“Oh, Really?”

September 25th, 2015 by Phifer Nicholson

Last week, I had a conversation with a man who elucidated for me a fairly typical exchange that takes place while teaching at university in Istanbul. He speaks perfect Turkish, and has no physical characteristics or exterior adornments (such as necklaces, etc.) that betray his heritage.

Therefore, most Turks assume that he is “Turkish,” in every sense of the word. As defined by the Republic of Turkey under Mustafa Kemal Atatürk in the 1920’s, the prototypical “Turkish” person is of a common descent (which is in of itself a problematic category historically) and is Muslim (Sunni, of course, but not TOO religious, for that would be problematic as well).

However, he is not ashamed of his heritage, and it thereby often surfaces when in conversation with colleagues or students. And, the two words that almost always follow the revelation that he is not truly Turkish in those limited senses are:

“Oh, really?”

He explained that an entire book could be written about the meaning of these two small words. To him, they communicate, “You are a good man, or you are a skilled man, how could it be?” How could it be, that this man is actually a member of the group of which is synonymous with the word “traitor” in Turkish?

An Armenian. It confounds the mind, and confronts deep-seated prejudice.

This is an example of something that I have seen repeatedly in both America and Istanbul. It is the prejudice or fear of another because of a lack of understanding. We are often fed a narrative and do not question it, for we have nothing to compare it to. We, in short, are ignorant.

In America, some are putting forth this narrative: if one is a Muslim, they are naturally inclined to wish hurt upon you, to oppress women, and are all-around undesirable people to be around. Many don’t even give it that much thought. Muslims are different, the “other,” and therefore ought to be feared. Enough said.

My experience could not be more different. The Muslims that I have had the privilege of befriending are some of the kindest, most thoughtful, and most generous people I know. The power of relationship to subvert the narrative we are often fed is real—and I have experienced it personally: be it in Anum Ahmed and Kulsoom Haq at Wofford, or Jimmy the grocery store owner and the local garbage man (I cannot recall his name, but he has been a daily source of welcome) in my neighborhood called Tarlabaşı. Perhaps this is why I am doing a project focused on interfaith relationships.

I am now going to take a swim into possibly muddy waters and address my fellow Christians out there: those who follow Jesus, and hold Him as their treasure. One thing that Christian tradition holds is the doctrine of Original Sin, that is, that people and the world have a fundamental brokenness as a result of disobedience to God. Jesus paved a way for redemption through this mess, and that is why he is the pillar of our faith.

When one looks at the world today, it is sometimes not difficult to see powerful examples of this brokenness. Some of this brokenness results in people having to leave their homes. They become refugees, and are forced to flee to find a new home because of war, famine, and the like. Recently, many have drowned in the Mediterranean, and thousands run the streets where I currently reside.

Which is where I come to my point: when it comes to things like refugees resettling in Spartanburg, we, as Christians, ought to be the FIRST to welcome these people with open hearts and hands.

I have met refugees from Syria while in Istanbul. I promise you, they are people just like you and me. These are people in need, who have been forced out of their homes because of war and political pressure. Most of us cannot even fathom such a thing—home has always been just that for us: home.

Jesus was a pretty radical guy. In fact, he got himself killed for some of the things he said and did. I think we often forget just how offensive (and crazy) these words are, “But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven…for if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same?” (Matthew 5:44-45a, 46). For more fun, let’s take a quick peek at Paul, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them” (Romans 12:14).

Whoa. Actually stop and think about it for a second—Jesus and Paul saying the EVEN IF every refugee and, dare I say, Muslim, is actively trying to hurt you, we as followers of Jesus are to love them, bless them, and refuse to curse them. We ought to pray that they may see Jesus as we do, and embody Christ with our words, our actions, our sacrificial service, and our open arms.

News flash! Fortunately for us in America and Spartanburg, that scenario I just painted of Islam and refugees is patently untrue.

I am not naïve. I am not saying the there are not Muslim extremists that wish (and enact) hurt upon others. I am not saying that nations are to roll over to these people. I am not saying that we are to allow them to hurt and oppress others, both abroad and in our own homes. Also, I am not saying that there will be no difficulties when seeking to welcome these “strangers” to our land.

