
Most inhabitants of Famagusta are kind with the street dogs and cats. We just saw one incident when four Iranian students wanted to enter a restaurant where a stray dog was lying on the doorstep and one of them made a point about it. However, the personnel didn’t give any reaction to the comments made – maybe because it was in Farsi and they didn’t get the point of the problem – and the three other students convinced the fourth one to get over it; which he litterally did. This shows how great the influence of others can be, and that you can also make a difference! In general street dogs in Famagusta were given a  home, or food at restaurants: see these pictures:
street dogs in famagusta      street dogs in famagusta
Love means sharing, as the picture above tells those who pass by on different corners of Famagusta. Apparently since a short time, local governments are obliged to care for street animals. Not all of them are doing it yet, but it is a start. The friendliness of Famagusta is a good start!

 

Anne Frank House Amsterdam: remembrance and reflection

Anne Frank House bookcase
2000 inhabitants of Amsterdam got free tickets to visit the Anne Frank House during evening hours without queues. I was lucky to be one of them: a great initiative, thanks! It was wonderful to wander through the ‘Achterhuis’ in a quiet and respectful atmosphere.
The Anne Frank House is not far from my home and I pass the long rows of tourists a few times a week or I better say: try to pass….It is always busy, noisy, not a place where you’d like to go as an inhabitant.
I think I went there once, as a child – I remember it quite well, especially the book case (on the picture) that served as protection from the entrance to the hide-out of 8 Jewish people. These people spent 2+ years there but were betrayed at the end and only one of them, the father of Anne Frank, survived the holocaust.
anne frank house quoteCompared to my childhood visit many elements were added in the ‘museum’; quotes on walls or on blinded windows – short video’s from witnesses, classmates of Anne and the like. They are very impressive.
What I remember most are the words of Otto Frank on his daughter’s diary. He always felt close to his daughter but when he read her diary after the war, he realized that she never showed the deep thoughts and feelings that she wrote down. Since that moment he thinks that parents rarely know their children to the full. I guess that could be true. The way he expresses is very refined and respectful towards his daughter. I cannot write it down, you have to go visit the Anne Frank House and see that movie to understand the impression it made. And then imagine that he read that diary when she had already died (when she had already been killed). He would never have the opportunity to ask her any question any more…
Anne Frank House opening hoursI really thank the Anne Frank House for this opportunity. I wonder why this does not become more usual in Amsterdam. As for me, it is not about the free ticket, but the fact that I could go at 21.00h (I came home from work only at 19.30 and had to have dinner first) and that I did not need to wait in a queue or go in with plenty of loud speaking tourists. Would it be financially difficult for musea to have similar evening offers or are they just not used to opening hours in the evening?
As for the Anne Frank House tonight, it left me with quite some emotions as we live in difficult times and the idea that ‘it could happen again’ is in the hearts and minds of many. A place for remembrance and reflection, most valuable.

 

Amsterdam Tower: a must-visit!

Amsterdam tower

It is new and it is brilliant, the Amsterdam Tower – a remake of the former Shell research labs in Amsterdam. I had a great time this week while giving a presentation about dealing with international business and culture in front of spectacular views over Amsterdam. Nevertheless my public was highly attentive, for a moment I doubted whether they would be with me at all but they did 🙂
If you look at the photo above and you see the 9 meter high windows in top of the building, that is where I stood – and here are some pictures of the views:

amsterdam tower  amsterdam toweramsterdam tower  amsterdam tower
The making of the Amsterdam Tower is a story out of a wizard book: three Dutch guys who were succesfull in the international music scene decided to cooperate in this and won the battle for the tower in competition with 34 other interested parties. They turned it into a combination of music company offices, a hotel, different bars, restaurants and clubs with a 360° turning restaurant in top: a music tower!
On top they offer a platform for all inhabitants of Amsterdam and our tourists to watch the spectacular panorama and to take a seat in Europe’s highest swing: the Amsterdam lookout. Alas I had serious business to do when I was there so I definitely have to come back to experience that swing!
Our city is blessed with these creative entrepreneurs who make such major contributions to the quality of life in Amsterdam: well done, thank you guys!
Last but not least an photo-impression (made with my phone, lack of quality, in reality much better) of the elevator going up: the music experience starts already from there…
amsterdam tower elevator  amsterdam tower elevator
Amsterdam Tower, a new experience not to be missed!

Bardo Museum – Musée de Bardo Tunis: wowowow!

baptism mosaic

If you think many mosaics, think more. If you imagine an endless view of mosaics, double or triple what you imagine and that is what the Bardo Museum in Tunis offers you. I knew the collection of mosaics this museum contains is thrilling but I could not have guessed the amount and the size of the beauty: wow, just wowowow.
‘Are you really going to the Bardo Museum?’, people asked me in surprise. A terrible terrorist attack took place on this museum just two years ago. But of course that means that it is now the best protected monument of the country, Tunisia. Do not hesitate, just go. Nowhere else in the world you will find this abundance of mosaic beauty and such an oversight of mosaic art in different periods and denominations: Roman, Christian, Jewish, Byzantine or just ‘Carthago’.
mosaic bardo museum  mosaic lake bizerte - lac de bizerte
However, that is not all. They have fantastisch Punic pieces (statues, masks, steles), nice jewelry of the Vandals – proving vandalism has beautiful sides! There is some Roman and pottery stuff that I found less interesting; at least it is less unique. But the great Ottoman hall of the Bardo Museum leaves you in surprise, wondering why you find that more beautiful and refined than the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul.
ottoman period bardo museum  ottoman ceiling bardo museum
The rest of the museum is more or less non-existent: the coffee sign leeds to a completely deserted part of the museum where coffee nor any other consumption could be found. The museum shop that could imo be thriving, is a disappointment. The toilets are clean however, kept so by a most gentle attendant. Overall, the museum personnel is really helpful: they want you to enjoy your stay and do everything to make sure you will see what you came for. Only because of their kindness I found the Punic room that I was desperate to see after the mosaics. The logic of the museum plan is not clear for all but the personnel compensates largely for that: a big thanks to their involvement and enthusiasm!
More info at the site of the Bardo Museum in English or the Musée de Bardo in French.