Peace, Love & Understanding and a little Art

I found out yesterday, that on October 25th, 2007, the Canadian federal parliament designated October as Islamic History Month. What an enlightened effort I thought, to counter prejudice and ignorance, weed out some of the mis-information that is so abundant out there and promote social cohesion. I couldn't help but feel a little pride, a warm and fuzzy tingling feeling, glancing over to my Canadian passport that day. So in honor of this occasion and in support of peace and understanding everywhere - I thought I would do a post on contemporary "Islamic art." (A subject, I am just starting to learn about myself).

The experimentation and use of calligraphy and the Arabic script is a powerful motif in the contemporary art of the Middle East and is often used to illustrate poetry, address issues of identity or to make a political statement. In some cases, the use of the script may have been inspired by the artist's own religious traditions, or cultural heritage. While others may have been influenced by European artists like Juan Miro, Georges Braque and Paul Klee, all of whom incorporated text into their work.

by Khalid ben Slimane (Tunisia). He studied pottery in Tunis, Spain and Japan.

"Untitled" by Nja Mahdaoui (Tunisia) 1984

"Contradictions of Joy" by Ali Omar Ermes (Libya) 1993

The Plate says "Al-Nar" meaning fire (1998)

Heech "Nothing" by Parviz Tanavoli (Iran) 2006

"Samira's Story" by Fathi Hassan (Egypt) 1995

The fourth and seventh images were taken at the Inscribed Meaning exhibition at the Fowler Museum in Los Angeles. The rest of the images are recent acquisitions on display at the British Museum in London.


Racing to Build Ugly Cities

There is a crisis in the architecture and urban development of many up and coming global cities. Globalization, new technologies, unprecedented competition and the current speed of development have placed urban development in an extreme state of flux. Global influences collide with local and regional culture and identity on an urban and architectural battleground. While local and regional identities are critical to the successful development of any city around the world, many governments are struggling with how best to sustain it, represent it and integrate it into their urban landscape. Unfortunately, the haste of modern day development has not allowed time for thoughtful planning and strategic reflection. Instead regional and local cultural identity in the urban environment go through cycles of being disregarded, trashed, diluted, then re-embraced, cartooned, and rebuilt. This is equally apparent in Chinese cities like Singapore, Shanghai, Beijing and Arab cities around the Persian Gulf like Dubai.
All of these up and coming global cities experience similar pressures on their path to become recognized and respected world players. For these cities, hundreds of years of urban and social development have been suddenly crammed into a couple decades. The sudden overwhelming exposure to numerous foreign cultures and standards has lead to some confusion for many governments as to how best to balance and combine all these influences in the urban environment. Lacking clear direction and the luxury of time and pressed by the unrelenting global economy, governments hastily turn to leading global cities such as New York, Tokyo, London and Hong Kong as role models for their own development. Almost overnight, cookie cutter skyscrapers are transplanted over the ruins of significant heritage sites. As many up and coming global cities view their own heritage as locking them in a backward past, they are only too hasty to dismiss and destroy it. They prefer instead to perpetuate unrestrained, extreme developments, surpassing any architectural or urban developments found New York or Hong Kong. All of which are clearly intended to make a mark on the world’s stage, to garner global attention. Repeatedly, local and regional cultural identity gives way to bizarre ostentatious offerings. The critical re-awakening and realization of the importance of local culture and regional identity often comes just a little too late and is then addressed reactively and superficially in the form of pastiche and Disney-like recreations.

For many of these cities which rely heavily on tourism as a critical revenue source, the importance of their own cultural heritage as a significant draw for wealthy tourists in search of unique experiences is often realized only after the destruction of many historic neighborhoods. In these cities, this awareness results in the immediate preservation and oftentimes recreation of historic buildings and neighborhoods. It is unfortunate however, that the initial drive to preserve and promote local culture and regional identity is compelled by the ‘commercialization of culture’ or the financial value of culture.
Much of these critical mistakes in urban planning are made by cities in a rush to reap the benefits of the global economy and not to be sidelined. These mistakes also arise from the inability and unwillingness of local governments to fully comprehend the significance of local and regional identity in developing a robust urban environment that is attractive and responsive to not only a global population but also the local population. There are however, alternatives to help such cities find a better balance. Technology and culture do not have to be an antithesis. Successful global cities that appeal to a local and global population must carefully combine global, local and regional influences in their urban development. This can only happen however, through open dialogue with all stakeholders. Urban development decisions and architectural commissions in cities in the United Arab Emirates and in China for example, are delivered from the top down. Local residents are often without a voice. The current speed of development requires better collaboration between global and local businesses, planners, architects, government and cultural institutions. The pace of the world is not slowing down and there are many lessons that can be shared between cities and countries across the globe such that the same mistakes will not to be made.


