What converting Hagia Sophia into a functioning mosque really means

10th July 2020, a Turkish Court order approved Hagia Sophia’s convertion from a museum to an operational mosque.

For many Christians around the world, aborting a historical monument that represented the centuries of Byzantine Eastern Orthodox with Ottoman faith-inspired culture in the region, to having it reclaimed as a faith space for Islam, is a vilifying act of disrespect. The region has been affected by territorial tensions for millenia and many in the Balkan and Western Asia Minor, have experienced relocations, marginalisation, faith based extradition, torture and incarceration.

It is a non surprise western Turkey struggles with their record on human rights abuses, and corruption has been developmental to the Greek economy even in modern times.

Looking past the historicity of the region, and the unsettled air Erdoğan’s latest move has created, I can attest to the following:

– Erdoğan has three years left before the next election.

– The Hagia Sofia move was his check mate to Europe beyond the Greco-Turkish spats.

– Erdoğan doesn’t want to join EU (and all the monitoring and regulations), the EU will not have Turkey as it is today, but to make sure they don’t interfere, he needed to growl over his territory.

– Putin will turn a blind eye, despite Russia’s Orthodox Church affinity. Faith is only useful when it serves one’s interests by masking transparency. Christian links to the European church history are problematic for Putin’s and Erdoğan’s dark and underhanded populist and divisionary operations.

– Unmonitored, anyone challenging Erdoğan like the Kemalists, will end up in jail or dissappear.

– Turks in Turkey, Germany and the UK love Erdoğan. He took power and water to the favelas. He is making profits from the Syrian refugees that have no labour rights but plenty of will to do whatever yet not get paid or paid scraps of peanuts when they do (a 10th of the Turkish labour rates according to reports).

Noone wants drama on their doorstep. Turning adversity to positive stories is a way for populist governments to get away with the uttermost abuse of human rights.

Minorities and culture are the capital nasty regimes use for political coercion.

Coercion to domestic opposition, and coercion in international relations contexts.

Threatening securities makes vulnerable populations anxious and puts actor resources at high risk and alert. This costs actors money and make populations more predatory between them. Double win.

Hagia Sophia is the starting line of an incredibly narcissistic performance we will expect to see from Erdoğan in the next three years.

I can only hope there will be limited loss and blood lost in the process, but not set on having any hopes at this point.

In the middle of a pandemic, reclaiming a museum to a faith institution is a bold move.

To be continued…

May to the summer solstice

It’s been a while since the last post in the midst of Covid-19 which has become the constant, a bunch of close ones and I have followed the doctor’s advice.

Stay healthy, maintain the distance, and make sure you make memories.

Making memories is what differentiates today’s reality from psychological isolation.

With that, I discovered the invaluable constant.

Through my eyes, a number of things materialised over the past few weeks…

The comfortable space of just being, without obstructions from noise.

That comfortable space on the sofa, the giggles, the awe, the excitement, the unexpected dance, the beer out of the bag, the bag of chips, the walks, the SUPs, the sculls and the steers.

This is the story of the past six weeks.

A year ago today…

I had just finished my exams, celebrated my birthday and got on a flight London to Seattle.

I found myself arriving at a 22 buck a night air bnb in Highline on the outskirts of Seattle with a quarter full suitcase and lots of time to absorb my new home, write my dissertation, and quickly explore the city in five days before catching the greyhound to Portland.

I loved where I was staying instantly. A wooden structure, shared between three of us, just the right dynamics of chats, learning about our differences and expectations en transit, keeping sweet vibes throughout and respecting each other’s time needs and privacy. I loved waking up surrounded by the alpine greenness of pnw. Got my Orca loaded, and picked my daily trips between jumping on the 35min bus journey to the city centre, or 35 min walk to the coast.

Seattle is where my journey begun, and where it ended.

I got caught on the rising tide on a private beach, I studied in the most quaint little library in Fremont, strolled in unexpected familiarity up and down University Way and experienced the awe of Japanese tourists in Suzzallo and Allen Libraries the setting of some of the Harry Potter scenes.

