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Oliver and I

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I am standing in the middle of the courtyard paved with sand, surrounded by a high wall made of mud bricks, for the house once used to belong to a Turkish family…

Outside the courtyard can only be seen the tall poplar trees and a few black locust trees,  just like the one with all branches cut off and a stork nest at its top, where the stork was just combing its feathers.

My nephew, five year old Oliver, whom I call Ollie, and who can’t see me, enthralled by playing with a small white piglet, petting its tummy while the piglet was laying next to the house wall and enjoying the sunlight covering only half of its body. Oliver is petting the piglet and talking something to it. I am not def yet, but still can’t make out what he is saying to the piglet, and I could not, for Oliver has instinctively noticed my presence and ran towards me. He came a couple steps near me and then stopped without moving further keeping his distance.
At that moment one of the hens passed in between us and made it to the empty through made of wood in which the pigs are fed. The hen moved its head around a few times and then decided to start pecking on the inside of the wooden through, when a skinny black crow flew in silently from the top of the silo right next to the wooden trough. It landed and started settling its wings while still walking; I noticed one of the crow’s feathers was gray.

The hen was busy pecking at the leftover food, did not even notice crow’s presence, not until the crow put her beak inside the through, in a blink of an eye the hen stroke the crow and kept her hanging in the air on her beak. The crow had to fight for her life and got away somehow…
Oliver was still smiling when he asked me:
–    Uncle, did you see how our hen attacked the crow?
–    Yes Ollie, I saw it.
–    Very brave our hen, isn’t she?
–    Yes, a big hero she is!
–    And you, uncle, are you a big hero?
–    Well, not so much, I don’t think I am a big hero – I responded.
–    Oh, so that means, you are a small hero then!?   – Oliver concluded all worried and scratched his head.

I got him into a predicament. I had to get out if it although it was obvious that was too late. The only thing I could think of at that moment was the idea to ask him if he was a hero. I was however afraid that it would not have been much of a consolation, therefore continued to stare at the stork’s nest, Oliver not wanting our conversation to end, quickly started to tell me how that stork was theirs too.

–    Why then the stork has its nest in Urosh’s yard …?  – I asked
–    That is Cane’s house not Urosh’s – Oliver responded
–    Well, anyway, but… what I wanted to say was that still the nest is not in your yard.
–    See, I was trying to get the stork to move over to our yard, but the wall is too high, the stork did not want to come over…
–    So how were you trying to make the stork move over?
–    From over there, from the top of the wall. I was waving with both hands, that’s how I fell on my back on some dried wood, right on my spine!
–    Augh! Well, did you get injured a lot? Did it hurt?
–    I cried and then grandma heard me and came running and kissed me where it hurt and then it stopped hurting. It’s only a scratch now.
–    From that piece of wood, right?
–    Yeah, from the damn wood!…

Oliver responded with a curious smile, afraid that I may criticize him for the bad language.
When I saw his smiley face – even if I really wanted – There was no way I could reprimand him, instead, with no need I was quickly changing my view over the courtyard, looking at the house of Guljaks next door neighbors and thinking of the Turks that once used to leave in the same house, up until fifty years ago or so.
Just how much of beauty and not needed sadness was in my look, and how much of the things around me were right in their own place, It made me swear at myself for the wrong feelings I had.     
Sadly, one from the Guljak’s family had passed away. Only his brother Urosh (Urke for short) was still alive, who has been watching us all this time from his balcony, without us noticing.

–    Hey, Sande! Is that you!?  You would not believe me, I could not recognize you!?
–    I believe you, Urosh. Hello, how are you?
–    You have come to see your mother and brother, I take it? – continues Urosh, confirming the reason of my visit like for himself and letting some small steamy clouds  come out of his wide open mouth together with the words.
–    Well, it was about time, uncle Urosh!
–      Good, good!… So, how is over there at the sea? – asked me after a short pause, after his approval.
                                  
 I found myself in a pickle and almost answered him with the old lame “well yes of course!” but the fear of being inappropriate made me act politely. That took a lot of time.
Meanwhile, Oliver was waiting patiently. He was waiting and kept looking at me from down below at the yard while I was looking above, but soon I looked back right at the top of Oliver’s head full of thick dark hair with a small white spot in the middle of his double cowlick.
Ollie was at that moment in his deep thoughts and looked all serious. I would pay a fortune just to know what he was thinking about.

 The idea about money seemed good, so I asked him loudly almost the same second:
–    Ollie, do you like money?
–    Yes I do, uncle! – He shouted, quickly like a gun.
–    Well, since you like money, here, uncle will give you some money!

