Prendersi per mano – riflessioni sul significato dell’essere umano

Oggi volevo riflettere su che cosa ci fa pensare la parola umano? In questo mondo veloce dove viviamo, sembra che la parola ha perso significato per quanto dalla mattina fino alla sera le notizie abbondano di atti inumani – niente di nuovo, direi. Vero. Sfortunatamente, niente di nuovo. La indifferenza pero, il fatto che abbiamo la impressione che non possiamo cambiare nulla perché siamo troppo piccoli per farlo. Ecco questo e il risultato della globalizzazione.

Comunque, uno quando vede questo succedere ogni giorno, finisce ad accettarlo…quando uno chiude gli occhi a quello che succede intorno, ammettere, senza resistere, si ritrova credere senza avere nessuna idea pratica di quello che implica, arriva a essere indifferente e ancora a giustificare la sua posizione. Il senso morale del bene o del male di una persona cambia tanto con il tempo.

Questa società consumista, capitalista, hi-tech ci fa dimenticare di cosa significa veramente essere umano. Perché alla fine che cosa vuol dire un essere umano se no guardarsi nei occhi del altro, identificare, empatizare e assumersi al posto del altro? Quando un altro non ha niente ed e arrivato alla fine, guarderesti e cercheresti i colpevoli, a chi dovrebbe prendere cura della situazione o spiegare perche non sei risponsabile per questo? O ancora peggio, prendere tutte quelle persone come se fossero una palla di tennis e buttarla sopra il muro-ribadire che non e la tua problema e poi dimenticare tutto.

Siamo vivendo dei tempi istorici- per quanto consapevoli o no- siamo vivendo dei tempi dei grandi catastrofi umanitari e fallimento collettivo. Si, sto parlando ancora della crisi dei rifugiati – in quanto il Mediterraneo diventa un cementerò tacito dove I numeri dei morti e sempre in crescita ma ormai incerto.

Ancora c’e una speranza pero, ancora ci sono alcuni combatenti per I diritti umani, quelli que hanno messo al silenzio ogni voce che li diceva che non possono. Si, volevo scrivere sul quelli che oltre tutte le dichiarazioni, legi, regolamenti, trattati e convenzioni che sempre prometono RIsoluzioni – loro in fatti sono solo fedeli alla loro coscienza, a quello che un essere umano dovrebbe fare per un altro senza aver bisogno di un contesto.

Poco fa ho guardato un documentario che mi ha impressionato tanto che ho promesso di scrivere qualcosa su questo, di condividere e magari anche chiedere opinioni. ‘Iuventa ‘ e uno di quelli documentari che in un modo molto staccato e obiettivo ti porta la luce su quello che succede oggi al mare. Diretto da Michele Cinque, tratta su un ONG iuventa che hanno voluto fare un cambio e con il aiuto del finanziamento collettivo hanno comprato una nave e cosi hanno concluso vari operazioni di salvataggio dei migranti al mare. Hanno cominciato in 2016 e fino al‘anno scorso in agosto hanno salvato 14000 persone in quindici missioni.

Hanno cominciato a domandare perché l’ Europa non fa nulla in questo rispetto ( la iniziativa e stata per fare notare il bisogno di un progetto tipo Mare Nostrum ma fondato dell’Unione Europea) la nave e stata confiscata e i volontari accusati di tratta e violazione della legge italiana su immigrazione. Quindi, mentre l’Europa stava cercando di camuffare la situazione e spingere la ‘problema’ indietro ad Africa, questi giovani idealisti provavano il contrario, e dovevano essere fermati! Fino a oggi la nave e ancora in sequestro nel porto di Trapani.

E
chiaro allora che il scopo del’Unione Europea e di fermare i corridoio umanitario, di criminalizzare e accusare a quelli che vogliono un cambio. Mentre i ONG provano di stare dietro al influsso dei migranti, Europa si volta la spalla e acceta tante violazioni ai diritti umani, ignorando la legge internazionale e permette che un massiccio di persone sono detenute in condizioni catastrofici.

Il stesso documentario menziona anche Mediterranea –  mediterranearescue -una piattaforma che unisce diverse organizzazioni che hanno in comune un scopo solo- di dare priorità alla vita. Mentre l’Unione Europea rifiuta di considerarsi risponsabile per il numero di morti sempre in crescita, dopo Iuventa e altre ONG che sono stati fermati, accusati falsamente quando la unica cosa che volevano fare era di mostrare che si può, Mediterranea e un progetto ancora vivo, che dimostra questo. Il loro scopo e di monitorizzare e osservare quello che succede, d’intervenirenel caso sia bisogno a salvare e portare le persone in un posto sicuro, come prevede la legge internazionale. Dopo di che, certamente, i migranti saranno soggetti della legge del respettivo paese.

Italia, come la maggior parte del’ Europa, segue una strategia molto chiusa nel riguardo dei rifugiati. Tanti paesi passano per un declino morale e sfortunatamente quando si parla di un ‘straniero’, la reazione e sempre in difensiva, impaurita e molto medievale.

