Remains of forgotten genocide victims returned by Berlin museum

It’s the genocide most people have forgotten, a ruthless extermination of men, women, and children while an uncaring world focused on other things.

From 1904 to 1908, German colonial rulers in what is now Namibia systematically exterminated the Herero and Nama people. They had rebelled against the colonizers and the German army quickly defeated them. Not satisfied with a only a military victory, the Germans pushed both tribes into the desert, where they starved and died of thirst. Nobody knows how many perished but it may have been as many as 100,000.

A grim relic of this genocide are twenty Herero and Nama skulls kept in the Berlin Medical Historical Museum. One skull is from a three-year-old boy. Originally they had been preserved with the skin and hair intact and used for “studies” to prove the superiority of the white race.

This week the skulls were returned to tribal leaders after an apology and a ceremony. This is the latest in a series of repatriations of human remains to native peoples from museums. Many nations, the United States included, have passed laws requiring human remains to be returned. Identification and legal technicalities slow down the process, however. Berlin collections still include about 7,000 skulls. Then there’s the question of shrunken heads, which were often sold by tribal peoples to collectors, and of very ancient remains that cannot be traced to an existing tribe.

We forget genocides at our peril. Hitler felt he could get away with the Holocaust because nobody cared about the genocide of the Herero and Nama, or the genocide of the Armenians during World War One. Even many of the Holocaust’s victims are forgotten. While everyone knows six million Jews died, many are unaware of the millions of Slavs, Gypsies, political activists, homosexuals, Born-Again Christians, and disabled who were also killed.

[Photo courtesy Wikimedia Commons]

The world’s most disputed antiquities: a top 5 list

New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art announced Tuesday that it would return 19 Egyptian antiquities that have lived at the museum for most of the last century. These artifacts, excavated from the 14th century B.C. tomb of Pharaoh Tutankhamun (King Tut), include a sphinx bracelet, a small bronze dog, and a broad collar with beads, among other bits and pieces. Zahi Hawass, the former Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities of Egypt, argued for the artifacts’ return in November 2010, claiming that the artifacts had been removed from the tomb illegally in the 1920s. But, the instability in Egypt during and following that country’s revolution this year has delayed the repatriation of King Tut’s belongings.

One of the biggest arguments in the art world is the repatriation of objects, particularly antiquities. On one side of the debate are art scholars who feel that ancient objects should remain in the care of their current (usually Western) museums or locations. The other side argues that antiquities should be returned to the countries from which they were removed because they were taken during times of war and colonization or were stolen and sold through the highly lucrative art black market.

It’s true that a great many antiquities and works of art we enjoy at museums today may have been acquired through looting or other unsavory practices. Here are five of the most famous works of art that have been repatriated or are the focus of an ongoing battle for ownership.1) Elgin Marbles
Where are they now? The British Museum, London
Where were they? The Parthenon, Athens, Greece
The Elgin Marbles, pictured in the featured image above, are synonymous with the repatriation debate. Also known as the Parthenon Marbles, these remarkable marble carvings once fronted the Parthenon and other buildings on Athens‘ ancient Acropolis. They were removed – some say vandalized – by Lord Elgin, former Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire, in the late 18th century and sold in 1816 to London‘s British Museum, where they have lived ever since. Authorities in Greece have been trying for decades to have the marbles returned to Athens where they can be reunited with other Greek antiquities in the Acropolis Museum.

2) Obelisk of Aksum
Where is it now? Aksum, Ethiopia
Where was it? Rome, Italy
One of the first, high-profile repatriations of an antiquity was the return by Italy of the Obelisk of Aksum (or Axum) to Ethiopia. Pillaged by Mussolini’s troops in 1937, the 1,700-year old obelisk stood for years in the center of a traffic circle in Rome until 2005 when the government of Italy agreed to its return. The Obelisk of Aksum now resides with objects of a similar era at the Aksum World Heritage site in northern Ethiopia.