Seattle is the uber cool without the forced coolness. It is grounded, down to earth, green, gorgeous, creative and blatant.

I couldn’t have ever imagined Seattle would have made such a fundamental mark and given me so many beautiful memories from this two month trip, and without sparing any important details, I couldn’t have asked for more.

Other than to return, again and again to soak up the atmosphere before I move on again.

 

April 2020, the month of coronavirus lockdown. My breathing exercises in spring views of East London, UK

I would like to start this blogpost acknowledging this has been one changeable mood kind of a month.

It begun in semi frustration and acceptance: this is what we need to do and we commit to it. Blindfolded into commitment, no questions asked. Then days, then weeks passed. The exhaustion of changing habits in and out of home. The disappointment of realising you can’t walk into this pub, or straight into the shop, they are either shut, or there is a queue. You can’t hug your friend or pat the back of your neighbour. And that cycle route you always thought as the best, is out of bounds, too many runners using the tow path and daddies training their little ones to cycle. So forced into rediscovering your vicinity in new conditions, you get to become the tourist again, and that is cool.

Then the important stuff happening unnoticed until you think there’s value in the time you have saved from travelling and all the social stuff you can no longer do. So talking to friends and neighbours you end up rocking up to a community space in a church build on the ruins of one that was built in the 1600s, thinking you’re not the religious type but there are enough Muslim kids and white working class families about to take the edge off.

Next thing you’re committed and talking to new people. That guy is familiar, of course he is in and out of my block, and we chat, I hear the news and off we go.

Those who are organising everything, early on in the outbreak, with little knowledge of the impact yet without hesitation, they set up shop quickly. They asked and got donations, listened unjudgmentally to the community’s input, and attracted people of all ethnicities and faiths to help. They reassigned resources quickly. The initial food was delivered to 40 odd people three times a week and now it has grown to double of that.

Today, the last day of April feels like a halfway point on a long holiday. It’s been thrilling, confusing, too long, too short, too busy, and now seems to be going too fast and to be true, I don’t want it to end yet, but I do want to be able to make plans for the future.

Somehow the reality is: I can’t, and none of us can.

As we will gradually re-enter a version of normality in the coming months, there will be plenty of vulnerable people who will still not be able to leave their home. This help will not stop with our needs being met, and not until they have their fully met. It has been challenging at times running up and down unfamiliar estates, motivating oneself to get out, cover up, do your deed, run home, take everything off, clean everything, shower. Yet it’s been worth it. The smiles, the chats, the waves, the odd requests, or the kind wishes and offers. It all makes it so special.

This month has also been one where I covered nearly 200km cycling. It’s not a lot, however in addition to my training, and the bursting energy of spring colours and smells, there was plenty of visual richness to record.

The blog and the photos are dedicated to the community leaders, and those who need their swift action. They are being both my inspiration and motivation throughout the past six weeks and the very out of the ordinary month of April 2020.

Canary Wharf

Even more so, this month I hope does not go by forgotten. Everyone has been affected by it and I purposely included the empty canary wharf development. No one is immune to this and I hope this chance for a level playing field is finally grasped like the breath of fresh air we so much need.

Cozy spots for the last days of winter in London

Black Sheep coffee in Canary Wharf; one of my favourite spots for a good cup of coffee and chat and laptop working on the wharf.

The Williams Ale & Cider House; just cozy in Central East City in the heart of Spitalfields. A hidden gem for after-work chilled out drinks, a date, a catch up, surrounded by ancient looking stone walls and arches.

Boundary London rooftop bar; Nordic chic designer warm in the winter, quiet, great service, friendly vibes, hidden away on one of the rooftops in the heart of Shoreditch. Will come back in the summer.

Good vibes, always.

Consulting for the not for profit/civil society, some business development thoughts

Fourteen years of experience have brought me a number of realisations when working with clients in the third sector.

In development, the expectations are to build networks and to ‘cultivate’ the relationships. Then build a case for Support, aka business plan, for various programmatic areas stemming from the organisation’s theory of change.

It should be a straight forward mutually dependable action. You may have a highly skilled team, lots of contacts but outcomes are reliant on the exec team’s understanding of business development and willingness to incorporate in the day to day business outputs for it to succeed.