Alla fine, ci manca riflettere un po’- non e che il modo in cui affrontiamo la questione dei rifuggiti e un rispecchio al modo in cui potremmo anche noi, cittadini, essere trattati? Guardare come i governi, la opinione pubblica affrontano la situazione e il riflesso di una società che prima o poi perderà la sua umanità in riguardo ai propri cittadini. Abbiamo dimenticato di cercare dove e la moralità in questo assunto, ma siamo molto concentrati sul lato economico, politico…Abbiamo dimenticato che tenere solo al suo tribù o gruppo e ancora un ‘residuo tossico di secoli di schiavitù e segregazione’. Questa non e una UNIONE come ci piace a chiamarla.

Dobbiamo creare una società che prima di tutto deve essere morale inclusiva, dobbiamo – a questo punto, essere capaci di vivere en un modo umano, amorevole e saggio – en una società in cui la vita e più importante che il capitale ( e ci abbiamo anche dei modelli, anche se i contra modelli sono molto imponenti – SUA).

C’e bisogno di narrazione, di dialogo, di smettere di semplificare un problema che non e per niente semplice. Dobbiamo ascoltare, condividere e fare la nostra parte. Prima dobbiamo cominciare a guardare dentro il nostro cuore – e dopo possiamo aspettare un cambio di coscienza al nivelo sociale. Dobbiamo riflettere di più su che cosa vuol dire essere Umano per no – di smettere di prendere le cose come sono ma sempre mettere in dubbio, avere quel sguardo critico. Più di tutto, dobbiamo ricordare che siamo noi i creatori della nostra vita e che anche siamo i attori principali!

joining hands – reflection on being a human

Today I want to reflect a bit on what does the word human makes us think of? In this fast world that we are living in, it feels like the word has lost its meaning as from morning to evening  – the news abounds with inhuman acts – nothing new you would say. True. Nothing new, unfortunately. Indifference though, the fact that we have this impression that we cannot change the things which concern us because we are too small to do it – is the result of this globalised world.

However, when you see this in your day to day life and you end up accepting it…when you turn a blind eye to what’s around you, acknowledge, yet you do not stand against, you end up believe in it, you end up being indifferent and on top of that, justifying yourself. A person’s moral sense of what is right and wrong can change so much in time…

Is this all consumerist, capitalist, high-tech society makes us forget about what being human means? Because what is being human after all than just see yourself in the other? When the other has nothing and is on the brink of dying, would you just watch and point fingers at who’s fault is it, at who should deal with it or the reasons why you aren’t responsible for this? Or even worse, take all those people as you would take a ball of tennis and throw it over the fence- tell yourself it’s not your problem and forget all about the matter?

We are living historical times – whether aware or not – we are living times of a huge humanitarian catastrophe and collective failure.  Yes, I am talking again about the refugee crisis – as the Mediterranean sea is becoming a silent cemetery where the numbers of graves are rising and yet the real number is lost.

Yet there are still some human rights fighters, those that have silenced every voice that told them they can’t. I wanted to write about those that beyond all international declarations, laws and regulations, pacts and conventions that rule and promise REsolutions and variables – they do what is right according to their conscience, to what a human should do for another human.

I recently watched a documentary which startled me to the point that I said I have to write about this. I have to let it out.  ‘Iuventa’ is a documentary directed by Michele Cinque (which I definitely recommend you all to watch), which talks about a German NGO https://jugendrettet.org/en/–  who set up a high target and with crowdfunding managed to buy a ship and conducted several operations at sea in the rescue of migrants. They started in 2016 until August last year they managed to save more than 14000 people in 15 rescue missions!

Since they were already  starting to raise questions on why Europe does not do something in this respect ( their initiative was mostly to attract the attention of the EU and eventually recreate a second ‘Mare Nostrum’ but funded by Europe) their ship was confiscated and they were accused of human trafficking and violation of the Italian immigration law! So while Europe was trying to camouflage, push back the problem back to Africa, some idealistic youngsters were trying to overdo it and yet falsely accused for doing so! Till today the ship is still seized in the port of Trapani.

While the aim of the European Union is to close the humanitarian corridor, they criminalise and accuse those that want to bring a change. While the NGOs are trying to keep up with the incoming influx of refugees, Europe turns its back and gives in to massive human rights violations, disregarding the international law and allowing people to end up in detention camps with catastrophic conditions.

The same documentary mentions about Mediterranea-Saving Humans https://mediterranearescue.org/en/  –a platform that conjures different organizations that have joined forces with one single focus- to put the lives of the people above everything’s else.

While Europe refuses to see itself responsible for the death toll that keeps on rising, after Iuventa and many other NGOs saw a dead end in its aim to bring a change, Mediterranea is a project that can show to the world that yes, it is possible. While their main aim is to monitor and report what is happening, they also intervene when needed in saving people – and bring them to a safe harbour, according to the international laws. Now, of course, that following that, the refugees will be subject to the respective countries’and European laws.

