Today is the day. Istagram

Because writing about anything it’s not enough. To give you better picture of what is for me the Middle East I finally decided to share also my experience from my own travels through this blog and Instagram. My very first visit to the region was quite bold one and those are my memories:
Travelling? Just don’t do it my way

Maybe travelling alone across the World with $100 in your pocket and no hotel booked is not really a good idea, but it’s definitely the greatest adventure you can experience.
I’m standing by the University gate trying to call the guy who was supposed to pick me up from the airport last night. No avail. Passing by students are looking at me with curiosity and even distrust. Some girls next to me are chatting and giggling in lower voices. They are coming into my direction. I know that they are smiling. I can see it in their eyes. I cannot see their faces. They are wearing veils. It’s Wednesday, October 27th 2010 my first day in Sana – capital city of Yemen.
Five minutes later four of us: me, Bushra, Amal and Iqlim are carrying my heavy luggage to the students’ house reception. My new friends are studying English Language and Translation and should be in their classroom right now, but they are still with me going from one building to another, marching along the Sun parched land and leaving in dozen of offices my photos and copies of my passport. In the last place we are trying to find out where I’m going to live and why it’s impossible to contact the person who should take care of foreign students. I asked the question and I got the answer. Without taking his eyes off the computer screen one gentlemen says that I could apply for a place in the students house, but not today. On Saturday. And as for the men I was trying to call, he was kidnapped two days ago and probably that is why he didn’t pick up the phone. I cannot believe this, I start to laugh.
We are going out. Girls have to go back to their homes and me, I don’t know. All the students are slowly leaving University Campus and when I look at them I see one very tall blond boy. He’s looking at me with “where have you been?” expression on his face. As I found later he’s name is Michael and he’s renting a single room in the Old City. So we are driving to his home right now, which is also going to be mine, for the next few months.
During my very first month in Yemen I have no classes at the University. Nevertheless I’m not bored at all. Never before in my life I’ve experienced such an enormous bureaucracy and laziness of clerks. But finally after struggling to get the resident visa in different offices, police station and hospital (in Yemen problem of HIV “doesn’t” exist so each single person who wishes to stay here longer needs to do blood test) my classes starts. Apart from me and Michael, students of Arabic Course for foreigners consists of one Korean, two Australians and group of Chinese – the most visible and audible students. Our ustad (professor in Arabic) is good, he’s even excellent I would say. Even though we have only one handbook to study from lessons are never boring. Somehow without any effort he can change any topic in something amazing and absorbing. But he has one disadvantage. He’s always late. Our ustad is late for each single class, from 10 to 45 minutes. It can happen that he doesn’t show up at all. However he’s not the only one. Some girls are late too so probably there’s nothing impolite in it and probably it just us – the rest of the students who are too sensitive. Picking up the phone during the lesson is fine as well, but I don’t do it. I still didn’t get rid of my weird European habits. At least somehow I managed to get used to the local habits and I’m not surprised any more when something like this takes place. But I was so painfully wrong when I thought that nothing would astonish me. The day has come. Today for some reason we cannot have classes in our schoolroom so we are waiting for ustad to let us in to the new one. Finally we are come in, so far nothing unusual, chairs, desk, blackboard – normal classroom. When everybody is inside and ustad finishes talking on his mobile and it’s time to close the door he actually does it, but because the lock is broken… he rolls quite big stone so the door remains closed and not wide open. After this normal classes starts. Therefore five minutes later one student has to answer his phone. Because he doesn’t want to disturb us he’s going outside, he rolls the stone on the side, closes the door behind him. So now ustad has to roll the stone back on its place and after about another five minutes, when the student finishes the conversation he has to push the door and the stone so he can get in and ustad back again rolls the stone to close the door. And like this two or three times per lesson.
This is how the University looks like, but it’s only part of my life in here. The Old City, this is the place where I spend majority of my time. It’s hard to describe it in words. Sana is one of the oldest cities in the world, situated high in the mountains and its old part is on UNESCO World Heritage Site. It’s amazing, beautiful, mysterious, almost magic, full of live and energy. Some time ago, when I was already living here about one week and I thought than I know my neighbourhood good enough I decided to have a walk from my home in Hara Talha to Bab al Yemen – the main, ancient gate to the city. And because Old Sana is like enormous maze I got lost straight away. And while I was straying between picturesque buildings I could feel somebody watching me. It was a group of children, at the beginning shy but when they noticed that I had a camera they started to ask and shout to take picture of them, one, two……..five………eleven, all of them together, in small groups, each one separately. They were one of the best and my favourite pictures I took in Yemen. Nevertheless I still was lost and somehow I had to get back home. While I was circling around getting thirsty and tired I met him, my rescuer. It was middle-aged gentlemen wearing traditional Yemeni clothes and belt with Jambijja (curved knife, which is part of the traditional outfit). When he saw me – foreign girl walking around he just came and asked if I was lost and where is my home. I couldn’t even tell him my address. I just remembered the name of the nearest hotel and how lucky I was, he knew the place. On our way home my rescuer asked where I was from and the thing he said in reply left me almost speechless. It doesn’t happen very often when foreigners don’t link my country with vodka and communism. Not only he didn’t even mention those two things but started to talk about polish football and how our national team used to be good back in the days. He knew even the names of the players. We get home chatting about sport’s victories of Polish in late 60s and early 70s.
This is how passed my two first months in Sana. I’m going to spend here five more, during which I will experience more and more each single day, living intense life I had never before. I will learn Yemen, its culture and diversity. I will see for myself that it’s a country of many extremes, where nothing is black and white, from relations between people, through religiousness, hospitality, economic stratification within society, even weather and finally demonstrations and revolution.
So, as I said. My Instagram IG account: kinga_plata