I reached in my pocket and pulled all change I had. Oliver had his hands open and ready as if I was going to give him a fortune. However, it was far from that. Nevertheless, Ollie was still happy, for he was quietly taking all coins and breathing little heavier.
As I was looking at him, I thought how he was going to like money even when he grows up. I thought about it and laughed to myself, but Ollie sensed my smile and was ready to ask me another question:
Uncle, why are you laughing now?
That got me all confused. I did not say anything, instead took his hand and walked him to the porch like the culprit who is paying for his earlier sins.

We got to the concrete sidewalk in front of the porch when he pulled his hand away from mine. I looked at him how he was running to his bedroom, most likely to hide his just acquired fortune. Deal Lord only knows where would he hide the money, anyway, it was certain that he was going to hide them well. No doubt about that!
He went away from me and left me alone.
I set at some tripod chair made from an aspen wood. I set on it like some old Bey, Pasha, or god forbids, Sultan!           
It felt like an eternity!
Many thoughts crossed my head, but none of them wise.
Many years went by, decades; I did not get any better or any worse, but always felt some narrowness.
During that time Oliver had grown up and had become a student. Got his Bachelor’s degree in Economics, some internship here and there and winded up in America!
When, how – don’t ask! The kid left for a better life. He even sent a video tape, and on the tape besides him a chunky and all blonde baby…
I am watching the video and trying to spot and feel the atmosphere of American South, to be like in “Dry September” by William Faulkner… Waiting for the barber shop scene to show up, with an old fashioned fan blowing the hot air pointlessly…*
None of that, however; None of anything else, nothing has changed, and I am still the same as before, or at least that’s what I think…
And Urke, he had died fifteen years ago!!!

In the courtyard in front of the porch, this time two piglets, one somewhat smaller than the other.
They walk thru the dusk always together like a small gang.
And the nest, on the top of the locust tree all dried and dead by now, is empty and forever abandoned… One has to be completely blind not to see how sad is all that. It is indeed so sad, good thing it is not worse…
At last, I got up from the tripod. Took myself to the bedroom, not to look for the money that once long time ago Oliver put away, but to sign myself up in some club where they worship life after death and where they heal you with some magical herbs that make you hallucinate…
At the same time I wanted to be a mushroom picker and to roam some unknown paths…
I was calling for some imaginary time portal thru which I could travel all in one piece!
I sighed against all that and in my all reasonable mind, without caring about anyone and anything, always wanted to look like some Arabian Sharif and someone special, at the same time forgetting what I really wanted to be…
I have forgotten, but I remember it as if it was yesterday!
So I deserve!
I entered the bedroom at last. Closed the door behind me and noticed the icon hanging on the wall, it said on it >> Saint George Slaying the Dragon <<

I was staring at the icon, when something stung me. It stabbed me so bad I dropped on the floor. I blacked out. I felt like an overloaded donkey, lying on the ground all broken by the weight and will never get up!
The power of time goes by and I can’t catch a break. It hurts. I can hardly breathe. It hurts so much that I see stars in my eyes. I am trying to call for help but no one is here. Or maybe no one wants to help. Maybe that is how it has to be so I am not even expecting much help.
But still I soon cry for help again. Begging for the help to come soon; To save what could be saved. To take the load off me, but no one wants to come thru my time portal… Just some voices from faraway laughing at me asking if I have ever helped anyone!? Not only asking but want to know and want my answer that I have never helped anyone!     
That beat me down but it did not knocked me out. At the last moment I am calling Saint George from the wall: Georgia, you help me, if you know god!

Saint George, however, was mumbling something under his grey beard and as if he is saying how he does not talk to infidels to begin with.
Soon I realize that everything has gone away from me. Only darkness and emptiness in which I am helping myself,  but the voice is not leaving me alone. The miserable that I am, the voice is still asking for a list of all my flaws and merits so that he can summarize and draw a line.
I listen for some time with a look on my face hoping for mercy, until I lost it all and swore at the voice just like Oliver swore at the piece of wood that scarred his back.
That is how I saved my soul, for I have always imagined myself like someone who is a little bit nuts.
Or is it just a little bit!?…

Djenovici, Montenegro 2003.
(Biografy: Sande Dodevski,  1947., Kumanovo off Macedonien)
                                                                                                

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Strengthening Sino-Russian Ties

Olga Melnikova

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During her speech at the New Year’s celebration, hosted by the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, in late December 2017, Olga Melnikova, Counsellor of the Russian Embassy and Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing, said Russia has many cultural symbols that come from China. In her opinion, Sino- Russian bilateral relations are an example of “the most stable, healthy, mature and lasting relationship between countries in today’s world.” The Russian Cultural Center for years has organized cultural, educational and science- related activities to stimulate Chinese citizens’ interest in learning the Russian language and culture.

