Prescript: This was a post I wrote for TripAdvisor which did not get published because it gets to greater social issues. It was my first post there and I had signed up only to help out Visit Mogadishu which arranged my trip there. I understand TripAdvisor's policy and not wanting to get into controversial issues, but for me, any post is meaningless if it does not discuss important topics. So here is my view on travel to Mogadishu, Somalia:
Going to Mogadishu should not be something to do light-heartedly. Or perhaps, on the contrary, you should only go there if you are or can be light-hearted. If you can take what comes, if you can do like the locals and live life with a certain degree of fatalism. Even though the security situation has improved and the country is reconstructing, there is always a risk as the recent deadly attack which took place three weeks after I was there shows.
It is also true that risks are everywhere in the world. One should always keep in mind that anything can happen anywhere given all the news around the world. One is never safe from mass shootings or other attacks be it in the US, the UK, France, Germany, Turkey or any other place.
As for me, I took this chance even as a mother of an 8 year-old and my husband supported me as I am on a big project to go to every country to protest against global apartheid and categorizing people according to the imaginary lines they happen to be born in, lines that were drawn by either a bloody war or by bloody politics.
For me, Somalia always had a special fascination as a land of anarchy. I believe that most of the trouble there originates from outside forces interfering with the local structure and trying to impose their way of ruling. For anybody interested, “The Law of the Somalis” by Michael van Notten is a good place to start.
I could have just gone to Hargeissa, Somaliland and consider it as having visited Somalia but for me, going to every country is not about counting countries or checking out a list. I fell in love with the photo of the Lighthouse on the cover of Andrew Harding's book “The Mayor of Mogadishu- A Story of Chaos and Redemption in the Ruins of Somalia” and since that day I've been wanting to go to Mogadishu. It's so romantic to imagine the glorious days of the city recounted in the book, times when people used to go to open-air movies, then take a stroll by the Lighthouse. Being there and seeing the beauty of the setting with my own eyes was very rewarding. Of course, I'd have loved to stay there for hours sitting on a rock and gazing at the ocean, the horizon, the people and the buildings. Even though battered and full of bullet holes, their grandeur is still there, just like an elegant lady who has aged, with whites in her hair, wrinkles in her face but her posture and the way she carries herself tells a captivating story. I wish to see the day that Somalia is peaceful, the ruins in Mogadishu are renovated and I return with my family to the same places I have been.
Lido Beach is still lively and for some reason safer I suppose as we got to walk the beach, be among the locals without too much rush and have lunch there.
The fish market was also a very special experience. I've been to many fish markets but the one in Mogadishu really stands out with the volume and variety of the big fish that is pulled out of the ocean, carried on people's backs, loaded and downloaded from trucks by huge men.
Somalia has such great potential. Like Diyarbakır in the Southeast of Turkey which has the longest city walls in the world. Unfortunately, it is mostly off-limits to tourists due to the Kurdish issue. Visiting places like Dubrovnik and paying to walk the city walls I cannot help but think that there should be toll-booths in Diyarbakır as well with people walking around and enjoying the good food and the culture there. Similarly, it is such a shame that places like Mogadishu which have so much to give to the world are mostly off-limits.
“Warriors: Life and Death Among the Somalis” by Gerald Hanley is an account of a British soldier working with Somalis during war time and gives an idea of Somalis, their way of life, their outlook and values. Even though you don't need to share their sentiments or even agree with their views, it is so enriching to learn about them.
I believe Somalia deserves much more than what it gets on the news as the place of car bombs and gun attacks. The Somalian people seem very friendly and smart. Most of all, they are resilient. Even though I detest security measures and being so heavily searched, the air there, or should I say the general impression I got was not one of fear, but of life. Living life with a certain degree of resignation, accepting what life throws at you, surviving and enjoying life in spite of the circumstances.
I am Turkish by birth, Italian by marriage and I don't like classifying people according to their nationalities, I believe people are people, there are all kinds of people among every nationality, but it is also true that people carry some special characteristics depending where they come from, our environments shape us. Anyway, I am not a nationalistic person at all. In spite of that, I must admit that whatever criticism people may hurl at Erdoğan, I am “proud” that “my” country is supporting and investing in Somalia.
I wish all the outside help could be done without self-interest or imposition of certain values, without interfering in the internal dynamics of a place and everybody could rule themselves the way it suits their society.
One day Somalia will be attracting many tourists to its many beautiful beaches with its lovely people. Hopefully just not too many to ruin its essence.
For now, Visit Mogadishu is your way into the country. You need to go in with an agency, with armed guards. It is not cheap but I believe it is worth because they take a lot of responsibility, plus, it is a way to help the economy of the country. Visit Mogadishu has been very precise and attentive when arranging the trip. I've been wanting to go there for a long time but could not arrange it due to personal constraints. Omar kept up informing me so that we finally made it a reality in the end. So a big thanks to them.
I am writing to bring to your attention a possibly grave breach of contract and your international rules by a Turkish bank.
I have used my Visa card on 26th of May 2018 to buy Rome-Buenos Aires return tickets from Turkish Airlines. The price was 2176.13 Euros and I got a 3D Secure code to pay for it. The card I used is issued by a Turkish Bank, Is Bankasi. As I live in Europe, my contract with them is for me to pay foreign currencies in Euros. However, they -let alone my consent, without even my knowledge- converted this amount to Turkish Liras. I noticed and objected to this charge even before my credit card statement was issued. They claimed that there was a law for the protection of the Turkish Lira, that Turkish companies could not charge Turkish customers in any other currency than the Lira and denied my request to pay in Euros as per our contract. This was a big inconvenience for me as I did not have Turkish Liras at hand, I had to get a loan and convert money at a loss. Plus, had I known, I'd never have consented to such a rate imposed by the bank in the first place as the Euro-TL exchange was fluctuating at the time.
Anyway, thinking a respectable bank like İş Bankası would not do anything against rules and laws, even though grudgingly, I paid up. However, I later realized this transaction by the bank was against Visa core rules and it fell under the category of “incorrect currency.” So I filed a chargeback request on February 2019. I only claimed 4.000 TL back as I had used the flight service in the meantime, I just wanted to be compensated my loss. The bank refused.
On delving further into the matter, I found out that they were “lying”, that the law in question did not give them any right to make this currency conversion. So I filed a claim again, this time for total reimbursement. They refused my chargeback request on the grounds that the time for objection was 120 days and it had expired. Upon which I went through your core rules and noticed that you made some rule changes recently which would go in effect in April 13, 2019. As per my knowledge, before that, the application time was 365 days. When I questioned if the period of objection wasn't a year at the time of my chargeback request, they first wrote me saying they couldn't divulge rules. Upon my insistence, they held on to their answer that the objection period had expired. (Both verbal on a phone call and in written.) However, I still wasn't satisfied as they did not answer my question if the rule changes were to go in effect as of April 2019.
On November 5th, the Customer Experience Manager Ümran Akbulut called and told me that my chargeback request was denied, not because of the expiry period but because there was a 3D Secure code for the transaction! Now... This is totally unacceptable! Their inconsistency makes one question their honesty. It certainly looks like they are trying to come up with other explanations after they've been caught "lying." If that is the case, it is very serious deceit of customer. A bank which denies a customer's rightful claim with lies violates trust and basic business ethics.
Plus, as shown below, the 3D Secure code clearly states 2176,13 Euros and my extract shows 12,060.55 TL with no reference to the original transaction in Euros. No need for me to tell you that in case of authorized conversions, the original transaction is always stated (as shown in the ARS and GBP conversions). They still deny my claims.
If I am correct in my claim, this is a very serious breach of contract and of international Visa rules. It also means that Is Bankasi has been “cheating” its customers by taking advantage of our lack of knowledge of rules and laws, denying us our rights and outright lying. Again, if that is the case, the situation is very grave. The situation is aggrevated also because İş Bankası has partnered with Turkish Airlines to process all their payments, which means they have refused my claim to protect their interests, that they have used their power in bad faith, abused their position mala fide.
As I believe what happened is a gross violation of Visa's core rules I wished to inform you. I hope you may clarify the matter for me. Thank you in advance. Looking forward to hearing from you.
Zeynep Gülin De Vincentiis
PS: A much more detailed analysis of the incident can be found in Turkish at Kanunlara Sözleşmelere ve Uluslararası Kurallara Uymayan İki Büyük Şirket: THY ve İş Bankası
Note: This post has been written years ago. I believe it is very important but no one has picked up the idea. So I keep it at the top of this page at least, in the hope that one more person might read.
First we need definitions. Democracy, coming from the Greek word dēmokratía, literally means “rule by people”. Dēmos “people” and kratos “rule”.