I am saying, however, that the vast majority of the almost 2 billion Muslims in the world are the kind of people that would make phenomenal neighbors. Furthermore, I admit that it is much easier to engage when someone isn’t trying to kill you, and that is the overwhelming truth considering both the people of Islam and the refugees about to grace our community.

Please do your research. Please reach out to me if you have any questions concerning this. Take a leap and actually try to get to know a Muslim. I think you may be pleasantly surprised, and may even gain a new friend.

This subject is near and dear to my heart. I think that we as Christians must be more responsible concerning Islam and refugees, and die to ourselves (that means our fears and our prejudices) daily in order to embody Christ by loving and welcoming them well.

I will close with these words from Jesus, and the power I think they hold for Christians and non-Christians alike, “For I was hungry and I gave you food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me” (Matthew 25:36, 40b).

Once again, things are great over here and I am sending all my best from Istanbul! Always feel free to reach out with any questions, comments, or snide remarks (as Dr. Byron McCane would say): nicholsoncp@email.wofford.edu

 

Faith, Friends, and Familiarity

September 10th, 2015 by Phifer Nicholson

I must give two disclaimers before I begin. First: I have never blogged before. Ever. So, bear with me. Second: I am a bit jet-lagged and have been running loose in Istanbul for a couple hours…so here we go!

First, I think I should give a quick intro to my project. In Interim 2015, I had the privilege of traveling to Turkey with Dr. Philip Dorroll to study the history and current state of religious minorities in the city of Istanbul. One day, we visited a Jewish synagogue. The reality of its scarred history was apparent from the moment we arrived, from the blast doors to the mysterious black mark on the sanctuary wall. Soon we learned that the mark was the residue from one of two terrorist attacks, that killed over forty individuals in total, and remains today as a constant reminder of the violence perpetrated against this minority community.

The leader in the Jewish community who spoke to us stated that, as a whole, Jews are stigmatized in Turkish media. She revealed, however, that Jews and Muslims are at peace in the communities where they live, and actually share deep friendship. Both groups attend weddings, bar mitzvahs, and funerals of the other community. She explained that when Muslims meet the members of her community, they call them, “Our Jews,” and therefore are able to see past their prejudices and accept them as one their own.

This is what I am after: stories of interfaith interactions that serve to change the perception one has of the members of differing faith communities. Furthermore, I am seeking to find if deep friendships can be/are forged which are bound in love and respect, and yet engaging the differences in meaningful ways. I have conducted five fruitful ethnographic interviews in my home of Minneapolis, MN with Muslim minorities, and will (at least, as of now) be focusing on Christian minorities while in the Middle East. This is something I am deeply interested in, for I am passionate about learning how to engage difference well as a follower of Jesus. I am happy to say that I have made five new friends in Minneapolis so far in my research, and I am looking forward to more!

Saturday I will meet my first contact: a priest who I met while here in January.

All in all, this trip will take me from Minneapolis to Istanbul to Jerusalem to Haifa to the West Bank (and only God knows where else!). It is about time to delve again into two of the things I love most: faith and people. I don’t know what I’ll find as I seek to collect stories or where the road will take me, but I sure am excited for the ride.

Now, on to my initial thoughts upon arrival in Istanbul. One thing that struck me was a feeling that I expected, but was so comforting when it actually came.

Familiarity.

I must take a second to brag on Dr. Phil Dorroll’s Istanbul interim last year—we spent only twelve days in this massive city, but did so much in that time that when the final day came and we were loading up the shuttle to the airport, we all felt like we could hold our own in this city of fourteen million (!) people. Just to give an example of how valuable this experience was for me: my flat where I am living is in an area I had never been. However, it is near a familiar neighborhood and I was able to navigate my way to the place I’ll call home for the next month.

Phenomenal. Many thanks, Phil.

As I have reflected on that flight home in January, I remember specifically thinking to myself, “I will probably never come back to this city,” as I felt the wheels lift off the runway. Realistically speaking, I would never have that opportunity again.

