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Why I write the way I do

Abigail George

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In futurity I want to find new realities in the notes from the universe. I think that is why I fluctuate from putting pen to paper short writings (for example, haiku, short stories, poetry) are what I write about mostly. People assume that writers and journalists must have the ‘gift of the gab’. Some do. Others don’t.

I want to mock conventional ways knowing that they are not the most convenient truths. Knowing that they came there through indoctrination. Through the church of my childhood, through faith, the discovery of something else, the journey of finding the I Am. Finding the experience formulaic. We tell ourselves that this is the marathon hope of reality. Reality for the most part can injure/wound terrifically. Terribly. Injudiciously. It says welcome to the party with open arms but it can also wound. So far and no further. When it comes to the craft of writing your attitude will always govern the characters, the protagonist, and the antagonist.

This is our country. A writer’s country. My country. Your country (if you are a writer). The secret to knowing the craft of writing is a simple one. That the knowledge of intuition is inseparable (or rather should always be) from imagination. That is the real magic. Creating the lyrical. Showing off miracles when they weren’t there before.

Finding your inherent soul in music, and even the half-baked ideas that you come up with in the early hours of the morning.

The inflow/influx of the self imposed exile living outside of Africa is steadily on the increase. Poverty, civil unrest, frustrated people, well they interest me in as far as I write about that. Does that inspire me to write? To show off my skills. Of course it does. Now more than ever. I doubt if it will ever inhibit me. Drown out me out by a hair’s-breadth the landscape of my youth, my childhood, the church of my childhood.

I speak about spirituality and church because for me in my writing church and faith played a major role in the development of my formative years.

Those self imposed exiles are escaping. Escaping from the only home that they have ever known but some do return. Homesick for Azania. Homesick for the attitudes of their people.

A writer has to articulate what spirituality is, how profound it is. A writer has to embrace the abstract, the figurative autodidact ism and literal metaphor.

A writer is not one who when it comes to the truth of matters of the heart prevaricates about them. They have a mission (I have a mission).

They have no pretense of mapping out cleverness. Marring the last-ditch attempts of the clarity of their thought (thought is powerful, thought is an inheritance) and vision. Writers never read almost for pleasure or for a lark. There is a extraordinary lassitude that writers experience for all of their lives that they experience innermost. Are they never enough, (or) what I have written is ‘it’ enough?

The question of the ego, the identity, and the identity crisis is always inimical. It never goes away completely. It is like the analogy of the egg. What comes first? The chicken or the egg. What comes first the ego or the identity? The savant or the genius. The writer, poet as artist or the artist, painter as artist. In the end I know it is fustian. I know.

I have discovered that when you are an inexperienced writer you need a someone who will guide you. A listener. Someone who will give you advice. Who will be kind and critical at the same time. A person who you can forgive.To not to trust what you write about is one interpretation of belief.

Getting there is also much about you having a philosophy on how, and why you write about the things that you do. Pay attention to what came before and most especially after in your writing environment. I think that you can call a triumph and without any denial something profound, and a breakthrough.

I have written about the quiet death of Lonmin, the bridge over troubled water in South Africa, Rilke’s advice to young poets, the status quo of xenophobia, the brave new world of living in post-apartheid South Africa, the culture behind, and of African cinema. I hope to keep on writing on the marginalized and disenfranchised of Africa using this platform. The self imposed exile that found the pastures of the grass is always greener on the other side of the world. This is why I write.

I have read many books. Perhaps not as many as educationalists and academics or scholars even. Some I enjoyed reading. Some I read for pleasure. Honestly, some were very painful to read. Some I found difficult to explain. It was a long time before I realized the difference between the writing style and technique of different writers. By then I had been writing for a few years already.

With some writers you can read their progress as known/unknown, see it as unimaginative or imaginative. You can see the horizontal, the vertical perspective of their education, or you read their process like a magazine that won’t go out of style.

Writers, good writers can speak to their readers in a genuine, psychological, sensitive, and authentic way. What does that vital, ethereal energy mean?

Writers survive inside their climate. They do not forget the unequivocal. They put to memory editorial paradigm shifts. Other writers writing. The dry, the good and the bad. There is an sacrosanct agreement among emerging and published writers. I was here before you. You have to put in the work before the breakthrough. That goes without saying.

What makes me disconsolate as a writer is the creature discomforts that come with having a traditional attack of the ego, mad love of crises. At the end of the day you will master contrition. You will fight for it with grace and humility though. It will take you being contumacious on your end. There is a consensus out there that in order for you to be good and to become great or a greater than kind of writer is that it is going to take more than opinion, life skills, and life experience.

I don’t know if every writer wants to be remembered for what they write. Be immortalized in some way. Be brought to life in a museum life kind of way. Leave behind a serious legacy. That was not my intention when I first started to write seriously. You want to make a go of it. That is all I remember. I just wanted to make a go of it.

Abigail George is a feminist, poet and short story writer. She is the recipient of two South African National Arts Council Writing Grants, one from the Centre for the Book and the Eastern Cape Provincial Arts and Culture Council. She was born and raised in the coastal city of Port Elizabeth, the Eastern Cape of South Africa, educated there and in Swaziland and Johannesburg. She has written a novella, books of poetry, and collections of short stories. She is busy with her brother putting the final additions to a biography on her father’s life. Her work has recently been anthologised in the Sol Plaatje EU Poetry Anthology IV. Her work was nominated for the Pushcart Prize. She briefly studied film.

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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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