Italy, as well as the majority of Europe, are following an enclosed strategy towards the refugees. Many nations are in moral decline and unfortunately, even if we believe ourselves to be good, giving, the truth is that when it comes to foreign, to other – we somehow become frightened, defensive and close our doors.

Because in the end, we should be more reflective. Isn’t the way we treat the refugees a direct mirror on how we, as citizens will be treated? Seeing how governments and the media treat the refugees is a direct reflection of a society that in the long run will lose humanity towards its own citizens. We have forgotten to see the morality in the matter and we tend to just scrupulously focus on the economic side. We forgot that caring only for your own tribe or group is still a ‘toxic residue of centuries of slavery and segregation’ . This is NOT a UNION as we so much like to call lit.

We should create a society that is to be first moral – inclusive, we should, at this point, be able to live in a humane, caring and wise society that cares for the human not for the capital ( and we don’t lack models here, although the countermodels stand massively ahead – see the UNITED States).

Storytelling – we need to talk to find dialogue, to stop simplifying a problem that is so complex. We should not refrain from talking about it, from doing our share. We, as individuals, can start just by changing something in our own heart first – then maybe we can expect a shift in conscience at the societal level. We should reflect more on what does being a human mean to us. We should stop taking things as they are served to us and question more. Remember that we, after all, are the creators of our own life where we are always the main actors!

 

building bridges – the politics of innocence

almost three months have passed since I am in Italy and time certainly went by very fast. one of the main reasons why this is so could be the fact that life here is very frenzy – there are lots to do, as Genova is a very active city, culturally and socially speaking.

It has been a time fruitfully spent with the children at the centre where I am volunteering (with Ce.Sto, one of those organisations that every community should have for a better inclusion and social cohesion). Every day is different. Every day I engage more and I feel I create new knots and decipher new codes of their behaviour. Working with around forty children of different ages and backgrounds sounds challenging enough and in practice even more – but patiently and consistently I am encouraging myself and have to admit it – it is a very pleasant challenge.

some of these days I wanted to write about joy – how often do we find joy in our everyday life? – and when I say joy here I mean that utter feeling of happiness that runs all over your body and makes you want to jump, to smile and laugh of how amazing everything is just in this moment. I have to say that I feel this joy when I am surrounded by children. these past months I have started to construct these small bridges that help me better understand my child within with their help. it runs both ways though – I do that because I try to see the world through their eyes. and each of you should know very well how simple and easy the world is when you are a child!

I observe them and see that even if they come from different backgrounds, from North Africa, Asia, Central America or from Europe – at this moment in their life they created bonds that are unbreakable and they stand by each other regardless of race, colour or religion. all these social constructs mean nothing to them. at this stage, the important thing is – however innocent –  to discover the world together, to hold hands, sing and dance. they do fight sometimes, but that is because they are expansive, because they want to be heard and yes – because they need love and attention.

how far have we gone from that age of innocence? how far, we as humans, have we gone in the opposite direction? fear, greed and power have overruled love, abundance and humility. humanity at this stage is divided by class, race and colour – is divided by those that live in abundance and those that starve and die in search of a better life ( and are judged and criticised for doing so) *and how can you call ‘invading’ the people that look for a better life?*

we build fences instead of bridges nowadays! if we would at least bother to open a history book we would see that we too were once impoverished – we too needed a better life! what I mean by ‘we’ here are all those countries that colonised once virgin territories, the so-called abundant, capitalist and western countries.  it is the time to take responsibility for the plunders and for the abuse, exploitation and death we have caused- for the humanitarian crises around the world are the results of those.

however, with a far-right government that targets immigrants and aims at making Italy a ‘safer place’, the situation here is not a jolly one at all. In fact, Italy is facing a very devastating moment in terms of its politics of inclusion – and while we lose count of the people that sacrifice their lives for a better future, here, Europe, nowadays the ‘promised land’, the ultimate aim is to ‘have no refugees at all in Italy through the closure of seaports, criminalising migrant rescue NGOs and with the new decree, depriving them of any protection’.

yet, there is hope. a few weeks ago I have participated in a protest against the Salvini decree. on the beats of ‘Mama Africa’ and as we marched on the streets of the old city, people from all corners of the world gathered to share their story and their support to make a change, to open people’s eyes and to show that they care. Yes – mama Africa- because it is a wake-up call for us all – to return to what unites us, to understand we are all the same, a body and a spirit, to go back to the roots and our true nature.

fact is – where there is unity, where there are awareness and discipline through that unity, there is hope for a better tomorrow. we should leave out the hypocrisy of those that see the immigrants the cause of their problems – where they rest in a totally different universe, ignorant, that lacks empathy, humanity and drawn towards hate. we should instead focus on those that understand, on those that can trace this plunge in despair, in lack – where people risk their lives and see death a better outcome than the poverty, imprisonment and deprivation they have to put up with back in their countries.

who are we to draw lines? to build fences? to label people? to differentiate and put to balance? to address people’s lives as the sum of their misfortunes? these questions seem like a deja-vu. Should this be the outcome of our evolution so far?

when I look at these children I see there is hope, yes there is. investing for a better education of today’s children is fundamental in creating a better future. it is not the first time I am drawn to conclude on this line of thought. it is a bit extreme to link children with politics – however, we have a lot to learn from them – to hold hands, to see ourselves in the other and build a better future together.

last – I cannot help but attaching a short passage from one of the classics of political satires in American cinema – ‘The Great Dictator’. the history repeats itself – ironically – the actors have changed but the play remains the same.

