Edward T. Hall, anthropologist and author of The Hidden Dimension (1966), first coined the term, “proxemics” in the early 1960s. The concept deals mainly with how people set up personal and social spaces and interpersonal distances. One of the interesting assumptions, of which humans have been well aware of for centuries, is that different cultures have different rules of keeping distances, that is, the distance between two or more individuals is culturally set. The violation of these spatial rules will put one in trouble. Thus, one can say that the American expression of stepping on one’s toes is probably connected more to distancing than to corporal punishment. In fact breaking established social norms for distancing could be interpreted as something far more serious.
Americans have been said to have closer distancing than, let’s say Germans, and yet, Latin Americans will consider Americans as people who maintain considerable more distance from each other. Apparently, it is this sense of cultural relativity that has attracted and intrigued anthropologists and psychologists to the study of proxemics.
It is most stimulating to observe Americans, and also the various strains of newly arrived Hispanics from Mexico, Dominican Republic, Cuba and Puerto Rico, in these space related close encounters. I, being Puerto Rican, was perturbed one day, after having recently arrived in the States from living in Puerto Rico. I was back again in the “land of the free” after thirteen years on the Island. I asked some fellow in a gasoline station for directions. I had lost my bearing in the drive from Orlando International Airport to Gainesville, Florida. When I posed my question, the person became quite startled and backed off a little. But I just moved towards him making no thought of why he acted the way he did. Read more of this article »
Posted in Op-Ed, USA
London is in a darkness. The smog has come down again. People huddled against the cold, collars up, mood as low as their bootstraps.
This isn’t Merry Old England. It’s a depressed area, a no-go zone. Even the attractions don’t hold much attraction any more.
Look at the London Eye, turning a nagging doubt.
At the turn of the century The Eye was better than a nod and a wink. It was seen as brash and exciting. A real jewel to the Pearly Kings and Queens. But four years on, it’s half empty – and those that are brave enough to pay their tenner to go on it don’t look like they’re having fun.
They just look vulnerable. Duck-shoots suspended in mid-air. Read more of this article »
Posted in Op-Ed, United Kingdom
On November 2nd, 2004, the entire world mourned the death of one of the greatest of Arab leaders. Entire nations watched with stricken grief the funeral of a man who I believe was one of the most remarkable and impressive leaders of our time. A man called by U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell “a friend and a strong example of generosity, wisdom, drive and forgiveness”. He is the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan.
A good part of Sheikh Zayed’s eighty-six years were spent in the service of his country; the United Arab Emirates. Born in 1918, Sheikh Zayed grew up during a time when all of the states along the Trucial Coast (now known as the Arabian Gulf) were under the United Kingdom’s suzerainty meaning that the United Kingdom controlled the countries’ international affairs yet allowed it a certain independence in domestic rule. The local Arab leaders signed the treaty with Britain in 1853 with the aim of providing their coast with the protection of the British military and preventing pirates from staging attacks on British ships.
Nevertheless, the region remained undeveloped, without a single modern school anywhere and an economy that depended for the most part on fishing and trade. The only schooling of any kind that Sheikh Zayed himself received was in the basic principles of Islam from the local Islamic preacher who taught him the Qur’an, and the ways of the lenient yet fair hand of the Prophet Mohammed as a leader of the Muslim people, which greatly impressed the young Sheikh Zayed. He took to following in the footsteps of the Prophet and became an avid learner. His thirst for knowledge sent him into the desert to learn the traditional survival skills of the Bedouin tribesmen. I am quite certain it was during those years of growing into manhood that the late leader came to understand about human existence, the important need for natural resources, the natives and the land. Read more of this article »
Posted in Op-Ed, United Arab Emirates
My recollection of Saint Patrick’s Day as a boy growing up in Dublin is that, being a “holy day” and therefore one upon which all commercial and civil establishments except the public establishments (pubs) were closed, it was a brief respite from the remorseless tedium and relentless brutality of school life.
And apart from the day being like a Sunday with its grim concomitant of best behavior and attendance at Mass, the only real evidence of it being Saint Patrick’s Day (abbreviated to “Patrick’s Day” or even “Paddy’s Day” by those irreverent Irish who disdainfully wished to expunge its devotional origins) was scant: a few scraps of wilting green weed in the lapels of the patriotic and righteous, invariably “worn” alongside the Fainne (a gold ring pin signifying that the wearer is an Irish speaker although in practice probably has ‘command’ of only a few scattered phrases) and the Pioneer (sic) heart shaped badge (indicating non-consumption of alcohol).
