500.000 Syrian refugees Gaziantep


The 500.000 Syrian refugees form an important part of the actual population of Gaziantep. In western countries people feel that the amount of Syrian refugees form a burden: 1 million on 80 million in Germany, 60.000 on 6 million in Austria, 70.000 on 17 million in the Netherlands. They resist against the in their eyes large numbers of refugees.
Gaziantep is a town of 1,5 or 2 million people, and this town has received 500.000 (!) Syrian refugees. Think about this, compare it to the western countries I mentioned here… What is the feeling of a town where every 1 out of 4 or 5 persons is now Syrian instead of Turkish? There are several sides to this question.

Answer 1: the principle
I have found no one in Gaziantep to discuss the principle that the Syrian refugees are there for a reason and that Gaziantep should offer a shelter to them. All share that idea and find it normal to host the Syrian refugees in Gaziantep, even when it comes with a (huge) price. They see Syrians as their guests who lost everything. They see them as brothers they want to comfort in difficult times. The amount of 0,5 million refugees is seen as a heavy burden that is there to take – just like that. Already before the Syrian war, life was a struggle for the ‘ordinary’ Gaziantep-inhabitant. That life has become even more difficult. It is seen and taken as a fact of life. No one blames the Syrians for it. The Gaziantep-inhabitants have to live with it and they do. Helping Syrians is their duty and their pride. Just like that.

Answer 2: Daily practice
Syrian refugees in Gaziantep are very visible. You see them in the streets, in restaurants and coffeehouses, in the Zoo and around the shops. They do or do not work: that differs. They get loads of help in food, housing, clothing and the like. When they work, they do not pay taxes or health insurance. The Turks say: ‘your country is a mess, your house has disappeared. You are our guest. Keep your money for the day you can return – you will need it’. The ordinary, often not very wealthy Turks, pay for all the costs that the Syrian refugees bring. Moreover, they work for low wages so that ordinary Turks see their position and their income threatened. ‘Life was always difficult here, but now it has become even more difficult’, locals told me. But they do not complain, they are rather proud of the sacrifices they bring. ‘This is how we are, we want to help, look at the state of these poor refugees’.
When Syrians drive a car in Gaziantep, they get a special numberplate. It will show M when the car was bought in Turkey, and SA when the car was imported from Syria. Syrians must be recognizable because they are not insured for damage done. If they cause an accident to someone else, that person has to pay for the damage. So: you drive on a road, a Syrian does not pay attention and hits your car and you have to pay for all the damage. Gaziantep-inhabitants call this ‘absurd’ but they still accept it as a fact of life. They try to avoid Syrians on the road as much as possible.

Answer 3: personal feelings
In an apparently strange contradiction to the first two answers given, I have not found anyone in Gaziantep who liked Syrians. Syrians are called ‘our guests’ and ‘our brothers’ but they are far from popular. There seems to be a consensus that Syrians have no pride and ‘no values’. They fight a lot and show no respect to each other or to the Turks.
Moreover they cause problems in the streets. Thefts have increased and shopowners explain you (softly, when nobody can hear it) that these are Syrians; they have to keep a very close eye on their business when Syrians are around. Syrians also like to go out and make a lot of noise in late hours – note that the average hard-working Turk ends the day at 22.00h. Young Syrians commit robberies, destroy public objects and make the streets of Gaziantep unsafe. I haven’t heard inhabitants blame the police because ‘so many things happen, the police can just not keep up with it’. I witnessed myself a robbery with knifes, and vandalism.
Still, no one wants to ask the Syrians to go back to Syria because there is nothing to go back to and they are our guests – in Middle Eastern hospitality you don’t ask the guests how long they will stay. It is intriguing to see that the Turks offer, even sacrify, so much to people they do not like and that that goes for them without saying.

All in all, I think the Turks and especially the people of Gaziantep deserve our deepest admiration, respect and support for their enormous contribution to the Syrian refugee crisis.

