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February 26 2014

Mushrooms, France's Latest Food Trend

Comestible? Pas sûr! licence creative commons Pavlinajane sur Flickr

Edible mushroom? Who knows. Pavlinajane on Flickr CC-BY-2.0

[All links lead to French-language websites unless otherwise noted.]

As a result of both the economic crisis and the need to eat healthier, the worldwide trend of eating local products has also gained ground in France, and at the center of the movement is the mushroom.

A Google blog searched returns 708,000 hits for the word “mushroom”, proof of the blogosphere's fascination for the fungus. Cristau de Hauguerne, an early pioneer of the trend, waxes poetic about her affinity for mushrooms: 

Dès que la neige eut fondu, que la pluie cessa et que le soleil put enfin réchauffer les pentes, les cèpes d'été en surprirent plus d'un dans la hêtraie-sapinière. Quelques sujets en prélude fin juin, mais, loin de faiblir, sans l'ombre d'un orage, l'activité mycélienne s'intensifia graduellement dans le courant du mois de juillet, aestivalis entrainant même pinophilus dans sa fureur de vivre. Après deux années d'indigence, au faîte de l'été, de par leur abondance ces cèpes conférèrent finalement aux sous-bois de hêtres l'allure de la grande pousse automnale. 

As soon as the snow had melted, the rain had stopped and the sun had finally warmed up the slopes, the summer porcini mushroom showing up in the beech-fir forest came as a surprise to many. An early smattering appeared towards the end of June, but, with no hint of a storm in sight, mycelial activity thrived and proliferated uninterruptedly, intensifying gradually throughout July, pinophilus kind bringing the aestivais kind with it in its eagerness to spread out. After two years of acclimatization, at the height of summer the abundance of porcini lent the beech woods the appearance of a full autumn flush.

Although the mushroom has had its longstanding enthusiasts, it has recently acquired a more significant status among the general public: like wine or seasonal fruit and veg, it is highly valued both in the mind and on the plate, associated with a better lifestyle and close proximity to local farmers. 

The most recent edition of the magazine We Demain published on 13 February even argued that “mushrooms are the new elixir of life“.

Local vs. imported

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) licence creative commons Kozumel sur Flickr

Shiitake (Lentinula edodes) photo by Kozumel on Flickr CC BY-ND 2.0

However, this movement sometimes contradicts itself. On the one hand, it emphasizes local cultivation, whilst on the other hand, it glamorizes the exotic promise of imported mushrooms. These days, Asian mushrooms, such as shiitake or enokiadorn the shelves of French supermarkets alongside the common or garden variety button mushroom.

Shitake carries all the virtues usually associated with mushrooms: anti-aging and anti-cancer properties, the source of three different B-vitamins, etc. The Réseau Biloba blog expounds on the numerous virtues attributed to this fungus:

Le shiitake est riche en fibres alimentaires; substances qui ne sont pas digérées par l’organisme. La majorité des fibres du shiitake sont sous forme insoluble, fibres qui contribuent particulièrement à maintenir une bonne  fonction intestinale. De plus, une alimentation riche en fibres peut participer à la prévention des maladies cardiovasculaires et du cancer du côlon, ainsi qu’au contrôle du diabète de type 2 et de l’appétit.

Shitake is rich in dietary fibre: substances that are not digested by the organism. The majority of the fibre contained in shitake are insoluble, thus contributing to maintaining a healthy transit. In addition, nutrition that is rich in fibre may help prevent heart disease and cancer of the colon, as well as control of type 2 diabetes and appetite.

So is this mushroom consumption just a fad, a con or a fabulous discovery? Absolutely Green blog published a pertinent post:

A l’origine, on suppose que ce sont les Chinois qui ont découvert ce champignon, il y a plus de 6 000 ans. (…) Et pourtant, ce sont les Japonais (…) qui le diffusèrent à travers l’Asie, à partir du 11ème siècle. Plus qu’un aliment, le shiitake était envisagé comme une sorte de végétal miracle, augmentant la longévité, améliorant vigueur sexuelle et endurance physique. Encore de nos jours, cette réputation lui colle à la peau et fait débat. 

En comparaison, les Occidentaux se sont initiés tardivement à cette culture : il a fallu attendre les années 1970, alors que les Etats-Unis décrétaient un embargo sur les champignons vivants en provenance d’Asie, pour que des producteurs s’y attèlent. Et, encore de nos jours, les Européens restent frileux : quelques initiatives en Hollande et en France se comptent sur les doigts de la main.

It is thought that this mushroom was first discovered in China more than 6,000 years ago. But the Japanese are responsible for its propagation throughout Asia, from the 11th century onward. Far more than a mere aliment, shitake was considered to be a sort of herbal miracle, promoting longevity, improving sexual performance and physical endurance. To this day, it is stuck with this much-debated reputation. 

Westerners, in comparison, were introduced to this culture much later: It wasn't until the 1970s when the United States placed an embargo on live mushrooms imported from Asia, that production really took off. Even today, Europeans are still hesitant and there are only a handful of ventures in Holland and France.

Note that shitake does not come cheap, as demonstrated in the detailed comparative study published by Virginie on the same blog post. Nonetheless, for those who have had the chance to taste it, shitake is particularly tasty, especially if simply sauteed with a splash of olive oil and a dash of salt and pepper.

The art of picking and preparing mushrooms

Cèpe de Bordeaux

Boletus edulis – Cèpe of Bordeaux. Photo by caitphil on Flickr – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Closer to home, there are many mushrooms within reach for any would-be hunters. Hunting for chanterelles, morels and Bordeaux porcini belongs to the same back-to-earth, back-to-basics movement as the pursuit of shitake's benefits.

The occasionally hunter, however, would be well advised to read up on the subject in order to avoid great or even disastrous inconvenience. According to the Ministry of Health, 546 cases of mushroom poisoning were registered in 2013. Pickers must also beware of the areas they forage in, which are sometimes regulated.

Furthermore, mushrooms are known for their surprising capacity to concentrate environmental pollution, explained in this French-language video: 

Hand-picked wild mushrooms become the centerpiece of a meal for guests, and can be prepared in a large variety of ways, ranging from the very simple to the very complicated. In her blog Papilles et pupilles, Anne shares the quintessence of the Bordeaux porcini:

C’est le roi des champignons locaux, à côté de lui nul n’est à la hauteur. (…) Les coins à champignon comptent parmi les secrets les mieux gardés que l’on ne partage que sur son lit de mort. 

No other mushrooms can compare to this one, it is the king of all local mushrooms. The best mushroom spots are among the most fiercely guarded secrets, shared only on one's deathbed.

Top chefs recommend scores of recipes for wild mushrooms. From cream of morel and white mushrooms to pig trotter pancake with shallots and black truffle, there is something for all tastes, for vegetarians and omnivores alike.

Here is a simple recipe for raw porcini from a famous chef: 

The chef explains the process as follows:  

Separate the heads from the tails of the porcini and chop into fine slices.
Put the chopped porcini in a bowl and season with olive oil.
Add salt, pepper, olive oil, lemon juice, and if you have it, truffle juice. DO NOT use truffle oil.  
Add the basil leaves and stir. The salad should be bright.
Season with salt, pepper and olive oil.

For Cristau de Hueauguerne, one burning question remains, even in the middle of winter:

Alors que nous sommes rendus au milieu d'un hiver méconnaissable, se dessine en sous-sol la future saison des champignons, qui ne connaît pas de trêve, et, quoi que cela s'avère fort difficile et hasardeux, nous sommes déjà nombreux à nous demander quelle sera la teneur du millésime 2014. 

Whilst we are in the middle of a unprecedented winter, the next mushroom season is taking shape in the subsoil, and even though this may seem risky or even rash, many of us are wondering what the 2014 millesime (year of harvest)  has in store.

Lahore Brigade Working To Solve Civic Problems

The first meetup of the Lahore Brigade members took place on Sunday, 23 February, in Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS). The brigade consists of civic hackers – software developers, designers, urban mappers who will be working to solve civic problems in Pakistan. Code for Pakistan and Technology for People Initiative partnered to launch the Lahore Brigade.

Code For Pakistan blog reports:

All the attendees introduced themselves and also proposed potential solutions to civic problems, pertaining to the areas of health, transportation, education, and governance. Some of the participants expressed interest in some of the projects that had been created at the Lahore Civic Hackathon. The ideas were all captured, followed by a rigorous discussion of them. A couple of Brigade Project Mentors were also present and they, like everyone else, expressed their interest in certain ideas. 6 promising project ideas or areas were agreed upon by the group.

Here is a collection of Tweets on the first meetup. According to the Appjuice, the group will be meeting every two weeks.

February 25 2014

Trinidad & Tobago: The Truth of J'ouvert

In anticipation of her J'ouvert experience at this year's Trinidad and Tobago Carnival, Tillah Willah explores why the opening of the festival holds so many truths for her.

February 23 2014

Not All Bad, Talking Korean Plastic Surgery from Biz Perspective

There have been mounting criticisms on both local and international media's coverage of rampant plastic surgeries in South Korea; many reports are highly sensational, describing how reckless and ignorant plastic surgery patients are (focused on females ones rather than male) and have successfully generated numerous crass jokes and harsh comments not only about patients, but also about the country as a whole. Wangkon936′s post in Marmot's Hole blog leads readers to drop the narrow ‘good’ and ‘bad’ value position and approach the issue from a purely business perspective. Some of the highlights are: 

When it comes to South Korea, much of the press is negative and borders on reporting mostly on the strange and/or weird such as the so-called “tower of jaw bones”[...] However, is it all bad? If we are to take perhaps subjective values out of the equation and just look at economic impact, then is this all “bad,” per se? From an economic and business perspective, Korea’s highly demanding aesthetics culture is creating an expertise, technology and infrastructure base [...]

February 21 2014

Developing Latin America: Winners of the Regional Acceleration Event

dal2013-2
Last year's Developing Latin America event evolved through several segments according to individual schedules for each of the 12 participating countries. The first segment was called the Apps Challenge, during which everybody had different activities such as conferences, hackathons, presentations of projects and other events throughout the month of October, ending the segment on 26 October with Demo Day [es].