Grants and donors may be willing to support the cause however unless the programme teams have longer term plans and the exec team are open about discussing them with donors, there’s little scope for sustainable business.

Often, without integration, organisations suffer in the longer term.

In campaigning it is often hard to know how lobbying will affect policy. Excluding assumptions, teams know the topics and focus of the work, and may incorporate emerging trends an themes in the broader proposition. This is a inclusive way of indicating awareness of things businesses are talking about. This is paramount to bridging the slower pace of civil society to the faster paced corporate environment.

Organisational resilience can only successfully survive when the relationships, both internal and external, have a clear understanding on today’s expectations with an eye on spotting opportunities to lay the brick work for the future.

Chefchaouen, the blue pearl of north Morocco.

Chefchaouen is the perfect day or weekend trip on your travels in Morocco.

Famous for the blue painted buildings, more recently featured on French Montana’s ‘Famous’ videoclip

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LNHkxOU7zz8 that was filmed in the souks and circular main road around the town sitting on the mountain side. The 33 year old  moroccan-american artist is from the Casablanca and often pays tribute to his love for Morocco.

Back to Chefchaouen, the town is easily navigable by foot, but not wheelchair users, or for those with mobility difficulties. Built on the mountain side, souk and town streets climb up and down through the mountain curves, offering exquisite views over the town and the landscape beyond.

Chefchaouen is one of the easier villages to travel through Morocco. It is small enough to walk through in a day, and big enough that you can find another photogenic corner to help you on your dream-scape of what life may be like in the town, or in-fact to those that grow up in the alleys and buildings, protected by the elements and near everything else.

Here are some of the photos from our visit, we arrived on a cloudy and rainy day, yet it was also wonderful to see the town in non-postcard conditions, a different, and what felt more genuine side of life there. Rain gently encouraged us to go into the local cafe, not the tourist ones, and to get lost around the back streets to a school, trying to find a way through to the main square.

Chefchaouen’s location is equally impressive nesting on the mountain feet, reminds you of the perspectives on life which is so easy to forget when bouncing about between places in a city.

You could say Chefchaouen becomes the little blue light, twilight, dream-scape of adventure.

London Art Fair review

The London Art Fair is a unique opportunity to summarise what is happening in the high end gallery led art scene around the globe in that one year.

The collective in London hosted most of the main brand galleries representing mainly visual arts, with some sculpture and three dimensional work for sale, in the case where 3d was the only medium the artist worked in.

This year there were surprisingly a lot of trees, and in similar shapes. This made me wonder if there was a synchronicity between the artists but then again most of the works were made at different time frames. Yet the shape of the tree was prevailing over and over again.

Another repetitive feature was the cut out Victorian style book illustrations turned mini 3d landscapes. Is there a return to the kind of darkness that books enlighten through the imagination?

The artists that stood out are:

Elle Davies for the greenness of the forest shots. Did she go for the exotication of green spaces?

https://elliedavies.co.uk

Michael Ormerod for his American urban. landscapes washing out the impact of capitalism.

https://www.cranekalmanbrighton.com/photographer-category/20th-century-photographers/michael-ormerod/

Nicholas Feldmeyer for his stunning post apocalyptic digitally produced black and white landscapes.

http://www.feldmeyer.ch/index.php?page=290

Ian Berry’s jeans made 3d frame of Roosevelt Hotel.

http://www.ianberry.org

A walk in the port of Piraeus

Westward from the ferry port for destinations to the Cyclades and Crete, the port of Pireaus has a few hidden surprises.

Boats get larger and the space wider, abandoned warehouses as a backdrop, grafitti and murals galore.

The Chinese Road and Belt initiative will be redeveloping this area and on a beautifully sunny autumnal Sunday morning, I could not find an excuse to not document the blue of the sea with the yellows and blues of the ferries and the brownish grey concrete warehouses overshadowing the port streets.

I can’t predict what the port will look like in the future development, however I know for sure, the colourful ferries will still be floating on the beautiful coloured sea all the same.