Merriam-webster defines it as:
“a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections.”
The direct democracy is where people vote on specific issues. Today, with the growing population direct democracy is difficult, so we usually have representative democracy. We vote for representatives, and they govern. Voting is considered an exercise of power by the people. It is sold as such. We've been made to believe from a young age that democracy is the best form of government, that elections is a civic duty, that's how we have our say in the government. We've been told over and over again that it is the most just and fair system. Winston Churchill's words are famous: “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”
However, this does not mean that we should accept it as is and not try to find a better way. The problem with democracy today is that people do not really rule. It's not even the government who rules. It's the people with the money, the lobbyists who rule. The people with money have the power, the more power they have the more money they make, the cycle repeats.
“If voting made any difference they wouldn't let us do it,” is a quote attributed to Mark Twain. Regardless of the original author of the quote, it has a big part of truth to it. Elections and voting is just a part of the game that keeps the game going by giving people the impression that they have power and there is a possibility of change. Whereas in fact, the players change, but the game still stays the game. The only way for people to actually rule, to exercise power is by them having a say in where money is spent. Because that's how our world works. It works on money. Money runs the world. That's why money decisions, where it's spent, is a very important issue. And it's very important that the one who pays the piper plays the tune. Whereas now, we are paying and the governments are playing the tune. It's totally unacceptable.
Some people say taxation is theft. Many others are fine with taxes. After all, public services need to be run, the fabric of society needs to be protected. No need to argue whether taxation is theft or not. The bigger problem that is overlooked here is not whether we are taxed or not, it's that governments get to decide where our tax monies go. Even if you are for paying taxes as a dutiful citizen, you should not be fine with governments spending that money, your money, on things you do not approve of.
For example, in 2014, Erdoğan built a Presidential Palace with more than 1,150 rooms. It was called Ak Saray (meaning "White Palace"), both as a reference to the “White House” and to the governing Ak Party. Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (Justice and Development Party) AKP is also called Ak Party. Ak means “white” or “pure” in Turkish. The presidential palace was also called “Kaç-Ak Saray", again a play with words, kaçak meaning illegal, making it “Illegal Palace.”
Now... This is not a criticism of Erdoğan. It applies to every single item of expenditure in our national budgets, for every single country. People pay the taxes, they give the money, they should have the say. Instead of arguing for or against the building of such a palace, there is a different way of approaching the controversy. There are people who would like to brag about their country being so grand and see the president's office as representing their grandeur, those people should be free to pay for such a presidential palace. But others, who are not fine and do not consent to give a cent to pay for this lavish expenditure, should not be compelled to do so.
Similarly, if there is anybody who wants to pay for controls, for erecting walls/fences, for fancy tech equipment that makes war-mongers get rich, let them. There are people who feel more comfortable and secure that way. Anybody who wants to give money to soldiers, let them give it. Anybody who wants to pay for the security equipment at airports, to put security officers here there and everywhere on a salary, help yourself. But nobody should be obliged to do the same. Nobody should be obliged to pay for things s/he doesn't support.
Governments may dictate how much everyone is supposed to pay. But they may not dictate where that money will go to. People need to be given the means to decide where their money goes. It's their money after all.
With today's technology, it's not that difficult. In fact, it is partially put into action in Italy. You may give 5 per thousand of your due tax to any NGO of your wish. There is no reason for this not to be 1000 per thousand. The government makes a list of expenditures and how much is needed for what, this list is published online. Then, people go and pay their taxes distributing it to the causes they see worth. Just like a crowdfunding project. The only difference is that the government runs the crowdfunding and people paying taxes make the choice. If something is not seen as necessary, it won't get enough funding and cannot be put into action. If there is money, it gets done. Simple as that.
Even then, one might be in the minority, with the majority supporting what the status-quo propagates; still, it might be just a bit easier to accept the situation than what it is now. At least, one could go to bed with a free conscience that s/he didn't have to pay for things s/he didn't support.
Of course not everybody cares. Some people do not mind where their money is spent, they do not wish to be involved with such banal matters. They prefer to just give the money and let others think about it. So the governments won't be left without any resource for things they want to do. Not everybody in Italy uses the 5 per thousand for a cause they care about. If you don't say anything, the state gives it to the Church. But at least, people have a say over their 5 per thousand, in case they want to exercise that power.
Just like the 5 per thousand in Italy, the majority of the population will most probably not bother even if they can have a say over the 1000 per thousand of their taxes. That's not important. The important thing is for people to have control over what governments do with their money. Everybody who pays taxes should have that right. That should be a basic right. Nobody, not even an elected government, should be able to spend somebody else's money without their consent.
Today, governments use taxes collected from the public for all sorts of plunder, nepotism and power games. It all ends up with money. You cut out the money, you make a blow to the corrupt system. Only when people control the money, only then do they control the government. At least up to a certain point. Otherwise, the government controls the people.
Sure, people with more money will still have a bigger say on how to run the country, what gets done. But the numbers are on the side of ordinary people and we might just have a chance if we are given the smallest amount of power.
The saying goes like “He who pays the piper plays the tune.” Whereas when it comes to taxes, we pay -that is the governments get the money from us by threat, by force, grabs it even before it gets to our pockets- and they get to play the tune. Seriously... If you are the one to pay, you should get to play the tune.
Today's “democracy” is totally fake. The real democracy, true democracy, in the sense that people get to rule is only possible when we, the people, can say where our monies go. It is time to put that saying into reality: The one who pays the piper, plays the tune.
At the end of our family trip to Madagascar, we had a very bad experience, we were swindled at the airport. We had hired a local guide for the trip, Jean-Claude. And I had even asked “Jean-Claude, is this a scam?” He answered “I don't know” and went on checking his phone.
We were so upset when we found out it in fact was a scam; we faced Jean-Claude, but he denied any responsibility. As Jean-Claude worked for ToursByLocals, we took it up with them. Unfortunately, their response was disappointing as they said they could not do anything for people who did not book through them. Upon which I wrote a piece on ToursByLocals and Integrity and I tweeted it. I at least wish to warn people. The following conversation ensued:
When they said “We do care about our guides, hence our reaching out to you again”, I actually felt like rebuffing with “I would have appreciated it more if you had taken the issue more seriously when I first contacted you.” But realizing that, even if late, they were caring and trying to do something about it, I wrote to them in private in the direct messages and added “Thanks for reaching out, I appreciate it a lot.” After all, most companies do not even bother to answer; if they do, it just stays with one move and then forwarded to the backdoor out of public sight. Booking did not bother at all, Turkish Airlines used the backdoor tactic. So even though ToursByLocals seemed like doing a similar thing suggesting DM instead, I wanted to see if they'd do anything differently. Then they said something that struck me:
“We are all just trying to do our best.”
“We are all just trying to do our best.”... It echoed in my mind. Yes, they probably were. And perhaps I was unfair to them with my criticism. Perhaps it is too much to expect so much care and attention from that level of Customer Care. And the management level is generally not interested, doesn't get involved. Perhaps that's the doom of companies or the unluck of us customers. Nobody hears us who has authority.
Something extraordinary happened with ToursByLocals. They wrote “We've brought this issue to the attention of our Quality Experience Manager. He would very much like to get in touch with you to hear even more.” This was new. Someone at a manager level wanting to understand the issue. In fact, he wrote a very nice, detailed and courteous letter saying he was made aware of my blog post by someone in their social media team, he read it, and completely agreed with everything I had said. He also went and located my original mails to ToursbyLocals from back in September 2018 to have full grasp of the situation.
“Wooow!” I thought to myself. That's exactly what I would have done. And someone going into detail and trying to understand a situation was amazing.
The Quality Experience Manager Gavin also agreed that that correspondence was not dealt with correctly. “But I would now like to do what I can to respond appropriately to your feedback. I found your account of your experience with Jean-Claude balanced and insightful,” he wrote. Then he advertised a bit about his company and how they strive for 5-stars.
“We always endeavour to conduct our business in the most honest and ethical manner, and when something does go wrong, we take this seriously. This is why I really appreciated your detailed feedback, as I see this as a valuable learning opportunity, and I assure you I will now personally follow up with our guide partner Jean-Claude to ensure that this feedback is taken on board.”
This was really something. Seriously? Someone taking a customer complaint so seriously and responding in such a decent manner? Interesting...
I had stressed that this wasn't about money, I wanted Jean-Claude to understand that his behavior was wrong. Still, Gavin offered us a 100 USD promo code to be used as a discount for any ToursByLocals tour worldwide, valid for 2 years. He wrote “I do realize that you did not request any compensation; however, I would still love for you to consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you the next time you travel - we do have full confidence in our process and our guide-partners’ abilities to deliver 5-Star tours.”