The next segment was called Regional Acceleration. The 34 national winners resulting from the evaluations from Demo Day, who had a month to improve their apps, had the option of applying for this segment which consisted of building up the applications that had been developed with the help of Socialab, [click lower left corner for English] an organization specializing in supporting these enterprises.

After the period of nominations and evaluation by the jury, the six winners of the Regional Acceleration were announced on January 10, three in the form of in person presentations (in Santiago, Chile), and three remotely. They will receive Socialab support for three months.

The in-person Acceleration winners were:

Ayni [es] from Ecuador. “A web and mobile application that can geographically identify computer parts. It allows people to upload computer parts they are not using and generate a map of reusable parts. This map will be used by collectors (public or private entities) for faster recycling and clearer identification of each part.”

Dromos [es] from Ecuador. “Dromos is not just a transportation app. Dromos focuses on the landmarks of a city rather than routes. Using metadata tags to define each landmark it is possible to include criminalistics and tourist attractions, among other features. By not depending on the routes, we suggest intelligent alternatives estimating mobilization times, detours, safety and prices with a visually appealing app.”

Bizu Buzú [es] from Brazil. “Mobile application that offers a professional study plan focused on the skill the user wants to develop, taking advantage of free time on the trip to and from work, providing content in multimedia format so that the experience best fits one’s path of travel. These studies will be like a game and users accumulate points (Bizús) with which to establish a ranking.”

The remote Acceleration winners were:

Conciliador Virtual [Virtual Mediator] [es] from Brazil. “Our application will put interested parties in contact in order to reach a solution to their problems through a real mediator, as well as a real mediating session. In the end, the system will generate a signed and sealed contract.”

Tu Primer Trabajo [Your First Job] [es] from Argentina. “A game that allows young people to go through the experience of a job interview, get and then keep a job. The ability to advance in the game will be subject to the participant being able to correctly respond to questions about situations that could occur in the future. It also includes useful advice.”

Wedoo [es] from Chile. “Wedoo is a platform that seeks to promote the initiatives of NGOs and the laws that arise from them or that they hope to create. An NGO will be be able to not only publish an initiative (with its associated laws) and spread it via social networks, but may also, depending on the timing, encourage and coordinate specific actions by its members to boost their reach and influence.”

Given that two Ecuadorian apps took two out of three places in the in-person Regional Acceleration, there were various reactions from that country. For example, Fundapi, the the partner organization for Developing Latin America Ecuador, was among the first to congratulate them:

Congratulations to the Ayni and Dromos teams, who are the winners of the in-person Regional Acceleration

While the Center for Entrepreneurship at the Polytechnic School of the Coast (ESPOL in Spanish) commented [es]:

Felicitamos de forma especial a los ganadores de este concurso, ensalzando no sólo su potencial y talento sino de todos los ecuatorianos. Son un orgullo para nuestro país y para la ESPOL, siendo algunos de ellos ex-alumnos de nuestra institución.

We especially congratulate the winners of this contest, extolling not only their potential and talent but of all Ecuadorians. They make our country and EPSOL proud, since some of them are alumni of our institution.

Afterwards, ECStartups [es] organized a Hangout with the members of the Ayni group, headed by Luis Bajaña, and Dromos, led by Jorge Domínguez, José Espinoza and David Chang.

The Remote Acceleration starts this month, in February, and ends in April. During this time, Socialab will train the winning teams on topics such as Lean Startup, Business Model Canvas, Design Thinking, etc., and will give them the tools to measure the social impact.

In the case of the in-person Acceleration, which will start in March and end in May, apart from the training mentioned above, the teams will participate in an activity of co-creation “on the ground” with potential users and/or customers. They will also carry out their communication and financial plans, and seek funding for the sustainability of their projects. This is besides, of course, the prize of US $10,000 per team.

In conclusion, here’s a video summary of the Apps Challenge for Developing Latin America 2013:

Other related posts:

2011
Desarrollando América Latina – 30 horas de tecnología y sociedad [es]
Developing Latin America Open Data Project

2012
Developing Latin America 2012
Developing Latin America Draws Near
Day 1 of Developing Latin America 2012
Day 2 of Developing Latin American 2012
Winning Applications from Latin America's Biggest Hackathon

2013

Developing Latin America 2013: Apps Challenge for Social Impact
This Weekend at Developing Latin America Apps Challenge Part I
This Weekend at Developing Latin America Apps Challenge Part II
¡DemoDay en Desarrollando América Latina! [es]

Post originally published in Juan Arellano's blog Globalizado [es].

Interview With Fula-Language Blogger Balde Mamadou Tafsir for Mother Language Day

Fula is the language of the Fula (Fulani) people. Few African ethnic groups exhibit such a wide range of political and economic integration in the West African region. Fula people number among Africa's greatest writers, professors, filmmakers, artists, politicians, and businessmen. Yet Fula nomads, representing the largest migratory ethnic group in the world, live in extremely precarious conditions as they travel with their livestock in the Sahel savannah. They are called Fulɓe (singular Pullo) in the Fula language, Fula or Fulani in English, and peul in French. The geographic distribution of the population extends from West Africa to Central and East Africa.

The Fula language varies significantly between countries:

Le peul, ou peulh ou fulfulde, ou pularpulaar, est une langue parlée dans une vingtaine d’États d’Afrique occidentale et centrale, des rives du Sénégal à celles du Nil. C'est la langue maternelle des ethnies peules, et aussi une langue seconde employée régionalement comme langue véhiculaire, par d'autres ethnies.

Fula (also known as peulh, fulfulde, pular, or pulaar) is a language spoken in some twenty West and Central African countries, from the banks of the Senegal to those of the Nile. It is the native language of ethnic Fulas and is also spoken as a second language and lingua franca by members of other ethnic groups.

Unfortunately, this language, despite being taught in several universities outside of Africa, is rarely taught in school systems on the continent.

African culture and languages researcher Balde Mamadou Tafsir writes two blogs in Fula, his native language. For the first, Misiide [ful], he uses the Latin alphabet, and for the second, tafsirexpress.blogspot.com [ful], he posts using the Arabic alphabet. His goal is to promote all facets of Fula language and culture. For International Mother Language Day, a UNESCO initiative celebrated every February 21st since 2000, he agreed to answer a few questions for Global Voices.

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

Balde Tasfir facebook photo profile with his permission

What do you think of International Mother Language Day?

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): C’est un moment de partage de joie, de satisfaction, de se sentir intégré dans la diversité culturelle. En ma qualité de développeur web de langues et cultures africaines je considère la Journée Internationale de la Langue Maternelle comme une merveilleuse occasion de maintenir ce noble objectif.

Je pense qu’il faut soutenir la résolution de L’UNESCO [ résolution 37 adoptée en 1999 par  la Conférence générale de cette institution du système des Nations Unies basée à Paris] qui affirme cette reconnaissance de la diversité culturelle de par le monde, cette journée nous encourage à multiplier nos efforts dans le développement de nos langues nationales.

Balde Mamadou Tafsir (BMT): It's an occasion to share joy and satisfaction, to feel integrated in cultural diversity. As a web developer working on African languages and cultures, I consider International Mother Language Day to be a wonderful occasion to further this important objective.
I think we need to support the UNESCO resolution [resolution 37 adopted in 1999 by UNESCO's General Conference of the United Nations System in Paris], which reaffirms recognition of cultural diversity throughout the world. This day encourages us to redouble our efforts in the development of our national languages.

What do you blog about?

BMT: Je blog le plus souvent sur la culture, les langues africaines, tout comme sur les activités socioculturelles.

I blog mainly about African culture and languages, as well as social and cultural activities. 

What do you find gratifying about blogging?

BMT: Tout d’abord, ça me rassure que bon nombre de mes lecteurs apprécient mes billets, mais aussi les questions/thèmes que j’aborde sur mes blogs. Ça m’encourage à plus écrire dans ces domaines.

First of all, it's reassuring that a good number of readers appreciate my posts, as well as the questions and themes that I bring up on my blogs. That encourages me to write more on these subjects.

What have you been working on since starting the blog Misiide?

BMT: Quelque mois après sa création, Misiide a lancé une version en arabe du blog pour ses lecteurs utilisant les caractères arabes. Tout récemment,  j’ai enregistré un album de poèmes poular (ou peul) qui sortira bientôt. Actuellement, je travaille sur la traduction des logiciels en peul. J’ai aussi traduit pas mal de livres en poular comme j’ai réalisé un petit lexique (poular-français, français-poular, et poular-arabe). D’autres projets sont en route.

A few months after its creation, Misiide launched an Arabic version for its readers who use the Arabic alphabet. Just recently, I recorded an album of Fula language poems, which will be released soon. I'm currently working on translating software into Fula. I've translated quite a few books into Fula and have also created a little glossary (Fula-French, French-Fula, and Fula-Arabic.) Other projects are on their way.

What kinds of difficulties do you come across?

BMT: Ce sont entre autres les mêmes difficultés que rencontrent nombre de bloggeurs à savoir : Problèmes financiers et techniques, l’entretien du blog… Sauf que nous avons plus de difficultés que celui qui blogue dans une des langues les plus utilisées, qui ont facilement accès au web. En outre quant à nous bloggeurs en langues africaines, le nombre de nos lecteurs est rès limités par rapport aux bloggeurs dans les langues les plus courantes. 

For the most part, I encounter the same difficulties as other bloggers, such as financial and technical problems and blog maintenance issues. However, we face more difficulties than bloggers who write in more widely spoken languages and who have easy access to the internet. Plus, African language bloggers have a very limited number of readers compared to bloggers in more common languages.

What do you think about teaching native languages in the school system?

BMT: L’enseignement des langues nationales dans le système scolaire mérite d’être encourager comme stratégie pour une amélioration de la réussite des élèves. Car elle joue un grand rôle dans la formation et l’affirmation de l’identité culturelle des individus, par conséquent leur valeur comme instruments de communication.