Lo and behold, I am currently sitting in Gölge Khave with a cup of filter coffee a few meters off of the vibrant neighborhood Taksim’s main street, Istiklâl Caddesi. I am in a state of pure awe. That awe is welling up into thankfulness to everyone that has made something like this possible for me. I could go on for hours, but my family, friends, Wofford faculty and staff, and the countless other supporters that have shaped who I am come to mind, and I thank you (if you are reading this, you probably fit there). I will do all I can to make the most of this opportunity as my (far too small) repayment.

I have been enjoying wandering in and among this beautiful city again, and am looking forward to a good shower and night’s rest (trying to kick that jet lag!).

Always feel free to reach out via email (nicholsoncp@email.wofford.edu) or Facebook with questions, suggestions, and thoughts. I am sending all my best from the streets of Istanbul!

 

 

 

 

 

Asking Her More

January 14th, 2015 by Lindsey Perret

Sitting in the common room of my hostel with a bunch of bummed out kite surfers (it’s raining…again) has given me some perspective how confusing my research question might be to someone who has never met me. Most of my friends and family have been able to ask me follow up questions, some have heard me babble on about it for longer than they might like, and some people are just trying to be polite. But because of the rain, the kite surfers have been asking me questions that boil down to wanting to know the difference between their perspective as kite surfers and my perspective as a student. What do I see that they don’t? What’s going on in this tropical paradise other than vacations? I’ve met a lot of inquisitive people on my journey, and the conversation usually evolves into me explaining that no, I haven’t met the next Malala Yousafzai; I have, however, had the pleasure of talking to some incredibly cool women. Here are some examples of what they are doing:

A woman who was a guerrilla during the Sandinista revolution now works to bring clean water to Nicaraguans.

A single mother in a town with a large out-migration problem teaches her son that staying in his hometown is important, that he should never hurt women, and that you can’t get a girl pregnant by holding hands with her.

A victim of childhood abuse now hosts a radio station that gives women a voice.

A principal encourages children to focus on reading in a community plagued with drug abuse.

A waitress that helps at the local women’s community center plans protests and meetings when she’s not working 12-hour shifts.

These women have no obligation to be doing this work. They simply have seen a problem in their communities, and they’re reaching out with empathy and doing what they can to try to fix it. They’re listening. They’re serving. They’re leading. Every single one of them was excited to share their story, it’s just rare that someone asks them.

This brings me to the other night’s Golden Globes. Let me explain. Unfortunately, I couldn’t watch it, but I was following it on twitter and noticed some trends that I got excited about. Normally, awards shows are a couple of hours of advertisements and some awards sandwiched in between some catty people commenting on celebrities’ outfits and asking them inappropriate questions. The questions posed to women focus on appearance: “What are you wearing?” “How did you lose that baby weight?” “You got so in shape for that role—how did you do it!?” These questions posed to talented women such as Maggie Gyllenhaal, Julianne Moore, Lupita Nyong’o, and Amy Adams. Why not ask them questions that men are asked? Their inspiration? Their favorite book? Their first Hollywood job?

cate blanchett

But for the Golden Globes this year, Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls at the Party, partnered with Miss Representation, challenged that tradition. They started a hashtag, #AskHerMore, encouraging reporters to ask women on the red carpet more thought provoking questions. Now, this campaign has the specific goal of showing the reality that our media often only cares about a woman if she’s wearing heels. But what if we “asked her more” in all situations?

In this project, I tried to be an example of that. I asked everyone questions, from the maids at my hostels to non-profit directors. My goal now is to take that with me to “real life,” as I’ve been calling it. It’s not easy, but it’s important: to listen, to serve, to be empathetic, no matter where I find myself. It’s how you make change, and how you lead it.

Thoughts from D45

December 9th, 2014 by Lindsey Perret

Airports weren’t exactly made for profound thoughts and deep reflection, but here I am at Gate D45 thinking about what the heck I’ve been doing for the past three months.

In sum, I’ve explored four distinct regions of Nicaragua, improved my Spanish, learned more about how to do field research, gained a family, made a network of friends in the states and abroad, visited Cuba, and learned more about the United States from the perspective of Latin Americans. That’s only a fraction of it. But the world didn’t stop turning while I was gone. I’ve started my job search, talked to my family about graduation plans, planned my last semester at Wofford, and missed a Thanksgiving. Beginning this semester I was worried that being abroad another semester would put me behind, but I don’t think that’s what’s happened. So what does my experience in Nicaragua have anything to do with the transition coming up for me in the next six months?