Of course I thanked him for the promo gesture even though we probably would not be using it because we have stopped travelling for some time. I wrote back saying I was already impressed. Impressed by his detailed and caring response. I confessed “I never expected to hear from ToursByLocals after one answer to my tweet, especially not after time passed.” The rest of my email:
“I understand that at the basic level your customer service agents cannot take up responsibility for someone who has not booked through you, it's not a part of their job or at least not a standard procedure. And the people in higher positions generally do not deal with customers and do not get back to them personally. So I am totally aware that this mail of yours to reach out to me is very out of the ordinary and worthy of praise/respect.
On the other hand, to be any meaningful, I would like to know the end result with Jean-Claude. I would like to see that he has really understood that the way to do gas is going full tank and leaving full tank. And that letting guests to be swarmed by unsolicited attention of locals is unacceptable and is failing of his duty.
The fuel cost was not the issue. Even if I would not have liked it, I would have accepted it if he charged us properly. After all, he said it, that that fuel was not included. What upsets me is the way he did it, getting 30-50 USD more out of us, charging a premeditated amount of 200 USD instead of what was actually consumed.”
Then I wrote something about money. I don't know exactly why, but to me this is very important. I don't want money myself, but I don't want people whom I believe did not deserve the money they got, to keep that money...
“I said money is not the issue, and it really isn't. I don't want money, what I want is to see that Jean-Claude has understood the above. On the other hand, I don't want Jean-Claude to keep the money we gave him, because I believe he definitely did not deserve it. So I don't know... In such cases I offer the person to pay a charity, somebody else. I think it's the best way to solve a money dispute. That neither party gets it, but it is given to a third party. My choice would be ihfonline.org , a place I've found after long research and feel I can trust. But of course Jean-Claude can give that money to someplace in Madagascar to help the country. I know he'll be spending the money in Madagascar and it will be going to the economy there, but I wouldn't want him to make use of it for himself. I'm sure you have the authority to make him do it, or the creativity to come up with a different solution to satisfy both ends.”
Gavin wrote back saying he was going to talk with Jean Claude during the week and would get back to me.
The week passed. I didn't bother. It is travel season, people might be busy. Two weeks passed. I still didn't bother much. These things take time. Then three weeks passed. I felt like dropping a line. Gavin got back to me saying he was following up with Jean Claude. He had the phone call, and then gave Jean-Claude time to absorb the feedback. Okay.
However, the rest was disillusionment. I try to understand their perspective. I understand that they are a business, that Gavin is doing things on behalf of a company. Still... I suppose that's where I have an issue. It was once again all about ToursByLocals, how great they were and what standards they expected for their customers and not about the right way to do things, a general moral and ethic code to follow in interactions with any tourist/guest.
Also, he got to the main point of his interest in taking up this issue. My removal/retracting or updating of my post! I understand, it is normal for him to expect that, but it makes the whole thing a big disappointment for me. My shoulders sank. Because I am not after interests, I am after integrity!
Here is Gavin's email, emphasis is mine, and my comments to him in parenthesis:
“I am happy to say that I have been able to reach a consensus and that Jean Claude has accepted the learning opportunities presented by the feedback you provided to us. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to connect with Jean Claude and to reinforce the expectations of ToursByLocals and our customers."
(To me, this should have been “to reinforce the right way to do things with tourists/guests.” Any tourist, any guest. Not only your customers.)
"I have advised Jean Claude that we would of course always expect him to include fuel costs (and any other such expenses) in the overall tour cost for any ToursByLocals tour; this is in fact part of ToursByLocals model. ToursByLocals customers would always expect all expenses to be included and/or disclosed on their booking form and we would never expect any of OUR customers to be overcharged or blind-sided by extraneous costs in the way that you described."
(Again... The only emphasis is on ToursByLocals customers. No guest likes unexpected expenses. Besides, Jean-Claude includes the fuel cost in your tours anyway. I was expecting you to tell, to instruct him the right way to charge fuel if it's not included. Come full tank to the airport, fill up the tank while leaving. It's simple.)
"I have also discussed the incident at the airport car park in detail with Jean Claude and have made it very clear that it is our expectation that he will always do everything in his power to warn and protect our customers against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties."
(I'm sorry, this disillusions me so much. Why is it always about the person involved and not in general? It's ethics, it's morals, these are universal values. Guides are there to protect guests, it's an integral part of their job. Jean Claude has to always do everything in his power to warn and protect anybody who is visiting his country, not only his customers either, against unscrupulous vendors or other 3rd parties.
When I worked as a guide, I mean even when I wasn't working, even as any simple local, we interfere if we feel a tourist is being cheated upon by some local. It's just basics. Basics of being a host.
Plus, he was our guide. What's more, I asked if it was a scam. I mean, think about it. Imagine, you are in your country, there is a tourist family next to you and they ask you “Is this a scam?” It is only natural you'd say “What's going on?” and ask those people. Jean-Claude, let alone doing that, just brushed it off with an “I don't know,” and went on checking his phone! It's INEXCUSABLE!
And may I say, writing now and thinking about it again, it seriously makes one question if he was in on this scam.)
"This was a very important matter for us to clarify with Jean Claude as we would always expect our guide partners to utilize their local knowledge to enhance our customers' trip and to avoid any such unpleasant experiences. Jean Claude has assured me that going forward he will be vigilant to ensure that ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations."
(Again... To ensure ToursByLocals customers do not find themselves in such situations! What about other people? You just seem to say it's fine if others find themselves in such situations. This is what I call integrity, what I've been trying to say. That you are fine with your guide putting other people in such situations as long as your name is not involved.
Of course you cannot surveil him for his private customers but you could definitely tell him that he be vigilant with all his customers, all guests in his country not to find themselves in such situations.)
"I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident - I have full confidence in his ability deliver 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals in future."
(Again... The 5-Stars service only reserved for ToursByLocals customers! Jean-Claude delivers 5-Star tours for ToursByLocals anyway. The problem is he should be delivering the same 5-Star for anyone, even without any authority over him. Perhaps I am expecting too much. But that's my goal. To have people behave the right way even if it's not in their interest. That's why, as you might have seen on my website, I am campaigning for freedom of movement even though I have nothing to gain from it myself as a holder of a European and a Muslim passport. It's about doing the right and just thing.)
"I did advise him that I believed it would be appropriate to make a financial gesture to apologize for the lack of clarity regarding the fuel costs; however, to be honest, I do not think it would be appropriate for me to pressure him or instruct him to take certain action with funds that are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. But I did advise him of the promo code gesture we had already provided to you and he was happy that we had done so."
(To be honest, I do think it is appropriate for anybody who has the power to pressure anybody who has done wrong. My child may be an adult; if I believe she has done wrong, I will be pressuring her to correct herself, to make up for it. I won't say “She is an adult, I cannot interfere.” I won't try to wash my hands off, I will take a stand. The stand on the right side, the just side. Of course, if it was something disputable, if Jean-Claude had denied the issue, if you had any doubts regarding my claims, then it would have been unfair to expect you to pressure him. But it's not the case here.
Plus, it's not the “lack of clarity of the fuel costs”! It's the sneaky way it was done. What's more, the more important financial gesture to apologize for is not the gas money, it was his lack of service, falling behind/failing miserably in his duties, the nonchalant way he answered and let us be swindled.
As for your advising him of your promo code gesture code.... Why would you do that? This gives the signal that you have already covered up for his mistake and he doesn't need to do anything more about it. I'm sorry to say that that is NOT the case. I had told you it was highly unlikely that we'd be using that code as we stopped travelling for some time. Under these conditions, we will definitely not be using the promo code, you may cancel it. Promotional gestures are exactly what they are called, they are for promoting your company, not really compensating the customer.
I understand you are partners with Jean-Claude. You work together. You make him money, he makes you money. We are just someone who might be a potential for you but he is your main partner, the person you need to look after. And I understand very well that the reason you are interested in this issue is the negative post about you, that as a 5-star company you don't want any negative thing on your name.)
"I trust this concludes this matter, and I am glad that you have given us the opportunity to fully address these issues. I am so happy that this has changed your perception of ToursByLocals and that you would consider giving ToursByLocals a chance to impress you in the future too."
Ah, he trusts this concludes the matter; he is the one to judge if the matter is concluded, not us, not the party who suffered the damage. He has done his part, so let's get to what I have to do in return!