D’après les études, notamment celles menées conjointement par l’UNESCO et l’UNICEF, les élèves des pays où la langue maternelle est aussi la langue d’enseignement, surpassent les autres dans la plupart des secteurs d’étude.

Teaching national languages in the school system should be encouraged as a strategy for improving students’ success. It plays an important role in the formation and affirmation of individuals’ cultural identity, and, therefore, has value as a means of communication.
According to research studies, especially those conducted jointly by UNESCO and UNICEF, students who are taught in their native language outperform other students in a majority of subjects.

What are the results of mother tongue education in schools in Guinea?

BMT: La Guinée a mené une expérience originale dans l’enseignement des langues nationales a l’école ; comparativement aux autres pays de la sous région, mais elle a obtenu des résultats critiques et peu déterminants, dont le plus important a été la baisse du niveau des élèves dans les langues d'importance mondiale (arabe, français, anglais).

Compared to other countries in the subregion, Guinea has led an original experiment in teaching national languages at school. But Guinea has seen disappointing and inconclusive results, most importantly a decline in students’ performance in major world languages (Arabic, French, and English).

What caused this failure?

BMT: A mon avis, cet échec est dû au manque de préparation de l’opération, mais aussi au fait que les langues nationales étudiées à l’école étaient trop nombreuses par rapport à un petit pays comme la Guinée. Sans oublier le manque de motivation de parts et d'autres (enseignants, élève et parents d’élèves).

In my opinion, this failure is due to a lack of preparation for the undertaking, but also to the fact that the national languages studied in schools are too numerous for a small country like Guinea. Not to mention the lack of motivation of the various parties (teachers, students, and parents).

At what age do you think mother tongue education should begin?

BMT: Les études nous ont toujours démontré que l’introduction des langues nationales dans l’enseignement permet incontestablement d’obtenir une plus grande scolarisation des enfants de bons résultats scolaires. Cependant, la scolarisation en langues nationales doit absolument commencée dès les premières années de l’école.

Studies have always shown that the introduction of national languages in education unquestionably allows children to perform better in school. However, mother tongue education absolutely must begin in the first years of school.

Do you use your native language every day? In what context?

BMT: Oui ! Cela dépend de mes activités journalières, mais étant un étranger dans le pays ou je vie, l’utilisation de ma langue se focalise le plus souvent sur les moyens de communications (téléphone, internet…).

Yes! That depends on my daily activities, but as a foreigner in the country I live in, the use of my native language mainly revolves around means of communication (telephone, internet…).

What do you predict for the future of your language?

BMT: En se basant sur les différents travaux réalisés pour cette langue afin qu’elle soit plus intégrée dans la vie publique en général me rassure que celle-ci sera un jour l’une des langues de science et de technique.

Judging from the various projects undertaken to better integrate this language in public life, I generally feel reassured that one day it will become one of the languages of science and technology.

Anything else you would like to add?

BMT: Je profite de cette occasion pour saluer la résolution de l’UNESCO qui affirme que la reconnaissance et le respect pour la diversité culturelle dans le domaine du langage inspirent une solidarité basée sur la compréhension, la tolérance et le dialogue, et que toute action qui favorise l’utilisation des langues maternelles sert non seulement à encourager la diversité linguistique et l’éducation multilingue. Cette résolution, vise aussi à sensibiliser davantage à la multiplicité des traditions linguistiques et culturelles dans le monde.

Je lance un appel a tous mes amis bloggeurs à travers le monde, à s’associer à cette Journée pour prendre part à cette journée pour bloguer dans les langues nationales parce que nos langues sont  menacées d’extinction.

I'll take this opportunity to acknowledge the UNESCO resolution, which affirms that recognition and respect for cultural diversity in language inspire solidarity based on comprehension, tolerance, and dialogue. This resolution advocates that any action promoting the use of native languages should serve not only to encourage linguistic diversity and multilingual education, but also to increase sensitivity to the multiplicity of linguistic and cultural traditions in the world.
I urge all my blogger friends across the world to take part in this day by blogging in their native languages, because our languages are at risk of extinction.

 

February 20 2014

Recap of the Blog Carnival ‘Do You Love the Internet?’

logofest2

[All links lead to Spanish language pages.]

As we announced a few days ago, the moment has arrived to present the results of our Blog Carnival, this time a whirlwind event of only five days. The theme was I Love the Internet, and how to express this idea was left up to the imagination and creativity of the participating bloggers. The idea emerged in support of the online campaign #YoAmoInternet (I love the Internet).

So let's see what our blogger friends had to say. We'll start with Milton Ramirez, an Ecuadorian living in New York, who posted on Geek's Room that “at first it seems like a grammatical mistake” to talk about loving the Internet, since love is normally something that occurs only between people. But he later explains that “the point is to value the uses of the Web. Express your gratitude in the context of Valentine's Day for the benefits that the Internet offers you.” Finally, he concludes:

Amo el internet porque sin él no estuvieran leyendo estas líneas y porque nos ha servido para conocer millones de personas en miles de áreas. No más expertos y no más restricciones sobre la información.

I love the Internet because without it, you wouldn't be reading these lines, and because it has enabled us to meet millions of people in thousands of places. No more experts and no more restrictions on information.

Ángeles Estrada of Nicaragua, posting from France on her Blog de Ángeles, begins her post with the comment: “It seemed funny to think of the Internet fondly. Like that… with affection everywhere for the day of love and friendship.” After telling us about her journey on the internet, she confesses why she loves it:

Internet me ha dado otra vida. Una vida virtual que se adiciona a mi vida real y suma, llena y complementa. Abre puertas a mi curiosidad y apacigua la inquietud de mi espíritu inquieto, explorador, aventurero, quizás vagabundo. Mi vida hoy es una fusión entre lo real y lo virtual, intima y durable. Una simbiosis perfecta, hongo y árbol.

The Internet has given me another life. A virtual life in addition to my real life, which adds to it, fills it, and complements it. It opens doors to my curiosity and calms the restlessness of my inquisitive, exploring, adventurous, and sometimes vagabond spirit. My life today is a fusion of the real and the virtual, intimate and durable. A perfect symbiosis, like a fungus living on a tree.

Nscap, ciudadana del mundo (2.0) is the blog of Isabel Garnica of Spain, living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She gets straight to the point, stating:

Yo Amo Internet porque: aprendo, enseño, trabajo, comparto mi trabajo, viajo, blogueo, juego, hago amigos, conozco personas, porque #InternetCambiaTodo, porque me siendo una ciudadana global, reivindico derechos, difunde proyectos sociales, nos empodera como ciudadanos, ayuda a caer dictadores, por muchas muchas muchas más razones… y sobretodo porque me permite soñar un mundo mejor.

I Love the Internet because: I learn, teach, work, share my work, travel, blog, play, make friends, meet people, because #InternetCambiaTodo [the Internet Changes Everything], because it makes me feel like a citizen of the world, because it enables us to defend rights and share social projects, because it empowers us as citizens, helps bring down dictators, and for many, many, many more reasons… and above all, because it allows me to dream of a better world.

Gabriela García Calderón writes her blog Seis de enero from Lima, Peru. She reminds us of what it was like when communication took place via letters written on paper, and how things have evolved thanks to the Internet:

¿Por qué amo internet? Porque nos comunica, nos conecta, nos contacta, nos acerca y más con apenas un clic. Y porque además permite que la magia del correo real siga existiendo, espero que por mucho tiempo.

Why do I love the Internet? Because it links us, connects us, puts us in contact, brings us together, and more, with just a click. And because, for that matter, it allows the magic of regular mail to continue existing, hopefully for a long time.

On the blog Creatividad Rezumante, Alicia Cortés of Extremadura, Spain describes her love for the Internet in an inspired poem:

Internet, te amo
por tí navegaría
toda la noche y el día
prendida a tu mano…

Volaría sin tiempo
en tus redes de viento

Internet, I love you
I'd surf with you
All night and all day
Hand in hand
I'd fly, timeless
On the winds of your networks

On her blog Veo y escribo, Daniela Gallardo, of Loja, Ecuador, tells us about her typical day on the internet and her favorite sites to visit, but first gets honest:

Debo amarlo demasiado para dedicarle un post (algo que ni siquiera lo he hecho con mi novio) por San Valentin. La verdad es que #YoAmoInternet porque, básica y sencillamente, me tiene conectada al mundo. Es fascinante si no lo llevamos al extremo, claro.

I must love it too much, if I'm dedicating a Valentine's Day post to it (which I haven't even done for my boyfriend). The truth is that I love the internet because, plain and simple, it keeps me connected with the world. It's fascinating, if we don't take it to the extreme, of course.

Gina Yauri, also of Loja, tells us about her relationship with the Internet in her blog Ximealito, concluding:

Internet es un mundo de información abierto que tiene varias puertas, solo debes saber cómo utilizarlas y bajo tu responsabilidad sabrás llevar una vida plena con una pasión por el internet.

The Internet is an open world of information that has various doors. You just need to know how to use them responsibly, and you'll be able to live a full life with a passion for the Internet.

Iván Mejía, blogger of Tantas Cosas, writes a letter recounting his history with the Internet and reflects:

A veces de tan cotidiano parece difícil procurarle amor al internet, como la electricidad el internet ( o será la internet?) pareciera algo que solo se aprecia cuando se va.

 Sometimes it seems difficult to feel love for the Internet, since it's an everyday thing. Like electricity, the Internet seems like something that only gets appreciated once it's gone.

Israel Rosas of Mexico also writes a letter to the Internet on his self-titled blog:

Dicen que ya no eres aquella a quien solíamos conocer, que los ataques te han hecho cambiar y que las cosas ya no serán como antes. Hoy te escribo convencido de que mantienes esa naturaleza abierta e innovadora con la cual te conocí y que tanto me gusta.

They say that you're no longer who I used to know, that people's attacks have made you change, and that things can't go back to the way they were before. Today I'm writing to you convinced that you still have that open and innovative nature that you had when I met you and that I like so much.

