Just the Facts: Pakistan

September 29, 2014

by Shell Stuart

We are getting ready to host a delegation from Pakistan, so my staff and I are in the research mode, learning as much as we can prior to their arrival.

As always, fun facts come to light. I thought I’d share some of what we are learning. Did you know that:

  • Pakistan elected the first woman prime minister of a Muslim country.1 Benazir Bhutto served as prime minister from 1988 to 1990 and again from 1993 to 1996. She was followed by Indonesian President Megawati Sukarnoputri who was elected in 2001, former Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller who served from 1993 to 1995 and Bangladeshi Prime Ministers Begum Khaleda Zia (elected in 1991) and Sheikh Hasina Wajed (elected in 1996).2
  • The most popular sports in Pakistan are Cricket, Soccer and Field Hockey.3
  • The national flower is the Jasmine.3
  • Pakistan is a young country, created when British India was partitioned along religious lines in 1947.4
  • Pakistan is also has a very old culture and was home to the Indus Valley civilization circa 2500 to 1700 BC.4
  • The United States recognized Pakistan as a nation in 1947 and had Pakistan as an ally throughout the Cold War. Pakistan is designated as a Major non-NATO ally of the United States.5
  • The country is the size of Texas and encompasses mountains and seashore. Culinary offerings are diverse and show a great variety of influences:6
    • Machli and other seafood in the Sindh province.
    • In Baluchistan, the Sajji method of roasting whole lambs in a deep pit is popular.
    • Punjab is known for Roti (bread) and sophisticated cooking preparations.
    • The most famous Pathan dish is oven-baked breads with cubes of meat.
  • There is a rich tradition of poetry which includes famous poets Dr. Allama Iqbal (national poet), Meer Taqi Meer, Mirza Ghalib, Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ahmad Faraz, Habib Jalib, Jazib Qureshi, and Ahmad Nadeem Qasimi.7

When our visitors arrive, what we’ve read will pale in comparison to what they will be able to tell us about their lives, their country’s history and what role they have in bettering their fellow citizens’ lives.

Citizen Diplomacy is an incredible opportunity to have the world come to you and give you the experience of seeing other parts of the world through the eyes of those who live there.

If you haven’t done so already, please consider subscribing to the GCIV email newsletter or liking us on Facebook. We provide great opportunities to meet emerging world leaders during their stay in Georgia.

Surfing the web for some background information is fun. Talking to leaders from other countries is incredible.

-Shellie Stuart

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Globally Engaged…in Albania

September 23, 2014

by Vicki Van Der Hoek

I have absolutely taken GCIV’s mission to heart: “Our vision is that every Georgia citizen has the opportunity to become more globally engaged.” I became more globally engaged than I expected starting with the very first dinner I ever hosted.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThat first GCIV dinner, in February, 2006, was with three visitors from Albania, especially memorable was Arian Boci who is the Director of an NGO called STOP AIDS. When Arian returned to Albania he told his family and his co-workers about the hospitality he received in Atlanta, especially the home dinner and how his host had to rent a car to pick him up. He e-mailed me and said that they had decided to make me an official Honorary Chairwoman for STOP AIDS and requested that I come to Albania to accept the honor.

Let me see…travel to Albania, be with people who live there, be part of their day to day lives, accept their hospitality…

No problem!

Next, I had to look on the map to find the location of Albania (above Greece). Then, I contacted my boyfriend Allen Freedman, who is also a GCIV member, to let him know we were going to Albania.

vanOur trip started October 25, 2006. In order to get to the Mother Theresa Airport in Albania, we first flew into Athens, Greece. Then, we took a commuter airline which I found out based its departure time on current weather conditions. When the pilot decided the weather looked good, we boarded. This is how you fly to Albania.