In her recent interview with Women of China (WOC), Melnikova said she hoped the Sino-Russian strategic partnership would be strengthened, and that cultural communications between the people of the two countries would be  enhanced.

Had you visited China prior to assuming your post as Director of the Russian Cultural Center in Beijing in September 2017? What is your impression of China and the Chinese people?

I first visited the capital of China, Beijing, in 2012. I was a tourist at that time. Beijing impressed me as a modern metropolis that also kept well its traditional Chinese flavor. I saw magnificent ancient temples and palaces coexisting with modern buildings and small cozy streets. The architectural styles of many buildings, the decorations on streets, and the designs of parks clearly showed how much Chinese people had been respecting their history and traditions.

Now, I look at Beijing through the eyes of one of the city’s residents, not as a  tourist. In modern Beijing, people are    paying great attention to physical education and sports, and to taking care of their health. I have watched, many times, the Chinese citizens who gather in the morning to exercise together. They perform qigong , a system of deep breathing exercises that Chinese use to train their bodies and properly maintain the energy flow in their  bodies.

My job has pushed me to travel around China, and to meet people from all walks of life, including government officials, diplomats, representatives of academic institutions, professions, teachers, students and schoolchildren. Based on my personal communications,   I think Chinese are friendly, polite and  kindhearted. Chinese always l isten attentively to  interlocutors’ opinions, and they know how to correctly defend their points of view.

Please tell our readers about some of the events your center has organized in China to promote Russian culture.

Under the circumstances of globalization, culture becomes an important “language,” or factor, that lays the foundation to build the whole system of international relations. Cultural exchanges include communications in tourism, the scientific and educational fields, business contacts, and cooperation in the sports, mass media, art, music and film  industries.

Russia is a country that has a great cultural heritage and centuries-old traditions. Within the framework of popularization of Russian culture in the world, our Russian Cultural Center regularly hosts events, such as concerts of Russian folk artists, music and dance groups, meetings with Russian celebrities in the cultural field, exhibitions of contemporary artists, photo exhibitions of Russian museums’ archival materials, film screenings showcasing the latest achievements of Russian cinematography and theater performances for both children and  adults.

Every year, we celebrate our victory in World War II, the day of the first space flight of cosmonaut Yuri Garagin and the launch of our first space satellite. Soon, we will celebrate the date of lifting the blockade of Leningrad and the anniversary of the battle of Stalingrad. Those events are great and memorable, not only for Russian people, but also for humanity all around the  world.

Are you interested in Chinese cultural symbols?
Developing mutual interest in our cultures helps us strengthen the “ties” between our peoples. For example, the  Chinese horoscope, which includes the tradition and meaning related to the Spring Festival, is very popular in Russia. Some symbols of good fortune, such as the dragon, fish and frog, can be found in decorations that Russian people place in their houses, offices and private shops. Although the images with auspicious hints are used as decorations, most Russians do not fully understand the meanings that those images imply. Perhaps the most popular auspicious inscription is a picture of the upside-down Chinese character of “fu,” which means “happiness.”

What roles are women playing to enhance bilateral communications between Russia and China?
It is a global trend that women play more active roles in different spheres of life — business, politics and diplomacy … In some countries, women occupy the highest positions in government. There are women ministers, prime ministers and even heads of state. Women and men should complement each other while they are dealing with political issues.

Actually, the Russian- Chinese Commission on Humanitarian Cooperation is chaired by Olga Golodets, Vice-Premier of the Russian Government, and Liu Yandong, Vice-Premier of the State Council of China.
The Russian Cultural Center is the representative office of Rossotrudnichestvo — the State Agency, which is headed by Eleonora Mitrofanova, a Russian diplomat of high level with significant experience in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation and in international organizations. Our center will continue to make contributions to strengthen the ties between Russia and China, advance the promotion of the Russian language and culture in China, and stimulate the development of mutual exchanges.

Women of China

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Reviving the Spirit of Mosul

Audrey Azoulay

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Last week, the world made a great commitment to rebuild Iraq following the recent defeat of ISIS. Recognizing the immense courage of the Iraqi people and the depth of their suffering, the Kuwait International Conference for the Reconstruction of Iraq pledged to rebuild infrastructure so that the country can once again prosper.

Mosul is the living symbol of Iraqi’s pluralistic identity. For centuries, it was at the crossroad of culture in the Middle East. From the Sumerian cities to Babylon, from the walls of Nineveh to the Silk Road, the region has been a melting pot of people and ideas. For the last three years, this story of peace – the true spirit of Mosul – has been overshadowed by another story of hatred and violence.