Other blogs you might find interesting:
Dheepan: an outstanding movie about refugees
Refugees at work: best practices
Forget about the rules. Be human
Politics and diversity in your organisation

Archaeological Museum Gaziantep: ‘just’ local stuff


The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep has a large and most interesting collection, starting with fossiles and ending with islamic artefacts from the Osmanli period. The start of the museum shows all the periods of Gaziantep history and their timelines; with the last period, the Turkish Republic, as the greatest. The Archaeological Museum Gaziantep is well designed and well organized. The objects are presented beautifully and all signs are in Turkish and English.
The collection is overwhelming in variety and quality. If you go to a Western Archaeological Museum, most of the collection derives – legally or illegally – from other countries. Not here…. Gaziantep is one of those places where civilization started at a very early age. The collection derives not even from ‘Turkey’ as a whole but from the region. Locals told me that they grew up with archeological artefacts; just by playing outside, they would regularly find old stuff. It is everywhere. So nobody will tell you about the beauty of the museum: locals consider this richness as a normal status!
You can easily spend two hours at the museum. If you can only endure one hour at most (like many people do), chose your period in advance and go to the part of the museum where that can be found.

Choice of masterpieces
I give you here some pieces that I found very interesting – remember that it is a choice out of thousands of artefacts so go and see for yourself what you like.

Neolithic prehistory: it is always nice to find a lively scene at the entry of a museum. Many evidence of early settlers (10.000 – 5.500BC) were found in the Gaziantep region.

 

A grave that dates from the Iron Age, with gifts that indicate a belief in life after death. The necropolis at the Euphrates in Nizip showed that graves were reused multiple times throughout the years. ‘Old’ bones and their ornaments were just pushed aside to make room for the newcomer.

 

 

Kuttamuwa Stele, used in a temple where sacrifices were brought for the death. There is a video in the museum that revives the temple and the ceremonies, very nice!

 


Steles from the Hittites. Depicted is Teshup, the God of the Mountain, of Trade etc. Wonderful pieces!

 

 


Banquet Staged Stele, also Hittite period: if you see this 2800 year old picture, you can imagine that you would have a nice night out dining with a Hittite friend. There is no time-gap in pleasure…

 

 

Karkemish is on the border with Syria; half of the ancient city (antik kent) lies in Syria (Jarablus). I wanted to visit this but it is still closed due to the situation in Syria. Still there are active excavations and the Turkish government is preparing to reopen Karkemish as soon as possible.

 

The pieces are absolutely unique. For several objects, there are texts on the back side in hieroglyphs or cuneiform (both were used) and they are translated in Turkish and English on signs: extremely interesting.

 


Red polished ceramics of the Urartu; perfection of craftmanship and the ability to organize trade for it 2800 years ago. Design used not just by royals, also by ordinary folks. Just wow.

 


Urartu bracelets, have a look: the same type of bracelets can even be sold today. They have designed jewelry that passed through the ages…

 


Roman bracelets, made out of glass. They are so beautiful! I’d love to see those reproduced in the actual days (maybe an idea for the Murano factories in Italy?).

 

Notice: I skipped fossiles, beautiful iron objects, dramatic Urartu weapens, Persian statues, Commagene objects, golden jewelry… it is just too much to show here. So: go there and see for yourself.

How to get there?
Be aware that there are 3 museums in Gaziantep about antiquities. This is information that is hard to find on internet and locals generally do not know the exact details.
* Medusa Glass museum with glass and many ancient artefacts, this is a private museum next to the Castle/Kale in the center.
* Zeugma Museum for mosaics, seen from the center it lies on ‘the other/outer side’ of the former train station, a 2-3 kilometers walk from the Castle/Kale.
* Archaeological Museum, next to the Stadion (locals know the Stadion best so ask for that location). Organisationally Zeugma and Archaeological Museum belong together, in distance there is about 1,5 kilometer between them, both on another side of the former train station. Archaelogical Museum Gaziantep is about 1-1,5 kilometer walk from the Castle/Kale.