"I would also be very interested to know if you are considering updating or retracting any of your comments regarding ToursByLocals on your blog. As I do appreciate and agree with your statements regarding integrity - I am in fact very grateful to be part of ToursByLocals as I can confidently say from my experience that we are a company that truly values integrity and honesty, and that we live and conduct our business by this philosophy. I would appreciate it if you could let me know your feelings on this matter and if you agree it would be appropriate to clarify the comments on your blog in anyway?
As always, I am at your disposal - please let me know if there is anything more I can do."
So he had done all this only in the self-interest of the company!
I said I'd certainly be updating my blog. But the issue was not concluded for me. I wrote:
For it to be concluded, I need two things:
You say you are satisfied that Jean Claude has taken your feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident. I take your word for it, yet I have to see that this is the case for myself as well. I was looking for something concrete from Jean-Claude himself instead of you. I was expecting some evidence, something in writing, either from your exchanges or better yet, a message to us from Jean-Claude to see that he really got the points I was trying to make.
And the second... As I said, he doesn't need to refund us necessarily, but he certainly needs to refund that money. Given his responsibility and unacceptable responses it should be more like all the money he earned but he should refund at least a 100 Euros. Or more appropriately 150 Euros. That's how we feel.
And we don't feel this is unfair the least bit, given that we are not asking him to give back much considering he got paid very handsomely for his services which involved two gross faults. There is no compensating for all the trouble we went through and all the time I wasted writing all these emails to you and the posts. As I said, it's not as if we are asking him to pay something he has not already received a lot of. Just to give back a small bit of it which he has not deserved. Only then, will he have showed that he has taken responsibility for his “shortfall” let's say.
This was Gavin's answer and my replies to him in paranthesis:
"Thank you for your thoughtful response; and certainly, yes, it is our hope that our guide partners will of course learn from the ToursByLocals' best practice which we try so hard to instil and maintain for every ToursByLocals tour.
I do believe that guides who join ToursByLocals benefit from the experience of delivering tours for our customers, and I would certainly hope that our business practices will have an ongoing positive influence on how our guide partners conduct their business with respect to both ToursByLocals and any other endeavour they pursue in their private life.
However, it is important for me to maintain this distinction and to be conscious of what requests it is appropriate for me to make of our guides; and as I said, in this case I do not agree it would be appropriate for me to pressure Jean Claude to take any certain action with regards to his private funds which are not associated with a ToursByLocals transaction. This is simply the dynamic of our partnership in which we respect our guides’ private commitments which they may have outside of ToursByLocals."
(I understand you Gavin. Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. Nobody ever does. So my expecting you to put any pressure on Jean-Claude would be very unrealistic. I suppose you couldn't do any more than what you did without hurting your own interest. And why should you hurt your interest for something the person you work with did to someone who means nothing to you? I understand, it's no concern of yours. Not beyond the “stain”, a negative comment on your name on the internet.
Still, you didn't need to comfort Jean-Claude and take credit points for yourself by telling him you provided a promotional code for us. I understand, it is whatever gets you credit for anything you give away. That was just a good move to promote your business through a customer, plus strengthen Jean-Claude's bonds and loyalty to you. Two birds with one stone. I'm sorry I'm not the bird who falls for those stones. I understand perfectly well where your loyalties and your interest lies. This doesn't make you bad of course. It just makes you pragmatic and businesslike. And it makes me despair more. One more layer added to my unsuccessful tries with institutions. I understand asking for integrity at the cost of one's interest is asking for too much and it is only the rare few of those like me who do that. Perhaps I care about this so much because I grudge that I have given up so much for my integrity and principles. Or because the world is not a place for the likes of me. Or because I am left so alone...)
"Thank you again for your considerable efforts to provide feedback and enact positive change - your dedication to moral and ethical improvement is admirable. As per your request, I have cancelled the promo code previously provided to you and have instead arranged for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation."
(Thanks for arranging for the funds to be donated to the International Humanity Foundation. But again, I still have difficulty in understanding. Okay, I take your word for it but I'd never expect anybody to take my word for such a thing and I'd have provided a receipt to back up my word when I made such a claim to anybody. Why is it so difficult to do something properly without the need for prompting? And you probably are the best of the best possible. At least you care and respond. At least you tried to do something whatever your motivation may have been. Thanks for all your efforts.)
I left the most significant part of Gavin's response for last.
"I believe I have fully addressed the issues you have raised about Jean Claude, and as I said, I am confident that that this has been a learning experience for him. I believe everybody is capable of making mistakes and is entitled to a second chance. I do not believe it is necessary to pursue this matter any further with Jean Claude; I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident."
(Yes, I agree, everyone is entitled to a second chance. After they make up for their mistake. You are not the father paying for the window your son broke. Jean-Claude is an adult and he faces the consequences of his actions.
And what he did about the scam is NOT something light. Coming up with excuses, trying to shift the blame on us by saying ah we exchanged money through his friend is not acceptable either; let alone that, it's more outrageous. It's total bs trying to whitewash.
You may be “confident that that this has been a learning experience for him”, I am not. As I have not seen or heard anything from him.
You say “I have accepted his contrition and I am happy for him to now move forward positively from this incident.”
Sorry??? You have accepted his contrition??? You are NOT the person to accept his contrition! He did not violate your contract, your trust, he violated ours; he did no damage to you (I mean apart from getting your name involved indirectly), we suffered the damage he caused. Sorry but you have no right to accept his contrition in our name. Only we have that right. And we have not accepted anything as we have not seen any gesture or heard any word of redemption from him.)
This is so important, so so important that I cannot emphasize. Whenever someone does something wrong, they should make up for it, they should make amends. To the person who has been hurt. To the person who has been the object of the damage, the one subjected to the damage.
As far as I know, or as far as I don't know that is, Gavin might not have talked to Jean-Claude at all. How do I know he did? I mean of course I believe him. But I have no single proof, no single evidence that Jean-Claude got what I wanted him to get out of this incident. But Gavin writes:
“I am satisfied that Jean Claude has taken my feedback on board and that he is moving forward positively and professionally from this incident.”
Oh good, I am glad Gavin was satisfied! So it was about the satisfaction of ToursByLocals after all from the very beginning and not mine! Their satisfaction is enough! And Gavin's satisfaction with Jean-Claude understanding should be enough to satisfy me I suppose.
I'm sorry... It doesn't work that way. I know I am hard to satisfy. I know I am expecting too much. But I am not actually asking for much. I am not asking integrity over self-interest from people who are struggling to make a living. I do not expect a poor man to act with integrity at the cost of his and his family's well-being. But yes, I do expect integrity from people, companies and institutions who are well above the standard. I expect integrity from people, from companies who can afford it.
I do not blame the people who actually swindled us. Why? Because as much as it is not correct what they did, as wrong as it is that is, I believe they needed the money. Sure, there are other honest ways, but not always available to everyone. Sure, there are people under dire circumstances who do not resort to fraud, scams, thefts etc. However, I still have clemency for them. (Don't get me wrong, I'm not condoning them, I'm not condoning any cheating, BUT, yes, no, I do not blame them. At least not as much as I blame people with means, people pretending to be civil doing wrong things.)
For Jean-Claude, I don't have it. Giving back some of the money he has made a lot of was not much to do. As for ToursByLocals, I'm not sure if their involvement served anything. What did Jean-Claude get out of this incident? Of course I don't have any knowledge of the conversation between him and Gavin, but what I gather from Gavin's account is this:
“Oh, okay. Even if it's not a ToursByLocals customer, whatever I do may get back to me. But, ToursByLocals will cover my back.”
The exact opposite of what I wanted him to get:
"I should be careful with every single one of my customers, not just ToursByLocals; otherwise, I might be losing my bread."
I believe Gavin should have pressured Jean-Claude to pay us (or any ONG), made him write to us too. Or alternatively, he could have provided me their phone conversation recordings. Some kind of solid feedback to make me see Jean-Claude got what I was trying to say. The best would have been, of course, Gavin writing to Jean-Claude, and BCC me, so that we could discuss it openly. With Gavin doing the intermediary.
Was he obliged? Sure not. Would it have been nice? Sure yes. Should that be a standard? I sure do believe it would help for a better world if things were done like this in every area. Courts and the justice system is just so crap. Howard Zehr's “Changing Lenses” should be standard compulsory reading for everyone at school, our methods for solving conflict/clashes should be updated.
Would such a thing have damaged ToursByLocals relationship with Jean-Claude? Probably yes. Still, as I said, I think companies can afford that. They should be able to put their interest at risk for doing the right thing. They should impose right behavior on their employees. Anybody who has any power should impose right behavior. Actually, it works in the other direction as well. I believe people should be resigning from their jobs if they witness the company they are working for is doing unethical business. So anybody who interacts with someone acting wrong should cut contact with that person/company if they do not correct their ways.
