Category Archives: Language

Global Youth

August 18th, 2017

youth

Americans get a bad rap for speaking only English, of making no effort to learn the languages of other cultures. For the most part, this is true. Unlike Europe, where an hour drive might find you in a completely foreign land, the furthest the average American will make it as far as edge of the state. But that’s not all of us.

In Southern California, from where I hail, the proximity to Mexico makes it not only worth it to speak at least some basic Spanish, it’s almost compulsory. And we are not alone. Foreign languages are being taught at younger and younger ages and it bodes well for the future of our region and the country in whole. Another language connects one more deeply to a culture, the nature of our world as one people, and most importantly, makes you sound like a fancy pants.

So, when I see a fluently bilingual toddler I am not only impressed but often more jealous than is reasonable for an adult toward a 5-year old.

Of course, there are the rare drawbacks:

In line at the ATM one day there was a young dad and his little girl, maybe all of four years old.

The father stands with his daughter, entering in his PIN:

Beep.

“Nueve!” the girl yells confidently.

In a quiet voice he replies, “That’s very good sweetie but shhh please”

He presses another button.

“Quatro!”

“Yes Clara that’s right but please we have to be quiet right now.”

He focuses on the screen tries to hide the buttons with his hand, keeps an eye on his daughter all at once.

Beep.

“Dos!”

“Clara!”

Clara erupts into giggles.

“Clara please”

The father, perhaps regretting just a bit his daughter linguistic skills, tries to turn her away, making a modestly curious little girl an obsessed investigator.

In what must have felt like a moment of glorious looney tune ingenuity Clara’s father points off to the distance,

“Clara look it’s a mariposa!”

Beep. The last button is entered.

“A butterfly? Where!?”

“Oh, I guess it flew away, let’s go li’l one.”

Better luck next time Clara. Like the rest of you baby geniuses, you give me hope for the future, a good laugh and a healthy dose of envy.

AlexB

Alex Brenner – When he is not helping international students as ACEI’s Communications Officer, Alex puts his writing chops to work as a script doctor for Hollywood screenwriters and guest blogs for ACEI-Global. Alex has a BA in English from UCLA and has been fortunate to have travelled to many corners of the world as a child and an adult.

For further information on the international credential evaluations, visit our website at www.acei-global.org or contact ACEI at acei@acei-global.org.

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Life Abbreviated

10/20/16

omg

On my way to work this morning, I stopped by the German bakery nearby.

Me: Hi! (Trying my best to greet the young staff with my cheery presence.)

Server (20-something male with bleached blonde spiked hair): no response, a simple nod.

Me: Plain croissant, please.

He reaches inside the display case and from the assortment and selects a flaky croissant which he then places in a small paper bag. He hands me the bag, punches some keys on the cash register and says: “Three.”

Three? Three, what? I wondered. What did he mean? Was he asking me if I wanted three croissants? Was he talking to someone else? Party of three? Then it dawned on me. Aha! It’s the cost. He’s telling me it’s three dollars. The young man didn’t even look up and stared at the cash register. He, the product of today’s Twitter/Snapchat, ‘talk-to-the-screen-and-not-to-my- face-generation’ had pretty much cut through the chase and just like an abbreviated text message or Tweet quoted me the amount. There were no niceties or extraneous words. Straight and to the point, he’d muttered “three.” Gone were the words: “That’ll be three dollars, please.” Or, “would you like anything else?”

I reached into my wallet and handed him three single dollar bills and left feeling disconnected and somewhat forlorn. I realize it’s cliché to rant against technology and social media and how we’re hiding behind our gadgets and avoiding face-to-face communication, but there is truth to it.  Machines are doing all our talking for us as though speaking is just too much of a chore. People aren’t even uttering the words “I love you” anymore. Instead, they join their index fingers and thumbs in the shape of a heart or text an emoji of a happy face blowing heart kisses bookended by multi-colored hearts.

hands_love

But, maybe its in our nature to look at shortcuts. Technology and social media are taking care of it for us today, and even as far back as when the Pilgrims rolled in, our forefathers were looking at ways of shrinking words in the English language by cutting out letters they saw as useless. Though, for the life of me, why even have letters in words if they remain silent? For a primer on how this came about, watch this video:

You may be wondering what this rant has to do with international credential evaluations? Absolutely nothing and everything. But, those of you in the world of credential evaluations know exactly what I’m speaking of: there are many in our field who are looking for a shortcut and the quick answer to what are sometimes the gray and complicated areas of international transcripts and degree evaluations.

goaround

Churning out evaluations by the hundreds, like a sausage-making factory, oblivious of the nuances surrounding each case and the needs of the specific institution and applicant by skirting standards and ignoring good customer service is becoming more and more de rigueur. (Yes, I thought since I’m on a rant, I might as well show off my 5th grade knowledge of French). I get it, time is of essence…time is money, blah, blah, blah. Institutions and private (profit and non-profits) organizations all have a bottom line, They need to be productive and show healthy numbers and a fast or quicker way of doing it is the desired method. Except, when we do it at the expense of research, critical analysis, and veer off the path of best practices. Then we’re in trouble and trouble has a way of catching up with us, maybe not today, but soon, in the near future. Price of becoming a society of ‘short-cutters’.