Writing her blog Cosas del Alma from her native Medellín, Colombia, Catalina Restrepo lists the reasons why she likes the Internet, from access to information to sharing with others, and then declares:

a usar internet. A usarlo bien. El problema no es la herramienta, si no su uso. Y es uno el que decide lo que hace con lo que le dan. Creo que yo lo usé para encontrarme con el mundo.

Use the Internet. Use it well. The problem is not the tool, but the way it is used. And it's the individual who decides what to do with what they are given. I think that I used it to meet up with the world.

Madame Web, from the Colombian city of Pasto, writes the blog La lógica de mi Papá. She tells us that this isn't the first time that she's going public about her love for the Internet, but adds:

Debo decir que este amor ya no es el mismo que al principio, ha ido cambiando a medida que la red ha crecido y como en toda relación ahora hay cosas que, pequeños detalles, me molestan…como la propagación de virus, spam y troyanos…pero es algo inevitable, aunque tomando las medidas correctas se pueden prevenir estos males y otros relacionados con la seguridad online. [...] Ahí les dejo esa inquietud, ¿Qué tan buenos usuarios somos?

I have to say that this love isn't the same as it was at the beginning. It has changed as the Internet has grown, and like in any relationship, there are now things, little details, that bother me… like the spread of viruses, spam, and Trojans… but it's inevitable, though you can prevent these and other problems by taking appropriate measures with online security. [...] So I'll leave you with this concern: As users, how good are we?

The people of the Mexican collective blog Sursiendo explain the Internet and why we should love it:

Internet es lo que queramos que sea, por eso lo amamos, porque en nuestras manos  (mentes, corazones…) está darle forma y comprometerse con él/ella(ello), para que no desaparezca, no lo mutilen, no lo neutralicen, no lo desvirtúen o no lo controlen. No lo dejemos en otras manos. Amemos Internet.

The Internet is what we want it to be. That's why we love it. Because in our hands (minds, hearts) lies the responsibility to give it form and commit to it, so that it doesn't disappear or get mutilated, neutralized, distorted, or controlled. Let's not leave it in the wrong hands. Let's love the Internet.

José del Sol writes Buscando el optimismo from Irún, Spain. He recounts how at first it was love at first sight, but now:

De vez en cuando reflexionamos sobre cómo hemos evolucionado. Mis kilos siguen ahí, no como mi pelo, y ella ya no es aquel mundo inocente e ilusionado de cuando nos conocimos. A veces fría y comercial -hay que vivir-, otras enfrascada en luchas políticas, los dos tememos qué le pueda llegar a pasar. Últimamente ha crecido el peligro de que de artesana autónoma pase a ser funcionaria sin identidad de un estado policial o empresaria libertaria sin respeto por la privacidad de nadie. No sabemos qué camino seguirá, pero como con una persona, creo que no podré abandonarla a su suerte.

From time to time we reflect on how we have changed. My extra pounds are still here, unlike my hair, and she [the Internet] is no longer the innocent and hopeful world that she was when we met. Sometimes she's cold and commercial – one must survive – and other times she's caught up in political fights. We both fear what might happen. Lately the fear is growing that she might transform from an independent artist into a faceless servant of a political state or a libertarian business with no respect for anyone's privacy. We don't know which path she will follow, but like with a person, I don't think I could abandon her to her fate.

Mexican activist Jesús Robles Maloof explains his position in a post on his blog:

Defenderé un internet libre porque me ha permitido conectarme con otros y luchar por la libertad de las personas. [...] No me imagino su libertad sin internet y en este sentido amo a internet. La vigilancia masiva de la red amenaza esta capacidad de movilización al dar a los gobiernos la posibilidad de anticiparse.

I will defend a free Internet because it has allowed me to connect with others and fight for people's liberty. [...] I can't imagine their liberty without the Internet, and in this sense, I love the Internet. The massive network surveillance threatens this capacity for mobilization by giving governments the opportunity to forestall action.

Bolívar Loján Fierro writes the blog Ni lo uno ni lo otro, más bien todo lo contrario from Loja, Ecuador. He tells us about the procedure that was necessary to make a phone call 40 years ago and compares it with the immediacy of modern tools like Skype. In a science fiction plot twist, his last paragraph is written from the year 2020:

Estoy a mis 72 años liderando en el mundo una campaña de “Derecho a la privacidad”, mi compañera llamada “Internet”, en una pequeña pelea que tuvimos colocó mis datos a disposición del mundo. Me birlaron lo poco de mis ahorros y de privacidad. Me fui a vivir en la montaña, donde queda un poco de agua, elemento vital que perdimos mientras todos estábamos sentados asumiendo que el mundo se podía construir desde un teclado, cosas táctiles y realidades aumentadas. “Amo a internet”, era mi grito de guerra, ahora es “Amo a mi privacidad”, mientras los analfabetas digitales que viven en el campo felices con sus sementeras y ancestros en la ciudad andan como locos buscando algo que llaman comida virtual. Ya la privacidad poco importa.

I'm 72 years old, leading a campaign called “The Right to Privacy.” During a fight we had, my companion, named “Internet,” posted all my information for the world to see. My meager savings and privacy were stolen. I went to live in the mountains where there was a little water left, a vital element that we had lost while we were all sitting around assuming that the world could be constructed via keyboards, touch screens, and augmented realities. “I love the Internet” was my war cry. Now it's “I love my privacy,” like the digital illiterates who live in the countryside happy with their crop fields, while their ancestors in the city run around like crazy people looking for something that they call virtual food. And privacy matters little.

So, although the Carnical was only 5 days in length, we were pleased to see that various bloggers participated. We recommend following the links in each participating post so that you can read the bloggers’ full opinions. I would like to express my deep and sincere gratitude (and that of Global Voices en Español) to all the bloggers for their effort and dedication in contributing their valuable time to this initiative.

And, of course, Happy Valentine's Day!

February 19 2014

The President That Could Not Stand His “Stan”

President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbaev wants to rename his country Kazak Yeli (Kazakh People), dropping a “stan” suffix synonymous with obscurity, human rights abuses, post-Soviet corruption and Borat. 

According to the “Leader of the Nation”, one of the many titles the 22-year president has had bestowed on him by a pliant political elite, such a shift will change international perceptions of the country and distance it from its poorer, less secure stan-ending neighbors.

During a working visit to Atyrau last week, the president was quoted as saying [ru]: 

В названии нашей страны есть окончание «стан», как и у других государств Центральной Азии. В то же время иностранцы проявляют интерес к Монголии, население которой составляет всего два миллиона человек, при этом в ее названии отсутствует окончание «стан». Возможно, надо рассмотреть со временем вопрос перехода на название нашей страны «Қазақ елі», но прежде следует обязательно обсудить это с народом

In our country's name, there is this ‘stan’ ending which other Central Asian nations have as well. But, for instance, foreigners show interest in Mongolia, whose population is just two million people, but whose name lacks the ‘stan’ ending. Probably, we ought to consider with time the issue of adopting Kazak Yeli as the name of our country, but before that, we definitely need to discuss this with the people.

But discussing things with the people is not Nazarbayev's speciality. In June Last year Global Voices reported on an innovative online reaction to state attempts to increase the pension age for women, a move that came as a nasty shock to female citizens. Last week the country announced a 19% devaluation in its national currency, the tenge – another unpleasant surprise to the average Kazakhstani. Small protests against the devaluation have resulted in arrests.

Changing to Kazakh Eli on the stamps will certainly cost money.  Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was before.

Changing “Kazakhstan” to “Kazakh Eli” on postage stamps will certainly cost public money. Moreover, in light of Kazakhstan's recent decision to devalue the national currency, the stamp will be worth less than it was previously (Wiki Commons).

Territorially Central Asia's largest republic, Kazakhstan is rich in oil. The country has consistently been the subject of human rights organizations’ criticisms, with Human Rights Watch recently accusing president Nursultan Nazarbaev’s regime of torture, censorship, and the persecution of political opponents. (Less serious accusations may now emerge from Mongolia, a country Kazakhstan almost borders, and one whose population is actually closer to 3 million people than 2 million.)

Nazarbayev has spent a sizable cut of the country's oil wealth on improving the country's image, especially in the wake of the 2006 release of British-American mockumentary/comedy Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan. The movie, which was filmed in Romania, enjoyed massive commercial success in the West, portraying Kazakhstan as a country where people drink horse urine and where national pastimes include rape, incest and shooting dogs. The film also highlighted the republic's sibling rivalry with another notorious stan, Uzbekistan. One of Kazakhstan's most famous image-makers has been former British Prime Minister Tony Blair

A done deal?

To listen to politicians in the country's weak parliament, one might think the “Kazak Yeli” public discussion referenced by Nazarbayev had already taken place. One MP in the Kazakh Majlis, Jumatay Aliev, said [ru] the president and the people's voice were one: 

 Если что-то президент говорит, он опирается уже на сложившееся мнение. Народ этого хочет, и мы должны идти к этому, иначе нельзя. Это желание народа.

If president says something, he bases on the existing opinion of people…People want it, and we need to move to that direction, otherwise it is impossible. This is the will of people.

Commenting under the article quoting Aliev, kzp-astn begged to differ [ru]:

Откуда вы берете это – “Народ этого хочет”? Кого то конкретно спрашивали? Меня, тебя, твоих родителей, братьев, сестер, может кого то из ваших коллег? Может сосед ваш пришел и сказал, мое мнение спросили я ответил что согласен! Лично я против переименования, и все мои знакомые тоже против!

Where do you get this – “People want it”? Did they ask anybody specifically? Me, you, your parents, brothers, sisters, maybe some of your colleagues?  Perhaps, your neighbor came and said he had been asked for an opinion and had agreed! I personally am against renaming, and all my acquaintances are as well!

Another user of popular Russian-language social network VKontakte Artur Pilipets, tried [ru] to get a feel for the suggested name:

-Откуда ты?
-С Казах ели.
-Где это???
-В Казахстане.

- Where are you from?

- From Kazak Yeli.

- Where is it???

