Posted in Culture

Carpets and Cultures

(The Carpet Merchant, by Osman Hamdi Bey)

This picture really made me laugh (in a quiet, museum-like manner, obviously!) when I came across it at the Alte Nationalgalerie in Berlin this week!

Osman Hamdi Bey depicts so well the moment two cultures collide.  The sheer foreign-ness of the other party leads to not curiosity and communication, but to this “freeze frame” moment of watching the others as if on television.

Brilliantly captured!  I wonder what happens next?  Will the little girl break the ice?  Will one of them pluck up the courage and start to interact?  Or will the wall remain, with maybe a carpet sold but the two worlds never really meeting?

I would love to know what the servant on the left is thinking.  At least I assume he is a local man, who is a servant to the foreign family.  He could maybe help bridge the gap, but his role probably makes that impossible.

So many ways this could go!

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Grand Red Curtains Parted

(Stock.XCHNG/ weatherbox)

Helena and I stepped out of the darkness of the shaded woods and entered a world of colour.  I held my breath at the sight before me.  It was a though grand red curtains had parted to welcome a production on such a grand scale I could barely focus on one thing for long enough.  What welcomed my eyes was an entire bustling village of nations gathering.  Some people were walking alone, others gathering in twos, threes, groups and in crowds.  Sights of traditional costumes, sounds of combined languages, scents of cuisines from all over the world.  It was rich and alive, bursting at the seams with colour and sounds as though we’d followed the path of a pulse to reach the heart of the woods.  And there it pumped, people flowing here, there and everywhere.

(from: Cecelia Ahern, A Place Called Here, beginning of chapter 18)

This passage literally took my breath away.  This is how I picture heaven!  Colours, sounds, scents.  So much more intense than anything I have experienced or could even imagine.  All the nations on earth.  From huge empires to tribes long forgotten.  And it’s not the empires as such, it’s the people.  The people shaped by that culture and context.

 After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language (Revelation 7:9)

Everyone together.  Not all the same, still distinct, unique.  But without the strive, the prejudice, the fighting, even the petty misunderstandings.

The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their splendour into it. (Revelation 21:24)

I wonder what that splendour will look like.  I don’t think it’s just diamonds, gold and the like.  In my mind, it’s each culture, each tribe, each nation the way it was meant to be.  Untainted by selfishness, suspicion, sin.  What will they bring, what will their splendour be?  The Germans?  The Americans?  The Afghans?  The Yali?  The Roma?

But that’s just my theory.  I would love for it to be like that!  We’ll see.

PS Just to clarify: the context for this scene in Cecelia Ahern’s story is totally different to what it sparked in me!

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All the Leaves are Brown

(copyright: Doodlemum)

Or rather all possible shades of gold and red!  So incredibly beautiful!

And they’re on the ground.  And yes, like these kids, I have been enjoying the swish swish swish of walking through piles of leaves.  What fun!

All the leaves are brown – they actually are – the ones that I brought indoors to decorate with.  Sad…

But, ever the optimist, I am still hoping to try out this little project, which I came across on Pinterest:

Thanks Doodlemum for yet again putting a smile on my face with your post!

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The Enigma that is Pakistan


What images does that word conjure up for you?  Terrorism?  Osama bin Laden?  Cricket?  Balti?

I have to confess that up until I moved to Sparkhill (aka Little Pakistan) in Birmingham, I’d never really thought about the country much. There was no reason to.  I didn’t know anyone from Pakistan, and back then, the country wasn’t in the news much either.  Suddenly I was confronted with a whole different world.  The colours!  The smells!  The food!  Amazing!

There was a lot that was alien as well.  A lot I didn’t like.  But as I made friends, got to know people, I began to understand and appreciate more.

These days, Pakistan regularly makes the headlines.  And usually for all the wrong reason.  Suicide bombings.  Persecution of Christians.  And most recently, the terrible terrible shooting of Malala Yousafzai.

But Pakistan is not that easy to put in a box.  I discovered a whole new side to the country when listening to an interview with Australian Benjamin Gilmour on Outlook on the BBC World Service (programme dd 17 October 2012).  Gilmour is a paramedic himself, who has travelled the world visiting ambulance services in many different places.  He commented how in most places, a suicide bombing would lead to chaos in the hospitals, with overcrowded emergency wards and patients being stuck in ambulances.  Not so in Pakistan.  He explains:

“…it’s because of this sense of civil service.  People came from everywhere to clear the wards, to deal with the patients.  For no money, for no gain.  Just because this is the way they feel about their country, and it’s really wonderful.  And this is why Pakistan is somewhere I will always go back to, because as human beings, they inspire me to be a better human being.”

May we see more and more of that side of the country!

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Like a Leaf in the Air

Living the life of a refugee is living just like a leaf in the air, you just hang in the air and you do not have a sense of belonging.  You have been uprooted and you are not allowed to go back to where you belong.  (Neda Soltani*)

Recently I have been reflecting a lot on places and their importance in giving us a sense of identity, belonging and rootedness.  In the midst of this, I happened to hear an interview with Neda Soltani, a refugee from Iran living in Germany.

Like a leaf in the air

Her words haunt me, the words she uses to describe her sense of having lost her home, her roots, her place in life.

What is it like to lose all that, without a way back?  To be cut off from people and places you love?  I have made many of these transitions and they have been difficult.  But I have always made them voluntarily.  I could have always gone back.

Like a leaf in the air

Twirling around, detached from the tree you were a part of.

I have friends who have lived this, and are living it.  They have found a new home, have put down some roots.  Yet a part of them is missing in this new place.

12 million. The number of refugees in the world today (according to the IRC).  There are many difficult issues related to this – challenges for host communities, people who abuse the system.  And yet those are 12 million human beings having to live

Like a leaf in the air.

*”Neda Soltani’s life was turned upside down when the international media used her photo instead of that of a student shot dead during a demonstration in Iran.”  You can hear her story on the 1 October 2012 edition of Outlook on BBC World.