Frustrated
Frustrated Evaluator

ACEI Logo with Slogan - FINAL

The Academic Credentials Evaluation Institute, Inc. (ACEI), was founded in 1994 and is based in Los Angeles, CA, USA. ACEI provides a number of services that include evaluations of international academic credentials for U.S. educational equivalence, translation, verification, and professional training programs. ACEI is a Charter and Endorsed Member of the Association of International Credential Evaluators. For more information, visit www.acei-global.org.

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How to Be a Responsible Foreign-Language Learner and Speaker

August 25th, 2016

words

As participants in the 2016 Many Languages One World essay contest, we had to submit an essay on multiculturalism and multilingualism. Writing about multiculturalism and multilingualism is a tough and broad task, but what we can do, as individuals, is write about our own experience. 

As a student in Chinese department and as a traveler, I do not believe in any so-called “clash of civilizations”, or in any “culture shock”. “The other” is always the result of a process of image-making. Moreover, I am strongly convinced that most of the distinctions we rely on are constructs and artificial distinctions, used by dominant groups to justify unequal situations and discrimination. Learning foreign languages aims to explore interstices, never to widen gaps. 

I would like to explain why my experience of multiculturalism and multilingualism has fostered a strong sense of responsibility, and has motivated my political and social commitment.

I was born in France twenty years ago, and was brought up in ten different countries, among which Spain, South Korea, Canada and China. I have been moving every one or two years because of my parents’ job as International School French teachers. I can relate to many different cultural habits and cultural backgrounds. “Where do you come from?” is a question I feel very uncomfortable with. Because I am unable to answer it and because experience has proven, it doesn’t actually tell a lot about the person you’re speaking to. I don’t feel like I belong to a specific country and don’t feel attached to one single language. I don’t want to choose between countries and languages. The first language I learnt was Finnish. My brother and I recently saw some videos of us speaking Finnish together, but we can’t understand a word anymore. It’s one layer among our multi-layered, multi-dimensional life. Since then, my little sister arrived in our family, adopted from China, and my brother left the French school system to take the International Baccalaureate. My parents have moved to Tashkent, in Uzbekistan, and started learning Russian. When we get together in France every summer, we speak bits and pieces of French, English and Mandarin Chinese. Each language allows us to express our ideas, hint at common references, play on words in a different way. In our case they are always related to a certain time period, linked to certain friendships, landscapes, food, books, movies and educational systems we’ve experienced and share, which thus inform our approach to each language. As my sister said once, what we truly share is our story, our passing by in many places and never settling down.

This had led me to think identity is not an enclosed and immutable entity, identity is evolution, identity is change, making one’s way between adapting and conflicting. Identity is like a tangled web, tying together places you lived in, people you met or crossed paths with, what you’ve seen and experienced. In my case, I feel that what has primordially influenced me are the most unbearable things I have witnessed. People suffering from leper, from hunger and thirst, children working in terrible conditions and whom childhood was stolen away, eager to escape from poverty and war, in the places I’ve visited or lived in. You can’t forget these things. You can only pretend, but somewhere deep inside, it’s calling out for justice and urging you to do something. I feel this is what ties all the puzzle pieces of my scattered life together.

Therefore my political and social concerns have always been the very basis, the starting point in the appreciation of the world and people around me. I have been volunteering for several NGOs. I have been working in Pnomh Penh for the NGO Pour un Sourire d’Enfant (For a Child’s Smile), which takes care of children living in slums and dumps and offers them access to healthcare and education. I participated in the planning of Charity Runs in Taipei and other cities I lived in. When I was in Paris I participated in helping homeless people and families to fill in paperwork and have access to basics. I have been writing down all their stories and hope to get you to read them some day. What revolted me is, some people would sometimes stop near me and say we – volunteers – were encouraging the present-day “invasion” of “immigrants” and poor populations in France. Some seem to consider solidarity as crime – but as I said, I don’t make distinctions between “us” and “them”, and by helping them I’m helping us. Recently I have been working in Lyon for the Secours Populaire, helping out in annual events and working to improve the reading and writing skills as well as self-confidence of children left behind. Wherever I’ve been I have felt the same emergency. Wherever I will be living, and wherever you live, there is probably something going wrong outside your front door and you can always do something, at your level, to instigate change. Multi-culturalism is about lending a hand to others, wherever you come from and wherever they come from.