- In Kazakhstan.

While regional commentator @randomdijit tweeted mischievously:

@pashab05 went further, offering new names for Uzbekistan, based on the stage name for President Islam Karimov's pop star daughter, and Kyrgyzstan, based on the country's Manas epos:

Humor aside, the re-brand proposal earned a mixed reaction from the person on the street when Radio Free Europe's Kazakh service  began Nazarbayev's promised public discussion on the dictator's behalf. Some people saw the need to dump “stan” but didn't think Kazak Yeli had much of a ring, while a Russian-speaking citizen objected to Kazak Yeli on the grounds that it further emphasized one nationality in this multinational Central Asian state.

Mostly, support for the change has come from patriots who see it as an opportunity to make a clean brake from the Soviet Union. One netizen, Саят (Sayat) led the rallying cry [kz]:

Шет елдіктер Стан дегенін талай естігенім бар. Қашанғы Стан боламыз , ойланайық ағайын . Алға Қазақ елі!

I heard many times foreigners calling us Stan. For how long shall we remain Stan, let us come to our senses, gentlemen. Forward, Kazakh people [Kazak Yeli]!

This post is part of the GV Central Asia Interns Project at the American University of Central Asia in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan.

February 18 2014

SmartNomination, a Counter to the Binge Drinking Game Neknomination

The online drinking game Neknomination that promotes binge drinking for teenagers has outraged many people around the world. Neknomination asks participants to film themselves drinking an alcoholic beverage in one gulp, upload the footage to the web and nominate others to do the same. Julien Voinson, a young frenchman from Bordeaux, decided to counter the drinking game with a more positive initiative called SmartNomination [fr]. The idea is to film oneself doing charity work and then nominate a friend to do the same. Created on February 12, the facebook page has already close to 9,000 likes. In the following video,  Voinson explains the details of his project  [fr]:

Olympics Overshadow Evictions in Tokyo

反五輪の会のフェイスブックページに投稿された写真。ロシア政府は、19世紀にアレクサンドル2世によってチェルケシア人口のおよそ90パーセントが殺害されたか土地を追われたチェルケシア虐殺についていまだ認めていない。

Photos of an anti-Olympics group in Tokyo posted on Facebook. Banners show messages of opposition to holding the Sochi Olympics on the land of genocide and the 2020 Olympics in Japan. (photo by 反五輪の会[han-gorin-no-kai] used with permission)

[All links lead to Japanese-language pages unless otherwise noted.]

While many people in Japan are happy with the country's results of the Sochi Winter Olympics – notably, Ayumu Hirano, the youngest medal winner on the snowboard half pipe and Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's first Olympic gold in men's figure skating, just to name a few – there are some who are speaking out against the Olympics, present and future.

Given some tens of billions of dollars are used to host the international sporting event, the Olympics are never without criticism. At the opening ceremony for the Sochi Olympics, courtesy of the so called “anti-gay propaganda” law that Russia passed last year, the US President Barack Obama, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those absent [en]. Human Rights Watch has been urging the International Olympics Committee [en] to investigate over non-payment of compensations for construction workers for Sochi game-related facilities. Animal rights groups are anxious that the stray dogs swept out of Sochi would be killed [en]. 

But Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended. Yuji Kitamaru, a Japanese columnist in New York, referred to the lack of human rights awareness in not just the leader, but its citizen:

The reason why all the European leaders being absent at the Sochi Olympics opening ceremony was because of an overwhelming domestic pressure to increase pressure on Russia, rather than the leaders themselves putting pressure on Russia. This is domestic politics rather than a diplomatic move. Abe was able to attend not just because of his lack of awareness of human rights, but also because there is a lack of human rights pressure in Japanese public opinion.

The lesser known problem may be the history of Sochi [en]. The Circassian people has demanded [en] that the Russian government acknowledges the 19th-century Muhajir [en] (Circassian Genocide), during which about 90 percent of the local Circassian population was killed or displaced by Tsar Alexander II. “NoSochi2014“ is a website created to put more pressure on the Russian government and to gather support for the cause.

Japanese anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no-kai” showed their solidarity with NoSochi2014 and published a message on Facebook[en/ja] declaring that they do not welcome 2020 Tokyo Olympics for the forced evictions it may cause:

To the people around the globe fighting against the 2014 Sochi Olympics, we send you a message of solidarity from Tokyo, the host city of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games.

We understand that Sochi 2014 is being held on a land where Circassian people were massacred by the Russian Empire, and today Russia is running the games on the biggest budget in the history of the Olympics.

We also recognize that for the Olympics development, more than 2000 people were displaced from their homes and extreme levels of environmental destruction were brought to the land.

[…]

Here in Tokyo the unnecessary redevelopment for the 2020 Olympics has already started with evictions of low-income populations from their homes.

The radioactive contamination by the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster is nowhere near stabilisation, let alone “under control” as Prime Minister Abe proudly announced to the IOC.

Tokyo is only swimming in the cloud of an illusion, while the people in Fukushima and many nameless radiation-exposed workers at the power plant are left without sufficient support from the state.

The Olympics is nothing but a nightmare.

What is happening in Sochi today, is what might happen to us in 6 years.

The concerns of the group are the evictions that often take place before hosting large international events. There have been cases where homeless people staying in public parks were forcefully moved out of their tents when big events took place nearby.

The group mentioned [ja] past examples on Twitter: Before the 2002 FIFA World Cup and the 2007 World Athletics Championships, homeless people squatting at Osaka's Nagai Park [ja] were forcefully evicted. Prior to the Aichi World Expo, tents of homeless people in Nagoya city's Shirokawa Park [ja] were forcefully removed. And, evictions in Tokyo already started in early March last year with tents and belongings of the homeless forcefully removed when an International Olympic Committee inspection group visited Tokyo.

2013年12月15日(日)反五輪の会が主催したデモの模様。写真:mkimpo.comより許可を得て掲載

Protesters organized by an anti-Olympics group march in Tokyo on December 15, 2013. Photo by mkimpo.com. Used with the permission

Eviction is not only for people squatting in public parks. According to AFP [ja], about 2,000 households at the Kasumigaoka public housing apartment in Shinjuku, Tokyo are facing eviction. Most of the residents are elderly.

A blogger named “定年おじさんのつぶやき”, which translates to “Blurbs of a Retired Old Man” wrote about the shadows of the Olympics:

日本での最初の五輪開催は、まさに日本が経済成長を遂げ先進国の仲間入りを果たしたことを世界に誇示する最高の舞台だった。
だが晴れの舞台の陰には多くの人々の犠牲がついて回る。
昔から「開発」という行為には必ず自然や環境の「破壊」ということばがついて回った。

戦争は何も生み出さない最大・最悪の「破壊」行為であるが、五輪開催という大義名分には中々反対の声は上げにくい。

とりわけ立場の弱い人たちは、「お上」の命令には逆らうことができない。
54年前、アジアで初めての五輪開催を控えて都は老朽化住宅の建て替えを始めた。

当時は建て替えられた新しいアパートに再び入居することができたが、そのアパートも逐50年も経ち高齢になった住民は、2020年の五輪に向けて追い出されることになった。

When Tokyo hosted the Olympics for the first time [in 1964], it was a great milestone to show off to the world that Japan has grown into a developed country thanks to economic growth.

But a grand occasion in the spotlight often comes with sacrifices.

Through the ages, an act of development always was followed by destruction of nature and environment.

War is the biggest, worst example of destruction that does not generate anything good, but when it comes to a good reason like the Olympics, it's hard to speak against it.

Especially marginalized people can never go against the orders of authorities.

Fifty-four years ago, Tokyo began reconstruction on old housing prior to the 1964 Tokyo Olympics. People who had been asked to leave their old houses were moved to a newly built apartment building.

But that apartment building, now 50 years old, and its old residents face another eviction for the 2020 Olympics. 

For Kohei Jinno, a 79-year-old resident of the Kasumigaoka apartment building, it's his second time facing eviction because of the Olympics. According to Japan Times [en], his home and business were torn down to make way for an Olympic park around the main stadium for the Tokyo Games in 1964. Now he has been told he must move again to make way for the stadium’s redevelopment and expansion in time for 2020. 

Unlike the anti-Olympics group “Hangorin-no kai”, most people in Japan are not against hosting the games themselves, but some are against tearing down the existing stadium to build a new, larger one. 

A YouTube video made by architect Ken Aoki using Google Earth shows a 3D model based on information made public in March 2013 of the new national stadium:

Edward Suzuki, a Japanese architect, suggested on his blog fixing up the already existing national stadium rather than simply building a new one and called on people to join the campaign on online petition platform Change.org. The petition “Saving Meijijingu Gaien and National Stadium for Future Generations (unofficial translation) argues that throwing large amount of taxes away to build a new giant stadium which would be too huge, raising issues with emergency guidance and risk management in the event of disaster, will only prevent recovery efforts for areas affected by the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami of 2011 and will destroy the city's scenery, such as Ginkgo trees and the blue sky. All this, the petition warns, will become a burden for future generations.

With the city headed toward a development push for the Olympics, Twitter user Nakajimayuki commented on the role of citizens:

Tokyo residents, as the leading actors for the city, must stay strong and pay close attention to this massive change that Tokyo will go through “for the 2020 Olympics”, not just the plan to rebuild a new stadium, so that such development will not proceed in an non-transparent way.

The thumbnail photo is from Hangorin-no-kai's Facebook page
The post was edited by L.Finch

February 17 2014

From Iran to the World: Humans of Shiraz

Who are the people of Shiraz, Iran and what are their dreams? A photographic story of Humans of Shiraz began on Facebook two years ago, inspired by the globally renowned Humans of New York. The page has more than 7,300 followers. These are profile photos with human stories from all walks of life.

Shiraz is the capital of the Fars province of Iran, and it is know as the city of poets and literature. Two world famous poets, Hafez and Saadi were born in here. The city is also considered by many Iranians to be the city of gardens.