3) Objects from King Tut’s Tomb
Where are they now? The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City
Where are they headed? Giza, Egypt
As described in the intro, these priceless objects from King Tut’s tomb are set to be returned to Egypt next week. Egypt plans to install these objects at the new Grand Egyptian Museum, currently under construction and slated to open in 2012

4) Dea Morgantina (Aphrodite)
Where is it now? Aidone, Sicily
Where was it? Getty Museum, Los Angeles
The investigative reporting of two L.A. Times journalists was responsible for the recent repatriation of the Dea Morgantina, an ancient Aphrodite sculpture that had been a prized possession of the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. Chasing Aphrodite: The Hunt for Looted Antiquities at the World’s Richest Museum, which takes a look at the repatriation debate and the flourishing arts black market, led the Getty Museum to return the stolen statue to its rightful home. The Aphrodite was inaugurated at the Archeological Museum of Morgantina in Sicily in early May 2011.

5) Hattuşa Sphinx
Where is it now? Istanbul, Turkey
Where was it? Berlin, Germany
Just last week, an ancient sphinx returned home to Turkey after years spent in Berlin‘s Pergamon Museum. One of a pair of sphinxes that stood in the ancient Hittite capital of Hattuşa, the sphinx will be restored at the Istanbul Archeological Museum before being returned to its ancient home approximately 150 miles northeast of Ankara.

[Flickr image via telemax]

Ask Gadling: You’re out of money in a foreign country

Even the most intrepid adventure traveler dreads the thought of running out of money while in a foreign country. The fact that this situation usually occurs under dire circumstances only compounds the anxiety and frustration that result from a depleted bank account.

The only time I’ve ever run completely out of funds was on 9/11. I’d been working at a friend’s London restaurant for a month, and sleeping in her spare room. I took two weeks off to visit Spain and Portugal, before flying back into Heathrow to catch my flight home. I arrived in Lisbon my last day, on the fumes of my savings, relieved to be headed home the following morning. I had just enough money left for a dorm bed in a hostel, a couple of bread rolls, and (possibly) cab fare to the airport.

I was in a cheese shop, having a fractured bilingual conversation with the shopkeeper, when I noticed his employees in a huddle, shooting glances my way. As I departed, I felt the shopkeeper’s hand on my arm, and that’s how I found out the World Trade Center–and life as Americans knew it–was no more. I headed back to the hostel in a daze, and spent the next two hours slumped in front of the television, in shock. It quickly became clear I wasn’t going anywhere, and my lack of funds was going to be a bigger problem than I’d anticipated.

On that darkest of days, I was lucky. A savior in the form of a Dutch backpacker loaned me fifty dollars. Actually, he forced it upon me, because he saw me watching the news and quickly assessed my situation. When I was able to get back to London a couple of days later, I picked up the money my parents had wired to a bank, and spent the next week working at the restaurant and crashing on the futon.

Since most of us can’t rely upon a hot Dutch guy to magically appear with a fistful of Euros (definitely a once-in-a-lifetime occurrence), what is the best course of action if you’re suddenly broke, in a country not your own?How to obtain emergency funds

  • Get a cash advance on your debit card. I called my bank, Wells Fargo, and asked them if I could do this in an emergency. I was told that I should go into the nearest bank and request a cash advance, but that it’s entirely up to that institution, as well as your personal bank, as to whether receiving funds is possible. Still, this is the easiest, most obvious first step, assuming your card hasn’t been stolen. On a separate, but related, note, always inform your bank and credit card lenders that you will be traveling overseas, to prevent a security hold.

Most banks/credit card lenders have an “outside the U.S./collect call” number on their website or on the back of your card. Email them to yourself, and write them down on a slip of paper you carry someplace other than your wallet (in case you’re mugged, which is the most common reason travelers find themselves sans money). Actually, it’s best to make two copies of emergency numbers, so you can carry one on your person.

The below numbers are general non-U.S. collect call; many financial institutions also have toll-free numbers by country code listed on their sites.
Mastercard: 1-636-722-7111.
Capital One: 001-804-934-2001.
Bank of America: 1-302-738-5719.
Wells Fargo: Access codes vary by country; click here for listing.