Croatia - If these walls could talk...

What I find so fascinating about places like Croatia is how they evolve as crossroads for multiple civilizations. During the centuries of development, different cultural influences, styles of architecture, flavors and textures have layered on top of each other like an intricate and complex collage. When you visit the various cities, towns and islands, fragments of each civilization become visible and make a very unique whole. But then of course, everything becomes all the more visually stimulating when you have the pristine blue backdrop of the Adriatic.

The Old Town of Dubrovnik is unlike anything I have ever seen or expected to see. Tightly embraced by the city walls, Dubrovnik is a functioning medieval town, completely intact. Once a strategically located port, Dubrovnik was integrated into the Roman, the Byzantine, the Venetian, the Napoleonic and Austro-Hungarian Empires. This is apparent in the architecture and the food (which at times seemed a little schizophrenic to me).

The first morning I walked through the thick walls of the fortress and entered the old town, it felt like I had stumbled right onto Hollywood sound stage. It seemed just so perfect. The more I walked around, I just simply could not imagine that this idyllic town was under siege for two years from 1991 to 1992 by Serb forces. According to an exhibition I saw in Dubrovnik, it is still unclear as to why Serbian forces shelled Dubrovnik at all - given that it was not a strategic location for the war and it clearly became a misjudgement in military strategy. One possible explanation is given its jewel-like reputation, it was attacked as many highly valued cultural sites often are in war, to demoralize its people. In spite of that, the majority of Croats survived in large part to hiding within the thick, encompassing city walls - which you can now climb for a small fee.

By 2006, with the help of UNESCO, the old town was rebuilt with only a few bullet holes in buildings and a war exhibition to remind any visitor or local of a history that should not be repeated.

The various shades of the orange tiles differentiate between the original roofs and those that were rebuilt after the war.

On the other side of the city walls is the Adriatic Sea with the occasional sailboat, yacht or ocean liner (unfortunately). There were two the second time we were there.

Handrails in the Venetian-Gothic styled Rector's Palace
14th Century Franciscan Monastery which houses the oldest working pharmacy in Europe apparently (from 1317)

Split is the second largest city in Croatia and you can tell that, the moment you get off the bus. It is noisy, busy and cars will run you over. Located in the middle of Croatia and also on the coast, it serves as the gateway to the majority of the islands. Much like Dubrovnik, Split has a fascinating collection of architecture from the various centuries. It gained notoriety when the Roman emperor Diocletian built his residence here in 295 A.D. This complex is huge and is located in the heart of the city. To my utter surprise and awe parts of it is still being used - integrated into the architecture of clothing stores and rowdy coffee shops. You can buy fashion from next season in a structure built in the third century. Talk about recycling! Napoleon also made his way here and left his mark with the creation of a large coastal boulevard - which now houses much of the city's nightlife and restaurants.

The only downside to our visit to Split (besides our throwback-to-communist-era-hotel; their service was as engaging) was that during the time we were there, two US navy ships were docked off the coast of Split. They were monitoring the elections in neighboring Montenegro. The day we were in Split, the city was overrun with thousands of US marines. Not quite the cultural experience I was hoping for in Croatia.

Hvar is known to be the sunniest island in the Adriatic, as far as I am concerned it is also the happiest. Surrounded by the crystal clear waters of the Adriatic, small in scale, with a bustling piazza, with fragrant herbs growing on the hillsides, good food and wine and friendly people. Ahhh...bliss.

Of course with the amount of publicity Croatia has received over the past few years in travel magazines, Hvar is no longer a quiet local summer retreat. Gaining the reputation as the Adriatic Riviera, Hvar is now often frequented by yachts of the rich and famous. While we were there, rumors were a buzz of hotel chains and luxury resorts that were in the pipeline. Pity.
The vegetation on this island was puzzling - cacti and aloe hiding under shade of a pine tree. (See a foot anywhere?)

A sign for a business in Hvar. I liked the use of rust to mark the name of the company. Rather creative, I thought.


Global Cities - See how they Grow!

