International Human Rights Day – December 10, 2011

After one week abroad, I’ve arrived in Istanbul, Turkey (that’s the breathtaking view of Istanbul’s Blue Mosque in Sultanahmet).

I started this little adventure in Paris, France and spent a few days reacquainting myself with the literary mecca of the world (with Shakespeare and Company bookstore as its hajj, pilgrimmage destination). I ended up by-passing much of Europe (EU countries-Switzerland, Austria and Slovenia) heading toward the Balkans, where I stopped in Zagreb, Croatia and Belgrade, Serbia, two former Yugoslav cities on the way to Istanbul, which I added to the itinerary so I could break up the long train rides (first 20 hours, second 25 hours).

Well worth it, if you ask me. I particularly enjoyed visiting two NATO-bombed buildings in Belgrade. which looked like they had been attacked yesterday (probably left there to stand as a reminder of Serbia’s errors in the past under the notorious war criminal, Milosevic).

However, Istanbul is a visually-stunning city, one that I’ve wanted to visit since my last trip through eastern Europe, when I decided it’d be better to wait until I explore the Middle East (it makes logistical sense, but my timing isn’t great, I admit).

This city is also a great starting point to explore the region and a place where east meets west (a cliche, I know). Once I arrived this morning on the train, I got the sense of how huge the city actually is, because after the conductor woke me up with his call of “Eeeshhtaanbool!” it still took almost an hour to reach the final destination, Serkeci train station.

Luckily, I met a French girl on the train last night when it pulled into Sofia, Bulgaria. She was great to talk to, for awhile, and loaned me a book called Pedagogy of the Oppressed, which I devoured intellectually to pass the time. It’s funny because I was complaining to her how I’d read all my books and needed to find something new, so she handed it to me probably so I could let her sleep. I do tend to talk a lot after not having spoken to anyone for much of the day.

Paulo Freire’s book lays out his theory on critical pedagogy, or teacher-student relations and how education can be used to benefit all in society. It was the only English book she had on her and it was left-wing non-fiction, exactly what I needed to nourish my revolutionary hunger.

A few hours later, when I arrived at the Turkey border, I was frustrated to learn I had to pay 45 euros for an entrance visa (absurd, right?). Of course, being stuck in Bulgaria would’ve been much worse, like being exiled by Stalin to Siberia, or something.

Oh yeah, by the way, today is International Human Rights Day (according to the blog post headline). It’s December 10th and I thought what a perfect time to write a bit about what I’ve experienced, so far. More to follow in the weeks ahead, for sure. Saalam.

Adam Bemma is a journalist, humanitarian, and media consultant based in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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