15 seconds to run for your life

sderot  In Sderot, people have 15 seconds to run for their life when they hear an alarm because a rocket bomb will fall on the city. Before, this alarm was a siren. At the sound of the sirens immediately everybody in the 25.000 populated city started to run for a nearby concrete shelter that is safe. Nowadays the sirens have changed for a voice telling ‘code red’, because the life-threatening rockets fell so often at Sderot that it was difficult to bear the sound of the sirens all the time. During the last 10 years, 8.000 rockets hit Sderot…
Imagine if you had to run for a rocket once a day, just once a day: how would you feel? And how alert would you be, knowing that when the signal came, you had 15 seconds to reach a safe shelter? It means you’d have to know all the shelters in the places you regularly visit and that you’d always be aware of the distance between yourself and those shelters (as 30 seconds is too late and could mean death).
sderot Nevertheless, with 25.000 people, Sderot has a shopping center. The parking lot in front of this shopping center counts 3 concrete shelters so that everybody who comes to the center can be sure to find safety on time when he/she will be surprised by a rocket while shopping. They sell nice stuff and they are really surprised when you buy a shirt but don’t speak the national language; Sderot is not a town where tourists use to pass by….
It is almost impossible to understand how this mixture of normal life and rockets effects adults ànd children in Sderot. Especially children are traumatized but also adults can be stressed and quite affected by the continuous tension. Just try to run for your life 3 times a day and see what it does to your mood, your emotions, your productivity and your hope for the future. Then imagine that you live this situation hundreds of times a year. Maybe you cannot imagine. But it is real in Sderot… since many years.

Forget about the rules. Be human.

forget about rules, be human in Amsterdam  Amsterdam keeps surprising me. I spent an interesting evening in a famous entrepreneurial location in Amsterdam Centre. When leaving, we had to wait for our coats at the wardrobe downstairs. In this club, coats are personally handed to all visitors. In front of us was a line of ‘foreign’ people. They appeared to be refugees who had been invited this evening by entrepreneurs who were willing to help them integrate and find a job. A great initiative.
The guy in the cloakroom was happy to help us Dutch entrepreneurs to put on our coats. ‘You can’t do that to them you know’, he said. To explain the ‘them’, he pointed to the refugees that stood in front of the location, talking a while in front of the entrance before they left like all people in Amsterdam do. He said some Syrians that were more ‘integrated’ than the newcomers in front of the door, warned him that his help to put on the coats would not be appreciated; ‘please do not try it, you will get trouble’. ‘You know’, he said, ‘they feel they submit to you when you help them with their coat. And you cannot touch the women. It would feel like you own them. So I just give their coats to them and that’s it’. ‘Well, you can help me’, one of the female entrepreneurs said I think to console him and it worked, he smiled and helped her to put on her coat.
Amsterdam is a modern, diverse and tolerant city. However there are moments that I think we are just retarded – this was one of these moments. Almost all my life I have been going out, working, discussing, learning, experiencing with people from the Middle East. How come I never had any problems with coats, handing coats, helping people into coats? Who invented a scheme where refugees ‘feel they submit’ in such cases? Not the refugees themselves, I am sure about that. Also I do not think anybody has bad intentions here. This is what happens when people are confronted with difference: they try to find rules how to behave or not behave. People want to do good and try to be on the safe side. The tragic is that they miss the point: the contact is in personal involvement and not in cultural rules.
The generally present inclination to follow rules is what I call ‘retarded’. I feel embarrassed when I meet with that in an entrepreneurial place in Amsterdam Centre. The good thing is: we talk about it. We talk about almost anything in Amsterdam. No borders to what we want to express. But also, when it comes to diversity: way to go… We need to have more confidence in our personal approach than in the supposed rules of intercultural contact. Forget about the rules. Be human. The refugees will love it…

 

