I was at the airport, waiting for boarding. I sat beside a young woman from the Philippines who was working as a house maid for an Emirati family in Dubai. She was on her way home—for good—because she refused her boss’ request to drive the family around Dubai. She did not have a license to do so, and did not feel safe doing so, but her boss didn’t care. He insisted, telling her not to worry about her (lack of) a license.
Knowing that she would be in serious trouble if caught driving without a license, the woman declined, to be greeted the following day with news that she was being taken back to the placement agency. Without anyone hearing her side of the story, she was sent directly to the airport, with a police escort, and her working visa was canceled. She was not paid her salary for the last month, not given any cash for things like food during her journey home, and wasn’t even given her luggage. Her boss also confiscated her cell phone, so as to wipe the record of any contacts the woman had in the Middle East. She was literally thrown out of Dubai with only the clothes on her back, all for refusing to drive without a license.
Norway has one of the strongest senses of nationalistic pride that you’ll find anywhere in the world. It is a wealthy, educated society that typically enjoys a high quality of life (so long as you can stand sub-zero temperatures and only a few hours of daylight for months on end). On one hand, it is progressing, given that there are now 650,000 first- and second-generation immigrants living here—a figure that has more than doubled in just over a decade. On the other hand, as the 2011 Anders Breivik manifesto so clearly illustrates, this has been a source of widespread discomfort among Norwegians, half of which oppose the country allowing more immigrants in (it should be noted that Breivik, who committed the largest act of terrorism in Norway since World War 2, is Norwegian).
Norway already requires inbound immigrants to learn the local language, going so far as to investing significant resources into their language training and administering formal testing which the immigrant has to pass to stay. (Some would argue this is an unnecessary example of pride, given that nearly every Norwegian speaks English as well and that Norwegian isn’t spoken hardly anywhere outside these borders—so why pay for and require an immigrant who already speaks English to learn Norwegian?). While I personally don’t think this makes sense, I can see why it would be supported. However, I think it is to an extreme when a migrant worker can lose her job for speaking in her native tongue amongst friends during work breaks, as happened to a Polish cleaner at a hospital in 2012.
Later this year, Norway will have a national parliamentary election as it does every four years. One of the three parties on the ballot—the conservative Høyre—have made some interesting statements in regards to immigration issues, which have made me think more about the issue lately. The one that caught my attention was a comment by Bent Høie, a prominent figure in the party (and one who is, ironically, openly gay), who believes that Norway should have separate jails for foreign criminals.
While his argument isn’t as racist as it may seem initially, I am skeptical of the wider message such a belief sends out to people here. Indeed Norway’s prisons are among the more comfortable prison arrangements in the world and focus on rehabilitation and re-adaptation into society, so Høie’s argument questions why Norway’s resources should be spent on people who will be deported upon completion of their term anyway. But does that mean they should be segregated? The opposition Labour Party feels this is an irresponsible view, and it will be interesting to see how these issues of nationalism play a part in this year’s elections.
Independent now for just over 50 years, Ghana has become a model for the world in the area of religious tolerance. With a population nearly equally divided among Christianity, Islam and traditional religions, it is truly remarkable how Ghanaians are both so passionate about their individual religions—celebrations are very outward here—but tolerant of others. The mantra that it doesn’t matter where one comes from or what he or she believes in—when in Ghana he or she will be welcomed and treated as Ghanaian—is something this nation lives and breathes every day.
It is even common to have a peaceful religious divide within families—traditional parents with Christian children who are happy for their Muslim cousins’ success. This harmony is evident from the top-down as well, with a government that for the past half-century has strongly supported religious freedom. While Christian holidays like Christmas and Easter are national holidays here, as they are in many countries, so are Muslim holidays like the Idul Fitr and Idul Adhia. Because they are acknowledged and people here have a basic knowledge and understanding of another belief, there is not the fear and impending hysteria it has created in much of the world.
This is thanks in large part also to the Ghana Peace Council, which was created by the government to raise awareness surrounding the use of nonviolent strategies in response to conflict through networking, coordination and campaigning. The 11 members include the most prominent members of the Catholic, Muslim and traditional religions in Ghana, as well as some top legal and business professionals, academics and youth representatives. During its existence, this group has built an impressive track record, with one of its most important duties being to decide otherwise-deadlocked national elections. In one notable example, the leader of the group—the head of a Muslim mission—made a deciding vote against the political party he personally supported, because through deliberations with the entire group it was evident that the opposing party would better serve Ghana at the time. Such sacrifice of one’s personal beliefs for the betterment of a nation surely has a trickle-down effect, providing an example that is difficult for individuals to go against.
Ghana may have its share of problems, but when it comes to religious tolerance, it is truly a nation to behold.
One thing that always strikes me when I’m in Malaysia is the diversity. Walking around the streets of Kuala Lumpur, it almost feels like the city is equal parts traditional Malay, Chinese and Indian (statistically this is not true, of course, with a heavy skew towards Malay followed by Chinese). Of course, all of these are Malaysians, but these are the groups that make up the majority of the country.
But given the diversity that makes up this country, it never ceases to amaze me how intolerant the government is. This isn’t surprising given the country’s official classification as “Muslim”, but I am always intrigued when a country that is built upon and prides itself on diversity has such a one-sided stance on things. Homosexuality is still a crime in this country, as is sodomy, as demonstrated in the criminal case of former deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
As Malaysia continues to grow in economy and prosperity, it will be interesting to see how the political and religious views the government holds to will shift in light of a global influence. Here is to hoping that people living peacefully will be allowed and encouraged to pursue their individual happiness, regardless of what brings that.