View more Ask Gadling: Travel Advice from an Expert or send your question to ask [at] gadling [dot] com.
  • Get a cash advance on your credit card, if you have one (it’s best to carry one for major emergencies anyway, even if it’s nearly maxed out). Also, be sure to check your credit card lender’s policies on emergency travel assistance, lost/stolen luggage reimbursement, etc. It may save you money or negate your having to purchase travel insurance, which is always a good idea for long-term or adventure travelers.
  • Having someone wire money bank-to-bank is the most secure method of receiving emergency funds. Barring that, international wire transfer services are available through Western Union (1-800-325-6000), and Western Union’s Custom House. Depending upon the provider, funds can be received between one hour to three days after wiring, and service charges will vary.
  • If you’ve got a family member or friend you can trust with your checking or savings account number, have them keep it on file so they can make an emergency deposit, if necessary.
  • Some companies, like Visa, offer prepaid TravelMoney cards. These can be used in an ATM like a debit card, but function like traveler’s checks. They may also be reloadable (i.e. reuseable), and feature lost/stolen luggage reimbursement, and travel and emergency assistance services (Visa offers “24-hour translation assistance, medical and legal referrals, emergency trip arrangements, and emergency messages to relatives.”). Be aware that this pertains to assistance and referral only; it’s your dime for any fees incurred from actual services rendered. Remember, too, that while ATM’s are fairly ubiquitous throughout the world, you can’t always rely upon finding one.

The drawbacks with prepaid cards is that they’re easily lost, stolen, or chewed up by an ATM (one reason I carry three–really–ATM cards when I travel. Portugal also taught me that lesson. Admittedly, it’s more cards to potentially have stolen, but I hedge my bets). They’re also expensive to activate and load, and there can be high foreign currency exchange rate fees.

The U.S. repatriation program is federally-funded, and helps destitute or ill Americans return to the States. Again, this is for serious emergencies, if no other option is available. There are strict requirements for eligibility, and you must apply from the American Consulate or Embassy nearest you at the time.

Don’t forget to register yourself with the U.S. Department of State if you’re traveling anywhere sketchy, or engaging in high-risk activities (no, unprotected sex doesn’t count).

ACS’s domestic number (of use if you’re the one who needs to help out a fellow traveler) is 1-888-407-4747. Outside of the U.S., dial the country code, +202-501-4444.

[Photo credits: Flickr | NoHoDamon; riacale; TheeErin]

Dealing with reverse culture shock

You’re returning home after living overseas. Perhaps you’ve been gone only a few months… or perhaps you’ve lived in a foreign culture for a number of years. It’s possible that you became fully immersed into that host country and culture. Now, you’re facing repatriation back to your home culture.

Sometimes, people experience what is known as Reverse Culture Shock when returning to their original homeland: it’s a surprising mixture of bewilderment, loss, isolation and confusion. Your home country may no longer feel like home, and you may not feel like you belong there. Preparing for successful “re-entry” often depends upon applying skills of adaptability, change, and flexibility to ease transition back into one’s home culture.

Recognize that you are a different, new person.
You’ve probably changed significantly by living overseas. Viewing our old home from an international perspective may reveal new — sometimes scary — insights into our home culture, other societies, and ourselves. Your new attitudes, cultural sensitivities, global awareness, and broader viewpoints may or may not be in sync with the folks’ ideas back home.

Maybe you’re not even sure where home is anymore, or maybe you feel more connected to your host country. It’s ok to feel confused. Another name for this feeling is “personal growth,” and this is just a growing pain.

Remember that your home country has changed, too.
Changes — big and small — happened while you were away. If you were back for home leave or a short visit, you may have already observed some changes. But even tiny alterations in fashions, products, advertising, customer service approaches, bank fees, and political attitudes may combine to create an entirely new, strange environment.
The longer an expatriate is away, the more potential there is for shock upon returning. Changes that become subtly integrated in society while you were away can contribute to a feeling of surprise and unfamiliarity. Again, it’s ok to feel confused. Remember that, in the same way you may have struggled in your host culture for a while, you may struggle in your home culture for a period of time, too.

Jump right in, socially.

When people do ask about your travels, keep it positive and share a few key details to start.

Get involved in new things as quickly as possible. Join new clubs, take courses, visit a church, and meet new people even though you may feel foreign. Although difficult to find, seek out activities with other expats — people like yourself who have repatriated. Reach out to foreign nationals who are now experiencing life as an expat in the USA. Don’t dwell on the old days. It’s fine to think about them, but avoid mooning over them for extended periods.