Northern Cyprus heritage (18) Panagia Melandrina church

panagia melandrina churchFinally we found the Panagia Melandrina church. We would not have managed without the help of an only-Turkish speaking but all-knowing worker at the Belediye (city hall) of Esentepe : friendly and enthusiast to help us out. After a search of several days for the Panagia Melandrina church, it was a joy to find it but a disappoinment to see it. UNDP and EU invested recently in ‘emergency measures’ to save this church (see UNDP-info Panagia Melandrina). I really wonder why they chose this church out of so many churches that could benefit from their time and effort.
melandrina church esentepe
The Panagia Melandrina church lies in the middle of bushes and fields not far from the coast at the harbour location of Esentepe and it is in fact a ruin. It goes back to the 15th century and did have wall paintings as they were reported by an historian in 1896 but those have disappeared long ago. The monastery this church was part of, was active till around 1940. The efforts and investment of the UNDP and EU mean that the church is prevented from total disaster with countless wooden polls : see the photographs.
panagia melandrina church  panagia melandrina church
A roof was made and it is covered in plastic (partly torn already), also two of the outside ailes are covered in plastic. One wonders whether that does any good to the fragile remains, especially in humid times. Unless you are interested in sites like these anyway, there is not one reason I could think of to recommend to you a visit to the Panagia Melandrina church. There are a lot of other, more beautiful and less annoying antiquities to see in Cyprus.
Both the UNDP-findings and information on sites like this site indicate that the church may be built on an older temple or other remains. That is very interesting as this is also the area where some of the rather unknown Mezar Houses, the underground houses of the 10th century would have been found. In some cases, one can go for what one can see. In this case, I’d spend my time and investment on what could be underneath the surface…
melandrina church kibris

Northern Cyprus heritage (17) Abadi church

abadi church northern cyprusWe were looking for the Melendirina church – a church that was on an urgent list for reparation on UNDP initiative in 2012 – when we came across the Abadi church. At first we did not know at all what kind of church it was; there is absolutely a lack of information about the churches in the Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius area. Any information you look for leads you to the Antiphonitis monastery – see our blogs Panagia Eleousa church and Agios Mamas church for the rest, churches seem to be considered uninteresting or non-existent. That is such a pity as we showed in the blogs 14, 15 and 16 of this Northern Cyprus heritage series that there is a lot to be discovered. Esentepe is not a touristic area which might be the reason why it is so difficult to find out more about the specific sites.
It was not clear how to get to the Abadi church when we saw it, driving our way through the mountain forests above Esentepe; so we ended up by just parking the car among the trees and walked our way up to the mountain. And there it appeared, the Abadi chapel, in all its beauty. Alas it was closed so we could not see the inside. The doors of the chapel looked quite new which gave us (born from experience) the idea that there was nothing inside any more and that doors were placed recently to protect the last bits and pieces. Please try to enter one day and prove us wrong.
abadi church northern cyprus  abadi church northern cyprus
As we had no clue about the chapel, its name or origin, we concluded from the surroundings that it had had a courtyard with beautiful trees, so it was an important center, some time, some day. Later we read on internet that it had been a monastery that was ruined and  that a small church was built to replace the institute. So this is some kind of hidden secret in the middle of the forest on the hills above Esentepe / Agios Ambrosius…

 

Northern Cyprus heritage (16) Panagia Eleousa church

panagia eleousa2Panagia Eleousa church in Tirmen/Trypimeni is another church that was turned into a mosque after the Turkish army took hold of Northern Cyprus in 1974. The church seems to be in a reasonable estate, just like the village itself that is not the wealthiest village to be found in the area either. The village lies right on the south side of the Pentadaktylos mountain range and overviews the Mesaoria plain that separates the Troodos mountains on the Greek side from the Pentadaktylos mountains on the Turkish side. Apparently the Mesaoria was a sea in very old times; so the symbolic separation was already there in history…
panagia eleousa church  panagia eleousa church
The only information that I could find about the church is that it was built in 1900. I was wondering about the tower, it seems to be a different style than the church, made from different materials, attached to the church externally from the side and put right in front of an opening fence; all this suggests that it was added later. The church is more beautiful without it. panagia eleousa church clock tower
The clocks from the church tower are missing. For the use of the mosque some small details were added like cleaning rooms and they are quite ugly.
If you have more info about this church, feel free to comment. In this Northern Cyprus heritage series there are other blogs showing churches that were turned into mosques after 1974, see Agios Ambrosius church and Agios Mamas church.