Having spent a good deal of time in the Middle East—especially in Qatar—I’ve come to learn a lot of the good elements and bad elements of the culture here. There are many fascinating things, of which I hope this space will shed light upon many, but there are also some incredibly disturbing elements to the way people live here. Human rights violations are rampant, because people are not equal. I don’t bring these up to portray any Middle Eastern countries or cultures in a negative light, because most of what I’ve seen and heard are reflections of individuals and not the country or culture. But by shedding more light on them, I hope they can eventually be discovered and eliminated.
In most cases, the problems that exist are based on class and racial differences. The skyscrapers that you see here were all built by day laborers from India, Nepal and surrounding areas. The service industries, like hotels and restaurants, are being run on the backs of young men and women from Thailand and the Philippines. And the majority of children here are not raised by their own parents, but by nannies that are brought in from Southeast Asia specifically for that purpose. While this diversity is in and of itself a good thing, unfortunately these people are not accepted as anything more than the servants they are to the rich locals, and are treated as such.
With this prelude, stay tuned to this space for a series of stories of things that will hopefully not occur here for too much longer.
South Africa was built on apartheid. For generations prior to 1994, blacks and whites were separated, with the whites essentially exploiting the powerless blacks for immense wealth and power. Blacks, who make up around 77% of the population of 45 million, were denied citizenship, subjected to legalized oppression and limited to menial, labor-intensive jobs. “Coloreds,” or people of mixed race, and Indians were placed socially above the blacks, but still considered inferior to the whites that comprised only 10% of the population.
Today, less than 20 years later, despite a Nelson Mandela-led transition into equality that went far smoother than could have been expected, race-related tension is still prominent. One of the areas in which this is most noticeable is in the jobs sector, with whites often complaining that the affirmative action measures in place tip the scales far too much against them.
Since the Employment Equity Act that was introduced in 1998, companies with 50 employees or more are required to provide equal opportunity for people that were previous disadvantaged on the grounds of race. While it applies to all sectors, enforcement officials have given extra attention to the banking, mining and insurance industries, which were historically dominated by whites.
This is a very touchy subject. Because while one can logically argue that by limiting promotional opportunities for whites—you run the risk of brain drain and losing competitiveness on a global scale, not on the basis of race but on education and experience, non-whites were also legally prevented from attaining education and experience to develop managerial skills.
But if you look at the numbers, surveys have shown that blacks currently hold around 30% of professional management positions in the country—still a far lower ratio than their demographic representation. It is also evident that the representation of blacks at the highest levels of management is still more than 80% lower than in “unskilled and defined decision-making” positions.
This debate has gone beyond the traditional job markets, even into decisions about rosters on the nation’s athletic teams. It was a huge scandal in 2002 when president of the country’s cricket board ordered the replacement of a white player with one of mixed race. The country is passionate about cricket, and whites complained that their 100 years of experience in the sport warranted inclusion on the national team. Blacks, however, argued that they were essentially banned from the sport for those 100 years, and thus were more than deserving of opportunities to reach a level playing field now.
Given the actual numbers mentioned above, it is hard to really give credibility to the white argument that they are suffering and battling the odds. They are simply having to work harder for things that were handed to them before, and I sincerely hope that rather than spark racial tensions on micro levels, it will lead to finally a truly equal society on the macro level. For a country that prides itself on being the “Rainbow Nation”, this is not only desirable, but essential.
While Argentina has traffic rules like everywhere else, your first time behind the wheel in Buenos Aires can be quite an adventure. Given the extensive bus system (see how to ride here), you don’t really need to drive in the city, although driving can be among the best ways to get outside of BA and explore some of the vast countryside. But since you’re likely to have to traverse greater Buenos Aires at some point, it’s best to know how the game is played!
Here’s a few tips that will keep you (and hopefully your vehicle) in one piece:
1. He Who Honks First…has Right of Way
Yes, while there are traffic signals here, that doesn’t mean everybody obeys them. More often than not, cars will honk to announce their approach into an intersection, and are likely to take that honk as having earned right of way. So be careful!
2. Don’t Turn Left
From main roads anyway, left turns are not typically permitted here. This is not always followed (as you may have guessed from Tip #1), but unless it’s specifically stated that you can turn left, you probably aren’t supposed to. Circle the block!
3. Get Ready for Tolls
Many of the main highways, especially around Buenos Aires, are privately owned. As such, you’ll probably have to pay a toll to ride.
4. Check Your Suspension
Not that you will really able to do much about this, but given Argentina’s tenuous financial state, road maintenance is not among the top priorities these days. You’re likely to hit a pothole, or three, so just keep your eyes on the road and don’t expect smooth sailing!
5. Don’t Leave Anything Visible
This should be common sense for most people in cities around the world, but if you park your car and leave anything that can even be perceived to have value in plain view, don’t expect it to be there when you return!
6. Wear Your Seat Belt!
In case you haven’t picked up anything else from Tips #1, #2 and #4, you’re not likely to have the smoothest Sunday drive you’ve ever had here. So be smart!
7. Enjoy the Adventure!
One of the more thoughtful hip hop songs in recent years, Seattle rapper Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Same Love” was written in support of Washington State Referendum 74, which ended up being approved to uphold the legalization of gay marriages in the state. Enjoy the video below.