IMOW Maternal Health Ambassador

December 01, 2013

Robin Hood of Turkey

Just as Amsterdam is not the Netherlands, and Paris is not France, every region, province, town or village in Turkey has its own identity. Travelling on horseback through Doğu Menteşe dağlarɩ and the Batɩ Menteşe Dağlarɩ (mountains) I imagine all of Turkey must have been decades ago.
It is quiet and the villages dwell in relative isolation. So different from the tourist boom at the coast. There is something about the solitude of riding a horse. You can take routes that you can never take by car. On these roads you can find freedom that cannot be found in urban areas. On the back of a horse you are vulnerable to weather conditions and you are in direct contact with the environment and all of its inhabitants. You don’t have to step out of a car to step into the world of the people you meet. You are already in their world when you arrive.

Today’s road brought me into the world of days gone by. The man approaching me is dressed in distinctive trouser, boots and headdress. I recognize his appearance from drawings and  paintings of the Zeybek. Since the 17th century groups of these men lived in the Aegean region of the Ottoman Empire.

They were soldiers who acted as protectors of village peoples. To be more specific they rebelled against pressures and injustices opposed on villagers by landlords, bandits or tax collectors. They lived in the mountains from where they operated. The leader of a Zeybek group was called an Efe. The Efe can be recognized by the shorter trousers and a yataghan knife.

During the Greek-Turkish Wars they fought against the Greek forces and voluntarily joined the newly formed national army in the Turkish War of Independence.They were awarded with the Medallion of Independence after the declaration of the Turkish Republic for their participation. Most of the Efe received military ranks and pensions for their services. After retirement they resettled in the cities of western Turkey.

Today folk music, songs and stories recall their bravery in the past but “once upon a time “ can still be found in present Turkey as you can see on this picture. 

March 13, 2013

Today in History: March 13,1781                          William Herschel discovered the Planet Uranus

Sir Frederick William Herschel, born in Germany on 15 November 1738 as Friedrich Wilhelm Herschel, was a British astronomer , technical expert, and composer.

Herschel emigrated to Britain at the age of 19.  He composed numerous musical works, concertos, some church music, and 24 symphonies. He played the oboe, cello, harpsichord, and the organ
Herschel Museum of Astronomy, music room

His sister Caroline came to England in 1772 and they lived in Bath where their brothers Dietrich, Alexander and Jakob joined them later. William Herschel was appointed director of the Bath orchestra in 1780 and his sister often staged as soprano soloist. Herschel's music led him to an interest in mathematics and lenses.

He started building his own reflecting telescopes and would spend up to 16 hours a day grinding and polishing the speculum metal primary mirrors. He "began to look at the planets and the stars" in May, 1773 and on 1 March 1774 he began an astronomical journal by noting his observations of Saturn's rings and the Great Orion Nebula (M 42).

He observed from the back garden of his house in 19 New King Street, Bath. He used a Newtonian telescope  of his own manufacture, in October 1779.


Herschel began a systematic search for "every star in the Heavens".He soon discovered many more binary and multiple stars than expected, and compiled them with careful measurements of their relative positions in two catalogues. The catalogues were presented to the Royal Society in London in 1782  and 1784. In 1821 a third catalogue of discoveries made after 1783 was published. In March, 1781, during his search for double stars, Herschel noticed an object appearing as a non-stellar disk. Herschel originally thought it was a comet or a star. He made many more observations of it.  The Russian Anders Lexell computed the orbit and found it to be probably planetary. Herschel determined in agreement that it must be a planet beyond the orbit of Saturn. He called the new planet the 'Georgian star' (Georgium sidus) after King George III. However, In France, where reference to the British king was to be avoided if possible, the planet was known as 'Herschel' until the name 'Uranus' was universally adopted.

In 1781  Herschel was awarded the Copley Medal and elected a Fellow of the Royal Society. In 1782, he was appointed "The King’s Astronomer". He continued his work as a telescope maker and achieved an international reputation for their manufacture, profitably selling over 60 completed reflectors to British and Continental astronomers. During the course of his career, he constructed more than 400 telescopes. 
Scale model of the telescope William Herschel constructed.
The largest and most famous of these was a reflecting telescope with a 4912-inch-diameter (1.26 m) primary mirror and a 40-foot (12 m) focal length. This design has come to be called the Herschelian telescope. On 28 August 1789 he discovered a new moon of Saturn and in the following month a second moon. 