Northern Cyprus heritage (15) Agios Mamas church

agios mamas church bahceli In Bahceli (Kalograia), about 20 miles east from Girne, there is another church that was turned into a mosque at an early stage, already in 1975 so very short after the Turkish army took hold of the Northern part of Cyprus. It is the Agios Mamas church Bahceli, named after Saint Mamas who lived in the 3rd century and seemed to be quite brave – his best companion being a lion. Read some more about him at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Mamas_of_Caesarea .
From the outside the church seems to be in a reasonable stage – note that the village itself looks rather poor. Only the clock tower is at riskagios mamas church bahceli as the picture here shows. The clock itself is still there but seems to have fallen down and rest on the wall sides.
We have not seen the inside. I could not find a lot of information about this church at all. Those who know more (facts), feel welcome to comment.
Agios Mamas is not the only church in this region transformed into a mosque, read also Agios Ambrosius church , another blog about Tirmen/Trypimeni will follow.
agios mamas church bahceli    agios mamas church bahceli

Northern Cyprus heritage (14) Agios Ambrosius church

agios ambrosius church northern cyprus In Esentepe, a small town about 20 miles to the east of Girne, we find the Agios Ambrosius church that has been transformed into a mosque in 1978 already; this happened in more villages in this part of Northern Cyprus (other blogs will follow). Agios=Saint Ambrosius was a very influential bishop of Milan and a Doctor of the Church in the 4th century. The Agios Ambrosius church was built in 1867 out of yellow stones and characterizes very much the Byzantium architecture. It seems to be in quite a good state (we did not see the interior but the exterior looks fine) and in general inhabitants take care of the city center where it stands.
Actually with the peace talks between North and South Cyprus making progress, the question is raised what will happen to churches that were turned into a mosque. Time will tell… first bring the peace talks to a good end, then solve this too.     esentepe-ambrosius  esentepe-ambrosius2  esentepe-ambrosius3

Amsterdam-Tel Aviv twinning at CIDI: pffff….

IMAG0205 I got an invitation to a meeting at CIDI about Amsterdam-Tel Aviv as potentially twinning cities, quite a heavy debate at this moment in Amsterdam because the leftist parties in our city council have turned against it out of fear to introduce the problems of that region to Amsterdam. A matter of overconfidence in the city council’s powers, by the way, because the problems of that region have affected our city already and will continue affecting Amsterdam regardless of any city council decision…
The main reason for me to go to the meeting was that CIDI invited Eytan Schwartz, the senior political advisor to the mayor for this issue, and Mickey Gitzin, member of the left-liberal Meretz party in the Tel Aviv city council. So this was an opportunity to get direct information from people involved, an opportunity not to be missed.
Arriving at the CIDI was the first painful moment. I pass the Anne Frank House and the Hollandse Schouwburg several times a week, and here I saw the same thing: the police protection unit that is now, in Amsterdam 2015, permanently there (see the picture above). A reality that does not become normal in our city that is so free in general…
Moreover I had to pass a guard, a special fence, a double door at the entrance and then I was in… and nobody seemed to bother. I expected some kind of reception but there was none. So as a new person I decided to direct towards the coffee corner just to give myself an attitude and I was not disappointed there, like in many places the women do the hospitality, they were very nice and made me feel more at ease.
The meeting did not disappoint me in the sense that the guests were brilliant. They explained very clearly what Tel Aviv is like, how they work, what they want to achieve (a great city for their citizens, not creating peace for the whole world but building a better day-to-day life which contains also ‘boring’ aspects like the sewing system). They showed that Tel Aviv is a vibrant and tolerant city that could exchange in many aspects with Amsterdam to the benefit of both cities. Their aim is not to do diplomacy but to come to practical solutions that work.
Also they impressed me with their explanation of how they deal with the complexity of the region they live in: they got very, very critical questions from the public at the CIDI meeting and they were capable to explain their private moral standards, dilemmas, decisions in a way that is rare to hear. I learned more from them in an hour than I learned in the whole last week and maybe even month. I love to learn so they made my day. I could have learned more, though…
The meeting did disappoint me when it comes to the point ‘public’. There were some people in the public who already seemed to know what they thought and approached the guests from Tel Aviv with questions that were not meant to get information but to make them ‘accountable’ for all Israeli politics. This was not just tiresome, it was also offensive and I felt embarrassed at several occasions. Two things they said surprised me in particular. 1. that Tel Aviv would have a right wing majority of 51%; a factual statement that anybody who prepares meetings would have looked up in advance but apparently that guy didn’t mind to do the preparation effort – so the guests explained, 31 seats in the Tel Aviv city council, 2 for Likud, 3 for religious parties, 5 seats in total, not exactly the alleged 51%. And 2. blaming Tel Aviv, a city of 450.000 inhabitants, for being inadequate in dealing with 60.000 refugees, while at this very moment the Netherlands, a country of 17 million people, is showing a hard attitude in European negotiations to invite just a few thousand refugees from the Mediterranean – some self reflection is useful at times!
What impressed me also emotionally is the remark of Eytan Schwarz about how he works on good things for citizens and ideals and many positive steps to make this world a better place and then is often confronted with negative emotions about Israel that are projected on him as a person; his self awareness and also his strength of vulnerability to say this in public. Wow. And the remark of Mickey Gitzin, short and to the point among all these prejudices of life in the Middle East commented on (my wording, not his) from Amsterdam sofas: talk less, listen more. So true. And it would have made this meeting so much more interesting because the guests had a lot to tell but not everybody was ready to hear, to listen, they just wanted to make their point about their opinion about Israel versus Palestine, and about perceived immorality of Israelians, even the guys in front of their nose, no dialogue nothing, very strange.
Thanks Cidi for organising. It was only 2 hours but I was dead tired after this meeting – not their fault and I learned a lot and also got inspired. But I also worry because of what I saw.
As I said above, the problems of that region have affected our city already and will continue affecting Amsterdam regardless of any city council decision, the meeting made that very clear… So the best the city council can do is to make sure that we will not loose the dialogue and to organise that we will meet as humans: not to discuss the big issues of world peace as long as we are not the UN-president, but to make the daily life of our citizens better with practical projects and solutions found across borders.