Arian picked us up at the airport and took us to his home for dinner (we stayed at a hotel as there was no room at his place). He lived in an apartment with his parents, wife and child. His father, Memo Boci, is also a STOP AIDS Director and was the former Director of the National Institute of Health during communist rule.

addictsThe next few days we went with Arian in his STOP AIDS van on his daily activities. I remember the very first stop like it was yesterday. We went to a deserted lot filled with abandoned cars where we exchanged needles and gave out coffee, donuts and conversation to the homosexual, male prostitute addicts who lived in the rotted cars. Within a year, every addict I had personally met was dead. Click on the photos to see the captions on their fate. (As a history note: Albania was a closed country until communism ended in 1997. 12_yr_oldWhen the communist government collapsed, all the factories closed, many adults turned to alcohol and their abandoned children became addicts living in the streets. Another side note: It is illegal to be homosexual in Albania and jail time is usually 10 years.)

Another stop was to a grammar school in the Roma area of Tirana where we had a pleasant conversation with the school principal. This school has mainly Roma (gypsy) students and is extremely poor. Students have no supplies and come to school hungry. I told the principal that that is also the case in many areas of the United States. We weren’t so different after all.vicki_roma

The Tirana police department had a meeting of their top police officers with Arian as one of the guest speakers. Before this meeting, he told me that he already had an agreement with the police so that they would NOT follow him in his STOP AIDS van and thereby arrest addicts and homosexuals every time he made a stop. I didn’t understand a word of Arian’s presentation but I watched all the slides and pretended like I did. I’m really glad I was paying attention because Arian looked at me and motioned for me to come up and also give a speech. vicki_speech_policeAs background I want you to know that I am a real estate investor and rarely have an opportunity to talk to more than 4 people at a time. However, the speech apparently went well as I learned later that the Tirana Police Department posted it on their website.

On the last day of our stay in Tirana there was a party for me and I was officially made the Honorary Chairwoman of STOP AIDS Albania. I did have a short speech prepared for this event.

What an honor this was for me and what an adventure that first dinner turned out to be. I owe it all to GCIV! Even now, years later, I think of this time with fond memories, a feeling of accomplishment and appreciation. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, GCIV, for without you none of this could have been made possible!

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The Time of My Life

August 12, 2014

by: Vicki Van Der Hoek

At last count, through the Georgia Council for International Visitors (GCIV), I’ve hosted twenty-four times. That includes hosting/co-hosting twenty-two dinners for emerging world leaders and participating in two Open World programs with dignitaries staying in my home1985 colombia_finca. I’ve also participated in one official GCIV outbound cultural exchange to Cuba.

I grew up in Pico Rivera, a suburb of Los Angeles, in modest means and my family definitely didn’t know any world leaders. But my life was to change. . . In 1985 my former high school girlfriend, who had married into one of the wealthiest families in Colombia, asked me to come visit her. I thought this would be a girlfriend week but it turned out to be a turning point in my life with many life lessons.

It wasn’t her fancy apartment in downtown Bogota that surprised me, it was that she bought and wrapped a gift for me and put fresh flowers in my room. When we went to dinner at her in-laws was when I found out her father-in-law was the former Ambassador to the United States! Her husband took off of work for the entire week I was there and they personally showed me around most of the country pointing out the differences between the Colombian culture and mine. I had the time of my life and learned that THIS is how you host a guest in your home.

Cubano FriendNow we will fast forward to 2005, when I was introduced to GCIV. My boyfriend and GCIV member, Allen Freedman, and I went on GCIV’s humanitarian exchange to Cuba. I realized then and there that the experiences in life that are the most rewarding and meaningful are cultural, personal and emotional. I was hooked on GCIV!

My first time dinner hosting with GCIV was February 13, 2006. I remembered my wonderful experiences in Colombia and wanted to give this group of 3 Albanians the time of their life.

I bought and wrapped Atlanta souvenirs, put fresh flowers in my house, put the dinner on, and went to pick them up in my rented car as they couldn’t fit into my Ford Ranger. At the Regency Suites Hotel, they came down very late and really did not want to go with me because they wanted to shop.

When we finally got into the car, I turned on the windshield wipers instead of turning on the lights and they jumped out and said they didn’t want to go with someone who didn’t know how to drive!
After I explained I had to rent a car just so I could take them to my house for dinner their attitude totally changed. They could not believe that someone would do that for them. After dinner I took them to Walmart for 3+ hours of shopping. When I brought them back to their hotel at 1:30AM, they said they had each had the time of their life and said they didn’t know that Americans were so nice.