Museum shop
Both the Archaeological and Zeugma Museum have a beautiful museum shop with original products, prints of museum artefacts on magnets, booklets, cushions etc, handwoven high quality shawls or handmade bags and so on. The books they have about archaeology, economy, trade and local life are most interesting but alas only in Turkish. The cooking book of the Gaziantep kitchen would deserve a translation in the first place as this excellent kitchen is attractive for many nationalities, not just Turks. Note that the shop in the Archaeological Museum Gaziantep is at the entrance but they lead you out through the cafe, so for the shop you have to walk back to the entrance to find it; in Zeugma museum shop and cafe are combined at the exit (and they have good coffee 🙂

More info also at: http://www.gaziantepkulturturizm.gov.tr/EN-200731/gaziantep-museum-of-archaelogy.html

You may also like this blog: Archaeological Museum Haarlem

Zoo Gaziantep: lions, camels, cows


The Zoo (Hayvanat Bahcesi) in Gaziantep is rather new: it opened in 1998 and if you go there, in many spots you will see people working to make the Zoo bigger and more beautiful. There is a traditional Zoo-part where you can watch animals and a Safari-part where you can only enter in a bus. I couldn’t enter because I did not find the bus, maybe because it was winter when I visited, with few visitors at all.
  
The Zoo-part has large cages especially for the predatory animals, deers, camels, elephants, cangaroos and the like. Only the monkeys were in small, unattractive rooms maybe because of the winter time. The large cages outside were empty, that might be their normal homes.
  
The Zoo Gaziantep is a nice place to visit. It has strong educational aims, the Zoological Museum contains many examples of all kinds of animals  (be aware: all signs here are in Turkish only – either you can explain the animals to your children yourself or bring a dictionary) and it is fun to walk around.
There are a few places where you can eat or drink something – it is not allowed to bring food in the park that could be given to the animals such as grapes or nuts. Your bag will be checked at the entrance for that purpose. There is also a place to do your prayers (Mescid) and you find it on the signs (at the bottom of the picture).
The Zoo Gaziantep is large so you will be walking around to see all the animals. Think about that in the heat of the summer and go early in the morning. All places are accessible by wheelchair; differences in height might mean you need some help at certain spots.

What I liked most in the Zoo Gaziantep: the albino king snake; and, big surprise for a Dutch person to find that in a Zoo: the cow!
 
How to get there
Around the Zoo is an enormous park, you pay a small entrance price to get in. Follow the road through the parc and you will end up at the Zoo. The parc is a real family and friends parc with all necessary and also child-friendly facilities where you can sit, eat, sing, have a barbecue: an excellent combination with a visit to the Zoo.
The Zoo is about 15 kilometers from the center. The best is to take a taxi (cheap in Western standards) that will bring you to the entrance of the Zoo itself. Another options is what Syrian refugees do (there are many Syrian refugees in Gaziantep and they do visit the Zoo): take the tram until the endpoint Adliye and walk from there: 2-3 kilometers through the park.
See also: http://www.zoos.mono.net/12234/Gaziantep**
    

Another special site to visit in Gaziantep:
A kastel is not a castle in Gaziantep

Other blogs you may like:
Majete Wildlife Reserve in Malawi: unknown beauty
Gay penguins Buddy and Pedro

More money than ever in Money Museum Gaziantep

In Money Museum Gaziantep (Devr-i Alem Para Müzesi) you will see money everywhere. It is a private museum, very different from other money museums I visited (f.ex. my blog about Nicosia, Tunis) because it is not about showing a particular collection. It is – really, I do not exagerate – about showing money in quantities.
 
