Yesterday I was asked why I had chosen this area of the world. Here’s part of my response.
The reason I chose to travel to the Middle East (and Italy) is long long-winded – when are my answers not?
A few years ago, I was lucky to travel to Europe (Denmark and the Czech Republic) with friends for several weeks. Coming from a small town in the interior of B.C., the trip provided life to the books and newspaper articles about the world and international relations I read when I was younger. Ever since this, I have wanted to travel to other parts of the world so I could see first-hand the individuals and people behind the headlines, newspaper articles, and books.
Through my various positions with UBC, I have done a lot of work with social media. Conveniently this came full circle as I found a flight deal on Twitter to Amsterdam with KLM. As I was looking, I found that Istanbul was the same price – how airline pricing works, I will never understand. I had always wanted to go to this area of the world. I had the opportunity and support.
Relative, I’m pretty young. Relative to my parents, I’m extremely young compared to those dinosaurs. You hear often, “the freedom of youth.” I think the trip is symbolic of the transition from a youth to a ‘real’ adult. While traveling, one is free to see sights, eat foods, experience cultures, and meet people on a very free timeline. Once the ‘real’ adult stage of life is transitioned to, I think the stresses of mortgages, families, bosses and staff, stiff joints, greying hair, etc interfere with the freedom one still has a youth.
The History of the Middle East
I’ve always been fascinated by the Middle East. The religions, culture, architecture, customs, and people have always drawn my attention. The Silk Road ends and begins in Istanbul. Connecting Europe with Asia and China, this is one of the greatest trade routes on Earth. The logistics of how goods got from the East to the West, is sadly missing today. Still today, markets and shops understand the need for strong relationships with suppliers and traders. There’s no emailing or websites – many shop owners still today run their shops by a means many in Canada have forgotten – talking with their partners, suppliers, networks. Shop owners always have time for a friend to stop in and have a coffee. Store managers in North America always have time to hire and fire, and when things get dire, blame. There must be a reason why shops and markets in the Middle East have been around for hundreds and thousands of years while a successful business in Canada is something that makes it past the 80 year mark (e.g., the recent closure of Zellers).
The Pyramids and Nile of Egypt
Since my grade 7 class when I did a project on Egypt, I’ve wanted to see the Pyramids. They have been on my bucket list ever since. Since a trip to Seattle and the IMAX theatre at Seattle’s Science Centre with my family, I’ve wanted to experience the Nile River. After the IMAX movie, I said that one day I would experience the Nile in-person. When I realized I was going to Istanbul, I knew I wouldn’t be able pass up the opportunity to travel to Egypt.
The pyramids shows the intelligence and knowledge of the human race. The ability to organize and work as a team. The organizational system they used is still the fundamentals of how we operate teams today. There was someone who had the sole job of ensuring each block was perfectly cut for each piece of a pyramid. Another person coordinated the placing of each block. Someone else was responsible for training the slaves who moved the hundred ton blocks (perhaps training gives too much credit). Each individual had a role – whether it be a follower or a leader.
Egyptian and Jordan Protests
As I said earlier, I have done a lot with social media for work. I am fascinated by the impact social media has played in the Arab Spring (Arab Spring on Wiki). Many commentators say this played a large part in the revolutions and overthrowing of governments. Again, I have read and listened to many news stories on this. I want to see first hand how the revolutions have impacted various nations. When I was in the Czech Republic a few years ago, it had been about 20 years since the fall of Communism in the country. You could still feel the history of the Communist state even after all the years.
In Egypt, it has only been a year since the revolution. On December 15 (while I am in the country) the country will hold a referendum on a new Constitution. I’m excited to experience first hand the movement of people for and against the new government and leader. I think this ties back to my relationship with UBC (as a previous student, and now as an alumn, staff and supporter). Universities were the social movement of Canada a few generations ago. University students protested many social issues and brought forth much change to Canada. I think it is too bad students do not protest anymore (note, I deem a large difference between using social media and web-based surveys to complain versus helping improve the world for themselves and their younger peers).
Alas, I believe there is change coming. I was lucky enough to volunteer at We Day 2012 Vancouver as a Team Lead (our team consisted of 700 volunteers responsible for seating and moving 20,000 students). The impact this event had on our young students will help move our country forward. Already, I have heard some things students in Kelowna are implementing based in their Me to We experience.
Finally, I think the evolution of these countries is needed. Whereas, Canadians fight to protect cheap gas so we can drive SUVs. Many of these countries are standing up for their rights and freedoms.
Going back to my fascination with the Middle East, I am always joyed when I see how other societies are very family- and people-centred. Whereas Canada is let’s see how many activities we can enrol our kids into. Many other societies are let’s see how many people we can fit into our homes for a celebration.
