Talking to the World Project
When I started Talking to the World in 2014, President Obama was in office. It is now 2019 and so much has changed. It isn’t just that a different man occupies the White House. An ugly division has gripped the nation and tarnished our world reputation. It is a transition I never expected when I first began this project. Naturally, it saddens me. It also makes me question whether people around the world will want to talk to me.
I stand by my pledge not to make this project about religious, political, or societal agendas. But I would be a hypocrite if I didn’t say that the past few years have been difficult. Countless are the days I have turned on my computer and cringed at the daily news feeds. Been baffled and outraged by the events unfolding around me. Mortified by the way the country I love is portrayed around the world.
As I glance at the interviews I have conducted over the past five years, I am reminded other countries have lived through similar upheavals. That is where I find hope. In the shared commonality of the struggle. In the uniqueness of our global perspectives. And in the quiet, thoughtful generosity of strangers.
Here are excerpts from six interviews that give me strength. They remind me that to love your country is to stand by it in the worst of times.
Most of all, they remind me I am not alone.
From Myriam in Mexico
On what Mexico does well —
My country is amazing for its solidarity, even during times that are tough to survive. I wish we were better at understanding that democracy and corruption can only be erased if we start by applying these ideas at home, and then in our neighborhood, and then in school, and so on.
On what is remarkable about Mexico —
Our capacity for bringing ourselves up despite tragedy. . . that is the force that keeps this country together.
On what she wants the rest of the world to know about Mexico —
That we will overcome the violence that the government and the corruption have imposed upon us.
From Meltem in Turkey
On myths about Turkey that she would like to dispel —
I would like to set straight that we do not use the Arabic alphabet and not all the women wear turbans. We are a secular country.
On what gives her hope —
Children and young people trying to accept each other without labeling.
On her greatest fear —
War, losing my family and friends.
From Mehriban in Azerbaijan
On what is her greatest fear —
Economic crisis and war with Armenia.
On what myth about Azerbaijan she would like to dispel —
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Azerbaijani people are rediscovering their language and culture with pride. The pace of change is rapid, and living amongst this awakening can take your breath away.
On something that is special about Azerbaijan —
The climate of Azerbaijan is unique, as nine of the Earth’s eleven climate zones are found in Azerbaijan. As a country located in both the Caucasus and Asia Minor, between the Black and Caspian Seas, Azerbaijan has a rich natural culture and the widest biodiversity of all the European states. There are 106 species of mammals, 97 species of fish, 363 species of birds, 10 species of amphibians and 52 species of reptiles which have been recorded and classified in Azerbaijan.
From Martin in New Zealand
On what brings him joy —
I like the development that occurs in getting to know others, especially those very different to me; starting as strangers — often culturally and ethnically very different — and in time appreciating our differences and what we share.
On what New Zealand does well —
Perhaps what we do best is in being good, decent people. We were the first country in the world to give women the vote, and one of the first to introduce homosexual law reform culminating in legal same-sex marriage. I’m proud of that and our social welfare system. Both my children experienced very serious health problems; my daughter for 9 years. My fellow citizens funded the huge cost of her’s and my son’s health care.
On what gives him hope —
Faith. Miracles and people’s kindness. People full stop. I love people. I believe there is goodness in all human beings.
From Maria in Ecuador
On a myth about Ecuador she would like to set straight —
Some people think that Ecuador is not a safe place to visit or in which to live. But, if it would not be a safe place, I would not have spent 37 years of my life enjoying my country.
On what is unique about Ecuador —
I would like to say that we have our own roots originating from indigenous people. They still live and are examples of hard-working, honest people who still live from products of nature. We should be proud of those roots and we must fight to maintain them intact.
On what she wants the world to know about Ecuador —
Ecuador is a small country but with tremendous diversity. It has beautiful beaches, mountains, jungle, and Galapagos Island. You can go from the capital to the nearest beach in four hours, and in the middle of the road you can find a beautiful place called Mindo, it is an ecological place full of nature, birds, and rivers, there you can enjoy practicing extreme sports.
From Jesus in Cuba
On what is a surprising fact about Cuba he would like Americans to know —
Surviving so many years with an interminable economic blockade without having lost the hope of a better world for everyone.
On what he would like to say to the American people —
We should do everything possible to reach out our hands, joining together in an embrace, sharing like brothers and sisters the luck of being alive.
On what is the first place he would take me if I visited Cuba —
I would take you to my house because there I have humility, love, and peace…there is no better place for me.