Real Madrid

“I'm a football player…” “What's your biggest dream as a football player?” “To play in Real Madrid.” Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“I'm a football player…”
“What's your biggest dream as a football player?”
“To play in Real Madrid.”

To Be a Model Someday

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“What is your field of study?”
“Electronic engineering.”
“What do you like the most?”
“I like modelling and I wanted to be a model someday…”
“What is the hardest thing of being a model for you?”
“Is that the people around me accept that and cope with with this issue in a good way.”

Heavy Metal

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

“I'm a heavy metal musician, and I play electric guitar… “

From Radiology to Selling Shoes

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

Photo by Humans of Shiraz (used with permission)

From Facebook to the Street: Activism on Cusco's Walls

In the days of Facebook we sometimes forget that there are many real-world walls available to play host to messages, expressions and opinions. The virtual doesn't always replace the real, and in the Peruvian city of Cusco there is a special wall which is used as a point of connection between virtual and “real” action. While this wall is sometimes employed as an art gallery or for exhibitions, at other times it becomes a space in which to generate awareness and debate.

In a recent trip to Cusco we found this wall, located in Cusco's central Plaza de Armas, a much visited part of the city, and displaying only a single invitation:

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “Say it out loud.”

Throughout several days it remained untouched.  However, in an online search for its virtual counterpart, we found two related Facebook pages. One called Colectivo El Muro Cusco [The Cusco Wall Collective, es], most recently updated on the 22nd April 2011, day it was founded. There, we found this photo:

 

El Muro del Cusco:

The Cusco Wall: “Are we free?  We're like you, outraged by neoliberal politics.  For this reason, this space of free expression [exists] to tell the truth, denounce and create awareness.  Get involved!

On the second Facebook page – Colectivo Muro Cusco [Cusco Wall Collective] founded on the 9th February 2012 and still active today – we discovered that photos and activist events spanning diverse issues such as national politics to environmental themes, and many more, are shared. There's also a register of a range of activities that the collective has organized and been a part of, as well as those in which the physical wall has been a recipient for allusive posters and messages, such as [translator's note: the following links all lead to Spanish language pages] “521 años y seguimos resistiendo” [521 years [later] and we continue resisting,” informative activity about the situation of the “uncontacted” villages in the Kugapakori Nahua Nanti Reserve, “Fighting for the defense of water and life,” “Vigil in support of Cajamarca and Espinar,” “Miscommunication Media and its Network of Lies and Smokescreens,” and “What are We Celebrating?” (a critique of the current government stemming from the events of the previous national holiday celebrations).

 

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “End death, pollution and sacking!” Vigil in support of Cajamarca and Espinar.

Throughout later days, we saw activity on the wall.  Stuck to it, we found a series of drawings and photos. The drawings belonged to Rafael Ginzburg [es], an Argentinian artists passing through Cusco making use of his stay, and the space, to exhibit and sell his art:

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: Drawings by Rafael Ginzburg

Beside them, there was a small photography exhibition, belonging to Lima visual artist Neptunia Asesina [es].  She told us that she didn't have to carry out any paperwork in order to display her photos on the wall; she simply used the space. The staff of the auditorium of Cusco's Natinoal University of San Antonio Abad, to whom the wall legally belongs, don't seem to have a problem with the situation.

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: Photos by Neptunia Asesina.

Days later, we found another type of activity, this time an exercise in generating awareness about the problems currently affecting the people of Cusco – such as bullying, harassment, corruption, domestic violence, gang activity, stress, junk food, rubbish television, etc. – created by students from the National University of San Antonio Abad.

El Muro del Cusco

The Cusco Wall: “Be aware and don't wall yourself in – Gang Activity”.

This time we spoke with two of the exhibitors about the exercise. In the following short video, Bryan Mijail Romero Baca from the National University of San Antonio Abad explains how it is that these types of initiatives came about in his studies:


In order to understand more, we turned to Marco Moscoso [es] a communicator and cultural promoter in Cusco, to tell us more about “The Cusco Wall.”


Claudia, a member of the Colectivo El Muro Cusco [es] responded to our queries via email, and among other things, told us:

Con el colectivo buscamos informar aunque sea un poquito de lo que gran parte de la prensa calla, y que la gente que circula por las calles también se exprese, conozca, se solidarize y vea que lo que sucede nos afecta a todos [...] también intentamos apoyar a otros hermanos sobre todo de las comunidades con información ágil y sencilla a través del muro o folletos informativos, ya que al parecer muchas veces la información desean que este en manos de unos pocos y se pone lo más compleja posible y en medios no muy accesibles para todos (como es el internet en comunidades campesinas) [...] ya que nuestras autoridades, periodistas no quieren hablar… hagamos que los muros del pueblo hablen.

The collective aims to inform, even if only a little, about the great part of what the media silences, and also [hopes that] people who transit through these streets express themselves, are informed, show solidarity and see that what's happening affects us all [...].  We also try to support other brothers, particularly from communities, with agile, simple information using the wall or informative flyers.  It seems that often times, the idea is that information stays in the hands of a minority, in a complicated format and using media which isn't very accessible for everyone (like the Internet in rural communities) [...] and since our authorities and journalists don't want to talk… let's have the walls in our communities to do the talking.

The initiative, both at the University's end and that of collectives such as Muro del Cusco, takes advantage of physical space to raise awareness in people about important issues which are sometimes manipulated or made to seem smaller by the mass media. The collectives use them [physically], however, those who add the ingredient of “virtuality” in these modern times are necessary in order to connect people, spaces and initiatives.

The above is a valid and a very necessary strategy to locate issues for debate in the public sphere, making use of both virtual and non-virtual tools, which in turn, serves to give significant light to the variety of world visions that inhabit a city as culturally rich and diverse as Cusco.

This post was originally published in the blog Globalizado [es] by Juan Arellano.
Eva Bravo and Sonia Ordóñez transcribed and subtitled the first video.
Carmen Palomino and Sonia Ordóñez transcribed and subtitled the second video.

February 16 2014

South Korea: Being Native English Teacher and Reverse Racism

Geoffrey Fattig of Jeollamite blog shares his brutally honest opinion on reverse and latent racism in South Korea, urging fellow native English teachers who under-appreciate a fairly good working condition to stop whining. Some of the highlights of his post are: 

On the whole, though, Korea is a pretty easy place to teach English, and playing that foreign card has brought far more advantages than not over the seven years I’ve been in the country. I would add though, that being a tall white guy probably has a lot to do with it.

South Korea Lost Genius Skater Viktor Ahn, Who Won Two Medals for Russia

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Image by Flickr User @CanadianPhotographer (CC BY SA 2.0)

Short-track speed-skating star Viktor Ahn, formerly known as Ahn Hyun-soo, has brought his adopted home Russia two medals, one gold and one bronze in Sochi Olympics. With his winning streak likely to continue, discussions sparked in South Korean online forums about what has driven this skating genius from his birth-country and criticisms mounted on the deep-rooted clique culture that perpetuates not only in the Korean skating world, but in Korean society in general and the media's sudden focus on Ahn ‘being a Korean'. 

Mr. Ahn made headlines on international level as early as back in 2002 Olympics with his unfortunate crash with eight-time medalist skater Ohno during the race. Four years later, Ahn surged back as Ohno's formidable rival by grabbing three gold medals and a bronze. However, Ahn failed to compete in the following Olympics in 2010. The official reason given was that it was due to his knee injury, but it was an open secret to net users that Ahn had a fallout with the Korea Skating Union and severely been bullied [ko] well before the 2006 Olympics and by the time around 2010 that Ahn was de-facto abandoned and cast out by the union. He left his country and became a naturalized Russian in 2011. For playing for Russian team, Ahn has reportedly been rewarded [ko] with much higher salary, benefits (private tutor and coaching staff) and even promised a stable job after his retirement.  

Too late too little

As Ahn won a bronze medal earlier this week, every media outlet has seemed to gain sudden interest to the unfair treatment he suffered– which happened several years earlier. Even the President made a comment about Ahn that ‘we have to look back on whether it (referring to Ahn switching his nationality) is because of irregularities lying in the sports world, such as factionalism, favoritism and judging corruption'. Politicians have chimed in and the ruling Saenuri party posted in their Facebook page a emotional photo with text [ko] that read ‘Sorry, But we will always be supporting you', although net users seem not that impressed with this belated response. Many Koreans seem rather happy for this under-appreciated star's newly-found happiness and seem unmoved, even offended by the Korean media suddenly emphasizing his nationality. Here are several tweets about Ahn. 

If only he'd been given full support and nourishment from the state, then one can trash-talk Ahn Hyun-soo and claim that he betrayed his country and left us for Russia. But no, that is not the case. There was no good support, but continued fights between cliques, and brutal beating he got (for not obeying the union's order) and no good environment for practice. There is no justification for trash-talking Ahn.

It was told that Ahn said that he loves skating, and he is not sure whether he loves it more than he loves his country. One thing for sure is that he wants to continue skating and that he will live in Russia forever. This shows that how country has driven geniuses out instead of embracing their talents. Viktor Ahn, you take that gold medal. We don't deserve you/the medal.

(1st tweet embedded) He became a Russian citizen and even changed his name. But those media keep insist calling him Ahn Hyun-soo. (2nd tweet) This player, after cannot take any more of the clique culture and power-wielding, changed his nationality. But when he wins gold medals, some media would pull those ridiculous cliche clauses, such as ‘His nationality may be Russia(n), but his heart beats for Korea'. LOL.

After hearing that there are groups of people who try hard to portray Viktor Ahn as ‘Ahn Hyun-soo who so loves his country, South Korea', I wasn't that surprised. When someone achieves success, they do so desperately try to link that success to the nationality. When it seems like a failure, they try to distance from them. (i.e. against some Korean-Chinese)

February 11 2014

A Personal Tribute to Jamaican “Interventionist” Stuart Hall

As tributes to late Jamaican cultural theorist Stuart Hall keep coming, Jamaica-based blogger Annie Paul posts a personal and stirring acknowledgement.