As I write, I am overlooking the playground of a primary school (I guess by their ages) – and the playground is a large slab of cement. Just like our school’s students at e running around having fun with their peers and friends. However, once the school bell rings, many of the very young children will walk home alone. Or go to their father’s shop and help carry things to/from home. Yesterday, I saw a 10 year old riding in the back of a large truck on top of a mountain of bags of rice. I don’t agree with children or teens working, but I do believe in a strong family, and a strong work ethic.
The Middle East is very different in terms of rules and laws. One I wanted to witness to fully understand. I will use driving as an example. Whereas, Canada has a law for everything you can and can’t do while driving, Turkey has kept things very simple. Don’t hit other cars or people/pedestrians. They have used the principle of common sense instead of such high risk aversion it’s surprising Canadians can remember to turn their cars on sometimes. I have walked many streets, visited the slums, and traveled on the side of highways on foot, already. One thing that is absent is accidents. I have nearly been hit multiple times crossing a road, but I’ve yet to see any collisions (knock on wood). It’s interesting that Canada believes so strongly in less regulations for businesses which has caused many issues, yet has books of rules for driving a car. In Turkey they have few laws on the roads, relying on common sense of the people, and have few incidents. I suppose the perception of safety for its voting citizens is a requirement for Canadian governments. Perhaps we could use common sense when it comes to making rules and regulations. It is hard to be greedy hen driving, yet easy when you’re the CEO of a multi-nation company. Perhaps laws should be written based on the capacity of an industry/sector’s potential greed of its employees.
Perception of the Middle East
The perceptions many Westerners have of the Middle East is always I intriguing. I too find myself at times stereotyping the region as scary, dirty, and unsafe. As some of the greatest leaders of our countries have said, you must live with the people to fully understand their needs and wants. As a young supervisor at UBC, I am beginning to fully appreciate the work side-by-side with your staff and showing them your expectations by example.
Yes, we may not drink the water from the tap in Istanbul. Yet, Everywhere I go, there are armies of street cleaners. In ally ways, sidewalks, parks, roadways, sidewalks. The city may not have the garbage collectible infrastructure we do in Canada. At the same time, citizens do their part. There may be few garbage cans, but every smoker I see, put their finished cigarette down a storm drain instead of throwing it on the street. Rarely do I see garbage on the roadways. The city has set the expectation of a very clean city – the citizens have bought into the vision.
I think one of the last reasons the trip is religion. The Middle East is still strongly influenced by religion. The religions fascinate me immensely. More so, are the people who believe so strongly in their responsibilities and how to live a good life. The passion they have for living a good life is. I value many of the principles and pillars Middle Eastern religions teach. And some, I strongly protest. Nonetheless, there is much to be learned on religion, people, and the world through the study of other religions and ways of living. I think this is a strong influence on why I wanted to experience and study first-hand the Middle East.
Cycles of Power
I will make this my last point – otherwise we could be here reading until I return to Canada (the writing is helping me pass time as I travel so I’m all too happy to keep writing).
The reason I specifically chose Turkey, Egypt, and Rome (Jordan was more or less due convenience with transportation roots, but I am just still as excited), is based around empires. Rome was previously an empire. During the Ottoman days, Istanbul was a fortress. When the Pharos ruled, Egypt was an magnificent example of leadership, strength, and rulers. I wanted to visit theses previous powers of the world to see if I could understand the cycles of power.
I look at the U.S. It’s currently an empire – at the top of the world in terms of finances, control, power, military, etc. As history has shown again, great powers get too big (perhaps due to the greed I spoke of earlier) and eventually fall. With the Fiscal Cliff potentially a few weeks away, this could have implications in the position of the US and most likely Canada over the next few years. Another example of large companies is, an example I already touched on, Zellers. It too is closing – once the darling of large super centres in the Great White North, it is merely a boarded up shop.
For the sanity of readers, I will end. If you have gone this far in the entering of this posting, you are foolish. All kidding aside, I think the reason I decided to travel to the Middle East is based on my past and our future.
I’ve read books, done school projects, watched documentaries, seen photographs, and heard stories about the Middle East’s religion and past – both which influenced Canada in some degree. I wanted to see first-hand this history. From walking amongst the people at tourist sights, in local cafes, at events, in the slums, I wanted to hear, see and feel history; put the books and pictures to life.
With the recent years of uncertainty in Canada, and the looming potential change that we could experience over the next few years, I wanted to see past powers and see how this influenced their communities and people today. Based on the chatter, laughs, smiles, and good times I have witnessed in Istanbul this far, I think that if Canada goes over the Fiscal Cliff (e.g., the empire of Canada gets knocked down a few notches), I think we will eventually get over it and learn to live a simpler life (no quick buck brought through the stock markets).
As a professor at UBC once told me, humans easily adapt to change ( within reason). They rarely give themselves the chance to push themselves a tiny bit harder.
Adam is currently traveling Asia, Africa and Europe. Follow him on Twitter (adam13goodwin) – #travels2012. You can connect with Adam by: Twitter (@adam13goodwin); Email (firstname.lastname@example.org); Web (www.adamkgoodwin.com); In-person