 
 

Sword of Islam and the others

Abu at-Tayyib Ahmad ibn al-Husayn al-Mutanabbi al-Kindi (ابو الطيب احمد بن الحسين المتنبي الكندي) was one of the greatest Arab poets. Nevertheless this post is not about his literary output but his long and difficult to pronounce name and about Arabic names and their meanings in general.
Let’s start from brief explanation. Unlike in Europe and western culture Arabs do not really have surnames or family names. Throughout the centuries they were using and still use chains of names instead, where usually the first word is the actual name of a person, followed by his or her father name, followed by grandfather and so on. Moreover giving a name to a new born child is quite important and very often reflects parents’ hopes for its character. It can be one of the common names which also carries specific meaning like Fawzia (victorious) or just a noun like Ibtisam (smile). What is confusing for many people not familiar with Arabic naming system is patronymic or it’s series. Words such as bin, ibn or ibnat, bint mean no more no less than son and daughter. In some cases becoming a parent for the first time changes the way people refer to one another and for instance Fawzia and Husayn can become Abu (father of) Hamza and Umm (mother of) Hamza alongside or instead of their given names. One of the most common Muslim Arab names is the combination of Abd (servant, slave) followed by one of the God’s name: Abd Allah (servant of God), Abd al-Latif (servant of the gentle). Additionally some people use an extra name (usually the very last one )to emphasise affiliation to their tribe or place of origin: al-Baghdadi (from Bagdad).
Frankly speaking combinations to name one person are endless. Thus no wonder it’s hard to remember some of them in full. But there is logic to this madness. Back in the days that was the only way to know where and which family one came from, was helpful while arranging marriages mainly because it prevented close relatives from starting a family and was also essential for instance in case of inheritance disputes. 

