Friday, September 1, 2017

Arms and the flag (Reader's Digest)

Alex Tivane was angry. The Mozambican tourism professional opened the Paint application on his computer and erased an element from his national flag. That element was an AK-47. "I painted the best approximation of the background colour over the gun," Tivane, who has been using the revised image as his profile picture on Facebook ever since 2013, recollects. According to vexillologists, Mozambique does not have a flag code (a law that lays down a description and specifications of the flag).
It is the only country in the world that showcases a modern firearm on its flag. The other elements on the tricoloured flag include a hoe representing agriculture, with it crossed against the firearm and superimposed on an open book symbolizing education, and all three overlaid on a star, which stands for international solidarity. Flag expert Bruce Berry at the Southern African Vexillological Association (SAVA) specifies that 4 per cent of national flags depicted weapons on their flags in 1999, according to the paper 'VEXISTATS: A Statistical Overview of the Colours, Symbols and Designs of National Flags in the 20th Century' that he presented at the XVIII International Congress of Vexillology. However, he adds that all the weapons on flags except AK-47 (which has been in use since 1949) are antiquated; for example, a spear on Kenya's flag, dagger and sword on Oman's flag, and arrows on the US Virgin Islands' flag. "Mozambique's flag is the only one to feature a modern automatic weapon," Berry says.
The AK-47 on Mozambique's flag is symbolic of the war for its independence, which was finally granted in 1975, in which the Russian firearm was used. However, the gun on the flag does not just remain as a souvenir of the past; it is very much relevant to present-day Mozambique. Two years after the country became free from Portuguese rule, a civil war between FRELIMO (Mozambique Liberation Front) and RENAMO (Mozambican National Resistance) broke out, which lasted for more than 15 years.
Aly Sattar remembers a specific day during the civil war as if it was yesterday: 14 February 1991. It was the day he lost most of his family to the bullets from AK-47 -- his father, infant sister and toddler brother. They were travelling in a convoy to neighbouring Malawi to escape the war. The incident, however, did not turn Sattar against the weapon that killed his loved ones. He says, "The AK-47 is a sign of victory from the Portuguese colonizers, it can or will not be removed from the flag."
While the civil war has officially ended, FRELIMO, which is the ruling party, and RENAMO, which is the opposition party, continue to fight for power -- harming many civilians like Tivane. His work entails promoting tourism in Mozambique. When the unrest escalated in 2013, Tivane says, tourism in the country was severely affected. As a consequence, Tivane's clients -- hotels, lodges and resorts -- mothballed their properties, closed down or stopped paying him. He wants peace in his country for his business and the tourism industry to resuscitate. "We can't have peace if we revere arms," Tivane says referring to the AK-47 on his national flag.
The AK-47 has been a part of the Mozambican flag since 1975. (The current design was adopted on 1 May 1983, and bears close resemblance to a FRELIMO flag.) FRELIMO, which led the war for Mozambique's freedom with AK-47s, has been the ruling party post-independence till today. In 2005, the government initiated (with a push from RENAMO) a public competition to redesign the country's flag, especially to take down the gun from it. While allowing leeway for creativity, the submissions were mandated to
incorporate the following themes in the design: the blood shed in the struggle for independence, national unity, peace, democracy and social justice, and the country's wealth. A jury was appointed, 169 entries were received and a winner was chosen.
The winning entry, among other changes, replaced the AK-47 with a red ball to represent the bloodshed. Jose Forjaz, architect and graphic designer, who designed it, says, "We were given a theme that fixed the motives to be represented in the flag: the blood of our heroes, the riches of the land, the sea and peace. I interpreted those elements designing the black profile of Mozambique's coastline, the green of the land and forests, the blue for the sea, the red ball for the blood of the heroes, the golden stripe for our mineral richness and the white stripe for peace. This was too abstract for our members of parliament … even if the jury declared it the best submission. I felt that I could contribute to a progressive image of the country." The parliament with FRELIMO in majority did not give its approval.
The contest could not change the flag of Mozambique, but it could have subconsciously influenced Tivane to make the change, at least on his computer. He has put up the flag that he designed (sans the AK-47) as icon of the 'Travel Safe in Mozambique' page on his portal.
(The article is featured in September issue of Reader's Digest. You can read it online on RD's website here!)