Moreover, I believe that we have a duty to reflect on our ability to bring some change, not only as young people but also as students in Language Departments. I am studying in the Chinese department of my University. I think it is important for us to concentrate on building “cultural bridges” : we can study common, parallel aspects in order to create dialogues rather than orchestrate sensational “West-East” breaking points. For instance last year I have read some interesting studies on links between some French twentieth century surrealist works and early Chinese Daoist works such as the Zhuangzi : provocation, striking images, humor, rejecting of forged boundaries and rigid categories. Drawing parallels often teaches us a lot more and is definitely more stimulating. Also, I would like to emphasize the fact that cultural understanding should never be taken for granted. We have to fight for it. Some of my classmates in the Chinese Department, studying Chinese language and culture at a high level, have never been in a Chinese speaking country, have no intention of going there, no desire to learn more about or meet people who live there – because, as one of them told me once, their interest in Chinese is only “theoretical”, “aesthetic” – and sometimes they have harsh, shocking words, and many prejudices against Chinese people and culture – very dangerous ideas.

I plan on maybe becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history; whatever I do later on, I hope I will never separate my work and my ideas. I was blamed once for refusing to complete an exercise in one of my Chinese courses. The problem was, the title was “Why women and men do not think alike” and the sentences we had to complete and read were very insulting. The teacher respected and understood my choice, but one of my classmates told me I should learn to separate the student and the “feminist” – that is schizophrenia – and then explained, China “never had and still does not have any feminist ideas” – which is completely false. Essentialism and distinctions between political and academic spheres are recurrent obstacles, and yet they can be overcome by raising awareness about our responsibility, our role as foreign-language learners and mediators. The issue is too important in our world today to be ignored.

That’s what I would like to conclude with: learning languages and traveling is a good start, but it is not enough. We need to stand up, and take action for what we believe in. We are responsible for what we do – and what we don’t do. Learning foreign languages is an urgent necessity but it won’t help if it’s just about playing with sounds and alphabets. It’s about making the others’ fear, anger and hope, our own.”

lea

Léa Buatois

About Léa Buatois: Léa was one of 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI). Léa  was born in Dijon, France, in 1996. Her parents teach in French international schools around the world. Because of her parents’ job as French teachers abroad, she has been moving a lot, approximately every one or two years. The first language she spoke was Finnish, and later she started learning English, French and Mandarin Chinese. She is now studying in the Chinese Department of the Ecole Normale Supérieure of Lyon, France. She is interested in becoming a researcher in Chinese philosophy or history, or working in cultural diplomacy or international relations. She love traveling, reading and writing.

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I Am Not A Citizen Of The World

August 11th, 2016

worldpeople

No soy una ciudadana del mundo.

I come from Chile, located at the end of the world. Surrounded by the immensity of the Pacific Ocean, the loneliness of the Atacama Desert and the impenetrability of the Andes cordillera, it could be considered an island. 

I am not a citizen of the world.

I am fluent in Spanish, French and English. I am “cultured”; I know about history, art, music and poetry. I am “travelled”: I biked the Golden Gate Bridge, I went up the Eiffel Tour, I got the Padi diving course in Koh Samui, Surfed in Sydney and knew the leather tanneries in Fez. However, when I travel, I care about the amazing travel selfies that I post on instagram. I am not interested in knowing the locals, since they look different and their cultural traditions are ridiculous, obsolete, and nonsensical, compared to my “modern” and “liberal” way of life. I am not interested of Khmer Rouge and its impact in Cambodian citizens, and I certainly do not take advantage of my language skills to understand their beliefs, their stories, or their wounds.

Je ne suis pas une citoyenne du monde.

I do not care about global issues such as the energy crisis or the uncertainty of the refugees’ life. I have electricity and hot water in my house and recycling is too much effort. And when by accident I run into the international news happening in a faraway land, I quickly change the channel to the Turkish soap opera of the moment. After all, the facial expressions of Hurrem in Muhteşem Yüzyıl, are much more attractive than the death baby on the beach. My main concerns are the next season of Games of Thrones, the next Taylor Swift album or the 4 kilos that I desperately need to lose before my next trip to Costa Rica.

  1. Turkish soap opera: The Magnificent Century

 

I am not a citizen del mundo.