So, are we going to learn to do better this time?

‘In this world, there is room for everyone. And the good earth is rich and can provide for everyone. The way of life can be free and beautiful, but we have lost the way. Greed has poisoned men’s souls, has barricaded the world with hate, has goose-stepped us into misery and bloodshed. We have developed speed, but we have shut ourselves in. Machinery that gives abundance has left us in want. Our knowledge has made us cynical. Our cleverness, hard and unkind. We think too much and feel too little. More than machinery we need humanity. More than cleverness we need kindness and gentleness. Without these qualities, life will be violent and all will be lost….”

 

by the rough shores

She walks on narrow streets

Roaming with people

Everything seems so empty

In this floating city…

Empty eyes, burned cheekbones

Wild looks and languages

That are strangled by expired words

Which are out of hope.

By the rough shores

The waves still speak though

They speak of unfamiliar poems

Dialects that were put to die and

Dreams that were not even born.

Rough and surreal

Untold stories are dancing in the abys

Waiting to be heard…

But one day, carried by the wind

They will rise and they will

Create a new sky

Filled with sunshine and blue…

A glowy sea

At the shores of a lighthouse

Called love.

The First Step is The Challenge – Discovering Vipassana

Sun is shining and while the thermometer shows 28 degrees (again – always!:)) I am sipping from my coffee and scrolling on my facebook page. In so doing I saw a quote from two years ago –  ‘Although the road is never ending, take a step and keep walking, do not look fearfully into the distance. on this path let the heart be your guide for your body is hesitant and full of fear.’ I immediately made the connection – I wrote it just before I went on to do the Vipassana retreat in Dehradun, India – the first time that I have been in a retreat and of course, the moment when I experienced this technique of meditation for the first time. And what a discovery it was. Two years ago I have found something more precious than any treasure – I have found myself, I have found peace within, I have found the way to go back there, to that place I long forgotten and the encounter was so, so dear to me.

Today I celebrate once more the opportunity I was given and I am so deeply grateful for it. I first read about a silence retreat in (be ready to be surprised) ‘Eat Pray Love’ – well for me being in silence for so long was such a blissful opportunity- then there was a friend from England that when he heard I will go to India he recommended to do a Vipassana retreat as well as an Introduction to  Buddhist Philosophy (they do not connect and the Vipassana technique is not practiced in the other). That was all I knew – I took note of it it is true but I was actually focused on a project with a so thought to be a friend that failed graciously and beside a good amount of money, I have lost a friend and with that my confidence in people was a bit shaken. I have found myself all alone, with no plans and kind of apathetic – then the idea of the retreat came to my mind. I was actually at that point – with the turn of events – that I was seeking a refuge. I needed some time to regain that trust, the values and the trust that I have lost. I also wanted to get a grip of what did just happen and where did I go wrong.

So I went – with my heart open and there was no moment when I wanted to leave or give up. I came out of it not completely changed – but for sure, something in me changed and I knew that nothing will be the same again. And I am not saying this for the sake of the beautiful, comforting words, but because I have understood that my life was under control now, that I have the tool to deal with it. There was a line or two from the movie that still resonate in my mind – ‘You will get your life back again – you will learn to value it!’ like a prophecy that came true. Because yes – once I was done, I was so joyous and extraordinarily THERE – to enjoy every moment, to stop seeking the future but to be in the moment, that it felt like the time moved slower. I was present and I was happy to enjoy every little small thing like a tuk tuk drive or a piece of freshly made paratha.

I even remember that when I arrived in Rishikesh, I was shocked to see the streets packed with announcements with different healing methods, courses, trainings when I came out of a place where my only distractions were sleeping, eating, meditating, walking and washing. At that time it seemed like a cry of despair. It felt like we have really lost touch with ourselves and keep on looking – as we have been for ages – to the outside in order to fix the inside. Well – the equanimity came in and help me with that too! I understood then again that finding your own truth will not dismiss someone else’s and although I was so happy and joyful to share it with everyone, not everyone was ready to listen – not everyone was ready to accept or to put it into practice. OR better said – not everyone had a butt to sit on and spend some time with him/herself.