The appearance of this formidably declarative panoply of allegiance was usually the preserve of clergymen, civil servants and the implacably upright. Cynics speculated or even noticed that, as the day wore on, the tired sprig of green sadly slipped its moorings and fell to the street to be trodden on by a crunching boot although the Fainne might remain where it was provided no one took it as an invitation to say anything more than ‘Dia Dhuit’ (which although the Gaelic equivalent of ‘Hello’ literally means ‘May God be with you’, the standard reply being ‘Dia agus Muire aghuit’: ‘May God and Our Lady be with you’). The problematic Pioneer badge, however, was sometimes discreetly hidden on the inside of the lapel as the invitation to a pint or ten of stout became something no sane man could refuse. Hypocrisy may only be worn on your sleeve. Read more of this article »
Posted in Ireland, Op-Ed
Signposts indicate that we are five minutes away from our destination. Sure enough the colossal cement block resembling a warehouse emerges into view. On the outskirts of Alexandria, Carrefour is so situated that those leaving or entering the city cannot miss it or resist the temptation of dropping in. The practical reason is of course that the construction of this gigantic building no way would have been possible inside the already bulging, overcrowded city.
A spacious car park is alphabetized and numbered for fear that people might forget where they had placed their cars in this uniform allotment. It boasts of endless row upon row of shiny cars whose reflection of sunlight during daytime is almost blinding. Entitled as the city centre, a number of multifarious shops that vary from restaurants, to clothes, to gift shops, including worldwide trademarks like Guess that sell shoes at a thousand Egyptian Pounds (L.E.) a pair, a multi Cineplex and a space that includes videogames and provides entertainment for children, encircle Carrefour.
It is obvious at a glimpse that this is no haphazard or whimsical business project that was established at the spur of the moment from the meticulous details and impeccable organization. It is well-known that Majed El Fouteem, the major mastermind behind this French global chain√É¬≠s expansion into Egypt, along with an expansive think tank, spent three to four years studying its viability, down to every last minute detail. Read more of this article »
Posted in Egypt, Op-Ed
As the Sunday morning sun begins to glow on Australia from Hobart to Rockhampton and stretching as far west as Perth, Australian, Chinese, New Zealanders and a whole array of nationalities that call Australia home are starting the lazy Sunday which is a ritual known to all Australians and those lucky few who have visited Australia and taken part in a lazy Sunday.
As the sun rises you will find many taking to the streets in all different directions on a casual stroll. A man in his thirties comes face to face with a complete stranger and says “Good morning, mate” In which the stranger replies, “mate it’s a lovely day.” Both continue on their journey knowing that they will greet the next person who comes their way as warm and friendly. As often is the case they are people they have never seen before and likely never to meet again.
On the other side of town sits a quiet seaside village with the locally owned fish and chip shop on your right as you enter while to your left more people are starting their Sunday off in a different kind of way by strolling through the Sunday Markets that have been set up to bring the community together and to land that one in a million bargain that everyone is always looking for in life, or perhaps just to get that one of a kind piece of local art. You can find anything you desire in the markets from home made furniture, clothes, fresh fruit and vegetables to jewelry and to pre-owned books. One never goes home without a purchase. Read more of this article »
Posted in Australia, Op-Ed
Ramadan is the most precious month in Egypt.The streets are decorated with hanging lanterns, miniature ‘masjids’ and ‘kaabas.’ Long silver streamers run across the street from balcony to balcony, winking and gleaming in the bright sunshine. Television stations change their entire daily program to accommodate new shows and sitcoms made especially for the Ramadan month. Compassion fills people’s hearts, you feel God’s mercy washing over you with so much generosity.
There’s no doubt in my mind that this special month of worship is a blessing to Muslims. Islam is the only religion that has such a type of fasting; going without food or drink from sunrise to sunset for a month. And for those who fear torturing their stomachs during this time, I’m happy to say that medical studies proved that abstaining from eating or drinking for the amount of hours decreed by this month is one of the healthier things to our bodies.