Perhaps I am wrong. But I feel this strongly.
Whatever... I seriously do not wish to deal with such things any further. Life is too short to spend trying to correct all the wrong in the world. Yet I know I cannot just accept and shut up. I need to speak my truths. Only then can I have a quiet mind.
So now, with your permission, I go on with my life.
Moral of the Story: Nobody puts any pressure on anybody if they have a symbiotic relationship, if they have an interest involved. And we will never achieve civility, civility in its true sense that is, unless we can overcome this obstacle and put integrity above our interests.
There is a very nice answer from Paul Melhus, the founder of ToursByLocals about their response to a challenge with a guide in an interview on Leisure. They are a 5-star company, if there is any lower evaluation for a guide they take it seriously. What's more, they even go further. They see how many customers provide feedback. Because people generally do not bother to comment if the guide is not especially good or especially. ToursByLocals seriously seek perfection, at least in theory, that is what they aim for.
“We’re not into average. We’re into awesome.”
That is such a nice and strong statement. I really wish they had owned up to their aspiration and showed they were into awesome.
Every time Zeynep has to go through an immigration control, she needs to think in advance and decide what she is. Is she Turkish or is she Italian? You see, it's not a simple question with a simple answer. The answer depends very much on where she is going or where she is getting out from. Which passport does she take out, the Italian or the Turkish? She is the same person, but her welcome to the place is contingent on the passport she shows the “authorities”.
Going to Beirut she kept reminding herself that she needed to get her Turkish passport. That's the precious one that doesn't require a visa to Lebanon.
Then she said “Oh, I'll be needing the Italian too.” On the way back, to enter Italy. She might have just used her Italian ID for that but she got her passport anyway. Just in case.
And good thing she did. She had not thought she'd be needing the Italian passport to exit Italy as well. You see, nowadays there are these machine readable passports. You show it to a machine and walk through the immigration control, it's a breeze. Otherwise, there's a long queue. More than that, it's not important one is leaving the country, the immigration checks one's entrance stamp into the country. To see if they have been there legally. One need proof of that.
Zeynep cannot help but think... Why does she have to think about which of her identities suit the country she'll be dealing with and present one or the other accordingly? Even though she is definitely not cheating, she feels it's hypocrisy; the political structure of the world is forcing her into a double identity.
You may be the same person. But it's not who you are, it's the papers you carry that are respected.
Ekaterina is born from an Italian father and a Russian mother... What is her citizenship? Or let's take a moment to analyse ourselves and answer the question “Which citizenship should she have?” I suppose the reasonable answer would be “Both.” If citizenship/nationality is an identity, Ekaterina carries both.
What is the reality on the ground? If she was born in Russia, she could be both. But she was born in Italy. Mistake or unfortunate circumstances of the parents. Now, Ekaterina can keep double citizenship only until the age of 18, after which she has to make a decision. Choose one.
The logic is Russian has to be your primary citizenship in order for you to have double citizenship. A child born somewhere else than Russia is not considered primarily Russian.
This feels so much like a capricious wife. It's like the government saying "I would have accepted you taking a second wife, but I won't accept to be the second wife myself. I have to be your first wife. Since you married someone else first, you have to get divorced if you want to marry me!"
Whichever Ekaterina chooses at 18, she is always going to be a Russian and an Italian, she is always and forever going to be an Italian and a Russian.: Whatever the “authorities” deem her to be. They won't be changing her genes, they won't be changing her mother and father tongues, they won't be changing her intertwined culture and way of seeing the world whatever it may be. No authority in the world will be doing any of these things because these attributes are default for every single one of us, there's nothing to be done about it. Yet, authorities dictate us who we are.
You may add to this international family another factor. The parents have chosen to live in a third country, let's say Turkey. So Ekaterina grows up learning Turkish. Which nationality does she identify with? To what degree?
Basically, this should be a question that only Ekaterina can answer. Why do politicians decide and cauterize people with their categorizations?
Why should people be put in certain boxes according to their nationalities?
Nisha was adopted at the age of three to Italian parents. She grew up leading a standard/normal Italian life. Then came one day. The day she got engaged. Her fiance wanted to go to India to visit the place where his beloved came from. They did their work, arranged their trip. Now it was time to go to the Indian Embassy to get their visas.
This is actually where the story starts. Because the Indian Embassy realized that Nisha's name was not erased from their registry when she was adopted. So according to them, Nisha was Indian. You may ask “So what?” If she is Indian, it should make things simpler. She can go to India without a visa then, right?
Wrong. Indians need an Indian passport to enter India. (The former British MP, mayor of London and Foreign Secretary, and now the PM Boris Johnson, who is also American because he was born in the US has had a similar episode, being denied entry to the US because he did not have a US passport. He was not allowed to use his British passport, needed the US one.)
“Eh okay, she gets one then,” you say. Things are not so easy. The Indian passport takes three weeks to be issued, the papers needed to go to India, be approved and come back.
Nisha and her fiance have already made their travel arrangements, thinking that it takes a day for an Indian visa to be issued. This is an unexpected obstacle. Nisha is cornered.
“Isn't there another option? A way around this?” she probes.
Yes, actually there is a way. “But you have to denounce your Indian nationality,” says the responsible at the Indian Embassy. “Then, you apply as an Italian, we can give you your visa tomorrow and you can go.”
Thus Nisha became a total Italian even though her genetic heritage and personal history says she is Indian. At least of Indian origin.
But whatever the papers say, they are true.
You do not dare to object! Or do you?
At least POTUS- the President of “the greatest country on earth” claims some Americans are not really Americans and they should go back to their countries.
There are many more of Zeynep, Ekaterina and Nisha. They do not feel a particular kinship to the Turkish or the Italians, or the Russians. They are globalites. Their kinship to others lie on different qualities more relevant like people's characters, ideas and ideals, their amicability. These are the things that matter, who cares about someone's nationality?
Well, some do of course. Sure, homeland is important. Sure, national identity is important. We all have ties to the land where we grew up, where our language is spoken, where our “culture” has been formed. Isaac Asimov has boiled it down in “I. Asimov”:
“I am all for cultural diversity and would be willing to see each recognizable group value its cultural heritage. I am a New York patriot, for instance, and if I lived in Los Angeles, I would love to get together with other New York expatriates and sing "Give My Regards to Broadway."
This sort of thing, however, should remain cultural and benign. I'm against it if it means that each group despises others and lusts to wipe them out. I'm against arming each little self-defined group with weapons with which to enforce its own prides and prejudices.”
It's interesting to see how fractured groups of people are in reality, yet how they claim to be united. Some claim “America first.” They claim “Italians first.” But which America, which Italians? The United States should be renamed the Divided States. The United Kingdom should be the Divided Kingdom. There are fault lines all over the world. Italians are divided within themselves too. The division in Italy is between north and south. Or let's take Sicily. There is Catania and Palermo. Where do our loyalties lie? To the bigger identity or the smaller? Will we exclude our fiance who is from Frascati because we are from Velletri? Where do you draw that line?
Perhaps it's best to make it humorous like the “America First - The Netherlands Second” viral video. Yet, nobody really needs to be first apart from our immediate family and circle of friends. The rest are all people we do not know. People whom we may like or not like. Independent of our being “compatriots.”
Zeynep, Ekaterina and Nisha may be a minority at the moment, but their numbers are increasing. In the globalized world, where people are moving and mixing at an unstoppable rate, it's impossible to keep their numbers small. As globalization takes over some more, identities will keep blurring. Nationality will lose its significance if it is not already losing it. We hopefully will transcend this political structure and will start seeing each other not as nationals of a place but as people. We will move more towards Asimov's depiction.
In his piece “The demise of the nation state” in the Guardian, Rana Gupta writes: “After decades of globalisation, our political system has become obsolete – and spasms of resurgent nationalism are a sign of its irreversible decline.”
The demise of the nation-state might not be imminent, but it is inevitable. Our task is to get the best of our culture, traditions and identity to enrich our experience, preserve our diversity. Yet, embrace the commonality of all humanity.
By the way... We don't need to worry about not having enough. As Gandhi said, “The world has enough for everyone's need but not enough for everyone's greed.” So let's concentrate on scraping away our greed instead of trying to destroy those we deem the “other.” Let's concentrate on “Live and let live.”
In the “Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained” video it says “No matter what your motivation is, whether you dream of a world where all people live in freedom and wealth, or you just want fewer refugees coming into your country, the simple truth is that it's beneficial to you personally if people on the other side of the globe can live a good life.” And it is very true. So it's “needs” first. Needs of every single person on earth. Second, we get to the greed.