Titled “A Stuart Hall-shaped hole in the universe…”, she begins by saying:

When I saw Stuart at his home in London on December 14, 2013, I knew he wouldn’t last much longer. He had been ill for years and his health had deteriorated considerably since the previous year when we celebrated his 80th birthday at Rivington Place, the art centre born of his inspiration and hard work. All the same his departure comes as a blow. It’s too early for me to come to terms with this loss, for Stuart has been a close friend and mentor since 1996 when he came to the University of the West Indies to speak at the Rex Nettleford Conference.

Paul chooses to share some of her own photographs in the post, which alone makes it extraordinary – snapshots of Hall with Paul herself; with David Scott, the editor of Small Axe magazine; a few pics of him both in England and in Jamaica. These are rare glimpses into the ordinary days of an extraordinary man. Paul says:

Stuart Hall was such an extraordinary thinker that his work ranged over a broad field of interests including visual art which was the one thing we truly bonded over. It was a preoccupation that didn’t get much coverage in other interviews which tend to focus more on his activism, his Marxism, and his political interventions.

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 - Photo by Annie Paul

Stuart Hall at Good Hope Estate, Trelawny, Jamaica, 2004 – Photo by Annie Paul

She links to a post she wrote in November 2013, in which she reviews The Stuart Hall Project, the John Akomfrah film about him, which she hopes will be screened in Jamaica soon. In it, she says:

One of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century, Stuart Hall, was born and brought up here, made his career in Britain, become an intellectual powerhouse there, and is virtually unknown in the land of his birth. So true what Jesus said: A prophet is not without honour, save in his own country. Ah well.

Still, she shares links about his life and work in an effort to make “young people here realize that Jamaicans excel not only in track and field and music but also in the intellectual arena…”

Another piece of memorabilia Paul shares in the post is one of her “treasures”:

…a letter Stuart wrote to the Librarian at Birmingham U so that I could gain access to their inner sanctum.

She ends with an upload of an interview she did with Hall, titled The Ironies of History:

The Ironies of History:An Interview with Stuart Hall by Annie Paul

The interview (read it, above) begins by quoting Professor Grant Farred of Duke University:

Such was Hall’s impact on the US, British, Euro pean and Australian academy via cultural studies, mainly through a range of essays he published during the 1980s, that by the 1990s he became one of the preeminent intellectuals in the world. In truth, because of the international rise of cultural studies, Hall came to be regarded as an academic star, an intellectual celebrity, and a philosophical guru: he became the incarnation of cultural studies, first in Britain and then in the United States, widely anointed as the spokes man for the politics – and the endemic politicization – of the popular, the theorist in the fore front of politicizing (all) identity.

In it, Paul discusses with Hall everything from immigration and deportation to dancehall music, black masculinity and homophobia. He talks about art, architecture and visual culture. He even talks about himself and his work:

I was an interventionist, my writing is interventionist ok? That is to say I write in order to intervene in a situation, to shift the terms in which it’s understood, to introduce a new angle, to contest how it has been understood before; it’s an embattled form of writing…a kind of intellectual interventionism.

This is a kind of politics in theory, because it’s interested in struggling thought – struggling in thought. Not interested in the production of pure truth, absolute truth, universal truth. It’s interested in the production of better ideas than the ones we used to have. So it’s a kind of struggle in thought, a struggle with thought and a struggle inside thought, struggle inside thinking to change the terms of reference with which we’re thinking. There’s also a politics of thought in the sense that it wants to make the ideas useful for some purpose; it wants to help people think more clearly about their situation or to help to advance nationalism in a more progressive direction or to help the world become a more equal and just place.

The image used in this post is by Annie Paul, used with permission.

February 10 2014

Remembering the Jamaican Cultural Theorist Stuart Hall

Jamaican-born cultural theorist Stuart Hall has died at the age of 82 in England; netizens and academics all over the globe were shocked by the news, though Hall had been ailing for some time. He reportedly died of complications arising from kidney failure.

The UK Guardian's obituary described Hall as an “influential cultural theorist, campaigner and founding editor of the New Left Review”. One of the founders of British Cultural Studies, he regarded popular culture as capitalist and dominated by the ruling class. He studied media and its impact on ideology, becoming a major proponent of reception theory and expanded the scope of cultural studies to deal with race and gender. His work was particularly meaningful to black West Indian immigrant communities, as he explored ideas of cultural identity, race and ethnicity, especially as they related to the diaspora experience. Rather than viewing identity to be determined by history and culture – and therefore fixed – he saw it as fluid, ongoing and subject to change.

Facebook was overflowing with status updates that reflected the respect and admiration people had for the man and his work. Upon hearing the news of Hall's death, Rhoda Bharath said:

I can't even begin to describe how bereft I feel about Hall's passing… What a loss!

Arc Magazine posted a striking portrait of Hall by Antonio Olmos, adding:

We have just learned of the passing of Stuart Hall, champion of cultural studies and one of the Caribbean's leading intellectuals.

Our condolences are extended to those whose lives he touched with his generous work.

Rest well in peace Sir.

Arc's Facebook update directed readers to its website, where it posted about Hall's life and work in greater detail.

From Jamaica, Annie Paul referred to his death as “horrible news”, and proceeded to post a series of links and photos about his life and work as part of her mourning process, including this video of Hall speaking with C.L.R. James:

In another update, Paul admonished the Jamaican media for not picking up on the significance of his death:

Have yet to hear any announcement on local media of the passing of Stuart Hall…

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004.  Photo by Annie Paul.

Stuart Hall (R) reading a copy of The Caribbean Review of Books at at Hellshire Beach, Jamaica; June 2004. Photo by Annie Paul.

In a blog post that was published soon after the 2012 debut of John Akomfrah‘s film about Hall, “The Unfinished Conversation”, cultural studies professor Nick Mirzoeff wrote:

It’s a remarkable piece of visualizing theory and history. Shown on three screens simultaneously, the film visualizes, in a sense, what it must have been like to be Stuart Hall in his earlier career. The three screens would be showing personal photographs, filmed interviews from various periods, archive film and photography, news footage and so on. Meanwhile the sound would blend music, often jazz, with Hall’s commentary and radio interviews and other sound, such as the sea or machinery. It was a polyphony, edited so that all the sounds and images reinforced rather than disrupted each other.

There were powerfully revelatory moments throughout. It turns out–did I somewhere know this?–that Stuart has Sephardic-Jewish in his family tree. In the film, we see his mother and that lineage is visibly apparent–it’s mine, too, so I’m allowed to say this. Was there some affinity that I had felt, having worked with Hall when I was a young activist and editor on Marxism Today, and always taking his thought to be a lodestone? Perhaps.

He commented on other revelations in the film:

It turns out that Hall was part of a group that opened a radical coffee shop in Oxford in the crisis of 1956. The Soviet invasion of Hungary changed a generation away from orthodox Marxism-Leninism and cultural studies would not have happened as it did without this break. At the same time, Britain and France invaded Egypt over the nationalization of the Suez canal, their last imperial folly.

Sitting in the coffee shop called The Partisan, with its sign designed in impeccable lower-case sans serif font, Hall was interviewed about his views. Time and again, he calmly stressed that he was angry, angry over the invasions, angry over the disregard for young people in Britain, angry that

for fifteen years at least we have been without any kind of moral or political leadership.

Out of that anger came the New Left Review.

Mirzoeff continued:

Watching it now, over fifty years later, I felt intensely that we had somehow let this young man down, that it would be entirely possible for another such young man or woman to sit down today and say exactly the same thing. And it is indeed what we have been saying this past year. The spectre that entered the room was this question: will this demand still be unmet in fifty more years from now? Or was leadership perhaps the wrong thing to ask for? Reflecting back on 1956, a moment he felt “defined” him, Hall noted in terms so familiar to us:

Another history is always possible.

The film ends with this caption

For Stuart Hall. In gratitude. And respect.

My eyes filled with tears. In the crowded screening room, I was not alone.

On Twitter, condolences streamed in from all corners of the globe:

Some Twitter users shared the aspects of Hall's work that affected them the most:

Others suggested what they felt were the most appropriate ways in which to honour his memory:

Some just admitted that the world – and its intellectual space – felt emptier without him:

Gerry Hassan acknowledged Hall's astute analytical powers:

One Twitter user, Sean Fernyhough, quoted director John Akomfah:

Akomfah's latest documentary about Hall, The Stuart Hall Project, can be viewed here. A shorter clip is here.

@cfidelmorris acknowledged the great impact of jazz music in Hall's life – specifically the music of Miles Davis:

Professor Nicholas Mirzoeff summed up the general feeling with this tweet:

The photograph of Stuart Hall used in this post was taken by Annie Paul; uploaded by Nicholas Laughlin and used under an Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic Creative Commons license. Visit Nicholas Laughlin's flickr photostream.

February 07 2014

Pakistani Superhero Ms. Marvel

It's a comic book. And yet, while I did a lot of laughing [it's got a lot of funny moments] I also couldn't stop the tears. Because I was so happy to see a version of myself reflected before me, not sensationalized or stereotyped.

Blogger Aisha Saeed posts a review of the Pakistani American comic hero Ms. Marvel, who was featured in the latest book of Marvel Comics.

Caribbean: Discrimination is Discrimination

Groundation Grenada has partnered with Trinidad-based artist Joshua Lu “to create a visual campaign to draw analogies between sexual orientation/gender identity discrimination and other forms of discrimination.” Check out the first few installations in the campaign, here.

February 05 2014

Forget What You Know About Visiting Kosovo

A trip to Kosovo nowadays would convince anyone that this country, far from its sometimes negative reputation, has indeed a lot to offer. According to the World Bank data, more than 70 percent of Kosovo's population is under 35 years old, which surely explains the fact that on the flight this Global Voices author made to the country's capital Prishtina, half of the passengers were under 10 years old. This makes for quite the start to an unusual holidays!