A few months ago, I was lucky enough to find myself in London and at the Tate Modern for an exhibition I was eager to see on one of my favorite subjects "Global Cities." The exhibition was a derivation from the 10th International Architecture Exhibition at La Biennale di Venezia in 2006 on the earth's urban crisis. As urban and population growth continues at exponential rates, and with the majority of the earth's population now residing in cities, the pressures on the environment, on society, on architecture, on open spaces and on the economy become even more complex and extreme. Unaddressed, this situation will only continue to become more tenuous and dire. Obviously the purpose of this exhibition was to raise awareness and to demonstrate some of the small changes that were already being made around the world to address these issues. And I think it was done rather effectively.

The spatial and social condition of 10 global cities - Cairo, Istanbul, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Mexico City, Mumbai, Sao Paulo, Shanghai and Tokyo were presented. The analysis on these various cities were then divided into five themes - size, speed, form, density and diversity.

I have included below some of the questions that were raised on the huge billboards throughout the exhibition and some of the statistics about the various cities that were surprising if not shocking to me.

More than 50% of us now live in cities and according to the United Nations, this number is set to rise to 75% by 2050. A century ago only 10% of the planet's population lived in cities.

  • Tokyo is the largest city in the world and the only mega-city (a city with more than 10 million people) that is a developed economy. (There is currently over 20 mega-cities around the world).
  • Over 40% of Tokyo is already built on landfill
  • In Tokyo 78% of its population travel to work by public transportation (in comparison to Los Angeles - where only 7% take public transport).
  • Less than 5% of Tokyo's total surface is green space.

  • Mexico City has expanded 10 fold in population and space since 1940.
  • Over 60% of its population are in the informal economy.
  • Cairo's population grew by 890% this past century.
  • 60% of the city's residents live in unlicensed housing, some up to 14 stories high but with modern facilities.
  • Cairo has 36,500 people per sq. km. (London has 4,500 per sq. km)
  • Since open space is incredible scarce, Cairenes have co-opted unexpected parts of the city for use as social public space - including a multi-lane bridge over the Nile for evening picnics.

  • Istanbul grew by 900% in the past 50 years; 27% in the past decade
  • London's organic urban form extends for 60km along the River Thames covering an area of 1,572 sq. km. While this is double the size of New York City, it has the same number of inhabitants (7.5 million). Compared to other global cities, large amounts of London's surface is taken up with domestic gardens.

  • Mumbai is India's most populous city with 18 million people. The population has increased by more than 1000% since the last century. It is set to grow by another 20% in the next decade.
  • Rapid urbanization has produced poverty, poor health and employment instability. Lack of investment in transportation, sanitation and housing means that Mumbai is rapidly approaching breaking point.
  • 90% of Mumbai's city population works informally.
  • Mumbai will overtake Tokyo as the world's largest city in 2050 with nearly 40 million inhabitants.
Mumbai's Chowpatty Beach

  • 20% of Shanghai's population are undocumented rural in-migrants who lack access to basic services. This floating population of 4 million is equivalent to almost half of the population of London.
  • According to the UN, Shanghia is the 8th fastest growing city in the world - adding 29.4 new residents every hour.

  • Los Angeles is a minority majority metropolis. Half its residents are Latinos, over 10% are of Asian decent. Only 30% of the population identify themselves as Anglophile white.
  • 40% of LA's population were born outside the U.S.; 4 times the national average.
  • Despite the extreme wealth of many of its residents, 20% of LA residents live in poverty.
  • Only 4% of the residents of Johannesburg live beyond 65 years of age.
  • Sao Paulo is ethnically diverse and young: 66% of its population is under 20 years of age.

Also as part of the exhibition, they commissioned various architects to create pieces that explored specific issues such as sustainability, public space and social inclusion specifically in London. I am not quite sure I understood the significance of these sculptures below, but they make pretty pictures....


Her love affair with Bosnia

For the first half of 2007, my sister worked in the prosecutor's office in the Bosnian War Crimes Chamber. During this time she was based in Sarajevo - a city she moved to with tremendous reservation and then proceeded to fall in love not only with the city but the country and its people. I have included part of an update she sent out to friends and family and some of the pictures she took during her stay in the Balkans.

But first a little historical background -
Bosnia and Herzegovina used to be held up as the model example of a functioning multi-ethnic society, where Croats, Serbs and Muslims lived completely integrated lives side-by-side. Then, as in almost all cases, the opportunistic politicians came, took advantage of hard economic times, played on fear and insecurity, and pushed the country into hell. Over three years of fighting and ethnic cleansing came to an end with the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995, which divided the country into two entities: the Croat-Muslim Federation and Republika Srpska (the Serb entity) - essentially institutionalizing ethnic cleansing.