It is a common feeling in the US and European countries which receive a lot of immigration: People feel they cannot possibly let everyone in; otherwise, their country will be destroyed. It is an understandable feeling, a reaction to an un-asked for and un-welcome change.
In the meanwhile, our world is being destroyed. We cannot possibly keep on warring and bombing, go on with destruction; yet, we are doing it. We cannot possibly produce so much plastic crap and ruin the environment, killing animals; yet, we are doing it. This is not even an “otherwise” situation , the Great Pacific Garbage Patch (GPGP) is very real. Contrary to the common perception, the patch is not an island of plastic trash that is visible to the eye; it's mostly tiny pieces, microplastics that cannot be detected with satellite imagery. Yet, we might soon be forming the eighth continent: A trash paradise.
The Pacific Trash Vortex “is an area the size of Texas in the North Pacific in which an estimated six kilos of plastic for every kilo of natural plankton, along with other slow degrading garbage, swirls slowly around like a clock, choked with dead fish, marine mammals, and birds who get snared. Some plastics in the gyre will not break down in the lifetimes of the grandchildren of the people who threw them away,” writes Greenpeace.
The Ocean Cleanup estimates the surface area of the patch to be 1.6 million square kilometers. That is more than 5 times the size of Italy. More than 1.8 trillion pieces of plastic float in the patch, that is 250 pieces per person on the planet. The weight is about 80,000 tonnes. Let alone the billions of euros environmental damage this is causing, let alone the sea animals being entangled in the debris, this plastic soup is toxic and animals feed on it. As the food chain progresses, these toxic chemicals make their way into our bodies. We cannot produce plastic soup and drink it; yet, we are doing it.
The worse thing, GPGP is not the only garbage patch, there are four more. Now there is the North Atlantic Garbage Patch too. Globally, we produce 100 million tons of plastic,
10 % of which ends up in the oceans. “Already, the ocean is filled with about 165 million tons of plastic. That’s 25 times heavier than the Great Pyramid of Giza. By 2050, plastic in the oceans will outweigh fish, predicts a report from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, in partnership with the World Economic Forum,” writes Rebecca Harrington in the Business Insider article “By 2050, the oceans could have more plastic than fish:”
What else we cannot do ? That is what else we are not supposed to be doing? You may say “We cannot keep on breeding. Otherwise, we will over-populate and ruin the world.” In fact, many people say that. However, there are other predictions. “Overpopulation – The Human Explosion Explained” video says that the UN estimates the 12th billionth person will not be born at all. The population growth will come to an end because the more prosperity people have the less children they have and this is now a trend all over the world.
We cannot keep on feeding an economic system that is enriching a few greedy businessmen at the expense of the many have-nots; otherwise, the fabric of our society will collapse. Yet, we are doing it. We cannot go on with nuclear arms; otherwise, we will suffer disasters which will be our end. Yet, we are not changing our ways, not giving up on our power of threat. We cannot keep playing with our nutrition, grow genetically modified food, put all sorts of conservatives, chemicals, artificial colors in every “edible” item; otherwise, we will all grow strange illnesses, lose our health. Yet, we are doing all these.
We cannot keep on advertising, we cannot go on fuelling so much unnecessary consumption; yet we are doing it. We cannot possibly add hundreds of new cruise ships to the oceans every year, but we are doing it. We cannot possibly promote mass-tourism to Antarctica. Otherwise, the last pristine wilderness we have will be destroyed. Of course it's not only Antarctica, the whole world gets its share of the huge carbon gas emissions. We cannot possibly keep adding new planes, new routes every day, and luxury travel every year. Yet, we are doing all these things. Yes, our world will be destroyed if we go on like this. We cannot possibly keep on with the lifestyles we have in the “Western” world, but we are not moving an inch.
Perhaps it is best to accept that so many of the things we know the way we know will be destroyed. But like people back in the day who were worried about where we'd find horses for everybody, or who claimed that horseshit would be filling the roads, and whose worries never realized, perhaps it will be the same for us: Some other alternative will come up one day. There are so many things people a 100 or even 50 years ago did not know about. Technology is developing so rapidly that we can list so many things we did not know even in our lifetimes, even a decade ago.
Mark Twain famously said: “I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.” And in his “Environmentalism is a Religion” speech he gave in 2003, Michael Crichton says:
“Nobody anywhere will say that the core fears expressed for most of my life have turned out not to be true. As we have moved into the future, these doomsday visions vanished, like a mirage in the desert. They were never there---though they still appear, in the future. As mirages do.”
There are other things, perhaps more important we cannot do and should not. For example, we cannot act on fear. We cannot act on doomsday scenarios, future predictions. Why? Because we make predictions based on our current models and past trends, we predict by extrapolation. Then, we are most often wrong. We are dealing with incredibly complex, evolving systems; we need to be humble, deeply humble when we attempt to make predictions, nobody can predict the future.
Our predictions are expressions of prejudices and fears. “We cannot let everybody in, otherwise we'll be destroyed” is an expression of fear. It is not a fact. And it is important to make that distinction.
Similar fears and speculations were there when the Berlin wall came down. The doomsday scenarios did not play out. Sure, there were difficulties along the road, but they were mostly overcome and the situation stabilized.
It is of course true that no country can totally open its borders in this political environment, such an expectation would be illogical. Even the most ardent proponents of open borders and everybody's right to move around the world freely, do not suggest that. Yet, it is also obvious that this system is illogical as well and is not working anymore. (It is madness to define people by the imaginary line that they were born in, and even more so, to define their radius of movement in the world again by that imaginary line. A state is a non-entity, it's fiction we have created, whereas people are blood and bones; and people are dying in order to protect the “sovereignty” of a non-entity, the state.) So there has to be a new way of solving this problem apart from the dichotomy of either open or close borders.
Imagine there's no countries
In two years time, it will be half a decade since Lennon and Yoko Ono wrote this. He said “It isn't hard to do,” but apparently, for many people, it is. And although it is “one of the 100 most-performed songs of the 20th century” it isn't helping to get the message through.
Countries, borders, visas are all concepts we have created. They have become anachronistic now, they belong to a different age. Insisting on them is illogical. It is time to come up with alternative suggestions on how to set up a new socio-political construct and start discussing them. With globalization, the number of people who do not feel they belong to a certain place are on the rise, our identities change at a fast pace. If we keep on thinking within the paradigms of today, we will be destroying our world soon. So we need to change the way we look at things.
It is beneficial to us that everybody on the planet is well-off. The Earth is our spaceship; we are all in the same boat. Sooner or later, we will all pay for our actions and for the actions of other people. We either sink together or float together. So we establish a moral guide, base our policies not on pure selfishness but on selfish-altruism, on enlightened self-interest. Then we set out from there.
There is a saying in Turkish. Kervan yolda düzülür. “The caravan is set up on the road.” That is, you find out things when you set out on the road and add things you need, find solutions as you go along. Sure, we discuss the possibilities beforehand, discuss options and solutions. We also keep in mind that even with the best case scenario, something unexpected might come up. We find out after the fact and deal with problems when they appear. We don't grow in vitro fears, we face them in vivo. That's the only way to transcend our political construct which is not working anymore.
This piece was originally written for and published on InsideOver
“For Sale: 3+1 Villa, Comes With EU Residency Permit”
“REDUCED GOLDEN VISA OPTION: Hurry, selling fast!”
There are ads like this on the internet. You may buy yourself European citizenship if you are willing to invest 500,000 € and wait a couple of years for naturalization. The reduced option mentioned here is a 30 % reduction in the investment cost for buildings that are more than 30 years old and in need of renovation. That is 350,000 € instead of 500,000.
“Cash-for-passport!” started in the Pacific and Caribbean in the 1980's; and today, there are many countries giving out these Golden Visas. They are called golden visas because just like the gold credit cards without limits, people with money can get access to the world without borders.
Even the US and UK have them. They are just a bit more on the expensive side, that's all. In most cases, you don't necessarily need to reside in these countries. You go and stay there for a short period of time, then you go on living your normal life in your own country. After about 5-6 years you can apply for citizenship. Your family can get citizenship through you as well.
In her book “The Cosmopolites” Atossa Araxia Abrahamian writes how the UAE- United Arab Emirates bought citizenship to solve its bidoon problem. Bidoon means “without” in Arabic. The bidoon are the stateless people within the country, those without citizenship. The Emirates did not know what to do with them. These people basically had a right to citizenship but were unaware at the time that they needed to apply or did not bother with it thinking they'd go on living the way they have been living, they did not see the point. Then, there came a point where bureaucracy got more complex and they couldn't live their normal lives without papers.