However, coming back to al-Mutanabbi. What I hope, I correctly concluded his full name means: father of at-Tayyib (the good) Ahmad (more commendable) son of al-Husayn (diminutive of Hasan – handsome) al-Mutanabbi (nickname which means: the one who claimed to be, or wished to be a prophet) al-Kindi (name of the tribe he claimed to come from).
At the end some of my favourite Arabic names:
Usama – lion cub
Bashaar – bringer of glad tidings
Saddam – one who confronts
Saif al-Islam Muammar Gaddafi – sword of Islam long-lived Gaddafi (given name based on the قذف root which means: to throw, offend, insult or to row)
The end.

Supreme Leader

“I have a poor soul, a broken body, and the little bit of dignity that you have given me – I will sacrifice it all for the Revolution and for Islam.”
Those are words of Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei – Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, a man with almost absolute power over his nation inside his country, a man who believes that he is solely responsible to God.
 Ali Khamenei was born on 19 of April 1939 in the city of Mashhad – Iran’s spiritual capital and the destination of many Shia Muslim pilgrims. At the very young age of 11 years he decided to follow his father’s path and became a cleric. He also started to wear black turban and use title of Sayyid, a signs of direct descent from Prophet Muhammad. Khamenei received only seminary education and attended religious studies at the basic and advanced levels, inter alia under mentorship of Ruhollah Khomeini, the man he eventually succeeded as Supreme Leader. His future as a religious man had been determined. Though his way to absolute leadership was not the easy one.
According to his official website, Khamenei was arrested several times and sent into exile during Shah’s reign. Took significant part in 1979 Iranian Revolution and became close confidant of Ruhollah Khomeini himself, who the same year also appointed him to the post of Tehran’s Friday prayers Imam. Only one year later, in 1980 he became supervisor of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards (an independent branch of Iran’s Armed Forces created to protect country’s Islamic system). And in 1981 was elected President of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and re-elected to a second term in 1985. Before becoming the second most important person in the country Khamenei survived an attempted assassination in June 1981 which paralysed his right arm. On 4 of June 1989 at age 49 he ultimately reached for the highest office in the country and succeeded Ruhollah Khomeini as Supreme Leader after his death. Being recommended by his predecessor and therefore elected by the Assembly of Experts getting 60 votes out of 64.
During the time of his rule as President and Supreme Leader alike, Khamenei’s decisions and statements aroused much controversy. Just mention repression of various political groups in early 1980s, rejection of a bill aimed at reform the press law or disqualifying thousands of candidates for various state offices. Getting rid of the opponents goes even as far as accusing them of being magicians and invoking djinns. Also all his decisions and Supreme Leader himself are beyond any form of criticism, which is punishable. Despite this many Iranians, both influential and ordinary people often speak up their disapproval of his policies and since the beginning of his reign there have been a few major protests, including the 1994 Qazvin Protests during which the military opened the fire against the crowd killing around 40 people and injuring more than 400 or 2009 Iranian presidential election protests, when the people shouted “death to dictator” and teared up Khamenei’s pictures, among others. Moreover according to The New York Times in mid-August 2009 some unnamed group of reformist lawmakers appealed to the Assembly of Experts (the body responsible of supervising the Leader) to question his qualification to rule, followed by the second letter by Iranian clerics calling him dictator and demanding his overthrow.
Nevertheless Khamenei’s position is hardly at risk. He is still the person with absolute power thanks to his predecessor who gave him all the rights and support to remain the strong leader, the guardian of the Revolution and Khomeini’s vision of the Islamic country and it’s society. According to the constitution Supreme Leader is the head of state and chief commander of the armed forces, makes final decisions on foreign policy, economy, environment and everything else in the country. He has control over the judicial, executive and legislative departments of the government and of course the media. Khamenei managed to get superiority over the circle of the most powerful state bodies – the Guardian Council, whose members are directly or indirectly of his choice and whose role is to verify all candidates to the Parliament, the President and the Assembly of Experts, which from the other hand is in theory responsible for supervising Supreme Leader. But Khamenei’s strength does not only come from the constitution. Thanks to his previous service in various state offices and family connections (his daughter is married to the head of the Parliament) he created the network of strong supporters inside all state institutions including armed forces and major religious foundations. Moreover he has total financial independence from Parliament and the national budget due to control over Setad organization worth an estimated $95 billion.
No doubt many of Khamenei’s opponents are right accusing him of being Shah similar leader, the person who he used to oppose and fight against. No doubt he forgot some of the 1979 Revolution slogans, which he also used to stand for like democracy and greater government transparency. But there is also no doubt that Ayatollah Sayyed Ali Hosseini Khamenei really believes in what he’s doing and considers himself as the Guardian of the Revolution and it’s legacy. After the attempted assassination he was meant to say that the God saved him for a reason. 