Conclusion is – that in the end, we all walk our own path, carry our own burdens, and while we can always make our own choices there is still something we should all learn and practice – to be open. To learn from the richest as well as from the poorest, to listen and to give up to the judgements and preconceptions. To accept that we are not the same. To be more compassionate as we don’t know what hides behind this well carved mask called body. To do things differently because this will expand our mind.

Each has its own way indeed and while ones will take longer, others a little less, we should all reach there.

Wish you a LOVEly day!

A New Place to Call Home

After a well-deserved summer at home and of course, well-deserved vacation for that matter, I had to start moving in some direction or other. It is quite difficult once you’ve got the travel bug, you know? Even if I definitely did not get bored, I have been stalking friends that travel and wondered constantly where to go next. Then the answer came – and as they say, all roads go to Rome – for me they have actually gone to Genova – as this is my new home now.

So here I am, drinking my expresso (the third one today – I simply cannot refrain- the place is packed with small cafes) enjoying the breeze and the seagulls, the sound of the many scooters rumbling around, admiring the majestic architecture of the many palaces that stand as a proof of a legendary past.

The duration of my visit this time will be slightly longer – I could actually say that it is the most time that I have spent in a place – at a time. This is actually something that excites and scares me at the same time – as I am sure I will find my way out of it every now and then (heheh).

However, I must say that my motivation is high due to the reason why I am here – an European project with an local NGO that supports and works at building a sustainable inclusion and cohesion of migrants and minors in the society. Will basically work with children, adolescents and migrants – by doing workshops as well as cultural events for a better communication, integration and promoting activities for civic integration.

Besides the fact that it is famous for its focaccia and pesto, for its long stretches of coast, forests and picturesque cities, Liguria is a region that has something more particular than that. Genoa, after all, is a multicultural city on the move since for the past twenty five years has been receiving waves of migrants from places like Ecuador, Senegal, Nigeria, Bangladesh, Peru and China. This passage has not been a novelty as Genoa was and still remains one of the most important ports of Italy.

The situation is a bit distressing – the refugee and migrant mobility gets intensified along with an accelerated crisis of the European identity and borders as well as an increasing nationalist attitude. Here the situation seems more pervasive as Italy has become the central route into Europe for migrants and asylum seekers as they cross from North Africa. I will be able to have a better picture of the situation in the following months and get more immersed in the question.

6 Things You Should Know Before Going to Iran

 

At the beginning of this year I have backpacked with a friend around Iran for a month. Not many people I know have been here and the fact is that I was so astounded by the potential this country has. Therefore I have promised myself that I will share my experience with all of you. Unfortunately, it is a fact that due to media, many people think that Iran is a country strongly linked with war, nuclear armament and terrorism. Besides, lots of polls show that the West and even most of the Middle Eastern countries look poorly at Tehran’s rights record. While the truth is always somewhere in the middle, my distrust of the media made me visit this country and I can only say one thing – can’t wait to go back!

Culture and People

  1. The People

The people here are simply astonishing – they are so congenial and amicable- up to the point where you get a bit suspicious! Actually, I have come to realize that they really mean it when they ask ‘Where are you from’ and do want to know about your whereabouts because they have an authentic curiosity about other countries. I can wholeheartedly say that Iran is one of the best countries I have been where you will experience local life in an easy, spontaneous and fun way, and you will rarely be surprised by a comment such as ‘please come to visit my shop’ – following an inviting answer.

  1. The History

Now if you do a bit of a research before you go to Iran you will be aware of the fact that the inhabitants of Iran are not Arabs – but Persians. It is a mistake that will make you look poorly informed and will also be disappointing for the people you are talking to. After all, the Persian Empire is a prehistoric one and many take pride on their ancestry. Another aspect is the religious one. Just because it is called the ‘Islamic Republic of Iran’ does not mean that everyone is Muslim (after all, the country was named this way only after the revolution in 1979). Zoroastrianism is the oldest monotheistic religion which was founded on the territory of ancient Iran. Other minority religions are the Baha’I Faith, Christianism and Judaism.

  1. The Customs

One of the most interesting cultural habits I have encountered in Iran is called – taarof (politeness) – which basically means that the local people will insist that you don’t have to pay or do something for them – therefore putting the other first. While it could be heavenly amazing to be invited for dinner always when you go out with a local, it is not always the case. So you will have to insist two or three times until they will accept your preposition/money. Another very important cultural aspect to keep in mind is shaking hands – while men shaking hands with men is perfectly fine – some (more conservative ones) prefer not to and they will place their hand on their heart to show respect and sincerity. A man will not shake hands with a woman unless she is the one that outstretches her hand first (it also depends on the company, situation, etc). My advice is that you simply bow and let the other person initiate a further handshake.