I do not have time to get informed of world news, search different sources of information and form my own opinions. I do not have time to do any volunteer work since my life is “crazy” and I have a lot on my plate; after all, you do not get to the 1013 level in Candy Crush Saga playing for only one month.

Je ne suis pas une citizen of the world.

I go to fancy restaurants, and the bill covers a month of an entire family living. I buy Louis Vuitton bags, while outside the store is a lady selling coconut water to support her family, and I bargain her down from two dollars to one. I love to buy cheap t-shirts, but I never ask myself how the price can be as low, and who is really paying for them.

Je ne suis pas una ciudadana of the world 

My favourite and most valuable relation is with my smartphone, since it provides all that I need. Wakes me up in the morning, keeps me company during the day and even introduces me to people to date, since I long lost the capacity to engage with others in real life. When I do not have Internet my phone, I feel disconnected. I am numb.

I am not une citoyenne del mundo

I live unconsciously. I do not connect to others in any significant way. I am a consumer. I try to fill my internal void with external things, and wonder why I never feel as happy or complete as the girls in the women’s magazines. Even when on my Instagram I have hundreds of likes and I seem to have it all, I do not want to acknowledge that “thing”. That “thing” on my chest. That “thing” that I conveniently “confuse” with hunger so I eat/drink/smoke to make it go away. That “thing” that accompanies me everywhere I go. That “thing” that never leaves me, not even in my dreams. That “thing” that gives me nightmares every night. Nightmares that I do not realize that I have or even question why or since when I have them.

Since most of the time I travel alone, is not unusual that people approach me to ask where I come from and why I am traveling by myself; people with epicanthic fold, women wearing veils, with different skin and hair colour, in summary people that I had never the interest to approach. It is when they kindly ask me about my culture and they tell me about theirs, when I realize how narrow my worldview is. How come they are interested in me but I am not interested in them? When they talk to be on the bus or in the hostel lobby I realize how much I focus on my belly and not on what surrounds me. I realize how loyally I mirror Chile. I am also an island. Surrounded by invisible but robust frontiers, locking me in a comfortable bubble wrapping me to everything dissimilar.

Out of nowhere, these strangers show me their openness, their kindness, their generosity, and their happiness, and strangely, it feels good, and that “thing” on my chest feels somehow warm. It is then when I realize I lack those attributes. I cannot demonstrate affection as easily and as openhandedly as they do. I wish I could, but that “thing” on my chest, seems to be cold and empty…

It is only because I am multilingual that I am able to talk with people from China, Lebanon, Malaysia, India, Nigeria and Russia about the common battles we face as women over coffee in Edinburgh. Women who would be unlikely to meet in Chile since the percentage of immigrants from China is 2%, and even less for the other mentioned countries. Our natural barriers seem to act like an impenetrable membrane from the rest of the world, which gives the illusion that we are the norm and the others are the different ones. Our barriers keep us physically, mentally and emotionally disconnected from the rest of the world. 

It is when we cry our hardships together and encourage one another that I discover and I am able to appreciate these former strangers as human beings. Humans with feelings, struggles and dreams, just like mine. And it is then when I feel something moving on my chest, and I notice an urge to help them to achieve their goals, and to do it together. Suddenly our conversations are not about the bachelor or what we consider attractive in a man, but about our adventures or misadventures, on how we misread cultural norms, and what we learnt from them. We compare traditions, customs and meaning and it is then when I start to appreciate their way of life, and recognize that maybe my way of life is not the best one, that it is certainly not entirely “right” or “good”. Theirs may be more “conservative” and traditional, but at the same time it is more respectful, cooperative and caring. Women are not displayed as sexual objects, people are not in an endless race to show who has more, and people think twice before judging someone else. Learning different perspectives and about different ways of life, allow me to think about new ways, new solutions and new possibilities. I am able to see the richness of our world and it opens my mental frontiers to consider that maybe if we share more, we can take what is good from each other´s cultures, build a new perspective together and share a new common path to improve our communities.

It is when they tell me about their life stories when I realize, that that news that I heard about war and the bombing of that country in a faraway land, becomes real. It is not something that happened to random people on TV. It is my friend’s life that was on the line. I had shivers and sorrow to hear her describe how her father decided to split the family members in several different cars to drive to the frontier in case one of them got bombed. The shivers and sorrow I was able to feel were only possible because we were able to talk the same language and were curious about each other experiences. 

It is then that I realize that multilingual ability is more than technical proficiency. Multilingual ability serve to something more than to land a job in an international company, have high scores in a given test or ask for directions in a foreign country.