Little did they know, that I also had the time of my life along with a memory to cherish forever.

– Vicki

(Note: Including GCIV and other organizations, Vicki has hosted a total of 74 days with people from 61 countries and has been on eight outbound cultural exchanges.)

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Bem-vindo ao Atlanta

July 24, 2014

flagWe have two delegations from Mozambique visiting Atlanta over the next two weeks, so we’ve been busy doing homework, collecting facts and figures and putting them all together to get a picture of the place our visitors call home.

Here’s a sample of what we’ve found so far:

  • Mozambique is one of six African countries where Portuguese is the official language. The others are Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Cape Verde, São Tomé and Príncipe.
  • The culture of Mozambique is a blend of its history of Bantu, Swahili, and Portuguese rule. danceMusic and the arts draw on all these influences and have seen a great expansion of expression and variety in recent years.
  • Mozambique is a young democracy, having held its first elections in 1994 shortly after the conclusion of a civil war which began in 1975.
  • Since the elections, Mozambique has seen stability and a resurgence of its economy.
  • While still a poor country recovering from a long civil war, Mozambique has a GDP which is growing by 7.5% annually, a stable economy, low inflation and economic indicators showing a country on the rebound.
  • Mozambique is also a beautiful country with a blossoming tourism industry.
  • Gorongosa National Park, which covers over 3,700 square miles, has undergone a 20 year wildlife restoration project. The park is one of the most ecologically diverse in Africa, home to rain forests, lakes and savanna, whose inhabitants include lions, hippos, crocs and elephants.
  • beachMozambique has 2,740 kilometers (1,700 miles) of coastline along the Indian Ocean, with beautiful white sand beaches and many new resorts.

With the arrival of our visitors from Mozambique, these facts and figures will suddenly come alive. We’ll hear stories, be corrected and find parallels with what they are seeing here in the Unites States. We’ll hear about their achievements and hopes for the future. The richness of citizen diplomacy will take over and we’ll be immersed in the lives of our guests.

Then we’ll become friends and start to understand one another, which, of course, is what GCIV is all about.

-Shell Stuart

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Researching GCIVists Iceland

July 9, 2014

In many ways, GCIVisits are the International Visitor Leadership Program in reverse. We go to a country where we are the guests. We are hosted by the U.S. Embassy, enjoy home hospitality, attend professional meetings and receptions, have unique culinary experiences and are presented with cultural opportunities. Exactly what we provide for visitors to Georgia.

And, much like we research what visitors should see and do in Georgia, we also do homework to maximize what our members and staff will experience on a GCIVisit.

I’ve been in the research mode for months in preparation for our October trip and thought I’d share some interesting facts I’ve found along the way:


Quality of Life:  According to the Nation Ranking 2011 Quality of Life Index, Iceland has the best quality of life in the world. (1) Iceland is also the 9th happiest place on earth according to the World Happiness Report. (2)

Food:  Icelandic cuisine features dishes such as súrsaðir hrútspungar (boiled and cured ram’s testicles), hákarl (putrescent shark meat), lundabaggi (sheep’s loins cured in lactic acid), and svið (singed sheep’s head). Icelandic people, however, do not like eating ugly animals, like cod. Lobsters were thrown back into the sea until the 1950’s. (3) (Happily, these days there are also plenty of vegetarian options. (4))

Creative Class:  Iceland is said to have more writers, musicians, authors and artists per capita than any other country on earth. Virtually everyone writes or creates art. (5)

Government:  Iceland boasts the world’s oldest functioning legislative assembly, the Althing, established in 930. (6)

Nature:  Iceland is about the same size as Ohio and is literally crammed with natural wonders. Stunning waterfalls, blue thermal lagoons, volcanoes, black sand beaches, glaciers and national parks present an embarrassment of riches for this trip. We’re also hoping for an appearance by the Northern Lights. (7)

Peace:  Iceland ranks #1 on the Global Peace Index. (8)

Needless to say, GCIVisits Iceland will be a fascinating trip. We still have room for a few more GCIV members, so if you are interested, click here for more information.

-Shell Stuart

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