  1. The Dress code

I think it is not a secret that here the women have to cover anything than face, hands and feet (therefore the head too). I actually found that Iranian women use the scarf as a fashion statement (mainly in Tehran and big cities) therefore you will find it quite tempting to go shopping for some. The array of colors and designs is impressive and consequently you will find yourself wearing it with such pride! J In what is concerned the rest, it is generally acknowledged that the women should be wearing loose and long sleeved blouses & pants. However, while I was in Tehran I kept on being wondered on the fact that many women adopted much of the Western dress code and wear rather tight clothes. While this of course will change depending on the city and region – follow your common sense and pack more loose clothes (including lots of blazers and long sweaters) and avoid low-cut, see-through ones. Always remember it is better to look conservative. Men have nothing to be concerned of as short-sleeved shirts and t-shirts are acceptable. On the other hand, shorts and three-quarter length pants are only accepted on the beach.

Technicalities

  1. The Money

Well, continuing with the technicalities – the credit cards here do not work so my advice is to take enough cash with you. There is also the option of a travel card that you could order in advance and pick it up once you arrive in Tehran. This is mostly done through Facebook groups such as ‘See you in Iran’. When talking about money – the currency in Iran is a bit confusing. They have ‘toman’ – with one decimal less and ‘rial’ however they normally use tomans. For example when people say something like 18 – they actually mean 18000 tomans. It will take you a bit to get used to it and you will constantly have the impression that things are cheaper than you think!

  1. The Internet

Install VPN before you reach the country as here basically you will not be able to access YouTube, Facebook or even CouchSurfing without it. I was really worried before reaching the country as I wasn’t sure how was I to communicate with my friends and family. However, I soon found the solution – VPN it is. Also, keep in mind that in Iran Couchsurfing is illegal therefore in case you have a couch – do plan and make a fake hotel reservation for the officials will check it for your visa (the visa is on arrival – it cost me around $80 and lasts for a month). Other than that, you would want to buy a SIM card as the internet is much faster than the Wifi in the coffee shops.

Hope this helps and do not hesitate to message me in case you have questions or comments! Khodahafez 🙂

5 Must See Places in Alexandria, Egypt

 

There are few places that really make me want to come back to further explore and Alexandria and Egypt is one of them. I have completed a three month internship in Tanta and on this occasion have been travelling around. However, that wasn’t enough. Even if most of the weekends I would spend at the foot of the Mediterranean, Alexandria always made me want more. So- I had to come back! Ended up spending an extra month and a half and have to be honest – loved it that much that I had to tell the story…

Check out the rest of the article here:

5 Must See Places in Alexandria, Egypt

 

What is It that You Want?

‘If light is in your heart you will find your way home.’ (Rumi)

Every time I come back from a long vo-yage and I visit my grandma she always strikes me with the same question put into different words- ‘how am I not afraid to go to all these unknown places, conflictive and unsafe, where I will meet all these strangers – that could potentially harm me’ or God knows what else.

These questions have actually made me realize that every time I embarked on a new journey I have always left with faith in my heart that I would be back – I would even visualize myself – happy and with a bigger heart.

I envisioned this because I would feel with all my heart that the purpose of my traveling is aligned with my life purpose so there was nothing that could have stopped me from doing it.When you have that much passion and sense of purpose for what you do – yes, you feel like your heart grows. So there I was – I have actually done a ‘law of attraction’ practice – which is to visualize and have positive thoughts for a great outcome – without even actually knowing it or planning on it. And so this was for me the most practical way to understand faith and the power of my thoughts.

What is the law of attraction?

It might be that for some of us this concept is so overrated – we have probably heard it, used it and overused it to the point that we either feel we grasped it (and ideally we actually put it into practice) or we eventually left it somewhere in the past as maybe a small notion to consider (and eventually forgot about it). One thing is for sure – the law of attraction is a universal law that many might have put aside just because of its popularity – however it is a given that everything that surrounds us was first created in our thoughts.

We must then understand that our thoughts are gold in terms of how we rule our life and how we progress in our life. This is not a ‘learn to be positive’ self-help, spiritual article that tries to put you in a better state of mind. This is a wake-up call for those that want a change in their life. that change comes from your thoughts. You should start by having a different mindset – and deeply embrace the fact that you are the creator of your own life and set of beliefs.

What is happiness?

Many of us actually answer to the question of ‘What do you want’ – in the simplest form – ‘I want to be happy’. Although yes, while this is the universal aspect of what humans want in general– to love and be loved, to construct a harmonious life and be accepted for who you are – it is not enough to state it – you must describe it in the most minute detail – with more details you give, better it is. Doing this you will reach a point where you can vividly envision your perspective on happiness.

In this process, you must, first of all, learn to let go of your past experiences and patterns of thought. Coming to peace with the others and with yourself, ask for forgiveness as well as forgive – and lastly be thankful for the life you are living now.

We should find happiness in every small thing that we are doing. For example think about washing the dishes. It always seems to be a dreadful activity until you actually experience it mindfully. To be in the moment while you do an action helps you appreciate the smallest details – hence you will start to live in harmony with yourself.

Definitely happiness should not be understood in terms of – ‘if only I would have this/be this/get here- I would be happy’ – because in this way we will go on a misery carousel where we condition ourselves in terms of what we relate to – or what we wish for. Being happy is after all to understand deeply that failure and negative experiences are also part of the picture. We won’t know joy unless we know unhappiness. However, accepting it and converting it in life-lessons will help us get the drive for a new direction, a new beginning.

