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….”

 

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