".... I've had an incredible time here - the work experience, the life experience ... all of it. On a daily basis, I experienced the full range of emotions - from laughter and amusement, shock and amazement to frustration and anger to sadness and sympathy, humility and gratefulness."

"Bosnia and Bosnians continue on a daily basis to fight between their past, their present and their future. The country is littered with contradictions. An outdoor rock concert with the backdrop of hundreds of grave sites. Breathtaking mountains unfrequented because of landmines. An intense love for their country, combined with desperation to leave. A desire to return to pre-war times while some still harbour residual fear of the "other." Beautifully carved pens and keychains for tourists made out of artillery from the war.

Despite having witnessed and experienced so much hate and death, Bosnians know how to love, they know how to laugh and they know how to live.
I observed countless times friends and acquaintances running into one another unexpectedly on the street and within a minute, sitting down together to have a coffee. No penciling in appointments a week or two in advance. They live in the moment.

...And they have a remarkable capacity to care.
I am always moved by people, who while having witnessed and experienced the worst in humanity, still manage to reflect the best in humanity. This is certainly true of the Bosnians I met."

(The first nine pictures were taken in Sarajevo).

Yup, all that white in the picture above are tombstones that are over-flowing from the cemetery from those butchered during the war.
The next two pictures are of Mostar. The famous Mostar Bridge was first constructed in 16th century by the Ottoman Turks. A symbol of unity between the Mostar Croats and Muslims, it was destroyed in 1993 during the war - as a powerful reminder of the disintegration of Bosnia. After the war, as part of the reconstruction efforts, the bridge, a UNESCO World Heritage Site was rebuilt in the hopes of healing old wounds and promoting co-existence and a new sense of unity (no matter how weak).


Welcome to America...what is your name?!! Hmmm...I'm not so sure about that

This past January, my husband and I went to the Los Angeles District Office of the Department of Homeland Security to have our interview. As a Canadian citizen I was filing to immigrate to the United States as my husband is an American citizen. As my husband and I had dated for six years prior to our marriage, I laid out an infinite amount of photos, documents, mementoes showcasing our relationship. The officer however, never stamped any form of an approval for a green card in my passport that day, despite acknowledging that our relationship was legitimate and that all paperwork was in order for my application - because he informed us, I was being subject to a top secret “Name Check.” There was no more he could tell me only that in his experience, these name checks normally take four to six months. Eleven months later I am still waiting.

Living in complete and utter limbo is excruciatingly painful. Essentially, my life is on hold until the U.S. federal government wills it otherwise. I am extremely baffled by why this process would take so long, especially since I have already been living in this country legally for the past fifteen years. During this period of time, I have filed for two student visas (one for my undergraduate studies at the University of Southern California and one for my graduate studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology). I have also filed three work visas. All of which were approved. I have worked as an architectural/ real estate consultant in the United States for seven years now. I would assume that the proper background checks would have been completed before my visas were awarded to me.

Nevertheless, here I am trying to immigrate to this country so that my husband and I can build a home together and I am hitting a brick wall. As highlighted to me by some immigration attorneys, I am perhaps the subject of ethnic profiling. There is no other reason why my name would have warranted so much scrutiny. Prior to moving to the US, I lived in Hong Kong, Tokyo and Toronto – which provided me with an enriching and culturally enlightening childhood. I am told by immigration attorneys, that name checks these days can take years to clear. In some cases I am told, the only alternative was to finally sue the government to get some resolution to the name check.

My added frustration arises in the fact that the legality of one’s status in this country also seems to be irrelevant when considering who should be given a green card. In the past few years, I know of several illegal immigrants who married US citizens and despite their brazen disregard of the law, were granted green cards immediately. No name checks were preformed. I suppose they had more appropriate names.

According to the FBI, the purpose of the name checks is to enhance national security. I am all for enhancing security. I am concerned about the security and safety of my family and I want intelligent precautions to be taken. However, I also believe that these precautions need to be based on logic, facts and reason and not blind reactionaryism, cultural ignorance and bias. Unable to acquire reasonable answers or explanations from anyone in the government why this process would take so long, I am left to wonder whether in this country post 9/11 my ethnic sounding name is not considered suitable immigrant material. Am I being discriminated against because the name given to me by my culturally diverse parents do not fit into what is deemed safe and acceptable in America?