There is money hanging on trees. There is money in bottles along the wallsides, hanging on the ceiling, standing on a table that is almost overloaded.  
On the table alone there is 4000 kilo (!) of coins. There is a box with money that has never been used because it was not legally acquired and the ‘owners’ found no way for the necessary money laundering. There is very old money, from ancient times, and new money that could be used today but it is just there, apparently useless but not completely useless as many visitors admire the place every day and see that there are different ways to deal with money. TV-reporters from different countries have discovered the museum already; the day before I visited the museum, an Iraqi TV-channel was there.
The Money Museum Gaziantep is run by a local guy who worked in the Netherlands during many years and founded this museum on his return. Make sure that you speak to him because he is very much part of the charm of the museum. And most probably days after you visited the museum you still think about all the money you saw and why a place like this exists in the world – and how it is run and secured….

A short video impression about the Money Museum Gaziantep:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FZIgkpAwCj

Other interesting sites to visit in Gaziantep:
A kastel is not a castle
Zoo Gaziantep: lions, camels, cows
Gaziantep castle: panorama and nationalism

Another blog you may like:
Self Help Africa

War museum Gaziantep


Everybody in Gaziantep told me to go to the War Museum (Savas müzesi). ‘I went already to the castle‘, was my answer – the description of the independance war there is detailed and could not be improved (see my blog about that visit here). ‘But the War Museum is different’, they claimed. I did not go but in the end I happened to drink a tea with a guy who appeared to be a guard and he did not even ask me whether I wanted to go. ‘I have to show you’. And there we went. Well it was a happy surprise.
The War Museum Gaziantep situates mainly in the underground caves that were used by the Turkish resistance during the Independance War. You can experience there what life looked like for them. They made everything themselves, food, olive oil, soap, even rifles. The guy who made the rifles is shown in the picture on top and here on the sign.

Other ‘puppets’ make clear how women and even children were filling the bullets.
The story of the sewer canals is also interesting: they were used to move underground through the city without the enemy noticing anything. Knowing one’s own field has always been a decisive element in man-to-man battles. A few (entrances to the) canals can be seen on the spot. The wounds and the suffering of the heroes have been made quite explicit in several puppets. The picture here shows the underground hospital and you can see the blood run.
Most of all however, I liked the rattles. When the French started to shoot and the Turks didn’t have enough ammunition, they would play the rattles to imitate gunfire. I got a demonstration from my guard, it was brilliant – you’d really think that a well equiped army is responding to your gunfire…
Those who said `the War Museum is different` were right, it is different and it is adding some important information to what the Gaziantep castle presents. Daily life in the caves is absolutely interesting to see. And the result is also that I will never forget how brave (`Gazi`) the inhabitants of Antep are, and will be in any war in the future. The lesson is transmitted thoroughly both to visitors and to the population.

“Every Turkish city, every town and the smallest Turkish village can accept the people of  Gaziantep as examples of heroism”

Another blog about this subject: http://turkishtravelblog.com/gaziantep-war-museum/

Other interesting places to visit in Gaziantep:
Medusa Glass museum
Money museum Gaziantep
Zoo Gaziantep

 

Gaziantep castle: panorama and nationalism


Gaziantep castle (Gaziantep kalesi, also called: the panorama museum) goes a long way back: most probably the Romans already had a first fortress on this rock, followed by the Byzantines, Arab rulers, Selcuk and Mongol rulers and whoever passed by in this region: the list of different rulers is long. Going to Gaziantep castle means having a perfect panorama over the city. It is nice and well enough restaured for a good impression what the castle was like in the old days.
Moreover this castle is used as the expression of Antep’s heroism. The people of Antep played a crucial role in the War of Indepences in 1920-1921 and were honoured by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk with the title ‘Gazi’: great, heroic. The war of indepence came after that the Osman emperor and its calliphate were defeated; Turkey was attacked from all sides, by the English, the French, the Armenians, the Greek, the Russians: they all wanted their share of the remains of Turkish territory. Under the leadership of Atatürk a war of independence started and they won. This is seen as the ultimate survival of Turkey – without this war, Turkey would no longer exist and Turks would not have a land of their own. Five or six thousand inhabitants of Antep lost their lives in that war but their role was decisive. The Gaziantep castle shows this history and the pride, the nationalism of this town. Lots of kids are visiting the castle to learn about the war but also many Turks from Gaziantep and elsewhere show indepth interest in the exposition.
All the written texts are in Turkish and English, the film is only in Turkish. If you want to understand the politics and national feelings of Turks in the past and the present, this is a must-go. gaziantep castle exposition
A disadvantage is that they feel the need to copy the fights. During the whole exposition, you will hear the sounds of guns and artillery; it can make you nervous and I do not see the purpose it serves. But apart from that, I’d recommend a visit. It is another, however non-critical example of how people interprete and write their history (see my blog about the Stockholm Museum), in relation to the actual context.
More on this subject: the War Museum (Savas Müzesi) in Gaziantep