Multilingual ability can be more. It can be a door to empathise and develop significant relations with others different than us that we would have never talked to since we would not understand each other. It can allow us to connect with others emotionally and break our stereotypes. It allows us to constantly redefine the meaning of kind words according to the langage we speak. It can be a way to engage with others as human beings and find what bonds us instead of what takes us apart.

Multilingual ability awarded me the gift to have new friends with diverse customs and worldviews. Friends who showed me their generosity and their love; friend who taught me how to develop the attributes I lacked. Attributes that moved and warmed up that “thing” inside me. It was with their friendship that I started filling up the everlasting loneliness that was with me, no matter how far I went or how many things I bought.

Multilingual ability threatens my perfect “casual” picture on Instagram of me looking at the horizon in the Grand Canyon, and replaces it for a messy picture in my wallet with all my friends sharing hummus, dumplings, patacones, fish and chips, chalakaka and pisco sour on a long table.

It is when I acknowledge the stereotypes I have,
It is when I start to connect emotionally with others and with myself,
It is when I question the fears I hold,
It is when I recognize what impact my actions have in the world,
It is when their issues become mine, and mine become theirs,
It is when my friends´ homes become mines,
It is when I see the richness of what we could create collectively,
It is when I live my life with others,
It is when I share the warm of heart,
It is when we realize that we are all in this together,
That I start my journey of becoming a citizen of the world.

maria
Maria Jose Ramirez C.

Maria Jose holds a PhD in Education from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, Master’s in Human Kinetics from the University of Ottawa, Canada, and degree in teaching from Ponrificia Universidad Catolice de Chile. She loves sports, nature and travel and for over 12 years has worked with athletes by motivating and inspiring them to not only win medals but achieve their own excellence not just at their sports, but also as human beings. Maria Jose was one of the 60 winners of the 2016 international essay contest of Many Languages, One World® (MLOW) that included students from 36 countries and 54 universities. Her essay, shared in this blog, was selected from a pool of over 3,600 entrants. Many Languages, One World is organized by ELS Educational Services, Inc., and the United Nations Academic Impact (UNAI)

alcanzandotuexcelencia@gmail.com

http://www.alcanzatuexcelencia.com

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IRAN: Happiness, Stealthy Freedom, and Faces of Iran on FB

June 12th, 2014

Happiness is…

If you’ve been following the news from Iran recently, you must have heard the one about the group of six young women and men who posted a clip of themselves happily dancing to Pharrell Williams’ hit song “Happy!” As quickly as their video had gone viral, Iran’s morality police had them tracked down, arrested and forced them to repent on state-run television for their unorthodox behavior. I’d happened upon their dance video via a recently discovered Facebook page called “Humans of Tehran” inspired by the original “Humans of New York,” which actually began with Brandon Stanton’s voyage to Iran and a series of photos he took of the people he had met and the sites he had visited in the country. Check this link for the priceless photos he captured.

Pharrell’s song “Happy” has been adopted by people around the world. If you check on Youtube you’ll find tributes to “Happy” from Senegal, Dubai, India, France, Jamaica, Tunisia, Japan, Morocco, Russia, Belgium, Philippines, and many more. I was, however, surprised to see a video paying tribute to Pharrell’s hit song from Iran, given the strict restrictions the government has placed on western music. We have all heard of underground bands (see film “No Ones Heard of Persian Cats”) from visitor to Iran witnessing concerts and performances by musicians behind the closed doors of houses and apartments, in basements and rooftops, hilltops, abandoned barns, and even inside their cars. Iranians are blasting pop music on their sound systems and dancing to their hearts desire. However, to tape a video and post it on a public venue like Youtube for all to see, took some unbelievable courage and perhaps naïveté. The dancers in the video must have thought they were immune to scrutiny or arrest since they were dancing to a sweet and infectious song with global appeal. There is even a video of people dancing to “Happy” in Yemen (a very strict Islamic country). The “Happy” video that got the young people in trouble shows the young women without the hijab and dancing with young men on the rooftop and inside the confines of a small living room. The arrest of these young people has drawn the ire of social media in and outside the U.S. and even Pharrell Williams himself has spoken up and condemned their arrest. In an interview, Williams is quoted as saying: “It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness.” Yet even though the authorities clamped down on the young people whose video had been found offensive, another one from Iran has been posted on YouTube as well as one performed by puppets dancing to the Happy on the rooftop as a tribute to the dancers who were arrested.

Iranian_Tango

And then I stumbled upon a video of a couple dancing the tango, an intimate and sensual dance, not in the privacy of their home but right outside a mosque. Looks like no matter how much the morality police try to suppress people, happiness through music and dance has a way of rising to the top and not just roof tops.