Taxi Teheran

taxi teheran  How to make a movie that is only playing in a taxi and does not bore any minute? Taxi Teheran is a succesfull try-out of that concept although not by free choice alone. Jafar Panahi, maker of the movie and also its main character has a history of struggling with censure and oppression in his country Iran. He is not allowed to make movies during 20 years and this movie, Taxi Teheran, was made secretly and smuggled out of the country.
The movie is very funny with many surprising moments, and it has a groundtune of sadness underneath. As such, it is very Iranian: Iranians usually are well developed, social, bright and full of life, they know how to make the best out of difficult circumstances. But that does not mean that they do not feel the difficult circumstances, especially the oppression.
In Taxi Teheran we see a wonderful mix of people entering and leaving Jafar Panahi’s taxi. Even the concept ‘taxi’ in Teheran is different from other countries and that in itself creates unexpected situations. Taxi Teheran shows a lot of interesting interaction between a variety of inhabitants of Teheran. And it gives some great insights in the well developed double face of Iran, in survival and creativity against the odds.

Northern Cyprus heritage (13) Agios Trias Basilica

Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 0  5th/6th century rests of the Agios Trias Basilica are found on the peninsula of the Northern Cypriot Karpaz close to the village of Sipahi which means: in the middle of nowhere. We were the only visitors but there was a most friendly guard who was happy to sell us a ticket for 5 TL, at that moment € 1,90 (it was before the 2015 elections, after which the Turkish lira devaluated). So the entrance price should not stop you and moreover the mosaics are very much worth a visit, they are amazing!
Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 1  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 2  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 3  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica 4  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica5  Northern Cyprus Heritage - Agios Trias Basilica6
A great article with lots of information about this site can be found here: http://allansartworlds.sites.ucsc.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/154/2015/03/Langdale-Basilica-of-Agias-Trias.pdf. This article published in 2009 talks about ‘lack of proper maintenance (page 2). Things have only got worse since that time. The unique mosaics lie there completely unprotected and this is not all… (reliable) rumour goes that the mosaics are regularly ‘cleaned’ with a high pressure washer.
In an earlier blog I wrote that the Greeks consider the Turks as barbarians – http://grethevangeffen.nl/2011/08/01/northern-cyprus-heritage-12-cultural-approach/ – for the way they deal with their heritage and that sometimes they are proven right in that opinion. This is one of those times, that they are proven right. I thought I’d faint when I heard about the high pressure washer…
Anyway this monument is still extremely beautiful with its unique mosaics so I’d hardly recommend a visit. Positive thinking: it might be one of the only moments you can actually and freely walk over 5th/6th century mosaics and live the feelings of people who did the same many centuries ago.