And for those who would like to learn some more about Supreme Leader very interesting short documentary:

Living with AIDS in Middle East

Life is difficult sometimes. Especially when you live in Middle East and you find out to be HIV positive. Sometimes become always.

This is what happened to Asmaa, a main character of Amr Salama movie. Even though it was released in 2011 it still carries valid message and sparks conversation about sensitive issue. The film is set in Cairo and shows everyday life and struggle of HIV positive woman in her 40s. In order to protect her family and make a living Asmaa keeps her medical condition secret. The only place where she can openly talk about herself is AIDS support group. Complete strangers became her family. But having the virus is not the only of her problems. Asmaa desperately needs gallbladder operation. In this situation an offer to take part in TV show and talk about AIDS brings her hope to get treatment she needs outside Egypt. 

The full movie with English subtitles is available on YouTube:

‘Asmaa’ is based on a true story of a woman who actually died because of gallbladder burst and is inspired by lives of HIV patients from one of support centres in Egypt.6 years before movie’s premiere, in 2005 Amr Salama made documentary about AIDS for United Nations and this is how he got to know HIV patients. In one of the interviews the director talks about the process of making the film and obstacles he and his crew had to face while filming. “We got banned from filming at the Cairo Airport when they knew the film’s topic, although we had the required permits.”he said. ‘Asmaa’ is an outcome of three years of collecting people’s stories and constant dilemma about the script which Salama rewrote more than 30 times. Some of the patients even appeared in the movie playing minor roles. He also made the actors to meet HIV carriers to help them better understand struggle they face.

And this is what the movie is about for me. The struggle. It’s about being different, somehow worse, it’s about being part of minority, about the fear of not being accepted, judged, despised. It’s about longing for freedom, equal rights, happiness and life. Being asked: “What do you really wish for, Asmaa?” she said: “What do I wish for? I don’t want to be afraid. I fear many things. I don’t want to be afraid of the pain. I don’t want to be afraid of running out of medicine. I don’t want to be afraid of people. People don’t understand what this thing is like. I don’t want to be afraid that they know. I don’t want to be afraid of what they’d do to me if they knew. If I stop fearing the attack, or running out of medicine, or people… or Habiba. Maybe I’d feel like I’m alive.”

The Middle East and North Africa (MENA) has one of the lowest HIV prevalence rates. Nevertheless the region is becoming a matter of concern. Since 2001 number of carriers have increased by 35% and between 2005 and 2013 AIDS – related deaths rose by 66%. Moreover cultular aspect doesn’t do any good to tackle the problem and help those infected. HIV positive patients are very often rejected by society and even family. Ill informed people including medical staff believe that disease is highly contagious and can be passes as easily as flu or by mosquitoes. 