Faces of People of Iran

Another site I learned about is the Facebook page is the “Humans of Tehran,” on the Humans of New York page; an enormously successful site with followers all over the world. The images captured on the Humans of Tehran page speak volumes of a country that so few of us living here in the U.S. know much of except what is reported on mainstream news media. What we don’t see are the faces of the children, the teens, college students, couples in love, fathers playing in the snow with their children, the elderly resting on a park bench, street vendors and artisans, images of cities, living rooms, beauty salons, restaurants and cafes, monuments, cityscapes and landscapes, nature and the urban life. Humans of Tehran puts the human face on the enemy and we see that the people are just like us, going to work, to school, cooking, cleaning, driving, skateboarding, hiking, lounging, just existing.

Humans_Of_Tehran
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hilltop view of Tehran)

Humans_Of_Tehran_2
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Beauty Salon, where women can be free of the hijab, at least temporarily.)

Humans_Of_Tehran_3
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)

Humans_Of_Tehran_4
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Tehran)

Humans_Of_Tehran_5
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (Hiking in the hills outside of Tehran is a very popular outdoor activity amongst Iranians of all ages.)

Humans_Of_Tehran_6
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Firefighters at Firehouse 64, Tehran)

For a look at current state of fashion in Iran, click here: http://ajammc.com/2014/03/11/a-fashionable-revolution/

Humans_Of_Tehran_7
Credit: Humans of Tehran FB (School children)

Humans_Of_Tehran_8
Credit: Brandon Stanton (Humans of Iran – Tehran Street Scene)

Humans_Of_Tehran_9
Credit: Humans of Tehran (The Metro in Tehran; the plans for the metro were drawn during the former Shah’s regime and implemented thereafter.)

Stealthy Freedom: Women Reclaiming Their Freedom

Recently, a brave new page popped up on my Facebook feed called “My Stealthy Freedom.” created by Masih Alinejad, an Iranian female journalist living in London. On this site Iranian women of all ages from different corners of Iran have their photos taken in public places without their hijab. By ridding themselves of their scarves, at least temporarily, they are expressing their right to be free to choose, free to wear or not to wear the hijab. This is a very bold move on the part of these women. In one photo (seen below), a young woman has tossed her scarf into the air as she stands in the middle of a neighborhood street with her arms stretched up to the sky and her long brown hair exposed for the world to see. A smile rests on her face as she looks up into the heavens.

Humans_Of_Tehran_10
Credit: Stealthy Freedom FB

In a video, another young woman is behind the wheel of her car driving through the city streets with her light brown hair exposed. No hijab, nothing. Women are having their photos taken without the hijab and posting it on this site. Each has something to say. Some express their opinion through poetry, veiled in metaphors and some say it as it is. “I want the freedom to choose. It is my human right.”

Unfortunately, Masih Alinejad, the creator of the Facebook page “My Stealthy Freedom” has been the target of ugly smear campaigns by Iran’s state-run media in order to discredit her. I won’t dignify what was said about Alinejad in this post, but I will share with you her response: “I’ve thought long and hard about how to respond. As a matter of principle, I’m going to sue for damages and file a formal complaint against the state television.” Definitely nothing stealthy about her; her statement is both bold and clear.

To the outside, Iran may appear one dimensional, but that is far from the truth. With its rich history dating back to nearly 3000 years, Iran is a land of dichotomy. A blog worth reading, though a couple of years old, explains this dichotomy in detail.

In spite of the dress code and civil rights restrictions concerning women, more women are engaging in public life through participating in elections, political campaigns and demonstrations. More women graduating from universities in Iran than men; in fact, women comprise 65% of all university students and represent an increasingly high percentage of the workforce in Iran. Women are competing for the same jobs as men, so much so that under Iran’s former President Ahmadinejad’s tenure, a law was to be passed to prohibit women from entering into specific degree programs at universities so as to not take seats away from the men. It is an interesting twist to affirmative action; Iranian style.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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World Music Teaches You Everything

April 3rd, 2014

World_Music
Music tells the stories of our world

I majored in Humanities as an undergraduate because it was broad-based and I could take many courses, from California Geography to Entomology to history, philosophy, languages and literature. Later, I took an MA in Comparative Literature for similar reasons: I could read the great writers from around the world, learning from epistolary novels (novels of letters e.g. Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Goethe’s Sorrows of Young Werther). Historical novels, Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky, and a lot of French writers (favorites were Balzac, Stendhal, and Flaubert). You learn about 19th century Paris from reading Balzac. You learn about Napoleon from reading Tolstoy’s War and Peace, 19th century England from Dickens, psychology from Flaubert. You learn so many things about history, sociology, and especially psychology, human behavior, dreams, our collective aspirations, longing, the whole panoply of human existence.