Other short info about the castle: https://www.alaturkaturkey.com/destinations/gaziantep-castle.html

A blog about another nearby interesting site to visit:
A kastel is not a castle in Gaziantep

Zeugma museum: presentation matters


The Zeugma Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey, is said to be the largest mosaic museum in the world. I am not sure whether that is true when it comes to the ‘amount’ of mosaics, but it certainly is the greatest mosaic museum when it comes to presentation. The finest mosaics of the region are shown here under perfect light, in a large and beautiful hall that is made in such a way that spectacular mosaics can be seen from nearby ànd above. This is how the best pieces of art are honoured; those who designed the Zeugma Museum were respectful to the mosiac works, visionary in what they wanted to created and ambitious in their goals. They have succeeded to give a life long impression to the visitors – who were almost exclusively Turkish by the way. I have not seen any other foreign tourist beside myself which is remarkable for a museum that deserves world fame. It must be its location, 30 miles from Syria, that is avoided rather than visited.
They got some cool stuff, for example this corner where you can see the mosaics better by the use of mirrors. Also they have touchscreens where you can look up the mosaic you prefer and watch it in detail; or another touchscreen where they show you ‘land’ and you have to guess which mosaic lies under the ground. The only thing lacking is the translation of Greek texts: some mosaics show texts and you’d like to know what they say. You’d expect a museum to explain that to its visitors…
As it is impossible to describe it all, here my top three of the many spectacular mosaics:
1. The Gypsy Girl, who has somehow become the symbol of Gaziantep; she is everywhere in the streets, in shops, on the airport. They gave here a special place in a dark room where no one enters without the presence of a museum guard. And there she is, in the dark, brilliant and mysterious in the same time, uniquer than unique among all the mosaics. Indeed it is a masterpiece. While I was standing there alone in the dark, she seemed to look right through me…
2. The Galateia mosaic, seen from above. Some mosaics have more worked out details or fuller images. I liked this one because of the balance and the colours. A description of the Galateia story can be found on the website of the museum (in English and Turkish, if you like), here

3.The out-of-the-box mosaic. I haven’t got a clue what it is but I adored it immediately. It is one of the more recent mosaics. Apparently, in that period, they started to put images in the mosaics just where they wanted – at random – no apparent rules were followed any more. I imagine that it was a breakout from all the detailed work that was done during ages; and how free it felt and how it was criticized by traditionalists and knowledgeable people and all those who feared that craftmanship was now about to disappear, to be replaced by art work that ‘even my three year old son can make’.

Gaziantep has a lot to offer, apart from the Zeugma Museum. Still, the Zeugma Museum is all by itself an excellent reason to go to Gaziantep. You will not be disappointed.