Kosovo youth, while having to deal with terrible unemployment rates of 55.3 percent, manage to energize the country and push the rough memories of war further and further away. US blogger Adventurous Kate comments how first-time visitors feel:

It’s my first time in Kosovo, and I don’t know what to expect. Just the mention of “Kosovo” in America brings to mind an image of war, of death, of ethnic cleansing, of bombs. Even though this took place more than a decade ago, I’m wondering just what kinds of scars the country will bear.

Far off from the scars, what strikes the freshly arrived visitor most are Prishtina's incredible cafés. Everyone should experience the taste of a perfect macchiato on a sunny and well-designed terrace, looking over the frenetic errands of passersby. It certainly is not a legend that the coffee there sometimes tastes even better than an Italian one – we apologize to our Italian friends for this, but it must be said!

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

Enjoying a latte macchiato at the Shipja e Vjetër café in Prishtina

The Dit' e Nat' café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

The Dit’ e Nat’ café celebrating the Irish poet Yeats

Although it might be true that Prishtina's architecture, mostly grey and anarchic buildings, is not its main attraction, the city is buoyant in its attitude and style. Its walls are full of graffiti and other forms of street art; the soul of the city appears on them an open book to visitors.

“I love colors” and “I love flowers” appear very frequently on the walls of the city, mostly in the saddest parts.

The claims not to forget the leaders of the Kosovo independance are visible here and there.

Urban art urging people not to forget the leaders of Kosovo's independence are visible here and there.

Creative details are available on every corner.

Creative details are available on every corner in Kosovo.

Kosovo's people seem to look more towards the future than stay stuck in the past praising war heroes or pacifist icons of Kosovo's battle for independence from Serbia, like Ibrahim Rugova. Kosovo, now the newest nation in Europe, was historically a part of Serbia and previously Yugoslavia. The 1998-99 Kosovo War was fought between the forces of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, made up by Serbia and Montenegro at the time, and the Kosovo rebel group known as the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA), with military air support from NATO, after 10 years of non-violent resistance from the civil society of Kosovo.

Although portraits of Ibrahim Rugova, the first president of newly independent Kosovo, as well as of the leaders of the armed resistance are visible here and there, the general impression to the newcomer is that today's actors of Kosovo are building up their own models. Witnessing the elections in Kosovo from Prishtina in November 2013, Darmon Richter comments:

Newspaper stories about riot police and violent assaults in polling stations do nothing to give a sense of modern-day Kosovo, save for the few pockets of the country where race rivalry is still rife. In the city of Pristina, people crave recognition of their independence… but all in all, it's about as normal a city as you'll find anywhere in the Balkans.

In fact, with a reported 60% voting turnout nationwide, democracy almost seems to be working better here than it does in the UK.

In the center of Prishtina, Rugova is still there, but the colors are washed out.

In the center of Prishtina, street art bearing Kosovo's first President Ibrahim Rugova's image is still there, but the colors are washed out.

Somehow, Prishtina could appear as a “mini-Istanbul” in the sense that it is sitting quite balanced between a post-Ottoman and a Western European culture. Kim's travel blog, from an American and Korean perspective, underlines the surprising cosmopolitan atmosphere of the “city of love”:

After visiting Pristina, I truly understood why people had been calling Kosovo a fast developing and energetic country. You could see the new buildings coming up everywhere, and could see foreigners traveling (majorly European) around the city and there were many exciting restaurants available besides just Balkan foods (…). Although I did not see any Asian people at all, one of my friends informed me that he had seen four Japanese people touring around the city. I wish I was there to witness the ASIANS walking around the city, that would have been hilarious. We probably had exchanged strange looks thinking “what the hell are you doing here…?” haha

What comes out of it is, just like in the Turkish city of wonders, a fascinating mixture of traditional silver art craft shops, highly modern new cafés, a multitude of bakeries, some old mosques being rebuilt, and some churches left to rot. In the center you can see some incredible buildings like the Prishtina University library, which appears almost as an unidentified object in the middle of the communist architecture that inhabits the rest of the area. Kim's travel blog also mentions this building:

You could see many historical buildings around the city, and you could tell Kosovars were very proud of them. University of Pristina, the best one in Kosovo, was structured nicely. Also right next to the university, there is Pristina National Library, which was quite impressive and weirdly designed. My friend who currently works at University of Pristina had explained to me what the structure and the design was based on, but … of course this chicken head had forgotten about it. Maybe I will google and Wikipedia it later.

The magazine Kosovo 2.0, available in English, Albanian and Serbian, is the new brand of this educated, multilingual and very open, worldly society. Covering politics, arts, fashion, social debates, women and gender issues, Kosovar topics and global subjects, the magazine is available in print as well as online. Kosovo 2.0 also offers a selection of the latest sounds produced locally, mostly electro genres, which are available online : http://www.kosovotwopointzero.com/player. Enjoy the musical ride!

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

The flashy colors of a new way of life can not be ignored on the Pristhina walls.

Prishtina is full of surprises for visitors from any origin. But as Kosovo is young, it is growing and changing very quickly. So do not lose any more time and, if you can, hop on the next plane or car and take a moment to discover this promising city and its joyful contradictions. If you are quick enough, there might still be a piece of cake there for you!

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much but not quite.

Tasty and creamy! Almost too much, but not quite.

All photographs in this post are by author Marie Bohner.

Youth Orchestra ‘Jafraa’ a Bright Spot in War-Torn Syria

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

Shakespeare once said, “If music be the food of love, play on.” But what if this “food of love” risks the player's life? This is case for the young musicians who make up the Jafraa orchestra at the Palestinian returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Led by music teacher and children's coach Amer Shanati, the band counts 45 to 55 children from ages seven to 17 years. Though music is often described as the language of the world, it pays a heavy price in war-torn Syria to survive. Most of their “relatively expensive” instruments are either borrowed or donated due to the poverty of the residents of the camp. Their music is a welcome distraction from the noise of bombardment and fighting that takes place outside besieged Homs.

Jafraa is 100 per cent dependent on social media to broadcast their performances as Syria lacks any kind of public musical activities since the government prohibited musical productions at the provincial and state levels. Shanati mainly uses Jafraa.Music on YouTube and Jafraa.homs on Facebook to post the band's work and to show the world that beyond the horror in Syria, there are still talented people who deserve not to be forgotten in the chaos. 

In the few emails that I exchanged with Shanati, he expressed his enthusiasm and pride for Jafraa, which performs “committed art”, a term that in Syria means the music of classic singers and musicians who enriched the Arab world's musical culture for generations, like Mohamed Abdel WahabFairuzUmm Kulthum, and Wadih El Safi, among many others. These young players are making magnificent efforts to underscore their talent by playing the 1969 classic song by Um Kulthum “Alf Leila wa Leila” (One Thousand and One Nights):

Shanati introduces the band on Facebook page as follows [ar]:

فرقة_جفرا_للفن_الملتزم فرقة موسيقية غير تابعة أو مموّلة من أي جهة حكومية أو مؤسسة من مؤسسات المجتمع المدني أو جمعية
أو مشروع على اختلاف انتماءاتهم..
فرقة جفرا أُسّستْ منذ عام 2007 بجهودٍ ذاتية متواضعة لتغني اللحن والفن الأصيل
تتألف من مجموعة كبيرة من الأطفال و الشباب يقوم الأستاذ “عـــــامر شناتي” بتدريبهم في غرفة صغيرة في مخيم العائدين/حمص/سوريا.

ولكل من هؤلاء الأطفال حلمه في الحياة العملية سيجتهد ويدرس لتحقيقه , ولكن ستبقى جفرا هي ركنهم الدافئ والخاص يحلقّون مـن خلاله في فضاء اللحن الأصيل والكلمة الملتزمة لينثروا عبرهما معاني الحب والسلام والجمال لكل من حولهم ..

وعليه تقبل فرقة جفرا للفن الملتزم فقط تبرعات و إحياء حفلات برعاية أشخاص أو مؤسسات لغايات إنسانية و ثقافية أخلاقية بحته
دون أي شــــــــروط تُفرض على الفرقة …

The Jafraa band of “committed art” is an orchestra which is not affiliated nor funded by any party, civil community institution, association or any other project.

The Jafraa band was established in 2007 with modest intentions to perform melodies and original art. It consists of a large group of children and young people led by Amer Shanati, a music teacher who trains them in a small room in the returnees camp in Homs, Syria.

Each of these children has a dream for his future; however, Jafraa will remain their warm and private corner from which they fly into space, with melody and committed music to spread the meaning of love, peace and beauty around them.

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Jafraa Band. Source: Jafraa Facebook page. Used under CC BY 2.0

The Jafraa band accepts only donations and concerts sponsored by people or institutions for humanitarian and cultural purposes, purely without any conditions imposed on the band.

The band takes its name from a famous poem about a pretty young Palestinian girl named Jafraa (or Jafra) who captured a poet's heart. Despite uncertainty around the story, generations considered Jafraa an icon of beauty and love in the Palestinian culture from which Shanati and many of his little heroes are descended. 

Answering a few questions about how Jafraa is operating, Shanati responded modestly:

I use social media to ease the delivery of the voice of children to the world where is no media coverage exist in our neighborhood. Our followers reactions are significant, give us hope and we feel happy to know that they are waiting every new video we upload.

Nevertheless financial aid is very tiny, but it is important, even though I know the reason of material lack and extreme poverty. We are still looking for more funds so that we can own our musical and audio equipment and become more independent with a spacious room to accommodate a larger number of children. We are suffering from the slow Internet connections and power outages which complicate our communications and hamper our future plans; however, we aim to continue despite the difficulties.

Our work is a message to show that we insist on living our lives, although it seems impossible, and despite the restricted potential for growth we need to show to the world our talents to help us grow instead of being defeated.

I dream of developing this band to a higher level of fine musicians and of finding more talent to help the children overcome the recent crisis that has affected them psychologically.

Back to Shakespeare's quote: “If music be the food of love, play on / Give me excess of it, that, surfeiting / The appetite may sicken, and so die.”

It's doubtful that he was talking about physical death. I wish all talent of the world better circumstances than those of the little Syrians in the Jafraa band, who give hope, a tiny light at the end of Syria's dark bloody tunnel.

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