 

 

 

Green line Nicosia – Cyprus

green line nicosia saray hotel 4   nicosia green line saray hotel 5
Look at Nicosia – Cyprus from above in these pictures and you can easily see 2 cities here: the Turkish one, in front and the Greek one, further away.nicosia green line UN post Nicosia Invisible here, inbetween the two city parts lies the Green Line, a 100 meter large strip where the UN rules since 40 years (!) to separate the Greek Cypriots from the Turkish Cypriots… Easy to understand how bored the UN-soldiers are here, they just ride around in expensive UN-cars as there is nothing else to do. The fighting has stopped long ago and the frontier is even ‘open’ since 2003 with small steps forward that symbolize progress like the abolishment of giving stamps every time a person crosses the transit point; this step was the first result of the new peace negotiations that started 2 weeks ago. It lead to quite some confusion especially at the Turkish side: the protocol had to change but Turkish officials love stamps – clearly that was really a thing to give up for them 🙂 Anyway the international community was investing here at least 30 years in vain, paying for useless UN-presence, boycoting the North / Turkish side without any result. For how long will we continue to do so? And why?
Nnicosia green line greek soil versus turkish sideinicosia green line turkish soil versus greek sidecosia could be a beautiful and flourishing city but it is not because it has no heart but a Green Line, a real wall in the middle of it: see the pictures, where we walk on the Greek side with theTurkish Cypriot and Turkish flags on the old city walls, and the walk on the Turkish side limited by a sudden wall to stop us going to the Greek side: no entrance, no photographs allowed either by the way.
I found the transit point at Ledra Palace the most sad one I have seen so far, although there are several peace seeking initiatives in the buildings there (and also the German Goethe Institut as if nothing happened, very funny). This transit point is at the Greek side surrounded by despair, no investment, no renovation, and even 40 year old remains of fighting (kept there deliberately?):
nicosia green line house at ledra palace  nicosia green line remains of fighting close to ledra palace
Coming from the city of Amsterdam where we love to restore houses and to let original beauty come out at the max, I have to say my hands were itching to take on the job. But well, there is certainly a reason for the non-investment and Nicosia will stay a city without a heart untill the political problems are solved – I hope: soon!

 

Elections in Turkey

elections in turkey 0  Elections are coming up in Turkey and it is impossible to overlook them! I went to a trade mission in Adana and Mersin last week with the Dutch ambassador, his team and other entrepreneurs and we saw and heard the elections everywhere. Cars with loudspeakers shout out their messages: ‘Hey Adana’ and then the text of their campaign follows in a volume that forms an interruption for your conversation – just wait untill they passed to continue.
There are flags and banners everywhere, on the houses, over the street, over the river… think of a spot and the politicians did too.

Here some interesting pictures:
elections in turkey 2 CHP relatively modest on a roundabout;
elections in turkey 2 The ruling AK party: ‘Now I can go to university with my veil; they just talk, AK party acts‘;
elections in turkey 3 A big flag from the MHP party (grey wolves, a big party in Adana) and smaller – below the flag – a sign of the Saadet party: ‘not the European union but Islam union‘ (union is the same word as unity in Turkish);
elections in turkey 4 A big flag of the MHP over the road – busses and bigger cars can not go under it without touching the flag so it is damaged on the lower side but the effect is there I guess. In most countries this would be forbidden;
elections in turkey 5 Not everybody is good in flags: the wind has frustrated the Salih Demir message here…

In the Netherlands it happens that people forget to vote. I don’t think that can happen here. Nevertheless it does not make politics more popular in Turkey than in the Netherlands; most people that I asked did not like the overall political presence.