I’ve learned more about my strengths and my weaknesses and I have new skills that I never could have imagined. I thrive on independence and busy-ness rather than very structured time. I am more prone to question power structures and their histories, like US-Nicaragua and US-Cuba relations. I can look at the world from more than one perspective. I know how to get the most out of situations that work well for me and problem-solve in situations that don’t. I’m nicer to myself when I’m feeling homesick or stressed.

On the opposite side of the same coin, Nicaragua isn’t going to stop being Nicaragua now that I’m gone. I have to remind myself regularly of the experiences that I’ve had and the people I’ve met in the Central American country. Construction on the canal in the south of Nicaragua is supposed to start this month and it’s affecting the people, animals, and plants that live there. Once it’s built, it will affect the world economy. Theoretically, it will help Nicaragua’s economy, but is that worth the displacement of so many people and the loss of a lot of natural beauty? Controversy brews over a new law created to protect victims of domestic violence. Women’s lives are also being affected by the heated discussion about the penalization of therapeutic abortion. The people have begun making predictions on who will run for president in Nicaragua’s 2016 election, as the leader for the past six years can’t run again. For many, the revolution still lives on. My host family is waiting for their residencies for the US as they contemplate the move.

The intricacies of my re-entry into the United States after such rich experiences are many, but my personal connection the both the US and Nicaragua is only one representation of the complex relationship that the two countries have. So, as I wait for my flight to Mexico, I’ll be thinking about what part I get to play in the world that grows smaller as I begin to know it better.

 

Nicaragua, the US, and Gender Equality

November 15th, 2014 by Lindsey Perret

A few weeks ago, the World Economic Forum released a report naming Nicaragua sixth in gender equality using economic, political, education- and health-based criteria.

I’ve been in Nicaragua for two and a half months and this struck me as absolutely shocking. Every morning I dread leaving my hostel because of the catcalls that I know I’ll receive on the street—not just from old drunk men or immature adolescents, but also from cops—the men who are supposed to protect me. It’s deeply affecting my mood and my energy, and I’m experiencing a fraction of the sexism that women in Nicaragua face.

Street harassment is only one manifestation of the male-dominated society that prevails in Nicaragua. Many women cannot get access to the healthcare that they need. Young girls are discouraged from playing with boys and instead are helping their mothers with cooking and cleaning. There is a high incidence of domestic violence and sexual abuse committed by fathers and uncles that is being ignored by neighbors because that’s the way it’s always been. The president of the country is accused of raping his adopted daughter.

How might a Nicaraguan woman feel upon hearing that her country is sixth in gender equality?

I think that the list that the World Economic Forum released is dangerous and uninformed. I realize that much of the data may have been based on improvements, but that’s no excuse for ignoring the daily, lived reality of women in a decidedly male-dominated country and heralding statistics to call that country gender-equal. Labeling Nicaragua as such is excusing the transgressions that are committed against women every day and on every level in Nicaragua. Because the World Economic Forum is respected, male Nicaraguan leaders can use this as fuel to dismiss the concerns of Nicaraguan women, and that’s just not acceptable.

I read the article just as I was beginning my independent study project and decided to incorporate it into my list of interview questions. When I asked some of the women I have been working with about the statistic, they unanimously answered that it is completely false—Nicaragua should not in any way be lauded as a country with a high level of gender equality. One woman responded, “How can a country be equal if I am a woman and I don’t feel safe?”

Some of you might react to this post with worry. “Lindsey’s writing about how Nicaragua is a difficult place for women, yet she’s there.” The reality is that the United States is not faring much better than Nicaragua. In the United States:

I’m not trying to make a case that the United States is better or worse than Nicaragua at gender-equality (for what it’s worth, WEF rates the US as number 20 on the list). I’m simply trying to call attention to the gender-based inequities that fill our world. Gender based violence kills 1 in 3 women worldwide, so why don’t we do something about it? This project is me doing something in tribute to women’s resilience and a world with fewer catcalls and more justice.

"The revolution will be feminist or it will not be." Nicaraguan graffiti.

“The revolution will be feminist or it will not be.” Nicaraguan graffiti.