Personally, I think that happiness is that moment when we manage to turn our wounds, pain and suffering into wisdom. The one that laughs and has a joyous heart in the face of adversity will experience life at a totally different level compared to someone that always had whatever he/she pleased and whose world collapses at the slightest disappointment. It is very important what are we doing with this wisdom – to find our own truth and try to bring it to the world. Learn how to make it a more peaceful, joyful and loving one.

What is love?

– this is not a metaphysical monologue either, but what I see as a practical way to see love – in terms of my own experience. This is in fact an invitation to introspection – what is love for you? I have come to experience that when I do not love myself I cannot bring love to the world. It comes in the form of low energy, pessimism and a systematic auto-sabotage of who you are and what you want. You seem as if you have lost your compass and somehow you feel like you were just dropped here and can’t seem to understand what is the way forward?

In times of adversity and when we struggle to keep our heads above water we sometimes forget to look inside and give ourselves time. We need this time to ground and to find what it is that is not working or that is lacking. So once we find that we can change perspective and let things flow, try to find some humour in it and try to learn the lesson

For example, I have found it difficult at times to be constant with my wishes. I kept on wanting and wanting more … while I would realize I was still unfulfilled. It was like a vicious circle and I was trapped. It was then that I have remembered the most magical words ever – thank you. And so, at times when you find it difficult to give meaning to your life, gratitude will change the way you see things, and slowly will help eliminate your negative thoughts and pessimism.

I learned to be grateful systematically by keeping a gratitude journal. Expressing in details why I was grateful – in terms of body, mind, spirit, relationships and money really helped.  I was astounded as it was actually working – I started to see my life from an another perspective.

Knowing and having a better understanding- about what you want will boost your high esteem and you will attract more and more joyous and beautiful people. Once your high-esteem is at a healthy level, you should work though on staying awake, on being present and of course on finding the truest expression of yourself.

Remember – you are the captain of your soul – and once you deeply embody that in your belief system – nothing can take you down.

Lastly – you lead the way as in how people should treat you or how you should be loved. We sometimes end up in poor relationships only because this is what we think it suits us and we deserve to be treated as such. Therefore, understand that first you have to be whole – to accept yourself and be responsible for what you create.

Ask – Believe – Receive

Learn to discover through introspection what you really want. Be grateful for what you have, for this earth, for the sky, for the rain and for the sun, for the birds and for the trees, for the fact that you are breathing! These are some of the few things we take for granted. This way you will allow novelty and miracles to come into your life. Select your direction in life and believe in it with all your being. What you focus on expands and so learn to live with faith for it will always help to keep your sense of purpose. We need a sense of purpose, of meaning in life.

Once you believe you see that each day will be another chance to get better, to achieve what you longed for and to align your personality with the real reason why you are here. Then the outcome- what you receive- will be accordingly.

Further than that, your experiences, encounters with people and situations – they all speak to you. Learn to see them and to focus always on that which is constructive, which elevates your spirit. Learn to see toxic relationships, negative environments and strive to get surrounded more by positive people and generally people that you could learn from.

Life is an act of faith and the fruits of your actions whether they good or bad should teach you to see behind appearances. Your peace of mind and harmonious life depend on this – on being aware that everything is a phase, all is changing and everything is a projection of your mind.

Therefore, educate your mind, invest in a healthy mindset and embrace the harmony with gratitude and humbleness.

 

The Children of Hope

‘When you close your eyes and think of peace, what do you see?’


Following the seacoast, the drive from Beirut to Saida is around forty minutes and I still remember how disappointed I was when my plane landed it was late and dark so I missed my first impression of the place. Leaving the hustle and bustle of Beirut, one arrives to Saida and finds a small fishing town with a colorful souk, an imposing crusader castle and the beautiful seafront. It was here that I will spend my next two months as part of a teaching project that works with the Syrian refugees– so I embraced it and decided to discover it bit by bit.

However, that was the easy part. It was arriving to the Ouzai refugee settlement that left quite an impression on me. I never before saw a refugee camp. I did not expect – yet I was struck by the greyness of the concrete structure situated just at the entrance of the city. The missing windows would give a hollowness to the whole building, yet the colorful clothes and rugs hanging here and there gave a sense of liveliness, of stubbornness to resist this dump air surrounding the place. Once arrived in front of the entrance, smiling girls and boys would approach the car, saluting and playing in their reckless ways. It was all that I needed.

Once it was supposed to be a university campus, but since the project was abandoned, the building became the second SB Overseas centre for Learning and Empowerement and it was opened in 2017 ( Beirut, Saida, Arsal). With the headquarters in Belgium, Sb Overseas currently runs three centers in Lebanon, the one in Saida being the newest and largest project – housing 1500 Syrian refugees. Around 320 children are registered to attend school, accommodating their levels and ages as well as preparing them for public school –so crucial in their chances of success.

