Friday, February 23
'Paese Che Vai, Gente Che Trovi'
"Paese che vai, gente che trovi" is a traditional Italian saying which literally means "Places you go, people you find" - (bear with me, it does have a meaning after all!), and it refers to the now popular postmodern concept of 'global village' which undermines a common umanity in cosmopolitanism. The good old ancient Greeks, who, amongst many things, coniated the term "cosmopolitan" (literally, citizen of the world) had foreseen in the Hellenistic empire the ideal that a man could be at home anywhere in the known world. Imagine the scene. The Greek civilization had started off pretty small; first, it was Athens, then its prefecta in the boardering regions, then to Macedonia, the Balcans, northern Africa, the Middle East, Asia. There are conspiracies and archeological exhibits which prove that Alexander the Great reached out as far as India in his conquests..what a man!!!. Nonetheless, as soon as the so called Hellenistic era started (4th century BC),like under any period of prosperity and progress (es. the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution), there was a brewing of optimism, inventiveness and progress. They invented things, created philosophies and academic disciplines and were led to believe that the world was their oyster, that, as long as you spoke Greek, you could be anywhere and do whatever you liked. Too bad that this concept was only true if you could afford it. Greeks benefitted from inequitable priviledges at the expenses, like always, of the non-Greeks, the slaves and the thousands of local communities that had been nullified for the advantage of their own. Remarkably enough, studious of the time would tell you that, unlike many other colonizations, the Hellenistic empire favoured and integrated local identities. For instance, the raise of Christiandom in the first century AD is a direct offspring of the Greeks fashination and acceptance for foreign beliefs and customs. However, their acceptance was only on an intellectual level and only for what could,somehow, improve their lives. Kind or less refined, colonialism is always a venture for potential abuse. What was the point of the whole academic regurgitation,anyway?! Oh, yes. I am currently reading a book by 2004 Peace Nobel Prize winner, Wangari Maathai. "Unbowed" is a wispy yet direct autobiography, "a compelling tale about the challenges and triumphs of modern Africa, a universal story about courage, perseverance and success for a noble cause"(Bill Clinton). I am loving every word of it and being absolutely absorbed in the life of this extraordinary woman. I am especially appreciating the old African fables and the tales of a forgotten tradition. Also, I found of interest the way she perceives the British ruling in Kenya. Due to her mixed Western/African education, she is the best qualified person to speak about the issue and does it with immense grace, wisdom and balance. "Take the good, leave the bad, 'cause we are all bound by a common humanity" would be my take on cosmopolitanism. Being the aspirational globe trotter that I like to describe myself as, I have utterly enjoyed the discovery of alien cultures. In my quest for cultural full-immersion and integration, I have often debated the dangers of imposing my national identity over others. This does not merely restrict to watching the Olympic games or the football worldcup where I am suddenly and scarely transformed into a hooligan-Hulk-like yelling,beer drinking monster (my apologies to those who have had to watch these events with me). Many of you know that my ultimate ambition would be to work as a missionary doctor in developing countries and that I have been priviledged enough to do some umanitarian aid work in various parts of the world - and loved every minute of it. An example of this is this picture on the left: me and Rosie teaching songs in a primary school in Nanchuwa, Kisii, Kenya, where, allegedly, the pupils had never seen a white skinned person before and there, behold, the crazy Italian chick and the chatty Northern Irish girl dancing and singing like mad women..I indeed enjoyed myself, but I remember being very weary that night about potentially having imposed "my way" onto a foreign culture. But how do you do that? How do you pursuit healthy cross-cultural communication and exchange and stay away from the dangers of imperialism and imposition? "Places you go, people you find" - of course, but what makes a man is not merely his genes, but it's his beliefs, his history. As Maathai writes: "The way we were brought up and translate the life we see, perceive, smell and touch (the water we drink, the air we breathe and the food we eat) is what we are".