When the News Hits Close

For the past few years now, especially in the recent months, I have been reading about the violence and instability in Pakistan in the newspapers and online and watching it on the television. While relaxing in my living room, I see the pictures of frightening protests, of angry mobs and horrific bombings. On the television screen it all seems so distant, tragic yet so foreign. Then I think about my uncles, aunts and cousins and how the news on my television screen is their horrible reality.

I visited Pakistan a couple years ago. I was getting married and felt the sudden need to know my extended family. To the visitor, the extreme poverty, intensity, utter chaos is apparent as soon as you step out of the gate into Karachi’s International Airport. Once you are out on the streets, you are instantly surrounded by cars, over-crowded jewel-colored buses, pedestrians, over-loaded donkey carts, motorcycles, bicyclists and herds of goats all vying for space on the road. The white markers delineating each lane are meaningless – if there is space, it will be taken up by some mode of transportation. The moment your car stands still for a few moments, while you are trying to catch your breath, an endless line of beggars start to pitifully tap at your car window for attention, hand outstretched. The most heartbreaking are the children. Being so blessed in my own childhood, I can’t fathom a life where your survival is solely dependent on the kindness and generosity of often dismissive strangers.
My family, many of whom, I had not seen in years, and some whom I had never met, went out of their way to ensure my comfort and well-being. And yet I couldn't help but think how difficult life seemed in Pakistan. Many of the basic necessities that I take for granted, are luxuries. Nevertheless, in their homes, I felt loved, safe and protected even from own personal dramas and problems. I left after a couple weeks with incredible memories, having visited family in four disparate cities.
As I go about my daily life now in California, I think about them often. My family in Pakistan checks in via email and text messages, inquiring about me and updating me on their lives. Two of my cousins’ wives recently gave birth to new born babies. I know that all the ‘us versus them’ rhetoric and all the banter about the “clash of civilizations” could not be more meaningless to them as they struggle to create nurturing, secure and healthy environments for their children.
Technology and globalization has provided us with the extraordinary ability to watch the news from around the world instantaneously. We can watch battles take place half way around the world, while peacefully curled up on our own couches at home. However, one aspect these up to the minute, 24 hour news reports rarely cover is the common struggle, the shared humanity within the story. The drive to sensationalize news stories does not promote that human connection that we as a global community direly need to build. Today I will read another article about the senseless violence and volatility in Pakistan and I will worry about the safety and well-being of my family there and I hope that they will stay safe and out of harm’s way.

Global Nomads: Experiencing Life in the In-Between

"Where are you from?"

My most dreaded question. The attention suddenly turns to me, and while I may smile at this expressed interest in me, on the inside I'm squirming - hastily trying to determine the easiest way to answer this question. I am, to many people, somewhat of a cultural oddity. With my indistinct facial features and collection of accents, I am frequently the subject of disconcerting scrutiny and analysis or blank looks of confusion. To those unlike me, I am a categorization nightmare, not easily pigeon-holed within the narrow constructs of cultural identity.

In today's society however, I am not altogether uncommon. I am, like many others I know, the physical flesh and blood embodiment of cultural globalization. We are the children born to parents who actively participated in the rise of globalization and the global economy. My mother is Chinese and my father is Pakistani. While my passport says that I am Canadian, I have spent the majority of my life bouncing between cities in Asia, North America and Europe. The richness and colorful diversity of all these cities, their residents and visitors have been critical in constructing the multiple layers of my cultural identity. The interactions I have had with different people over the years are all integral to how I define myself today.
As adults, we become cultural chameleons, with a cultural identity that is fluid and individually determined. For example, my interpretations and perceptions of home are much more malleable and encompassing than for most.

My cultural identity can also subconsciously shift and alter depending on where I am and with whom I am conversing. Sometimes I am very conscious of this transition, hoping to put a new acquaintance at ease by connecting to what is familiar to them. At a recent conference, I commiserated with a Korean-American man, the educational pressures of growing up with strict Asian parents, having fully experienced those pressures in my own life. A few minutes later, I chatted with a Kuwaiti woman about the various cities in the Gulf and growing distortion in the perceptions of Muslims in the US. This was equally personal to me as my father is Muslim. Shortly thereafter, I had a discussion with a former professor between the differences in the quality of life in Toronto and New York City, as he has resided in Ontario for the past fifteen years. Later that day, I logged onto my laptop at work - the wallpaper is set to a beautiful picture of two sun-kissed rustic Italian villas on the edge of Lago di Como - as I had lived in the hills around Lake Como and that image provides me with a sense of familiarity and calm.