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Monday, October 10, 2016

The Persian Way (Travel+Leisure)

When Homa Rastegar moved to Munich, Germany, the driver of her taxi from the airport happened to be a fellow Iranian. At the end of the ride, she offered to pay but the driver refused to accept the fare saying that he cannot charge her as Rastegar belonged to his country and that she had just arrived at the new city.

Even if Rastegar had moved to Tehran, Iran, she would have most certainly encountered a similar episode. However, if Rastegar was aware of her culture’s particular aspect at play here, she would have recognized that the taxi-driver was merely practising tarof.

(Read remaining article in October issue of Travel+Leisure (India & South Asia) magazine!) 

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Monday, August 8, 2016

In this country, a no means yes (Conde Nast Traveller)

A random day in December 2003 in Sofia, Bulgaria: Justin Chapmans was waiting for a minibus to take him to the Hadji Dimitar district. When the bus arrived, he asked the driver for his destination to which the driver signalled him to board the bus. In response, Chapmans shut the door and the bemused driver drove away.
Chapmans, an engineer and real estate professional, had recently moved to Sofia from Canberra, Australia, and wasn’t familiar with the local language. He thought he could get by with some body language. Big mistake!
For most of the world, a head-shake from side to side denotes a ‘no’. Bulgarians, however, do that to convey the affirmative. Strange, perhaps, but there’s a reason. Some version of the following tale explains how Bulgarians reversed the meaning of the head-shake: during Ottoman rule in Bulgaria, the Turks were forcing locals to accept Islam by placing a sword on their necks. In this situation, nodding up and down to accept the conversion could mean a slit throat. So, to affirm, they shook their heads sideways.
Read rest of the article on CNT's website here!

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Friday, July 22, 2016

Why everyone in Ethiopia is seven years younger (Conde Nast Traveller)

Upon landing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Emma Southey joined the queue to get her tourist visa stamped. Southey remembers the process being very efficient and, within no time, she was officially in the country. However, when Southey, a travel consultant at Outposts Travel Africa, looked at the date on the receipt, it read 26 July 2008. She thought to herself: “Am I going crazy? I’m sure when I left the UK it was 2015!”
Neither did Southey travel back in time nor was the date on the visa receipt inaccurate. It was because Ethiopia follows a calendar that is years behind the Gregorian calendar that most of the world follows. “Ethiopia is really the only country with a Christian calendar whose count is 7 to 8 years different than the Gregorian calendar,” says Dr Jonathan Ben-Dov, researcher of calendars in antiquity at Department of Biblical Studies in University of Haifa. 
(Read rest of the article on CNT's website!)

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Friday, June 3, 2016

What's in a name? A dad, a gran or maybe an aunt (Conde Nast Traveller)

When Kjartan Ólafsson applied for an apartment in New York, his application raised a few eyebrows at the co-op board. Ólafsson had just graduated from Harvard Business School and wanted to move to the city with his wife, son and daughter. His financial status was never in doubt—but names on the application raised a few eyebrows.
The application showed Ólafsson’s wife’s last name as Guðmundsdóttir, his son’s as Kjartansson and his daughter’s as Kjartansdóttir. “Here was a woman who had two children with two different men and was now married to a third,” Ólafsson explains the board’s quandary. The confusion was a result of the Icelandic naming convention, whereby the person’s last name is the father’s name suffixed with –sson (‘son of’) or -sdóttir. Thus, the last names in Iceland are not family names but are based on father’s name. As you’d imagine, this often trips the rest of the world and as a result, Icelandic families invite suspicion everywhere, from hotel desks to immigration counters.
(Continue reading on CN's website)

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