The same holds true for world music. You learn about geography, something Americans could use more knowledge about. I am quite knowledgeable about African history because of my fondness for its huge variety of music. Additionally, I know all about Cape Verde, for instance, because I love its music and met and interviewed Cesaria Evora many times. Now I can tell anybody about where it is–300 miles off the coast of Senegal. In 2 weeks, I’m actually going to Cape Verde for the Atlantic Music Expo and Kriol Jazz Festival. I’m really looking forward to it.

Because music is such a basic expression in all cultures, it necessarily teaches us about those cultures: again, history, psychology, anthropology, geography, customs, mores, everything.

I say don’t confine yourself to just one kind of music. Like all the varieties of food we can now enjoy, why just eat one kind? World music is about exploration, finding joy and delight. Why deprive ourselves of such valuable lessons? For me it has enriched my life beyond measure, which is why I’ve been a world music cheerleader for the past 30 years.

toms

Tom Schnabel, M.A.

Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres
Blogs for Rhythm Planet
Author & Music educator, UCLA, SCIARC, currently doing music salons
www.tomschnabel.com

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Celebrating Spring

March 13th, 2014

spring

With nervous pleasure,
The tulips are receiving
A spring rain at dusk
––Richard Wright

Cultures around the world celebrate spring as a time of renewal, healing, and rebirth, moving from the darkness of winter to the much-anticipated light of spring. Whatever form of celebration this takes, it is a time of new beginnings and hope. A time to celebrate life.

Original peoples were in rhythmic harmony with natural cycles, and created seasonal festivals, to honor their connection and dependency on the natural world. It seems only obvious then, that people who later came to believe in dying and returning gods–– synchronized their celebrations of birth, fertility and life, with those of the original people, often at the beginning of Spring, the Vernal Equinox.

The word Equinox comes from the Latin aequus (equal) and nox (night), equal night, meaning a moment in time when the earth’s axis is tilted neither towards nor away from the sun, but is aligned directly with the poles, and day and night are about equal in length. It is a global time of perfect balance.

Original people the world over understood that a state of balance was necessary for well-being and harmony, and knew that imbalance in nature or with the self was the source of illness or disease. To the Yoruba people of West Africa, “…disease is seen as a disruption of our connection to the earth.”

Spring is regarded as a time for healing, and cleansing, a much-anticipated occasion heralded by the appearance of tiny green buds, the first flowers poking through the still cold ground, and of course the winter-absent sounds of birds.

Birdsong and flowers are two mythically powerful avatars of spring in most cultures worldwide, and therefore it is not surprising that both are honored ritually in connection with celebrations of spirit, and of dying and returning gods.

Birdsongs

About three weeks ago, I was happily surprised when I realized that once again, I was hearing the sounds of birds. I had been tuned to a different, internal biorhythm––Winter, and had not even realized the sound was missing, and it made me walk around smiling all day.

At just about the same time, I read a poignant and bittersweet article titled” How to build a Perfect Refugee Camp” in the Sunday Feb.13, 2014 New York Times Magazine. It is a about the lives of Syrian refugees in Kilis, a refugee camp in Turkey near the Syrian border

One of many moving details that ran throughout the story was the presence and implied importance of Canaries in cages. They were photographed everywhere in their cages, inside and outside of most of the container dwellings, and the author often noted their presence, but without a real explanation.

I found that to be fascinating and have been trying to find information that could explain the origins of the tradition, of keeping Canaries, if in fact it was one…or is it rather a result of the heartbreaking situation they find themselves in. I began to think that perhaps the birds are there for another reason. A healing reason.

The sound of a songbird is at the same time elevating and calming, reassuring. We feel more at ease somehow, which means our lives are just flowing better, and we like that.

If some of us are lucky enough to hear the songs of birds interrupt and rise above the noise of a city or the noise of traffic, consciously or unconsciously, we feel better.

Julian Treasure explained that in his recent Ted Talk: The 4 ways Sound Affects Us,”… Most people find the sound of birdsong reassuring. There’s a reason for that. Over hundreds of thousands of years, we’ve learned that when the birds are singing,” things are safe.” It’s when they stop–– that you need to be worried.” Maybe it is a tradition based on the healing wisdom of the natural world, and as refugees themselves, perhaps these Canaries sing to bring about harmonious balance––a beautiful coping mechanism that calms everyone down, giving them a reassuring space to heal from the trauma of war.