Pro-actively reconnect with old friends.
You may not have too much in common any more, but it’s worth a try. Rebuilding an old friendship can be worth the effort, especially when loneliness or alienation come to call. Hopefully, you maintained some contact with old friends, even if just through Christmas cards or the occasional email. Now it’s time to find out what they’ve been up to. Invite them for lunch to catch up on their activities. Pick up the phone; don’t wait for a call. Often these reconnections aren’t exactly equal give and take; it may be up to you to offer much more “give.”

It’s somewhat counterintuitive, but while it’s tempting to share all your exciting experiences with someone, your old friends may view you as different (which you are, and they are too). This is a good time to utilize those broadened people skills you’ve acquired overseas, and be a good listener even if you can’t relate to some of the conversation. Also: be flexible — if invited, go along to a friend’s reading group or quilt-making meeting, for example. After all, maybe this will be part of your new, home culture.

Save detailed accounts of your overseas adventures for only your closest family/friends.
This stems from the tip above. Tread lightly in recounting too much detail and sharing photos of your travels, especially with new acquaintances. Even if they ask, many people may be quick to lose interest in your adventures.

When people do ask — keep it positive and share a few key details to start. Many expats learn to deflect questions about international travels before they even arise.

Make your old house into a new home.
If you’re moving back into your same old house, it’s only sort of like being back home again. Neighbors may have remarried or moved. Maybe the kids are in high school or have moved on; perhaps the yard’s play gym is no longer necessary. Consider new plants or a garden. If a renter lived in your house, new paint, carpet and curtains can do wonders.

Your memories from life before overseas are a good starting point, but adjust your lifestyle and expectations to your new needs. A good way to help remember and embrace The New You is to hang some art or photos from your host culture in your old house. Familiar things can make tough adjustments smoother.

Rent before you buy a house in an unfamiliar neighborhood.
Alternatively, if you plan to buy a house and are moving to an unfamiliar town, give yourself a few months to learn about the local real estate market before buying. Many companies will pay to store your household goods for a period of time before delivery to a new home. If you have to pay a couple extra months’ storage out of pocket, to give yourself time to really learn about the new area, it could be a wise investment.

If you get a house-hunting trip to the new location prior to the move, use this trip to find a furnished, short-term rental — and to get started photographing and thinking about potential schools, homes, Main Streets. This gives you the flexible option of easing into a new place before committing to buy.

Expect “Retail Overload.”
Maybe you’ve been living in a place where you bargained for food in open-air markets, or in a country with canned goods in different languages. Shopping in a western grocery store again can be an overwhelming experience for the expat. Western goods, availability, quantity, variety and choices can be daunting.

Take rice, for example. In your overseas host country, perhaps someone weighed out a pound of rice on a time-honored scale in an open market, and off you would go with a neat little package in some recycled paper. Contrast that to the myriad shelves of rice selections — white or brown? Jasmine or Basmati? Wild, long-grain, instant, long-cooking… hundreds of brands and products, all colorful and screaming out, invite you to pick them up… where to start? There’s no bargaining, just confusing price variations… And this is just rice. One way an expat can ease this overload is to visit smaller grocery stores. Initially, it may be smart to avoid mega-warehouses, like Sam’s or Costco. People in the midst of repatriation re-entry have been known to flee mega-stores in tears — and empty-handed.

Finally, allow yourself the cultural confusion.
Understand and acknowledge the unique nature of what you’re feeling. Give yourself transition time. Try to appreciate that your perspectives are in metamorphosis, and your brain is trying to create a new sense of normal.

It may be tough to avoid altogether, but Reverse Culture Shock can be enlightening — or at least broadening — in itself. Through anticipation, utilizing transition skills from earlier moves, and by adapting to local challenges, one’s repatriation re-entry can evolve into a fresh, new definition of “being home.”

For further information about reverse culture shock, consider reading Homeward Bound by Robin Pascoe, and The Art of Coming Home by Craig Storti.

[Image credits: Luke Robinson, FriskoDude, and (flicts)]