The conference stressed the importance of putting the human dimension at the heart of our efforts for sustainable reconstruction. So we launched “Revive the Spirit of Mosul”, an initiative for the reconstruction of the Old City, both its physical infrastructure and restoring the dignity of its people. When war is waged against culture and education, response must be culture and education. This is the only long-term solution against extremism.

The destruction of the University of Mosul Library, the dynamiting of the Al-Hadba minaret and the pillaging of the Nabi Yunus Shrine, emblem of the religious coexistence of the three religions of the Book – shocked the world. Public libraries were burnt, music was silenced, artists attacked and cafes closed.

Thousands of children have learned war and been indoctrinated with an intellectually corrupt ideology. They have not received an education – the essential tool for building the future. To avoid raising a lost generation, we must teach peace but also reinfuse these communities with the culture of peace, steeped in Iraq’s rich history and cultural life.

The revival of the Old City of Mosul is the cornerstone of our initiative, supported by both UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the Iraqi Prime Minister, Haider Al-Abadi. This initiative means restoring architectural symbols that bring the Iraqi people together, in all its diversity. Many key actors like the European Union, neighboring countries and international organizations expressed great interest in participating in this effort that UNESCO will coordinate.

UNESCO will bring its expertise in damage assessment to restore and reconstruct the emblematic sites of the historic center. We will work hand-in-hand with the local population and the government to restore bookshops, cultural centers and museums – including the Museum of Mosul, which was tragically ransacked.

We will provide opportunities for technical and vocational training, particularly in traditional building techniques, so that Iraqis will have the skills to actively contribute to this reconstruction.

The great civilizations of this region defined the course of humanity, through a thousand-year dialogue, which gave birth to the wheel, writing, mathematics and law. We will work with our Iraqi counterparts to ensure future generations will learn of their proud heritage, through the school materials that we are developing, including a new school curriculum, which puts humanities at its core along creativity, critical thinking and values of respect. This is the only way to ensure that fanaticism does not prevail once more.

This “Revive the Spirit of Mosul” initiative will be UNESCO’s main contribution to the United Nations’ Response and Resilience program designed to help Iraq’s government fast-track the social dimensions of reconstruction.

Later this year, we will organize an international conference at UNESCO Headquarters, with the Iraqi government and all our partners, to design a blueprint for this reconstruction.

Through culture and education, we can restore trust and create the conditions for a common future. This reconstruction will take time but, brick-by-brick, lesson-by-lesson, together we can revive the true spirit of Mosul.

First published in Asharq Al-Awsat

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Music and art from the country of peaks and legends: Day of Afghan Culture

MD Staff

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On 8 February 2018, the SCO Secretariat hosted the Day of Afghan Culture. Addressing the guests and participants of the event, the SCO Secretary-General thanked top leadership and the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for all-around support in organising the Day of Culture.

“Afghanistan is populated by wonderful and courageous people, descendants of ancient ethnicities who cherish their sacred traditions, lifestyle, unique culture and art,” Rashid Alimov said. “The entire SCO family strongly and unanimously supports the Afghan government and people’s efforts towards a peaceful, stable and prosperous state. We believe this day is near and wish the brotherly nation of Afghanistan peace, happiness and prosperity.”

In his remarks, Afghan Ambassador to China Janan Mosazai expressed his deep appreciation to the SCO Secretariat for organising the Day of Afghan Culture. “Events like this strengthen the Shanghai spirit in the growing SCO family,” he noted.

The main event of the programme, a concert of traditional Afghan music, delighted the guests with charming melodies from the ‘country of peaks and legends.’ The programme was presented by ten talented musicians from the Afghanistan National Institute of Music led by its founder and director Ahmad Naser Sarmast.

The guests also enjoyed a display of amazing colourful masterpieces of Afghan carpet weaving art, which goes back more than 2,000 years. A special photo exhibit showcasing the uniquely beautiful nature of Afghanistan and the rich legacy and contemporary life of its people was also very popular. The guests had a taste of the traditional Afghan cuisine.

The event was attended by extraordinary and plenipotentiary ambassadors of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Russia, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, Syria, Bahrain and Singapore, as well as representatives of diplomatic missions, EU ambassadors, Chinese and foreign media.

The Day of Afghan Culture took place as part of the SCO Is Our Common Home programme.

Some 40 types of carpets were displayed at the Mosaic of Afghan Carpets exhibition. Afghan carpet weaving is known for distinct colours and traditional geometrical ornaments.

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