Link to my blog about the Bardo Museum in Tunis, the other mosaic museum with world fame and Zeugma`s competitor in volume – quality: Bardo Museum wowowow

Other interesting museums about ancient times in Gaziantep:
the Medusa Glass Museum (in fact a private archaeological museum)
the Archaeological Museum

1000’s of years old boots, toys, breast pumps…


3000 years ago someone made the ‘boots’ you see here; they are rhytons, drinking vessels or horns, and date from the Urartu (read more about Urartu here). You can find them in the Medusa Glass Museum, also called the Medusa Archeological Museum in Gaziantep, Turkey. This museum is richer than most archeological museums, yet rather small in size and hidden in a back street.
If you look around in the streets close to the Kale, the castle of Gaziantep, you can find it and most people know it so just ask around; they will show you. This museum is so much worth a visit! It is most wealthy in its collection; amazing both in the amount and the quality of its artefacts. These objects would be worth a national museum with lots of space for individual pieces. More than anything this museum shows the ‘normality’ of super ancient artefacts in this region.
If you think like me, that ‘old’ starts at least in the era BC, this museum is your place to be! Some examples: they got a range of children’s toys (‘cars’) from the early bronze age (3000-2000 BC). The picture shows 2 of them. They got lots of gold from 100 BC (Greek). While I was watching it, I looked around full of sorrow: was this place really well protected? The Medusa Museum gives you the idea of a home, rather than a museum with full security equipment… I thought (you never know).

And what about this strange object that is apparently from a very old age; it is exhibited in between a marvellous Hittite stone piece and several tablets with cuneiform writing. Alas the lack of information makes you wonder without finding the answer…
Moreover there are some figurines from 6000-5400 BC; this means among the oldest findings ever. They reminded me of findings in Malta, where the same kind of mother goddess or fertility statues were found and nobody can explain what culture they belonged to, what they mean. There is a similarity with the figurines shown in the Medusa Museum which would support the theory that in ancient times certain places served religious rituals with regard to fertility and/or the female godess.
These are just some examples. The Medusa Museum is full of comparable pieces, and glass work, stone and glass jewelry that I do not show here. To finalize: there is some amazing Roman stuff (more recent, 100-200 AC):
– ‘sexual objects’ that I do not show so you have a reason to go there.
– a breast pump (really!) made out of glass. All kind of ideas came to my mind when I watched it.
For those who love ancient times and who think `ancient` goes further back than the Middle Ages, the Medusa Glass Museum in Gaziantep is a dream – you have to go there. The title `glass museum` is misleading: there are indeed many glass objects, but even more impressive is the collection of unique non-glass pieces that deserve a full presentation (it reminded me of the Archeological Museum in Amman) – more room than there is now for them.

See also: http://www.glassismore.com

Related museums in Gaziantep:
Archaeological museum Gaziantep
Zeugma museum Gaziantep

 

Graveyards as symbol of ethnic conflict

graveyard as symbol
Graveyards as symbol

Graveyards have a role of their own in ethnic diverse regions. Remembering the dead in dignity is important, and almost symbolic when it comes to ethnic conflicts.
I have written about the bad state of the Greek-Cypriot graveyards in Northern Cyprus in 2011 and that drew the attention of M. Thorsten Kruse who works at the Institut für Interdisziplinäre Zypern-Studien at the Westfälische Wilhelms-Universität Münster. We exchanged information about the status of cemetaries in Cyprus. It is moving to see that M. Thorsten Kruse, a person with scientific ambitions has taken this heritage on as a subject.
Recently M. Thorsten Kruse has published his findings in his article “Zwischen Politik und Religion – Der Umgang mit den griechischen und muslimischen Grabstätten Zyperns nach der gewaltsamen Teilung der Insel 1974 [Between Politics and Religion – The handling of the Greek and Muslim Cemeteries in Cyprus after the Division of the Island in 1974]” in which he used photographs I made in Northern Cyprus. The article is publiced in this book: A. Berner, J.-M. Henke, A. Lichtenberger, B. Morstadt, A. Riedel (Hg.), Das Mittelmeer und der Tod – Mediterrane Mobilität und Sepulkralkultur, 2016. Please find the book at the publishing house. If you like to contact M. Thorsten Kruse directly, do so as he is willing to answer your questions!
One of the themes in his article is the fact that in the North of Cyprus graveyards as symbol(the Turkish side), the Greek graveyards may have been destroyed deliberately as they are all in a devastating state. The situation for Turkish cemetaries in the South of Cyprus (the Greek side) is different, he says. This raises questions about why this is the case and M. Thorsten Kruse comes – roughly – to conclusions as I formulated in a blog about the difference in approach of history and heritage between Greeks and Turks. The Turkish Cypriots were making up for a future in the North without the Greek Cypriots, leaving everything in the South behind with little care for Greek Cypriot heritage in the North while the Greek Cypriots were making up for a future where Turkish Cypriots will return and things will go back to the situation as it was before. This fundamental difference would lead to destruction of Greek graveyards in the North but maintenance of Turkish graveyards in the South.
I have to say here that the historic context as approached in this study mainly considers 1974 (when the Turks landed in Cyprus and took hold of the Northern part) as the turning point, while Turkish Cypriots would place that date much earlier (1963). There was destruction of Turkish Cypriot heritage in 1963. It is clear circumstances in Cyprus are very difficult to pursue a scientific study for his subject. Any choice made is not just a scientific choice but also a choice that might be seen as a cultural or political move, the expression of an opinion, a way to choose sides. This makes the job of M. Thorsten Kruse very challenging; however it is a necessary and important job. If you have ideas or funds to realize continuation, do not hesitate to contact him.graveyard symbol ethnic conflict