So why didn't the UAE simply give them papers? The answer lies in basic economics and politics. An Emirati has a house provided for him, has a fixed regular sum paid, gets extra cash when getting married. All these mean you get a share of the oil money. Whereas this is distributed carefully among family lines. The other side of the coin was politics. The Emirates did not wish to grant citizenship to people who might be their opponents. Yet, they were being pressured by the international community to solve the problem of stateless people. UNHCR has an #IBelong campaign to end statelessness by 2024. So the Emirates found a better solution. Buy citizenship from a poor neighbor country, the Comoro Islands. A place where most of the bidoon had not even heard of and would never set foot on in their lives. In fact, that was among the deal, the Comorans were not going to be burdened with their new “compatriots”.
The president of the Comoros was excited about the offer, this was money which the poor island could use to fix its roads, build some infrastructure. It was a win-win for both parties. UAE got an extra win because you cannot deport the stateless people in your country as they do not have any papers. In fact, one dissident was told he needed to get citizenship in order to renew his car's plate license, then he was promptly deported.
You get the “genuine” form of citizenship either by blood, jus sanguinis, through your parents or by being born within a country, jus soli, where countries recognize it. That's why there is even birth-tourism to the US for example and Trump has being talking about ending this birthright.
There is also citizenship by marriage, jus matrimonii. Then there is naturalization for people who reside in a territory for a certain period of time.
As Encyclopædia Britannica states, citizenship is the “relationship between an individual and a state to which the individual owes allegiance and in turn is entitled to its protection.”
There are duties, rights, and privileges of citizenship. Your political and social rights derive from the contribution you make to the community, the public life. You participate in the economy by working by consuming goods, you pay taxes, you do your military service or abide by other social obligations that the state imposes on you. Then you have rights like access to public services, e.g. schools, hospitals, roads etc. and the right to have a say in the political arena by voting or being eligible for elections yourself. When you are travelling abroad, you have a right to protection by your state. This is like the active membership to a club.
Now, at another end of the spectrum is the citizenship by investment or Economic Citizenship. The wealthy can buy citizenship, but countries cannot really buy loyalty. When the “dirty” proposal was first made by the Emirates, some Comoran parliament members opposed to the plan. They claimed it would be like selling a piece of the country's soul.
Today, many rich Russian and Chinese have gotten foreign “Western” passports this way. Some businessmen carry a portfolio of 5-6 different passports.
The question to ask is... When there is a price tag on citizenship and passports, what does nationality even mean?
This piece was originally written for and published on InsideOver:
Istanbul re-elections in Turkey has resulted with the loss of the government party AKP's candidate, the former Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım. The winner Ekrem İmamoğlu's slogan for the campaign was “Herşey Çok Güzel Olacak”- “Everything Will Be Very Beautiful.” After the elections people went out in the streets, celebrating until late hours; messages declaring “Everything has been very good now” flooded social media. There was victory in the air, there was euphoria. The cafes and restaurants on the main avenues of Istanbul profited nicely from it. What most people do not wish to confess even to themselves is that everything has not been, cannot be very good with just one election. They either do not realize or do not wish to see that this feeling of euphoria is temporary.
The slogan with which İmamoğlu came to power, “Everything will be beautiful” is superficial. True, we live in a world where politicians and ad agents make superficial assertions all the time, aiming at our soft, gullible sides. Trump promised a “beauuutiful” wall. It's easy to make people fall for false promises of rose gardens. That's why, we need to be more careful with political rhetoric.
First of all, running a metropolis of more than 15 million is a very challenging task. To be able to make such a strong claim that all is now very fine or will be, one needs to have accomplished something first. (Admitted, for supporters of the CHP, winning an election meant so much. It implied getting back some power. So it's an accomplishment on its own.)
Secondly, everything was not bad. What fanatical opponents of Erdoğan do not talk about is how advanced things are in Turkey. Criticize the president all you want, and there is reason for criticism in many places, but what's Ceaser's should be given to Ceaser.
Politics aside, public services work quite efficiently in Turkey. Be it being able to get on all public transportation, buses, trains, trams, metros, ferries, with an electronic-ticket Akbil, short for Akıllı Bilet- “Smart Ticket” or getting appointments in hospitals, being able to get blood tests efficiently. These are things that the capital cities of European countries like Rome lack. Turkey has quite a successful public health system, something that the “biggest” country in the world, the US has not been able to solve for years. There is health tourism to Turkey, with people coming from abroad for treatment at the big private hospitals. The post office, the banks... they work. What's more, they work well.
Albeit not perfectly, everything works in Turkey. There is an e-government system which now incorporates almost every public institution. You can see the properties you own, their location, their mortgage status, or view it from Google Maps. You can do all your taxes online. UYAP-Ulusal Yargı Ağı Projesi, “National Jurisdiction Network Project” is an online platform where any citizen can go and see all the lawsuits on his name, check out all the papers filed for the case, see all court proceedings. With an e-signature or a certified e-mail, one can do anything online without having the need to go to an office. Even the payments are online. Forms to fill are practical and easy.
The complaint procedures are there too. Any citizen can reach the presidency or the ombudsman with the click of a keyboard and he will get an answer. Of course, there is no guarantee that one will like or approve of the answers they get, but the system is there. And again, works.
When you need to go to any public office, all your data can be accessed with your Turkish ID number, so you can have the paper you need printed out in 20 seconds. Things do not work so efficiently in many European countries. Of course, there is a downside to all this. Government is too powerful, it has too much information about you. On the other hand, it is nice to be able to have paperwork done practically instead of suffering through bureaucracies as in Italy.
Turkey has made a leap in the international arena as well. In May 2009, Turkey had only 12 embassies in Africa, whereas now it has 39. DEIK-Dış Ekonomik İlişkiler Kurumu, Foreign Economic Relations Board has held the second Turkey-Africa Economic and Business Forum along with partnership of the African Union last October.
Turkish Airlines-THY is the airline connecting the world to most African countries, going where other airlines fear to fly. In 2009 it had 13 destinations to the continent, whereas now it has 51. It flies to 32 of the 54 countries in Africa. THY is not the biggest airline in the world by annual number of passengers, by passenger kilometers flown, by revenue or by fleet size. Yet, it is the airline flying to most countries in the world. It flies to 236 international destinations in 121 countries. The second runner-up is Air France flying to 91 countries. British Airways is third with 82 countries. So Turkey's flag-carrier airline lives up to its “Globally Yours” slogan.
My Italian husband is cautious if he should show me the newspaper clip saying Turkey is in competition with Italy for exporting pasta. Many Turkish firms are constructing airports, railroads, hospitals, doing big infrastructure investment in Africa, South America and Asia.
In the last couple of years, Turkey has also invested in Antarctica surprising many with the delegates sent to the conferences, setting up a Turkish Polar Research Center (PolReC). There has been three national expeditions in the last three years. Some countries have complimented Turkey that it has done much more research in that short amount of time than countries that have been there for decades.
There has been mega projects in Istanbul, like the third airport, the biggest in the world. The third bridge. The Euroasia Tunnel, world's first two-deck highway tunnel under the seabed.
So why, with all this good in Turkey, the backlash against Erdoğan or AKP?
First of all, there are always people questioning political decisions or the allocation of funds from the national budget. People disagree on what to do or how to do things. There is no way out of that.
Second, we all know power corrupts, Erdoğan's acting like a “sultan” probably played a part.
Another possible explanation may be found partly in the fact that gratefulness is not a lasting feeling in the political arena. What once upon a time looked like a dream (an efficient public administration system, a high-tech social environment in which business could thrive, quality public transportation at reasonable costs and a stunning set of modern infrastructures, a health system comparable to those of the so much envied western economies), rapidly loses its allure once achieved, starts being perceived as a commodity that is taken for granted.
Along with this “accomplishment effect”, a part of the explanation lies in the brisk slowing down of the economy which, in a fast and painful spiral, has brought about higher unemployment, higher inflation, higher interest rates and a sheer drop in the exchange rate of the Turkish lira. Coupled with the hardening of the government's grip on individual freedoms in the name of security, a growing sense of unrest in important areas of the country due to the revival of the Kurdish issue, reinforced by the difficult geopolitical scenario still hovering over the country, the Syrian crisis and number of refugees in Turkey, all have played a part.
On the other hand, the retaliation to the governing party is not new, there has been disgruntlement among the “elite” for a long time. Still, Erdoğan never really lost an election in all these almost two decades of rule. So why now?
Basically, the main opposition party CHP lacked real leadership. In Imamoğlu, people saw a glimmer of hope. Will he live up to the expectations of Istanbulites and the rest of the country? Who knows? But to say that everything has been very beautiful with the winning of Istanbul by CHP is too premature. If everything will be beautiful or not, only time can tell...