Children and youth in Saida are attending Arabic, English, math, science and general knowledge classes; awareness and wellness sessions led by SB’s psychologist; art and sport activities; and homework support sessions designed to help students catch up in their classes at public school. Besides this, there is also a Woman Empowerement Program which offers Arabic, English and fitness classes. There are also literacy programmes for younger and older refugee women – as a means to empower them and help them better integrate in the society. However the primary focus is to provide them with a marketable skill– courses such as sewing, embroidery, knitting, doll making, jewellery, and hairdressing – in actually being able to earn an income.

As the countries bordering Syria have seen a massive influx of refugees, nowadays, one in every three people in Lebanon is a Syrian refugee. Despite the fact that it has crippled the Lebanese public system in many aspects, the refugees are in need of support as the children risk of being a lost generation. Displacement, trauma, poverty, abuse and loss of dignity – these are some of the critical aspects that the victims have to deal with in order to rebuild their lives and to prevent them from turning to bitterness, hatred and violence. Besides, the moral dignity of these people should be dealt with as they are constantly called under ‘refugees’- they have lost their sense of identity and now are considered just a number in statistics.

Due to the high numbers of refugee children, the Lebanese state has failed to place all these children in public school – therefore, many of the refugee children have poor access to schooling – or none at all, therefore it is imperative to set up non-formal schools and activities that will enable the kids to catch up and work their way to the public school and later on, a means to support their families.

According to a report from United Nations bodies, 17% of Syrian refugee households in Lebanon are run by women. Besides education and material needs, the women and girls living in refugee camps are suffering from trauma and bereavement. As many of them have lost their loved ones – husband, brother, father- they are now faced with the need of providing, they have become the breadwinners for their family. They have left from being a child to being an adult. Such a sharp switch. Yet, they need the time and space to grieve, so psychological support and counseling are particularly important.

But the question is how? They lack sufficient income to ensure food and shelter for them and their families. They are not permitted to work, they might not even have the competences and preparation necessary, therefore many women and girls are at an increased risk of facing sexual and gender-based violence.

Marriage – unfortunately – is seen as a solution – and although the girls are not prepared, although they are giving up their childhood and the possibility of being educated, their parents consider this as an immediate solution, as a way of escaping the harsh and overcrowded conditions. Besides, the lack of male family figures cause some females heads of household to worry for their security and reputations – marrying them seems a way of protecting them from exploitation or abuse. Yet, don’t think that the camp is a sanctuary for the women! As they have left their husbands, brothers and sons behind, now they are preyed by men roaming free in a lawless place such as a camp. While kidnapping and selling girls for prostitution is common, marriage has become the religious seal of approval for sex – regardless of age, girls become vulnerable to sexual exploitation.

Child marriage, prostitution, domestic violence and child labor are the devils to escape from in these harsh conditions. But then, who to turn to? Who will listen or give a hand in a foreign country that does not acknowledge you and where you are considered a mere ‘refugee’? Raising awareness – of gender based violence, the rights and responsibilities of a woman, the fact that she is entitled to have a safe space where she can seek help or advice – where she could share her story of violence and abuse and see that she is not alone! This- although not only – could be helpful in healing and eventually building their confidence and self-esteem.

All in all, the children of yesterday became the adults we see today – and yes, I can say that I have never seen children as I have seen in Ouzai. Their jolliness, their dancing, their passion for music and laughing around are overshadowed by the load they carry – their lack of safety, their responsibilities, and overall their circumstances have left a deep imprint on their spirits. Their eyes seem vividly aware of this all chaos, this all mess we live in, and yet they cannot do anything. They are too small, yet they dream big. Their solutions are not more than mere jokes –but still – they know. They have a sense of dignity that I have never encountered at other children. Yet, most probably, ‘haneen’ is the word which best describe it – the longing for something you have lost.

Many times I would find myself stuck – in understanding either how can they do it? There are so many stories to tell, so many tears to still fall, yet – there they were – screaming and shouting and rebelling against each other with these bursts of energy only a child has. I would find myself stuck because it was still incredible to me, in explaining myself – in which world am I living? Why all these kids have grown up that early while others are left with no care in the world? Why these kids have a swamp for a playground? Why did they have to run away? From death? There are many kinds of death – and although physically alive, although apparently functional in the everyday activities, the heaviness of the memories, the loss of your loved ones, the harshness and cruelty, the hurt and despair – all these are just another way of saying that you are dead emotionally, as a child, as a lover, as a mother.

Yet – there remains the longing – there is still hope. I have met many children, mothers, fathers in this position – and yet – they do! They hope because this is the only thing they still have. Now it is on us if we encourage this hope, if we alleviate their needs and make a difference. I cannot say much of the difference I have made but one thing is sure – I will not stop – yet!

(For any questions please feel free to comment below and for more info about the volunteering opportunities, please check out the main page of SB – http://www.sboverseas.org)