Beside ‘Asmaa’ I also highly recommend short documentary about AIDS by Amr Salama: 

And for those who would like to know more about HIV problem in MENA region, AVERT report:

http://www.avert.org/professionals/hiv-around-world/middle-east-north-africa-mena

We are all refugees

The first time I’ve heard poem ‘Home’ by Warsan Shire was on Wednesday 11th of November 2015 in Union Chapel (London Islington). The event ‘The unforgotten an evening of remembrance’ was organised to support refugee camps in Calais and Greece.
And now, more than one year later hardly anything has changed regarding the crisis. We just don’t talk about it any more. Media are preoccupied with new president of the USA, upcoming elections in Europe, Russian growing military activity. Nevertheless the problem didn’t disappear. Even now during cold winter months hundreds of people are still risking their lives and boarding boats in attempt to reach Europe in perilous journeys. According to The Independent 2016 was the deadliest year for refugees with almost 4,000 deaths, the number even higher than for 2015 with around 3,770 fatalities. One of the reasons of it is EU-Turkish deal to stop influx of migrants trying to reach Greek islands. Closed routes forced desperate people to seek alternative ways and travel via Libya, thus to take longer sea journey. Still the number of asylum seekers coming from North Africa remained same with around 160,000 reaching Italy this year, despite enforcing high profile anti-smuggling measures and greater risk of becoming victim of terrorism and death. International Organisation for Migration estimates that more than 70% migrants have been forced to work without pay, became victims of human trafficking, organ trafficking or other form of abuse in order to ‘secure’ their journey to Europe.
2016 is not over yet. Most likely those figures will grow. For those who would like to be up to date with what the situation of refugees looks like I highly recommend The Independent reports
http://www.independent.co.uk/topic/refugee-crisis
And the comments. Sadly some refuse compassion for those who need it the most:(
Warsan Shire

‘Home’

No one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark

you only run for the border

when you see the whole city running as well
your neighbours running faster than you
breath bloody in their throats

the boy you went to school with

who kissed you dizzy behind the old tin factory

is holding a gun bigger than his body

you only leave home

when home won’t let you stay.
no one leaves home unless home chases you

fire under feet

hot blood in your belly

it’s not something you ever thought of doing

until the blade burnt threats into

your neck

and even then you carried the anthem under

your breath

only tearing up your passport in an airport toilets

sobbing as each mouthful of paper

made it clear that you wouldn’t be going back.
you have to understand,

that no one puts their children in a boat

unless the water is safer than the land

no one burns their palms

under trains

beneath carriages

no one spends days and nights in the stomach of a truck

feeding on newspaper unless the miles travelled

means something more than journey.

no one crawls under fences

no one wants to be beaten

pitied
no one chooses refugee camps

or strip searches where your

body is left aching

or prison,

because prison is safer

than a city of fire

and one prison guard

in the night

is better than a truckload

of men who look like your father

no one could take it

no one could stomach it

no one skin would be tough enough
the

go home blacks

refugees

dirty immigrants

asylum seekers

sucking our country dry

niggers with their hands out

they smell strange

savage

messed up their country and now they want

to mess ours up

how do the words

the dirty looks

roll off your backs

maybe because the blow is softer

than a limb torn off
or the words are more tender

than fourteen men between

your legs

or the insults are easier

to swallow

than rubble

than bone

than your child body

in pieces.

I want to go home,

but home is the mouth of a shark

home is the barrel of the gun

and no one would leave home

unless home chased you to the shore

unless home told you

to quicken your legs

leave your clothes behind

crawl through the desert

wade through the oceans

drown

save

be hunger

beg

forget pride

your survival is more important
no one leaves home until home is a sweaty voice in your ear

saying-

leave,

run away from me now

I don’t know what I’ve become

but I know that anywhere

is safer than here
 

In limbo

On 20 of January 2017 elected on the 8th of November for the 45th president of the United States, Donald Trump will officially take the office. Until this date and probably even few months after, almost whole World will hold its breath. Those who oppose him will continue scaremongering. Those who support him will feed their hopes with the vision of the president-elect making their dreams come true. 