Ramadan, a month of fasting and worship, is also a month of learning and discovery. Islam is a religion that takes great pride in learning. The very first thing God did for Adam when he was a complete human was to teach him the names for everything around him. It tells us in the Qur’an, ‘And He taught Adam all the names (of everything)' A second example of how important reading and learning is to Islam is the first word that Gabriel presented to the Prophet with. The very first word that came down from God to Earth him as the beginning to what would become one of the most miraculous books ever read was ‘Read! In the Name of your Lord, Who has created (all that exists)'. Read more of this article »
Posted in Egypt, Op-Ed
The Ganesh Festival is a ten-day festival celebrated with great pomp and festivity. This festival falls in late August or early September. It begins on the fourth day of Bhadrapada Shukla Paksha and concludes on the fourteenth day of Bhadrapada Shukla Paksha, as per the Hindu calendar.
During British rule over India, freedom fighters were prohibited from gathering in public places. To circumvent this restriction, India’s revolutionary freedom fighter Bal Gangadhar Tilak, popularly known as Lokmanya Tilak, organized the Ganesh Festival in Maharashatra in 1894, promoting it as a public festival. During the Festival, they performed stage shows and used other means to keep alive and spread the need and importance of freedom, while also creating a social solidarity among the people. Today, its celebrations are held throughout all of India, and more particularly in Maharashtra. This Ganesh festival is considered an essential part of Maharashatrian life and they celebrate it wherever they are, whether inside or outside of India. It is a festival for worshipping Lord Ganesha, the remover of obstacles and conqueror of the soul and mind. All Hindus worship Lord Ganesha before any important function, praying to the Lord to remove all obstacles to prosperity.
This custom springs from the mythological story of God Shiva and Parvati who had remained childless for a long time after the birth of their first son Kartik. While Lord Shiva went to the Himalayas for tap (religious austerity), Parvati, in order to avoid loneliness, created a statute of clay in the form of a son and using her divine power instilled life into Ganesha. Read more of this article »
Posted in India, Op-Ed
When one mentions Mexico City in the US, it’s not the beach resorts that come to most people’s mind. Rather, people think of crime, pollution, corruption and impoverishment. But while the crime rate (mostly thefts and burglaries) in Mexico City has reached significant levels of concern, one of the highest in Latin America, there are many other global cities that echo the same issue.
So why does Mexico City seem to stand out as the epic center of metropolitan crime, pollution and poverty? Perhaps the apparent rundown barrios or slums make it difficult for the ever-present media not to focus on them. But this is not how the majority of Mexico City is. Living here for several months, I discovered that the City has an overwhelming rich history, culture, and a unique architecture deserving the world√É¬≠s attention. I spent five months in Mexico City teaching English to a variety of students. Coming from the U.S. where one can see many films that depict Mexico in a one-dimensional and conventional way, I was relieved to discover a world contrary to the common stereotypes of shady dealings and dirt roads.
Mexico City’s rich history layered with modern advancements outshines the standard dull images of the city I, coming from the US, was accustomed to seeing.
My days would typically start with grabbing some breakfast from one of the many vendors in the Centro Historico, the historical centre of Mexico City, with its colonial architecture. The Centro Historico, in addition to the famous Zocalo plaza, demonstrates the well-preserved Mexican history stemming from the Aztecs and the Spanish colonial conquerors. The Zocalo is the largest plaza in the Western Hemisphere. It was also the site of the Aztec capital Tenochtitl√É¬°n. Read more of this article »
Posted in Mexico, Op-Ed
The calling came as an ache in my heart, a space that could only be filled by Africa and her people. After training for three years in a rural Zulu homeland, I graduated in a three-day ceremony as an African traditional healer, one of the only white ‘sangomas’ to have graduated in Southern Africa.
In the years that followed, my love and understanding for the Zulu people deepened and in September of 2003 I found myself travelling to West Africa, to the heart of Zulu ancestry.
Gabon is off the West coast of equatorial Africa, and is one of the only countries left with pristine rain forest. There are plants here that are of particular interest to the African herbalist.
Tabernanthe iboga is a shrub native to Gabon and is considered sacred for its magical properties. Especially interesting to me were the Bwitti ceremonies associated with the consumption of iboga. These ceremonies are seldom performed outside of Gabon and are done in a strictly religious framework.
My intention was to locate an ancient tribe living in the very hilly forest region of Ngounie. This Mitshogho’pygmy’ tribe are the forefathers of Bwitti culture and live in dense forest near turbulent rivers, making it difficult to access.
The mist was thick when the little aircraft landed in Mouila, the last airport stop on the edge of the high forest. I felt very insignificant flying in over the large expanse of jungle and landing in the forest clearing. Read more of this article »
Posted in Gabon, Op-Ed