Read also the Alaniçi series (6 blogs), start here:
Alaniçi: churches and signs of a cruel past (1)

Kedi: movie about cats or humans?

kedi

The camera in the movie Kedi (Turkish for ‘cat’) follows many cats that walk in the streets of Istanbul/Turkey from the point of view these cats have of the city. This offers a great insight in their experiences. Overall in this movie, the camerawork is very special. Istanbul as a city and the inhabitants of Istanbul – especially the cat-loving inhabitants – are shown with warmth and beauty. Just the camerawork in itself makes the movie Kedi worth a visit.
But there is more to say. The core story shows us how cats conquer the people’s hearts. The cats choose who can love and feed them. And the people warmly respond to that wish. It is wonderful to see the different characters of the cats: from a clever thief to the psychopath of the neighbourhood, from the curious cat in the bag of organic tea at the market to the gentleman who never enters the place where he gets his food, but who simply scratches the window outside whenever he is hungry. The humans adapt to the cats; not the opposite. For cat lovers, watching Kedi is heaven!
And there is more to it. For those who love psychology and/or philosophy, Kedi has a lot to offer. People explain their relationships with the cats and come up with surprising remarks about what the cats mean for them: from finding money with the help of a cat to experiencing therapy by helping the cats. And what about these comments on the world:
– ‘cats absorb your redundant energy, just like earth does’
and:
– ‘cats know about God, dogs don’t. Dogs think that humans are God but cats know that humans are an instrument in the hand of God to feed them’.
Just two examples, there are many more.
One last thing I liked a lot and that made me think is a remark made about freedom. I have written about cats in Istanbul in 2012. The perspective that humans should not take cats inside to keep them there because in doing so, they will make cats forget how to be a cat, is new for me. This movie Kedi clearly shows what is meant with this perspective. Freedom is everything, even when it comes with disadvantages.
Maybe you don’t agree. Well, all I can say is: go see it yourself. There’s a lot more in Kedi then I can show here and you will not regret. Enjoy!

In Dutch cinemas from 24 August 2017
More info and a trailer at http://www.cinemadelicatessen.nl/film/kedi/

Other movies you may like:
Kurtulus son durak
Naziha’s spring (by Gülsah Dogan)

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)

Other blogs about books you might want to read:
‘Why are people like this?’ Boualem Sansal
Simone Veil: une vie
Dead Aid in Malawi

 

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 Hôtel Saint-Georges 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 Hôtel Saint-Georges 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/

Find here a recent blog about Boualem Sansal, Le serment des barbares, other books and his work as a whole
Find here a blog about Portrait du Décolonisé d’Albert Memmi
And about a great movie, filmed in Algeria, Loin des hommes