But while vast majority was solely following US elections, the others found some time to focus on different issues as well. Less than one month before the day Americans decided who would be their next president, on 10th of October presidents Erdoğan and Putin met in Istanbul. What I learned from العربي الجديد(the New Arab) discussion between the two was mainly concentrated on the issues like energetic safety and improving bilateral relations. More precisely according to the article Turkish and Russian presidents debated about international order, finalising Turkish Stream (new gas pipeline which would transport Russian raw material to its European recipients bypassing Ukraine) and Akkuyu (nuclear power plant) projects. Both leaders expressed their will to recover trade ties to the level before the incident with Russian plain being shot down by Turkish air forces. Moreover it also suggested that in the future both countries will concentrate on closer cooperation with one another and even putting it before Syrian matter. 
That’s the meeting. The actions came shortly after, but not really coherent with anything what officially discussed Erdoğan and Putin. Russians actually started two days before their presidents’ visit to Istanbul. On 8th of October on board of civilian ship short-range ballistic missiles Iskander-M were transported to Kaliningrad. On the night of Monday 24th of October to Tuesday 25th aircraft carrier ‘Kuznetsov’ entered Maditerranean Sea with tactical aircraft and inertial navigation rockets aboard. Officially to support mission in Syria. On the following day other kind of weaponry reached Baltic Sea. More specifically Buyan-class corvette most probably armed with nuclear-capable Kalibr missiles with a range of at least 1500km up to 2500km what in practice means it could hit almost any target in Europe, plus with capability of launching anti-aircraft missiles.
Regarding Turkey, after five years of being military inert and at the same time turning blind eye on western fighters and teenage girls joining Daesh, decided to take an action in Syrian conflict. On 24th of August Operation Euphrates Shield has started. Initially to create safe zone in northern part of Syria, fight the terrorists and drive the Kurds out from the west side of the river. Nevertheless Turkish involvement which was supposed to concentrate in the region between the Euphrates river to the east and the area around Azaz to the west eventually reached much further. It is really hard to determine whether or not Turkish forces are taking part in retaking both – Mosul and Raqqa, but one we can be sure of, Ankara tries to get much more involved and even dictate who should and who should not take part in those operations even despite strong objections from Iraq and Syria alike.
Latest events and actions of both presidents clearly reflect their imperialistic ambitions. In this situation election of Donald Trump for a US head of state opens up for them new possibilities to operate. A person who suggested in his campaign that Europe should take care of itself regarding self-defence in a case of war and whose future administration consists of people accused of racism and incitement to religious prejudice brings only more chaos to already chaotic world. And this is exactly what leaders like Putin or Erdoğan need. Green light from the other site and nobody to disturb. No matter how much I try not to be one of the scaremongering ones it’s really difficult to remain positive.

 

A work of art is a scream of freedom (Christo)

In February 2015 Bristolian street artist Banksy made his journey to Gaza. Thanks to his work broader public could see what was left from the city after Israeli operation Protective Edge. Not too many buildings, much more rubble. Yet not only him is trying to make us pay attention to the everyday problems of ordinary Palestinians forced to live in reality of long lasting conflict with its neighbour. In Gaza and West Bank alike, artists use graffiti to spread the news of their generation. It’s divers depending on the author. Far from pleasant and not always beautiful. Its main goal is to make the people think. To disturb their inner peace so they can imagine how it feels not to have it at all.
The first time I came across Palestinian street art was through MOCAtv YouTube Channel. Short movie by Fouad Hindieh and May Odeh features work of Hafez Omar, Areej Mawasi, Hamza Abu Ayyash.

First of the four, Hafez Omar is an author of many murals and posters. His works characterize simplicity, it’s a meaningful art with straight and bold message of omnipresent injustice and hypocrisy.

Palestinian prisoner

Palestinian prisoner

Differently, graffiti by Hamza Abu Ayyash. It’s all about brutality, sadness, longing for freedom.


Mural by Hamza Abu Ayyash and Maher Khatib

And Areej Mawasi, who spread her message using stencils and simple posters, message of hope despite occupation reality.


في أمل – there is hope

But my favourite ones are those three




The wall gave them entirely different meaning…

Links

Banksy in Gaza https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kgzyOAqwHjI
MOCAtv short movie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TUivH2oSAo