Everywhere around the world, local administrative elections suffer from the same manipulative interpretation patterns: If the country's ruling party wins a large city the vote is portrayed as an endorsement for the policies at the national level and a boost to continue along the path. Should the governing party lose ground, the failure is rapidly downsized to a local event, nothing to do with national policies. However, Istanbul being the economic, cultural, and historic center, being the heart of Turkey, puts this election on a different level. Erdoğan himself has said “Whoever wins Istanbul, wins Turkey.”
On 6th of July, the head of the central bank Murat Çetinkaya was sacked because of disagreement over the key policy decisions on interest rates and how to deal with the downfall of the Turkish lira which suffered a 30 % loss in value last year and 10 % more this year.
Two days later, Turkey's former economy minister and deputy prime minister Ali Babacan resigned from AKP citing deep differences in principles, values and thoughts. Babacan was among the founders of the party in 2001. There is talk about a new formation coming up in fall.
Perhaps it was time for some blood change in the country. Even though with age comes experience and wisdom, perhaps Erdoğan is getting old and losing the emotional touch with the electorate.
Whoever comes to take over, apart from being capable of running a country, keeping up the good that has been done, should remember not to end up trapped in the sticky webs of political rhetoric. Like the Spider-Man quote “With great powers come great responsibility.” And the important thing is to put that power to work for the advantage of the many. Well... That's wise advice that all politicians around the world could use.
Erdoğan had responded to İmamoğlu with “Everything will be better.” Everything being good and beautiful is utopia; “better”, we can aim for.
The story goes like this:
Chris, an Australian citizen, is travelling around in Asia. He wishes to go to Indonesia. He needs a visa. At the time he is in Thailand, so he goes to the Indonesian Embassy there. The lady at the embassy informs him:
“We do not issue visas here to third-world countries. You need to get it from the embassy in your home country.”
Chris is stupefied. He thinks to himself: “I knew our economy was going down and we had problems, but I had not realized we had sank down to the level of a third-world country.”
Of course, what the woman at the embassy meant by that was totally different to what Chris understood. First-world countries are your neighbors, second-world countries are countries in the same continent as you, and the third-world are all the rest.
It is now sort of politically incorrect to call a country third-world. They are rather called “developing” countries. And the way we use the term first and third-world today has nothing to do with how the term originated. It was during the Cold War era: The US and the countries aligned with NATO were first-world countries, the Soviet block was the second-world, and all the rest was the third-world. After the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, first-world came to signify developed countries with high standards of living and strong economies, the rich and the “civilized”. In contrast, the third-world was the poor, under-developed ones.
In his article “Tra Bosnia e Croazia, Il “Gioco” dei Migranti per L'Europa”- The forgotten land migration route: “We all want to go to Italy”, Fausto Biloslavo writes that migrants call what they are doing the “World Game”.
While young migrants play this game, there is another game very similar to theirs played by a different group of people. That game is called the “Every Country Game”. And it seems to be getting popular every day if you have a look at the increase in number of the members of Every Passport Stamp group on Facebook or the news about someone being the first, youngest, fastest etc. to be to every country.
"With a membership of only approximately 100 people, it’s one of the most exclusive clubs on Earth. In fact, more people have been to outer space than have earned their way into this, the ultimate travel club..." announces Ric Gazarian in the introduction of his "Counting Countries" podcast interviewing the 193 country chasers.
Others playing this “Every Country Game” make similar claims: “5,000 people have climbed Everest whereas there are about 300 people who have been to every country in the history of mankind.” Emphasis is mine, just to show how people elevate their status by such exaggerations. What's our history, how long have we been around? It's just so short. Besides, a century ago there weren't countries like we know today. So who was to go to every country? Even if there were countries, people simply didn't have the opportunities we have today. It's just recently that we have these commercial flights, even the buses and cars to make it all possible. So now more people are joining the "club" of people who have completed the “Every Country Game”.
People in this game try to elevate their status with the number of countries they've been to. The basics is 193 UN countries. Then there are those who add the two observer states: the Holy See and Palestine. Some add Kosovo, Western Sahara and Taiwan to their list.
There are different travel clubs partitioning the world into different numbers. The oldest most known is the Traveler’s Century Club, which says the world is composed of 327 sovereign nations, territories, enclaves and islands. The Most Traveled Person divides the world into 891 unique parts. Nomad Mania divides it into 1,281 regions. And SISO says there are 3,978 places to visit if one wishes to see the world.
It sure is a game. Some play the basic game, the 193 countries. Others have more money, they play the game of going to every “territory" spending tens of thousands of dollars in order to get to some rocks in the middle of nowhere.
I don't know if it needs to be stated: The people playing this “Every Country Game” all have first-world passports, or at least some sort of strong passports. There is a whole range of nationalities that are missing among the “Every Country” chasers. Have a look at the Henley & Partners Visa Restrictions Index- Global Travel Freedom at a Glance or at the info-graphic “How powerful is your passport?” by Ricky Linn. How do you expect an Afghani to play the “Every Country Game”? How can you expect any Pakistani to overcome all the hurdles to obtain a visa for the 160-165 countries that is required of him? As most people playing the “Every Country Game” agree, visas are one of the, if not the main obstacle to travel. Keep in mind, the people who are saying this have obtained only about 20-40 visas max. The rest was visa free or VOA (Visa on Arrival) for them.
So the game these people with first-world passports is basically this: Go to every country. Whereas migrants play a totally different travel game. Their game is: Go to this one country with the third-world passport you have. Without being caught and being too much beaten up by the police, without being robbed on the way or cheated by smugglers if possible. And of course, make it in one piece and alive!
Their challenge is the passport they carry. Their challenge is to cross borders and make it to one special country that is in their heart without the right passport. For the hundreds of thousands of people who are faced with barriers to go from one place to another, for those who are faced with deportation, who are put in detention centers, who die in unimaginable horrible circumstances... it's not a game. For them, travel and crossing borders is a matter of life or death.
The sad part is that the first-worlders are oblivious to the tribulations and the plight of the third-worlders.
First-world citizens play the “Every Country” game, third-world citizens play the “Reach This Country With This Shit Passport If You Can” game. They both form groups and share information amongst themselves, give each other tips on how to get around the troublesome points, give advice, names of places to stay, people to contact and maps to use. What both parties have in common apart from that is this: They all want to move around the world they were born on. However, it's not the same world they inhabit; they belong to two different worlds. Just like the menial first-world problems are much different than the real problems of the third-world the games they play are very different too.
PS: This piece was originally written for and published by InsideOver
Take the “The Ultimate Guide to Planning Your Perfect Kid-Friendly Road Trip" on Misadventures with Andi. This woman has tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.
Let's take a look at this “Ultimate” guide on travel with kids. What does it say?
- Make the Journey Part of the Fun- which basically says “Bring games and take detours if it seems interesting.”
- Break Up Long Drives
- Bring Plenty to Do
- Pack Accordingly
- Plan a Budget and Stick to it
I know... There is the classic stupid American stereotype, but is it really that ubiquitous? Do people really need to be told these things? This is not an “Ultimate” guide to anything, it is just some common-sense suggestions.
There are 13 comments. Let's scan them:
“I love your tips for traveling with kiddos!”
“These are such great tips for vacationing with young ones. Thank you so much for sharing”
“These are great tips.”
“What great tips!”
“These are fantastic tips.”
“So many great tips.”
“These are fabulous tips!”
I am appalled how... but I should not be appalled with such things anymore, I should know that this is how the world is and this is the capacity of the majority of people. When I was reading the comments to Carlo he commented: “You know there is an industry providing fake comments, right?”
I said “Yes, I know,” with a sigh of despair. Yes, it really makes me despair. It makes me despair, not for myself, but for the state of our world. We call ourselves homo-sapiens (how stuck-up is that?) when we actually are homo-banalus.
* I called this “The Ultimate Bullshit” but of course this is not the ultimate bullshit and banality. You may find much worse on the internet. In fact, the internet is full of so much bullshit and banality that it gets tiring to bump into them.
The ultimate guide to travel with children would be:
Know your child. Know yourself. Travel is not a must. Postpone it until both your child and you are ready. Wait until you can all enjoy it. Or, if you still choose to go ahead and travel, try to find something worthwhile in the experience, be it in the form of wisdom or relief that the trip has actually ended. Know that time passes and children grow up. And one day not too far away from now, you will be wondering where all that time went. Treasure every memory.
Bonus Tip: If you see anybody who has posted an ultimate guide to anything, just run away from that site!