In all, Herschel discovered over 800 confirmed double or multiple star systems, almost all of them physical rather than virtual pairs. His theoretical and observational work provided the foundation for modern binary star astronomy.  In 1783 he gave Caroline a telescope, and she began to make astronomical discoveries. Caroline discovered 8 comets, 11 nebulae and updated and corrected Flamsteed's work detailing the position of stars. Her work was published as the British Catalogue of Stars and she was honored by the Royal Astronomical Society. 
Herschel measured the axial tilt of the planet Mars and discovered that the martian ice caps, first observed by Giovanni Domenico (1666) and Christiaan Huygens (1762), changed size with the planet's seasons. From studying the proper motion of stars, he was the first to realize that the solar system is moving through space, and he determined the approximate direction of that movement. He also studied the structure of the Milky Way and concluded that it was in the shape of a disk. William also coined the word asteroid, meaning star-like  in 1802 . However, it was not until the 1850s that 'asteroid' became a standard term for describing certain minor planets. 

All photos ( by Ticia Verveer) in this blog article are taken in The Herschel Museum of Astronomy which is situated in the Herschels' former home at 19 New King Street in Bath, England . 

Uranus was the first planet found with the aid of a telescope.

February 16, 2013

Being the Dirtiest Person on the Plane

I check my watch. It’s 3 a.m. Today I am returning home. It is still dark and there is no electricity from 1 to 6 a.m. so I am packing my backpack with a flashlight. With no real toilets, a hole in the ground, I always worry when I have to pee in the middle of the night. I am getting a lift in the back of an open pickup truck. There is something magical about travelling at high speed through the desert with the stars so clear and bright above my head. In the past people travelled by the stars at night and known landmarks by day. The nomads used their shadow as a compass. The moon is so different from where I was born. It is not straight up and down but on its back. Like a little boat. It’s a two-hour drive to the landing site. I have to wait in the middle of nowhere or so it seems.

I hope the pilot knows my location. I am relieved when I spot the propeller plane. My flight with the propeller plane will take 3 hours. Something you are not used to in this age where such a flight normally takes 60 minutes. At least it has his perks; music will be constantly playing on the plane. Joyous African music which is still only available on cassette. It takes the plane two times to land. The pilot offers me fruit! What a treat. I try to sleep on the plane but there are no air vents. It is too hot to sleep. I can’t fly directly home. I have long stopovers before I can get on the plane to Paris. I am surrounded by many nationalities. Most people are recognizable by traditional dresses. Beautiful people are all around me. We are waiting for our next plane to fuel. My passport has to be checked and they are weighing my luggage on a plastic scale. The scale is similar to the one I have in my bathroom at home. Then I am being weighed. Phew, I am not too heavy. I am allowed on board. My fourth flight will be to Paris and then I can catch the next flight to Amsterdam.

Before reaching the KLM gate there is the welcoming committee also known by the name of airport security. Trekking through the desert has left its mark on my appearance. The scarves I wrap about my head and down the nape of the neck form loose, layered, garments around my body. No ironing, washing cloths by hand, drying them in the sun and in the wind filled with sand makes my appearances look suspicious. I am so tired and hungry that I rather go to the nearest Starbucks. But it looks like that my bags have to be inspected. Standing in the middle of the security lanes I realise that time is different here in Europe. Time is money. Questions have to be answered in seconds and the security officer will definitely not offer me a piece of fruit.

A woman has lost her son. I help her look for him. Now what would be the destination of a 4 year old on the Gaulle airport? I wish I had my guide Hassan with me. He is the best tracker I know off. He is able to tell you not only the time a person passed but can even identify them. He could tell me the direction and origin of the journey and also estimate the weight and contents of the load. In all fairness, we are in lack of sand here. Luckily Bertrand (the 4 year old) was hiding behind a chair in our lounge.

Finally I am in the KLM flight to Amsterdam.  I have pains in my arms and legs. I am broken. But it is that kind of pain you get addicted to. I never felt so good in my life. I must look I am starving because the stewardess gives me several sandwiches. I am grateful and also accept the coca cola, peanuts, cookies and other food my fellow travellers offer me. Life in Africa is survival and fish or meat is a luxury. Eating has a different meaning there and even feels different. I never have a feeling of being full.

It struck me now that I am the only female between men in suits and realise I am the dirtiest person on the plane. The steward hands me a travel kit containing also an eye mask and slippers. I can’t help to giggle. I am afraid I will have to clean up first before I use these extremely white slippers. I don’t want to take of my jacket nor my dusty cloths. It would feel like detaching me from the desert. I am not ready for that. It is always difficult the first week when I return to the “normal” life. There is something nice about my clothes being so dirty and knowing why. The dirt on my boots is a statement. Nature rules where I come from. It is a world built of dirt roads and dust. The sandstorms tell us they will never bow to the pressures of the modern world. They won’t allow you to become dependent on an i-phone or a television. When the air grows still and in the distance a huge yellow or black wall of sand and wind stretches into the sky I realise I have no control at all over the forces of nature. Something we have forgotten about in Europe. It is that feeling I want to hold on to and experience the gratefulness that I may enjoy the safety and the luxury I have at home.