Generally, people are defined by the culture that surrounded them as a child. For many, it is based on their parents' backgrounds and/or where they grew up. Often these are both the same. For the large majority, the development from childhood through adulthood occurs primarily in one country. It is a rather linear and consistent process. Global Nomads however, lack this consistency. We moved from country to country at a time when our identity and perceptions of home were in the preliminary stages of formation. As children, we embraced and absorbed each culture instinctively, like a thirsty sponge, receptive to the unknown and foreign. Without prejudice and with child-like curiosity, a desire to engage the "other" naturally develops.
Growing up in a constant state of transition amidst different cultures, we experience globalization in a very tangible way, finding comfort in a cross-cultural world. Global Nomads prefer to blur the boundaries, erase the differences and thrive in the in betweens. We live in the global and the local simultaneously - experiencing life from both perspectives.

Current politics and society seemed to have succumbed to a very limited and divisional method of defining culture and identity, serving only to escalate situations and isolate people. Instead of looking for connections, as most Global Nomads do instinctively - too many people are blindly clinging onto what they assume separates them from each other. The innate ability of Global Nomads to connect with others, to negotiate, to understand and empathize on a far greater cultural scale, is seemingly lacking in today's world. It is a resource that I believe should be utilized more. We now live in a world that has to be about building connections, whether they be political, commercial, social or cultural. The more cultures are netted together, the more difficult it will be set them against each other.


Barack Obama - Healing a World Divided

As the presidential race continues to heat up, I think we have a politician, in Barack Obama, who has the ability to restore the lost faith of many in this country, and to help engage and bring together a world forcibly divided.

When your physical appearance is an ambiguous blend of colors and features; when you grow up amongst disparate cultural influences; and when your friends and family members represent every shade, every ethnic background – you learn very quickly to appreciate our common humanity and to draw from commonalities to build relationships while learning from differences. Ideally, maybe foolishly, I like to believe that is how all people of the world are or would like to operate.

9/11 shattered that dream for me on so many levels. I was living in New York City at the time, and the senseless destruction of my home hurt immensely. The beautiful skyline that I saw from my bedroom window in Brooklyn was changed forever. Witnessing such extreme violence and hatred so close to my home, tore at my soul. When everything is divided, broken down to ignorant extremes, us versus them, “with us or against us”, hate and senseless killing, there is no refuge for people like me.

For a moment in time after that horrible event, the entire world seemed somewhat united in their support of the US. There was anticipation amongst many people that this heartbreak could potentially be a trigger for the US to re-examine their foreign policies and to lead the world in tackling and eradicating the root of terrorism - extreme poverty, lack of education, opportunity and hope. The US government could have used the outpouring of support and unity to bring upon historic changes, to open dialogue and engage disparate people and countries.

Instead that opportunity was senselessly squandered. What has happened over the next six years in the hands of the Neo-Cons and the Bush administration only served to deepen and infect the wound. The healing that I searched for after 9/11 did not occur. Instead my disillusionment grew. The world, we live in now, is more divided and more hostile and unsafe, than I ever remember it. It seems like anyone, anywhere is a target. There is even more suffering and pain and even less hope. Ignorance and feelings of fear and desperation drive politics. The Bush administration continues to use bully tactics and flaunt the military as the cure all for the world’s ills.

Over the past six years, I have come to accept my disillusionment as an unfortunate constant companion. But now, I have renewed sense of hope as Barack Obama has joined the run for the presidency. As a child, growing up in the US and globally, he received foreign policy training unlike any other politician. From a very young age, he has learned to reach out and connect with people from varied backgrounds and from diverse life experiences. Obama has learned to embrace disparate sides of his own heritage. Living in the in-between, racially and culturally, teaches the best life lessons on how to listen, to empathize and to unite. These are important skills to possess when you are trying to heal and lead an extremely polarized country. They are also critical for any leader in this globalized world, especially one guiding the most powerful country in the world. The next president of the United States has an incredibly daunting task before him or her. We need a leader who can address the plight of all people, regardless of class, skin color, or ethnicity, who can build consensus and develop holistic solutions and thus a better future.

I have spent too many years burrowing my head in the ground, trying not to consider the deep dark abyss, the Bush administration has lodged this country, hoping this nightmare will soon be over – and I think with Barack Obama it just might.