Atahualpa Yupanqui, the famous Argentine folk musician, was quoted as saying,” Music is a torch with which to see where beauty lies, “ and the music of singing birds is certainly that. Perhaps that is why the Fernandeño Tataviam Band of Mission Indians in California, among many native tribes in California, chose to call their very important singing rituals, Birdsongs. These songs are very important to their cultures, and are meant to be shared in social gatherings. The songs tell stories, which unfold in a series of songs about migration, and life lessons. Both men and women participate, singing and dancing to the accompaniment of rattles.

Flower Fusion

The Yaqui Indians of the Sonoran Desert revere flowers, and view them as manifestations of souls. “Haisa sewa?” is a Yaqui greeting among men, which means,” How is the flower?”

In the springtime, the Yaqui perform their sacred duty of ensuring the existence of the world, by dancing the Deer Dance in Lenten and Easter rituals. After the Conquest, the Yaqui fused their original beliefs, synchronizing them to the Catholic Holidays, ensuring the survival of their ways. The deer dancers represent the spirit of the sacred deer who lives in the Flower World, one of the five worlds of Yaqui belief. Their rituals are conducted to perfect these worlds, and eliminate the harm done to them.

During these spring rituals, the sacred deer returns to this world, and the songs of the deer singer, are the voices of the deer, bringing mystical messages from their world. The return of the Deer spirit is syncretic with the resurrection of Jesus Christ, returning on Easter with divine messages from heaven.

For the ancient Nauhua people, Xochiquetzalli, the goddess of flowers and love, was the mother of their sacred dying and returning god Quetzalcoatl, or Kukulkan, the plumed serpent. As a dual-natured god, Kukulkan’s feathers represent his heavenly abode, and his serpent body allows him to travel on the earth. The Quetzal bird’s iridescent green plumes were used in royal costume and ceremonial garb for kings and priests.

The great pyramid El Castillo, or Kukulcán’s Pyramid, built in the center of Chichen Itza in Mexico, displays an astronomically symbolic reenactment, of the return of Kukulcán, as he descends to earth on the Vernal Equinox. An unusual shadow creeps down the northern stairway, appearing as a serpent, which finally unites with its stone head, which sits in the light at the pyramid’s base.

Tonantzin, Xochiquetzalli, and the Virgin of Guadalupe are all aspects of the great mother goddess of fertility, of life, and creation.

The ancient goddess Xochiquetzalli, (Flowery Plumage), gave rise to the pre-Hispanic belief in a “flower-woman”, who represented Mother Earth and fertility. She is celebrated on the Friday before Palm Sunday, in the Flor más Bella del Ejido (Most Beautiful Flower of the Ejido or Field) pageant, honoring the beauty of Mexican indigenous women, held in Xoxhimilco, Mexico. In the Náhuatl dialect, Xoxhimilco means,” place of the flowery orchard.”

In about 1570, Friar Diego Durán, who grew up in Texcoco, described the celebrations of Xochiquetzalli, ”… The dance they most enjoyed was the one in which they crowned and adorned themselves with flowers. A house of flowers was erected on the main pyramid . . .. They also erected artificial trees covered with fragrant flowers where they seated the goddess Xochiquetzalli… On this day they were as happy as could be, the same happiness and delight they feel today on smelling any kind of flower, whether it have an agreeable or a displeasing scent, as long as it is a flower. They become the happiest people in the world smelling them…”

As Christians honor the Virgin of Guadalupe with roses, and the Virgin of Candelaria with marigolds, the Nahua people honored Xochiquetzalli, singing Xochicuicame, flower songs. Xochitlahtoane (flower speakers), performed publicly. The songs were about flowers or related to rituals honoring Xochiquetzal, and were a channel to invoke a deity in an individual and personal way.

The most famous flower songs were those of Hungry Coyote, a ruler, and poet in ancient Mexico. One of his songs, The Flower Tree Song was sung during this Spring celebration in honor of Xochiquetzalli. Here is an excerpt:

“…Delight, for Life Giver adorns us. All the flower bracelets, your flowers, are dancing. Our songs are strewn in this jewel house, this golden house. The Flower Tree grows and shakes, already it scatters. The quetzal breathes honey, the golden quéchol breathes honey. Ohuaya ohuaya.

You have transformed into a Flower Tree, you have emerged, you bend and scatter. You have appeared before God’s face as multi-colored flowers. Ohuaya ohuaya.

Live here on earth, blossom! As you move and shake, flowers fall. My flowers are eternal, my songs are forever: I raise them: I, a singer. I scatter them, I spill them, the flowers become gold: they are carried inside the golden place. Ohuaya ohuyaya.

Flowers of raven, flowers you scatter, you let them fall in the house of flowers. Ohuaya ohuyaya.

Happy Spring!

Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jeanniewn@gmail.com

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